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Pitch Sessions and Book Critiques with Fiery Seas Publishing
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Do you need hands-on attention to a particular manuscript? Are you tired of trying to guess what publishers want from a pitch? If you're attending the AWC Conference in Orange Beach this June, you have the opportunity to book a 10-minute pitch session with Misty Williams, publisher of Fiery Seas Publishing. Misty will also be doing 10-page critiques, where you will be given feedback on the first 10 pages of your manuscript.

Founded in 2014, Fiery Seas Publishing thrives in putting out high-quality books for men, women, and young adults to enjoy long after they close the cover.

Learn more about Fiery Seas Publishing from their blog.

Use the "Register Now" button below to book a Pitch Session or Critique with Misty Williams for the 2018 Alabama Writers Conclave Conference between Jun 15, 6:00 PM – Jun 17, 7:00 PM.

Limited spots available so register soon. 

Alina Stefanescu
Gorham's Bluff Poetry Festival, October 6th 2018.

A message from Roger Carlisle:

We are going to have another great poetry festival this year at Gorham’s Bluff on October 6th from 9:30 to 3:00 pm.

There will be a workshop conducted by Barry Marks and Adam Vines beginning at 9:30 AM. Lunch will be served at 12:30 included in your reservation fee).  During lunch the awards for, and readings of, the best original poem and two runners-up will take place. There will be an open mic following the awards.  At the open mic, readers are encouraged to read their own poem or a favorite poem.  The readings should be limited to 3 minutes or less.  The Festival will end at 3:00 pm.

Poetry Contest
There will be a $250 prize for the best original poem and certificates for the two runners-up.  Please submit one original, unpublished poem no later than September 10, 2018 (postmarked), in order to be considered. 

The poem may be sent to Roger Carlisle at wrogercarlisle@gmail.com or mailed to 4312 Overlook Road, Birmingham, AL 35222 attn: Roger Carlisle.

RSVP for this event to wrogercarlisle@gmail.com.

 

Alina Stefanescu
A conversation with Kwoya Fagin Maples about "Mend."

(Alina Stefanescu stole a few minutes from Birmingham's own incredible Kwoya Fagin Maples to discuss her poetry collection.)

Your poetry collection, Mend, is forthcoming from The University Press of Kentucky later this year. Can you tell us a little bit about the complex historical subject involved?

Mend is a collection of historical persona poetry written in the voices of women who were considered experimental subjects by Dr. James Marion Sims of Mt. Meigs, Alabama. Between 1845 and 1849, Sims performed experimental gynecological surgery on at least eleven enslaved women.

All of the women— procured from nearby plantations— suffered from fistula. Fistula is a condition that is the result of physical trauma during childbirth. Since fistula typically happens with prolonged labor, it can be safely assumed that most of the babies died. Sims only names three of the women in his notes and autobiography: Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy. He is known as the “Father of Gynecology” and is the inventor of the speculum. There are statues dedicated to him in New York (recently removed), South Carolina, and Alabama.  

 

Tell me about how you made use of poetic forms in order to convey the complicated grief and emotion of Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy.

Most of the poems are lyrical in nature— they are vivid, fragmented, and narrative. Since the women were often in pain or under the influence of opium, I used this form to convey their cognitive state and emotion. One section of the book is entirely in sonnets.  

Initially, I used the sonnet because I wanted to use a form relative to the time period. Later, it proved to be the perfect vehicle. I gave myself a constraint: all of the sonnets were to be directed towards the doctor. The speaker, Anarcha, would finally hold him accountable. This poem, in particular, is surreal at times, and travels between lucidity and hallucinatory images.     

 

Joel Brouwer wrote, "These poems carry an unbearable weight of witness: so much suffering, but also the joy of survival, the survival of joy." Tell me about "the survival of joy,” whether in poetry, in the lives of your characters, or in the present day.  

As Toi Derricotte said, “Joy is an act of resistance.” I believe this firmly. This revelation of joy was certainly something practiced by my ancestors. The circumstances experienced by the women in my book experienced were awful, but I thought it important to include moments of joy.

The human experience is complex, no matter the situation. Joy can be a part of any darkness (if you allow it) because joy is not the absence of pain. Joy is a recognition, a choice. There are several joyful memories described in Mend: of catching fireflies, of meeting someone significant for the first time, or recalling the scent of a pie.  These women were more than their suffering. They were human, and this is what I want readers to hold when they walk away from Mend.

 

 I am in awe of the way in which you expand the poetics of witness to include these women. What was the most challenging part of bearing witness for you as a poet, but also as a mother, a wife, and a black woman in America?

The most challenging part of bearing witness was knowing this had happened to other human beings. I am an empathetic person by nature, so I felt a lot of hurt, anger, and sadness on behalf of the women I was writing about.  As a mother, I was struck by the knowledge that these women didn’t have the opportunity to mother the way I have. There was no baby registry, no time off, no prenatal care. As enslaved women, their experience of matrescence was entirely different from my own.

Uncovering this story as a poet and new mother meant a lot of things.  It meant that during pregnancy, I was hyperaware of how medical professionals responded to me as a black woman.  On most of my prenatal visits, especially with men, I was extremely nervous. As a new mother in Birmingham, Alabama, I realized my vulnerability, particularly in medical settings. As I continued to research, I became aware of how medical professionals still treat women of color. Currently, black women are three times more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women— regardless of ability to pay, and regardless of prenatal care. This statistic was found in 2017! Why is that? There are a few answers, but this one is chief among them: prejudice and (scientific) racism are pervasive. For a long time, black people were thought to have a higher tolerance to pain than white people, which is directly connected to why the current opioid epidemic disproportionately affects whites—because black people are prescribed pain medication at much lower rates.

 

Joy can be a part of any darkness (if you allow it) because joy is not the absence of pain. Joy is a recognition, a choice.
— Kwoya Fagin Maples

Did you feel closer to any of the personas in this collection? If so, who and why? If not, why?

I felt most connected to Anarcha. Anarcha was seventeen at the beginning of the experimentation in 1845. She endured at least thirty surgeries, according to Sims’ notes. Since she was the first person he experimented on, and the only one he claimed to “heal,” I imagined her as angry—certainly, but also wise, knowing and aware. It is her voice I searched for the most while writing. Again, the sonnet corona I referenced above is written in her voice. She directly confronts the doctor and speaks on behalf of all the women.

 

What poets or writers most influenced this collection and the way in which you approached it? Why or how?

Frank X Walker’s book Turn Me Loose was a companion book for me. This is a collection of historical persona poetry written in several voices including the voice of Medgar Evers, his wife, his murderer and even the bullet that killed Medgar Evers. Walker’s creativity, structure and genius on the page is startling. I love how the book is continually engaging.

Cornelius Eady’s book, Brutal Imaginations, was also influential in that there was an imagined persona in the book. I liked the narrative arc and how details were exposed over the course of the story. Other poets who influenced the work were Natasha Tretheway, Michael Ondaatje, among others. 

 

How do you balance teaching, mothering, loving, and living with writing and publishing in the Birmingham community?

I don’t balance. There are times when I’m hyper-focused on one thing, and I think that’s fine.  I have the most supportive husband in the world. We both want the best for each other. We have three young children, but we know our career pursuits also give us fulfillment, so we both make sacrifices for each other. I try to make it to as many Birmingham writing events as I can, but my lifestyle is such that I have to pick and choose. I want the writers in my community to feel supported, so I try to give that support in a variety of ways, whether it’s showing up, pep talks on social media, or reading manuscripts people send my way.

I look for ways to spend valuable time with writers while also acknowledging my roles as a mother, wife, writer, and instructor. It’s not easy, but I try to make good choices –overall— in how and where I spend my time.

 

I appreciate your honest on the work-life balance equation. What organizations and resources would you suggest to other writers in Alabama looking for support, encouragement, and development? What organizations have helped you and how?

Cave Canem is an incredible experience, but there are so many more options now for poets of color. I’d recommend The Watering Hole and Kundiman.

The organization that has made the most impact on my life recently, however, is See Jane Write.  See Jane Write (SJW) is a Birmingham organization for women who write and blog. Being a part of SJW has taught me the business side of writing. As a writer, I’m an entrepreneur, and that was something I had to come to understand. So often as women we are trained not to self-promote, but understanding branding and marketing as a writer is crucial. I’m an introvert, so this doesn’t come naturally, but it’s necessary. SJW has given me the tools, resources, and confidence to pursue being profitable as a writer.

 

Would you say this book is “teachable” for academic settings?

Absolutely. One of the sections from Mend I’m most proud of is the sonnet corona. It’s a modified sonnet, but the syllabic count is spot on (10 or 11 syllables per line). I made an effort to have a narrative arc, and it’s a response to Harriet Washington’s concept of “the medical plantation.” Harriet Washington wrote a book called Medical Apartheid that details several cases of medical experimentation on black bodies from slavery until now. There were many cases of medical experimentation during slavery.  What yielded from these situations was medical advancement, fame, and money for the doctors. As a result, Washington describes these spaces as “medical plantations.” The title of the sonnet corona is “What Yields.”

This book relied on historical research and references an actual case in medical history.  It can be incorporated into women studies, medical ethics, history, English and creative writing courses.  

 

What final words do you have for Alabama writers, readers, and dreamers?

In order to move forward, we have to understand our history. It’s difficult to thoughtfully consider our past, but we perpetuate ignorance when we don’t see or value the humanity of the people we are considering.  My hope is that people don’t distance themselves from the content of this book, but rather see how they are a part of this story. We should all question our role in the continuing story of equality in America.


Thank you so much Kwoya for sharing--and for writing such a magnificent book.

Mend can be pre-ordered online from the University of Kentucky Press website.

Learn more about Kwoya from her website or
twitter, where she tweets as @kwoyamaples.

To Bear Witness      (a poem from Mend)

Delia held my hand all through it
        my nates splayed open

and like the butcher’s meat,
        I belonged to that steel.

The doctor standing
        in the triangle between like

he always was.
        He is the air there

and he will separate the day from the night.
        Then the pain

until I see the cow with no head.
         I swear it was just as real as you and me;

it walked in this here room      hooves clicking,
          a black soot hole for a neck.

And now, Delia squeezes my hand to the bone
           like the cow is hers,

like it is her spine on the table,
          her chattering un-intelligibles

and writhing
        all through it.  

 

Alina Stefanescu
SHOW MO on May 23rd at Hoover Public Library
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You are invited to attend SHOW MO, Wednesday May 23, 1-3p.m, Hoover Public Library (Birmingham, Al). At this special event you will find inspiration AND get feedback on your work! This will help you polish your manuscript for the SCBWI Southern Breeze Contest in June.

It works like this: You bring your pages or paintings and then read or show your work to other writers and illustrators.  Participants will then fill-out feedback sheets provided for them. Afterwards, the feedback sheets can be used to improve and revise your work.

Cost:  Free and open to the public, so yes, you can bring a non-SCBWI writing friend; however, they will not be able to enter our annual writing contest.

HOW MANY PAGES/ILLUSTRATIONS: Up to ten, double spaced pages in a 12-point font. Your pages should be your best work and near submission ready. For illustrators, bring up to four illustrations for feedback. For more of the Writing Contest submission information, see http://southern-breeze.scbwi.org/contests/writing-contest/.

 

To insure everyone is reached, where participation exceeds 8 people, we will break into groups of 4-6. This is a similar format to our conference Informal Critiques.

For more information and to reserve your place RSVP Claire Datnow: cldatnow@me.com

Alina Stefanescu
Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery
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AWC is are excited to announce a weekend of free workshops and book fairs supported by the Alabama Writer's Forum and various local and state grants. You can learn more about the 2018 Alabama Book Festival scheduled for April 20 and 21st at the Alabama Book Festival website.

In the meantime, apart from the incredible literary opportunities, here's why we think you should attend.

Free Workshops

ABF is offering a diverse set of FREE writing workshops on Saturday, April 21, 2018, on everything from poetry to podcasting and audio books to writing about the arts. Click here for a description of the workshops.

Register now because seats are filling up!

 

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Professional Development for Educators

For teachers of creative writing grades 6-12, the Alabama Writers' Forum is offering a complimentary workshop on Friday, April 20 at the Troy University Montgomery Campus in downtown Montgomery. This is a great professional development opportunity for educators! Click here to view the program.

Open Mic Opportunities

Our new and improved open-mic stage is now taking applications for 15-minute slots! Click here for information on how to read in our food court during the day!

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The Alabama Book Festival is located at Old Alabama Town in Montgomery, Alabama. You can use the map below to help you plot the trip.

 
Alina Stefanescu
ASPS Spring Workshop in Orange Beach
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WORKSHOP LEADER AND SPEAKER BIOS

Jacqueline Allen Trimble lives and writes in Montgomery, Alabama, where she is a Professor of English and the chairperson of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University. She holds three degrees in English: the B.A. from Huntingdon College, and the M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Alabama.   She is the current board president of the Alabama Writers Forum, and a member of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Museum Board, serving as chairperson of the literary arts award committee for high school and college students.   She has won several teaching and writing awards, including the Exemplary Teacher Award (for junior faculty), The Todd Award for Outstanding Teaching (for senior faculty), The Julia Lightfoot Sellers Award (given by the Huntingdon College junior and senior class to the faculty member who has most inspired them to learning), and The University of Alabama’s Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award, for Race, Gender Culture in Adrienne Kennedy’s  In One Act, an analysis of the playwright Adrienne Kennedy’s absurd dramas through the lens of feminist/womanist theory. 

Her research interests include 20th century black women writers, feminist theory, and representations of race and gender in popular culture.  She is also a poet.  Her work has appeared in The Offing, Blue Lake Review, The Louisville Review and The Griot. American Happiness, her first collection is published by NewSouth Books.  The ironically titled book examines America’s refusal to grapple with hard truths, preferring instead the pretense that everyone and everything is just fine.   Recently awarded a Key West Literary Seminar scholarship, she is currently a Cave Canem fellow and the recipient of a 2017 literary arts fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. American Happiness won the 2016 Balcones Poetry Prize and was named best book of 2016 by the new Seven Sisters Book Awards. 

Adam Vines graduated with his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He then received his MFA from the University of Florida in 2006, where he also taught and earned the Excellence in Teaching Award from the University Writing Program in 2005. He is now an assistant professor at UAB, where he teaches poetry writing workshops and earned the Core Teaching Award from the UAB English Department in 2008.  

He has published work in Kenyon ReviewSouthwest ReviewPoetry, and many others.  He was named the Tennessee Williams Scholar at the 2008 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. At UAB, he is on faculty at the annual Ada Long Creative Writers’ Workshop for high school students. Also for UAB, Adam has been the editor of Birmingham Poetry Review (BPR) since 2011. In 2012, Adam was among the featured debut poets in Poets and Writers, and was granted the Individual Artist Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA) the following year. His collection of poetry entitled The Coal Life was nominated for The Poet’s Prize in 2014. He also published a collaborative collection of poetry with Allen Jih entitled According to Discretion. Most recently, Adam was awarded the William Alexander II & Lisa Percy Fellowship at the Rivendell Writers’ Colony in Sewanee for a residency in spring 2017. 

Adam’s current project is a collection of ekphrastic poems inspired by his love of visual art. These poems will center on the fascinating interactions between people and the art they observe at museums. Some of these have recently been published in  32 PoemsGulf Coast, and The Southwest Review, among others.

 

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You can learn more about ASPS contests, workshops, and meetings on the ASPS Facebook page

Alina Stefanescu
The Present Tense Podcast featuring Magic City Poetry Festival Poets.
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AWC member Anne Markham Bailey is the publisher of Green Bucket Press located in Irondale. She is also the creator of the Present Tense Podcast series which considers stories of authentic voice.

In the first of a two part Poet Interviews series, Green Bucket Press founder and poet Anne Markham Bailey ushers the thoughts and poems of a wide range of poets as they approach questions of why they write poems, how they came to the craft, the role of the poet in society and their relationship with language. Listen to each poet as they read a recent poem as well.

If the fancy web player below doesn't work on your computer, you can listen directly to the Poet Interview: Part 1 in your Itunes. 

Learn more about the poets featured in this podcast, including:

You can follow the Present Tense Podcast on Itunes here.

And learn more about the Magic City Poetry Festival events here. 

We are thrilled to see all the ways in which local writers make poetry and literature accessible, and grateful to Green Bucket Press for supporting the Magic City Poetry Festival. 

 

Alina Stefanescu
Alabama State Poetry Society Spring 2018 Contests

It's time for the annual ASPS Spring Contests!

Winners will be announced at Spring Conference on April 28th in Orange Beach, Alabama. 

Postmark Deadline for receiving submissions:  March 12, 2018

RULES

 

  1. Entry fees for ASPS members ~ $1 Per poem.  No limit to number of poems submitted.  More than one poem can be submitted for any contest.

  2. Entry fees for non-members ~ $5 per poem.  NO MORE THAN 5 SUBMISSIONS.

  3. The same poem may not be entered into more than one category.

  4. Poems cannot have won a monetary award in a previous ASPS contest.

  5. No prior publication. Poems cannot have been published before in online magazine/publication or a journal, book or other professional source.

  6. No limit on number of entries for ASPS members, but only one award per contest.   (Send SASE for winners’ list--#10 envelope only)

  7. Line limit for all contests is 40 lines unless otherwise specified.

 

REQUIREMENTS:

  1. Submit 2 copies of each poem on 8 ½ x 11 paper using plain type and fonts only:    
  2. On each copy, put category name and number in upper left hand corner.
  3. On one copy only, put your name, address, e-mail and “member” or “non-member” in upper right hand corner. (Address labels are acceptable.)
  4. Mail entries and fees to Jeanette Willert, 8 Seddon Point, Pell City AL 35128.
  5. QUESTIONS ?  e-mail hrwillert@gmail.com. Also see the ASPS website at alpoets.org for additional copies of this brochure and other information.    


Submissions must be postmarked by March 12th, 2018.  

 

 

CONTESTS:

1.  ALABAMA STATE POETRY SOCIETY CONTEST (ASPS Members Only): Sponsored by the Alabama State Poetry Society.
Any form and topic; no line limit.
Awards:  $75, $50, $25, $10 and 1 Honorable Mention.

2.  POET’S CHOICE (ASPS Members Only): Sponsored by Jeanette Willert    
You choose topic and form.  Line limit:  200 lines.    
Awards:  $50, $25, $15.  Honorable Mentions at Judge’s discretion.

3.  MEMORIES: Sponsored by Roger Carlisle
A poem about any significant memories or events in your own life.
Any style. Up to 42 lines or 500 words if a prose poem.
Awards $75, $50, $25 plus honorable mention.

4.  THALASSIC POEM (related to the sea): Sponsored by Jessica Temple
Any form; line limit 60
Awards: $25, $15, $10, HM at judge's discretion

5. SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT (ASPS Members Only): Sponsored by Mavis Jarrell
Poem should educate and encourage any age reader the importance of recycling or other ways to save our environment.
Any form. Maximum 60 lines.
Awards: $25, $15, $10.  Honorable Mention.    

6.  LYDIA STEFANESCU MEMORIAL CONTEST: Sponsored by Alina Stefanescu
Any form
Length limited to one page of text, whether lineated or block prose poetry.
Open to non-members of ASPS
First prize $50; Honorable mention $25

7.  SANDCASTLES: Sponsored by Myra Ward Barra
Any form; any length.
Awards:  $20, $15, $10.

8. THE DODIE WALTON HORNE MEMORIAL PRIZE: Sponsored by Jennifer Horne, Poet Laureate of Alabama
Subject: An experience of change or growth.
Any length, any form.
Awards: $50, $25, $15;  and $10 Honorable Mention.    

9. A-MUSE ME!: Sponsored by P.T.  Paul.
Choose an animal - real or imaginary - to be your muse. Then, let that animal tell us - in their own voice – how they inspire, comfort, console, and rejoice with you in your poetic endeavors!  Remember: it is your Muse who is speaking, not you!
Any form, any style, minimum 20 lines, limit one page.
Awards:: $25.00, $15.00,  $10.00.

10.  HUMOR ME!: Sponsored by Brianna and Paula Hicks Smith.
No form restrictions.  No more than 60 lines.
Topic:  Anything that brings joy or a smile.    
Awards:  $25, $15, $10.    

11. ODE TO MY PET ROCK: Sponsored by Vincent Tomeo .
Humorous, Free Verse, Line Limit:   25.
Awards:   $25, $15, $10, $5

12.  WRITERS ANONYMOUS CONTEST (ASPS Members Only): Sponsored by the Writers Anonymous group in Pell City.
Form: Villanelle. Line limit as dictated by form.   
Subject: Any.   
Awards: $50, $25, $15, $10. Honorable Mentions  at Judge’s Discretion.

13.  PRECIOUS PRODIGAL CONTEST (ASPS Members Only): Sponsored by Harry and Rita Moritz. Form: Any.  Line Limit: 50
Subject: “There’s a New Day Dawning” (literal or symbolic)
Awards: $30, $20, $15, $10, Honorable Mentionss at Judge’s discretion

14.  THE HORACE RAY (BUDDY) ROBERTS JR. MEMORIAL CONTEST: Sponsored by Harry & Rita Moritz
For Buddy, who loved words and books more than anyone else we’ve ever known.
Subject: Words and/or the People Who Read or Write Them
Form: Any. If you use a form, name the form. (No explicit erotica, profanity, or vulgarities)
Line Limit: No less than 30, no more than 80. (Blank lines do not count)
Prize: A single prize of $100.
Open to non-members of ASPS but must be present to win.

Alina Stefanescu
Woodlawn Writer's Corps: Growing Literary Community

I got the chance to chat with Elizabeth (Liz) Hughey about an incredible fundraising Read-A-Thon later this month. I am deeply grateful to her for taking the time to answer these questions and share a few photos. Here's what I learned and why Alabama should get involved or share. 


DeShayla shares her writing at DISCO in Birmingham, Alabama. 

DeShayla shares her writing at DISCO in Birmingham, Alabama. 

ALINA: I should begin by acknowledging that DISCO originally appeared on my radar while searching for Clem Snide shows in Birmingham. I was impressed to discover that they played a fundraising show for DISCO back in 2010. I keep hearing about this EPIC Read-A-Thon happening at the end of February. What is a Read-A-Thon and why should literature lovers, writers, poets, podiatrists, and sentient mammals care?

LIZ: A read-a-thon is pretty much like a walk-a-thon, except that instead of walking, you’ll be sitting in a comfy leather wingback reading stories. Most readers sign up to read for 10 to 20 minutes on the day (or night) of the event. That's much less time than it takes to walk a 5K. Participants ask their family and friends to sponsor their reading. DISCO supplies the reading material, which this year will be a mix of short stories and prose poems. We’ll have food trucks, prizes and activities for kids, too. All you have to do is show up and read or listen for a bit!

 

Lauren and Dietric review a poem at DISCO.

Lauren and Dietric review a poem at DISCO.

ALINA: Is there a specific occasion for the Epic Read-A-Thon?

LIZ: Our annual Epic Read-A-Thon helps fund the Woodlawn Writers Corps, which offers weekly creative writing workshops to nearly 700 students at Oliver Elementary, Avondale Elementary and Putnam Middle School. The Corps is based on the idea that language and storytelling empower students to embrace their imaginations, strengthen their vocabulary and writing skills, and practice creative problem-solving.

We also emphasize that writing is meant to be read, shared and celebrated. So, at the end of every school year, DISCO publishes a book of student poems. In 2016, the anthology was titled The Stars Are Lying. Every student receives a free copy of the anthology, and DISCO hosts a student reading at our space in Woodlawn. I think it makes a tremendous difference to see your work in print--and to understand that your voice is unique, important enough to share with others. Over the long term, these anthologies preserve a slice of local history, the story of the hearts and minds of students in a particular part of Birmingham, Alabama during a particular time period. 

 

Chip Brantley & Elizabeth Hughey

Chip Brantley & Elizabeth Hughey

ALINA: I've been to several wonderful readings at DISCO, and its known among local poets as a hub for Nitty Gritty Magic City readings. What inspired the creation of DISCO and its programs?

LIZ:  My husband, Chip Brantley, and I are both writers. We founded DISCO because we wanted to give kids in Birmingham more opportunities to write and be creative. We also wanted kids to meet and learn from the creative writers and thinkers in our city. As a model, we looked towards Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia in San Francisco and found a lot of resources at 826 National.

In the beginning, our guiding principle was: What do we wish we could have done when were kids? So, in addition to offering workshops for kids, DISCO hosts readings, writing groups and music and art shows. We also sponsor the Tattler, the student-run school newspaper at Woodlawn High School.

 

ALINA: . What has been the most surprising lesson about building literary community from the ground up? 

LIZ: The literary community in Birmingham quickly adopted DISCO and made it their own! People often visit the space for an event and get inspired to bring their own creative project to DISCO, so our space in Woodlawn has evolved into a hub for creative community projects and events. We realized early on that we could not (and should not) completely control what DISCO is or will become. It really has been a community effort, and most of our programs are still fueled by incredible volunteers.

 

ALINA: This will be my first Read-A-Thon, and I can't wait to sample the readings. What authors should we expect to hear on the 23rd and 24th?

LIZ: The read-a-thon planning committee worked hard on curating the perfect reading list! There will be readings from many authors, including (but not limited to): Lydia Davis, W.S. Merwin, Jamaica Kincaid, George Saunders, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Claudia Rankine, Lucia Berlin, Leonard Cohen, Lorrie Moore, Amelia Martens (who read at DISCO a few years ago), Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Jung Yun, Anthony Doerr, Carmen Maria Machado, Tim O'Brien, Barry Lopez, ZZ Packer, I could go on and on....Or you can check out the schedule in its entirety here.

New to the schedule this year is a poetry reading given by some of DISCO’s star poets from Putnam Middle School at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 24.

Also, we’ll celebrate the finale with Ugly Baby Improv Show at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. This is one of my favorite parts of the event. I always laugh until my cheeks hurt.

We founded DISCO because we wanted to give kids in Birmingham more opportunities to write and be creative. We also wanted kids to meet and learn from the creative writers and thinkers in our city.
— Elizabeth Hughey

 

ALINA: The readings sound incredible! If I'm uncomfortable with reading in public, is there another way that I can volunteer to help at the Read-A-Thon?

LIZ: Absolutely! We need help running the event! Any shy volunteers can contact me directly at liz@desertislandsupplyco.com.

Or, you can of course donate to the Epic Read-A-Thon campaign and support the Woodlawn Writers Corps or purchase a copy of their anthology, Jellyfish In Disguise.

ALINA: Thank you so much, Liz.

 

 

 

 

Alina Stefanescu
Place, Poetry, and Childhood: A conversation with Ramey Channell.
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As part of our ongoing feature of AWC members, I chatted with Ramey Channell to learn more about her enchanted writing.


ALINA: It is often said that writers are made not born, yet so many writers have told me that they never imagined not being a writer. Despite career paths and families and challenges, I keep hearing about the irresistible impulse and drive to write. When did you realize you were going to be a writer? 

RAMEY: I actually realized I was going to be a writer before I was able to write. I have two older sisters, and the one closest to me in age is three years older than I am, so she started to school three years before I did. I can remember being overwhelmed with impatience to hurry up and get to school where I could learn to write, so that I could write poems and stories. In the first grade, I mostly tried to cope with the shock and disorientation of day-to-day elementary school life. But in the second grade, I wrote a play, and in the third grade I wrote stories. I started writing at an early age and can’t stop.


ALINA: The feelings you just described are not foreign to me. As writers, reading is a form of continuing education and inspiration. What authors do you think every writer, whether emerging, aspiring, or established should read?

RAMEY: How about a list of ten?

  1. Alex Haley - Roots: The Saga of an American Family – The blending of family saga, nonfiction, and historical fiction at its best, and one of the most important U.S. novels of the 20th century. One reviewer called Roots “valid in its essential narrative and informed by the imagination.”  Alex Haley’s writing reveals the power of oral history and paves the way for future generations of story tellers. Inspiring quotes from Alex Haley:  “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” and “In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”
  2. J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye – One of literature’s most notable characters, Holden Caulfield, in an unforgettable and superbly written book. The Catcher in the Rye is a classic American coming-of-age novel written by one of our most notable and capable authors.
  3. Annie Dillard – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a long nonfictional account of her Thoreau-style close observations of nature, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. A nonfiction narrative book, told from a first-person point of view, the book is an intimate and intricate account of the author’s contemplations on nature and life. This book is a perfect example of “how to describe things.”
  4. Kate Chopin – The Awakening - Late 19th century, but too essential and stunningly beautiful to leave off my list. Kate Chopin’s writing is rich and visual.
  5. Thomas Wolfe – Look Homeward Angel - The spectacular autobiographical novel about the life of a young man, Eugene Gant, growing up in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina.
  6. Michael Shaara -  The Killer Angels – excellent storytelling, vivid and startling realism, an example of historical fiction that brings tragedy to life on the written page.
  7. Conrad Richter – The Trees, The Fields, and The Town: the Awakening Land series. Authentic and intensely readable chronicle of the life of an amazing woman, Sayward Luckett, and her family of early white settlers in the Ohio Valley.
  8. William Faulkner – The Reivers – Just a delightful and masterfully written account of a fun-loving, worthless scoundrel, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1963.
  9. Eudora Welty – "A Worn Path" (short story) and The Optimist’s Daughter (novel) - The delicate and compassionate treatment of her subjects gives Eudora Welty’s writing a strength and appeal few writers can match. But we all should try.
  10. Dee Brown – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West – Dee Brown’s remarkable book totally revised the image of the American west. With meticulous research and masterful storytelling, Dee Brown produced a ground-breaking best seller that is revelatory and memorable. Essential reading for any American writer, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee paved the way for many contemporary authors.

ALINA: Eudora Welty wrote the following about the importance of "place" in fiction:

"Place being brought to life in the round before the reader’s eye is the readiest and gentlest and most honest and natural way this can be brought about, I think; every instinct advises it. The moment the place in which the novel happens is accepted as true, through it will begin to glow, in a kind of recognizable glory, the feeling and thought that inhabited the novel in the author’s head and animated the whole of his work."

"Place" seems to hold an especially strong grasp on Southern-identified writers. What inspires and beguiles you in Alabama's landscape or natural areas? Why?

RAMEY: I was born in a small Alabama town and grew up in and around the deep backwoods. From my earliest memories, I have always been aware that there is magic afoot in Alabama woodlands! As a child I played beneath trees, talked to trees, wrote poems about trees, collected arrowheads and strange rocks from fields and paths where I played, and spent hours lying on my back in a grassy field, looking up into the amazing and hypnotic blue sky above me. I’m mesmerized by the variations of wild flowers, tree bark, leaves, berries, roots, and by the magical beings who live in the trees and in the shade beneath the trees. There is always magic in the landscape around me, not hard to find by anyone willing to see.


ALINA: If you don't mind my asking, do you have any current projects you can discuss?

RAMEY: I’m currently working on book three in the Moonlight Ridge Series. This series follows the seasons: the first, Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge, is set in summer. The second, The Witches of Moonlight Ridge is set in autumn. And the third is set in treacherously cold winter. The young protagonists, Lily Claire and Willie T., are once again on the trail of mysteries, enchantments,  and magic as the community gets ready to celebrate the Christmas season, with a few surprises and dangers lurking in the woods nearby.

I’m also working on illustrations for a children’s picture book, a YA paranormal mystery, I’m researching and gathering information for a murder mystery that I began writing several years ago, I’m working on a juvenile biography of an important figure in Birmingham history, and putting together a collection of short stories.


ALINA: Do you have any writing-related superstitions that influence your process and/or working relationships?

RAMEY: I have no writing-related superstitions, no rules, no schedule, I’m sorry to say, and a total disregard for the best way to do things! I will say that when I got stuck during the creation of The Witches of Moonlight Ridge, I was rescued by the discipline of writing “morning pages,” getting three pages written every morning before getting out of bed, before coffee, before anything else, as instructed in the wonderful book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This was the only time I really followed rules, and I’ll probably rely on that method again if I have trouble making progress on a writing project in the future.

Witches Front Cover Yellow 40 percent.jpg

ALINA: How did you find a publisher for your work?

RAMEY: Looking for a publisher is not for the faint of heart. I felt from the beginning that my Moonlight Ridge books should be published by an Alabama, Georgia, or Mississippi based publisher, and submitted the manuscript to several publishers in the southern region. At one point I received a phone call from an editor at one well known publishing house, who raved about how impressed she was with the story and with my writing, and how it was “perfect” for their business. The editor went into detailed discussion of the manuscript and what strong images and emotions my writing evoked. Then, I never heard from them again. Emails were not answered and I received no word for about one year. Finally the manuscript was returned to me with no fanfare.

After a long search and a few more disappointments and dead ends, Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge was accepted and published in 2010 by Chalet Publishers LLC, an indie publisher with representatives in Arizona and Alabama. Chalet was recommended by a fellow Alabama author, and I found them efficient, professional, and very easy to work with. Then, Chalet closed its doors and went out of business during the recession, returning publication rights to all the authors they had published, so I was on the street again, looking for a publisher. After a few recommendations that ended in disastrous turmoil, I was contacted by a publisher who had read the first edition of Sweet Music, who told me he would gladly publish the book in a second edition. but that he recommended that I do my own publishing, create my own publishing imprint, and have control of all the details, avoiding the heartaches and headaches of trying to come to terms with editors who seemed to have no concept of what I intended my books to be. So I did just that and published the second edition of Sweet Music and the next book, The Witches of Moonlight Ridge, under my own imprint, St. Leonard’s Field. For continuity and maintaining control of my work, I’ll continue to publish future volumes of the Moonlight Ridge Series under the imprint of St. Leonard’s Field, but I plan to go with traditional publishers for my upcoming murder mystery and my children’s books.


ALINA: It's so helpful to learn how other writers navigate the treacherous waters of publication. Thank you for sharing that. Now to move back into less soul-silencing territory, if you could be any historical character, who would it be and why?

RAMEY: I would want to be one of the Wright brothers: Wilbur or Orville. I’ve always been intrigued by the Wright brothers, and when I read David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers biography I learned many interesting facts about their childhood and early life, and how they went from tinkering with bicycles to airplanes. They were so full of curiosity and energy, and seemed to never get tired. To be one of the first people to fly would be the greatest thrill and accomplishment I can imagine.


ALINA: What do you value about AWC as an organization?

RAMEY: One thing I value most about Alabama Writers Conclave is the interaction with other writers, which keeps me from becoming a total hermit. And I love Alalitcom. I’m thrilled when one of my stories or poems is published in Alalitcom, and I enjoy reading the works of my fellow writers.

I especially love the AWC newsletter and all the informative news about the excitement and activity in the Alabama literary community. The AWC newsletter is our best source for reminders of contests, conferences, publication announcements from fellow Alabama writers, and current literary events. The newsletter keeps us up-to-date and well informed.


ALINA: Earlier I realized that I spoke about southern writers in a way that assumed you identified with this category. In my experience, however, "Southern writing" is defined in many different ways, depending on the writer. What does it mean to be a "southern writer" and do you self-identify as one? Why or why not?

RAMEY: I do identify myself as a southern writer because my writing is set in the geographical south and my development as a writer had its origin in the geographical south. Being a southern writer means that my writing is spun from the deep feelings of home and family and an ever-expanding  inclusive community.

Being a southern writer means having a strong sense of place and a responsibility to those who were here before me and those who will come after me: to preserve something worthwhile for lovers of literature.


ALINA: The most beautiful place in the world is....

RAMEY: The most beautiful place in the world is the mountain of my childhood, the subject of one of my poems.

Calling Up Magic

I remember the mountain.
Mountain trees are tall and wild,
with leaves, like jewels, ablaze in blinding sun.
Deep shadows lie beneath those towering trees:
somber shadows where secrets rest,
half-remembered, long-enchanted.
Ancient stones are scattered there,
cloaked with moss and willful vines
like strong, possessive arms entwined.

The old dirt road curves gracefully
beneath wild cherry, sweet gum and hickory branches,
then emerges from cool, shadowed places
into a sunlit blast of sand: red, soft, and warm.
Primordial boulders, imposing, gray, and summer-hot,
perfume the mountain air with fragrance like no other,
and the smell makes my mouth water,
and the air moves around me, gently caressing,
like mountain spirits whispering blessings.

In heat laden air, a rough-barked tree shimmers,
its gnarled exterior shredded and torn
where bobcats' sharpening claws
have, over time, left deep enduring scars.
Birds trill, noisy in the bushes,
and insects hum, a choir of tiny whirring machines.
They are calling up magic, singing loud incantations
of mysterious joy as dark clouds gather
out of the languid, heavy grip of Alabama summer.


Ramey Channell became a poetry and fiction lover very early in life and has had poetry, short stories, and children’s stories published by Aura Literary Arts Review, Alabama State Poetry Society, Alabama Writers Conclave, Birmingham Arts Journal, Scholastic Press, Rivers Edge Publishing and others. Ramey received the Barksdale-Maynard Award for Fiction for her short story, “Voltus Electricalus and Strata Illuminata,” the Thomas Brown Achievement Award for Poetry, and numerous awards from Alabama Writers’ Conclave.  Her short story “In a Land That Is Fairer than Day,” and her poem “Golden Trees,” were published in the widely acclaimed Ordinary and Sacred as Blood: Alabama Women Speak, and her short story "Wings" is featured in Belles' Letters 2, published in 2017 by Livingston Press. Ramey’s novels, Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge, and The Witches of Moonlight Ridge, are works of fiction based on her rural Alabama childhood. She lives in her hometown of Leeds, Alabama, and is working on book three of The Moonlight Ridge Series, a short story collection, a YA paranormal mystery, and an illustrated children’s book. She blogs at The Painted Possum

 

Alina Stefanescu