News & Updates

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I’m delighted to announce that I will be returning to the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation’s Sozopol Literary Seminars in Bulgaria this summer (where I taught a nonfiction workshop in 2017). I will be the “Distinguished Keynote Lecturer” for the program this year, and will deliver a lecture on the craft of writing in Sofia and also Sozopol.

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As the Editor-at-Large for Ninth Letter, since 2014 I’ve been curating and editing the monthly Featured Writer page for the magazine’s website, and in the past several months we’ve published a marvelous array of writers.

“A Lecture on the Lecture” is Mary Cappello’s witty deconstruction/reconstruction (complete with audio, video and artwork) of the lecture as a neglected form of literary nonfiction.

“Screen Test,” is an intense four-minute video essay by Dinty Moore, about the camera’s gaze and the language of one’s face.

“Cuban Voices” is a collection of the words of twelve ordinary Cubans, who speak eloquently about the joys and struggles of the individual streets where they live.

“Close Call” is a canny essay about the human and legal complexities of jury duty, from Mimi Schwartz’s most recent collection, When History Is Personal.

Evan James’ essay, “The Loss of Being Here,” is a moving remembrance of a dead friend, and their shared fascination of Philippine ghost stories.

If any of the above descriptions sound intriguing, feel free to click on the highlighted titles and enjoy reading!

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This year I once again judged the nonfiction contest of the Disquiet International Literary Conference, and picking the winner and finalists was not an easy task, as this year’s applicants were an unusually talented bunch. In the end, though, the winner was Mary Birnbaum, for her exquisitely observed and written essay, “The Wrack Line.” And kudos as well to the four finalists, who made my decision so difficult: Sarah Van Arsdale, Sarah Cheshire, Molly Giles, and R.D. Thomas.

Mary Birnbaum’s essay will appear on the Ninth Letter July Featured Writer page. My congratulations to her and to the four finalists!

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For the past year I have served as a member of the Advisory board of IndivisibleRI, the Rhode Island branch of the national Indivisible movement, which is dedicated to resisting the Trump agenda. Since January my wife Alma (also on the board) and I have attended the second Woman’s March in Providence, as well as the March for Our Lives, have gone with group members to protest at the offices of the Rhode Island congressional delegation, made daily phone calls to our representatives, and hosted a Postcards to Voters party.

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March for Our Lives rally, Providence, Rhode Island, March 2018

I’ve also given speeches at IndivisibleRI statewide meetings, on the steps of the State Capitol building (I’m the man in black, speech in hand, in the photo below), and appeared as an occasional spokesperson on television and in print. Like countless other appalled citizens, Alma and I have dedicated a good bit of time to standing up for the rule of law in our country, and we are itching for the day when we can vote in the November midterm elections.

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I have to say, though, that I worry about so much partisan passion—seeing only one side can be the death of the artistic impulse, and so I was delighted to find myself in the studio of a local right-wing radio station (WSAR-AM), discussing politics with the host, Tony Evans. As I mentioned to him at the beginning of the two-hour interview, I don’t get many opportunities to talk politics with a conservative, and we managed to have a civil and respectful exchange from our two perspectives. I hope to be invited back.

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In March I attended the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, this year held in Tampa, Florida, and while the weather was perhaps not as sunny or warm as I would have hoped, it was a big improvement over the snowstorm that was roiling across Rhode Island in my absence!

At the conference, I was lucky to be a member of perhaps the best panel I’d ever experienced, either as a participant or an audience member, in all my years of attending AWP conferences. The panel, “The ‘So What?’ Factor: Making Meaning in Personal Essays and Memoir,” was chaired by literary grandmaster Michele Morano, and the other writers were Miles Harvey and Tim Hillegonds, and their essays were electrifyingly good. I tried to keep my head above water with my contribution, “The Shadow Knows.”

I wasn’t the only one impressed by my fellow panelists. Karen Babine, the editor of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, was in the audience, and she’ll be publishing our panel’s essays in a future issue.

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I am happy to report that I have been invited to join a new low-residency MFA program, the International MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation, which is affiliated with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The co-directors are the writers Xu Xi and Evan Fallenberg, and I couldn’t imagine a better team to make this exciting program fly. Each residency will take place in a different country, and I am on board for being on the faculty for a Spring 2020 residency in Lisbon.

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For the past year and a half I have been volunteering once a week at All Saints Church in Providence, Rhode Island, where I work in the kitchen, helping to provide a meal for anyone in the homeless community. And out of that work has come a writing gig, for the monthly newspaper Street Sights, which is dedicated to, about, and for the homeless in Providence. My first assignment was to interview and write a profile about Jeremiah Rainville, who is the Peer-to-Peer Supervisor for the Rhode Island branch of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

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Jeremiah is a well-respected figure in Rhode Island, a man who rose above a horrific childhood to become someone who now helps others find their way to a better life. And as you can see from the photo above, he also knows how to rock a pork pie hat. You can click here to read the article, “An Encouraging Man.” I’m already on my second assignment, and in future months I’ll be writing more profiles for Street Sights.

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A good way to start 2018 was to receive photos this January, from Bertin Kouadio in Ivory Coast, of the residence built for elementary school teachers in the village of Kosangbé, where my wife, the anthropologist Alma Gottlieb, and I lived for fifteen months, from 1979 to1980. In recent years, Alma and I have established an NGO, the Beng Community Fund (BCF), which is funded by 100% of the royalties from the two books we have written about living among the Beng people, Parallel Worlds and Braided Worlds. Our latest contribution to one of the villages we’ve lived in, Kosangbé, is the construction of a building that will house two teachers. The following photo is of the building while still under construction:

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Kudos to Bertin Kouadio, a board member of the BCF, for his arranging the transport of materials and the construction of the teachers’ quarters. With our support Bertin graduated from the University of Illinois, received his PhD from Florida International University, and has since returned to Ivory Coast, where he works in the city of Abidjan as an international relations consultant.

We’re in the early stages of planning for the next BCF project, to provide solar power (and therefore lighting) to the teachers’ quarters and also to the village’s schoolhouse. Eventually, we hope to supply solar power kits for the entire village!

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News & Updates 2017

News & Updates 2016

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News & Updates 2014

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