January 2014 brings the publication and early acclaim for three debut novels by Emerson MFA alumni
Kirstin Chen was born and raised in Singapore, was an undergraduate at Stanford, and received her MFA from Emerson in 2009. In Soy Sauce for Beginners she tells the story of Gretchen Lin, who returns from San Francisco to Singapore to contend with, among other issues, the fate of a family soy sauce business. A reviewer in Booklist writes, “Gretchen’s journey of self-discovery forms the backbone of this story about family, tradition, and honor. Foodies will appreciate the behind-the-scenes look at the world of artisanal soy sauce, while others will enjoy Chen’s tribute to her native Singapore.”
James Scott attended Middlebury College and received his MFA from Emerson in 2007. The Kept has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. In a New York Times review, The Kept is described as a “dark and mysterious first novel,” and as a “reimagining of a western novel artfully transposed from the conventional dangers of the desert and Plains to the snowbound northern frontier…a haunting narrative, salvaged by precise language that never overreaches or oversells.” And, “The plot unfolds with a weighty languor reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy.”
Andrew Ladd’s What Ends was the 2012 winner of the AWP Award Series for the novel. Andrew grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, received his MFA in 2010, and is presently the blog editor for Ploughshares. He began writing What Ends in a “Writing the First Novel” course while at Emerson. Judge Kathryn Davis described the book as a “remarkable, haunting novel,” in which, “‘time isn’t passing, it’s circling,’ and the story of one family’s life on a Hebridean island becomes an apocalyptic vision of what it means to live in time, that ‘blink of stone on a giant sea.’”
Congratulations to three writers of commendable talent.
Laura van den Berg (Fiction, 2008)
One of NPR's best books of 2013, a selection of amazon.com's top 10 short story collections
The Isle of Youth, a short story collection by Laura van den Berg (Fiction, 2008) is selected as one of the Best Books of 2013 by NPR, and appears on sixteen “Best of 2013” lists. The Isle of Youth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) was named one of Amazon.com’s top 10 short story collections of 2013, and one of The Oprah Magazine top 10 books of 2013.
“Laura van den Berg writes risky stories about the secrets we keep from each other, and from ourselves,” writes Jane Ciabattari on NPR’s Best Books of 2013. Topping The Boston Globe’s Best Fiction of 2013, critic John Freedman calls Isle “tremendous” and writes, “If the decade-long wait between Lorrie Moore collections is causing you hives, here’s your cure. Teenage bank robbers, lovers on the lam, and head cases of all types speak hilariously to the losses that make them lonely.”
Laura calls the eight pieces of The Isle of Youth “existential detective stories.” In a November 17, 2014 review, NPR’s Rosecrans Baldwin compared Laura’s style to that of Joan Didion, Mary Robinson, and Haruki Murakami, that each female narrator “has the same vulnerable self-reliance—her private-eye detachment from events.” Writing for The New Republic’s Best Books of 2013, Mimi Dwyer says, “Van den Berg is most comfortable when she traces this ennui across the wilted American backdrop where it belongs. But her book’s strongest moment is when its terrain grows detached and treacherous too….She dares the reader, afterwards, to ask something so simple as who these women really are.” Selecting The Isle of Youth as their #1 best short story collection of 2013, Jason Diamond of Flavorwire writes, “It has become quite clear that Laura van den Berg possesses a scary talent that is only growing by the day.”
NEA Fellowship, Best American Essays 2013 NOtable Essay Selection
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Nonfiction, 2009) wins a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship and receives a Notable Essay selection in Best American Essays 2013.
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has received an NEA grant for 2014. This highly competitive award was given for writing that was the subject of her MFA thesis and stemmed from an internship experience while a student at Harvard Law School.
During the internship Alexandria worked at an agency in New Orleans that advocates against death penalty convictions and executions. Her writing on this topic combines memoir and literary journalism while investigating the meaning of a Louisiana murder and death penalty case.
In addition to the NEA grant Alexandria has received a Notable Essay selection in Best American Essays 2013 for “Origins of a Murder: Investigating the Crimes—and humanity—of a killer,” from the Oxford American. In support of her book, she has previously won a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. While a student in the Emerson MFA program she won the 2009 Annie Dillard Award for nonfiction writing from the Bellingham Review. Alexandria teaches memoir at Grub Street in Boston and is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where she teaches writing for policy and politics.
National Book Award Finalist, Walt Whitman Award and Pushcart Prize
The MFA program and the Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing extend congratulations to Matt Rasmussen for his outstanding success with his debut poetry collection. Black Aperture won a Walt Whitman Award from the American Academy of Poets in 2012 and was published by Louisiana State University Press in 2013. The collection, which deals with his brother’s suicide, was a National Book Award finalist for 2013. Matt has received a Pushcart Prize for 2014 for his poem “After Suicide,” from Black Aperture.
In an interview on the National Book Award website, Matt states that he wrote his first poem about his brother’s suicide in Bill Knott’s workshop at Emerson, after Knott pushed him to “write a poem with some personal investment.” He wrote more poems about his brother for his MFA thesis, which he worked on with John Skoyles and Gail Mazur. “Slowly, as I wrote more and more poems that dealt with grief or suicide, in one way or another, that section grew and basically took over the book.” The collection was ten years in the writing. Matt now teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
Jane Hirshfield, judge for the Walt Whitman Award, wrote: “Black Aperture addresses, with meticulous balance, a single event from multiple directions. Autobiographical, speculative, imaginal, at times bitterly comic, often lyrically surreal, Matt Rasmussen's transformative poems look outward—they are built on the observable leaf, field, hand, bird, and act. But this book's central task is the alchemizing of experience by language….”
one of New York Times best 100 books of 2013, the Boston Globe's #2 nonfiction book of the year
Megan Marshall's Margaret Fuller: A New American Life is named one of The New York Times best 100 books of 2013, makes Times critic Dwight Garner’s list of top 10 books of 2013, and is selected #2 nonfiction book of the year by The Boston Globe.
Margaret Fuller was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March 2013 and has since received significant attention and praise from the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, NPR, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere.
At the center of the transcendentalist movement, Fuller was Thoreau’s first editor, Emerson’s close friend, a feminist, and the first female foreign correspondent. Garner reviewed Margaret Fuller early in 2013 for The New York Times. “In Ms. Marshall, Fuller has found what feels like her ideal biographer,” he wrote. “It has the grain and emotional amplitude of a serious novel…[and] pushes Ms. Marshall into the front rank of American biographers.”
In a November 27 interview with The New York Times, when novelist Tom Perrotta was asked to name any book that he thought should be made into a film, he selected Margaret Fuller: “Somebody should make a Downton Abbey-style mini-series about romantic intrigue among the New England transcendentalists. The central characters would be Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who shared this intense, passionate, but gruelingly chaste friendship.” Additionally, on December 28, 2013, The Boston Globe named Margaret Fuller as the #2 selection among the Best Nonfiction of 2013.
Glamour magazine's 'real-life-story' contest winner
Lauren Johnson is the winner of Glamour magazine nonfiction essay contest for writing about her service in the military and Afghanistan. As the winner of Glamour’s “Real-Life story” contest, Lauren received $5000, publication in the November 2013 issue of Glamour, and a meeting with a literary agent in New York. Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Jane Smiley was a judge.
Lauren came to the Emerson College MFA program to write about her experience in the military and hopefully serve as a voice for women veterans, which she sees as an “underrepresented population.” She is writing a memoir for her MFA thesis and will finish her degree in spring 2014.
Lauren was seven when her mother deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, after which Lauren swore she would never enlist, though she changed her mind after September 11, 2001, joining ROTC at eighteen. Her mother, then a Lieutenant Colonel, led her in the commissioning oath. In Afghanistan Lauren served on a provincial reconstruction team as a public affairs officer winning hearts and minds, and though not directly involved in combat she was never far from it either. Lauren was awarded a Bronze Star and left the Air Force at the rank of Captain. The difficulty she had returning to civilian life led her to seek counseling, which is the subject of her winning essay and a theme of her memoir. While in the Emerson MFA program, Lauren is serving as editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Redivider, was coordinator for the Graduate Reading Series, and the recipient of a work-study scholarship at Bread Loaf Writers Conference, where she consulted with Cheryl Strayed. She has given readings and served on several panels of military veteran writers, including Wordfest and the Boston Book Festival.
Mako Yoshikawa’s essay, “My Father’s Women,” originally published in The Missouri Review as a finalist for their Editors’ Prize, appears in the 2013 collection, edited by Cheryl Strayed. The essay is drawn from a memoir Professor Yoshikawa is writing about her father, who was a physicist and world leader in fusion energy research at Princeton University. She teaches fiction writing and novel workshops in the Emerson MFA program.
Among the list of Notable Essays selected by series editor Robert Atwan, is Jerald Walker’s “Captain Love,” which appeared in River Teeth, about growing up with blind parents. “I led [my father] off the edge of the curb, where his feet plunged into the four inches of slush that, at the last moment, I had cleared with a single leap….But despite the heavy price I paid, I have not forgiven myself for what I did. I never will.” Jerald Walker is an associate professor of nonfiction writing and Chair of the Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing. His essays have appeared in Best American Essays 2007, 2009, and 2011, and also twice in Best African-American Essays.
Also among the Notable Essays selections is MFA graduate Sebastian Stockman’s “The Problem With Sportswriting,” which appeared in The Millions, and is also a selection in Best American Sportswriting 2013. Sebastian Stockman (Nonfiction, 2011) is a lecturer in English at Northeastern University. Finally, among the Notable Selections, is the Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Nonfiction, 2009) essay, “Origins of a Murder,” from Oxford American. In the essay, Alexandria traces backwards from the day in 1992 when six-year-old Jeremy Guillory is murdered, to 1985 when unborn Jeremy’s murderer sits with a caseworker “strange and he knows it, off and he knows it, bad or sick and he knows it,” all the way to 1965 when Ricky Langley is born.