I'm Not Laughing: Why We Need Diversity in Comedy by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Last night in a quiet Philadelphia neighborhood, I walked into the back room of a bar for an open mic comedy night with my friends Gena and Maya. When the door opened, every pair of eyes in the room stared at us – we were the first women to arrive.

Gena is a member of Bloomers, the University of Pennsylvania's all-female musical comedy troupe. Unlike any other campus group, Bloomers shows sell out, and they have a positive reputation (Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer even brags about being a Bloomers alum on national television). But tonight, Gena decided that she was going to try stand-up comedy for the first time, so Maya and I tagged along in support.

As someone who watches Bloomers dominate the performing arts scene at Penn, marathoned all of Broad City in one weekend, and read Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants twice, it’s easy for me to forget that stand-up comedy is still a battlefield for female comedians. I expected to catch up with my friends, chat about our summer jobs, and maybe laugh a little. I had no idea what I was in for.

The host of the open mic tried to warm the crowd up with some jokes about racism in South Philadelphia – a topic that isn’t very funny – so I’m going to warm you up with a quick story, too.

One comic made a joke about what would happen if Oprah married Bob Marley and said, “Everyone goes home with a half-pound of weed!” He pulled a half-pound of weed out of his backpack – an actual, real-life, non-oregano half pound of weed – a quantity so large that it warrants arrest in an area where marijuana possession is decriminalized.  The shock factor in that joke had us laughing all the way home.

But that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing that happened last night.

Close to thirty comics performed, spending three minutes on stage each. That’s about an hour and a half of open mic comedy. Gena, a college-aged, first-time comic, was the only female who signed up to perform.

Thirty-seconds into the show, comic number one joked about racism in Philly. Five minutes into the show, comic number two dropped the f-bomb: friendzone. Comic number three made a rape joke. Comic number four claimed that women have it easy, since they can get guys to buy them drinks if they show enough skin and wear enough make up. Then there was another rape joke. Around comic seven or eight, there was a joke about suicide. The host walked on stage.

“But really, guys… If you’re feeling suicidal, you should talk to someone. Call me,” he said. Hey, that’s really nice of him, I thought. Maybe this community of Philly male comics isn’t as bad as I think – maybe this is just a bad night. But I was quickly proved wrong. “Seriously, you can call me, and I’ll kill myself with you.” The room boomed with laughter.

Gena, a college-aged, first-time comic, was the only female who signed up to perform.

As the number of empty beer bottles by the bar got larger, the jokes got worse, and more threatening. Soon, my friends and I became the butts of the jokes. One comic made a comment about “the three girls over there,” and how funny it was that we hadn’t left yet. We felt the gaze of everyone in the room upon us again. A few acts later, a comic singled Gena out from the crowd.

“Nice hair,” he said. “That’s called a pixie cut, right?”

“Yeah… thanks,” Gena replied.

“Damn,” he said. “Girls with that hair are pixies, but a guy cuts his hair like that, and he gets called a faggot.”

Again, the room boomed with laughter.

The jokes continued, and the male comics complained about a variety of things: Their girlfriends are whiny and illogical. They meet girls on Tinder who give bad blowjobs. They can’t meet a woman in her late twenties who isn’t a mother. They go back with a date to her apartment, but they don’t have sex. Cat-calling must feel like getting checked out by a gay man. Having a girlfriend is great, because you can save money on condoms.

When the host read the list of upcoming comics, Gena was fifth in line, so I took the chance to go to the bathroom without fear of missing Gena’s performance. As I washed my hands, the other woman in the bathroom said to me, “Are you the girl performing?”

“No,” I said. “But my friend is.”

“Thank god,” she said. “My friends and I just wanted to see some female comedians, but it’s all just dudes. I wanted to stay for your friend, the girl, but I think we’re going to leave.”

When I sat back down, Gena, Maya and I are the only women in the room of about fifty people. Finally, the host announces Gena’s name, and she picks up the microphone.

“I love the internet,” Gena starts. She tells a story about a funny experience checking her symptoms for a cold on WebMD. The audience laughs in all the right places, and when Gena sits back down with Maya and I, we congratulate her for performing her first stand-up bit. We plan to leave, until the host reads the next group of comics, which includes someone named Courtney.

“I think it’s another girl,” Gena says. “Let’s stay for her.”

We sit through about ten more minutes of mediocre comedy. The same cycle repeated, some misogyny here, misogyny there. The occasional slur. We dealt with the discomfort to support the upcoming, second female comic. We felt a sense of solidarity with her – we couldn’t just leave before her performance. We needed to be in the crowd to support her in a room full of male comedians who hadn’t shown us respect in their performances.

As I waited for Courtney to perform, I thought back to a few years ago, when Daniel Tosh of the hit Comedy Central show Tosh.o made a joke at one of his stand-up shows about how funny it would be if a specific woman in the audience was gang raped at that very moment. Tosh offered a less-than-satisfactory apology via Twitter. After my experience with stand-up comedy last night, Tosh’s antics are even less surprising to me. Famous male comedians like Daniel Tosh and Dane Cook aren’t the only people who pit women’s safety and well-being as the butt of their jokes. If the majority of the thirty comics at this one Philadelphia open mic night are throwing around misogynistic thoughts on stage for their comedic value, then there must be innumerable local comics around the world who are the same, if not worse as what we saw last night.

“I never got a blowjob from a white woman until I was twenty-six,” one of the last comics of the night started. “I heard that white woman are crazy – they’ll do anything. But when it finally happened, I got a toothy blowjob.” He continued to complain in detail about the disappointment of having sex with white women. “I’m still open to dating white girls, though,” he said. He looked at Gena and waved at her. “I mean you,” he said. Though the comic’s comments were directed at Gena, Maya, and I felt almost as violated as she did.

Last year, BuzzFeed Brews interviewed Jerry Seinfeld, one of the most iconic living comedians. When the host asked Seinfeld why the majority of the guests on his web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee are white males, Seinfeld says, exasperated but amused, “Yeah, let’s get into that. Take a look over here, what do you see? A lot of whities!” He points out that the majority of the crowd, not unlike Gena’s open mic, was made up of white males.

“This really pisses me off,” Seinfeld said. “People think it’s the census or something. Who cares? I have no interest in gender or race or anything.”

Diversity does matter, though. Not only does it matter – it’s crucial. In its most basic form, comedy is about making people laugh. How is it not important to have a diverse group of people telling different stories lodged in their different experiences and worldviews? But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This is less an issue of getting people on stage who more people can sympathize with, and more an issue of prejudiced ideals seeping through the comedy community. At the very least, my female friends and I should be able to check out a local open mic comedy night without being reminded of our femininity at every turn. We were the only people called out in the crowd last night during a comedian’s set – multiple sets, I might add – and I can only be thankful that their jokes weren’t as terrifying the aforementioned Daniel Tosh joke. And then I realize how awful it is for me to be thankful that no comedian said that it would be funny if my friends and I were raped. 

I think about Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who got her start on Seinfeld, and now stars in her own acclaimed HBO series Veep. Last year, Rolling Stone wrote a cover story about Veep – but as a result, Louis-Dreyfus was featured naked on the magazine’s cover with verbage from the Constitution written on her back. Would a male comic be represented the same way, reduced to a “sex sells”-type scenario? Why are we unable to celebrate women in comedy without forcing them to get naked?

When Gena, Maya, and I walked home, we stopped for a minute and looked out across the Schuylkill River at the Philadelphia skyline. The Philadelphia Museum of Art towered behind us.

“I was going to say something about sexism, but I didn’t want to draw any more attention to my gender,” Gena said. And I agree. A productive way to fight back is to show people that women are funny. But offstage, we can’t ignore the sentiment that comedy is a man’s world. I’m happy that comedians like Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City will talk openly about feminist issues in comedy, but I wish we lived in a time when we didn’t need to explain to Jerry Seinfeld why diversity in comedy is important. I understand more clearly than ever why Gena’s comedy troupe Bloomers worked to raise nearly $10,000 to host LaughtHER Fest for the first time this year, an event billed as a “celebration of funny women.”

But at least, besides Gena, one other female comic had the guts to get on stage in front of a room of men making veiled misogynistic remarks for two hours straight.

“And now, give it up for Courtney!” the host said. My friends and I clapped loudly, excited to support a budding female comic who waited nearly two hours to perform her bit.

Courtney was a man.

Amanda Silberling is the Blog Editor of The Adroit Journal and a sophomore English student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her reviews and essays have appeared in The RumpusThe Los Angeles TimesPANK Blog, and others. Her poetry has recently appeared in Crab Orchard ReviewTinderbox Poetry JournalThe Louisville Review, and SOFTBLOW. She regularly writes about music for Rock On Philly and The 405

Conversations with Contributors: Sarah Rose Nordgren (Poetry, Issue 11) by Amanda Silberling

by Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Issue Eleven is out, and Conversations with Contributors is back! First up in this sequence of interviews is Sarah Rose Nordgren, whose poem "Kindling" rocks the new issue.

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: Your poetry collection Best Bones, which the Adroit blog reviewed, came out last fall. Almost a year later, what has the experience of releasing the book been like? 

Sarah Rose Nordgren, Issue Eleven Contributor: When I opened the envelope and held a copy of Best Bones for the first time, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car outside the UPS shipping center. He’d driven me there to meet the incoming trucks because I’d missed the delivery at my house and couldn’t bear to wait another day to see the book. Staring at the cover and turning it over in my hands, I was overwhelmed with a strange feeling. For a few seconds, it was as if I’d left my body and was looking down tenderly at myself like a parent looks at her child. My thought was “Oh, Sarah Rose! I’m so happy for you; you worked so hard for this.” Although it seemed like the feeling was coming from some outside perspective, it really was a wonderful moment of self-compassion and appreciation for the years of work, love, and heartache that went into that book, as if I were my own sister, or friend. I think many artists, including myself, can get in the habit of too much self-criticism as we try to continually push ourselves to be better, but it’s important to feel pride in our work as well, imperfect as it may be.

It’s been the better part of a year now since the book came out, and the experience has been wonderful. I’ve had great fun traveling for readings; it’s given me the opportunity to return to my alma maters – Sarah Lawrence College and University of North Carolina Greensboro – to see old friends and teachers, and meet wonderful new people as well.


Has your relationship with the poems in Best Bones changed over time? 

Between the oldest and most recent poems in the collection, there is a span of about ten years. Two poems are even from my undergraduate days! Because of this, when I was putting Best Bones together it often felt like a patchwork quilt of irregularly shaped bits of fabric. I liked the poems individually, but it was difficult for me to step back from them and see how they were working together. But through the revision process – and especially since the book’s publication – I’m able to see it as an organic whole. I still associate the individual poems with the time and circumstance of their composition, but with more distance I can better perceive the thematic through lines and arcs that I endeavored to highlight when I was editing and ordering the manuscript.  

Since the book’s release, I’ve learned that one of my favorite things to do is visit with classes of students who have read the book. Their insightful questions have opened up some of the poems for me in new ways and gotten me thinking about connections that I hadn’t seen before. I love hearing other people’s interpretations and thoughts about the poems.


You're currently collaborating on a video installation with the choreographer Kathleen Kelley. Can you explain what the installation is, and how the idea came about?  

Digitized Figures is a project that Kathleen and I have been developing for the past couple of years as an exploration of potentiality between our two mediums of poetry and dance. We started with the simple idea of “choreographing text,” which led to the creation of three separate videos in which text moves like bodies across the screen. Since then, we’ve added a performance element with live dancers, and are also developing the videos with interactive software so that the text will be responsive to audience members’ bodies as they move through the space.

Conceptually, the project investigates the parallels between digital technology and organic/evolutionary processes. Technology is often presented as a being counter to – or opposite of – nature, something that’s coming at us from the outside. But we’re interested in looking at how technology is, in fact, an extension of the body. Like all tools, it is an evolution that develops from us, allowing us to accomplish things that we couldn’t before. 


What do you want to be the "takeaway" from the installation?

I hope that audience members feel immersed in the environment that we create in Digitized Figures. Between the video projections, the use of sound, and the live dancers, I want the audience to feel as if they’ve stepped into another world – like a diorama or a story in which they can participate and play. It doesn’t matter so much to me whether all of the conceptual and philosophical framework comes through for the audience, but I hope they see and feel the interplay between organic and technological worlds.

We’ve had the opportunity to show this work in various stages of development, most recently in a show at The Dance Complex in Cambridge, Mass., and at the Society of Dance History Scholars annual conference in Iowa City last fall. Each time we present it, we learn a little more about what we want it to be. We’re currently looking for a place to show a more fully realized version with interactive video, so if anyone has connections with a venue that might be a good fit, please reach out and let me know!


Digitized Figures allows poetry, dance performance, and digital media to intersect in a really unique way – have the different mediums in the project influenced each other? 

They definitely have. The factor that has most affected my usual composition process has been the collaborative aspect. This sharing of creative direction and speed has pushed the text into interesting directions that I wouldn’t have arrived at if I were working in isolation.

Kathleen herself could better speak to the digital and performance elements of the installation, but I know her process has shifted as well. First of all, she’s choreographing words in addition to bodies. Secondly, as part of the performance she dances live in front of one of the projected videos, creating a kind of duet (or trio) with the text and the moving image of her own body. It’s really beautiful!

 from  Digitized Figures

from Digitized Figures

How does your collaborative artistic process with Kathleen Kelley work? Any interesting memories so far? 

Digitized Figures is our first formal collaboration since we were teenagers, but Kathleen and I have been working together informally since we became close friends and artistic soulmates in high school. We’ve mostly lived far away from each other, so we got in the habit of sending each other letters (real ones, written on paper!), snippets, books, ideas, and pieces of writing. Because of this (and innumerable late-night conversations), we’re already very familiar with each others’ artistic concerns and processes and have played a large role in shaping each other as we’ve become “grown-up” artists.

To create the videos, we came up with a weekly schedule to send work back and forth between us, me sending text (with storyboards for movement) and Kathleen sending video of herself or of moving lines on a screen. Our process for each video was a little different, but for the most part it felt like a conversation -- a back and forth -- between mediums. I’ve described it elsewhere as a feeling of hitting a beach ball or balloon back and forth between us, trying to keep it from touching the ground.


How else do you think performance art can be incorporated into poetry? Did you draw inspiration from any other hybrid works? 

I think the possibilities are endless, and I’m definitely interested in exploring the field more. I know there are people all over the world who are doing interesting things with poetry and video or poetry and dance, and I also think our project is very unique because of the way that we’re treating text as moving, organic bodies in a digital space.

We weren’t directly inspired by a particular hybrid work, but some other interesting projects I’ve come across that explore connections between language and the body include “Your Body is Not a Shark” (a collaboration between choreographer Cid Pearlman and poet Denise Leto), “Aleph-Bet” (by vocal artist Victoria Hanna) and the various collaborations that Anne Carson has done over the past several years, such as “Stacks.”


Your Adroit poem, "Kindling," is part of a manuscript you're working on, which deals with "Charles Darwin's family and evolution." What inspired you to start this project?

It was nearly four years ago now, and I was trying to figure out why I was obsessed, among other things, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with writing about mothers and babies. It occurred to me that beneath those interests was a deep curiosity about origins, in creation, life, and death (you know, the small stuff). Luckily, I had just arrived for my second year as a poetry fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, so I had a lot of time and freedom to immerse myself in these ideas. First, I read On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, and from there I became interested in both evolutionary biology and theory, and with Charles Darwin’s life. So on the one hand I started reading Darwin’s journals and biography, and on the other I was reading more contemporary books by biologists and evolutionary philosophers (a sampling of names, if you’re interested, is Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Elizabeth Grosz, and Richard Dawkins).  

I’ve since written a manuscript, Darwin’s Mother, which is in the editing stages, but I’m definitely not done with this material. My interest in evolutionary theory is now impacting all of the work that I do in one way or another, and becoming a reader of science over the past few years has been absolutely thrilling. Obviously these concerns have informed Digitized Figures, and I’ve also begun experimenting with writing nonfiction that connects the scientific with the personal.


Charles Darwin studied the evolution of species – tell us your thoughts about the evolution of poetry! 

Haha, that’s a great question. I actually see poetry evolving in a couple of different exciting directions right now -- two different influences that are mixing in new ways with the more mainstream (ie. “academic”) poetry genetic pool, if you will. One of these is the impulse toward cross-genre and cross-medium collaboration and hybridization, which includes experimentation in electronic literature. The other is the growing influence of performance poetry and slam on the broader poetry culture. This element is bringing in some wonderful dynamic energy, reminding everyone of poetry’s inception as an oral art form and that readings don’t have to be boring. This type of work is also making sincerity and bravery cool again, which I’m all for.

Sarah Rose Nordgren is the author of Best Bones (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014), winner of the 2013 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. Her poems have appeared in PloughsharesAGNIThe Iowa ReviewPleiadesThe Harvard ReviewBest New Poets 2011, and others. A two-time fellowship recipient from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Sarah Rose has also received support from the Breadloaf Writers Conference, The Ohio Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. For more information, visit

Amanda Silberling is an English student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, The Rumpus, PANK Blog, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Louisville Review, and more. She is the Blog Editor at The Adroit Journal and writes about music for Rock On Philly and The 405.



Staff Spotlight: Lathan Vargason (Art Correspondent) by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

We first fell in love with Lathan Vargason when his art appeared in Issue Seven of Adroit. But even after Lathan has spent over a year on staff, our honeymoon phase hasn't ended. I mean, he has a drag alter-ego named Potato – how could we fall out of love?

  biohazard 22" x 24" acrylic and graphite on panel 2013

22" x 24"
acrylic and graphite on panel

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: You're a student at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) – what exactly do you study there? What projects have you been working on lately?

Lathan Vargason, Art Correspondent: I entered MICA in 2012 as a Painting major, and studied that for two years.  I found the department to not be the best fit for me. I really wasn't a "painter's painter" so it was hard to get into shows, get attention, or get money.  I switched over to a department called "General Fine Arts", so now I'm doing pretty much whatever I want as I prepare for my senior year.  My latest projects have been miniature replicas of 1950-70s appliances and bathroom fixtures, and I am currently building a 1:12 scale model of my grandmother’s 1956 house in Owensboro, Kentucky, where I was born.


Did you find it difficult to switch from medium to medium?

I really enjoyed painting; I was making a lot of color-field paintings that would have small detailed drawings on them. I relied heavily on negative space for a reaction from my viewer.  But after I did so many of those it just became boring.  Being around 1,000 visual artists, 200 of whom are doing paintings, I just became overstimulated by painting and really needed to switch it up.  Now I've just been teaching myself different techniques and tools, like 3-D Printing.  It was actually pretty easy to go from my style of painting to the miniature work.  It felt like the perfect next step

  toilet 2014 2 in x 2.5 in x 1.5 in plastic, metal wire, enamel paint

2 in x 2.5 in x 1.5 in
plastic, metal wire, enamel paint

How does 3D printing work with the scale model project?  Also, what inspired you to build your grandmother's house?

For the miniatures, I either model pieces or pull manufacturer's CAD files and convert them into workable files so that I can print them on my printer.  I then have to sand, prime, and paint them for weeks to achieve the desired surface. It's really fun to dissect appliances and model each piece.  For my miniature stove I modeled like 30 different pieces and did the process of preparing the surface, and then had to painstakingly put them together so that the stove door would open, the drawer would pull out, and the knobs would turn.  My grandmother’s house was always so interesting to me. It was built in the 50s, which has become a really interesting era for me. The house had a turquoise bathroom and hand-built kitchen cabinets, and it just seemed like a really good vessel to play with and create a conceptual environment related to domesticity. It's a very personal project steeped with my history, but it's also something I think can speak to an audience.


What intrigues you about the 50s? Does art from that era influence your art at all?

It's kind of expanded from the 50s up to the 70s.  It was such a colorful time; Venetian pink, harvest gold, avocado.  All of these whimsical names and bright colors, and then when you examine the era there's so much wrong. These colorful homes were often facades for troubled marriages, closeted queer identities, etc.  I'm also fascinated by my experience of seeing these facades ripped out and "modernized" in today's culture.

I'd say I'm very influenced by art of this time period, 50's Edward Hopper, but I'm even more influenced by the design of the time period.  Wall mount dishwashers, crane sinks, hide-a-way toothbrush holders… It was such an industrious and bustling time for invention.  In my work I'm constantly toying between two extremes, the "beautiful and the lethal" as artist Laurie Simmons puts it.  I often draw from imagery from the whimsical side of the 50s/70s and try to incorporate what I see as "lethal,” symbolism related to gay culture, HIV-positive status, mental illness, suicide.

 "Perfect Match,"  The Adroit Journal , Issue 7

"Perfect Match," The Adroit Journal, Issue 7

Before joining staff, you had art appear in Issue 7, which also dealt with aspects of gay culture. Describe those pieces, and what your process of creating them was.

Oh boy, Throwback Thursday. Those pieces were my first works after moving from a town of 500 in Kentucky. It was very much a sexual awakening of sorts in my work. I was overusing gay sexual positions and phallic forms. "Perfect Match" was a drawing of me with my legs up in the air, in happy baby pose, with the caption "enjoys long walks on the beach.” It was a response to my newfound sexual exploration, with the anticipation of a lasting relationship. I've always been interested in having my work be inviting, so I drew it very delicately and wrote the caption playfully.  The colors of those works were pastel-y and subdued, very nursery rhyme-esque.  I think the work I'm doing now relates directly to those pieces, especially "Map," which was a literal map of my town in Kentucky, with imagery of tombstones, penises, and angels. It even had a 50s diner hiding in one of the corners.  I think I'm just now refining the technique of creating inviting work that has a deeper connotation, which I see as being very in line with the 50-70s era.   The pieces were fun for me because they served as my coming out, and gave me a lot of inspirational reactions from audiences including certain family members who decided they couldn't be associated with a sexual deviant. Sorry, Aunt Kim.

A year after those works when I created a series of paintings using imagery of a family member named JoAnn, I actually had people email me to threaten me and demand that I remove her image from my website.  They thought I was desecrating her memory by placing her in the same web browser as my previous work.


How does that make you feel about censorship and art?

I've had a lot of experience with censorship, mostly in my freshman year, when I was denied from a couple of shows for the imagery in my work.  My opinion is kind of weird. I like censorship because it gives me a challenge and forces me to find ways to expand my work beyond the "shock" imagery, or include the imagery in an even more subtle way. Though I definitely don't believe in censorship, famous examples like Robert Mapplethorpe, it is something that exists when you're dealing with the public, and I've learned to embrace and incorporate it into my work.

  kitchen set

kitchen set

What's your biggest challenge as an artist?

It's such a cliché, but balancing real life with studio practice is exceedingly difficult.  I work three jobs and go to school full time, so I'm always struggling to find time to sit down and create.

My biggest challenge when creating is dealing with my obsessive nature.  It took me two months to finish the miniature stove because I am constantly redoing things. I have anxiety about how my work looks, how I present it, etc., and it is sometimes difficult to overcome that and just go full force with the pieces. I had a lot of success towards the end of high school with Presidential Scholar, and I always set way too high of standards for myself.

I do set aside time for fun projects, like my drag alter ego "Potato" which had mild Youtube success, and I have a passion for interior design and home restoration.  So I just have to balance the serious "fine art" with "fun projects"


Elaborate on your drag alter ego.

Potato was the result of a film class I took where I was really struggling to create "serious" films, so I was like fuck it, and since I am a huge fan of “Rupauls Drag Race,” I thought it would be a good starting point to parody an audition tape.  I made an audition tape as Potato and it got like 7,000 views on Youtube within a couple weeks. It was fun, and I'm working on part two now. Potato is a really awful drag queen who wants to be on reality TV more than anything

What are Potato's deepest fears, hopes, and dreams?

Her deepest fear is rejection, but she’s getting over that.  She wants to be on Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, and her ultimate dream is to host her own interior design show on HGTV.  She shares some qualities with myself.

She also wouldn't mind judging an episode of Top Chef.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you on Adroit staff?

I don't think anything weird has happened to me on Adroit staff, but the submissions by artist Andrew Wilson (Poetry Reader) always brightened my day. He used to just submit really obscene hilarious comics, about poop or something else. He is a really hilarious artist.

Lathan Vargason (1994 - ) is a visual artist from Lewisport, Kentucky. Influenced by a rural background and employing that personal history into his work, Lathan works to create engaging conversations with his audience. Often the work challenges traditional viewpoints and creates a new visual experience related to complex ideas, sexuality and unfamiliar subcultures.  
A variety of technique and materials are present in Lathan’s work. Ranging from delicate drawings on expansive plains of solid color to molded and designed miniature replicas of vintage appliances and bathroom fixtures.
Lathan has shown nationally and been recognized by President Barack Obama as the first U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts from the state of Kentucky. His work has been on display at the Miami Art Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and included in group shows in New York City at the Flomenhaft Gallery, BravinLee Programs and Salon94 Freemans with a solo exhibition at the Carnegie Center in Covington, Kentucky in 2011. His work sits in collections in San Francisco, New York City, Cincinnati and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania from South Florida. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in Crab Orchard Review, PANK, The Los Angeles Times, and The Rumpus, among others. Find her on Twitter at @asilbwrites.

Conversations with Contributors: Brittany Cavallaro (Poetry, Issue 10) by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

At Adroit, we're big fans of Brittany Cavallaro – not only is she featured in our most recent issue, but she has also taught some of our lovely summer mentees at a Northwestern University summer program! For this installment of Conversations with Contributors, we talked to Brittany about her upcoming poetry and YA fiction book releases, teaching creative writing, and Sherlock Holmes.

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: Your Adroit poems are based on Sherlock Holmes stories. What inspired you to write poems about Sherlock Holmes?

Brittany Cavallaro, Poetry Contributor (Issue 10): These particular poems, “from The Adventure of the Hooded Woman,” are part of a longer series from my manuscript in progress. I’ve always been a Sherlock Holmes fan. The Arthur Conan Doyle stories been a particular obsession of mine for a long time, and I’ve always been interested by the figure of Dr. Watson. The conceit of the Conan Doyle stories is that he’s writing down the events as they happened, presenting the case for the reader. For the purposes of my Holmes and Watson poems, I wanted to explore what those stories changed, left out, elided from "actual" events. What is relevant in the stories you tell about your life? About the life you share with someone else? What do you choose to protect? What can wound by its reveal? 

I’m also a YA writer, with a Sherlock Holmes series coming out—the first is called A Study in Charlotte, from Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins in early 2016—that’s a feminist reimagining of the Holmes stories, following a teenage girl Holmes as she clears her name after her rapist is murdered. It’s a very different project than the poems. I feel a bit silly that I worked on all of these projects simultaneously—it makes me seem like a fanatic, which I’m not—but my interest in Holmes serves as a node for a lot of other things I love (railway history, detective fiction, class structures, Victorian England) and so I more or less couldn’t help myself. 

Writing about a fictional character through poetry somewhat blurs the lines between genres – do you think that there is a divide between poetry and prose? 

To a certain extent, I think all poetry is written through a fictional lens. There’s no way to translate the whole of our autobiography to the page, and even if we’re writing poems from what we believe to be our own point of view, the reader doesn’t have the framework to understand them as such, as parts of ourselves. The reader doesn’t know me, after all. I think employing a distancing mechanism allows the writer to more fully examine their subject matter, allow a little more truth to creep in underneath all the fact. The majority of my most autobiographical poems, for example, are written in the third person. There’s certainly a difference between writing through an invented persona and using one that’s so embedded in cultural consciousness, like Sherlock Holmes, but there’s also a long tradition of writing poems in dramatic monologue (I’m thinking specifically of Robert Browning here), using historical or cultural figures to work out certain ideas. In the poems Adroit published, I was interested in exploring that idea of veracity, of public history and personal history, how experience is mediated through language and how we present ourselves to our "audiences."

What do you think distinguishes one genre from another?

That’s both a really easy and a really difficult question. Once, on a terrible date, I answered this question by saying that in poetry, you hit the Enter key a lot more. 

So I’ll frame my answer by talking about my experience working in these genres, rather than reading them. When I’m in the middle of working on a novel, or a story, I have the feeling that I’m expanding the garden in my backyard. The plants are there each time I go outside, though some might have sprouted or died in the night. Maybe the soil’s dry. Maybe I left the hose running. So I spend an hour or so cleaning up whatever happened since I was there last, and then I go about the business of planting more. In reality, what this looks like is that I revise the pages I’ve written the day before and usually write five to ten more, fifteen if I’m really doing well. But I have that kind of fresh air-and-sunshine feeling at the end of those days, of hard work and surety. It’s less exciting than working on a poem. Sometimes, in the middle of the novel, you want a completely different garden than the one you have. But you’ve put in the work, so you put in some more.

Poetry, for me, has always been a lot more like sneezing than anything else. (Not to mix my metaphors.) Writing poetry is usually a reaction to my environment, whether it’s what I’m reading, or what I’ve seen, or what I remember. I write poems whether or not I really want to write them. They show up and demand to be written. For me, working a novel has always been more of a choice.

While you're at it, tell us about your book of poetry, GIRL-KING, coming out from the University of Akron later this year.

It actually just came out! I received my copies this week, which was a startlingly surreal experience. 

The poems in that book started as a project I was working on in my MFA about female agency, myth, and power. I’m interested in reclaiming female agency wherever I can—there’s a section in that book about the Burke and Hare murders in Edinburgh in the 19th century, written in dramatic monologue, where I try to give voice to the women they killed. Another section is made up of poems I wrote in response to John Berryman’s Dream Songs. Formally and lyrically, Berryman’s my favorite poet, but a lot of the time, I find the representation of women in his poems baffling. So I went through and wrote the opposite of his poems, shifting hes into shes, cities into towns, et cetera. There are a lot of poems in the book about the Midwest I grew up in, but while the landscape if drawn from life, there’s no real autobiographical analogue in the book to the kind of girl I was growing up. You’ll find a lot of the experience of my twenties laid over the experience of my teens. As is probably inevitable. 

How do you juggle both poetry and prose writing? Do you have a preference for either genre?

I think the answer to both questions is that I don’t. For the longest time, I considered myself a poet, someone who wrote poetry exclusively, and so I’m learning how to balance my writing life. I can’t say I have a system just yet. I tend to work pretty single-mindedly on a novel when I’m drafting it, not thinking much about poetry. When I’m going to write a poem, it spends a day or two bubbling up and then sort of announces itself. And then that’s what I devote that particular day to, and I push the novel aside. It’s all the same work to me—I’m just exploring different interests in different genres.

You've taught a few of our Summer Mentees in the past – what's it like to work with teenage writers?

I think I’ve taught five or six of them at this point! I love recommending my students to you guys. I teach the advanced creative writing honors class at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development program in the summer. It’s easily the professional highlight of my year. The writers I work with are uniformly excellent: talented, excited, interested in reading anything they can get their hands on, willing to push out of their comfort zone. I have them for three intensive weeks, and they write their hearts out. They go on to do awesome things. I’m so proud of them.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in teaching creative writing? 

When I was a teenage writer, I was desperate to be taken seriously. I can’t tell you another time in my life that I read or wrote as much as my high school years—and I read and write full-time right now. I got better by leaps and bounds, sometimes in a single week. I wrote in a more varied and adventurous way than I could possibly do now. All of this was because I had teachers who listened to me, who told me that I was good, but that, if I put the time in, I could be so much better. 

As a teacher, I think it’s a really important thing to listen to your students, understand what their goals and aspirations are, and then challenge them to be and achieve even more. My advanced creative writing students come to my class with a high level of intention, talent, and motivation. So I take them seriously. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the basis of my pedagogy. 

What do you think is your biggest challenge in being a writer yourself?

Oh, man. Honestly, the hardest thing about my process is probably my lack of a schedule. I’m more or less a house cat. I spend hours and hours puttering around my house, thinking idly about things, reading books and then putting them down, drinking cups of tea. Then I’ll burst into a flurry of motion. And then I start pacing around again. I have this feeling that I’d get a lot more done if I could just sit down at a set time every day, but it doesn’t show any signs of happening.

In terms of the biggest challenge for me of being a writer, it’s probably the ability to maintain that identity even when you’re not actively working. I believe in showing up every day to your writing when you’re working on a project, but I also pretty firmly believe in taking some time away if you’re in a fallow period. There’s no good in hitting your head consistently against a wall, but it can also be really hard to consciously not be doing your work. It can feel like you’re slipping away from your identity. I’ve been in that phase for the last month, and I can tell you that it’s completely unscrewed my head from where it usually is. I’m looking forward to getting back to it, if just to regain the usual foundation for my days. 

Brittany Cavallaro’s first collection of poems, GIRL-KING, is forthcoming from the University of Akron Press in 2015. Individual poems have appeared in AGNI, Tin House, and Best New Poets, among others. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania from South Florida. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in Crab Orchard Review, PANK, The Los Angeles Times, and The Rumpus, among others. Find her on Twitter at @asilbwrites.


Staff Spotlight: Lucia LoTempio, Poetry Reader by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Welcome back to The Adroit Journal's Staff Spotlight! We think that Poetry Reader Lucia LoTempio is pretty great, and you will too. As an intern at VIDA, Lucia works on the frontlines in the fight to earn women the representation they deserve in the art. Plus, we hear she's a particularly awesome poet, too.

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: So, first off, what have you been up to lately in your writing? 

Lucia LoTempio, Poetry Reader: Lately, I've been interested in writing about gender performance. A lot of my poetry deals with how gender is performed and perceived. I have a poem coming out in Weave this winter that has been functioning as a bit of a summary for my project. Also I have a few poems coming out soon in Hidden City Quarterly – and one in particular I'm especially excited about works a lot with cognitive dissonance.


What does gender performance mean to you? How does that differ from gender expression? 

Well, I feel like differentiating the two terms is very difficult. But I find that using "performance" implicates an audience. So not just the person expressing or performing gender is the focus, but how others perceive that person's gender and then act (or don't act) as a result. I find that push-and-pull relationship interesting and important to talk about.


Describe the project you’re working on – How do you incorporate these ideas into your writing?

I have been writing a lot of characters. Whether they are real people – so Rachel, the woman Van Gogh gave his ear to – or new creations – like my Mary Queen of Sunshine. Additionally, I have been using "we" as a speaker more often which implicates the readers a bit more.


You’re interning at VIDA – what kind of work do you do, what has the experience taught you?

We're still gathering data and counting until late winter, or early spring! As writer who is a woman, VIDA's work has always been important to me. I was lucky enough to be selected as an intern and to work with many brilliant and talented women across the globe to make the Count. Being on the front lines is hard – the work can be grueling, but worth it. Many journals and magazines need to reassess their practices when it comes to publication – and readers and submitting writers need to be aware of who is getting published and how much. Once I was at a publishing fair in Rochester wearing a VIDA t-shirt, and a small press owner and started talking. He tried so hard to defend his admittedly poor numbers to me and was a bit shamefaced. It was misled, but encouraging: he really was trying to change, to make his publications more inclusive. So the fact that awareness and genuine push to change is there is a great start.


What do you think is the best way for a publication to work towards making change?

Solicit more female authors, encourage more re-submissions, review more books by female authors. But I think the issue is bigger than the magazines and  journals. Attitudes and preconceptions about writing by women needs to change. The legitimacy of work by women needs to be taken seriously. The universal is not exclusive to those who are white and male, nor are the individual and the specific lesser if they are female and/or non-white.


You just finished working as the editor of the SUNY-wide lit mag – how did you incorporate these ideas into your editorship?

Well this fall Gandy Dancer somehow had an all female staff! That was totally on accident, but also a lot of fun. Generally, every season it's interesting (and necessary) to have the conversation about what makes a good poem or a good story or a good essay with each new staff (our staff changes every issue). In that conversation there is always a dissenter: "I don't like this because it's like Sylvia Plath" is (sadly) a very common happening. But having a conversation, cracking open the "why" of this comment is beneficial to rooting out subconscious bias towards female voice.

What do you have planned going forward in terms of you/your writing?

I just finished up applications to grad schools! So MFA-land here I come! For me personally, this is the right next step. I want to start working toward a collection and to be in an environment where I will be thinking seriously about poetry and what it can do. Having the time, opportunities, and support that is an MFA to really dig in and write, write, write is crucial for me. I'm nervous, but excited and ready to take this giant leap!

Lucia LoTempio is currently studying literature at SUNY Geneseo and will be graduating in May 2015. Hailing from Buffalo, NY, she plans to get an MFA in a place where there are no “seasons,” just the potential to be sweating 24/7. Her poetry has been or will be featured in Bayou Magazine, Weave Magazine, The Boiler: A Journal of New Literature, Spinal Orb, and more. She was the 2014 winner of the Mary A. Thomas Award in Poetry and a finalist for the Black Warrior Review 10th Annual Contest in Poetry. Her work has been nominated for the AWP Intro Journals Project. This winter she is counting for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, reading for The Adroit Journal, and interning for Writers & Books in Rochester.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania from South Florida. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in The Rumpus, Crab Orchard Review, PANK, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. Find her on Twitter at @asilbwrites.


Conversations with Contributors: Jedidiah Gist (Cover Artist, Issue 10) by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

The Adroit Journal's tenth issue was released last week, and you know what that means – more Conversations with Contributors! Intuitively, Issue 10 begins with our cover, so why not begin this round of Q&A with our cover artist?

Jedidiah Gist is a freshman at Clemson University originally from Columbia, South Carolina. For his piece "Whirl,” Jed was awarded a National Silver Medal and Regional Gold Key from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.


Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: What was the process of creating "Whirl"?

Jedidiah Gist, Cover Artist: I did a push-processing shoot with my 35mm Canon Rebel for my AP 2D Design class. I had this idea for a composite image of four different corners of skyscrapers scrapped together to form one massive building, floating in the sky. I figured I may as well take some shots of the corners of tall buildings during my push-processing shoot, and three of them turned out pretty well. I scanned the negatives into Photoshop and worked for a few days, making about forty of fifty different versions. Most of them I didn't even save, I actually only have four left, but the one that y'all have is by far my favorite.

AS: What message are you trying to convey through this piece?

JG: I attempted to show how the mundane can be monumental through the isolation and iconization of seemingly every-day architecture.

AS: What media of art/photography do you usually work with?

JG: I usually work with photography, digital art, or sculpture.

AS: "Whirl" is a black and white photograph – how do you think color influences the presentation of a photograph?

JG: The lack of color helps to emphasize the monolith. It adds to the simplicity of the image, emphasizing the simple motif.

 "Whirl" by Jedidiah Gist,  The Adroit Journal  Issue 10

"Whirl" by Jedidiah Gist, The Adroit Journal Issue 10

AS: How did you get involved in photography?

JG: I went to an art summer camp in middle school, and one of my classes was photography and Photoshop. I loved it, and ended up taking photography in high school and did my AP concentration in photography as well.

AS: What's the best experience you've had so far as a photographer?

JG: The best experience I've had as a photographer is having access to the dark room and lab at my high school. I was able to experiment with different methods of film photography, and it was extremely fun.

AS: What do you find most challenging in art?

JG: I'd have to say the most challenging thing is finding time to work on my projects. They are very time consuming, and require a lot of commitment.

AS: How do you plan to pursue art in the future?

JG: Right now, I'm a Chemical Engineering and Physics double major and I'm focused on school. I find time to shoot around every now and then, but nothing serious. I intend on getting into photography seriously once I've settled into a job.

AS: Have you had any unique experiences as a teenage photographer?

JG: Getting published in an online publication is a pretty unique experience!

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania from South Florida. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in The Rumpus, Crab Orchard Review, PANK, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. Find her on Twitter at @asilbwrites.

Protagonist Playlists Vol. 1: Winston Smith From 1984 by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Here at the Adroit Blog, we ask the hard-hitting questions – what would a classic novel look like through the lens of the protagonist’s iPod? Which characters would have perfectly organized playlists and album art for every song, and which characters download all their music from low quality YouTube-to-mp3 converters? Do they go to small punk shows in bicycle repair shop basements, or do they have front row tickets to One Direction’s arena concert? Through complex calculations and computerized algorithms (or, our wild imaginations), Adroit has all of these answers ready for you. First, let’s take a look at what Winston Smith of George Orwell’s 1984 has been listening to lately.

1. "United States of Eurasia" by Muse
And these wars, they can’t be won/And do you want them to go on and on and on? [..]/And Must we do as we're told?"

A true anti-heroic novel cannot be propelled forward by any band other than Muse, who are known for their grandiosity – they fought to record an album in space, only to be refused the funding from their record label. At the beginning of 1984, Winston begins to doubt that his government, the Party, has the population’s best interests in mind. He realizes, for one thing, that the Party lies about which nations they are at war with – is it Oceania? Eastasia? Eurasia?

2. "Fell In Love With A Girl" by The White Stripes
“She turns and says ‘are you alright?’/I said I must be fine ‘cause my heart’s still beating.”

When Winston meets Julia, a woman who shares his criminal sentiments against the government, it’s pretty obvious that he went home and listened to The White Stripes’s classic album White Blood Cells on repeat.

3. "I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor" by Arctic Monkeys    
“I don’t know if you’re looking for romance, or/I don’t know what you’re looking for [...]/Dancing to electropop like a robot from 1984.”

Arctic Monkeys’s frontman Alex Turner has got it all wrong – there are no robots, nor is there electropop in George Orwell’s 1984. But either way, this hit single about teenage hormones resembles Winston’s first experience with lust, as he liberates himself from the mind-control of the Party.

4. "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2" by Pink Floyd
“We don’t need no thought control/All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.”

Pink Floyd’s The Wall was released in 1979 – shortly before the year 1984 – so it actually makes chronological sense that Winston Smith could have found a dusty double LP of The Wall in some illegal record store outside of London. And we can only hope that Roger Waters would’ve come to the rescue to free the Party’s subjects from tyranny. Alternate ending, anyone?



5. "Julia" by The Beatles
“Julia, morning moon, touch me/So I sing a song of love to Julia.”

And in that same illegal record store shopping spree that George Orwell just totally forgot to include in the novel, Winston Smith finds a copy of The White Album. He can’t wait to show Julia this politically and musically radical album with songs like “Revolution,” but more importantly, he needs to show her that there’s a song with her name in it. And maybe the store owner decides to give Winston an old acoustic guitar so that he can serenade her. It’s all plausible, right?

6. "I'm Afraid of Americans" by David Bowie & Nine Inch Nails
“I’m afraid of Americans/I’m afraid of the world/I’m afraid I can’t help it/I’m afraid I can’t.”

As Winston falls deeper and deeper into political rebellion, he fears being caught by the Thought Police. America doesn’t exist in 1984, but if you look really, really closely at the music video, you just might be able to see Winston dancing around with Bowie.

7. "Downer" by Nirvana
“Portray sincerity/Act out of loyalty/Defend every country/Wish away the pain/Hand out lobotomies/to save little families.”

Winston’s worst nightmare comes true – he is arrested for Thought Crime. O’Brien, a member of the Inner Parry who Winston believed to be a secret dissenter, proceeds to torture Winston until he learns to love Big Brother.

8. "Normal Person" by Arcade Fire
“I’m so confused, am I a normal person?/You can’t tell if I’m a normal person.”

Through a series of gruesome procedures, O’Brien tries to manipulate Winston into believing the propaganda of the Party – he wants to make him a normal person. No matter how much pain Winston endures, he still cries out Julia’s name at night, which only forces him to suffer more.

9. "Heart in a Cage" by The Strokes
“All of those you loved you mistrust/Help me, I’m just not quite myself/Look around there’s no one else left.”

The rambunctious, repetitive guitar riff in The Strokes’s “Heart in a Cage” sounds like the intersection of an action movie and garage rock – or, it sounds like the climax of 1984. In the final phase of Winston’s torture, O’Brien brings him into Room 101, where Winston must face his worst fear of having his face eaten off by a cage full of rats. His fear is strong enough that he betrays Julia and tells O’Brien to torture her instead. After months of brutality, O’Brien releases Winston.

10. "2 + 2 = 5" by Radiohead
“Are you such a dreamer/to put the world to rights?/I’ll stay home forever/Where two and two always makes a five.”

At the end of the novel, Winston comes to the bone-chilling conclusion that it’s too hard to rebel against the psychologically manipulative Party in all of its power. He accepts that he must learn to love Big Brother; he accepts what he believed to be untrue; he accepts that 2 + 2 = 5.

Adroit's Best Books of 2014 by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Nothing is better than waiting for a book release and finally taking a trip down to Barnes & Noble to purchase the book the second it's on the shelf – we just cannot trust Amazon Prime's shipping policies with matters as important as reading new books.

Whether we counted down the days for a book to come out, or just stumbled upon it during the year, the Adroit Blog Staff lived up to that New Year's Resolution of actually making time to read. Here we have an assorted mishmash of our favorite books of 2014, including everything from bone-chilling poetry to short stories in The New Yorker to The Princess Bride.

ALexa Derman, Managing EDITOR
BArk BY Lorrie Moore

Admittedly, if you had asked me in 2013 what my favorite book was going to be in 2014, I probably would’ve said Bark. I’d been waiting for the collection, Moore’s first in fifteen years, for quite some time. Lo and behold, the hardcover I pre-ordered months in advance did not disappoint. At turns acerbic and earnest, Moore’s prose is above all else honest. Maybe that’s why some of the pieces included in this collection are so troubling – they prize honesty first, forfeiting contrived endings and conventionally likable characters for the sake of authenticity. If the people who populate Bark wouldn’t be a reader’s first choice for friends, it’s because they’re (perhaps too) real.


Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

 Amanda's "Bad Feminist" costume, alongside "Cat" and "Overzealous College Freshman"

Amanda's "Bad Feminist" costume, alongside "Cat" and "Overzealous College Freshman"

Let’s start by saying that I loved this book enough that I kept an extremely close eye on the web-o-sphere the week when Roxane Gay was giving away free Bad Femnist t-shirts on Twitter. Like the social media superstar I am, I managed to snag the t-shirt – score! I also loved the book so much that I was “Bad Feminist” for Halloween. Okay, maybe that costume was just borne out of necessity, because it’s really challenging to create a Halloween costume in a dorm room, and I thought the shirt would look awesome with fishnets and leather. But my Twitter expertise and Halloween costume are aside from the point. The fishnets and leather are also aside from the point.

The point is that Roxane Gay’s essay collection is hilarious, thought-provoking, informative, and tear-jerking all at once. It’s varied and diverse, like the practice of feminism. Gay can write about experiences with sexual assault, competitive scrabble, and Fifty Shades of Grey – and it all blends together with ease.

In the essay "I Was Once Miss America," Gay writes, "There is nothing more desperate and unrequited than the love an unpopular girl nurtures for the cool kids." But in the literary world, Roxane Gay sits at the cool table and eats her school cafeteria lunch with grace. Bad Feminist is more than just a cultural studies book. It's a Roxane Gay book. As a reader, I should probably care more about the implications of white-washed beauty pageants and racial tensions than Roxane Gay's middle school experiences. But what makes Roxane Gay such a great writer is that when you're reading her essays, her anecdotes weave seamlessly around dire commentary to the point that you become convinced that Gay's scrabble tactics are a serious social issue.


Talin TahajianPoetry EDITOR
Crystal Eaters BY Shane Jones

This book is difficult to explain. I’m going to start with a disclaimer that I’m very biased toward Shane Jones because I think he’s pretty much a crazy god with a literary mind so absolutely bizarre that it must be holy. (I discovered Light Boxes in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble four years ago and it changed my life—and the way I think about writing—for the better.) Essentially, Crystal Eaters is the text version of that weird time after midnight when you’re scared to look at the clock and are pretty sure it’s only about 1:30 a.m. but really it’s nearly 4:00 in the morning. The narrative loosely follows Remy, a child who lives in a world where the length of your life is dictated by the number of crystals inside you, as she discovers beautiful and terrible shit about people, the universe, drugs, death, daughterhood, illness, what it means to be alive. Its constant stream of vivid imagery has the same kind of beauty as that guy with a lot of multicolored tattoos and a black septum barbell ring who takes the Red Line into Boston on Monday mornings. If you enjoy Crystal Eaters, which you will, you may also enjoy the following unofficially related products, all of which also premiered in 2014:

-       iPhone app: Monument Valley
-       Electronica album: How to Run Away by Slow Magic
-       Remix of an alternative rock song: “Last Train” (Dactyl Remix) by Dawn Golden
-       Literary magazine issue: Columbia Poetry Review (Issue No. 27, Spring 2014)
-       Tweet by a poet: “The more you try to convince me I’m not dead the more I am dead.” (@MathiasSvalina, 19 October 2014)


Lucia Lotempio, Poetry Reader
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s second collection is brilliant. I will shout it from high-up open windows—dammit, it is brilliant. She pushes every image, every metaphor to the edge of the poems—I was constantly amazed at how effectively she stretches her metaphors and how complex each conceit was. The way she talks about sex and gender is sharp and invigorating. She uses the obscene and the absurd to expound on gender theory and the murky exactness of how gender is performed and perceived. And she uses absurdity with such skill: each exaggeration is purposeful, each ridiculous moment is with motive, and each poemscape is bright as it is intricate. What really drew me in to this collection were her titles. From the opening “Is Your Country a He or a She in Your Mouth” to “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” to “Bedbugs Conspire to Keep Me from Greatness,” Lockwood just nails it.  Must read poem: “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics”—you’ll get the D.L. on what Dickinson’s and Whitman’s (the Father and Mother of American poetry respectively—yes, you read that correctly) real contributions to American poetry were (hint: it’s mostly tit-pics). 


Ariella Carmell, Blog Correspondent
As You Wish Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride By Cary Elwes

I must confess that I only read one 2014 release this year, so by the transitive property my favorite book of 2014 was As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. Cary Elwes (who plays Westley, the usurper of my heart, in the film) divulges some behind-the-scenes antics in the production of the cult classic. Elwes is by no means a florid writer, but he writes with an earnestness that’s hard to resist as he goes on about the lovely qualities about the cast and crew. In fact, the only issue I had with the book was that it was almost too nice. Where was the gossip, the rumors? Give me some dirt, Cary. The most interesting tidbit I gleaned from this memoir was the inconceivable (hah!) fact that Samuel Beckett would drive Andre the Giant (Fezzik) to school. An image worthy of any Beckett play.


Henry Heidger, Blog Correspondent
Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Because I work primarily as a poet, I often find myself behind on fiction reading. However, one novelist on my 2014 reading list shadowed all of the others—Marilynne Robinson. Prominent professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Robinson first rose to literary acclaim in 1980 with her novel Housekeeping. After a long period of relative silence, she again stormed the literary scene with her 2004 novel Gilead. This autumn saw the release of Robinson’s third book set in the town of Gilead, Iowa—Lila, nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction. Lila is the story of a woman, alone after years of rural homelessness, whose life takes a breathtaking lift after stepping into a small-town church to escape the rain. Lila is quaintly beautiful with its evocative storyline, but its most masterful quality is the breadth and vastness of its characters. Questioning religion, morality, and love to their comprehendible reaches, Lila was the most vital book I read this year.


Joanna Moley, Human Rights Correspondent
The Alaska of Giants and Gods by Dave Eggers

Because life is a crazy and mysterious thing that seems to be filled with everything except for free time, I didn't read any books that came out in 2014 during 2014. In my defense, I did read a bunch of other books, they were just released before this year.  Despite my lack of expertise on the books of 2014, I do regularly read the fiction pieces in "The New Yorker," and I was especially impressed by Dave Eggers' The Alaska of Giants and Gods.  This piece is full of simple but unexpected lines that make the reader do a double take – within the first few paragraphs that protagonist declares that her children, "were strange but good."  I think that is an amazingly nontraditional way to describe your offspring.  It's loving, but also vaguely and wonderfully insulting.  Most of the important information about the characters is revealed throughout a cruise ship magic show, which is seriously unconventional method for creating characters with depth.  I would recommend this story to anyone who loves literature, has no free time whatsoever, and enjoys seemingly whimsical stories that actually contain nuanced themes about origins and identity.


Eloise Sims, Human Rights Correspondent
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

My favorite book of the year is definitely Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet. I love Peet's frank and detailed way of writing, and his characters are the kind that literally leap off the page and wave their arms in your face. Life: An Exploded Diagram is a Romeo and Juliet-esque story of forbidden love between two teenagers in a tiny town in England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but in a deeper sense, it's a story about the power of family, hope, and resistance. Clem, the main character, is a vaguely hopeless Bill Nighy-esque artistic genius, trapped in the stifling environment of his family home, who falls madly in love with Francoise, the French, posh, and out-of-reach daughter of his father's boss. I couldn't recommend it more for anyone wanting to be pleasantly surprised by a novel's dexterity and depth. The events in Francoise's and Clem's lives intertwine beautifully with actual historical events in the 1950s, making it a huge bonus for the history nerds out there. Altogether, as my friend once said, this book "will take your insides, lure them into comfort with strawberries, then tape them to a nuclear warhead and fire them to Mars."


And then we have the Adroit staff who were so rebellious that they wrote about books from 2013. If a book is good enough that it stays with you the extra year, is it fair game?



In nearly every poetry class I’ve taken, the instructor has told me that I would one day come across a collection so profoundly moving I would never again have to question the purpose or power of poetry. For this reason, I am especially grateful to have recently read Tarfia Faizullah’s debut collection Seam.

From my perspective, there seems no greater honor than being invited to partake in an intensely personal life-changing journey. This is precisely what Seam offers; the reader gratefully accompanies Faizullah as she takes the reigns from history books, and paints the most gruesomely evocative picture of the Bangladesh Liberation War in existence today. Specifically, Faizullah leads the reader through the stories of Bangladeshi war victims, sharing both the intimate and the expansive. To the patiently attentive reader, Seam strives to be concrete proof that quiet beauty can sprout from the ash of injustice, and that where there is a story, there is life.


Derick Edgren, Blog Correspondent
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

Usually when I listen to music — and I promise, this is relevant — it's typically per song, but sometimes there's that gem of an artist that produces only good music (read: Sia, Florence + The Machine) and that's how I feel about literature most of the time. When someone asks me what authors I enjoy, names don't come to mind. Titles do. No book has ever had this spark to it that's made me think yes-can't-wait-to-check-out-this-guy's-entire-album. 

When I read Chimamanda Adichie's book Americanah, I fell in love with her equally direct and abstract prose. A friend of mine recommended it to me, It's long but it won't feel like it. And after six hundred pages, and mind you, I'm a very slow reader, I couldn't agree more with her precaution or whatever you want to call that. Which I found to be quite complimentary — when a book feels quicker than it is. The story follows the life of a young woman, Ifemelu, who moved from Nigeria to the U.S. to attend university. While marketed as a love story, between her and her childhood friend/lover, it's so much more than that. An amazing commentary on America's sweepingly vague perception of Africa and Africans versus African Americans. It's beautifully written, a winding road, written in part-blog form as Ifemelu's blog gains success. Nevertheless, it all ties together, with a surprisingly simple ending, that I felt (maybe not all felt) was well-earned is a story, there is life.  Chimamanda Adichie is the Sia or the Florence + The Machine of literature for me. I've found myself attracted not only to her semi-autobiographical story, but the way she tells it. Which I’ve always felt was more important.

"What Belonged/To Winter": Seasonal Poems from the Adroit Archive by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

  “  Continual  ” by Giulia De Francesco, Issue 8,  The Adroit Journal

Continual” by Giulia De Francesco, Issue 8, The Adroit Journal

It's that time of year again – the time when we lie in bed and stay in our pajamas until 4 PM reading all of the books we never got a chance to read earlier in the year. Okay, maybe we're the only ones who stay in their pajamas all day. But that's irrelevant. We don't want to share our lazy holiday habits with you, but we do want to share these poems. We took a look through the Adroit archive to find some excellent poems to get you in the wintry mood, whether you choose read them in your pajamas or not. 

"Four Elements" by Marie Gauthier (Issue Five)

On the stovetop, cocoa melds 
with condensed milk in a pot 
warming on the burner. 

Small economies: how the sun 
weakens in December, bows 
to evening before the end 

of afternoon.

"The Ordained" by Jacques J. Rancourt (Issue Eight)

If God were a season

then he would surely be winter, would ground
by starvation, by frostbite, he would bate

in pairs. [...] 

I gave my soul to God but he wanted

my body. I gave to winter what belonged
to winter. The rest I cut free with a knife.

"Ode to a Skeleton Key" by Bruce Bond (Issue Six)

Once I saw you as the silent tongue 
in the bell of lamplight above my bed 
and thought, how strange to have any other, 

or locks for that matter, though even then 
you betrayed only the oldest closet, 
the dark no greed or anger would disturb. 

"Midwinter" by Richie Hofmann (issue nine)

reflected like a sequin, like summer even,
though it was New Years Day, and the world

was dusky, and the dog, the house, the woods, the books—
they weren’t even ours.

"In Another Life" by Ruth Foley (Issue Four)

You have been alive for the past 
thirty years. You prefer the ocean 
to the mountains. You have let your hair 
grow long again, and tie it back when 

the babies come to visit. You had more 
children, and they had children. In 
the winter, they come to your house to sled 
on the hill that leads out of your woods. 

"Late Winter Parallax" by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson (Issue Two)

So many limbs, the sturdy hemlock
and this silent mimicry. They sleep
just out of reach. I reach
breathless at their breathing – such gestures,
the stretched neck, the seeking after. 

What We Find in the Crease of the Door: Matisse and Gober Explore Fear at MoMA by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

  The Parakeet and the Mermaid , Henri Matisse (1952). Image Courtesy of The Guardian.

The Parakeet and the Mermaid, Henri Matisse (1952). Image Courtesy of The Guardian.

Though Henri Matisse and Robert Gober are artists of different backgrounds, eras, and styles, each of their shows at the Museum of Modern Art—Matisse’s The Cut-Outs and Gober’s The Heart is Not a Metaphor ­ prove that an artist’s ideas transcend the artist’s skill. Matisse, who was a decrepit old man in the 1940s and 50s when he made the cut-outs, was physically incapable of painting grand works like The Dance (1909), so he cut shapes into colored paper as a way to exercise his creativity. Gober, an avant-gardist sculptor who derives influence from Marcel Duchamp, displays empty sinks and wallpaper in his show. Though the works in both shows may seem simple to create and engineer, they are not rudimentary by any means. While Matisse’s cut-outs are joyful and uplifting, Gober’s sculptures are graphic, chilling, and disconcerting—but despite the difference in tone, Matisse and Gober share an ability to bring their ideas to life.

Matisse’s cut-outs take on a variety of forms, including stained glass windows, magazine covers, and tapestries. In Matisse’s Jazz (1947), a book of 250 prints, one cut-out is captioned, “No leaf of a fig tree is identical to another.” This statement mirrors an idea of Matisse’s show—no one cut-out can be exactly the same as another.

  Blue Nude , Henri Matisse (1952). Image Courtesy of Artist.

Blue Nude, Henri Matisse (1952). Image Courtesy of Artist.

The cut-outs were made during the dark World War II era, yet these works are buoyant and colorful. Matisse seemed to use his art as a means of coping with his deteriorating physical state and the hostile wartime environment in Europe. In order to cover up a stain in his apartment, Matisse created Oceania, The Sky (1946), which features a wall-sized beige background dotted with white ocean-like cut-outs. To create this work, Matisse reminisced about a trip he took to Tahiti in 1930.

When Matisse depicts people in his cut-outs, they always exude a joyful energy, similar to his earlier paintings. In his Blue Nudes series (1952), the color blue is associated at first glance with sadness, but when looking more closely, the viewer can see that the blue reflects the ocean, something that comforted Matisse and is represented in many of his other cut-outs.

Matisse’s show has vivid audiovisual aspects, which allow the viewer to see Matisse’s process of creating the cut-outs—most immediately recognizable is the amount of dependence he had on his helpers to place the cut-outs on their canvases, since Matisse was physically handicapped. Beside the Blue Nudes in the gallery is a video that shows Matisse making wave-like creases on the nudes with a scalpel, further establishing the presence of the oceanic imagery.

Though the final years of Matisse’s life weren’t joyful, his work was—but other artists like Robert Gober express their worldly anxieties differently. Gober’s show The Heart is Not a Metaphor, which contains forty years of work, is blatantly disconcerting. The two shows are vastly different in how they react to the world’s injustices, yet both are still effective.  

  Two Partially Buried Sinks , Robert Gober (1986). Image Courtesy of Arts Summary.

Two Partially Buried Sinks, Robert Gober (1986). Image Courtesy of Arts Summary.

The first room of The Heart is Not a Metaphor features several sculptures of sinks from the 1980s, which are reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). Gober made fifty of these sculptures between 1983 and 1986, the height of the AIDS epidemic. The lack of plumbing in the sinks suggests a failure in their function; one can never truly be clean. The most vivid of Gober’s sinks are Two Partially Buried Sinks (1986), which features two sinks set inside of a patch of grass to look as though they are gravestones. Though the sculpture is simple, made of just two sinks turned vertically and stuck into the ground, its meaning is layered and evocative, forcing the reader to reconcile the presence of death alongside everyday objects. The piece suggests not only that AIDS is a deathly ailment, but also that Gober’s society had become desensitized to death. Works like Two Partially Buried Sinks, which are more reliant on their concepts than their form, permeate The Heart is Not a Metaphor

The next three rooms in the show are installations in which the entire walls are covered in wallpaper with repeated imagery. From far away, the first room after the sinks seems to display a typical eighties suburban-style wallpaper, but upon closer look, there are two repeated images: a man dead in his sleep, and a man being hung on a noose tied to a tree. This seems to represent the suffocating reality of the American demise and compliance with suburban life. Bags of cat litter are placed by each wall, as if they’re absorbing domestic excrement. In the center of the room is a wedding dress, presenting an ominous sense of commitment to this debilitating, dull suburban lifestyle.

  Forest  and  Cigar , Robert Gober. Image Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.

Forest and Cigar, Robert Gober. Image Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.

Through out the show, Gober places wax lower-halves of bodies with real human hair and clothing around certain rooms. One of the most memorable and discomforting wax works is an untitled sculpture of a large suitcase. Inside the suitcase is the top of a sewage drain, which the viewer can see beneath to find swampy muck. Only from one side of the suitcase can the viewer see that the lower-half of a wax man is holding a wax baby over the swamp, as if about to drown the baby.

At the very end of the exhibit are two doors on either side of a Christ-like fountain—perhaps a literal homage to Duchamp’s Fountain. Each door is slightly open, and when looked into, there is a wax figure taking a bath, along with a newspaper strewn across the floor. This makes the viewer feel as though they’re intruding on a private moment in a perverted manner. The work is also very similar to Duchamp’s Étant donnés, in which a dying woman is visible through a small peephole in a door.

 Robert Gober Installation View. Image Courtesy of Whitewall Magazine & Jonathan Muzlkar.

Robert Gober Installation View. Image Courtesy of Whitewall Magazine & Jonathan Muzlkar.

Before looking through the crease of the door in the final room of The Heart is Not a Metaphor, it’s easy to feel genuine fear of what is about to be seen— a fear of the unknown. But what’s inside the door is just a common reality of life; people take baths. There is nothing perverted about the scene except for the fact that the viewer is peering at the figure through a crease in the door—in other words, the discomfort is only evoked by the viewer’s presence.

We are afraid of our own reality. Matisse is afraid—he used his cut-outs to avoid dwelling on the horrors of World War II. And for Gober to exploit this fear of modern life, he must have felt it himself too. While Matisse helps us live in a dream world of vibrant stained glass windows and swirling oceanic imagery, Gober forces us to walk through a gallery plastered with images of genitalia, dying babies, and grave-like sinks. While Gober confronts fear, Matisse subdues it—in each sense, the artist manipulates his own reality to impose his preferred mode of catharsis on the viewer.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, originally from South Florida. Recently, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard ReviewThe Louisville ReviewTinderbox Poetry JournalSOFTBLOWCleaver Magazine, and more. Her essays have appeared in PANK and The Los Angeles Times, and she regularly writes and photographs for Rock On Philly. She is the Blog Editor at The Adroit Journal.


David Lynch: From the Screen to the Canvas by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

  Courtesy of David Lynch

Courtesy of David Lynch

“There are things that can’t be said with words,” says David Lynch, most famous for films like Eraserhead (1977) and Blue Velvet (1986). “Painting is the one thing that carries through everything else.”

There’s something ironic about this statement, though—if there’s one thing that connects David Lynch’s The Unified Field, it’s the art’s use of words. In his first major museum exhibition, Lynch showcases just fewer than one hundred artworks, many of which use brief sentences and phrases written on the works as their titles. In particular, the painting Oh… Did I Say Something Wrong? (1996), which depicts a thick, stick-figure, brush-stroked man asking the question in the title, emerges as a piece that illustrates the theme of the show.

During his time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Lynch was an innovator—while his classmates were painters, Lynch moved into hybrid forms. Lynch was clearly frustrated with being a different type of artist than his classmates—before trying his hand at film, he used acrylic, pastels, and graphite to create a work called P.A.F.A. Is Sickening (1967), which was amusingly placed in the front of The Unified Field.

 Stills from  Sick Men Getting Sick  (1967). Courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Stills from Sick Men Getting Sick (1967). Courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Lynch’s first attempt at hybrid film works while at PAFA, Six Men Getting Sick (1967), is a 60-second, vibrantly-colored and morbid film projected onto a wall with three white heads bulging out. The only audio in the film is the sound of sirens. Here, it was showcased for the first time since it was originally shown when Lynch was a PAFA student. Only by deviating from the norm at PAFA did Lynch find his place in the art world—and even after moving towards film, he still deviated from the norms constructed within that distinct genre, creating grotesque and psychological horror flicks.

As PAFA visitors wandered through The Unified Field and observed its grotesque, domestically-violent works, people openly voiced their concerns about whether or not David Lynch suffered an abusive childhood. But Lynch was not unusually troubled—he just dares to reveal the most corrupt, foul thoughts that had filtered through his mind, rather than hiding away the dark side that any human has. My Head is Disconnected (1994), a tempera on a wood panel, shows a sharp black silhouette of a man whose rectangular head is floating out from his grasp. Behind the figure on a white background, Lynch writes the title of the painting. This painting reflects on the common trope of the depressed, alienated artist—it’s almost as though Lynch is anticipating how viewers may react to his macabre works, thinking that he must be insane.

  Pete Goes To His Girlfriend's House  (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

Pete Goes To His Girlfriend's House (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

Through The Unified Field, David Lynch challenges his viewers to bypass their expectations about what makes art beautiful. When placed inside the main PAFA building next to older impressionist works, it can be hard to find beauty in Lynch’s less visually appealing pieces, which seem as though they were created in an anxious haste—however, this juxtaposition positively highlights the oddities of Lynch’s work. This shows the viewer that art need not be visually appealing to be considered “good.” David Lynch’s show is not for the faint-hearted, but sometimes, the best works of art are those that take us out of our comfort zones and make us reevaluate our preconceived notions of what art should be. 

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, originally from South Florida. Recently, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard ReviewThe Louisville ReviewTinderbox Poetry JournalSOFTBLOW, Cleaver Magazine, and more. Her essays have appeared in PANK and The Los Angeles Times, and she regularly writes and photographs for Rock On Philly. She is the Blog Editor at The Adroit Journal.

Blog Editor Amanda Silberling Talks Feminism on HuffPost Live by Amanda Silberling

By Peter LaBerge, Founder/Editor-in-Chief

We at Adroit are so proud of Blog Editor Amanda Silberling (University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2018) for discussing feminism's place on college campuses today on The Huffington Post's HuffPost Live! As a staff comprised mostly of college students, these issues are very important to us-- as are feminist issues, of course (have you seen Feminist Fridays?)!

Click here to watch Amanda's segment on HuffPost Live.

Review: "The New Testament" by Jericho Brown by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

“The New Testament” (Copper Canyon Press, 2014) is packed with emotion. It explores  various forms of isolation, including the search for racial and sexual identity. From the first poem in the collection, the reader cannot deny Jericho Brown’s knack for weaving socially dire ideas into his poetry in a way that is beautiful and impactful, yet not heavy-handed.

As I read “The New Testament,” I got some questioning looks from passersby. From the outside, the book looks like a religious text—its gloomy exterior features a painting of two black men who appear to be in pain, along with the book’s title in auspicious green letters. Nothing on the cover of Jericho Brown’s second release identifies itself as a book of poetry—and I can’t help but think that these religious parallels may be intentional.

In “The New Testament,” Jericho Brown demands change by exploiting the hypocrisy of social injustice—he quite literally declares a new testament in a way that is far more powerful than the typical collection of poems. In “Heartland,” one of the book’s opening poems, Brown writes, “I do anything other than the human thing,” effectively introducing a central idea of the book. “The New Testament” is anthemic for people who don’t completely fit in, or are made to feel less than human.

Jericho Brown’s command of language is incredibly heartbreaking. The sequences of events and images in his poems are logical, yet they still manage to be surprise the reader. One of the most striking poems in the book is “The Interrogation,” which is divided into seven parts. In “II. Cross-Examination” and “IV. Redirect,” Brown narrates an imagined conversation between himself and an interrogator. To defend his heritage, Brown says “What you call a color I call/A way.” The interrogator responds, “Forgive us. We don’t mean to laugh/It’s just that black is,/After all, the absence of color.” The exchanges between these two voices are haunting and memorable. In “VI. Multiple Choice,” Brown says, “Show me/A man who tells his children/The police will protect them/And I’ll show you the son of a man/Who taught his children where/To dig.” These lines capture the unjust reality of racial relations in America today—conflicts like that of Ferguson come to mind, giving the poem even more urgency. To end the first of the book’s three sections, Brown writes, “Then another century came./People like me forgot their names,” evoking thoughts of isolation and the lack of an identity. Jericho Brown’s commentary on race is deeply vivid, clearly coming from a lifetime of introspection.

As the book progresses, the focus shifts from race to religion. The titles of Brown’s poems frequently make reference to biblical passages (“Romans 12:1,” “1 Corinthians 13:11,” “Psalm 150,” etc.), which feature sweeping statements like, “To believe in God is to love/What no one can see.” Though “The New Testament” is complex enough that there is no singular way to interpret its themes, I find that the intermingled emphases on race, religion, and sexuality are a plea for social change and freedom from oppression.

The most prominent feelings that “The New Testament” inspires are ones of awe, whether it’s awe of the necessity of Jericho Brown’s poems, or awe of their linguistic prowess.

The New Testament
by Jericho Brown
Copper Canyon Press, September 2014
$17.00 paperback, ISBN: 1556594577

Jericho Brown is the recipient of the Whiting Writers' Award and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and Best American Poetry, and Nikki Giovanni's 100 Best African American Poems. Brown holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, an MFA from the University of New Orleans, and a BA from Dillard University. His first book, Please, won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament, was published by Copper Canyon Press. He is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at Emory University in Atlanta.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, originally from South Florida. Recently, her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Blog, SOFTBLOW, The Louisville Review, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the Blog Editor and Director of Social Media Relations for The Adroit Journal, and also has worked for BOAAT Press and Dzanc Books.


Staff Spotlight: Cheryl Julia Lee Releases Book of Poetry by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

On September 4th, Adroit Issue 8 Contributor and Poetry Reader Cheryl Julia Lee will release her first book of poetry through Math Paper Press—we’re pretty excited, to say the least. “We Were Always Eating Expired Things” addresses how people interact with each other, along with all of our relationships’ inherent complexities. In this week’s Adroit Blog Staff Spotlight, I talked to Singaporean writer Cheryl Julia Lee about her book and its upcoming release. If you're in Singapore, be sure to check out Cheryl's book release reading!

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: First off, tell me a little bit about your book. How did it come into being?

Cheryl Julia Lee, Issue 8 Contributor & Poetry Reader: It started out as an assignment I did for a creative writing class. We were supposed to work on a project of our own, and I submitted a poetry manuscript. My professor liked it and put me into contact with a local publisher, Kenny of Math Paper Press, who's the best and champions both established and emerging writers. To get [the manuscript] to the collection that's being published, I had to add a couple more poems and curate them.

AS:  Is there any unifying theme among the poems?

CJL: The collection's about human connection, which is what I usually write about—this inherent desire to reach out to people, to be reached out to, but also this feeling of never really quite touching each other. I suppose this is the result of my reading people like Beckett, that image of Nagg and Nell, both in trashcans, straining towards each other. And the collection's also about growing up and moving out of familiar spaces, both physical and otherwise. So there are poems about love, loss, and death.

AS: Math Paper Press says that the collection is built around a line from a Beatles song—can you elaborate on that?

CJL: Yes. I listened to The Beatles a lot growing up and my favourite song was "I Want to Hold Your Hand." It's such a simple song and it's so catchy and easy to sing along to. So that song was always playing somewhere in the back of my head but I didn't really think about what it was saying until I was a little older and then I saw its wisdom! That's really it for me, I think, why we do whatever it is we do, how we construct our lives. A friend told me recently that there's this movie with Michael Cera in it that also expresses this sentiment, the truth in this song, which is like a huge high-five!

AS: What do you want people to think when they read your book?

CJL: Gosh, I don't know! I'm not sure there's anything I want them to think anything specifically. That's the great thing about written works, you know? That people can read the same piece and go off on their own tangents. But it'd be nice if something I wrote made them feel a little less lonely, a little less weird. Or rather, a little more comfortable with being weird, feeling things that others don't necessarily do.

AS: Who/what/where influences your work?

CJL: Everything—books I read, people I meet and talk to, places I go. I think everything finds a way into the stuff you write. Sometimes it's obviously manifest, sometimes you're reacting against something. The universe is constantly feeding you! But as a literature student, the books I read are of course, a major influence. For instance, I read Dermot Healy's "A Goat's Song" a while back and I couldn't get it out of my head. I still can't actually, not entirely. It sounds really weird but that novel has the wind of Ireland in it! It's an amazing work and I highly recommend it. Then I went to Ireland, talked to some of the people, and before I knew it, I had a couple of poems written about Ireland!

AS: On the day you release your book (September 4), you’re doing a reading with Math Paper Press. What's the event going to be like?

CJL: Well, it's basically me being awkward in front of several people. I get very uncomfortable when there's any kind of attention on me so a lot of squirming and grimaces that I try to pass off as smiles. But I'm going to read a couple of poems from the book and then hang out with whoever turns up. It's very informal. We'll party it up like we're 80-year-olds who just discovered that walking canes help us stand up a little straighter. I highly recommend that anyone who's in the area i.e Singapore and join the wild party.

AS: Last question! What expired things were we always eating?

CJL: Haha! Urgh, too many. Whipped cream—I sprayed a whole can into my mouth before I realized... It was a very dark day. Chocolates. Milk, which is so toxic. Oranges. Ice cream. And I just had expired soup a couple of weeks ago. After that, it felt like I had been through so much I spent the rest of the day lying on the floor watching “Chuck.” I just opened my fridge and I can see a whole shelf full of expired chocolates and biscuits, but those aren't so bad. I'm really bad at cleaning out my fridge.

Cheryl Julia Lee is a member of the Burn After Reading (Singapore) collective. Her work has been published in QLRS, The Adroit Journal, and Prick of the Spindle, among others. Her first poetry collection, We Were Always Eating Expired Things, will be published on September 4th by Math Paper Press. She is currently a postgraduate student at Trinity College Dublin.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, originally from South Florida. Recently, her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Blog, SOFTBLOW, The Louisville Review, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the Blog Editor and Director of Social Media Relations for The Adroit Journal, and also works for BOAAT Press and Dzanc Books.

Staff Spotlight: Jules Wood, Poetry Reader by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling

Meet Jules Wood, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley. As if Jules's poetic undertakings as Editor-in-Chief of the illustrious Berkeley Poetry Review weren't enough, she also uses her editorial position to promote the voices of marginalized groups. In this week's Staff Spotlight, I talk to Jules about editing, writing, and the social implications of poetry.


Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: This year, you’re the Editor-in-Chief of the Berkeley Poetry Review. What is your past with BPR? How were you selected for the job?

Jules Wood, Adroit Poetry Reader: Actually, I was Editor-in-Chief for issue 44 as well!  Co-editor, that is. Noor Al-Samarrai and I were both chosen to be managing editors for the 43rd issue and worked so well together that we decided to take on the role of editor-in-chief when the previous editor moved on.  Noor graduated in the spring (and is doing some fantastic work with maps and urban spaces), so 45 is left to me alonebut I'm really grateful that I had her support through the publication of our first issue.


AS: What makes Berkeley Poetry Review different from other literary publications?

JW: BPR is one of the oldest and most well-known fully undergraduate-run journals (we were founded in 1974).  Most university journals are presided over by a faculty member or graduate students, but BPR's content is solely chosen by our undergraduate staff.  We have the fantastic poet C.S. Giscombe as an advisor, and he's an invaluable resource, as he currently edits the Mixed Blood Project and was the editor of Epoch Magazine for many years.  But he doesn't directly influence what is accepted into the journal.  He doesn't even read it until after it's published, unless we want his advice on something specific.  There's a lot of trust placed in our hands as poets and scholars and leaders and while especially as managing editor in my sophomore year that felt terrifying, now, in my final year, I feel like it's made me a stronger poet and editor to only have my peers standing between my decisions and the opinions of the poetry community.  So, I think BPR has a lot of guts.  I think our freedom often makes us choose the poet who risks more, rather than the one we fully understand and recognize. I think it makes for a jaggedand through that roughness a more diverse, thought-generating, and excitingjournal.


AS: What do you think makes a poem stick out to you as an editor? Is that different from what sticks out to you as a reader?

... we want poetry from people of color, we want poetry from women, we want poetry from queer and non-binary individuals.

JW: I've always liked the images people use to describe such intangible things like "what made me read that particular poem that closely"— like this, "stick out."  What makes a poem become thin and three-dimensional and leave a shadow on my laptop screen?  So the way that our editorial process works, every poem is read by several readers, and the poems that receive a positive vote are read by the entire staff in our weekly meetingbut I skim everything before I send a rejection.  So for me, reading the thousands of poems that didn't quite get a positive vote from their assigned readers, I think form is often what catches my attention.  I'm sure to read a poem that deviates from straightforward delineation a little more closely.  Of course, if the form ends up seeming arbitrary, I'll pass it on, but some of the strongest poems we've published have engaged with their forms in a multivalent, productive way.  Another thing I look out for is "strange" syntax if my brain, usually so numb to easily-processed syntax, trips, then I know to look more closely at how the poet is using language.  Again, a great way to find an interesting piece while moving quickly.


AS: Do you ever find that your editorial work affects your writing style?

JW: Yes, absolutely. When I'm reading a book of poems out in the world, I'll usually be rather generous with it — if I don't care for a decision the poet made, I make note of it and move on.  I approach books with the goal of learning as much from them as possible, since I'm taking the time to read them.  I don't mean to say that I don't look to learn from our submissions I absolutely do, daily — but I am forced to be more critical.  I can't accept a poem that has a lot of moments that I admire but that doesn't ultimately add up to a finished piece, or a poem that has a fantastic concept behind it outlined in the cover letter but which doesn't stand on its own.  So I find myself more and more occupying an editorial role with my own poetry.  Is that stanza a productive interruption, or an indulgent language-spree?  Does this poem benefit from being a sonnet, or should it remain 13 lines? Are adjectives really necessary?  As opposed to exploring, in the kind of retroactive way I hear a lot of other poets describe, why they wrote the poem the way I did.  I sometimes miss the generosity I used to have with myself, but I like the poems I'm writing now, and that matters to me more than the ease of process.


AS: Are you planning to make any changes to BPR as Editor-in-Chief this year?

Poetry is often, and maybe inevitably, political as it adopts the most charged language and the most clear rhetoric of the time in which it is written, and the people experiencing these conflicts, whether directly or through shared understanding of oppression, have access to the language that poetry needs.

JW: I feel like BPR has made many excellent changes recently.  For one thing, we updated our "mission statement" to include not just a call for great poetry — but great poetry that engages actively with prevailing conceptions of race, gender, ecology, and poetic form itself, what the staff of BPR views as forming the core of the most important (and artistically generative) conversations of our time.  BPR has always been political, and this new statement is what we need to publish what matters. What this means is we want poetry from people of color, we want poetry from women, we want poetry from queer and non-binary individuals.  The Berkeley campus is a large, diverse space, with room for many, sometimes disparate voices, and it's important to us to recreate that space that we often love, often feel safe in, but that more importantly makes us think and speak deeply. We try to spread this message by finding minority-specific spaces for calls for submissions, clearly stating our mission on our website and social media profiles, and most importantly by actively publishing and promoting the voices we seek.


AS: Why do you think it’s important to showcase underrepresented groups of writers?

JW: There seems to be a huge disconnect between how disenfranchised groups are being represented in media and what is happening on the ground in oppressed communities in the United States.  As a friend of mine pointed out earlier, it is appalling and ridiculous to see pictures of Taylor Swift dancing in front of a line of twerking black women on the same Tumblr feed as you see pictures of women of color in Ferguson, MO, protesting the murder of a community member in the face of police brutality.  As women like Janet Mock speak out so clearly and eloquently about their experiences, trans women, especially of color, are facing stigma and staggering levels of violence.  Poetry is often, and maybe inevitably, political as it adopts the most charged language and the most clear rhetoric of the time in which it is written, and the people experiencing these conflicts, whether directly or through shared understanding of oppression, have access to the language that poetry needs.


AS: In terms of your own writing, what have you been working on lately? What do you have planned for the future?

JW: Oh goodness, this feels a little embarrassing to talk about after all that.  As a white, queer, femme, cis female, I'm finding it more and more important to use my creative work to unpack my various and somewhat conflicting identities, see where they intersect, see where they want to speak to one another.  I've approached this project in many ways -- I've written from a personal place about my experiences in high school in Mississippi, but using a dizzying form; I've cut up books by famously racist poets until their language represents their politics; I've collaged words from old science textbooks until they're decidedly queer; I've mentioned makeup in almost every poem I've written.  Again responding to the question about whether my editorial work affects my writing, this is obviously another place where it does: in searching for work to include in BPR, I discovered what poetry I felt was most necessary, and I've started to try to contribute to that body.

Jules Wood is a senior studying literature of the African diaspora at UC Berkeley, and is current editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Poetry Review. In 2010, she won a silver award for poetry in the YoungArts program, where she returns every January to mentor young writers as a Resident Advisor.  Her poetry has appeared in Word Riot, The Cossack Review, and The Adroit Journal.


Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, originally from South Florida. Recently, her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Blog, SOFTBLOW, The Louisville Review, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the Blog Editor and Director of Social Media Relations for The Adroit Journal, and also works for BOAAT Press and Dzanc Books.


Feminist Fridays: What's the Deal with Jane Eyre? by Amanda Silberling

Student writers should check out our free, annual online Summer Mentorship Program, which opens to applications every year in mid-February, as well as our Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose, which recognize spectacular high school and college writers each year. You may also like to check out some additional helpful content we have for high school students, such as Vol. I of our Dear Writer: Tips for Young Writers Series and Thirteen Colleges Every High School Writer Should Consider.

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Get Notified About New Feminist Fridays

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This week, I’m reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (go pick it up—it’s awesome), so I’ve been thinking a lot about how feminism manifests itself in literature. I think it’s hard for any modern female writer not to wonder how literature has historically represented her gender. So that’s why at the Adroit blog, we’re launching the Feminist Fridays series. We want to talk about what makes a character, writer, or piece of writing feminist, and how the evolution of society impacts the way that we write about women in literature.

 The real question, though, is if that silhouette's messy hairdo is feminist.

The real question, though, is if that silhouette's messy hairdo is feminist.

To start, I would like to point out that the feminist criticism of literature isn’t about playing the “Feminist or Not Feminist?” game. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not we can bang a gavel and definitively call a piece of literature feminist. But it’s important to be able to determine the feminist merits of literature because of the implications and social influence that literature can have. After all, do we want a teen girl in her high school English class to learn from her reading material that her purpose in life is to serve her husband? I sure hope not. But sometimes, I find it hard to look at the women of classic literature and think, “Yes! This is the kind of woman that I want to be.”

When literary scholarship is so ingrained in older works, how do we evaluate literature through a modern feminist lens?

Before examining the feminist merit of a novel, we need to define what feminism means. I think that feminism is about having complete and total agency over our lifestyle and choices, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and any other facet of our being.  

Let’s talk Charlotte Brontë. If you’ve never read Jane Eyre, this is the part where you go read the SparkNotes summary.

Jane Eyre is widely considered to be one of the first feminist novels, but I’ve never been sold on the idea. I do believe, though, that within the context of Victorian England, Jane Eyre could be considered feminist, but only to an extent. This is the crux of the problem, though—society has (thankfully) grown enough in the past couple hundred of years that what may have seemed incredibly feminist in the nineteenth century is antithetical to twenty-first century feminism. Jane’s actions are deeply rooted in her moral beliefs, and the ability to make conscious lifestyle choices for herself is inarguably feminist. But when I look at Jane’s choices through a contemporary lens, I can’t help but feel that, despite her moral character, she fails to fully liberate herself from an oppressive, marriage-obsessed culture.

Jane Eyre focuses largely on the gothic, mysterious relationship between Jane and Rochester, the man who owns the estate where Jane is a governess. As I flip through my copy of Jane Eyre, I notice an uncomfortable trend: from chapters thirteen through eighteen, each chapter’s opening sentence centers on Mr. Rochester. It's okay to be boy-crazy (and still feminist!), but come on, Jane, seriously? Get it together.

On her wedding day, Jane finds out that Rochester is already married to a manic woman trapped in the attic of the estate (Okay, Rochester. Totally not creepy.). After the wedding is called off, Brontë writes that Jane “was a cold, solitary girl again: her life was pale; her prospects were desolate.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not too keen on the message that life is “desolate” without a man to marry.

Shortly after the reveal, Rochester implores Jane to begin their life together far away in a romantic French villa. Although Jane is in love with Rochester and admits that she would enjoy life with him in France, she chooses not to go with him because she is afraid of being considered his mistress, since they aren’t married. Instead, Jane tries to support herself by working various jobs around the countryside until she faints on a doorstep.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not we can bang a gavel and definitively call a piece of literature feminist. But it’s important to be able to determine the feminist merits of literature because of the implications and social influence that literature can have.

Jane’s decision not to go to France is often considered to be The Pinnacle of Feminism—she refuses to be anything less than Rochester’s wife. While the choice to put her self-esteem above a man is admirable, I can’t help but feel frustrated that Jane would throw away the prospect of a happy, romantic life in a French villa just because she prizes the institution of marriage enough to believe that only a legal document can validate her relationship.

Marriage has its place in modern society, but it’s hard to deny that its origins were inherently patriarchal. Still, I would find it more appealing if Jane decided that she cared more about her personal happiness than whether she would potentially be considered a mistress… But of course, what’s a good book without some heart-breaking conflict?

Fast-forward a bit in the plot. A man named St. John asks Jane to marry him and work as a missionary in India. Jane declines because she does not love him. This time, I’ll go ahead and cheer Jane on. She knows that she won’t truly be happy if she marries a man for the sake of convenience, and the fact that she has the right to make this decision is a step in the right direction. Good for you, Jane.

Later, Jane returns to Rochester’s estate, only to find out that a fire killed his wife—in other words, Rochester is no longer married. He is, however, physically handicapped and blind. Only after Rochester’s physical state deteriorates can Jane feel like his equal. Jane says, “perhaps it was that circumstance that drew us so very near--that knit us so very close: for I was then his vision, as I am still his right hand.” Jane derives happiness from her ability to service Rochester; the relationship brings her joy because she feels useful, and only from her utility can she feel loved and respected.

 And they all lived happily ever after... right?

And they all lived happily ever after... right?

Brontë portrays this as a happy ending, but from a feminist perspective, I’m not happy.

Let’s start with the flawed concept that a man and a woman aren’t equal until the man is maimed by a giant fire. From Brontë’s perspective, Jane and Rochester can’t have a functional marriage until their relationship is mutually beneficial. Love and respect are not enough—Rochester must benefit when Jane takes care of him in his weakened physical state, and Jane must benefit when she elevates her social status by marrying a rich man.

I reject the idea that Jane was inferior to Rochester to begin with. Sure, he is of a much higher social class (Jane was a governess in his estate, remember?), but if they are in a truly healthy relationship, this shouldn’t matter.

I think this is what makes me feel so uncomfortable when Jane Eyre is referred to as a major feminist novel. Let’s stop insisting that the ideal woman is a morally-guided Christ figure and start giving women the power to make life choices that don’t depend on marriage and child-rearing. Let’s separate our self-worth from our relationship status, and when we do find a suitable partner, let’s consider them our equals on the simple basis that we are human beings who respect each other, and not on the basis of codependency.

Although Jane Eyre bordered on radical at the time of its publication—so radical that Brontë published it under a male name—I don’t think that we can consider Jane a feminist role model in the twenty-first century. Instead, literature should function as an education in how society has evolved since the 1840s, and how Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë lacked the social mobility to fit my mold—my twenty-first century American mold—of what a modern feminist role model should be. Jane’s journey towards understanding herself and finding peace is lodged in her relationships with men, and I don’t think that the novel can send a holistically feminist message when Jane’s self-worth and happiness are so strongly affected by the men in her life. 

But in Victorian England, a woman’s social mobility was closely related with her romantic relationships. As Roxane Gay writes in Bad Feminist, “feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.” So maybe Jane is a “bad feminist.” Maybe in a modern Jane Eyre, Jane would have had an option to better herself and her life in ways that didn’t involve marriage.

I don’t blame Charlotte Brontë for living when she lived, but I still wish that Jane Eyre wasn’t so widely considered to be the quintessential feminist novel. Morality is great and all, Jane, but I think that there are other protagonists out there who can more effectively prove to women that they are people who matter outside of their reproductive and marital abilities.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, originally from South Florida. Recently, her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Blog, SOFTBLOW, The Fat City ReviewThe Louisville Review, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the Blog Editor and Director of Social Media Relations for The Adroit Journal, and also works for BOAAT Press and Dzanc Books.

Again, high school writers should check out our free, annual online Summer Mentorship Program, which opens to applications every year in mid-February, as well as our Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose, which recognize spectacular high school and college writers each year. You may also like to check out some additional helpful content we have for high school students, such as the Vol. I of our Dear Writer: Tips for Young Writers Series.

Staff Spotlight: Elizabeth Ballou, Prose Editor by Amanda Silberling

by Amanda Silberling 

What happens when a fiction writer is thrown into a whirlwind of online journalism? We call it magic, at least when said fiction writer is Adroit Prose Editor Elizabeth Ballou. Elizabeth bravely and expertly publishes her opinions on topics like feminism, sexual assault, and mental illness, making us proud here at Adroit. In this week's Staff Spotlight, Elizabeth Ballou and I talk about women's issues, sheep, angry internet commenters, video games, and much, much more. 


Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: Lately, you’ve been writing a lot for Bustle’s Lifestyle section. How did that come about?

Elizabeth Ballou, Prose Editor: I was originally made aware of Bustle when I wrote an article about my experiences with sexual assault at the University of Virginia. One of the Bustle editors saw it, and she asked to exclusively republish it. I was more than happy to have it reach a wider audience, so I said yes. Several months later, I noticed that they had intern positions open and thought that, if they had already found my writing to be a good fit for them once, they'd be interested in more of it. Long story short: they were.


AS: Your Bustle articles are very frequently published. How do you come up with so many topics to write about?

EB: My lovely editor Julie's expectation of me is that I'll write three articles each day I work, for a total of nine a week. At first, this seemed utterly contradictory to everything I had been taught about writing, but news and creative writing are completely different beasts.  To generate lots of articles, I sit down at my computer around 8:30 each morning and trawl the web for promising topics. These can be anything, from lighthearted subject matter like funny videos/cute animals to more serious issues such as gender violence and climate change. I write up catchy blurbs for each topic I find, and Julie then selects three of these pitches for me to write about.


AS: Some of your pieces, including the Virginia sexual assault one, are (very insightful) reports about feminism, rape culture, mental health issues, etc. Do you find it difficult to write about issues that you may have had personal experience with?

Writing for an audience is a cathartic experience, since I know I’m baring my most personal memories for other people to read about. It’s a way of dealing with them, of figuring out what the narrative was all along.

EB: I truly enjoy writing these articles when I can add my own experience to them. The most fulfilling ones are personal essays, in which I draw mostly or completely on my own life. I find it far more freeing than anything else to discuss issues like assault and depression (which are my two most personal pieces). Writing for an audience is a cathartic experience, since I know I'm baring my most personal memories for other people to read about. It's a way of dealing with them, of figuring out what the narrative was all along. As people, our lives are composed of these little stories. By figuring out what these stories are and how to tell them, we can connect with others in a way that I think is unparalleled.

Although I've learned that not everybody thinks this way...


AS: What kind of feedback have you received?

EB: For the most part, it’s been extremely positive. I've gotten to highlight movements and issues that I think are really important, such as street harassment and casual sexism. Most people who reach out to me are doing so because they also think, "Yeah, street harassment sucks! Also, "Women Against Feminism" just don't know what feminism means!" and they're glad to see someone writing about it. However, sometimes I get attacked for believing in feminism, or just speaking my mind in general. The article I wrote about why "Women Against Feminism" don't know what they're talking about got a lot of flak on Twitter. Plenty of people insulted my intelligence. And in response to the article I wrote about dating someone with depression, I got an awful tweet from a friend of a friend that insulted me as a writer and a person. I ended up working that situation out and she took the tweet down, but damn if it isn't hard to let those things bother you!

I'm supposed to retweet everything I write for Bustle, but last week, I asked my editor if I could shut down my Twitter, and she agreed.


AS: How do you deal with the negativity, especially when most of it is just general ignorance?

EB: Uh...I'll be honest, mostly complaining to people! My family and friends are extremely supportive of me. They're always willing to offer a little positive reinforcement.

Also, when people respond to me on a personal level, it means so much more than anyone attacking me. For the article I wrote about depression, I had a lot of people contact me and say, "Your situation is so similar to mine. Thank you for helping me to see that other people are also going through this." It's hard to focus on the negativity after that!


AS: Do you find that there’s a big difference between writing fiction and journalism?

EB: There are miles of difference between them—or at least, between my particular kind of fiction and the particular kind of journalism that I'm currently writing. Although Bustle doesn't publish bad writing by any means, it's not The New Yorker either. Articles are supposed to be catchy, snappy, and short. You get in, tell your readers the facts, give it a brief personal spin to make it different from other news outlets' articles on the same subject, and get out. Fiction, on the other hand, is about crafting something beautiful. It's kind of like whittling sticks vs. cutting down trees for lumber. I might write 500 words a day for a short story and 2,000 for my Bustle articles - and each short story takes me at least a week of steady, solid effort, whereas my articles only take an hour or so by necessity. Most of my articles for Bustle are meant to inform and educate, while short stories are meant to allow someone to imagine herself into another person's world for a few pages.


AS: What’s your favorite prose piece that Adroit has ever published?

When people respond to me on a personal level, it means so much more than anyone attacking me.

EB: I think it's a tie between "Josephine March Sighs With You," by Erin Kelly, and "How to Keep Animals from Defecating in Your Closet," by Mary Sheffield. "Josephine March" is creepy, almost surreal, but enthralling. As the reader, you fall under the spell of the woman with fifteen-foot-long hair (which is named Josephine March, and which becomes the woman's child, in a way). The short, vivid sentences are perfect for evoking this bizarre character. "Animals" is a phenomenal example of the "command"-style story, because almost every sentence is an imperative (think "Girls," by Jamaica Kincaid, or Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliché?"). The story is filled with strong imagery. You can imagine these animals filling up the space around you, making you claustrophobic.

Also, both stories deal with the question of sanity vs. insanity, and how to deal with obsession, which I love.


AS: This summer, you hosted a retreat for Adroit staff—how did that go? Any funny, incriminating stories? 

EB: The retreat was a blast. My family has a farm in New Hampshire, so several of us gathered there to discuss problems that Adroit is facing, the nature of writing, the nature of being young and writing, the nature of being young and stressed out and writing, the nature of the universe, the nature of sheep, etc.

Kate Frain [Poetry Editor] wrote a poem that mentions our sheep. I was pleased. Also, when we visited Lake Winnepesaukee for a swim, Miles [Hewitt, Poetry Reader] seemed unsure as to whether it was the Atlantic Ocean or not. (He denies ever doubting that it was a lake.) Oh, and we watched "Her," but we decided to stop it 2/3 of the way through to trick ourselves into thinking that it was a happy movie. In our version, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson's voice are together forever.


AS: Imagine that you’re publishing a piece that will reach every computer screen in America—what is this piece, and how do people react?

EB: Ooh. It would definitely be a video game. Which I know sounds totally out-there, but hear me out! A good video game has a lot in common with quality fiction: well-written characters, a gripping story, an intriguing setting, etc. I see many video games as interactive fiction more than anything else. The best games immerse you in their world and completely connect you to other things or people. Prime examples of this are games like Gone Home and The Stanley Parable, where the point is not to shoot the bejesus out of everything you see, but to unravel a story and then compare your experiences to those of other players.

I'm currently developing a short, story-based game with several friends that's inspired by the swan maiden myth. Not even in my wildest dreams could it reach every computer screen in America, but maybe it will reach a few!

Elizabeth Ballou's essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in Prick of the Spindle, Crack the Spine, Spry, {tap}, The Adroit Journal, Bustle Magazine, and many others. After being shortlisted for the 2012 Adroit Prizes in Fiction, she was invited to join the staff, where she currently serves as Prose Editor. She has been recognized by Rider University, the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and the Best of the Net awards, and has read her work at the 2013 New York City Poetry Festival. She’s a rising third-year student at the University of Virginia, studying creative writing, Spanish, and linguistics, and recently studied in Valencia, Spain. When not writing, she can be found making cheesecake and wishing she were as funny as David Sedaris. Check out some of her original work at Letters of Mist, or visit Everyday Folktales for some surprising and entertaining storytelling from around the world.

Amanda Silberling is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, originally from South Florida. Recently, her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Blog, SOFTBLOW, The Fat City ReviewThe Louisville Review, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the Blog Editor and Director of Social Media Relations for The Adroit Journal, and also works for BOAAT Press and Dzanc Books.

Dear Adroit: Advice for Teens, from Teens (August Edition) by Amanda Silberling

by Amanda Silberling

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 7.52.06 PM.png

Welcome back to Dear Adroit! Once a month, I take questions from teenage Adroit readers and do my best to give them guidance. In our August Edition, we discuss how to know if your writing is "good," who you should ask to edit your writing, and why everyone makes snide jokes about genre fiction. 


Dear Adroit,

I love writing, but I'm never sure my writing is good. I never know who to ask to edit it—do I ask my friends? They're willing to read it, but is their advice good? Other than that, who do I ask? Teachers? Parents? Help!

—Subdued Scribbler


I hesitate to use terms like “good” or “bad” writing. Rather, you want to determine what it is that you like to read, what writing skills you want to develop, and what you want your writing to express. The quality of writing is relative to the reader. Before you can decide whether you think your writing is “good” or not, you need to determine your own definition of “good.”

For example, I’ve noticed that my favorite poems are centered around surreal, uncanny imagery, and have a smooth, musical rhythm. So when I’m working on a poem and see that I wrote something bland like “the bird flew to the tree,” I try to craft that image into something more surprising, yet still concise. Look at your favorite pieces of writing and try to distinguish a common thread. Maybe you’re a short story writer who loves dialogue-heavy prose, or maybe you’re a playwright who loves work with gothic elements. All of these factors will influence your definition of what “good” writing is.

Right now, I’m reading both “A Village Life” by Louise Gluck and “O Holy Insurgency” by Mary Biddinger. Both are amazing books, but I know that Mary Biddinger’s poetry is much more resonant with my style and my vision of what I want my writing to be. And that doesn’t mean that there is nothing for me to learn from Louise Gluckeven if I’m not the type of writer to depict serene villages in the Mediterranean, I still think that Louise Gluck is an amazing writer. Just reading her work and noticing what she does to make her poems effective is a great education for me. In short, “good” is an ever-changing definitionI wonder how many people are reading this and thinking, “Are you kidding? Louise Gluck is my guiding light of inspiration!”

As far as editing goes, that can vary. My parents do not know much about poetry, so I would never approach them for editing advice, and my non-literary friends don’t even understand my poems, so that’s also a no. It’s nice to hear what the non-writer folk think, but if your friends think that poetry always rhymes and hate their English classes, you may want to take what they say with a grain of salt.

I find that it’s incredibly helpful to have a small (or large) community of writer friends that you can exchange work with. Whether you find these people by editing for a journal, attending a writing workshop, posting online, or even by joining a club at school, it’s important that you have some writer friends who are always willing to exchange work with you. And when you edit your friends’ work and see what is effective or not in their writing, those observations will help you with your own writing as well.

Once you have some solid critique exchanges going, keep in mind that you don’t always have to accept someone’s edits. No matter what any friend, editor, or teacher tells you, your opinion of your work always comes first. The trick, though, is to read and write enough to view your writing objectively. And how do you develop an objective point-of-view? Practice.


Dear Adroit,

I've been hearing lots of divisions between literary and genre fiction lately, and it shreds my nonexistent heart since I love reading and writing both literary and genre fiction. I've heard people who I respect say that even if we started now and read to the end of our lives, there'd still be no way to read all the great literature in the world. As a result, I'm having a bit of a crisis—is it even worth it to read and write genre fiction, considering that there are "greater" books out there? Time is, after all, limited.

—Bewildered Bookworm

 I wish I were joking.

I wish I were joking.

Genre fiction is sort of the literary world’s big inside joke. Walk into a room of Serious Writers and say “genre fiction” and everyone will start snickering in superiority.

Okay, so genre fiction isn’t all bad. It just gets a negative reputation because of the state of the publishing world. If you’re a literary fiction writer, you’re going to want to publish via independent presses. This summer, I’m working for Dzanc Books, an independent publisher, and it’s really refreshing to see a publishing house truly care about the novel’s literary merit, rather than how much money it will make. But unfortunately, most big publishing houses need money to stay alive and pay hundreds of employees. That’s why when you’re at Barnes & Noble, you’re not going to find an array of novels from independent literary publishers instead, you will find an entire section dedicated to “new teen paranormal romance.”

Generally speaking, the really big publishing houses are looking to publish manuscripts that are going to make them money, and for better or for worse, most people like to read trashy vampire romance novels, as opposed to "Ulysses." This is what genre fiction refers to-- science fiction, romance, fantasy, etc. When "Twilight" and "Fifty Shades of Grey" are the poster-children for the entire romance and fantasy genres, it's kind of hard to not make fun of genre fiction.

If it makes you happy to read genre fiction, do it. Life’s too short to read all of “Infinite Jest” just so that you can brag to your friends about how cultured you are. Sure, it may seem like a better use of your time to read “the classics,” as opposed to a YA novel about werewolves, but I binge watch "Gossip Girl" on Netflix all the time, so it could always be worse!

Anything on your mind? I want to hear it. E-mail me at, and you just might be featured in a forthcoming edition of Dear Adroit!


Et tu, Bookstore? Then Fall, Lit Mag by Amanda Silberling

by Amanda Silberling

  The Strand Bookstore, New York City

The Strand Bookstore, New York City

If two Adroiters are in NYC at the same time and don't go to The Strand Bookstore together, were they actually in NYC at all? With the NYC Poetry Festival last weekend, Manhattan burst at the seams with Adroit friends from as far as Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, and in my case, Florida. 

When Editor-in-Chief Peter LaBerge and I inevitably hit The Strand, we expected the usual kid-in-a-candy store effect that this iconic bookstore has on us—but instead, we were confronted with the upsetting fatality of the literary magazine.

Picture this: An awkwardly lanky, six-foot-something editor and his frizzy-haired, blog-editing sidekick trek through stacks of books, searching for the elusive lit mag section. Though the extensive shelves of used poetry are a fun distraction, the two Adroiters cannot locate the heavenly array of Tin House and AGNI back issues, and must ask Strand employees for help. 

“Hi, where do you have literary magazines?” asks Peter.

“We don’t carry them,” says a bearded, millennial hipster. We ask another employee. 

“Excuse me,” says Peter. “Do you carry literary magazines? I bought some here in March, but I can’t find them now.”

“Magazines? You mean like Rolling Stone and Vogue? Second floor.”

Though fashion is incredibly poetic, Vogue isn’t exactly what we’re looking for. We head down to the Strand basement, where the subway rattles beside us (not to be mistaken for copies of Rattle). Just one large fan attempts to cool the entire floor. 

“Hey,” says Peter, dejected. “You have literary magazines, right? I’ve bought them here before, but now they’re not here. I know you guys sell them—I’m not crazy.” 

  Editor-in-Chief Peter LaBerge loses all hope

Editor-in-Chief Peter LaBerge loses all hope

“I dunno, man,” says yet another bearded, millennial hipster. “I’m the guy who sorts through all the books we get, and I’ve never seen literary magazines… I’ve been working here for years.” 

After flagging down every employee we can find, Peter and I finally accept that The Strand—our own personal heaven, the supposed greatest place on earth, the possible location of our weddings—no longer carries literary magazines. We purchase some books of poetry (I buy “This Clumsy Living” by Bob Hicok; Peter buys “A Map of the Lost World” by Rick Hilles) and try to find the nearest place in Union Square that sells large iced teas. 

Although I’d like to think that my book-buying disappointments are blog-worthy on their own, the truth is that there’s more to this issue than the lack of lit mags on my bookshelf. 

We writers are an endangered bunch. And generally speaking, publishing in literary magazines is the pathway to credibility. Writing for intrinsic growth is a beautiful thing, but to make a career of writing, publication is a necessary evil. Though we may not like to admit it, whose novel manuscript do you think will get more attention: the person who writes on commercial breaks during The Bachelorette, or the person who recently appeared in The Kenyon Review and Ploughshares? But if one of the most famous bookstores in America doesn’t even sell literary magazines anymore, how do emerging writers find an audience?

Some of today’s most iconic works were originally published in literary magazines—nearly all of J.D. Salinger’s stories first appeared in The New Yorker, as did Edith Wharton’s in The Atlantic Monthly. These publications had a large enough readership to launch the careers of nearly every name we hear in our high school English classes—but what about now? 

Sometimes, I’ll hear writers joking around and qualifying their rejections by saying, “Whatever—no one reads literary magazines except for the people in them.” But I don’t think that’s a joke anymore. It’s a fact. To the average guy on the street, there is no difference between The Paris Review and The YOLO Pages.

So maybe our beloved Adroit isn’t the all-important literary landmine, explosive and groundbreaking, that we fantasize it is.  But we exist. We, along with innumerable other online journals, exist, and we exist loudly. We will not quiet down any time soon.

Change isn’t always awful. It seems that only the literary giants are left in print, but when we publish in reputable online magazines, our writing reaches thousands of people in an instant. At this point, when print magazines cost money and are a rarity even in the country’s most famous bookstores, many writers actually prefer publishing online.  

I’ll be the first to admit that reading is much more fulfilling when we flip pages, rather than click a “next” button. But when a seventy-page literary magazine can cost fifteen dollars plus shipping, it’s just not realistic to make that purchase, and there’s not enough demand for publishers to sell their literary magazines at affordable prices. 

So how do we get the literary magazine back on top? How do we get the general public interested in contemporary literature again?

We read. We share. We grow. 

Adroit Visits the 2014 NYC Poetry Festival, in Review by Amanda Silberling

by Amanda Silberling

 Adroit NYCPF readers + Editor-in-Chief Peter LaBerge

Adroit NYCPF readers + Editor-in-Chief Peter LaBerge

This Saturday, The Adroit Journal read at the New York City Poetry Festival for the second year in a row. Despite a nerve-wracking rainfall just before Adroit was slated to take the stage, we're happy to report that our reading was a success! Thanks to everyone who came out to the reading, and of course, to the wonderful people at the Festival. We're so excited to return in 2015.

If you couldn't make the festival, don't worry! We have some awesome video, which may or may not have been recorded on an iPhone under an umbrella (rain is kind of bad for cameras, okay). 

Talin Tahajian

In time, when we open our mouths, entire aviaries will spill out. Leakage. A type of storm that matters in what you would call ‘the grand scheme of things.’
— Talin Tahajian


Sam Ross

I can’t even look at flies without feeling them in my mouth.
— Sam Ross


Caleb Kaiser

Days we were made of currents instead of veins, of clay and fresh-kill, I loved you enough to pulp my lungs into yours, to slip a straw between your ribs.
— Caleb Kaiser


J. Scott Brownlee

I put my skull in a polished bull’s mouth, and his fits perfectly outside like helmet.
— J. Scott Brownlee