Faye Rapoport DesPres


In the Boston Area? Some Great Readings Are Coming Up Starting June 28!


It’s that time of the year again — the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College, my MFA Alma Mater, will soon hold its summer writing residency. Each residency features a variety of evening readings by Solstice faculty members and guests. Readings are held in the Founder’s Room of Pine Manor College, 400 Heath Street, Chestnut Hill, and are FREE and open to the public. All readings are at 7:30 p.m. unless *otherwise indicated. Author’s books will be available for signing, and there is plenty of parking!

Here’s the list for this summer’s residency, which begins Friday, June 28:

Friday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m.: Iain Haley Pollock (Spit Back A Boy, winner of the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize); David Yoo (The Detention Club & The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever); & Steven Huff (The Water We Came From & A Pig In Paris).

Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 p.m.: R. Dwayne Betts (A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison & Shahid Reads His Own Palm) & novelist Sterling Watson (Sweet Dream Baby & Fighting in the Shade).

Sunday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m.: Michael Steinberg (founding editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction, author of Still Pitching); Mira Bartók (The Memory Palace, winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography); & Deborah Wiles (author of the Aurora County Trilogy, a fictional account of growing up in the South).

Monday, July 1 at 7:30 p.m.: Graduate Assistant Beth Grosart (published in Eastown Fiction & Somebody’s Child: Stories about Adoption); Assistant Director Tanya Whiton (published in Crazyhorse and American Fiction among other journals); & Laure-Anne Bosselaar (A New Hunger & The Hour Between Dog & Wolf).

*Tuesday, July 2 from 4:30-6:30 p.m.: Graduating Student Readings

Wednesday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m.: Kashmira Sheth (Boys Without Names & Tiger in My Soup); Anne-Marie Oomen (Pulling Down the Barn & An American Map: Essays); & Lee Hope (published in Witness and The North American Review, among other journals).

Thursday, July 4 at 7:30 p.m.: Philip Memmer (The Storehouses of the Snow: Psalms, Parables and Dreams & Lucifer: a Hagiography); Robert Lopez (Asunder & Kamby Bolongo Mean River); & Vievee Francis (Blue-Tail Fly & Horse in the Dark winner of the Cave Canem Northwestern University Poetry Prize for a second collection).

Friday, July 5 at 7:30 p.m.: Lita Judge (Red Hat, Red Sled, & Bird Talk), Program Director Meg Kearney (Home By Now & The Girl in the Mirror); & Laura Williams McCaffrey (Water Shaper & Alia Waking).

Directions to Pine Manor College, complete bios of our authors, and more information about the Solstice MFA Program can be found at www.pmc.edu/mfa.…

Solstice MFA Program Announces January Boston-Area Readings


If you live in the Boston area you’ll be interested in the evening reading schedule of the Solstice MFA Program’s Winter Residency, which begins tomorrow, January 4. The readings take place most nights through Friday, January 11 in the Founder’s Room at Pine Manor College (located at 400 Heath Street in Chestnut Hill). Author’s books will be available for sale; a cash-bar reception will follow the reading on Thursday, January 10; and there is plenty of free parking!

Here’s the schedule:

Friday, January 4 at 7:30 p.m.: Venise Berry (author of four novels, including the forthcoming Pockets of Sanity); Iain Haley Pollock (Spit Back A Boy, winner of the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize); & Laura Williams McCaffrey (author of the speculative fiction/YA novels Alia Waking and Water Shaper).

Saturday, January 5 at 7:30 p.m.: MFA Director Meg Kearney (author of two poetry collections, two novels-in-verse for teens, and a picture book); Kashmira Sheth (author of numerous books for young people, including the recent No Dogs Allowed Rule); & Andrew X. Pham (author of the Kiriyama Prize-winning memoir Catfish and Mandala).

Sunday, January 6 at 7:30 p.m.: Anne-Marie Oomen (poet and author of three essay collections, including An American Map: Essays); special guest Pablo Medina (author of 13 books, most recently the novel Cubop City Blues); & writer-in-residence Terrance Hayes (author of Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award in Poetry).

Monday, January 7 at 7:30 p.m.: Graduate Assistant Kassie Rubico; MFA Assistant Director Tanya Whiton (published in Crazyhorse and Northwest Review) & Randall Kenan (author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Let the Dead Bury Their Dead and The Fire This Time).

Wednesday, January 9 at 7:45 p.m.: Poet Kathleen Aguero (Investigations: The Mystery of the Girl Sleuth and Daughter Of); special guest Gibson Fay-LeBlanc (winner of the 2012 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize for Death of a Ventriloquist); & writer-in-residence Grace Lin (author of more than 13 books for young people, including the recent Starry River of the Sky).

Thursday, January 10 at 7:30 p.m.: Amy Hoffman (author of three memoirs, including the forthcoming Lies About My Family); David Yoo (author of two young adult novels, a middle grade novel, and the essay collection The Choke Artist); & special guest Julia Glass (author of three novels, including the 2002 National Book Award-winner Three Junes).

Friday, January 11 at 7:30 p.m.: Sandra Scofield (National Book Award Finalist for Beyond Deserving; author of seven novels, a memoir, and a craft book) & Steven Huff (author of two poetry collections and the short fiction collection A Pig in Paris).

Directions to Pine Manor College, complete bios of the authors, and more information about the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program can be found at www.pmc.edu/mfa.…

A wonderful reading at Pine Manor College


Last night I attended a reading featuring Michael Steinberg (whose birthday it is today — happy birthday, Mike!), Joy Castro , and Mitali Perkins. The reading was part of the summer reading series taking place at Pine Manor College during the Solstice MFA Program’s summer residency.

If you know me personally, you know that I don’t attend many readings. Of course, readings are an important aspect of any writer’s repertoire (for marketing purposes and simply to share work with a wider audience). But I tend to support my colleagues by purchasing their books and promoting their work in other ways. I have always had a relatively short attention span; I’m a restless person. So sitting through lengthy readings tends to be difficult for me.

I am so glad I attended last night’s reading, however. Each reader was so different and powerful in his or her own way. Mike read an essay-in-progress that described how being asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in a college baseball game helped him move through some of the physical and emotional challenges of middle age. Mitali read a gripping chapter from one of her young adult novels, Bamboo People, during which a young boy in Burma is rounded up to be a child soldier. And Joy read some beautiful, lyrical background and descriptions from her new novel, Hell or High Water, and a beautifully-crafted essay about long-term married life that simply brought me to tears because of its truth and beauty. The piece is from her upcoming collection, Island of Bones.

The whole evening was a reminder of how different, yet equally interesting and absorbing, writing from different writers can be. We heard creative nonfiction, young adult fiction, and fiction/crime thriller writing and each sampling held our attention in its own unique way.

Dennis Lehane reads at Pine Manor tonight. For a full schedule of the readings going on there this week, visit this link.…

“What’s New in Children’s Books” Set for April 28


A press release from The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College:

The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College and the Foundation for Children’s Books (FCB) will co-host the second in a series of biannual events, “What’s New in Children’s Books,” a half-day conference featuring authors, illustrators, and library and bookstore professionals. The conference takes place Saturday, April 28 from 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. (registration and coffee begins at 8:30 a.m.) in the Founder’s Room on the Pine Manor College campus, 400 Heath Street in Chestnut Hill. There is plenty of free parking! For directions to Pine Manor College, go to: www.pmc.edu/directions.

“What’s New in Children’s Books?” will feature Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord, author of the novels Rules and Touch Blue, as well as several picture books; Janet Wong, poet and author of over 23 books for young people; and Gregory Mone, whose second children’s novel, Dangerous Waters, centers on a passenger on the Titanic. Bookseller Terri Schmitz, owner of the Children’s Book Shop, and Librarian Christian Porter of Brookline’s Park School will talk about their favorite new books for spring. For full presenter bios, go to: http://www.thefcb.org/events/.

The conference includes coffee and refreshments, new books from the Children’s Book Shop, and book sales and signing. Cost: $65 for the general public; $25 for students with a valid I.D.; and $40 for FCB institutional members. For a downloadable registration form, go to: http://www.thefcb.org/forms/.…

Back at home after AWP


Lake Michigan on a gray day, with part of the Chicago skyline in the distance.

I just returned to Boston after spending two days at the AWP Conference in Chicago. I’m sure a lot of writers will blog about their experiences at the conference. They’ll touch on the shuttle bus rides between the Hilton Chicago (the main conference hotel) and the Palmer House Hilton (where many events were also held), the barely audible poetry narrations (accompanied by short films) playing on small screens in the elevators, and the hope you held onto, every time you got into one of those elevators, that you would actually go up if you pressed “up.” There was the overwhelming crowd that packed the Hilton Chicago lobby from morning until night (10,000 writers converging to attend meetings, panels, lunches, and dinners, and to peruse the massive bookfair) and the $12 glasses of wine at the hotel restaurant. And of course there were the panels themselves, packed with interesting writers and topics.

I had the opportunity to meet with old friends (it was so nice to see Mike Steinberg and Joy Castro) and to make new ones in Chicago (such as the editors of Connotation Press, who hosted a fun reading at Kasey’s Tavern on Thursday). I also attended two panels (I missed the third panel I intended to hear when my veterinarian called with news about one of my cats just as the panel was starting — the cat is OK). The Brevity blog has posted a number of summaries of the creative nonfiction panels written by guest bloggers.

Ironically, for me, I think the moments that stand out the most among the many valuable, interesting, and intimidating times I had during my stay had nothing to do with writing. For example on Thursday, just after arriving in town, I dragged friend Cindy Zelman two blocks to the shore of Lake Michigan, simply because I couldn’t travel to Chicago without making the effort to see the lake. The day was cloudy and cold, and we sat on a cracked cement wall taking in the vastness of the water in front of us with the skyline of Chicago behind us and to our left.

South Wabash Street in the rain.

On Friday morning I met my friend Karin Gottshall, a very special poet, and we talked about life and marriage and friendship more than about writing. And later that day, after attending a panel at the Palmer House Hotel, I decided to walk back to the Chicago Hilton in the rain. Many years ago I wrote a poem that started with the line: “There’s something strange about the city in the rain.” I wrote that poem about Boston, but I experienced the same feeling in Chicago while I was huddled in my jacket, head down, walking quickly along the streets as the cars whisked by, looking up occasionally to see the streetlights that came on as the sky continued to darken.

On Friday night my husband joined me for my final evening in town, and we walked the half-block to Buddy Guy’s Legends club armed with tickets we’d printed off the Internet before the conference. We planned to have dinner at the club and then hear a band or two, but when we arrived we saw a sign taped to the door that said: “Closed for a Private Party Until 10.” We were pondering what this might mean when a gentleman waiting to get in the door explained that the event was related to AWP. The staff waved us in when we presented our tickets, and we soon realized that the “private party” was in fact a “Literary Death Match.” The event featured Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley (author of A Thousand Acres and Private Life), fiction writer and PANK co-editor Roxane Gay (author of Ayiti), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and National Book Critics Circle finalist Major Jackson, and National Book Award winner Darin Strauss (author of Half a Life). The judges for the evening were award-winning author Michael Martone, multi-award-winning poet Mark Doty, and performer, writer, and Second City teacher Rachael Mason. The evening was, simply, full of not only some great readings but a lot of plain, rip-roaring fun — right down to the fact that the winner was named after an audience member pointed out that “Dostoyevsky” has an alternative spelling (Dostoevsky). Roxane Gay’s “phone a friend” audience member had actually spelled the name correctly, and Roxane won the event after initially having been declared the runner up. Major Jackson settled for second place.

OK, that event was about writing (sort of!), but then came the music. We stayed until midnight listening to Zac Harmon and his band, master musicians (even the 26-year-old keyboardist blew us away). I have played and sung a bit in my life, but what I’ve done is absolutely nothing when compared with the talent, skill, and mastery of great musicians. Although my talent as a performer is minor, I was born with the gift of a very good ear (my father has perfect pitch). So when I hear the real thing, it truly transports me. In those moments listening to the Blues in Chicago, after two days of battling the crowds at AWP, I thought to myself: “There’s nothing, simply nothing like good music.”

Well, OK. There are a few great, great novels or memoirs or poems or essays. And since I write a lot better than I play or sing, I will stick to the writing.

Travel home safely, old and new friends.…