Authors Talk: Sarah Viren

Authors Talk: Sarah Viren

Today we are pleased to feature an interview with Sarah Viren. Sarah is a journalist, writer, and translator working at Arizona State University specializing in the art of the creative nonfiction essay. She is the author of an essay collection entitled MINE.

In this fascinating interview she discusses her experience with writing from her working in journalism to her transition to writing literary essays. During her time as a journalist, she found that she wanted to write about things that “had no place in newspapers” and essay writing provided a new solution. The literary essay presents its own problems as the author is dealing with real people and Sarah explains how she has learned to write ethically about close loved ones from her sister to her children. Literary essays allow the author to “find ways to let those people have their voice be heard” while also showcasing the uniqueness of their own.

Sarah also takes time to explain her writing process from inspiration to research and observation identifying herself as a fan of the idea of “writing something and giving it time.” She uses moments of inspiration and wants to write honestly about herself and others, to share meaningful stories. In memory writing she says “remembering the self I was” can be hard and that in writing of others it is the “people that are outside of our sympathies… those are the people you need to write about.” Her essays are dark and honest and real, and though they are at times difficult to write she remembers “it’s hard work, but good work.”

This interview is a culmination of immersive student work on non-fiction narratives for ENG 509 in the Narrative Studies program in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. In this class, students read longform non-fiction writing and listened to author interviews to theorize writerly practices related to a variety of non-fiction genres. Students’ final reading for the course was Sarah Viren’s essay collection Mine. After a semester of critically engaging with author interviews, they composed their own questions and interviewed Dr. Viren on Tuesday, November 19. Watch the full interview to learn more about her creative process and inspiration and be inspired yourselves by the reflections and advice of a fellow creative mind.

Sarah Viren is a writer, journalist, and literary translator. Her essay collection, Mine, won the River Teeth Book Prize, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and was longlisted for the Pen/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Her translation of the novella Córdoba Skies by the Argentine author Federico Falco was published in 2016 by Ploughshares Solos, and her co-edited anthology of the essay in the Americas, The Great American Essay, is forthcoming from Mad Creek Books. An award-winning newspaper journalist for half a decade in Texas and Florida, Sarah holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and is now an assistant professor at Arizona State University.

Michelle Stuckey is a clinical assistant professor and the writing program administrator for the Writers’ Studio, a fully online first-year composition program in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Stuckey is an interdisciplinary scholar whose research and teaching are informed by feminist and critical race theories. 

Kendall Dawson is a current Narrative Studies Master’s student at Arizona State University. She holds a Bachelor’s in Communication and English Literature from Central Michigan University, enjoys reading, and loves her hometown of Chicago, IL.  

Delena Humble is a first year graduate student in the narrative Studies MA program at Arizona State University. At ASU, she also serves as the primary research assistant to New York Times best selling author, Jewell Parker-Rhodes. Delena’s passions include writing and studying Latinx identity negotiation, ethical story representation, and autoethnography. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her two cats. 

Riley Hess is a second-year graduate student in the Communication Studies Master’s program at ASU’s West Campus. He is working on a short memoir about his trials and tribulations as a student-athlete in high school and college, as well as an applied project using persuasion theory to effectively fill out a general grant application form for nonprofit organizations.

Monique Medina is a second year graduate student. She is in the beginning stages of her Capstone project, which will focus on the relationships between parents and their trans children. This topic hits close to home as she has a trans nonbinary child and it’s been a journey in rediscovering who my child is, while building upon and redefining our relationship.

H. Rae Monk

H. Rae Monk is a graduate student in the Narrative Studies Master of Arts program. She is currently doing grant funded public history research in the rural towns of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. She resides and works in Mesa.  

Authors Talk: Alison Mandaville

Today we are pleased to feature Alison Mandaville as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast she speaks with her partner and takes the time to reflect on how her journey as a writer has progressed and how she got to where she is today.

For Alison, “poetry was always there” from a young age and she recounts some of her earliest memories of writing poetry. Like many other writers, there was a time in her life when writing took the backseat to other priorities, but Alison came back to writing later in life. She discusses the events and inspirations that have recently fueled her creative writing such as her work in Azerbaijan, where she made connections with other writers, and her choice to go back to school. She claims that it was experiences like these that “opened up the page ” for her to get back to poetry. She also discusses her work with translation and how it helped her to write poetry. She notes that translation is a way you “take something that was already beautiful and get to make another beautiful thing out of it.”

Along with her close work with the intricacies of language, Alison gives credit to her experience with creative residencies where she has been able to collaborate with other writers who are serious about their work. She gives advice on how to apply for these residencies and the benefits of attending them for aspiring writers. Here is a non-profit resource for finding these residencies designed for artists and creative writers.

You can read Alison’s poetry in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Cathy Ulrich

Today we are pleased to feature Cathy Ulrich as our Authors Talk series contributor as she answers interview questions regarding her new book Ghosts of You.

Her book is a collection of flash fiction stories that aim to subvert the trope of victimized women in the mystery and crime genres by telling the real stories of her female characters. She wished to go against the way the genre commonly “takes the humanity away from the woman, makes her a plot point.” She also discusses her inspiration for the book as well as her experience with writing it. Ghosts of You will be Cathy’s first book and she notes that she is “so incredibly lucky” to have the opportunity to have it published.

Cathy’s book is available for pre-order here and will be officially released on October 15th!

You can also read Cathy’s work in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Kate Cumiskey

Authors Talk: Kate Cumiskey

Today we are pleased to feature Kate Cumiskey as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she discusses two factors that relate to her writing process in today’s political and social climate: community and inertia.

She reflects on the beginning of her writing career, where she felt a sort of isolation before being introduced to Atlantic Center for the Arts, which gave her a literary community that she feels changed her life and fueled her growth as a writer. With this experience, Kate encourages writers “to build a community which enhances your work.”

She also explores the importance of tackling current events in one’s poetry, explaining, “If writers—serious writers—do not write about what’s happening in their nation, then who is going to speak?” Although writing about topics like these are so critical to Kate, she admits she has difficulty approaching the heartbreaking and terrifying current events she sees happening in the news, government, and even her own classroom. To help her discuss these important topics, she plays with the idea of changing point of view and suggests that we remind ourselves that there is still good in the world and that we must remind ourselves that “there is honor in our politicians, there’s honor in our government and there’s honor in the American people.”

She closes the conversation with two poems: one published with Superstition Review that examines honor and a new poem that uses second person to approach her fears about America today.


You can read Kate’s poetry in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.


Authors Talk: Catharina Coenen

Authors Talk: Catharina Coenen

Today we are pleased to feature Catharina Coenen as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she invites her nephew, Christopher Van der Meyden, to discuss her nonfiction essay, “Stain,” published in SR’s Issue 23.

“Stain” explores Catharina’s need to clean up the shattered eggs someone had thrown at the garage and driveway of her neighbor who was recently arrested by the FBI. As she reflects on this event through her writing, she notices the strong connections between her actions and the history of her family and country.

Catharina explains that she had a difficult time understanding her physical and emotional reactions to seeing the arrest: shaky knees and hands, circular thoughts, and a feeling of anger and fear despite not having any immediate threats. She says, “I started writing as a way to help myself understand why I was experiencing these physical reactions and mental confusion.”

Christopher and Catharina also take a closer look at the way the essay uses family stories organically throughout the piece as “a way to ground [Catharina] in the present—to come back from a traumatic past that explained the inner turmoil to the present tense where there was no physical danger to [Catharina] or anyone else in that moment.”

As a biologist, Catharina also makes connections between the structure of her essay and recent developments in our understanding of the biology of trauma. Although “physical responses to trauma can be encoded across generations,” Catharina explains, “storytelling and an anchoring of the person in the present” can undo this transgenerational trauma. Catharina notices her essay mimics this necessary healing process, allowing her to understand and process her reactions.


You can read Catharina’s work, “Stain,” in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.


Authors Talk: Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Authors Talk: Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Today we are pleased to feature Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she shares poetry from her collection, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications, 2016), which explores her time volunteering with No More Deaths (No Más Muertes) in 2011 along the Mexico-United States border. Additionally, the book reflects on her own family’s immigration story as well as her life in Los Angeles.

She invites Catherine Gaffney, a long-term volunteer with No More Death who began working for the organization in 2009, to discuss humanitarian aid efforts along the border that influenced her poetry.

Bermejo and Gaffney also talk about No More Deaths’ recent news: Dr. Scott Warren, a No More Deaths volunteer, was put on trial last month for giving aid to two individuals he encountered in the desert. If convicted, Warren could have received up to 20 years in prison. The case resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury. According to breaking news on the No More Deaths’ Instagram, a retrial was announced today, July 2nd, “in Scott Warren’s case on harboring counts. Conspiracy charges dismissed. Trial to begin Nov 12.”

Bermejo says, “What led me to volunteer with No More Deaths was this desire to have a more personal understanding of the border—and what we call ‘The Wall’—and so my plan was to go out there and see this space, and work in this space, and feel the sun, and walk in the sand, and then come back and write about this experience.”

Looking back at the October 2016 release of her book, Bermejo lightheartedly laughs at her “naïve thought that this (her poetry) was somehow going to help.” Seeing how border issues have become increasingly dire, she questions how a book of social justice poetry could influence real-world problems.

Gaffney and Bermejo end the conversation by talking about the importance of literature. For Gaffney, Mexican literature has been an important part of learning about the borderland. She believes that literature helps her “get that sense of reflection and quiet and peace, and know that, even in the midst of all that cruelty, people are worried about beauty and beautiful things…and that’s something that matters.”

Bermejo sees this importance as well, concluding, “We need literature and art to even imagine a better world,” making writing, even if it may cause doubt in the writer or seem inconsequential at times, an important part of our lives.


You can also read Xochitl-Julisa’s email interview, “¿Qué importa?” in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.


Authors Talk: Benjamin Soileau

Authors Talk: Benjamin Soileau

Today we are pleased to feature Benjamin Soileau as our Authors Talk series contributor. With jazzy Louisiana music playing lightly in the background, Ms. Kennedy Soileau—Benjamin’s wife, first reader, and editor—interviews Benjamin about his writing process and recent fiction piece, “What Paul Would Do,” published in SR’s Issue 23.

Benjamin explains that the idea for his short story stemmed from an old family memory: one where his father would send Benjamin and his little brother outside into the garden with a jar and list of bugs to catch for some pocket change. From here, writing “What Paul Would Do” came naturally, unlike some of Benjamin’s other stories. However, he explains that the biggest challenge in writing “What Paul Would Do” was working with the interrupted grief in Gayle’s character. In reflecting on Gayle, Benjamin notices nearly all of the characters in his story grapple with “a grief interrupted.”

Kennedy remarks that she finds the protagonist’s simultaneous likability and reprehensible action to be an interesting “balance act.” To this, Benjamin acknowledges, “We’re all capable of terrible things. Just like, you know, we’re capable of good things. Terrible. Beautiful. We’re all mixed up.”

Benjamin and his wife also take time to discuss the way he captures cajun-style dialogue and story structure with his language. Although some of his inspiration may have come from Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories or Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter” (which he read around the time he composed “What Paul Would Do”), Benjamin explains that his ability to construct the voices in his stories comes from listening to the family voices in his grandmother’s kitchen who “spoke French half the time.” He believes this particular voice is dying while the “land is slipping away” and “the culture, of course, is going with it.”

Benjamin and Kennedy also consider their unique relationship, with Benjamin acting as a writer and husband and Kennedy acting as his editor and wife. Benjamin mentions the challenges of this editing process, but he notices it gives him someone to write for and impress. Kennedy explains how their relationship dynamic switches to a writer-editor relationship during this editing phase. While she feels apologetic about marking up his story with a red pen, she likes to see how the stories change between the first and last drafts. Benjamin concludes, laughing “They usually do [change], quite a bit. I wish they’d change a lot quicker.”


You can read Benjamin’s work, “What Paul Would Do,” in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.


Authors Talk: Megan J. Arlett

Authors Talk: Megan J. Arlett

Today we are pleased to feature Megan J. Arlett as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she takes the time to discuss her nonfiction piece, “Narrative,” published in SR’s Issue 21. The lyric essay explores the 2008 disappearance of Amy Fitzpatrick as well as language and storytelling.

Megan looks back at her 2017 notebook to discover what she was reading while she drafted “Narrative” and to find out which texts influenced her work. While she struggles to remember an initial spark of inspiration, aside from constantly thinking about the disappearance of her classmate and neighbor, she does notice how certain writers have tapped into her “brain space” to influence what she originally “thought was going to be a poem,” but later became the lyric essay that sits nicely between the nonfiction and poetry genres.

Looking to the musings in her old notebook, Megan discovers that she was obsessing over the poetry of Li-Young Lee at the time. She had written a note to herself about his work that reads, “Long poems need externalities.” In her old notes, she also finds a scribbled question— “Bowman-style meditation for the cyclical obsession with missing people?”—referring to Catherine Bowman’s poem “A Thousand Lines.” Lastly, Megan realizes that the newsprint style of “Narrative” was influenced by Jehanne Debrow’s The Arranged Marriage, which helped give her lyric essay form and made the nonfiction piece feel complete.

It seems that Megan’s creative work was driven by her obsessions at the time: her fascination with poets Li-Young Lee and Catherine Bowman, her admiration for Jehanne Debrow’s literary style, her love for true crime, and her curiosity about Amy Fitzpatrick’s disappearance.

Reflecting on her writing, Megan wants her readers to acknowledge that beauty and horror can exist simultaneously, concluding “There can be voicelessness even amid countless voices.”

You can read Megan’s work in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

Today we are pleased to feature Paisley Rekdal as our Authors Talk series contributor. In her discussion with fellow poet and classicist Kimberly Johnson, she takes the opportunity to talk about working with classical literature, the complexities of language and translation, women as translators of the classics, and the themes of the classical writings which the two have used as inspiration for their own work. They discuss mainly Paisley’s work with Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Kimberly’s translation of Virgil’s The Georgics and how they have found inspiration in these classical poetic texts. And with their work, they’ve become “steeped in an ancient idiom” which has influenced their own poetic style and translation methods.

Paisley speaks to her own journey in contemporizing Ovid’s myths in her book of poetry Nightingale which is to be released in May. She notes that one of the trials of her work was finding how to “contemporize the myths without becoming a slave to just retelling them” and how she wanted to try “translating images of power” and “structures of change” that exist within the myths into her own poetry. She details the struggles and trials she faced in her work with the text and more.

They also take time to discuss the trials of translation of the classics and Kimberly’s work with Georgics. Kimberly notes that she “lives the world in lines” as a translator and poet, wanting to preserve the experience of the original poem. She and Paisley “reside in that complexity of language” which is inherent to poetry as an expressive art. Their extensive interest and creative engagement with the classics also helps them speak to modern topic of women working in classical translation and the appeal of the classical myths to a modern audience. For them, “the classics holler out to us from a period of imagined stability” and the themes and unique stories of those works are particularly attractive to modern readers. To hear more about the intricacies of their creative processes and their perspectives on the classics, please take the time to listen to this fascinating podcast.

You can read our interview with Paisley in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Xanthe Miller

Xanthe Miller

Today we are pleased to feature Xanthe Miller as our Authors Talk series contributor. While being interviewed by Stephanie Welch, Xanthe touches on many aspects of her work including the social issues they speak to and her own personal relationship to art. We get an inside look at her artistic process and intent in creating pieces of art that will “endure long after we’re gone.”

Xanthe uses recycled materials to construct her work, which started when she began to see the objects as “pieces of little, tiny cities” and decided to build those cities herself. She is particularly concerned with migrant life and is “drawn to issues of environmental justice” because of her own experience and background in the American Southwest, which led her to use a lot of Southwestern artistic motifs in her work. In attempting to portray the various ideas and themes she wishes to address with her art, she notes that they typically “start with a color, or sometimes two colors, and the relationship they could have with each other.” The process seems to start so simply and, yet it becomes something so much more complex and powerful.

Xanthe comments that “art always felt unapproachable” to her, but she began creating her pieces as a way to “interact more deeply” with the desert environment that surrounded her. Her story and experience truly speak to the natural inclination of the artistic mind and to how art is more than what it seems, often commenting on the current social and political climate of our culture.

You can view Xanthe’s work in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.