A Moonshine Murmurs Guide to reading- and eating- this Thanksgiving

by Lindley Estes

It’s Thanksgiving eve. And here at Moonshine Murmur’s we’re taking our feast with a heavy side of reading. Read on to find out your favorite author’s holiday dishes and pick up a few ideas for your own Thanksgiving celebration.

Get Ephron’s wit and recipes  here .

Get Ephron’s wit and recipes here.

Nora Ephron shared in her novel Heartburn that the ultimate comfort food is mashed potatoes.

She wrote, “Nothing like mashed potatoes when you're feeling blue. Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a thin cold slice of butter to every forkful. The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you're feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let's face it: the reason you're blue is that there isn't anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it's almost always at the wrong time.”

She even shares the recipe—and a little melancholy humor—in the book:

“For mashed potatoes: Put 1 large (or 2 small) potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes, until tender. Drain and place the potatoes back in the pot and shake over low heat to eliminate excess moisture. Peel. Put through a potato ricer and immediately add 1 tablespoon heavy cream and as much melted butter and salt and pepper as you feel like. Eat immediately. Serves one.”

Philip Roth was not known for being concise, and in his Pulitzer-Prize winning American Pastoral he waxes on about that dish at the center of all Thanksgiving tables:

Turkey. Pie. Sides. It really is the best time of year for readers and eaters.

Turkey. Pie. Sides. It really is the best time of year for readers and eaters.

“And it was never but once a year that they were brought together anyway, and that was on the neutral, dereligionized ground of Thanksgiving, when everybody gets to eat the same thing, nobody sneaking off to eat funny stuff—no kugel, no gefilte fish, no bitter herbs, just one colossal turkey for two hundred and fifty million people—one colossal turkey feeds all. A moratorium on funny foods and funny ways and religious exclusivity, a moratorium on the three-thousand-year-old nostalgia of the Jews, a moratorium on Christ and the crucifixion for the Christians, when everyone in New Jersey and elsewhere can be more irrational about their irrationalities than they are the rest of the year. A moratorium on all the grievances and resentments, and not only for the Dwyers and the Levovs but for everyone in America who is suspicious of everyone else. It is the American pastoral par excellence and it lasts twenty-four hours.”

Need a recipe for turkey for 250,000,000? Saveur has you covered here.

Not a fan on turkey? “The Chubby Vegetarian” blog has a whole host of tasty veggie options for your holiday main here.

“…just one colossal turkey for two hundred and fifty million people—one colossal turkey feeds all.”

Pie. Lovely, lovely pie. It’s a favorite of many authors. When asked why New Englanders eat pie for breakfast, Ralph Waldo Emerson once replied: “What [else] is pie for?”Jack Kerouac was known to be partial to apple. Hunter S. Thompson loved key lime.

But in Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, he writers talks about the distinctly American foods the narrator misses outside of the country: “Apple pie. Apple fritters. Apple puffs, Southern style. Peach cobbler, Southern style. Peach pie. American mince pie. Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.”

I’d venture he liked a slice of huckleberry pie, too. Whatever your favorite flavor is, this list from Food & Wine has you covered for last-minute pie-making.

“perfect ambrosia, transparent orange slices combined with freshly ground coconut”

There’s never too much ambrosia.

There’s never too much ambrosia.

True crime springs to mind with Truman Capote before a holiday catalog of recipes, but in “A Thanksgiving Visitor” he describes a full feast. The short story, a sequel to Capote's “A Christmas Memory,” was originally published in McCall's magazine, and was later published as a book by Random House.

He explains what’s on the table: “perfect ambrosia, transparent orange slices combined with freshly ground coconut… a dish of whipped sweet potatoes and raisins… a delicious array of vegetables canned during the summer… a cold banana pudding—a guarded recipe of the ancient aunt who, despite her longevity, was still domestically energetic.”

We all have that one aunt. And who doesn’t love a good ambrosia? Alton Brown has you covered for that recipe here.

How we all lovingly gaze at leftovers.

How we all lovingly gaze at leftovers.

People forget that along with his prescient musings on the fate of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald was very, very funny. In his book of letters and notes The Crack-Up, Fitzgerald spends pages discussing “Turkey Remains And How To Inter Them With Numerous Scarce Recipes.” Here are a few of his [joking] recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers:

  • Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.

  • Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.

  • Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.

  • Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.

  • Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.

Have a favorite dish or holiday-related passage? Comment and join the discussion below!


Lindley Estes is a second-year fiction student in George Mason University's Master's of Fine Arts program and an editor for Stillhouse's Moonshine Murmurs blog.

A Bookworm's Guide to Washington, D.C.

By Hannah Vandegrift

"Quiet and relaxing" and Washington D.C. seem a juxtaposition to most, but there are plenty of quiet corners around the city that provide a welcoming environment for the wandering reader. Here are some of our favorite spots to relax with a cup of coffee (or tea) and a good book.

The cafe at the Museum of the American Indian.

The cafe at the Museum of the American Indian.

Smithsonian Museums

Of course, places like the bustling Air and Space Museum, are not good places to relax, but there are a few that can be safe havens from the bustling crowds. 


My personal favorite, this museum is four floors of fascinating exhibits, as well as a restaurant and café on the bottom level. The café is a great place to charge your phone and sit down with authentic Native American cuisine or a simple cup of coffee.


One of the lesser-visited of the Smithsonians, this beautiful castle provides a welcome sanctuary. If it is warm enough, the castle’s garden area (which includes the African and Asian Art museums) is a beautiful escape from the city's busy city streets.


It might seem obvious, but art museums and galleries are a great source for quiet spaces. Wander through the halls of each museum before finding a bench or corner to settle in. Some of the galleries even offer food and beverage options, if you need to refresh.

The National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art.

The National Mall

During the warmer months, spreading out on a blanket in the grass underneath the Washington Monument or on a bench by the Reflecting Pool can be better than the beach. It's great for people-watching or lying on your back
with that great new novel.

Coffee and reading at Politics and Prose.

Coffee and reading at Politics and Prose.

Our Favorite D.C.. Bookstores

Throw and stone and you’ll hit a coffee shop or bookstore in Washington D.C. Some of the best-known ones, tucked in several locations around the city, are Busboys and Poets and Politics and Prose. Inside, you can shop for a new book, enjoy a meal, or even attend an author signing and reading at Politics and Prose. And with several locations to choose from, Busboys and Poets makes for an easy trip!

Library of Congress

While this famous library is known as a popular tourist destination, it is also a great resource for researchers and readers. And, most importantly, it’s free. Become a "Registered Reader" and gain access to the library's vast collection of books and research, as well as use the Main Reading Room. And don’t worry about being inundated by tourists; most
simply view the reading room from above. Visit the website for more information. 

U.S. Botanic Gardens

If it’s warm, snatch a seat among the local and exotic plants in D.C.’s outdoor botanical gardens. There are plenty of places to sit and read in the shade or sun. Too cold? Step inside and warm up! The humidity is kept as high as your average steamy jungle all year round.

There's always something going on in the city, but sometimes the best escape from finals or the holiday frenzy is a well-lit place and a good book. Don't worry about transportation. For the vehicle-less, almost any destination in Washington D.C. is accessible by bus or metro. And, for those wanting to avoid the traffic, all metro parking is free on weekends, bypassing backups on I-66 or I-495. 

Have a suggestion? Let us know in the comments section if we missed any of your favorite areas.

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Hannah Vandegrift is an intern for Stillhouse Press.
She is a sophomore preparing to graduate in May 2020 with a BA in English and a minor in Sociology. She currently works at Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education as a Research Student for Research and Assessment. She loves stories of all kinds, whether they are from books, poetry, film, or TV.

Adventures on the Indie Bookstore Route, Pt. 2

by Madeline Dell'Aria

It's summertime and like any true book lover knows, it's time to kick up your feet, soak up the sun, and relax with a good book. Whether you're picking up the latest book of the season or a classic from the canon, we're here to show your the best places throughout the D.M.V. for scoring fresh reads—our fantastic indie book shops, of course!


Arlington, VA

Tucked away beneath sprawling condos near the East Falls Church Metro, One More Page Books is a relatively new addition to its lovely Arlington neighborhood and is quickly becoming a community hub for authors, bibliophiles, and pleasure readers alike.

Inspired by her time working on a book truck during her college days, former consultant Eileen McGervey quit her job and founded One More Page Books on Jan. 21, 2011. The bookstore exhibits McGervey's love of mystery and fiction, but also harbors a small wonderland of children’s books, and most intriguingly, wine, beer, and locally-crafted chocolates—such natural complements to a good book, that it’s a crime other bookstores don’t do the same.

Buying inventory for a small store can be tricky. Staffer Lelia Nebeker calls it a negotiation between what the staff loves and what the community wants. Gauging a community's preferences takes time. Over the years they have found that political books are in surprisingly low demand for a shop only six Metro stops west of DC. What does sell well, beyond their ample mystery and fiction collection, is humor, followed by biography and historical books. One More Page Books often stocks recognizable names, but not exactly the best-seller list. However, if a customer wants a book they don’t carry, they can order it and have it available within 24 hours.

Instead of a contemporary Staff Favorites section, the staff write their suggestions on heart-shaped sticky notes and attach them to the cover of their favorite books. This practice is more organic for the staff, as they’re encouraged to add a note whenever the store stocks a book they love. Even the wine and chocolates are peppered with these bright little papers. Behind the cash register, a cabinet is so plastered with Post-its from books they’ve sold that the wood underneath is masked entirely.

One More Page Books also encourages customers to return by hosting an extensive series of community events, such as wine tastings, author readings, and even karaoke. Five events are forthcoming in July alone: the first, a reading from author David Krugler on July 9th.

With a selection of complimentary food and drinks, a colorful, laissez-faire approach to staff suggestions, a host of quirky and entertaining events, and a visit from President Obama to boot, One More Page may be a young bookstore, but it has quickly established itself as a venerable hub in the metropolitan area.

Madeline Dell’Aria, a Northern Virginia native, recently graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Growing up she wanted to become a tree, a witch, or an explorer; so she became a writer.

Adventures on the Indie Bookstore Route, Pt. 1

by Madeline Dell'Aria

It's summertime and like any true book lover knows, it's time to kick up your feet, soak up the sun, and relax with a good book. Whether you're picking up the latest book of the season or a classic from the canon, we're here to show your the best places throughout the D.M.V. for scoring fresh reads—our fantastic indie book shops, of course!

Source: http://holeintheweb.com/

Source: http://holeintheweb.com/


Falls Church, VA

Hole in the Wall Books is located right in the middle of placid Falls Church, VA at 904 W Broad St. The quaint bookstore’s azure door is a gateway to a different time: specializing primarily in science-fiction, fantasy, and comics, books at Hole in the Wall are stacked, squeezed, and pigeon-holed in overlapping arrangement. This overabundance of fiction, the must of buried tomes thick in the air, harkens back to literature’s tactile, page-flipping, pre-Kindle origins. While its name implies a tightly packed space, this bounty of books is hardly stifling, creating instead an entrance to infinite worlds and spaces ripe for exploration.

The concatenation of literary sources is curated by the knowledgeable and affable founders, Michael and Edie Nally. In 1979, Michael began running a small book section of what was then Record and Tape Exchange. This store would later move, but Michael’s "Hole in the Wall" would remain, eventually occupying the entire space of the original store.

Besides the collection, which has certainly expanded over the years, little has changed since 1979; there is no computer system, reference books are used instead of Google, and cell phones are seldom spotted. The only exception to the owners’ pursuit of antiquity is the store’s website, and (naturally) their up-to-date collection of comics and a miscellany of geek genres. Particularly strong are the science fiction and fantasy collections, which reflect the taste of the founders. This bookstore is largely operated on a buy-sell-trade basis, and the collection similarly reflects the diversity of the Washington metropolitan area.

The store is accessible via MetroBus on Broad Street and has a surprisingly large parking lot, given the diminutive size of the store. For those avid genre-fiction readers seeking escape in fantasy, adventure, or just a bygone era, there may be no better locale than Hole in the Wall Books.

Madeline Dell’Aria, a Northern Virginia native, recently graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Growing up she wanted to become a tree, a witch, or an explorer; so she became a writer.

Getting Ambitious in 2016

We don’t just love to make incredible books; we like to read them, too. We read POPSUGAR’s yearly reading challenge and that got us thinking: how can we expand our reading horizons this year? What genres and authors have we neglected in the past? What new doors can they open for us creatively and intellectually? Here are just some of the ways that members of the Stillhouse Press staff plan to read more widely in 2016.

The Left Hand of Darkness , Ace Books, 1969

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ace Books, 1969

“My reading resolution for 2016 is to read more science fiction and fantasy! I read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin over winter break, and I absolutely loved it. I was surprised that I hadn't read anything of hers sooner, considering how well known she is and how much I like science fiction. So now I'm reading everything by Le Guin that I can get my hands on. And once I'm done with that, I'll look for other speculative fiction authors who I either haven't heard of or haven't read anything by. I'm thinking I'll start with Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.”

- Hannah Campeanu, Moonshine Murmurs

Hannah Campeanu is an intern at Stillhouse Press and the editor of Moonshine Murmurs. She will graduate from George Mason this spring with her B.A. in English, and hopes to go into publishing.

The Argonauts , Graywolf Press, 2015

The Argonauts, Graywolf Press, 2015

“I'm currently obsessed with Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts. I saw her read and love her writing. She's setting the current trend in the academic MFA world for cross-genre and autotheory/autogender writing. She is not to be mistaken as a poet, but rather a writer. She is also not a fan of the word 'hybrid' but prefers the autotheory of identity.  And I am about to start on Ban En Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil Rider, another book that breaks beyond the traditions of research, theory, and poetry.”

- Qinglan Wang, Outreach & Events Coordinator

Qinglan Wang is a multilingual writer and teacher originally from Hawaii. She is currently the Outreach & Events Coordinator at Stillhouse Press and the Poetry Editor for Phoebe. Her work has been featured in Bone Bouquet, Deluge, and ROAR Magazine.

The Goldfinch,  Little, Brown & Co., 2013

The Goldfinch, Little, Brown & Co., 2013

“I wish I could say my goals for this year's 'pleasure reading' were lofty and lengthy texts like War and Peace, Ulysses, or Infinite Jest, but I truly just want to get through Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.  My daughter gave me her well-loved copy, so now I have an inroad, of sorts, into her world . . . always a good thing for a mom.  Besides, I'll read anything by an author whose last name is Tartt.  How could it not be grand?”

- Kate Lewis, Managing Editor

Kate Lewis is a second year Fiction candidate in George Mason's MFA program and a managing editor for Stillhouse Press.  Her work has appeared in Unscooped Bagel and Hail, Muse! Etc.

NANO Fiction , Vol. 9, No. 1

NANO Fiction, Vol. 9, No. 1

"I have a stack of books on top of my bookshelf—things I've selected to 'read next,' except that stack is now about 30 books tall. To say that my resolution for 2016 is to read them all is a little ambitious, so I've settled on a goal that's more attainable: I'll be picking away at the stack, one story at a time, starting with Donald Barthelme's Forty Stories and the latest issue of NANO Fiction. I'm seriously in love with the short, short form. It's addictive, punchy, and the stories often stay with you far longer than it takes to actually read them. And the best part? You can read one a day and it only takes about ten minutes, which even on the busiest of days is still a realistic goal."

- Meghan McNamara, Founding Editor and Director of Media & Communications

Meghan McNamara is a third year Fiction candidate in George Mason's MFA program. She is a founding editorfor Stillhouse Press, where she serves as Director of Media & Communications. She is currently at work on a novel-length work, though she also appreciates a good short story. Her work has been featured in The Magnolia Review.

Now that you’ve heard some of our goals, we want to know: what are your reading resolutions for 2016?

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Preliminary Cover Art; Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Kent Adams.

Preliminary Cover Art; Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Kent Adams.

One of the most difficult parts of turning a manuscript into a book is the visual nature of the final product: the cover. We certainly don't want to merely represent a story or poem, but to encapsulate what the whole of the manuscript is doing in the visual equivalent of a thirty-second pitch; essentially, how do we tell the reader what this book is about without telling them exactly what it's about? With DIG, one of my first goals was to create something that tapped into the material presence of a book—the page texture, the way that the physical construction mirrors the content—creating a conceptual argument for reading a physical book, a proposition as essential as DIG author, Bryan Borland's assertion that "the world needs another love poem / like it needs blood in the throat."

Working with Jonathan Kent Adams, the cover artist for DIG, we've been able to create something that transforms some of the more subtle themes in the text into a featured part of the experience of reading the book. Conversations with Bryan early in the editing process led us in the direction of imagining as abstract a landscape as possible, one in which definitions and forms become abstract as well—a concept that Jonathan's work engages with. While the editorial staff was deeply into the layers in the book's text, we picked up on the distinct visceral nature of the text, and Jonathan decided to foreground it.

The reader might work through the process of the book in a way that is similar to the tactile and visual nature of the cover that Jonathan has developed.

“After reading some of the manuscript for DIG, I realized how much my process as an artist related to the content of the poetry. I am constantly wanting my viewer to go within. To dig. To search. To rethink. To struggle. To reinvent. The content reminded me of peeling through all of the layers of the self. Digging to the heart. I used anatomy and figurative drawing, because I wanted the imagery to be about the human experience and not necessarily any specific objects. I also wanted something that was not very direct to the viewer. I wanted the image to seem as if you needed to search or pull back a layer. I believe the best art allows the viewer or reader to search. DIG made me search. I hope the cover is a reflection of that," Jonathan explained.

DIG  in two parts; Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Kent Adams.

DIG in two parts; Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Kent Adams.

The reader might work through the process of the book in a way that is similar to the tactile and visual nature of the cover that Jonathan has developed. Essentially, the top-most layer engages with its nature as the 'skin' of the book, allowing the reader to delve further through physical layers until reaching the text itself—the most abstract part—the poems. Now that I write it, "delve" seems to be a perfect companion to the notion of digging, a willingness to fall headlong into what has been dug up. With the cut-out cover and the multi-layer physical depth of the book, the conceptual argument of the manuscript seems all that much clearer, that there's an essential kernel buried beneath the surface—even if you have to dig a little while to find it.

DIG (forthcoming Sept. 2016) is a book of poems by Bryan Borland. Borland is the author of two previous collections of poetry, My Life As Adam and Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father.

Douglas J. Luman is the Poetry Editor for Stillhouse Press, the Book Reviews Editor for the Found Poetry Review, Editor of So to Speak, and Assistant Poetry Editor of the journal Phoebe. He can likely be found asleep in a library somewhere in Northern Virginia.

Stillhouse's Holiday Gift Guide

The holiday season is upon us, and all of us here at Stillhouse Press are eagerly awaiting the end of the semester, the chance to see our families, eat good food, and relax. As you make your own holiday plans, here are a few books our staff heartily recommend.

Whether you're looking for the perfect gift for a bookworm relative or just need something to while away those dark afternoon hours, we’ve got you covered. Cheers to you and yours, and happy reading!

Prayers for the Living  , Fig Tree Books, 2015

Prayers for the Living, Fig Tree Books, 2015

"Imagine the American dream—with all its possibilities and pitfalls—told through the lens of matriarch, Minnie Bloch, the narrator of Alan Cheuse’s Prayers for the Living. As a reader, I find Minnie’s voice remarkably engaging, at once fierce and philosophical. She witnesses her son's transformation from an impassioned rabbi to an American business executive. Sex, faith, and lineage weave through this novel, creating a taut multi-generational fabric. As a writer, I am fascinated by Cheuse’s chutzpah in reassessing one of his earliest novels, The Grandmother’s Club (1986), and rewriting it into a book as fresh and relevant as tomorrow’s news headlines about a mogul’s rise and fall. Eloquent and inspiring, Prayers for the Living is hands down my must read for 2015."

- Marcos L. Martínez, Editor in Chief

Marcos L. Martínez is a founding editor of Stillhouse Press and a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction. As a Sally Merten Fellow, he has taught creative writing in Northern Virginia high schools and public libraries; his work has appeared in Whiskey Island, The HIV Here and Now Project, The Washington Blade, and RiverSedge.

The Things We Don't Do ,  Open Letter, 2015

The Things We Don't Do, Open Letter, 2015

“I've really enjoyed The Things We Don't Do by Andres Neuman. One of my Intro. to Creative writing students brought it in and asked if I had read it, and I hadn't but the first story, ‘Happiness’ hooked me with its voice. Plus, I think I'd read just about anything that has a blurb from Roberto Bolaño on the cover.”

- Justin Lafreniere, Prose Editor

Justin Lafreniere is a writer living in Northern Virginia. He is the Fiction Editor for So to Speak and has been published in Charlotte Viewpoint, The Western Online, and Frostwriting.

The Empathy Exams,   Graywolf Press, 2014

The Empathy Exams, Graywolf Press, 2014

“I suggest that people read Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, the winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. The essays in this collection range from working as a medical actor helping to train doctors, a 100-mile endurance race known as the toughest race on the planet, and an unusual disease which some people are not sure even exists. In all of these, Jamison contemplates the subject of empathy by examining the pain of others. It’s a great collection, and Jamison’s voice brilliantly tackles the subject.”

- Katie Ray, Prose Intern

Katie Ray is a creative nonfiction student in George Mason University's MFA program. She has previously been published in Prime Number and the Eckerd Review.

Nets  , Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015

Nets, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015

“Jen Bervin’s Nets should be familiar to many, even if they’ve never read or heard of it. Exploring Shakespeare’s sonnets, Bervin fashions poems out of what she takes away, creating an entirely new poem from what remains. Visually minimal as well, Nets is an example of the structural aphorism ‘less is more.'"

- Douglas Luman, Poetry Editor

Douglas Luman is a poet and editor. He is currently Stillhouse Press' Poetry Editor, the Book Reviews Editor for the Found Poetry Review, Editor of So to Speak, and Assistant Poetry Editor of the journal Phoebe. He can likely be found asleep in a library somewhere in Northern Virginia.

An Afternoon With Lucas Mann

By Emily Heiden

Lucas Mann wears a humble smile as he passes out a story he wants us to read.  It’s not one that he has written – this particular piece is about a journalist who endangered his life during the Vietnam War in the name of a new kind of reporting. We discuss the ethics of such a piece and what it means to immerse oneself in a specific place in order to write about it.

Mann too has immersed himself in this way, except that his place was a small town in Iowa, where he watched a lot of men play (and lose) a lot of baseball, and sometimes he dressed up in a giant suit as the team’s mascot, ‘Louie the Lumberking’.   

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere,  Lucas Mann (Vintage 2014)

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, Lucas Mann (Vintage 2014)

He talked with us about this type of reporting, or nonfiction – about “showing up somewhere and simply not getting turned away” – and what kinds of projects can take shape when writers are allowed to stay and really come to know a people and a place. Mann’s book, Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere (Vintage 2014), is a lovely example of what can emerge from hunkering down and observing a subject until a writer finds the story; that team, those men, that place.

Class A is an explication of what Mann observed in Clinton, Iowa: men imported from around the world to play baseball in one of the lowest-level leagues that exists; the people who populate the stands; the workings of the town itself.  It shows us an enigmatic factory on the edge of town that emanates a terrible smell, the train-cars filled with tons upon tons of corn being shipped out of the Midwest for processing and livestock feed, photos of players’ girlfriends – who the men call a “blessing” – and other instances of surprising humanity that tug at the heart.     

I learned a lot from Class A, from Mann’s decision to begin in medias res, in which he “enter[s] his torso” (code for pulling on his mascot outfit to become Louie the Lumberking) to the effective portraits he paints of both people and place.  His writing – and his teaching style – captured even this decidedly non-baseball-loving reader’s attention.

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Emily Heiden writes creative nonfiction at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition, creative writing, and literature classes.  She will graduate with her Master of Fine Arts degree this spring.  She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Connecticut, which is her home state.

Politics & Prose and Stillhouse Press Celebrate the Life of Local Writer, Wendi Kaufman

By Meghan McNamara

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Osborne, http://www.elizabethosborne.com

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Osborne, http://www.elizabethosborne.com

I have read Wendi Kaufman’s short stories again and again. When Stillhouse Press first selected her collection as its debut publication, I devoured them. When the books arrived in our offices the morning that we learned Wendi had passed, I found consolation in them. In the months that followed, as we organized an early release of Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories and fervently promoted the collection, I came to know her narrators intimately. Wendi never had the opportunity to complete an interview about her book, but her voice lives on—powerfully, enchantingly, painfully—in this voice-driven collection.

This sentiment was fondly echoed Jan. 25th at Politics & Prose Bookstore in NW Washington, D.C. at the event celebrating Wendi Kaufman’s life and work.  Stillhouse Press Editor, Marcos L. Martínez said of Wendi, “The same caring spirit that she possessed in life is vivid on the pages and focused on her characters; young women in difficult situations, always aware that the other shoe is about to drop, surviving and sharing their wisdom from story to story.”

Mary Kay Zuravleff, speaking Jan. 25 at the Wendi Kaufman Memorial Celebration

Mary Kay Zuravleff, speaking Jan. 25 at the Wendi Kaufman Memorial Celebration

Mary Kay Zuravleff (Man Alive!), who penned the introduction to Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, remembered Wendi’s ebullient energy, which had the power to inspire writers of all backgrounds, young and old, established and emerging. “She brought the party to the room,” said Zuravleff, who shared memories about informal literary salons on the Kaufman front porch and her work with the Changing Lives Through Literature Initiative, through which Wendi taught creative writing to female juvenile offenders. “My girls, she called them,” Zuravleff remembered warmly.

Scott W. Berg (38 Nooses)—a long-time peer of Wendi’s and co-founder of the Rotisserie Writers Group, which she and Berg and three other graduates of George Mason University’s MFA program maintained informally for the better part of 20 years—reflected on the early iterations of “Helen on 86th Street,” the title story in Wendi’s collection, which was first published in The New Yorker in 1997. “She caught lightning in a bottle with [that] story,” he said. “Helen on 86th Street” was easily Wendi’s most successful story, appearing in The Best American Short Stories, The Elements of Literature textbook, and later adapted into a play, before becoming the face of her full collection.

Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories , Wendi Kaufman (Stillhouse Press 2014)

Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, Wendi Kaufman (Stillhouse Press 2014)

During the event Jan. 25, Berg read from the final scene in the story: the pinnacle moment in which Vita, the 12-year old narrator, enacts the closing scene from her school’s rendition of “Helen of Troy,” secretly hoping to spot her absent father in the audience:

I’m supposed to hit my fist against my chest, draw a hand across my forehead, and cry loudly. Mr. Dodd has shown me this gesture, practiced it with me in rehearsal a dozen times – the last line, my big finish. The audience is very quiet. In the stillness, there is a hole, an empty pocket, an absence.

This scene—like so many in Wendi’s stories—resonates with the reader, because we find ourselves so completely drawn into the mind of the narrator. “Her voice in this collection of stories is a magnetic blend of strength, humor, and compassion,” said Martínez, reflecting on the power of Wendi’s narrative voice. And it’s true. These very elements are what initially drew me to her collection. As a young woman, I find so much veracity in her stories. They feel so true to life. They remind the reader that life is not without its ups and downs, its painful truths, which are made endurable with just the right balance of humor—a technique which Wendi so elegantly employs—and the compassion of others. Knowing this, I can’t help but feel the impulse to want to read Wendi’s collection all over again.


Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories (Oct. 2014) can be found at: www.stillhousepress.org/helenon86. For more information about Wendi, please visit the “Authors” tab at the top of the screen. In an effort to share her stories with others, Stillhouse Press is open to arranging readings from her work. If interested, please contact: Meghan McNamara, media@stillhousepress.org.

Photo Credit: Alexis Glenn, GMU Creative Services

Photo Credit: Alexis Glenn, GMU Creative Services

Meghan McNamara is a third-year fiction candidate with George Mason University's Creative Writing MFA program. She serves as the Director of Media and Communications for Stillhouse Press and was one of the principle project managers for Wendi Kaufman's short story collection. She currently resides in Arlington, Virginia, where she is at work on a novel length work exploring addiction and relationships, told through the lens of a female protagonist.