Meet the Neighbors: Contributing Editor Ann Bracken Interviews Morna McDermott McNulty

Ann Bracken is a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review. Her friend and Towson University education professor, Morna McDermott McNulty, has just published a speculative fiction novel called Blood’s Will that explores the ideas of love and choice in unique and challenging ways. Bracken sat down with McNulty to explore her ideas and find out a little more about the intersection of her work with teaching, writing, and vampires.

Ann Bracken (AB): I think many of LPR’s readers are familiar with science fiction and with vampire stories, but speculative fiction may be a new genre for them. How would you describe speculative fiction and what distinguishes it from mainstream fiction?

Morna McDermott McNulty (MMM): Speculative fiction (SF) is part dystopian novel, part science fiction, and part utopian narrative. It usually tackles socio-political issues of the human condition. SF is a site for possible reimagining of a world in which the identities of people of color have been written by centuries of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege. I think about Octavia Butler’s book Fledgling, or The Gilda Stories by Jewel Gomez, both feminist tales in the speculative fiction genre, about vampires and women of color.

The vampire is the figure of choice in decolonization politics in that it exists between worlds as a specter that threatens the solidity of borders and the reality of a dominant imaginary.  SF can write into existence possibilities for humanness and otherness that extend outside of traditional binary boundaries. As a white middle class female with all the privileges that come with that, I am deeply interested in how we can challenge systems of inequity and injustice, and I think speculative fiction becomes a powerful tool in that arsenal. I wanted to use my own fictional writing skills to explore those issues. And I like to bring that tool kit into my own creative and professional worlds. Writing Blood’s Will, for me, was a bit of both.

AB: What makes this novel a good fit for your work as a teacher and a writer? Why did you choose the vampire framework for the story?

MMM: I love vampires. It’s hard to pinpoint why really. But part of it is in their inherent qualities—different from aliens, ghosts, zombies, or other creatures. My first academic work published about vampires was in 1999, co-written with a former boyfriend and colleague. We explored the themes in the film The Addiction, about a woman in a doctoral program at NYU. It was all very personal to me. Some part of that time in my life also bleeds through in Blood’s Will. I love the “liminality” of vampires— how they move between worlds and identities. They are so multifaceted. Like fiction is to the limitations of what we can write about our world, vampires embody the fascination of humans with what lies beyond our own “limitations”—beyond death. As undeath extends our lived possibilities, fiction extends our conceptions of what is possible in a world that feels so boxed-in by the limitations imposed on us by societal expectations, by language, and, for so many, by oppressive conditions. As I mentioned earlier, speculative fiction is a site for possible reimagining of a world in which the identities (in particular, people of color) have been written by centuries of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege.

AB: How was the idea for Blood’s Will born?

MMM: The answer to this also goes to the next question you asked which was “what are the essential questions” that drive the story. The idea for the book was born in part by my desire to wrestle with those questions (See next response).

But the timing of the writing of the book is distinct. The Twilight series was exploding onto the book and move scenes. As a vampire fan, I was compelled to read the books and see the movies. But I was struck by something that annoyed me. All the characters in that story (and true of similar narratives like The Vampire Diaries, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire) are wealthy, young, and beautiful. As far as I’m concerned, such characters are already immortal. Or at least perceive themselves to be. The choice “Should I, or shouldn’t I become a vampire?” seems a no-brainer for such characters. What exactly are they giving up?

But what if you were me. A middle-aged, middle-class mother of two, imbued with all the privileges and trapping of that identity. Would you burn that life to the ground for immortal love? In my world, the answer isn’t nearly so neat and simple. And the sacrifices to attain immortality are far more significant. But ironically the choice of immortality also opens up so many more possibilities. And so, the idea that such a possibility could loom (the beauty of speculative fiction) compelled me, and hopefully my reader, to look in the mirror, pun intended, and ask themselves that same question: What would you choose? And what would you sacrifice? These, in my opinion, are fundamentally questions that women confront every day. So the story casts a feminist lens as well. Also, I thought, oh what the hell…if Stephanie Meyer who was a stay-at-home mom potty-training her kids while she wrote Twilight can do it, so can I.

AB: Outside of the academic world, many people may be unfamiliar with the curriculum area called currere. How would you explain the concept?

MMM: Currere is a Latin word meaning “the running of the race,” and it was coined in educational circles by two notable scholars, William Pinar and Madeleine Grumet, back in the mid-seventies. At the time, and since then really, schooling has been driven by very technical qualities-what we can measure, predict, and control. Pinar, Grumet, and since then a whole international movement of curriculum theorists called “re-conceptualists,” argue that the idea of curriculum, typically thought of as that “stuff” we teach in schools, needs to be expanded to examine the entire life of the person. Curriculum might better be considered everything that happens from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. And that who we are—our memories, our dreams, our fears, our psyche—are all also a part of what we bring to the learning experience called school.

Now extend this thinking into how we make meaning of and write about our learning experiences through inquiry. Drawing from the work of other curriculum scholars, such as Noel Gough, I wanted to play with the idea that fiction also has an important part of play in this inquiry process. In the words of Jamaican novelist and philosopher Sylvia Wynter, “The future will first have to be remembered, imagined” (2007, p. 3).

Currere is memory work. Blend fiction with currere and you have ficto-currere. Ficto-currere creates an intersection between memory and fiction—both of which are “unreal” and constructed. There are four different stage when engaged in the journey of currere: Recalling the past (regressive), being free of the present (analytical), being able to reenter the present (synthetical), and gesturing towards what is not yet present (progressive). It is important to note, however, that these stages are not considered linear or progressive. And if currere is a re-conceptualizing of our lives, just imagine what that could look like for a creature that never has to face death? For a creature whose intrinsic identity is unfixed? (See next Q and A for a continuation of this idea.)

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Free Poetry Contest with Enoch Pratt Free Library — Deadline March 1

Little Patuxent Review reminds all its readers and contributors that we are sponsoring a free poetry contest for Maryland residents with the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The winning poem will be published in Little Patuxent Review, honored at a reading at the Library, and celebrated at Baltimore’s CityLit Festival. Runners-up may also be considered for publication.

The deadline is March 1, 2019.

More information is available on the Pratt Library website and by clicking the image in this post.

Winter 2019 Issue Launched!

lpr_winter2019-front

The Winter 2019 Issue is now available for purchase!

The winter 2019 issue launch on January 20 in Columbia, Maryland, featured readings of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and a presentation of the Michael J. Clark Best of LPR Poetry Award to Alan King for his poem, “The Journey,” published in the Winter 2018 issue. Anthony Moll served as guest editor for this issue, for which half the space is dedicated to LGBTQ+ writers from Maryland.

Thank you to our readers! The complete program is available at this link.

Xinyu Winniebell Zong, poetry
Tyler Mendelsohn, nonfiction
Stephanie Dering, poetry
Adam Gianforcaro, poetry
Susan Hobby, HoCoPoLitSo
Grace Kiyonaga, poetry
Bailey Blumenstock, poetry
Jane Hegstrom, nonfiction
Nicole Hylton, poetry
Tyler Vile, poetry
Sheila Black, poetry
Rebecca Moon Ruark, fiction
Linette Marie Allen, poetry
Marlena Chertock, poetry
Chelsea Lemon Fetzer, poetry
Mateo Lara, nonfiction
Cindy Watkins, poetry
Alexis Smithers (Lex Lee), poetry

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.