Sweet Smell of Success

by Elizabeth Lutyens, Editor in Chief

Mesha Maren and her mother, Anne Maren Hogan, after reading at a 2011 Great Smokies Review event, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville

Photo by Michael Mauney

If it’s true the “nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing” (Sylvia Plath), many members of the Great Smokies Writing Program community can inhale the perfume of publication instead. It’s a matter of record.

Until 2020, each of our spring issues included a column we called Fit to Print, news we collected from Great Smokies Writing Program students and faculty, past and present, about recent awards and publications. A scroll through our voluminous archives of that column would guarantee the reader a cramped hand and a bleary eye. And for us editors, a task that, although gratifying, leaned toward the Sisyphean. With regret, we ceased soliciting news from GSWP writers and shuttered Fit to Print.

But the good news kept shining through the slats. The 2020s decade dawned dazzlingly for authors with roots in the Great Smokies Writing Program. We offer herewith a few examples of up-to-the-minute publishing triumphs: the proverbial iceberg-tip of good news from across our community.

Mesha Maren, a 2012 graduate of UNC Asheville, is pictured above, left, after reading work written in a GSWP poetry class that was published in the 2011 spring issue of The Great Smokies Review. At that point, she already had work published in five literary journals, and would go on four years later to win the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, which is facilitated by the GSWP. Her short stories and essays have since appeared in Tin House, The Oxford American, The Guardian, Crazyhorse, Triquarterly, The Southern Review, Ecotone, Sou’wester, Hobart, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, The Guardian, and Oxford American…and on and on.

Novels came next, with her Sugar Run debut in 2019, reviewed in The New York Times by Charles Frazier, who concludes: “You can almost see Maren — like Raymond Chandler — cutting each typed page into three strips and requiring each strip to contain something delightful (startling simile, clever dialogue, brilliant description) offered to the reader as recompense for a world that presses up against you all raw and aggressive and dangerous.” Only three years later, a Times review of her next novel appeared, to similarly high praise: “Ultimately, Perpetual West is a meditation on a place where the prospect of disappearance and death is a constant fear. The novel is a rebuke to those — especially from the United States — who would romanticize these dangers, or see in the border culture primarily a means of self-discovery. . . . Perpetual West is a forceful addition to the literature of the U.S.-Mexican border and its ongoing history of tragedy and joy.” (Jennifer Clement, Jan. 25, 2022, The New York Times Book Review)

Pictured above with Mesha is her mother, Anne Maren-Hogan, who was a fellow student with her daughter in that long-ago GSWP poetry class. They read their work together at a Great Smokies Review event at Asheville’s Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café. Anne, who has described herself as a “poet-gardener,” continues both endeavors. She had her second chapbook published recently by Longleaf Press, and her manuscript, Vernacular, was chosen as Honorable Mention by the North Carolina Poetry Society in 2020. Her most recent submission to The Great Smokies Review, while a student in Eric Nelson’s Poetry Master Class, appeared in the fall 2021 issue.

A former Great Smokies student, Mary Pembleton, left nursing training to raise her two boys and then to be caregiver to her grandfather for four years. But in 2020, she announced, “I’m transitioning to a full-time writer!” She didn’t do that halfway. She was actually already contributing feature essays to a writer’s dream destination, The New York Times. (“Little Wished-for Deaths,” Oct. 11, 2019; “Can Elderberry Treat the Flu,” March 3, 2020; “A Pulse of Joy Amid Tragedy,” April 17, 2020). Her bio at the end of each of these pieces is simple, and similar: Mary Pembleton is a writer and mother in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Her most recent Times essay appeared in the Sunday March 03, 2022 issue, a wrenching but tender reflection on a family tragedy. Read Mary’s (true) story here.

GSWP faculty member Audra Coleman sent word about another former student, Eve Rogers Odom, who received Honorable Mention (third place) in the Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize offered by the North Carolina Literary Review. Eve’s essay, “Semi Shallow,” was published in the Review’s Winter 2022 online issue. The competition’s final judge, Michael Parker, said that the essay’s humor “comes from its honesty and its gentle ribbing of our most earnest altruistic impulses. It made me laugh. It made me want to watch a truck stop itself from careening down a mountain by pulling into a runaway sand ramp. . . . It explores our impulses to be ‘good people’ with intelligence and the slightest edge of irony. And it ends in an unexpectedly lovely place.” Read it here.

Along with sharing her news, Eve reports, “I love the Great Smokies Writing Program and Audra was such a wonderful teacher. I hope she has more classes in the future. I’m currently taking the novel building class with Jodi [see below], so fingers crossed, I will finish this novel I am working on!”

Eve’s comment leads us to current/forthcoming publications by GSWP faculty. We’ll begin with Jodi Lynn Anderson, a former book editor for HarperCollins Publishers and a New York Times bestselling author, whose latest young adult novel, Each Night Was Illuminated, is forthcoming in fall 2022.

Long-time faculty member Vicki Lane published her most recent novel, And the Crows Took Their Eyes, in fall 2020. Charles Frazier commented: “Lane’s richly detailed vision of the past expertly underpins a dark story of complex divided loyalties in an isolated, war-torn mountain community.” Tommy Hays said: “And the Crows Took Their Eyes accomplishes what only the very best historical fiction can ever hope to accomplish, connecting us, not only to our history, but to our humanity as well.”

Sebastian Matthews’ hybrid collection of poetry and prose, Beginner’s Guide to a Head-on Collision, won the silver medal at the Independent Publishers Book Awards. His new book, Beyond Repair: Living in a Fractured State, a memoir in essays, came out in 2020. Sebastian is author of the Craft Session column for this issue of The Great Smokies Review. Read that here.

Eric Nelson’s Terrestrials was chosen by Maxine Kumin for the X.J. Kennedy Award, and The Interpretation of Waking Life was winner of the University of Arkansas Press Poetry Award. His next book, Horse Not Zebra, will be published by Terrapin Books in 2022. Eric teaches the GSWP’s Poetry Master Class.

Finally, we come to Heather Newton, who is both a past GSWP student and a current teacher in the program. In addition, she is co-founder and Program Manager for the Flatiron Writers Room writers’ center in Asheville. Her short story collection, McMullen Circle (Regal House 2022), is a finalist for the W.S. Porter prize, and her novel, The Puppeteer’s Daughters, forthcoming from Turner Publishing in July 2022, has been optioned for television. Read Heather’s essay on fiction, memory, and unwanted legacies in this issue of The Great Smokies Review.

Sweetness—and light. Not to hide under a bushel, but to shine, inspiring the rest of us.

Elizabeth Lutyens teaches the Prose Master Class in the Great Smokies Writing Program. For more about her, go to www.elizabethlutyenseditor.com