With Great Design Comes Immense Power

Through my semester-long internship with Watershed Review (@watershed.csuc), I was tasked with refining the aesthetic and creating ongoing features for the literary magazine’s Instagram account. When approached to do this, the bold letters that screamed NERVOUS in my head could not be more apparent, my experience with Instagram posts limited to viewing, not creating. After some much needed research I was able to build a foundation for what it takes to make a literary magazine’s Instagram work. Once I sat down to make a list of the essential things, I realized just how daunting a task this can be. Instagram is an important platform, the extent of design possibilities unknown. As well, using this tool to gather a loyal following can really make or break a literary magazine. Through my research, I’ve come to see that two categories are the most crucial: design and connectivity.



When thinking about design I knew just as much as my grandmother Mimi knows about Twitter, which is not a lot, but with some help, examples, and several books I was able to get a handle on a couple of important design considerations—color scheme and font.         


Whether that is a simple color scheme like black and white which Instant, A Literary Magazine (@instantlitmag) does so beautifully, or a cohesive color scheme with a subtle color accent, like Shenandoah Literary Magazine (@shenandoah_literary), both give the viewer a full picture when looking at the feed from a grid without the eye getting overwhelmed. Another aspect to visual happiness is a design that flows throughout each post, Pathos Literary Magazine (@pathoselitmag) shows this with ease through their spunky cartoons. 


Font, like color, is also very important when making a magazine’s Instagram work. Robin Williams, author of The Non-Designer’s Design Book states, “a reader should not have to try to figure out what is happening on the page—the focus, the organization of material, the purpose, the flow of information, all should be recognized instantly with a single glance.” Keeping one or a few similar fonts consistent across posts is a way a magazine, like Honey & Lime Literary Magazine (@honeyandlimelit), is able to have a busier background but still keep a post soothing to the eye.


As a viewer I saw fonts as the most basic form of design, something I hadn’t even thought about past MLA format, but now as a learner and creator I see it for what it is. Ellen Lupton, author of Thinking with Type states “typefaces are an essential resource employed by graphic designers, just as glass, stone, steel, and other materials are employed by architects.” This idea of font being the base for design is a great way of starting to understand the link between all elements that go into designing an Instagram post. Shenandoah Literary Magazine also does a great job at melding their fonts with the design, as well as sticking with just a few fonts throughout their entire feed.

The connection between the words, the image and the font needs to be strong—an idea I am still trying to bring to life in my own mind. Scott Thomas, the design director of the 2007-2008 Obama presidential campaign explains in Abstract: The Art of Design, “when you look at a letter form or you look at a word, does it actually communicate something deeper than the word itself?” Thomas continues to demonstrate the weight of font by asking “does it actually drive some other meaning to you, and subconsciously, I think all letter forms do. It comes down to what is the emotional quality that we are trying to say in this word”


At the end of the day we are talking about literary magazines, and so the text should be visually appealing, easy to read, and without errors. When stripped down, Instagram is there to enhance the core aesthetic of the magazine. The design and essence of the magazine should be shining through; all the ways listed above are simple steps to making that happen.



The obvious purpose of social media is to connect with followers. Instagram can be used as a platform for information sharing, event details, and calls for submission (to just name a few). More importantly, Instagram aids in creating a community for people who love the same thing to connect online and in person. At this time, when connecting face-to-face is ill advised, Instagram can be a great way to keep communities together remotely. While I may be a complete amateur when it comes to making Instagram posts, I can say with 100% certainty I am an expert viewer of Instagram. When thinking of my favorite Instagrams all of them include some form of interactivity. 



Since the shelter-in-place order in the US began, The Poetry Lab (@thepoetrylab) has been posting daily writing prompts, giving their hundreds of followers something to do with their copious time indoors. River Heron Review (@riverheronreview) has also done their part in aiding the people staying home with their post of “7 Prompts for the Week Ahead.”


Another way to keep viewers engaging with previous issues of your publication is a reoccurring feature Watershed Review (@watershed.csuc) calls #fromthearchives. Featuring quotes from current and past issues of the literary magazine is a great way to connect viewers from the Instagram page to the magazine itself, hopefully keeping them there for a little while too! This practice of posting quotes from a variety of issues of the magazine is something many magazines are doing including Cream City Review (@cream_city_review), Ecotone (@ecotonemagazine) and Epiphany Magazine (@epiphanylitjournal), among many others. When adapting a technique many use, it is crucial to make yours stand out and ensure the creativity of your Instagram page matches the aesthetic of the magazine. As we have already established, I am a complete beginner when it comes to creating Instagram posts, so Canva is one way magazines have been able to make unique posts easily. It is actually difficult to find a literary magazine’s Instagram page that doesn’t have at least one post made on Canva, so changing up the color, font, and design of a Canva template can be as essential as proofreading. 


Highlighting Writers

Shoutouts or Spotlights of past writers can be a great addition when trying to connect to a viewership. This can be done by recognizing past writers who have won awards, achieved something noteworthy like being published again or simply by posting their published piece in your article to show their talents. Not only can this give the viewer a varied reading experience, but also show interested writers the type of work the magazine is interested in publishing, express that the magazine is competitive and worth submitting to, and that the magazine values its past writers.


Paula Scher, quoted in Abstract:The Art of Design, explains that design “can create immense power” by stating that “before you even read [something] you have a sensibility and spirit.” For a literary magazine, an Instagram post can be the viewer’s first window into exploring the world the magazine creates on a page. The first impression is the most important and can be done through carefully placed flowers and lines, a choice between Arial or Futura and a whole lot of creativity.

Written by Lily Anderson

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Peg Alford Pursell

pegalfordpursell_author pic

Peg Alford Pursell is an award-winning author, editor, and publisher. She has published multiple short stories, as well as two books–the 2017 Indies Book of the Year Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow, and her most recent book A Girl Goes into the Forest, which has been referred to as “sharp and disturbing” (Publishers Weekly) and “dexterous in anatomizing the relationships between mothers and daughters, emulating Henry James-like restraint to articulate that which is left unsaid between them” (San Francisco Chronicle).

In an interview with Litstack, Pursell who founded Why There Are Words (WTAW) Press spoke of her hopes for publishing, “I want to publish books that are unforgettable. Books that challenge, that evoke and provoke, that immerse readers. Books that confront issues, and by that I don’t mean books that must shock or that are in-one’s-face, necessarily. I value nuance and subtlety and beauty. Essentially, I want to publish books that endure.” Peg Alford Pursell is dedicated to fostering creative voices, supporting and helping to create a better and thriving literary community. She recognizes that in order to produce and publish works that endure the method is “quite simply, to publish the best books we can find.” Their publication embraces all voices regardless of cultural or socio-economic background. 

Her most recent book A Girl Goes into the Forest (Dzanc Books) is a collection of 78 individual short stories, most of which are but a couple of pages long. Yet, all of which showcase her incredible ability to create atmosphere, and to carve out intimate and sophisticated relationships. In truth, in just the first pages of her book, I was savoring every word of her prose and jealous of the talent she was able to display within merely one paragraph. And it is in my own humble opinion that her stories are universal and will endure the test of time.

In the story “Old Church by the Sea” the story begins with a mother and her teenage daughter visiting an abandoned church by the sea, and slowly and subtly blossoms into a short but poignant meditation on the relationship between the mother and daughter from the very beginning: “Having and wanting at the same time—that’s what it was to carry my daughter inside me. After, I was emptier than I could ever have imagined, I thought then.” Her prose is direct, effective, and leaves just enough unsaid to inspire the minds of the reader to contemplate emotions that are curious but also utterly familiar. 

Please join us for a thought-provoking evening with Peg Alford Pursell on Wednesday, October 30th at 7:30 pm in Colusa Hall Room 100B. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.

Author Website:

WTAW Press:

Sample Work:

Written by Nicholas Shi

WR Intern Spotlight: The Eternal Question

writing death image

By Kelly Hack

It was a normal Saturday morning for me. I woke up early and was watching Youtube videos in bed before my daily venture downstairs to make breakfast when I saw a new video from PBS Digital Studios, which releases a series of studies regarding certain facets of the literary world in a series called “It’s Lit!” It just so happened that on this day, they were discussing “Death, Personified.” I watched, in awe, as they listed the endless examples of authors crafting “Death” a physical character. I began to wonder: Why are writers so fascinated with death? I decided to launch a personal investigation and go in search of the truth behind this phenomenon.

So I asked professors and graduate students in the CSUC English department, what about the theme of mortality makes it such a rich muse for writers? I began to notice a trend in their answers. Most agreed the use of death and its symbolism in literature is an inevitable constant. Professor Matt Brown, who focuses on American Literature and Culture in his courses, offered, “Death may be the only universal human experience and nobody in the world can tell us what it’s like.” In this way, Professor Brown believes personifying death gives readers a way to feel closer to understanding death as a whole, without having to experience it firsthand.

Grad student, Mary Gibaldi, who focuses on 20th-century American Literature and Feminist Theory, went a step further with her interpretation: “Not only is death an inevitable part of life, but it is often linked to other themes writers tend to gravitate towards power, identity, the social and socioeconomic spaces created after a person’s passing.” Upon speculation, these themes, in correspondence with one another, is what drives most plots in stories. Death, especially, serves as an unwanted change that forces the reader to be more open-minded and grow in some way.

Interestingly, Professor Jeanne Clark and Professor Rob Davidson, who both teach creative writing, gave a more poetic answer to the question. Clark reported, “It’s inevitability. The way it forces us to ask the hardest questions, to make meaning of suffering, to find consolation; it takes us to our edge. The ways it opens our hearts & minds.” Davidson added, “Surely the inescapable nature of our own demise—we are endlessly fascinated with questions of what death means, what happens after death, how death gives shape & meaning to our lives, and of course what one’s own death might mean: a reckoning, a release, an apocalypse, a rebirth.” The mere intricacy of these explanations adds the type of reasoning only a creative writer could offer. Somehow, their perspectives paint the concept of death as a vital and beautiful aspect of life.

Perhaps, in this way, it has managed to remain timelessly relevant in all genres of literature. While this question may never be truly answered, this at least gives me some idea about why writers remain fascinated with Death.


Faculty Recommendations:

Mary Gibaldi: Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Professor Matt Brown: There are dead bodies all over almost everything I read or teach. Leaves of Grass has 15 corpses in it and it is, by far, the most cheerful and optimistic text I teach. Nearly everyone dies in Moby Dick. And of course, the blues songs and Appalachian ballads I love so much are all populated by murderers and the murdered.

Professor Jeanne Clark: Elegy, Edward Hirsh; Elegy, Mary Jo Bang; The Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke; Brother, Matthew & Michael Dickman; Death Tractates & Bright Existence, Brenda Hillman; Trapeze, Deborah Digges; Prayer in Wind, Eva Saulitis

Professor Rob Davidson: Dante quickly comes to mind. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. From more contemporary authors, I am enormously fond of George Saunders. His story “Sea Oak” is a zombie story in which a woman who, in her mortal life, was a passive pushover; as a zombie, she seeks lovers and adventure—death becomes, for her, an opportunity for a “do-over.” Sadly, it doesn’t work out, but Saunders’s moral is clear: carpe diem.


Writer’s Voice Spotlight: An Interview with José Antonio Rodríguez


Recently, I had the opportunity to read José Antonio Rodríguez’s memoir house built on ashes. Written in vignettes, the stories create a rich tapestry of Rodríguez’s experiences as the child of immigrant parents, their impoverished life in Texas, his trips back and forth across the border to visit family in Mexico, and how he grapples with his emerging sexuality. Rodríguez’s brief vignettes exemplify his background as a poet with the work’s lyrically constructed snapshots, oftentimes resembling prose poems. Written from Rodríguez’s perspective as a young boy, the characters he portrays—Amá, Tía Eugenia, and his often-absent father, Apá—illuminate the immigrant experience and how it feels to grow up in a country where they are often perceived as outsiders. The memoir is a captivating story of a young boy’s coming-of-age, his struggle to navigate the complex world located between two cultures, and his advancing sense of personal identity.

In preparation for Rodríguez’s April 18th Writer’s Voice reading at CSU Chico, I had the opportunity to interview him about his writing.


When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

Initially it wasn’t a “want” so much as a slow realization that perhaps writing could be a possibility, perhaps I had some talent and something that warranted sharing with a reader. That happened when I enrolled in my first creative writing course as part of my master’s degree, which came after earning undergraduate degrees in other fields. I stumbled around for a while before coming to writing.

How did you decide to write house built on ashes?

For years I’d been carrying a deep desire to tell my coming-of-age story because I intuited that it was interesting and significant in some way, though I couldn’t exactly articulate how. Then as a graduate student at Binghamton University, I learned much about creative nonfiction but also about literary theory, which offered me new lenses by which to interpret my past, my experiences as an immigrant, as queer, as a member of the poverty class, as…. Eventually I reached a point where I had a good grasp of both my experiences and their larger or deeper significance, which is necessary to reach the reader.

What were you hoping to achieve with your memoir?

I had two main objectives. One, to show the reader who shares a similar background that our lives of dirt and sweat and want can also be the stuff of literature, can also be artistic, valuable, and beautiful. Two, to show the reader who has a vastly different background than my own how the Other becomes other-ed, and how that Other may not be so different after all, if we recognize the social, cultural, and political forces that form and deform the self. This isn’t to say that I presume to have succeeded at both objectives, only that those were my aims.

Why did you choose to structure house built on ashes in vignettes? What do you like about that particular form?

I love the form’s lyrical potential, how suggestive it can be, how much like poetry. It allowed me the space and rhythm to develop mood, to highlight the intimate details so significant to the narrator’s deep desire for beauty and belonging, for home. Also, I think it worked well to echo the very nature of memory, which is fragmentary and mysterious.

How did you learn how to write in the voice of a child/adolescent?

Before anything else, I had to understand that the individual’s past is always informing the present in ways both beautiful and terrible. And so I had to honor that past that I carry, accept the value and significance of those memories lived by my younger self. This felt more like emotional labor. Then came what felt more like intellectual labor: the mapping out of the institutions of power and influence that shaped the narrator and the ways they did it, from the macro to the micro, and then stripping them away to begin at the beginning. In other words, I learned about what the adult knows that the child doesn’t know and how the child begins to know, how that knowledge comes to him, and how that knowledge and those “lessons” are often contradictory or dissonant. For example, the memoir’s adolescent narrator is conflicted about his sexual orientation and his sense of masculinity. If I want to make that significant in the narrative, make that something the reader ought to be aware of, I will want to show where and how it might have started. For that and other reasons, I had to include the memories of the narrator being ostracized by the boys of the village. But I had to include them in such a way that would communicate the young child’s bewilderment based on what he did and did not yet know.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming The American Autopsy: Poems?

The collection is centered on the various manifestations of violence in the U.S., from personal to communal, private to public. And it investigates the ways this violence challenges the nation and its subjects. That was the aim, anyway; we’ll see what the reader makes of it.

Do you have plans for other books of poetry?

I imagine I do because I feel I have more to say and explore, except that I’m not certain what shape the next project will take until I’ve amassed a group of poems that might fit together. And how they might fit together is mostly a mystery until the project comes together. I’m also superstitious about articulating the project before it has manifested itself, because the project may evolve, and my having already articulated its shape may prove stifling to its evolution. I guess I prefer to work in the amorphous dark.

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

New poems. Translating the memoir into Spanish. Translating a Mexican poet’s work into English.


Before house built on ashes, Rodríguez was best known for his poetry. His works include Backlit Hour (SFA Press/Texas A&M Consortium, 2013), The Shallow End of Sleep (Tia Chucha Press/Northwestern UP, 2011), and Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives (Wings Press). His latest book This American Autopsy: Poems is forthcoming in October of 2019 from University of Oklahoma Press.  You can read more about José Antonio Rodríguez and his work at

Here are some other links to a sampling of Rodríguez’s work :

“Sunflowers”  (Poetry Foundation), “On Shakespeare: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day'” (Poetry Society of America), “Double Glass Doors”  (Connotation Press).

Please join us for an exciting evening with José Antonio Rodríguez, this Thursday, April 18th at 7:30 pm, Zingg Recital Hall (ARTS 150). Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public. This Writer’s Voice reading is also sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Undergraduate Education, in support of the 2018-2019 Book-in-Common.

Written by Jeanette Keables

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Lynn Freed


Lynn Freed has been described as the literary love child of Joan Didion and Fran Lebowitz. Often wry and satirical, she writes with a powerfully determined voice about women, writing, and travel. Her most recent publication, The Romance of Elsewhere (Counterpoint Press), is a collection of essays about intense wanderlust and the struggle of defining “home.” Lynn says the central question of the collection is “where or what is home?’ To which I’d have to say, nowhere.” She continues, “Which is not to say there aren’t places in which I feel at home—Greece, for instance, and the African bush. I also feel at home in the past. And yet there is also a certain liberation in being untied from the past—from the bonds of home. And a sadness, a great sadness. As you see, I’m still looking for an answer.”

Freed grew up in Durban, South Africa, and moved to New York as a graduate student to study English Literature at Columbia University. She is Professor Emerita of English at the University of California in Davis and has published numerous, award-winning works in fiction and nonfiction. Her most recent novel is The Last Laugh (Sarah Crichton Books), about a group of older women who flee their previous lives by moving to a Greek island—something many of us have fantasized about. It delves into what freedom really entails and the dynamic complexity of friendships between women.

On writing, Lynn says “leaving home is perhaps the central experience of the writer’s life. The restless pursuit of a way back while remaining steadfastly at a distance — this is the enigma that informs the writer’s perspective.” By her own account she is neither fast nor disciplined as a writer. She says “I’m hard put to know which obsess me. The cult of the self? The self-promotion, selfies, self-this, self-that to which we’re all subjected? Old age? Grown children?…Something will come up, or nothing. If nothing, I’ll try not to force something onto the page.” The result is prose full of candor and wit that looks deeply at what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a writer.

To read more about Lynn Freed and her writing, check out this interview on The Rumpus.

Please join us for a thought-provoking evening with Lynn Freed this Thursday, November 1st at 7:30 pm in Zingg Recital Hall (ARTS 150). Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.

Written by Alyssa Cox

2018 Best of the Net Nominations

Watershed Review is pleased to nominate the following poetry and prose for the 2018 Best of the Net anthology. Good luck to all of our contributors!


Christopher Emery: “Moon City, 1933” (Fall 2017)

Linette Reeman: “Sometimes There is a Boy Who Wants to Love the Girl Back Into Me” (Fall 2017

John Sibley Williams: “Forest // Trees” (Fall 2017)

Michelle Tong: “The Joy of Painting” (Spring 2018)

Rae Gouirand: “Arils on Velvet” (Spring 2018)

Addison Hoggard: “Coy” (Spring 2018)


Jennifer Popa: “Useless Prey” (Fall 2017)

Mehdi M. Kashani: “5-Across” (Spring 2018)


David Tromblay: “Yabba Dabba Do” (Fall 2017)

Sjohnna McCray: “Love and Illness” (Spring 2018)

Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Michelle Tea


Michelle Tea, author of the newly minted Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms (Feminist Press, 2018), excels in bringing together her transgressive worldview with the kind of wit and humor that help readers inconspicuously tackle tough subjects like financial struggle, self care, and what it means to truly be an adult—and you’d be surprised what that includes, because adulthood isn’t always about living in a nice clean home and having your entire life in order; sometimes it’s being 40 and living with a bunch of 20-year-olds with a penchant for partying. Michelle got her start like many of us: writing and hoping for the best, even when sometimes the “best” takes us down a path we didn’t prepare for. Tea doesn’t hold back in her work as she navigates what being a person trying to stay true to themselves means.

In the 90’s, Michelle found herself overwhelmingly surrounded by the testosterone and misogyny found in the literary community. Instead of retreating, she decided to take the initiative, grab the literary community by the balls, and create her own open mic with friend Sini Anderson. This new program, called Sister Spit, strove to create a place for the queer literary community to gather and share their spoken word. Tea’s inspiration to start the group started with questioning:

“Where are all the other queer female writers?…They’re not coming cause they don’t feel welcome and it makes sense that they don’t feel welcome. You had to really fight for a space there” (Michelle Tea, Electric Literature).

Although Sister Spit was originally geared towards cis women in the queer community, the fluidity of gender and the social acceptance emerging in the past years have pushed Sister Spit to widen their audience and participant demographics to engage people from all walks of life, so long as they vibe with their original message of “feminism, queerness, humor and provocation.”

In 2003, Michelle created Radar Productions to give the queer community of San Francisco  access to free and affordable literary arts programs that they weren’t finding in the male-saturated literary community. This nonprofit organization still hosts a traveling Sister Spit tour every year, featuring authors like MariNaomi, Wo Chan, Jay Dodd, and Virgie Tovar. In addition to her work with Radar Productions and Sister Spit, Michelle Tea is the curator for Amethyst Editions, a Feminist Press Imprint, and continues to strive to unapologetically share her art and create an inclusive environment for the queer literary community.

Michelle Tea’s new, razor-sharp essay collection, Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms, reflects on the cultural artifacts that have challenged and calibrated her against the world. She writes on “Art and Music,” “Love and Queerness,” and her usual spectrum, “Writing and Life.” In her writing, Michelle is someone we all can easily relate to. From pondering her personal struggles, to demonstrating what life means to her, Tea’s life stories allow us to truly understand how our own unique situations are what define us. Her fearless reflection on times of previous struggle has allowed her to see her growth and acceptance, which is something we all can take from. Tea has a knack for slaying her inner demons and conveying her stories to the audience in the most comical way possible. Her overall style makes people think that we can still find light even in the darkest of situations.

Against Memoir rebels against the traditional autobiographical text we have seen in Tea’s previous works. In this essay collection, she interweaves her thoughts and experiences with film, books, and important figures to move past a singular narrative into a collective one about our time. Some of the pieces within the collection have been published from previous speeches, readings, and talks, including one from 2016 at Butte College. Within her work, she keeps her readers entranced with her powerful yet quirky assertions all while offering herself as a model for activism. In her essay, “The City to a Young Girl,” she says, “I guess that’s my issue with writing as activism: how hard it is for it to change the actual systems that oppress and limit and kill.” Through her writing we see a queer woman who fights for the freedom of those who are chained by the stigma of social and political views.

Other works by Michelle Tea include Valencia—which has received the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction, and was adapted into a movie in 2013—and the young adult fantasy trilogy Mermaid In Chelsea Creek, among many others.

Please join us for an exciting evening with Michelle Tea this Monday, October 8th at 7:30 in PAC 134 for a reading from Against Memoir, a Q&A, and book signing. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.

Written by Emily Ribeiro and Jazmin Gomez


WR Editor Blog: Marta Shaffer

“Not Fucking Fixed in Place”: A Eulogy for My Dad


Of course, this is not a real eulogy. My dad did pass away, three weeks ago from when I first started writing this. And I was prepared to write his eulogy, had even asked a friend for examples of eulogies she had written to use as a basis, because I had never written one before. My sister and I had agreed we would deliver it together, every other paragraph, but I would craft the words.

But I never wrote the eulogy for his funeral, and the reason is this: my dad was an independent thinker until the end. Take, for example, the only thing of his I took home to California with me from Minnesota. My mom said it was the last purchase he made: a coffee mug that has a list of English words and phrases that, grammatically, are often confused. “You’re” and “Your,” “They’re” “Their” and “There,” etc. For each word or phrase, the coffee mug provides an explanation of its proper use—but each explanation incorporates the expletive fuck.

You’re = You Fucking Are. Your = Shows Fucking Possession.”
Could’ve = Could Fucking Have. Could Of = You’re a Fucking Idiot.”

I took the coffee mug because my dad, like lots of fathers, had sayings he would use over and over again. The world is just a bunch of assholes and idiots, was one of his favorites. Don’t take any wooden nickels, another expression of his general distrust in humanity. But a lot of them were also grammar-related, because my dad, like his dad, had a deep love of English, and he took any accidental misuse of it not only as an assault against language as an institution, but also as some kind of personal insult. Thus, as a child, if I finished my dinner and announced, I’m done! my dad would clear my plate and reply, Cakes are ‘done,’ people are ‘finished.’ A lesson in superlatives was squeezed into a rhyme that I hope to someday cross-stitch onto a pillow: Good better best, never let it rest—until your good is better, and your better is best. If I ever used a word incorrectly, my dad would let me know immediately, and tell me to Go look it up in your Funk & Wagnall’s. And if in a fit of teenage rage I ever said, YOU’RE the one that’s being unfair! he surely would have replied, who’s.

That coffee mug is sarcastic, hilarious, smart and irreverent, just like my dad. And it’s completely fitting that it’s the last purchase he ever made. This is the man whose last email to the family from his deathbed was not to express remorse or love or final wishes—but to complain about Trump. trump thinks Jackson would have prevented the civil war, per a CNN report tonight. Don’t know trump’s point on that. going off the deep end, he is. And the entire reason why I never delivered his eulogy was because he never had a funeral—he expressly told my mother and my aunt that he did not want one.

Half of the reason he never had a funeral was because he had his body donated to science, which I find incredibly cool. The other half is because around the age of sixty-three, my dad stopped believing in God. After growing up the son of an Episcopalian reverend, as an altar boy in an Episcopalian church, and living his adulthood as the brother of an Episcopalian reverend—believing in the Bible and practicing the golden rule his entire life—my dad decided in his twilight years that it was bogus. I talked to him pretty extensively about it, because where most people would seek comfort in religion at his age, my dad rejected any promise of an afterlife, because it stopped making sense to him.   After years of struggles, he no longer saw any evidence that Jesus was looking out for him, and rather than dig his heels into the dirt and insist that Episcopalism was going to save him someday, he simply changed his mind.

I saw his flexibility of heart at another very poignant moment between the two of us. He was so proud when, as a grad student at Chico State, I was hired to teach freshman composition, a class where first-year students are taught how to write academic papers. He assumed his progeny was going to make sure that teenagers in California would know that cakes are ‘done,’ people are ‘finished.’ And in a heartbreaking conversation, I had to explain to my dad that grammar is no longer taught to first-year college students.

Then how do they learn to WRITE? he asked incredulously.

I described how we are taught to edit their papers for organization and clarity, how forming an argument and supporting it with facts is top priority. But if we see grammar that is not prescriptive, we are not supposed to alter it unless it’s unclear writing.

“Prescriptive”? he asked.

“Proper English,” I said. For example, a student growing up in a household where both English and Spanish are spoken likely uses a form of English that old-school grammarians wouldn’t consider “correct,” but as instructors we honor whatever language they use, as long as their ideas are clear.

And you agree with this?

I didn’t at first, but now I do. My dad sighed. It took a few more conversations, but in the end, he actually came around. He was able to accept that his ideas of language—concepts that to him were literally more holy than religion—were changing, and he was willing to change with them.

This is what I mean when I say that my dad was an independent thinker until the end. I hope, if I have learned anything from him, it’s how to be a cork in the stream, to bend and not break, to be elastic in my ideas forever, and to keep a sense of humor through it all. Because there is a vital difference between losing, and being loose. Or, as his coffee cup will remind us:

Lose = Cease to Fucking Keep. Loose = Not Fucking Fixed in Place.”


Written by Marta Shaffer (with unwavering help from Jenna Roebuck)

2017 Pushcart Prize Nominations


Watershed Review is pleased to announce our nominations for the 2017 Pushcart Prize  Anthology. Thank you to our contributors for the honor of featuring their work in the Spring and (upcoming) Fall 2017 issues!

Spring 2017 Issue:

Einstein’s Streetcar,” by Stan Sanvel Rubin (poetry)

Tuning Your American Dream” by Ken Poyner (nonfiction)

Blogging for Success in Motherhood & Life,” by MaryRose Lovgren (fiction)

Fall 2015 Issue (forthcoming):

“Forest // Trees,” by John Sibley Williams (poetry)

“Under Construction” Anya Vostrova (nonfiction)

“Useless Prey” Jennifer Popa (fiction)


(Artwork by Roger Salucci)


Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Rob Davidson


Our next author for Writer’s Voice is our very own Rob Davidson, professor of creative writing and American literature at Chico State. Rob will be reading from his newest publication Spectators: Flash Fictions (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Kirkus Reviews has praised Spectators as “A small but mighty collection of textual snapshots… Flash fiction at its best that’s definitely worth a look.” Indeed, the collection of micro wonders has been nominated for Pulitzer Prize.

Rob talks about his writing process for Spectators in The Story Prize. The collection was inspired by photography and visual art of Stephani Schaefer, Sara G. Umemoto, and Tom Patton. He started off with ekphrastic exercises, simply literary responses to artistic production before trimming each piece down. This process, as I recalled Rob saying at his first reading at Arabica Café downtown Chico, allowed him to realize what was essential. By compacting each piece to less than a page, truly, each word is important and every line shines.

This work moves from the lyrical to the narrative and to the meta, reminding us that, just like memories, we may not remember moments in their entirety. We remember only certain instances or details. Rob expertly draws out those kinds of details to ground us in familiarity, something different, and gifts us with something we had not quite noticed before. After all, “We are spectators…We exist both to observe and be observed.”

Davidson’s previous story collections are The Farther Shore (Bear Star, 2012) and Field Observations (Missouri, 2001). He is also the author of a monograph, The Master and the Dean: The Literary Criticism of Henry James and William Dean Howells (Missouri, 2005). His fiction, essays and interviews have appeared in Zyzzyva, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Indiana Review, New Delta Review, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere. Davidson’s honors include a Fulbright U.S. Senior Scholar award to lecture in Taiwan (2015-2016), the Camber Press fiction award, judged by Ron Carlson, and an AWP Intro Journals Project Award in fiction.

Please join us for an exciting evening with Rob Davidson, this Thursday at 7:30 pm Colusa 100B. Thanks to contributions made by the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Writer’s Voice readings are free and open to the public.

Written by Jer Xiong