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October 2014

Dear fellow Benningtonians,

Here in New England, at least my coastal part of it, we are just getting over a spate—love that word—of serious wet weather, what Hemingway called a “three-day blow,” and I’m waiting for the last gray to dissipate and give us a few more flashes of Technicolor before it all comes down.

So far as Bennington goes, the season has been nothing if not intense. It started on September 1, when the application sluices opened up, and it has been pretty non-stop since then. September was the month of decision-making, by our faculty readers (to whom we give great thanks) and then by the applicants we contacted. There were calls and conversations, deliberations and deadlines—always a flurry—and then it was over. The new class has been admitted. And a fine class it is, from near and far, with such a range of backgrounds—we welcome you all!

We also are very pleased to welcome back two of our alums for the first post-grad term—they are our pilot returnees: Rosemary Manchester (June 2003) in NF and Leigh Rastivo Nolan (June 2008) in F.

Admissions, of course, is just the half of it. We have been going through our end of the College’s overall self-evaluation process, which has asked for a great deal of conversation, and formal and informal solicitation of views and suggestions. I can’t begin to thank all of you who stepped up during this process and gave us your good thoughts. Much from your responses is finding its way into the report that we are working up.

There has also been the work of hiring faculty to step in for faculty taking leaves, and developing the roster of guests. Here is the news on that front. Faculty who will be taking deserved one-semester leaves are Amy Hempel and Askold Melnyczuk in fiction, Susan Cheever in nonfiction, and David Daniel in poetry. Martha Cooley has with much regret made the decision to leave the Core Faculty in fiction. Teaching with us this upcoming semester will be Josh Weil, Deirdre McNamer and Angie Cruz in fiction, and Kathleen Graber in poetry. Peter Trachtenberg will continue on in nonfiction. Brian Morton, Ed Ochester, and Paul Yoon will be taking their regular down terms. Joan Wickersham will be returning for her scheduled winter term in NF, and Mark Wunderlich will be back in poetry from his leave of absence.

Visiting Associate Writers in January will be Randall Kenan in fiction, Tom Bissell in nonfiction, and the poetry Associate will be announced soon. The Commencement Address will be given by Megan Marshall, who is an alum of Bennington College, attending as an undergraduate in the late 70s. More information about all new faculty and visitors will be forthcoming.

The season hit a high-note over Columbus Day weekend, as our own V. Hansmann hosted a celebratory fund-raising event (reading and party) at Sub Culture on Bleecker Street in NYC. Professional actors read work from Lucy Grealy, Jason Shinder, Liam Rector, Barry Hannah, Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall. Victoria and I were invited to read as well. The turn-out was terrific, and one of the highlights was standing in V’s “die-for” apartment on Bleecker Street and seeing him walk in holding a stack of pizza boxes that reached to the top of his head.

A few last bits of business before I close out with some faculty news. First, that Mark Wunderlich (see his note) has been instrumental in setting up a letterpress printing lab and design studio, which I hope we will be able to check out while we are on campus—and maybe Mark will even say a few words about it when we all convene.

Second, Ani Kazarian and Lynne Sharon Schwartz have been working with great resourcefulness to develop a diversity reading list, something that has been talked about for a long time. We are very—very—grateful. A suggested first stop for anyone who is beginning to think about the semester’s reading.

Faculty News

  • Ben Anastas speaks with tantalizing suggestiveness (or is it vagueness) of some things “in the works at” The New York Times.
  • April Bernard’s essay-review on A.L. Kennedy appeared in the Sept.25. issue of The New York Review of Books; her poem, "Lisbon, 1989" appeared in the Nov. 6 issue. In September, she writes, “Donald Hall introduced me for a reading at the Eagle Pond series he curates at the University of Plymouth in New Hampshire. On Oct. 25, I join the Berryman scrimmage —along with fellow poets and editors Henri Cole, Michael Hoffman, and Daniel Swift—at the centenary celebration of John Berryman at the University of Minnesota, where Farrar, Straus & Giroux is also launching the reissue of several Berryman volumes, including Berryman's Sonnets, with my new Introduction.”
  • Sven Birkerts has published essays in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Lapham’s Quarterly, Aeon, and has a memoir essay on Seamus Heaney forthcoming in Irish Pages. He will travel to Bennington in November to take part in a Fuse conference on literary magazines. His new book of essays, tentatively entitled Changing the Subject: Essays on the Mediated Self, will be published next year by Graywolf Press.
  • Susan Cheever’s essay on the Kennedy assassination is in Vanity Fair online—it’s a chapter from her book Drinking in America coming out next October. Her dog Eli, she adds, “won the silent auction at our local Hound Fair (whatever that means).”
  • Amy Hempel was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences—“(along with RALPH STANLEY!!)”—and has short-short stories in the fall issue of the Harvard Review and Subtropics.
  • David Gates has a story called 'Locals' in the current (i.e. fall) Paris Review, and one called 'A Hand Reached Down to guide Me' in the Best American Short Stories 2014. (That's also the title story for his collection, which is coming out in June 2015.)
  • Bret Anthony Johnston's novel Remember Me Like This is a national bestseller and an Editor's Choice in The New York Times Book Review. The film rights are being optioned by Vadim Perelman who directed The House of Sand and Fog. Clarke Peters, Lester Freamon from the TV series, The Wire, read the novel over BBC Radio, and Bret was interviewed on All Things Considered. His collection Corpus Christi: Stories is being reissued in the UK, and he has a short-short story in The Oxford American.
  • Dinah Lenney and Judith Kitchen are completing an anthology of short nonfiction for W. W. Norton (Benningtonians on board include Martha Cooley, Nick Montemarano, Ben Anastas, Bernard Cooper, Amy Gerstler, Tod Goldberg, Phillip Lopate, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, and Patricia Hampl)—77 authors, 77 essays, titled Brief Encounters, to be published next year. She has had essays in TriQuarterly and more recently in Brevity. Dinah has been editing nonfiction for The Los Angeles Review of Books and says she is “very proud of the Bennington presence there…We'll post a special issue in November—about memoir and personal essay—nine pieces in all, and no fewer than five feature our own.”
  • Deirdre McNamer is finishing her fifth novel; teaching a new graduate course in revision, and serving on the judges’ panel of the PEN\Faulkner award.
  • Alice Mattison is finishing her book about writing, The Kite and the String, and trying to teach the dog to walk past other dogs without hysteria. (Have you talked to Amy-the-dog-whisperer?)…
  • Askold Melnyczuk took part in a conversation with ZZ Packer and Qais Akbar Omar on “The Personal is Political: Tackling the Issues of Our Time through Story,” moderated by Jenn DeLeon on Saturday, October 25, at First Church Chapel on Boston’s “hardly passionate Marlborough Street” as part of the Boston Book Festival. On October 30th he will take part in a panel on “Gender Bending: Women Writing Men, Men Writing Women” to take place at the Brookline Booksmith as part of the Women’s National Book Association National Reading Group Month. The title chapter from his novel-in-progress, Recovering Virgins, appears in the Fall issue of The Antioch Review; his regular Shadowboxing column is in the Fall issue of Agni.
  • Brian Morton writes that his new novel, Florence Gordon, is a finalist for the inaugural Kirkus Prize for Fiction. Winner will receive 50,000; runners-up will receive a commemorative plate. Brian is “planning to bring [his] plate to the June residency.”
  • Ed Ochester’s ‘big news' is that his new book, Sugar Run Road, will be out from Autumn House in a few weeks—official date is Jan. 1, but it should be back from the printer next month. Ed will be doing a signing at AWP. He is happy about “great blurbs from Gerry Stern, Alicia Ostriker, Amy Gerstler and Michael Waters.”
  • Rachel Pastan recently participated in the PEN/Faulkner gala at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, where ten writers each read a new piece on the theme of Danger. Her novel Alena will be released in paperback next year.
  • Lynne Sharon Schwartz and her husband, Harry Schwartz, directors of Calliope Author Readings, will be presenting historic readings on CDs from James Baldwin, Bernard Malamud, John Updike, Philip Roth and others at the New York Society Library, 53 E. 79th St., New York City, on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 6:30 p.m.
  • Peter Trachtenberg has an excerpt from his novel coming out in StoryQuarterly and a long essay in VQR.
  • Josh Weil’s novel, The Great Glass Sea, was selected as a finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction. The winner will be chosen at an award ceremony in New York on December 8. He has two new stories coming out in two journals soon: “Beautiful Ground” in Agni this fall and “The Point of Roughness” in Tin House this winter.
  • Joan Wickersham has a new piece coming out in One Story.
  • Mark Wunderlich has a new limited edition artist's book coming out in a month or so. The work is a single poem called “The Wind,” with images and book design by Thorsten Dennerline. The book is a collaboration that has led to the creation of the Bennington Word & Image Lab, which is a letterpress printing lab and design studio in a newly renovated building on campus. Thorsten and Mark will begin teaching collaboratively designed courses in writing and printing, starting next spring. He also has upcoming readings this fall at Amherst College, University of Vermont in Burlington, and for Donald Hall's Eagle Pond Reading Series in New Hampshire.

That was a lot of information to get through. You have proven your loyalty. Let me close by saying that after all this year’s talk of the 20th, we are ready to change the phrasing. Instead of talk about looking back on two amazing decades, we are now simply moving forward into our third. It feels lighter, doesn’t it? Puts a spring in the step. Happy fall.

–Sven