News & Updates

I am very proud to announce here that, according to the Vida Count for 2017, Ninth Letter is #1 (in a tie with Missouri Review) among all magazines in the country, literary and cultural, for publishing the work of woman and non-binary writers: our average for the year is 61%.

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As an Editor-at-Large in charge of the Ninth Letter monthly Featured Writer page on the website, I’m also happy to announce that we are continuing in 2018 to publish a diverse array of women and non-binary writers. Currently we are featuring an essay by Mary Birnbaum, “The Wrack Line,” which is the winner of the Disquiet International Nonfiction Prize.

Coming up in the following months will be a collaboration between the poet Miriam Sagan and her daughter, the artist Alison Winson-Sagan; an anthology, Solo Mom Sessions, featuring the work of eight writers who are single mothers; essays by the writers Sarah Minor and Kate Angus; and in December, another large feature, “More Like This Than Any of These: Creative Nonfiction in the Age of the Trans New Wave,” spotlighting the work of five trans writers, will be published simultaneously in the print edition of Ninth Letter as well as on the website.

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I’ve just returned this June from Bulgaria, where I participated in the CapitaLiterature conference in Sofia, followed immediately by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation’s Sozopol Literary Seminars, located by the Black Sea. This was my second time in a row taking part in these programs, and I wasn’t surprised that the experience once again proved beyond inspiring.

My wife Alma Gottlieb accompanied me this time, and because she is a highly regarded anthropologist she was asked to give a lecture on ethnographic writing at Sofia University. Lucky audience! Then, since we had arrived a few days before the literary conferences would begin, we spent time wandering around the beautiful center of Sofia,

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and took a trip up into the southern mountains to visit the magnificent, cloistered Rila Monastery, perhaps one of the finest examples of what is called the National Revival style of architecture.

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Back in Sofia, when the CapitaLiterature conference finally kicked in, I delivered a lecture at the British & American Resource Studies Center of Sofia University, and the following day joined a panel titled “Reimagining Europe,” held in the Sofia City Art Gallery. A gaggle of Bulgarian and English-language writers, editors and translators, many of us meeting for the first time, we engaged in conversation while surrounded by modern and contemporary Bulgarian art.

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The day after that, the five English-language Fiction Fellows and their five Bulgarian counterparts gave short readings from their work, this time outside the Sofia City Art Gallery, facing nearby beautiful gardens. In between readings a jazz band played.

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I had assisted the writer Elizabeth Kostova, who would be leading the fiction workshop for the English-language Fellows later in Sozopol, in choosing the finalists, so I had a good sense of how talented this bunch was. Listening to the Bulgarian Fellows in English translation made me realize how impressive their work was too.

Soon enough we all bused it to the eastern edge of the country, the Black Sea, and to the rocky bluff of a narrow peninsula that is Sozopol, a town that once served as a summer playground for the ancient Greeks and Romans.

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The lectures, the panels and the workshops were held in the Sozopol City Art Museum, another fine example of the National Revival style.

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It was here I delivered my keynote address, titled “Our Past Travels Travel with Us,” followed by a reading of brief selections from my novel-in-progress, Invisible Country. Sitting beside me was Bistra Andreeva, who had expertly translated my lecture into Bulgarian. First I would read a paragraph or two, she would then read the Bulgarian version, then I would continue. And so, step by step, we made it to the end!

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Following that event, we all hustled to a restaurant facing the water and the sunset, and perhaps drank a little too much rakia, and wine.

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Certainly we were all loosened up enough for the editor Manol Peykov and Elizabeth Kostova to entertain us with Bulgarian songs!

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The remaining days went quickly (too quickly, really). The author Georgi Tenev delivered an excellent lecture and reading (Georgi, who is in the middle of portraying a monk in an historical film, cut quite a figure with his long, monkish beard and pork pie hat). Novelist Theodora Dimova presented an insightful craft essay (that I want to read again!). And there were a series of extraordinary panels in which editors such as Fiona McCrae (of Graywolf Press), John Siciliano (Penguin/Random House), and Zeljka Marosevic (Daunt Books) read and discussed brief sections of work by the English-language and Bulgarian Fellows. What a treat for all, to see such accomplished editors going about their difficult business in real time.

Another panel featured Linda Gregerson and her Bulgarian translator, Nadya Radulova, discussing Gregerson’s poem, “Narrow Flame” and the complexities of rendering the inner life of a poem into another language. This memorable panel increased my admiration for the art of Gregerson’s poetry as well as the art of translation.

During those days I also held consultations with interested Fiction Fellows, as we sat in a courtyard on the edge of the Black Sea and sailboats glided by.

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By the end, our whole crew stood together for a goodbye photo, a souvenir of over a week of literary and cultural exchange that we won’t long forget. Really, I don’t think the experience will fade away any time soon.

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Though one way I’ll keep the memories fresh will be to finish the novel The Same Night Awaits Us All, by Hristo Karastoyanov, and then move on to one of the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers anthologies edited by Svetlozar Zhelev . . .

My many thanks once again to Elizabeth Kostova for the generosity of her program’s efforts to bring together Bulgarian writers with writers from around the world. And to Milena Deleva, Simona Ilieva, and Jeremy Chamberlain for organizing, year after year, such a successful conference.

Finally, I’d like to thank the English-language and Bulgarian Fiction Fellows, for the many engaging conversations we shared, formal and also during meals, over the course of the conference: Nathan Go, Sacha Idell, Jo Langdon, Taylor Soomro and Sofie Verraest, and Nevena Grigorova, Petar Krumov, Genadiy Mihaylov, Rumen Pavlov and Albena Todorova.

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I’ve mentioned earlier that, as a development from my soup kitchen volunteer work (and there’s little that’s more satisfying than helping cook a free meal for up to 200 people), I’ve begun writing for Street Sights, a monthly newspaper about and for the homeless community in Providence, Rhode Island.

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Jeremiah Harrison and his five-month old daughter Analiyah

My second profile for the newspaper, “Grateful,” has just been published, of Jeremiah Harrison, a remarkable man whose early life was marked by drugs and alcohol, sexual abuse and homelessness, and who has risen above that past with absolute grace.

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One of my favorite literary websites, The Millions, has published my essay “Read It Again.” In this essay I trace the emotional thread that leads from a memory of my father reading If I Ran the Circus to me when I was five, to 30 years later when I would read books aloud to my two children, to now, 60 years after my father read to me, when I read to my grandson.

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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.

In the meantime, I’ve curated and edited a mini-anthology of the work of five Bulgarian writers I met last year at Sozopol. Just launched on the Ninth Letter website, “Only Silence Will Never Betray You” presents some really exhilarating writing by Ivayla Alexandrova, Bistra Andeeva, Marin Bodakov, Georgi Gospodinov and Nikoli Grozni.

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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 W. 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 Women’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 helping oversee the construction of the teachers’ quarters in Kosangbé, the village where he was born. 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 now works in the city of Abidjan as an international relations consultant.

We’re now 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. We’re also in the initial planning stages for a possible building project in the Beng village of Asagbé, where we lived in 1985 and 1993.

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News & Updates 2017

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News & Updates 2014

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