Friday, April 28, 2017


Sandra Worsham’s stories have been published in Memphis Magazine, Carolina Quarterly, Western Humanities Review, Ascent, and Chattahoochee Review, among others.  She won First in Fiction in the Red Hen Press competition, and her story “Pinnacle” was published in the 2008 Los Angeles Review. Two of her stories were Finalists at Glimmer Train. After she retired from teaching writing to high school students for 30 years, her book on teaching writing, Essential Ingredients:  Recipes for Teaching Writing, was published by ASCD in 2001. She was Georgia’s 1982 Teacher of the Year and a 1992 Milken Award Winner. In 2000, she was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. In June, 2006, she received her MFA in Fiction from Bennington College. Her new memoir, Going to Wings, is being released this summer from Red Dirt Press. She lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, with her spouse and their two dogs.

You are about to publish a memoir? Is this something that you always wanted to do? Please tell us a little bit about it.

I never thought that I would write a memoir, except maybe a story of my experiences as a high school writing teacher. When I read Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, I thought that perhaps I could write a Teacher Woman book. My MFA degree at Bennington was in fiction, and I have always thought that my book was either a novel or a collection of related stories. I knew that I had a story to tell, and I tried to make my relationship with Mary-Louise Brown become a novel called The Musician. I worked on this idea for years, so that when I later told my Bennington teachers about my memoir, they said, “I recognize this story.” It was only later in my life (I am now 70) that I realized that The Musician was only a small part of my story. 

My memoir, Going to Wings, to be released this summer from Red Dirt Press in Shawnee, Oklahoma, is a story of my journey of accepting myself as a lesbian, yes, but it is also a story of the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and the relationship of a woman who is seeking God. I realized that I could not hide behind fiction, that I had to tell my story as Truth. This story has ridden around on my back, developing and growing bigger for years. It feels wonderful to have now told it, and to know that others will be able to read it.

 How did your work as a teacher and as a caregiver even, inform what you wanted to say?

For a long time I saw myself as a “good teacher” and a “good caregiver,” both for my mother when she had cancer and then for Elizabeth “Teeny” Horne, my friend and mentor, when she had a brain tumor. I couldn’t reconcile my being gay with being “a good person.” I gave my entire focus in my life to teaching and to caregiving. I loved learning ways to succeed with young black males, something that white females in the south often are not able to do. Growing up in a segregated society means that white females and black males learn to fear one another. Bridging that gap was important to me, and I loved bringing wonderful stories out of my students. My philosophy was “Love is the whole point,” but I found that I could not love the gay side of myself. It was only after my teaching and my caregiving had ended that I was able to begin the journey of loving myself and believing that God loves all of me, even the part that my mother couldn’t love.

In what ways do you see yourself as a distinctly southern writer? In what ways do you feel you transcend that label?

I am southern, and I am a writer. I am not a southern writer. I was accused of copying Flannery O’Connor before I had ever read her. I could never intentionally try to “write southern.” But because of where I grew up, in Milledgeville, Georgia, hometown of Flannery O’Connor, I cannot “get the southern out,” nor would I want to. It is part of who I am as a person and, thus, as a writer. The red Georgia clay, the southern accent, the kudzu covering the trees, my mother’s recipes using the pecans that grew around our house and fell into our yard, the way that people talk to one another on the downtown streets and in the doctors’ office, the sense of history and of place are distinctly who I am. The issues that I write about—relationships, sexuality, religion, loss, and love—are not “southern” issues. They are universal issues.

                      SANDRA WORSHAM

Friday, April 21, 2017


Jon Tribble lives, writes, teaches and edits in Carbondale, Illinois, where he serves as managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and Series Editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.  He is the author of three books of poems, Natural State, published in 2016 by Glass Lyre Press, And There Is Many a Good Thing, published in 2017 from Salmon Poetry, and God of the Kitchen, forthcoming in 2018 from Glass Lyre Press.  He is a 2016 winner in the Nazim Hikmet International Poetry Competition. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, Atticus Review, South Dakota Review, Connotation Review, and in anthologies such as the Jazz Poetry Anthology and Sweet Jesus: Poems About the Ultimate Icon. He has received fellowships and awards from the Illinois Arts Council.  He is the literary partner and husband of Allison Joseph.

You wear many hats. Which of them—teacher, editor, poet—has been most challenging? How have you dealt with some of those challenges?

The hat I always want to wear is that of poet or writer. While that is always challenging, I feel such satisfaction when I am writing that I wouldn't have it any other way. I look at editing and teaching in terms of whether they make writing easier or harder, and there is really no contest. Editing is very difficult and often all-consuming and it definitely changes how and if I am able to write at all. Teaching often generates work when I use prompts to get students writing because I will do the prompts too. I feel I am stealing time when I am writing and I know I have editing work to do. I think every effort I make to write makes me a better teacher of writing, so I don't feel guilty at all.

Reading certain authors to reset my writer's mind has become very important for me to come back from heavy editing tasks like reading our poetry book submissions or working on an issue of Crab Orchard Review. Robert Hayden, Elizabeth Bishop, Jake Adam York, and many other poets remind me of what I'm reaching for as a poet; James Baldwin, Jane Austen, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Gabriel García Márquez are among the writers who refresh me. And music, all kinds of music, is so essential.

What are some of your concerns as a poet? Do you see those as changing, or influenced by the current political climate or threat to our democracy?

The main concern that drives me is to gain an understanding of both my life and the lives of others so that my poems and writing can manage to take readers into experiences where people might engage and develop their sympathetic imaginations and begin to see how the world looks and works for people very different from themselves. Of course, the obstacles and crises that rise out of our current social/political troubles challenge my writing, but I am a student of history as well so I know the times have always been very difficult for so many. I hope if people read about and begin to understand many of the ways these things come about and see them through the eyes of those most harmed by the callous and unfair limits that crush so many then those readers will focus on how justice and opportunity raises us all.

As an editor, I love searching out the details around language—punctuation, etcetera—which not only help to create a more intimate relationship with a text, but are in themselves a kind of art that supplement it. How has being an editor influenced your work as a teacher and poet?

A dear friend, Lynda Hull, told me once, "Editing teaches you what you don't need to write." That has been true in so many ways over the years, and what I have found is that editing has taught me that whenever I begin to write, I have in mind all the ways I have seen writers approach subjects similar to mine and I work as hard as I can to find a fresh way to make the thing I am writing unique, to surprise myself with the direction and details so readers will be surprised. Most of all, I work to make certain that the reader is rewarded as often as possible with images, sounds, elements of story, something to make it worthwhile to read the next line, to make it to the bottom of the page and want to move forward.

                                                               JON TRIBBLE

Friday, April 14, 2017


Karen Schubert’s most recent chapbooks are Black Sand Beach (Kattywompus Press) and I Left My Wings on a Chair (Kent State Press), selected by Kathleen Flenniken for a Wick Poetry Center Chapbook Prize. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Aeolian Harp, The National Poetry Review; Apple Valley Review; Ella @ 100, an Ella Fitzgerald tribute anthology; and Tree Life. She was a 2017 artist-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center and is a founding director of Lit Youngstown.

What sorts of challenges have you experienced as a teacher of poetry?

Let me begin by saying that I enjoy teaching poetry. I have taught in both academic and community settings, and they are both great in their way. I think a poetry class is a venue for fostering really interesting interactions, connections and creativity.

To answer the question, maybe I’d use the word “emphasis” rather than “challenge.” I use three guiding principles. The first is that I’m a minimalist. Unless the poem has taken up some kind of swaggering persona, like Mae West shooting from the hip, I tend to wonder, what if this word or that word were cut: does it change the meaning? Is that metaphor carrying its own weight? Does this adjective delay the pleasure of the idea? Can this phrase be reduced to one adjective?

I also like imagery, so I’d be inclined to rout out a non-visual description like “beautiful day” and see if the sky is the color of something startling, maybe that pair of jeans you wore for 39 days straight that summer you worked at Guido’s, or maybe the sky is the color of a river that has a piece of sky in it. Give me something for my mind’s eye. I love that.

And I also like to read contemporary poetry and bring those influences into the workshop. I find it common that poetry writers are not poetry readers, and I think that’s just because there is so much poetry out there, it’s hard to know where to start. I also think some poets worry about being somehow corrupted by other poets, that it’s a kind of purity mission to plug the ears and la la la to avoid losing one’s own original voice. But I find the opposite is true: reading excellent poetry gives a poet a myriad of influences and inspirations. It allows our poems to be in conversation with the other poetry out there.

Right now I am reading Matthew Minicucci’s collection Translation, a Wick Poetry Prize winner. Matthew teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign and read for Lit Youngstown last year, and his poems are just so good. This is an excerpt from “Moth”:

Once there were no moths,
and one day god set about creating a beast
with paper wings; I was born, 4:30 a.m. Saturday
in blood sheets and butcher’s wrap, swaddled
before I could even try to fly, named
for a man who became a saint but worked
as a tax collector.

I love how Matthew uses line breaks to interrupt the thoughts and to misdirect our expectations of what happens next. Here he is seeing his own birth from above, naming himself as animal, watching himself being swaddled out of any celestial intent. Just gravity down, named for a saint/tax collector.

How has your focus as a poet changed and how do you see it changing in the future?

When I first started writing seriously, I was in my 40s, in a major life change, and so I was thinking constantly about the trajectory of my life, identity questions, things like that. So my poems were very narrative and autobiographical, and some made their way into The Geography of Lost Houses.

At some point, I wanted to step out of my own experiences. I met photojournalist Larry Towell who exhibited at the McDonough Museum of Art, spare and powerful photographs from distressed places around the world. My comrade, local metals sculptor Tony Armeni, suggested I also look into the work of the sculptor James Turrell, whose media are light, space, perception. The second chapbook Bring Down the Sky is written after these artists, including Tony.

After a while I realized I was writing prose poem vignettes, creating little worlds, like a camp that lets you try out obsolete jobs like whaling, or the life of the wire man I saw on Etsy. Prose poems are a kick to write, more story-like, and many of these are in I Left My Wings on a Chair. There is a lot more humor and levity in this chapbook, although there are some serious poems, as well.

At the moment I’m working on a series of poems centered around a few years my family lived in a subdivision of duplexes in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. My family was in transition, and all the families there were unhinged from their social context—living there temporarily—and in the background, the whole country was heaving through these plate tectonics—the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s movements, the pushing back against the conformity-loving ‘50s. I remember these few years even more vividly than high school, and it’s been enjoyable going back in deep for those details.

What role has nature played in your poetry, and how has that concern evolved in recent years, particularly as challenges that face the earth and environment continue to multiply?

Black Sand Beach, my most recent chapbook, is one long poem I wrote at a residency at Headlands Center for the Arts, about all of the liminal edges there on the San Francisco Bay: urban/wild, land/sea, sea/sky, salt/fresh, and also the way humans act and are acted on in this place.

                                                    KAREN SCHUBERT
                                    (Photo by Howard Romero)