Celebrating Contributor Successes: Q&A with Jay Wamsted

One thing we love at Little Patuxent Review is to celebrate the success of past contributors. Our latest opportunity comes from Jay Wamsted, whose nonfiction, “Walls,” we published in our Summer 2017 issue.

The Best American Essays 2018 edition, published this month, named “Walls” as a “Notable” in its collection. Jay is a math teacher in southwest Atlanta, and the majority of his writing centers around race, racism, and the urban school. His essays and articles have been published in various journals and magazines, including Mathematics Teacher and Qualitative Inquiry. He can be found online at The Southeast Review, Under the Sun, and the TEDx YouTube channel, where you can watch his 2017 talk “Eating the Elephant: Ending Racism & the Magic of Trust.”

We’re very grateful he’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: Did you have any expectation of receiving this honor? What’s it been like for you as a writer to return to a piece after it’s been published for almost a year and a half?

A: I was stunned when I received the email. I knew, of course, that there was a lottery-ticket kind of probability I could get that news, but I had to read the email from Steven Leyva three times before I finally got it into my head what was happening. Coming back to the piece has been delightful. Alexis was an important part of two school years for me: the one where I taught her and then the subsequent one where I wrote about her. Getting to revisit her story somehow has been both sobering and encouraging.

Q: It’s my understanding that this piece went through some editing before publication. What was that process like?

A: The biggest thing is that in its original form the essay was in second person. Dominique Cahn, LPR’s nonfiction editor, rightly suspected that though effective at evoking emotion, this constant “you…you…you” was sidelining Alexis’s story in favor of the reader and writer. Dominique suggested we move it to first person, and we had this big a-ha moment: finally the piece felt like it was primarily about Alexis because the pronouns weren’t getting in her way.

The other thing I’ll note is that I have received at times some pushback about being a white writer whose only stories come from teaching black children. I completely understand this fear of a modern-day sort of colonialism, and I try to guard against it in my work as best I can. At the time of “Walls,” however, I was going through a phase where I was muting the subject of race altogether and trying to elide it with the problem of poverty. Dominique saw past that, and surprised me by asking for more about the Mays community in general and about Alexis in specific. For example, she encouraged me up to describe Alexis physically—to let my reader know she was black. I had been reluctant to do this prior, but it was such a gift to write about this young black woman with some sort of candor, to describe her the way I like to imagine a friend of hers might have described her.

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Little Patuxent Review Receives Two Honors from Best American Essays

The Best American Essays 2018 edition, which is due out in print on October 2, has given Little Patuxent Review two honors for 2017.

Our Winter 2017 “Prisons” issue received a “Notables Issues” award.

And the essay “Walls,” written by Jay Wamsted and published in our Summer 2017 issue, was named a “Notable.”


What’s Happening: Q&A with Kathleen Hornig of the Baltimore Book Festival

The 23rd annual Baltimore Book Festival returns to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on Friday, September 28 through Sunday, September 30. Produced by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, the literary arts celebration takes place along the Inner Harbor Promenade, from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily. The festival is free and open to the public. Thank you to Kathleen Hornig, the festivals director at BOPA, for joining us for the Q&A.

Q: What’s the history or origin story of the Baltimore Book Festival?

Now in its 23rd year, the festival was inspired by our former director’s visit to the charming Edinburgh Book Festival. Our festival was designed to celebrate Baltimore’s literary arts scene, including its history, authors, publishers/presses, and variety of independent booksellers.

Q: How did you come to be personally involved in the festival?

As a language & literature major (and all around book girl!), I was asked to draft a plan for how a book festival might come together in Baltimore. So I got out my notebook, started making lists, and the Baltimore Book Festival was born!

Q: Is there a theme for this year?

There isn’t an official theme but, not surprisingly, many of the authors at this year’s event speak directly to current events in terms of politics and equality. The Baltimore Book Festival is well-known as a safe space for having these important conversations, because we connect authors with readers on a very personal, dynamic level.

Q: Last year was my first festival, and it was a lot to take in at once. Do you have any tips for enjoying the festival?

Plan ahead! Go to baltimorebookfestival.org so that you can organize your itinerary. With ten literary stages (all 100 percent free and open to the public!) it’s a good idea to have a game plan so you don’t miss any of your favorite authors. You’ll also want to grab some food and drink from our local vendors, and check out the live music at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater. And make time for the shopping–with exhibitor tents lining the entire Inner Harbor, it’s a book lovers dream!

Q: Sometimes events like this make me feel anxious about my own writing (sorry for being self-absorbed!). Do you have any advice?

The Baltimore Book Festival is a great place to network and talk to other working writers about the craft. We also have workshops and panel discussions to help keep your practice fresh, and overcome obstacles such as writer’s block.

Q: Even after the festival is over, how can I continue to stay connected to Maryland writers and book-lovers?

The Baltimore Book Festival is three days of magic, but the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts can keep you connected to the literary arts scene year-round. Stay plugged into BOPA’s social media and with our program partners, who regularly host literary events: CityLit Project, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Red Emma’s, Maryland Romance Writers, Art Way Alliance, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and, of course, The Ivy Bookshop.

Opportunity for Writers to Present at Gaithersburg Book Festival

Thank you to the Gaithersburg Book Festival for sharing this message about an upcoming opportunity for writers in the area:

Join us at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 18, 2019, for a day-long, outdoor celebration of books and reading. Our festival tents are filled with eager audiences for author talks and signings, free writing workshops, and singer-songwriter performances. We are proud to have welcomed hundreds of talented authors and performers to our stages. Now in its tenth year, the festival has established itself as one of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area’s premier literary events.

The Festival Author Committee invites selected authors to participate as Featured Presenters in solo and panel discussions. Writers or their representatives interested in being a Featured Presenter at the Gaithersburg Book Festival are encouraged to submit an application for consideration. Full information about applications can be found on the GBF website.

Please note that preference is given to books released in either hardback or paperback in the year since the previous festival (May of each year). Books must be available for sale as of the day of the festival to be considered.

Applications are due by November 2nd, 2018.

Celebrating Contributor Successes: Q&A with Dorothy Chan

One thing we love at Little Patuxent Review is to celebrate the success of past contributors. Our latest opportunity comes from Dorothy Chan, whose poem, “Animal Discovers Fire, Orders Chinese Takeout with Fries,” we published in our Summer 2016 issue.

Earlier this summer, Spork Press published Dorothy’s first full-length collection, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (available for purchase at this link). Dorothy is a PhD candidate in poetry at Florida State University. She is the editor of The Southeast Review. We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: The title of your collection, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold, leads me to read with interest the poem with an almost-identical name, “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold with the Killer Legs.” But quickly I realize that across your poems, this isn’t the only attack, the only fifty-foot woman, the only centerfold, or the only killer legs. The collection is filled with images and ideas besides these that cycle in and out of the poems in new ways. Here’s just one example, an excerpt from “Jungle Love”:

Our eyes lock for the first moment,
I throw that spear—domesticate him, domesticate you.
I’ll bring that meat home. You can cook it,
Or maybe you want to rescue me from lava,
play the hero as a swarm of killer hornets or killer gorillas
or killer 50-foot women come my way,
you hold me in your arms, fly away—
off into the sunset or into outer space
and I go all vampy Plan 9 on you,
until the director yells “Cut!”

Can you share a bit about how this collection came together? On a craft level, what was it like for you to edit the poems in this collection as a unified whole—after, I imagine, you originally wrote and edited many of the poems as separate pieces?

Thanks for your insightful reading of my poems, Andrew. This collection comes from my childhood. I’m really big on nostalgia. I grew up in the nineties, which was a very interesting decade. I remember Baywatch. I remember Pamela Anderson being everywhere. I remember having a crush on Tara Reid in American Pie—on a side note, her character Vicky goes to Cornell, which is where I ended up going for undergrad—I’m not 100% sure why that’s important, but it feeds into my nostalgia. I remember Hugh Hefner having eight girlfriends. I remember waiting for a table at Denny’s and begging my mom for fifty cents just so I could get the Playboy logo sticker—remember those sticker machines? Of course, my mom said no, and of course I didn’t know what the logo meant at the time. I just thought it was cute. And then I remember sitting at a Volvo dealership, glancing at the TV and seeing this preview of the Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold: the centerfold character takes up a whole pool, and she’s talking to a man who looks so little in comparison. I thought it was fascinating.

I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is no place for an Asian girl like me. I had to create my own worlds. But then on certain weekends my parents and I would drive to Chinatown (either in Philadelphia or NYC) to go grocery shopping. They’d always buy me a big Hello Kitty plush, as well. The images and scenes of my nostalgia are extremely varied. I do miss those Chinatown trips.

On a craft level, this collection comes from separate projects that eventually became one. “Section II. My Chinatown (我 的 中國 城),” a quadruple crown of sonnets, came from a larger manuscript of sonnet crowns. “Section III. Centerfolds, Histories, and Fantasies” came from a larger manuscript of persona poems in the voices of centerfolds. When I was in college, I was asked to pose for a silly calendar. I never did, so I always wonder what would’ve happened if I had. And then “Section I. Snake Daughter” came because I had to fill in the gaps. I think this is why the triptych works so well. Sure, I did individual poem edits, but the triptych structure made me think about the narrative as a whole. I had to inform my own exploration, whether it was an exploration of my family history or my sexuality (or even a combination of both, for instance, “My Father is the Son of a Concubine”).

Q: Diving a bit deeper, can you bring us into the process of writing “Jungle Love”? I do wonder what came first to your imagination—the “domestic” layer, so to speak, or the film layer—and how the creative gears turned in your mind.

Great question. I’m against domesticity, so of course I had to throw in, “domesticate him, domesticate you.” The film layer actually came first. Ed Wood is such a great film. I kept thinking back to the scenes when Johnny Depp’s Wood is filming Plan 9 from Outer Space. Or that scene when he first meets “Vampira.” I thought a lot about Vampira. I thought about Elvira. I thought about the 60 Foot Centerfold movie. I thought about all these B-movies, and then the gears started turning.

I can be really kitschy as well. I’ve spent hours looking at Halloween costumes on Trashy Lingerie’s website, and I think my love of those costumes mixed with my love of film is where “Jungle Love” came about. I used to wear the most ridiculous things. I remember this Leg Avenue cab driver costume I wore one Halloween during college. And this schoolgirl costume. And all those crop tops with anime characters and Care Bears on them. All these kitschy, sexy costumes represent fantasy. I used to have so much fun with that fashion ridiculousness, and the poetic page allows me to revisit those ideas. I also tend to riff on lines, so I must have heard a variation of “Feel me up, you tiger,” somewhere.

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Summer 2018 Issue Launch on Sunday, June 3 in Columbia

Little Patuxent Review is launching its Summer 2018 issue on Sunday, June 3rd from 2:00-4:00 p.m., at Oliver’s Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia, MD.

This issue is stunning mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art. The launch event reading will include many of the writers published in the issue and a chance to mingle and meet them, as well as the editors and staff of LPR, at the reception afterwards.

Our readers will include:

Poetry: Faye McCray, Natalie Illum, Tracy Dimond, Derrick Weston Brown, Gary Stein, Wallace Lane, Paulette Beete, Rachel E. Hicks
Fiction: Ava Robinson, JoAnna Wool, Elly Revilla-Kugler
Creative Nonfiction: Caroline Bock, Gayla Mills

Two from LPR Visit Paul Rucker’s Exhibit in Richmond

Photo of Paul Rucker

Paul Rucker

In our Winter 2018 issue, LPR featured the art of Paul Rucker. Contributing editor Ann Bracken conducted an interview with Rucker, whose work was also featured in our issue launch.

On May 5, Ann and our publisher, Desirée Magney, traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond to see his exhibit. Below are their comments about the installation.

Desirée Magney: On display, in the back section of a large room on the first floor, was a line-up of Rucker’s mannequins dressed in long, colorful robes cinched at the waist. Pointed hoods stood erect from shoulders to well beyond the tops of the heads. Other than the colors, the mannequins’ clothing resembled the garb of the KKK. I had seen photos of Rucker’s figures in our Winter 2018 Little Patuxent Review journal, so I knew what to expect. But I couldn’t have anticipated the impact the actual exhibit had on me.

The figures were very tall and arranged in a crisscross pattern. So, no matter where you stood, you felt surrounded, intimidated, and overwhelmed by them as they towered over you. The eyeholes in the hoods were vacant, contributing to the eeriness the exhibit created. I imagine these were all feelings intended by Rucker—feelings felt in a much greater degree by those who have encountered actual Klan members. Thus, it was a very effective exhibit.

Rucker also had display cases of old Ku Klux Klan newspapers, postcards, flyers, brochures, and pamphlets. There were postcards of actual lynchings. There were photos of people posing with wide smiles on their faces, in front of bodies dangling from thick tree branches.

I queried Ann how Rucker obtained this memorabilia. “He bids on Ebay. He always wonders who he’s bidding against.” Rucker wonders if the opposing bidder is a believer in the doctrines of white supremacy groups or someone like him who wants to make us all aware of this horrifying history and the continued presence of these groups today.

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