Feeling Froggy

Ecotone-23-Cover-Online-768x1129.jpg

I love the cover of the newest issue of Ecotone. My essay, Metamorph, which appears insidechronicles the life and times of the African clawed frog, from the one my father purchased for his aquarium, to the species’ part in the development of modern pregnancy tests, to my sister’s research on the frog’s role in the global chitryd pandemic. You can read a bit of it here, though you’ll have to buy the journal for access to the whole essay.

 

Advertisements

Twinless in Twinsburg

 

20170608-twins

Last August I went to the Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. My twin sister Maya opted not to come. I wrote an essay about being an identical twin and the surreal Double Take parade with the theme “Twinfinity and Beyond.”

I’m not sure what to expect or even why I’ve decided to come. The website tells me the three-day fete is patriotic and sweet, a massive show-and-tell where the attendees are also the main attraction. Last year, 2,053 sets of twins, triplets, and quads journeyed here from as far away as South Korea and Australia. The revelry includes competitive cornhole, look-alike and un-lookalike contests, talent shows, and a research plaza where scientists collect data from volunteers. My surface excuse for flying out is that I’m a writer, trying my hand at journalism, but even a rookie like me knows the event is far too personal for objectivity. I’ve known about the fest for as long as I can remember, and for most of those years I wouldn’t even consider attending. Lying on stacked bunks in our childhood bedroom well before our age reached double digits, my sister and I put Twins Days somewhere on the continuum between obnoxious and offensive, a gathering of voyeurs looking to celebrate sameness, the facet of our identity that frustrated us most. The best parts of twinhood we knew to be exclusive, shaped by our two unique personalities, shareable only with each other. For us, the festival held no appeal.

More recently, though, I’ve been writing fiction about twins — first short stories, then a novel — and I’ve begun to wonder about experiences far different from my own: why some twins dress alike into adulthood, why some choose to live together while others insist on living far apart. In his article “Same But Different,” the science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee observes: “It is easy to think of twins as comedies of nature. The rhyming names, the matching sailor suits, the tomfoolery of mistaken identities, the two-places-at-the-same-time movie plot — genetics for gags. But twins often experience parts of their lives as tragedies of nature.”

You can read the whole essay at Longreads.

And here are some photos I took at the festival:

Write NOWW!

We’ve launched our website for the New Orleans Writers Workshop (NOWW) and registration is open for spring classes, which start after Mardi Gras. I’ll be teaching a 9-week personal essays class that begins on March 14. We’ll also be offering poetry (with Cassie Pruyn), fiction classes (with Tom Andes, Allison Alsup, and David Armaund), and reading like a writer with Brooke Ethridge. Join us!

 

FoundersHP1-1.jpg

Here’s a little bit about us.

The New Orleans Writers Workshop offers a full schedule of multi-level, nine-week creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as other craft-based classes. We also host weekend practicums on topics such as scene writing, book reviewing, compassion, publishing and more.

Why should you be interested? Because all of our courses have the same goals: to strengthen your writing through supportive feedback and connect you with other writers. Former students have gone on to publish work in nationally ranked magazines and to attend top-notch MFA programs with full funding.

Our affordable classes take place in multiple locations: Uptown, Downtown, Mid-City, and on the North Shore. See our Workshops page for the most up-to-date schedule.

If you’re seeking one-on-one consultations, we offer manuscript critiques and editorial services.

Finally, our partnership with the Dogfish reading series enables you to meet local and traveling writers and share your work.

New Orleans Writing Workshop

Dear Writers

We’re thrilled to share our good news: After several wonderful years of collaborating with Loyola University, we’re striking out on our own to create a new organization, the New Orleans Writers Workshop.

Beginning this March, we’ll offer a full schedule of multi-level, nine-week creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. In addition, we’ll host weekend practicums on book reviewing, music writing, compassion, publishing and more.

We’ll continue to offer affordable, community-based classes at all levels. To accommodate the different schedules and needs of our students, workshops will take place in multiple locations: Uptown, Downtown, and Mid-city.

We also plan to introduce new programming, including manuscript consultations and editorial services, as well as a book club and the occasional gathering. Our close partnership with the Dogfish Reading Series will continue, and it’s our hope to organize a reading for our students twice a year.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to reach out. After all, you—the students—make these classes what they are. Your enthusiasm and dedication to writing is what spurred us to start the New Orleans Writers Workshop.

Check out our website and our spring course schedule.

We’re looking forward to writing with you.

Jessica Kinnison

Allison Alsup

Tom Andes

Anya Groner

Support young writers!

url.jpg

Each spring, more than 150 young New Orleans writers in grades 9 – 12 gather on a Saturday to meet authors, take workshops, and celebrate the writing life. For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at LitFest, and the conference means so much to the students who attend. Seriously, they wait all year for LitFest, and they wear their LitFest T-shirts proudly for years afterwards.

2017 marks the 10th annual LitFest, a day-long event with screenwriting, poetry, fiction, comic art, creative non-fiction and story game workshops, spoken word performances, a youth open mic, and a guest keynote writer (TBA). Previous keynote speakers include Ricky Laurentis, Richard Siken, Deb Olin Unferth, and Lorrie Moore.

 

Though LitFest is a favorite event for young writers, funds are drying up! Please help me raise money to keep LitFest going for an additional ten years.

“LitFest is a great way to explore — with other quirky, imaginative students — different types of writing, like screenwriting and food writing. The minute I stepped out of LitFest last year, I wanted to sign up again!” said high school junior Ryanne Autin.

Another high school student, Clara Souvignier reflected, “There’s never a dull moment at LitFest, and what I gain from all of the lessons and workshops is really priceless. The community that comes together at LitFest is so unique, and you know when you get there that you’ll be making friends.”

The participating artists — including fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, a screenwriter, a documentary filmmaker, a dancer, and a spoken word artist — take the students seriously as writers and people. They treat the students like the aspiring professional artists that they are.

Coordinated by Lusher faculty member Brad Richard and NOCCA faculty member Lara Naughton, LitFest is a fairly inexpensive event to put on. The money we fundraise will be used to pay guest artists and workshop leaders. If we raise enough money before January 1,  we’ll be able to provide lunches for students and offer an additional afternoon workshop. Any additional funds we raise will be used to support future LitFests.

Thank you for supporting New Orleans’ promising young writers!! They are so talented and eager to learn.

Please spread this to friends, book groups, relatives, libraries, and anyone else who cares about teens and writing!

Writing the Personal Essay–9 week course

I’ll be teaching a 9-week course through the Loyola Writing Institute. The course is open to the public and limited to 12 students. The class will meet for two hours every Thursday, beginning on Sept 22, 2016. Feel free to email me with questions.  You can register for the course here.

Writing the Personal Essay: In this course, students of all levels will draw on a combination of research and life experience to produce polished essays on subjects of their choosing. Students will read essays by award-winning authors such as Eula Biss, Joan Didion, Susan Orlean, Leslie Jamison, Kiese Laymon, and John Jeremiah Sullivan and, through class discussion, consider aspects of craft, structure, and content. Short, generative exercises will provide opportunities to practice specific writing techniques including dialogue, pacing, reflection, and characterization. During the last several weeks of class, students will workshop their own personal essays. The course will conclude with a discussion of revision, publishing, and developing a personal practice of writing.

Buckets and Balloons

I wrote about Public Lab and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, two New Orleans environmental groups that use simple tools–buckets and balloons–to find and monitor oil spills. The entire article is available at Guernica.

Petrochemical operations tend to cluster in poor and predominantly Black neighborhoods. Residents learn about the Bucket Brigade from individuals already engaged in monitoring activities. Typically, the Bucket Brigade gets involved when community groups ask for their assistance. Education, Rolfes says, is crucial because it “empowers individuals to take a stand.” Learning the names of pollutants, symptoms of exposure, data collection methods, and advocacy skills can be transformative. “It is so time consuming to win and the wins can sometimes be temporary,” Rolfes says, “but the advantages [of community science] to an individual . . . last forever. It’s not me swooping in and doing the work. It’s them. They aren’t intimidated anymore.”

Airplane Reading!

51lsbQMCjcL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

I’m in high-flying company in this beautiful new anthology of airplane related essays, edited by Christopher Schaberg and Mark Yakich. The line up is terrific. Here’s the full author list:

Lisa Kay Adam * Sarah Allison * Jane Armstrong * Thomas Beller * Ian Bogost * Alicia Catt * Laura Cayouette * Kim Chinquee * Lucy Corin * Douglas R. Dechow * Nicoletta-Laura Dobrescu * Tony D’Souza * Jeani Elbaum * Pia Z. Ehrhardt * Roxane Gay * Thomas Gibbs * Aaron Gilbreath * Anne Gisleson * Anya Groner * Julian Hanna * Rebecca Renee Hess * Susan Hodara * Pam Houston * Harold Jaffe * Chelsey Johnson * Nina Katchadourian * Alethea Kehas * Greg Keeler * Alison Kinney * Anna Leahy * Allyson Goldin Loomis * Jason Harrington * Kevin Haworth * Randy Malamud * Dustin Michael * Ander Monson * Timothy Morton * Peter Olson * Christiana Z. Peppard * Amanda Pleva * Arthur Plotnik * Neal Pollack * Connie Porter * Stephen Rea * Hugo Reinert * Jack Saux * Roger Sedarat * Nicole Sheets * Stewart Sinclair * Hal Sirowitz * Jess Stoner * Anca L. Szilágyi * Priscila Uppal * Matthew Vollmer * Joanna Walsh * Tarn Wilson

Books are available for purchase here!

 

A Speck in the Infinite

Inspired by the Jet Propulsion Lab’s stunning new series of space travel posters, I wrote about the changing role of space travel in storytelling for Electric Literature.

shadow.jpg

“Interplanetary life is still a far off dream, yet anxiety about Earth’s future imbues this research with new gravity. Rather than focusing on discovery, popular culture reflects an increased concern with the logistics of space travel: what psychological challenges will voyagers face during decades long missions to reach a destination; can travelers use asteroids to stock up on water and fuel; can astronauts have sex in space; can women give birth in zero gravity?

These practical questions give way to unsettling existentialism and thrilling narrative possibilities. The scale of the universe is unfathomable. What does it mean to be a speck in the infinite? Do specks have the right to colonize new planets? Will life on a new planet cause adaptations that fundamentally alter our species? To what extent would we include plants, animals, bacteria, fungus and viruses in resettling? Which humans would go and which would stay behind? What are the consequences of failure? Of success?”

Read the whole essay here!

Spring News!

I’m thrilled to have poem in the new issue of one of my favorite journals, Ecotone. This volume is themed around SOUND! The poem, titled “The Ecology of Falling Whales” is the longest I’ve ever written–a whopping 5 pages–and it’s all about visiting my sister, Maya, at  Friday Harbor Labs in Washington State, where I observed her and other biologists study aquatic life. You can buy the journal and read an excerpt here.

Ecotone-20-unboxed.jpg

**

I also wrote about sunlight for The Atlantic in honor of daylight savings. Read the whole thing here.

The frustration of lost sleep gives way to the luminous pleasure of a lengthening day. Sunlight extends past dinnertime. Dog walkers, soccer players, and children in playgrounds bask in a later twilight. Though humans organize our schedules around the clock, Daylight Savings reminds us that our lives, like our planet, revolve around the sun.

**

The lovely Anna Currey interviewed me about sisters, the environment, and writing across genre.

I don’t want to teach anything I don’t believe in. It’s important to talk about making writing entertaining, which is obvious, but doesn’t gets much air time in academic settings. Any piece of writing is competing for a reader’s attention span. It has to be more interesting than someone’s cell phone or television. Entertainment is something I talk about with my students, and something I think about in my own writing. We have to work hard for our readers.

**

41D7x+FB+GL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did with Chris Schaberg about his newest book The End of Airports. Read the whole thing at Terrain.Org.

It’s a common response that “everything changed” after 9/11. But having worked at the airport during—and through—that time, my overwhelming feeling was that things hadn’t changed at all. It’s just that people suddenly had a scapegoat for all the things they wanted to do, say, and enact around air travel. Racism especially: this became so ridiculously easy after 9/11. But it was already there, in the airport, of course. If the airport is postmodern, it is for the ways it struggles with and against Ezra Pound’s modernist mandate, “Make it new!” On the one hand, airports want you (the traveler) to feel the verve of the new. On the other hand, airports want you to feel—and to perpetuate—all the old comforts of the same, on and on and on.