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May 2014

Dear fellow Benningtonians,

And yes, wow, May—not just May, but way into May. The ribbons were wrapped around the pole weeks ago, then unwrapped, the dances all got danced (but not by me), and now the pole is stowed back in the basement alongside the old boogey-boards and skis.

I didn’t dance because I couldn’t. Those of you trained in observation skills by our world-class faculty will have noticed that I was limping fairly badly at the January residency. The right hip, alas. But I went in to have the job done on May 1, and my good surgeon later marveled that I had held out as valiantly as I had. Anyway, the operation was a success, mainly, except for the strange anomaly that I can now only walk backward. But I have my glasses fitted up with a 3D mirror contraption that makes it feel like I’m going forward. So just promise not to laugh, and we will—how to put it?—proceed.

The residency is mere weeks away, and there is quite a lot of news, so let me jump in. First, a big sprawling welcome to our large incoming class—writers coming from all parts of the geographical and psychological spectrum. If phone manners are any indicator, this is one of the friendliest and most well-bred groups I have had the pleasure of greeting. Who was it said civility died with the coming of the Internet age? It may have been me, I forget.

In addition to opening the ranks to the new incoming class, we are also piloting a new initiative, whereby five committed writing students from Bennington College will join us for the duration of the residency, taking part in workshops, living in dorms, and possibly showing the rest of us the ins and outs of the campus facilities. These students passed through a competitive selection process and word has it they are very keen to take part in the residency. Please do everything you can to help induct them into the occult free-masonry of the writing life.

As for the residency itself…For starters, we are welcoming back from leaves and off-semesters: David Daniel, Brian Morton, Ed Ochester, Peter Trachtenberg, and Paul Yoon. Associate faculty and guests during this, our 20th anniversary residency, will include Donald Hall, who will lecture during the first weekend and read alongside his longtime friend and fellow-poet (whom many of you will remember), Linda Kunhardt. Fiction associate will be writer Susan Choi. And our nonfiction guests, who will both read and take part in a special panel (moderated by yours truly) on the changing place of the book, will be James Wood and Maria Bustillos. In addition, there will be a Life of Letters session on graduation Saturday with Jill Schoolman, founder and publisher of the extraordinary Archipelago Press. The Commencement address will be given by the distinguished poet Sonia Sanchez, and newly-sworn-in College President Mariko Silver will preside over the ceremony.

The second weekend of the residency will also be the 20th Anniversary Alumni Reunion, and a great many alums have already registered to be on campus to join in. We are orchestrating a special set of events exclusively for these alums (to coincide mainly with workshop sessions on the last Sunday), with craft sessions and readings by Phillip Lopate (who said he could not stay away) in nonfiction, Bob Shacochis (this year’s Pulitzer nominee) in fiction, and Sonia Sanchez in poetry. Alumnus Ciaran Cooper will return in his Daedalean capacity, ostensibly to construct a labyrinth that no one will ever escape from. Already huge thanks are due to Cat Parnell, who has been working like one possessed on all things reunion.

I have it on good authority that even trained and well-disposed readers will not go past page three of any letter or document they get in the mail, so let me close out with bits of news from our faculty.

  • April Bernard will have two new poems and two collages in the June issue of Poetry.
  • Sven Birkerts has new essays in the current Harvard Review and Agni. Pre-op, he traveled to give lectures and readings in Chicago, Seattle, and Athens, Ohio. He has discovered that pharmaceuticals take the edge out of being airborne.
  • Martha Cooley has a short set of essays, Guesswork, coming out as an ebook this summer, with a new digital publisher, Shebooks. She also has translations (with Antonio Romani) of stories by Antonio Tabucchi out or forthcoming (this summer) in Guernica, Tin House, and Two Lines. Her translation of a set of poems by Giampiero Neri is in The Common (May, online).
  • David Daniel reports that he has some “ghoulish” poems coming out in a new anthology from Everyman Books—Dead and Undead Poems: Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires and Devilss—and that he is a 2014 Mass Cultural Council Poetry Fellow.
  • David Gates’s story “A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me” was chosen for the upcoming Best American Short Stories. It’s the title story of a collection due out in June 2015.
  • Amy Hempel was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She will be speaking on literary collaboration at the Twenty Summers program in Provincetown on May 24 and reading at NYU with Josh Prager on May 28.
  • Major Jackson has recent and forthcoming poems in Berkeley Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Fusion, Harpur Palate, Maggy, New Letters, Plume, and Tin House. Recent interviews can be found in Willow Springs and Superstition Review. He is a featured reader of the 2014 Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica, alongside Mervyn Morris, Paul Muldoon, and Valzhyna Mort. Other upcoming readings include Writers in New York at New York University, LitQuake in San Francisco, and Furious Flower Poetry Conference at James Madison University. At the end of this summer, poems of his will appear on billboards in Washington, DC. as part of 5 x 5, a project of the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities. His fourth collection of poetry Roll Deep will appear next spring.
  • In May, Random House published Bret Anthony Johnston's novel Remember Me Like This, and it's so far received great reviews in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and Esquire. His short story "To a Good Home" won Story of the Year honors from the Virginia Quarterly Review and the Texas Institute of Letters. In the coming months, he'll be doing readings in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, DC, Austin, Houston, and Chicago. Otherwise you can find him eating a lot of fried food with Paul Yoon.
  • Dinah Lenney writes: “My news is that The Object Parade is on a shelf near you. At least I hope it is. And around and about its publication date (April 15th), I've been able to publish excerpts online with AGNI, and the Harvard Review, and the Rumpus, and the Nervous Breakdown. Other than that, teaching and teaching and more teaching—and editing for LARB.
  • Jill McCorkle is on the short list for the SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers) fiction prize for her recent novel Life After Life.
  • Alice Mattison’s essay, “Not Telling,” was a “Draft” column on The New York Times website. A story is forthcoming from The Southampton Review and a book about writing, to be called The Kite and the String, will be published by Viking after she finishes writing it. She was guest fiction editor for the spring issue of Fifth Wednesday Journal, just out. Many of the stories are by our faculty and alumni.
  • Brian Morton’s novel, Florence Gordon, will be coming out this September from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He has expressed anxiety on Twitter that someone else will publish a book of that title before then. He has also expressed anxiety that there are other novelists out there pretending that they are Brian Morton.
  • Ed Ochester’s new book of poems, Sugar Run Road will be out early next year from Autumn House. He has poems forthcoming in Miramar, Great River Review, Nerve Cowboy, and Florida Review. “Among other interesting pieces of news from the Pitt Poetry Series,” Ed writes, “our author Afaa Weaver is this year's winner of the $100,000 Tufts Prize, largest in American poetry.”
  • Rachel Pastan’s novel Alena was published in January 2014 (Riverhead). This winter she gave readings in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Camden, and Los Angeles, and you can still catch her if you’re in Nantucket, MA, on August 11. In February, as part of the exhibition ICA@50, she organized Seven Writers, a program in which writers in different genres and with different relationships to contemporary art were invited to write new works based on past exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia, and she edited the accompanying chapbook. Rachel has stories in the spring 2014 issue of the Southampton Review and in the new issue of Fifth Wednesday guest-edited by Alice Mattison.
  • In the past year, Peter Trachtenberg has published an essay on cover songs in The Kenyon Review On-Line and a review of Hilton Als's White Girls in the Los Angeles Review of Books. His essay on Primo Levi and the memoir will run in the same publication on May 15. He's been writing essays on tigers and pop singers, and a novel about the bankruptcy and death of Ulysses S. Grant.
  • Paul Yoon is currently finishing up my first year as the Writer-in-Residence at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. “My novel, Snow Hunters, will be released in paperback this August. It is a finalist for the 2014 Young Lions Fiction Award.”

I’ve tested your indulgence far too long. See you all very soon!

–Sven