Converse Low Residency MFA Founder, Rick Mulkey, is taking a well-deserved sabbatical this fall semester. While Mulkey had intended to step down, the college negotiated an agreement that ensured he would maintain his position for a few years longer with the assistance of a half-time associate director to help with the administrative workload. The position will help with planning and recruitment efforts, and the associate director will assist students and faculty during the residency sessions. Recently, it was announced that Sarah Gray was hired as the Converse College Low Residency MFA program’s Associate Director.
Gray is a graduate of the MFA fiction program. In fact, she was part of the program’s very first cohort of MFA students. For a number of years, she successfully directed the Converse College Young Writers Summer Workshop for high school students. In addition, she was the founding editor-in-chief of the MFA program’s South 85 Journal, and she has taught writing, literature and creative writing courses for the Converse College English Department for several years.
Sarah will focus on a number of tasks for the program. She’ll take a lead with social media platforms, with new recruiting strategies, with alumni outreach, and with aspects of residency planning, to name only a few. While Mulkey is on sabbatical this summer and fall, Sarah will direct the summer residency session. MFA faculty member Denise Duhamel has also agreed to act as a co-director during the Summer residency session, and she will assist Sarah.
The Converse College Low Residency MFA Program was started by Mulkey and fellow founder/mentor, Susan Tekulve. They two wanted to create a supportive and creative environment for MFA students looking to improve their skills as artists. Mulkey hopes that in coming years, the program will maintain its original purpose while the student population grows.
“We’re a small, selective program, and I would hate to see our low residency MFA program become like so many with such large numbers of participants that faculty and students don’t really know one another. I think there is something special about a smaller low residency MFA. It provides the intellectual and creative atmosphere of much larger programs, but has the intimate mentoring and support of the best small residential programs,” Mulkey said. “Still, I’d like to see us grow by about a third in all genres. I think that will allow us to continue to have the same kind of selective program we have now, but will allow for even more mentoring opportunities and scholarship opportunities for our students. I’m hopeful the new associate director position will help with this enrollment growth. In addition, I’m hopeful that our alumni, who continue to find writing success, will recommend and send prospective Converse MFA students our way.”
Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, NC. She is currently pursing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her girls — Ella and Addie.
South 85 Journal‘s reading period is almost over! Don’t miss out! Submit poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and visual art for our Spring / Summer 2017 issue by April 30, 2017. No fee for submissions.
We look forward to hearing from you.
And if you haven’t read our last issue, check it out: http://south85journal.Read More »
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta
The dead don’t go, they burrow
into our bones, worm hungry
to the marrow. I still feel
my father blinking
through my solar plexus, asking
what went wrong. The girl
I left behind to hang
herself, her burst of freckles
spreads malignant across
my caving collarbones. The dead
don’t leave, they decay slow
and organic, looking for a home
that smells something familiar.
* This poem originally appeared in the Fall / Winter 2016 issue of South 85 Journal. Check out Monday’s blog post, “Word Play: An Interview with Poet and Author Jessica Mehta.”
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta (Jey Tehya) is a Cherokee poet and novelist. She’s the author of four collections of poetry including Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. Jessica is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicatynermehta.com.Read More »
Jessica Mehta is the author of three collections of poetry and one novel. Mehta is also the founder of MehtaFor: Writing and Editing, and she serves as a poetry reviewer for Contemporary Literary Review India and Foreword Reviews.
S85: What are you working on currently?
JM: My fourth collection of poetry, Secret-telling Bones, releases in September 2017. I’m gearing up for three summer residencies — one with Hosking Houses Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK, one in Paris, France, and one in Santa Fe, NM — to put the finishing touches on the upcoming book, as well as complete the manuscript for my fifth collection. I’m also continuing to grow my business, MehtaFor, and taking advanced yoga teacher training courses to complement my karma yoga movement, Get it Ohm!
S85: How does a poem start for you, with an idea, an image, catharsis, how does it begin?
JM: Often it begins with a single line. If I can write that line down, I can usually go back to it and let the poem unfold from that line. Oftentimes, this happens in the middle of the night. When I was training for marathons, it would always come to me during long runs (probably because I ran with no technology and had no means of getting words down).
S85: What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?
JM: I’m much more articulate when I write, although the “voice” is the same as my genuine speaking voice — of course with a lot less “likes” and “uhms.” A recent poem I wrote, “How to Talk to the Dying,” includes the lines, “I looked up ‘What to say / to the dying’ because words / get stuck in my hands.” That’s the most accurate description.
S85: What are you reading? If you were to convince readers to open one book, which would it be?
JM: At the moment it’s The Vegetarian by Han Kang, but I’m not far enough into it to have an opinion. I lived in Seoul for a year, which is what made me pick it up in the first place. Of course, I absolutely adore books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (I have two first editions) and almost everything by Toni Morrison, but some recent books I love include Tampa by Alissa Nutting, Towelhead by Alicia Erian, and In the Skin of a Jihadist by Anna Erelle.
S85: What is the worst advice you’ve heard established writers give aspiring writers?
JM: “Write every day.”
I’ve gone weeks and months without writing creative pieces before, and when I try to force myself the outcome is terrible. Granted, I write in some capacity five days per week because writing is how I make a living. There’s a difference between keeping in practice and forcing yourself to write “just because.” Don’t turn something you love into something you dread daily.
S85: Recently, I was chatting with a friend about many troubling aspects of our current society. After a particularly long rant my friend asked, “What are you doing about it?”
My response, “I would argue that writing about it is doing something about it.”
What would you argue writing is doing, or can do to improve a given social, or political climate?
JM: Writing is absolutely a powerful tool or weapon, depending on who’s yielding it and how. There’s a reason the phrase, “Did you get it in writing?” is so common. The written word can hold much more weight than the verbal, providing a permanence and platform for reflective expression. However, personally, I always tell my clients I’ll write just about anything except about finance or politics. As a Native American writer, I’m often faced with others (Native and not) expecting me to be responsible for representing the pan-Indian experience. I choose not to use my writing to focus on improving social/political climates, though there are certainly writers out there doing a fantastic job of it.
About the Author
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta (Jey Tehya) is a Cherokee poet and novelist. She’s the author of four collections of poetry including Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. Jessica is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicatynermehta.com.
About the Interviewer
Mel Sherrer is a performance poet and teacher living in San Marcos, Texas. She is the Managing Poetry Editor for South 85 Journal.Read More »
First Manhattan, Then Berlin: A Look into the Creative Genius Behind Short Story App, Great Jones Street
Prior to his successful app, Kelly Abbott didn’t have experience in the publishing world. In fact, his first venture was a software company that “helped publishers wrangle comments on their sites. Our customers were CNN, ESPN, the Washington Post, and lots of smaller publishers,” Abbott said. “After I sold that company, I took a few years off to charge my batteries and come at building a product as a publisher myself. In a way, I came full circle back to fiction and my roots in stories.”
He did so through the app, Great Jones Street (GJS). GJS is a platform where short story fans can find quality literature as they wait in line at the bank, for coffee, or in the doctor’s office. Abbott admits in 2015, he was an early and avid adapter to this platform but hated reading longer works, like novels, from his phone. So, he created GJS to fill two needs at once. It made good, short fiction more available to the masses. And, it was convenient to travel with and read anywhere. He eliminated the slush pile and put in place a referral system that is more conducive to discovering quality work and reserving editorial energies. This month, we sat down with Abbott to discuss the inspiration behind the app, what the future holds for “the Netflix of short fiction” as GJS is often called, and the short fiction he’s reading on a daily basis.
S85: Have you always been passionate about short stories?
KA: Actually, yes. I’ve never had much of an attention span. I used to go to my dad’s readings as a kid and knew what a great art short stories were from the beginning. As a student, I was thrilled to be reading short fiction. Since school, I rarely read short fiction simply because it’s so hard to come by. You have to buy collections or subscribe to a lot of journals. When I “retired” those few years, I was actively searching for short fiction to read on my phone, which I found I loved doing. But it was a lot of work. Hence, the idea for Great Jones Street was born. But it’s the culmination of the smart phone and eBooks that really convinced me. There’s been an inflection point technologically and economically which in my mind has driven me to the logic that short fiction will have its day again.
S85: What was the first short story you remember really inspiring you?
KA: Ray Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” It’s probably a cliche but I also read “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien when it first came out because my dad was going bananas about it. I remember Vietnam and Alcohol were big in our house and both stories affected me deeply as a result. The truth is I immediately thought of “As Fate Would Have It” by my dad. It’s my all-time favorite story. It has such a roll and rhythm to it, I can’t ever stop reading it when I start it. It really takes you to another land.
S85: Who are some of your favorite writers of short fiction? Who are some of your favorite writers generally?
KA: Truman Capote. Absolute tops. He wasn’t too prodigious in short fiction. But I love his stories. Every one of them. They’re all perfect. They break like a perfect rack.
I can tell you that I have loved discovering science fiction as a 40-year old. Hugh Howey inspires me. I can read anything he writes. Ted Chiang is brilliant. Ken Liu can do no wrong. In literary fiction, Kyle Minor slays me. His collection “Praying Drunk” is the precipitating collection that made me get off my ass and start Great Jones Street. I recently discovered George Saunders and now I can’t get enough. You can see my tendencies are to read (white) guy fiction. I can’t help it. But as a result of publishing for diversity, my tastes have expanded considerably. I can tell you I love Carmen Maria Machado. Amal El-Mohtar writes genius level stuff. Becky Mandelbaum won the FOC this year and we have three of the stories from that collection. I love her stuff. Molia Dumbelton is funny and has a real story-teller’s charm. Sarah Harris Wallman writes punchy fiction with real grit. Rob Hart is a name you’re gonna want to remember. Great crime fiction. Anthony Neil Smith comes from a place you don’t want to and for that I’m grateful he’s a storyteller. I’ve recently discovered flash length fiction and there are a few callouts there. Bill Cook, Sherrie Flick, Sheldon Lee Compton and Meg Pokrass. We’ve broken some fresh talent too and I’d like to give them a mention. Terri Leker, Scott Laughlin and John Affleck. We were the first to publish each of them and they have bright futures.
S85: What problems have you seen in the publishing industry that Great Jones Street seeks to rectify?
KA: Discovery is broken big time. I’m reading writers now I would never had heard of if it weren’t for their short fiction. This year alone we have 8 Bram Stoker nominees and 11 Nebula Nominees in our app.
S85: One of the recent additions to the app is the use of suggestions. Was that a top priority for you to include? Do you think this feature has helped support existing users?
KA: One of the problems with places like Amazon and Goodreads is that recommendations form clusters that are really hard to break into and out of. Let me give you an example. If I tell Goodreads I like Hugh Howey, it will recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (a great book) and The Martian by Andy Weid (another great book). All three are best-sellers. Why? Because they’re clustered. What they don’t tell you is Ted Chiang and Ken Liu are ready to blow your mind too. With Great Jones Street, we can expose readers to the referral network only we have access to. Which is to say, if you like Ken Liu, well guess what? We can recommend you his favorite writer because he’s the one who curated that selection here. It breaks away from best-seller land and gives writers a chance to really expose readers to their influences.
S85: What advice would you give writers in MFA programs that are struggling to publish at the moment?
KA: Send me your stories. We’re the community for you. We’re going to open up the platform for students specifically and help them make connections with our writers.
S85: What’s in the near future for GJS?
KA: We’re in growth mode. We’re going to start accepting more titles from fresh writers and from A Listers. We’re going to develop features that make the app more social. And, we have a really fun plan for audio books that has the writers reading their stories directly into the app itself from their phones.
S85: What’s in the distant future for GJS?
KA: First we take Manhattan. Then we take Berlin.
About the Publisher
Kelly Abbott is a veteran entrepreneur in publishing. He lives in San Diego. He is the grandson of the founder of the Roswell UFO Museum.
About the Interviewer
Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, NC. She is currently pursing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her girls — Ella and Addie.Read More »