Ruta Sepetys Speaks to English Majors

On Tuesday, September 26, bestselling author and recent Carnegie Medal recipient Ruta Sepetys spoke to an intimate gathering of BU English majors. Over the course of ninety minutes, she regaled aspiring writers with inspiring stories of her transition from the music business into life as a hugely successful young adult novelist

Sepetys, the author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea, began by explaining how her 22 years in the music industry telling others’ stories through writing press releases and artist biographies led eventually to the realization that she had her own story to tell. As a child of a Lithuanian refugee who had fled from his home in 1940, she knew part of that story through her father, whose harrowing tales of last-minute escapes and of long years in refugee camps–and of their relatives who did not make it out alive–gave her a starting point for what eventually became her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, which has been translated into 37 languages and published in 53 countries.

The successful publication of her Between Shades of Gray, however, had its own long history, including the emotionally difficult research involving interviews with survivors of Stalin’s takeover; the 16 painstaking revisions she undertook before submission; the excruciating wait before hearing from publishers after submission; and the 4 year additional wait between selling the novel and its publication in 2011.

Sepetys also discussed the value of archives in historical research, but emphasized the importance in making human connections, like the garrulous retired New Orleans mobster she interviewed for her second novel, Out of the Easy. “Hunting for hidden histories,” as she termed it, also led her to the subject of her most recent novel, Salt to the Sea, which chronicles Germany’s Operation Hannibal during World War II and the single largest maritime disaster in human history.

For Ruta Sepetys, “telling stories for the true witnesses” has become her life’s calling. Throughout her talk and the question and answer session that followed, she emphasized finding her literary voice and rhythm; being open about what she is working on (it has helped her find people and resources she needed); revising continually, even while she is doing readings of her own work; and, most importantly of all for aspiring writers, “getting my butt in the chair” to produce good work.




Local Event Highlight: 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop

By Charlsie Johnson

On Saturday, July 22nd, Writing Day Workshops hosted the annual Tennessee Writing Workshop at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Nashville Cool Springs. The summer 2017 event’s focus: “How to Get Published,” consisted of a full day of instructional meetings, pitch schedules, personal critiques with literary agents or editors, and an opportunity to not only ask questions about writing and publication, but also to communicate with 150 fellow writing peers.

The writing day was organized into five, one and a half hour sessions, split between three different conference rooms at the hotel. During these meetings, attendees were able to come and go in accordance to their personal pitch or critique schedules that they registered for online before the event. General admission includes attendance at any of the instructional meetings with the opportunity to pay extra for a 10 minute, one-on-one meeting with a literary agent to pitch original work, an in-depth critique of a one page query letter, or an in-depth personal critique of the first 10 pages of an original novel. All registration and pricing information can be found on the website, as well as an explanation for each critique option.


The 2017 schedule was jam-packed with very helpful and interesting sessions including: “An Overview of Your Publishing Options Today,” “The Art of Voice: How to Make Your Writing Come to Life,” “Writer’s Got Talent: A Page One Critique Fest,” and “Ten Keys to Writing Success.” Each session was led by a notable writer or representative from a publishing house that spoke about topics related to their experience with a specific aspect of craft or genre. Some of the speakers included freelance editor and author, Chuck Sambuchino, speculative fiction author, C. J. Redwine, and editor, author, publisher, Madeline Smoot.

The sessions covered many genres such as, Young Adult/Middle Grade Fiction, Memoir, Fantasy/Science Fiction, and Romance, while also instructing on helpful topics like, Self-Publishing, Agents and Query Letters, Revision/Self-Editing, and Self-Marketing your original writing. Participating in the event’s headline and most popular session, “A Page One Critique Fest,” were: Beth Phelan from The Bent Agency, Cate Hart from Corvisiero Literary, Mike Parker from WordCrafts Press, Lauren MacLeod from The Strothman Agency, and several other literary agents and editors. In this session, attendees were encouraged to print and anonymously submit multiple copies of the first page of an original novel they are currently working on, in order to receive conference-style feedback, without the pressure of a one-on-one meeting. This was an invaluable experience for those attendees that are seeking an honest critique from a number of literary agents and editors who represent literary agencies with different content focuses. Continue reading “Local Event Highlight: 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop”

Tiana Clark Reads From First Chapbook

by Max Mason
“What is left whispering in us when we have stopped trying to become the other?” is the last line of “Equilibrium,” the eponymous poem of Tiana Clark’s 2016 chapbook, which she read from during Belmont’s second Deep Song Reading Series this semester. On Thursday, April 6th, in the Janet Ayers Conference Room, Tiana shared her stories, answered questions from the audience, and asked questions of her own. Extra chairs were provided to accommodate the crowd, which was deathly silent as she read her work.
Image result for images tiana clark
Tiana Clark
Professor Gary McDowell gave an introduction, which he started by claiming something he knew: among them that evening was “one of the brightest lights in contemporary American poetry.” McDowell mentioned that April is National Poetry Month and that in spirit of that, the selfless act of “championing each other’s work” could be considered one of the most difficult things that poets do for each other. He then complimented Tiana for being such a positive influence on those who know her, and described her as “a marvel of both as a poet and as a literary citizen.” After reading through her bio, he repeated his point: “Like I said, a marvel of literary citizenship.”
True to herself on the mic, Tiana was honest and made the crowd laugh when she asked, “So how many of you came for the convocation credit?” When one girl raised her hand, Tiana said she appreciated her honesty. Later on during the reading, she asked another honest question: “So does anyone have daddy issues in the audience?” When one girl raised her hand, she dedicated her next poem, “A Blue Note for Father’s Day,” to her.
She started the reading with a “brand-spanking” new poem called “Eight-hundred Days in Claymation,” about a young man, Kalief Browder, who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack that he didn’t steal and who was sent to Rikers Island where he stayed for three years without trial. He spent about eight-hundred days in solitary confinement, and whenever he was taken out, he was severely beaten. Starting with the line, “it rained inside me,” she wrote her poem about Kalief’s suicide and her reluctance
to watch the documentary of his story.
The next poem she read came from Equilibrium, called “Broken Ghazal for Walter Scott.” She explained that a ghazal is an ancient Persian poem that comes in many forms, but can function as a kind of prayer. She calls her poem a broken Ghazal because she likes to deviate from form in her poems. The poem is about Walter Scott, who was shot by a police man who lied on his police report when he claimed that Scott reached for his taser. She said the poem was also about how social media affects our brain. “We can see what someone ate yesterday, we can see a beautiful baby, and then we see these youtube videos now where we see people dying, and sometimes it’s all at one time,” she said.

Continue reading “Tiana Clark Reads From First Chapbook”

Belmont Literary Journal Releases 2017 Edition

by Manuel Lagos

The Belmont Literary Journal (BLJ) release event was held in the Leu Center for Visual Arts on Monday, April 10. Sheyanne Meadows, BLJ managing editor for the 2017 edition, emceed the event. The Belmont Literary Journal announced the release of the updated website by allowing student contributors to present their work.

Sheyanne Meadows presenting the 2017 edition of the Belmont Literary Journal

Originally a print journal, the Belmont Literary Journal moved entirely online in 2014. Every year, Dr. Gary McDowell’s Literary Editing in Context class takes on the task of editing and designing the annual edition. The semester-long process of receiving submissions, redesigning the website, and editing submissions culminates in the BLJ release event.

Among the students who presented their selected work were Jacqueline Skokna, Daniel Grigg, Emma Tamplin, Ben Thomas, Cheyenne Bilderback, Logan Craine, Adriel Morton, William Potter, Maggie Cusick, Andrew Cox, Nathan Childers, and Mary Helen Porter.

The Belmont Literary Journal can be found at:

Manuel Lagos is a senior majoring in Motion Pictures and minoring in Writing.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Finch’s Recent Accomplishments and Thoughts on Writing

by Charlsie Johnson

Nestled into her office on the third floor of the Janet Ayers Academic Center, Dr. Susan Finch and I chatted about her newest writing achievements, ongoing projects, and career as a writer. Finch teaches Creative Writing to undergraduates as well as graduate students for the English Department at Belmont, while also doubling as a successful published writer. Most recently she won the Special Topics Prize in the Crab Orchard Review for her short story, “Everybody Has a Flood Story,” and was named one of the six finalist for the Hamlin Garland Award in the Beloit Fiction Journal for her story, “Dear Second Husband.”

Finch expressed how she was excited to be selected by Crab Orchard Review this past December. She explained that the published issue this July, in she will be featured, is to be the last issue in print because of the move to publish online. The Special Topics Contest was called All about the Weather, and each submission had to discuss weather conditions in a creative way. Her work, “Everybody Has a Flood Story,” was the product of her research on the floods that occurred in 2010. “The research wasn’t to create factual truth,” said Finch. “The research was to give inspiration to my writing.” Her method for developing the story included listening to different accounts from those who were impacted by the floods. This sparked the creation of fictional mini stories with various narrators who were also victims of tragedy.

COR journal cover

“Dear Second Husband,” submitted to the Beloit Fiction Journal, was recognized as a finalist for the Hamlin Garland Award in February of this year. The Beloit Fiction Journal publishes the best in contemporary short fiction that is either traditional or experimental with its narrative. Finch explained that the story that she submitted for this journal is part of a bigger ongoing project that she is working on: a published collection of nine short stories, titled Dear Second Husband. Its structure is a mixture of the traditional short story and experimental elements that push the traditional boundaries due to its incorporation of letters,  the purpose of which is not revealed until part way through the book itself.

“For a lot of readers of short stories this can be really jarring because it does not follow their personal expectations of what a story should be,” said Finch. “But it’s a lot of fun to do because you get to break down the walls a little bit.”

Continue reading “Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Finch’s Recent Accomplishments and Thoughts on Writing”

Tiana Clark To Read for Deep Song Series

The Deep Song Reading Series continues this spring with Tiana Clark, a Nashville-based poet who will read from her work in celebration of National Poetry Month.  Please join her on April 6th at 7:00 p.m. in JAAC 4094.  Student convocation credit will be offered.

Pence and Day Read for Deep Song Series

DeepSongOn March 27, for the Spring installment of The Deep Song Reading Series at Belmont University, poets Charlotte Pence and Adam Day read from their work and then answered questions from the audience.

Charlotte Pence is a poet and critic and is the author of two chapbooks, Weaves a Clear Night (Winner of the Flying Trout Chapbook Award, 2011) and The Branches, the Axe, the Missing (Winner of the Black River Chapbook Award, 2012). Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, North American Review, Denver Quarterly, Rattle, Tar River Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and many other journals. Many Small Fires, her first full-length collection, will be released in January 2015 by Black Lawrence Press. She is married to the fiction writer Adam Prince and is an Assistant Professor of English and creative writing at Eastern Illinois University.DeepSongLogo

Adam Day is the recipient of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship, a PEN Emerging Writers Award, and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. His work has appeared in Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, AGNI, The Iowa Review, and others. His first collection, Model of a City in Civil War, is forthcoming in April from Sarabande Books in Louisville.