Review of The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Full of turmoil, love, loss, and pain, Lindsey Lee Johnson’s The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is a complex meditation on privilege and the crucible that is adolescence. Set in Mill Valley, California, at the real life Tamalpais High School, the story centers on a fledgling teacher, Molly Nicoll, as she discovers and comes to terms with the complex lives of her students and her role (or absence) in their evolution as people. With perspectives that alternate between Molly and the main group of her students, Johnson weaves a series of interconnected life stories that create a portrait not only of the idyllic Mill Valley, with its towering redwoods and foggy views of San Francisco Bay, she creates a portrait from the inside, from the multifaceted and often breaking hearts of the teenagers who are beginning their lives there. Continue reading

State of the Obra – A Letter from the Founding Editor-in-Chief

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Greetings from the O/A editors!

Six months ago, the adventure called Obra/Artifact began in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Since then, it has grown from a mere idea to a graduate literary magazine. All of this is thanks to our submitters and supporters, especially Juan Carlos Reyes and the MFA of the Americas.

Over the past several months, the editors—Jared Smith, Lucianna Ramos, and I—have been reading, judging, and arguing about your submissions. As of last week, we have made all of our poetry and prose selections for the first digital issue. (But we’re still in the market for visual art. Submit your art today!)

In January, the first issue of Obra will go live on this website. This coincides with our MFA program’s residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL. During the residency, final decisions for the…

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Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge – December Update

As of right now, I’ve read 117 books this year. My goal was 115. Go me!

I wrote one novel (and 5 agents are reading it right now!), and I’m halfway through writing another.

I did a post about Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge a few months back, and I’m still as much of a Book Riot fangirl as ever. Facebook suggested Liberty Hardy as a friend today, and I had a little mini flip out. We have two friends in common! Squee! I didn’t request, but I’m just sayin’…

Anyway… I’m not sure I’ve made much progress on this. I have a month to go, so let’s see what I need to fill in the blanks.

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Review of Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Review of Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, Hag-Seed, the latest in Hogarth Shakespeare’s series of modern retellings, interprets The Tempest in a technique that layers contemplation, action, and exegesis.

This is the second of the Hogarth Shakespeare series that I have read, and so far, it is the strongest. However, The Tempest is probably one of Shakespeare’s plays that I know the least. That being said, I wasn’t comparing and contrasting the original versus the interpretation; and this version, more than anything, acts as an exegesis, a teaching text, of the original.

Set in a Canadian prison, the main character Felix Philips teaches literacy through theater, but his endeavor isn’t completely altruistic. In the beginning of the novel, Felix is the main director at the semi-famous Makeshewig Festival, but he’s going off the deep end. He takes too many directorial risks, and many of the people he works with want him out. This makes it all the easier for Tony, his highest underling in the theater company, to usurp his place as director and have him fired. Continue reading

Review of Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

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Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt has been difficult for me to review. I finished it a few days ago, and since then, I’ve been ruminating on it.

In its essence, Cruel Beautiful World is a novel about family and love. But the horrible underside of humanity is afoot as well. Yes, it takes place during the same time as the Manson murders, but that isn’t the true specter that hangs over the characters’ psyches. The true roots of the novel’s conflict lie in the question: How well can we really know the ones we love?

The climax and denouement of Cruel Beautiful World answer this question two ways. Without giving you any spoilers, I’ll say that one represents the beautiful and one represents the cruel. Continue reading

Implications: On Writing Mental Illness and Why Representation Matters

Mental health advocacy is really important to me. In this blog post for Obra/Artifact, I talk about the importance of getting things right and loving your characters into existence, especially when they are not like you.

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A few years ago, my friend “Michelle” was kicked out of the house where she’d been living with her uncle and his girlfriend. Michelle didn’t understand what she’d done; she’s not exactly a trouble maker. She’s more likely to be caught at home with a novel on a Saturday night than out in a club. But a few months later, Michelle’s cousin related back to her all of the lies their uncle had spread: his girlfriend was afraid of Michelle. He thought Michelle might be dangerous. It was because she was “crazy,” and like everyone knows, “crazy people” are violent. At least that’s what popular media had led Michelle’s uncle and his girlfriend to believe.

When Michelle heard this, she knew what she’d done wrong. She’d confided to her uncle’s girlfriend about her struggle with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that, while creating some difficulties for Michelle, had not stopped…

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Lines of Sight: On the Creation of a Literary Magazine

Read my first blog post as Editor-in-Chief of Obra/Artifact, the MFA of the Americas’ Graduate literary journal.

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The spiritual world collides with my life only when I’m not expecting it. Ideas spark and I have to tell them to someone. So when Cyriaco Lopes, one of our core faculty in the MFA’s Poetry in the Expanded Field, gathered us in the stone courtyard of El Templo de la Purísima Concepción in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and gave us our assignment—go inside, choose a painting, and meditate on its attributes silently—I stifled a laugh.

The last time I’d studied art was not in an art class, but in Spanish. Despite four years of the language in high school and three in college, I’d regressed back to Spanish II. I still remember the art, oral presentations on Miró, Goya, and an extensive study of Mexican muralists. So after a few cracks about not knowing what I was doing and that I’d accidentally stumbled into art school, I…

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Review of The Ballroom by Anna Hope

The Ballroom, a novel by Anna Hope, is a book with a split personality. That is pretty ironic considering that it is set in an early 20th century mental hospital on the English moors. Truthfully, I was a bit wary of the subject matter at first. Many authors have a tendency to either romanticize or vilify people with mental illness. Although The Ballroom centers around a romance, the greatest accomplishment of the novel is that it does neither, instead portraying the characters as human being with thoughts, fears, and troubles just like anyone else. Hope also seeks to enlighten her readers with the lesser-known treatment of those who are mentally ill. To do this, Hope writes a doctor character who wishes to take part in the implementation of a eugenics program in England, starting with Sharston, the mental institution where the novel takes place. Continue reading

Review of The Vegetarian by Han Kang

“It’s your body, you can treat it as you please. The only area where you’re free to do just as you like. And even that doesn’t turn out how you wanted,” (Kang 182).

On its surface, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a deeply disturbing story of a woman’s descent into madness. But don’t let the surface fool you. At its core, this novel is about the rules for femininity that confine Korean society.

While The Vegetarian is divided into three sections, each section centers on the main character, Yeong-hye. It is absolutely vital to the novel’s message that the story be told from outside points of view. The first two of these perspectives are male: Yeong-hye’s husband and Yeong-hye’s brother in law.

From her husband’s perspective, Yeong-hye’s first symptom of insanity is that she stops eating or cooking meat, in direct disobedience to her husband and father. This section comes to a head when her father tries to physically force Yeong-hye to eat meat. Yeong-hye resists, and in an act of defiance, she cuts herself with a knife.

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