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The Farewell Edition

2017 October 20

Dear readers,

You have probably noticed that we’ve been silent for a couple of months now. We’ve decided, after long consideration and much bittersweet angst, to retire Hazel & Wren.

This was a very difficult decision, as we hold this Hazel & Wren community very dear. However, due to life commitments for co-founders Amanda and Melissa (starting and running other businesses and art projects, raising kids, and finishing grad school to name just a few), we are no longer able to contribute to this community in the way it deserves. Rather than do a shitty job, we’ve decided to hang up our very fashionable hats… at least for now. We hope you understand.

We are endlessly grateful to all of you who have participated in this online community and/or our in-person events, and to those who have supported Hazel & Wren with time, expertise, partnerships, money, and verbal support. This community literally wouldn’t exist with all of you.

A special thank you to anyone who has ever volunteered on the Hazel & Wren staff, including our recent/current amazing staff: Aaron King, Cassidy Foust, Taylor Trauger, Joshua Johnson, Liz Lampman, and Jessica Mayer. The warmest of fuzzy thank-yous to Timothy Otte, who was our first and longest volunteer staff member, and our thoughtful Chief Ampersand for five wonderful years. You all have given us so much, and we’re probably going to be forever in your debt, so…

Here’s a quick glance of the community we’ve built together in the last 6+ years:
*hosted over 15 events/readings/workshops for writers in various stages of their passion/career
*partnered with at least 10 awesome art/lit organizations for said events
*hosted monthly(ish) online open mic sessions for writers to get feedback on works-in-progress
*written hundreds of blog posts geared towards helping writers
*featured over 50 literary industry organizations or individuals through guest blog posts and Writing Life interviews
*have had nine dedicated and talented volunteer staff members/interns over the years in addition to Hazel & I.

Wow. We’ve loved being a part of this friendly, mischievous, intimate, energetic, thoughtful, cheeky community for the last 6+ years. But really: HOW LUCKY ARE WE?!

We don’t want to leave you totally in the lurch, so below you’ll find our last goodbye: a list of books that we think you should add to your reading list, and one final Three Things writing prompt. We’ll also leave our archive of reviews, interviews, prompts, and past Open Mic submissions available for your perusal, for the foreseeable future.

Thank you. We love you all, even more than coffee.

Yours in books & coffee & mischief forever,
Amanda & Melissa
(aka Hazel & Wren)



What We're Reading


This is what some of us staffers are currently reading, and that we think you should definitely add to your reading list, like, now. Happy reading, friends.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Hunger by Roxanne Gay
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo



Our farewell prompt features three moments in one day. Or, one moment in three days. What tale will you spin?


Bogdan Gîrbovan, #06, 5th floor from 10/1 series, 2008. Photograph.


Holly Andres, River Road: Milepost 13 from The Fallen Fawn series. Photograph.


Nishe, Slowly disappearing, 2012. Photograph. Via Flickr.


What We’re Reading: Self-Help Round-Up

2017 May 25

What We're ReadingI don’t know if it’s just the state of the world, or because I’m going through a breakup, or because all of that is happening all at once in my mid-twenties and it’s culminating in a quarter-life crisis, but I’m all about the get-your-shit-together self-help books these days. So if you, too, are just now realizing nobody ever taught you how to cope with anxiety, depression, heartbreak, political turmoil, environmental catastrophe, and the inevitability of losing everyone and everything in your life—while also somehow being a responsible adult with a good income-to-debt ratio—then I can’t recommend these books enough:

Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie KondoThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, 2014)

I read this book while preparing for a move, and I can’t express how much Kondo’s insights helped me purge my possessions and minimize my lifestyle. If you are surrounded by so many things that you don’t even know what you own or where to find it, this book is for you. Change your life. Get rid of excess. Then get rid of more. Then surround yourself with people and things that bring you joy. It’s worth it.

Best advice: Don’t decide what to throw away, decide what to keep. Only keep things that spark joy, and get rid of everything else. Yes, everything.

Mindfulness on the GoMindfulness on the Go: Inner Peace in Your Pocket by Padraig O’Morain (Harlequin, 2014)

Great for keeping at your desk or in your bag, this little book can help you find opportunities for cultivating mindfulness at work, at home, on your commute, while waiting, while traveling, and before sleeping. Brief chapters explain why mindfulness helps with managing stress and anxiety while making room for creativity and thoughtfulness. The “on the go” exercises and quick tips are easy to incorporate anywhere, anytime. Spending even one minute focusing on your breathing can go a long way to improving your mind and mood.

Mind Over MoodMind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky (The Guilford Press, 1995)

Speaking of your mind and mood—if you are the kind of person who really likes doing their homework, then this workbook is for you. It was created by clinicians over twenty years ago but is still being recommended by therapists today—and for good reason. If you’re willing to take the time to read the lessons and do the exercises, you can create your very own DIY cognitive behavioral therapy practice, which I especially recommend if you are not going to therapy (and I’m the kind of person who will recommend therapy to everyone).

When Things Fall ApartWhen Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala Publications, 1996)

Let me take a moment to recommend every single book by Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. I just think you should start with this one. Written in the wake of her divorce and subsequent spiritual journey, it basically answers the question I’ve been asking myself for months: How do I go on? With advice on acceptance, openness, and compassion—starting with compassion for yourself—this book forces you to look inward and evaluate your habitual patterns, attachments, and addictions so you can let go of your ego and your fixed ideas and learn how to simply be.

Best quote: “Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”

The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh (HarperOne, 2013)

Once you’ve learned how to be with yourself and reflect on your feelings, read this to learn how to communicate those feelings more openly and honestly in your relationships, at work, and with yourself. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s succinct, conversational tone makes his writing approachable and easy to digest. So even if Buddhism isn’t really your thing, the advice can guide you toward thinking, listening, speaking, and acting with understanding, kindness, and love.

What We’re Reading: May Round-Up

2017 May 4
by Wren

What We're ReadingMay is when spring really takes hold here in Minnesota, and it’s also coincidentally my (Wren’s) birthday month. Both the spring awakening and the pending mark of a new year for me makes this time of year feel especially magical in its newness and fresh perspectives. Even if it’s not your birthday, I hope this month marks the start of something new for you. Maybe a new habit, a new adventure, or a new book on your reading list. This round-up can help you with at least one of those new things. Happy reading and spring-vibing, folks!

Ice by Anna Kavan (Peter Owen Modern Classic, 2006)
Reviewed by Aaron

Ice is a stuttering slipstream novel that follows a nameless narrator through nameless cities in the face of an oncoming apocalypse. He trails a pale waif of a woman, alternating between parental worry and abusive obsession. Kavan’s prose coyly switches between sparse, realistic description and fantastical phantasmagoria. Ice is an evocative novel about war, trauma, and abuse.

Various works by Louise Glück
Previewed by Liz

I’m reading Louise Glück. I mean her poems from 1965 to 2012. In the poetry world, Glück is practically a household name, and not only because she is a Pulitzer Prize winner, former Poet Laureate, and winner of many other prizes and fellowships. Louise Glück has consistently offered the world poetry that offsets trying loss with image, challenges narrative logic with surprising diction, and speaks to various audiences with simple honesty. Because she looms so large in the tradition of contemporary American poetry, I wanted to go back, and see how her voice developed and changed throughout her career thus far. I’ve only just begun, but I’m already fascinated… some of her earlier works (from The House on Marshland (1975) in particular) feel like an emotional mirror. I’m so interested to see what else I notice as I read on.

We Are All Stardust: Scientists Who Shaped Our World Talk about Their Work, Their Lives, and What They Still Want to Know by Stefan Klein
Reviewed by Taylor 

I picked this book up at a time in my adult life when I just started getting really, really into science, and it was the perfect book to begin my foray into reading more nonfiction—books on history, economics, science, and space in particular. It’s filled with fascinating interviews between Stefan Klein and scientists and experts on their life’s work, with topics ranging from empathy, morality, memory and consciousness, to chance in history, motherhood, animal behavior, and the critical first three minutes of our planet’s existence.

Each interview introduced me to a new topic (and about five books the interviewee wrote or recommended) that I immediately wanted to know everything I could about. I reread a lot of pages while reading, just to be sure I was taking it all in, and because the chapters built off each other very well. Even across a range of topics, each discussion was ultimately about us, as people, and our shared humanity.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Previewed by Wren

After recently finishing 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso (another great, and slim, book to add to your list), I just switched to what might be a challenging read: The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The book is a three-part novella, telling of Yeong-hye’s sudden change to vegetarianism. Yet the story develops in a way that continuously surprises, shocks, and guts the reader (or so I’m led to believe by other reviews and the first handful of pages I’ve read). It’s told from the point-of-view of a different character related to Yeong-hye in each section of the novella. I’m currently in the first section, told from the point-of-view of her bland, kind of awful husband. Throughout the book, Yeong-hye changes, both in her own perspective, and in the perspectives of the three narrators—and in somewhat horrifying situations, including sex, violence, and a retreat from daily life. I can already tell it’s going to be a book that will haunt me after I finish, but nonetheless, I’m eager to sink my teeth into it.

What We’re Reading: What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

2017 April 20

What We're ReadingWhat It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Riverhead Books, 2017)

Have you ever read a book and felt like the author inserted their stories straight into your mind, and you can’t quite shake them after? That’s how I felt after reading Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection of short stories, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. I read this book about a month ago now, but the characters and stories still follow (haunt?) me.

The stories are all told from the perspectives of women. Men play key or supporting roles in some of the stories, but relationships between women—mothers and daughters especially—take the main stage here. The culture of Nigeria infuses many of these stories—some as the actual setting, others as familial/cultural ties. Many of the stories also employ magical realism, which adds to the way these stories stick to you. Arimah suspends reality in the details to achieve the big picture reality, placing her finger on the intuitive truth of the matter.

Some of the most haunting stories are the ones where the main characters seem to fight against their own nature, or their inherited nature/gender/class/grief, all the while circling around the inevitability of it. Stories such as “Who Will Greet You at Home”, which was originally printed in the New Yorker here. This story achingly embodies the way Arimah uses magical realism to suspend reality to better highlight the truth:

Women like her had to form their children out of sturdier, more practical material if they were to withstand the dents and scrapes that came with a life like hers. Her mother had formed her from mud and twigs and wrapped her limbs tightly with leaves, like moin-moin: pedestrian items that had produced a pedestrian girl. Ogechi was determined that her child would be a thing of whimsy, soft and pretty, tender and worthy of love. But first, she had to go to work.

As Ogechi crafts baby after baby, our hearts break as we watch in horror the cycles passed on by class and gender. This is what I mean: these stories will latch onto you, not unlike Ogechi’s baby. These stories reveal truths that are sometimes hard to see; yet Arimah tells these difficult truths in such a way—through gorgeous, crafted, precise language—that her reader can’t help but digest them.

Another factor of these unrelenting stories lies in their surprise. Despite some element of inevitability that I described earlier, Arimah still finds moments to flip the reader upside down, disorient, and surprise. An example of this is the opening story, “The Future Looks Good”, which starts with a woman knocking at a door, and the rest of the story backtracks leading up to that moment. The final sentences deliver a swift shock. Yet other stories take their time and don’t upend the reader with surprise, but rather, coax us along with their slow build. With this mix of styles, Arimah deftly balances the danger of over-exerting her reader while calling our attention to difficult, soul-wrenching things.

I had the opportunity to meet Lesley and hear her talk about this book in my role as producer of The Loft Podcast, where she was a guest recently (you can listen to the episode here). One of the things she said that I immediately felt echoed my own experience, was how there was an early point in her career as a writer where she knew what and how she wanted to write, but didn’t have the skill to write it yet. I feel that particular sense of frustration in my own current capacity as a writer. I was talking to my dear friend Timothy (yes! our same dear Hazel & Wren friend and past contributor!) about this recently, who in response sent me this article/video featuring a quote from Ira Glass on success. In it, Glass says, “Nobody tells people who are beginners […] that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, […] It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste—the thing that got you into the game—your taste is still killer”.

Clearly Arimah has found the sweet spot where her work has met up with her taste and ambition to create this magical, haunting, groundbreaking collection of stories. And, my fellow worrying writers: maybe there’s hope for us, too.