Reading Series: A Conversation with Aaron Burch, Amelia Grey, and Colin Winnette

It’s common for writing students to hear that to become a good writer, they must first love to read. It makes sense, so thankfully there is an abundance of reading opportunities at Roosevelt University.

Using similar logic, perhaps the best strategy to become a good published writer is to attend a conversation on writing and publishing with Aaron Burch (Backswing, editor of Hobart), Amelia Gray (Gutshot), and Colin Winnette (Haints Stay) on Monday, September 28 at 5 p.m. on the seventh floor of the Gage Building at 18 S. Michigan Avenue.

A Trio of Facts on Our Conversationalists

Aaron Burch:

1) Burch most recently published his collection Backswing, following two novellas and multiple short story publications in Another Chicago Magazine, Barrelhouse, and New York Tyrant.

2) Hobart: Another Literary Journal launched in 2001, releasing print issues and daily web content. They have also published several books through their Short Flight/Long Drive imprint.

3) After the release of Backswing, Aaron Burch talked with writer Matt Bell about his approach to organizing the stories: “I think the stories in this collection that actually took the most drafts, that I really struggled the most to figure out, are probably the ones where I had a conceit first and was trying write toward that. Usually when that happens, those kinds of stories don’t last very long before being discarded … It took me way too many drafts of each to realize that there wasn’t really a ‘recognizable emotion’ at all, much less to then try to find it.”

Amelia Gray:

1) Her short fiction and essays have appeared in a number of publications, including The New Yorker, Tin House, and VICE. She has also published four books: AM/PM, Museum of the Weird, THREATS, and Gutshot.

2) She has been nominated for multiple writing awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction shortlist in 2012, and she won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award in 2010.

3) In an interview with FlavorWire, Gray said this about American literature: “American Fiction is going great! Today, it’s possible to read both erotica and books written for children without fear of social castigation. In fact, you can read these books out in the open: on airplanes, over dinner, in parks if you still go to parks. Just look at the Kindle bestsellers list and take heart in the fact that America has returned to its porny, easy-reading roots. Your average e-reader is stuffed with enough low-grade smut to power the light bondage fantasies of an entire office of accountants and actuaries. We’ve won, people!”

Colin Winnette:

1) His first novel, Revelation, was published while he was still studying for his MFA at the School of the Art Institute here in Chicago. He went on to publish four subsequent books after graduating.

2) He currently works as an associate editor for PANK, writer/editor for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and hosts an interview series for Electric Literature, during which he discusses various writers’ favorite books.

3) In an interview with The Offing, Winnette suggested diversity in writing is often his best strategy: “If you have a lot of creative energy and discipline, why wouldn’t you chase after everything you can? Try this, try that. Have some fun with it all. I don’t feel excited to work if I’m doing something that feels redundant … Also, it’s a cliché that writing books is more about asking questions than providing answers, but it’s something I find to be true for myself. Which means that, at the end of a book, I’ve still got these ideas and interests kicking around inside me, narratively resolved (in some way) but not necessarily personally. I’m still me.”

More info:

Kathryn Brostowitz is a MFA candidate for Creative Writing at Roosevelt University.

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

Roosevelt Reading Series features Chris Bower!

Author Chris Bower is going to Read to You at Roosevelt this Monday!

I would recommend not looking for negative reviews of Chris Bower’s writing anywhere on the internet, as research has shown that there aren’t any. Instead, I suggest attending his reading on Monday, Sept. 21 from 5-6 p.m. at Roosevelt University’s Gage 700 (18 S. Michigan Avenue) so that you can have the opportunity to give him your own positive review.

Often described as “engrossingly grim,” Chris Bower most recently published “Little Boy Needs Ride: and Other Stories” (Curbside Splendor, 2015), a collection of short stories whose characters were described by Zach Dodson, co-founder of Featherproof Books, as “whimsical, human-shaped creatures with ill humor lurking in their flat darkness.” That to me is essentially just a much more intriguing way of saying “you can’t possibly want to miss any reading that includes these characters.” A trailer for this book can be found at the end of this post.

Prior to his most recent collection, Bower’s novella, “The Family Dog” was published in a collection of novella-in-flash by Rose Metal Press titled “My Very End of the Universe.” The collection won the Gold Medal for anthology at the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Bower has written multiple stage productions, one of which (titled “Mascot”) was described by Jack Helbig at Chicago Reader as “powerful” and “darkly funny.” If I trust any review, it’s one in The Reader.

If for no other reason, it’s important to come to Bower’s reading at Roosevelt on Monday to get a taste of what he has to offer at his own “semi-once-in-a-while” reading series, Rays the Tap Reading Series. He says “It’s weird, it’s long, it’s often boozy, it’s sometimes incredibly beautiful and moving, and very often crude but it’s always the most original reading series in Chicago.” He promises that he is “committed to only put on shows that are not fucking boring and will always display some of Chicago’s best writers and artists.” So only attend Bower’s reading at Roosevelt Monday night if you enjoy not being bored.


Who: Author Chris Bower
What: He’s going to read words and then talk with you.
When: Monday, September 21 at 5 p.m. (refreshments available at 4:30!)
Where: Roosevelt University Gage 700
18 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Il, 60603
Why: Because it’s going to be fantastic.

“Little Boy Needs Ride: and Other Stories” video trailer

Animation by Susie Kirkwood

Read by Chris Bower

More info:

Posted in Oyez News | 2 Comments

Submissions are live!

We have beaten technology into submission, yet again! Head to our Submission Guidelines and send us your best work until October 1! We look forward to reading your best work!

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

On the Importance of Reading Outloud.

As children, there was a time before any of us could read. This is a fact (no matter what Baby Einstein paid programming may insinuate), and therefore, most of our first interactions with books were from them being read to us. However, as we mature, this habit—no, art—is often ignored and undervalued. Once we learn to read for ourselves and eventually write our own words, we assume the time for reading aloud has passed. I think this does our own writing a great disservice, though.

After writing a story, authors will sometimes feel themselves invested in the writing in a way that becomes almost an unhealthy envelopment in the trenches of the words, so engrossed, that we forget how the rest of the world experiences these words. Attending a reading and performing a reading can enhance your own writing and make you aware of things you aren’t able to see on the page. When you speak your writing, you immediately hear the way that it sounds more human or more robotic. You suddenly hear your narrator’s voice in a new way, or how dialogue between two characters borders on flat.

You also see the way that your audience interacts with the writing. The relationship with a writer and a reader is one of the most fundamental necessities for success, and by having an audience that is captive for your work, you can visibly encounter the way that you either reach your audience, or the way that you need to enhance their experience.

Because the written word is where the author finds himself of herself most invested, writers also tend to forget about the rest of the world. We become invested in the characters we create, or the ones that we find on someone else’s pages. However, there is a real world of real people out there—and reading to an audience forces us to acknowledge that fact. It pushes us out of our comfort zones and through our social awkwardness, into the interactive world.

As a community of writers, we should also be devoted to supporting our peers. This is almost as important as perfecting on craft, in a selfish way. Attend readings so that you can see what others are doing with the common craft that you practice. Author Kyle Beachy has said, “The importance of learning how to get the most out of any conversation that isn’t about you cannot be overstated—because most conversations aren’t about you.” That concept applies to readings, as well. Watch other readers in the city read so that you can hone your own work and your own reading voice. Chicago has readings, most of them free, almost every night. Find these events publicized in magazines, on websites, or by word of mouth. In a city full of talented artists, it isn’t difficult to find an interesting reading in your neighborhood.

Since I’ve convinced you of the merits of reading your work and seeing other’s read, keep your ears and eyes open, and please let us know when you are doing a reading, it would be a disservice to our art if we did not try to attend!

Cassandra Morrison is a MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University and serves as a reader/editor for issue 42 of Oyez Review.

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

Do’s and Dont’s in Publishing in 2015

Sometimes as a writer in 2015, it may feel as if there is no hope of ever getting published. While this isn’t a new phenomenon for any writer, it is one that in the digital age should be approached differently than in the past. As the world declares that “Print is dead,” and while we may all tend to agree, there is a romance that all writers are drawn to of the craft and the eventual distribution of our stories and words. I’ve compiled a list of some topics that should be considered in the 21st century when approaching publishing:

  1. Don’t ignore mainstream publishing. While there is something inherently impractical about approaching book publishers in an age when books aren’t being sold, rest assured that books are in fact, being sold. In 2013, Neilson reported that 501.6 million print units were sold. So publishers are still searching for writers to print. From small, indie publishing presses to the New York Times, don’t be hesitant to submit your work. As Dr. Janet Wondra describes, her friend who produces art sends a sample of his work to The Louvre with every installation. In his words, “They should know what I’m doing.” So should every publishing press that you can find an address for. Just because society has deemed print dead, doesn’t diminish the romance all writers seek: reviving the printed word.
  2. Do consider self-publishing and digital publishing. Not in contradiction to the previous statements, but rather in tandem with them. Research self-publishing, there are plenty of outlets that offer writers a chance to publish and promote short stories, novels, poems through their websites. Digital readership rose 43% in 2013 according to USA Today. From digital E-Books to self-published books, people are still reading, just in different formats. So don’t hesitate to publish via websites or online literary journals. But do be aware of your rights to the work once it is published online. In many cases, once it is out there, it is a difficult task to claim ownership about what happens to it. So investigate the copyright, first.
  3. Don’t consider blogging a lesser form of writing. In the not so distant past, many published writers and readers alike, considered blogging the navel-gazing work of someone less intelligent than himself or herself, don’t hold onto this view. Many writers begin blogging and gain traction and attention from readers, which eventually leads to a publishing deal. It is the easiest way to consistently force yourself to write, while showing your writing to someone other than yourself. Which leads us to…
  4. Do use social media to promote your writing. Half of any profession is marketing and networking, in some form or fashion. The vast spaces of the internet lead you to a world of strangers that may latch onto your writing by simply clicking on a link to your blog or a story that was published, and then travel to the nearest (local, independent, please) bookstore and purchase your book. So learn to tweet, facebook, blog, retweet, instagram, and all the other new ways to communicate with the world that will exist in the 20 minutes before I publish this, it’s in your best interest, I assure you.
  5. Most importantly, do get people to read your writing. Whether you find a local book club, an expensive writer’s conference, a MFA program, someone you had a creative writing class with in an undergraduate program, find them and get a second opinion. Revise, edit, do spell-check, revise, get feedback and do so with the help of a friend. Because after all, it is still all about the work produced. Whether published online or in print, if your work is not as good as it can be, then what’s the point?

So keep writing, keep reading, and keep chasing the dream of getting published—because it can be a reality, the 21st century offers us a chance to take control of our writing credits in a way unlike any other time before. That’s exciting for us all!

Cassandra Morrison is a MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University and serves as a reader/editor for issue 42 of Oyez Review.

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

What to do when you’re stuck…

As a writer, searching for the routines and habits that help us develop our craft and get our ideas on paper – which is our job – can be a struggle. I’m one of those people that thrives on order. I need routine. I need a plan of action for every day. I need a hearty breakfast, a brisk walk outside with my pooch, coffee – obviously – and I need to spend the majority of my morning with my office door closed, clacking-away at my keyboard. And when my routine is broken – all bets are off. How will I ever write again? I think to myself. How will I ever find the discipline to ignore these distractions and focus on my story? All is surely lost!

Melodrama aside, my point is: I understand the importance of routine. But despite my affinity for establishing regularity in my life, I have found that my focus is cyclical. Some days my mind is sharp and other days it drifts. So I’ve stopped fighting this inclination when it occurs.

Now, I’m not saying throw all learned traits and established habits to the wind or abandon all hope the first time a little writer’s block creeps up and bites you on the behind. No, first try to reorder yourself or diligently shoo the pest away. But if you cannot, embrace the change. Pick it up, cradle it, see where your wandering mind wants to go. I’ve come to accept this bit of unpredictability in my life as necessary. And not a pesky necessary evil, but as a truly helpful part of my writing cycle. Really what I’ve learned is that sometimes my routine makes me myopic in my craft. So when my routine is broken or I feel the nip of writer’s block, I turn to other arts.

My first stop is usually music. I put on something I haven’t heard in a while, close my eyes, and I listen to it like it’s the first time I’ve ever heard it. If that doesn’t work then I ask a friend for a new recommendation. If I’m feeling particularly stifled and I feel the need to jump out of my chair, out of my office, and into a new environment, I might head to a museum.

Visual arts are incredibly inspiring to me. I know nothing of painting techniques or multimedia sculptures, but I don’t need to in order to feel inspired. Chicago is full of some of the most amazing art in the world, so getting a healthy serving of inspiration is easy. I let each piece wash over me, and when I feel something amazing I think to myself, I can do that.

But sometimes I don’t need to go as far as the Loop to feel inspired. Sometimes I don’t even need to leave my apartment. Sometimes I only need to go as far as my kitchen. I’ll open a cookbook to a dish I’ve never made – or even seen – and say I can do that. And in the act of creating something that’s new (to me) and delicious (hopefully), I find myself once again inspired and ready to return to my routine.

S. Baer Lederman is a MFA candidate at Roosevelt University and a part of the editorial team for the Oyez Review 42.

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

When we love it, we fight for your words.

Every editor knows that at some point they’re going to have to fight for a piece that they absolutely love and feel they cannot pass-up because if they don’t grab it when they have the chance, they will never stop thinking about “the one that got away.” This is a natural part of the editorial process. Every editor on the editorial team reads all the pieces that are submitted, makes notes and eventually a list, and then breaks the lists down in order to select and bring forth only their favorite pieces. And then the editorial team meets and the real work begins. Decision time.

Naturally, there are going to be some pieces that catch everyone’s eye. They are obvious; they speak sternly to everyone that reads them as if to say you must publish me. But then there are those other pieces; the subtle pieces that long after you have finished reading keep whispering in your ear hey, remember me?

Once a piece has made its home in your imagination, it’s hard to shake. And if you are the only person on your team that loves it, then you are going to have to fight to get it to the press. At first maybe you can’t exactly figure out what it is that you love about it – or maybe you know exactly what it is you love about it, but you can’t quite articulate why. And when you bring the piece forward to the rest of the editors, you’re doubly stumped because you work with words everyday, yet this piece has left you speechless.

Learning how to fight for a piece is an incredibly important part of being an editor. If a piece works, you must be able to say why it works – and likewise, you must be able to articulate why pieces do not work. You must, in a sense, be able to speak honestly about the writing that crosses your desk.

When it comes time to fight for a piece that has whispered in your ear and snuggled up in your imagination, you need to be able to talk about every facet of it. You need to be able to prove why the weaknesses your peers perceive are actually strengths and why the strengths elevate the piece to the point where you simply cannot pass it up. But most of all, you need to be one hundred percent behind it. The piece has already convinced you; you are a believer. Now it’s your job to show your team why.

S. Baer Lederman is a MFA candidate at Roosevelt University and part of the editorial team for the Oyez Review 42.

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

When it comes to Creative Non-Fiction we all have issues…

Creative nonfiction is a relatively new genre, so perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that many people attempt it without really understanding what they’re attempting. Though essays have a rich history, creative writing as we understand it has moved away from the essay to break new ground and in doing so has apparently confused many of those who are interested in writing it. Reading creative nonfiction submissions is like panning for gold: sifting through a collage of personal anecdotes to find one that shines.

First, let’s define what creative nonfiction is. The University of Vermont Writing Center’s website offers one of the more simple and concise definitions: “It is writing composed of the real, or of facts, that employs the same literary devices as fiction . . .” Clear enough, don’t you think? However, writing good creative nonfiction necessitates a deeper look.

So we’ve defined what creative nonfiction is. Let’s take a look at what it is not. Creative nonfiction is not a blog post and it is not a diary entry. Creative nonfiction has to have something more. Put bluntly, creative nonfiction has to matter to someone other than you and your best friend. While your high school experience, your first heartbreak, or your job might be interesting to you and those close to you, if you’re going to write a creative nonfiction piece about it, you need to find a way to make your experience universal. You need to find a way to put it in a larger context.

While it’s possible to be too casual and too personal, it’s also possible to make the opposite mistake and forget the “creative” part of creative nonfiction. A creative nonfiction piece should not be a news article and it should not be an academic paper. However well-researched your piece, it’s the elements of literary fiction that make it creative nonfiction. Perhaps you have read a beautiful, compelling feature in a newspaper. I’ve definitely read a few that I think would qualify as creative nonfiction. It is the ability of the writer to instill a sense of place, to handle dialogue, or to move us with lyrical language that will elevate these kinds of pieces beyond journalism. The point is, however well-done, creative nonfiction is more than just delivering facts.

So do yourself a favor and pick up some Maggie Nelson and some Joan Didion and some David Sedaris. See how they make their experiences important to their readers. See how they weave facts and research seamlessly into their subject matter. See what these writers and others like them are doing with their experiences and the literary forms they’re using. Creative nonfiction is a rich and rewarding genre that is worth exploration, so get in there and get busy.

Hilary Collins is a MFA candidate in Creative-Nonfiction at Roosevelt University and the Oyez Review 43 Editor in Chief.

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

We’ll never tell you what to write about, but…

As a poetry editor, the sheer amount of poems you read can be very daunting. When you read hundreds of poems, you begin to notice that there are a few topics everyone seems to want to write about. It only takes a couple of these poems for you to sigh whenever you see certain themes emerging from the words in front of you. Not this again, you think, and push the thought back and give the poem a chance. But by choosing a topic that has been done so much and by so many, and by the greats before us, the poet has created an uphill job for themselves in trying to give a fresh face to these old themes.

I’ve seen too many poems about death. These poems are usually about the death of someone close to the author. Death and love have to be the two most written-about subjects in the world. It is very difficult to say anything new about them. I won’t say much about this because death is a heavy, permanent thing that I don’t care to make light of, but it is universal, and almost everyone has lost someone. This doesn’t mean you will now be able to write meaningful poetry about that experience.

Now, if I can’t make light of how many people write about the losses they have experienced, I can definitely find humor in how many people send in poems about nature. I’ve read poems about birds, about seasons, and so many poems about gardens. We are so enraptured by the beauty of the world around us that it just pours out of us, in couplets, in sonnets, in free verse. Please stop. Your garden is lovely. Your roses are astoundingly crimson. The sparrow you saw embodies hope. The sunset last night was a thing of wonder. But stop writing poems about them.

Please don’t send me a poem about the ocean. Please, please don’t write a poem about the ocean. If you must, please leave out the word “cerulean”. I think this is my least favorite kind of poem, and I think it’s because when you realize a poem is going to try to describe the ocean to you, you already know 50% of the words you’re going to be reading. You’re going to use the word “blue” and fifty different synonyms for the word “blue”. You will probably discuss waves and sand and maybe throw in the calls of the seagulls. See, I know this poem by heart and I haven’t even read yours yet! Don’t send it to me!

I can’t speak for all poetry editors, especially since I myself can barely claim that title, but I will say speaking as someone who has read hundreds of poems from poets who are actively trying to publish their work, I have reached my point of saturation on these topics. Most of us have lost someone we loved and most of us agree the ocean is beautiful, but unless you have something new and wonderful to say on the subject, write about something else. And here’s the thing: if you do think you have something new and wonderful to say about death or the ocean, please send it to me. I would love to publish a poem that says something new about the ocean. I would love to see that it can be done, that in 2015 there are still new things to say about the ocean. That would be a beautiful thing.

Hilary Collins is a MFA candidate in Creative Non-fiction at Roosevelt University and the Oyez Review 43 Editor in Chief.

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment

Chicago native Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski reads Monday at the Gage Gallery.

Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski is reading this Monday, March 23 at 5 pm at the Gage Gallery as part of our Spring Reading Series. Mr. Galaviz-Budziszewski is a Chicago born and raised writer. His short stories have been published in many literary magazines including Ploughshares and TriQuarterly, and his collection “Painted Stories” was published in 2014 by McSweeney’s. His writing is based on growing up in the Pilsen neighborhood. He still lives in Chicago, where he works as a high school counselor for students with disabilities. Here are a few facts to get to know him better…

Five Facts for your Friday about Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski:

  1. Growing up on the South Side in Pilsen, the city line of Chicago seemed a lifetime away. He used to call Chicago, “Oz”. One of his first long-term forays into the city led him to Harold Washington College, which led him to meet a writing workshop professor who encouraged him to apply to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he eventually attended.
  2. Writing about Pilsen wasn’t part of his plan. When he was attending Iowa, he was working on a memoir but realized his story was really fictionalized stories about Pilsen, no matter how difficult they were to write. He said, “When I first started writing stories, I was terrified of writing about Pilsen…Thinking about Pilsen is so emotional for me, but I realized that tapping into those feelings brings out better stories, and it just happens that this is where it’s at for me, in terms of emotion.”
  3. He published the stories about Pilsen in many top literary magazines—Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Indiana Review and others— but failed to sell them as a collection. He doesn’t write with publication in mind, “…It’s a more satisfying outcome, when I can write something that sounds so good out loud, or bring a tear to my own eye—rather than ‘I need to send this out as soon as possible.’” Which is why his friend from the Iowa Workshop, Peter Orner, submitted his stories without his knowledge to McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers, who loved and published “Painted Cities”.
  4. He doesn’t believe in ‘Writers’ block’, but instead thinks that is where some of the best writing comes from. He said, “The addictive quality of writing is getting to that point where things are just coming out. That’s the wonderful feeling I look for, and you never know when it’s coming next. That’s why I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is a refusal to let yourself get lost in the woods.”
  5. Before publishing “Painted Cities”, he added the hyphenated Galaviz—his mother’s maiden name—to his name. “I’m writing strictly Latino stories, but my name doesn’t look in the slightest Latino,” he said. “So I threw in ‘Galaviz’ as an homage to my mother and to acknowledge where I came from, which was this biracial, bicultural family.”

Bonus Fact: As a child, his nickname was “Ali”, given to him by his father after winning a bet on the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974.

Be sure to stop by the Gage Gallery this Monday, March 23 at 5 pm for the reading, refreshments being served at 4:30 pm.

Facts compiled from:

Cassandra Morrison is a MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University and serves as a reader/editor for issue 42 of Oyez Review

Posted in Oyez News | Leave a comment