E.B. Bartels

Nonfiction mafia.

Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Liz Scott

For the full interview, see it on Fiction Advocate.
Published on February 11, 2020.

Liz Scott is the author of This Never Happened: A Memoir and Lies: The Truth about the Self-Deception That Limits Your LifeHer essays have been published on The Millionsthe Powell’s Book Blogand The Next Best Book Blogand her fiction piece “Solstice” was the winner of the 2018 Berkeley Fiction Review Sudden Fiction contest. In addition to being a writer, Scott is a licensed clinical psychologist who earned her PhD in 1980. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Interview with Nina MacLaughlin on The Believer Logger!

For the full interview, see it on The Believer.
Published on February 5, 2020.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to have an interview with Nina MacLaughlin up on The Believer Logger today. Nina has been a role model and inspiration to me since I first met her in spring 2015, right before the debut of her memoir, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter. It was such a pleasure to talk to Nina about her new book Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung, which was published this past fall by FSG Originals. Thank you to Hayden Bennett at The Believer for his edits and for publishing the interview, and thank you to Nina for letting me ask her a million questions and for giving such thoughtful responses. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it. Here’s the opening:

“THESE STORIES HAVE BEEN EXISTING IN ME ALL ALONG, LIKE HOW THEY EXIST IN ALL OF US, WHETHER WE KNOW IT OR NOT.”

Nina MacLaughlin and I went to the same high school, but not at the same time. She graduated nine years ahead of me—long enough that we didn’t overlap as students, but short enough that we shared many of the same teachers and experiences. Nina and I speak a common language—that of two people who both grew up in the suburbs of Boston, who both attended a New England prep school, who both studied a dead language, who both have spent their adult lives in Cambridge, who both love books and plants and art, who are both working writers.

Up until recently, Nina and I also had in common the fact that we both only write nonfiction—she is the author of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, a memoir about her decision to leave journalism (Nina wrote for The Boston Phoenix for almost a decade) and pursue carpentry. But I arrive at her Cambridge apartment—located on the first floor of an old brick building, a former Harvard dormitory—to chat with Nina not about writing what she calls “true books,” but about another kind of true writing: fiction.

Nina is the author of Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung, a modern retelling of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, published this fall by FSG Originals. Sure, it’s not nonfiction—but what is this book? A short story collection? A series of vignettes? An epic poem? A historical novel? Fan fiction? I arrive at Nina’s flustered from the extraordinarily hot August day—having walked the fifteen minutes to her apartment from my own, because we are neighbors, too—and also from the fact that talking about fiction is out of my usual comfort zone.

I trip on an uneven floorboard in the vestibule of Nina’s building—the same spot where I tripped entering Nina’s place for a housewarming party several years ago—but I catch myself. Nina and I exchange a sweaty hug, and she welcomes me in, offers a ginger beer, and I take a seat on her couch behind a beautiful wooden coffee table, handmade by Nina from a board from her grandmother’s house. Nina arranges herself in a chair across from me, her legs tucked up under a billowing skirt, and I wonder if we are still part of the same world.

—E.B. Bartels

Read the interview with Nina here.

Also, never forget:

Bojack Horseman (season 5).

Artists You Should Know: Jason Polan

I was so sad to hear this morning about the death of Jason Polan. I didn’t know Jason Polan personally, but his art and Instagram presence (@jasonpolan) made my life better. His drawings are deceptively simple but full of humor and love for the quirky weirdness of the world. He’s perhaps best known for his project trying to draw every person in New York which felt like a love letter to the whole city and all of humanity.

My friend Janna Herman and I used to direct message his Instagram posts to each other when we knew the other needed a good laugh––he would write long, rambling, hilarious stories in the captions of his photos about the people and things he saw around New York––and it was always our goal to go to one of his Taco Bell Drawing Club meetings, but the timing never worked. Janna did get to meet him once, when she bought me the little giraffe notebook I have framed in my home, and she said he was so nice and unpretentious and clearly wanted everyone to be able to afford a piece of his art.

I am upset knowing that Jason Polan is gone, but I’ll think of him every time I adjust the temperature in my apartment.

Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

For the full interview, see it on Fiction Advocate.
Published on January 14, 2020.

Alex Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, recipient of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, the 2018 Chautauqua Prize, the Grand Prix des lectrices ELLE for Nonfiction, and the Prix France Inter-JDD, an award for one book of any genre in the world. Named one of the best books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Audible.com, Bustle, Book RiotThe Times of LondonThe Guardian, and The Sydney Press Herald, it was an Indie Next Pick and a Junior Library Guild selection, long-listed for the Gordon Burn Prize, short-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger, and a finalist for a New England Book Award and a Goodreads Choice Award, and, and has been translated into eight languages. The recipient of fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, Yaddo, and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, as well as a Rona Jaffe Award, Marzano-Lesnevich has published essays and criticism in The New York Times Sunday MagazineOxford American, the Boston Globe, and Harpers. They now live in Portland, Maine and are an Assistant Professor of English at Bowdoin College.

“The Privilege of Old Age” in Entropy Mag

For the full piece, see it on Entropy.
Published on January 13, 2020.

Photograph: © Isa Leshko

For a long time I was a photographer in addition to being a writer. Images and words always went hand-in-hand for me, and I found that often photographs influenced how I thought about writing and that often writing influenced how I thought about photography. While I don’t make images of my own anymore with any regularity, I still love visiting museums and galleries and reading art books, and black and white photographs, especially those made with large format cameras and printed in silver gelatin, are still the ones that always grab at my heart.

I was drawn to Isa Leshko‘s images for these reasons, and because her photos are of animals, which of course makes sense, because I am all about animals. But reading Isa’s book Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries, published this past spring by University of Chicago Press, was truly a life-changing experience. Her images made me reconsider how we as people think about aging, and how getting old can feel like a burden, but it is actually quite a gift. Many animals — both human and non-human — never make it to their elderly years.

This essay I wrote inspired by Allowed to Grow Old is up now on Entropy MagI hope you read it, and take some time to look at Isa’s images. Her work is transformative.

Wellesley Writes It: Patrice Caldwell

In my first Wellesley Writes It interview of 2020, I emailed with Patrice Caldwell ’15 — literary agent, writer, founder of People of Color in Publishing, and editor of the anthology A Phoenix First Must Burn. Here’s the beginning of the interview:

Patrice Caldwell ’15 is the founder & fundraising chair of People of Color in Publishing – a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before shifting to be a literary agent at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.

In 2018, she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree and featured on The Writer’s Digest podcast and Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world.

Her anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn – 16 stories of Black girl magic, resistance, and hope – is out March 10, 2020 from Viking Books for Young Readers/Penguin Teen in the US/Canada and Hot Key Books in the UK! Visit Patrice online at patricecaldwell.com, Twitter @whimsicallyours, and Instagram @whimsicalaquarian.

Wellesley Underground’s Wellesley Writes it Series Editor, E.B. Bartels ’10, had the chance to converse with Patrice via email about publishing, reading, and writing. E.B. is grateful to Patrice for willing to be part of the Wellesley Writes It series, even with everything else she has going on!

EB: When did you first become interested in going into writing and publishing? Did something at Wellesley spark that interest?

PC: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved writing. It’s how I best express myself. That love pretty naturally grew into creating stories. I’ve always had a very vivid imagination. I’ve also always been pretty aware that publishers exist. I remember at a young age noticing the logos on the spines of books (notating the imprint/publisher), so by the time I was a teen I could recall which publishers published my favorite books (served me very well in interviews, haha) and was curious about that process. But I was a theater kid, intensely, that’s what I thought I would do, but then I decided to go to Wellesley and majored in political science (especially theory—I took ever class Professor Grattan, she’s brilliant) but then dabbled in a bunch of other subjects, including English. I think English courses definitely strengthened my critical thinking, but I absolutely do not think you have to be an English or creative writing major in order to work in publishing or be a writer. My theater background is just as helpful as is my political theory one. (I have friends who are best-selling authors who did MFA programs and others who never went to college.)

Wellesley was my safe space. I came back to myself while at Wellesley. I wrote three (unpublished) manuscripts during my time there, starting the summer after my first year, and I held publishing and writing related internships. I also took a fantastic children’s literature course taught by Susan Meyer (who’s a children’s author herself!) that changed my world. I highly recommend it. We studied children’s literature, got to talk to an author and a literary agent, and we wrote our own stories. I later did a creative writing independent study with her, and I truly thank Professor Meyer for expanding my interest in writing and publishing.

EB: How did People in Color Publishing come about? What goals do you have for the organization? What would you like people to know about it?

PC: I founded People of Color in Publishing in August 2016 to allow people of color clearer access into the book publishing industry, better support networks, and professional development opportunities. It really is about sending the elevator back down for others after climbing (& maybe even assembling) the stairs.

We’re currently working towards nonprofit status. You can learn more about us and our initiatives at https://www.pocinpublishing.com/ and sign up for our newsletter, which is incredibly well done. As you’ll see when you visit the site, the organization really is a team effort. I don’t and couldn’t do this alone; I’ve had an amazing team with me from day one. We each play to our strengths and work really well together. (The org is very active on Instagram and Twitter, too!)

EB: I am really excited about your collection A Phoenix First Must Burn, coming out from Penguin Random House on March 10, 2020. What inspired you to put together that anthology? What was challenging about the process of compiling the anthology, and what was rewarding about it?

PC: Thank you; I’m so excited for it as well. I talk about this more in the book’s introduction, but I was inspired by my eternal love for Octavia Butler—the title even comes from a passage in Parable of the Talents—as well as similar adult market anthologies like Sheree R. Thomas’s Dark Matter, and wondering what one for teens would look like. The answer is power and imagination like I’ve never before seen, in the form of a kick-ass, #BlackGirlMagic anthology that’s hella queer—I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before I became a literary agent, I was a children’s book editor. The editing of these stories was the easy part. It was super fun. The hard part was wrangling of everyone, haha. Thankfully they were amazing to work with and I wasn’t doing it alone—my then editor Kendra Levin also has a fantastic editorial eye.

As for what was rewarding, my younger self needed this. Like I said, it’s Black and queer. Since Toni Morrison passed, a day hasn’t gone by in which I’ve thought, about how she wrote for Black people, especially Black women, unapologetically. I feel that deeply. I got to work with some of my favorite writers writing today. How often does someone get to say that, you know. And, I grew a lot as a writer. I never thought I could write a short story, but I did. We’ve been getting some really great early reviews (like this beautifully-written starred review from Kirkus, OMG!) But going back to how my younger self needed this, the most rewarding thing has been the people who’ve reached out how excited they are to read it and how much they’ve been craving a book like this. It’s a dream come true. A dream I strategized to reach, worked my butt off on, and so yeah, I’m over the moon.

Go to Wellesley Underground for the complete conversation!

2019 Reading Round-Up

Happy 2020, my bookish friends!

First off, let me say right away that I will NOT be doing a favorite books of the past decade post. Sorry, but also I am not sorry, because I would actually drive myself insane trying to figure out my favorite books from the PAST TEN YEARS. That is so many years! So many books! How is that even possible? Also, it seems unfair? Ten years ago, I was 22, and the books that hit me hard at 22, I may roll my eyes at now at 32, but I don’t think that diminishes the impact they had on me a decade ago, so, yeah, I’m not touching that.

If you want recaps of my past reading habits, check out my 2018 Reading Round-Up and 2017 Reading Round-Up posts and this piece I wrote for Wellesley Underground about spending 2015 only reading books by women. (2010 to 2012 I was pretty much reading only YA and middle grade books because I was teaching at a middle school in Dorchester, and 2012 to 2014 I was in grad school and was reading whatever my MFA professors were telling me to read, and then I guess I was too much of an empty shell in 2016 to write anything about what I read that year?) You can also browse my GoodReads profile which I have been updating regularly since January 2012, and see my GoodReads reading challenges from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

I would only read 568 pages for Alexander Chee and no one else.

But! As promised, even if I can’t handle recapping the whole past decade, I present to you my annual reading tally for the past year. So, as is tradition, here is the breakdown of what I read in 2019, my top 19 books that were published 2019, plus my reading resolutions for the upcoming decade and some of the books I am looking forward to in 2020.

WHAT I READ:

  • I read 122 books, by 107 writers.

THE GENRE BREAKDOWN:

  • Fiction: 24
  • Nonfiction: 39
  • Graphic novels/comics: 3
  • Graphic memoirs/nonfiction: 14
  • Poetry: 9
  • Drama: 1
  • Young adult/middle grade: 10
  • Picture/art books: 22*
  • Books that I had already previously read: 6**

*Again, many of these were dead-pet-related picture books for research.

**Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee.

THE DEMOGRAPHIC BREAKDOWN:

  • Books by women of color: 29
  • Books by white women: 55
  • Books by men of color: 15
  • Books by white men: 22
  • Books by non-binary people of color: 1
  • Books by non-binary white people: 0
  • Books by LGBTQ folks: ~23

THE REASON-FOR-READING BREAKDOWN:

  • Books for dead pets research: 48
  • Books for Non-Fiction by Non-Men/other interviews/essays/reviews: 19
  • Books for my People Who Read Darkness book club: 12
  • Books for teaching: 4 (though every book I read is for teaching, in a way)
  • Books for fun/other reasons/just for the hell of it: 39

E.B.’s TOP 19 BOOKS PUBLISHED in 2019:

As I’ve said in past years, I am really glad that I am doing this tradition of my top [xx] books published in 20[xx] because it means I get to add one more book to my list each year. I am also glad that in this list I focus on only books that were published in 2019 because that helps me further narrow down my choices, though it does mean that some of my favorite books I read this year may not make the cut, just because they weren’t published in 2019, such as Cottonmouths by Kelly J. Ford (2017) or Edinburgh by Alexander Chee (2001) or Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (2011) or The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (2015) or The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson (2018) or Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (2013). So, it’s an imperfect art, but it makes my life a little easier, so here I present to you: my 19 favorite books that came out in 2019, organized chronologically by their publication date.

  1. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (February 5)
  2. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (March 5)
  3. Good Talk by Mira Jacob (March 26)
  4. The Body Papers by Grace Talusan (April 9)
  5. I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib (April 30)
  6. Allowed to Grow Old by Isa Leshko (May 10)
  7. Ugly Music by Diannely Antigua (May 15)
  8. The Edge of Every Day: Sketches in Schizophrenia by Marin Sardy (May 21)
  9. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (June 4)
  10. Bunny by Mona Awad (June 11)
  11. With a Polaroid Camera by Sarah Dickenson Snyder (June 25)
  12. Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (August 6)
  13. Mitz by Sigrid Nunez (August 6)
  14. Malaya: Essays on Freedom by Cinelle Barnes (October 8)
  15. Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne (October 22)
  16. This is My Body by Cameron Dezen Hammon (October 22)
  17. In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (November 5)
  18. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (November 5)
  19. Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung by Nina MacLaughlin (November 12)

E.B.’s READING RESOLUTIONS for 2020 (& the rest of the decade):

  • Last year I said I wanted the majority of the books I read in 2019 to be by people of color. I did not achieve that goal: of 122 books, 78 were by white people and 44 were by people of color. So, once again, my goal for the upcoming year is to read a majority of books by people of color.
  • Also as I said last year, I want to keep reading more and more books by nonbinary people and LGBTQ folks. I am embarrassed that I only read one nonbinary author this year and that this year only 18% (down from 20% in 2018) of the authors I read identify openly as LGBTQ. I can do better.
  • I want to continue to make sure my People Who Read Darkness book club reads diverse writers. (This year we only read one book by a person of color, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, so we really need to work on that.)
  • And also, like in past years, I need to keep paying attention to who is writing the books I am reading for research and diversify the voices I am quoting in my own writing.
  • And, finally, as always, I want to continue to remind myself that if I don’t love something I am reading… I don’t have to finish it!!!! This is a reminder for you, too!

E.B.’s LIST OF BOOKS SHE IS ANTICIPATING in 2020:

There are many, many, MANY books to look forward in 2020, but here are just a few I am especially excited about, that you should put on your radar:

Here’s to reading all the books in 2020!

Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Cinelle Barnes

For the full interview, see it on Fiction Advocate.
Published on December 10, 2019.

Cinelle Barnes is a memoirist, essayist, and educator from Manila, Philippines, and is the author of Monsoon Mansion: A Memoir (Little A, 2018) and Malaya: Essays on Freedom (Little A, 2019), and the editor of a forthcoming anthology of essays about the American South (Hub City Press, 2020). She earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Converse College. Her writing has appeared in Buzzfeed ReaderCatapultLiterary HubHyphenPanorama: A Journal of Intelligent Travel, and South 85, among others. Her work has received fellowships and grants from VONA, Kundiman, the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund, and the Lowcountry Quarterly Arts Grant. Her debut memoir was listed as a Best Nonfiction Book of 2018 by Bustle and nominated for the 2018 Reading Women Nonfiction Award. Barnes was a WILLA: Women Writing the American West Awards screener and a 2018-19 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards juror, and is the 2018-19 writer-in-residence at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, SC, where she and her family live.

Shop small this holiday season!

This past month I’ve been reading a lot about the small businesses closing in and around Harvard Square, such as Black Ink, as outside developers drive up rent to unsustainable rates. Therefore, this month, I’d like to take a moment to remind you all to support small and local businesses as you do your gift shopping this holiday season (F*CK AM*ZON). Some of my favorite places, in addition to Black Ink, for unique and whimsical gifts are Ward MapsNomadJoie de VivreMagpie, and Loyal Supply CoRebekah Brooks is magnificent for vintage jewelry, and I love Raspberry Beret and The Garment District for vintage clothing. For delicious edible gifts, check out Honeycomb Creamery and Curio Spice Co., for all your toy and game needs go to Henry Bear’s ParkComicazi, and Pandemonium, and if you want to paint your own gifts, go to Made By Me.

And, obviously, I am obsessed with independent bookstores. This past month I went to so many fantastic author events, all courtesy of your favorite local bookstores. So please, please, PLEASE consider ordering your book presents (because books make the best presents, right?) this holiday season from your local independent bookstores as opposed to the evil empire (F*CK AM*ZON). Some of my favorite bookstores include:

Please tell me some of your favorite independent bookstores and/or other favorite small businesses in the comments below. And happy holiday shopping!

Feeling thankful for independent bookstores

November has been a kickass month of author events, thanks to several amazing indie bookstores. THIS is the stuff you can’t get from that giant online retailer. THIS is why we need local bookstores!!!

On 11/6, I heard Carmen Maria Machado in conversation with Kelly Link at the Brattle Theatre, discussing Carmen’s new memoir In The Dream House, courtesy of Harvard Book Store.

On 11/8, I laughed with Lindy West about her new book The Witches Are Coming at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, also courtesy of Harvard Book Store.

On 11/18, I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates talk about his debut novel The Water Dancer with Meghna Chakrabarti at the Chevalier Theatre, courtesy of Brookline Booksmith.

On 11/20, I celebrated Nina MacLaughlin‘s fiction debut Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung at Harvard Book Store.

And on 11/22, I enjoyed Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne and Kelly J. Ford in conversation about Elizabeth’s debut novel Holding On To Nothing at Newtonville Books.

Seriously, what a great month. Thank you to the independent bookstores who made this possible! Remember these places when you start your holiday shopping in the next few weeks.

AllisonandAJontheAT

Together hiking the Appalachian Trail from April to October, 2015!

E.B. Bartels

Nonfiction mafia.

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