GrubStreet dreams of a literary future for Boston, one in which all Bostonians have access to the narrative arts. In partnership with Harvard Book Store and Mass Poetry, we have a great chance of securing a bid to create a dynamic, inclusive, and fully accessible Narrative Arts Center in Boston's Seaport, one that showcases, celebrates, and supports writers at all stages and from all backgrounds. In two minutes, you can help us realize that dream. GrubStreet's Founder and Executive Director, Eve Bridburg, explains how.
GrubStreet has been dreaming of building a Narrative Arts Center with partners in Boston since 2014—the year we learned that our building at 162 Boylston Street was changing hands and that soon we’d need a new home. In the years since, we’ve explored our options: basement space in Brighton with few windows and low ceilings, deserted headquarters in South Boston—affordable but only available for two short years—and old brick buildings, down on their heels, with potential if only we could raise upwards of 8 million dollars.
In searching and dreaming we learned a few things. The first is this: staying in Boston will be impossible without support from the city. But we also began to see the promise of a Narrative Arts Center, a place where the literary arts in Boston could make a deep impact on city life at large. Take a look at our full vision here.
For these reasons, we jumped at the opportunity to bid on 13,000 square feet of city-designated cultural use space in the Seaport. Being awarded the space will mean we can stay in Boston and build the city’s first Narrative Arts Center in partnership with the Harvard Book Store and Mass Poetry. The Narrative Arts Center we’re envisioning will include a branch of the Harvard Book Store, a writers’ stage, a cafe, community space, a podcasting studio, and expanded space for creative writing classes.
As you know, we are committed to making sure artistic education is available to everyone—especially those who have been marginalized. We serve a racially and economically diverse community made up of people from every neighborhood of Boston and beyond. We believe a new narrative arts center will widen and deepen GrubStreet’s artistic, civic, and community impact, allowing us to reach more students of every age, from every community and income, and to increase opportunities for everyone to participate and be heard.
In the new center, we will continue to do what we do best and what is deeply needed in our times: bringing people together across difference to better understand one another and the world. In the words of two grubbies who wrote letters to the city in support of our center:
Boston’s voices—all of them—come alive through GrubStreet. We hear each other and we meet each other through our writing.
A Narrative Arts Center will, quite literally, change the face of Boston. Everyone deserves the
opportunity to tell their story and we, as a city, must hear them. This dedicated group of writers
and teachers provides education and support to those who need it the most.
I’m writing today to ask you to join us in advocating for GrubStreet. This is a hugely significant moment in our history and we need your support. We have an excellent chance of winning our bid to create an exciting, diverse, inclusive narrative arts center for Boston, but we need to make sure that the city hears from writers and readers and everyone in the broader community who understands the power of narrative to connect us. Whether you live in Boston or Chicago, your voice matters.
You can help us build the city’s literary future by making your voice heard. These two actions will take you two minutes, but their impact could be huge:
It’s been an exciting ride for former journalist and long-time Grubbie Kim Savage, who just released her third YA novel, In Her Skin, following the success of After The Woods in 2016 and Beautiful Broken Girls (one of Kirkus’s 10 Best YA) in 2017. In Her Skin is the story of a con artist, Jo Chastain, who insinuates herself into the family of a missing girl by impersonating her, until it becomes clear the family has a secret of its own. New Grubbie A. C. Jones caught up with Kim in advance of her appearance and book signing at Belmont Books this Monday, May 14th, 7:00 pm, with author Aimee Molloy.
AJ: In Her Skin, your third YA novel, was just released, and it’s a page-turner! Tell me about how you get your ideas.
KS: My stories always start with a question. In In Her Skin, I wondered, why would you accept a story when you knew it wasn’t true? Then, I created characters that could answer that question for me, and their journey became my plot. Henry and Clarissa Lovecraft and their daughter, Temple, are confronted by the appearance of Jo, who pretends to be Vivienne Weir, a girl who went missing from their home seven years earlier. Have I hooked you yet? I hope so!
AJ: What is your writing process from draft to publication to promotion?
KS: I start by writing the bones of the story. That means a fast, messy first draft. I refine it, and that version goes to my agent, Sara Crowe, who tells me if it’s ready to send to my editor, Janine O’Malley at Farrar, Straus, Giroux. Janine writes an editorial letter, which contains suggestions for revisions. Revisions take a few months: my schedule, to date, has been tight (my books came out in 2016, 2017 and 2018). Once line and copy edits are complete, and the book is in production, I start focusing on promoting the book, going hard at it around three months out.
I tend to put life on hold to make deadlines. I’m not sure if that’s how every writer operates. Part of it is that I’ve worked on deadlines my whole life, but it’s also the sense that I owe the work everything I’ve got. It becomes another child, and it’s a needy one.
AJ: When did you start working with GrubStreet?
KS: I wrote my second novel, Beautiful Broken Girls, in Grub’s Prose Studio with Katie Willis! Once a week, she read us writing prompts. I can admit now that I never used them. Instead, I used the time to complete my novel. Driving into Boston for that structured writing time every Monday set the tone for the week. It forced me to take the work seriously, to treat it like what it was: my full-time job.
I’ve been lucky enough to present three workshops at GrubStreet’s the Muse and the Marketplace Conference, most recently last April, when I led a session on subverting tropes in Young Adult literature. We had way too much fun talking about the staggering death toll of parents in YA, for example, and the dreaded manic pixie. The Muse attracts such a diverse group of writers who are serious about craft. It’s unique and special, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.
AJ: What drew you to the YA market and specifically the noir niche?
KS: I didn’t start writing YA intentionally. The protagonist of my first novel, After the Woods, was a teenager who didn’t age out over the course of the novel. The story was told in her voice. And the central question—would you risk your life to save your best friend?—was something of a coming-of-age question. All of these things added up to a YA novel, and I’ve been writing them ever since. Lucky me. It’s an exciting time to be writing YA, which is arguably at the forefront of every current social movement.
As for noir, I’ve been a sucker for the genre ever since I saw the movie LA Confidential. I have a weakness for moral ambiguity in any form, really.
AJ: What is the most challenging part of being an author? Is it the actual writing, coming up with ideas, or promoting your work?
KS: The latter. Ideally, I’d like to remain in my hobbity hole, doing the work and letting other people shout about it. Promotion runs counter to every grain in my being. I’ve learned to try to make it about meeting people: readers, librarians, bookstore folks, and other authors. I can find joy in that.
AJ: Here’s the age old question: how do you manage to balance it all—writing, traveling, and raising a family?
KS: I don’t. Which is hard, because I’m a Libra and I love balance. I have creative friends who do a glorious job of integrating their family lives and their work. Not my thing. I need to plug that vigilant, reactive ear you develop after you have your first child, which is why I started writing fiction mainly at night, when no one needed me for anything.
On the upside, I believe there’s immense value in having your kids see you love your work. Writing’s not a job, it’s a vocation, and I want my children to find careers that nourish their souls, too. If it means they were raised eating Annie’s mac and cheese twice a week, well.
AJ: And the million-dollar question: what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
KS: There are so many distractions that can siphon your power. Chief among these are worries about your so-called platform, which of course means time spent on social media. I found peace when, like Jo in In Her Skin, I remembered who I am: a writer’s writer, focused on craft.
AJ: What’s the next chapter for you?
KS: I’m writing a gender-flipped retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III, the greatest villain of all time. I’m having so much fun with it! I also finished the first draft of a thriller about two girls who discover they’re seeing the same guy. That said, if you think the story is about a straight-up rivalry over a boy, then you don’t know my books.
Kim won the Lit Idol Award in 2014 and she is a regular presenter for the Muse and the Marketplace. She also mentors teen writers when she’s not presenting at conferences or writing her latest masterpiece. She regularly reads from her novels at bookstores and book festivals across the country and her novels are published internationally and have been optioned for TV. Find out more at kimsavage.me.
Make your characters want something right away, wrote Vonnegut, even if it’s only a glass of water.
And as soon as we pick my four-year-old up from pre-school and strap her into her car seat, she tells us that she wants some water.
But a narrative, at its most basic level, is driven by the relationship between what a character wants and the obstacles in their way, and it just so happens that my daughter’s water bottle is empty.
Can I have some of yours, my four-year-old asks.
But even she must know – from every book we’ve ever read her – that a character can’t reach their goal without a little resistance and that the arc of a story relies on the heightening tension between hope and disappointment.
And while both my wife and I have water to share, I’m sick with a cold and my wife has added electrolytes to hers that, unfortunately, contain caffeine.
We could stop at a store, my four-year-old suggests. And lo and behold a CVS appears just ahead to our left.
However, while stopping to buy bottled water would certainly expedite our path to a climax, a good story must find ways to complicate the inner journey of the protagonist.
And when I explain to my four-year-old that we can’t stop because we are already late to pick her older sister up, I can sense the target and intensity of her frustration beginning to shift.
My wife tries to distract her by mentioning that she once heard that should you ever find yourself stranded in the desert you could suck on a stone because they absorb moisture from the air.
But I immediately object to this – not simply because I remember Dr. Spock saying something about not letting your kids suck on rocks in the car, but because giving her a stone would provide her with a deus-ex-machina.
No, I say, the change must come from within.
I remind my daughter that Rumi said we should seek not water, but thirst – but she has no patience for Sufi mysticism and begins grunting and kicking the back of my car seat.
Normally, this would bother me. But I know that sometimes a character has to hit rock bottom in order to realize that they need to undergo some sort of personal transformation if they want to reach their goal.
And yet the more my daughter digs her heels into my seat, the more I begin to worry that in her four-year-old mind – where everything is a competition – she equates personal transformation with losing.
Which makes me wonder if I’ve been tracing the wrong character’s arc – that maybe this isn’t the story of a young girl on a quest for water but of a middle-aged man who learns to stop tuning out the suffering of those around him.
I look back at my daughter, whose face is covered in tears, and I suddenly grok her pain – she is tired and strapped in and thirsty – and I remember my own childhood when I’d spend all day suffering small humiliations on the playground then wait until I got home to explode on the people who were contracted by ancient law to forgive me.
Poets traffic in awareness, writes Alan Shapiro, and each whack to the back of my seat registers like a Zen master’s stick until I am climactically aware of my daughter’s thirst.
And yet even at the peak of my empathy, I can’t help but think about Kurt Brown saying, How easy it is/ to write the words “fear” or “thirst”/ when they aren’t written/ in your own blood.
It’s not until we finally make it to my older daughter’s school and I rush my four-year-old to the nearest water fountain and she looks up at me and tells me that she’s not thirsty anymore then takes off skipping down the hallway does the story feel complete – do I sense an ending that offers us both closure and a reminder that we live, as Lorrie Moore says, in a constant state of non-arrival.
Nadia is teaching "Poetry as a Contemplative Practice" on March 18th, 10:30-1:30. Click here for more info. Nadia holds a BA from Harvard and a PhD in English from Columbia University. Her award-winning poetry has been widely published in such places as The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, slate, American Scholar, and Yale Review. Nadia works as a writing teacher and coach at GrubStreet and at Align Your Story, her business which helps women--and men--write and live from their most powerful, authentic voice. More info www.nadiacolburn.com.
Sometimes everything can feel dull; the world seems usual, expected, muted. March and rainy April are like this: another day, no leaves on the branches; no signs of spring.
And then in Boston towards the end of April and the beginning of May, suddenly everything pops: the sun comes out and the cherries and magnolias are in bloom; tender green leaves open on the leaves, and I’m reminded there is another way to see things, another way to be.
Then summer comes and it’s too hot and I get used to the green and I forget again the mystery of being, the amazing ability of the world to change, to transform.
But poetry, in any season, can help me remember. Poetry can remind me that I can see differently; that things not only can change, but always are shifting; and that I will know this if I am just more aware.
Rumi’s poem short poem “Breezes at Dawn” (trans Coleman Barks) is just such an invitation to greater awareness:
The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want
don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep.
On the one hand, the language is deceptively simple; the syntax and vocabulary are not more complex than what a third grader would use.
But its very simplicity is a sign of the poem’s great authority: the poem speaks directly to the reader and encourages her to pay attention—to pay attention to herself and to the world around her, from the subtlety of the breeze to tuning into what we really want.
On the surface it may seem easy to ask for what we really want, but how many of us really know what this is? (Often the thing I think I want is not what I really want.) And if we do know, do we know how to ask? (Often asking for anything can be really challenging for me.)
In waking up to our deep desires, we approach that doorsill where the two worlds touch—the doorsill of the sacred, of mortality, of creativity.
And though I sometimes think of morality—and even creativity—with fear, the poem is very gentle: the door is round and open; it’s an invitation. My own perspective shifts, and in reading the poem, I have a different approach to my own life.
A poem can be exciting in the questions it asks, in the ways it encourages the reader to be an active participant.
Mary Oliver asks in her poem “Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.” Did she know she was going to ask this question when she sat down to write the poem, or did her experience of describing a grasshopper up close, as she does in this poem, lead to this personal question?
I find that as I both read and write poetry, I come to the unexpected. The very small can lead to the very large, and the questions that come to me often surprise me.
“In Leaves of Grass,” Whitman writes: ;
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?...I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.”
What we do not know, our imaginative “guesses,” are often more interesting than factual answers. The white spaces of a poem slow the reader (and writer) down, and in that slowed down space we have time to examine and re-examine our perceptions, our desires, our intentions.
Reading and writing poetry both become an interaction between what is said on the page and what is not said, between how we normally see and new ways of seeing, between what we know and what we do not know.
“Glory be to God for dappled things—“ Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. Whatever we think of the word God, Hopkins brings his sense of wonder to the page. He spent hours outside, describing in great detail in his journal the natural world around him. Then he’d turn those descriptions into poems: “For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;/ For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;/ Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings.”
I can sometimes forget how miraculous our world is. On a day like today, the first really warm day, when the new leaves are all ready to unfurl, there seems to be poetry everywhere, and the page becomes a place to put my wonder and enthusiasm.
But on days when I forget this wonder and the creative energy of spring, a poem can help me remember, can help me slow down, look again, and find meaning.
Meaning needn’t only be in the new growth and joy of spring, but also in the difficult spaces, in the things that scare us, in the doorways that we thought we did not want to cross, but that we can learn to walk up to and approach differently through a poem.
In the May 2018 edition of "Best of Boston," we bring you our top Boston lit events this month, curated from the Boston Literary District's event calendar, an essential source of literary happenings.
Craft on Draft Getting Emotional: Writing Feelings without the Melodrama When: May 1, 6:30-9:00pm; Where: Kickstand Cafe, 594 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington Writing about rage, fear, love, and longing is hard. Too little can leave the reader cold; too much can turn cliché. Join us as authors Jeanne Blasberg (Eden), Rachel Kadish (The Weight of Ink), and Mira T. Lee (Everything Here is Beautiful) discuss the delicate art of conveying emotion.
Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. When: May 3, 6:00-7:30pm; Where: Rabb Hall, Central Library in Copley Square, 700 Boylston Street, Boston This vivid memoir explores gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that haunts its participants. A New York Times Notable Book, Always Running was named one of the nation’s one hundred most-censored titles by the American Library Association due to its frank depictions of gang life.
Staged Reading: How Will We Live Tomorrow? When: May 3, 7:30-9:30pm; Where: Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave, Boston Join Paul E. Fallon for the first-ever public reading of his play, How Will We Live Tomorrow?, which chronicles the United States during the turbulent 2015-2016 Presidential election. It tells of his journey bicycling to the 48 contiguous states, and asking everyone he meets, "How Will We Live Tomorrow?" Along the way, he encounters generous people with myriad perspectives on humanity’s direction, while hours of solitary riding also stir personal meditation.
Mass Poetry Festival When: May 4-6, 2018; Where: Various locations, Salem The Mass Poetry Festival offers nearly 100 poetry readings and workshops, a small press and literary fair, panels, poetry slams, and open-air readings. More than 150 poets will engage with thousands of New Englanders.
Poets and Pints Reading Series, featuring John Canaday, Simeon Berry, and Susan Richmond When: May 9, 2018, 6:00pm-8:00pm; Where: Aeronaut Brewing Company, 14 Tyler St, Somerville Join Porter Square Books at Aeronaut brewery for a celebration of local poetry. The event will feature a social hour from 6:00-7:00pm, in which you can grab a beer and converse with the poets, hosts, and other poetry fans. The formal reading will be from 7:00-8:00pm and will feature three local poets reading from their latest works.
Stephen McCauley Reading from His Latest Novel, My Ex-Life When: May 9, 2018, 7:00pm; Where: Porter Square Books, 25 White St., Cambridge Grub Literary Council member Stephen McCauley is the author of six previous novels, including The Object of My Affection, True Enough, and Alternatives to Sex. Many have been national bestsellers, and three have been made into feature films.
Michael Ondaatje in conversation with Teju Cole When: May 10, 2018, 6:30-7:30pm; Where: Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard Street, Brookline From Michael Ondaatje, the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement. This event is $5.
Weekend Residency: Get Unstuck and Start Writing Again When: May 11–13, 2018; Where: Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, 57 Interlaken Road, Stockbridge Start writing again, whether you have an idea for a book or essay, or you’ve hit a wall and can’t seem to finish what you started. Through a series of prompts, exercises, artistic play, discussions about craft, and a better understanding of the creative process, learn how to ride the wave past writer’s block toward inspiration. $250 per person.
Weekend Workshop: Audio Documentary for Beginners: Strange & Charmed Comes to the U.S.! When: Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13, 9:30am-5:00pm; Where: PRX Podcast Garage, 267 Western Ave, Rear, Allston Cathy FitzGerald’s school for audio storytellers, Strange & Charmed, usually takes place in her workshop in the English countryside. Now, for the first-time, her weekend workshop for beginners is coming to Boston at the PRX Podcast Garage. Starts at $450.
Unearthed Song and Poetry, featuring Porsha Olayiwola When: May 16, 2018, 7:30-9:00pm; Where: 1448 Dorchester Ave. Fields Corner, Dorchester Porsha Olayiwola is the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion. She bested more than seventy of the highest ranked slam poets in the world to earn these titles and is now one of the most sought-after spoken word artists on the national circuit.
Resistance Mic! at the Oberon When: May 16, 2018, 8:00-10:00pm; Where: OBERON, 2 Arrow St., Cambridge Join the final Resistance Mic! of spring 2018. Guests include Grub Instructor Ethan Gilsdorf, Robert Pinsky, Stan Strickland, Grub Staffer and Instructor Shuchi Saraswat, The True Colors Troupe, and Artistic Noise.
Open Mic Night for Teen Writers When: May 18, 2018, 3:00-4:30pm; Where: Mattapan Branch of the Boston Public Library, 1350 Blue Hill Ave, Mattapan Join us for an open mic afternoon, hosted by Yahdon Israel of #LiterarySwag and Brooklyn Magazine. Come perform and compete for a $25 gift card! Refreshments will be served. For teens ages 12-17.
Pop-Up Magazine with John Jeremiah, Sullivan, Davy Rothbart and others When: May 19, 2018, 7:30pm; Where: Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater, 219 Tremont Street Boston John Jeremiah Sullivan (The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Oxford American), Helen Rosner (The New Yorker, Eater), Davy Rothbart (Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, Found Magazine) and other writers and journalists will bring new multimedia stories to the stage, with film, photography, sound, and animation all mixed together, and performed alongside a live score by the Magik*Magik Orchestra. The New York Times calls the show “a sensation.”
GrubStreet's Summer 2018 Open House and Showcase When: May 24, 5:30-8:00pm; Where: GrubStreet HQ, 162 Boylston St. 5th floor, Boston Love to write but don't have anywhere to get feedback on your work? Want to meet fellow writers and work under the guidance of published authors? GrubStreet is here to help! Drop by our Open House for drinks, snacks, and the answers to your questions about all things GrubStreet. New or future grubbies can get to know Grub HQ, hear about upcoming Summer classes, and mingle with fellow students and writers. Grub staff members will be on hand to discuss your writing goals and recommend classes that are right for you, plus we have special class discounts for all attendees. Not only that, but current Grubbies will read from their work in our Student Showcase at 7:00pm!
All too often authors use a push strategy in their social media efforts, sharing out messages to their audience without engaging with their audience at all. To do so is to ignore one of the most effective marketing tools in the marketing arsenal, the power of 1:1 conversations.
Individuals in social media are looking for those connections, especially from people that they admire. Twitter, in particular, seems to be the network I see authors using a push strategy rather than engaging, but it’s not something unique to that channel.
Directly engaging with your readers can be hard and time-consuming. But the rewards are worth it.
So how do you get started?
Begin with understanding your audience. Watch and listen to not just your followers, but also the types of individuals that you want to have follow you back; people that you think might be interested in your books. See what they are talking about, what they are passionate about, what makes them engage with each other and with other brands. Take note of topics, trigger points to avoid, and what types of conversations get people the most excited.
And while you can take that information to develop more effective content, it will also help you understand how to better engage with your readers.
Start small. Pick one channel where your audience is most engaged and start there, then expand to other networks as you grow.
Start talking to your readers. A novel concept, right? Answer questions, thank them when they say nice things about you.
Consider re-sharing those nice things with the rest of your audience, in the form of a retweet or reshare, for example.
Be funny. Responding with a funny .gif can go a long way to foster engagement. Just be careful that the .gif won’t offend in any way (hint, if you question it at all, don’t use it). Know your audience and be true to your voice.
Use emojis! Cute but powerful in showing sentiment, these little graphics can boost your message visually and show that you care or that you have a sense of humor.
Take advantage of #hashtags and jump on the bandwagon for specific holidays, events, or activities.
Here are a few other ways to think about engaging your audience:
Offer value. Provide additional information such as a link to a blog post or a book title that you loved that corresponds to their inquiry. It doesn't have to be about you--that's a key thing to keep in mind. Be helpful, not self-serving.
Ask for reactions. Ask people what they think about things, ranging from the latest news, how they are hunkering down in the upcoming storm or what their weekend plans might be. Tie it in to your brand personality and make sure it sounds authentic as part of the ongoing conversation you are having with your audience.
Ask for reviews. This is a tactic that is especially good if you have a loyal base that loves your book. Sometimes all you need to do is ask to get people to tell the world how much they love what you are doing.
Conduct polls. Twitter and Facebook make this super easy. You can have casual, fun polls or ask serious questions.
Live stream videos and respond to comments in realtime. Realtime is where it’s at!
It might sound like a lot of work, but the good news is that this type of engagement is often the most rewarding. Individuals who engage with you on social are likely to trust you more, have deeper loyalty and will be more likely to recommend your books to others.
Engaging directly with your audience should really be, in more ways than one, the heart of your social media strategy. If you want to start making big advances in driving loyalty, reach and awareness, then get talking in social with your readers!
My daughters were supposed to be getting ready for bed when I walked into their room and found my four-year-old naked, kneeling on all fours with her butt in the air, her older sister slapping her bottom.
What are you doing? I asked.
Playin’ the drums, my older daughter said.
And though part of me was relieved to see my four-year-old finally using her butt for something other than a wind instrument, I immediately stopped the show and escorted her to the shower.
It got me thinking, though, about the challenge of transitions in both parenting and writing.
I am often amazed by how hard it is to get my daughters into the shower and then once they’re in the shower how hard it is to get them out – and this feels eerily similar to the difficulty of making my way from one stanza or paragraph to the next.
More often than not this is a result of how I go about putting a draft together in the first place – which typically involves a series of false starts and frenzied free-writes, frantic late-night calls to my muse and failed attempts at remembering the epiphany I just had moments ago in the shower.
Before I know it, I’ve amassed a collection of undercurrents and overhauls that refuse to be shaped into a coherent narrative.
When I first started writing, I thought of my early stabs as failed drafts and would delete each one every time I started over.
But I’ve come to think of revising as similar to film editing, where you have to disassemble and then reassemble footage to create the illusion of continuity.
The revision process, then, becomes a matter of culling through draft after draft after draft, pulling my favorite passages then trying to create passageways.
Every finished piece of writing only seems seamless. Or as Yeats said: if it does not seem a moment’s thought,/ Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
What makes transitions particularly difficult for me, though, is that despite my interest in liminality and poems and stories that explore psychic shifts, the big picture often evades me – I get easily overwhelmed by contradictions.
I wonder if this is what makes transitions so hard for my daughters, as well – they’re rocking out to Hairspray in their bedroom, singing at the top of their lungs: You can’t stop the music, you can’t stop the beat, and then suddenly I barge in, stop the music and the beat, demand that they start their bedtime routines.
What else is there to do – when faced with the dizzying disconnects of this world –but find a butt and start drumming, try to remember, as Roxane Gay writes, that nothing makes sense but still, somehow, there is a rhythm.
GrubStreet runs on coffee, printer ink, and community. This series features just some of the Grubbies who make our community strong. Meet Joanna Kim, the first-ever recipient of the Anita Shreve Emerging Writer Fellowship. The Fellowship aims to develop new, exciting voices by providing one writer per year tuition-free access to Grub classes and Muse & the Marketplace conferences.
What author, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with and why?
Probably Flannery O’Connor! She masterfully addresses the human condition in her pieces, and she owned a farm of peacocks. How do you raise peacocks on a writer’s income?
What are you reading?
Right now, I’m reading Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. My writing mentor introduced me to his incredible short story “Emergency” last fall, and I’m finally getting around to reading the full collection.
What is the toughest criticism to give or receive on writing?
As someone who learned English as a second language and only used it in school, I’m always examining my vocabulary and second-guessing my grammar when I speak or write. I feel compelled to work harder by most criticism I receive, but I have a hard time swallowing suggestions related to my word choices or sentence structures because they remind me how much I fear sounding too “foreign” or international.
When do you feel most like a writer?
I think when I’m able to write the truest things I know in the simplest way possible.
Black milk tea, which I’m usually too lactose-sensitive for.
Where is the strangest place you’ve ever been?
Last summer, I visited a friend in Shanghai, and she took me to the Shanghai Marriage Market at People’s Park. Basically, parents of unmarried adults gather at this park every weekend to find spouses for their children by setting up umbrellas with their personal information attached to them. Things like age, height, income, education, etc. It was crazy watching parents swap information and realizing that their children probably had no idea they were doing this.
A huge congratulations to Joanna!
Joanna is a senior studying English Literature at Wellesley College. Having lived the first half of her childhood in the United States and the second half in South Korea, she is always stuck between two worlds and prefers to find her home in her books. Besides writing, she loves watching musicals, playing volleyball, and staying in bed.