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By Michelle Flanagan
Writers know the dream: pitching a book – be it short stories, poetry or a novel – and having a publishing house turn it into a reality. The process can be a long one, but literary programs can be an important stepping stone.
In the English Department of the University of Cincinnati's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, that path is well-paved: Several professors are published authors of novels, poetry and short story collections; the department houses the literary journal The Cincinnati Review, which publishes promising, emerging talent as well as established writers; and department chair and professor Leah Stewart has recently been named director of the prestigious Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
While the faculty may be well-versed in what it takes to get a book from inception to publication, more and more students are joining them on the journey. Says graduate student Kimberely Grey: “There are so many brilliant writers in this program, and I feel lucky to get to work and share ideas with them.”
Here are four promising titles to look out for:
Kimberely Grey, a graduate student in the English Department, will have her second book, a volume of poetry titled “Systems for the Future of Feeling,” released in 2020 from Persea Books.
At UC, Grey says she has found a community of supportive and loving faculty and peers. “Each new poem, story or essay I read teaches me things about my own book and writing process and because of the collaborative nature of a writing program, I feel my work is constantly evolving for the better. I owe much of the progress of my third book to Rebecca Lindenberg and John Drury, who have been astoundingly helpful and supportive. I feel very lucky to work with them,” Grey says.
In “Systems for the Future of Feeling,” Grey conveys urgency through repetition and patterning. “I think this formal aspect to the book related very much to an intense pressure I felt to adequately match language to experience ... so much happened while I wrote this book—Trump was elected, mass shooting after mass shooting, family estrangement, marriage and separation. There was a lot of grief, both public and private. And out of that grief and frustration came work that differed very much from my first book,” she explained.
“I do think part of growing as a writer is constantly pushing yourself to write different work in different forms. To always challenge yourself toward newness and surprise. Hybrid work has very much allowed me to feel like I’m doing something entirely new and I’m really happy with how the book is evolving,” she says.
Marianne Chan is an incoming PhD student in the English Department, and her first book of poetry, “All Heathens,” is due out in March 2020 from Sarabande Books.
"Not only does student life offer you the time to focus on reading and writing, but creative writing programs also provide a space for collaboration and mentorship that is harder to find in a non-academic setting. While at UC, I’m hoping to dedicate most of my working hours to improving my writing and teaching, and I’m so looking forward to working with the amazing students and the poetry faculty, John Drury and Rebecca Lindenberg, who I am certain will help me deepen my understanding of literature.”
“All Heathens” is a declaration of ownership, where Chan weaves her own experiences into broader commentaries. “The history of Filipino colonization by the Spanish is very much factual, though some details in my poems are intentionally embellished or distorted. Weaving my own experiences into discussions of these histories came naturally to me,” she says.
While not writing or preparing to become a student again, Chan serves as poetry editor for the online literary journal Split Lip Magazine, a role which she says has influenced her writing. “The process of editing has made me a more discerning reader, and therefore, a more discerning writer,” she says. “As a writer, I’m jotting down ideas, I’m playing with form, and if I’m going to be honest, sometimes while I’m writing poetry, I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m just juggling and mixing ideas and sounds, seeing what will happen when the poem recipe or formula is tweaked slightly. Will it be delicious? Will it explode? Who knows.”
Luke Geddes may have graduated from the PhD program, but he’s stuck around as an adjunct professor. His upcoming novel, “Heart of Junk,” is being published by Simon & Schuster in January 2020.
Geddes contributes to the literary joural Electric Literature, but says he’s been surprised at how slow-going the book process is. “I began writing the novel shortly after I moved to Cincinnati in 2011. There were a lot of stops and starts over the years before I finished a complete draft in 2015,” he says. “I started pursuing agents in 2014 but did not sign with one until 2016. I then worked with my agent to revise the book over the course of a year. It was submitted to publishers starting in the Fall of 2017, was accepted by Simon & Schuster in early 2018 and will be published in January 2020.”
That said, the novel is close to his own heart. Set in Wichita, Kansas, where Geddes got his MFA in creative writing, it centers around the world of antiques dealers. “I am an avid antiques, flea market, and vintage shopper. I collect vintage toys and tchotchkes, pinback buttons, vinyl records, pulp paperbacks, paper ephemera, mid-century stuff, Halloween miscellania, etc.,” he explained.
Molly Reid recently graduated from the creative writing program with a PhD, and released a short story collection, "The Rapture Index: A Suburban Bestiary," from BOA Editions in May 2019. The collection is loosely based around the concept of a medieval bestiary – explained by Reid as a combination of natural science, storytelling, and Christian morality in an interesting, and often inaccurate, way – set in the suburbs.
While at UC, she was able to work with faculty that set her up for success. “Chris Bachelder, Michael Griffith, and Leah Stewart—dream literary trio—are all very different in their writing styles and approaches to writing, but they’re all smart, generous, and egalitarian,” she said.
One class stands out in its impact on Reid’s writing. “In particular, in large part due to Leah Stewart’s Forms class and novel workshop, I learned to think and talk about plot, which sounds like a basic, obvious thing, but one that had always eluded me. I don’t know how I would possibly write the novel I’m writing right now without that shift.
“In the PhD program at UC, I also learned to take myself less seriously and be less precious about my writing,” she continued. “Part of this came from being around writers of tremendous talent, my fellow grad students, writers often much younger than me, just crushing it. Also, being around those same writers and seeing them take real risks, sometimes failing, but then getting right back to the business, the hard work, of writing.”
Featured image: Writer at work on a laptop. Credit: StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay.