Alabama Writers Conclave
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What’s happening in the Alabama writing world…

 
 
 
 
 
"Time is a thing I study:" Poet and editor Rachel Nix in conversation with Alina Stefanescu.
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ALINA: You live in a small Alabama town. Tell us what you love about this town--its special secrets or swimming holes--and then tell us what challenges you've experienced as a writer living in the rural south. 

RACHEL: I live in Double Springs and always have. It’s a strange thing, I guess, to cling to a place known for beliefs so unlike my own but there’s more to my town—or county—than history gives either credit for.

I’m pretty introverted and despise places that have more parking lots than trees. Here, I’m about fifteen minutes from a national forest and the only sounds I’m kept awake by are my dogs’ antics. I don’t have to check the air quality before playing tag with my nephew. With the exception of tractors slowing things up, traffic is non-existent. People are mostly kind and most any stranger would stop and help change a flat.

Those kindnesses are sometimes warped by way of politics and learned hatred. Challenges are always present and do indeed wager a firm fight against comforts. As a writer, and simply as a progressive-minded individual, I’m at least an hour’s drive from any communities I find much relation to in terms of my interests or beliefs. In my own area, I’m often cursed at for the political stickers on my car. This is a town with two traffic lights and roughly a thousand residents. A lot of people here are nervous of bigger cities or find them offensive; in juxtaposition to such notions held here, I’ve never felt unsafe in a place like Birmingham, for example, especially for something as simple as showing my alliances via a bumper sticker. That’s a small example of the larger predicament turned motivation: promoting my own ideas or experiences through writing used to be a wildly frightening thing for me; meeting so many similar people in towns or states outside of my own has given me the bravery to share my thinking, even if my thoughts appear to frown upon the more common perspectives held locally.

Essentially: I love my home but I’d love to see it love better.

ALINA: No truer words of love could be spoken. Love imples a commitment to stick around and improve. On that note, You edited a wonderful anthology and I was hoping you'd share with us how this anthology came together. What did you like most about editing an anthology? 

RACHEL: Thank you and I’m thrilled you enjoyed it. Years ago I was an associate editor for Pankhearst, a writers collective which released several collections before its eventual disbandment. The idea for America Is Not the World was dreamed up by founding editor, Evangeline Jennings, and poetry editor, Kate Garrett. They passed the concept on to me, referencing my intense love for culture while occupying the most conservative [and possibly the whitest] district in the country.

 In editing an anthology that spoke both beautifully and at times aggressively against absurd bigotries, my faith grew in my own country. This was my first effort in editing an anthology and I was overrun with hundreds of brave submissions from all over the world, all proving people are ready to fight and forgive—each in the right measure. The whole process was a healing one. Then getting to pass along a book that offered proof of universal similarities? Getting responses from those who typically didn’t care for reading, saying they found themselves curious about others because of the book? I’ll be forever proud of getting to assist in that. 

 

ALINA: If you could edit an anthology devoted to southern writing, what would it be titled? What would be its focus? What would it include?

RACHEL: Excellent question and now I’m plotting how to get in the editing seat for such an anthology. I’d have to think on a title but I believe I’d want it to reflect rural life and the contrast within: run-ins with the righteous or the kindness of preachers who won’t charge for delivering your kin to the grave; growing up with well water, the pure taste of it and the root canals we never knew we’d need from it; the effort to provide in a slanted economy or the privilege of having neighbors who grow too many vegetables; the lack of hotels or the way quiet towns fills their streets during strawberry festivals.

ALINA: For me, the South is best tasted by backroads. I get the feeling you have a similar appreciation for the unpopular routes. What fascinates you most about backroads? Do you have a favorite Alabama backroad?

RACHEL: Time fades into the background on backroads. We don’t take those roads to conserve time; we do it to avoid time altogether. Reality is an exhausting experiment but when riding aimlessly with nothing to consider but what music to listen to, breathing is a much simpler act. This will sound a bit odd but my favorite backroad is the one connecting to the graveyard my grandmother was buried in. My sister and I were tired of crying and speaking to people the day of her funeral; when services were over, we took the first road away from the church and proceeded to get lost after turning too many times. We drove long enough for time to disappear and gave ourselves a while to exist in a space our grandmother hadn’t disappeared from. I still take those roads for the same reasons eight years later.

ALINA: As a poet, your voice is lyrical, rooted in place, and yet somehow, also, watching the narrator from a corner. I love reading your poems. Can you share a few recent publications with us and tell us what prompted them or how they came about?

RACHEL: That’s such a kind thing to say and I appreciate it more than I can elaborate.

“Instead” is from The Furious Gazelle’s Spring Writing Contest. It’s a pretty straightforward delivery, showing the dark and light I grew up in—maybe the way finding my own darkness was a form of light. For those who grew up in emotionally abusive situations, spectrum thought is a common theme.

Blurring” is one I’m so pleased found a home at Pidgeonholes. It was in a weird way for my uncle Earl, who struggled with alcoholism. Despite his problems he was always the one on that side of the family who showed me kindness or valued me as an individual. He and I had a lot of things in common, at least in the notion of getting black-sheeped for failing to align with family themes we didn’t feel kin to. It also pays homage to my mother’s earliest teaching: acknowledgment. Without an awareness of someone’s struggles we tend to misname their motivations. My uncle wasn’t a bad man anymore than those who hurt him and then condemned him for trying to survive it.

Yellow” is one of those poems that tumbled out on its own in reaction to reality and thankfully found a home at Anti-Heroin Chic. I could ramble on and on about the failures of our government on immigration but above all and simply put: children ought not ever be caged. My nephew, who was three years old at the time, wouldn’t know how to process such cruelty if he were aware of it. I find solace in his good heart, the way he’s always had sweet interactions with playground kids—when they didn’t speak English or before he spoke it clearly.


ALINA: As an editor of three literary magazines, can you tell us a little bit about each and poets you've discovered in your role as an editor?

RACHEL: I’m the poetry editor at cahoodaloodaling, which is best described as a collaborative publication. Our issues are shaped by an eclectic staff, Raquel Thorne swiveling in the front chair, and a revolving guest editor. We also have varying calls for submissions, based on either a theme or a style, and we love to see how our collaborators interpret them. As such, our issues are ever-changing and our style ever-evolving. 

At Hobo Camp Review, I serve as an associate editor alongside James H. Ducan, who does all the heavy lifting. As he decribes it, the camp is a gathering place for the road-weary storyteller. We invite writers to sit a spell by the fire and tell us where they've been. We're interested in travel stories, something with a dark twist, and something that'll make us laugh. Pretty much anything that sounds great read aloud beneath a railroad bridge at night. 

Screen Door Review is a literary magazine authored by individuals belonging to the southern queer community of the United States. The purpose of the magazine, as worded by managing editor, Alesha Dawson, is to provide a platform of expression to those whose identities—at least in part—derive from the complicated relationship between queer person and place. Specifically, queer person and the South. Through publication, we aim to not only express, but also validate and give value to these voices, which are oftentimes overlooked, undermined, condemned, or silenced. 

In working with these journals, I’ve certainly discovered some of my favorite poets. Early on at cahoodaloodaling, we published the ever brilliant Kate Garrett and now I don’t even know how many of her books I have on my shelves; she writes on the wildest topics yet makes everything seem less distant and more capable of understanding. Shahe Mankerian, who was published in the America Is Not the World anthology, cahoodaloodaling, and Hobo Camp Review, is another poet who I can’t rave enough about – find anything he’s written and prepare to be enamored or gutted, maybe at the same time. Through Screen Door Review I discovered Raye Hendrix, who is also an Alabama-bred poet and bravely spans the spectrum on topics and voice.


ALINA: Do you have any submissions calls you'd like to share?

 RACHEL: Both Hobo Camp Review and Screen Door Review are wide open for general submissions. We’ll soon peek out from a much needed hiatus to properly announce the In Cahoots contest at cahoodaloodaling, as well, which will offer a $150 prize for the winning collaborative work!



ALINA: What is your favorite place in Alabama? Tell me about it like it we have good coffee and time. 

RACHEL: I love the Shoals, a collective term for the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia. The cities all sort of collide with each other in north Alabama and little is thought of borders. The greatest songs in the country were recorded there while the best bands are still learning to play. Progressive ideas are elbowing their ways into popular acceptance via groups like Equality Shoals and Project Say Something. History is at home there from the work of people like Helen Keller, W.C. Handy, and countless others.

The myth of the Tennessee River’s singing has navigated its way to a full-on way of life by the locals or anyone who passes through. Artistry, or maybe motivation, is in the water. It’d honestly take a fool to dismiss the myth when the best parts of the cities are hollering distance from the river.



ALINA: Are you working on any current projects? If so, what?

RACHEL: I’ve been tinkering with a chapbook largely to do with being brought up in the South and making sense of what we’re born into—wondering toward the balm time rubs on rough-edged memories.



ALINA: What poetry craft articles or essays have helped you fine-tune your craft? Why? What did you learn from them?

RACHEL: Reading, in general, is the finest of tuners. Craft articles tend to lose me, though I understand and appreciate their intent. I’ve never been a typical learner, though I did learn to untangle my thoughts and simplify them through Mary Oliver’s Upstream, a collection of essays. Time is a thing I study, possibly too much. My writing exists largely within specific moments but through reading Oliver’s essays, I’ve learned to see moments as instructional notes rather than things to get hung up on too much. Workshopping is also the best of tools. Finding individuals who’ll call me out for my incessant adverbs or remind me of the point I’m trying to make—that’s all pretty priceless.


ALINA: Yes, I love Upstream…. it’s such a riffle-maker. And, finally, five Alabama-related metaphors or similes for the color red. Just because it’s that time of year again.

RACHEL: I want nail polish as red as the clay behind Maw-Maw’s house.

My neighbor looked piss-ant mad when the law showed up.

I heard her husband run off with a woman who had strawberry lips.

His face looked like a southern woman’s stove eye on Sunday. 

Momma’s face was on fire when I got in so late.


We’re so proud to welcome this beloved Alabama writer to AWC. Rachel Nix is an editor for cahoodaloodaling, Hobo Camp Review and Screen Door Review. Her own work has appeared in Barren, Occulum, and Pidgeonholes. She resides in Northwest Alabama, where pine trees outnumber people rather nicely. You can learn more about Rachel Nix’s writing and freelance editing work at her website, Chasing the Grey or by following her on twitter.

Alina Stefanescu
Young Adult Fiction & Fantasy: A conversation between Claire Datnow and Emma Fox.

AWC Author-to-Author Interview with Claire Datnow (author of The Sizzling Six series of ecological mysteries) and Emma Fox, author of YA fantasy novel The Arrow and the Crown

Claire Datnow: It is my honor to speak with Emma Fox, author and reviewer of young adult fantasy and historical fiction. In this interview Emma reveals the roots of her inspiration, and the path she travelled to write and publish The Arrow and The Crown, a YA fantasy novel. I’d like to start by asking Emma what influences or inspirations came to bear on this novel.

Emma: I’ve loved fairytales for as long as I can remember. As a child, I read every fairytale collection I could find, from cultures all around the world. Some of my favorites were the old Grimms’ fairytales, which have such a sense of mystery, loss and longing. A year before I began to write The Arrow and the Crown, my husband and I traveled through southern Germany, visiting many old castles and out-of-the-way villages, and walking through quiet forests and medieval towns. Many details from those experiences found their way into my novel.


Claire: You write “historical fantasy.” What does that mean?

Emma: I love fantasy that draws on actual times and places, while opening up the possibility of other realities. There are some great fairytale retellings in this genre, such as Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, which recasts a little-known Grimms’ fairytale into the world of medieval Mongolia, or Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy, where historical figures from 14th century Russia combine forces with characters from folklore.

Although The Arrow and the Crown is an original fantasy, I wanted it to have the feel of a classic fairytale, along with a real sense of history and culture. Many of the cultural details are drawn from medieval German accounts and artifacts. I researched everything from medieval cookbook recipes, to herbal lore, to the proper way to thatch a roof…and everything in-between. These are the sort of details that make the book more vivid and “grounded.” But there are also magical elements, which I think help to open up a sense of mystery and wonder to the reader.


Claire: How has the AWC helped in your development as a writer? 

Emma: Back in 2017, I entered the first pages of The Arrow and the Crown (under its working title The Beast of Weissburg) in the AWC Writing Competition. It was the first contest I’d entered since deciding to pursue my writing passion a few years earlier. When my entry won 1st place in Juvenile Fiction, it was a huge encouragement to me to keep pursuing this dream! I’ve also appreciated the warm welcome and support I’ve received from various members of the AWC. And the conference workshops I’ve attended have helped me hone my craft and learn more about the process and business of writing.  


Claire: What are some of the hurdles and surprises you’ve encountered as a debut novelist?

Emma: Well, I think this experience is a common one, but when I first started out as an author, I didn’t realize how huge and complex the publishing industry is. I had to spend a lot of time educating myself on the business side of writing: how the industry works, who the players are, how to write query letters and proposals, and the pros and cons of various publication options. Now that my novel’s out in print, I’ve had to continue learning how to manage and market it, while also carving out time for continued creative work.

As for joys, it has been great fun to see my book spread to unexpected places, and to receive feedback from various readers. So far The Arrow and the Crown has traveled to at least 7 different countries! I’ve also been surprised at the age range of my readership. I conceived this book as a young adult (YA) novel, and I’ve had fantastic responses from teen readers, which I love. But I’ve also heard back from readers all the way from 7- to 70-year-olds. It’s pretty neat, as an author, to see where your words may land!


Claire: What’s coming up next?

Emma: I’m currently working on a fantasy novel set in early-19th century Russia. It’s a fascinating time to research and write about, and there’s such a wealth of mythology in eastern Europe that most American readers are unfamiliar with. I’ve enjoyed this chance to journey farther afield in my writing!

You can learn more about Emma’s work and read her book reviews at her website.

Alina Stefanescu
Meet Adam Prince, 2019 Conference Faculty.
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Adam Prince earned his B.A. from Vassar College, his M.F.A. from the University of Arkansas, and his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. His award-winning fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Narrative Magazine, and Sewanee Review, among others. His debut short story collection The Beautiful Wishes of Ugly Men was published with Black Lawrence Press in June of 2012. He is currently at work on a novel and several screenplays. He serves as the visiting writer for the Stoke’s Center for Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama.

Fun Facts

A short story that Adam co-wrote with his wife, Charlotte Pence, was listed as “Other Distinguished Stories of 2017” in Best American Short Stories, 2018. You can read “So Far” online.

David Rice said of Adam’s debut fiction collection: “Unable to bear the pressure of wanting everything, they try to convince themselves that happiness means living with less than enough.” Learn why.

“I think inspiration is largely a myth. It’s tied to the myth of talent, which makes writers seem like we’re special people, sage-types who channel the infinite. Of course, I’m flattered when people tell me I’m talented, but I don’t really believe it. When I started writing, my work was terrible: overintellectual, overdramatic, unclear, pompous, abstract . . . And more than anything resembling talent, what I had going for me was a great interest in writing and an even greater fear of failure. I was bad, but I was willing to work really hard to get good. So when my students turn in a story that doesn’t go over too well in workshop, I tell them not to worry—that my own writing was much, much worse.” Learn more about Adam’s thoughts on inspiration.

“THE WRITING PROCESS”, a workshop with Adam Prince
We understand that creative writing is a process, but we’re often not quite sure what that process might look like, and the prescriptive, connect-the-dots approach of many writing how-to books threatens to suck the life out our work. From conception, to prewriting, to outlining, to early drafts, to revision, all the way through to the final draft, this workshop serves as a creative toolbox for making your process more effective, creative, and fun.

Register for the 2019 Conference at Orange Beach.

Alina Stefanescu
Meet Becky McLaughlin, AWC 2019 Conference Faculty.

AWC is thrilled to welcome Becky McLaughlin to Orange Beach as faculty for the 2019 Conference. She will be facilitating the following three workshops at the AWC Conference this November:

Psyche  Character  Plot

Using the concept of the psyche for building character and generating plot, this workshop will show you how psychoanalytic concepts such as the mirror stage, object small a, repression, screen memory, fundamental fantasy, primal scene, desire, and the drive can help you create a psyche, out of which comes character and thus the conflict of plot. Even if a reader is never directly shown a character’s repressed material, a good writer knows that conscious action is the result of the workings of the unconscious, and thus every good writer must know what his or her characters are repressing. You might ponder, for example, how Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest was unconsciously shaped by her mother’s not-good-enough parenting skills or what the unconscious effects of arson were on William Faulkner’s Sarty Snopes or what drives Manley Pointer to steal Hulga’s artificial leg in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People.”

Nervous Nellies, Pervs, and Psychos

Want to write a twisted love story featuring two tortured neurotics, one a beautiful hysteric and the other a lonely obsessional? Intelligent erotica based on the perverse sexuality of the exhibitionist, the fetishist, or the voyeur? A psychologically informed horror story with a psychotic killer as your central character? In this workshop, you will learn what psychoanalysis has to say about the psychical structure of the neurotic, the pervert, and the psychotic (i.e., what makes them tick) so that your fictional characters will have the ring (not to say the tics!) of psychological authenticity.

The Unconscious, Automatic Writing, and Collage Poetry

The Surrealists and their art, whether literary or visual, were deeply influenced by Sigmund Freud and his attempts to access the unconscious, the concept around which all of psychoanalysis revolves. If you have ever felt that your attachment to the rational, reasonable, and probable is restricting your ability to be creative, then the Surrealists’ techniques for stimulating their writing by tapping into the unconscious might be useful to you. In this workshop, we will explore our dreamscapes, play the game of Exquisite Corpse, and engage in various exercises to produce material from the unconscious for use in making collage poetry.

Becky McLaughlin is an associate professor of English at the University of South Alabama, where she teaches courses in critical theory, drama, early American literature, film, and gender studies. She has published essays on a wide range of topics--amputee wannabes, fetishism, feminine jouissance, sexual fantasy, epistemological trauma, auto-ethnography, the voice, and rock music, to name a few--across a wide range of periods and genres such as medieval literature, Restoration comedy, modern poetry, contemporary film, and the fairy tale. Her continuing interest in psychoanalysis has led to the writing of Hysteria, Perversion, and Paranoia in The Canterbury Tales, to be published in 2020 by Medieval Institute Publications, after which she will begin work on a book about gender and madness in contemporary film.

Because of her interest in pedagogy, she has edited a critical theory textbook and, more recently, a collection of essays on pedagogy and theory entitled Putting Theory Into Practice In the Contemporary Classroom: Theory Lessons. She has also published creative nonfiction based on her childhood in the Belgian Congo, her cousin’s suicide in a Memphis jail cell, her experience as an ESL teacher in China just before the Tiananmen Square massacre, the death of an aerobatic pilot in the Arkansas Delta, her first marriage and its annulment, and the panic attack as hysterical symptom. Although a smaller oeuvre, her fiction and poetry have appeared in journals such as Westview, Transverse, and Intelligent Erotica. She is currently editing a collection of essays on Lacanian and Foucauldian approaches to the body, under contract with McFarland Press, and writing a screenplay based on the puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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Alina Stefanescu
Alabama Writers: A snapshot of what AWC members have been doing in 2019.
 

It is simply impossible to list all the amazing things that AWC writers have accomplished this year—it would take a paid staff member in order to do the value, breadth, and diversity of these marvels justice. What follows is just a tiny snapshot that we hope you share and celebrate and encourage as part of Alabama’s growing writing community that seeks to both include and represent the diversity of this state.

AWC doesn’t believe that prizes or reviews determine the value of a writer’s work. We believe, instead, that the writing itself seeks to find an audience for whom it is both meaningful and significant. We support Alabama writers at all ages and stages of their development. As a result, we make an attempt to provide space for the writers who aren’t getting covered by local newspapers, the writers who lack publicists, the writers who are truly outside an academic community or a network of gatekeepers. There is no one-size-fits-all here—and most writers would be horrified to live in a world where one size diminished beauty by narrowing it.


Poet Jacqueline Trimble speaking to Don Noble on Alabama Public Television.

Poet Jacqueline Trimble speaking to Don Noble on Alabama Public Television.


A snapshot of happenings

After growing beneath the wing of AWC, the MAGIC CITY POETRY FESTIVAL stretched into its own and became a 501c3 nonprofit this year. We are thrilled that this celebration of Birmingham poets has become a permanent fixture of Alabama’s literary landscape thanks to the vision and persistence of its Executive Director, Ashley M. Jones.

SUE BRANNAN WALKER’S fascinating poetry collection, Let Us Imagine Her Name, earns a thoughtful review from Frederick W. Bassett.

Two of MYSTI MILWEE’s English poems "Waiting for a Lovely Soul" and "The Path of Life" were translated into Hindi and published in the newspaper News Folder in New Delhi, India.

The first recipient of AWC’s Jane Rascoe Honorary Membership Fellow (sponsored by her spouse Wayne Rascoe) was awarded to Birmingham poet, JESSICA SMITH. Soon after this award, Jessica Smith went on to win the 2019 Betty Jane Abrahams Memorial Prize from the Academy of American Poets for her poem, “Daybooks May 3 2013”. We are so proud of this poet.

BOB MCCOUGH’S “Books, Beards, Booze” podcast is available for free streaming online. A great source for Alabama’s steampunk literature community.

Poet JACQUELINE TRIMBLE is writing for the first South African online soap opera in Afrikaans. Theshow, Die Testament, airs on September 2, and American Happiness, Jackie’s collection of poetry, is as poignant as it is lyrical.

ADAM DAVIS continues to combine faith and hope in his devotionals, this time partnering with the one and only Lt. Colonel David Grossman to make Bulletproof Marriage, a devotional for the times.

In the works

Next week, the newly-formed AWC Committee for Education will be meeting at Claire Datnow’s home in Hoover to begin planning a series of free writing workshops that enable local writers to share their skills with the community.

As for what’s coming….. is it too much to say everything? Not to mention the availability of the Awarded Writers Collection in print and ready for online purchase.

Take a peek at the Calendar or visit the AWC Facebook Page to catch up on what’s coming soon.

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Alina Stefanescu
AWC and AWF: Partners in Alabama's Literary Community
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AWC Helps Alabama Writers’ Forum Celebrate Its 25 Years of Programming by Partnering to Sponsor Youth Writing Workshop

 

The AWC board is pleased to announce its support of the Alabama Writers’ Forum’s 25thAnniversary celebration, which will take place at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in downtown Birmingham on Sunday, September 22.

The AWC will be a sponsoring patron of the event, with its financial support ($500) underwriting a youth writing workshop led by the day’s featured guest, bestselling novelist and 2019 Harper Lee Award-winner Daniel Wallace.

Following the workshop, which will benefit students from the Alabama School of Fine Arts and several other schools in Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham, Wallace will give a public reading of his work in the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater on the ASFA campus starting at 2 p.m.

Tickets for the 2 p.m. reading are available to AWC members at the Forum’s member rate of $30; two lucky AWC members will receive VIP tickets by drawing. VIP tickets include premium seating and a signed limited edition print of a Daniel Wallace original drawing.

All proceeds go to supporting the Forum’s much-needed literary arts programming, including its Writing Our Stories program, which brings high-quality, year-long creative writing instruction to Alabama schools and juvenile justice facilities where such creative opportunities would otherwise be unavailable.

To purchase tickets, visit Eventbrite at https://bit.ly/30NSRqZ.

No purchase is necessary to enter the AWC drawing for VIP tickets; simply email AWC board member TJ Beitelman at tjbeitelman@asfa.k12.al.us to enter.   

Alina Stefanescu
2019 AWC Conference Faculty: Meet Alabama playwright, C. Stefan Morrisette.
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Chase Stefan Morrisette (playwright) was raised in Elberta, AL, where he spent most of his childhood using his imagination to form stories and create characters. From there, he developed an interest for live theatre – the act of becoming characters / storytellers. 

After graduating high school, Morrisette moved to New York attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, receiving his training in musical theatre. He continued his theatrical career focusing on costume design and set design, taking internships in costume houses and later designing for Off-Broadway before his focus went back to his writing. 

In late 2009 / early 2010 he began working on the first draft of what would later become Magnolia or The House at the Head of the River after being inspired by a trip down the Magnolia River in Magnolia Springs, AL, and classic southern dramas such as Fried Green Tomatoes and The Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The play, Magnolia, made its world premiere in March 2019 and enjoyed an encore production in July. 

Morrisette later collaborated on libretto for the indie musical The Journey: The Story of Your Life. The Journey had its initial reading in Gulf Shores, AL, before being performed in Boca Raton and Miami, FL, and participating in the New Orleans’ Fringe Festival before being workshopped in New York. His other works include Places!, a new backstage comedy, and The Misadventure of Tanko Mankie. Places! had its first staged reading in May 2018 at South Baldwin Community Theatre and will have its premiere January 2020.

You can learn from Chase Stefan Morissette’s experience and talent at the AWC Annual Conference in November 2019, where he will offer a workshop on playwriting at 8:00 am on Saturday morning.

Alina Stefanescu
Blood and Breath: Tina Mozelle Braziel's "Known By Salt".
Image source: Green Bucket Press

Image source: Green Bucket Press

by Lana K. Austin

WARNING: I’m a subjective reviewer. Not because I know and like Tina Mozelle Braziel, though, yes, I do know and like her. But she is a relatively new friend, so that’s not the basis of my bias. I’m inherently subjective because the poems in Known by Salt thrum inside me with a pulsing sense of truth that make them seem as if I have lived every single one of the stories conveyed. And this truth is, despite the sometimes difficult nature of it, intensely beautiful. Compellingly beautiful. This is the kind of truth that, like the salt that becomes one of the motifs in the book, not only flavors things, but is as necessary an element in our lives as blood, as breath. With such necessary truth coursing through it, Known by Salt will make every reader feel subjective, feel as if the book speaks directly to them, and no greater compliment can be given to a book.

But how does Braziel accomplish this? One way is through imagistic prowess, not just that she wields words so deftly, but that she sees so clearly. There are things that everyone else might walk right past and view as ordinary (a trailer, a house under construction, objects in the natural world), but Braziel relishes them, picks them up in her hand (or in her mind, or in her heart, or usually in all three concurrently), and turns them over and over and as she peers deeply into their every crevice to see each hidden facet. She then describes what she sees magnificently.  She bears witness with words.

Many of the things Braziel sees “talk to each other.” Themes emerge. Repeated motifs snake their way through the entire book like the bodies of water that populate the poems, motifs we hear sung again and again, familiar tunes we long to sing repeatedly like all great songs: salt, water, nature, the body.

From the first poem we can immediately ascertain that as we sojourn with Braziel we’re going to see things anew. The trailers, like those described in later poems, mentioned in “Homemaking Along Lay Lake” proffer loveliness beyond the banal Jerry Springer cliché, and, dare I say, they provide epiphany, with their “dahlia bulbs” that “need to be dug and spread”, and “cucumber and squash/that bridge well beyond their beds,” “throng of willow flies”  and “drift of blossoms.”

And the water. Oh, the water that ebbs and flows and rises and recedes and rises again in Known by Salt. In “On Lay Lake,” Braziel summons us back to the beginning of everything, beckons us to sing a primal song, to crawl back into the womb with, “Like a daughter who has not forgotten/ the world of her mother’s body, I know this lake, the springs/ veining her with cold, each splash/ an attempt to get outside herself.”

Then there is the body. A body. The speaker’s body. My body. Every body. Our corporeal selves are rendered astutely in Known by Salt.  We go literally to the pores in “To Season,” with the utterly marvelous lines, “Now praise us, salt (you mineral),/ sing of grit, hum as you rise from our pores.” And the body continues to come alive in “Allure”:


  1. Suede

Nude before the mirror, she scrutinizes
her sapling legs and the ant-bite swell of breasts.

She fingers the gold sequined thong,
then steps into it the way she’d cross a low wall.

Sliding into heels, she grasps her hips.
Sashay, she thinks, sashay

like the harried Bugs Bunny sways
until Elmer Fudd goes walleyed.

The suede bra tsk-tsks shut
between her breasts.


That’s just an excerpt from that poem, but you can hear that suede bra tsk-tsk, can’t you?  You can feel your body want to sashay, too, can’t you?

There is most certainly a kind of culmination of themes towards the end of the book where we see all that’s come before coalesce. The salt, the body, the water, all of it either directly referenced or implied, all the motifs of Known by Salt, are humming in every poem in the final section, but especially in those that feature building a house, building a home, building a heart, for surely it’s all three magically blending. The “Rivering” described is very much alive and necessary like all of Braziel’s poems… necessary like blood, like breath:

Rivering

When you say you will build me a river,
you sink a shovel and level planks.

I know you, your apron of nails,
the drill bits you leave scattered

around the house and yard.
Their ends are shaped like tiny daisies.

A river, you say, will make me happy
forever. And I think of our first day.

You spread my quilt in the sun.
I told you then it is all water:

the hill is wave; the field, a low pond
You said I see that now.

And now I know rivers.
How they gully, smooth rock

to stone, slick mud.
How they bed by lying down.


Source: WBRC 6

Source: WBRC 6

Explore more of Tina’s poetry (as well as that of her salt sister Ashley M. Jones) in this excellent interview by WBRC.

Alina Stefanescu
Apply for the Desert Island Supply Co. Fellowship!
desert island suuply co.png

The Desert Island Supply Co. is accepting applications for Fellows who will contribute to DISCO’s mission and operations during the 2019-20 academic year.  

The Desert Island Supply Co. is a nonprofit creative writing and arts center for students aged 6 to 18 in Birmingham. Our mission is to work alongside students as they develop  the creative tools they need to explore and document their worlds.

We lead weekly workshops in schools, and we offer after-school programs that are free for all kids in the Birmingham area. Our explorer-themed headquarters in Woodlawn also serves as a hub for creative community projects and events.


Fellowship Overview

We are looking for undergrad/graduate/recently graduated students who are passionate about creative arts, education, and design. Fellows assist in our in-school and after-school workshops, support the day-to-day administrative functions of the organization, and help to host readings and events at our space in Woodlawn during the semester. Fellows gain valuable experience in a dynamic teaching environment and see the inner workings of a growing nonprofit.


General requirements

  • Commitment to a set schedule of at least 6 hours a week

  • Enthusiasm for literature and creative arts

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills

  • Attention to detail and high level of organization

  • Experience working with children is desirable

  • Completion of Fellowship Project that brings students and/or community members together in creative ways

Fellowship Benefits

  • End-of-semester stipend

  • Learn how nonprofit organizations work

  • Develop public speaking and presentational skills

  • Foster meaningful relationships with students and coworkers

  • Work with creative people at one of Birmingham’s best nonprofit organizations

  • Get experience in program planning, product design, and retail

  • Fellowship hours may be eligible for class credit


Interested applicants should send a cover letter, resume and the contact info for two references by Friday, May 18.


Brian Connell

Executive Director

Desert Island Supply Co.

brian@desertislandsupplyco.com



Alina Stefanescu
The Little Nature Trail That Keeps On Giving: Thoughts from Claire Datnow

We are proud to feature a member column from AWC writer and media maven, Claire Datnow who shares her thoughts about the work being done to restore the nature trail and outdoor classroom she created with students back in the 1990s.

Claire is thrilled that the trail is being restored. She notes that this first ecology class became the inspiration for her eco-mystery series The Adventures of the Sizzling Six. Star Bright Books has acquired the series and will be republishing it, beginning with Monarch Mysteries this fall.

Also, don’t miss this “At This Alabama School, the Birds Belong to Everyone” by Katherine Webb-Henn, which offers more visuals as well as the video shared below.


“The Little Nature Trail That Keeps on Giving” by Claire Datnow

On this chilly winter morning, I get the odd sensation that I’ve entered a time warp. No, I am not in The Rocky Horror Show. I’m on the grounds of W. E. Putnam Middle School with a trash bag and clippers in hand. You see, way back in the 1990s my dedicated middle school students and I began building a nature trail and outdoor classroom. We never imagined that two decades later it would be blossoming anew.

Under the auspices Principal Terrell Brown, Ansel Payne, executive director of the Birmingham Audubon Society, and the Jones Valley Teaching Farm the trail is being cleared of invasive Chinese private to create a nature sanctuary for Brown nut hatches, and a place for teachers to integrate nature into the curriculum for all students.

Janina Metro, my student in the Gifted and Talented program at Putnam between 1998-2000, penned this letter to me:

I remember when we started working on the Panther Paw Nature Trail. At first, I was excited to get out of the school building for any reason, but soon fell in love with being in the woods and learning about the plants and animals that we saw. I remember the invasive species Mrs. Datnow pointed out . . .. This was my first introduction to the importance of native plant species on the continuing existence of native wildlife …Even now, as I hike and backpack with my own four children, I think fondly of the time as I point out the mayapple, trillium, the liverwort, and other plants . . . I often walked over to the trail with my best friend, who was part of the project, after school and on weekends . . . It was a wonderful place . . . to be free of our troubles and worries. The peace we found there has inspired me to teach my children about our world and how to preserve what we have been given, and to become wise stewards of nature.

The restoration project, slated to continue next fall, comes at a time when Birmingham activists are spearheading a new era of environmental justice to address decades of racial disparities and offer a better vision for the city’s youth.

I am thrilled to see this trail and the school grounds taking shape, and to be a small part of this exciting outreach.

Claire at Putnam Work Day Reminiscing over the Scrapbook Documenting the Opening of the Panther Paw Nature Trail

Claire at Putnam Work Day Reminiscing over the Scrapbook Documenting the Opening of the Panther Paw Nature Trail

Claire with Gayle Flowers (former Putnam teacher) and Mayor Randall Woodfin (former Putnam student)

Claire with Gayle Flowers (former Putnam teacher) and Mayor Randall Woodfin (former Putnam student)

Claire’s Eco-fiction for middle schoolers provides a counter-narrative in which girl heroines are driven by eco-fascination and the desire to preserve something they love.
— Alina Stefanescu, Claire's avid fan

Claire Datnow is the author of a series of eco-mysteries for 4-8 graders, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six, which reflects her passion and awe for the natural world. She wanted me to mention the wonderful way in which AWC impacted her life by connecting us.

After attending Claire’s workshop on “Eco-Fiction” at AWC, I was inspired to share her writing with my students and family in Tuscaloosa. Claire came and spoke to my middle school class at the Tuscaloosa Magnet School, and I was thrilled to offer each student their own copy of Claire’s eco-mysteries. At the time, I was blogging about the state, and Claire was thrilled when I shared her amazing educational resources with others.

Alina Stefanescu