Grant News: 4X4CLT Series Funded by Arts and Science Council

We’re thrilled to announce Charlotte Lit was awarded a Cultural Vision Grant from the Arts and Science Council in support of our quarterly 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series.

This grant, provided in part by the NC Arts Council, funds six editions of the series beginning with September’s release and ending in December 2019. The Cultural Vision Grants aim to build strong communities and demonstrate innovative, relevant and transformative cultural expression. 4X4CLT was also selected because the series activates nontraditional performance or exhibition spaces close to where people live. This vote of confidence in Charlotte Lit’s programming allows us to continue to bring high-caliber poets to Charlotte for free readings and affordable master classes, in addition to shining a light on some of this area’s many exceptional local artists and their work.

Upcoming 4X4CLT Events

The September 4X4CLT kicks off over Labor Day weekend featuring poet Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights and Field, Folly, Snow. Parks will read 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, Parks will teach a master class in poetry at Charlotte Lit.

Looking ahead, 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.

A Reflection on Color in Patrice Gopo’s “All the Colors We Will See”

Patrice Gopo’s All the Colors We Will See was released by Thomas Nelson this week. The book was named a Barnes & Noble Fall 2018 Discover Great New Writers selection. Patrice will read from and discuss the book at Park Road Books at 7 pm this Thursday.

In one of the essays in her new collection All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, Patrice Gopo conveys the uncertainty and despair she often felt while working as a chemical engineer at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, writing, “I cried not about the reality of my daily life, the commute to a seemingly endless surface parking lot, the elevator I rode up each morning, the dull walls and dusty floors. Rather, I cried about what my life might be, that there might exist another occupation replete with a greater palette of colors.” Thankfully, this despair didn’t crush her. Instead it pushed her onto a journey through which she “finally stumble[d] into writing” and found a way to broaden the color spectrum for readers lucky enough to stumble onto her book.

Writing may not have been her first vocation. But working with color at Eastman Kodak seems to have been an essential turn toward it. I’ve always been amazed by the synchronicities that weave through our lives, the patterns we inherit through genetics and through the particular families and cultures in which we are raised, as well as by the choices we make for ourselves as we quest and stretch toward some often unconscious knowledge of who we are—and who we are meant to be. For many, if not most of us, the themes and metaphors that are to be our life’s work seem to be with us from the very beginning, “coloring” every turn in the road. After reading her new collection of perceptive essays, one can clearly see that Gopo’s path circumambulates the field of color, particularly as it relates to race––a topic she examines with the eye of an artist, the precision of an engineer, and the devotion of a pilgrim.

The word color is both noun and verb, both term and metaphor. Color is a phenomenon of visual perception that gives us a way to differentiate and describe objects in the world around us. But it can also indicate pretense or deceptive appearance of some kind. Colorful language is vivid language. A colorful story is sometimes true. Sometimes we wear colors that tell others what group we belong to. At other times, whether we mean to or not, we “show our true colors” through our words and actions. And color is the word used to describe skin pigmentation, especially when that skin is not “white.”

All of these definitions of color are woven into the narratives Gopo tells about her experience as a black American––first growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, the child of Jamaican immigrants in a predominantly white community, and later traveling the world, meeting her Zimbabwean husband, and raising two daughters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before she went away to college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Gopo’s primary experience of race was one of feeling different—of having a darker skin color and different hair than other kids in school and church. Once in college, however, Gopo also realized that because she didn’t receive a traditional black American experience from her immigrant parents and because there wasn’t much of a black community in Anchorage, neither did she feel completely at home within black culture on campus.

The fairly unusual circumstances of Gopo’s heritage and experience have situated her in a liminal place, a between space, that allows her to examine through a unique lens the topics of color, race, culture, identity, and the many of the barriers that keep people divided. The personal stories she tells in these essays challenge us to lean into a deeper observation of and reflection of color, of the ways in which we perceive (and don’t) the experiences of people who’ve lived their lives in different shades of skin.

Just Put On the Mouse Ears, Already: Wildacres Writing Workshop

Special thanks to the Arts and Science Council, which awarded me a Regional Artist Project Grant to attend the Wildacres Writing Workshop this year.

The warnings go something like this:

“You’re thinking about Wildacres? It’s amazing, but you need to know about the Gong Show.”

For more than 30 summers, writer and writing enthusiast Judi Hill has been hosting 100 people at the Wildacres Retreat, a mountain conference center in Little Switzerland, NC. Judi calls her event the Wildacres Writing Workshop. National Geographic called it one of the “100 places that will change your life.”

“Change your life” is a pretty tall order. But before we get to that, let’s talk Gong Show.

The final night of the Workshop, the writers in attendance put on skits. Most are written that week, and some that very day (as you might expect from a place full of writers). They are performed script-in-hand with cobbled together props and costumes. The skits are fun and funny with low (or no) expectations (there’s no gong and no judging), with a tendency to poke fun at the shared experiences of the past week.

Nearly everyone participates—that is, is given some kind of role in one or more skits—especially the first timers. Now, it’s possible the thought of performing in a skit before 100 people, most of whom you’ve just met, makes you apoplectic. The apoplectic do get a pass. You can say no. But it’s hard to say no, because the Workshop veterans know the value of a communal experience.

And in a nutshell, that aesthetic is the key to understanding the Workshop: it’s all about community.

One might expect it would be difficult to find entree into a group so well established. In fact, I’ve rarely felt more welcome. It’s even encoded in Hill’s rules, such as this one: at each meal, sit with someone different. And people do. If it weren’t so brilliant, you’d think it sinister: this is the best way to get everyone to put on the Mickey Mouse ears, so to speak—to buy in to what’s being sold. What it actually does is build community, in the easiest way possible. At meals, I met and talked with perhaps 50 different people—and remember there are only 100 there—many of whom I would not have met otherwise.

There’s more community building: in the evenings are open readings, and—as with the Gong Show—everyone is encouraged to participate. And again, nearly everyone does—for which you’ll be glad. What better way to learn about your fellow writers than to hear their work? (Four-minute limits, though, and no going over; for this there is a gong.)

The norms are well-entrenched, and I found myself resisting at first, but I soon decided that resistance is not only futile, it’s counterproductive. It’s not unlike Disney World: either be prepared to give in to it fully, or choose something different. While Hill sometimes rules with a heavy hand (another rule: no complaining, which also means no suggestions, at least not while the Workshop is going on), the Wildacres Writing Workshop works precisely as she designed it: you go, you immerse yourself in the place and the people, and you emerge with new relationships, a whole lot of new words, and maybe a new outlook on your writing.

It might not change your life. But then again, it just might.

A  Few Details

One week or two? The Wildacres Writing Workshop is actually two things: a retreat week and a workshop week. Everyone who comes in a given year attends the second week, the workshop week. About half of those people also opt to come for the first week, the retreat week.

The retreat week is fantastic: a beautiful mountain location, unstructured days, lovely and supportive people, three square meals you don’t have to think about (including when to eat, since you eat when the bell rings at 8:00, 12:30, and 6:00), readings in the evenings, and lots and lots and lots of writing time. (And bugs: bring bug spray.)

The workshop week is like this: you meet with your teacher and classmates for five sessions, each of which is about an hour of instruction and 90 minutes of workshopping each other’s submitted work. Some meeting are morning and some afternoon, which means you can also audit any of the other class sessions. Workshops are well taught, but my sense is that the real value for most people is in the workshopping.

Diversity. With just two people of color this year, racial diversity is essentially a rounding error. Hill recognizes this but hasn’t figured out how to address it. While there is an application process—you have to submit a page of work and be accepted—the Workshop is essentially self-selecting, and will likely only get more diverse if those who already attend bring more diverse friends.

Accommodations. Wildacres has two lodges that face each other across a courtyard with a fantastic mountain view. You’ll spend a lot of time in the courtyard, the balconies that overlook it, and the big living room called the lobby. Most people don’t spend much time in their rooms, which are functional (think: very old country hotel) but probably not conducive to your writing. And then there is the matter of…

Roommates. Unless you bring or arrange your own, you will be assigned a roommate. The only way to get a private room is to pay for a second person, whether they come with you or not. (No one does this.) On the upside, you can bring an actual second person, even if they’re not participating in the the workshop part of the Workshop, for the same fee that you paid.

Food. Opinions on the food varies. Some are very happy with the family style + buffet arrangement, the choices and the quality. Others, less so. It’s industrial and not (that we could tell) locally sourced. Regardless, the kitchen staff does an excellent job accommodating dietary needs (vegan, gluten-free, etc.).

When, Where, and How Much. Judi Hill’s Wildacres Writing Workshop is usually the first two weeks of July, (optional retreat week followed by the workshop week), at the lovely Wildacres Retreat in Little Switzerland, NC. For 2018, the workshop week was $850 (double-occupancy lodging, all meals, and your class), and an extra $450 for the retreat week.

About Wildacres, the Place. Wildacres Retreat—1,600 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains—hosts many events and groups during the year: potters, storytellers, musicians, writers, and many more. Another writing group that meets there, in addition to the Wildacres Writing Workshop covered in this post, is the Table Rock Writers Workshop, in August. You might also check out these opportunities there: Spring and Fall Gatherings, and the Wildacres Residency Program.]

Paul Reali, co-founder of Charlotte Lit, is the co-author of Creativity Rising, which is used in college creativity courses throughout the US and Canada. His work has been published in Winston-Salem Journal, InSpine, Office Solutions, Lawyers Weekly, and others. His fiction has been awarded first place in the Elizabeth Simpson Smith and Ruth Moose Flash Fiction competitions, and he received a Regional Artist Project Grant from Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council in 2018.

Note: this post has been updated since its original publication. The author apologies for any inappropriate metaphors in the original.

The Writer’s Hustle

Editor’s note: The following piece began as a Facebook post written by novelist Wiley Cash (The Last Ballad and others). Since it first appeared on June 29, it’s been shared 53 times and is now posted on Cash’s website. We asked to reprint the post here because it’s an important and thoughtful consideration on what it takes to build a life as a successful writer. Cash has also recently announced a new book club focused on bringing attention to literary diversity.

by Wiley Cash

Last night I had dinner and beers with a good friend of mine who’s also a successful, well published writer, the kind of writer whose career a lot of us would look at with envy. I’ve been thinking about him and the things we talked about all day. Here goes.

When people learn that I’m a writer, I’ll often hear things like, “I would love to write, but I don’t have the time” or “It must be amazing to sit at your desk all day and write your book.” Years ago, when my wife and I first moved in to our neighborhood, a woman down the street told me that whenever she passed our house while walking her dog she thought about me inside, sitting at my desk, working on a novel. She said this wistfully, as if it were the most peaceful life she could imagine.

Over the past six years I’ve published three novels and a bunch of stories and essays. My friend that I had dinner with last night has published more books and essays than I have, and his career has been a little longer and his work has sold better than mine. But our books and works-in-progress are not what we talk about when we meet for dinner and beers. We talk about the hustle. We talk about health insurance. We talk about how the non-writing work or teaching gigs or the conference workshop or the writing gig we have to take will limit our time at the desk. We talk about the calls we get from Hollywood people and whether or not we should believe them when they ask us to do work for free in the hope someone will buy it. We talk about invitations to speak at libraries, universities, and civic groups. How much will they pay us? How much can we expect? How much is it worth to be away from our family for ANOTHER night? Should we include driving time and flying time and sitting in the airport time? Should we be honest about how one hour of “work” requires 36 hours of travel and preparation? We talk about blurbs, both the asking for them and the being asked to provide them. We talk about the book business and how we feel about our agents and editors. We talk about the hope we have that the next book will be the one that helps us get to the point where we won’t have to have the conversations that we keep having.

Most of my friends are writers, and very few of them are what would be considered well off. All of them hustle. All them bust their ass, both on their writing and on their careers. There are only a handful of writers in this country who don’t have numerous side hustles. I can think of only two or three I know personally, but they still bust their asses at the desk and turn out great work.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: the book on the shelf is not the product of the writing life; in most cases it’s the by-product of the writing life, which is often less about writing and more about trying to keep you and your family’s life as stable as possible. A lot of jobs are hard, and a lot of people don’t get paid what they deserve. But the tricky thing in this business is that you may work harder than you could ever imagine on a project you believe in, and then no one publishes your book or buys your script, and you don’t get paid at all. So you teach. You edit. You write for magazines. You travel. You give keynotes. You spend weeks per year away from your family. You worry about insurance and your mortgage and your kids’ tuition and car payments. And when you put your head on the pillow your mind goes to the place where your work lives hot and bright in your imagination, and you fall asleep hoping and praying that it will be the work that finally rewards the hustle of the life you’ve chosen. You think about sitting at the desk where you’re working on your book and looking out the window. Your neighbor passes by with her dog, and you hope that one day she’ll be 100% right in thinking, A writer lives there.

Wiley Cash is the New York Times best selling author of the novels The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind Than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy. He currently serves as the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and teaches in the Mountainview Low-Residency MFA. He lives with his wife and two young daughters in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The Collegeville Institute: A Place to Belong

On the first evening of a workshop entitled, “Exploring Identity and (Dis)belonging through the Personal Essay” at the Collegeville Institute, we gather around a rectangle formed from four long tables pushed together. We are primarily people of color. We are strangers to one another. We are not sure what the days ahead will hold.

Enuma Okoro, our workshop leader, asks us to share something important about our identity that someone wouldn’t know just by looking at us. The answers vary from flamenco dancer to Nigerian to Colombian to chemical engineer. We learn about the people who will share this space with us for the next five days. With our words and stories, we begin to traverse the globe.

I am the black American daughter of Jamaican immigrants who was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. In personal essay after personal essay, I return again and again to the question, “Where do I belong?” It makes senses that this subject of belonging might be a question haunting my writing. The question, however, reaches beyond my race, my ethnicity, or even my place of birth. I find I consider this question in all sorts of realms in my life—including my faith and my writing.

I’ve attended many wonderful writing workshops and classes. However, in these spaces, I’ve often been the only person of color in a class and the only person writing about topics related to race, ethnicity, and, at times, faith. These experiences of being the “only” have left me struggling to determine where I belong in the writing world.

The Collegeville Institute identifies themselves by the tagline, “Exploring faith, igniting imagination, renewing community,” and each summer they offer a variety of week-long writing workshops. Last winter I applied to attend the workshop about identity and (dis)belonging. The idea of participating in a workshop that sat at the intersection of identity formation, belonging, faith, and writing the personal essay grabbed me. I’d never been part of such an environment before. Let me repeat that sentence. I’d never been part of such an environment before.

When I received workshop acceptance details and logistical information, I immediately realized that this workshop would be unlike anything I’d ever experienced. First there was the list of participants primarily composed of other people of color. Then there were the readings comprised of authors with identity formation experiences that shared some similarities with mine. Before the workshop officially began, a wave of affirmation already engulfed me.

The week did not disappoint. We fell into rich, full conversations that I believe happen when the majority of those around you understand certain aspects of your experience. We passed quickly over basic ideas around identity formation and dove headfirst into deep discussions about the ways we can write about how we came to be the people we are today. We learned and we talked and we learned and we talked some more. We read each other’s essays and shared our stories. We laughed and we ate (truly we ate so much) and sometimes we stayed up long enough to watch the clock turn into a new day. We arrived as strangers and we departed as friends.

Sometimes I think it’s possible to realize you are standing in a moment so special that you wish you could stop time if only for a second. You wish the iridescent bubble floating through the air could pause, and you could cup its beauty. On the final night of the workshop, one by one, we rose from our chairs and shared our words. I wanted to grab that iridescent bubble, even though I knew that would make it burst. Instead, when my turn came to read, I began by saying, “Thank you,” to the group. I could feel my throat tighten.

That week is a memory I already treasure. I continue to push out new words on the blank page, and I remember how I am not alone. What I cup now is the reality that at a workshop exploring identity and (dis)belonging, I found a place to belong in this writing world.

Patrice Gopo is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow. She is the author of All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way (Thomas Nelson, August 2018), an essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging. Please visit to pre-order her book.

Memoir: The Struggle is Real

After more than 30 years of writing advertising copy for unabashedly snarky clients, I thought I had bulletproof skin. But when my agent sent me the notes that accompanied rejections of our book proposal from 28 publishers, I realized that the durability of my epidermis was more akin to that of a neonate than a superhero.

“I know this is a big issue for women of a certain age, but….”

“I can’t convince myself that a memoir will speak to the readership, which seems to me to have a much stronger need for practical advice.”

“In the end, I feel it’s a bit too much of a memoir to fit well on our list.”

“Our success with memoir has been mixed, so it’s not a direction we’re heading in at the moment.”

“I worry that this proposal overlaps too much with a book I already have in the pipeline.”

The first thing I wanted to do after being skewered by the publishers’ comments was to suck my thumb or embrace a number of other regressive behaviors. When you attempt to write a memoir, you start to dream that you are being tossed into the Mall of America stark naked. You get trapped in a hard, tiny seat on a loopy roller coaster of self-doubt. Worst of all, you continually reject yourself before any one else can do it for you.

Why am I bothering to write this? This is so lame and stupid. Why am I pushing my sister to write her side of the story when she is a doctor who hates to write anything but prescriptions? Won’t writing about taking care of old, sick parents only make me seem old myself? Our brothers will hate us. Our cousins will second-guess our childhood memories. Unless we can find a way to become former U.S. presidents overnight, no one will care about or buy our book.

The day I got our rejections, I stopped just short of singing, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go eat worms,” and forced myself to open my laptop. Unfortunately, instead of revising Chapter 2, I procrastinated by rewriting the dictionary definition of a memoir to include phrases like “a genre of writing that involves a soul-ectomy and leaves wounds that never heal.” When I read that the word “memoir” derives from the French: mémoire: memoria, meaning memory or reminiscence, our decision to write a memoir about loss of memory seemed hopelessly counterintuitive. And let’s face it: isn’t dementia just too dang depressing?

But before I hit delete and erased the 200 pages I had already written from my computer’s memory, if not from my own, I happened upon a group of authors who had written books about aging with extreme passion and amazing grace— They acted like what my sister and I were writing was interesting and valuable and funny and sad and everything in between. They had clearly clung onto a seat on the roller coaster of emotions that come with writing a memoir.

Ah, positivity. Ah, the joy of kinship! I opened the laptop once again and decided to change the title of our book from Disposable Dad to Sisterly Shove. Onward and upward!

Malia Kline and her sister Diane Stinson’s new memoir, Sisterly Shove: A Fight to the Death Against Pancreatic Cancer and Dementia, came out May 10. Buying information at

Malia adds this: Thinking of writing a memoir? Read this first:

Malia also adds this: Already 200 pages into your memoir? Do not under any circumstances click on the link above.

SAFTA Writers’ Coop: Tin roof. Porch. Woodstove. Outhouse. Sold.

Editor’s Note: As we move into summer, Litmosphere will appear less frequently. You can look forward to reports from the field like the following, where writers in our community report back on fellowships and residencies they experience this summer.  First up, this dispatch from Beth Gilstrap.

I first learned about Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms through writer friends on social media. Most of my tribe is scattered across the country and if it weren’t for Instagram & Twitter accounts, I’d hardly know who was publishing where or what writerly adventures they had. I knew of Sundress Publications since they put out the Best of the Net Anthology, but also because they put out stellar work, some of which happens to be written by folks I’m lucky enough to call friends. In this instance, my poet friend Jim Warner spent a week at SAFTA’s new Writers’ Coop last year to finish his third collection, Actual Miles. He posted photos of an idyllic dry cabin nestled in a Tennessee holler on a working farm complete with a donkey mascot named Jayne. All it took for me to apply was one look at the place. Tin roof. Porch. Woodstove. Outhouse. Sold. Though the cabin is dry, it’s only a quarter mile from the SAFTA farmhouse, where all residents have full access to the amenities at farmhouse, including the best farm eggs I’ve ever tasted in my life.

With no electricity or running water and no obligations to participate in readings or teach workshops, I knew the cabin was the perfect place for me to finish my second story collection. To apply, I filled out the form on their website. The application also requires a brief project statement, two references, a CV, a writing sample, and an application fee of $15, or $10 for current students. The fee is waived for Coop applications. The Writers’ Coop is just one residency option. They also have farmhouse residencies, which include an element of farm volunteer work in the form of feeding livestock. My week at the Coop cost $150.00.

In the mornings, I woke to the sound of chickens and sheep and the sweet smell of the deep woods. I walked the short distance to the cabin to make myself eggs and coffee and then after charging all my devices, headed back to the cabin for the day. If nature inspires you, you can do like I did and drag a folding chair out to the little porch to write for most of the day. While I wrote, I watched butterflies and birds and even a Mama coyote and her pup. I laughed at a lizard trying to climb a piece of scrap metal, said hello to a salamander, and even spied a fox trotting along the valley below. The solitude and quiet was exactly what I needed. In the evenings, I read by lantern light until I fell asleep. During my week at the cabin, I wrote every day for hours and ultimately, did complete a draft of my new book. At the end of the week, I had the opportunity to mingle with a bunch of poets up for a retreat and workshop. Good conversation, food, and cheap beer after heavy summer storms was a perfect way to celebrate the work and being writers in the world doing our thing. I will be reapplying for the fall residency period.

Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Mans Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths. Her work has been selected as’s Fiction Pick of the Week and nominated for storySouth’s Million Writers Award, Best of the Net, & The Pushcart Prize. She was also a finalist for both the 2018 Doris Betts Fiction Prize & the 2018 Best Small Fictions Anthology. She has been awarded several residencies including Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms and  Oregon State University’s Spring Creek Project for ideas, nature, and the written word. Her work has appeared in Re: AL, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridgeand Little Patuxent Reviewamong others. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and enough rescue pets to make life interesting.


Summer Reading Picks from Park Road Books

Ah, summer!  Time to dig your toes in the sand and crack open an excellent book. Need ideas? Our friends at Park Road Books are here with these helpful suggestions, including Middle Grade and YA picks at the end of the list. 

Nothing is Forgotten, by Peter Golden (Atria, $26.00)

This historical novel delves into family relationships and secrets.  Spanning the time between WW II and the Cold War, Nothing is Forgotten follows a family of Russian Jews as they escape persecution and rebuild their lives only to have their past resurface.  From a CIA-sponsored radio program broadcasting early rock ’n’ roll in West Germany to tracking down Pablo Picasso in the south of France, this novel spins a great tale that keeps the reader guessing and wanting more. (John O.)

Vacationland, by John Hodgman (Penguin Books, $16.00)

Memoir is a new direction for John Hodgman, whose previous three books comprised a fantastically fraudulent encyclopedia of imagined knowledge. Hodgman brings the same absurdist wit and manic, self-deprecating sensibilities to his stories in Vacationland, along with keen observations and honest insight. John Hodgman remains one of the funniest writers around, but with Vacationland we get to enjoy a bit of his wisdom as well. (John O.)

Educated, by Tara Westover  (Random House, $28.00)

From debut New York Times bestselling author Tara Westover comes Educated: A Memoir. A true story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in the mountains of Idaho raised by survivalists. The story follows young Tara through her early years and into adulthood. Her father shuns all forms of government oversight and because of this, she never attends school. Although the family has had its struggles they have remained “close.” This changes when Tara decides to take the GED and is accepted into Brigham Young University.  With the freedom of education, Tara struggles with what she now sees is a very different world from the one she grew up with. This beautiful book is an engrossing story and an engaging read. If you enjoyed The Glass Castle you will enjoy Educated. (Megan M.)

The Seven Husbands, by Taylor Jenkins Reid  (Washington Square Press, $16.00)

An excellent look at not only the various “masks” that women of the 1950s were required to wear in order to survive daily life, but also about the sheer strength of true love. This triumph of a novel chronicles the life of fictional Old Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo as told through interview snippets by the backseat narrator, Monique, a journalist hired to write the aging Evelyn’s biography. Throughout the novel, Evelyn candidly details life with each of her seven husbands with the intent of answering the question on everyone’s mind: which one was the great love of her life? With amazing women of color and LGBTQ+ representation, this novel is beyond deserving of the overwhelming praise it has received. (Nikki B.)

Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata (Grove Press, $20.00, on-sale 6/12/18)

A slim and stunning English-language début of a young woman who works in a Japanese convenience store for 18 years. Funny, touching and scathing observation on what passes for normal in society. Selling over 650,000 copies in Japan is an achievement and I hope her American audience appreciates her as much as I do. (Sally B.)

Penelope Lemon: Game On!, by Inman Majors (Louisiana State University Press, $26.00, on-sale 8/15/18)

Don’t plan on getting anything done once you pick up the funniest book of 2018. Major’s tale of a recently divorced 40 year-old woman struggling to make a life for herself and her ten year-old son is a hilarious page-turner. (Sally B.)

Calypso: Essays, by David Sedaris (Little Brown and Company, $28.00)

This is David’s best book. Humor and tragedy that will bring tears to your eyes. Need I say anything else? (Sally B.)

Middle Grade

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty (Penguin Random House, $16.99)

The story of twelve-year-old Lucy whose grandmother makes her attend middle school for one year, make one friend, join one activity, and read one book.  Seems pretty easy except since Lucy was struck by lightning four years earlier, she’s now a math savant who does calculus for fun, reads math textbooks, and has been homeschooled ever since. Fitting in isn’t easy for Lucy; her ordered, rigid world meets middle school angst while its aches are tempered with laughter.  Lucy and her peers learn to embrace their uniqueness and this book reminds all readers to do the same. (Sherri S.)

Young Adult/Teen

The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan (Little Brown for Young Readers, $18.99)

This gorgeous, powerful début tells the story of an incredible journey from the U.S. to Taiwan. After Leah’s mother dies by suicide, she appears to Leah as a ghost in the form of a giant red bird. To uncover her family’s secrets, Leah travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents. With gorgeous prose, elements of magical realism and Buddhist influences, this novel reads like a dream. (Shauna S.)

Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro (Tor Teen, $17.99)

With this debut, Mark Oshiro has written a fully intersectional book sure to garner many awards. Oshiro’s characters represent a range of gender, sexuality, disability, and mental health situations and he covers topics such as systemic racism, disability access, police brutality, anxiety, first love, and more. With fast-paced and compulsively readable writing, Anger Is a Gift is a much-needed addition to the literary canon. Fans of The Hate U Give, Dear Martin, and All American Boys will enjoy this novel. (Shauna S.)

Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young (St. Martins Press, $17.99)

This novel sends readers into a Viking-like world with warrior clans who fight every five years. During the last clash Eelyn, an Aska warrior, watched her brother die on the battlefield against the Riki.  She has been training for revenge ever since and gets her chance during the next battle cycle only to see her brother alive and fighting with her enemy. Stunned by his betrayal of family and clan, wounded Eelyn must survive with her brother’s friend Fiske and his family in order to survive. When a legendary clan begins to raid and kill throughout the mountain villages, Eelyn and Fiske must decide who is the worst enemy-the Herja or themselves?  Gritty, Games-of-Thrones-like action will appeal to both genders with just a slight hint of romance. (Sherri S.)

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (Harper Collins, $17.99, on-sale 6/26/18)

This collection of YA short stories explores themes in East and South Asian mythology and features Charlotte-based New York Times bestselling author Renee Ahdieh and New York Times bestselling and North Carolina-based author Roshani Chokshi. (Sherri S. and Shauna S.)

Tyree Daye’s “River Hymns”

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of Rocket Fantastic and featured poet for 4X4CLT in June 2017, served as final judge for the American Poetry Review’s Honickman First Book Prize. She chose Tyree Daye’s River Hymns, citing the poet’s ability “to show us a world we thought we knew and then expand our understanding.” Daye joins Charlotte Lit as featured writer for 4X4CLT in June 2018.

Daye is from Youngsville, North Carolina, a small town northeast of Raleigh with a population of 1,157 according to the 2010 census. The poems in this collection are imbued with a sense of that place. Action happens at home, in church, and outside. The separation between inside and outside is a thin one. Outside is close, sometimes capricious, where threat and beauty reside in equal measure. In “Wade Through,” the speaker’s mother is quick to pass along inherited warnings:

The presence of extended family, both living and dead, is keenly felt in these poems and the separation between those two states is also a thin one. The speaker’s grandmother is dead, but that doesn’t stop him from speaking to her. In “How Long Is Her Hair Now?” he asks, what’s the price of being / obsessed with the dead? It’s a question the poet returns to again and again. Earlier in that same poem he admits she sometimes answers back:

As one would expect from a book with “river” in its title, currents run through this book. Yes, the actual rivers—the Haw and the Neuse are named specifically—but so is the river of gin that ensnares many. As Daye notes in “Southern Silence,” one of the collection’s standouts:

And in “What is God but Rain Spilling Me Over?” the dead also gather near the river to drink and confess / in the ribcage of the pines. The strongest current, though, is that of extended family. In “Sore,” the speaker says he comes from a clutter of folks and they’re all here: aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, alive and dead, where they live, where they’re buried, what they liked to eat, how they liked to play. The family’s geography weaves in and around the rivers, living in houses they don’t own, where people they love have died or “made ghost” and haunt them still.

Calvocoressi wrote that in River Hymns she encountered “new ways to think about family and community, new ways to wrestle with my own landscape and legacy.” That’s the gift Daye’s plain-spoken but beautifully wrought lyrics offer us.

Join Charlotte Lit in welcoming Tyree Daye for two events on Wednesday June 6:

Master Class, 10 am to 1 pm: Tyree Daye teaches a master class at Charlotte Lit, “Writing the I—Giving our Poems Identity.” In this workshop, framed by Barbara Guest’s “Invisible Architecture” and Vievee Francis’ “Coming to the ‘I,’” we’ll take a look at the way the poet’s personal narrative and the poem’s symbols frame the structure and emotional connection to images. We’ll also learn ways of diving into the subconscious, where many of the images we use in our writing exist, and consider those moments of coming up for air, when our written work begins to develop identity. Register here

4X4CLT Release Party, 6:30-8:30 pm: Join us in celebrating the next release of 4X4CLT posters, featuring poems by Tyree Daye and art by Hasaan Kirkland and Kathie Roig, at C3 Lab in South End. Tyree reads from his award-winning collection River Hymns, and Kathie speaks about the creative process for her handwoven art, which will be on display. We’ll also have craft beer courtesy of Triple C Brewing and delicious bites from Earl’s Grocery. Free!

Immutable Laws of Writing #3: Writer’s Block Does Not Exist

Writer’s block does not exist.

That might seem harsh, especially if you’ve experienced writer’s block. Let me clarify: I acknowledge that we can feel blocked, and that many writers call this feeling “writer’s block.” Immutable Law of Writing #3 contends that there is no ailment, no virus, no universal diagnosable condition called writer’s block. “Writer’s block” is a bogeyman. When we’re blocked, it’s something specific masquerading as a force we can’t control.

So, what does block us? And what can we do about it?

1. You’re blocked because the writing feels hard.

Can’t sugarcoat this: writing is hard, or can be. Just because the words sometimes (or even usually) flow freely doesn’t mean you should expect that all the time. It’s a craft, not magic. If you’re blocked, ask: is it just that the writing is hard, and I’m avoiding it because it’s hard?

One solution: give yourself a small quota—say, 250 words—and write until you get there. Remind yourself, say it out loud: writing is hard some days. If you don’t write on those days, you soon won’t be a writer at all.

Another solution: write something else. Write something you want to write. If there’s something nagging at you, a story that won’t stay out of your head, work on that. Come back later to the work that got you stuck, when you’re refreshed.

2. You’re blocked because you don’t know what’s next.

The question here is: Why don’t I know what’s next?

It could be that you’re a pantser—a seat-of-the-pants writer, as dubbed by Larry Brooks—who lets the story emerge organically. One solution is to try some pre-planning. You don’t need to become a full-out outliner, but do spend some time imagining the story forward. At the very least, if writing a novel especially, identify the primary substructure. Most use this one:

  • The Setup (establishing the stakes)
  • The Inciting Incident (sets the story in motion)
  • Plot Point 1 (the story direction changes)
  • Midpoint (something important happens)
  • Plot Point 2 (a twist that sends the story toward its conclusion)
  • Resolution (how it all works out)

Once you have a general destination, you’ll get moving again. They don’t have to be good words. As a devoted pantser, you already know that most your words are going to get edited or edited out.

3. You’re blocked because you are out of ideas.

Just as I don’t believe in writer’s block, I don’t believe that writers ever run out of ideas.

Generally the opposite is true: we have so many story ideas that the trouble is deciding which one to work on. If that’s the case, try this: make a list of your current story ideas. For each, write a descriptive paragraph explaining what it’s about. (Alternately, do this out loud.) The one you wrote or spoke the most about is likely the one you have the most energy for. Follow the energy.

But let’s say it is possible to be out of ideas. Then what?

In a story-in-progress, add a new and unexpected character, or introduce some kind of trouble, and see how your characters respond.

If starting a new story and not knowing where to begin, start with the universal story frame:

  • Someone
  • Wants something badly
  • But there are obstacles
  • Which are overcome, or not
  • And someone is changed, or not

Identify a someone, something they want, and why they can’t have it. Try making lists on paper or using a mind map. Select one and start telling their story.

If you are writing a short story, use this basic setup: create two damaged people and bang them together. That is, name and describe them, then put them in a situation where something has changed (often phrased as: what’s different about today?).

4. You’re blocked because you’re not inspired.

Your muse, for reasons unexplained—the muse never explains—has vanished. Let you down. Gone on vacation. Or worse: is visiting the rival writer down the street! Oh, disloyal muse!

Seriously: you’ll wait a long time waiting for inspiration to arrive. Go and seek it out. Walk in the woods. Go to a movie. Read your favorite book, or a new one. Take a writing class. All of these can help. But the best solution is to put your behind in your writing chair. If you sit down to write every day between 9 and 11 a.m, say, you’ll find that that’s when the muse tends to appear.

5. You’re blocked but you don’t know why. It’s any and all of these or something else.

The one final fool-proof method is to lower your standards.

Immutable Law #1 says the words aren’t going to write themselves. You have to write them. It doesn’t matter if they’re any good. We have to edit later anyway. So give yourself permission to write badly. You can even choose it: “I’m going to write badly today!” Write terrible words that you will be ashamed of later. It’s liberating, really.

And once you start writing, Immutable Law #2 kicks in: objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

In the end, blockages happen to all of us. Sometimes, your fingers hover over the keys and nothing happens. How easy it is, when that happens, to get up and say, “I have writer’s block.” How easy it is to blame the universe and the muses. Next time, see if you can identify why you’re blocked, and then you’ll know what to do.

And you can stop believing in writer’s block. For good.