Posts Tagged ‘Don Peteroy’

A Question for Alissa Nutting

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Today’s YouTube clip features author Alissa Nutting, who was a delightful panelist and reader at UC’s biannual Robert and Adele Schiff Fiction Writers’ Festival in spring 2015 (along with Dean Bakopoulos, Ed Park, and Nelly Reifler). CR Associate Editor Don Peteroy snagged her during the, er, festivalities for a quick interview. The next Fiction Writers’ Festival is coming April 2017!

The Life of a Submission #2

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Want to know what happens to the poems or story you send our way? Another episode of the Life of a Submission! (If you like our content, subscribe to our YouTube channel! New videos every Tuesday and Friday . . .)

 

A Question for Brock Clarke

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

brockToday on Cincinnati RevYouTube, Don Peteroy interrogates former fiction editor and somewhat successful writer [<–joke] Brock Clarke. One may think, looking at Brock’s creds, that he’s has little in common with the rest of us schlubs, but we’re here to tell you that Brock shares many of the characteristics of regular people. For example, he’s a biped. (We have seen him walk.) Actually, Brock is utterly lovely, and we’re grateful to him for letting us share this content with you. (Check back with us Friday for a video poem of contributor Jeannine Hall Gailey’s “Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon.”)

The Life of a Submission

Friday, October 21st, 2016

processFor today’s YouTube video, we offer you a look at a submission’s journey through our reading process. CR is a teaching program. Each term, we take on new volunteers (from UC’s pool of PhD and MA candidates), have them read ten to twenty manuscripts per week, and assess these using our scoring rubric, which runs from 1 to 5. Our staff reads after our volunteers, adding to their comments before a decision is made either to decline the submission or pass it on to the permanent staff (Don, Kristen, Michael, Nicola). Featured in this clip, Associate Editor Don Peteroy (who, btw, birthed the idea of the YouTube channel—clouds parted, golden rays bathed him in light) and Assistant Editors José Angel Araguz and Rochelle Hurt.

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: Don’t Move!

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Yep, it’s time (some would say high time) for associate editor Don Peteroy to lob another Irrelevant Question at an Unsuspecting Writer. Actually, we always clear the question with the writer beforehand. Actually, sometimes the writer doesn’t like the question and asks for another. Actually, sometimes the writer never responds, which is, we guess, another way of indicating he or she didn’t like the question. Which all goes toward saying we never know how a writer is going to respond. That’s the cool part. The recipient of this edition’s Irrelevant Question—Colin Fleming—really delivered. We don’t know about you folks, but here at CR we’ve been longing for a good, rousing disquisition. Something we can stand back and let unfold, and unfold, and then say, simply, “Wow.” A disquisition that tackles a difficult distinction, such as the difference between good writing and writerly writing. (The latter term designating writing that is meant to sound good, often isn’t, but fools people anyway.) Feeling brave? Read on.

Question: It’s about time we have some fresh new literary terms, don’t you agree? Could you please coin some new terms, and define them?

CF: As someone who can’t read a book, no matter what it is, without marking it up and writing in the margins, I’ve come to realize that I’ve done this sort of thing where I’ve blended literary terms into my thinking such that I’ve done away with, you know, terminess. I’ve stopped pausing to label something as some form of device. I want to get beyond that and see something mmetaphorore integrated, so I’m always in the sentence, not in the label. If you see a metaphor as more than metaphor, you’re never leaving the sentence, and the author is doing a bang-up job by keeping you there.

And since I wonder, too, who really knows more than a few literary terms these days, it seems we could use a few that go beyond academic speak. I like the stuff that registers with the people across the hall, and that’s what tends to register most with me.

I read so much material full of what I call moves. Term the first! I hate moves. A move is when a writer is doing one of these “Look at me, Ma, I’m really writing!” deals. A lot of literary magazines love moves. They like stories written in the monotone third person, with sentences that remind me of someone slamming back a typewriter carriage at the end of a line and starting again. The perpetual da-dat-da-dat-da-dat (repeat, repeat, repeat) sentence structure of so much contemporary fiction. Moves are viewed as literary, as not how the “rabble” would ever express anything, thus conferring an imagined superiority on the writer. Pens are not waved through the air. They are wanded. Move. I looked at this one book where a line went something like “The sun gentles the wall of the building across the street.” It gentles it? It fucking gentles it? Move Central. Don’t do moves. You know when you’re doing a move. Moves are for your insecurity, and if someone is doing them past their juvenilia period, there ain’t a lot of talent there. Which can be confusing, because there is a system in place to reward moves.

Move-buffs also tend to be what I think of as sandboxers. As in, playing in the sandbox with the cronies. A sandboxer is someone who writes and hopes rather than writes and knows: labors over some 300 word short-short for an age, and then requires a fellow sandboxer to praise it, and then a dozen others, so that it can be thought of as good. The original sandboxer is subsequently pressed to return this service for his confederates, perpetuating a cycle of codependency and enabling, which allows the sandboxer to replace actual reality with an invented one. Sandboxers spend huge amounts of time on social media, posting dozens of items a day that read like especially bromidic dross from literary fortune cookies. One will encounter things like “If I could be trapped in a bookstore 24/7, I’d happily be an agoraphobic #snuggles.”

Colin-FlemingA more cheery term, the one that matters most to me and that is crucial to writing—certainly writing that lasts—is a simple one: life. You know when you see life in something you read, because you feel it, and you exclaim, in a way, your way, “There it is!” I’d argue that the more life in something, the harder it is to get it into most journals, but that’s another matter. You can’t fake life—that moment that fifty different people encounter and connect with in a personal way, disparate though these people and their experiences are. The life moment is the “push away from the desk moment,” the “I think I’m going to go for a walk around the block or down by the harbor” moment, the great unshakable that comes back to you at different points, and differently each time. I find myself denoting this, of late, with “That is the stuff,” in the margins of what I’m reading. Life is a long way from the box. Which sounds like a double entendre, but isn’t. See? Old school lit term there amidst the new. Like a sponsor!

Colin Fleming is the author of the forthcoming book The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories From the Abyss. He has written for Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Vanity Fair, and is a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition.

What’s Poetry Got to Do with It: Rock Stars

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

Episode 3: Poetic Interludes with Rockstars

[prologue: Counting Crows with Peteroy]

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Crow_on_a_Branch_-_Kawanabe_KyosaiOn the first of December, Associate Editor Don Peteroy walked into the Cincinnati Review office and made a casual reference to the song he had in his head that morning, “A Long December” by the Counting Crows. It was the kind of perfect, totally unexpected yet apt thing to bring up, not only because it was the beginning of the month but because mentioning the song brought up the opening lines:

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

These lines pretty much summed up the air of the end-of-semester/season change happening around me then. Most of the leaves that were going to fall had fallen; the rest were either hanging there dried and stubborn (like memories of 90’s songs) or hidden within the stark branches waiting for spring.

Don being our resident rock star musician, this interlude got me thinking about rock stars in general, how much of what lives beyond their music is often the musician’s own humanly perfect and totally unexpected yet apt things said either in concert or interview.

[interlude one: Bono]

It’s like landing a 747 onto your front lawn

paul-david-hewson-434933_960_720This statement was said by U2’s Bono during an impromptu concert in December of 2000. The band had set up at the Irving Plaza in New York City, a venue whose capacity is capped at 1,000. For a band that can sell out stadiums on back-to-back dates worldwide, Bono’s simile rides a fine line between hyperbole and truth.

Whatever else (good, bad, South Park) can be said about the man, I have been a big fan of Bono the artist since I was a kid. I’m talking albums, but also books, magazine interviews, bootlegs, etc. I actually heard the quote above via a live radio broadcast of the concert that I recorded (on cassette, no less). When asked in college for tips on how to introduce a fellow poet at a reading, I have been quoted as saying, “You gotta be all Bono about it,” meaning you have to go up and share your enthusiasm and admiration for the work of a fellow artist, really bring forth those personal connections you feel. Here’s Bono himself demonstrating at Bob Marley’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

I know claiming Bob Marley as Irish might be a little difficult here tonight, but bear with me.  Jamaica and Ireland have a lot in common.  Naomi Campbell, Chris Blackwell, Guinness, a fondness for little green leaves – the weed…

 But I must come back to the artist himself. There’s a quote I’ve carried with me for about seventeen years now, writing it on the first page of every notebook I’ve had in that time along with other quotes that inspire me at the page. The following words come from an interview during the promotion for All That You Can’t Leave Behind:

…the ability to surrender, to give yourself, either in reverie or revelry. And the journey of the artist is surely the journey away from self-consciousness.

Words like these bring forth the man behind those infamous sunglasses. I keep these words with me for what they say about what I experience working on poems. Whether it’s working toward a first draft or pushing myself into a fifteenth draft, the journey to the next words is exactly “the journey away from self-consciousness.”

[interlude two: Shakira]

Ahora vamos a ponerle un poquito de sabor a guacamole a la noche

[And now we’re going to add a little taste of guacamole to the night]

Shakira_-_Live_Paris_-_2010_(12)Shakira spoke these words during her classic MTV Unplugged set as she introduced the mariachi band Los Mora Arriaga. Together, they then performed her song “Ciega, Sordomuda” restyled as traditional mariachi song. To boot, the song’s breakdown had the singer and band snap into a Ramon Ayala-worthy Tejano beat.

My reaction as a seventeen-year-old brown kid in South Texas: *swoon.*

What is swoon-worthy about this performance is the tip of the hat to both Mexican as well as Mexican-American culture via the mariachi/Tejano mix. Here is Colombian rock star Shakira fusing together two Latinidades vital to North American Latin@s. Furthermore, what is poetic about this performance is summed up in the casual cool of Shakira’s statement above. In the quick analogy hinting at the nature of things to come, Shakira is being “all Bono about it.”

I found myself echoing some of Shakira’s swagger recently as I described my latest book as taking the prose poem and adding a little more guacamole and South Texas to it. If Shakira comes looking for me, tell her Bono made me do it.

[epilogue: a cento for David Bowie]

16260046973_0561915cd5_oI had written the first half of this post in December, before the winter break. Coming back to it this week, I realize I can’t write about rock stars and their apt and unexpected human moments without honoring the memory of David Bowie.

Lunatic’s Lyric – José Angel Araguz

 a cento for David Bowie composed of one line from the last songs on each of his albums

Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
of tombstones, epitaphs, wreaths, flowers, all that jazz,
where sad-eyed mermen tossed in slumbers
sighing, the swirl through the streets.

Like the leaf clings to the tree:
Share bride failing star
through morning’s thoughts and fantasies.

And the clock waits so patiently on your song.
She’ll lay belief on you;
Please heal these tears.

Let it be like yesterday,
with just a hint of mayhem
that burns your change to keep you insane.

That a man is not a man,
and it’s no game:
It’s the place that I know well.

You chew your fingers and stare at the floor.
Buildings they rise to the skies.
Made for a real world,
we scavenge up our clothes
with the sound of the ground.

So I’ll spin while my lunatic lyric goes wrong.
Trapped between the rocks,
black eyed ravens
stab me in the dark, let me disappear,
seeing more and feeling less.

*

Song Sources:
“Memory of a Free Festival” “Please Mr. Gravedigger” “The Supermen” “The Bewlay Brothers” “Wild is the Wind” “Subterraneans” “The Secret Life of Arabia” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” “Lady Grinning Soul” “Untitled no. 1″ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” “Big Brother” “Fame” “Red Money” “It’s No Game (part 2)” “Shake It” “Dancing with the Big Boys” “Bang Bang” “Heathen” “Strangers When We Meet” “Law (Earthlings on Fire)” “Lucy Can’t Dance” “Heat” “The Dreamers” “Bring Me the Disco King” “I Can’t Give Everything Away”

Fiction Mashup Contest

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Thanks to the scads of readers who contributed to our Cento Contest! Actually, there were only two of you—but your centos delighted us—so much that we’re adding a full year to both your CR subscriptions. Same holds true for anyone who offers us a cento using lines from CR 12.1 by the end of the day tomorrow. We should mention that Assistant Ed. Jose Angel Araguz took the form to new heights by creating a sonnet cento of last lines. To check all these out, simply click on the title of the CR Cento Contest post and scroll down.

mashupsAnd now it’s time for a genre switcheroo. A fiction cento, as it were, though that’s not really an existing term, so we’re just calling it a fiction mashup. Same deal: Those who submit credible efforts—and especially those who submit incredible efforts—get a year added on to their subscriptions. Associate Ed. Don Peteroy played it pretty loose when constructing the mashup below—grabbing a phrase, part of a sentence, or just some interesting word pairs from every prose piece in our current issue. The result is . . .

Hot Raisin Bird for the Temptation Arm of My Father

by Don Peteroy

     “I want you to come over. Right now,” Earl said.

     “It is forbidden,” Esther said. He hung up the tapeworm and ran out into the rain with his Cape of Invisibility. Except it never worked.

     He called 911.

     “Welcome to Mr. Milkshake. Can I take your order?”

     “Are you ready?” he asked. Words clogged his helicopter.

     “I want you to come over. Right now,” she said.

     He was driving over in his disaster of a car. She opened the shed. He reached over, putting his arm around seas of cantaloupe slices. She had makeup insurance won’t cover. The girl sometimes wore firewood.

     “You nervous?” he asked like a pinecone.

     “You signed a contract,” she said.

     “Good, but could you squeeze harder?”

     That hot, itchy feeling was leaking from him, kind of shaped like France. He said he’d been taking a lot of heat from Pastor Joe: She’s seeing a therapist rumored to be in Rising Sun. It snugs up to the Mason-Dixon line, covered by a Vampire Weekend poster.

     He sat on the edge of the bed. Her throat was always on schedule, the damp smell of the locker room. One month, they’d eaten nothing but sailors, but after the divorce, he couldn’t stop thinking about a tub of cottage cheese. When he was nine, he’d been chased through concrete. Chickens were miles away. Rain fell unceasingly in preserve jars. Pastor Joe had bailed him out of jail because her neuroses allowed him to feel like potato salad charred to purity. Winter came. They all ate.

     “Did you fight back?” Esther said. A spatula simmered in the crockpot.

     He unrolled an old treasure map. She hit him with her secret cave. Everyone got a chance to.

     I called 911, popped out my left boob, and said, “No daughter of mine is going to be a rock star.”

     Me. It was the last thing she was expecting. Me in full makeup and costume, with their chemistry teacher wired directly to a defibrillator. “Look, let’s go over the options in person,” I said.

     “We just want to eat bacon,” she said at length, like a fragile foot.

     “She shits herself all the day,” he said, putting his dick away. “I hate salmon.”

     I wanted to inhale my wig. “I’m in the band,” I said.

     “No way. You’re making that up,” she said.

     I unrolled condom wrappers, built to look like coffins. “I’m in the band,” I said.

     She threw a pillow. Chickens were miles away. Nipping at each other. That night, she would sit me in a bucket of crabs.

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: In Which We All DIE Edition

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Associate Editor Don Peteroy is back with another of the irrelevant questions that one might, if one were science-fictionally inclined, liken to little spaceships zooming madly around in his head, shooting out tractor beams in the hope of sucking up writers he admires. This week’s abduction: one Ron Currie Jr. Now to the alien examination room!

BOD-1Question: Members of an unnamed alien civilization from antimatter Galaxy NGC 9221are currently coming to Earth. They plan to blow us up, for the hell of it. Their engines are powered by an energy force called Ron Currie Jr. Likes to Read. Worry not. I’ve done the calculations. You’ve got three books to go before they enter our solar system, four before they’re within firing range. If you want to thwart their attack, you can stop reading books right now; if you want to press your luck, you can go ahead and read three more. What would the last three books you’d read be? And you wish to read a fourth, what world-destroying book would you choose?


CurrieRC:
Since very little I do seems to have any measurable effect on the world, I like the idea of something as simple and seemingly innocuous as reading a book bringing about the end of human life. That in mind, I’m going all the way. Wait, so do I get to finish them all? Does the attack commence the moment I turn the last page of the fourth book? I’m going to assume so. Okay. This scenario reminds me of another circumstance I face fairly often, one with similar stakes: I’m at a restaurant, and I’m starving—I mean don’t-put-any-part-of-your-anatomy-near-my-mouth hungry—and I’m trying to decide what to order, which of course is made more complicated and difficult by the fact that I’m too hungry to think. Chances are I’ve eaten at this place before, and I have my one or two favorite items on the menu. I’d say 25 percent of the time I’m foolish enough to try something new, and when I do, I almost always end up disappointed, which when I’m really hungry makes me angry as shit, and then my whole evening (and, chances are, that of anyone in my company) is ruined. Okay. So wait, what was the analogy? Oh yeah. This is like that, except it’s not just that I’m really hungry, it’s that this will be my last meal ever. So will I be foolish enough to risk squandering the experience on a book I haven’t read, no matter how good everyone says it is? I will not. Instead, I will reread books I know are excellent, and that way I can guarantee I won’t be disappointed. And you know what, just for shits and giggles let’s go with exclusively story collections. Probably will start with The Things They Carried. You know, I haven’t read Malamud’s Collected Stories in a while, and it’s hefty enough that we’ll all live a little longer. Here’s something interesting—I already know what the fourth book will be, and it’s also written by a straight cisgendered white guy, so I’m sitting here debating internally over throwing in a collection by a woman, or a black dude, or a wheelchair-bound Quebecois separatist. Or maybe just Drown by Junot Diaz, because it’s excellent. But you know what? The world’s coming to an end, so demographic quotas, I’m afraid, can no longer save us. Hence, book #3 will be What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. And finally, the only story collection with the power to actually bring the world to an end: Jesus’ Son.

Ron Currie, Jr. is the author of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, Everything Matters! and God Is Dead, winner of the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Often compared to Kurt Vonnegut, he was recently presented the Addison M. Metcalf Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: Whale Woes

Monday, October 26th, 2015

It’s our pleasure to present another edition of Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers, a blog feature in which Associate Editor Don Peteroy lobs a bit (or a lot) of ludicrousness, like a great white written spitball, at an author he admires, and the author bobs and weaves to avoid taking the sodden mass in the eye. This episode’s delightfully game target is Anne Valente. Coming at you, Anne! Cweappppppptttthhhhh [sound of written-spitball release].

moby_dick_11Question: You’re teaching an undergraduate novel-writing class. The first two students up for workshop hand in phonebook-sized manuscripts. At home, you begin to read the first one, and it’s not long before you realize the student has turned in an exact copy of Moby-Dick, word for word. You open the next manuscript, and the first line reads, “Call me Ishmael.” It’s another Moby-Dick. In class, you yell at the students, but they don’t know what you’re talking about. In Survey of British Lit, 1580-1700, you’d assigned The Taming of the Shrew. When you initiate conversation, the students start talking about homoeroticism as it pertains to Queequeg and Ishmael. You glance inside your copy of the Shakespeare play, and—it goes without saying—the entire text has been replaced by Moby-Dick. You then look in every book in your office. Kafka’s The Trial is about Ahab’s search for the whale. On the Road? A tale about whale hunting. Even Joyce Carol Oates’s entire oeuvre has become Melville-infected. And then you look in your own book, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down. “Call me Ishmael,” it reads. Your publisher phones to discuss a new novel you’re working on. She says, “Look, Anne, I’ll be frank. I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to do. Let’s try something new, something inventive. I’ve had this idea floating around in my head, and you can take it and expand upon it if you wish. Okay, so this guy, Ishmael, ends up on this whaling boat with this crazy captain named Ahab. . . .” As she explains, you open your inbox. You’ve received a rejection from a literary magazine. The email reads: “We’re sorry, but your work does not suit our needs at the moment. We’re currently looking for fresh stories about a captain in search of a white whale…” In brief, describe the next twenty-four hours of your life.

 

Valente1AV: First, I pull from beneath my bed the Ouija board that’s been gathering dust since junior high. I dim the lamps, light some candles and incense. Even though Witchboard and The Exorcist and even the Hasbro instructions have all warned me not to play alone, I place my hands on the planchette and ask the ether of the living room, “Herman Melville, is that you?” The wind blows against the panes. The candlelight flickers. The spade-shaped indicator creeps slowly around the board, not toward the YES or NO at the top corners but instead around the letters until it spells a full sentence: IT IS I. My hands flinch away from the board. Herman Melville is in the room! I gather my thoughts and wonder what I can possibly ask him. I think of my students, the whale-filled manuscripts, the call from my publisher, the literary magazine rejection. My hands find the board. “What do you want from me?” I say to the room.

The planchette flies quickly around, spells out the longest sentence I’ve seen since the board told me in junior high NO YOU WILL NEVER MEET TORI AMOS SORRY. I memorize the letters Melville gives me, decode them in my head. WHEN YOU READ MOBY DICK A FEW YEARS AGO YOU SKIMMED THE WHALING CHAPTERS AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHALE TAXONOMY AND BALEEN AND HARPOON ROPES.

Then the board goes silent. The wind stops blowing and the incense burns out. I set the board quietly inside its box, slide it back under the bed, and pull Moby-Dick off the shelf. It takes twenty-four hours to read all 663 pages, but by the following night, my eyes bloodshot with a lack of sleep, I know everything there is to know about the history of whaling and uses for whale oil and the difference between a humpback and a minke.

The next morning, my students submit manuscripts that don’t begin Call me Ishmael. We discuss The Taming of the Shrew. I receive a follow-up email from the lit mag saying submissions are closed for their whale-theme issue. I wonder for a few days if using the Ouija board alone will cause me to writing only of white whales, but Herman Melville never contacts me again.

Anne Valente’s first short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, won the Dzanc Books Short Story Prize and was released in September 2014. Her debut novel, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down, is forthcoming from William Morrow/HarperCollins in 2016. She is also the author of the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics. Originally from St. Louis, she is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Department at Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

Dear Committee Members reviewed

Friday, September 4th, 2015

dear-committee-members

Here at UC, we and the rest of the English Department are anticipating the October visit of Julie Schumacher, who’ll read in the Elliston Poetry Room at 4 p.m. on the 26th of that spooky month. Staffer and fan Don Peteroy reviews her latest—Dear Committee Members—below.

Don Peteroy: In Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, Jason Fitger has had enough. He’s a former novelist, has had several divorces, and works as a burnt-out creative writing teacher at Payne University, where literary arts are becoming obsolete. His students—usually international finance or software engineering majors—are either apathetic or apt to write stories that celebrate excessive gore. The university is remodeling the floor above the English department, where the financially privileged economics department resides, and Fitger must deal with the constant noise of jackhammers and toxic plumes coming through the ventilation.

Taking place over the course of an academic year, the novel is told in epistolary form. The majority of Fitger’s correspondence involves requests for letters of recommendations from adjuncts, current students applying to other programs or universities, English majors from years ago applying for catering jobs, and, in one specific instance, a student who’d received a C- in Fitger’s writing class who seeks employment at Avengers Paintball, Inc. Fitger explains to Avengers Paintball that the student’s “autobiographical essay on the topic of his own rageful impulses” makes him a perfect candidate for the job. Other letters involve departmental politics, and Fitger’s persistent, but unanswered, requests for the university to take notice of the increasingly hazardous state of his work environment, due to the renovations.

Early in the novel, we realize that Fitger has blown his cork. He uses his letters as a medium to rant about the IT department’s incompetence, redundant documentation, and his failed relationships and literary career. His tirades are hysterical not only because they’re unprofessional and, at times, completely random, but because they’re honest. For instance, he writes, “Alex Ruefle has prevailed upon me to support his teaching application to your department, which I gather is hiring adjunct faculty members exclusively, bypassing the tenure track with its attendant health benefits, job security, and salaries on which a human being might reasonably live. Perhaps your institution should cut to the chase and put its entire curriculum online, thereby sparing Ruefle the need to move. You could prop him up in a broom closet in his apartment, poke him with the butt end of a mop when you need him to cough up a lecture on Caribbean fiction or the passive voice, and then charge your students a thousand dollars each to correct the essays their classmates have downloaded from a website. Such is the future of education.”

Dear Committee Members is not simply a collection of witty letters, though. There is a narrative arc, and a central conflict through which the novel achieves greater sophistication. Beneath the humor, a tragedy concerning one of Fitger’s students, Darren Browles, brews steadily. Fitger cares deeply about Browles, but as the student’s plight worsens throughout the year, Fitger finds himself powerless to help him. Browles becomes the victim of a culture that privileges certain individuals over others, institutional oversight, and administrative bloating. While Fitger’s letters written on behalf of Browles ridicule institutional ethics (and are therefore funny), they also highlight how deeply serious and horrible Browles’s situation is becoming.

Practically every other page of Dear Committee Members made me laugh. In each letter, Schumacher reestablishes and reinvents the terms of her humor, so the novel stays fresh, with surprises all the way until the end. At the same time, I found the tragic element so heartbreaking that, upon closing the book, I couldn’t do anything but remain seated and staring ahead for long minutes.

 
Julie Schumacher grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and graduated from Oberlin College and from Cornell University.  Her first published story, “Reunion,” written to fulfill an undergraduate writing assignment (“tell a family tale”), was selected by Anne Tyler for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 1983. Subsequent stories and essays have been published in The Atlantic, The New York TimesMs., and Prize Stories The O.Henry Awards: 1990 and 1996.  Her first novel, The Body Is Water, was an ALA Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her other books include a short story collection, An Explanation for Chaos, five novels for younger readers, and, most recently, Dear Committee Members, a national best seller and winner of the midwest independent bookseller award.  She is a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota.