Faye Rapoport DesPres

Essays

A link to my guest post on the Superstition Review Blog

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“California, a prophet on the burning shore,
California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door”
- John Perry Barlow

I always think of the Grateful Dead song “Estimated Prophet” when I travel to California. As a matter of fact, when I woke up in Benicia, a town located about 40 minutes from San Francisco, on Saturday morning, I opened up my iPad case, found the song on YouTube, and played it for a few minutes. I do love this state, as different as it is visually and culturally from the Northeast and the Southwest (the two areas where I’ve lived in the United States). I’m here now visiting family. My elderly parents wanted to see my sister, her husband, and their two children, and it was too much travel for them to handle on their own.

It wasn’t an easy trip. Thirteen hours, including a flight from Albany, NY to Atlanta, a layover, and then the flight to San Francisco. But my husband came along and he and I are here now, on our own in a small but new and comfortable hotel. Yesterday we enjoyed perfect sunny weather with a light ocean breeze as we watched my niece perform in a high school marching band competition in Vallejo, walked to the marina and up and down the main street of Benicia, which is lined with quirky shops and fun restaurants, and sat around my sister’s large dining room table sharing a feast of Indian take-out with the family at dinner time. At night, Jean-Paul and I joined my sister and her husband for a night out at a local bar/night club. As we walked in and made our way through the small crowd toward the bar, the band on the corner stage was singing Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

California.

This post won’t be much longer than that, because it’s not easy to type on an iPad! But I did want to share the link to a recent guest post I wrote for Superstition Review’s popular blog. The blog, which is worth bookmarking, offers news from the journal, general literary commentary, and writing tips and advice. I wrote my post 10 days after the bombings at the Boston Marathon and talked about the incidents in life that we can’t shake and how they often eventually translate, for essayists, into writing.

Here’s the link:

http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/blog/2013/05/09/guest-blog-post-faye-rapoport-despres-what-does-this-have-to-do-with-writing/

And now, back to California. …

My essay, “Walden Revisited,” has been published by Connotation Press: An Online Artifact

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This morning I woke up early, sat down at my computer and, before switching off the Internet (which I usually do so I can focus on my writing), took a look at the wonderful online journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. I had to see it with my own eyes to be sure: yes, my essay “Walden, Revisited” has been published in their March issue.

This is my second appearance in Connotation Press; In January of 2011 the journal published “No One Watches the Old Lady Dance.” And I couldn’t be happier to be back in this journal. In addition to publishing fantastic work, the journal is home to some of the warmest, most generous editors I have so far met in the literary world. Ken Robidoux (Editor-in-Chief), Robert Clark Young (CNF Editor), and Meg Tuite (Fiction Edtior) are lively, talented, prolific artists who are dedicated not only to the production of a fine journal but also to supporting the writers they publish (and I’m sure even those they don’t). I don’t know the poetry editor, Kaite Hillenbrand, but I know enough about her to say that she is also a mover and a shaker.

I wrote the first draft of “Walden, Revisited” as a journal entry on an October day two years ago while sitting at the edge of Walden Pond. My laptop was propped up on a retaining wall near a small beach area that is crowded with swimmers every summer. That day was actually my birthday, but that fact got dropped out of the journal entry as it was transformed over the weeks and months that followed into an essay that meditates on the pond and the natural world.

I hope you enjoy “Walden, Revisited.” And be sure to check out the work of the other writers featured in this journal. Every issue absorbs and surprises, and is a worthy read.…

The book manuscript is just about done – here’s the “pitch”

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For the past few months the focus of my writing has subtly changed; instead of feverishly writing, revising and submitting individual pieces (which I had been doing for the previous four years) I began thinking about finishing a collection. I’ve blogged in the past about the potential trap of “going for a book” too soon, but after two years of MFA study and two years of hard work improving the work in my creative thesis and producing some new essays, I felt it was time to develop a manuscript. This doesn’t mean I stopped writing new work; on the contrary, I felt that the manuscript I had in mind had a few pieces missing and I concentrated on filling in the gaps I thought existed. I also took out some old work and revised it heavily; but in most cases I found that even after a lot of revision, some of the older pieces didn’t stand up to my best work.

As of this week, on the advice of my wonderful agent, Joan Schweighardt, I believe I have “finished” my manuscript. What this means is that I think I have enough individual essays that have either been published by literary journals or that are polished enough to include in a linked collection. What it doesn’t mean is that I’m finished with the job. I still have to work on ordering the essays in a way that works a cohesive read, and then the process of proofreading and final edits will begin. But we’re close; we’re now beginning to work on a “pitch” for the book.

Joan asked me how I would describe the book, which has a tentative (Message from a Blue Jay ­– the title of one of my essays) that might change as the process progresses. This is what I wrote as a very quick first draft of the pitch:

Message from a Blue Jay is a collection of linked personal essays that also serve as a memoir of the decade of life between forty and fifty – a decade that is receiving so much attention in today’s media. It is a time when people grapple with the concerns that accompany the onset of middle age: coming to terms with one’s heritage and the lessons of youth, exploring the meaning of marriage and interpersonal connections, accepting bodies that are still youthful but are beginning to age, handling illness and the passing of parents. Rapoport DesPres also touches on her experience as the child of a Holocaust survivor and as the survivor of a life-threatening illness who grapples with her resulting childlessness. But in addition to exploring the very human passages that occur in this middle decade, the author explores her (and in extension, the human) relationship with the natural world and its inhabitants, which serve as the backdrop and ultimate metaphor for her emotions, her life, and her ultimate search for home. In the classic tradition of the personal essay, Rapoport DesPres’ writings are both observation and rumination and allow the reader to join her on a sometimes lyric, sometimes observational, and occasionally experimental narrative journey of both personal and philosophical exploration.

Creative nonfiction and personal essays are experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks to the success of memoirs such as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and Kim Dana Kupperman’s recent essay collection from GrayWolf Press: I Just Lately Started Buying Wings. Faye Rapoport DesPres studied this genre at the Solstice MFA Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College under the tutelage of such known authors in the field as Michael Steinberg, the founding editor of one of the premier literary journals in creative nonfiction, Fourth Genre; well-known memoirist and fiction writer Joy Castro, and literary scholar and author Randall Kenan. She is also a volunteer for Kupperman’s Welcome Table Press and an active blogger on the topics of writing and creative nonfiction. Eleven of the essays included in this collection have previously appeared in literary journals, one has one an honorary mention in a short prose contest, and two have been highlighted and reprinted or republished online as “best of the year” pieces by the literary editors of those journals.

That’s it, the first draft of my pitch, straight off the top of my head. Joan will certainly work her magic and improve it.

So, any publishers interested out there? :-)

Here we go! Let the adventure of attempting to publish a book begin.…

Fourth Genre Founding Editor Michael Steinberg Launches Creative Nonfiction Blog

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Fans and writers of creative nonfiction, you might be interested in a new blog launched by Michael Steinberg. For those of you who don’t know Mike or who haven’t read his work, he is the founding editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction, one of the premier literary journals that solely publish creative nonfiction. Mike has written, co-written and edited five books and a stage play, and his essays and memoirs have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. In 2004, Foreword Magazine chose his memoir Still Pitching as the Independent Press Memoir of the Year. The Association of American University Presses also listed Still Pitching in “Books Selected for School Libraries.”

Other titles include Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs From Michigan (a finalist for the 2000 Forward Magazine Independent Press Anthology of the Year and the 2000 Great Lakes Book Sellers Award) and an anthology, The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/​on Creative Nonfiction, co-edited with Robert Root, now in its sixth edition. Many creative nonfiction classes use the anthology as a course text.

Mike has also been a guest writer and teacher at many colleges and universities, as well as at several national and international writers’ conferences. Currently, he is writer-in-residence at the Solstice low-residency MFA program at Pine Manor College, from which I earned my MFA.

Mike enjoys both starting and participating in dialogues about Creative Nonfiction (his recent panel at AWP was titled “Crafting the Made-Up Self” and featured Phillip Lopate, Mimi Schwartz, and Thomas Larson). I’m sure the ideas he brings up on his blog will be informative and perhaps, at times, provocative. He looks forward to your feedback in the comments section.

Michael Steinberg’s blog can be found here:

http://www.mjsteinberg.net/blog.htm

Enjoy!…

Dribs and Drabs for Writers

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It’s been a crazy couple of weeks; I recently started a two-month temp job at a well-known university to earn some extra income before my husband heads off to his final summer of PhD studies at Smith. Every bit helps. I’m working in the Humanities building and meeting some incredibly talented and accomplished writers and other faculty members, but my role is simply an administrative one. It is interesting to have been a professor last semester at Framingham State, and to be working in an administrative role at another university this semester. I often think that the universe places us in situations designed to teach us something about ourselves and our lives — in this case, I think I’m being challenged to hold onto a definition of myself that comes from within as I move among the different levels of work at academic institutions.

There is no doubt about one thing: it is inspiring to be around the faculty here. These people have reached an incredibly high level in their creative and professional lives.

Since my days have been a bit too hectic to allow for drafting a lengthy blog post, I thought I’d share some links to the reading I’ve been doing that has inspired me as a writer (or has just affected me as a person).

I finally had a chance to read James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” an essay that can be found in a number of collections including the original essay collection of the same name, which a TIME Magazine reviewer called Baldwin’s “defining work, and his greatest.” Reading this essay was a life-changer for me, not only because it is written so well that even as a writer I forgot about the writing as I read it, but because it brought home the experiences of another human being — experiences that I can never fully comprehend, but that I can learn from and honor and respect.

I also read a great interview with Amy Hempel that was published a few years ago in the Paris Review called “The Art of Fiction.” Not only does the interview shed light on Hempel’s life and writing process, it offers a valuable perspective on certain aspects of story and narrative. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse into the mind and creative process of a highly accomplished writer, and to weigh their views and experiences against your own. In what ways does your style or process differ, an in what ways is it similar? Are there some new things you might try? Can you be inspired by looking at certain aspects of writing in a new way?

Hempel’s first published story, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried,” has been anthologized many times and is available online at Fictionaut. The story offers a strong example of many of the techniques she discusses in her interview.

On my Kindle, I’m currently reading Cheryl Strayed’s new and touted memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail. I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, which has been optioned by Reese Witherspoon for a movie, so I’ll let this review from the Washington Post introduce it to you.

Finally, I’ve started reading The Complete Essays of Montaigne, which I’ve wanted to read for some time. I am sure it will take me a long while to get through the book, which I’ll approach bit by bit, here and there. But I was struck by how touched I was by these simple words at the end of the author’s introduction, titled “To the Reader”: “Thus, reader, I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject. So farewell. Montaigne, this first day of March, fifteen hundred and eighty.” Something about the way those words reached me across 431 years truly moved me. And in a way, they describe what a personal essayist does…lay out “myself” as “the matter of my book,” even if we worry on some level that the subject is indeed “frivolous” and “vain.” The self is all we have to absorb and interpret the life that we live, and writing about it is the only way we know how to share our interpretation with the world.…