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Cedric Tillman holds a BA in English from UNC-Charlotte and graduated from American University's Creative Writing MFA program. He is a Cave Canem fellow and a former Boston Review "Discovery" Contest semifinalist. Cedric's poems have appeared in several publications including Crosscut, Folio, The Drunken Boat, Kakalak, The Chemistry of Color, and Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poets From the Carolinas. In 2011, his debut collection was a semifinalist selection for the 42 Miles Press Poetry award; the manuscript, titled Lilies in the Valley, was published by Willow Books in 2013. He lives in Charlotte.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Cedric will lead a poetry workshop titled "The Marrow: Cutting the Fat." Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life . . .” In this workshop, we will discuss how to get at the marrow of our poetry, and consider ways we can “rout” all that isn’t poetry―unless, of course, we wish to make a statement about what poetry can be. Specifically, we’ll discuss wordiness, the utility of reading your work aloud, and the extent to which word choice can (or ought to) be affected by prospective audiences. Register now! 

 

What are you reading right now?
Right now, I’m reading A Testament of Hope, a collection of MLK’s speeches and writings edited by James M. Washington. I’m also reading Derrick Harriell’s collection Cotton. I just finished Wendy S. Walters’ Troy, Michigan, and I highly recommend it.

Where is your favorite place to write?
I like to write in libraries, restaurants, and coffeehouses, but I write most productively in dimly lit areas; the ability to see other stuff is a distraction. I often go into my basement, where I have a lamp with these six tenacle-like bulb sockets that are gradually dying one by one. When one goes out I just move the bulb to the next one until I find one that works...in any case, the light from one bulb is as much as I want to have.

If you weren't a writer, what kind of job would you like to have?
Probably something sports-related. I regret not trying to play football beyond sandlot. There really isn’t enough sports poetry, BTW. I need to get at it somehow. I’d love to be a GM of a basketball team.

Like many writers, I’d actually like to be more of a writer―I’m a very part-time writer with a full-time job. I also have what is almost certainly a romanticized idea of working in government in some role that would make me feel I was enhancing the quality of life of fellow citizens in some way. Teaching has always intrigued me but I learned quickly that doing it part-time and trying to juggle it with a full-time gig and a family wasn’t the ticket.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
I bring a few people with me whenever I write. I love Charles Bukowski’s audacity. His Last Night of the Earth completely blew me away, and not in that trite, b.s. manner we poets typically use the phrase “blew me away.” That audacity gave me license. And then I went to get an MFA where nothing he did would’ve passed muster―and so those impulses were reigned in, but his resistance to decorum pops up in my own work.

I love Gwendolyn Brooks’ elegance. I actually like her pre-60’s/Black Arts Movement stuff more, her more formal era where she managed to stuff subtle critique into sonnets, for example. I am very much a Hemingway fan; his use of implication is masterful, the way he manages to set moods without delineating with specifics. Cornelius Eady’s poetry works in this way for me too―not a lot of fancy verbal gymnastics―just careful word choice and a way of being accessible without being facile.

If you could switch places with one fictional character, who would it be?
I don’t get to nearly as much fiction as I’d like to. My gut, off-the-top-of-the-head response is Gatsby. He played himself in the Daisy situation, wanted too much too soon. Or perhaps, should’ve been contented with the “attention” he was getting. I could’ve shown him how to go about this thing. He was never going to take her from Tom’s money. Something about that story will always stick in my craw. If you’ve ever been the little guy, you want Gatsby to win.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from Fall Conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
My workshop will center on issues around editing, such as the utility of reading what you believe to be finished work aloud to yourself and avoiding wordiness. I hope attendees come away with a stronger sensitivity to redundancy, more of an ability to see the points in a poem at which they were striving to have something they could call a poem at the expense of the poetry. We are guilty sometimes of just wanting to use more vertical lines space on a page so we feel like we wrote a poem. Often the real poem is there and there’s just fat around the pith.

Charlotte is known as both "The Queen City" and "The Hornet's Nest." Does one of those nicknames ring more true for you than the other?
I refer to Charlotte as “The QC.” That’s what I’ll always use. The city’s prominence in banking and financial services brings to mind power and prestige and from there it’s not a big leap to associate those characteristics with royalty―so the name has some resonance today beyond its original derivation from Queen Charlotte. I’m so glad we have the Hornets back. It’s good to have the team’s name reunited with the Revolutionary War-era history of the area. I hope the corporate moniker doesn’t prevent us from going back to referring to our stadium (now Time Warner Arena) as “The Hive” instead of “The Cable Box,” but outside of sports this is “The QC.” Most importantly, “QC” is more compact and sounds cooler.

A panel on Sunday is titled, "The Many Paths to Publication." What's the first thing you ever published?
The first thing I ever published (other than one of those contests I entered in high school where you submit and everyone gets published that pays) was a poem called “Read This Back.” It was published in an anthology of poets from the Carolinas called Kakalak, in 2006. A friend from work saw an ad for submissions in Creative Loafing and suggested it to me. My book, Lilies in the Valley, came about through a chance meeting of a reader for Willow Books at a Cave Canem Foundation writing conference. She forwarded my manuscript to the poetry editor, Randall Horton. I’d met Randall at the 2009 Cave Canem Workshop but didn’t know anything about Willow. It took a lot of revision and a year and a half or so to get the go-ahead but I’m thrilled that Willow gave me a shot.

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Accessible, emotional, inimitable.

What is the most frustrating or rewarding part of the writing process?
It usually takes me a long time to come up with something I feel good about sharing with people. It’s finding the time to put in the time you know you’ll have to put in to get something you’re happy with that’s most frustrating. The problem is you’re never happy or content until you make that time and flesh out the idea(s) in your head, so there’s always a nagging sensation of guilt and responsibility lingering around every spare moment.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Stay in your lane. You can branch out but don’t ever think your experiences and your background is unworthy of being elevated in importance or illuminated by writing. Don’t let people make you feel that way, and don’t let you make you feel that way. It’s OK that your story isn’t their story―your story is somebody’s story, and a lot of people who won’t speak for themselves, who aren’t moved to put pen to pad won’t see themselves if you don’t declare that people like you and people like them exist.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
The Bible. I can think of several books I think every American should read (The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBois, The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson, The Debt by Randall Robinson) but it’s hard to think of more than the one that I’d recommend to the world.

Describe your ideal literary festival. Who would give the keynote address? Who would be the featured readers? What else?
I’ll stick to the living on this one, on the off chance that my wildest dream comes true. The mélange of styles and spirits would be CRAZY! (commencing name drop…) On the poetry side I’d have so much of my Cave Canem people that it’d probably resemble another one of its workshop retreats. I’d have people I know and people I don’t know whose work I admire from afar. Right now I’m thinking Cornelius Eady and Colleen McElroy and Derrick Harriell and Wendy Walters and Brian Gilmore and L. Lamar Wilson and Joseph Ross and Alan King and Derrick Brown. People from grad school like Sandra Beasley, Venus Thrash, Ebony Golden, Myra Sklarew. Pat Buchanan (yes, that Pat Buchanan―rough segue, huh?). Lisa Schamess and Edward P. Jones to rep for fiction. I’d have Timothy Keller, who’s book The Reason for God might be the second-most important book I’ve ever read, be the keynote. Just a bunch of talented, funny, thoughtful, serious spirits. Maybe a two/three day deal with presentations and Q&As and small groups. A little something for everyone.

Do you steal hotel pens?
Not without a complete absence of guilt. It’s for a good cause.

***

Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

Cynthia Lewis has been teaching Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, and creative nonfiction at Davidson College since 1980. Her reported essays concern American culture, including such topics as American women bodybuilders, spousal murder, professional gambling in Las Vegas, women’s obsession with shoes, and the world of Southern debutantes. Her nonfiction has been published in Southern Cultures, The Antioch Review, The Massachusetts Review, Shenandoah, Charlotte Magazine, and elsewhere. Three of her personal essays have been included by the editor of The Best American Essays on the “Notable Essays” list and another has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently finishing a book about sports and Shakespeare.

Cynthia will lead the Creative Nonfiction Master Class at the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference. Registration is now open!

After the initial drafting is complete, a writer may have lost valuable objectivity on the manuscript. The substance of this workshop will be strategies for recovering and sustaining such objectivity on one’s own work once the initial drafting is done. We’ll focus on how to take a draft to the next level, revising and polishing it for publication. We’ll discuss issues large and small—from voice, point of view, narrative arc, organization, scene-setting, and characterization to such concerns of line-editing as eliminating wordiness, achieving stylistic elegance, and correcting grammar. Each participant will submit a portion of a draft that represents one of the following: a lead, a conclusion, a point of crisis or transition—in other words, a crucial passage that can make or break a whole piece. We’ll workshop every submission, attending particularly to how each writer’s choices might affect an audience.

 

If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
Andrew Marvell (then I could get to the bottom of his ambiguous poems).

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
My next book (versus the one after that): engaging, imaginative, edifying.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
You’ll get rejected far more often than you’ll be accepted. It’s not personal. Try to learn what you can from rejection and not let it erode your morale. The same piece of writing that one editor / reader doesn’t embrace may be the very piece that another editor / reader will love. You’re making a match; you may need to date around for a while before you find the “right one.” If so, it isn’t your fault; it’s a process.

In 2013, Forbes named Charlotte among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. What makes Charlotte such a vibrant place to visit and live?
This was the last question I answered because it was the hardest. I’m not sure that being a “best place for business and careers” is quite the same as “vibrant,” a word that, to me, suggests interesting, vital culture. Certainly Charlotte has its cultural ambitions and a good deal to offer by way of the arts, including, but not limited to, excellent museums, like the Bechtler, Mint, and Gantt Center; the world-class North Carolina Dance Theater; a symphony and opera company; and some theater. But the same people who benefit from the monetary wealth in Charlotte aren’t necessarily supporting the wealth of culture here. The closing of the Charlotte Repertory Theatre is a case in point, and the financial struggles of the NCDT, the symphony, and the Arts and Science Council repeatedly point out the divide in Charlotte between those who are in the city to make a good living and those who want to live well in the sense of supporting the city's culture.

Why do you feel it's important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
As an intensely private activity, writing can make you lose your objectivity on yourself and your work. Periodically joining a group of people who are also writers helps you step outside of your head and your narrow work and see it as others see it—an invaluable gift.

Saturday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "Words in Civic Life." Does creative writing have a role to play outside the covers of a book?
Oh my goodness, absolutely! Shelley called poets the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” You don’t have to go that far to accept that leaders often lead through language and communities form around it.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
Confidence in their work, seasoned by trust in the advice offered by others in their writing community.

What does it mean for writers to "Network?" Any tips?
For some writers, it means to hustle constantly, always trying to connect and make inroads in the publishing world. I'm probably far less active at and knowledgeable about networking than I should be and certainly than many of my peers, especially younger writers, who are savvy about using social media to promote their work.

My own approach to networking is, at the very least, includes following up on invitations to submit or to explore opportunities. Beyond that, I'm not above asking questions that some people might consider forward or checking in with people who might be able to help me if they choose to. I found my agent by writing back to an agent who had rejected my project because he didn't feel he knew enough about the area; when I asked him if he knew of another agent who would know about it, he responded that, although he usually doesn't recommend other agents (for obvious reasons), he thought maybe Mr. X would be interested (he was). People you ask for a favor can always say "no," but if you don't ask, you'll never get their help or advice. By the same token, I try to help writers when they come to me. No telling when such kindness will circle back to me; besides, it's the right thing to do.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
A college edition of the complete works of Shakespeare.

Do you read literary journals? What are some of your favorites?
I wish I read more. I read the New Yorker pretty religiously, as it abounds in the kind of writing I respond and aspire to. Beyond that, I admire the Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, Southern Cultures, and many others.

Can writing be taught?
When I started out as a college writing teacher thirty-three years ago, I was skeptical that writing could be taught. All these years later, I now absolutely believe it can be. It’s a set of skills, and skills can certainly be taught.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
Richard Lanham, author of Longman Guide to Revising Prose.

Have you ever had writer’s block? What is one thing that helped you overcome it?
Yes, I have. The one thing that helped me overcome it was to deny its power over me by continuing to write.

Someone writes an un-authorized biography about your life. What would the title be?
Portrait of a Serene Bitch-Goddess. (Am I allowed to say that?)

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

The North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference offers something for almost every writer, at any level of skill or experience.

Your best route to getting the most out of the Network’s 2014 Fall Conference depends on where you are right now as a writer, where you want to go as a writer, and how you want to get from here to there.

We hope these suggestions will help you find the offerings you need the most.

 

ARE YOU A NOVICE WRITER?
Are you a newcomer to the literary neighborhood? Have you just begun to write creatively, with the goal of getting published? Have you submitted only a few pieces so far, or nothing at all? Is this your first writers’ conference? Are you still not quite ready to think of yourself as a writer?

Don’t be shy; every single person at the Fall Conference either is or was a novice at one point, too.

As a novice, though, you probably ought to concentrate on your craft, honing your work to its finest quality, before you worry too much about getting it published.

In fact, get a head start before you come to the conference. Join the Network, if you haven’t already, and explore our website—features, articles, back issues of our newsletters—to learn more about the writing business.

For a thorough introduction to the business side, from beginning to end, we especially recommend this pair of articles: one on publishing by Betsy Thorpe (who’ll co-lead a workshop on “The Art of the Pitch,” and take part in the Fall Conference Critique Service), and one on bookselling by NCWN trustee Nicki Leone.

Some basic research before the conference will save you some time and mental energy, so you and your fellow registrants can get the most value out of your workshops.

Some good workshop options for novice writers include Chantel Acevedo’s “All Shapes and Sizes: A Workshop on Novel Structure”; “Poetry 101” with Anthony S. Abbott; and “First Impressions in the First Few Pages” with Sarah Creech.

Your choices may vary depending on your preferred genre, but we encourage you to use the Fall Conference to dabble in other genres. You may surprise yourself.

And don’t forget to sign up for the Open Mic Readings on Saturday night. You need the practice, and we want to hear you.

 

 

ARE YOU AN EMERGING WRITER?
Do you have a few publications to your credit, or an established track record of submissions? Are you a familiar face at writers’ gatherings? Are you working on a book-length project?

You may be ready to apply to one of the Master Classes, which admit only the first 16 qualified registrants to each class, and will take up all three of your Saturday workshop sessions.

Or, you may want to mix some of the craft workshops—maybe “Poetry and Time” with Julie Funderburk; “Making Their Stories Your Own” with Rebecca McClanahan; or Zelda Lockhart’s “The Mirror Exercise: Producing a Whole Short Work in Less Than an Hour”—with some of the appropriate business-of-writing workshops like Sunday’s panel discussion on “The Many Paths to Publication” with Kim Boykin, John Hartness, and Karon Luddy.

Consider sending in a short story or several of your poems to our Critique Service, and let an experienced editor tell you what works, and what doesn’t.

And don’t forget to sign up for the Open Mic Readings on Saturday night. You need the practice, and we want to hear you.

 

ARE YOU AN EXPERIENCED WRITER?
Have you finished a book-length manuscript (or at least a first draft), or do you have enough poems to think about a collection?

You may still want to apply for one of the three Master ClassesCreative Nonfiction with Cynthia Lewis, Fiction with Aaron Gwyn, or Poetry with Morri Creech—if you think you need a little more know-how to make your manuscript the best it can be.

Or you may be ready to concentrate on the “business of writing” workshops: “The Art of the Pitch” with Betsy Thorpe and Carin Siegfried; “Crafting Your Message: Beginning an Interactive Publicity Campaign” with Priscilla Goudreau-Santos; “The Many Paths to Publication” panel discussion; maybe even “Creating a Poetry Community” with Scott Owens and Jonathan K. Rice.

You should sign up for the Manuscript Mart, and sit down with an agent who can tell you what works, what doesn’t, and what different publishers are looking for.

And don’t forget to sign up for the Open Mic Readings on Saturday night. You need the practice, and we want to hear you.

 

ARE YOU AN AUTHOR?
Do you have a book out, or on its way? Are you coming to the conference mostly to brag?

Then, by all means, brag away! We want you to. We hope we helped you along the way. Drop off 5 copies of your published book at the registration table, so the Network can sell them for you on consignment during the conference.

Sign up for whichever workshops interest you. Have fun. See old friends. Make new ones. Be nice to those novice writers, since you were there once yourself.

Register for the Marketing Mart, so you can get some tips on how to find readers for your book (a job that’s falling to authors more and more these days). Come to the Brilliant at Breakfast panel discussions to learn more about how writers are contributing to their communities, and what the latest trends in the book
business are.

And don’t forget to sign up for the Open Mic Readings on Saturday night. You need the practice, and we want to hear you.

Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

 
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