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E&H Bookblog

Southern Writers on Writing, edited by Susan Cushman

Easty Lambert-Brown

"This is no stodgy how-to book. Southern Writers on Writing is over-flowing with good, strong voices--funny, caustic, compelling, and--yes--absurd. The writers Susan Cushman has assembled here understand this craft. They have endured the suffering that leads to great prose appearing so damn effortless. This collection is essential reading for emerging writers--as well as any fan of modern southern fiction."
--Neil White, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

The South is often misunderstood on the national stage, characterized by its struggles with poverty, education, and racism, yet the region has yielded an abundance of undeniably great literature. In Southern Writers on Writing, Susan Cushman collects twenty-six writers from across the South whose work celebrates southern culture and shapes the landscape of contemporary southern literature.

Contributors like Lee Smith, Michael Farris Smith, W. Ralph Eubanks, and Harrison Scott Key, among others, explore issues like race, politics, and family and the apex of those issues colliding. It discusses landscapes, voices in the South, and how writers write. The anthology is divided into six sections, including "Becoming a Writer"; "Becoming a Southern Writer"; "Place, Politics, People"; "Writing about Race"; "The Craft of Writing"; and "A Little Help from My Friends."

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Susan Cushman (Editor) was co-director of the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi, and director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop. She is author of a novel, Cherry Bomb(October 2017) and a nonfiction book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (February 2017), and editor of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (March 2017). Her essays have appeared in three anthologies and numerous journals and magazines. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, she lives in Memphis.

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Raised in Arkansas and a longtime resident of Alabama, Jennifer Horne is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women’s, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classrooms and workshops across the South. Among her books are Bottle Tree: Poems (2010) and Tell the World You’re a Wildflower (2014), a collection of short stories in the voices of Southern women and girls. Her new collection of road and travel poems, Little Wanderer, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2016, and she has co-edited, with Don Noble, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women, Belles’ Letters II (2017). She is at work on a biography of writer Sara Mayfield.

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Wendy Reed is an Emmy-winning public TV producer and writer. She produces for two series at the University of Alabama (Bookmark with Don Noble and Discovering Alabama), where she teaches science and nature writing in the Honors College. In addition to publishing stories and essays, she has written An Accidental Memoir and co-edited two collections with Jennifer Horne, Circling Faith and All Out of Faith.The Alabama State Council on the Arts fellow lives with her husband in Hoover and is at work on a book about the short, tragic life of southern writer Clarence Cason.

Jacqueline Allen Trimble, Ph.D., lives and writes in Montgomery, Alabama, where she is the chairperson of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University. Her work has appeared inThe OffingBlue Lake Reviewand The Griot. Her poetry collection, American Happiness, is published by NewSouth Books. The ironically titled book examines America’s refusal to grapple with hard truths, preferring instead the pretense that everyone and everything is just fine.  Of the work Honorée Jeffers wrote, “I longed for her kind of poetry, these cut-to-the-flesh poems, this verse that sings the old time religion of difficult truths with new courage and utter sister-beauty,” and Randall Horton noted, “There is a jewel of a poet in the epicenter of Alabama who adeptly revisits the ugly of race, the power and legacy of familial bonds, the joys and beauty of growing up Southern—our complicated humanity.” Recently awarded a Key West Literary Seminar scholarship, she is currently the recipient of a 2017 literary arts fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. American Happiness was chosen as the poetry finalist and named Seven Sisters Book Award Best Book of 2016.

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Reviews of Every Mask I Tried On by Alina Stefanescu

Easty Lambert-Brown

"Every Mask I Tried On is a collection that initially appears to be the love-child of Lydia Davis and Gary Lutz. But then it's like Davis and Lutz split-up and that love-child is abandoned to one of those grim Romanian orphanages until a lovely American journalist visits and absconds with the child, bringing her back to the States to a suburban, southern home from which she escapes, in her teenage years, to join a troupe of over/undersexed traveling carnies, one of whom she builds a family with somewhat in the manner of the plot of a children's book by William Steig. But that is only a crude approximation. This book is so much more than the bouquet of its masks, and it marks the birth of a one-of-kind prose stylist. An Everywoman all her own. After reading one page or even one paragraph, I dare you not to conclude that you've been going through the motions of reading, if not day-to-day living, for years."      —Mark Yakich, author of The Dangerous Book of Poetry for Planes

Don't come looking for labyrinthine plot, long hairy description, or character charts in Alina Stefanescu's snappy Every Mask I Tried On. You know these people, you know what happens. You're in it for the "snartling," where you laugh through the nose and admire your own snark. "If you've ever tried to comfort a man during a rich menstrual season with half your mouth still numb from molar cavity fillings, you know where this is going." From her "eco-frottage" (rubbing your forehead against a tree) to worshipping a badminton birdie, Stefanescu makes sentences that blow the top off story.      —Terese Svoboda, author of Bohemian Girl

Delicious and coolly wicked, as lush as it is precise, EVERY MASK I TRIED ON offers sharply focused portraits of domesticity that nonetheless verge on the surreal. I love Stefanescu's vision and voice, her wit and honesty. The characters' serenity often hinges on something vaguely sinister, and their daily peacemaking and ritual - whether it's baking a cake, collecting stamps, or inching through the carpool line - hints at a darker impulse, reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's best studies of contemporary life.                  —Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola

What smart, beautiful energy. These stories of true love and family-making show an author with an exuberant soul, a terrific sense of humor, a philosophical mind, serious eyes, and a heart that knows but is not defeated by sorrow. Addictive, hilarious, vigorous tales.         —Deb Olin Unferth, author of Wait Till You See Me Dance

The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms

Easty Lambert-Brown

Join us on Saturday, May 12 from 2-4 PM (selected contributor reading and discussion starts at 2:30) as we help launch The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms.

Within the recent explosion of creative nonfiction, a new type of form is quietly emerging, what Brenda Miller calls “hermit crab essays.” The Shell Game is an anthology of these intriguing essays that borrow their structures from ordinary, everyday sources: a recipe, a crossword puzzle, a Craig’s List ad. Like their zoological namesake, these essays do not simply wear their borrowed “shells” but inhabit them so perfectly that the borrowed structures are wholly integral rather than contrived, both shaping the work and illuminating and exemplifying its subject.

The Shell Game contains a carefully chosen selection of beautifully written, thought-provoking hybrid essays tackling a broad range of subjects, including the secrets of the human genome, the intractable pain of growing up black in America, and the gorgeous glow residing at the edges of the autism spectrum. Surprising, delightful, and lyric, these essays are destined to become classics of this new and increasingly popular hybrid form. 

The Shell Game is published by the University of Nebraska Press.

CONTRIBUTORS  In addition to The Shell Game, Michael Martone recently published his fourth book of essays: Brooding (University of Georgia Press). The Flatness of Other Landscapes won the AWP Prize for Creative Nonfiction.  The Moon Over Wapakoneta: Fictions and Science Fictions from Indiana and Beyond will be published this fall by FC2. He lives in Tuscaloosa with poet Theresa Pappas and teaches at The University of Alabama.

Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives and teaches in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, most recently the lyric-memoir i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms), and Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press), a collection of essays on NBA Jam. Recent essays on topics ranging from long distance running to professional wrestling appear in The Collagist, Catapult, The Rumpus, Runner's World, and elsewhere. 


Review of The Anna Karenina Fix

Easty Lambert-Brown

Review by Barbara Lemmon


The Anna Karenina Fix was a surprisingly good read. The subtitle is Life Lessons from Russian Literature, so I forged ahead as was intrigued, having read War and Peace last summer.

Of course I was unfamiliar with the majority of the book, but that did not prevent my enjoyment of it. Vic Groskop is a talented storyteller in addition to being a real hoot! Her jaunts around the Russian countryside, her ability to speak Russian and her passion for their literature drew me into her charming tale. She shares much of her true life story and has given me a desire to delve once again into the vault of Russian Literature.


Savor the South Cookbook Sale!

Easty Lambert-Brown

Select Savor the South cookbooks are now on sale 15-20% off, OR choose any 3 or more and get them for $15 each. (Regularly priced @ $18-20) They make great gifts!

Each little cookbook in the Savor the South Cookbooks collection is a celebration of the beloved foods and traditions of the American South. From bourbon to bacon, peaches to pecans, one by one each Savor the South cookbook will stock a kitchen shelf with the flavors and culinary wisdom of this popular American regional cuisine. Written by well-known cooks and food lovers, each book brims with personality, the informative and often surprising culinary and natural history of southern foodways, and a treasure of some fifty recipes - from delicious southern classics to sparkling international renditions that open up worlds of taste for cooks everywhere. You'll want to collect them all!


Review of We Now Return to Regular Life by Martin Wilson

Easty Lambert-Brown


We Now Return to Regular Life is Wilson’s second Young Adult novel, after his beautifully observed 2010 book, What They Always Tell Us. The story starts with the titular return—Sam Walsh, who had disappeared from nearby his suburban Tuscaloosa neighborhood three years earlier, has come home. He was eleven when he was abducted, but he’s returned a graver, quieter, and potentially deeply troubled fourteen-year-old.

The details of what happened to Sam during those three years are unfurled slowly over the course of the book. Wilson refers to several real-life crimes in his plot: details of what Sam suffered at the hands of his kidnapper mirror the true stories of young kidnapping victims Steven Stayner and Elizabeth Smart, and Sam’s last name evokes the aforementioned generational ur-terror that I and all the children I knew experienced from the disappearance of Adam Walsh.

Wilson takes a smart and unexpected angle on the story, choosing to tell Sam’s story exclusively from the points of view of two people close to him—his older sister, Beth, and his onetime childhood friend, Josh. The reader learns almost nothing about Sam’s ordeal that he doesn’t tell one or both of them—and consequently we experience along with them some of their uncertainty, confusion, and pain for and about Sam. We also learn a great deal about the varied effects that Sam’s disappearance—and his return—had on his family and friends.

As in his previous YA novel, Wilson here demonstrates both a strong memory of what it felt like to be a teenager and an exceptional talent for translating those memories into prose. This book does a good job of communicating some fairly complex and subtle truths about adolescence—for example that teens, even well-meaning ones, are usually unable to handle it when their friends are going through truly life-changing problems (as opposed to run-of- the-mill high school drama)—and adults are usually not much better at it. Indeed, the adults around the traumatized Sam consistently fail to give him the help he needs (or even, mostly, to acknowledge that he might need any help at all), and they also fail to arm Josh and Beth to help him effectively—even though large amounts of that burden fall on those two kids by default. I hope that any real-life adults who found themselves in a situation remotely similar to Sam’s or Josh’s parents or teachers would encourage therapy much more often and persuasively than the adults in these teens’ lives do. The other side of this coin, though, is that because so much of this book is told from the kids’ points of view, it does fail to address some of the more serious implications of Sam’s residual traumas (including some of the potential sexual aftereffects). That the teens are unequipped to handle those psychologically fraught implications is completely realistic, but I nonetheless found myself wishing that Wilson as an author had not let some of these issues and their ramifications drop in quite the way he does.

Wilson also ably captures the way that teens can be surprisingly compassionate and mature when alone with each other, but can revert to cruelty and callousness in larger groups. He demonstrates the ways that teens can be unpredictably conservative (small-c) and intolerant of any difference or change, no matter how small or seemingly everyday. He gets a lot of things just right about what it feels like to be a teenager.

This is a thoughtful and engrossing novel that sharply and skillfully renders the alienation and confusion of adolescence and that touches on serious and profound themes.

A note for local readers: This novel is set in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the author also grew up. But although the story and characters laid out here are certainly recognizable and believable in most ways, contemporary Tuscaloosa teens may find the high school landscape and logistics unrecognizable in at least one way: in the book, high schoolers from all over the city—and from a variety of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds—attend only one public high school, Central High. Although the book is clearly set in the “present” instead of the late 1980s and early 1990s when Wilson was a student at Central (there are references to cell phones and the obsolescence of landlines, as well as to Obama having been president), in this one way, Wilson seems to have chosen to depict Tuscaloosa’s public high school situation as it existed during his high school years instead of as it is now (and as it has been since the early 2000s, when the Tuscaloosa public schools were reconfigured in such a way to make Central an essentially segregated school). In this way, Wilson’s novel feels as though it takes place in a sort of utopian alternative Tuscaloosa. There are a few other anachronistic elements like this (McFarland Mall is depicted as a still-viable retail option, which, again, it has not been since around the time of Wilson’s own adolescence) but the high school configuration is the one that Tuscaloosa teens are most likely to notice.

Advanced Reader Copies

Easty Lambert-Brown

Ernest & Hadley has many advanced reader copies that we would love people to take (free) and then write up a short review for this blog. Please contact us if you are interested!