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creative writing

English Professor Tim Parrish

New Haven’s Daily Nutmeg website has kicked off its Summer Reading Month series with a profile of English Professor Tim Parrish, a founder of the university’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program who teaches fiction and memoir. Parrish is the author of the short story collection Red Stick Men (2000), the memoir Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist (2013), and the novel The Jumper (2013). In the Daily Nutmeg profile, Parrish — who grew up in Baton Rouge, La. — discusses the theme of racism in his works and how he deals with his “upbringing in a racist culture.”

The Daily Nutmeg will publish excerpts from Parrish’s work over the next few days, and this article will be updated with links to those excerpts.

Read the profile of Parrish — “Southern Exposure” by Kathy Leonard Czepiel — in the Daily Nutmeg (August 6, 2019).

Excerpt from Parrish’s short story “Roustabout,” part of his collection Red Stick Men.

Excerpt from Parrish’s novel The Jumper

 

Ryan Leigh Dostie, BA, '11, MFA, '16

A 21-year-old soldier is raped in her barracks by a fellow soldier, and she reports the assault right away. But Army commanders don’t trust her story, and instead of trying to bring the rapist to justice, they look for ways to delegitimize the woman. It’s a familiar narrative in today’s #MeToo environment, and in alumna Ryan Leigh Dostie’s memoir, Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line, published on June 4, the reader accompanies Dostie – who was raped at 21 while serving in the U.S. Army – on her journey of pain, outrage, trauma, and survival, as she navigates the military and life beyond its hierarchy as a rape survivor.

Dostie, who holds an MFA in fiction writing and a bachelor’s degree in history from Southern, has been receiving a lot of attention for her book, even well before its publication. Last November, Formation was selected as Shelf Awareness’ “Gallery Love of the Week,” in an industry newsletter that reviews books not yet published. More recently, Formation was chosen by Amazon editors as June’s top debut, and it is listed as #2 in Esquire’s “Best Books of Summer 2019.” BookRiot named Formation one of its “50 of the Best Books to Read This Summer”; Patch named Formation one of “The 10 Best Books To Read In June”; and PureWow listed it as one of “9 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in June.” The book has also been reviewed on Publishers Weekly, Amazon, and Goodreads.

When Dostie joined the Army in 2000, she did so as a linguist. By now, she has studied six languages, and she had spent a year of high school studying in Japan. When she joined the Army, she intended to become a Japanese interrogator. However, the Army had other plans for her and sent her to the prestigious Defense Language Institute of Monterey for an intensive program in Persian Farsi, the language spoken in Iran.

In 2001, an enlisted man in her unit raped her, and she immediately reported the assault to her superiors, who were at best skeptical and unsympathetic. Even after reporting, Dostie was forced to continue working with her rapist. The commanders who questioned her about what happened pressed her on whether or not she had told her rapist “no,” and they tried to paint her as promiscuous, or to portray her as trying to protect her reputation by accusing her attacker of rape. In the end, the Army dropped the case, and Dostie was left with PTSD, which would eventually take a toll on her mental health and ability to function.

“The book is about rape and how the Army handles it,” Dostie says. But it also is a devastating account of what happens to a rape victim when she reports and is not believed. Dostie stayed in the Army after her attack, and in April 2003, when the Iraq War was well under way, she was sent to Iraq. She had been told that her PTSD “could be a problem if she was deployed,” and it was: she says of that time, “I was not mentally sound.” She did spend 15 months there, however, and her presence in a war zone, compounded by her PTSD, essentially added one trauma to another.

In April 2004, when the uprising in Sadr City occurred, after Saddam Hussein was caught, Dostie says, “We were all packed to go home, and then they said we had to stay.” She did return to the United States eventually, and says at first she felt fine but then started showing signs of PTSD. She got out of active duty in 2005 and eventually returned home to Connecticut, which helped her PTSD. She began to attend Southern and date the man who would become her husband.

An Honors College student and history major at Southern, Dostie wrote two honors theses: one was in history and one, a creative writing thesis, was the beginnings of Formation. She says the manuscript that would eventually become Formation had actually started in an introductory fiction writing class as a “sci-fi futuristic Civil War-type story about a woman in the infantry – a woman working with all men in this masculine military environment.” When she told English Professor Tim Parrish, who taught that course, that she had been in the military, he advised that the story should be about her own experience. She rewrote it into a story about a woman in the military in Iraq, and it became her honors thesis.

She graduated with her B.A. in 2011, and when she joined the MFA program in creative writing a few years later, she rewrote the honors thesis into her MFA thesis. Parrish says, “Having worked with Ryan on this material from the time she took her first Intro to Fiction class through her MFA thesis, I’ve seen how she earned this book, not only in terms of her incredible work ethic and steadfast growth as a writer, but maybe moreso as a person with the courage and steadfastness to confront and process so much awful history, to survive, and to make great art from her experience. This book is not only outstanding, it’s important.”

Dostie sold the book several days before the #MeToo movement broke, and she says now #MeTooMilitary is gaining traction. There has been a spike in the number of reporting sexual assaults in the military, she says, adding, “They’ve changed how you report it, but if you report, it can still affect your career.”

The Army is now doing SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) briefings to teach soldiers about sexual assault and harassment. The briefings can be effective, Dostie says, “but people have to take it seriously. They are learning about consent and what is sexual harassment. It’s about trying to change the culture.”

Learn more about Ryan Leigh Dostie

Dostie will be a featured reader at the SCSU MFA Program’s 10 anniversary celebration in fall 2019. Find out more about her upcoming local events (readings, book signings, etc.).

Xhenet Aliu

Southern’s English Department and its creative writing program, as well as the university in general, have turned out a number of successful writers over the years. One such Owl alum, whose 2018 debut novel has been enjoying critical acclaim, will bring her talents back to campus to kick off the university’s celebration of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing Program‘s 10th anniversary.

On March 7 at 7:30 p.m., alumna Xhenet Aliu, ’01, will read from her novel, Brass, followed by a Q & A and refreshments. The reading, which will take place in Engleman A120, is free and open to the public.

Aliu graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in English and went on to earn an MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and an MLIS from The University of Alabama. A native of Waterbury, Conn., she was born to an Albanian father and a Lithuanian American mother. She now lives in Athens, Ga., and works as an academic librarian.

Her debut fiction collection, Domesticated Wild Things, and Other Stories, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, and Brass was published by Random House in spring 2018. Her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, The Barcelona Review, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere.

English Professor and Creative Writing Coordinator Tim Parrish was Aliu’s thesis director. He says, “Xhenet Aliu is a fantastic writer who perfectly exemplifies the exceptional quality of authors coming out of Southern’s undergraduate and Master of Fine Arts’ Creative Writing programs.”

The MFA program is a full-residency, terminal-degree program, preparing students for careers as publishing writers, teachers, editors, and professionals in the publishing world. While the curriculum focuses heavily on the writing workshop and the creative thesis, the MFA also requires students to study literature at the graduate level and provides opportunities for students to train for teaching collegiate-level writing, and in some cases to teach their own courses. The year 2019 marks the program’s 10th anniversary, which will be celebrated over the course of the coming year, culminating in a weekend of special activities in October.

Since its publication in early 2018, Brass has received the following honors, among others:

  • One of Entertainment Weekly‘s “10 Best Debut Novels of 2018”
  • A San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Book of 2018
  • Named a “Best Southern Novel of 2018” by Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • One of Bustle‘s “31 Debut Novels from 2018 That You Seriously Shouldn’t Miss”
  • Named a “Best Book of 2018” by Real Simple
  • A Spring 2018 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection
  • Starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal
  • New York Times’ Book Review Calendar of “Must-Know Literary Events in 2018”
  • Elle‘s “21 Best Books of 2018”
  • Southern Living‘s “Books Coming Out This Winter That We Can’t Wait to Read”
  • Huffington Post’s “60 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018”
  • Book Riot‘s “101 Books Coming out in 2018 That You Should Mark Down Now”
  • Elite Daily‘s “2018 Book Releases That’ll Make Reading More Your New Year’s Resolution”
  • Bookish‘s “Must-Read Winter Books 2018”
  • The Millions‘ “Most Anticipated: The Great 2018 Book Preview”
  • Christian Science Monitor‘s “5 New Titles to Check Out in the New Year”
  • Kirkus Review’s “11 Debuts You Should Pay Attention To”

From reviews of Brass, which is set in Waterbury, Conn.:

“Lustrous . . . a tale alive with humor and gumption, of the knotty, needy bond between a mother and daughter . . . [Brass] marks the arrival of a writer whose work will stand the test of time.” — O: The Oprah Magazine

“Aliu is witty and unsparing in her depiction of the town and its inhabitants, illustrating the granular realities of the struggle for class mobility.” — The New Yorker

Brass simmers with anger — the all too real byproduct or working hard for not enough, of being a woman in a place where women have little value, of getting knocked down one too many times. But when the simmer breaks into a boil, Aliu alchemizes that anger into love, and in doing so creates one of the most potent dramatizations of the bond between mother and daughter that I’ve ever read. . . . I left this book with the sure sense that the characters were alive beyond its pages, though I wouldn’t dare try to guess what they are up to — Elsie and Lulu are too real for that.” — The New York Times Book Review

A new year always brings thoughts of self-improvement or changing one’s life course, but making life changes are not always as simple as they may seem.

This month, Creative Writing Professor Michele Merlo is making a fresh start in a familiar place. Merlo had a long career as an actor in New York City before she began teaching English at Southern in 2011, and because of her love for the stage, she is now returning to that career, marking a new chapter in her professional life.

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Michele Merlo (Photograph by Julia Gerace)

From January 25 to February 11, Merlo will appear in Schreiber Shorts, this year’s 10-minute play festival – an annual tradition — at the renowned T. Schreiber Studio in New York City. Established in 1969, the T. Schreiber Studio is recognized as one of the foremost professional theater studios in New York City.

Terry Schreiber himself is Merlo’s former acting coach; she was first a student of his over 20 years ago. “The studio has a great history,” Merlo says, adding that Schreiber has been in the business for 45 years.

Merlo, who grew up in New Haven, fell in love with the theater after high school, when she worked in the box office at Long Wharf Theatre. A friend had moved to New York to become an actress and encouraged Merlo to join her and give the stage a try. Merlo found success, and acted professionally in New York for 20 years, in off- and off-off-Broadway theater. Some favorite theater credits include La Ronde, The Miser, Miss Julie, and The Wild Duck. She also appeared on television, in principal roles on NBC’s Another World.

“I love the rehearsal, the process, the frustration, the discoveries” of acting, Merlo says.

Then around 1999, Merlo’s parents back in New Haven became ill. “I came home to look after them,” she says. She moved back to Connecticut, got a job at a New Haven law firm, and decided to pursue her second love – writing and English literature. She earned her B.A. in English at Albertus Magnus College, where she was valedictorian of her graduating class, and then came to Southern for the M.A. in English, with the creative writing concentration. She was accepted to become a graduate teaching assistant under the mentorship of English Professor Will Hochman, for whose guidance she is grateful, and she has been teaching composition and creative writing to Southern undergraduates ever since.

merlo-oconnor-moliere
Michele Merlo and Kevin O’Connor in Moliere’s “The Miser” (Photograph by Joseph Clementi)

Merlo says she took the M.A. program for her own enrichment and “didn’t ever think about teaching, but it presented itself to me,” and she found she loved it. “Teaching is something like acting,” she says: both require preparation and performance. Although she’s very happy teaching English at Southern, she decided over the past two years that her love for the stage had not left her and she wanted to get back into acting.

Although she missed acting “with every bone in [her] body,” she says she was “scared because I knew how hard it would be.”

She called Schreiber – “whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years” – and “he said ‘welcome back,’ like I’d never left.” To prepare herself to audition, she worked with SCSU theatre alumnus Raphael Massie, ‘99, resident artist and curriculum supervisor of Elm Shakespeare Company.

To cast Schreiber Shorts, the studio held three days of auditions for people who had studied there. Merlo auditioned, and a few days later, got a callback. She was thrilled to be cast in the show.

“I’m having so much fun,” she says, admitting that in this new chapter of her life, she’s lucky to have the best of both worlds: acting in New York and continuing to teach at Southern.

For more information about Schreiber Shorts and tickets, visit the T. Schreiber Studio website. 

For a poet to be mentioned in the same breath as Wallace Stevens, the great American poet of the 20th century Modern period, is a rare honor. For poet Elizabeth Hamilton – a graduate of Southern’s MFA in creative writing program and an adjunct professor in the English Department – having her poems share the bill with Stevens’ work at a February 20 event at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford seems a bit surreal. At “Voices of Connecticut Poets: Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Hamilton,” the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra (HICO) will perform a celebration of these two poets in in a concert of contemporary chamber orchestra music. Hailed as “an invaluable addition to the Hartford musical scene” by composer-critic Robert Carl, HICO will present the music of Thomas Albert and premiere a commission by composer Jessica Rudman. Albert’s music uses Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird,” and Rudman’s piece uses Hamilton’s poetry.

Poet Elizabeth Hamilton, MFA, '14
Elizabeth Hamilton, MFA, ’14

Hamilton graduated from the MFA program in 2014, and over the past year and half has collaborated with Rudman after the two met during a three-week artist residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna, Florida. Hamilton was chosen by the poet Richard Blanco to participate in that residency; Blanco is perhaps best known for reading his poem “One Today” at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

Hamilton applied for a writing residency at The Center after finishing her MFA. She explains that the poet in residence at The Center chooses the poets for the three-week residency, and Blanco was poet in residence at the time. He chose Hamilton and a few other poets, and during her three weeks in residence, Hamilton worked on her writing with Blanco and says “he was such a help to me. I can’t say enough about him.” While in the MFA program at Southern, she worked closely with Jeff Mock and other members of the creative writing faculty, all of whom she says were great to work with.

While in residence at The Center, Hamilton explains, “I was there with other artists of various disciplines. We all hung out together and learned about what each other was doing with our work.” At the beginning of the three weeks, each artist had to present his or her work to the group. “This is instrumental in building relationships with other artists,” says Hamilton. For her presentation, she chose to read poems she had written for her MFA thesis. Afterward, a few of the artists approached her and asked if she would consider collaborating with them. Of these artists, composer Rudman was most persistent in following up with Hamilton. She, like Hamilton, is from Connecticut, and she has a relationship with the Hartford Chamber Orchestra.

Following the residency, after they had both returned to Connecticut, Rudman contacted Hamilton, and they began to meet to work out the details of their collaboration.

“She’s been busy composing and I’ve taken a full-time job,” says Hamilton, “so I haven’t yet had a chance to hear the work.” A vocalist will sing her poems verbatim, she says, and the piece will be performed for the first time alongside Albert’s piece based on Stevens’ famous poem. Hamilton says she still can’t quite believe it when she sees her name paired with Stevens’.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available by calling (860) 247-0998.

Lee Keylock, far right, on a Narrative 4 panel discussion held at Southern in June 2014

Lee Keylock believes in the power of stories. A graduate of Southern’s MFA program in creative writing, an instructor in the English Department and a high school English teacher in Newtown, Keylock’s professional life is all about stories, language and narrative and teaching students to harness and use their power. After the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, on a day when he was teaching his classes at Newtown High School, Keylock, like so many who were close to the event, felt powerless to help his students. He began to search for ways to help them cope with the immense grief they were dealing with, and naturally, he turned to stories. A novel crossed his path — Let the Great World Spin by the Irish writer Colum McCann — and Keylock thought this might just be a book that could offer his students some hope. The New York Times has called the novel “the greatest novel to come out of the World Trade Center attacks.” Yet Keylock says the book ultimately offers a vision of redemption.

Keylock wrote to McCann, asking for his help. In return, McCann sent Keylock copies of the book for his students and offered to come to Newtown to meet with them. In his meetings with students, McCann listened to their stories, but also told them some of his own, and he talked to them about an organization he had just helped found, called Narrative4 (N4). He explained to them that N4 is based on story exchanges: it connects groups of students from different parts of the country and the world and then pairs students within the groups to exchange personal stories one on one. Each person must then retell his or her partner’s story back to the group. The stories can range from accounts of losing a parent to cancer or a friend to gang violence, to tales of first love. Some of the meetings take place in person while many take place on Google hangouts because of distance. Regardless of the means through which they take part, those who have participated in an N4 story exchange say they find the experience profound and often transformative.

After McCann’s visit, Keylock was inspired to become involved with N4 and eventually became one of the organization’s lead educational advisers. He wanted to try an N4 story exchange with his own students. The organization was very new; the first exchange took place in Chicago in March 2013, with several educators and community leaders. The idea behind N4 is “to promote empathy through the exchange of stories” and “break down barriers and shatter stereotypes” by encouraging participants to see the world through each other’s eyes. Keylock says, “It’s easy to become cynical in today’s world. Narrative 4 is fostering a sense of hope. It is an authentic experience that makes kids feel heard and relevant.” He says the program can work for anyone, but because he is a teacher, his focus is on students.

In January, Keylock implemented exchanges with 180 students in four classrooms at Newtown High School, and he and his colleagues introduced the first official curriculum model in the classroom. In March, he and a teacher from Chicago’s Crane High School connected 12 students from the west side of Chicago and 12 students from Newtown. He explains that the story exchange experience requires that students really listen to each other and come to “own” each other’s stories. Keylock says that “kids find out they have the same hopes and fears,” no matter where they come from in the world. The process is very powerful, he says, and students often keep in touch with each other after going through it and become “ambassadors” for the program. N4 describes itself as teaching “radical empathy,” and certainly, as Keylock describes it, taking part in an N4 exchange can do just that.

Because it can be so cathartic, Keylock says, teachers do follow-up activities with their students, and he explains, “we are working on ‘sustainability’ as we speak, finding authentic ways for students to stay involved and feel relevant after the exchanges are complete.” He gives his own students questions to respond to in writing following an N4 exchange, encouraging them to talk about how the experience made them feel and what it taught them.

Keylock recently made the difficult decision to leave his teaching position at Newtown to work for N4 in curriculum development. He says while he will miss teaching and his students, he believes in the N4 objectives and adds, “I can help a lot more people this way.”

 

 

 

 

Robin Troy has always wanted to write a story that shows that age is just a number and the human spirit is ageless. “We live in a society that doesn’t pay attention to the elderly,” she says. In her new novel Liberty Lanes, published just last month by the University of Nevada Press, the associate professor of English and director of the M.F.A. program in creative writing looks at the lives of a group of senior citizens who come together at a bowling alley in Montana and are determined to live life to the fullest.

So far, Troy’s book has garnered some positive reviews. Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red, says, “Liberty Lanes is a transcendent story about the power of love and friendship. You’re never too old to discover the wonders of love.” Deirdre McNamer, author of “Red Rover,” says, “Liberty Lanes is a wonderfully calm and large-hearted examination of the ways that ordinary people meet the demands of age and infirmity with surpassing grace.”

Robin Troy

Troy says she began writing the novel on a CSU grant in 2006, during the summer after she first came to Southern. She was inspired by a group of senior bowlers she had come to know in Missoula, Mont., where she was a graduate student in the University of Montana’s M.F.A. program and a reporter for a local newspaper.

Around the holidays, Troy’s editor at the paper asked her to write a feature story about someone playing Jesus in a pageant. But Troy asked around and couldn’t find anyone playing Jesus; however, she told her editor she could do a story about a 70-year-old man she knew who played Santa. Each year at Christmastime, he would dress up as Santa and board a helicopter with another man dressed as an elf, and they would fly to several Montana towns, delivering chocolate Santas and outdated chapsticks donated by Avon.

“I met him when he was in his 30th year of playing Santa,” Troy says. “We really hit it off.” He invited her to meet him at the local bowling alley to finish her interview for the article.

“I walked into that bowling alley, and whammo!” Troys says. The place was full of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, “and there was such positive energy and perspective, I just immediately wanted to be a part of it.” She started spending time with the bowlers.

During the three years that she was in Missoula, working on her degree, Troy says, “these people made a real difference” for her. They have parties on the weekends, to which she was invited, and “by the end, I was like a member of the family.”

“This group was a fantastic illustration of what it’s like to be in your 80s and really living with spirit,” Troy says. The characters in the novel are inspired by the people she knew, Troy says, but no one character is any one real person.

In the novel, Liberty Lanes is a bowling alley in a small Montana town where a senior bowling league meets three times a week. Nelson Moore, one of the bowlers, has recently become a local hero by saving a teammate from choking on a happy hour chicken bone. Now he must deal with his newfound fame while coping with the early stages of dementia.

Troy felt she might have some trouble finding a publisher for her book, given what she perceived as low interest regarding the elderly as subjects of a novel. But she met an editor at a book fair and after they talked, Troy says she “knew that this book had found a home.” She revised the manuscript based on extensive feedback from the publisher and got the final word last spring that it would be published.

“The editing was very careful and loving,” Troy says, “but I had to tone down a lot of the language. These are tough, no-nonsense people. Many do manual labor or worked for the state, and they all came to know each other through bowling.”

Troy is traveling to Missoula this month to read from her new book at the Montana Festival of the Book. While in Montana, she will see her bowling friends, do a couple of book signings and give a radio interview. “This is really a celebration of these people for me,” Troy says.

She will give a reading at Southern on Nov. 10 with CSU Professor Vivian Shipley. Troy is also the author of another novel, Floating.

The cover of Jeff Mock’s new book is a stark photograph of barbed wire in extreme closeup, the focus on the sharp point of a rough barb – not exactly an image that makes a reader think of poetry. But writer Allison Joseph says Mock’s new book, “Ruthless,” is “just that—ruthless in its precise and incisive vision of our off-kilter world, cutting through the shams of language and thought to arrive at hard-won humor that makes his readers see his—and their—foibles all the more clearly.” The image of the barbed wire speaks to the collection’s toughness and incisiveness.

English professor Mock’s first published full-length poetry collection, “Ruthless” came out on Jan. 1, and he calls its publication “a relief.” He explains that the way poetry books get published is by winning competitions. His manuscript “bounced around for several years,” he says, as he sent it to different contests and publishers. It came close to being published on several occasions, sometimes a semifinalist and sometimes a finalist. At last, poet Deborah Keenan selected it as the winner of the Three Candles Open Book Competition.

Although “Ruthless” is Mock’s first full-length book, he has numerous other publications. His first book, “Evening Travelers,” a chapbook, was published in 1994 by a very small press, with handset type on handmade paper and a handsewn binding. It is no longer in print.

His second book, “You Can Write Poetry,” was a commission, designed for a specific audience. A poetry writing guidebook for writing groups and individuals, “You Can Write Poetry,” now also out of print, was aimed at beginning writers.

Mock has also published a number of poems in such prominent journals as The Atlantic Monthly, Cincinnati Review, Connecticut Review, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, The Georgia Review, The Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, New England Review, The North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Quarterly West, Shenandoah, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review and others. He is now working on two other books: one is a book of longer poems of five to 12 pages each, and one is more thematic, a sequence of poems spoken by gods and goddesses that Mock is calling “American Pantheon.”

Although Mock remembers hating to write poems in second grade, he says he’s been a poet for most of his life. He explains, “writers have to write – it’s like an obsession. We don’t have a choice. That need to make something – we all have it, and we each find the outlet that serves us best. I think like a poet more than like a fiction writer.”

Thinking like a poet, Mock says, involves putting into words those images or moments that “strike us and stick around. Writers put words to those things and see what happens.

Seeing where it goes, finding out what happens, writing to find something out. Things can become clearer in the writing.”

He quotes a line from poet Robert Frost’s essay “The Figure A Poem Makes”: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” That little surprise in a poem, Mock says, “is what brings a story alive.”

Mock, who has been at Southern since the fall of 1998, teaches undergraduate and graduate poetry courses. He came to Southern from The Gettysburg Review, where he spent seven years as assistant editor.

A co-director of the Creative Writing Program with English Professor Tim Parrish, Mock worked with Parrish to create the English Department’s new Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program. He credits his colleagues Robin Troy, assistant professor of English, and CSU Professor Vivian Shipley for their help in developing the program as well.

Mock gave a reading from his new book at the university on April 15, along with writer Steve Almond, best-selling author of the books “Candyfreak,” “My Life in Heavy Metal” and The Evil B.B. Chow,” among others.

 

 

Southern Connecticut State University’s writing program is in the spotlight, as several graduate students took first place in the 2010 CSUS writing contests in fiction, nonfiction essay and poetry. The competitions are open to students at the four CSUS universities and are sponsored by the Connecticut Review, a literary and arts journal published semi-annually by the Connecticut State University System. Jim Reese, editor of the journal Paddlefish, judged the contests.

Left to right: Pat Mottola, Jessica Forcier , Matthew Beacom, Benjamin Guerette, Lee Keylock, and Marlene Schade

Vivian Shipley, professor of English, CSU Professor, and a member of the Connecticut Review editorial board, says, “I am particularly proud that SCSU students won first prizes in each of the contest genres: poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. Their work is an example of the high level of talent that SCSU students have in all types of creative writing.”

Jean Copeland won in the essay category, Benjamin Guerette took first place in fiction, Matthew Beacom won the Leo Connellan Poetry Prize and Marlene Schade won the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize. In addition, Jessica Forcier received honorable mention for fiction, and Lee Keylock and Pat Mottola obtained honorable mentions in the Leeds contest.

“The diversity of voices and styles that Beacom, Schade, Guerette and Copeland display is also a reflection of the differing teaching styles and creative voices of my three exceptional creative writing colleagues: Jeff Mock, Tim Parrish and Robin Troy,” Shipley says.

Beacom, a student in the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, won the Connellan Prize for his poem “The Catfish.” The Connellan Prize is named for the former poet laureate of Connecticut, who was also the CSUS poet-in-residence.

A resident of North Haven and a librarian at Yale University, Beacom is concentrating in poetry. He has been taking workshop and literature classes at Southern since the fall of 2007, even before the M.F.A. program was implemented. He wrote his winning poem in the fall of 2009 as part of his work in Shipley’s poetry workshop.

Beacom credits the creative writing program with giving him “the sustained challenges and opportunities I need to develop as a poet.” Without his professors and peers in the program, he says, “I wouldn’t have a chance.”

Schade won the Leeds Poetry Prize for her poem “Herfara Zecho.” A resident of Washington Depot, Schade is concentrating in fiction as a student in the M.F.A. program and has been taking classes at Southern since 2007. Like Beacom, she wrote her winning poem in a poetry workshop with Shipley, who encouraged Schade to enter this particular poem in the contest.

A high school English teacher in Waterbury, Schade says she loves writing poetry but gravitates toward fiction because she enjoys inventing characters, landscapes and scenes. “I was a terrible liar as a kid,” she says, “and fiction always seemed like a way to lie and get praised rather than punished.”

She appreciates the creative writing faculty, whom she calls “nurturing yet ruthless critics of my work.  Ruthless in a good way… like surgeons or exterminators.”

A resident of East Haven, Copeland describes her winning essay, “Learning Curves,” as “a humorous look at my struggle with my own gender identity as a young child, before I knew what it meant to be a lesbian.” One of the last M.S. candidates to go through the creative writing program, Copeland has been at Southern since 2003, when she transferred into the undergraduate English/education program.

She originally wrote the essay for a call for submissions for an anthology on gender identity. It was rejected, but Copeland gave it another try with the CSU contest. “There’s definitely a lesson in here about persistence!” she says.

She credits the creative writing program with helping her improve as a writer of fiction, her favorite genre, and poetry.

Guerette, winner of the prize in fiction, is a resident of Ansonia, and a full-time student in the M.A. in English program. He works as a part-time composition instructor in the English Department.

He wrote his winning story, “The Hammock,” in Parrish’s fiction writing class. Guerette says he writes fiction because that’s what he likes to read. As a writer, he says, he thinks “I’ve improved more in the six months I’ve been at Southern than in the four years of my undergrad program.”

Forcier was recognized for her story, “Enough.” She is in the M.F.A. program, studying fiction. Keylock and Mottola, both M.F.A. students and past winners of the Connellan Prize, each received an honorable mention in the Leeds competition, Keylock for his poem “The Didicoys” and Mottola for her poem “Men in Bars.”

The members of the creative writing faculty see the laurels garnered by their students as testament to the students’ talent and to the strength of the writing program. Troy, administrator of the M.F.A. program, says, “Our writers are the heart of our program, and both in the classroom and with awards like these, they are proving themselves to be a remarkable, diverse and publishable group.”

Parrish, a co-director of the M.F.A. program with Mock, concurs, pointing to “the hard work, determination and love for writing that are the hallmarks of our students.”

This spring, the winners will read at major literary events at the Mark Twain House, the Wallace Stevens Theater at The Hartford and the Hill-Stead Museum. The winners will also have their work published in the spring 2010 issue of Connecticut Review. The honorable mentions will be included on the Connecticut Review Web site: www.connecticutreview.com.

 

Lee Keylock was “bombarded with poetry” when he was growing up in England. “Whether or not I liked it as a kid, I was exposed to it,” he says. It seems that all that exposure is paying off for Keylock, a graduate student in creative writing at Southern: he recently won both the 2009 Leo Connellan Prize for his poem “The Tattie Hawker” and the 2009 John Holmes Poetry Award for his poem “Font.”

The Connellan Prize, open to students at the four CSUS universities, is named for the former poet laureate of Connecticut, who was also CSUS poet-in-residence. The John Holmes Award, given by the New England Poetry Club, the oldest poetry club in the country, is presented for a single outstanding poem by an undergraduate or graduate student enrolled in a New England college. Vivian Shipley, professor of English and a prize-winning poet herself, calls the prize “significant.”

Keylock has been working towards an M.A. in creative writing at Southern but was accepted to the university’s new M.F.A. program in creative writing, which starts in the fall, so he will continue his work in that program. He earned his undergraduate degree at Southern, as well as an M.S. in English with teacher certification.

An English teacher at Newtown High School, where he teaches juniors and seniors, Keylock also co-coaches, with poetry slam champion Elizabeth Thomas, Connecticut’s youth poetry slam team. Keylock explains that slam poetry is “more urban and hip hop” than what he teaches or writes himself but that “the kids love it.”

Slam poetry, performed for an audience and judges, “can be very contemporary,” Keylock says. “It can be a response to war, or to something else in the news, and it can be highly personal.” The best slam poets, he says, are the ones that work “both on the page and on the stage.” The youth slam team Keylock co-coaches is now headed to represent Connecticut at Brave New Voices / International Youth Poetry Slam and Festival in Chicago in July.

Keylock’s own poetry is largely inspired by his experiences within the volatile atmosphere engendered by the Irish/English conflict in England during the 1980s, when he was growing up there.

“As a kid in England,” he says, “I had jobs picking potatoes and baling hay, and these were the only times in my experience when English and Irish would mix. There were a lot of Irish in my town, and in the ‘80s, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was pretty big. There was tension between the Irish and the English. Bombs were going off every week in England. Leaving England and being away from it for so long, I write a lot about that topic now because I have some distance from it.”

Keylock left England when he was almost 17, backpacked around Europe and came to New York City by himself when he was 18. Always a reader, he found books to be great traveling companions. He only began writing poetry in earnest about four years ago, once he had finished his teacher certification. “I started writing and just got into it,” he says. “I started reading more about poetic structure and form and learning more about the genre. I became more willful in my choices as I wrote.”

He started writing “The Tattie Hawker” on his own and finished it in a workshop. The poem draws on the tensions Keylock recalls between the Irish and English in his hometown and portrays an English boy’s futile crush on an Irish girl. Having taken poetry writing workshops with both Shipley and English professor Jeff Mock, Keylock gives credit to both for having helped him shape this poem.

Mock describes Keylock’s poems as “tough-minded, gritty, muscular and still elegant.” Shipley says Keylock’s poems “offer the consolation of an intelligent human spirit who speaks of what flails at his heart. He struggles with the blackness and is not broken, showing us that we must not refuse to look away from the world, from its terror, but that we also must not ignore its ravishing beauty.”

Keylock received the Connellan Prize at a writers’ conference at Central Connecticut State University in April.