Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA NEWS
Ocean-going ships launch with a splash of champagne, why not literary journals? We, the editors of the Los Angeles Review and alumnae of the Northwest Institute for Literary Arts, liked the idea, so on November 1, 2009, LA Review issue number six debuted at a celebration marking the fifteenth anniversary of Red Hen Press. A crowd of supporters, authors, and staff, old and new, gathered in a private dining room at the Hotel Luxe Bel Air on Sunset Boulevard to welcome another round of volumes published by the press. In the courtyard, beyond the stacks of beautiful books and tables loaded with salmon and grilled vegetables, fuchsia and tangerine bougainvillea swayed in an early autumn breeze. The bartender handed a pomegranate mimosa to a latecomer who slipped into the room and took one of the few empty seats.
Jamaica Kincaid sat front left, hair tied up in bandana. Lisa See, author of Shanghai Girls, a novel about sisters and mothers, shared a table with her sister and her mother, Carolyn See, novelist and guru of how to make a literary life. Radio journalist Naseem Rakha read a selection from her first novel, The Crying Tree, as well as a piece she’d published in LAR #6. Chris Abani, the Nigerian author once sentenced to death for his writing, introduced his first American creative writing teacher, Mark Doty. Poets Peggy Shumaker, Eloise Klein Healy, Alicia Ostriker, Doug Kearney, Wanda Coleman, Austin Straus, Lisa Krueger, and Kate Gale twinkled in the audience like so many exquisite fireflies.
It’s a long way from Camp Casey to Bel Air. Nancy Boutin, Laurie Junkins, and Ann Beman, remember the very first Northwest Institute for Literary Arts MFA Residency, sleeping on bunk beds in Quartermaster and eating camp food in the mess hall after the soccer kids had had their turn. Stefanie Freele joined us in January, but by then we’d moved into the plush duplexes at Fort Casey. When Tanya Chernov and then Kelly Davio became students, we’d all turned into gourmets–dipping into hummus and tabouli as we discussed Granny Weatherall and if blond kids from the suburbs could write magical realism. But more than the accommodations and cuisine, the hours spent together on Whidbey and online prepared us to work cohesively across long distances to put together one fine literary journal. Even the opportunity to try grew directly out of our Residency experience with an introduction to Red Hen Press publisher, Kate Gale in the summer of 2006 and her return to Whidbey in the summer of 2008.
When the Whidbey Island Writers Association Board decided to build an MFA program from scratch, they established a legacy of fearlessness that infected the students. In that spirit, we six fearlessly jumped into magazine editing–but with the knowledge we could rely on a safety net woven from the experience of our faculty and the Red Hen family. Special note: see “The Hand of Bruce Holland Rogers”, NILA faculty member, on LA Review’s website.
As we move forward with the next issue, we look to our fellow Whidbey workshoppers for content and support. Joe Ponepinto can be counted on for smart reviews of small press titles. Stephanie Hammer gave us a fascinating interview with Red Hen author Ching-in Chen. Carol Frischmann brought a new poem and an interview with one of her favorite poets, Lucia Perillo. New classmate Jeremiah O’Hagen gave us the first flash memoir he read at his first Residency.
We’ve heard it said by our teachers that few of them enjoyed the kind of on-going relationships with their classmates that we’ve formed in the Northwest Institute for Literary Arts. Perhaps we take these friendships for granted; we have no other context for comparison. However, we’ve been taught since the very first lecture in the Business of Writing seminar that we are expected to demonstrate good literary citizenship. As good citizen we will continue to support the program, our fellow students, and the pursuit of literary excellence. To that, I believe, we can all raise our glasses.