Lucy Bucknell is the founding director of Writing Outside the Fence, a writing program for returning citizens in Baltimore. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review; The Baltimore Review; The Chattahoochee Review; Cream City Review; Fiction; The Laurel Review; Natural Bridge; Pleiades; Southern Humanities Review; War, Literature & the Arts; Willow Review; and elsewhere. After teaching for several years in both The Writing Seminars and the Film and Media Studies program at Johns Hopkins University, she became full-time faculty in FMS in 2007. She is also Principal Investigator for the Baltimore Youth Film Arts Program.
We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.
Q: What is Writing Outside the Fence and how did it get started?
Writing Outside the Fence is a free, volunteer-staffed, community writing workshop. It meets weekly at the Northwest Career Center in Baltimore. It was originally intended specifically for returning citizens. I taught a workshop at the Anne Arundel Detention Center, and one of the participants—a Baltimore City resident—was due to be released. I tried to find him a free or affordable writing program and there was none. The then-director of the Career Center, Felix Mata, suggested I start one, so I dragooned a couple of friends to teach the first few sessions. Within weeks writers of all stripes were asking to join, so the group opened to anyone from the community, regardless of background. Instructors have continued to volunteer and we’ve kept on. The center director is now Gerald Grimes, and he’s also been very welcoming. In twelve years, we’ve paid no rent, no salaries, and no tuition; and we’ve missed meetings only for water main breaks and snowstorms.
Q: In an email I received inviting me to lead a workshop, you wrote that past instructors have included poets, journalists, playwrights, screenwriters, and writers of fiction and creative nonfiction: “No two have run their workshops quite the same way; all have found it rewarding.” How have you found it rewarding?
Writers over the years have been so generous with their art. There is always something new to hear, something surprising, something moving, something human. Attendance goes up and down; writers come and go. We also have writers who’ve been coming for a decade. But whenever I teach or attend a reading, I always feel I’m on fresh ground. It’s an expansive group, a tolerant group. They make room for one another and for the instructors, they tell the truth in beautiful ways, and it’s just a rare and rather wonderful project to be part of.
Q: What do I need to do to get involved in Writing Outside the Fence, either as a teacher or a writer?
To join as a writer, you would simply walk in the door. If you forget your pencil, we’ll lend you one. Anyone interested in teaching can contact me at email@example.com. Instructors tend to be published, working writers, and many, though not all, have teaching experience.
Jen Michalski is the author of the novels The Summer She Was Under Water and The Tide King (both Black Lawrence Press), a couplet of novellas called Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books), and two collections of fiction (From Here and Close Encounters). Her work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including Poets & Writers. In 2013, she was named as “One of 50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and “Best Writer” by Baltimore Magazine. She is the host of a fiction reading series in Baltimore called Starts Here! and editor in chief of the literary online weekly jmww. We’re grateful she’s taken the time to answer some questions.
Q: You come with high praise in that a contact suggested that I interview you as a “great Maryland writer whose work engages sexual identity.” What are some ways in which you’ve done that?
Thank you! I’m very flattered to hear that. I don’t think of myself as someone whose work engages sexual identity specifically, but as a lesbian I’m sure it influences my writing to some degree. Mostly, I’m not afraid to write about things that interest me, whether it’s incest, sexual abuse, May-December same-sex romances, murder, or transgender characters. I’ve always been interested in the “other” and unconventional narrators, i.e., people on the margins without much representation in literature, and placing myself in their shoes. I think my interest has a lot to do with not really seeing myself reflected in the books I read growing up, and it’s made me think even more, as an adult writer, about those voices that have been left out in addition to my own.
That said, it’s a great time to be a writer now, because not only is there so much diversity on the shelves, but also readers are actively seeking out other perspectives, whether they’re sexual, racial, or political. Years ago, I remember being a little worried about publishing a collection of novellas that included sexual abuse and a May-December same-sex romance (Could You Be With Her Now) for how people would perceive me or my work. I don’t think I would have the same concerns today. And I think it’s wonderful that writers are being allowed to not only push past the boundaries, but that they’re being encouraged to as well.
Q: How do you stay connected with the literary scene in Maryland and Baltimore? How can I get more involved?
I’m glad you asked! I’ve been involved in the scene for many years, and beyond reading, reading, and reading, I think making connections in the community is the most important thing for any writer to do. I’ve always been a little introverted or, at least, I need a lot of time to recharge after social events, but I’ve been editor in chief of the literary weekly jmww since the early 2000s and spent more than ten years hosting reading series (The 510 Readings and Starts Here!), so I’m living proof that you don’t have to be some high-octane, gregarious, outgoing person to get involved in the literary ecosphere.
Where to begin? If you want to get an overview of the community, I would start by attending The CityLit Festival, which is held every April at the University of Baltimore. The festival attracts fantastic regional and national authors for readings, panels, and talks, and there’s a marketplace where you can pick up all sorts of information about writing programs (including the University of Baltimore), literary journals, and writing organizations in the area. A similar offering would be The Maryland Writers Association’s annual conference: there are plenty of panels and lectures on craft and specific genres (like mystery writing or children’s books), and there’s usually an agent or two there.
If you want to jump in, get on the ground and meet and hear writers, there are several excellent reading series in the city: monthly series like Writers & Words in Remington and Hey You, Come Back! In Station North, almost-weekly readings from Writers LIVE at Enoch Pratt Library’s central branch, and the Ivy Bookshop hosts writers practically every night at their Falls Road location. Readings are places in which I’ve made the most meaningful bonds with other writers, and other opportunities can arise as part of those connections, whether you secure an invitation to read at said series, find people with whom you can start a writing group, or maybe you discover a local press that’s publishing work to which you really relate and you buy a book from them or you volunteer to be part of their staff or maybe they dig your work so much they publish you.
Putting yourself out there can be hard, no doubt, but even if the thought of going out to talk to other people makes you break out in hives, there are so many great literary journals operating in the area, such as the Baltimore Review, the Loch Raven Review, the Delmarva Review, and, of course, the Little Patuxent Review, for whom you can volunteer to read submissions or review books or interview authors, all online. At jmww, we’re continually looking for interns and volunteers to fill these roles, and they’re great opportunities to gather some publishing credits and build your resume all within the comfort of your home or coffee shop.
Readers have recently alerted us to the fact that our email (firstname.lastname@example.org) appears to have been hacked on November 20. If you received any strange emails from us, do not open them or any attachments. We did not send those emails. We apologize for the situation and are working to resolve it.
The offending email looks like the following below:
Please find the attached doc! Contact me if you have any further questions.
This guest post comes from Zach Powers, the communications manager for The Writer’s Center (4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815).
When I came to The Writer’s Center in February 2018, I didn’t know much more about it than the fact that it was a literary arts nonprofit. I was new to the Washington, D.C., area, still trying to find my place in the local literary community. Sure, I’d perused The Writer’s Center website and read the latest issue of The Writer’s Guide, the triannual magazine the Center has published for decades. I knew that the Center was over forty years old—a true Gen Xer—and has been housed at its current location in Bethesda since the early 1990s. I knew the Center has been publishing Poet Lore, America’s oldest poetry journal, for the last three decades of the journal’s existence. And I was told, right from the start, that a renovation was in the works for the upstairs of the building (the lower level had been renovated in 2014).
Within months of taking my job as Communications Manager at The Writer’s Center, the long-anticipated renovation began. My colleagues relocated their offices into the lower level writing classrooms (I was lucky enough that my office was already downstairs). Our coterie of faithful interns took up positions in the writing carrels in the main room. We snaked cables all over for power and internet. The construction crew sealed off the stairwell with plastic sheeting, and the first rumbles of demolition began right away.
Even though my first months on the job were disrupted by sawing and hammering and bangs so loud I can only guess they were caused by small explosive devices, I learned something important about The Writer’s Center. The building, as shiny and new and amazing as it now is (more on that later), merely houses the spirit of The Writer’s Center family. For over forty years, the Center has empowered writers and those who want to write, and that mission is far larger than the 12,000 square feet that make up our facility. No building is big enough to contain all the stories lived and written by the people who make up our community.
I had spent a year trying to find a literary community when I moved here, and I did meet a few writers, but since joining The Writer’s Center I’ve found so many friends and collaborators, from acclaimed published authors to new writers jut now taking the first steps toward creating literature. These are fiction writers, poets, journalists, memoirists, and people finding purpose and inspiration in the written word. These are my people.
At The Writer’s Center, I consider it my job to grow this community, to welcome to our family every single person in the Washington, D.C., area who wants to join us, especially those who may not yet know that we’re here for them. Our newly renovated building will certainly help.
Janae is a poet living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a Hedgebrook and Vermont Studio Center alumni and proud Cave Canem Fellow. Her poetry and prose have been published in the American Poetry Review, Bitch magazine, Sixth Finch, Plume, the Nashville Review, and Waxwing, among others. She is the author of After Jubilee, published by Boaat Press. Visit her website: www.brionnejanae.com.
The world is an ugly place. I have spent the majority of my adulthood learning and unlearning this lesson as I, like many of us, have struggled against the urge to succumb to the bitterness that daily threatens to pull us under, like quicksand thickening at the ankles. During one of my most memorable lessons I was teaching several community poetry workshops in Boston. It was the day after the 2016 election, and I entered my evening workshop to find that my students were as hurt and heartbroken as I was. Where the results of the election, and that 53%, had rendered me wordless, they in turn were ready to write poems that grieved, poems that screamed and set fire, poems that would curse the then-president-elect into the ground, where he belongs.
There is a long illustrious lineage of this poetry which works to document what is ugly in our world. Poems that rage against and weep for the individual and systemic violences and erasures endemic to the lives of people who exist at the margins. The cannon of resistance or protest poetry is as long and varied as it is gorgeous and important. And in times like our current political moment, when the world is not more hideous, but simply more visibly, unavoidably awful it can appear as if every poem and poet worth reading is writing as an act of resistance.
Of course this issue of what is visibly awful must be addressed. For Black people who have continuously been shot dead in our homes, churches, and streets, by agents of the state and homegrown terrorists alike, for Black and Brown people who have been locked up like animals, for Brown people who have been harassed and harangued and thrown into cages for breathing on the wrong side of some white man’s border, for indigenous people who are still fighting to protect the sanctity of their sacred spaces, the visibility of all that is ugly in the world has never been anything worth questioning, and it is only whiteness in all its innocence that is just being made aware of the nightmare.
That the world has been obviously horrid for some and only newly horrid for others is reflected in our art. White poets have had the privilege to write about nature, about joy, love, lust, and transcendence while others of us have been subsumed by the literature of struggle, violation, and overcoming. And while I do believe the move to invite the poetry of resistance into our cannon is monumentally important, as it marks an important shift away from the racist gate-keeping of those who would wish to keep the cannon old, pale, male, and pasty, I worry at times that it is presented as marginalized writers’ only option for poetry, that the only way for Black or Brown or queer writers to be read and read widely is for them to centralize and elevate their pain over all else in their writing.
I’ve heard poets say they feel pressure to write poems about police brutality or lynchings because that’s what’s expected from them. I too, have felt at times this nagging sense of guilt for not writing poems to elegize the latest victims of white supremacy though I have read their stories, marched in the streets in protest, and grieved for them as if they were my own blood and bone. I know this feeling of guilt is not unique to me, and I refuse to let it shape the way I art. If I spend all of my time reacting to the white supremacist patriarchy when do I get the chance to write the poems I want to write? That I am called to write? And to be clear, I don’t think anyone is called to write protest or resistance poetry. Not because it is, in any way, a lesser art form, but because I simply don’t believe anyone is called to oppression. Oppression is not a calling it is a situation, and while for many of us it is not temporary it is not the only thing that makes up our lives, and so, should no be the only thing that makes up our art. Continue reading
Raima Larter is a fiction reader for the Little Patuxent Review. In this post, she shares one of her “Staff Picks” from the Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). Meg Files’s “Green River” is available for reading at this link.
Whenever I hear breaking news about yet another mass shooting, I find myself wondering about the parents of the shooter. What must it be like for them? It’s hard to imagine the pain that parents must feel when their children become victims of a shooting. It’s even harder to imagine what the parent of the shooter might feel.
Meg Files has written a story that explores something similar—not a mass shooting, but an equally horrific event. From the first sentence of the story, it is clear the protagonist, Elizabeth, is trying to escape something horrifying: “She decided to go out into the world so as to leave the world behind.”
We don’t know, and won’t know, for many paragraphs, exactly what she’s trying to escape. Hints are deftly dropped into the story as it slowly unfolds. Elizabeth is driving west from somewhere in the Midwest. When she reaches Kansas, she decides to trade in her car. She wants to ask the man at the car dealer, “Would you like to be my son?” She trades her car for a cheaper model and continues driving, reaching Denver. “Denver was a big place. A body could get lost there,” she writes. Elizabeth continues acting strangely, buying a large empty book, “Grandma’s Brag Book,” and filling it with photos cut from another book.