Tuscaloosa Runs This -- an anthology of Tuscaloosa Writers
(260 pages, Broken Futon Press)
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Around 5:13pm Central Standard Time on April 27th, 2011 an EF-4 tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For those in Tuscaloosa, there are flashes of memory: the rain wall approaching from the south before the camera went out—the streets mentioned on the radio becoming recognizable, the lights flickering and going out. The next day, the weight of what had occurred settled on our chests: the residential areas of Forest Lake and Alberta City decimated, people missing, friends without roofs.
The phrase “Alabama Runs This” has been an inside joke between those here in Alabama about the caliber of work that comes out of here—if you have picked up a literary magazine or read one online in the past couple of months you have undoubtedly come across one or more of the names in this anthology. There is a pride, a camaraderie, a swagger to writers from Alabama; a grit beyond glamour, a work ethic. We write hard and we write well; I can say with confidence that this dedication to our work has translated to our efforts to rebuild.
After the tornado, “Tuscaloosa Runs This” became a rallying cry amongst friends involved in the recovery process. In one sense, when everything happened we didn’t know what to do, but we knew that we needed to do something. And so, we played to our strengths—our counseling, our writing, our ability to haul, to swing an ax. As a result there was a lot of attempts: some more successful than others, but attempts nonetheless. The works in this anthology are attempts (essays, Montaigne would call them) to capture what it is we love about this city and what it means to us to repair and rebuild our home. The quality of the people of Tuscaloosa is only matched by the quality of their writing. Here, we have some amazing work from amazing people—all with our city on our minds and in our hearts. Some of the work has been written long before late April, other pieces written shortly after the storm.
Tuscaloosa is my adopted home: I am originally from New Jersey and came to Alabama, as many do, to attend the University of Alabama’s MFA program in Creative Writing. As most people from the northeast who decide to move to the Deep South, I was intimidated and scared: I was giving up a life I knew for something completely foreign and terrifying. As with anytime someone moves from one place to another, there are growing pains—the town is small and vastly different from any other place that I ever lived. It is hot.
The moment I started to love Tuscaloosa was in the middle of the summer of 2007. I was teaching creative writing in a GED program in Greensboro, Alabama, a small town of about 2700 people about 40 miles south of Tuscaloosa through the Hale Arts Council and the Creative Writing Club at the University of Alabama. The students were construction workers in the Rural Studios Project out of Auburn University—they would take classes in the morning and build homes in the afternoon. When they heard that I was from Tuscaloosa, it is all they wanted to talk about: that Tuscaloosa is the center of it all—there is a movie theatre, there is football, there is an Olive Garden. They wanted to know where my Alabama Crimson Tide gear was: why wasn’t I wearing an Alabama shirt? It was then I understood the importance of where I lived; that there is something here that is envied, that is loved. It represents “the big city” for a lot of people in West Alabama, a mythical place where Paul Bear Bryant once walked, an opportunity to be the first person in one’s family to go to college, a town full of hope, a home. I returned to Tuscaloosa grateful and I remain grateful—I have grown in its red clay: a better writer, a better teacher, and a better person.
In Tuscaloosa, there are cockroaches. The faux aristocracy of the fraternities and sororities can be suffocating. There is backwardness to the point of absurdity. But there is barbecue. There are quick walks to campus, quick walks to the bar. There are opportunities to start and sustain anything you wish, whether that is starting an Art Kitchen or a reading series or a locally grown produce nonprofit or a theatre group or or or. The reason for this is because of the people: the beautiful, talented, loving people. The beautiful, talented, loving people that have been operating chainsaws. The beautiful, talented, loving people that have been sorting through the remnants of homes to find photographs of people they’ve never met. The beautiful, talented, loving people that are sorting baby clothes, moving pallets of water, making phone calls to shelters, delivering steel-toed boots to people who have lost their homes so that they can return to work on Monday, sending good will and love and money from far away, these things, all of these things. The beautiful, talented, loving people that are also the authors of the pieces in this collection, sons and daughters of Tuscaloosa—some born here, some adopted into its oak trees for a small period of time, forever changed. That shout “Roll Tide Roll” in the pregnant pause between “Alabama” and “Where” and “Alabama” and “Lord”, that are comforted by the sound of trains, that just know.
So, thank you for all of your support of Tuscaloosa and those who love this city. Thank you for your support of Alabama writers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
About The Editor:
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey, and currently lives in Tuscaloosa. He has released two books by Tiny Hardcore Press: ‘So You Know It’s Me,’ a series of Tuscaloosa Craigslist Missed Connections, and ‘Come See For Yourself,’ a collection of stories about New Jersey. In 2012, Origami Zoo Press released ‘Level End,’ a collection of lyric essays about videogame boss battles. His work has been anthologized in Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 2 (Norton), Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction (University of Iowa Press), and Blurring the Boundaires: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction (University of Nebraska Press).
Alex Chambers is part way through building a house in southern Indiana.
Brooke Champagne has the nose of her father and smile of her mother. Her father’s grandest wish is to chase the women of Costa Rica up coconut trees, and her mother’s is for Brooke to bear a child. She often hugs her Australian Shepherd, King, and teaches some at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Darren C. Demaree is living in Columbus, OH with his wife and daughter. He is the recipient of two Pushcart Prize nominations.
Megan Fink is the co-founder of Flying House, an annual artist-writer collaboration project based in Chicago (ourflyinghouse.com). A graduate of the University of Alabama’s Creative Writing Program, she has served as an assistant fiction editor for Black Warrior Review, has published short stories in literary journals such as Red Lightbulbs, Camera Obscura and 5923 Quarterly, and she has recently completed her first novel. Much of her work focuses on the exploration of text and image relationships.
Tessa Fontaine is in the MFA program at the University of Alabama where she has worked as Black Warrior Review’s Nonfiction Editor. She has work in, or forthcoming from, Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, PANK, Brevity and more. Originally from the Bay Area, Tessa is happy to call Tuscaloosa home these days.
Andrew Beck Grace makes films, takes pictures, and occasionally writes stuff down at his home in Alabama. He wrote nonfiction pieces for the now defunct alt-country magazine No Depression and produced stories for NPR News before turning his attention to documentary film. He's driven by the twin pursuits of telling stories and trying to make sense of the world around him. He recently realized these pursuits are one in the same. His current film, “Eating Alabama,” which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, is about the South, sustainability, and community. He directs the Documenting Justice program at the University of Alabama and often hollers “Roll Tide” at friends and strangers alike.
Barry Grass lives in Tuscaloosa, AL, where he is currently the Nonfiction Editor for Black Warrior Review. His work appears recently in Annalemma, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and Junk, among others. Send your inside dope on good small, Southern barbecue joints to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren Gail aspires to be either a writer or an abalone diver. Tuscaloosa is her home.
Pia Simone Garber is a poet from Staten Island, NY. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Alabama. Currently, she is readjusting to a more Northern climate, and missing the mild Tuscaloosa Winter.
Jennifer Gravley works at a university press located on an industrial boulevard. She, like many others, left a piece of her heart in Tuscaloosa.
Jeremy Allan Hawkins grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York State. He is an alumnus of the US Fulbright program and the New York City Teaching Fellows, and he is also a former teacher for the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project. His poems have appeared in Tin House, Hayden's Ferry Review, PANK, Salamander, The Laurel Review, & Harvard Review. He called Tuscaloosa home for four years.
Kori Hensell is a graduate of the University of Alabama. Sometimes she lives in a Tuscaloosa hobbit hole with Batty, her emotionally unstable cat. Other times she lives in delusions of space exploration, fashionable 60s cocktail parties, and the impending apocalypse. Her work can be found in Big Lucks, Let's Hang and 300 Reviews.
B.J. Hollars is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He received his M.F.A. from the University of Alabama in 2010. He bleeds crimson.
MC Hyland is the author of Neveragainland (Lowbrow Press, 2010), and the chapbooks Every Night In Magic City (H_NGM_N, 2010), Residential, As In (Blue Hour Press, 2009) and (with Kate Lorenz and Friedrich Kerksieck) the hesitancies (Small Fires Press, 2006). She lives in Minneapolis, where she runs DoubleCross Press and the Pocket Lab Reading Series, and works at Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Her heart is made of Big Bad Wolves barbecue nachos.
An Iowan at heart, Ellie Isenhart remains in Tuscaloosa post-tornado, feeling at home in the community formed in the days and weeks after the storm. She and her pup, J.D. spend their days walking the arboretum near their home, and their nights reading Comp/Rhet theory and snoring on the couch respectively. John remains an important part of their lives.
Caleb Johnson was born in Arley, Ala. He graduated from the University of Alabama and will complete his MFA in creative writing at the University of Wyoming in 2013.
Laura Kochman, originally from New Jersey, is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama, where she is the Poetry Editor for Black Warrior Review. Her work can be found in Jellyfish, The Journal for Compressed Creative Arts, Copper Nickel, alice blue review, and others.
Jessica Fordham Kidd lives, writes, and teaches in the Tuscaloosa area. Her writing has appeared in Alabama Heritage Magazine and
encyclopediaofalabama.org. Her poetry has appeared in The Crab Creek Review, The Paris Review, and OVS.
Steven Casimer Kowalski is your favorite writer's least favorite writer. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio and holds an MFA from the University of Alabama. His work has appeared.
Madison Langston lived in Tuscaloosa for 23 years and now she kinda doesn't.
Kate Lorenz is the editor of Parcel. Her short fiction has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, Everyday Genius, and The Collagist, and her chapbook, Stardust, was published by Blue Hour Press. She received her MFA from the University of Alabama and lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
Matt Maki writes and teaches in Marquette, Michigan, and is Poetry Editor for Greatest Lakes Review (greatestlakesreview.weebly.com).
Erin Lyndal Martin is a poet, fiction writer, and music journalist living in Madison, WI.
Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a largely airborne vapor prone to gather over deforested landmasses and to accrue at times in ice pack at high altitudes. It is believed that he originated as a weather assault planned by inland aboriginal peoples upon their coastal colonial oppressors, though records are vague as to how his instigators lost control of him. If Martone currently has a political bent to the wetnesses he perpetrates, such inclinations are unknown. For a time, he was the proven accomplice of a herd of bison that assembled from the aggregate oatmeals of various air caves. He roamed with these creatures, providing a necessary buoyancy for their frequent rituals of cloud mimesis. Martone also served as general counsel for a society of basil plants which sought to expand its collective bargaining potential during the Herb Riots of the previous century. He converted himself into a kind of olfactory grid, transmitting coded scents at supersonic speeds and thus greatly accelerating the conclusion of that conflict. In perhaps his most legendary pursuit, Martone became intimately involved in translating the languages of several quartzes, salts, and bituminous coal veins on the high plateaus of a few interconnected deserts. During his sessions with these substances, he would acquire a luminescence frequently misconstrued as the hallmark of a divinity. It was only when he snowed upon the chiefs of these tribes, a sign of mutual vulnerability nearly forgotten with the consolidation of ceremonies from one generation to the next, that they accepted him as a benevolent force, a fog of kindness. Once the confusion was resolved, Martone quickly developed the crystalline mnemonics necessary for cataloging their various tenses and cases within an octadecimal index easily replicated by most research institutions on islands and peninsulas alike. In more recent eras, Martone has preferred to disseminate himself among the vernacular rains of infatuated corks and other highly permeable substances. He says he enjoys the sensation of thinness he feels at such moments. He says he enjoys being all around us.
Sam Martone was not born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but it is the only place he knows to call home.
Alan May teaches in the Information Science program at the University of Tennessee. His latest book, Dead Letters, was published in 2008.
Jason McCall is from the great state of Alabama, where he currently teaches English and Literature at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Silver (Main Street Rag). He holds an MFA from the University of Miami, and his poetry has been featured in Cimarron Review, The Los Angeles Review, Mythic Delirium, New Letters, and other journals.
Chris Mink was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, AL. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Poetry at Florida State University. His work has appeared in The Greensboro Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Anti-, The Offending Adam, and la fovea. Earlier work can be seen in a folder his mother keeps.
Robin Lee Mozer lived in Alabama off and on for 16 years, four of them in Tuscaloosa. She now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband, her daughter, and their two cats. When the tornado sirens sound in Louisville, Robin misses James Spann and his suspenders.
Brooke Parks and her husband live in Carrollton, Ga., where she is a Lecturer in the English Department at the University of West Georgia. She received her MFA from the University of Alabama. Roll Tide! Her work has appeared previously in Hayden’s Ferry Review and Georgetown Review.
Kirk Pinho is a newspaper editor and covers Michigan and county politics, and teaches English at Oakland Community College. He lived in Tuscaloosa from 2007-2010 while pursuing his MFA in poetry at the University of Alabama. His recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, The Chariton Review, Everyday Genius and Atticus Review, among others. He lives in the Detroit area.
Colin Rafferty never came to Alabama until the day he moved there. He was convinced he'd stay for three years; he stayed for five and married a local girl (the poet Elizabeth Wade). He now lives, teaches, and writes in Virginia.
Juan Carlos Reyes is originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador. He received a PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2007 and is currently pursuing his MFA at the University of Alabama. He has presented his work at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Benham Gallery in Seattle, WA, and has published in Arcadia, Cavalier Literary Couture, and Black Warrior Review, among others. He teaches with the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project and currently serves as “Spotlights” editor at Zine-Scene. He lives with his wife in Tuscaloosa, AL.
Jessy Scivley has a Bachelor's degree in English from The University of Alabama and a Master's degree in Secondary Education from The University of Montevallo. She is an aspiring teacher and writer.
Katie Jean Shinkle left Michigan for Tuscaloosa, Alabama to be rid of snow (among other things) and left Tuscaloosa for Denver, Colorado where she is in snow once more.
Farren Stanley's place-of-origin is Santa Fe, New Mexico, though her heart has followed her body to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she is an MFA candidate in Poetry and Editor of Black Warrior Review. She lives under a massive Magnolia tree with a dog, a cat, 3 fish, 7 orchids and the occasional lizard. Her work is published or forthcoming in Marginalia, Caketrain, H_NGM_N, RealPoetik and at Greying Ghost Press.
Josh Tucker is an instructor at Chattanooga State. He attended the University of Alabama for six years where he received his BA and MA. He also witnessed one national championship.
Danie Vollenweider is a 2011 graduate of The University of Alabama. She currently lives in Gator Country, attending law school at University of Florida. Winning the BCS National Championship is never sweeter than when you're in enemy territory. This poem is in loving memory of her time in Tuscaloosa, as well as Brian Oliu's futon, on which she shed many tears, watched many football games, and learned that poetry is listening on paper. Additional work is forthcoming in Peripheral Surveys.
Elizabeth Wade holds degrees from Davidson College and the University of Alabama. Her work appears in such journals as Kenyon Review Online, AGNI, and the Oxford American. In her younger days, she met Bear Bryant, gobbled up the chocolate mess at Storyville, skipped the weekly pep rallies at Central, and, as a Tuscaloosa Belle, gave a mean tour of the Battle-Friedman House.
Erik Wennermark did go back to Tuscaloosa. He was pleased to discover it in fair shape considering. He hopes some parkland will be part of the rebuilding. "Marilyn" is doing well considering. She has developed an interest in Native American ritual. Tushka Lusa would be pleased.
Joseph P. Wood is the author of two full books of poetry as well as five chapbooks. He teaches in the English Department at The University of Alabama.