When you can’t write what you need to write, you write what you can. I want to write about…

That new Dove ad is absurdly symbolic. Women in five cities around the world are made to choose one of two doors in order to enter a space. The entries are labelled ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Average’. There seems to be no other way to gain access to the building. Your physical appearance is your only admission. Choose beautiful Dove says. F**K that.

My sister looked radiant tonight. I don’t know if I have ever seen her glow like this. When she made her entrance into the hall, mischief captured her and she threw her hennaed hands up in the air, her intricately brown laced hands swirling through the air as she danced. Little dried flecks sprinkled off her hands like black confetti. Later my father, handsome in his turquoise blue sherwani interrupted…

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Remembering Poet Philip Levine

We Grow Writers

Fresno poets gather at Philip Levine's 80th birthday party in February 2008, at the Fresno Art Museum. Photo by Howard K. Watkins. Fresno poets gather at Philip Levine’s 80th birthday party in February 2008, at the Fresno Art Museum. Photo by Howard K. Watkins.
On Feb. 14, 2015, Philip Levine died at age 87. One of the most highly honored and widely read American poets, Levine has been mourned worldwide by poets, writers, and friends in ongoing tributes and remembrances, showing that the former U.S. poet laureate’s influence as both a poet and as a teacher endures.

From 1958 to 1993, Levine taught poetry at Fresno State. Levine and his poet colleagues, Peter Everwine and Chuck Hanzlicek, formed the pillars of what is now the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at the university. Levine, Everwine, and Hanzlicek wrote and worked together in the Fresno literary community for more than forty years; each of them is recognized as a Professor Emeritus of English at Fresno State, and each of them is deeply connected to the…

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On Ben Affleck and Slavery

Matthew Barlow

A few years back, I was contacted by the producers of Who Do You Think You Are?, a popular TV genealogy show, to help them with an episode.  The show was predicated on tracing the ancestry of celebrities, attempting to capitalize on the boon in genealogy amongst the masses, and was based on a popular British version.  For an upcoming episode, they were working with Rosie O’Donnell, whose Irish ancestors had passed through Montreal, living for a time in a long-defunct neighbourhood in the city’s east end.

So I met with people from the show when they came to Montreal, spent the good chunk of a day with them, showing them what mid-nineteenth century architecture in the city looked like, using Pointe-Saint-Charles in the stead of this defunct neighbourhood, which was destroyed by the expansion of rue Notre-Dame in the 70s.  Not surprisingly, the majority of the Montreal part was excised…

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Let’s Go Do Something Dangerous

Sweet Talk

It’s motorcycle season up here in Western New York, the season of paradise finally having returned to us: six months of weather-driven ecstasy that would make a poppy field jealous. Men and women (mostly men) who are rediscovering freedom mount up on hogs to ride away from fetters upon the low rumble of open internal combustion. Commemorating the rising spring sun of motorbiking, women set out the yellow “Look” signs in their front yards, weeping and ululating as women of yore did when the warriors set off in the spring, looking for war.

LOOK_Sign_ONE_programI think they should take them down. You cannot serve two masters: you must either love danger and hate safety or hate danger. To lay a wreath of guilt upon ordinary automobile motorists is unconscionable.

  1. Motorcyclists are, by nature, risk-takers. They would not be riding motorcycles otherwise. Actuarial tables do not lie.
  2. A motorcycle is much smaller…

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The Dolphin Trainer Who Loved Dolphins Too Much


Tim Zimmermann | Longreads | April 2015 | 25 minutes (6,193 words)

Panama City Beach, Florida is set on the alluring waters of the Gulf Of Mexico, in northwestern Florida. It’s a town of cookie-cutter condos and sprawling outlet malls, built almost entirely on the idea that blazing sun, a cool sea, white sand beaches, and copious amounts of booze are an irresistible formula for human happiness (or at least a pretty damn good time). Everything about the place—from the ubiquitous fast food, to the endless chain stores, to the Brobdingnagian miniature golf courses—is designed to anticipate and then slake the vast and relentless array of human desires.

Prime among the entertainment offerings is Gulf World Marine Park. It sits on Front Beach Road, the main drag that parallels the seafront, and promises sun-addled or bored families a respite from the nearby beach. By day you can swim with dolphins…

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Feng Shui for Book Lovers: How to Pare Down a Library

Where's Dash? My kids seem to tolerate mess more than I do these days. Where’s Dash? My kids seem to tolerate mess more than I do these days.

Last month I decided once and for all that I was going to either get rid of some books or embrace what my life was becoming: a Grey Gardens kind of gorgeous.

As a writer, I had long taken solace in studies linking messiness to creativity. Oh the ways old magazines, paper clips, half-open books, unanswered mail and yesterday morning’s cereal bowl must be sparking fireworks in my brain! But with three other people in the house, and overflowing bookshelves set to topple, the center could no longer hold. All I yearned for was an empty room, maybe some curtains billowing from a sun-drenched window. Faced with this impossibility, I found myself, over the past several weeks, becoming one of those people who can’t stop talking about feng shui.

You know feng shui. The ancient Chinese…

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Pulitzer Prize Winner Elizabeth Fenn on History and Writing

Erstwhile: A History Blog

In August, Erstwhile conducted an interview with 2015 History Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth A. Fenn on her book Encountersat the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People. We are republishing the interview today in honor of her well-deserved news yesterday. Congratulations, Lil!

Elizabeth Fenn (Ph.D., Yale University) is an associate professor of history and department chair at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her latest book, Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People, was published with Hill and Wang. Erstwhile’s Alessandra Link spoke with Fenn about a variety of topics, including her history of the Mandan, pre-contact American history, writing, and the unique challenges/opportunities associated with a scholar’s second book.

Erstwhile Blog: What drew you to write a Mandan history? Smallpox is central character in this historical work as it was in your first book, Pox Americana: The…

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