MFA@FLA Newsletter, Spring 2018
The MFA@FLA Newsletter makes public various enterprises, literary and not, of our graduates and faculty. It seeks to connect our graduates and to inform students considering applying to MFA@FLA of our accomplishments. The headnote was written by Padgett Powell through 2017; beginning 2018 it is written by David Leavitt. The balance of the Newsletter is written by graduates, current students, and faculty.
The Year That Was
The much delayed appearance of this, the 2018 MFA@FLA Newsletter, owes to the 2017-2018 academic year having been more than usually frantic. As always the MFA students did a superb job of organizing and hosting both their own reading series at The Bull in Downtown Gainesville and the Florida Writers Festival, this year’s edition of which was arguably the best planned and best attended ever. At the festival Lawrence Joseph read superb poems, Paul Muldoon read superb poems and performed superb songs (without singing) while moving around in that signature Muldoon way. On the prose side, Rachel Cusk read a magnificent essay entitled “Coventry” and concluded her craft talk with an exhortation to think of writing “as performance, not process.” Sadly the fourth scheduled participant, Lydia Davis, had to cancel. I read in her stead, for better or worse. (I hope better.)
In November MFA@FLA alumnae Rachel Khong and Emma Smith-Stevens returned to Gainesville to read from their first novels, Goodbye, Vitamin and The Australian, and in March we hosted Jessica Friedman of the Wylie Agency, Lindsay Garbutt of Poetry, Ann Kjellberg of Little Star, and UF alumnus Justin Taylor in his capacity as fiction editor of The Literary Review. A good time was had by all, as my elementary school teacher used to say, especially at the party that Jill Ciment hosted on Saturday night, during which our visitors had the opportunity to witness the mating rituals of alligators in Bivens Arm.
In September 2017 we received authorization to start a search for two new assistant professors of fiction. Over the course of the fall semester the search committee, consisting of me, John Cech, Jill Ciment, and Ange Mlinko, read through dozens of applications and winnowed them down to twelve. Of the finalists, whom we interviewed via Skype, we invited six to come to campus in February to give readings and talks. In March we made offers to Uwem Akpan and Camille Bordas, both of whom accepted and will be joining our faculty starting in the fall.
Our New Faculty
Uwem Akpan was born and raised in Ikot Akpan Ida, Nigeria. After studying at Creighton University and Gonzaga University in the United States, he returned to Africa. In 2006, he earned his MFA in fiction writing at the University of Michigan. Following the publication of his story “An Ex-Mas Feast” in The New Yorker in 2005, twelve publishers entered into a bidding war for his story collection, Say You’re One of Them, which Little, Brown published in 2008 and which was an Oprah’s Book Club Selection and a #1 New York Times bestseller. (The collection has since been translated into twelve languages.) Uwem has gone on to publish more stories and essays in The New Yorker and O. His honors include the Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, the Teilhard de Chardin SJ Fellowship in Catholic Studies at Loyola University, Chicago, and the Norman Freehling Visiting Professorship at the Humanities Institute of the University of Michigan. His first novel, New York, My Village, will be published by Scribner.
Camille Bordas was born in France to French and Spanish parents and grew up in Mexico City and Paris. A graduate of the Sorbonne and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, she is the author of two novels in French, Les treize desserts (2009) and Partie commune (2011), and one in English, How to Behave in a Crowd (Tim Duggan Books), a brilliantly inventive, comic, touching book that has drawn comparisons with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and won praise from George Saunders, Zadie Smith, Dana Spiotta, and Jesse Ball, among many others. How to Behave in a Crowd has already been published in Spanish and is slated for publication in Turkish, Rumanian, Italian, and French, in Camille’s own translation. In January 2017, Camille’s short story in English,"Most Die Young," ran in The New Yorker. A second story, “The State of Nature,” was published in the April 9, 2018 issue of The New Yorker. Camille will be moving to Gainesville with her husband, the novelist and short-story writer Adam Levin.
In 2017 the members of our faculty and many of our alumni published books, stories, poems, essays, and reviews. A highlight for us was the news that third-year fiction MFA Jacob Guajardo’s “What Got Into Us,” originally published in Passages North, has been selected by Roxane Gay for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2018. Publications by faculty included How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas’s first novel in English (Tim Duggan Books): Michael Hofmann’s translations of Franz Kafka’s Investigations of a Dog and Other Creatures, Beat Sterchi’s Cow (Apollo), and Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (New York Review Books); William Logan’s Rift of Light (Penguin); and Ange Mlinko’s Distant Mandate (FSG), which received a major review in The New Yorker. Books by alumni that appeared in 2017 and the first half of 2018 included Bill Beverly’s Dodgers (Crown); Leah Carroll’s Down City (Grand Central); Natalie Graham’s Begin with a Failed Body (University of Georgia Press, Winner of the Cave Canem Prize); Hilary S. Jacqmin’s Missing Persons (Waywiser Press); Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin (Holt); Richard Schmitt’s Living Among Strangers (Adelaide Books); John L. Sheppard’s White Trash Lotto and Sometimes Fatal Events Have Occurred (Paragraph Line Books); Emma Smith-Stevens's The Australian (Dzanc); Adam Vines’s Out of Speech (LSU Press); Richard K. Weems’ From Now On, You’re Back (WbW Ink); and Martin Wilson’s We Now Return to Regular Life (Dial Books).
Forthcoming in 2018 and 2019, from faculty, are Uwem Akpan’s New York, My Village (Scribner); Jill Ciment’s The Body in Question (Pantheon); from Michael Hofmann, a poetry collection, One Lark, One Horse (FSG); a translation of Hans Fallada’s What Now, Little Man? (Penguin); and an edition of the Selected Poems of the Scotsman W. S. Graham (New York Review Books); David Leavitt’s The Last Days of the Lira (Bloomsbury); and William Logan’s Dickinson’s Nerves, Frost’s Woods: Poetry in the Shadow of the Past (Columbia University Press). Forthcoming from alumni are Stephanie Kartalopolous’s Amulet (St. Julien Press); Margaret MacKinnon's Naming the Natural World (Sow’s Ear Poetry Review); Randall Mann’s Proprietary (Persea Books); John Poch’s Between Two Rivers: Poems and Photographs between the Brazos and the Rio Grande (in collaboration with Jerod Foster) and Gracious: Contemporary Poems in the 21rst Century (both Texas Tech University Press); Elliot Reed’s A Key to Treehouse Living (Tin House Books); Eric Smith’s Black Hole Factory (University of Tampa Press); Aaron Their’s The World is a Narrow Bridge (Bloomsbury); and Sarah Trudgeon’s The Plot Against the Baby (dancing girl press & studio).
Novel Dodgers became the first book ever to win the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey First Blood Dagger (for best debut) plus the Gold Dagger (for best crime novel of the year). Dodgers also won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a British Book Award, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, won the Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award, and was selected for the 100 Best Books of the Year List by Amazon. Interviewed in May by Samira Ahmed of the BBC, later broadcast on the BBC World Service. Story “Hired Man” forthcoming in Ten Year Stretch, a British crime anthology edited by Martin Edwards. All this was dazzling, but I am back in the basement, where the spiders don’t care. Planning on AWP in Tampa.
Liz Bevilacqua (MFA, 2013)
Liz Bevilacqua's story about a baby maitre d' was published in Monkey Bicycle. You can read “Doesn't Feel Like Work” here. Her poem “Earth,” about feminist principles and pickup trucks, was published by Juked. You can read it here.
I recently finished a novel,The Body In Question. To celebrate, I plan to sail the Spice Islands and retrace the journey of Alfred Wallace, the unsung nineteenth century naturalist who came up with the theory of evolution—some say Darwin cribbed it from him.
Trevor Crown (MFA, 2017)
I’m a substitute teacher for grades six through twelve in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I read on the job, and students want to know if I can dunk a basketball. Of course I can. I volunteer as a tutor with 826LA, the local branch of Dave Eggers’s nonprofit. Have not met Dave. A very short story of mine called “Signature” appears as a Table Talk in the Winter 2018 issue of The Threepenny Review, out in December of 2017. Do you know of an affordable studio apartment for rent in K-Town?
Alison Gaines(MFA, 2019)
I landed my first poetry publications this year at Sweet Tree Review and Hawk & Handsaw, for which I'm grateful. As friends might remember, I spent the past two falls doing freelance projects which amount to educational books for high school students. The most recent one was about Robert E. Lee. I also attended Sewanee with Erin O’Luanaigh (2018) and Forester McClatchey (2019) which was a hoot to say the least.
Chandler Gifford (MFA, 2002)
Well, it’s taken me 15 years to send in one of these testimonials. Really my only literary news from those 15 years is that I got the chance to study with Heather McHugh at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Feb/March of 2017. I live in Longwood, Florida, with my wife and two kids. We took a good punch from Irma but we’re finally getting back on our feet down here. Hope the same can be said for Gainesville. I've been with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for a couple years as an editor, developing literature programs for grades 6–12. I finally get to work with literature in my job after over a decade stuck primarily in unstable and unrewarding positions as a proofreader. A cautionary tale for recent MFAs, I suppose.
Evan Grillon (MFA, 2019)
I was a runner-up for the Crazyhorse Crazyshorts! Short-Shorts Prize, which is an embarrassing name for a contest, and have my first story coming out in Salamander in June.
What does Larkin say, in “The Life with a Hole in it” – “Days sift down it constantly. Years.” 2017 means I must have turned sixty. And still padding around for the most part in short trousers—sorry, short pants. And what else. I wrote some pieces for the TLS (Elizabeth Bishop) and the London Review of Books (Thomas Bernhard, and others) and finally finished my translation of Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, which came out in February, in the NYRB Classics series. I’m in the throes of judging the International Man Booker Prize, and feel beautifully bonded with the other judges, who all feel like my new best friends. There must be some vegetables too, somewhere, peas. Or grit. Or even grits.
Stephanie Kartalopoulos (MFA,2003)
I live in Atlanta now, where I am a full-time lecturer at Kennesaw State University. My poem, “Dispatches from a Land,” was named Honorable Mention in the 2017 Spoon River Poetry Review Editors Prize contest and will be published in the Winter 2018 issue. Also, my first book manuscript, Amulet, will be published in 2018 by Saint Julian Press.
Rachel Khong (MFA, 2011)
Got married in February. My novel, Goodbye, Vitamin, came out in July — my first and hopefully not last. Visited Gainesville in October, for the first time since 2011. Things were different; things were also the same.
This year I traveled to Italy to do a traveling dog-and-pony show with the Sicilian novelist Ottavio Cappallani on the occasion of the publication of Sicilian Comedee, the sequel to his Sicilian Tragedee. I also traveled to England to visit Rachel Cusk, among others. A story called “The David Party,” which I read at the Writers Festival, has been published in Washington Square Review and an essay on Caravaggio in Italian Vogue; also a snarky but (I think) funny review in the New York Times Book Review. (Either I’m becoming impatient in my old age or Michael Hofmann’s incendiary style is rubbing off on me.) The new novel continues apace. The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, it will be done by this time next year. Only probably the creek will rise.
My new book of poems, Rift of Light (Penguin), was published in the fall; and my book of long essays on poems so familiar we hardly know how to read them, Dickinson's Nerves, Frost’s Woods, will come out in the spring. I’ve had poems this past year in American Journal of Poetry, Birmingham Poetry Review, Hopkins Review, New Criterion, and Straddler. There are poems forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Hopkins Review, Kenyon Review, New Criterion, New England Review, Parnassus, Raritan, and Salmagundi. In criticism, I published a long essay on Emily Dickinson’s “After great pain” in Hudson Review, the usual spring and fall verse chronicles in the New Criterion, and an essay there on Mrs. Custer’s copy of Tennyson. More contentiously, I published a review of Jill Bialosky’s Poetry Will Save Your Life in the online journal Tourniquet, accusing her of having plagiarized numerous passages from online sources and a book by Helen Vendler. There was some fallout. While on sabbatical in England, I’m finishing a new book of poems and a book of miscellaneous criticism while starting work on the collected criticism of Donald Justice. I gave a few readings and did not kick any dogs.
Margaret Mackinnon (MA, 1991)
Recently won the Sow’s Ear Poetry Review chapbook competition, and a chapbook, Naming the Natural World, will be published in 2018 (with a cover designed by Debora Greger, I hope).
Stephanie Maniaci (MFA, 2020)
Life in Gainesville turns out to be quiet and satisfying. My first 1.3 semesters included: metaphorical jellyfish, a real jellyfish, (sadly) no wild alligators, a marketing internship with the University Press, and my first publication—an honorable mention in the River Styx Poetry Prize.
Randall Mann (MFA, 1997)
My fourth collection, Proprietary, was published by Persea Books in May. It’s received positive notice in a few places, including NPR’s All Things Considered, Publishers Weekly, Lambda Literary, 32 Poems, The Arkansas International, London Magazine, and elsewhere. New poems appear in the San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Hub, Columbia Poetry Review, The Journal, and Poem-A-Day; new prose appears in On the Seawall and the anthology The Manifesto Project. I’m celebrating two decades in San Francisco this year. @randallmannpoet
Last July my new book, Distant Mandate, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and was given a standalone review in The New Yorker, along with a little cartoon of me—much nicer than any author photo I’ve ever had! I also published new poems in Paris Review, and essays on W.S. Merwin in the New York Review of Books, Marianne Moore in Poetry, and Fanny Howe in London Review of Books.
Janna Moretti (MFA, 2018)
This year has been all about consistency. I prepare vegetables three times/day. I exercise five days/week. Most days, I write. I started mentoring for PEN America’s Prison Writing Program. My work was published or is forthcoming in Raleigh Review and Every Day Fiction.
Kevin Mulligan, (MFA, 2019)
Published my first piece (“It is Usually Very, Very Safe”) in NOON this year.
Mike Newirth (MFA, 1995)
This year I published essays in Rain Taxi and The Baffler and short fiction in the Louisville Review. I continue to contribute reviews to Kirkus Reviews and to teach composition and creative writing at the University of Illinois Chicago. Occasionally I get together with Manny Martinez ’94 for beer and oysters or John Sheppard ’94 for beer and indie rock. Just like in Gainesville! Would be happy to raise a glass with any MFA@FLA comrades who are passing through Chicago.
John Poch (MFA, 1997)
John Poch has two forthcoming books with Texas Tech University Press: An anthology called Gracious: Contemporary Poems in the 21st Century South and a collaboration with photographer Jerod Foster called Between Two Rivers: Poems and Photographs between the Brazos and the Rio Grande.
My house and five vehicles flooded in September and I am under water in my mind. Life I see now is a long calculus of stupid moves that catch up with you either the next morning or thirty years later, sometimes recognizable as clear stupid moves, more often in a film of deniability (in this film the stupid can be called smart). A doctor gave me useless drugs that I am told youth abuse by taking two and drinking on and not asking the next day what they did. He urged me not to let youth steal them.
I am teaching one last class Spring 2018, a hybrid forms/workshop affair we were forced into by some stupid things we did earlier. It, the course, is just loopy enough that it might prove valuable to the students in it. The reading list as I broached it last year in another class—you know, Guru Thinking Out Loud Enjoying His Utterances Pretending Them Germane—was characterized by Mr. Siwiecki cheerfully as “Eff the classics!”, though he cheerfully did not say eff. Eff the Classics! seems to be working nicely, with flawed books by Thomas McGuane (92 in the Shade), Carson McCullers, perhaps not flawed, Alan Bennett and Joy Williams, and the first hoax novel of Carlos Castaneda. Charles Willeford brings up the hard rear with pubic hair that hangs straight down, “like a lamp fringe.”
I shall retire and raise my house twenty feet into the air. The film Mr. Siwiecki took of Paul Muldoon should be put on the website. Out.
Elliot Reed (MFA, 2016)
My novel A Key to Treehouse Living is coming out through Tin House Books sometime in the second half of 2018. This book came about during my MFA in Gainesville. There is talk that this book will also come out in Czech, but I think that’s a pipe dream. Same with German and French: pipe dreams. I live in Spokane with Holly Beth Pratt. We're getting married a second time in Chicago in September of 2018. The first time it was by a live oak in the Thomas Center in the Duck Pond, and that will always be the Official Time. I'm teaching composition courses at various colleges in Spokane. It's going to be a long, cold winter and I already miss Gainesville.
Eileen Rush (MFA, 2017)
James and I are still in Gainesville, and true to the MFA pipeline, I’m working at Shadow Health. I spend most of my time staring at Jacqueline Sabbagh. I had a flash fiction story out recently in Word Riot, and poems appeared in or are forthcoming from Jelly Bucket, FOLIO, Pleiades, and The Journal. Highlights of 2017: Marie McGrath and I were in the Women’s March in DC. Ange Mlinko and I read to a group of STEM-leaning high school students. I graduated. I had my forehead horn removed. I read in the MFA@FLA Alumni Reading. Paul Muldoon read from my copy of Horse Latitudes at the Writers Festival. In the spring, Ted Kooser and Digby will be 10. I am the luckiest.
As my greatest contribution of the year, attached is a photo of William Logan eating rainbow cake with a tiny William Logan on it.
Richard Schmitt (BA, 1995)
My story collection Living Among Strangers was published in August.
John L. Sheppard
My latest novel, Sometimes Fatal Events Have Occurred, arrived in the world in 2017.
Alex Siwiecki (MFA, 2018)
Bridge Eight Lit Mag commissioned a short story from me for an anthology, set to be released in February 2018. During my first year, an anthologized story of mine was nominated for a Pushcart. I have a few hundred pages of collected stories from over the three years that I’ll revisit and send out in the summer. Lately I’ve been participating in popup readings around Florida as well as dipping into stand-up comedy. Workwise, I've applied to quite a few full-time teaching positions, some even tenure-track. The closest is in Gainesville, and the farthest away is in Oregon, which is where I’d like to end up eventually. Since I've entered the program, I’ve been traveling to major cities in the U.S. and England and photographing/writing about the local vegan food scenes. For this summer, I’m planning a trip through Europe, from Barcelona to Paris to Amsterdam to Berlin. I've been editing for the Journal of Undergraduate Research, mentoring four of our department incomers through the fellowship I was awarded, and continuing to tutor (for about seven years total now). Last spring, I won the Graduate Teaching Award for the English department. Hurricane Irma put a tree through my house in September and set me back a bit, but thanks to local generosity, I have been able to refocus and the thesis is nearly wrapped.
Eric Smith (MFA, 2009)
My first collection of poems, Black Hole Factory, won the Tampa Review Prize and will be published in 2018 by the University of Tampa Press. I have also been awarded an Artists Fellowship for 2017-2018 from the North Carolina Arts Council. I had a few poems published this year in storySouth, Crab Orchard Review, and The Arkansas International (thanks, Geoff Brock). A featured review of Christopher Bakken’s Eternity & Oranges was in the Pleiades Book Review. A longer essay, “Lingering in the Mundane: Adjectives and Endings in the Poetry of Barbara Ras,” is forthcoming in the AWP Writer's Chronicle.
Emma Smith-Stevens (MFA, 2013)
My first novel, The Australian, was published by Dzanc Books in May. One of the best parts has been the wonderful emails I’ve received from strangers, one of which had so much in common with my protagonist that he feared he’d drunkenly told me his life story at a bar. I’ve gotten to participate in lots of great readings, including the Brattleboro Literary Festival, co-organized by Heather Wells Peterson (’14) and a return to MFA@FLA where I read with Rachel Khong (her novel Goodbye, Vitamin is stellar!) at Third House Books & Coffee. I have a short story collection entitled Greyhounds on deck and have had essays and stories published recently in BOMB Magazine, Literary Hub, and Wigleaf. New essays are forthcoming on the VIDA: Women in Literary Arts’ website and in the anthologies Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture (Ed. Roxane Gay, Harper Perennial), and Against Death (Ed. Elee Kralgii Gardiner, Anvil Press). I’m fiction editor at The Mondagreen, also edited by Diya Chaudhuri (’11) and Jenny Mary Brown. I’m writing a memoir.
I have developed what seems to be an autoimmune disease and I’m mostly in bed. I think a lot about mortality and aging and dying. I also think about living—what I want from my time and the small ways in which I hope to give. I’m about to start an intensive treatment and there are no guarantees that it’ll help. I don’t know what to hope for. My husband, Sebastian, is certain that my health will return. He makes up for everything I’m unable to do and brings light and love and optimism to my life every day. If I can spend the rest of my life showing him anything close to the kindness and generosity he shows me, I will die happy.
Charlie Sterchi (MFA, 2018)
Hello, all. This year I turned 26. Heigh-ho. I’ve noticed that marketing campaigns no longer care for me the way they did just a year ago, when I was a member of their target demographic. They have moved on, and fast. I can watch, say, an advertisement on television, and at the end of the advertisement I am still totally in the dark. In the dark as to what? In the dark as to everything. Totally in the dark. My time in the sun has come to an end, and I think it’s about time I moved on, too. Heigh-ho. My fiction has been published in The Southampton Review, The Mondegreen, and Painted Bride Quarterly since the newsletter’s last installment. Onward and upward, friends. – PC
(MFA, 2012) and (MFA, 2013)
We are struggling through the New England winter and sometimes we think one more snowflake and we'll go insane, but otherwise all is well. Sarah is helping to run a literary organization called The Mastheads, which offers educational programming and a writers' residency in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. She has a chapbook called The Plot Against the Baby coming out this spring. Aaron is doing much less than seems decent or proper, but in July Bloomsbury will publish his third novel, The World is a Narrow Bridge, which proves that he has not always been as idle as he is now. And Sid is two years old, capable of speaking full sentences and thus of expressing his own idiosyncratic ideas. Thank God for Sid.
Richard K. Weems (MFA, 1993)
My most recent short story collection, From Now On, You&rsqup;re Back, came out this past April. Short stories appeared in North American Review, Local Knowledge, Spank the Carp, Ginosko Literary Journal and Del Sol SFF. Also sold a first date to Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum to PhillyVoice.
Martin Wilson (MFA, 1998)
My novel We Now Return to Regular Life (Dial/Penguin), was published in August.