Welcome to the Creative Writing Blog for Seattle University!

Hi, Everybody! I'm Sharon Cumberland, the Director of Seattle U's Creative Writing Program. I'm starting this blog so that our English majors--both CW and Lit--will know what's going on in the program--our readings, our trips to the opera, our free "Writer's Chronicles"--as well as getting information about our successful grads and their publications. This will be the place for faculty, students, alums and friends of the program to talk to each other, find out what's up,and talk about craft. Come join us!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Welcome Back, Writers! Welcome, New SU Students!

I'd like to welcome you all back to the SU Creative Writing Program as we get the new school year up and running. We have lots of opportunities for you this year--to study with great writers, to join a writing group, to curate a reading at Elliot Bay Bookstore, and to participate in the production of our literary magazine, "Fragments."


Peter Bagge is back during Fall term, teaching his course on writing the graphic novel. As many of you may know, Peter is internationally famous for his wild and crazy novels such as "Buddy Does Seattle," "Buddy Does New Jersey," and "Hate." If you take his class, you'll learn how to make stories and pictures mesh, how to analyze comics to understand their elements, and how to use those elements to tell comic stories of your own. In the process you'll learn a lot about the history of comics and the emergence of the graphic novel as a literary genre. Can't draw? No worries--you;ll learn how to use stick figures, collage, or online strip generators like Toonlet or Toondoo to illustrate your stories. Didn't get into the class this term> Again, no worries--Peter likes teaching! He likes out program! He likes you! So he'll be back.

Our Distinguished visiting writer in the Winter term is Rebecca Brown, who won The Stranger's Genius Award because of her fabulous writing. She also happens to be a fabulous teacher--we're really lucky that she could take time off from teaching in the Goddard MFA program to teach a course in Personal Memoir next term. Of her dozens of books--novels, essays, even an opera libretto!--one non-fiction book that's gotten raves is American Romances, her reflections on the great cliches of American exceptionalism. Newsday said "The essays in American Romances cover a lot of ground: listening, faith, invisibility, extreme reading, the West. They practically read themselves, that's how much fun they are." Here's a link to Charles Mudede's interview with Rebecca--read and rejoice: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=23582

E2: Emerging and Established Writers: SU Creative Writing Program at Elliot Bay Books
If you're new to Seattle you may not know that one of the best independent bookstores in the whole country is two blocks from campus. Elliot Bay Book Company brings every important writer inthe world to our doorstep, and we get to partner with them to bring students and great writers together.

This year, for the first time, i'd like to invite student to curate these readings. What does it mean to curate a reading? (Did you think only museum exhibits get curated?) It means you work with me and Karen Allman at EB to choose which writers to feature. You publicize the event. You take the money I give you and go buy refreshments. You prepare an introduction and deliver it. AND you select SU students to do a preliminary reading before the big name reader. Sound like fun? Want some glory? Email me at slc@seattleu.edu.

FRAGMENTS: A Magazine of Literary and Visual Arts
Our literary magazine is in its 55th year--a showcase for writing and visual talent, as well as the editorial talents of our English majors. Fragments comes out only once a year, and the launch extravaganza took place at Elliot Bay last year. We need editors, sub-editors, people interested in visual arts and the relationship between writing and pictures. We need people to do publicity and promotion. We need people with taste and opinions! We need you! Email me at--yes--slc@seattleu.edu. Watch for the announcement of the first meeting in October.

NCUR: National Conference of Undergraduate Research
Did you know that "research" includes creative writing? Seattle University takes between 15-20 students to NCUR every ear, but we have yet to take a creative writer. Be the first! It's an all-expense-paid trip to a national conference--in Ogden, Utah this year, from March 29th to the 31st--and a real resume builder. Plus it's lots of fun. You get experience reading your work in front of an interested audience, as well as an opportunity to meet new people, hear many interesting people present papers on fascinating topics, and see another university in a different setting from ours. If you'd like to give this opportunity a try, come to information sessions on September 30th at 3:30 in Hunthousen 100, and on October 4th at 12:30 in Pigott 108. You can also apply with an idea for a research paper. Come talk to me or Prof. Kristi Skogerboe and hear all about it!

Weekly Writing Group

The CW weekly writing group is led by novelist and adjunct prof. Michael Schilling, author of the Seattle novel "Rock Bottom" and a first class teacher. Any successful writer will tell you that the way to keep writing--no matter how much pressure you're under from school, work, life in general--is to be in a writing group. When you have other writers to report to, who care about your presence, your writing, and your ideas, you work at a higher level than you would working alone. More importantly, you WORK--you don't neglect your story or your novel. And because our group is led by a pro, you get the kind of insight and advice that will actually help you resolve the issues that bedevil you! And if you're a poet, never fear--the group is for you , too. I'll be joining Michael and the group periodically to stick my 2 cents in about the importance of metaphor, cadence, etc. to both prose and poetry. I'm also a poster child for writing groups, since the poetry group I started (as a class nine years ago) has morphed into one of the most powerful poetry writer's groups in the whole universe. We're called the Greenwood Poets and we meet for two hours a week at the Greenwood Senior Center. Practically every poem in my forthcoming collection (Black Heron Press 10/20/11) was critiqued by my group--to my huge benefit. I'm completely sold on writing groups! Get into a group at your age and you'll be a really, truly publishing writer sooner than you thought possible.

Please come see me in Casey 510 to say "Hi"--and let me persuade you to join us in one of our many activities that will support your writing as well as your social and intellectual life. WELCOME!

Friday, March 25, 2011

June Johnson's Brother to Read at Elliot Bay on Saturday April 16th at 5:00 PM

English faculty Professor June Johnson has a successful fiction writer for a brother--Kris Saknussemm is an experimental novelist and short story writer whose current novel, Enigmatic Pilot, is being published by Random House. He will be reading at Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 Tenth Avenue (between Pike and Pine) on April 16 at 5 PM.

Kris a graduate of the UW Creative Writing Program and the author of the cult novels Zanesville and Private Midnight.   Lazy Fascist Press, a new hipster imprint of the Bizarro network in Portland has just brought out a collection of his short stories called Sinister Miniatures, and he will be reading from Enigmatic Pilot.

Kris has won First Prize in the Boston Review and River Styx Short Story Contests, and the FC2 Award for Innovative Writing.   A documentary film based on his live performances called Let the Dark Times Roll is about to be released. His work has appeared in Playboy, Nerve.com, Opium Magazine, 3 AM, The New England Review, The Santa Monica Review, The Hudson Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Zyzzyva and the Green Mountains Review, amongst 300 others internationally.

He’s a regular contributor to key blog sites such as Bookslut, The Millions and The Nervous Breakdown. He has a great deal to say about the challenges and opportunities emerging writers face in the Digital Era.  Enigmatic Pilot has received glowing reviews and he is known worldwide for the impact of his readings. So come join the SU faculty and students who are gathering at Elliot Bay Bookstore to experience this terrific writer and reader.

Monday, March 7, 2011

CW Grad Jill Charles Published "Marlene's Piano"!

One of our first CW grads, Jill Charles, has made good by publishing her first novel, Marlene's Piano, as a POD--Print-on-Demand ebook. Jill is from Spokane and lives in Chicago now, and has worked as a journalist and a school administrator. Check out her book page at Amazon Authors or this link to the publisher: http://www.booklocker.com/books/4109.html.

I think it's great to use POD as a way to get your work out to the public and to develop a following. I'm sure that Jill will be glad to tell us about her experience, and the Booklocker website has a really interesting discussion about the relationship between traditional print books sold in bookstores and print-on-demand books sold online. A lot of you may be wondering about the process of getting your work out online and still making money (as opposed to just publishing your work for free on a website). Let's get Jill to talk to us about the process and her success using this method to attract readers to her work.

I'd also like to get a thread going about Jill's process of writing and completing her novel--whether she wrote short stories first, what her writing day is like, whether she studied CW after she left SU. Talk to us, Jill! And congrats on your fist novel-may it be the first of many!

Monday, February 14, 2011


Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!

Two great events are happening this week and next week:

E2 READING (Emerging and Established Writers):
February 16th at 7"00PM at Elliott Bay Bookstore

Jonathan Evison--young, cool, local novelist of West of Here ("here" being Port Angeles, called Port Bonia in the the novel). Check out his website and come to the reading if you want to talk to a guy who a few years ago was where your are doing what you're doing: http://www.westofherethebook.com/

Weekly CW Walk-in Workshops with our own faculty, Michael Schilling and Sharon Cumberland, for starters--but there are many talented writers on our faculty and you'll have a chance to meet them here. The first session is on FEBRUARY 25th at 4:00PM in the English Office--we'll move to bigger digs as the word spreads.

Who, you may ask, is Michael Schilling? He teaches ENGL 110 and writes successful novels in his spare time--Rock Bottom, about the collapse of a Seattle rock band, that's climbing the charts. In addition to critiquing your work in an intelligent way, he can tell you how a first book gets published and what goes into the practical quest of finding an audience.

As for me, Sharon Cumberland, I've been publishing poetry for ages and ages, my chapbooks are in the SU bookstore, and my full length collection, Peculiar Honors, is coming out in October from Black Heron Press. So I can critique poetry very intelligently and give you the inside scoop on contests, submissions, and getting your poems and poetry books published.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Anne Lamott, author of "Bird by Bird," will be on campus February 5th!

If you haven't read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird yet, you should run to the bookstore and get it--it's one of the best advice & encouragement books for writers of all genres I've ever read. It's a perennial favorite among teachers of writing because Lamott is funny, unpretentious, and full of hard-won advice and insight into how to start writing, keep writing, and how to make your writing better. I know there is a stack of her books at the SU bookstore because I ordered them for my Poetry Writing class.

Amazingly enough, this very famous (and, I'll bet, expensive to hire) speaker/writer is going to be on campus February 5th as part of the annual Search for Meaning Book Fair sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry (STM). It will be in the Pigott Atrium and surrounding rooms, and in the Pigott auditorium. Here's the link to the schedule--Lamott is speaking in Pigott Auditorium at 10:15 AM as keynote speaker--but get there early! She's famous, she's funny, and (for you to attend) she's free! A winning combination:      www.seattleu.edu/stm/searchformeaningschedule.aspx

Here are some gems from Bird by Bird:

On writing about your family: "Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, 'We told you not to tell!' But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on."

On shitty first drafts: "For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.  The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all our out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of your characters wants to say ,"Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?' you let her. No one is going to see it."

On jealousy: "Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading. And I, who have been the Leona Helmsley of jealousy, have come to believe that the only things that help ease or transform it are a) getting older, b) talking about it until the fever breaks, and c) using it as material. Also, someone somewhere along the line is going to be able to make you start laughing about it, and then you will be on your way home."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Prize-wining Fiction Writer Nancy Rawles is Teaching This Spring at SU

We are fortunate to have Nancy Rawles, author of three novels, including  My Jim (Crown, 2005) spending Spring term with us as the Distinguished NW Visiting Fiction Writer.  She will be teaching ENGL 392 Fiction: Longer Forms.

Though trained as a playwright, Nancy made national news with her novel, My Jim, based on the character of Jim in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Her novel, a deep consideration of the effects of slavery on the family and the nation, was chosen in 2009 as the focus of “Seattle Reads,” the prestigious city-wide program sponsored by the Washington Center for the Book and the Seattle Public Library.

Since Nancy has been teaching elementary school for several years she was never available to teach at SU before. Now, however, she is taking a break from teaching youngsters to bring her expertise to our students who are planning to study fiction-writing in the Spring. She has been here before, however, in 2009 to give a reading—a memorable event covered by Frances Dinger (CW ’12) in the Spectator. Read Frances' excellent article about Nancy Rawles here: http://www.su-spectator.com/2.2663/author-nancy-rawles-retells-twain-classic-in-my-jim-1.241697

This is a great opportunity for English majors to get to know one of our region's most accomplished fiction writers!

Scots Poet Brian Whittingham is Teaching Poetry at SU in Spring ‘11

Good news for everyone planning to take poetry this Spring—Glasgow poet Brian Whittingham is coming from Scotland to be the Distinguished Visiting Poet, and to teach Narrative Poetry, ENGL 393.

Brian’s seven books of poetry cover everything from Clydeside dockworkers (as he was in his youth) to a collection of children’s poetry, Septimus Pitt and the Grumbeloids. A prolific and popular poet in Scotland, Brian is also a playwright, photographer, and talented teacher. We’re delighted that he has been able to leave his teaching duties at the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies (sailors need their poets!) to join us for a term this coming Spring.

Brian’s most recent collection of poems is Bunnets n Bowlers: A Clydeside Odyssey (Luath Press Edinburgh, 2009), a reference to the hats worn by the dockworkers (“bunnets” is Glaswegian for “bonnets” which is Scots for “hat”) and the managers—whose bowler hats characterize the men who don’t work with their hands. These poems showcase Brian’s special skills as a labor poet: dialect writing, storytelling, character building, and conveying a complete world to the reader.

Here's a link to his website: http://www.brianwhittingham.co.uk/
Below are a couple of poems from Bunnets n Bowlers:


He downed a few halfs and half-pints
in the Seven Seas public bar.

His nightshift chaser
for the shipyard that never slept.

And inside the fabrication shed
dimly lit
like a Stanley Spencer cathedral,
the half-cut nightshift man,
Lilliputian against the funnels 
that seemed to touch the shed’s roof,
he shaped and formed the cold creaking steel.

And in between showers of spraying sparks 
and blinding flashes of light

a fill of rattle hammer clatter screech and whine,

the nightshift man
played midnight darts,
munches three am makeshift meals,
and stole forty in the cardboard box beds.

And when the job went wrong
her cursed long
into the wee small hours.

And in the mornings going home
to his bed he passed
newly risen nine-to-fivers
with faces as dreich
as the clouds above their heads
blotting out the blue of the sky.


In the QUIET comfortable waiting room
of the private hospital

a guy comes through the door
exclaiming to his colleagues
that both eardrums are perforated,
his claim is looking good
and we murmur our approval,
we’ll screw the bastards
out of every penny they’ve got
we think as we grow more deaf by the minute.

(And if all else fails
there’s always bronchitis
                        vibration white finger
                        or asbestosis.)

and I am acutely aware
it’s too late to understand
the implications of

            ‘Right enuf, wi thae big feet
            yi could get a joab in the polis nae bother,
            Ach, bit therr’s nae tae worry,
            ah’ll get yi a joab in the yards,
            yi’ll be fixed  up fur life, so yi wull,
            fixed up fur life.’

It’s strange: in my head
I can still hear these words being said.