Voices of the Middle West Lit Fest 2015 – Some Takeaways

This year, I was able to make it back home to Michigan to attend the 2015 Voices of the Middle West Lit Fest, brought to us by Midwestern Gothic, and the Residential College at UM Ann Arbor. The photo above was taken at the BELT Magazine table as I proudly hold my purchased Detroit Anthology. (You can read my story On The Rouge on the BELT website!)

The book fair was a fun opportunity to talk with Midwest presses and lit mags, spend money, and enjoy some giveaways. I had to go to my car part way through to unload my acquisitions. I now have new readables from Two Dollar Radio, BELT, Cream City ReviewMid-American Review, Michigan QuarterlyPleiades, Southern Indiana Review, and more! Plus my book of matches from Hobart.

Matt Bell signed my copy of his story collection How They Were Found, and Stuart Dybek signed my copy of his Coast of Chicago. (It was also cool talking WMU for a minute. He was teaching while I was there, but alas, I never had him for class). I also met and talked to other attendees, including the writer Adam Schuitema who I’d only been Twitter buddies with up to that point.

I also read at the open mic, which was pretty rad.

I attended two panels: The Midwest as Place and Midwestern Fabulism. Here are a few takeaways as jotted down in my notebook. Most of the time I didn’t write down names next to notes, so credit to ALL the panelists and moderators!

Midwest as Place: Melba Boyd, Caitlin Horrocks, C.J. Hribal, Marcus Wicker; Mod: Aaron Burch

– “The Great Lakes keep  me anchored.” (Melba)

– “We’re a Laverne & Shirley re-run. We are complicated. (C.J.)

– We are writing into a voice of the popular mindset of what the Midwest is. We are working against, with, around, etc. the images and spaces people have.

– The Midwest is often defined by what it isn’t.

– The Midwest can still affect our writing even if a story isn’t specifically set here.

– We are stewards and critical champions of the Midwest. We’re outsiders even when inside. Our internal rhythms change even when moving around within the Midwest.

Midwestern Fabulism: Matt Bell, Laura Kasischke, Alissa Nutting, Anne Valente; Mod: Elizabeth Schmuhl

– We can use fairytale tropes even in more realist work. (Matt)

– Fairytales have so much contemporary potential; they are story shapes you can’t wear out; the building blocks have so much life in them.

– Magical realism allows you to bend the world.

– Nonrealism helps in approaching issues and problems from the side. (Matt) Also, as a male writer, it can be a more palatable way to approach sensitive subjects.

– Writing imitations of fairytales can help with inspiration.

– In fairytales, when you need something, it’s there. Let things happen without clean cause and effect to make way for other interesting things to happen.

– Magic needs to be in the DNA of a story, not just added like a bad Instagram filter. (In magical realism, the magic by definition HAS to intersect with the realism.)

– To indicate or not to indicate at the outset that the story will delve into the fabulist…

– Fantasy elements from the subconscious–let the writing surprise you in the first draft. Put everything in there and then deal.  (Matt)

– We all pick different magic. What magic to I see?

– “Euchatastrophe”: the good that comes out of a tragedy.

– Fairytales use exaggeration to make a point.

Stuart Dybek Keynote

– Writers are builders of place.

– Chicago writers are humanists, but we’re also realists. We’re not afraid of sentiment. We’re writers of class.

– Midwest writers work with landscape (rural) and class (urban); those who stayed vs. those who ran away; realist vs. fabulist.

– His Chicago is a made up place.

– The Midwest is not an area that values pretension. We have a good talent for smelling it out.

Looking forward to 2016!

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