English 'Family' Celebrates a Successful Year

It’s been a good year for the English Department. In 2008, an abundant number of students and alumni received acclaim for their work in creative writing—including two second-year PhD students and an alumna who is having her first book published.

Rising Stars

Both Jamie Poissant and Christian Moody have lived in Syracuse, N.Y.—Poissant when he was born and Moody when he earned his MFA at Syracuse University. Both have taught high school English and both have lived in distant places before settling down in Cincinnati to earn their doctorates in English from UC.

But recently, the second-year PhD students have achieved something that few others have accomplished: both have short stories that have been selected for the Houghton Mifflin anthology “Best New American Voices.”

The prestigious anthology consists of 14 short stories chosen out of approximately 200 submissions from creative writing programs across the country.

“It’s pretty rare and against the odds for two people to get it from the same program,” Moody says.

Next year’s edition will feature Poissant’s “Lizard Man,” a short story that highlights father-son relationships as two friends take a journey to claim a giant pet alligator. The story took top honors in the annual Playboy College Fiction Contest that appeared in the October 2007 issue of the magazine. Poissant was previously featured in “Best New American Voices” for his short story “Venn Diagram.”

Moody’s writing style captures a more fantastic edge than Poissant’s, who tends to write in a realistic manner. Moody’s “Horusville,” which originated as a prose poem, is about a town with an unusual forest in which the trees have eyes. Many of his pieces hold a fabulist element, shown by his recent selection in the “Best American Fantasy 2008” anthology for “In the Middle of the Woods,” a story originally published in the Cincinnati Review.

Both students have been featured in various notable publications.

Jamie Poissant (left) and Christian Moody.

Jamie Poissant (left) and Christian Moody.

“This is an honor for Jamie and Christian,” says Michael Griffith, associate professor of English and Comparative Literature, who has taught both students. “They’re talented and accomplished writers, and this is yet another confirmation of their talent. I predict big things for both of them.”

It was in a workshop with professor Brock Clarke that helped shape Moody’s “Horusville,” and the feedback from Poissant and other colleagues that helped him further develop the story.

Poissant even pushed Moody to include “She-Hulk” in the story as the protagonist’s favorite comic book after learning about each other’s childhood crush on the character.
“Everyone in the workshop gave me ideas for ‘Horusville,’” Moody says. “There are workshops that are competitive and cutthroat, but the workshops here have actually been very helpful and friendly rather than competitive.”

Poissant agreed. “It’s a ready-made family. When you find friends in a program like this, you know you can trust your readers.”

Poissant and Moody are enjoying their recent successes while still focusing on a heftier goal: finishing books before their time is up at UC. Poissant hopes to finish a book of short stories, while Moody is working on a novel. He plans to solicit the feedback of his colleagues for that in a future novel workshop within the department as well.
Hitting the Big Time

Sandra Novack-Gottshall might be able to give Poissant and Moody some advice. The alumna, who publishes under Sandra Novack, has just accomplished the hefty goal they are working toward; on Feb. 17, Novack-Gottshall will release her debut novel “Precious” through Random House.

Photo of Sandra Novack.

Photo of Sandra Novack.

Novack has come a long way since her time in the English graduate program, where she received her master’s degree in literature and creative writing in 1999.

“Cincinnati was the first concerted effort I made at creative writing. I was awful,” she says, laughing. “But the faculty told me to keep at it…now I can’t imagine anything else. For me, writing is a way to keep the silence at bay. It’s a great push against what I like to call ‘the dark matter.’”

Dark matter indeed. Novack’s first novel is about a young girl that goes missing in rural Pennsylvania and the devastating effects such a tragedy has on the town and the families within it.

Novack received inspiration from her own life for the novel. When Novack was 7, her older sister ran away from home at the age of 17, never to be heard from again.

“’Precious’ is very lyrical, in part because I miss my sister so much,” Novack said. “As I composed, the rhythm of the book was a little like a lullaby.”

The novel has already received pre-press buzz and foreign right sales have also been established. It is the first of a two-book deal she has with Random House. The second book, a compilation of short stories, will be out sometime in 2010.

On one level, Novack always knew she’d make it as a writer. “You can’t be a writer and commit to the field and sacrifice everything without a core belief that you’re going to make it,” she said. “You know you have to make it.”

But it was still a surprise to her when all her hard work began to pay off. “I was so used to plugging away and sending out 30 submissions and getting rejections. I was so used to it being hard that it was really strange for it to be easy with a novel,” she said, referring to how quickly she signed with an agency and received a winning bid for the book’s publication by Random House.

“And now it’s easier. When you have the right people back you and get that sudden support, it’s amazing how that changes.”

Today, Novack lives in Atlanta, Ga., with her husband Phil Novack-Gottshall, a geology alum from McMicken. She is working on her short stories as well as another novel, which she hopes will get picked up by Random House in another deal.

While “Precious” isn’t available until February, it can be pre-ordered at major bookstores. A sample chapter of the novel is posted on sandranovack.com.

Related Stories


Hoffman Honors Scholars honor University of Cincinnati alumnus

December 4, 2023

The estate of Hugh Hoffman, MBA ’63, has established a new scholarship program at three University of Cincinnati colleges. A $56 million gift will create the Hoffman Honors Scholars Program and support student-athletes with an extraordinary endowment.

Debug Query for this