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What We’re Reading: AWP Round-Up

2014 February 27
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What We're ReadingWe’re too busy suppressing our AWP jealousy to actually read this week. Are you at AWP? Having a panic attack about which tables to visit at the book fair? (Let’s be honest, I don’t feel that bad for you.) Or are you, like me, pining miles away, wishing you were there? Either way, here’s a list of fantastic presses and literary organizations to check out, whether it be at the AWP Book Fair or on the good ol’ interwebs. Nerd on, dear literary friends!

Birds, LLC

dead horseI found out about Birds, LLC, when I read poet and Birds editor Matt Rasmussen’s book of poems, Black Aperture (my review here). An independent poetry press, Rasmussen runs Birds, LLC with four other editors and even more staff members between Austin, Minneapolis, New York, and Raleigh. They recently announced their newest title, DEAD HORSE by Niina Pollari (mesmerizing cover art pictured here).

A Strange Object

A small, very new publisher of “surprising, heartbreaking” fiction, A Strange Object likes to push its readers off the safe-reading ledge with big-impact stories. While they haven’t published a whole lot yet, I’m interested to see where they go.

dancinggirlDancing Girl Press

I discovered this press when a friend and mentor of mine had her book published here. They have an exquisite chapbook series that focuses on women poets and artists. They also specialize in book arts and paper goods in addition to publishing great work. I’m sure their AWP table will have plenty to drool over!

Flying Object Press

A publisher of fiction and poetry, in addition to an art organization, Flying Object boasts an ambitious mission to “provide a range of resources, opportunities and education to writers, artists, musicians, and publishers both locally and nationwide.” They achieve this through a studio/lab storefront, performances, readings, workshops, exhibits, and more, all the while publishing via their press and literary magazine.

Butcher's Tree by Feng Sun Chen

Black Ocean Press

We’ve reviewed multiple books from this publisher (here and here), and also interviewed their poetry editor, Carrie Olivia Adams (here). They describe their editorial vision as combining their various influences with “a radical social perspective on the nature of art and humanity.” They also throw a helluva party, concert, and exhibition in addition to publishing thought-provoking work. Worth a stop!


Which organizations and publishers are you most excited about? If you’re at AWP, are there new publishers/orgs that you haven’t encountered before?



Learn from My Mistakes: Advice on Applying to an MFA Program, part 2

2012 May 29
by Timothy

This is the second post in a four-part series on applying for an MFA. See part 1 here.



In looking for programs, the first thing to consider is whether you’d like to enter school full time or part time. There are benefits to both options, but you’ll have to weigh them yourself to decide. There are fewer low residency programs out there, but many of them boast impressive faculty and beautiful locales. Entering school full time will give you more options for programs, especially if you’re looking for a less traditional program.

Are you willing to quit your job to enter school full time? If not, a low residency program might be for you. The point of a low-res program is that you can continue living your life, but with some focused direction in your writing. You’ll have mentors and classmates, and even face to face workshops several times a year, without having to uproot from your current home.

One of the drawbacks of a low-res program is that there are often fewer opportunities for funding. Scholarships, financial aid, and grants are sadly lacking from low-res programs, so entering a low-res program means you might spend a little more out of pocket on tuition. If you’re working full time and can swing it without taking out loans, then you’ll be just fine. If you need funding, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

In opting to pursue an MFA full time, consider where you want to be because you’ll be there at least two years, if not longer. If you hate the cold, don’t apply to Minnesota schools. Love New York City? Apply to schools there. You’re not just looking at an MFA program, you’re looking at a home for a little while.

Don’t forget to look at who is currently teaching at a program. You’ll be spending a lot of time with them, and will be indelibly influenced by them. MFA programs should help you become a better writer, not churn out clones of the faculty, but you’ll be in close proximity to other writers whose ideas will become a part of the way you think and work. Make sure you want your work to sound like your mentors’.

Finally, once you’ve identified the schools you’ll be applying to, make sure you’d be equally happy to get into each one. Having “safety schools” can set you up for disappointment. The best problem to have is to get into multiple programs and struggle to choose which one you want to go to because they are all a good fit for you.


There are a number of tools you can use to begin your research. AWP Writer’s Official Guide to Writing Programs is a great place to begin. Poets & Writers magazine has resources for finding programs as well, though their list of “best” has been controversial. (I won’t get into that here, but keep in mind that every resource you use has drawbacks, biases, and strong points.) Literary journals often have advertisements for schools, and while I don’t advocate letting an ad sway your decision, those ads are a great way to get a sense of what programs there are. Additionally, many journals are affiliated with institutions, so if you adore Ploughshares, check out Emerson College, if you dig FENCE, check out University at Albany.

For me, looking into the educational history of some of my favorite poets was a great way to build a list of schools I wanted to look into. I found out if they taught, and where, and looked into those schools. I found out where they got their MFA (if they got one) and looked into those schools. Of the schools I applied to, the majority of them I discovered by looking at the author bios provided by poets I admire.

In hindsight, one thing I wish I had done before applying is attend the AWP Conference. When I went, I discovered a dozen more programs, met people from the programs I did apply to, and talked with people about their own experiences with MFA programs. While it’s not a cheap way to research programs, it is an incredible experience that could lead you directly to the program of your dreams.

How many schools should you apply to? I don’t really have an answer to this question, but there are a lot of factors that come into play. How much time do you have? If, like me, you’re busy and can’t devote all your time to filling out applications, then you’ll apply to fewer programs. If you have the time to perfect applications for a lot programs, go for it. Here’s the thing, though: don’t submit a subpar application. It’s a waste of time (yours and the people reviewing your application), money (fees!), and, if you’re not applying online, paper.

There are a million pieces to consider when researching MFA programs. The best way to begin is by identifying what you want out of a program, where you want to be, and who you want to be with. Having some defined terms to limit your search will help when you finally dive into the wide and wild world of programs. It’s fine if these paramaters shift as you begin finding schools, but they’ll be an invaluable jumping point.

Next week’s post is about the application itself: what’s needed beyond a portfolio, how do you format it, and how do you even begin writing it? For those of you who are in an MFA, how did you choose your program? For those looking, where are you struggling, and where are you finding success?


Three Things: Windy City Edition

2012 February 27
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This week we’ll be making our way to AWP-Chicago for four days of meetin’ and greetin’. Will you be there? Come find the Hazel & Wren / Midway Journal table (Q12) at the book fair, say hello, and grab some freebies.

I’m preparing for the Windy City by writing a little somethin’ on a blustery gust. (I have yet to decide if it will be pesky or serendipitous.) Will you join me? Here are three such gusts to get you started.


Larry Towell, Dust Storm, Durango Colony, Durango, Mexico, 1994. Photograph. 


Jean Béraud, A Windy Day, Place de la Concorde, c. 1890. Oil on canvas.


Jeff Wall, A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993. Photograph (transparency in lightbox). Tate Collection, London.


What We’re Reading: Margaret Atwood

2012 February 23
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by Timothy

What We're Reading

Words at WAM is over, but here at Hazel & Wren we’re gearing up for another event, albeit one further afield than the Weisman Art Museum. In a mere seven days we will be sitting in Chicago, with hundreds of other writers and writerly-folk, listening to Margaret Atwood, one of the foremost voices in English literature, deliver the keynote address of the 2012 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference. AWP holds this conference annually, though this will be my first time going and I couldn’t be more excited to attend.

Of Atwood’s writing, I have read a measly novel and a half—The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and, currently, The Blind Assassin (2000)—as well as a number of her poems and short stories. Atwood is, in a word, prolific, having published over 35 collections in various genres and styles, including poetry, novels, children’s literature, and non-fiction. Though I first encountered her work while in college, it wasn’t until last spring that I worked up the nerve to begin tackling her bibliography.

Atwood’s work is tightly crafted, deeply thought out, and highly ambitious. The Handmaid’s Tale is an unsettling dystopian novel set in a theocratic state after a “terrorist” attack, purported to be carried out by Islamic extremists. Atwood’s major feat is in taking to extremes some of the contemporary problems the Western world faces, then making those extremes sound probable, even reasonable. 25 years after its publication, The Handmaid’s Tale remains a relevant and powerful cautionary story about combating extremism with extremism.

Though I haven’t yet finished The Blind Assassin, I feel I can say that Atwood has become a stronger, more confident writer. One of the most impressive features of the novel, from a writing standpoint, is that it contains a novel within it (also titled The Blind Assassin), which, in turn, contains a long form story told by one of the characters. Atwood dexterously juggles the main story of Iris Chase with the novel attributed to Laura Chase, Iris’ sister. Keeping track of stories within stories, as a writer, is a difficult task, even if those stories are wildly different, as in The Blind Assassin. It’s not simply a matter of varying voices, but also of making sure each detail is released in the proper order for the greatest effect.

I’ve just begun digging into Atwood’s extensive catalogue of work, but I can tell that she’s the kind of writer whose work will stick with me. Atwood’s poetry is next on my to do list, as most of what I’ve read has been in anthology or piecemeal on the internet. I’m excited to hear her speak in Chicago next week, and excited to meet all of the other bookish people who are going to AWP.

Will you be at AWP? Who are you excited to hear speak or read? What panels will you be attending? Don’t forget to come say hello at the Hazel & Wren / Midway Journal table!