What We’re Writing

painting of a ship

Lauren S. Cardon:  After publishing my monograph in December 2012, I began work on a new project, tentatively entitled “Democratic Fashion”: Women’s Clothing and Social Mobility in American Literature.  I employ the term “democratic fashion” to convey the expression of American ideals of freedom and democracy through the American fashion industry, as reflected in the accessibility of fashion to all citizens, in fashion’s facilitation of individual self-expression or “personal style,” and in the comfort and ease of the clothes themselves, allowing for freedom of movement for its wearers. The authors I discuss suggest that “fashion” is a set of signifiers that can be adopted and/or manipulated, and their knowledge of both fashion and style (terms I define below) serve as tools to develop their protagonists – to delineate their relative potential to transcend barriers of class, race, and/or gender. The characters’ ability to transcend such barriers thus rests not solely on hard work, merit, and talent (as the Horatio Alger version of the American Dream would suggest), but on their ability to read and manipulate surfaces, to blend, and to perform. My selection of novels and memoirs span the historical period of the fashion industry, beginning in the Victorian era with the rise of Charles Frederick Worth; some of the texts include Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, among others. Clothing, in these texts, becomes a mechanism through which authors conflate the historical, economic, and sociological realities of the American fashion industry with the genre themes of self-fashioning and transformation. 

Andy Johnson: I am working on a short story collection based in the fictional Southern town of Okahika. Every Southern state has an Okahika (alt. spelling Oklahika. The ‘l’ is not typically pronounced.) A few states have more than one. Three Okahikas have been abandoned or destroyed, and another was consumed by urban sprawl. Although each Okahika differs from the others in size, racial makeup, religions, customs, and class, every Okahika occupies the same space. For example, unwary people can enter Okahika in Florida and leave from Texas or Arkansas. Paper maps rarely include a path to Okahika, and GPS systems miss it entirely. To paraphrase Grahame Greene, the path to Okahika is a strangeness, a wanting to know, a rough rhythm in the size and shape of the human heart.

Stories from the collection include “Reverend Overtime Gets Himself Together,” “The Smell of Rain,” “Arthur Lee at the Afterparty,” “The Big Bobby Wilkerson” (Echolocation, 2012), and “Bell” and “Cut Mary Somewhere in the Sugarcane” (African American Review, forthcoming). I plan to finish the collection in 2014.

Jessica Kidd: I’m currently working on two series of poems. The first juxtaposes slightly-fictionalized experiences of the women in my family. The blending of eras and perspectives allows me to explore themes of family and disappearing rural culture. Some of these poems have been published in the winter 2013 issue of Drafthorse: The Journal of Work and No Work. My second series is an experiment in speculative poetry and follows three characters—the auteur, the animator, and the matte painter—as they make a stop-motion film and deal with the animator’s and painter’s ability to literally bring their creations to life.

Michael Martone: I am working on several projects.  First is Winesburg, Indiana. It is a hybrid of sorts, both a story collection of mine and an anthology of other stories from many other authors.  Working with the magazine Booth, I invented the fictional town of Winesburg and began writing a series of mock memoirs of various inhabitants of the town. Winesburg is populated by an abundance of personally troubled citizens who are all writing memoirs it seems. Winesburg, Indiana, is a homage to Winesburg, Ohio of course but also echoes Spoon River Anthology. There is a lot of whining going on in Winesburg! I also invited two dozen writers to contribute stories to the project.  I make sure they use the places and events of the town. The high school is named for Emile Durkheim and the radio station WOWO, etc.  The book is now finished and under consideration.  Secondly, I am finishing up a book called The Collected Writings of Art Smith, The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne edited by Michael Martone. Art Smith was a real early aviation pioneer from my home town who, it is said, accomplished many firsts in flight–the outside loop and the loop-to-loop. And, it is believed, he invented sky writing! There is actually no documentation of this, but my book will recreate the one, two, three word texts in photo-shopped pictures, and I will “annotate” the event.  I think of these pieces as the world’s shortest short stories.  Finally, I continue to write my Indiana science fiction stories for a book titled for now Amish in Space. The story I am writing now is called “Versed”–it is about aliens located in Indiana disguised as gastroenterologists doing colonoscopies in Fort Wayne.

Brenna Wardell:  My research explores representations of gender, sexuality, and aesthetics in media and literary texts.  My recent research connects my work in cultural studies and aesthetics with a focus on place and environment.  A good example is my article on director Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (1974), completed for a special edition on mise-en-scène for the online journal The Cine-Files.  The article examines the manner in which the director uses Phantom’s mise-en-scène to create uncanny, alienating reversals that attack bourgeois viewpoints about bodies and the natural world.

I’m currently nearing completion on an article on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 thriller Frenzy titled “The Murderer in the Garden: Something Rotten in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.”  The article considers the tropes of abundance and pollution, literal and figurative, within the film and the manner in which the film’s locations, particularly Covent Garden and its famous Market, work to foreground these tropes.  For instance, I connect the film’s villain, the charming, stylishly-dressed Bob Rusk, who works as a green grocer in Covent Garden Market, to the diverse, often scandalous, history of the Garden.  Covent Garden is associated with actual fruitfulness—first as a convent garden, and then as the location of a famed fruit and vegetable market—and with symbolic abundance as a site of commerce and entertainment.  However, the area is also associated with a sense of contamination: not only the actual decay engendered by such fruitfulness, but illicit pleasures and crime, particularly in the eighteenth century.  I hope to publish this in the Journal of Popular Film and Television.

I’m also working on a project dealing with the history of Bryce Hospital, formerly the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane, which I may submit to Isle, the journal for the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.  The Hospital and its grounds offer many potentially rich avenues for research, but my current interest lies in examining Bryce in view of the moral treatment movement of the nineteenth century and the movement’s connection to Romanticism and the pastoral.  Moral treatment marked a significant departure from older methods of addressing mental illness, such as imprisoning patients and ignoring any sense of their bodily comforts.  Instead, moral treatment argued for the construction of  hospitals and grounds that were full of air and light, contained modern conveniences, and were aesthetically pleasing, with the goal of creating environments of peace and beauty to sooth troubled minds.   I’d like to examine Bryce as a material reminder of these older ideas of treatment and views of nature, while contemplating how Bryce can speak to us today.

Image Credit: Ashley Chambers