TMR Editors’ Prize
Our Generous Supporter
Our new, enhanced online anthology
Current Issue: Fall 2014
TMR on Twitter
Over the summer, I made a trip with my family to Hannibal, Missouri to see and experience Mark Twain’s hometown. We became tourists for the day by purchasing the relatively overpriced, all-inclusive tickets that would allow us to take a tour of not only the Interpretive Center, but also Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home, the Huckleberry Finn House, the Becky Thatcher House, the J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office, the Museum Gallery, Grant’s Drug Store and the Tom and Huck statue. We even ended the day deep inside the damp and slippery Mark Twain Cave where the character Tom Sawyer had one of his many adventures.
Even though it’s a tourist trap, I couldn’t stop my nerdy, book-loving heart from filling with joy as I stood and ‘painted’ the famous white fence from one of the opening scenes in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I stood inside Mark Twain’s home, and I felt strongly connected to the infamous author. I was in the one-roomed home that inspired one of the most controversial yet important books in the history of literature, and it was wonderful.
That day trip really did have an effect on the way I understood “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I finally had a visual component that I didn’t have before that made the scenes actually come alive in my mind, I understood the characters on a deeper level and I even had a better sense of the man who wrote them.
After that visit, I wondered if that could be the case with every author and book I’ve read. Could I find a deeper connection to any book if I just took the time to learn about the author? Would going to Walden Pond in Massachusetts help me get inside Thoreau’s head? Would staring into the pond for hours help me better reflect on my life? Aside from the fact that Thoreau would be thoroughly upset that I was walking the same path as he had, instead of creating my own path, I do think that extra bit of understanding would create a more powerful reading experience for me.
It’s even more interesting to look at how we can come to understand our contemporary authors and their books through the many resources available on the Internet. Whether one sees social media as an inventive tool or the end to face-to-face communication as we know it, it has offered the opportunity to connect more with authors, if we choose to do so.
Take John Green for example. He has an active online presence. After I finished reading his book “The Fault in Our Stars,” and after I put down the tissues and collected myself enough to resemble a human being again, I went online to find out more information about the author of the terribly depressing yet touching story. I discovered his Twitter and his personal webpage, and two hours later, I had a deeper understanding of the book and its characters. On his webpage, John Green describes the symbolism in the recurring images of water to show water’s power to both create and destroy life. The main character, Hazel, has thyroid cancer, so the fluids that fill her lungs threaten her life at a young age. On the other hand, water is a necessary means of survival. John Green also reveals his inspiration for the book and he admits why he chose to end it the way he did, just to name a few.
It wasn’t a critic or conversations with friends that gave me the answers I craved. It was the actual author of the book who made himself available to his fans to help increase their reading experience. By reaching out to his audience himself, he allowed the world he created to live on past the last page.
Now, do I have the time to always be looking into an author’s background? Nope. Do I have the money to travel all around the world to recreate scenes from my favorite books? Definitely not. But I sincerely believe that spending that time or that money, when it is available, does enrich one’s reading experience. It bridges that gap between the seemingly unreachable author and the reader. I know it has also personally inspired me on my path toward a literary career. Who knows, maybe the people I have met so far in my relatively short life will become characters in one of my future short stories or books.
What I do know with certainty is that every experience of mine has helped me grow intellectually, and those experiences are what I use on a daily basis to fuel my creativity. Have I experienced it all? No, and I’m far from it. But every single person, place, success and failure that I have encountered has had an effect on the person and the writer I am today.
With that in mind, seeing for myself the ways some of my favorite authors have integrated their lives into their books has created a more meaningful reading experience for me. Unlike the books I fail to invest extra time in and choose to just put away and casually forget about, the ones where I seek out information on the author’s life give me more. By that I mean the more you put in a book, the more it will give back, and I think that all begins by taking a look at the person who created it in the first place.
Last week, I was invited down to Missouri State University by my friend Mike Czyzniewjewski to visit with his graduate and undergraduate students for the day. Between his classes and his colleague, writer Jen Murvin, I visited three creative writing classes to talk about writing and publishing. There was also a well-attended late afternoon Q&A, dinner with graduate students, and finally, a reading at 7 pm, for which I was only ten minutes late.
The reading was held in the Robert W. Plaster Student Union Theatre, a gorgeous and gigantic room with rows of seats that rose high above where I was, down far below, in front of a podium, off to the left of an otherwise empty stage. High above, there was a set of glass windows where the electronics for the room were controlled, and directly next to it was a clock, with the time displayed in sharp red LED light that I could see with just a glance up from my pages.
The microphone stem was flexible, so I adjusted it closer so I could mostly keep my eyes down, but look up on occasion for emphasis. More than once, I inadvertently did this on “P” sounds but I don’t think it was awful. Also, I had the microphone a bit too close to my face, so I nudged it with my nose more than once, which made no news but which I definitely felt. Perhaps no listener noticed. I had water, which I only sipped from once, and read for a little under thirty minutes, just enough time to read the first chapter of my recently completed novel.
(and, no, do not ask about my novel…)
To my knowledge, never before have I repeatedly bumped a microphone with my nose. Most of the readings that I’ve given were performed with my teacher voice, a learned ability to project loud (enough) into a good-sized room so that everyone can hear just fine. There were one or two words I stumbled upon, which is normal for me too, but I think all and all it went well. Or at least, people said so afterwards. Not that anyone comes up to you after a reading and says “You were terrible!” but you know what I mean.
Reading in front of a crowd can be a nerve-wracking experience; to this day, despite giving probably two dozen readings, I’m always nervous beforehand, a feeling of dread that what I’m about to read will embarrass me and bore the audience. Yet, giving a reading is nice. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, I hate reading but I like having read.
I’ve long believe that reading your work aloud is the only way to know if it is finished, if it is any good at all. I read scenes aloud, then rework them; I read the whole story, then rework it from there too. It’s a bit stunning what tics I rediscover about my own writing, just from using my voice. No matter that I’ve been writing for years: I still find repetitive phrases, unnecessary verbiage, my own quirks and “tricks” that I use time and time again, clunky transitions, phrases that twist my tongue (“rusted wheel wells” was one, at the end of a complex-compound sentence, and I could not say that for the life of me), and other errors of logic, syntax, and grammar.
It’s a little weird to read your work aloud. But I’m getting used to it. Obviously, if you write in a cafe, you should get used to reading at home. I’d rather not read to nobody, so I read to my dog, who usually just wags her tail and then chews her paw and stares at me expectantly.
(obligatory photo of my puppy? yes!)
Reading in public is a skill. It’s a performance in a similar way that great teaching is a performance; just knowing the material is not enough to keep your students engaged. When reading, it’s a matter of how and what and when you emphasis just the right thing to keep people listening. There’s nothing wrong with bumping your nose on the microphone. Perhaps it’s just part of showing the audience that you are, in fact, an imperfect person, just like the people you write about in your stories.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
“And then we came to the end.”
Here it is, writers: your very last chance to enter the 24th annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. We award a winner in three categories–fiction, nonfiction, and poetry–with each winner receiving $5,000 and publication in our spring 2015 issue. Also, winners are flown into lovely Columbia, Missouri, for a reading and reception during the spring semester, usually in March or April, an event that is free and open to the public. All entrants receive a one-year subscription to The Missouri Review (and our new fall issue has just arrived!), and all entries are considered for publication (meaning that, usually, a few of our finalists are also published in the spring or summer issue).
By now, you’ve seen this announcement many times and you’ve done all you can to make your work the best it possibly can be. So, here are those answers to those very last minute questions you might have.
October 15th? Really? Yes, really! Today is it! The extended deadline! Today! After all, we only have about ten to twelve weeks to read through all this good work and choose a winner, so we have to get cracking.
Postmark Deadline? Yes, postmark! If you decide to mail your entry to us, do NOT spend a bazillion dollars to overnight or express mail us your work. Postmark date is all we need. If you mail it today, and it arrives next Thursday, that’s cool.
Entry Fee? Twenty dollars. You receive a one-year subscription to TMR, which is four issues. Our normal one-year subscription rate is thirty dollars, so this is a stupendous discount. Again, you are out of excuses to not enter the contest!
Previously Unpublished? Yes, only previously unpublished work. Meaning: “Our definition of “published” is material distributed in any manner to the public, print or web, so work posted on your blog should not be submitted to us for consideration.”
So, that’s it! You can enter the contest with the click of a button on our Submission Manager, located right here.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
Stumbling across Girl Canon has been a revelation. One of the potentials that is often lost on the medium is the internet is the possibility for those who are silenced to have a space to voice that which is often locked inside. When we hear about the canon we think the white, male, cis writers who have dominated the scene and, by virtue of their visibility, the history of the art and its future. Yet, here are the secret canons from female-identified, non-binary and genderqueer people: what they read, what they have internalized, and what has inspired them. Instead of handing one another books or poems in our secret spaces, Girl Canon seeks to document and create a conversation about what we read out in the open.
I sat down with Katie Schmid, the founder of Girl Canon, to discuss the inspiration and mission of Girl Canon. If you have your own canon to submit to the project, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AAB: What was the inspiration for Girl Canon?
KS: Girl Canon is a direct consequence of my reading n+1′s No Regrets–a book of women writers and thinkers discussing their reading life. Carla Blumenkranz, in conversation with moderator Dayna Tortorici and writers Emily Gould and Emily Witt, introduces the idea of the “secret canon”–basically, the idea is that within the culture of a particular group of people there’s a secret list of books that everyone is referring to. Blumenkranz calls it a “reference point” that gives the outsider access, in some ways, to the “microculture” of that particular group, but it’s also a way that a group or culture might signal to each other and outsiders their own literary merit, their smarts. Blumenkranz seems to be referring to the nervous way canons can sometimes be used as markers for intelligence. As a reader, girl, and academic, this really struck me as true. I have seen many friends struggle with the weight of the canon. I have a friend who sends me his reading “plan” every few months, you know, like–”I’m going to read all of Rousseau!” or “The entire Bible!” and that works for him, but for me, it’s always felt suffocating. Portlandia has a sketch about it, too.
I think, also, that because the canon I was introduced to in school was largely white, male, and heteronormative that I and many of the people I know who are not those things, or are interested in reading about other kinds of experiences, have had to struggle with being required to read works of literature that are in some ways are overtly hostile to, or erasing of their experiences. For better or worse, what you read informs your impressions of what types of writing and experiences are considered “good literature.”
What No Regrets does, and what Girl Canon hopes to do, is to highlight the secret canons of women. When I read No Regrets I felt an immense relief just reading about women talking openly about how they dealt with the problem of how to read outside of school; how to read around or through the Western Canon in a way that created space for themselves. I am interested in curating those female ways of reading, of expanding upon and questioning what women consider to be “good literature.”
Sady Doyle says it better in her article on No Regrets, “The Perils of Reading While Female”: “The power of a personal canon, secret or not, lies in the authority one needs to create it. Women need to trust that they know what’s good, what’s bad, and what serves them intellectually in order to reject or reclaim the books in their lives.” This was exactly what I lacked when I destroyed Herzog. I wasn’t stupid, and I wasn’t a bad reader. But decades of socialization had taught me otherwise. There were the disastrous conversations with men about Eminem, the Beats, Judd Apatow; there were the condescending male classmates in college, such as the guy who made a point of sitting behind me and pulling faces whenever I talked because I’d once complained too forcefully about “whiny white guys”; there was the lit professor who made me rewrite a paper three times because it focused too exclusively on sexism and who told me that the purpose of his class was “appreciation” of the assigned readings, not critique. All of this had given me the implicit belief that I was simply not qualified to decide which books were good for me, that I would be seen as anti-intellectual if I decided that a sexist book was not worth my time.
What No Regrets argues for most powerfully is the right of women to reject that line of thinking and to believe that they are qualified to decide what literature should be. It argues for the public claiming of formerly secret canons: the right to create your own vision of what is best in the culture and to have that vision influence what books other people read and value.”
The public claiming of formerly secret canons is our motto at GIRL CANON.
AAB: A few of the texts that women are choosing for their canon is not so radically different from the current ideal of “good literature” – I doubt anyone would question Salinger or Rushdie or Nabokov – but the reasons that women are choosing these books, and many others from authors that don’t traditionally make it into Norton Anthologies, is varied. Some of the contributors write a lot, and some very little, and others pick quotes from the books to stand as the argument for why they are their own personal canons. Have there been any choices that surprised you?
KS: That’s a lovely question. I think the musing in the first part of your question partially gets to the heart of what a few contributors, Kristen Gunther & Tasha LeClair, have discussed amongst themselves: what is a personal canon meant to be? Is it supposed to be the good medicine you take to better yourself, or is it meant to be the books you come back to again and again because you can’t help yourself? I don’t have the answers, but my conception of what the project is and can be changes, as the contributors to GIRL CANON all have different definitions of what their personal canons “mean.”
The commonalities between the canons continue to surprise me, and there are definitely patron saints (Western canonical and non-Western canonical) who crop up again and again: The Bronte sisters, Lorrie Moore, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nancy Drew (and girl detectives in general…Harriet the Spy recurs), Judith Butler, Kate Chopin, Mary Karr, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Flowers in the Attic shows up a lot (!!!), Harry Potter & Sylvia Plath. I never thought I’d join Harry Potter and Sylvia Plath together in a sentence. It’s an unholy union and it delights me–and I think the friction created at the meeting of “good” literature and the books loved-so-feverishly-that-they-make-up-a-part-of-your-DNA is what makes the project compelling.
The way the canons speak to each other or know each other is really pleasurable, for me, as blog curator, and I hope for readers of GIRL CANON.
AAB: Getting back to what Sady Doyle talked about in “The Perils of Reading While Female”, do you think that women are made to doubt their own intuitions regarding what is good or bad while reading these works is because of our somewhat poor representation, or is it part of the socialization process for young girls, that they should not have an opinion about the things that men create and are lauded by other men?
KS: The idea of the canon is a scholarly construction, and I do think that many who traditionally have been considered outsiders to the academy face decades of discourse and scholarship surroundings these works and may feel less able to enter the conversation to push back against scholarly consensus. Of course, scholars have created new theoretical language and new ways of reading in order to expand the canon and complicate our notions of what “good” literature looks like, and who it’s written by. These modes of reading (I’m thinking of postcolonial studies, feminist theory, queer theory) also go back into The Greats and reread them, which creates space that can queer and complicate accepted notions of what these works of literature mean. It’s lovely to read this way: to search for complication. I read Jane Eyre when I was in 8th grade and loved it, and my love was further intensified by my reading of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, in a Postcolonial Literature class I took in college, which brilliantly imagines the madwoman in the attic, names her, gives her a life. I first read Henry James in a Queer Theory class. These modes of reading create a conversation surrounding literature that challenges stereotype and our own ways of being in the world: Is Rochester a romantic hero, trapped into an unsuccessful marriage or is he an unreliable self-mythologizer? What does it mean to call a woman mad? How have we traditionally used the word madness to dismiss women for their difference, their sexuality, their race?
Inside and outside of the academy, there’s still a sharp, snobby divide between serious literature and YA, between serious literature and chick lit, and I know that the reason some of my friends still haven’t submitted to GIRL CANON is because they have anxiety about whether the lit on their list is good enough. I am a hedonist at heart and read widely and voraciously for pleasure, so though I feel the divide, and am not incapable of feeling shamed for reading The Hunger Games, I tend to ignore it and read what I want. The whole argument about whether The Goldfinch ‘counts’ as serious literature because it contains what can be commonly thought of as YA tropes seems ridiculous to me. GIRL CANON’S position on literary snobbery: If the book feeds you and enriches your life, it was worth it. Period. No need for continued hand-wringing over whether or not you should have read it. There’s room for Madame Bovary and Harry Potter on your list. The list can be long and weird.
AAB: Where do you think this anxiety about our reading choices comes from?
KS: We get a lot of messages about what we should and should not read. Culture is a machine that constantly looks at itself and tells itself what it should be doing–we have critics doing the important work of thinking about art, and we have pop culture critics observing trends, and we have teachers and family members influencing our reading habits as well. Recently, there’s been some worry about whether or not adults should be reading YA novels, and what it signifies that they do. Culture creates anxiety about any kind of consumption just by observing that consumption.
Here’s how I read before I knew I was supposed to read “well”: I remember going on a Wally Lamb kick when I was a teenager and my dad and stepmom were into him. I probably wouldn’t mention to anyone that I go to school with now that I was really into “She’s Come Undone” when I was 16 or that I read Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours,” multiple times before I loved “Mrs. Dalloway.” But I love that kind of hand-to-hand exchange of books. I remember marathoning to finish books I really loved–Sharon Creech novels and “Jane Eyre” and things like that–and handing them off to my mom to read next. That exchange of texts out of love and excitement really speaks to how voracious readers learn to read in a way that feeds them.
Katie Schmid has been published in “Best New Poets 2009,” Quarterly West, & The Rumpus among others. She is a PhD student at The University of Nebraska Lincoln. Her work can be found at katieschmid.net and she tweets at twitter.com/kt_schmid.
You know this by now: Tao Lin, Stephen Tully Dierks, Ed Champion, and Kirk Nesset have made headlines for abusing women, for running misogynistic campaigns to silence their voices, or collecting images of abused children numbering the obscene on their hard drive. It is shocking, devastating, an acknowledgement of madness. Worse, perhaps, because we mau know the person who committed these acts. They were one of us and, even if we didn’t know them personally, they were names within our insular community.
Judging from the reaction of my friends and colleagues on Facebook, this revelation has caused an instant revulsion and disquiet. As one person in my feed expressed with all dismay: “Apparently, I know a lot of rapists and child pornographers.”
However, it’s not only that you and I know rapists and those who perpetuate the victimization of children, though that does engender that painful reminder that we don’t always know the people we interact with, not intimately, not with a full picture of the depth of their personalities. What we often forget, when these stories break, is that we also know too many men and women who have been the victims of rape, the victims of abuse, and the victims of exploitation. RAINN’s statistics cite 1 in every 6 women, and 1 in every 33 men, of being subject to an attempted or completed rape in the United States. This is a reality of numbers, a depressing addition of faulty reporting (the actual number, we must assume, is much larger).
But still: disbelief.
Once, I had a student write an essay in my composition class about abortion, as they often do. She was very adamantly pro-life, and the assignment was to explore the other side of the issue. She met with me one on one, eighteen years old and flustered, because what she had researched dealt with women seeking that procedure because they had been raped. This was not, she told me, something she thought happened in real life. That was an Event for books or movies or art, but not something that happened in reality, and, in turn, it was something she was safe from, like monsters under the bed or Jabberwocky’s or talking animals, all make believe.
She stared at me in a way that made me think she wanted nothing more than for me to tell her it was a nightmare that couldn’t touch her outside of her unconsciousness, and the narratives she read were just words on a page, not the lives of women, and men, who experience. It was kinder to not lie to her, and though I wanted to comfort her, I nodded and said yes, this happens. To a lot of us.
When these stories break, there’s a little bit of our collective protective shield that gets cracked apart, and we have to re-evaluate our relationships with people we thought we knew. We think of people as having a cohesive identity: Man or Woman. Writer or Reader. Consumer or Consumed. Monster or Victim. Yet those identities blur, morph, shift, or fade away, and no matter how many descriptors we come up with, it is not always readily apparent who it is that we are looking at, who we are talking to, whose words we enjoy or are terrorized by when we read them. Our identities are deeply complex, and to the multitude of victims or survivors of these monstrous acts, it is almost impossible to tell them apart from anyone else. That identity gets carved on your bone, hidden away, but hurts every so often, like the elderly feel before it storms.
This is what the wreckage of this storm will look like: a frenzy of distancing ourselves from the men who committed these acts, a re-evaluation of our complacency in allowing, that which we did allow, these acts to go on for far too long, the unfortunate call for compassion for those who perpetuate, with little compassion for those who experience and, with all hope, that it is addressed at AWP out in the open, and not just in whispers in corners of the hallway or in digital spaces. But the frenzy often forgets the people who are hurt by this: the narrative is always dedicated to and driven by those who harm, the final act of ownership and control. And those who carry it in their bones become numbers or boogeyvictims of their own.
Please don’t forget that you know them, too.
Follow Alison on Twitter: @AABalaskovits
We’re all writers, too. So we know how it goes. Despite your best intentions of getting your work done on time, sure enough, deadlines slip by. Whether it’s a grant, paying the electric bill, grocery shopping (“We’re out of milk AGAIN?!”), or submitting to the finest literary magazine contest in the history of literary magazine contests, well, hey, we all miss deadlines. C’est la vie.
So, we’ve decided to extend our deadline for two weeks! Entries may now be postmarked or submitted electronically through Sunday, October 14th. Hopefully, this extension will give all those writers who thought to themselves maybe next year or just…one…more…revision, a chance to submit.
Winners in each genre will receive a $5,000 prize, a featured publication in TMR, and a paid trip out to our winners’ reading and reception. Non-winning finalists will also be considered for publication in the journal. Past winners have been selected for the Best American Series, O. Henry Awards, and Pushcart Prizes. Your entry fee also gets you a year’s subscription to The Missouri Review in print or in our snazzy electronic format–which includes the audio recordings of every piece in the magazine.
Our full Editors’ Prize submission guidelines are here. So, please, don’t worry about the calendar and send us your best for our contest!
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye