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The radical write

Your guide to Tulsa LitFest 2019

There’s no sophomore slump in the cards for Oklahoma’s premier book bash. Tulsa LitFest returns April 11-14 for its second year of diverse and thought-provoking readings, panels, workshops, and interactive events for word nerds of all stripes.

In addition to bringing some of the biggest names in the world of literary arts to town, LitFest will also feature plenty of local flare with tons of other homegrown talent—including winners and finalists from the TTV/Nimrod 2019 Flash Fiction Contest.

This year’s keynote is author and political superstar Stacey Abrams, but all four days will be packed with fascinating presenters from all corners of the literary arts universe. Whether you want to break into the world of publishing or just spend some time soaking up some of the best poetry and storytelling you’ll hear all year, Tulsa Litfest 2019 is sure to be another weekend for the books.     

Don Stinson
Thurs., April 11; 1:30 p.m. | TCC Southeast Campus, Student Union Auditorium | 10300 E. 81st St.
Don Stinson has taught at NSU, OSU, and Ridgewater College in Minnesota, but has now spent over 20 years at Northern Oklahoma College, where he teaches writing and literature courses and helps organize the annual Chikaskia Literary Festival every fall. “Flatline Horizon” is his first book, and he is currently working on his second.

Ron Silliman with Grant Jenkins
Thurs., April 11; 5 p.m. | Living Arts of Tulsa, 307 E. Mathew B. Brady St.
Ron Silliman has written and edited over 30 books, and his poetry and criticism has been translated into 12 languages. Silliman was the 2006 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, a 2003 Literary Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and was a 2002 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Arts Council as well as a Pew Fellow in the Arts in 1998. He received the Levinson Prize from the Poetry Foundation in 2010.

Heid E. ErdrichNative tongues

Two poets illustrate the diversity of Indigenous experiences and expression

In her introduction to the June 2018 issue of Poetry magazine, Heid E. Erdrich writes:

“There is no such thing as Native American poetry. We are poets who belong to Native Nations. There are more than 573 … We also know who we are and we determine our own membership and citizenship. We write into, out of, even despite this fact.”

An esteemed poet and member of the Turtle Mountain band of Ojibway, Erdrich illustrates there’s no collective experience shared by Indigenous peoples in the Americas. While intertribal Natives might share cultural links or face similar challenges, their experiences and forms of expression are diverse from sea-to-shining-sea and all the red dirt in between.

For this reason, to understand Erdrich’s experience as an Ojibway woman, is to know her poetry.

Sly AlleyThe same goes for Sly Alley, an enrolled Potawatomi with Otoe heritage. But to lump them together in the category of “Indian Artists” would be to misrepresent them; they are American poets born with Native blood, with incredibly different poetics and viewpoints. Alley’s poem “Identity” says it well:

If I was introduced to you
as an American Indian poet,
you might think my poems
will be about how Coyote
tricked chief So-And-So,
or how it’s sacred to use
all of the buffalo parts.

Alley grew up in Tecumseh, Oklahoma, and spent some time in his father’s hometown of Red Rock. He started taking poetry seriously at Seminole State College. He currently works in a lumberyard and writes in the evenings. With an Okie drawl, Alley juxtaposes himself as a “working man’s poet” against his peers in academia. “Strong Medicine,” his first collection of verse, was published in 2016 and won the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry.

Alley says the content of “Strong Medicine” captures:

“What’s going on, what’s around us … that can be politics and social issues, and that can just be the day-to-day, getting up and going to work. If anything, it’s just recorded history.”

His work aligns with this sense of observation and daily reality. He cites his greatest influence as Hunter S. Thompson (“not just the ‘Fear and Loathing’ stuff”), and also named several Modernist, American expat authors. Knowing this, the reportage of his work is clearly life filtered through one man’s humor and perspective. In “I See Why Hunter Got Cremated,” he writes:

I hope those winds blowing down from the mountains
grab an ash and swing it down over Oklahoma City
or Edmond, maybe a quick orbit around
that oil company’s Tower of Babel,
and jam it into someone’s eyeball

“I approached it the way I would imagine maybe a musician approaches putting together an album,” Alley said. “I like these words now, but if I’ve got to read them 600 more times am I still gonna like it?”

While some will relate to the unique poetic visions of Erdrich and Alley, we can all take pleasure in hearing them read at the OSU-Tulsa auditorium on Thurs., April 11 at 7:30 p.m. 

Heid E. Erdrich and Sly Alley
Thurs., April 11; 7:30 p.m. | OSU-Tulsa Auditorium, 700 N. Greenwood Ave.

LitFest Writing Workshops
Fri., April 12; 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. | OSU-Tulsa, Tulsa Room, 700 N. Greenwood Ave.
Tulsa LitFest workshops are free and open to the public. Designed to provide exceptional content, LitFest workshops provide an intimate learning and sharing opportunity for writers. To sign up, visit bit.ly/LitFestWorkshops.

9 a.m.: Experimental Translation and the New Multicultural Avant-garde in Contemporary Poetry with M.L. Martin

10:30 a.m.: In Raptures: Writing the Ghazal with Janine Joseph

12:30 p.m.: Borrowed Forms with Liz Blood

2 p.m.: Getting Published: Trends and Opportunities in the Rapidly Changing World of Books for Young Readers with Karl Jones

3:30 p.m.: How to Snag a Story (or Poem) with Heid E. Erdrich

Something borrowed

Telling stories with everyday paperwork

Liz Blood is an Okie-grown writer, past editor at The Tulsa Voice, a Tulsa Artist Fellow, an OVAC Art Writing and Curatorial fellow, an Oklahoma Center for the Humanities fellow, and an adjunct faculty member at Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA in creative writing program. Her workshop at LitFest uses everyday paperwork as a way to get inside a story.

Alicia Chesser Atkin: How did you develop the process you’ll guide people through in “Borrowed Forms”?

Liz Blood: I think I learned the term “hermit crab essay” in college. “Borrowed forms” is used by a friend who teaches creative writing at Missouri State, and it sounds a little more accessible. What is definitely true is that I didn't make this up on my own. But in short, a hermit crab essay takes up the shell of another form (just like the animal does)—like a horoscope or a bank statement or a detention slip. Only in the hermit crab essay, the form is co-opted to make a story, so the horoscope might tell of a doomed relationship, the bank statement might explore privilege or poverty, or the detention slip a remembrance of unfair punishment.

Atkin: Can you give an example of the sort of story that might be generated from a form like this?

Blood: Sure. Leanne Shapton's “Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris...” is written like an auction catalogue and, through the items it's “selling,” evinces the demise of a years-long relationship. In Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola's creative nonfiction craft book, “Tell It Slant,” hermit crab essays use existing forms as an outer covering to protect their “soft, vulnerable underbelly.” So the idea is that the form is a shell for a much more personal, meaningful experience.

Atkin:  For a lot of people, things like bank statements and prescriptions are fraught with worries, hopes, fears—the kinds of big feelings that can be hard to explore with specificity and realism. In what ways do you find that this process has helped your own writing?

Blood: When I was young, I was supposed to get braces. The orthodontist told me and my parents that if I didn’t get them my overbite would get worse as I aged and I would basically look awful. As a kid, I imagined being 30 and looking like an old hag. Scary to a pre-teen girl, at least in this culture! Well, I didn't get braces and here we are. And while I’ve grown into liking my teeth, I still find talking about them personal and difficult. So I started going through old orthodontic reports, forms, letters, and recommendations as a way to explore cultural standards of beauty. They're so clinical, so it feels less hard to start there. I’d say to your point about specificity that one of the best ways to explore big feelings is through creative writing. So now I’m writing about the history of my teeth and how I feel about them in the only way I’ve figured out how—through a borrowed form.

Seven Minutes in Heaven
Fri., April 12; 5 p.m. | Mainline, 111 N. Main St.
This reading series of short fiction and nonfiction is a crowd favorite. Readers will dazzle you in seven minutes or less. Each will present a complete story in seven minutes; no excerpts, no poems, no songs—just four fantastic stories. Readers will include heavy-hitters Rilla Askew, Sterlin Harjo, Juliana Goodman, Christa Romanosky, and one wild card—it could be you! If you’d like a chance to read, bring your seven-minute-or-less story to the event and drop your name in a hat for the wild card spot.

Rilla Askew’s advice for emerging writers

“Get up earlier. That’s the only thing that works for me. That’s the only way I can do it. I have to find a way to do that work before I get into the world. Go to the words—leave the dream state and go to the imagining state before the world comes in. And don’t look at the phone. As you go by where the phone’s plugged in on your way to the coffee pot, just leave it there.”

Rilla Askew is the author of six books of fiction and non-fiction, including the American Book Award-winning “Fire in Beulah,” a novel about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.

An Evening with Stacey Abrams
Fri., April 12; 7:30 p.m. | Booker T. Washington High School Field House, 1514 E. Zion St.
Stacey Abrams is an author, serial entrepreneur, nonprofit CEO, and political leader. After 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, seven as Minority Leader, Abrams became the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, where she won more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history. She has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels; and she is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Abrams is the 2012 recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award and the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States.

Saturday Morning Storytime
Sat., April 13; 10:30 a.m. | Magic City Books (Algonquin Room), 221 E. Archer St.
Bring the kiddos for stories, snacks, and more. Stories presented in English and Spanish.

The editors are in

Demystifying the publication process with Sarah Beth Childers

Sarah Beth Childers, author of the 2013 memoir “Shake Terribly the Earth: Stories from an Appalachian Family,” will lead a panel discussion to help emerging writers find the right venue for their work. The nonfiction editor of Cimarron Review, she’ll be joined by fellow editors from Nimrod International Journal and Mojo & Mikrokosmos to share tips and answer questions about placing your work in literary magazines.

TTV: What are some immediate ways to tell if a journal is a “good fit”?

Childers: I think getting an idea of what you’re trying to do in a particular piece and looking at the journal—even visually, if it looks like your piece or not. A lot of journals have different styles in terms of the way they lay out paragraphs, and some journals are open to hyperlinks and different kinds of experimentation. … Just visually looking at the pieces even without reading can sometimes be helpful. And I think it’s always good to look for journals that are publishing established writers alongside emerging writers.

TTV: And why is it important to find that fit?

Childers: Especially if you’re wanting to publish a book, it’s helpful to be thinking ahead. Because when you’re pitching and you want to publish [a book] on an indie press or a university press that publishes literary work, then publishing in journals they would recognize helps. I think also finding journals that really fit the vibe of your work can help people understand the kind of writer you are.

TTV: What’s the biggest submission mistake frequently made by emerging writers?

Childers: Publishing in really small online journals—maybe sometimes because their friend works there—or journals that end up shutting down in a year. I actually published in a journal that ended up going defunct, and it’s always frustrating when that happens. … journals that are too small, or too new, or aren’t also publishing writers that are established.

The World of LitMags: Finding a Good Home for Your Work with Sarah Beth Childers
Sat., April 12; 10 a.m. | Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.

Small Press Book Fair
Sat., April 13; 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. | Greenwood Cultural Center (Goodwin/Chapelle Gallery), 322 N. Greenwood Ave.
The LitFest Small Press Book Fair is an opportunity to celebrate print with small, regional presses, independent publishers, artists, designers, and the literary-inclined. Purchase books and litmag subscriptions from your favorite indie publishers and visit the zine-making table to create your own masterpiece. Presses included are Deep Vellum, The New Territory, Awst Press, and tons more. (The Tulsa Voice will also have a table at the event, so be sure to drop by and say hi!)

Children’s Lit. Publishing Panel with Chad Reynolds and Mariana Llanos
Sat., April 13; 11 a.m. | Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.
Get an insider’s view into the world of children’s literature publishing. Chad Reynolds is the co-owner and co-founder of Penny Candy Books, an independent children’s book press with a mission to publish children’s literature that reflects the diverse realities of the world we live in, both at home and abroad. Mariana Llanos is the award-winning author of “Tristan Wolf,” which was a finalist for the 2013 Readers’ Favorite Book Award, and a spot in the 2013 Gittle List Independent Book Awards. In 2017 she was selected as Best Artist by the Hispanic Arts Council of Oklahoma.

An Afternoon with Eileen Myles (feat. Adam Fitzgerald)
Sat., April 13; 1 p.m. | Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.
Eileen Myles is the author of more than 20 books, including “Afterglow (a dog memoir),” “Inferno (a poet’s novel),” “Chelsea Girls,” and “Cool for You.” Myles’s many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Lambda Literary Awards, the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing, as well as grants from Creative Capital (nonfiction) and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (poetry), and the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant.

Adam Fitzgerald is the author of “The Late Parade and George Washington.” New poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Granta, Boston Review, the New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. Fitzgerald is contributing editor of Literary Hub, teaches at NYU, and directs The Home School. He lives in New York.

Quraysh Ali Lansana and Clemonce Heard (feat. Andrew Belton)
Sat., April 13; 2:30 p.m. | Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.

Clemonce Heard is a New Orleans native and a resident writer with the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. He was awarded an honorable mention in the 2017 Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize, second place in the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, first place in the 2018 Connecticut Poetry Award Contest, and was named runner-up for the 2018 Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Poetry Award. His work has appeared in Obsidian, Ruminate, Four Way Review, World Literature Today, and Opossum among others, and is forthcoming in Saranac Review.

Quraysh Ali Lansana is author of eight poetry books, three textbooks, three children’s books, editor of eight anthologies, and coauthor of a book of pedagogy. He teaches humanities at Holland Hall School, and is a former faculty member of both the Writing Program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Drama Division of The Juilliard School. Lansana served as director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University from 2002-2011. Lansana’s work appears in Best American Poetry 2019, and he was recently named a Tulsa Artist Fellow.

tulsa blur: 1921 to 2012

By Quraysh Ali Lansana

red dust simmering below skin of earth
is how bullet transcends muscle, history
a howling fire gasolined to ravenous mouth
like language, like hate. irritable june heat
in march a trigger, fuse drawn to surface

indecisive sky. gunpowder ageless
as blood, the northside of heaven ablaze.
africans tread atlantic on familiar limbs.
ninety-one-year old slug lurking in elevator
shaft, bell curve, the front page of a newspaper

a senator’s lips, the lynching bee, no the cries.
duped into minimum wage belief we are alive
buried in piles of our own toil, prosperity’s rubble.
ancestors compelled to council, their pull stronger
than our illusion, theirs the largest mob.

Copyright Quraysh Ali Lansana. This poem originally appeared in the January-February 2015 issue of Oklahoma Today Magazine.

Reading with Youth in CPW Writers in the Schools
Sat., April 13; 4 p.m. | Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.
Teaching Artist Clemonce Heard will lead this showcase of poetry and spoken word with K-12 students. In partnership with ahha Tulsa and the Mervin Bovaird Foundation, the Center for Poets and Writers at OSU-Tulsa launched its Writers in the Schools program this year, and to date, students at Eugene Field, Kendall Whittier, KIPP Tulsa, Jenks East, Jenks Alternative Academy, and Drexel Academy have all been mentored by writers with extensive teaching and publishing experience.

Poetry slam: Beast Mode
Sat., April 13; 8 p.m. | Living Arts of Tulsa, 307 E. Mathew B. Brady St.
Poetry comes to life through this high-energy spoken word event at Living Arts of Tulsa.

An Afternoon with Peter Carey
Sun., April 14; 1 p.m. | Central Library, 400 Civic Center
Peter Carey is the author of 13 novels and is a two-time winner of the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he has lived in New York City for more than 25 years.

Tulsa Reads: T-Town Poets and Writers
Sun., April 14; 3 p.m. | Duet, 108 N. Detroit Ave.
Close out LitFest 2019 with a celebration of all things local. Led by Eilis O’Neal of Nimrod and Jezy J. Gray of The Tulsa Voice. Readers will include Tony Brinkley, Cynthia Gustavson, Deborah J. Hunter, Markham Johnson, Katy Mullins, Chris Murphy, and selected winners/finalists from the 2019 Tulsa Voice and Nimrod Flash Fiction contest.