Finalist Interview: Marlo Starr

Marlo Starr is a student at Emory University and a finalist in Poetry. We caught up with Marlo to talk about his life and craft. Marlo’s poetry will be published in the 46th annual ASC Writers’ Festival magazine.

The Writer

What are you reading right now?

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Jennifer Cheng’s House A is up next.

In what spaces do you like to write?

I like to write at my kitchen table in the early morning. It doesn’t always work out that way, but when I manage to wake up even before my dog, I feel like I have the world all to myself.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your next steps?

I’m still in the weeds with my dissertation. Ask me when I get to the other side?

What’s a source of inspiration for you?

I tend to get a lot of ideas when I’m not actively trying to write, when I’m reading or watching a movie. Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women is one I keep going back to you lately. It wrecks me every time.

 

The Work

Why this genre?

I really like Jonathan Culler’s idea of the lyric as “an event” in itself rather than “the representation of an event.” I also write short fiction, but poetry allows me to shake off some of my loyalties to narrative truth or needing to tell things as they happened. Fiction can subvert narrative, too, but I think something about poetic time can take us out of re-imagining the past and thrust us into the present.

What do you want readers to take away from your piece?

When I wrote “The Metric System,” “normalization” was a buzzword in the news, and I was thinking about how systems work to either downplay or hide violence, especially family systems that protect behaviors by keeping them secret. From the inside, the behavior is accepted as normal, except for the shared understanding that it wouldn’t be perceived that way from the outside. I think larger social systems can also work in a similar way by refusing to recognize what’s right on the surface—there’s no big reveal because we all knew it was there all along.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

Like a lot of writers, I wasn’t able to produce anything in the weeks after the 2016 Presidential election. “The Metric System” was one of the few things I managed to write. Growing up in the desert, our house was often infested with black widows. I remembered how my family got used to it, and somehow, that became an apt metaphor for the current cultural and political climate.

 

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Finalist Interview: Morgan Bilicki

Morgan Bilicki is a student at Young Harris College and a finalist in Poetry. We caught up with her this week to ask her a few questions about her life and her craft. Her poem, “Madame Clofullia,” will be published in the 46th annual ASC Writers’ Festival magazine.

The Writer

20170301_180340_0What are you reading right now?

MB: Rarely do I read just one thing, and currently I’m working through three. First is Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures. I’ve been reading more nonfiction lately and Shetterly’s researching skills just blow me away – I mean, she’s phenomenally thorough and dedicated to detailing this huge area of history that’s previously been ignored. Second, I’m reading James May’s Unquiet Things. Imagery is one of the aspects of poetry that I think all genres of writing should utilize, and May treats the image as the cornerstone of each piece, thereby adding to its strength in a way I want to emulate. Finally, the third book I’m digging through is Green Greener Greenest by Lori Bongiorno. I’ve been trying to implement more eco-friendly habits into my life, and this book helps spell everything out in an obtainable manner.

In what spaces do you like to write?

MB: I like to picture myself sitting in my room at my big, lovely desk. My posture is healthy and comfortable for working at my laptop, and I’m concentrated but still enjoying the process. I’ve got organized notes beside me, and maybe I’ve even got a cup of tea. In reality, though, I slouch on my bed (usually in pajamas) with my laptop slowly burning my leg through my lap desk. I take random Google-breaks to search random things which tend to have nothing to do with what I’m writing, and while the tea sometimes exists, the organized notes do not! It’s not pretty, but it works. (I think.)

Where do you want to go from here? What are your next steps?

MB: I like to plan ahead in little steps – life tends to be pretty unpredictable, so I try to keep my options open! Currently, I’m planning on writing all summer long, then graduating next year. From there, I’ll decide on whether or not grad school is for me. Eventually, I think it’d be pretty cool to share everything I’ve learned and experienced, so maybe I’ll follow the professor’s path. Ultimately, though, I just want to pursue the things I love – like reading and writing!

What’s a source of inspiration for you?

Feminism actually leads me to a lot of the things I end up writing, whether directly or indirectly. There’s a huge gap in literature where women are either nonexistent or mistreated – or worse, stereotyped cookie cutters of an idea– so I feel that it’s important for me to address this as often as possible. Women’s lives are incredibly diverse and packed with stories. I just want to help spread them.

The Work

Why this genre?

It’s funny to think about it now, but I used to never consider myself a poet; I was simply someone who wrote poetry. Because I was home-schooled, I had the freedom to explore my interests, so when a friend’s mother decided to teach a poetry class, I wanted to see if it was for me. One class turned into many, and I spent a good deal of my high school years composing poems in every form I could. When I got to college, though, I just assumed that I was destined for fiction, that poetry would just be a hobby. One, however, does not simply walk away from poetry. Since my high school days, I’ve become obsessed with what a poem can do in such a short amount of space, and how each element of craft plays a role in how the reader digests what’s written. I want to say that I’m attracted to poetry because it’s magical, but really, “magical” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

What do you want readers to take away from your piece?

That anyone can rock a beard.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

Since “Madame Clofullia” is based on a real woman, it was important to me to be accurate to her story while also presenting truths that modern readers could relate to and understand. This balance of historical research and poetic technique was something I hadn’t really attempted before, so keeping everything organized was a challenge. In the end, though, incorporating all of these different elements helped me to orient my focus on condensing and ordering information so as to present the reader with the clearest image possible while also layering in those poetic truths that make for those unforgettable connections between reader and written word.

What are you most proud of in your piece?

I’m totally a line nerd, so I’m pretty proud of the lines in this piece! Lines are so integral to a poem’s make up – they really act as the backbone to the other elements. There’s always a lot of criteria I consider when crafting lines: How do they look in proportion to each other? Is their information organized in a way that makes sense? How long should they be – and should they all be similar in length or does it make sense to have variation? What words end each line, and are they strong? I keep high standards for my lines, and the ones in this piece were a pleasure to craft.

2017 Guest Writers

Three distinguished authors will be on campus April 4-7, 2017, for Agnes Scott College’s 45th Annual Writers’ Festival, the oldest continuous literary event in Georgia. The 2017 visiting authors are poet Claudia Rankine, writer and poet Patrick Phillips, and Agnes Scott alumna writer, poet Kayla Miller ’11.

Claudia Rankine

CLAUDIA RANKINE

Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. For Citizen, Rankine won the Forward Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was also nominated in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award’s history to be a double nominee), the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the NAACP Image Award. A finalist for the National Book Award, Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. She lives in New York City and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

photo of writer Patrick PhillipsPATRICK PHILLIPS

Patrick Phillips is the author of a book of nonfiction, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (W. W. Norton 2016), and three poetry collections. His most recent, Elegy for a Broken Machine was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry; his two earlier collections are Boy and Chattahoochee. He is also the translator of When We Leave Each Other: Selected Poems of Henrik Nordbrandt. A Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Phillips’ work has appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Nation, and his honors include the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America. Phillips lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Drew University. Phillips will teach the one-credit, one-week creative writing seminar associated with the Writers’ Festival.

 

photo of writer Kayla Miller

KAYLA MILLER
Kayla Miller earned her BA in English Literature-Creative Writing from Agnes Scott College in 2011 and her MFA in Fiction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2016. She is the author of the chapbook See & Be Seen & Be Scene, winner of Five [Quarterly] ’s chapbook competition, and a recipient of the Talbot International Award to write in Spain. Her work has appeared in the journals The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg ReviewTahoma Literary Review, and HOLD: a journal, among others.

2017 Writers’ Festival Events

We are very excited about this year’s distinguished guests, and we hope that you join us for one or more of the public events listed below.
Please note that each of these events are free and open to the public, with no ticket required.

Reading by Agnes Scott Student Finalists in the Writers’ Festival Contest
Tuesday, April 4, 5 p.m.
Luchsinger Lounge, Alston Campus Center

Q&A With Claudia Rankine, Patrick Phillips, and Kayla Miller `11
Thursday, April 6, 1 p.m.
Luchsinger Lounge, Alston Campus Center

Reading by Patrick Phillips
Reception and book signing to follow
Thursday, April 6, 4 p.m.
Winter Theater, Dana Fine Arts

Reading by Claudia Rankine 
Reception and book signing to follow
Thursday, April 6, 8 p.m.
Winter Theater, Dana Fine Arts

Reading by Kayla Miller ’11
Reception and book signing to follow
Friday, April 7, 2 p.m.
Winter Theater, Dana Fine Arts

 

 

Interview with Former Winner Robby Nadler

robby nadler photoIn 2015 Robby Nadler won the Writer’s Festival.
He is a graduate of UCLA and University of Montana, and he is currently a PhD student at University of Georgia.

Interviewer: Why did you decide to enter the Writers’ Festival?

Robby Nadler: The first time I entered the contest was simply based on it being a contest, and I thought to myself, why not. However, after becoming a finalist and experiencing the entire festival, I developed a great affection for it as a whole. The craft talks. The dinner with all the other finalists. In each year that I’ve subsequently participated, I’ve done so less because of the contest and more because the event is a wonderful literary treasure that I’m honored to be a part of.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

None of it? I don’t mean that writing isn’t difficult but that I don’t know if any part is more difficult than another. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to write because I rather not spend the day locked in a room. Other times what I want to write comes out badly, and I can’t figure out how to revise it. Especially when you write across genres, you learn there are unique problems to each form. I have great difficulty carrying on extended narrative in fiction, which isn’t an issue for me in poetry; yet, I have a tendency to indulge in mental haberdashery when composing poetry, but I’m very restrained in that regard in prose. All in all, I find writing something that demands constant endurance.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Pre-writing. I don’t spend a significant amount of time, physically, writing compared to other writers I know because I have usually written the whole piece in my mind several times before I compose it on a computer. That means I spend a great deal of time in my head. When I first develop an idea, there’s a rush of infatuation with possibility: maybe I have a line of dialogue, an image, a wonderful sentence serving as a condensation nucleus. 95% of what I generate doesn’t pan out, which can be disappointing. But I love the moment that possibility dawns. I spend days, sometimes weeks, at times even years revisiting plots and characters and lines. There’s something deeply penetrating about thinking my way through a piece that reveals its facets one mystery after another. In many ways, the saddest part of writing, for me, is pushing out these pieces from their privacy and protean being in my mind onto the public and codified page.

What advice do you have for students interested in writing/publications?

There’s a difference between writing for a living and writing for all other reasons. If it’s the latter, go ahead and do it. The happiest writers I know are the ones who write the way I sing, which is to say with great joy without regard to quality (in my case, poor quality). It’s a whole different game if you’re looking to go down the MFA/professional route. It’s competitive. Chance has a lot to do with it. Most people burn out. I don’t know if that matters at the end of the day in that you should chase the thing you want most in this world; if that’s writing, try. You can be smart about it, though. I put myself through my MFA while becoming a professional baker. I jumped academia tracks from creative writing to rhetoric and composition. The whole time I’ve done the writing game, I’ve made sure to have a plan B (and C). It’s rare for even a well-published author to earn a living from writing only, so developing a life while pursuing writing has always seemed the safest way to proceed in my opinion. As far as publications go, they’re wonderful to have but don’t determine your value as a writer. I never even thought about publishing until I was in an MFA (boy was I late to the game!). I must have submitted to fifty-some journals that year, and I was rejected by all of them. The next year, I had a few dozen acceptances. I wrote a book in three months that took three years for someone to agree to publish. I think my story of publishing is quite average for people who publish: you write a lot, get rejected a lot more, and every now and then some good news. I’m thrilled if 10% of my submissions are accepted for publications. If you’re going to try to publish, you have to learn to be happy with good news, whenever it comes, and not dwell on the everything until then.

What are you doing/working on now?

I direct the Writing Center at the University of Georgia, so a lot of my time goes toward academic and professional writing. Between that and teaching, I’m trying to enjoy where I am in my life right now. I bake a lot. I get home and watch Netflix. I spend time with my partner. I used to think of nothing but writing, but after the publication of my first book, I had all this weight on my shoulders dissolve. I haven’t written much of anything for the last two years, and I’m realizing that’s good for me. I read a lot now. I notice a lot more than I used to from a craft perspective. This summer I plan to sit down and write the opening chapter to a novel that has been incubating in my mind for several years.  I look forward to the flames.

Interview with Former Winner Andrea Rogers

10985196_10101336349522103_7915252928800710080_nAndrea Rogers won the Agnes Scott Writer’s Festival Poetry Prize in 2015. She is currently a Ph.D. Poetry student at Georgia State University, where she is an Advanced Teaching Fellow. Rogers is currently a writing instructor at GSU and Agnes Scott College, and works as a Writing Consultant at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Outside of teaching and tutoring, she has also worked for literary journals (Five Points, Odradek) and the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The Adirondack ReviewPOET SOUNDS (Lo-fi Poetry Series Anthology covering the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds), Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource, Negative Capability Press’s Georgia Poetry Anthology, Stone, River, Sky, Red Paint Hill’s Mother is a Verb Anthology, and Treehouse; her nonfiction and interviews appear in Boog CityTreehouse, and The 11th Hour.

Interviewer: What made you enter the Writers’ Festival?

Andrea Rogers: I decided to enter the Writers’ Festival because of its prestigious reputation, and also because of the calibre of the visiting writers last year (Tracy K. Smith, Chris Abani).

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?  

The most difficult part of the writing process for me is sitting down and doing it. I always have ideas — I save them in my phone and in a thousand notebooks. Sitting down to write is always rewarding, but for whatever reason, I always put it off as long as I can. Maybe it’s because I want to delay the emotional “vein-opening” that happens when we write poetry, or maybe it’s because I am and have always been a procrastinator.

What is your favorite part about writing?

My favorite part about writing is being engaged in the creative act, which creates a feeling unlike any other. I also enjoy collaborating with others — I recently wrote a chapbook with my friend and ASC alumna Paige Sullivan, and am currently working on another with my friend Simona Chitescu Weik. Collaboration forces you to meet deadlines and gives you an “accountability partner”, so to speak, which helps me with the most difficult part of the writing process (sitting down and doing it).

What advice do you have for anybody that is interested in writing or publications?

My advice for students who want to write and publish is to read as much as you possibly can. Subscribe to email newsletters and follow publications online if you’re not into carrying around hard copies. You can’t expect to know what you like, much less what you want to do, if you don’t have a broad view of what came before and what is going on around you. And don’t be afraid to submit. Submissions are rejected much more often than they are accepted; don’t let this discourage you. Sometimes it takes a long time for a poem or story to find its “home” — and when it does, what a wonderful feeling that will be.

What are you doing now or what are you working on?

I am currently an adjunct professor at Agnes Scott and an instructor at Georgia State University, and work in the Business Writing Center at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. I am finishing my dissertation at the moment and planning to submit my poetry manuscript in the near future. I’m also working on the chapbook I mentioned above, which is about patron saints (both real and imaginary). And, as always, I’m trying to find the time to make myself sit down and write.

Interview with 2014 Winner Stella Zhou

stellaIn 2014 Stella Zhou won the Writer’s Festival in the category Dramatic Writing. She graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2015 and is now in Los Angeles attending a screenwriting program at the American Film Institute.

Interviewer: What made you enter the Writers’ Festival?

Stella Zhou: It was a great opportunity to share my work among more writers.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?  

The rewriting process.  It’s very easy to forget the initial purpose of creating one project after getting notes from different people.  So it’s really important to remember why I was writing this project in the first place.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Outlining.  It’s not the fun part of writing but it’s the most important part.  It gives me the brief idea of whether this project is going to work or not.

What advice do you have for anybody that is interested in writing or publications?

Keep writing.  Finish your writing.  For screenwriters in particular, finish your scripts.  Half-done scripts are useless.  You may have your doubts while writing the script, but finish it anyway.  Don’t be afraid to re-outline.

What are you doing now or what are are you working on?

I’m a first year Screenwriting fellow at American Film Institute.  Two short films I wrote have been shot and screened, and I’m storying editing the third one.  I’m also working on my feature screenplay and my television spec scripts.