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Amoskeag #30 Author Named ‘Notable’ by ‘Best American Essays’

“Green Card,” an essay published in Amoskeag Journal this past April, was dubbed “notable” by the staff (and editor Cheryl Strayed) of the annual Best American Essays anthology. Essay author Aine Greaney lives in Newburyport, Mass.

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Author Aine Greaney.

The Amoskeag Journal spoke with her via email his week.

Amoskeag Journal: How would you describe your writing journey?

Aine Greaney: As a voracious reader raised in a bilingual family, language was always my joy and plaything. So writing was always something I dreamed of doing. However, like many writers, I found a million reasons not to do it until I was past my .. ahem … 30th birthday.  I never completed or published anything until after I had moved to America in the late 1980s. As I have always worked a day job –and who hasn’t?– my writing has had to be done in fits and starts. I’m also a bit of a binge writer. I can go away for the weekend and bang out 100 pages, then only write about three pages for the rest of that week. I’ve been writing and publishing more than usual lately. I’m also very comfortable as a “bi-textual” writer, in that I switch back and forth between non-fiction and fiction with great ease.

AJ: How does it feel to be named “notable” in such a prestigious anthology?

AG: It feels wonderful, of course, and perhaps doubly wonderful for an immigrant writer to have my work 1. Published in a New England literary magazine such as Amoskeag and 2. Named as “notable” among the annual “Best American.” My “notable” essay, “Green Card” recounts  the day I drove in the rain to the local INS office to renew my green card, which is shorthand for our legal-resident status in the U.S. When an essay like that gets cited, it means that my work can transcend personal experience or national origin to actually speak to a universal or wider readership. Of course, it’s also very flattering to be on the list with writers whom I myself read and admire, such as John McPhee, Claire Messud, David Sedaris and Mary Gordon.

AJ: Where else can people find your work?

AG: My website has links to some of my online-published essays and blog posts (Salon.com, Boston Globe Magazine, Forbes), short stories and books www.ainegreaney.com.  I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.

You can purchase Greaney’s essay (along with the rest of the issue) here.

Author Spotlight: Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison’s first novel, The Gin Closet, was a finalist for the 2010 Los Angeles Times First Fiction award, and was named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the best books of 2010. Her second book, a collection of essays called The Empathy Exams, will be published by Graywolf Press in early 2014.

Leslie Jamison’s second book The Empathy Exams will be out in early 2014.

Amoskeag Journal: The 2012 issue has come to be known as the “Identity” issue; in what way does your work deal with “identity?” In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?

Leslie Jamison: My story is about a woman who finds herself defined by a tragic situation–the illness of her son–and pushes back against that passive state by defining herself in a new way: the transgression of infidelity. Committing adultery allows her to reclaim a kind of agency, as opposed to simply being constituted by suffering. In this sense, both her pain and her transgression are part of her “identity”–and, in an important sense, the latter is attempt to resist the ways in which pain can threaten to colonize identity entirely.

Amoskeag Journal:  What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”

Leslie Jamison: “It was hard to believe that her body in this truck, under this man’s hands, was the same body that had made Simon–the nipples he’d fed from, the tissue he’d broken with his newborn body.”

This sentence gives a sense of how–in this moment of transgression—a woman is defined as a sexual object and a mother at once; how uncomfortably these two parts of her identity co-exist.

Amoskeag Journal: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?

Leslie Jamison: When I think about myself as a writer, I think of all the places I’ve written–the small cold kitchens of Iowa City, my sun-struck bedroom in Los Angeles, a mouse-ridden attic or two in New Haven–and the jobs I’ve worked to make that writing possible: not just teacher but baker, innkeeper, tutor, barista. I’ve loved writing since I was little, so it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t define myself as a writer, but the definition is an ongoing process–in some sense, I am always simply what I’ve written that day.

 Amoskeag Journal: What lies ahead for you?

Leslie Jamison: I wish I knew! Actually, I’m happy not knowing. Most of the time (except when I’m a neurotic mess about uncertainty) I feel glad that the horizon is a mystery.

To view an excerpt from Leslie’s short story “All The Goats Are Born In The Hills,” click here.

Author Spotlight: Bill Glose

Bill Glose is a former paratrooper, a Gulf War veteran, and author of the poetry collection, The Human Touch (San Francisco Bay Press, 2007). In 2011, he was named the Daily Press Poet Laureate. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, New York Quarterly, and Chiron Review, among others.

Amoskeag: The 2012 issue has come to be known as the “Identity” issue; in what way does your work deal with “identity?”

Bill: Blind Dog comes from my manuscript Half a Man. The poems in this collection cover the period before, during and after I went to war in Iraq. The person I was before the war was not the same person who came back, and much of my work centers on the search for my true identity through questions of personal choice and culpability.

Amoskeag: In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?

Bill: Frequently I put my characters in uncomfortable situations that were created by their own actions. Not only does this create perfect conditions for conflict, it also leaves the characters unable to pin blame on anyone else. In striving for solutions, they have to ask hard questions about themselves as they face consequences for their deeds.

Amoskeag: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”

Bill: The opening of my poem, “All I want / is to live / my life with / confidence / of a blind dog,” sums up my quest for identity. It implies that I know who I am, but I want to be something else, something more, something better. “Confidence” refers not only to a desire to be more assertive, but also in being comfortable with my identity, whatever that may be. A blind dog does not whine about losing his sight. It accepts that it can no longer see, makes adjustments, and then finds ways to continue chasing squeaky toys and clawing open bags of Kibble.

Amoskeag: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?

Bill: Primarily I identify myself as a magazine writer—that is how I earn my living. I am a contributing editor with Virginia Living and a stringer with a few other publications. When I’m not on deadline, I write fiction and poetry. Articles are the meat and potatoes in my writing life; fiction and poetry, the dessert.

After I got out of the Army, I spent several years in the world of manufacturing, rising to the position of production manager at a paper factory. I was successful, but I was unhappy. This was not what I wanted to do with my life. I would come home from twelve-hour days and sit at my desk writing stories. After a while, I decided to take the leap, and I walked away from my career to become a full-time writer. The paychecks may not have been as large or frequent as when I was a manager, but my life is finally full. What I love about being a writer is that I can follow whatever stories most capture my imagination, learn more about them, share what I learn with others, and—best of all—get paid for it!

Amoskeag: What lies ahead for you?

Bill: I’ve recently been working on some longer projects while I shop two completed collections (one poetry and the other short stories) to publishers. I’m working on a novel and a non-fiction book about my great adventure of walking across Virginia—yet another wonderful experience that I would not have been able to undertake were I not a writer.

To view an excerpt from Bill’s poem “Blind Dog,” click here.

Author Spotlight: Abraham Aamidor

Abraham S. “Abe” Aamidor is a former daily newspaper reporter and suggests writing about what you really believe in and what you’re most passionate about. That’s part of being a successful writer, he says. Another key to success is identifying topics that have not been studied to death and picking out what you’re qualified to write about. Some of Aamidor’s books are published under his full first name Abraham, while others are published under his nickname, Abe Aamidor is a University of Chicago graduate (AB, Philosophy, 1969) and was born in Memphis, but grew up in Chicago from age 7.

Amoskeag: The 2012 issue has come to be known as the “Identity” issue; in what way does your work deal with “identity?”

Abe Aamidor: The story, “Delivery,” is about lost youth remembered in old age, and a fondness for a truer time, as corny or even reactionary as that may sound. The old man who is provoked to remember his youth by an unexpected delivery in the mail is not less valid, less authentic, than his younger iteration, though. His identity may evolve over time, but no version is more authentic than another. This may seem like a leap, but the Anglo-American philosopher and “agnostic Christian” Alfred North Whitehead, if you can accept that construct, said something like, “Your life matters because you did live it.” I’ve used that phrase at the last two funerals where I spoke. The old man in the story is thinking, even near the end of his life, that everything did matter, because he did live it.

Amoskeag: In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?

Abe Aamidor: The old man (the narrator) found a forgotten part of himself in an old box, literally a shoe box, though it would be more correct to say it spurred him to recall a chapter in his life. Perhaps this is too literal of an answer to the question — I think a lot of artists and critics don’t like literal meanings or literal anything. But it’s the identity of the man behind the curtain, as it were, who is the person who sent the old ice skates back to their original owner (the narrator in the story) that remains a mystery to the reader. Maybe it’s the narrator’s long forgotten boyhood friend, Wes Dobbins. Maybe. If so, Wes is a very confident, smiling, wily old man himself.

Amoskeag: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”

Abe Aamidor: The narrator is not so self-conscious such that there is a flash, a declaration, that emphasizes his identity or discovery thereof. But there are a few lines that express his personality, that give him individuality. I like the line best where, after listening to his boyfriend friend boast that his Daddy is going to buy him a pair of expensive Riedell ice skates, the narrator declares, “This kid Wes wasn’t going to get Riedell skates.” It reads better in context because Wes’s dad was just an hourly rate employee. But the narrator, who came from a professional family, was a tough cookie himself as well as a very decent, sensitive young man. A young Jimmy Cagney could play either of the boys in a movie version of this story.

Amoskeag: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?

Abe Aamidor: I had it too easy when I was younger. I won a Norman Mailer-sponsored high school writing contest in 1961 or so, when he had his column in Esquire magazine. You can just search my last name and Norman Mailer’s and it comes right up as part of his archives at the University of Texas-Austin. Later, I was the only freshman in my incoming class in college who placed out of Rhetoric, which was English composition. People told me no one ever does that but I did. I went to the University of Chicago and expected to study with Saul Bellow, but as I came to tell people, I not only never studied with Bellow, I never saw him once walk across the quadrangles. I forgot my way and didn’t continue writing.

In time, after serving in VISTA and as a public school teacher in the inner city for a while (both occupations gave me a 2-A military deferment, and I just refuse to join the millions of my age cohorts who now seem to all claim they were “anti-War activists” during the Vietnam War when in fact very, very few people really were), I started writing for The Reader, still a popular alternative press weekly in Chicago, but hardly so alternative anymore. Then I had a twenty-five year career in newspaper journalism, always in features. I still like to boast that there never was a time I was not in features, and I worked in three cities with about ten different editors over the years.

John Gardner, in his book On Becoming a Novelist, had one word of advice for journalists who want to write fiction — don’t. Nevertheless, I completed a short novel set in the days of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago and gave it to two successful authors I knew to review. They both liked it. I know they were sincere because each gave me the names of their agents to contact, but only after reading the ms. Yet each agent declined to look at the manuscript, claiming that books about the Sixties don’t sell. I was very discouraged — writing is just a business after all, I concluded. It was to be almost twenty years before I tried again, but not before I read a lot of short stories in various collections, such as the O. Henry awards and the Best American Short Stories collections. I learned as much from what I didn’t like as from what I did like.

Amoskeag: What lies ahead for you?

Abe Aamidor: I had my first short story published circa 1976 in Midstream magazine, which is still around, but I didn’t start writing short fiction again until I retired from The Indianapolis Star in 2009. I had to finish a non-fiction book I was working on at the time, At the Crossroads: Middle America and the Battle to Save the Car Industry, published by ECW Press of Toronto, then I turned in earnest to fiction. Besides Delivery, which was my first short story published in my new-old career, a story called John Gardner’s Last Ride, a speculative piece about the day Gardner crashed his Harley and died, will appear in The Gettysburg Review in 2013, and another story, My Stupid Life Dot Com, about a Dilbert-like character and his Yugoslavian landlords in Chicago, will appear in Chicago Quarterly Review sometime in 2013.

To view an excerpt from Abe’s short story “Delivery,” click here.