Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Interview with travel writer Anna Mantzaris, newest MFA faculty member

We are delighted to welcome Anna Mantzaris to our MFA community as a faculty member teaching travel writing. In this intimate interview Anna, a California-based travel writer, talks about the genesis of her writing career, why travel is good for writers, and what she learned staying with a community of monks at a shukobo (temple) in Koyasan in the mountains of Japan. 

Can you tell us a little about your path to becoming a writer and how you got started in travel writing?
Probably, like many writers, I don’t know exactly when it started. I have boxes of writing dating back to elementary school (I haven’t been able to throw them away). I wrote a lot of weird, awful poems, short stories, letters, cartoons, plays, lists—everything as a kid. In college and graduate school, I studied and wrote primarily short stories. After graduating, I worked in book, newspaper, and magazine publishing and wrote and edited nonfiction. I think my first travel writing assignment came from Time Out. I went to Book Expo America in Los Angeles to network and walked away with a couple of assignments. I started contributing to guidebooks and writing articles, and then wrote some travel books and got into a lot of food and travel writing at that point.

How can travel be beneficial to writers of any genre?
I love this question. When I was an MFA student, one of my professors talked about how she had her husband drive her up and down Highway 1 in California when she felt blocked. That was a way she could start writing again. I’ve never been able to write in a car but changing my location and moving around has always inspired me. I often make lists of observations when I am on the road. When I was in Cuba the sounds were so incredible. I stood outside where we were staying for about an hour and wrote down everything I heard (music, dogs barking, cars starting up) and found myself with pages of notes to put to use. I think being out of your normal routine and comfort zone can jump-start new ideas. Taking away set parameters has always helped me feel creative.
For revision and edits, I do like being at home and on a schedule but when I am starting something new or feeling stuck, I like to be in an unfamiliar place. I also like to write in notebooks as opposed to on my computer when I travel.  Then I type everything up at night and do more writing from there. This semester we’ve talked a lot about how travel affects our writing and how taking away the safety net of home and routine can bring us to new places on the page.

Where have you traveled, and is there a place in particular that you found especially inspiring?
I feel very fortunate to have traveled around much of the United States. There isn’t a road trip I won’t take. Some of my favorite journeys have been closest to my home in San Francisco—towns like Petaluma, Bodega Bay, and Bolinas. I lived in Europe and spent time traveling the continent, including my family’s home country of Greece. Some of my favorite cities are Budapest, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Havana but I will go anywhere—small towns, suburbs, big cities.
One of my favorite trips was a solo journey I took to Koyasan in the mountains of Japan years ago. I took a tram to the top and stayed at a shukobo with Buddhist monks. The area is the home to Shingon school of Buddhism and home to dozens and dozens of temples that open their doors to overnight visitors. I think I stayed for about a week but it felt like a lifetime—in a good way. I roamed the Okunoin Cemetery and was humbled attending services with the monks. Because I was alone, they brought my meals—homemade tofu and beautifully prepared vegetables—to my room. It was truly magical to be in such a sacred place and feel so welcomed. It’s a trip I think about often.

What, in addition to writing and traveling, are your passions?
I am totally obsessed with our dog, a sweet little smooth fox terrier named Stella. Taking her to the park and on walks is a great way to break up my day working from home. She’s like a little clown and I can never get enough time with her. I also do a lot of writing with her on my lap.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I’m really excited to be a part of the Bay Path community. I have family in East Longmeadow and have always been familiar with the university and area. The students are incredible—hard working, kind, and inspiring. It’s great to see the amount of time and effort and they put into critiquing one another’s writing and the support they offer. There’s some really terrific writing happening. I am so thankful for the welcome and support I’ve received from the MFA program and everyone on staff at Bay Path. Since writing is so solitary it feels good to be part of such a thriving and creative community where so many good things are happening.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Publishing a personal essay

One of the pleasures of having one’s creative nonfiction work published is the
sense of direct communication with a reader. A personal essay, in particular, allows for an intimacy between writer and reader, a bond between two individuals unknown to each other but connected by the magnetic force not just of language, but of secrets shared. The writer is, in essence, saying “I have something personal to tell you.” There is an implied trust on the part of the writer and a willingness on the part of the reader to be a witness to an unrepeatable moment in time, to another’s private sorrow or joy. 

I was reminded of this when my most recent essay, “Hooked Up,” was published recently. Readers wrote to share their own experiences with the topic, creating a connection I hadn’t expected and an opportunity for a little more light, a little more understanding about an issue so many people have struggled with.  This, for me, is the best part of belonging to the tribe of writers and readers.  When I write and publish, when I read what others have published, I get closer to the world and remember, each time, why I value literature as much I value my next breath.  Sharing stories is the way we know one another, and know ourselves. This one, although laced with comedy, was hard to write. I’m glad I did.

Hooked Up
Nine p.m., the appointed hour. The person who opens the door is a surprise. I’d pictured someone in her sixties, calm and professional, with a tidy bun and a crisp white uniform, a clipboard in her hand and a name tag that says “Marion” or “Florence.” Someone who knows what she’s doing. Someone with steady hands and a soft voice. But it isn’t Marion who greets me, or anyone remotely like her. I consider backing out, but it’s too late for that. More

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

February literary feast: Four MFA instructors talk about their new books

One of the great pleasures of working with the writers on my faculty is knowing when their new work is about to be published and getting to read it right away. This academic year, Sophfronia Scott came out with two new books: This Child of Faith, a spiritual memoir co-written with her son, Tain, in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and an essay collection, Love’s Long Line.  All this output comes only a year after the publication of her 2017 novel set during the Harlem Renaissance, Unforgivable Love. Writer and MFA thesis director Adam Braver, who edits the Broken Silence Series for the University of New Orleans Press (a book series that tells the firsthand accounts of political dissidents), published his ninth book, The Disappeared, a novel about two strangers searching for loved ones in the aftermath of terror attacks. Prolific essayist, editor, and MFA thesis director Lisa Romeo’s new memoir, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, is forthcoming this spring; and T. Susan Chang has a new book on the way next fall. A departure from literary food writing, which she writes and teaches in the MFA, Chang’s new book explores the world of spiritual divination and mystery through the ancient art of tarot. Her 20-year interest in divination began during her undergraduate studies in Classics at Harvard, continued through her years as a literary studies editor, and strongly informs her current work writing about all five senses.
All of these faculty books explore subjects that go to the core of the human experience. They are united by themes of loss, death, violence, and grief, and also by healing, friendship, love, wisdom, hope, and spirit. They ask hard questions and find unexpected insights.  And they showcase the power of language to help us understand not only the world we live in, but ourselves.
We asked the four writers to tell us something about the genesis of their new books, their process while writing, and what they hope to communicate to the reader. Read on for a rare look inside their writing studios (and find out more about upcoming appearances):

Adam Braver
The main inspirations for beginning the book came from my own feelings of fear, and how they interacted with our larger culture of fear. Once the characters and voice started taking shape, I also began to see that the book’s questions, at least for me, were: 1) is it possible to not let fear be driven by what we can’t see? 2) what stakes do some people have in promoting such fear? and 3) how do we cope with or grieve for what suddenly is missing from our lives? In terms of the question of what I hope a reader will take from The Disappeared—my main hope, as with all the books I’ve written, is that the reader feels an experience that connects her to other human beings; and that by the end she is compelled to consider her own set of unique questions that the book might (hopefully) inspire. 

Sophfronia Scott
Love’s Long Line is a collection of essays ruminating on faith, motherhood, race, and the search for meaningful connection in an increasingly disconnected world. I guess you could say I cover a lot of ground, from what my son taught me about grief after the shootings at his school, Sandy Hook Elementary, to how a walk with Lena Horne became a remembrance of love for my father; to the unexpected heartache of being a substitute school bus driver, to understanding my spiritual journey and why my soul must dance like Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero.
The book is inspired by Annie Dillard’s observation in Holy the Firm that we all “reel out love’s long line alone . . . like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting.” As I assembled the collection I felt as though I could see her observations at work, and that I was saying something, maybe even responding to her thoughts, about love and faith in everyday life. I’m hoping readers will be able to see themselves in my reflections, just as how I saw myself in Dillard’s.
          I never expected to write this book so it holds a very particular sweetness for me. When I entered my MFA program I was studying only fiction. At a friend’s suggestion I dove into the very different waters of creative nonfiction and began writing what eventually became Love’s Long Line. Its existence still feels like a nice surprise.

Lisa Romeo
This book began as essays that each addressed some part of the story of the first few years after my father’s death. As each was published, I’d think of new slices of the story I hadn’t yet told, and I’d write a new essay—a long narrative piece, or a prose poem, or bit of flash nonfiction. There was always this sense of the well not yet being dry, that if I kept digging, there was yet another layer. That’s part of what I love about creative nonfiction, the idea of excavating more meaning from a particular experience or life journey. What inspires me is discovering what else might be lurking.
Starting with Goodbye is about what can happen in a relationship after a parent has passed—and what keeps that person alive to the surviving adult child. I’d love it if readers come away with an optimism about some positives that can occur during grief, and curiosity about that process, rather than fear. I wanted to show that it’s perfectly natural to converse with a deceased loved one, to continue to feel they are part of one’s life, and to talk about departed parents without feeling odd about that.
Sometimes I learned things that weren’t easy to face, like how much I took his time and financial support for granted earlier in life. But I also learned how much he had positively influenced my life, far beyond what I thought when he was alive. I always imagined us at odds, but after he was gone, I realized we were more alike than anyone else in our family.
In the process of writing the book, I learned about transforming essays into a more traditional linear book-length narrative. I’m such an essayist at heart, that this was at first terrifying to me, but in the end, seemed to be exactly what I needed to try, struggle with, and eventually (hopefully) figure out at this point in my writing life.

T. Susan Chang
"Correspondences" are the secret ingredients of every spell, and indeed, every magical practice. (Eye of newt? Toe of frog? Those are correspondences!) And they are hidden in tarot cards as well, just waiting to be recognized. Although these ingredients—astrology, the elements, the numbers, the Kabbalah, the animals, gemstones and fragrances—and their uses have been passed on hand to hand for centuries, I felt it was time for a book that not only collected all that information in one place but taught readers how to use it in connection with their cards.  In sharing Tarot Correspondences: Ancient Secrets for Everyday Readers with the world, my hope is to offer up the correspondences as fuel for readers' own imaginations, to provide substance and body to their own intuitive instincts, and to enrich the practice of divination and the magical current we've all inherited.
For me personally, writing the book was a milestone in a 20-year-long personal journey working with the cards.  Like many readers, I've worked in private and in secret for a long time.  But at a certain point, I had too much to say and too much to share to keep it to myself any longer.  Probably the best reason to write a book is because you can't not do it for another day—which, I finally realized, is the point I'd reached with my thoughts and writings about tarot.

Upcoming appearances and events
Sophfronia Scott will be speaking at our spring Bay Path Writers’ Day on Sunday, April 15, and at other events.
Lisa Romeo will be speaking at our spring Bay Path Writers’ Day on Sunday, April 15, and at other events.
Adam Braver has wrapped up his book tour but updates on his other appearances can found here:
Stay tuned for T. Susan Chang’s fall 2018 appearances…

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Literary Wish List!

Do you have a literary wish list for the holidays? If you’re a writer, you do.  You might be dreaming of a stack of new books, a beautiful new journal, a fancy pen, a literary map of Ireland poster, or my current favorite from the British Library, "Ex Libris: The Game of First Lines and Last Words."  (This is a good one for playing with bibliophile friends on a winter night in front of a blazing fire.) Or maybe all you really want is a bar of "Lady Macbeth's Guest Soap."

We surveyed MFA faculty and students about their lists (both to give and receive); read on and enjoy:

Moleskine notebooks and Varsity Pilot fountain pens (in purple). Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend, by Cristina DeStefano and Marina Harss. And probably several more. I'm still thinking.  – Nicole Hamer

These days, my favorite gift to give is an annual subscription to The Sun, a completely ad-free magazine that publishes excellent fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. I support everything The Sun stands for and I feel especially happy to support a magazine that pays its writers decently. Of course, any literary journal of your choice would make a good gift. And since literary journals often take chances on unknown writers, they are very inspiring for writers. For that writer friend who has everything she needs and spends too much time on social media: an annual subscription to Freedom, an app that blocks the Internet from your computer and other devices.  - Shahnaz Habib

My family and I are devotees of the delicious Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóðtranslated literally, the Christmas Book Flood. On Christmas Eve in Iceland, it is customary for friends and family to exchange books and then to spend the rest of the night together at home reading. Here's a story about it if you are interested. If you'd like to partake, here are some books worth giving or receiving: the detective novel Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason. It's wonderfully creepy with many uniquely Icelandic perspectives on the fine art of committing and solving murders. A less gruesome option would be The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. If you love J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the rest of their Oxford cohort, this group biography will be your favorite gift. If you can find it (you might need to hit used book stores or, check out The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. It is not a new book but it is a delightful read, one part parable, one part poem, one part fairy story, decidedly Thurber. - Kara Noble

One of my favorite gift books is The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. The poems are so human and timeless, and I read them often. For all the dog lovers, my favorite is My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley, poignant but unsentimental and just an all-around treat. (My dog is named after it.) Unsurprisingly, (and Google be damned) I love atlases. Here is a hefty one that's bound for armchair and serious travelers alike. Lastly, and not a literary choice but I've bought this book for many people and it makes everyone happy—Paper Blossoms, a book of pop-up bouquets. I first saw a copy at the Gardner Museum gift shop and was completely charmed. - Susie Seligson

I highly recommend the great feeling of helping to change some lives, by helping to purchase a permanent home for my neighbor, the draft horse sanctuary Blue Star Equiculture in Bondsville, Mass. Since its founding eight years ago, Blue Star has rented a farm down the street from me and now needs to move. But any new home won't happen without the help of all who care about horses and their ages-old human connection. The page has some great shots of the hoped-for new farm home in New Salem, Mass., along with an easy way to make a donation small or large by Dec. 18. If anyone can spare even a buck for the herd by that deadline, I urge them to please do so. Big thanks to anyone who can help Blue Star, which I wrote about in Yankee magazine last year.  – Suzanne Strempek Shea

Subscription to The Sun and the New Yorker, journals, Mary Oliver’s Devotions, printer cartridges/paper, French roast coffee beans, wool socks, flannel sheets (I write in bed), Maker’s Mark (alters consciousness nicely), new laptop, votive candles (always lit while writing).  - Karol Jackowski
As for me, all my writerly wants at the moment are intangible wishes -- more time, the ability to get up earlier in the mornings (!), that every important literary influencer will tout my upcoming book...that sort of thing. But that's not helpful, I know. Here is a link to a round up on the blog of the organization I teach with locally - some cool things on there. Personally, I'd love the Wipebook, and the Nite Note Notebook mentioned/linked in the post. – Lisa Romeo

During the holidays, I love to gift books I love—and I’m especially pleased when I have books from my writer-friends to give away! This year, I’m wrapping up Kay Campbell’s debut novel, A Caravan of Brides.  It’s rich in history, and delivers a beautiful, timeless—add also timely—message about women helping women—a perfect girlfriend gift! And if you have a baseball lover on your list, I recommend Tommy Shea’s Dingers. That was a huge hit last year with my local sports fan! Some of my favorite book-related swag comes from Litographs. Through a proprietary process, they print the actual text of books, poems, and stories (including your own, if you want a custom order) to create a graphic image on tees, scarfs, totes and posters.  Yes, words—up to 90,000 of them—creating a picture.  It’s one of the coolest things ever, for a literary geek like me.  And on my list? Well, those nearest and dearest to me know better than to buy me a book.  Just hand over the gift card for my one of my beloved indie bookstores. (Supporting an indie in person or online is so much more soul-satisfying than shopping at that big-A-place. Plus, you’ll be upping your writer-angel points.)  This year, I’d like to shop for myself at the recently opened Belmont Books, please! – Kate Whouley

December greetings

Greetings! Here in New England, the cold and snow have arrived, just in time for the holidays. (To this native Californian, gaudily decorated palm trees with chili pepper lights evoke the holidays much more than snow.) With or without snow, what else puts you in a holiday mood? For me, it’s books. Holiday roundups of best books of the year, new releases, and the anticipation of hours spent engrossed in a book in front of a fire, a cup of good coffee by my side and a notebook nearby to jot down thoughts. 

Two books in particular should be on your list, both by MFA faculty members: Sophfronia Scott’s Unforgivable Love, an ingenious re-telling of the 18th-century French classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses, set during the Harlem Renaissance; and Adam Braver’s The Disappeared, a work of fiction informed by recent history and a deeply thoughtful response to what we do in the face of inexplicable acts of mass violence. Both works showcase the exceptional talent and range of our MFA faculty. And both shed light on the essentials of being human that remain constant despite social and political eras, including our own: love, connection, trust, compassion. These are not “holiday” values. But it’s a good time to be reminded. And a good time to reflect on what we have together as a community, both in our MFA and in the larger literary communities we belong to.

Speaking of literary communities, we are pleased to welcome a new member to our MFA faculty: travel writer Susan Seligson, whose revealing interview with Sandy Chmiel can be found here. After I read it, I took a moment to reflect on the places I’d been that have changed me, altered the direction of my life, taken root in my heart. I think of the beautiful holiday traditions in these countries—Mexico, Israel, Germany, Ireland, Lebanon, Spain—and how our religious and cultural differences are something to celebrate, not fear. The more we travel, via plane or via good book by an international writer, the better we understand the range and depth of our shared humanity. Across the world, we all hope for peace this season. 

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season with plenty of great books to read (and chili pepper lights, just because) and see you in the new year.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Greetings! The fall semester is underway and MFA classes are in full swing. This semester, I’m running the “Learning to Teach” course with students in their final year, many of whom will go on to lead their own creative classes and workshops. One of the big questions we’re exploring is what, exactly, makes a good creative writing teacher. Expert editing advice? Creative inspiration? Personal support? I’ll be addressing that question, among others, when I give a public talk in early October for the Bay Path community as part of the annual “Got a Minute?” lecture series.

Named in honor of late professor Dick Briotta, whose eponymous signature phrase became legendary (the “minute” usually became an hour or so), the lectures celebrate the intellectual diversity and range of Bay Path faculty. The title of my talk? “Why Creative Writing Makes You a Better Person.”

Yes, I’m putting it right out there. The art of creative writing, when practiced properly, not only leads to better prose but also to heightened empathy, compassion, and awareness on the part of the writer. This is not just my own conviction; scientific studies prove it. Stay tuned – the lecture will be taped and made available as a podcast. Next time, when a well-meaning relative at a holiday party wants to know why on earth you’re writing a memoir instead of, say, a TV pilot about zombies on spring break (all respect to zombies), you’ll have your answer ready.

In addition to the podcast, I’ll be hosting a lunchtime webinar interview with MFA faculty member and Ireland seminar co-leader Tommy Shea on Tuesday October 3, from noon – 1 p.m. Free and open to the public, “Hot Topics in Creative Nonfiction: How to Make Real People Real on the Page,” will draw on Tommy’s 35+ year career as a reporter and columnist for Springfield newspapers and as a book author researching the real people behind baseball legends. Tommy will be taking your questions during the last 20 minutes; bring yours and join us!

I’m also looking forward to our 16th Writers’ Day on October 15. A lively afternoon of talks, panels, and interactive workshops, this Writers’ Day features memoirist Patricia Reis in a talk about mining the personal in nonfiction; poet and performer Charles Coe, who will share tips on reading in public; and writers Elizabeth Searle, Ellen Meeropol, and MFA grad Meredith O’Brien ’17, discussing how they drew from current events to write their most recent books.

And please join me in welcoming the newest addition to our MFA faculty, prolific author Sophfronia Scott, whose work and teaching was featured in our August 23 blog post. Read more about Sophfronia here.

Speaking of reading, what’s on your fall book list? I’ve been dazzled by Roxane Gay’s Hunger, Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, and Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door. Next up: The Mother of All Questions, an essay collection coming in October by the brilliant Rebecca Solnit. Let me know what’s in your book queue! Drop me a line at

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

MFA faculty: Summer Reading

Summertime, and the reading is easy....or challenging, thrilling, shake-you-up-and-set-you-down someplace new. In today's blog, MFA faculty talk about what they're reading this summer—everything from classic nonfiction works to memoirs to groundbreaking novels by new writers. Whether you're traveling to a distant country or down the block to your local, air-conditioned library, you'll find the world opening up in the pages of these books.

Mel Allen - Creative Nonfiction Form and Theory I and II
I am in the midst of writing a major feature for Yankee on the Making of the Vietnam War. It’s about Ken Burns’ new 18-hour epic to be aired this September. I have read all Vietnam all the time the past month. In particular Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and Going after Cacciato— as well as personal memoirs from unknown soldiers and even one by a mother who lost her son.

Leanna James Blackwell, MFA Director - Mentorship Lab, Field Seminar in Ireland
I just completed Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, a richly imagined, stunning meditation on grief, told in the voices of souls who live in the cemetery where Lincoln’s young son, Willie, was buried. In a completely different vein, I’m midway through Norse Mythology, a retelling of Norse legends by Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods. I often turn to mythology and folklore for inspiration –my most recent play, Grimm Women, is a feminist retelling of three classic fairy tales and I’m currently working on an essay collection inspired by Greek myths.

Next on my list are two new memoirs I can’t wait to read: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, about growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation by the brilliant poet, novelist, and short-story writer Sherman Alexie; and Roxane Gay’s newest book, Hunger, which explores the dangerous territory of weight, female bodies, and the way the body responds to trauma.  Last on my list is a book I re-read every summer, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Woolf’s work has served as a lighthouse to me during my entire writing career, and each time I revisit her books I discover something fresh, startling, and unexpected.

Mieke Bomann - Getting Inside Lives: Writing the Personal Profile
I have three books open now. Fearless Heart: How the Courage to be Compassionate can Transform our Lives, by Thupten Jinpa. The author is the longtime English translator for the Dalai Lama, and a former Buddhist monk himself. Clearly written, moving and practical, Jinpa outlines how compassion is the "best-kept secret of happiness." Re-reading The Endurance, by Caroline Alexander, a terrific take on Shackleton's legendary Antarctic expedition. The writing is great, the photos fantastic, and the journey unmatched in its magnitude of spirit, courage, and mind-boggling fortitude. Plus, the frozen setting brings coolness to a hot day! Finally, The News: A User's Manual, by Alain de Botton. As a news junkie—and who isn't, in these days of presidential disaster-a-minute bulletins?—I'm curious to see what this British "pop philosopher" has to say about our media habits, and to gain further insights into the extraordinary impact the 24/7 news cycle has on our hearts and minds.

Adam Braver - Thesis I and II

Currently, three books in the nightstand rotation, two of which are Norwegian novels: The Unseen by Roy Jacobson (shortlisted for Man Booker Award, which was a draw), and another called The Beatles by Lars Saabye Christensen (a book that came highly recommended by a Norwegian friend). I very much like to read contemporary literature from other countries because I find them to be less constrained, in that they trust the intellect of the reader, and can take chances with form, convention, and the exploration of ideas and consciousness. The third book is a nonfiction essay collection: Somebody with a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill. I greatly admire her fiction and thinking, and look forward to seeing it in the personal essay form.  

Susie Chang - Eat, Drink, Get Paid
I'm not reading much fiction these days but picked up The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho on my husband's recommendation, mostly for pleasure. It turned out to be not only a good read but also very relevant to the kind of research on spiritual journeys I'm doing right now.  I’m also reading Tarot and the Magus by Paul Hughes Barlow, just one of the two or three dozen Tarot books I'm constantly dipping in and out of right now in the course of writing a book, Tarot Correspondences, for Llewellyn Publications.  In this case I'm specifically looking for some advanced techniques to incorporate both into my divination practice and into my own book.

Anthony D'Aries - Mentorship Lab, Professional Track in Teaching
I'm reading a memoir by Leah Carroll called Down City: Daughter's Story of Love, Memory, and Murder. Set in Rhode Island, it's about the writer's mother, a photographer who was murdered by two drug dealers with Mafia connections when Leah was four years old. The book is not only about that traumatic event but also the mystery of her parents' lives, told through interviews, photos, and police records. It's a wonderful memoir. 

Aine Greaney - Health and Wellness Writing, Mentorship Lab
I just picked up a wonderful memoir, Once We Were Sisters, by Sheila Kohler. It's by a South-African-born author who, following the death of her 39-year-old sister, flies back to her native country to grieve and come to terms with their shared lives and strange childhood. I chose this because the writing is so beautiful, I love transatlantic books and am always fascinated by family relationships and how family history overlaps with a country's history.

Shahnaz Habib - Creative Nonfiction Form and Theory I and II
This month, I have been reading the Qur'an with my daughter. We are in the middle of Ramadan, a sacred month for Muslims. It's the month in which the Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet. As a reader and writer, I love remembering that the first revealed word of the Qur'an was "Read!" So every day, Sophy and I read a few Qur'an verses in Arabic, then we read their English translation. I love sitting on the prayer mat with my daughter on my lap, reading in two languages. Reading with a six-year-old means stopping to wonder about words, defining concepts I have taken for granted, parsing the difference between literal and metaphoric. The questions she asks are compelling me to think through my own understanding of belief, God's powers, human purpose.

Ramadan has been particularly hard this year in North America in these long summer days. I have been humbled and challenged by the daily 16-hour fasting regimen. For inspiration, I have been reading about fasting. I just finished the gorgeous, lyrical Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali, in which he writes about fasting and writing and doing yoga. I have also been dipping into Ramadan: Motivating Believers to Action, an anthology that collects theological and philosophical writings on Ramadan from the 12th century to our own times.

But there comes a time of the day when my hunger is too distracting for lofty reading. So I have also been cutting the fat with some detective fiction. Right now I am working my way through Susan Hill's Inspector Serailler mysteries. I will admit that I linger a bit too much over the descriptions of police officers discussing the latest murder over pie and peas in a pub. Pie and peas. Mmmm.

I am also prepping for a Study Abroad program I will be leading in India later this summer, so I am rereading some Indian writers I want my students to read. I was awed by Ghachar Ghochar, a novel in translation, in which the author Vivek Shanbagh captures a changing city by focusing on the domestic tensions within one family. I will soon turn to R. K. Narayan who created a fictional small town, Malgudi, the likes of which are fast disappearing in India, and peopled them with characters, each of whose lives he explored through individual books in the Malgudi series.

Karol Jackowski - Women’s Spiritual Writing, Nature Writing
Years ago I started reserving summer as a time to re-read books that changed my life.  I scan my bookshelves waiting for a book to pick me. This summer Jung's Active Imagination was my first pick.  How did it change my life?  In 2001 I finished writing—with a six week deadline—a heart-wrenching book called The Silence We Keep, a nun's view of the pedophile priest scandal.  Feeling like I'd never write another word, I picked up Active Imagination in which Jung speaks in depth about how to keep the writing soul alive. He writes about what to do when you finish writing a book before beginning another one. "Do the opposite of what your craft is,” he said, and used the example of a writer beginning to paint.  Doing the opposite of our craft awakens creative visions in the soul untouched by the mindfulness of writing.  Or as Gertrude Stein reveals..."It takes a heap of doing nothing to write a good book." The mindlessness and playfulness of painting has now become the soulmate to writing life. Thank you, Carl Jung.

Lisa Romeo - Thesis I and II
For part of my spring and summer reading, I decided to catch up with books by some fellow graduates of the MFA program I attended. It's a wildly divergent group of books. I'm currently reading two: The Butcher's Daughter by Florence Grende, a memoir of growing up the child of Holocaust survivors; and A Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol, an unusual novel about plants, eco-terrorism, family, and…(well, I'll find out). And next up are: Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks, in which she interviews writers who tackled difficult memoirs; The Language of Men by fellow MFA instructor Anthony D'Aries, a father-son story of love, travel, discovery; and In the Context of Love by Linda K. Sienkiewicz, a novel of family secrets and the always challenging path of love.

Suzanne Strempek Shea - Writer-in-Residence, Field Seminar in Ireland
I’m reading Ma Speaks Up: And a First-Generation Daughter Talks Back, by Marianne Leone. Leone’s first book, Jesse: A Mother’s Story, is a heart-grabbing tribute to the life of her late son, and the story of how she and husband Chris Cooper became activists for others who, like their Jesse did, struggle with physical and/or mental challenges. In this new book, Leone brings us to the story (both the real one and the fable she delivered over the years) of her mother’s immigration from Italy, and to Marianne’s own journey across the sometimes swirling seas of being that larger-than-life woman’s daughter. Often poignant, and just as often hilarious, the writing shines with spirit and love. Second on the list is the brilliant Sting Like a Bee: Muhammad Ali vs. the United States of America, 1966-1971, by Leigh Montville. I read anything by this perennially best-selling writer, who spoke on interviewing at one of our earlier Writers’ Days. Montville’s prose, research, approach, and his basic ideas (as this look at a very tumultuous time in the life of Ali and this country illustrates) fascinate and inform.

I’m also reading Puppy Bible: The Ultimate Week-by-Week Guide to Raising Your Puppy, by Claire Arrowsmith and Alison Smith. It’s been ten years since I’ve raised a puppy, and this is a solid paw to hold as my husband and I begin anew. I’m happy about the guidance and checklists that start with the decision to adopt a pup, and then go through preparing the home and family and bringing the little one home. The week-by-week setup that brings us to six months has been most helpful. The sections on dog psychology, behavior issues, training and more also have been read more than a few times. I don’t agree with everything (please spay/neuter your critters, don’t waste time pondering) but find this a generally solid resource.

Tommy Shea - Field Seminar in Ireland

Summer reading! What it Used to be Like: A Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver by Maryann Burk Carver. I’m a reporter, always looking for the other side of the story. I first read Raymond Carver’s short stories in Esquire in the early ‘80s. Then I started buying his books, Cathedral the first. The sentences and paragraphs were short, terse. What wasn’t being said hung there like cigarette smoke, silent, ever present. The characters within seemed straight out of the Bruce Springsteen albums, “Darkness on the Edge of Town’’ and “Nebraska.” Hardscrabble, paycheck-to-paycheck lives. The baby is on the way. The rent is overdue. The phone rings and no one picks it up. The drink is always being poured and drunk too fast. The cup hits the table, signaling “I’m done, hit me with another.” The author always said he drew his stories from his life.

Raymond Carver, who had toiled as a soda jerk, janitor, and farm worker, the guy who graduated Chico State College with a B-minus average, became a literary star. He was reviewed as an “American Chekov,’’ the “most important American short story writer of the second half of the 20th century.’’ He divorced his first wife, married a famous poet, quit drinking, had a lung removed, kept writing. He was dead at 50. Cancer.

Carver’s first wife, Maryann, was a footnote in too many obituaries. She had met him when she was 14, working as a waitress at the Spudnut restaurant in Union Gap, Washington. When they married in 1957, she had just graduated high school, two months short of her 17th birthday and pregnant. Carver was 19. Before Maryann was 18, she was pregnant again. She quit school to support her husband’s writing habit and her daughter and son, working as an encyclopedia saleswoman, a waitress, restaurant hostess, before finishing her schooling and teaching English. Maryann had her book published in 2006. I’m only reading it now. So far it is a love story I don’t think will end. But I know different. I think.

Kate Whouley - Mentorship Lab, Health and Wellness Writing, Professional Track in Publishing
Right now, I am reading Woe is I by Patricia O'Connell, as I am working to develop a foundational refresher course for incoming students. For pleasure, I’m reading The Rebels of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd. I read his novel Paris earlier this spring, and fell in love with his contemporary approach to historical fiction. (And after you finish one of his sweeping epics, you have a new doorstop!)

And, of course, my summer reading always includes the good writing in The New Yorker, Yankee Magazine, and, yes, Vogue.