Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Students MUST post reactions ( minimum 250 words) to the interview and ONE of the assigned reading linked below. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN is a long form journalist often compared to David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S. Thompson (who famously included himself as a character in his quasi journalistic pieces like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

Here's what Sullivan says about including himself as a character in his pieces: "I never really feel like I’ve given myself away, in a piece; the “first person” isn’t you; you’re zero. The first person already involves the assertion of a mask. As for the balance, I feel about it precisely as one would at a meal or on a boat with strangers, wanting to talk about myself enough not to seem closed off, but never so much as to bore them, and always watching, in a probably paranoid way, for that moment, that line, when I’ve talked a sentence too long, and added a detail after they’d lost interest in the subject. The eyes people get at that moment, they glaze over and go dead, in an uncontrollable primate way—we can’t help it. I hate and fear those eyes. This isn’t exactly a heroic vision of the writer, but it’s natural. I am trying to charm the reader because I want him and her to come with me deeper into the piece. If you can bring them with you there, things get more interesting."

"You Blow My Mind, Hey Mickey!" by John Jermiah Sullivan: "One night my wife, M. J., said I should prepare to Disney. It wasn’t presented as a question or even as something to waste time thinking about, just to brace for, because it was happening. We have some old friends, Trevor and Shell (short for Michelle), and they have a girl, Flora, 5, who is only a year older than our daughter, Mimi. The girls grew up thinking of each other as cousins and get along beautifully. Shell and Trevor also have a younger son, Lil’ Dog. He possesses a real, dignified-sounding name, but his grandparents are the only people I’ve ever heard call him that. All his life he has been Lil’ Dog. The nickname didn’t come about in any special way. There’s no story attached. It was as if, at the moment of birth, the boy himself spoke and chose this moniker. When you look at him, something in him makes you want to say, “Lil’ Dog.” He’s a tiny, sandy-haired, muscular guy, with a goofy, lolling grin, who’s always about twice as heavy when you pick him up as you thought he was going to be." Click heading to read the essay.
"Upon This Rock" by John Jeremiah Sullivan: "I was assigned to cover the CrossOver Festival in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, three days of the top Christian bands and their backers at an isolated midwestern fairground or something. I'd stand at the edge of the crowd and take notes on the scene, chat up the occasional audience member ("What's harder—homeschooling or regular schooling"), then flash my pass to get backstage, where I'd rap with the artists themselves "This Christian music—it's a phenomenon. What do you tell your fans when they ask you why God let Creed break up" The singer could feed me his bit about how all music glorifies Him, when it's performed with a loving spirit, and I'd jot down every tenth word, inwardly smiling. Later that night, I might sneak some hooch in my rental car and invite myself to lie with a prayer group by their fire, for the fellowship of it. Fly home, stir in statistics. Paycheck." Click heading to read the essay.
An Interview w. John Jeremiah Sullivan: "It’s Ezra Pound who talks about the rose in the steel dust. They liked to do these experiments back in the Man Ray days, where they’d have a surface covered with millions of tiny iron shavings, then take a magnet in the shape of something—a rose in this case—and lower it down over the table, and the dust would gather itself into that shape. Beautiful to see. We do that with our material, when we’re writing well and not forcing it, not pushing the piece to arbitrary places. The thing itself—the rose—is the piece, and the form. It knows you’ve got ten thousand pages of material, but regrettably it only wants to be twenty or thirty pages long, so it starts demanding you make decisions. Now you’re in dialogue with it. The magnet and the dust are approaching each other." Click heading to read the interview.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Students MUST post reactions ( minimum 250 words) to the assigned reading/listening/viewing linked below. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

H is for HAWK by Helen MacDonald: "Forty-five minutes north-east of Cambridge is a landscape I’ve come to love very much indeed. It’s where wet fen gives way to parched sand. It’s a land of twisted pine trees, burnt-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs and US Air Force bases. In spring it’s a riot of noise: constant plane traffic, gas-guns over pea fields, woodlarks and jet engines. It’s called the Brecklands – the broken lands – and it’s where I ended up that morning, seven years ago, in early spring, on a trip I hadn’t planned at all." Click heading to read rest of excerpt.

Listen to an interview with Helen MacDonald HERE. Watch an interview with Helen MacDonald HERE.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Students MUST post reactions ( minimum 250 words) to the assigned reading(s) linked below. Students are to pick ONE interview and ONE writing sample. Extra credit to those who read both interviews, both stories, and post two separate reactions. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

Click HERE to read the Interview Magazine interview with Karen Russell OR HERE to read her interview with Guernica.

"Ava Wrestles the Alligator" by Karen Russell: "My sister and I are staying in Grandpa Sawtooth's old house until our father, Chief Bigtree, gets back from the Mainland. It's our first summer alone in the swamp. "You girls will be fine," the Chief slurred. "Feed the gators, don't talk to strangers. Lock the door at night." The Chief must have forgotten that it's a screen door at Grandpa's — there is no key, no lock. The old house is a rust-checkered yellow bungalow at the edge of the wild bird estuary. It has a single, airless room; three crude, palmetto windows, with mosquito-blackened sills; a tin roof that hums with the memory of rain. I love it here. Whenever the wind gusts in off the river, the sky rains leaves and feathers. During mating season, the bedroom window rattles with the ardor of birds." Click the title to read the rest of the excerpt.

"The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis" by Karen Russell: "“Hey, you guys,” I swallowed. “Look—” And pointed to the pin oak, where a boy our age was belted to the trunk. Somebody in blue jeans and a T-shirt that had faded to the same earthworm color as his hair, a white boy, doubled over the rope. His hair clung tight as a cap to his scalp, as if painted on, and his face looked like a brick of sweating cheese. Gus got to the kid first. “You retards.” His voice was high with relief. “It’s just a doll.” He punched its stomach. “It’s got straw inside it.” “It’s a scarecrow!” shrieked Mondo. It was late September, a cool red season. The scarecrow was hung up on the sunless side of the oak. The tree was a shaggy pyramid, sixty or seventy feet tall, one of the “famous” landmarks of Friendship Park; it overlooked a ravine—a split in the seam of the bedrock, very narrow and deep—that we called “the Cone.” Way down at the bottom you could see a wet blue dirt with radishy pink streaks along it, as exotic looking to us as a sea floor." Click the title to read the rest of the story.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Students MUST post reactions ( minimum 250 words) to the combined assigned viewing AND reading linked below. Students are to post ONE comment addressing BOTH the viewing and the fictional excerpt. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

Neil Gaiman at the 2008 National Book Festival. Click heading to watch the video.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman: "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet." Click heading to read the rest of the first chapter.