Casting our shadows behind us: spring soon comes

Well, hello! I’m your new Revise This! editor, and I’m thrilled to be here.

Though I regularly craft newsletters for my day job, this time around was quite different, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not every day that I get to call up a writer who’s been reviewed by the Washington Post and New York Times, someone who’s been compared to a talent as untouchable as Toni Morrison (that’s Morowa Yejidé for you). It’s also not every day that I get to connect with fellow writers on all different kinds of journeys, folks from every background imaginable, and some (like Suzanne Ohlmann) who at one point lived in the very same neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota as I currently do. “It’s a small world . . .” as they say.

In gathering stories for this newsletter, I’ve realized yet again the sheer breadth of this program and all the people who’ve passed (and are passing) through it. We are fortunate to have each other. Take a moment of pause – from your day job, your writing practice, and life’s many other responsibilities – to celebrate the good work being done here in our Wilkes community. Most importantly, let’s use the inspiration as fuel to power us through our work as the seasons change again and another residency looms.

Cheers,

Hallie O’Neill


Maslow Family Creative Writing Program Updates

Enrollment Boom (cont.)

With 22 new students in the January 2022 cohort, we officially doubled our enrollment! And best of all, we’ve done so without compromising our standards: our new students, like our veteran students, are top-notch writers with excellent work ethics. Rest assured we want to maintain the intimacy of our program, so we won’t get too big — but for now, the state of our program is stronger than ever.

Master’s in Publishing

Did you know we offer a Master’s Degree in Publishing? We do, and it’s available to our MA or MFA graduates in only two semesters. (For everyone else, it’s three semesters.) We have an extraordinary publishing faculty led by Phil Brady of Etruscan and Donna Talarico of Hippocamp, with many other publishers (Kaylie Jones of Kaylie Jones Books, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books), copywriters (Molly Pisani), and members of the Wilkes Business faculty contributing to the degree. A curriculum overview of the program is available in our handbook.

New Tracks, and Single-Semester Independent Studies

In addition to YA, Romance, and other sub-genres, we now have Sci-Fi and Spoken Word tracks available to our MA students. But students may also study Spoken Word for a single semester as an independent study (3 credits or 6 credits, depending on the extent and depth of study) alongside their MA or MFA required courses. Or they may opt to study any of the major genres for a single semester as well. Wouldn’t it be fun to write a draft of a play, screenplay, or poetry chapbook in one semester?

For that matter, students can take an independent study in Audio Drama, TV Script Writing, Graphic Novel, or Children’s Literature. You name it; we can teach it. So if you are a current student, consider taking advantage of our faculty’s wide-ranging talents to learn all you can about the different writing genres — because you never know what kind of writing you’ll want to do in five or ten years. And if you’re an alum, consider enrolling in a non-degree-seeking course, or (if you have a completed manuscript) a master class, at the discounted tuition rate.

AWP!

Our program is the proud premier sponsor of the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Program) Conference in Philadelphia from March 23-26. All students, faculty, and alumni may obtain free registrations by contacting Patti Naumann. If you’re planning to attend, please stop by our John Wilkes Booth (couldn’t resist), numbers 929/931, to say hello. And don’t forget to attend the in-person keynote address by Toi Derricotte, introduced by our own Phil Brady and sponsored by Wilkes, on Thursday evening; the virtual old-school slam at 10:00 pm on Thursday and Friday, featuring Jason Carney and Stanton Hancock (sponsored by Etruscan Press), and the in-person panel of our playwriting faculty and alumni, “Page to Stage: Pathways to Production in a Virtual and In-Person World, with Bonnie Culver, Matt Hinton, Jean Klein, Rachel Strayer, and Sergio-Andreo Bettencourt Urbina, on Friday March 25 at 10:35 am (F150 in the AWP schedule). Hope to see you there!

LitFest 2022!

The June residency will feature readings and craft lessons by our amazing faculty, along with the following events:

  • a Juneteenth Celebration of Black authors and poets
  • a “Journey of the Book” interview/reading/book signing by faculty mentors with new book releases 
  • a master class taught by Simon & Schuster VP/Executive Editor Robert Bender 
  • an alumni reading featuring Amye Archer, Jen Bokal, Jackie Fowler, Suzanne Ohlmann, and Barb Taylor 
  • stage readings of a short play by Gregory Fletcher and a full-length play by our new faculty mentor and performer Christine Renee Miller 
  • featured readings by Wilkes alumna Morowa Yejide, New Yorker staff writer Margaret Talbot, and National Book Award Finalist Tim Seibles

All events are free and open to the public, and will take place on the lawn outside the library under a big tent. And on two of the evenings (Sunday June 19 and Thursday June 23) there will be food trucks! In the coming months, look for press releases that we’ll share on Facebook and in future emails, and be sure to tell all your NEPA friends about it!

Contemplative Writing Retreat April 29-May 6, 2022

There are still shared and private rooms available for our springtime writing retreat on beautiful Rehoboth Beach, facilitated by our own Juanita Rockwell. Juanita will begin and end each day with a meditation session (for beginners), and in between there will be nothing but quiet time to write, either by or on the beach. Contact Patti or David to reserve your spot.

James Jones First Novel Contest

Submissions for the JJFNF will continue until midnight on March 15th, 2022. After that, readers will be assigned submissions to review and vote on with a simple yes or no. Each submission will be read by at least two readers and, in cases of a tie, three readers. Around the first of August, the finalists will be forwarded to three final judges. Usually the Fellow and any runners-up are announced by the end of August.


Morowa Yejidé on Washington, D.C. – an Extraordinary Place with Magically Ordinary People

by Hallie O’Neill

A headshot of Morowa Yejidé standing in front of a painted wall wearing a black, high-neck top.

“I’ve always been a lover of magical realism. As a child, I had a wild imagination and I spent a lot of time in my own world, looking at it through fantastical eyes.”

So Morowa Yejidé’s story begins. As a young girl living in 1970s Anacostia, Yejidé saw Washington, D.C. and its suburbs from the inside out. This was a place known on a national and political scale, but it was also a place where she went to school, ate meals, and carried out her daily life. Many of the stories that informed her perspective on its history came from the mouths of the older generations of women in her family: her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother, who was one of the first three Black female cab drivers in the emerging metropolis when her family first moved there.

“Like many matriarchs in Black families, she had to do tremendous things for her family,” Yejidé says of her grandmother – “cab driver” being just one of many roles she embodied throughout her life.

In the early 1900s, Yejidé’s grandparents moved from the American South to an Anacostia Yejidé only knows through her conversations with family members. The then-rural town sprawled with fruit orchards, a setting that’s hard to imagine could ever exist so close to the now urbanized D.C. area. As a child, Yejidé’s mother ran through the orchards that are now mostly vanished.

For decades, Yejidé wondered about the many lives who passed through her grandmother’s cab doors in the years she spent driving around the area. This small curiosity motivated her to start writing about it in a novel called Creatures of Passage, and nearly ten years later, the book was published. In it, the same Plymouth Belvedere her grandmother drove acts as a portal across time and space. Turns out, the car-turned-literary device works perfectly for achieving the story she wants to tell in Creatures – the story of the real people of D.C., those who remain after each political administration packs up and goes back home.

“D.C. has a very monolithic image of government and monuments, but there’s so much more going on beneath the surface,” says Yejidé. “There’s a lot of everyday people here dealing with extraordinary circumstances. That’s just a part of living here. It was important to me to give dimension and depth to those everyday people, using magical realism as a way to give a window into the mundane . . . There’s just not a whole lot written about people who live here.”

Creatures of Passage has been reviewed, well, everywhere: New York Times, Washington Post, Kirkus Review, Chicago Review, and others. What’s more, the haunted aura of Creatures has been compared to that of Beloved, and Yejidé herself to Toni Morrison, a comparison she doesn’t take lightly. Creatures has been praised for its representation of the magically mundane, its candor towards the forgotten quadrants of our nation’s capital, and its eloquence in portraying the fleeting nature of time. When she was just twenty years old, Yejidé experienced this last truth intimately when her own mother died of cancer at age forty. It’s no surprise, then, that Creatures deftly incorporates the presence of ghosts.

“The book crystallizes my examination of the possibility of the dead worrying about the living even after they’re gone,” says Yejidé. “That comes from my experience with my mother. Even when she was dying, she was telling me, ‘remember this, remember that.’ They were basically check lists; she was leaving me all kinds of timeless nuggets of wisdom to carry with me. She even said, ‘I’ll be around, I’ll be with you.’ If someone can say that so close to death, then they must know something that we don’t.”

In writing Creatures of Passage, Yejidé found a way to create a public record of the Anacostia she and her family members once knew – to preserve the feeling of the place as it was from 1910 to the 1990s. She also wanted to do justice to the people who live there now and those who walk through the shadows of the monuments and politicians on a daily basis. In reading the reactions of readers online, you can find countless sentiments like this one: This is the D.C. I remember when I was growing up. The literary world has long awaited a writer like Yejidé with a story like hers.

This June, Yejidé will bring her expertise back to Wilkes University where she’ll deliver a reading of Creatures of Passage. For her, the reunion will be sweet. She’ll always cherish the people, skills, and memories afforded to her by the Maslow Family Creative Writing Program, an experience she refers to as “priceless.”

“I did the program when I had a lot of other responsibilities. There’s no cabin and roaring fire and typewriter, I didn’t have all that,” Yejidé said, laughing. “I had marriage, three kids, and a job. All kinds of stuff to do. The MFA program was a wonderful gift because it allowed me the flexibility to write in between life.”

As a graduate student, Yejidé worked on her manuscript with mentor Bob Mooney, who later became her editor for Creatures of Passage. She says the experience was “a magical serendipity type of thing.” The relationship Yejidé built with Bob throughout their initial mentorship lasted long after graduation, and they were able to pick up right where they left off when she was ready to finalize her book.

“I couldn’t really imagine having any other editor for Creatures of Passage because it’s a very unusual story,” Yejidé said. “Mooney is probably the only one who can really understand what the hell I’m talking about.”

Mooney, like Yejidé’s cohort members, are lasting connections whom she still considers close friends, and she’s excited to be back on campus and surrounded by the camaraderie of fellow artists who “get it.”

And being compared to Toni Morrison? It’s something Yejidé never imagined in her wildest dreams, and it’s a high standard she’ll continue to strive toward.

“I want to do these stories justice, and that means full dimension: we’re gonna talk about the men and the women, the heroes and the monsters,” Yejidé says. “I was always fascinated not so much by what happened, but why? That’s where that dimension comes in.”

Creatures of Passage was published in March of 2021 and is available everywhere. You can hear Morowa Yejidé read an excerpt from her book this June during the return of the residency’s in-person LitFest.

The cover artwork of Yejidé's book, Creatures of Passage, showing a blue and purple foggy landscape with a taxi cab passing through.

Cross-Cohort Happy Hour: Sláinte!

New to the Maslow Family Creative Writing Program is an innovative way for current students to connect with one another throughout a solitary semester of writing: cross-cohort happy hours, organized by current student Joshua Holycross. The first ever happy hour was hosted on Sunday, February 20th via Zoom, and according to Josh, it went swimmingly! About 26 people attended throughout the hour, including a few members of the Wilkes faculty and staff. Guests spent time getting to know each other better and sharing favorite love songs or poems in honor of Valentine’s Day.

Each month, Josh will be looking to focus on one particular member of a cohort, either having them share a piece they’ve written, perform a song, or provide insight into a particular aspect of the writing process that might be beneficial for everyone to learn. March’s happy hour will feature Cory McLaughlin, who has valuable knowledge into the process of acquiring an agent. This month will also celebrate all things Irish, so if you’re able to attend, come prepared with your favorite Irish writers, poems, or proverbs on Sunday, March 20th. Cross-cohort happy hours will continue on the third Sunday of each month at 7 pm EST, so mark your calendars in advance!

The advertisement poster for the happy hour event, which is St. Patrick's Day themed with cartoon images dressed in green, playing bagpipes, and holding a small pot of gold.
A Zoom link for the event will be sent out separately by Patti Naumann a few days in advance.

Suzanne Ohlmann for ‘The Write Life’: Leaning Into the Dissonance

“I don’t believe that memoir and its inherent self-as-protagonist is equal to narcissism. I believe that when we take out our own trash and sweep our front steps and paint our houses and go to the dentist, we make ourselves better neighbors.”

Suzanne Ohlmann, M.F.A. 2017 and author of Shadow Migration: Mapping a Life

Suzanne Ohlmann, a 2017 M.F.A. graduate of the program and current registered nurse in rural Texas, waits in anxious anticipation as her memoir, Shadow Migration: Mapping A Life, nears its publication. As for many memoirists, a lingering question haunts her dreams: what will people think? Read Suzanne’s reflections on our program blog, The Write Life, to learn more about how she makes peace with her uncertainties – and why even her own mother’s small town book club is excited to celebrate her story.

A black and white headshot of Suzanne Ohlmann wearing a buttoned up shirt with a collar.

OHLMANN: Most memoirists wait until family members die, specifically their parents, before they publish stories involving painful or embarrassing truths. But not this gal! And now my mother’s small town book club wants my memoir to be one of their nine selections for their 2022-23 season. Jesus Harold Christ, I think to myself as I read Mom’s email detailing the names of her church friends, food pantry friends, teaching friends, who plan to read or worse, have read my book. These are God-fearing, Christian folks of the Great Plains who don’t miss Bible Class and wear aprons to serve Folger’s Classic Blend at funeral luncheons. Now they know that my life has included moments of suicidal ideation, potty breaks in Indian train cars with neither water nor sink, and torrid affairs with brawny Italian stagehands. . . . READ MORE ON ‘THE WRITE LIFE’


Faculty News

Two pieces from J. Michael Lennon’s forthcoming memoir, Mailer’s Last Days: New and Selected Remembrances of a Life in Literature, will be published this summer. “Meeting Mailer” will appear in the annual Provincetown Arts magazine. “The Archivist’s Apprentice” will be published in Lifewriting Annual: Biographical and Autobiographical Studies. The full memoir will be published by Etruscan Press on November 1st.

Nancy McKinley will be signing St. Christopher on Pluto along with alum Suzanne Ohlmann, who will be signing her book Shadow Migration: Mapping A Life, at the Wilkes AWP ’22 Exhibit Space #929/931. The signings are on Thursday, March 24 from 1:00-1:30 PM and Friday, March 25 from 1:00–1:30 PM. Nancy is also signing St. Christopher on Pluto at the West Virginia University Press Exhibit Space #1107 on Friday, March 24 from 11:00-11:30 AM. Nancy was recently hosted by alum Tara Lynn Marta on her YouTube show, Tea with Tara: Conversations About Writing.

Christine Renee Miller will be directing a staged reading off-off Broadway of a brand new play by Oliver Lehne entitled, “This Was My Body Except My Head” about the relationship between John Singer Sargeant and his muse, Thomas McKeller. An excerpt of her newest play “Post Master” will be published in the debut issue (March release) of Struggle Magazine, a quarterly literary magazine founded by Anujin and Keith Butler, Jr.

Alumni News

Austin Bennett, M.F.A. 2015, will be presenting on innovative curricular practices at the College English Association 51st Annual Conference in Birmingham on March 31.

Patricia Florio, M.F.A. 2011, will be a judge for the 2022 American Writers Review, a multi-genre literary journal, along with fellow Wilkes alumni Vicki Mayk, Dawn Leas, Carol MacAllister, and Lori Myers. This year’s theme is The End or the Beginning.

Jeffrey Ford, M.A. 2017, is executive producing a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 which was live-streamed for its premiere. The broadcast was on March 4th, 2022.

Gerald Gurka, M.A. 2007, published an article titled “The Forever Meaning of Christmas” in the West Side News section of The Citizens Voice, 12-25-21 edition. Gerald scripted and starred in the “That Chef” segment of the “Rectory Set Cook” video series competition. The broadcast begins 3-8-22 on Diocese of Scranton sights and links. Gerald is also finally finishing a first YA novel titled Freddie Foodmore’s Menu of Unsavory Events for Northampton House Press/Overdue Books.

Andrea Janov, M.F.A. 2009, has published the poetry collection Mix Tapes and Photo Albums, a coming-of-age poetry collection about a small town punk rock scene told by a girl who loved Francie Nolan and Ben Weasel equally. Each poem assumes the title of a song which creates the soundtrack to a group of teenagers who push the boundaries of their small town, test where they fit, and find solace in their local punk rock scene.

Bibiana Krall, M.F.A. 2018, along with Veronica Cline Barton wrote Tangled Webs (Book #2 of The Haunted series) and it recently won 1st place in five separate categories in the Firebird Book Awards including Horror Anthology, Magical Realism, and Ghost Stories. Bibiana and Veronica are thrilled to represent women writers in horror with this annual anthology. Book three, Wicked Mist, is currently in progress and slated to publish with Black Calyx Books on September 6, 2022.

Tara Marta, M.A. 2018, has a new book titled Dreaming Through the Eyes of God that was published by Adelaide Books in August of 2021. Tara also started a YouTube channel where she interview writers called Tea with Tara: Conversations About Writing.

Suzanne Ohlmann, M.F.A. 2017, will be signing her memoir Shadow Migration: Mapping A Life, along with faculty Nancy McKinley at the Wilkes AWP ’22 Exhibit Space #929/931. The signings are on Thursday, March 24 from 1:00-1:30 PM and Friday, March 25 from 1:00–1:30 PM. She will also be signing her book at the University of Nebraska Press Exhibit Space #1226, 1228, 1230 on Thursday, March 24 from 3:00-3:30 PM.

Christoph Paul, M.F.A. 2017, announced that CLASH Books will be publishing the memoir of Eve 6 frontman Max Collins titled Heart in a Blender. The press will also have a booth at AWP at Booth 240. Christoph’s band, The Dionysus Effect, released its first single “STARS” and Christoph wrote about the difference between writing and music in the article “Writing a Novel vs Writing an Album” for LitReactor.

Sara Pisak, M.F.A. 2020, published a review of Etruscan Press author Daneen Wardrop’s poetry collection Silk Road in Glass Poetry Press. Also, through Wilkes University, Sara will be offering a six-week nonfiction workshop online starting on March 24th. All are welcome to register here.

Dania Ramos, M.A. 2010, created an audio drama series titled Timestorm, which won a silver medal in the inaugural Anthem Awards in the category of Education, Art, and Culture – Special Projects. The Anthem Awards celebrate purpose and mission-driven work from people, companies, and organizations worldwide.

Camika Spencer, M.F.A. 2018, is currently teaching English as a third language to middle school students at the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade levels in Al Giza, Egypt on a one-year contract. Camika is using this opportunity to curate a podcast titled #OneYearInEgypt about personal transformation and education, since it is a premiere global experience while turning 50 years old.

Student News

Ashlee Harry, M.A. in progress, moved back to Pennsylvania for a new job opportunity as an Administrative Assistant/Content Writer for JHA Companies in Moosic, PA. Ashlee has been assisting with the writing and editing of social media posts and company proposals.

Cassidy Heid, M.A. in progress, joined the editorial team of the River and South Review as a reader last month. Cassidy also started a work study job as an archivist for the late Norman Mailer.

Katie Kelly, M.F.A. in progress, is working with a professor friend to facilitate a few writing workshops at the Pittston location of LCCC or at the Library. Katie is hoping to have logistics complete by summer or fall. The workshops would be focused on Creative Writing.

Cassandra Sachar, M.A. in progress, wrote a short horror story “Together for Christmas” which received an honorable mention and was published in the Holiday Horror Challenge by Tales from the Moonlight Path in December 2021. Additionally, her poem “Parking Garage of Dead Dreams” in the Pennsylvania Bards Eastern PA Poetry Review 2021 and creative nonfiction essay “Grandma’s House” in Montana Mouthful were published in February 2022. Finally, she presented her creative nonfiction essay “Skeletons in the Closet, Buns in the Oven” at the Northeast Modern Language Association’s 53rd Annual Convention in March 2022.


Brenda Fager’s MA Capstone (Finally!) Fully Realized

FAGER – Last Saturday was amazing! Here’s what happened: I finally got my Capstone – a staged reading of my play! (Only two months late.) There were several times throughout the performance during which I caught myself holding my breath in awe over the profound significance of what was happening on stage.

And as if to echo my thoughts, my husband (who purposely hadn’t read any draft of my play), looked over at me as the final applause died out, and said, smiling and incredulously proud, “You wrote that!” I smiled back. “I did.”

Making worthwhile all the postponements, the mishaps, the stage moms, the band concerts, the dance rehearsals, the work schedules, the COVID numbers, and every other contrivance that wormed its way into the life of the final element of my Master’s degree in Playwriting: the staged reading of my first full-length play, Chasing the Carpe Diem. Performed by local junior and senior high school students, the target actors/audience of my play, my MA Capstone was an extraordinary experience – breathtaking, eye-opening, and profoundly illuminating. And besides all that, it was fun!

A photo of playwright Brenda Fager and the cast of high school students who performed her play, Chasing the Carpe Diem. Brenda is laughing, and the students have their arms around each other, and they are joined by Brenda's mentor Greg Fletcher.
Brenda with her mentor, Greg Fletcher, and the cast and crew of Chasing the Carpe Diem.

Practicum Updates

Check out the great work some current practicum students are doing in their internship semesters!

Michael Hardin: “My internship involves teaching two classes of Intro to Fiction at Scranton University in Pennsylvania. I have taught college in the past and wanted to get back into it, and Scranton was the only college in an eighty-mile radius that offered me a class. Having taught before, I have not really learned anything new, but I have realized that teaching is something that one does not forget, even if it has been fifteen years. My favorite thing so far has been in-person teaching—I hate Zoom!”

Cynthia Kolanowski: “This semester, I’m interning with Etruscan Press and have the opportunity to work on a comparative analysis of two book distributors and design and implement community-outreach initiatives. I’m working on my MA in Publishing and want to learn more about literary publishing and the ways publishers can give back to their communities. Book distribution is a complex process, and community outreach is slow but meaningful work.”

Jon Lawrence: “I am working alongside Phil Brady in the editing of Etruscan Press’s anthology ‘Sign & Breath.’ Poets are asked to send a page that ‘sings,’ and then are interviewed in relation to the work they’ve sent. The anthology is an attempt to look at poetry and language beyond the scale of modalities, codes, or rules. Instead, it’s trying to get at the universal ‘thrum’ that is language and voice. As someone who likes playing with the sonic quality of poetry, I get to see a wide array of approaches and inspirations.”

Fran Reilly: “I’m looking forward to leading a community writing workshop I’m calling ‘Headlines of Your Life’ where we will be taking adapted techniques from the journalist’s toolbox to investigate and write our own life stories. My hope is that each participant comes away with a written true story of an event from their life, and techniques to help them continue to mine their own rich lives for meaning through their writing. The workshop began on March 1.”

Roni Teson: “I’m working at a literary agency. I’m fortunate that I am getting an inside view into the life of a literary agent. I’m gaining and growing on all fronts, my writing, my understanding of the industry, and I’ve been entrusted with information that is helpful with my next steps as a writer.”


Our Director in Prague!

Program Director David Hicks is in the Czech Republic this semester on a Fulbright scholarship. He’s teaching a Master’s seminar on Early American Women Writers at Charles University in Prague while continuing to direct our program and advising our students from afar. With both Ukrainian and Russian students in his class, he has had difficult but fruitful conversations about the war in Ukraine; and living a few blocks from the Russian embassy has given him a front-row seat to the protests against the invasion and to the supportive spirit of the Czech people. He’ll be back in the U.S. at the end of the semester with some stories to tell and with a completed manuscript of a novel set in Prague.

A photo of David Hicks and a cohort of Fulbright scholars and Czech Fulbright Commissioners. They are smiling and  standing on Petrin Hill in Prague, Czech Republic.
David with other Czech Fulbright scholars and Czech Fulbright Commissioners on Petrin Hill.