When Words Starve You: A book review of Melissa Broder’s Milkfed

Mia Casas, writer and BMR reader, reviews Melissa Broder’s novel, Milkfed for Staff Writes.

TW: This post deals with eating disorders.

Melissa Broder’s short novel, Milkfed, discusses a world often left untouched by literature, especially fiction, that world being the hellscape that is living with an eating disorder. In short, the book follows Rachel, a young woman in her late twenties who doesn’t know much about herself, other than exactly what she is going to eat every day, and how she will eat it. As the story progresses Rachel comes to learn more about her sexuality and her relationship with her mother.

Milkfed refers to breast feeding. The themes of motherhood in this novel tie firmly to not only the title, but to our main character. While Rachel is not a mother herself, her relationship to her mother shaped who she is. Described in chapter two as “the high priestess of food, the religion of our household: abstain, abstain, abstain!”. Rachel’s mother is the root of her eating disorder. The novel delves deep into the bonds that girls have with their mothers and how if those relationships aren’t nurturing and healthy, they can offset the course of their child’s mental health going into their adolescent and adult life.

Broder brings the reader face to face with Rachel’s illness: anorexia. The book opens with a description of her morning “eating” rituals, which we find out get worse as the day goes on. The descriptions of food that Rachel eats and interacts with throughout her days are so vivid that they feel almost tangible. The food described ranges from low-fat protein muffins to burritos the size of a large baby, to nicotine gum switched out by the hour. How Rachel interacts with the food has the reader feeling her illness in their stomachs. Meals are ritualistic to our main character, and food is sacred. If she can hold off long enough, starvation is to be rewarded with feelings of skinniness and pride. Rachel’s eating habits do change over the course of the novel, for better or worse is left to the reader to decide.

Rachel sees a therapist for her eating disorder (and the trauma caused by her mother) but continuously justifies her illness and says it is not a problem. She eats, doesn’t she? So surely, she is not the issue. Sure, maybe 90 percent of those meals consist of nicotine gum and diet soda, but she’s eating! Seeing how takes care of herself in the most bare minimum of ways is striking. Her assurance of the fact that she is indeed “sustained” regardless of anyone else seeing it that way is the embodiment of eating disorder mentality. The fact that she knows what she is doing isn’t healthy, but she sees no other way of living fit for her life; this is the reality of living with such an illness.

When she meets Miriam, an Orthodox-Jewish woman who is plus sized and loves nothing more than to eat and watch films at the theater, Rachel’s life shifts drastically. Logically, Miriam is Rachel’s worst nightmare, but Rachel can’t stay away from her. Rachel herself is Jewish, but not practicing. Ties of family and food to the religion aren’t exactly easy for her. Miriam introduces an entirely new way of living to Rachel, one she could never dream being available to her.

The novel gives the floor to an audience that is often romanticized in literature. The trope of the skinny girl who skips meals to stay hot for her meat-head boyfriend doesn’t exist here. Broder’s writing is raw and intentional; she is up and coming in the world of literature written about women that is not all sunshine and flowers. She is also the author of the novel The Pisces, her collection of personal essays titled So Sad Today, and her newest novel, Death Valley, a humorous work tackling grief and survival.

Mia Casas is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Journalism and Theatre at the University of New Mexico. She focuses her studies on poetry and creative writing. Her work focuses on mental health, gratitude, and human connection. She has been published in the Crimson Thread literary magazine and works on staff of Blue Mesa Review.

Memory, Movement, and Tumbleweeds

Paris Baldante, graduate reader and staff writer for BMR, wonders about wandering.

I once read about a small town in New Mexico that was overrun by tumbleweeds. After further research, the location became more realized to me: Clovis is a military town close to the Texas border where the land is flat and relatively featureless compared to the rest of the state. The Air Force base and dairy industry seem to be its only economic draws. In 2014, an avalanche of tumbleweeds trapped denizens in their homes until they were eventually freed by Clovis Public Works, Cannon AFB personnel, and civilian volunteers. When you join a public works department, this kind of maintenance is an appropriate, if not surreal, task. But, for people who join the Air Force, they are chasing one of two dreams: to become a fighter pilot or to defend this great country from the domestic terrorism of tumbleweeds.

While reading W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, there were times when I felt trapped inside the dense blocks of extensive and uninterrupted text. That Sebald’s family was “interrupted” by The Holocaust seems to significantly inform his style of writing, and, as I continued to read, I realized its utility. His technique reminded me of Proust’s galloping prose, sentences that charge forward and challenge the reader to keep pace. Proust and Sebald are authors both preoccupied with memory. The Emigrants evokes the horror of lost memory engendered by intentional historical erasure. In the village of Steinach, home to a pre-war Jewish community that has since disappeared, the narrator is disturbed by the village residents’ “difficulty remembering those who were once their neighbors and whose homes and property they appropriated, if indeed they remember them at all” (194). Sebald writes in a way that preserves and cherishes memory, his language tumbling across the page and daring us to forget. The book follows four exiles that are peripatetic, their paths reflecting the larger narrative of the Jews, a perpetually stateless people. When Sebald retraces their wanderings through history, he reignites long dormant synapses.

The biblical narrative of Jews wandering in the desert for forty years, searching for their promised land, is known as The Exodus. Growing up in Philadelphia, I attended numerous bat mitzvahs, quite used to the concentration of Jewish people in my vicinity. Their minimal presence in New Mexico was one of the first cultural differences I noticed when I moved here. I’d lived in New York for nine years, and before that almost three years in Los Angeles, the two American cities with the largest Jewish populations by far. But the desert is still ripe with metaphors of resiliency and rootlessness. Refugees travel hundreds of miles in search of a new home, traversing the xeric landscape of Mexico into the American southwest. They are confronted by arid empty expanses before they are swarmed by fearful residents who perceive them as invaders—an inhospitable environment, for sure. Just as the Jews fled Egypt for the Levant through a treacherous desert, so too did many other humans in existence. When English colonists arrived in North America, the indigenous population was wary. Sometimes this wariness is warranted, other times it is an unjustified fear response that breeds hostility and violence. The Atlantic Ocean was treacherous, as was the rugged American frontier. But humans will always navigate the wilderness in front of us because that is what we do.

The Ice Age allowed humans to cross the Bering Strait. Despite the danger, we wandered across a frozen ocean and found more land. In 1932, stone and bone tools were found in Clovis, New Mexico, and carbon dating suggests people existed in this region near the end of the Last Glacial Period (the Ice Age). In archaeology, they are termed the Clovis people, the accepted theory being that they were the first human inhabitants of the Americas. However, new excavations in the 21st century have shifted the scientific consensus from the “Clovis-first” theory to the acknowledgment of pre-Clovis cultures. Though the Clovis people may not have been the first to arrive, inhabitants of the American continents were eventually isolated from the rest of the world when the Ice Age ended, melting the bridge across the Bering Strait. This was about 11,700 years ago, when the Holocene epoch began and warmed the world enough for humans to start farming, leading us to discard our nomadic way of life. Humans sequestered in the Americas are the distant ancestors of who we recognize today as indigenous peoples.

Because we evolved as mobile hunter-gatherers, our instinct to wander will not fade no matter how many permanent settlements we build for ourselves. Sometimes we move out of necessity, other times out of curiosity. Sebald intentionally used the word “emigrant” instead of “immigrant” for his book title. The latter indicates a foreigner who resettles permanently in a new place, while the former indicates a person who has left their country to settle elsewhere. An immigrant has a home. An emigrant wants a home but does not have one yet. For an emigrant, their destination is uncertain.

W.G. Sebald bounced around quite a bit, often moving between Germany and England, depending on where his career was heading. The Emigrants introduces him right before he starts a new position in Norwich in September 1970. Three months later, the photo on the right was taken in Chandler, Arizona. A family in the foreground admires a Christmas tree made of tumbleweeds, a quirky local tradition. Albuquerque has a similar custom of building a 13-foot-tall Tumbleweed Snowman, spraypainted white, off Interstate 40 to usher in the holiday season. An enduring symbol of the American West, often cartoonishly elicited to emphasize emptiness or silence, tumbleweeds are arranged here as festive wintery motifs reminiscent of a chillier climate. Fittingly, the tumbleweed is actually an invasive species native to Eurasia that first spread to the US by way of a Russian export. Also known as “Russian thistle,” it grows from tiny green sprouts into massive, red-veined weeds. And the tumbling is essential: once mature, its diaspore (the part of the plant that assists in seed dispersal) dies, drying and hardening until it detaches from its shallow roots. The diaspore itself is what we recognize as a classic tumbleweed, so desiccated and filled with air pockets that it can be easily tossed and broken down by the wind, which scatters the seeds. It proliferates well in open environments that allow it to travel farther, unobstructed. Tumbleweeds are highly flammable and thrive in disturbed habitats, the disturbers being humans who have cleared plots for cultivation or development. They increase the risk of wildfires that damage the land we prize. But tumbleweeds are also an iconic symbol of the American frontier. They will never stop moving even if they destroy the land that allows them to wander.

The plant’s exterior is fragile, but this attribute is, paradoxically, what makes it resilient and prolific. There is, perhaps, no better way to describe human beings: resilient, abundant, and innately rootless. Since the beginning of the Holocene, when our dominant cultural model shifted from nomadic to sedentary, we have been the perfect invasive species, more effective than any common tumbleweed that roams the Earth. Wherever we go, we plant our seeds, encroach on habitats, and make the planet bend to our will, thus disrupting its hemostasis. We once had a symbiotic relationship with our ecosystem, and our original hunter-gatherer lifestyle has been maintained by a minority of the population, mostly indigenous groups, but it is no longer the dominant way of life. Our globalization carried Eurasian seeds to the US, just as enslavers carried Africans across the ocean and the ancient ancestors of indigenous peoples carried themselves across the Bering Strait. A foreigner becomes indigenous over time and eventually comes to define the badlands so unknown and perilous to others.

On a drive from Albuquerque to Taos, perhaps traveling along the same meridian as the Clovis people once did, I snapped a photo of the mesas west of Interstate 25 in San Felipe Pueblo. Because of the car’s movement, the details of the landscape are blurred, giving the image a softened painterly quality.

The skeletons of transplanted weeds and fossilized remains of globetrotting humans tell of our origins and itinerant spirit. What we leave behind is our legacy, and Sebald’s is a collection of words on the historically erased. When tumbleweeds pile up around buildings and trap us inside/outside our homes, we are reminded that none of us and all of us belong on this land. We are a part of the same diaspora, and we have no destination.

Paris Baldante is a writer from Philadelphia and a first-year MFA student at the University of New Mexico. Her fiction and nonfiction work explores the liminal and uncanny, as well as the wonder of the natural world and the fraught intimacies of its inhabitants. In her spare time, she likes to worry about things that are out of her control.

Hidden Gems: My Favorite Writing Locations in Albuquerque

BMR’s undergraduate reader, Emilia Madrid, explores the options for local writers who are in need of a new location in Albuquerque to help overcome writer’s block.

As a writer who constantly deals with writing blocks and boredom when it comes to writing at home, I have found it helpful to move around. Exploring has always encouraged creativity and I have often found myself wandering around different parts of Albuquerque in search of a new environment. However, being a student doesn’t allow me much time to explore, and many other students feel the same. Luckily, there are many options for different kinds of scenery to choose from within a short drive or even walking distance from UNM. Here are my recommended, tried and true writing locations.

Let’s start with my go-to, Humble Coffee (https://www.humblecoffeeco.com/nob-hill). The coffee shop has an open and inviting vibe that is perfect for writing if you are someone that finds silence to be too loud. Humble Coffee always feels busy, but will always have a location to sit, drink local coffee, and write without feeling hushed. Others who also find quiet locations to be stifling might also benefit from working here. It’s also perfect if you want to live out your “writing in a downtown aesthetic café” dreams. I often drive to Humble Coffee, though during warm days, the mile walk from campus to the café is quite enjoyable. I will never stop recommending this café to anyone who wants to study in small groups or alone.

On the other hand, if you are someone that needs a quiet location to work, I suggest Curious Toast (https://curioustoastcafe.com/), a café located about two miles west of UNM main campus on Central Ave. This location offers many different rooms that you can study in, including a room that has a desk – for an office-like feel. If you prefer to be more comfortable, there are also rooms with couches, and still, another room that is situated as if it were a dining room. Personally, I often choose to study in the dining room since it is quieter and allows for multiple people to sit across from each other. There are also many other separate rooms throughout Curious Toast, plenty for you to explore and find a good spot for yourself. There is also a small balcony with one bench and a small table that can fit two if you are wanting some fresh air. No matter where you choose to sit, creativity is everywhere within the café, with a constant array of different works of art throughout every room and funky décor.

Everyone who has grown up in Albuquerque has memories of going to ABQ BioPark (https://www.cabq.gov/artsculture/biopark) as a child. Often, I find that reminiscing or going somewhere nostalgic is a great idea for those experiencing writer’s block, especially if you prefer a location other than a café. During weekdays, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have found that the Aquarium is virtually empty. This allows me to sit by the shark tank (the one that offers seating) and write with little interruption. Throughout the Botanical Gardens there are also many great seating areas that allow for peaceful writing while outside in the fresh air. For example, behind one of the greenhouses, there is a small, covered seating area that few know of and often pass without even realizing it’s there. This is also a great place if you want somewhere peaceful to work.

Writing in groups also helps writers block, and the Flying Star Café (https://www.flyingstarcafe.com/), located about a mile east of UNM is a great option. There is a large couch as well as many tables that can seat multiple people if needed. I personally enjoy going to Flying Star at least once a week to catch up with friends, study, or just get food. The environment is incredibly welcoming and energetic. Similarly, the Sawmill Market (https://www.sawmillmarket.com/) is also a great choice. Though further away, the market offers a wide range of food options as well as indoor seating, outdoor seating, and second-story seating. The market is a great study spot during their early business hours as it tends to get noisy and far too busy for my tastes further into the evening. Both Flying Star Café and Sawmill Market are great options if you are in need of a small snack or full meal while working.

Of course, there are more popular writing locations in Albuquerque, like Little Bear Coffee (https://littlebearcoffee.com/), located less than a mile away from campus. The coffee shop is often busy, but is open late on weekends if you work better in the later hours of the evening. If you are a writer and feel like you thrive outside of your normal study or writing location, these locations will help you shake that cooped up feeling that hinders your creativity. There are a wide range of options in Albuquerque that could feel overwhelming to choose from, but try these out for yourself, add them to your list, and explore to find what works best for you.

Fragmented Ars Poetica for the Uncertain Present

Graduate reader and poet, Lucas Garcia, writes in response to the death of Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer

“If I must die,
you must live”
– from “If I must die” by Refaat Alareer

What do we do when a poet is killed?

How do we respond—as a magazine, as students, as writers—when a poet is imprisoned, tortured, expelled, exiled? When a poet is executed? When a poet is assassinated?

I know what to do when a poet is censored. Read, distribute, critique, and make a stink, refuse to abdicate the duty of freedom, even if you hate their poetry.

I don’t know what to do when a poet is killed.

It feels insufficient—an insult even—to read their work only after they’re dead. It’s one thing when it’s happened in the past, distant and intellectual. It’s another when it happened yesterday. When the poems they posted on what used to be Twitter are still up.

I thought about making a list. I stopped when I started to feel that perhaps a list is its own insult. What of all the poets that never published? That wrote only in their childhood journals, or kept verses only in their minds, or read poems thinking they’d never be good enough, worthy enough, to put their own to paper? People who didn’t even get a chance to try before someone killed them?

What I do know is that the answer is not ever nothing.

+++

“Everyone has their piece of the pie.”

In every moment of guilt and doubt, in the sucking quagmire of self-pity and despair, LaShawnda Crowe Storm’s words come back to me. She said them, no doubt not for the first time, in the middle of a question and answer session about her work with The Lynch Quilts Project. At the time, hearing them felt like a pressure valve finally opening.

Of course not, I remember thinking. Of course it is not my work alone. How could it be? How foolish and selfish to have ever thought so.  

“Work in your slice,” she said.

Years later, a sister quote came to bolster those words, courtesy of prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba: “Hope is a discipline.”

That time the words felt like a bell, high tone and reverb reordering me down to my cells. I was in a different time in my life, and I’d learned the lesson of small work, of folding, washing, cleaning, maintaining. I had started to think about the future as a wheel of days, and not a medal to be won. For one reason or another, those words at that time made everything clearer.

Discipline. She means practice, ritual, intentional and consistent effort.

No single answer is perfect, and there are days when the words feel shattered and empty. On those days, I just say them again. It’s the work that counts, the bravery, humility, and ferocity. The discipline.

+++

I did end up starting that list, slipped into the familiar academic groove of seeking, sorting and categorizing. Even if I hadn’t stopped where I did, even if somehow I found them all, it would be incomplete. How can we quantify the loss without qualifying those who have been lost? What makes someone poet enough to be put on a list of murdered poets?

There is violence in that question.

+++

There is an always an impulse to look away. There is always a way to justify, normalize, and expand the status quo.
What does that have to do with me? This is the way of things. What can I do? What can anyone do?
It feels silly to insist on the word something. Anything gets a little closer, feels a little more forgiving.
I don’t need to warn you. You need only look around.
No answer is perfect. No ally is either.
Work doesn’t need to be perfect to be meaningful, to be worthy. Neither does love, or grief, or rage. Neither does life.

+++

Today, this is my imperfect not-ever-nothing.

An Incomplete List of Poets Who Have Been Murdered by

State, Military, or Paramilitary Action:

Poets who were killed for their political activity:

  • Peretz Markis, Soviet Yiddish poet
  • Dovid Hofshteyn, Soviet Yiddish poet
  • Itzik Feffer, Soviet Yiddish poet
  • Leib Kvitko, Soviet Yiddish poet, author[i]
  • A Sai K, Myanmar poet
  • K Za Win, Myanmar poet
  • Khet Thi, Myanmar poet
  • Ko Yin Awe, Myanmar poet
  • Maung Po, Myanmar poet
  • Kyi Lin Aye, Myanmar poet[ii]

Poets who were killed because their work, their lives, became politicized:

  • Federico García Lorca, Spanish poet[iii]
  • Volodymyr Vakulenko, Ukrainian poet, author[iv]
  • Kofi Awoonor, Ghanian poet[v]

Poets who were killed in the course of genocide: 

  • Pavel Friedmann, Czechoslovak poet[vi]
  • Refaat Alareer, Palestinian poet, scholar, educator
  • Hiba Abu Nada, Palestinian poet
  • Saleem Al-Naffar, Palestinian poet[vii]

+++

If you still want an answer (any answer), here is what I have to give:

Find what is not nothing, and do it.

And then do it again.

Better poets than me are already working, and we need only join them.

Artist Bio:
Lucas Garcia is a first-year poet in UNM’s Creative Writing MFA Program. Their work explores error, regret, queerness, religion, and community. They were most recently published in “Breakfast…?” from Secret Restaurant Press.

[i] All four were executed in 1952 in what’s known in English as The Night of the Murdered Poets, after three years of incarceration by the Soviet Union. They were part of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, formed in part to contend with the impending invasion of Nazi Germany. They were arrested for what was noted as “counterrevolutionary crimes.”

[ii] These six poets were killed by the military junta in the three years since the 2021 coup d’etat in Myanmar for their work in the popular resistance to the military government in what has been called The Spring Revolution.

[iii] Executed in 1936 by right-wing military officers of what would soon become Francisco Franco’s fascist Spanish government. He was persecuted before his murder for being “a socialist and a freemason” and, of course, for his queerness.

[iv] Executed in the spring of 2022 after being abducted multiple times, and ultimately imprisoned, by Russian military officers during the invasion of Ukraine. He wrote in his posthumously published diary that he believed that his pro-Ukranian views and his collection of Ukrainian literature and art made him a target.

[v] Killed by Somali Islamic extremists in September 2013, along with seventy-one others in an attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. While he was likely not personally targeted, Kenya’s military actions in Somalia were cited as the provocation for the attack by al-Shabaab, who claimed responsibility for the incident.

[vi] Murdered at Auchswitz in 1944 after two years of imprisonment at Theresienstadt concentration camp. Friedmann was abducted in Prague as part of Nazi Germany’s genocide of the Jewish people sometime in 1942. Several of his poems, including “The Butterfly,” which he wrote while in Theresienstadt, were recovered and published posthumously.

[vii] These three poets were killed in Israel’s ongoing military bombardment of Gaza since the launch of what in English is called Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7th, 2023. Refaat Alareer was one of the cofounders of “We are not numbers,” a project which paired Gazan writers with international mentors to assist them in writing their stories of living under Israeli occupation in English. Alareer had long been a vocal proponent of Palestinian rights, academics and culture.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Gothic Hits

Undergraduate reader, Alexandra Dark, writes for Blue Mesa Review.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a chapter book series written by Daniel Handler that follows the Baudelaire orphans and the treacherous ordeals that they experience. The first book, The Bad Beginning, was published in 1999, and was an instant hit. The series continued until 2006 with The End. The books waver between 162 and 368 pages. These books are considered to be gothic-esque, dark comedy, fictional children’s novels. I have also read the prequel series, All the Wrong Questions, which explores narrator Lemony Snicket’s first assignment in a failing town called Stain’d by the Sea. AtWQ is more like a film noir. Lemony Snicket, within ASOUE, is an older gentleman who’s lost a lot, and it shows in his monologues at times. He’s also intelligent and crafty, but can be cowardly at times. The title intrigues the reader, as life can be described as a series of unfortunate events, and it fits well with the text of the book. After all, the title warns the reader of misfortune, and Lemony consistently tries to prevent the consumer to cease reading of the unfortunate lives of these poor children. The illustrator is Brett L. Helquist, and his art is distinct, gothic, and absolutely gorgeous.

Our protagonists are the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. They’re pretty stereotypical kid protagonists, being clever, kind, morally good, and polite. Each one has their own special talent. Violet is a fourteen-year-old inventor whose inventions save the trio time and time again. Klaus, twelve, is a massive bookworm with an impressive memory. Gladly, his research does come in handy a ton. Sunny’s the baby, and originally starts the series with a love of biting things, which evolves into a culinary interest. The overarching villain of the entire series is Count Olaf, an awful actor who plans to gain the Baudelaire fortune. He’s actually my favorite character. He’s terrible, violent, slimy, and unclean, yet he brings up good points about the world and society, especially in the twelfth book. The kids encounter several other characters, but I’ll keep them a secret just in case.

This satirical series has a lot of heart, and it treats its younger audience quite well, as Handler understands his audience’s intelligence. Not to mention, the series is dark enough for older audiences as well, and the literary references hit harder when you’ve read them. Hell, a ton of the lingering overarching mysteries have clues in the side works, and it’s up to the fans to figure it out. While some may complain about the writing style, I appreciate the humor it generates. The writing style is somewhat simplistic and repetition is a common sight, but the humor and the strangely specific definitions give it that spice. Is it somewhat annoying for there to be two full pages of the word “ever”? A bit, but it’s hilarious. There’s even a point where Snicket can’t describe a deadly fall into a dark place, so the page is just completely black. The books are written from Snicket’s point of view as he investigates their journey, making little quips foreshadowing or even spoiling certain events, such as a guardian’s death.

The series is built on subverting tropes and applying certain sayings quite literally for comedic and dramatic effect. In The Penultimate Peril, the hotel is called the Hotel Denouement. A denouement is the part of the story where the mysteries are solved and hanging threads are revealed, but Handler doesn’t answer any of our questions in the almost final chapter of the Baudelaire’s story. It’s brilliant. An example of a character taking a saying literally is a character named Babs who appears (or is rather heard) in The Hostile Hospital. She believes that if children are to be seen and not heard, then adults should be heard and not seen, so she hides in a booth and no one is able to see her face.

This series has more than wit, the subversion of tropes, and unfortunate events. It also has powerful themes of hope in times of great despair, the importance of family, and adults failing children even if they have the power to help due to their own issues. If you haven’t read this series since your childhood, I implore you to. If anything here has piqued your interest, well, check it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Alexandra Dark is an undergraduate of the University of New Mexico who has worked on the staff of Blue Mesa Review. Her work was published in Outrageous Fortune. Her favorite color is purple, and she loves oddities.

Four Books Telling a New Story of the American West

Graduate reader and fiction writer, Julianne Peterman, writes about the American West through the lens of four books.

I was not much of a reader until my early twenties. I grew up in rural Montana, and I was made to believe the only writing about the West came from people like Norman Maclean or James Welch — stories about cowboys, about men thinking, about fishing. While I have since loved and learned from these writers, I craved stories where I could see myself. I wanted a story about a single mom working three jobs, driving between shifts through striking landscape with mountains ancient and looming, arresting in their sheer beauty and grandiosity. I wanted stories about rural girlhood that were less frolicking-through-meadows and more losing-your-virginity-in-a-car-at-a-field-party. I wanted stories by and about women and girls where I didn’t have to connect unwieldy dots or desperately seek familiarity, where it was right there on the page. And at the same time, I knew and believed the world to be expansive, so much bigger than me.

So here I want to celebrate four essential, contemporary books that tell stories as diverse and vast as the landscape of the American West — exploring the depths of its culture, its identity, its people, its beauty, and its challenges.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

“Ba dies in the night, prompting them to seek two silver dollars.” So begins the story of two Chinese-American orphans on the run in the final years of the gold rush, as they journey through the American West’s physical landscape and the myths that encase it. The start of the novel leaves them crawling, ears ringing, from the smoky cloud of a failed bank robbery. Twelve and eleven-year-olds Lucy and Sam set out to give their father a proper burial, rooted in rituals their Ma taught them. They leave on a stolen horse, their father’s rotting corpse in tow, through a Western landscape that is both familiar and wholly reimagined through new myths, symbolism, and blurred boundaries between magic and reality. But it is not only Zhang’s mesmerizing story that will keep you tied to the page — her pressing, haunting, lyrical prose will make you want to live inside each sentence and soak up every word. Her narrative voice could veer into any number of Western tropes, and at times will remind you of the retired cowboy sitting lonesome at the bar, gruff, masculine, straight-to-the-point, wistful. But the novel never veers into imitation, remaining entirely its own, infused with as much tenderness as harshness, as much intimacy as distance, and at its core, a new story to tell of the American West.

O Beautiful by Jung Yun

Elinor Hanson is a freelance writer sent on assignment to cover the oil boom in North Dakota’s Bakken region. Elinor grew up in the area, which when she returns has transformed into a place both familiar and unrecognizable: “This is the problem, as she understands it — thousands of itinerant oil workers from recession-ravaged parts of the country, descending upon a town of four thousand that was unprepared to take them in. It doesn’t take a degree in city planning to figure out why housing is at a premium, why traffic is so bad, why everything is under construction all at once.” Elinor — in her 40s, making a career transition, the daughter of a strict white father and a Korean mother, a woman both assertive and terrified — does not fit neatly in any box, often straddling the line between insiders and outsiders. The longer Elinor spends in Avery, the deeper and more tangled she finds herself in the complex web of the region’s violence, misogyny, wealth stratification, racism, and wildly shifting power structures. With sparse, unrelenting prose, Yun immerses us in the suffocating, inescapable world of the oil boom, where rage simmers just under the surface and threatens to spill over.

River Woman, River Demon by Jennifer Givhan

River Woman, River Demon is Jennifer Givhan’s latest novel, weaving a genre-blurring tale of murder, brujería, ghosts, and motherhood through themes of loss, grief, protection, and reclamation. Set on the bosque south of Albuquerque, Givhan’s novel follows Eva Santos Moon, an artist, wife, and mother haunted by memories of the traumatic, tragic drowning of her childhood best friend. When she finds the body of a friend drowned in the river behind her house and her husband is taken into custody for the murder, Eva must wade through her dark history to protect her family and find her power. That Givhan is a poet as well as a novelist becomes abundantly clear in her lovely, vivid, sensory prose, the words on the page as urgent as the story happening around them: “The river that flows alongside my property keeps me close to Karma,” Givhan writes,” even as it reminds me of my apple-cheeked friend who drowned when we were fifteen-year-olds in the girldom-woman lost space where Karma got caught, where she ghosts the borderlands between almost-woman and never.”

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

While Fajardo-Anstine’s most recent novel, Woman of Light, a multigenerational western saga, may seem the obvious fit for this list, her debut collection of stories, Sabrina & Corina, is to me essential reading about the American West. Fajardo-Anstine’s stories follow the lives of Chicana and Indigenous girls and women living in and making sense of the worlds they inhabit, from southern Colorado and northern New Mexico to Denver to California. Each of these stories takes your hand and places it directly on the raw, beating pulse of their lives — what scabs they can’t help but pick, what haunts them, what makes them yearn, what makes them feel ashamed, what makes them alive and complicated and human. The girls and women in these stories navigate everything from the mother wound to whitewashed history classes to dangerous men to ancestral remedies. But it is the lyrical prose and fearless telling of complexity that make this collection sing with humanity: heartbreak and joy in equal measure.

We Write to Heal Our Wounds: A Conversation with Michelle Otero

Shona Casey interviews Michelle Otero about her memoir, Vessels: A Memoir of Borders, for Blue Mesa Review.

Next to me someone asks, “What inspired the order of your book?” Michelle Otero smiles broadly and explains that she had a bunch of pieces written but didn’t know the order. She felt it was important to acknowledge the trauma and recreate that sense. She tells us of a curanderismo course she participates in and the ceremony of the four directions, how that resonated with her as she wandered through the memories, the order making sense to her path. She speaks of throwing her writings up in the air and letting them fall, picking up the pieces as felt right. She wishes she could be like Tony Stark and move her ideas around on translucent panels before her face… but she is not, so she makes do with note cards pasted to sliding glass doors. Ultimately she says the structure came from Spirit and remarks that her chapter title “El Ombligo”, the navel, is her journey back to herself. This feels fitting after the journey we’ve taken through her writing.

It’s a bright warm morning on Friday, November 3rd, 2023 and I am sitting in Greg Martin’s Intermediate Creative Non Fiction course. Our group of aspiring writers is lucky enough to be gathered around Michelle Otero, Poet Laureate of Albuquerque from 2018-2020, professional coach and published writer. We are discussing her most recent publication, Vessels: A Memoir of Borders. In this story Michelle pulls the reader through memories of her life and allows us to walk with her in visions of her ancestors. We meet her family: her grandparents, parents and one of her brothers. We travel with her on the long bus ride through Mexico. We see her as a published author struggling with how sharing her truth created separation with family. We join a circle of sacred women and experience the helplessness one feels when abuse is happening right before our face. In each moment she manages to effortlessly pull us in with deep descriptions of objects, places, conversations and feelings.

In her writing, she works to make sense of the past: the love, the connection, the hurt, the abuse, the pain. The reader witnesses Michelle’s own self-doubt and struggles with worthiness. It is a journey searching on the surface for what it means to love but truly looking at what it means to heal through the pulling apart of self and learning to love each piece, trust it, and protect it.

Michelle shares that she had the title very early on. She explains that vessels can be simple; they don’t have to be ornate. They can be made of clay and after a time can crumble back into the earth. They speak to blood and ties and conveying from one side of a border to another. She challenges us to consider, “What do I hold? What do I let go? What should remain?” She reminds us that a vessel can carry inheritance, ultimately suggesting that what we choose to carry, we pass on.

Her characters are offered upon the page with an abundance of love and compassion wound intricately with flaws, hurts and misfortune. “Write with great love and that will show up on the page,” Michelle tells us. She credits this lesson to Sandra Cisneros, fellow strong voice, educator and famous Chicana writer and poet. Honesty is the most important thing; it means warts and all. Michelle describes the women of her family sitting around the table talking about her grandmother. The stories carry the most dreadful things and yet there is laughter in remembering them. If there is an elephant in the room, it is better to address it with love. It is a service you do for your character to tell the truth. She gives the example of her grandfather who suffers with PTSD from his time at war. Often PTSD is seen as a badge of heroism for time in service of one’s country, but it lacks taking account for what it continues to cost the survivor. It doesn’t dive into the deeper effects or the truth that it is not okay to be left so broken.

There are moments she admits that it was hard to be the one who was doing the work of self-reflection and such deep personal healing. “Why do I always have to be the one?” she grumbles but then she smirks and quickly states she would much rather be the one who is capable of this work and for that she is thankful. “My perfectionist is a slacker,” she laughs, referring to healing and listening to all the sides of oneself. She encourages us to give each side of ourselves an opportunity and to be curious about our shadows, allowing them to show up even if they are the guest we didn’t invite. We are reminded there is no end point of healing but that it is a journey. You can feel more resilient through time but there will be moments when things still flatten you. She tells us that over time she has built “vast reservoirs of joy” to pull from, a beautiful note that mirrors the hopeful ending to her memoir.

In Vessels, Michelle Otero lays herself down in front of us with gaping wounds, asks us to share with her, and makes it clear that there is no easy way through. She writes, “You want me to say that each of us undoes the damage, finds a way to live, creates her way out of misery. We write to heal our wounds.” Michelle’s book is a testament to the power of words and the journey of self-discovery.

Vessels: A Memoir of Borders was published in 2023 by Flowersong Press. It can be purchased locally in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the following locations:

Booksworks

Albuquerque Museum Store

Or nationwide through:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble


Writer’s Bio: Shona Casey is a Native New Mexican with Scottish blood and proud mother of two wildly adventurous young men. She is weeks away from completing her BA at the University of New Mexico with a major in Intercultural Communications and a minor in English Literature. She is a seasoned business owner who has published many technical documents but dreams of creative writing, editing and publishing. She is currently on the staff at Blue Mesa Review and thoroughly enjoying her newfound creative community.

Eat a Peach: a refreshing take on the celebrity memoir

Jordyn Bachmann, undergraduate reader, writes her review of David Chang’s book for Blue Mesa Review.

“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.”

T.S. Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

World-renowned chef David Chang—best known for founding Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York—released his memoir titled Eat a Peach in 2020, detailing his life thus far and the origin story of his multitude of successes in the culinary world. This memoir, co-written by food writer Gabe Ulla, is deeply personal, with Chang exploring the dark, unappetizing parts of his life story in conjunction with his other food endeavors, such as restaurants Ssäm and Ko, giving the reader a rare, up-close look at the ugliness, goodness, and overall chaos that the restaurant business has to offer.

What makes Chang’s memoir stand out, however, is not so much the structure or the content itself, but his ability to connect to the audience in authentic, tangible ways that most celebrity memoirs seem to lack. Chang’s self-awareness, mistakes, transparency, and humanness appear seen in every chapter of this memoir. He admits to being wrong, misguided, and sometimes brutish and stupid, all traits that Chang does not shy away from taking responsibility for. He expresses an understanding of what it is to truly hit rock bottom: to push the boulder up the hill again and again, even when it repeatedly chases you back down to where you started.

Eat a Peach couldn’t be more true David Chang if it tried. As an avid fan of his many endeavors in the culinary world, I consider myself well versed on how Chang presents his narratives and the voice he employs to explore them. Even with Chang’s TV shows—Ugly Delicious on Netflix and The Next Thing You Eat on Hulu — his personality, humor, and knowledge breaks through whatever script he’s reading from. The title Eat a Peach comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, which tells of the plight of an emotionally-stunted and narcissistic man, but also references a failed food magazine started by Chang titled “Lucky Peach” that he details further in his story, adding multiple layers of meaning and ironicism to the title. Because of Eat a Peach’s dedication to being unflinching, unfettered, and uncomfortable, the vulnerability happening throughout the book is moving and personal, demonstrating that Chang’s uncharted territory in the culinary industry is just himself.

The experiences in this book are raw and emotional. Chang details his battles with depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, public criticism, and self-improvement, but never claims complete healing and a know-it-all outlook. He is very clear throughout this book that his battles are constant; there is no conclusion to the bad stuff. That alone is, in my opinion, missing from most memoirs: the realism in life never feeling concluded, neat, or resolved. Even after the success of Momofuku, David Chang never escapes failure, whether in the industry or in his personal life. He’s not afraid to talk about being in and out of therapy, failed business ventures, medication, ethnicity and race, love, loss, or fatherhood.

Despite having Gabe Ulla as a co-writer, Chang refuses to relinquish his true voice. In true David Chang fashion, there is unapologetic cussing, a plethora of humor and even copies of emails he sent out during the events he highlights throughout the chapters. At times, it almost feels like you, as a reader, are too close to the action, like you’re being invasive in someone’s past and poking around for answers. The uncomfortability is a huge attribute to why Chang’s book does so well at delivering its messages. It’s common knowledge that David Chang couldn’t —and wouldn’t— want to include every bad moment and every good moment from his life, but having the lowest lows contrasting the highs shows that life, healing, and recovery are not linear.

Eat a Peach sets a high bar for memoirs to come, demonstrating the power in vulnerability and honesty not just with readers, but the vulnerability and honesty the author has with himself. David Chang does not let success or money obscure the paths behind and in front of him, instead realizing that the two are vital in getting his story right. Eat a Peach is a fun, deep, and touching glance into the culinary world and the kind of people who survive in it —and why.

Unfiltered: An Interview with Amaris Feland Ketcham by Andrew Sowers


Blue Mesa Review undergraduate reader Andrew Sowers speaks with poet and graphic memoirist Amaris Feland Ketcham about her new graphic diary, Unfiltered: A Cancer Year Diary published by Casa Urraca Press on April 25th, 2023. This interview was conducted just before the release of the book.

Amaris Feland Ketcham occupies her time with open space, white space, CMYK, flash nonfiction, long trails, f-stops, line breaks, and several Adobe programs running simultaneously. She is the author of two poetry books, Glitches in the FBI and A Poetic Inventory of the Sandia Mountains, and the Best Tent Camping: New Mexico guidebook. Her award-winning writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Los Angeles Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, the Utne Reader, and dozens of other venues. She teaches in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico where she is the faculty advisor for the nationally acclaimed arts and literature magazine Scribendi. She has painted murals throughout Albuquerque, acted in a radio drama about the Badlands National Park, and taken students on multi-week camping trips along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Amaris also stages creative encounters with patients as a poet and artist with the Arts-in-Medicine program at UNM Hospital.

What were your intentions initially in starting a graphic diary? Did you imagine that you would end up sharing it in this way?
I always respected people who kept regular diaries. I had never kept up a daily writing practice that didn’t involve a particular project—usually I am exploring some idea or question and it becomes an essay or series of poems or something in between. But, I started keeping a diary shortly before the pandemic began, and soon, wanting to improve my drawing skills, it morphed into a diary comic. When I took on the challenge of making a daily comic, I’d expected to draw about hiking, birdsong, and the mere mundane details of my life—a practice that would produce nothing interesting to share. It wasn’t until I was in a show at 1415 Gallery, where I shared a zine compilation of the comics from January 2022, that I realized other people might be interested in reading them. At that show, several people came up to me and thanked me for my vulnerability. We had just learned that the CT scan showed a nodule, and my husband would need another surgery. That collection ended on the forsythia comic. So, at the show, several people wanted to talk about their medical experiences, their cancer experiences. I think that’s one of the powerful connections that memoir provides us.

Who are some other comic artists or memoirists who you feel most influenced your art?
Definitely Lynda Barry! I think that Barry has inspired so many people to re-engage with their creativity and to start keeping diaries. I love John Porcellino’s King Cat comics, both his style and his fluency in moving between memory and poetic vignettes. As far as the actual drawing goes, I try to think more about Tintin and newspaper strips and how to draw panels that have a cartoony, goofy simplicity. I am less interested in rendering something so it looks “realistic” and more interested in being a little playful and embracing errors. I think that adds to the drawings looking like they were made by a person. (It also helps to embrace errors when you have a daily practice, because you must finish the entry with your coffee—from concept to story to drawing, you must be quick!)

What was the process of developing yourself and your loved ones into comic avatars like?
You can probably tell the characters change and are a little more refined throughout as I settled into what our drawn avatars looked like. It takes a while to figure out the telling details, what to emphasize on each character. For my own avatar, I settled on freckles, big hair, and trying to be consistent with the nose, face shape, etc. A couple people have told me that she doesn’t look anything like me. My own mother said, “That hair keeps getting bigger and bigger! You know your hair isn’t that big!” But the point isn’t that this character actually resembles me in a literal sense. Rather, she is my stand-in. And cartoons should exaggerate a little.

At the bottom of each entry you include a meal from the day and also a story you encountered in the news. I liked how this painted a very holistic image of the day. Not only do you put important events into panels, but you also show us something small within your control (a meal) and something large outside of your control (global news events). Where did you get the idea to do this? Were there any connections or patterns this practice allowed you to see?
I wanted a way to mark the days. It is also part of my “warm-up” for drawing the comic, just remembering something I ate the day before and scrolling a little through the news, then working on the title. For about a month after the first surgery, my husband could only eat soup—so that ended up being documented, including hints of my frustration with the lack of variation, (One entry notes the pea soup was uninteresting; by the time we got to sausage and cabbage in milk broth, I was very tired of soups.)

A couple people have pointed out that many of the headlines are related to COVID and that in a way, it’s a COVID diary. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “COVID diary,” but it is pretty firmly set during the pandemic. Our social circle contracted quite a bit during that time, so there aren’t a ton of other people in the book—even my work was often empty and I would be the only person in the building. But I think just as many headlines are about climate change or strange things that caught my eye (such as the meteorite crashing through a woman’s roof).

As your husband’s time in the hospital came to an end, I noticed an increased focus on nature, specifically birds. Was this an intentional shift?
Yes, it was intentional—or, at least the shift to nature. To convey the anxiety of the surgeries and hospitalizations, many of my comics became a little more abstract. I hoped that the nature comics would show a kind of re-grounding and renewal, as well as an attention to the world outside of one’s own head. Quite a few at the end are spring haiku. I hadn’t realized I included so many comics about birds!

What is your favorite bird?
That’s a tough choice! I think in the yard I am most partial to the thrasher and his crazy song, the black-chinned hummingbird who is always ready for a fight, the woodpecker and his persistent knocking, and the roadrunners and their games of chase.

What do you hope this memoir will give to your readers?
Hope. Cancer is such a daunting medical experience, and it always comes out of the blue. And it’s something that affects everyone eventually, either because you know someone with cancer or in remission, or a personal diagnosis. It’s often very difficult to find the ways to talk about and process medical diagnoses and treatments, but I think that’s one of the ways that graphic medicine excels, because it can connect with people on an emotional, cognitive, empathetic, cultural, and aesthetic level.

Would you encourage others to practice keeping a graphic diary? What advice would you offer for starting one?
Absolutely! Making a diary comic is a lot of fun—and one of the nice things about diary comics is that you can focus on the mundane aspects of your life. I have read diary comics about taking out the trash, folding fitted sheets, and scooping up dog poop from the yard. As far as what incites the story, the stakes can be pretty low.

When I started my diary comic, I was often dismayed at how “bad” my drawings were. I couldn’t even draw my cats consistently. It’s really easy to give up at that stage, but I would urge you to keep on working with it. Don’t feel like you must draw like anyone else. The way you draw is like the way you write—it’s individual and personal, wobbly weird lines and all.

The Immense Sadness of the Unknown: A Review of Sarah Anne Strickley’s Incendiary Devices

MFA student Amy Dotson writes her review for BMR:

The first two immediacies that must be considered when sending a book out to stake its place in the world are, of course, the cover and the title. When I first saw the cover of Incendiary Devices with its naked, burning feminine figure stamped firmly in the center of a charred blankness, I knew Sarah Anne Strickley was out do so some serious blazing. The very first short story, “A Story From the Perspective of the Flame,” expands the cover by giving us a woman self-immolating in her kitchen with cooking oil and a match as one of over a hundred who have committed the same self-destructive act as a response to the oppression of male violence. This chilling image sets the precedent for the rest of the book with a quick, clear spark. Sharp and on edge, Strickley fires us into her new collection of stories by asking: “What is at the root of such a horrifying phenomenon?” There is no space here for dawdling humility or a casual touch. There is nary a sardonic note. Each story is pointed back to this question with burning precision. The question is, itself, incendiary. This book is, indeed, an array of incendiary devices.

Strickley constructs her stories with remarkable narrative skill combined with the astute edge that comes with the inherent and specific violence of being a woman in America. Having spent most of my life in the American Midwest and South, the way the men in her stories speak, think, and act could be the men I grew up with. They are complex, genuine, and shaped by their own complex, sometimes violent, personal histories.

Some of them inspire empathy and understanding. In “Chronology of a Disaster,” Trace has a difficult time with marriage but loves his twin daughters. Many others inspire rage and confusion but maintain an unnerving everyman familiarity. Some are trying to do the right thing. Some of them are “nice guys,” like the narrator’s grandfather in “How to Write Your Rape Story,” who meets his wife in his dangerous junkyard stomping grounds after she escapes her abusive boyfriend in the dead of night. He saves her from possible peril by approaching her with a flashlight, but not without letting the unsurety of his intentions linger in the air for a moment. Some embody the flagrant transgressions—the wild cards women are always having to look out for who prevent us from ever moving comfortably in our world. For example, in “Dismember Me, Baby,” Bill purchases murder supplies after moving in with Caroline because he doesn’t like the way she’s unpacked and organized his possessions. Caroline can’t tell if he’s joking or not when he says, calmly, about the window seat she has placed his clothes in, “Maybe we should cut you into pieces and stuff you in there.” As he leaves to maybe or maybe not get the murder supplies listed in their uncomfortable extended riff on the “joke,” Caroline leaves the apartment, too, but she doesn’t come back. She makes her plan, acts carefully, moves to Colorado, eventually starts a family—but she lives with the fear that he might find her again one day. Her moves are questioned and attacked for the rest of her life by people who know Bill as “a great guy.” “Dismember Me, Baby” is particularly haunting because of the quotidian circumstance in which the sudden and shocking inciting incident is enveloped—Caroline isn’t even sure if she heard him right. The characters aren’t heightened in any dramatic literary fashion—a defining characteristic of most of the stories. They are terrifyingly real. How can we know who the Bills are until they suddenly say the one line that changes everything into a hellscape?

These stories also contain love and the possibility of love. We want Trace, a mild but confused twice-divorced dad in “Chronology of a Disaster” to be able to find love again. Ollie loves Sky in “The Angel of Stewart Beach,” one of the more tender stories in the collection. They’re flat-broke, about to be evicted from their small apartment, considering that they might be at an end. Ollie loves Sky enough to consider asking her to marry him to save their partnership, but not quite enough to not leave her alone at a crucial moment. When he sees her again later in life, he wants to embrace her, but his transgression, though not an intentionally malicious one, was still bad, and she rejects his embrace with a short shake of her head in a heartbreaking moment that makes us want to rewind time for Ollie. But, as Strickley writes in “Local Missing Girl:”

“…time keeps happening. You can try to make life hold in a decent spot, but it never will. The other problem is that life always heads in the direction you’ve knocked it. Like the trash they dump in space. It’ll keep on going that way forever unless it collides with something else.”

Ollie can’t go back to fix his mistakes. Neither can Trace. No one can. Decisions have consequences, even if they’re not the decisions you would have made if you went back in time immediately after transgressing.

One of the core tenets of storytelling is that a character must make a decision. This is what dictates motion, change. In most situations, there are the actors, and there are those who are acted upon. Responsibility is a fact that we need be reckoned with by someone, somehow. Where does responsibility lie? This question is interrogated in “Rear Window Redux,” in which Will, a victim of childhood abuse, considers what it means to be complicit. He believes he’s never done anything wrong. He’s seen a lot of bad stuff without intervening, but he’s comfortable because he has always held back his own rage from turning into actions he can’t take back. He believes he is morally safe. Where does he lie on the spectrum of responsibility?

The impossibility of knowing what actions lie in someone’s future lies at the heart of this book and fuels the tension that is the book’s engine. What will Mr. Meyer do to his wife next? What will Terry, a chaotic mischief-maker with haughty opinions about love, do to Katie once he gets her in his car? We want to believe these characters will not harm people.

We want to be able to love people and get close to them. We want wrongs to be made right. But, Strickley is telling us, these wants are often mucked up by the unfathomable qualities of the other that we can never understand. The narrator in “How to Write Your Rape Story” will never know why her grandfather let his future wife wait in the flashlight in the junkyard. The narrator thinks it through and lands on a reason. But it is constructed without her grandfather’s verification. Most of Strickley’s characters have an assortment of unknowns they will never have answered. This realm of the unknown is what Strickley is great at highlighting with these stories. And the unknown mixed with the truth of violence is a source of immense sadness.

Sarah Anne Strickley is the author the novella, Sister (Summer Camp Publishing, 2021) and the short story collection, Fall Together (Gold Wake Press, 2018). She’s a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing fellowship, an Ohio Arts grant, a Glenn Schaeffer Award from the International Institute of Modern Letters, the Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize for Prose and other honors. Her stories and essays have appeared in Oxford American, A Public Space, Witness, Harvard Review, Gulf Coast, The Southeast Review, The Normal School, Ninth Letter, Hotel Amerika, Copper Nickel, storySouth, and elsewhere. She’s a term Assistant Professor of creative writing at the University of Louisville and serves as faculty editor of Miracle Monocle, UofL’s award-winning literary journal.

Incendiary Devices is available for sale from Small Press Distribution at https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781948800570/incendiary-devices.aspx