WR Intern Spotlight: Literary Horizons

By Dylan Townsend

“What do you enjoy reading?”

It’s a question that you can generally answer off the top of your head. Science fiction, fantasy, romance—most people can call to mind a handful of genres that they consider their reading tastes. But literature is a broad, broad sphere. How many favorites are out there that you’ve never even considered picking up because they don’t fall into the band of genres you call your own?

As a student editor for Watershed Review for two semesters and Flume Press for one semester, I’ve read dozens and dozens of pieces that never would have crossed my path as a casual reader. College students are often bombarded by this kind of assigned reading when they take literature courses, but personally, very few of those pieces have spoken to me in the same way that submissions to Watershed Review and Flume Press have. In part, knowing that this is the work of a living, contemporary author makes the forced reading more palatable. Someone out there put their heart into this work and cares about my eyes on it, and this leaves me more open to broadening my horizons; not only that, but I want to engage with it as the author intended, which can be difficult with unfamiliar forms. When discussing poetry chapbooks, it led me to ask a simple yet hard to answer question: “How do I read poetry?” Going around the room, almost everyone had something unique to contribute. Ask what the poem is trying to achieve, how it makes you feel, and how it changes when read aloud. See how the structure of the poem on the page connects to the meaning of the poem (or doesn’t). Jeanne Clark, professor of poetry at CSU Chico, provided another important piece of the puzzle for me when she visited the class and explained how she evaluates poems by the first line, last line, and the beginning and end of each line. Each of these tools, and the experience of having to read so much poetry, allowed me to appreciate the artistry involved in a form I previously cared little for.

Nonfiction was another genre that never interested me prior to working on Watershed Review. Since I was old enough to read, I have devoured science fiction, fantasy, and many other forms of fiction. My own writing has been almost exclusively fiction; I find it extremely difficult to write creatively about my own life. However, I found that the creative nonfiction writing I read often resonated strongly with me, even when my personal experiences came nowhere close to that of the piece. Specifically, the main thing I have discovered enjoyment in is nonfiction that feels intimate and unfiltered. Writing is unique among media forms in its ability to transmit emotion and thoughts with explicit precision. A conversationally-told story may be interesting and engaging, but a writer can take the time to decipher all the implicit parts of that story and portray the internal, personal lives of people in fascinating ways, all the more fascinating for being based on truth.

As a writer myself, all the submissions I have read have helped me reevaluate the way I write and consider my own work. Reading broadly in all genres has given me a better understanding of deftness of word and phrase; the same techniques that make a poem striking in its concise beauty can be applied to prose as well. If a scene doesn’t have the impact I am looking for, the culprit is often a lack of those intimate thoughts that make you understand and care about the individuals portrayed. 

These insights I gained through this experience will continue to improve me as a writer, reader and editor, as well as provide a more thoughtful answer to the question:

“What do you enjoy reading?”

WR Intern Spotlight: Confessions of an English Major, or Four Years of English Classes in 750 Words

By Isabel Henson

May we never again write a five paragraph essay.

Do you remember it? The one we were taught in high school: Introduction, three concrete paragraphs, then conclusion? Some might have even shown it as a hamburger with each bun, lettuce, cheese, and patty paralleling a specific paragraph. Well, it sucks. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I think it has its time and place between learning how to write and well…only during learning how to write, but anything past that holds no substance. No real weight. To stay placidly within that structure creates a kind of self bondage that doesn’t translate into the real world. It taught us how to organize thoughts: but only in one specific way. There are a myriad of ways.

Give praise where it is due.

I do concede that if it hadn’t been for that five paragraph essay, however, I don’t know if I would have ever ran far away from it, to the opposite point of the spectrum and found my passion.

Unpopular opinion: anyone who hates poetry is wrong.

Poetry can be the opposite of the previously mentioned rigid structure. Run ons that just keep on going and going and going taught me that they are not the hearsay that I was taught and instead they have purpose and create an urgency that can only be matched or stopped by the use of fragments. Beautiful little sentences. Two words. Sometimes. Only. One. These weave focus and pointed meaning. Let us come up for a swallow of air. Everything I was taught never to use are the breaths that contribute to the lungs of the poem. 

It only takes one. 

I always claimed I was a poet. Turned my nose up to any prose partially because I thought poetry was superior, but mostly because I had a disastrous writing experience at my community college that solidified my belief that I could never write fiction. Pair that with back to back heartbreaks and nothing can remedy the soul like a poem. And all was going fine until my last semester of undergrad where I stumbled upon a new medium to color my world.

You must know the rules to break the rules

But this also means pushing past one’s own creative comfort zone: willingly…or sometimes unwillingly. Writing does not live within a set of lexical walls and boundaries. It does not reside within a prescriptive fortress. It is formed from experience, from hopes and dreams, from fears and nightmares. 

Now break the rules:

My very first class at Chico State was Literary Genres. I walked in ready to listen to the usual poetry/prose, nonfiction/fiction ideas and was instead confronted with the idea and possibility that literature is all around us. In the signs we read, in the syllabus we idly toss, in the posters held at BLM or Roe v. Wade protests. It was not confined to the historically straight male white cannon but moved fluidly in social media and also in the lyrics of J Cole. 

Time and time again I encountered this stretch of norms and steered to uphold writing to the honor it deserves. Not by rules. By content, by ferocity, by impact.

So I consumed it all and took as many poetry classes as I could to move into the space I had been taught until

I was forced to take a nonfiction class.

And the only reason I took it was because my advisor “encouraged” me (basically told me) I should not take any more poetry classes. Maybe branch out a bit. Become a little more well rounded. Appalled and annoyed, I agreed and landed myself in a nonfiction creative writing class. Once again I assumed that I would hear the poetry/prose, nonfiction/fiction talk. Turned out to be one of my favorite classes at Chico State.

Is it cheating if I still love both?

My creative nonfiction professor told me one day that I don’t know where I had been hiding, or what this “I’m not a prose writer” nonsense I had been claiming, but that I had to recognize that I was one. But the best writers of the field are those that read everything and try their hand, even for fun at a different genre. The five paragraph essay, though dull and terrible, gave me one set of tricks. Poetry handed me many more. Research papers, term papers about Shakespeare or projects on Walt Whitman, and reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen or Mai Der Vang’s Afterland gave me more. How beautifully coincidental that the last class I take here mirrors the one that began my career. That I would work for the same Watershed Review that was handed to me during my introduction to this university. If there is anything we English majors take away, it is that we are taught to admire the complex ending. It does not come neatly tied with string but rather is up to interpretation and is full of twists, leaving it up to interpretation if it is the end or the beginning.. 

Even a graduate still loves a cheesy happy ending. 

WR Intern Spotlight: Graduate, Student

By Jenna Welton

Creative writing cradles the aspiring author in a cocoon of captivating craft elements and wild ideas. The undergraduate balances work and school, work, procrastination, and mind blanks.

Try to stay productive because undergrad is almost over. You’ve almost made it! Wildfires swallow the surrounding communities. Sit and stare at articles for hours without processing a single thing.

Sit bare naked and exposed in front of the laptop screen. There’s nothing to hide but no words to write. Barricaded by the barriers of a traumatized mind.

Wait and worry about those pre-requisites instead.

Let the pain dissipate gradually.


The virus hits right as the imposter syndrome was starting to subside. Second-semester spirals. Home becomes school becomes work which became a cage as we scramble searching for a separate space.

This is grad school—keep up the momentum. You’re a grad student—keep up the momentum. This is grad school? This is your kitchen, your living room, and your cat who won’t stop getting on top of the counter.

Summer swells with the exhaustion of the last semester and the scattered sentences of a thesis yet to be written. Autumn comes. Those page counts need to be reached soon if those deadlines are to be kept.

Those deadlines are being pushed back again.

A flash-fiction collection concept. Pages that seem to add up with every editing attempt. Try to expand on this. Please provide further explanation for your reader. We need more context. More inner dialogue, please. 

Fluid short fiction flows from the fingertips with ease. A larger commitment comes with wordier literary works. Suddenly the piece has inner faucets that need tending to like those loose ends and pacing problems. You’d better revise any problematic plot holes or faulty character arcs as well. 

Discussion Questions to Consider:

    1. Who’s the killer of the story?

    2. Which twists and turns are too trope-thick?

    3. Is this influence-soaked work even yours anymore?  

Piles of papers containing comments keep the thoughts flowing but at too rampant of a pace. The revision process returns once again. Try to reestablish what the work was hoping to accomplish before being dissected. Is it still the same story? Is it successful? What does successful art look like?

Wait. Worry about what happens after all this and after your defense.

Get it together and let these extra months be your saving grace.


WR Intern Spotlight: A Charge of First-Degree Writing: Almost Objective Notes from a Slush Reader

By Morgan Konefal

Twenty chapbook manuscripts. Hundreds of poems. Hours reviewing, pitching, and selecting pieces to share with a world. As an editor, this is the delicious bread and butter sprinkled with inspiration and cheddar cheese, lots of cheddar cheese. And believe it or not, depending on your astute knowledge of the enigmas of the publishing world, us editors are writers as well.  

As verbally inclined artists, we are plagued (or blessed depending on your state of being) with a need to give a fraction of our jotted-down soul to anyone willing to hold it. Books. Zines. Facebook posts. A message in a bottle. Bathroom graffiti. A mother’s day card that only one person in the entire world willingly wants to read. 

Most importantly (and subjective to both you and me) are the beautiful forms of poetry and the literature that falls under the umbrella term “short stories”. And as an editor, I am often asked by invisible and imaginary enthusiastic submitters: “How do I go from hopeful applicant to slapping Take That, Doubters! onto my list of published praised places?” My answer? Maximum effort. Purpose. Passion. Think you’ve got all the ingredients mixed without lumps or an accidental addition of Chemical X? Look into the mirror and interrogate your reflection with the following script before pushing the “submit” button. 

  Why are you submitting?
  To get published.
  Don’t we all?
  I want to get published so I can go on and on and on and on and on and on
  about it at the office Christmas party.

  Why is this poem going first in the collection?
  It’s the titular piece.
  Is it the strongest one?

  Why does this character need to die?
  Because I hate my mother-in-law.
  But does it complicate the story? Does it produce that sweet, sweet nectar of
  character development? Is there a lesson learned at her expense? Will the
  reader be impacted? Think hard about it.
  You mean is this only a way to force my readers to live out a fantasy that is
  concerning as it is cliche?


  It’s a poetic, artistic choice.
  Yes, but does the form make sense with the message? Are the white spaces a
  way to denote the slowly melting polar regions in a poem about poisons
  pouring into the elements? Are alignments given to show the divide between
  two lovers as they realize their whirlwind relationship truly should stay in
  No, it just looks cool.

  Did Grammarly correct all your grammar mistakes for you?

Is this really a piece containing an idiosyncratic, beautiful voice that sings lyrics to awaken the soul of a nonbeliever? Did you really spend hours and hours rehearsing it before declaring it could not possibly have a higher potential for greatness? You’re really auditioning this work of magnificence because it means something to you and you hope it can to others?


Congratulations, you’ve been selected for this edition of _______.

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: https://www.pegalfordpursell.com/

WTAW Press: https://www.wtawpress.org/

Sample Work: https://themuseumofamericana.net/a-man-with-horses-flash-fiction-by-peg-alford-pursell/

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  www.jarodriguez.org

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” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2017-fall/poetry/emery-christopher.shtml (Fall 2017)

Linette Reeman: “Sometimes There is a Boy Who Wants to Love the Girl Back Into Me” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2017-fall/poetry/reeman-linette.shtml (Fall 2017

John Sibley Williams: “Forest // Trees” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2017-fall/poetry/williams-john-sibley.shtml (Fall 2017)

Michelle Tong: “The Joy of Painting” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2018-spring/poetry/tong-michelle.shtml (Spring 2018)

Rae Gouirand: “Arils on Velvet” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2018-spring/poetry/gouirand-rae.shtml (Spring 2018)

Addison Hoggard: “Coy” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2018-spring/poetry/hoggard-addison.shtml (Spring 2018)


Jennifer Popa: “Useless Prey” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2017-fall/fiction/popa-jennifer.shtml (Fall 2017)

Mehdi M. Kashani: “5-Across” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2018-spring/fiction/kashani-mehdi.shtml (Spring 2018)


David Tromblay: “Yabba Dabba Do” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2017-fall/nonfiction/tromblay-david.shtml (Fall 2017)

Sjohnna McCray: “Love and Illness” https://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2018-spring/nonfiction/mccray-sjohnna.shtml (Spring 2018)