The Mark Blog

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.

Writers’ Reel: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on calling herself a Happy African Feminist

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of three novels, Purple HibiscusHalf of a Yellow Sun, and Americanah. Adichie gave a revealing speech for TEDx Talks on the meaning of feminism. The author breaks down her own experience of reading "unfeminist" works in her youth, her views on how we’re raising our children, and how girls are being taught to turn pretense into an art form.

“The person most likely to lead is not the physically stronger person, it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person, and there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative, to be innovative.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi



Bookmark This: Reyna Grande on Seizing Your Dream

Reyna Grande, 2003 Emerging Voices Fellow, shares the moment when she realized her dream of becoming a writer was slipping away from her. The author of Across A Hundred Mountains, Dancing with Butterflies, and The Distance Between Us credits the Emerging Voices Fellowship for changing her career path and opening the doors to publication.
“I believe that when you finally decide to seize your dream and not let anything keep you from it, the universe will do what it can to help you get there.
At least, that’s what happened to me.
When I applied to the Emerging Voices Fellowship, I was in a very dark hole. Four years earlier, I’d graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz  (UCSC) with a B.A. in creative writing and film. I spent six months sleeping on my brother’s couch in his living room as I struggled to find a job—I mean a real job. Both in the film industry and in writing, it isn’t very easy to find paying work.  I got an internship editing footage for a local TV news show, but it was unpaid and the clock was ticking. In January, my student loans would kick in and I needed money. So I did what most of my friends were doing—I went to the Los Angeles Unified School District office and within two hours I had a job teaching at a middle school. Yes, that was back when LAUSD had a teacher shortage and they were taking anyone—I mean, anyone—as long as you had a B.A. I had never even taken a single education class in my life, and now here I was being given an “emergency credential.” I got one week of training (mostly on how to fill out my roster) and there I was, thrown into a classroom in South Central L.A.
Four years later, I found myself deeply depressed. I hadn’t written anything at all. I was trying to keep my head above water doing a job that I didn’t know how to do, a job, if truth be told, that I didn’t WANT to do. I was also a single mother of a baby boy. One day, in the summer of 2002, I woke up gripped with fear. My dream of being a writer was slipping away almost entirely. I thought about those years at UCSC and how much I had loved to write. Never a day went by when I didn’t write. And now, look at me now, four years had gone by and I had nothing to show for it, nothing that had brought me closer to my dream.
I saw the future before me, and it was dark and sad. It terrified me to know that I had failed at making my dream a reality.
But in one last attempt at digging myself out of that dark hole, I made a decision. I enrolled myself in a weekend class at UCLA Extension Writers Program as a way to get a hold on my dream again.
As soon as I made that decision, the universe did its work.
I took that weekend course with Maria Amparo Escandon, an amazing Latina writer. I felt very inspired to be back in a writing class, and I was ready to go home and write. At the end of the class, Maria Amparo pulled me aside and said, ‘Have you heard of the Emerging Voices program?’ I hadn’t heard of it. I had spent the last four years struggling so much with my job and then my baby, I really hadn’t paid much attention to what went on in L.A. Maria Amparo told me about Emerging Voices and she strongly suggested that I apply, but the deadline was that coming Friday! I had six days to put my application together, polish twenty pages of my work, and get the letters of recommendation. It was crazy, but I wanted it so badly I hurried home and started to work on it.
On Friday, my former English teacher from Pasadena City College met me at the post office and handed me the letter of recommendation. I sealed the envelope and put the application in the mail slot.
Then I got a call.
Then the interview came.
Then I was accepted and I became a 2003 Emerging Voices Fellow, where I worked on my first novel, which I had begun at UCSC four years before and hadn’t touched since. Maria Amparo Escandon was an amazing mentor, and under her guidance my novel began to take shape. Everyone at PEN Center USA was supportive, and I had never felt more determined than I did during the fellowship.
In June, one of the guest speakers for Emerging Voices was Jenoyne Adams, who was then a literary agent at Levine-Greenberg Agency. I told her about my novel-in-progress and, after reading it, she took me on as a client. A few months later, Malaika Adero, senior vice president at Atria (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), offered me a contract. Across a Hundred Mountains was published in 2006. In 2007, it won an American Book Award and the El Premio Aztlan Literary Award.
Now, three books later, I think about that day when I woke up seized with fear at realizing that I had allowed my dream of being a writer to slip away from me. I remember how I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen, and then, miraculously, Emerging Voices appeared before me and opened the doors of publication to me. I will be forever grateful to Emerging Voices for helping me make my dream come true, for teaching me that when you make the decision to seize your dream, the universe with align itself to get you there.
So what are you waiting for?"

The 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship application is now available. For more information, click here. 



Writers’ Reel: Sandra Cisneros On Becoming a Writer

Sandra Cisneros
Héctor Tobar, 2014 Emerging Voices Mentor, interviews author Sandra Cisneros for the Los Angeles Times. In this video, Cisneros discusses her latest novel, the moment she publicly claimed she was a writer, and the day she received her first published book.

“When you are coming from a working class home, you don’t want to say you are a poet. You can’t say that. I could publicly say ‘I want to be an English teacher’ and that’s what people expected from girls.” – Sandra Cisneros 

Watch the full video here:

Bookmark This: Amanda Fletcher On Not Giving Up

Amanda Fletcher, 2012 Emerging Voices Fellow, describes how she turned what began as a pipe dream into a reality by letting go of her fears and doing the hard work.
“Pipe dream (noun): A hope, wish, or dream that is impossible to achieve or not practical
Canadian labor union men raised me. Crane operators and guys who worked the line at the GM plant on Ontario Street, solid men who made their livings with dirty hands. When my dad said, ‘writing is a hobby, not a career,’ I was fourteen. I didn’t trust myself enough to know better. I bought into the belief that being a writer was both an impractical and impossible aspiration, because my dad said so, and I was afraid to try. I stopped writing. I thought I would be a physical therapist, manipulating bodies with my hands. That difference between what I wanted and what I was doing kept me floundering in college for an extra semester.
And then, in the fall of that last term, my mother took her own life.
Suddenly everything was possible, and also pointless. I fought an internal battle—‘why bother’ at war with ‘why not?’ My journey to Los Angeles was born out of the garage where they found my mother’s body. I had stories to tell.
Now the question became how to take this ethereal thing, this dream of being a writer, and give it a physical body, limbs, a torso. I signed up for a class at UCLA, and then another. I found myself writing again. I took my workshop pages, marked with edits, and placed them ceremonially in a drawer. It was like I had conjured those first drafts into being, and the idea of editing them was like making magic ordinary. The revision process paralyzed me. I found every word too precious to change. I convinced myself that I couldn’t do it, that I had not gone to the ‘right’ schools or read the ‘right’ books, but the only way my skin fit was in the context of a paragraph, or the way a sentence looked on the page, how it felt in my mouth. Giving up was not an option. So I applied for the Emerging Voices Fellowship.
The Emerging Voices Fellowship gave me the bones, the skeleton that carries a writer’s life. My mentor, Jillian Lauren, forced my ass in the chair. She taught me how to work with the pages, change them, discard them if necessary, to go back again and again in order to arrive at a finished piece while still retaining the magic of what it was that I was so desperate to say. At the programs end, I had a body of work that I could take out into the world, and I had a firm grasp on the writing process, from inception to submission. I learned how to be a writer. I learned that I have to get up, every day,just like all of those union guys who raised me, and I have to go to work—and yes, it is more difficult and different than my dad could have known it would be, but it no longer seems impossible.”

The 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship application is now available. For more information, click here.