The Secret to Being Precocious: Mary Shelly & “Frankenstein”

For two centuries now, Frankenstein has been an easy book to hate, and Mary Shelley has been an easy target for envy.

When Frankenstein was published anonymously in January 1818, readers were scandalized by Victor ransacking graves and daring to play God. Even after Mary Shelley was revealed as the author, some reviewers still maintained that only her mad husband Percy could have written it. For all that, it has never been out of print and has spawned hundreds of stage and screen adaptations.

With its overwrought and silly dialogue, absurd plot devices, and mixture of mayhem and moralizing, how did it become an enduring cultural force? How could a teenaged girl have created what she herself called this “hideous progeny?” Before queasy readers or jealous writers grab pitchforks and torches, let’s give Mary Shelley her due.

True, she had the good fortune to be the child of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, two of the brightest intellectuals of the age, growing up in a home visited by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who recited “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for her), Charles and Mary Lamb, John Keats, scientists such as Humphry Davy, and—among many other notables—even Aaron Burr (for whom she and her sisters danced). Her intimate circle consisted of Percy Shelley, Byron, and Dr. John Polidori. It was Byron who prompted the group to hold the most famous ghost story contest in history at the villa Diodati outside Geneva. Since that contest sparked both Frankenstein and Polidori’s novel The Vampyre, it engendered two of our most enduring horror movie icons.

Yet Mary deserves sympathy almost as much as her abandoned creature does. When she began the novel, she had lost her famous mother at birth, been disowned by her father for running off with Percy Shelley, and lost her own newborn daughter. She ran away from a wicked stepmother and a household of five children born from two different fathers and four different mothers. Though much more suffering would plague her life, here was certainly more than enough pain to foster artistic expression.

Still, Mary Shelley was driven by a fierce intellectual curiosity and a relentless ambition to live up to the example of her parents, particularly her mother. As a teenager, she was reading widely and deeply: Milton, Shakespeare, Gibbon, Burke, Goethe, Voltaire, de Staël, French and Italian drama, Ovid, Virgil. Much like the creature in her novel, who soaks up Paradise Lost and speaks like Milton’s characters, she absorbed the skills of her craft, not just reading, but translating and studying and journaling diligently. She served her apprenticeship, but she broke new ground as well. She took advice from her famous companions, but she did not let them squelch her unique voice.

She produced an intricately structured novel, with multiple narrative voices and stories within stories. Though its dialogue may sound stilted to our modern ears, the voices are passionate and compelling. With the audacity of youth, Mary Shelley challenges the old Miltonic world-view, advocates for social justice, and issues a clear warning about the dangers of unfettered human curiosity.

If you want to be precocious—at any age—read widely and deeply, engage with people and ideas, channel your ambition into work, imitate and rebel in equal measure, be both diligent and daring.

Kathryn Schwille on Kevin McIlvoy’s novel “At the Gate of All Wonder”

Samantha Peabody is a bioacoustician, an oddball recluse living in the Pisgah National Forest who runs a year-long “Sonic Adventure Program,” taking children into the woods for one week a month to teach them to hear what others ignore. She’s at the center of Kevin McIlvoy’s original new novel, At the Gate of All Wonder (Tupelo Press), a journal-like recollection of her year with a pair of particularly sturdy, intuitive children.

A trip into the forest with Samantha Peabody is no ordinary adventure. This one is a bread-crumb trail to the heart’s strange workings, cast against Pisgah’s sounds and the limits of ear and soul.

“In the thickets near us, finches split and spat and spewed cedar berries…we began to hear the in-whispering of tree boluses, the inverted echoing cups of stones having the smallest hiding spaces beneath them, the resonant silences in empty bird and wasps nests. After hearing the rhythm of the earth’s soft-palate sounds, we could hear the timbre of its hard-palate sounds: the empty shells and keels and the tight-fisted fleshless ribs of dead creatures no bigger than seeds and pods.”

The forest hums with music, evoked by McIlvoy’s lyrical word play and sentences that swell and bump against each other with energy and surprise. Beneath the soundscape, revenge, estrangement, betrayal and devotion crawl through the novel in a tip-of-the-iceberg treatment that yields a disturbing story. The children’s mother is the divorce lawyer Peabody hired after her husband’s affair: “Carla murdered his spirit exactly as I had asked.” When they divorced, Peabody kept his precious books, “a punch to the Adam’s apple.” Husband Robert did not stand a chance.

As a teacher, Peabody is lovable but cranky, with high expectations for the children, aged six and eight. “If one of you can tell me what the buzzing noise is I will not eat your portions of our crackers later today.” Nothing is easy. The children camp in the cold, they must not read. The Sonic Adventure includes an excursion through February fog to The Place of Nothing There.

Evoking myth, ghosts and the enchanted woods of fairy tales, At the Gate of All Wonder is, like all of McIlvoy’s work, a marvel of language. “The spring foliage around and above our campsite muted certain distant sounds and encapsulated us as if we were silky chestnuts. The senses fuse when one is held in the rose-velvet lining that is contained in the prickly bur of a very cold March. The sound and soundlessness inside our tent was isolating, it was pungent, tightening our scalps, reissuing cidery and sour tastes in our mouths.”

At the Gate of All Wonder is a layered tale that bears examination, and reward is in the re-reading. What a sharp-eyed reader finds in this book today may not be what she finds tomorrow. There is inspiration in these pages. A reader might want to keep it by her side and see what shows up.

Join us at Charlotte Lit on Wednesday, November 7 from 7 to 8:30 pm for “I Went Out to the Hazel Wood”— A Reading & Conversation about Place, with Kevin McIlvoy and Kathryn Schwille. This free event features two writers whose recent books are set in forests. They come together to talk about place as a generative force for storytellers. The Pisgah National Forest became the engine for McIlvoy’s remarkable At the Gate of Wonder. Much of Schwille’s evocative What Luck, This Life is set in the East Texas woods. Join them for a discussion of how location can become what Eudora Welty called the “ground conductor” of emotion, belief and a story’s charge. Free, but space is limited, so please register here so we can save you a place.

Learn, Connect, Enjoy: Making the Most of the NCWN Fall Conference

The fall conference of the North Carolina Writers’ Network returns to Charlotte this year—November 2-4 at Hilton Charlotte University—so we have tips for those who are attending (or still thinking about it). There are deadlines in here, so read on down.


Select Workshops in Advance. One sure way to know if you’ll receive a good value for your money and time is to review all five workshop time slots (three on Saturday and two on Sunday) and make your selections in advance.

Bonus tip: choose a backup workshop for each time slot, too. Sometimes you realize once a session is underway that it’s not for you. It’s OK to slip out and try another one.

Carefully Consider the Extras. This conference has extra options that might fit you. Manuscript Mart and Critique Service are 30-minute feedback sessions on 20 pages of your manuscript—the former with a literary agent or publisher, the latter with an accomplished writer. Master Classes are all day on Saturday, taking the place of the three workshop slots. The cost is just $30 extra—although it’s a small gamble, because that’s the reading fee, non-refundable if you’re not placed in one.

Bonus tip: Deadlines for all these are this Friday, October 19.

Save Money. The conference is a great bargain if you register by October 26 (you’ll save almost $200). If you’re not a NCWN member, join! Membership plus the member rate for the conference is less than the nonmember rate.

Bonus tip: If you don’t need a hotel room, you save even more. NCWN’s fall conference rotates here only every four or five years, so this is your best chance for awhile.


Meet New People. The classes are generally excellent, yet meeting writers from across the Carolinas might be the best part. Try sitting with new people at meals, and saying hello to people at break times. Here’s a sure-fire way to break the ice, even if you’re an introvert: ask “where do you live?” and “what kind of writing do you do?”

Bonus tip: Take names. If you meet someone you’d like to be in touch with again, jot down their name and something about them. If you carry a business (or writer) card, offer to exchange cards.

Stretch Yourself. When selecting workshops, consider taking some that are out of your normal wheelhouse. If you’re a fiction writer, consider a session in poetry, for example.

Bonus tip: This is especially easy to do when the time slot doesn’t have something in your genre or form that really excites you.

Thank the Presenters. After a session, or when you see them later at the conference, say a few words to the presenters. Most work very hard getting ready, and it’s nice to feel appreciated, and you might make a lasting connection—most of the presenters are local (and most also teach at Charlotte Lit). Not sure what to say? Try one piece of specific praise (“I found the part about x especially valuable”).

Bonus tip: Most presenters will have books for sale at the conference bookstore, and they’d be happy to sign for you.


Follow Up with People. Did you collect names and email addresses? Reach out and say hello. Did you meet an agent or editor who expressed interest in your work? Send what you said you’d send.

Bonus tip: No email address? Send a connection request through Facebook or LinkedIn.

Review Your Notes. Most conference materials never again see the light of day, which is a shame: there’s likely a lot of great stuff in there. Did you come up with a story idea, or write a great piece of dialogue, or jot down a book you want to read? Now’s the best time to review and act.

Bonus tip: Do this within the first week, while your memory is fresh and motivation high.

Keep the Motivation Going. You’ll likely leave the conference fired up. While it’s hard to sustain that level of enthusiasm all year, use it as a springboard for your current or next project.

Bonus tip: Decide on your next conference or class and sign up right away. Might we suggest

That’s it! We hope to see you there. And please stop by the Charlotte Lit table and say hello.

Learn more and register for the NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference. Hurry! Early bird rates are open until October 26.

Paul Reali is a co-founder of Charlotte Lit, and the author of Creativity Rising and other books on creative problem solving. He will present “Technology Toolkit: Software and Tech Stuff for Writers” at the NC Writers’ Network Conference. 

How to be a Well-Versed Citizen (Poetry World Edition)

Charlotte writers have an extraordinary opportunity for engagement at the North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference on November 2-4. Classes are offered in a variety of genres, including Lisa Zerkle’s class, “How to be a Well-Versed Citizen of the Poetry World.” Registration is open now.

There’s someone new in town, just arrived with the poems she wrote in a state of thrilled, urgent uncertainty. She knows she doesn’t know enough about writing but still wants more of that electric, creative state. Also new around these parts is that older guy who’s been writing on the side for years, dashing off a poem here and there and saving them for later. It’s later now, he has some time, time he wants to invest in this writing thing he’s thought so long about.

Look around. You’ll see these people, so many of them, newly arrived on the shores of poetry. They’ve thrown open the metal hatches of the getaway pods they used to escape the non-writing world they’ve left behind. They’re clambering out, duct-taped valises full of rough drafts in hand, taking their first steps into this new place. I’m here! they say. What’s next?

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be an engaged citizen of the literary world. If this land has served us as a respite—a place with welcoming plazas and warm hearths, challenging teachers and encouraging colleagues—if we want this land to continue to thrive both for us and for the next wave of new arrivals, what’s required?

The archetype of the solitary writer, toiling alone in a garret ensconced in a haze of cigarette smoke and angst, has never been wholly accurate. Of course as writers we know the joy and sorrow of approaching the page. Stacking up lines, tearing them down, rearranging their constituent parts. What we do before and after that, however, is equally essential, I argue, and necessary to keep our literary world thriving.

Toni Morrison’s well-known encouragement reminds us that, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” By extension, if we want a vibrant, expansive literary world, we must build it. First—of course—we write, we revise. But not just that. Our writing should include book reviews, author appreciations, essays on craft which constitute another necessary facet of our writing. If we’re to articulate these reflections in a cogent way, we’re also reading broadly. Bill Griffin, a fine poet and an excellent literary citizen, recently took two notably different books along on a trip. The first, a short story collection by an author who is, he says, “bizarre, eclectic, impossible to categorize.” The second, by a poet who is “grounded and true; when I read his poems I am always amazed that something that seems so simple can be so deep.” This diversity of reading material results in “conflicting bits, the novel and the orderly, the stable and the radioactive, bouncing around in my head. What’s going to happen? Poems grow out of that stuff,” he says.

So, writing, reading, and then? I know Bill from my time serving on the board of the North Carolina Poetry Society. After I became serious about poetry, NCPS named one of the poems I’d really toiled over as a finalist for an award. I hadn’t won, but even that minor recognition validated my efforts. When, a few years later, I was asked to help out on the board, I agreed as a way of paying it forward. When I needed advice on literary citizenship, friends from my writing tribe—like Bill—came through.

Our lives are busy and not everyone can make time for a board position. But all writers can do something, say, attend a reading or an open mic, sign up for a workshop, get the word out about an upcoming book release or lit event. Someday, when your own book is fresh from the press, you’ll want a strong community there to write rave reviews, invite you to readings, send you notes of appreciation for your writing.

Don’t you want that? Introverts, this also means you. Get out there and engage with your people. Now’s the time to build that community, just as when you took your first steps into the writing world, someone was there to welcome you. Someone who offered to read one the poems sliding out from that duct-taped valise, someone who said, “This way. We’re all here together.”

Lisa Zerkle is the Curator of Charlotte Lit’s 4X4CLT Poetry and Art poster series.

Living at the Borders of Boldness: Making Time to Reconnect with Our Creative Selves

Join us for Charlotte Lit’s first multi-day retreat

Do you ever feel that you’re living close to the borders of madness, that state of being in which each day is progressively more packed with meetings, phone calls, and errands? Have you begun to open your in-box each morning with a sense of fear and trepidation? Have you caught yourself saying aloud to some inner artist, “Hang on just one more day. We need to get through this project, then, I promise we’ll get to the good stuff; we’ll start making art again.”

In a world that values productivity and outer connection over rest and contemplation, it’s all too easy to set our creative selves on a shelf, to forget the art of reconnecting to those invisible forces that enrich and fill our lives with meaning. Creativity doesn’t just happen, however. While there’s some truth in creativity experts’ exhortations to “just put your butt in the chair,” sometimes the muse needs to be more gently coaxed.

If you’re like me, you may not remember when you last tried that gentle route––took time away from ordinary life to reflect, rest inside the natural world, and restore your body. I’m not talking about spending an evening with Netflix and a bottle of white wine. That kind of rest has its virtue, but it won’t do the trick when your muse is sending up flares and demanding a search and rescue mission.

Fortunately, Charlotte Lit has something to try instead: join us for a mini creativity retreat.

You won’t have to go far, pack a suitcase, or spend any time making plans. Charlotte Lit has taken care of all the details. By popular demand, Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Dr. Dennis Slattery returns to Charlotte to lead us on our creative quests to the “borders of boldness.” We’ll spend an evening and a full day together at a beautiful, peaceful retreat site in south Charlotte. Meals and most supplies provided. All you have to do is show up with an intention to unwind, reconnect to the source of inspiration inside you, and re-create your creative self.

Here’s what to expect:

Friday, October 19, 6–9 pm: We’ll begin our day and a half retreat at Soul’s Home Studio (aka Kathie’s place) with a light supper and introduction to the weekend, including a short film, talk, and discussion. (Light supper included)

Saturday, October 20, 10 am–5 pm: We’ll return to the studio for a day of creative introspection in which activity and rest, community time and solitude are woven into a peaceful, restorative pattern. Dennis will give talks based on his research and writing on creativity and facilitate follow-up discussions. We’ll enjoy journaling and visual art exercises that help us explore our unique creative processes; return to our bodies through labyrinth walks and gentle yoga practice; engage our Selves and one another through the body of a poem; and end our time with a closing ritual designed to lead us back into the world with renewed creative energy. (Lunch and snacks included)

If you have questions, email or call me: or 704-458-3293. I’m really hoping you’ll join Dennis and me for this one-of-a-kind retreat!

Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D., is Emeritus Faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 26 books, and the author of more than 200 articles on literature, psychology, culture and myth. He will publish three new works in 2019: Deep Creativity: Seven Ways to Spark Your Creative Spirit (Shambhala Press); a co-edited volume of the letters of Joseph Campbell; and a volume on Homer’s Odyssey. He continues to teach as Emeritus faculty and to offer “Riting Retreats” on exploring one’s personal myth. Dennis continues to take classes and paint in both acrylic and watercolor as well as ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the Hill Country of Texas.

Kathie Collins, Ph.D., co-founder of Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, earned her graduate degree in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, where she is currently an adjunct professor. A poet and lifelong student of Jungian psychology, Kathie thrives in the in-between space from which dreams and creativity emerge. She’s happiest when she can share that space with others and one of her great passions is bringing words and people together for transformative conversations. Kathie’s poetry has appeared in Immanence, Kakalak, Bible Workbench, and Between. Her chapbook Jubilee was published by Main Street Rag in 2011.

Charlotte Readers Podcast Debuts

As a recovering trial lawyer, I wanted make room for writing, reading, and learning new things. So I came up with the idea of a podcast for readers and writers, focused on Charlotte-area authors.  The result is the Charlotte Readers Podcast which hits the scene in early October.

I’ve always loved to read. In my twenties and thirties, I read historical fiction, Louis L’Amour’s westerns, most of John Grisham, and any number of thrillers, but as time went on, I began to read any fiction that sounded good to me. Lately, I’m reading books by authors I’ve met, classics, and as before, anything that sounds good.

Four years ago, my reading life and my writing life merged when I wrote a Christmas story for my family about a lawyer who saves Christmas. Two books later, I had a trilogy. Along the way, I joined writing groups, took classes at Charlotte Lit, served as co-chair of the speaker program for Charlotte Writers Club, and had the pleasure of meeting many talented Charlotte-area authors.

It struck me that Charlotte is full of quality authors with great stories to tell. This medium—this podcast thing—can connect authors and their voices to listeners who enjoy good stories and poems. So with my retirement from the law firm coming at the end of this year, I said to myself: Why not do this? I’d talked about it a year ago with Kathie Collins and Paul Reali. They liked the idea, so I stored the thought away until I made the decision to retire from the law firm and got the courage to try something technologically uncomfortable.

I call this Charlotte Readers Podcast because it’s a show for Charlotte-area authors (and those who visit the Queen City) to read their work and for listeners to hear great stories and poems that have been published or won awards or contests.

We’ll tape the show in different places. Sometimes, in a studio. And sometimes, on the road—perhaps in a library or book store.

And we’ll make it easy for people to listen on their devices or their computers, with information on our website about how and where to find the episodes.

The format will be simple. We’ll start with a story or poem, then meet the author and talk about their work. Most of the time, we’ll have complete stories and poems. You know, the kind that have a beginning, middle and end. But don’t worry, because as you know, many good stories and poems start closer to the middle, where the action is. Authors tend to skip “Once Upon a Time” and start with that “Dark and Stormy Night.” And much of what you hear on this show will be just that, stories and poems that pull you in from the beginning.

The author episodes for Season One will run from early October through December and feature eleven Charlotte-area authors, with connections to Charlotte Lit and Charlotte Writers Club. Charlotte Lit co-founders Kathie Collins and Paul Reali appear on the show, along with a number of Charlotte Lit instructors, including Paula Martinac, Judy Goldman, and Tracy Curtis. All the authors have been published and won awards, including contests at Charlotte Writers Club. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the stories and poems in Season One and have enjoyed the on-air conversations with the authors about their work. I’m already thinking about Season Two.

I hope you’ll consider listening to the podcast and sharing it with others. Think of it like an open mic night you can carry in your phone or on your computer and listen whenever it suits you.

The backstory episode is now live and available on Apple Podcasts and wherever you like to listen to podcasts. In that episode, I read a short story, discuss the mission of the podcast and introduce the speakers for Season One.

You can find out more on at:  and www.facebookcom/charlottereaderspodcast.

Read on,

Landis Wade is a Charlotte attorney and author who starts each day walking Gus and Lori, two rescue dogs named after characters in Larry McMurtry’s classic western, Lonesome Dove. His third book—The Christmas Redemption—won the Holiday category of the 12th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards. He won the 2016 North Carolina State Bar short story contest for “The Deliberation” and received awards in 2017 and 2018 for his non-fiction pieces, “The Cape Fear Debacle” and “First Dance.” His essays have been published in The Charlotte Observer and the Bearing Up anthology by Daniel Boone Footsteps, and his writing craft article inspired by best-selling author Craig Johnson appeared in in June 2018. When Landis doesn’t have a dog leash, keyboard or digital recorder in his hands, he’s probably holding a fly-rod, a golf club or a cold beverage at a Carolina Panthers or Charlotte Knights game.

Review of Kathryn Schwille’s “What Luck, This Life”

Kathryn Schwille has written a riveting debut novel that brilliantly juxtaposes recovery efforts in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion with the daily challenges facing the residents of a small East Texas town who literally pick up the pieces. What Luck, This Life illuminates life in small-town America, capturing perfectly the cadence of people too often relegated to one-dimensional caricatures. Kathryn paints a word picture of the people and places in fictional Kiser, Texas, so authentic and affecting that both are instantly relatable.

She also captures the real-life horror of the shuttle disaster and the macabre scavenger hunt that ensued to reclaim the parts, human and otherwise, strewn across the landscape. Down a dirt road in a pasture, a young boy, whose intuitive skills render him strange and different to the townsfolk, spots an astronaut’s body stuck in a tree, with “no foot at the end of the leg.” His dad (separated from the boy’s mother after revealing that he’s gay) uses a bucket truck to bring it down, finding the body’s smell “sharp, but not yet foul…. The crows had been on him; their droppings on his chest.” At an elderly black man’s home, a female astronaut’s severed hand is found in a backyard woodpile. Across town, the police chief tells NASA—which asserts no bodies will be found because they would have burned up—that  “a man found a leg out on 621….  What do you want him to do, put it in a 4X4 and bring it to you?”

The recovery efforts become a tantalizing backdrop to the human drama already unfolding for the working class residents of Kiser, “a dinky, third fiddle town near the Sabine River, a rank and slither-filled water that keeps Texas apart from Louisiana.” Schwille uses time fluidly, easily shifting back and forth through years, months, even days, to underscore how decisions made—or delayed—mold and change lives.

The characters reflect a diversity of small-town life that’s refreshing. Some are likable; some not. But their voices and experiences shine with authenticity. They tackle the myriad problems we all know so well, and of which small towns are not immune—domestic violence, drug abuse, depression, suicide, illness, love, divorce, death.

What Luck, This Life is enhanced by Schwille’s keen observation skills, honed during her years as a journalist. That skill shows in her beautifully detailed descriptions that bring the East Texas landscape to life. Yet it is her wordsmanship, and the delightful lyricism of her prose, that make the novel special. “Pine warbler opens song…a one-note trill that goads aside the shroud of dawn. She perches on a tulip tree that’s uncommon in this forest, its life a chance of brawny wind from far-off meadow… At tip of crown, a tiny bulge of someday leaf protrudes toward winter’s day, though limbs still hold dried cups of spent samaras—dead leaves pointing skyward, spoils of hope. Where warbler sings, a branch is broken, and down below, another: jagged rips that came yesterday, that came with shake and roar…. Drunk with pleasure at morning mist, roots register all landings – this weight tiny, that one big.”


At every juncture, What Luck is quietly, almost stealthily, thought-provoking and contemplative. One character laments the nature of death and “the forces at play within us,” and declares “what do any of us know about how the end truly comes about.” It is a wonderment and mystery we can all recognize.

This is a debut novel to treasure and to ponder. Readers will find themselves returning again and again to the people and places in Kiser, Texas, for the truths and wisdom they reveal about and to all of us.

Fannie Flono, retired associate editor of The Charlotte Observer, is an award-winning journalist and author of Thriving in the Shadows: The Black Experience In Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Kathryn Schwille reads from What Luck, This Life at Park Road Books, Thursday, September 20, 7 to 8:30 pm.

Literary Arts Events & Book Releases for Fall 2018

Compiled from multiple sources by Lisa Zerkle.

Fall brings a fresh slate of book releases and literary events for writers and readers to note.  We’ve rounded up some highlights here, but this is by no means a complete listing. Keep an eye on events calendars for Park Road Books, Queens University (try here and here), and UNCC. If you’re willing to venture further afield, Davidson College and Main Street Books Davidson both have a slate of readings and events, most free and open to the public.  While we didn’t list it here, Lenoir Rhyne’s Visiting Writers Series celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. If you’re willing to drive to Hickory on a weeknight, you’ll find a host of excellent writers including Laila Lalami, Li-Young Lee, and Juan Felipe Herrera. Lit’s weekly newsletter calls out local lit arts events and we do our best to mention them on our website, too. Let us know if there’s something we missed.

Kathryn Schwille reading: What Luck, This Life
Thursday September 20, 7 to 8:30 pm at Park Road Books

What Luck, This Life begins in the aftermath of the space shuttle’s break-up, as the people of Piney Woods watch their pastures swarm with searchers and reporters bluster at their doors. A shop owner defends herself against a sexual predator who is pushed to new boldness after he is disinvited to his family reunion. A closeted father facing a divorce that will leave his gifted boy adrift retrieves an astronaut’s remains. An engineer who dreams of orbiting earth joins a search for debris and instead uncovers an old neighbor’s buried longing. Info

Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness, Reynolds Lecture (free, but tickets required)
Tuesday, September 25, 7 pm at Davidson College

Writer, TV host and producer, and advocate Janet Mock’s bestselling memoir Redefining Realness was the first autobiography written from the perspective of a trans girl. She produced the MSNBC series Beyond My Body and the HBO documentary The Trans List. Mock is a contributing editor at Allure, where she writes the column “Beauty Beyond Binaries.”

The First Annual Yorkville Literary Festival
October 5-6

Friday: Poetry Slam and Open Mic at the Sylvia, 9 pm. Saturday: events from 10 am-2 pm, including author presentations inside shops and cafes along Congress Street, children’s read-alouds, writing activities, and street performers. Downtown York. Info

Launch Party and Reading: Jeff Jackson, Destroy All Monsters
Friday October 19, 7-9 pm at Goodyear Arts

An epidemic of violence is sweeping the country: musicians are being murdered onstage in the middle of their sets by members of their audience. Are these random copycat killings, or is something more sinister at work? Has music itself become corrupted in a culture where everything is available, everybody is a “creative,” and attention spans have dwindled to nothing? With its cast of ambitious bands, yearning fans, and enigmatic killers, Destroy All Monsters tells a haunted and romantic story of overdue endings and unlikely beginnings that will resonate with anybody who’s ever loved rock and roll.

Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate, Q&A on Poetry, Activism,and Community
Tuesday, October 30, 7:30 pm, at Davidson College

Jaki Shelton Green teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and is a 2014 NC Literary Hall of Fame inductee, 2009 NC Piedmont Laureate, 2007 Sam Ragan Award in Fine Arts and won the 2003 North Carolina Award in Literature. Open to the public. No tickets are required.

Verse and Vino, fundraiser for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation
November 1, 6 to 9:30 pm, Charlotte Convention Center

Featuring authors Elliot Ackerman, Lou Berney, Casey Gerald, Paula McClain, Julia Reed. Tickets required. Info

North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference Hilton Charlotte University Place
Friday-Sunday, November 2-4, 2018

The Fall Conference attracts hundreds of writers from around the country and provides a weekend full of activities that include readings, keynotes, tracks in several genres, open mic sessions, and the opportunity for one-on-one manuscript critiques with editors or agents. For the first time, this year the conference offers a full slate of sessions designed specifically for writers of stage and screen. In addition, as part of the Network’s ongoing mission to serve writers at all levels of experience, the Charlotte Lit will sponsor a “Business of Writing” track at Fall Conference for those who feel ready to take their manuscripts to market. Conference faculty include professional writers from North Carolina and beyond, including John Amen, Bryn Chancellor, Morri Creech, Sarah Creech, Julie Funderburk, Judy Goldman, Patrice Gopo, Maureen Ryan Griffin, Jodi Helmer, Kathy Izard, Paula Martinac, Dannye Romine Powell, Paul Reali, Amy Rogers, Betsy Thorpe, Kim Wright, Lisa Zerkle. Registration now open. Info

Morri Creech reading, Blue Rooms
Tuesday November 13 at Queens University

The Arts at Queens presents Writer in Residence Morri Creech reading from his fourth poetry collection, Blue Rooms, for the English Department Reading Series. These poems explore the terrain between conscious perception and the objective world and include references to such artists as Magritte and Goya. Creech’s last book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

December 4X4CLT Poetry and Art Poster release with featured poet, Maurice Manning
Friday November 30 at Resident Culture Brewing, Saturday December 1 at Charlotte Lit

December’s 4X4CLT features Maurice Manning who will read at the release party on Friday November 30 at Resident Culture Brewing in Plaza Midwood and teach a master class at Charlotte Lit on Saturday December 1. Manning teaches at Transylvania University in Kentucky and is on faculty at Warren Wilson’s MFA program. He is the author of six books, the latest, One Man’s Dark, published in 2017. In 2010 his book The Common Man was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Manning’s poem “Orchard at the Bottom of the Hill” recently appeared in Time.

Something for Everyone: Charlotte Lit’s 2018-19 Class Catalog

You can’t please everyone…or can you?

Charlotte Lit’s 2018-19 Class Catalog has arrived, and we think it has something for everyone. More than 50 classes covering different genres, formats, lengths, teachers, and topics…it’s a cornucopia. Here’s a quick guide to navigating your choices.

Craft Classes focus on writing skills.

Are you writing? Chances are good we have something for you. On the calendar: poetry, fiction (short story, flash, novel, mysteries, and romance), nonfiction (personal essay, memoir, travel writing), playwriting, and more.

Have favorite teachers—or want to find some new favorites? We have 40 of them! We bet you’ll know some of these names: In poetry, we have Abbott, Creech, Funderburk, Honeycutt, and Pinckney. In memoir and other nonfiction: Curtis, Goldman, Gopo, Griffin,  Helmer, Rogers, and Syverson.

In fiction, how about Chancellor, Martinac, (another) Creech, and Radavich? In genre fiction classes, Peterson (romance) and Pickens (mysteries). And finally, many of us write in more than one genre, so we have classes that span them, with Schwille, Sherman, West and Pollard-Smith, and more.

Workshopping sessions use MFA-style feedback to help you improve your work.

Tony Abbott returns with his hybrid class—this year, on Mary Oliver!—teaching her work and workshopping yours. Dannye Romine Powell also returns, to lead a dedicated poetry workshopping group. And, fiction writers get both lessons and high-level feedback in Paula Martinac’s Short Story 101.

Business of Writing classes are about the work of being a writer.

Here we run the gamut from the tools you write with (Scrivener, blogging platforms, and more) and who you write for (ghostwriting and freelancing) to how it gets published and sold (self-publishing, marketing, and finding an agent).

Explorations in Creativity and Culture are experiences with the world of words.

We did say “something for everyone,” so you don’t have to be a writer to enjoy our many lit-based explorations.

Just some of the many options: Kathie Collins’ Art & Archetype series (four parts, à la carte); Sam Shapiro on film and David Poston on Frankenstein; Cathy Hasty on wellness, and Brenda Sorkin and Kathryn Schwille on movement; Catherine Anderson and Karon Luddy each offering their own perspective on journaling; and mythologist Dennis Patrick Slattery—in Charlotte Lit’s first two-day retreat—on reconnecting with our creative selves. Also in this category: free events, including a Creativity Salon with Kim Wright, and Creating a Better Year (kicking off 2019) with Cathy Pickens.

We know you’ll find something—and maybe many things—to enjoy at Charlotte Lit this year. Drop by our home page to get started…and tell your friends! We need you to help “spread the words.”

Cecily Parks’ “O’Nights”

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s classic, hermited study of the natural world, he acknowledges his immersive contemplation might be considered odd. “This was sheer idleness to my fellow townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting.” That standard—of the stars, the moon, the meadow—is the one Cecily Parks’ aspires to in her second collection of poetry, O’Nights (Alice James Books, 2015). Its speaker is the female incarnation of a present-day wanderer trying to commune with what’s left of the wild, one whose solitary forest wanderings mark her even after she finds love and returns to an urban environment.

The stars said, Follow us. They drew me deep
into the disheveled spruces to introduce me.
to loss. My fields were ill. They weren’t my fields.

My trees were being killed. They weren’t my trees.
I was nervous that this natural world would see
that I was filthy-footed in silk, a woman

pretending to be a man to trip a pyrotechnic grace. Oh yes,
I wanted the world to be wild again. I believed

I might hold weather in my hands
and mend it . .  .

—from “When I Was Thoreau at Night”

O’Nights, which takes its title from an anecdote found in Thoreau’s journal, is split into three sections. In the first, the speaker is alone and spends her days (and nights) closely observing the natural world. While she may be the sole human, her solitude expands to encompass a wider community of the forest where she finds herself in conversation with the wild entities that surround her. She is alone, but not lonely. “Hurricane Song,” the powerful, opening poem, describes the “little kidnapped thrill that comes with drastic weather,” the feeling of being out in a storm’s overture. She’s on the same level as the pines, the grass, and the deer who “flips herself over and over, white tail-spark,/black hoof-sparks, brown wheel.” This leveling serves as a reminder that we humans are animals after all, still part of an ecosystem, still subject to the whims of weather. A sense of restless energy runs through this section as the speaker, eschewing comfort and convention, roams alone.

In the book’s second section, the speaker is in the city, deliriously in love, “suspended in the edgy bliss.” Of these 15 poems, two are aubades—poems bidding farewell to a love at dawn. Notwithstanding the speaker’s former forest solitude, loneliness pangs around the edges of these poems. When the lover’s frequent absences are most keenly felt, the speaker’s thoughts go to foxes in their den, and back to the community she found in the natural world where “puddles count the clouds,” and where “the marsh opens its little wet mouths.” These are lush and lovely pieces. The lovers, at last, share time together in “Love Poem” and the longer “Twelve-Wired Bird-of-Paradise:” 

We’re afraid we’ll die before we’ve loved each other long enough.
There is no end 


to long enough. This is paradise.

The final section of O’Nights is its shortest and least thematically cohesive, but includes the standout lead poem “Bell.” Parks writes beautifully about the wild world in all its seasons and moods. If the birds and flowers tried her by their standard, her keen-eyed poems with would not be found wanting.

September 4X4CLT kicks off Labor Day weekend featuring Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights and Field, Folly, Snow. Parks reads from her work at the release party on Friday August 31 from 6 to 8 pm at SOCO Gallery. Local artists Ruth Ava Lyons and Linda Foard Roberts will also be on hand for the celebration, which is free and open to the public. September 4X4CLT posters with poems and art from these three women will be displayed at over 70 venues in and around Charlotte. On Saturday September 1 from 10 am to 1 pm, Parks will teach a master class in poetry at Charlotte Lit’s studio.