The Mark Blog

Writers’ Reel: James Baldwin on How Reading Saved His Life

The author of Go Tell It On the MountainThe Fire Next TimeSonny’s Blues, and many other prolific works is interviewed in this California Newsreel documentary. James Baldwin talks openly about his strict upbringing by his father and how the library helped him connect to the world. 

“You think your pain and your heartache are unprecedented in the history of the world but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very thing that connected me to all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”


Bookmark This: Current Emerging Voices Fellow Marci Carrillo on Finding Her Literary Community

In this essay, 2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Marci Carrillo gives thanks for being introduced to a community of writers that have helped support her on her journey. It is finding a tribe of like-minded individuals, she states, that has had the most impact on her of anything she has experienced in the fellowship.
“I took a chance on myself and applied for the 2014 Emerging Voice Fellowship. I took a chance on being a writer.  And after being immersed in it for the last six months, this is what I know: community. It’s all about the community of writers. Writers you’d never otherwise have the opportunity to sit down and drink wine and eat cheese with and talk about the meaning and purpose of being a writer. It was Janet Fitch that taught me that every writer is rejected at first and to never give up.  And it was Samantha Dunn who defended putting my heart on the page, knowing that someone out in the world, someone you’ll never meet, will pick up your book, read it, and see the world differently. Jerry Stahl who had me laughing and crying and challenged me to call myself a writer. David Ulin who taught me how to throw the literary football in a story and be brave enough to catch it in the end. Douglas Kearney who challenged my idea of the written word by putting it upside-down and vertical and calling it poetry, which it was and so much more.  
The other community is my Emerging Voices Fellows. The ones who hear my doubts, who smile at me right before I go on stage and read to one hundred and fifty plus people feeling as if my guts were about to explode all over the audience. Being able to look at one of them in the middle of it and see the reassurance and know I’m not alone is a gift. Aand when it’s all over, we will go to the bar and drink and laugh and cry and I know that we have formed friendships and bonds that will last well beyond the fellowship itself. 
Has the Emerging Voices Fellowship been easy? No. But it's not meant to be. It’s meant to challenge us as writers. Make us hear our words so loudly that we are deafened by them. To be so quiet that we hear our heart beat on the page, to listen with a new understanding of ourselves.  But we do not do this alone. We could not do this alone. We do this as a community, in fellowship, with each other.  So take a chance on yourself and become an Emerging Voices Fellow.  So, at the end of the fellowship, this is all I have to say, ‘Hi, I’m Marci and I’m a writer.’”
Marci Carrillo is a Southern California native. Born in San Diego, she grew up in such diverse places as Pine Valley, La Jolla, and Bakersfield. Marcia resides in Chino Hills with her husband, two sons, and numerous cats. She is currently working on a memoir titled The Woman in the Chimney.
The deadline for the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship is August 11, 2014. Click here to apply.
And don’t miss the Meet & Greet on July 20th at Skylight Bookstore at 5pm! R.S.V.P. and share on Facebook here.


Writers’ Reel: Happy Birthday Joyce Carol Oates!

The celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates (Black WaterWhat I Lived For) turned 76 yesterday. Let’s honor the day by watching her talk about her writing process in this New Yorker video. Joyce, who was a PEN Center USA 2012 Literary Awards Festival Honoree, shares where she works, how revision relaxes her, and her experience of the act of observing.
“As a writer, I’m really kind of a formalist. I’m interested in various kinds of form. I’m interested in language, structure. And when I think of a story I think of the appropriate or the ideal language.” - Joyce Carol Oates



Bookmark This: Shanna Mahin On Claiming A Seat At The Table

Shanna Mahin, 2008 Emerging Voices Alum, shares her experience of applying to the fellowship. After feeling completely disconnected from the writing community, she writes how the fellowship gave her the courage to begin a professional writing career. Shanna’s novel, Oh! You Pretty Things, was just sold to Dutton in a significant deal in April. The book is slated for publication in spring 2015.
“I went to my first writer’s conference in 2006. It was totally fancy. Mary Karr and Kathryn Harrison were the headliners, swoon, and the workshops were staffed by a bevy of academic heavy hitters. 
I remember standing in the cafeteria on the first evening, looking at the staff table and thinking, ‘there are the real writers.’ I felt like a total imposter. I’d been working in Hollywood as an assistant to celebrities and rich people for well over a decade, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with feeling out of place or different.
The sum total of my formal writing education at that point was a 9th-grade English class, a couple of classes at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and a too-short private workshop with the amazing Samantha Dunn. It was Sam who encouraged me to apply for the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship. 
‘I’m not exactly underserved,’ I said, pointing out my middle class, straight, whiteness.
‘Honey,’ she said. ‘You dropped out of high school in the 10th-grade and you basically raised yourself. You fucking qualify.’  (Disclaimer: I put that in quotes, but I’m paraphrasing. Although I will say that Sam does indeed swear like an old timey saloon owner.)
Sometime between my application and the final interview, my husband’s job changed and we relocated to San Diego. The interview committee was dubious about my potential commute. I told them I would crawl up the 405 every day on my knees if they picked me. I also cried and babbled incoherently. They chose me anyway. 
Life changer. 
The fellowship gave me a lot of things: a mentor who meticulously read every page of my work; a wonderful group of peers I adore; writing classes of all shapes and sizes; the chance to meet dozens of great writers and hear their thoughts on writing, publishing, and life; and so much more. But the biggest, most important takeaway for me was that I learned I have a seat at the table. Those “real” writers in the cafeteria weren’t different or more special than I was, they were just further along the road. My road. Being an Emerging Voices Fellow taught me that. 
When I realized my first book—the sum total of my output since I started writing in 2006—just wasn’t working, it should have been the end for me. Historically, that’s how I roll. I have a track record of getting things to the three-quarter mark and abandoning them. 
And I’m not gonna lie, I was in a face plant for a couple of months. But then a weird thing happened. I woke up one day, opened up a blank document, and started something new. Instead of moving on to sculpting or improv or whatever the fuck, I sat down at the computer and I wrote my ass off. You know why? Because I’m a writer. It took me six years to learn how to write a book and a year to write a new one. Another year to edit it, find the perfect agent, and send it out into the world. 
I have a seat at the table. Thank you, PEN Center USA Emerging Voices, for teaching me that. 
Isn’t it time for you to claim your seat?”
Shanna Mahin is a high school dropout with a fierce desire to disprove her 9th grade English teacher's prediction of “a lifetime of wasted potential.”  She mourns his passing for the missed opportunity to point out her MacDowell Colony fellowship, Norman Mailer Colony fellowship, and PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellowship. She’s also been awarded full residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and several other writing programs.
To apply to the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship, click here.


Writers’ Reel: Jamie Quatro on her First Draft

In this interview with Aspen Public Radio, debut author Jamie Quatro shares her experience of developing her collection of short stories I Want to Show You MoreI Want to Show You More is a New York Times Notable Book, NPR Best Book of 2013, Indie Next pick, New York Times Editors’ Choice, and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Listen to the author break down the collection, including how the unique cover image came about, the secret to writing magic realism, and how endings are difficult for her.
“I think the way to make it work is to leave everything else in the universe of the story as it is in reality and tweak a single element so that you have enough of the real world as a touch point for the reader but that one surreal thing really stands out.”– Jamie Quatro on writing magic realism

Listen to the full interview here:


Bookmark This: Kurt Vonnegut’s Passionate Take on Censorship

Part of PEN Center USA’s mission is to defend and promote freedom of expression. Last month, PEN Center USA presented Forbidden Fruit, A Banned Literature Showcase. The event featured readings from books that have been banned or challenged in the United States. (You can view images from that event here.)

Our Bookmark This post this week highlights author Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to Charles McCarthy, head of a North Dakota school board, who burned the classic Slaughterhouse-Five after McCarthy found out the novel was being taught at Drake High School. The letter is a powerful and personal reminder of what is at stake when books are challenged.
“Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Writers’ Reel: Louise Erdrich on Doing What You Love

It’s that time of year when commencement speeches abound and students all over the states are graduating and entering the “real” world. In this week’s video, we feature author Louise Erdrich as she addresses the Dartmouth Class of 2009. Even if you are not walking down the aisle in your cap and gown, you’ll find inspiration in Erdrich’s empowering words as she urges the graduating class to take knowledge with love. 

“So don’t hold back, don’t punt. DO WHAT YOU LOVE BEST. Make your life doing what you love best, but do it as if it meant you were out to save the world. Because you are. And if you are criticized and not every one agrees with you, say to yourself, I must be doing something original, and if your efforts are rejected, say, 'I will persevere,' and if your work fails at first, fail again, fail better, until you triumph.”


Bookmark This: Honoring Dr. Maya Angelou

Many articles have been published in the last few days honoring the passing of the prolific writer, activist, and poet Dr. Maya Angelou, who passed away yesterday at the age of 86. We wanted to share what we thought were the most moving.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with Rutgers University creative writing professor and author Tayari Jones in this video chat. Jones discusses how Dr. Angelou broke the taboo against women writing about tragedy, her undeniable connection to the people, and how Angelou was a true “Prometheus figure.” 

Also, bookmark this wonderful NPR interview, conducted on the occasion of her 80th birthday. Listen to her speak about her early days as an activist, how James Baldwin tricked her into writing I Know How the Caged Birds Sing, and her insights into creativity.
“An artist becomes and is made and has artistry thrust upon them. I don’t know when you become. I think everybody born comes from the creative trailing wisps of glory. We come from the creator with creativity.” – Dr. Maya Angelou


Writers’ Reel: How Zadie Smith Returned to the Wonder of Storytelling

Zadie Smith (author of N-W  and White Teeth, among others) was recently awarded the 2014 Moth Award for storytelling. In her acceptance speech, Smith describes how she returned to storytelling after becoming a mother. She shares a personal memory from her childhood that illuminates her relationship with the art.

“Storytelling is a magical, ruthless discipline and the people who tell stories are often tempted to create a type of hierarchy in their lives in which stories come before everything else, including people.”


Bookmark This: Marytza Rubio On Breaking Out of Her Comfort Zone

Marytza Rubio, 2008 Emerging Voices Fellow, shares her experience of overcoming fear of rejection and applying for the Emerging Voices Fellowship. She transformed the fantasy of wanting to write into the reality of being a writer.
“I almost didn’t apply to the Emerging Voices Fellowship because I was afraid of what rejection would do to me. It was the first time I’d applied to anything for my writing, and I didn’t know I would be strong enough to take a creative loss. I imagined the selection committee would consider me arrogant for applying and reject me outright because I didn’t go to college, had taken only a couple of writing classes, and had letters of recommendation from my coworkers at a fashion design college. But denying myself the chance to learn from writers who took their stories seriously—writers who knew what it took to transform a disembodied voice in your head into a person and a disjointed image into a story—that would be a rookie move. I figured that even if the result was not this time, try again, I wouldn’t be the one to say it. Mailing off that application meant it was more important to protect my stories than my pride.
The Emerging Voices Fellowship provided me the opportunity to work with writers who were better than me. Not just the authors and literary folk we met at public readings and private Author Evenings, but within our cohort of fellows. We were a couple of poets, four fiction writers, and a memoirist, each with an extensive vocabulary of images specific to our experiences and a library of rich references contained within our stories. The exchange of notes and the discussions of each piece meant that someone was reading your work, someone was taking the time out of their own schedule to tell you what they thought, someone wanted to see what those people of ink and memory you made up would do next. The exposure to writers and imaginations outside my comfort zone is my most treasured takeaway from the fellowship.
It’s been six years since I was a fellow, and the knowledge and friendships I developed are now part of my creative imprint. Throughout that time, I’ve had the chance to meet and work with applicants and alumni, each with distinct voices and definitions of literary success. It’s clear that although there is no single formula to becoming a fellow, there is a way to guarantee a loss: not applying.
There is a difference between wanting to apply and actually applying, just as there is a difference between wanting to write and writing. One is fantasy, the other is work. The Emerging Voices Fellowship won’t be a magic wand to conjure up all the stories you want to write on your computer while you sleep, but it will build the bridge between who you are now and the writer you are meant to be.”
Marytza Rubio, 2008 Emerging Voices Fellow, was recently accepted at Queens University of Charlotte MFA program in Creative Writing: Latin America.
To apply to the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship, click here.