Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Recent Publication: The Compost Reader, Accent Publishing
Ideal Last Meal: Heirloom tomato sandwich with homemade mayo on lightly toasted local bakery bread. And a really good cup of coffee. And a warm slice of black cherry pie with a butter crust.
What are you reading right now: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay and The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.
The elevator pitch for your book?
The title poem of The Compost Reader is based on the idea that like tea leaves, our compost could be "read" to tell us secrets hidden from ourselves. It seemed like a good metaphor for a book of poems. The publisher is Accents Publishing in Lexington, Kentucky, a press I admire. I am over the moon.
How did the NEOMFA program benefit for you?
By giving me front-seat access to visiting writer series, presses, journals, nonprofits, workshops, teaching in academic and community settings. The work I’m doing now in a community-based literary arts nonprofit draws direct benefits from the experiences that were offered to me in the NEOMFA. I expected to throw my hat into the academic market, and I mad love academia. But life took a turn and I became less geographically mobile than I predicted, for good reasons, and I decided to make my own job here.
What else (besides writing) have you been doing since graduation?
I am the Executive Director and co-founder of Lit Youngstown, a literary arts nonprofit, started in 2015. We host a monthly readers series, a book discussion, writers circle critique group, workshops and all-day events: Fall Literary Festival, a two-day conference for committed writers, and Winter Writing Camp, a one-day informal, high energy day for writers and readers of all ages. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been able to move most of our programming online, and we started a readers series for authors of new books, a penpal program for kids and a writing workshop for teens.
What’s been one of the most memorable moments with Lit Youngstown?
There are so many. One that rises to mind is the day we stamped poetry excerpts by Laura Grace Weldon and Jeanne Bryner into sidewalk squares downtown. It was a complex project. We received matching funds from the Ohio Arts Council. After half a year of research and outreach, the stamps were beautifully crafted by local signmaker Michael Staff; the City and a building owner approved; the concrete company agreed to work with us; and we had a gorgeous early summer day. The concrete pourers knew how long to wait before Michael centered and lowered the sign, and when he pulled it up, there were the poems. It was Michael who gave me the idea for the Words Made Visible project by asking why poets don't see their work as a visual art. I love that.
And also, a real highlight is the hundreds writers we’ve hosted. I have a much bigger sense of being in a literary community.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
Indivisible: an Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam. It’s an astonishing collection, with incredible breadth. Also I’ll be starting Beasts & Children, stories by Amy Parker. I was in residencies with Pireeni and Amy, so that adds to the pleasure of the reading.
Do you have any eccentric habits/strategies to get you started writing? What are they?
Coffee. Not so eccentric. I'm working on a project right now, or as Craig Paulenich would call it, a caper, so I have notes that guide me to the next poem. If I'm struggling to get started, I read poetry. Well, I would also say the time I spend conceptualizing, before the writing, can be fruitful.
What motivated you the most during your time in the program?
I think coming back as a nontraditional student changed everything for me. I enrolled at YSU to finish my B.A., then stayed for an M.A., and then came to CSU for the M.F.A., so by then there was this last chance, last chance running through my mind. I was a different student from my curious but undisciplined younger self. And I think when you’re younger you’re thinking, is this it? Is this me? But maybe when you’re older you realize there are a lot of lives you might have been happy living, so you can just work like hell at what’s right in front of you.
I developed a strategy of doing the next thing and doing the reach thing. I had a system for reading poetry and fiction, reading and submitting to journals. But I also tried for leap-things. I figured it gave me practice and helped me imagine myself out there. Mostly I did not get them, but a few times I did, to my astonishment and undying gratitude.
What’s your secret talent?
Surrounding myself with intelligent, creative, interesting and kind people.
Congrats to all on the following accomplishments!
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Hometown: Brooklyn, Ohio
Upcoming Publications: RUST, Flatiron Books, 2020
Ideal Last Meal: Mashed potatoes.
What are you reading right now: The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wan