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Poets & Writers Magazine welcomes feedback from its readers. Please post a comment on select articles at www.pw.org/magazine, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Editor, Poets & Writers Magazine, 90 Broad Street, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10004. Letters accepted for publication may be edited for clarity and length.
More Voices of 9/11
Kevin Nance’s article “The Literature of 9/11” (September/October 2011) presented an insightful discussion of poets and novelists, but a number of literary nonfiction works deserve recognition alongside poetry and fiction. For instance, Rebecca McClanahan’s essay “And We Shall Be Changed: New York City, September, 2001” (Kenyon Review, Summer/Fall 2003), which accomplishes what poet Michael Klein, quoted in Nance’s article, called for: finding the “authentically personal” thread. Donald Morrill’s memoir, The Untouched Minutes (University of Nebraska Press, 2004), written almost exclusively in the third person, offers insight into our collective sense of self in a post-9/11 world. Readers should also be aware of essays such as “The View From Mrs. Thompson’s” by David Foster Wallace (Rolling Stone, October 25, 2001, reprinted in Consider the Lobster); “Moscow 9/11” by Mary Cappello (Raritan, Summer 2002); and “In the Ruins of the Future” by Don DeLillo (Harper’s, December 2001); not to mention the phenomenal graphic memoir In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon Books, 2004).
Thank you for “Living Room,” the profile of Sam Savage by Kevin Larimer (September/October 2011). In 1994 I started publishing ant ant ant ant ant, a journal of English-language haiku with an emphasis on experimentation, and one of the early chief contributors was a guy from South Carolina named Sam Savage. His work was nuanced, nontraditional, and honest, always communicating a complex emotion that couldn’t be articulated otherwise. After a few years of correspondence, he sent me an amazing book of haiku he had self-published, Eighteen kinds of loneliness, but soon after receiving this gift I lost contact with him. Requests for poems went unanswered, and queries about his circumstances yielded silence. I even considered that perhaps he was somebody I still knew writing under a pseudonym—until recently, when Poets & Writers Magazine appeared in the mail.
Thanks for the article on successful authors who do not have MFAs (“MFA? No Way,” September/October 2011). I’ve been reading Poets & Writers Magazine for years, but because of the plethora of articles about MFA programs and bylines that feature MFA credentials, I’ve wondered if I was one of the only fiction writers in America who deliberately decided not to pursue an MFA. But, as your coverage of MFA alternatives confirms is possible, I have benefited immensely from informal communities of writers: friends in college, the occasional workshop, writing groups, and a few conferences. Over the years my short fiction has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. And finally, in my forties, I have a novel coming out next year from HarperCollins. So yes, one can get published without an MFA, although it may take longer without the connections and prestige offered by such programs.
I read Dawn Haines’s article “Life After the MFA” (September/October 2011) with great interest, as I was at a loss after finishing my MFA program. While it was handy to have that new piece of paper for the purposes of becoming a lowly adjunct, I didn’t feel the MFA really took me where I needed to go with my work. But after eight years of infrequent publishing and no time to write, I found an alternative that works for me. Three years ago I hooked up with Ariel Gore’s online Literary Kitchen workshops and finally found a group that was the right fit for me: writers not full of privilege (and themselves) who offer honest criticism and support at the same time, and whose work I truly enjoy reading. And that infrequent publishing? It’s not so infrequent anymore.