Submission Calls for Writers 5/11/2023

I’ve had a lot of fun this last month as my new collection, Tamp, has found its way into readers’ hands. Thanks to all of you who have ordered the book, and extra thanks to those of you who’ve reached out to let me know what you think about the poems. Just as the days are growing warmer and longer, I’m very aware of how much I hope to accomplish this summer. I have several writing projects that I want to move forward in at least some way. And there also has to be time set aside to submitting our work. To that purpose, I offer this list of one dozen submission opportunities. It’s tempting to pretend most journals are taking the summer off, and maybe we should take it off, too. But neither is exactly true. A lot of great journals, like these 12, are open right now, and would love to read whatever you’ve been writing. Good luck!

Exacting Clam Exacting Clam is an online and in print quarterly journal from Sagging Meniscus Press, publishing short fiction, poetry, book, art and music reviews, essays, interviews, and visual art/illustrations.

Florida Review & Aquifer: The Florida Review Online We are looking for innovative, luxuriant, insightful human stories—and for things that might surprise us. Please submit no more than one piece of fiction, nonfiction, graphic narrative, review, or digital story at a time. Poets and visual artists may submit up to (but no more than) five poems or artworks as a single submission. We charge a $2 or $3 submission fee depending on category.

Pithead Chapel Pithead Chapel electronically publishes art, literary fiction, nonfiction, and prose poetry monthly. At present, we only accept submissions under 4,000 words.

Tipton Poetry Journal The Tipton Poetry Journal is published quarterly both in print and an online archive. The Tipton Poetry Journal publishes about 35 poems each. Poems with the best chance for acceptance are quality free verse which evokes a shared sense of common humanity. The Tipton Poetry Journal is published in Indiana, so themes with a regional focus are encouraged. Submissions are read year-round.

Waxwing We read submissions of poetry, short fiction, and literary essays Sept 1 to May 1; translations of poetry and literary prose are read year-round. Each issue features approximately thirteen poets, six prose writers, and six authors in translation. Poets should send one to five poems, and prose writers one story, essay, novella, or novel chapter (or up to three short-short stories or micro-essays).

Qu Qu is a literary journal, published by the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. The Qu editorial staff is comprised of current students. We publish fiction, poetry, essays and script excerpts of outstanding quality. Payment upon publication is $100 per prose piece and $50 per poem. Next reading period opens May 15th, 2023.

The Stinging Fly We publish new, previously unpublished work by Irish and international writers. Each issue of The Stinging Fly includes a mix of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, alongside our Featured Poets and Comhchealg sections, occasional author interviews and novel extracts. We have a particular interest in promoting new writers, and in promoting the short story form. We plan on being open again for submissions from May 16 until May 31 2023, for Issue 49 Volume Two (November 2023). 

Baltimore Review Summer The Baltimore Review is a quarterly, online literary journal. Submit one short story or creative nonfiction piece, no more than 5,000 words. Submit three poems. Our current submission period runs through May 31, 2023.

2023 New American Fiction Prize The New American Fiction Prize is awarded each year to a full-length fiction manuscript, such as a story collection, novel, novella(s), or something that blends forms, like a novel in verse. The winner receives $1,500 and a book contract, as well as 25 author’s copies and promotional support. Deadline is June 15, 2023. There is a $25 submission fee.

The Fairy Tale Review Founding Editor Kate Bernheimer will edit the twentieth annual issue of Fairy Tale Review. Vol. 20 will not have a theme. We are looking for your best new work. Writers may submit a single prose piece up to 6,000 words or up to three prose pieces under 1,000 words each. We welcome short fiction, essays, lyric nonfiction, and creative scholarship. Submit up to four poems totaling no more than ten pages. Submissions will be accepted through July 15, 2023.

Poetry South Poetry South is a national journal that considers all kinds of poetry. Though we pay particular attention to writers from the South — born, raised, or living here — all poetry within our covers has a claim to the South because it is published here. The magazine has a tradition of including poets from other regions in the US and other countries. We are looking for a great mix of styles and voices that will appeal to our audience and breathe new life into the poetry of the South. Send 1-4 unpublished poems in Word or RTF format. Our annual submission deadline is July 15.

Masque & Spectacle Masque & Spectacle is a bi-annual arts and literary journal. We publish short fiction of all genres, up to 7,500 words. We are looking for unpublished nonfiction essays, literary analysis pieces, and personal essay/memoirs of up to 7,500 words. We are looking for all forms of poetry, including formal and experimental work. Submit work to be included in our next issue between May 1 and July 31, 2023.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share these opportunities with other writers.  If you’re not already receiving these posts directly to your inbox, please subscribe.


In case you missed it… I had a wonderful conversation with J.D. Isip about his newest collection of poems, Kissing the Wound. And I shared a writing exercise based on J.D.’s poem “Leaving Krypton.”

Coming up… Join me Tuesday, May 16, at 7:00 p.m., as I speak with Erica Nichols-Frazer about her book, Feed Me, in Birch Bark Editing’s InConversation series. The event is free but registration is required. I hope to see you there.


Conversation with J.D. Isip

J.D. Isip is originally from Long Beach, California, but has lived the last decade or so in Plano, Texas. He received his MA from California State University, Fullerton, and his PhD from Texas A&M University-Commerce. He is a Professor of English at Collin College in North Texas, and he serves as an editor for The Blue Mountain Review. His poetry, plays, short fiction, and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. His first full-length collection, Pocketing Feathers, was published by Sadie Girl Press (2015). His new collection, Kissing the Wound, was published earlier this year by Moon Tide Press. In Kissing the Wound, J.D. asks readers to look through a multiversal lens to consider how our lives and our loves, our traumas and our triumphs, fold in on one another. J.D. was kind enough to answer some questions about Kissing the Wound, as well as to offer advice about how to approach writing about trauma, and how to mix forms—including fragments—to inform a larger narrative.

DL: I love the title of your newest collection, Kissing the Wound, and how it speaks to the ways our most traumatic experiences shape us. I’m thinking too of the beautiful opening lines from your poem Tornado Radio, “Nostalgia, defined, is a scar in your mind, / that pulled at or picked, bleeds across time…” Do you have advice for writing about trauma, particularly the difficult task of stepping outside of yourself to craft personal experience into art?

JI: Thank you so much, Denton. The story behind this title, but also behind a lot of things I’ve written and revised over the years is that we (the writers) are sometimes too laser focused on a particular idea. This can be useful, and I personally love many poets who would fall into this category (Victoria Chang, Richie Hofmann, and Patrick Phillips come to mind) of being meticulous almost to the point of obsession. With this book, I had picked the title Number Our Days early on. There’s a lot of Bible in much of what I write, so it seemed a good choice. Plus, the fragmented nature of the book seemed to pair well with this idea of trying to count or recount the days we live, have lived, and will live. Well, very late into the editing process, my publisher calls me and says, “We have a problem, J.D. Neil Hilborn has a book and a poem called Our Numbered Days, and, man, I just don’t feel comfortable doing something that sounds so much like that title.” I kinda panicked, but I had just finished a poem that I moved to the front of the book – “Kissing the Wound.” I suggested it as an alternative, and my publisher, Eric, was like, “Oh man! That’s perfect! It’s better!” That was that.

See, in my mind the book was about recounting, about “memoir-izing” my past in lyric form. But, as you point out, it was much simpler than that. It was about trauma, both individual and collective. What I want to say, the advice I would give here about writing trauma, is maybe not something I always follow, but it is certainly something I strive for. I think it’s important for us to push against two impulses: one, to relive the trauma in some masochistic or voyeuristic way; two, to homilize the trauma to the “all things happen for a reason” point of dishonesty. Instead, I think it’s better to pluck out the particulars, as much as you can remember, and let the scene and/or the action take the lead over whatever “lesson” we are trying to communicate. Also, be gut-wrenchingly honest, or what is the point? I think of student papers where maybe they spend pages talking about a really screwed up relationship with a parent or an abusive love, then the last paragraph is, “But I am happy that happened, or I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t even think about it anymore.” Um, Sure, Jan.

To that final point of, to paraphrase, moving from “Dear Diary” to something more universal, or at least welcoming to readers – read, read, read. What you are talking about is something that we learn by watching (reading) others do it well. How can I read Audre Lorde or John Keats and feel like I have anything in common with them? But I do. Why? Because I may have never felt romantic love for a woman, but I have felt love… and longing, and all of that. I think when you read widely, your writing starts to feel more like you are in conversation rather than screaming from a soapbox. You’re not under the impression you’re the only one who ever said this or felt this, but your story adds to what has come before. So, yeah, there’s my traditionalist leanings showing!

DL: Kissing the Wound is described as containing “poems and fragments”. I would describe some of these fragments as prose pieces, even as essays. How do poems and nonfiction overlap in terms of their autobiographical qualities? Are there other ways the two forms connect in your mind? Are there challenges to interweaving different genres into one cohesive book?

JI: I love that more and more writers are crossing genre lines or hobbling together so-called “new” genres. Not to get too pedantic, but I think we generationally tend to congratulate ourselves for innovation that has always been there. Take this delineation between poem and play and essay and recipe and whatever else. Alexander Pope, Christine de Pizan, Borges, Eliot, tons of folks were crossing those genre lines decades, centuries before us. But, we forget, and it is always nice when some memory of “permission” stirs in us: Can I do this? Why the hell not?

That preamble is my way of saying, “I know what I am about to say has probably been said before.” Years ago, I had started jotting down “fragments” I thought might be part of something bigger. A book? A memoir? Poems? Maybe. For the most part, I was a little desperate not to lose these moments or images that would pop into my mind. I’ve seen a lot of friends and family die now, and it pains me to see them try to recall something. You see it in their face, in that disappointment: they can’t, it’s gone forever. As writers, we have this unique gift to preserve a little time. That’s how the fragments started.

Because they are more like prose, these pieces definitely lean more into the “lesson” aspect, or homily. Unlike poems, I feel like prose needs to land somewhere for a reader (a poem can just leave you hanging – many times, that’s the point). Donald Murray said that all writing was autobiographical, and I tend to agree. Walt Disney chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as his first feature based almost exclusively on the fact that he remembered reading the story to his daughters. Charlie Brown is basically Charles Schulz. If we accept that whatever we write is going to tell our story, I think it gives us permission to tell bigger stories, stories with more characters, stories where we don’t have to be at the center of the action.

The first prose piece in the book, “How Long Was I Gone,” helped to pull the whole collection together. The night I wrote the first draft, I sent it to my friend Allyson (who wrote my spectacular forward). I was over the moon because all of a sudden I had this idea of how to tie everything I had been working on together. My first book was published in 2015, so it had been years since I had even thought about pulling together another collection. However, just like with that first book, I think when you know you’ve landed on something you have to follow your gut. That’s tricky, because there are many, many writers who will tell you, “My gut tells me every day I should be jotting out a whole collection.” I mean, if that works for you, awesome. Darren Demaree, Nicole Tallman, and Jenn Givhan are my friends who do this—and they just pump out gem after gem. For us mere mortals, it takes a little more time. I think you have to trust your writing to lead you… and you can’t do that if you’re trying to keep up with others. I am a lot happier being able to be truly happy for my friends getting published all over, getting all of the awards – rather than grousing about things being unfair, or “they’re just so much more talented” or “so much more connected” etc. Who cares? Do you. You’ll be okay.

Oh, the interweaving of the prose and poems. One, I saw someone on Twitter griping (shocker, I know) about “people who divide their poetry collections into individual sections”; it’s such a specific and therefore hilarious thing to be miffed about. I have done it with both of my collections, and I am doing it with my third collection. I don’t have any plans to stop. It helps to have those guideposts. It gives you more freedom so your collection can be about one overarching idea but also several smaller ones. Not that a collection has to be about anything, but I tend to like collections that are about something. I feel like the hodgepodge approach is an odd one. If I wanted a grab bag of subject matter, I can just read a poetry journal or magazine. Anyway, the prose pieces in Kissing the Wound started working as these kinds of guideposts, too. I could group them with poems that would, hopefully, emphasize or challenge the point or lesson of the prose piece. I liked that idea of having my cake and eating it too – here’s a lesson, but do I actually buy it? Should you? I had a lot of fun pulling it together, moving things around. I was lucky to have a patient and enthusiastic publisher. And good friends to read over drafts! So important!

DL: I’d like to go back to the idea of the word “fragment” as you use it alongside “poem”. Can you talk about what a poem is or does, for you, in its perfect form? Is it supposed to center on a single moment, an image, an emotion? All of the above or something else?

JI: I did an interview a couple of weeks ago, and I thought of an answer to this question after I said whatever I said during that interview. So, thank you for this chance to redeem myself! For me, poems are questions at their heart. They can sometimes sound like statements, proclamations, edicts, arguments, solutions, and all of that. But not so far behind even the most self-assured poem is a do you think? And I don’t think there is any other genre that has that consistency (except maybe American musical theater). The gift of a poem, then, is that it comes alongside you when “shit doesn’t make sense,” and it says, “Yeah, why is that?” Not, “so let me tell you why that is.”

Prose pieces allow ideas to breathe. That is important. But poems, for me, are in a bit more of a hurry. Prose are the divorced couple in front of the lawyers or the marriage counselor. Poems are the fights before bed, the one liners to poison the kids against the other spouse, the angry sex. You can probably guess which I like reading more. But I make a point to read both and read lots of everything. I think it would be foolish to think prose take longer to write than poems. That was not the case in Kissing the Wound – generally speaking, the poems almost all took longer than the prose pieces. And, because I set up the prose to be fragments – meaning I didn’t have to flesh out each scene, just layered them on top of one another – they were even easier to pull together. Truth be told, we always have a little more fun doing the thing we don’t always do. It was really fun, even freeing to play between genres.

DL:  I often ask writers about the process of submitting their manuscripts for publication. Can you describe the time between writing and publishing these stories? How did you connect with Moon Tide Press?

JI: It took me years to write the manuscript, a solid eight years of plugging away. It’s not because I am meticulous or anything like that. It’s because I work full time as a professor, like most other artists I know. I like to think if I were given some sort of writing fellowship, I’d just crank out book after book, year after year. But that’s not true. I’d probably do what I did with my dissertation and with this book – let it simmer for years, then bang it out when I finally get tired of simmering.

I gave myself $300 to send out manuscripts to contests or editors. That’s honestly not a lot when you consider most contests are $25 or more to enter. There are also editors who will take manuscripts via email, so that costs you nothing (no printing, no postage). Moon Tide Press had been on my radar because it’s pretty big in Southern California, where I grew up. You have Red Hen Press, Write Bloody Publishing, and Moon Tide Press – those were the places I was a fan of in grad school, and the places where I had met or seen most of the writers they published. Eric Morago picked up the press years ago. I didn’t know that—but I had read his first collection a while back, and I watched him do some of his slam stuff. I was a big fan (Eric’s easy on the eyes, he has lots of fans).

Anyway, I wrote to my friend who published my first book, Sarah Thursday with Sadie Girl Press. She’d semi-retired at the time, but she was enthusiastic about me getting another book out. I think that’s important. You need to have a group of folks doing this writing thing who you can turn to who will give you honest feedback. This isn’t your mom saying she likes the pretty things you write (though that is nice if you can get it). It’s the friends who will tell you this is what you were meant to do, and they aren’t bullshitting you. They have no reason to. She told me about Moon Tide being open to unsolicited submissions. That’s worth knowing about. A lot of places, especially big publishers, are not going to look at your work unless they have sought you out (this is rare). It’s often in contests where “unknowns” get picked up by the big presses. That’s good, but the odds are generally stacked against you. Especially if you didn’t go to a specific MFA program, didn’t publish in the big magazines, haven’t gone to AWP.

That’s all to say, yeah, I got a lot of rejections. But not as many as I feared. And, as luck would have it, I got an offer for a chapbook the same week Eric accepted my full manuscript. I felt terrible about having to turn down the chapbook, but the publishers were so excited, and that I learned you shouldn’t feel bad if you have to say no to a publisher. They probably have dozens of folks waiting in the wings and, if they are decent folks, they are gonna cheer for you – after all, they just chose you. It should make sense to them.

My friend R. Flowers Rivera came to do a reading at my alma mater, and when I came up to talk with her afterward, she said, “So, when am I going to see a book from you?” This was maybe 2012, and I told her I had submitted to contests for years, but nothing ever came of it. She said, “If the contests don’t pick you, pick yourself. Send out your manuscript.” It took about a year and some kismet with a friend from high school, Sarah, but I got my first book published a few years later. The point is that if you feel like your work needs to be out in the world, you will find a way. It might take some hustle. It might take years. It sounds cliché, but you just have to keep at it. Also, honestly, and you probably know this well, just be incredibly humble when dealing with publishers. They are almost always doing it as a passion project, and they are almost always getting paid far less than they are worth. Being patient and humble goes a long way.

DL:  Are there any upcoming opportunities for readers to hear you read from Kissing the Wound either via Zoom or in person?

JI: I will be on #SundaySweetChats with Charles K. Carter on Sunday, May 28th on YouTube. I’ll be the featured reader at The Ugly Mug in Orange, California, on Wednesday, May 31st. And I will be on a future episode of Be Well: A Reading Series hosted by Nicole Tallman. I’d love to see folks in California, and I highly recommend folks check out Charlie and Nicole’s shows. Both have several videos already up.

Huge thanks to J.D. Isip for speaking to me about his new book. Don’t forget to order Kissing the Wound now. Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share the advice J.D. shared with me about writing about the places we come from, as well as a writing exercise from J.D. based on one of his poems. Make sure you never miss a post by subscribing.

Writing Exercise 22.4

If you missed my previous post, please check out my conversation with Walter M. Robinson about his new essay collection What Cannot Be Undone—True Stories of a Life in Medicine. Also yesterday, What Cannot Be Undone was included in Kathleen Stone’s list of Eleven Over Sixty over at LitHub. Now, I’m sharing a writing exercise that Walter shared with me.

Writing Exercise 22.4: Everyone has experiences in a waiting room, whether a physical room at the doctor’s office or a virtual room before a Zoom call. Many stories start or end in a waiting room: Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin waits in a doctor’s office filled with people she disapproves so openly that one of them disapproves of her right back by smacking her with a textbook, and Anthony Perkins hopes to impress the police that he is harmless at the end of Psycho, saying, “I’m not even gonna swat that fly.”

Describe a waiting room, real or imagined, in as much detail as necessary to create the beginning or end of a story.

Walter’s writing prompt triggered the memory of Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem, In the Waiting Room, and when I searched for it online, I came across a poem by Thomas Hardy that I’d never read before but that uses a similar title, In A Waiting-room.

I love this prompt because waiting rooms, although they can be incredibly unique from each other, have a universal quality that readers can immediately connect with. I’m so grateful to Walter for taking the time to talk about his writing and for offering this exercise. I’m anxious to try it myself.

Please buy Walter’s new book, What Cannot Be Undone—True Stories of a Life in Medicine, available from University of New Mexico Press, online retailers, and your local bookstore.

Conversation with Walter M. Robinson

Walter M. Robinson is a writer and physician. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Walter now lives in Massachusetts. His collection of essays, What Cannot Be Undone—True Stories of a Life in Medicine, won the River Teeth Book Prize for 2020 and was published by University of New Mexico Press. Walter has been a fellow at MacDowell and Yaddo and was a PEN-New England “New Discovery in Non-Fiction.”

What Cannot Be Undone relates stories from a lifetime of professional experience, primarily working with cystic fibrosis patients. That experience expertly shows the complexity of cystic fibrosis, of the body in general, and of the inner workings of the mind and soul of a medical professional. Among the many aspects of Walter’s work, I admire how he is able to break down complicated medical information so that I, as a lay person, am able to understand it. Walter also served as a medical/hospital ethicist, and the ethical questions—about why and how a person is treated—are some of my favorite parts of these essays.

Walter and I first met as students in the Bennington Writing Seminars, and now we work together as editors at EastOver Press and Cutleaf. Walter agreed to answer some questions about What Cannot Be Undone as well as about the writing and publishing process. Come back tomorrow for a writing exercise inspired by Walter’s work in non-fiction.

DL: The full title of your book is What Cannot Be Undone: True Stories of a Life in Medicine, and yet, you explain in the book’s foreword that you’ve relied on an imperfect memory to write these essays. Can you talk about the challenge of relying on memory in nonfiction, some of the workarounds, and what added measures you took to protect the privacy of patients?

WR: Everything in the book is just as I remember it, but I acknowledge in the foreword that others might remember these events differently than I do. Everyone’s memory is imperfect because we only notice fragments of any event while it is happening, and as time passes, the act of remembering brings some things into sharper focus while others fade away. This is the fallible nature of human memory.

I chose the term “true stories” because these essays are not case reports or journalistic accounts, but nor are they fiction. I wrote them in a style that tries to give life to my experience as a doctor rather than simply recounting a clinical case. Medical case reports never use the first person, but I use it in some of these essays to accentuate that the story is about my perspective. In other essays I use the third person to remove myself somewhat as a character, while in still others I use third person to emphasize how I see myself in the past as a very different person. None of these approaches are typical in medical reports, so it seemed like the term “true stories” was the best fit.

I changed the identifying details of patients and families because I didn’t want my version of events to crowd out the families’ or patients’ versions. I was just one doctor among many, and I was often present at a very difficult part of their lives. I hope the story they live with now is not about me but about their loved one.

One way a nonfiction writer can address natural flaws of memory is to acknowledge in the essay that his version of events is not necessarily the only accurate account, as I did in “Nurse Clappy Gets His.” Another way is to take care not to re-configure the story to make himself look smarter, wiser, or kinder than he was in the moment. I hope I succeeded in that. As I wrote in the foreword, I am “no hero, no wizard, no saint.”  

DL: At the time we met, your goal was to find a way to write about your experiences as a doctor, particularly one who worked with cystic fibrosis patients. So it seems like What Cannot Be Undone is the successful answer to that pursuit. Is this book exactly as you imagined it?

WR: I didn’t call myself a writer when I started at Bennington, though I had written scores of academic papers. I had finished about 60% of what I called a “social history” of cystic fibrosis. It was overly academic and unbearably dull. I knew it, and anyone who tried to read it knew it. Thank goodness my teacher at Bennington, Susan Cheever, told me at our very first meeting, “Walter, this is terrible, just start over.” I will forever be grateful to her for that advice because it saved me from trying to rescue something that wasn’t worth the effort.

And while I started over, I followed the Bennington method: Read one hundred books to write one. Pay close attention to the work of others. Read the work of the past in order to make the work of the present. Gather up the tools of art to see if they fit your own work. What a gift those reading lists have been to me!

By the time I finished I had some idea of what I was doing, and I’ve just kept at it. So I’d say this book is the descendent of that early draft, but they have very little in common. Or at least I hope so.

DL: The essays in What Cannot Be Undone describe traumatic events, particularly for the patients whose lives you write about. But what has always been clear to me in reading your work is that you as a medical professional have carried much of that traumatic history with you. Do you have advice for writers writing about their own trauma?

WR: I think of my work as a doctor as meaningful, moving, difficult, exhausting, and completely absorbing. Yes, it was sometimes heartbreaking, but sometimes it was joyful. I loved being a doctor most of the time, even though I worked mostly with patients with life-limiting illnesses. I admit that I am a person who concentrates more than most on the tragic aspects of human life, and many of the stories in this book end with the death of a patient because being at the bedside of these patients may be the most meaningful work I have ever done.

In the most personal essays in the book, “The Necessary Monster” and “White Coat, Black Habit,” I write about my work in a way that most doctors keep private. I try to bear witness to my uncertainty about my value as a doctor and a human.

I think anyone trying to write about difficult experiences should be as honest as they can but also hold things in reserve. Not every part of a life should be open to public view.

DL: In my recent conversation with Lauren Davis, she said that it took her about five years and 48 rejections before she found a publisher for her first full-length collection of poems. How long did it take you to write and shape these essays? What was the submission and publication process like for What Cannot Be Undone?

WR: I worked on these essays much longer than I work on essays now because I was learning how to write while I was writing this book. I revised all of them over and over and started over with a blank page many times. I’ve gotten much faster over the years, especially in knowing what is not working and starting over.

Once I had enough essays for a book, I submitted the manuscript to an agent and was floored when she said “yes.” I thought it would be smooth sailing from then on, but eighteen months later most of the publishers had not replied. I thanked the agent for her time, and I gave up.

But then two friends from Bennington—one of them you––told me about contests for manuscripts run by journals, and so I submitted it to as many contests as I could find.  A year later, I had gotten form rejections from every single contest. I thanked my two friends, and I gave up, again.

I told myself, “This is no tragedy. You learned so much by writing these essays. This is your second career, and you started in your late fifties. What did you expect? Time to move on to something else.”

As is so often the case, I was wrong again. I thought I had gotten rejections from every contest, but one day I got a call from an unknown number. I didn’t pick up; surely it was those people who are so worried about my warranty expiring, right? But no, the voicemail was from the very kind editor at River Teeth, telling me I had won their Literary Nonfiction Prize. I smiled so hard the rest of that day my face hurt.

After winning the Prize, the publication process was a breeze. The folks at University of New Mexico Press have been delightful and kind to a first-time author. I didn’t count the number of rejections, but I wrote the first very rough draft of one of the essays, “Nurse Clappy Gets His,” in July 2012, and the book came out in February 2022. So it took about ten years.

DL: What are you working on now?

WR: I have been working on two projects. One is another essay collection about medicine and medical ethics tentatively titled “Deciding the Fate of Others.” The other is a more speculative book about the lives my ancestors did not lead so that I might be here to write a book. 

DL: Are there any opportunities coming up for readers to meet you or study with you via zoom or in person? (workshops, readings, interviews, AWP?)

WR: I’ll be at AWP with EastOver Press and Cutleaf, so please stop by our booth and say hello if you’d like to talk about the book. And I am happy to try to arrange readings or other interviews or talks about the book, over Zoom or in person. Contact me at words (at) wmrobinson (dot) com.

* * *

My next post will feature a writing exercise inspired by one of Walter M. Robinson’s essays in What Cannot Be Undone—True Stories of a Life in Medicine.

My 2021 Reading List

It’s been almost 8 months since my last blog post here. I’m afraid a lot of my plans for this space escaped me as the year rushed by. Probably the biggest reason for this is because of the role I accepted as an editor for EastOver Press and EOP’s literary journal Cutleaf. In our first year, we published 23 bi-weekly issues of the journal. We also published 4 wonderful books of poetry that I’m really proud of. (See the links below to purchase EOP books and others!) This new position as an editor requires a lot of reading, and so my list of published books I read last year (2021) isn’t quite as robust as I’d like. But I love seeing other people’s what-I’ve-read lists, so here’s mine.

  1. Julia Cameron – Finding Water
  2. Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
  3. Wesley Browne – Spoon (manuscript)
  4. Jennifer Stewart Miller – Thief
  5. Haruki Murakami – After Dark
  6. Jay McCoy – The Occupation
  7. Britton Shurley – Spinning the Vast Fantastic
  8. Matthew Landrum – Berlin Poems
  9. Katrin Ottarsdóttir – Are There Copper Pipes in Heaven
  10. Chaelee Dalton – Mother Tongue
  11. Frank Jamison – Marginal Notes
  12. Daniel Corrie – For the Future
  13. Jesse Donaldson – On Homesickness
  14. Matt Urmy – The Rain in the Bell
  15. Liz Ahl – Beginning Ballroom Dance
  16. Cathryn Hankla – Galaxies
  17. Erica Anderson-Senter – Midwestern Poet’s Incomplete Guide to Symbolism
  18. Ralph Sneeden – Surface Fugue
  19. Rosemary Royston – Second Sight
  20. John Davis, Jr. – The Places That Hold
  21. Marie Parsons – An Echo in the Wind
  22. Katherine Hauswirth – The Book of Noticing
  23. Larry Pike – Even in the Slums of Providence
  24. A.E. Hines – Any Dumb Animal
  25. Tarn Wilson – In Praise of Inadequate Gifts
  26. Ross Gay – The Book of Delights
  27. Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse
  28. Megan Culhane Galbraith – The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book
  29. Sylvia Woods – What We Take With Us
  30. Lauren Davis – The Missing Ones
  31. Ralph Sneeden – Evidence of the Journey
  32. Shawna Kay Rodenberg – Kin: A Memoir

I’d like to think that my list for next year will be at least twice this long. And maybe it will be. But it really doesn’t matter. These days, I’m trying to be more comfortable with the idea of slowing down the process. What this means to me is sometimes reading fewer books, but giving more time to think about and engage with each one.

If you’ve posted your own 2021 list or have recommendations for what to read in 2022, please post links and ideas in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you. Happy New Year!

My 2018 Reading List

I love to read, but I struggle constantly with my own expectations of how and what to read and specifically with how much to read. The struggle comes to a head about this time of year when I look back and make some kind of judgment about how I spent my limited time and energy. For 2018, I ended up reading 52 books, obviously, an average of one per week, although it wasn’t paced out that way at all.

Dorie and Book Shelf
Seen here, my cat Dorie picks out her next book to read.

Does it matter? Does the number of books I’ve read make me a better person? Does it make me a better writer? There’s some science to back up both possibilities. But more importantly, I enjoy reading. I love a book that captures me with its language and its characters, and yeah, a great narrative helps too.

Two of the books I loved the most this past year are Jacob Shores-Arguello’s In the Absence of Clocks and John Brandon’s Further Joy. Neither writer was familiar to me when I came across their work in magazines. Arguello’s poetry was found in The New Yorker, and I found a short story by Brandon in Oxford American. Both journal pieces blew me away. I felt so lucky to discover that each had books that were as thoroughly good as their individual publications.

Here’s the list of all 52 books I read this year. I’d love to see what you read in 2018. And I’d love to year which books were your favorites and which ones will stick with you.

1. Russell Banks – A Permanent Member of the Family
2. Virgil – Eclogues
3. Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way
4. Laura Hunter – Beloved Mother
5. Elaine Fletcher Chapman – Hunger For Salt
6. Jacob Shores-Arguello – In the Absence of Clocks
7. Michael Dowdy – Urbilly
8. Eric Shonkwiler – Moon Up, Past Full
9. William Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice
10. Marie Howe – What the Living Do
11. Robert Pinsky – At the Foundling Hospital (Feb)
12. William Shakespeare – As You Like It
13. Marie Howe – The Good Thief
14. Jacob Shores-Arguello – Paraiso
15. Madeline Ffitch – Valparaiso, Round the Horn
16. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge – Poemcrazy
17. Todd Boss – Tough Luck: Poems
18. Walt Whitman – Song of Myself (Mar)
19. Marc Harshman – Believe What You Can
20. Rita Quillen – The Mad Farmer’s Wife
21. Linda Parsons Marion – This Shaky Earth
22. Greg Wrenn – Centaur
23. John Brandon – Further Joy
24. John Lane – Anthropocene Blues
25. Larry Thacker – Drifting in Awe
26. Rachel Danielle Peterson – A Girl’s A Gun
27. Michael Knight – The Holiday Season
28. Jia Oak Baker – Well Enough to Travel
29. James M. Gifford – Jesse Stuart, Immortal Kentuckian
30. Manuel Gonzales – The Miniature Wife
31. Sharon Kay Penman – Falls the Shadow
32. Crystal Wilkinson – The Birds of Opulence
33. James Herriot – All Things Wise and Wonderful
34. Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation
35. Rowling, Tiffany & Thorne – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
36. William Glasser – Choice Theory
37. James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small
38. Sylvia Lynch – Jack Lord: An Acting Life
39. Kevin Fitton – Dropping Ballast (manuscript)
40. Jane Smiley – A Thousand Acres
41. Stephen Mitchell – Gilgamesh
42. C.D. Wright – One with Others
43. Kevin Canty – Into the Great Wide Open
44. George Eliot – Silas Marner
45. Michael Kardos – The Three-Day Affair
46. Christopher Smith – Salamanders of the Silk Road
47. Grant Faulkner, Lynn Mundell, Beret Olsen – Nothing Short of 100
48. Maureen Seaton – Fisher
49. Amy D. Clark – Success in Hill Country
50. Langston Hughes – Let America Be America Again and other poems
51. Cassie Pruyn – Lena
52. Kathryn Stripling Byer – Catching Light

Love Letters to Ourselves

I’m so fortunate to have interesting friends who are always doing creative things. Case in point is my friend Megan Galbraith. Below, you’ll see a letter Megan wrote calling for people to write love letters to ourselves. Megan has written one to herself, and if you’re game, she’ll trade with you. I’m working on my own love letter to myself right now. It’s not an easy task, but I’m glad Megan asked me to try it. I hope you will too. Check out Megan’s directions below.

Love Letters to Ourselves Image_edited

Dear Lover,

Earlier this year, in the midst of personal despair, I came across a self-care tip that seemed simple enough: write a love letter to myself. I tried it. It knocked me on my ass.

As much as I poo-poo the self-care industrial complex, writing that letter did help. It also got me thinking hard about love, wanting more of it in my life, and about ways to collectively build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

So, as part of The Dollhouse, I’m launching a collaborative project called “Love Letters to Ourselves.”

I want to revive the art of letter writing, spread the love around, and understand how other people love themselves.

Will you write one? I want to see your beautiful soul.

Here’s what to do:
1. Write a love letter to yourself in any form
2. Include your name and return address
3. Put it in an envelope, lick a stamp and . . .
4. Mail your letter to:
Lisette Ophelia Von Elsevier (see what I did there?)
P.O. Box 483
Cambridge, NY 12816
5. When I receive it, I’ll mail you my love letter to myself.
6. Voila! Pen Pals.

Send me some love!

All my love,

My 2017 Reading List

Some year, I’m going to read 100 books within a space of 12 months.  It wasn’t 2017 though.  My list for this past year is so short, I’m almost ashamed to show it.  But here it is anyway.  Several of these books were read in manuscript form and aren’t available on the market yet.  Look for them in 2018.

I’ve talked a lot about how problematic I find J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.  And I never skip a chance to say again what a bad book it is. Beyond that, I recommend so many of the beautiful books on this list for various reasons.

I suppose the book I’m most proud of reading this year is Cormac McCarthy’s The Orchard Keeper.  I started this book about 15 years ago–maybe longer.  I suppose I wasn’t read y for McCarthy.  And though I’ve read several of his other novels in the past decade, The Orchard Keeper sat on the shelf, never finished.  Going back to it this year, I found it to be a really beautiful book, and I was glad I had kept it around all those years.

I’d love to hear what your favorite books were from 2017, or the one you’re most proud of reading. Let’s all read more this new year.

Here’s my full list:

1. Jim Wayne Miller – The Mountains Have Come Closer
2. J.D. Vance – Hillbilly Elegy
3. Alison Stine – Ohio Violence
4. Lincoln Michel – Upright Beasts
5. Ron Houchin – The Man Who Saws Us in Half
6. Iris Tillman Hill – All This Happened Long Ago – It Happens Now
7. Blas Falconer – A Question of Gravity and Light
8. Claudia Emerson – The Late Wife
9. Charles River Editors – The Library of Alexandria and the Lighthouse of Alexandria
10. Gerry Wilson – Crosscurrents and Other Stories
11-18. 8 manuscripts for a poetry contest
19. Mark Wunderlich – The Earth Avails
20. Timothy Liu – Don’t Go Back to Sleep
21. Anais Duplan – Take This Stallion
22. Peter LaBerge – Makeshift Cathedral
23. Jeanne Bryner – Both Shoes Off
24. Keith Lesmeister – We Could Have Been Happy Here
25. James Arthur – Charms Against Lightning
26. Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds
27. Sean Frederick Forbes – Providencia
28. Clifford Garstang – Everywhere Stories Volume 2
29. Jenson Beach – Swallowed By the Cold
30. Adam Clay – Stranger
31. Joanne Nelson – If Not For the Mess
32. Katlin Brock – The Dead Always Stay OR Between the Wounds
33. Wes Sims – Taste of Change
34. Mark Powell – Small Treasons
35. Carol Grametbauer – Homeplace
36. Cormac McCarthy – The Orchard Keeper
37. Richard Hugo – The Triggering Town
38. Donald Morrill – Beaut
39. Lynne Sharon Schwartz – No Way Out But Through

Recommended Reading 12/12/2017

The year is slipping away, but here are a few last-minute reading recommendations.  Enjoy!

Megan Culhane Galbraith has a short essay about sex, virginity, and Planned Parenthood online at Boink:

Linda Michel-Cassidy’s essay, “This Snow, This Day,” (originally published at Harpur Palate) has been republished at Entropy:

Rosemary Royston has two poems in the new issue of museum of america

Brian Tierney’s poem, “Morning in Galilee,” is online at Cincinnati Review

You don’t want to miss this fascinating conversation in real pants, “HALF REVEALING, AND HALF CONCEALING THE SOUL: BARRETT WARNER INTERVIEWS CASSIE PRUYN”:

And Christian Whitney’s story, “Acceptance,” was a finalist in the summer fiction contest at Gulf Stream Literary Magazine.  Check out the story here:

Recommended Reading 10/9/2017

Here’s a quick list of some of the wonderful poetry and nonfiction that I’ve found online in the last couple of weeks.  This list is woefully short of fiction recommendations, but I’ll try to fix that soon.  In the meantime, enjoy these pieces:

Joanne Nelson has a new essay, “Just Leave the Damn Thing Open” online in the new issue of museum of americana:

Linda Michel-Cassidy interviewed Louise Marburg for Why There Are Words

Megan Culhane-Galbraith and Walter Robinson both have work listed as Notable Essays in the Best American Essays 2017.  Megan’s piece, “Sin Will Find You Out” was originally published at Catapult:  Walter’s essay, “This Will Sting and Burn,” was originally published at The Sun:

Didi Jackson has a beautiful poem, “Signs for the Living,” in The New Yorker:

Corina Zappia has a brilliant new essay in Catapult about growing up in Texas, and a lot of it sure reminds me of what it’s like to live in Tennessee:

Cassie Pruyn’s poetry collection, Lena, has been reviewed by Lambda Literary Review: .

Emily Mohn-Slate’s poem, “Landscape with Ex-husband Lingering,” has been nominated for a Best of the Net Award by Gulf Stream Literary Magazine: