The Mark Blog

Writers’ Reel: Ingredients To a Good Story

At the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, The Atlantic asked a group of writers, journalists, and producers what they believe makes a good story. From Disney’s Michael Eisner to House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon, you’ll be inspired by their answers. Let us know what you believe makes a great story in the comments section!

Bookmark This: Happy Birthday, William Faulkner!

Today marks the birthday of the late writer William Faulkner, author of As I Lay Dying, a novel that was banned in 1986. As we continue celebrating the freedom to read this week, we are highlighting this Paris Review interview the author gave to the magazine back in 1956. 
“An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.” – William Faulkner
And select your favorite Faulkner quote, as collected by Buzzfeed.

Writers’ Reel: Celebrate The Freedom To Read!

This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event that highlights the value of free and open access to information. In this Association of American Publishers video, authors Junot Diaz, James Patterson, John Green, and others share the banned books they are reading.
“Every time we ban a text, we’re basically tearing up a page from the book of our democratic culture.” – Junot Diaz
Join the conversation on twitter at @PENUSA as we tweet all week under the hashtag #BannedBooksWeek.





Bookmark This: Poet Terrance Hayes On Resisting Styles

This week, poet Terrance Hayes was named a MacArthur Fellow. His collection of poems include Wind in a BoxLightheadMuscular Music, Hip Logic, and the forthcoming How To be Drawn (March 2015, Penguin). In this Hot Metal Bridge interview, Terrance discusses how he became a poet, how he doesn’t believe in rigid styles, and how the “perfect poem” doesn’t exist.

“I don’t sit down at the desk and say, 'I’m going to write a black poem, a narrative poem.' When you look at anybody’s bookcase, there are so many styles. When I’m working, I just try to write whatever the poem requires.”

Click here to read the full interview.



Writers’ Reel: Three Authors Tackle Grief Through Art


This week we look at how three authors wrote wrote about the lose of loved ones.

Poet Edward Hirsch recently spoke to NPR on his book-length elegy, Gabriel, a narrative poem about the unexpected death of his 22-year-old son. In the interview, Hirsch argues that there is no “right way to grieve.”

“As soon as something happens to us in America, everyone begins talking about healing. But before you heal, you have to mourn. And I found that poetry doesn't shield you from grief, but it does give you an expression of that grief.” – Edward Hirsch

Listen to the rest of his interview here.

Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Meghan O’Rourke both wrote first-person accounts about losing a loved one. In this 2011 New York Times article, the authors explained how they used writing as a way to find solace.

“Profound losses leave us paralyzed and mute, unable really to comprehend them, still less to speak coherently about them. – Joyce Carol Oates

Click here to read the full interview.


Bookmark This: Stock Your Library With These Short Novels

Everyone is always pressed for time. If reading that epic 700-page tome is bringing you down, Electric Literature has the perfect list of 17 short novels you can read in a day. From Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of A Death Foretold to Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, there is a short literary gem waiting to be picked up by you.
“One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, this underrated book is a wild roller coaster of dark comedy, surreal images, and just plain brilliant writing.” – Lincoln Michel on The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

Click here to get reading: 



Writers’ Reel: Happy Birthday, Leo Tolstoy and Roald Dahl!

Today marks Leo Tolstoy’s 186th birthday and this Saturday will mark Roald Dahl’s 96th birthday. Let’s celebrate the two great authors with a double dose of Writers’ Reel. First, listen to Tolstoy’s short story “The Three Questions,” published in 1885 as part of the collection What Men Live By and Other Tales

“It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
 time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to
 listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what
 was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything 
he might undertake.” 

Listen to the full story here:

Next, listen to Dahl, author of many great children’s books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, explain how he evaded war and chose the path of writing:


Bookmark This: Steve Almond on The Problem of Entitlement


Author Steve Almond's recent essay for Poets & Writers, "The Problem of Entitlement: A Question of Respect," tackles a common problem with MFA students and young writers in general. He writes that students are unable to study literature purely for craft without the belief that each piece is meant to entertain them as customers. 
"Entitlement operates at a more basic and often unconscious level. It’s a kind of defensive snobbery, a delusion that the world and its constituent parts—whether a product or a piece of art or a loved one—exist to please you."

Writers’ Reel: Remembering Charles Bowden

On Saturday, August 30, 2014, nonfiction author, journalist, and essayist Charles Bowden passed away at the age of 69. Known for his investigative pieces on the Mexican border city of Juarez, Charles’s books include Murder CityDown by the River, and Blues for Cannibals. In 2011, PEN Center USA awarded the writer with the PEN Center USA First Amendment Award Award. Watch Charles speak frankly on his creative process in this video.

“If you can write, it’s a gift. If you can compose music, it’s a gift. You can study, get better, but it’s still a gift. If you betray a gift, just use it to make money, it goes away. It’s a sin to do that.” 



Bookmark This: Brandon Jordan Brown on the Legitimacy of Art

2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Brandon Jordan Brown writes about his love for poetry and the confidence boost he received when he was awarded the fellowship. 
You can still be a part of our Kickstarter Campaign and help poets like Brandon Jordan Brown. Only 30 hours left to pick up some very cool rewards!
“When I was first considering applying for the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship, I already knew that I had things I wanted to say. I knew that words meant something, that when you strung them together with care and integrity, they became something big and strong and clever and frightening and sometimes ugly, but always holy. Always meaningful. Always poetry. 
Sometimes I have to remind myself that poetry is legitimate. I need encouragement and reminders to talk myself into opening the laptop that was given to me by a friend because I didn’t have the money to buy a new one. These reminders can come to me in the form of a lady pulling up in her car across the street from my house, popping her trunk and yelling “Tamales!” Other times, they come as I remember my grandfather quoting lines from poems that helped him make sense of the world around him. Maybe a poem will be born from the temporary fascination with the blood and bits of apple that mixed in my childhood friend’s mouth when I accidentally hit him in the face with a golf club. But these reminders all share a common thread – they appear as I am living my life in my world in the only way I know how: by being me. And these reminders, when weighed and filtered and turned over in my hands, become art, and I feel it. And sometimes other people are kind enough to spend some time with my art, and they feel it too. And we can connect over that feeling. And that is legitimate.
Whether we realize it or not, everyone is searching to make meaning out of things: the sights, sounds, and memories that we encounter. And this isn’t because we are writers (at least not completely). It is because we are human beings. 
Being accepted into this fellowship has given me the confidence and opportunity that I needed to call myself a poet. I was fully convinced to follow through with the application process after an Emerging Voices panel discussion at Skylight Books in Los Feliz, California. Every alum, mentor, and current fellow spoke out about the benefits of this program and how it absolutely provided what they needed to take their writing to the next level. I spent what seemed like endless nights after work, hunched over my application and writing sample at my dining table. 
When I was granted the fellowship, I remember telling people that it didn’t feel real, that I had tricked someone, that soon people would see more of my poetry and realize they had invited some imposter into their program. But time and time again, during author evenings and through talking with alumni, I have been affirmed and reaffirmed as possessing the talent and ability to continue making meaning of my world, ‘tapping people on the shoulder,’ and inviting them to look at a few pages or listen to a few words. 
It feels nice to be reminded sometimes that art is worth it. And it’s amazing what it does for a young writer to be told that they are legitimate.”
Brandon Jordan Brown was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in the South. He moved to California to pursue his MA in theology and currently lives in Los Angeles. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Day One, decomP, and The Bakery, and he is writing his first book of poetry, Viking Ships in Los Angeles