A Toast to Dr. Cartwright

Last night at the Bean Broker Coffee House in downtown Chadron, several of us gathered to raise a glass to our colleague, friend and mentor, Dr. Michael Percy Cartwright, who passed away on May 22. There may have been some sense of coming full circle for Mike since he died doing yard work at his farmhouse near Whitney, Nebraska–the same house he was raised in and later inherited and reoccupied when he returned to the region to teach at Chadron State College, after spending years in teaching and administration at California State University in Bakersfield. And, we learned last night, the same house and yard where his own father had died.

But Mike was only 72, and the loss has hit our community very hard. We were so looking forward to another summer of coffee and conversation out at Cora’s Place in Whitney–a little lunch spot he had set up in his Grandmother’s old house in Whitney.


Friends gather to toast the memories of Michael Cartwright at the Bean Broker Coffee House on Thursday night.

There were plans for a film series this year, and concerts under the starts. He was repainting his old farm house. He was looking forward to spending more and more time with his wife Jeanetta, as she inched closer to her retirement from the University Library System at UNL.

But it was wonderful to gather with friends at the Bean Broker last night and reminisce about Mike, and how we will miss him so much.

Below is a little remembrance that I wrote in honor of Mike for the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society Newsletter, forthcoming. Mike and I were both very involved with the Sandoz Society, and my long-winded thoughts may not make it into the newsletter in this full form, so I present them here.

Michael Cartwright: A Remembrance

At the memorial service held in Whitney for Mike Cartwright on a stormy Wednesday afternoon in late May, his life-long friend Dennis Bourret played The William Tell Overature on violin (he later spoke of how he and Mike were great fans of The Lone Ranger), and as the final notes rose to their exciting conclusion, thunder shook the old Methodist Church—the overflowing crowd laughed nervously at the import.

We gathered to celebrate the life of a man who made some noise, indeed. Who had an impact on every community he served. The family and friends who rose to speak all echoed the same theme: Mike was one of the most generous people they had ever known—generous with his time, his insights and his interests. Mike was a great mentor. And, more than anything else, Mike was a great listener. When you sat down to conversation with Mike, he seemed genuinely interested in what you had to say. He listened closely, and responded in kind. At some point, in every conversation, he would ask, “what have you been reading lately?”

When I arrived at Chadron State College in 2011, Mike had little reason to know or care about me, a lowly writing instructor on a one-year appointment. But Mike took time to get to know me. We had similar backgrounds: grew up in small, isolated, rural parts of Western Nebraska. Family involved in farming. University of Nebraska English Department graduates. Returning to Nebraska after a long stints in major metropolitan areas (he Bakersfield, me Phoenix). Learning about my background, and my interests in literature of the American West, Mike turned me on to the Mari Sandoz movement taking place on campus. It was only years later that I learned of his early role in the society, and bringing the Sandoz legacy to campus. Mike was instrumental in my early involvement with High Plains, and the history and writing of this region—for which I will be forever grateful.

At the end of my first year, Mike stopped by the office I shared with an adjunct and handed me a letter of support. He had written it without my knowledge or solicitation. He handed it to me. “Somewhere, some time this may come in handy.” It was a glowing letter (Mike, we all know, was a talented writer of fiction), and his letter did eventually wind up in my application materials when a permanent position teaching American Literature opened up in the department. I have been here ever since.

In my first few years at CSC, before Mike retired, he guided me through the sound and the fury of academe. Beyond helping me to get involved with the culture and heritage of the region, he helped to mentor me in the classroom, where I learned to embrace his style of free-range discussions of literature. He had me out to dinners at his farmhouse with interesting guests and foods and conversation that partially realized my expectations of what the life of a college professor could be. And when I experienced a crisis in my own life, he encouraged me stay at his farmhouse one long, cold winter, until I could put myself back on track. That Ash Creek sojourn did the trick, just as he knew it would.

At Mike’s service, his great nephew, Taylor Geu, spoke of these traits in his uncle. He pointed to the same examples of generosity, of genuine interest and care. He was a champion of Taylor’s writing, encouraging him to share it at family gatherings. Mike encouraged his grand-nephew, then a high school student in a small town in the southeast corner of South Dakota, to sign up for the Storycatcher Writing Workshop on our campus in 2013. When we celebrated the writing of the participants at a cookout at the State Park, Mike—who we had not seen around campus in quite some time—appeared at the festivities and even helped flip some burgers. I had no idea Mike would be there–but somehow was not surprised in the least when he showed up. That was the great thing about Mike—he was always showing up when you least expected, and you always were glad to see him.

"Writing Around" Nature Hike and Cookout for the 2013 Story Catcher Workshop, Wednesday, May 29, at Chadron State Park. IMG_3740

"Writing Around" Nature Hike and Cookout for the 2013 Story Catcher Workshop, Wednesday, May 29, at Chadron State Park. Mike chats with his great-nephew, Taylor Geu, who was attending the workshop.

“Writing Around” Nature Hike and Cookout for the 2013 Story Catcher Workshop, Wednesday, May 29, at Chadron State Park. Mike chats with his great-nephew, Taylor Geu, who was attending the workshop.

I was shocked and saddened by the news of Mike’s death. I will miss seeing him around campus, catching up on all the gossip in our offices. I will miss meeting him out at “Cora’s Place” in Whitney for coffee. I will miss our long, lingering lunches and dinners and drafts. And, most of all, I will miss that generous spirit—that intense interest in others. I will miss our conversations. I will miss responding to his eternal question, “what have you been reading lately…”

WRITING HOME: a recap of the 2015 Storycatcher Workshop

StorycatcherposterOur fourth year of the  Story Catcher Writing Workshop and Festival has just concluded, focusing on the theme of “WRITING HOME: Capturing Your Place in the World.” We tried some new things this year: a weekend format, a beefed-up advanced “pre-session” workshop, and a greater emphasis on the RETREAT element of the workshop. Initial reports are that these innovations worked quite well this year–we had a great group of writers and writing faculty, and–based upon the readings we heard at the “mandatory mic” that capped the Festival on Sunday, some really EXCELLENT work emerged from these sessions. It was very inspiring for all of us to hear the writing that came out of the workshop this year.

Between our workshop faculty and the writers who attended, we covered a lot of geographical territory this year! From the Faculty: Anna Keesey, our writer in residence, hails from Oregon; Sean Prentiss, almost to the other coast, from Vermont; Alison Stine from Ohio; our emerging writer Rori Hoatlin from Michigan–and our local talent Steve Coughlin and Poe Ballantine, from Chadron–but previously from far-flung places across the country. There was a strong Nebraska/South Dakota alliance in our participants this year, with most of the writers coming to us from communities small and large within these two states. We learned that our attendees have lived and written and read in many unique places over the years, however. What an interesting and diverse group this year!

Our workshop continues to grow, and if you follow the blogs and recaps posted here for the past several years, you will see that we have been able to attract some major talent to lead our sessions–and we have been able to provide a wide variety of activities and workshops for participants. And, as so many of our attendees told me this year, it is all offered at an incredible value.

Those of you who participated this or previous years, PLEASE share some of your thoughts and comments at the end of this blog entry. We would love to hear from you!

Come join us next June for our FIFTH workshop (details follow at the end of this post). Follow this blog and website for information and updates.

Meanwhile–here is a recap of the 2015 Workshop:

Day One: Thursday, June 11th

While the General Workshop started on Friday, this year we offered a PRE-SESSION focused on more advanced writers who had completed work ready for critique and revision. They met with our writer in residence, Anna Keesey. Her advanced sessions were capped at eight writers, and were all full. She was impressed with the work that her writers brought to the sessions–and I heard reports from the participants that they were given tough, detailed and extremely helpful advice for further development and revision of their work. You can learn more about Ms. Keesey and viewing her profile from our workshop PROGRAM. Ms. Keesey met with her writers as a group in the morning, and then divided them up for one-on-one meetings throughout the rest of the day (and into the next):

That night, many of the workshop participants gathered for dinner at our favorite local hangout, the Bean Broker Coffee House, and we were then treated to a “sneak preview” of what was to come in the General Workshop when session leaders Sean Prentiss and Steven Coughlin gave an enthusiastic reading from their recently published books to a very receptive Bean Broker Crowd:

— CSC English/Hum (@outsideyourself) June 12, 2015

Day Two: Friday, June 12

The “official” start to the Storycatcher Workshop was Friday morning. All of the workshop participants, advanced and general, gathered in the atrium of the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage center for a wonderful Craft Lecture by our writer in residence, Anna Keesey. Referencing her experiences writing and publishing her recent novel, Little Century, Ms. Keesey encouraged participants to make time for their writing, and make it a priority in their lives.

The title of her presentation was “Lollygagging: Emerson and Me and You.” What wonderful advice to emerging writers looking to complete their projects and to seek ways to share their work with a broader audience:

After a fun lunch break downtown with more mixing and mingling, writers returned to afternoon sessions focusing on Literary Nonfiction (with Sean Prentiss), Poetry (with Steven Coughlin) and Fiction (with Alison Stine). You can learn more about our writing faculty this year, and details about these sessions, by viewing their profiles from our workshop PROGRAM. The afternoon sessions met in a classroom on campus, where all the writers could roll up their sleeves and get to work:

We capped the first night of the workshop with a reception and keynote address from Anna Keesey, where she read from her novel and discussed her writing process. The event was held in the Sandoz Center Atrium, and was open to the public. We had a great turnout from workshop participants and folks in the community interested in hearing about her historical novel which centers around the homesteading experience of characters in turn of the century Oregon:

Day Two: Saturday, June 13, WRITING RETREAT!

Based on the success of our outdoor sessions in previous workshops, we scheduled a FULL DAY RETREAT this year, set in the scenic pine-ridge forests south of campus at Camp Norwesca and Chadron State Park. We met, appropriately, outdoors for the morning session on Environmental Writing with Sean Prentiss:

After the morning session, writers had several hours to commune with nature and write whatever came to mind. Some of the workshop participants even found time to try out some of facilities geared towards the youngsters who attend Camp Norwesca:

After the long break, however, it was all work–as writers sweated it out in the camp lodge and worked on sessions focused on young adult fiction (with Alison Stine) and Creative Nonfiction (with Rori Leigh Hoatlin, winner of the 2015 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer Instructorship). These were productive sessions for our writers, with lots of work being generated form the activities Ms. Stine and Ms. Hoatlin set up:

After the hard work of the afternoon sessions, all of the workshop participants headed over to nearby Chadron State Park for a cookout in the pines. In addition to some great food, we were all treated to a reading from Alsion Stine from her recently published Young Adult novel Supervision, a ghostly tale that was appropriate for our campfire evening. What a wonderful conclusion to an instructional and inspiring day!

Day Three: Sunday, June 14, FESTIVAL!

Our last (half) day of the workshop was focused on a CELEBRATION of writing and writers. What an appropriate time to have local literary legend Poe Ballantine stop by and share with the workshop participants, and several people on hand from the general public, a retrospective of his prolific and critically-acclaimed work as a writer in both fiction and nonfiction. His talk was entitled “At Home in the World–My Writing Life,” and featured excerpts from several of his works along with commentary on his life and writing experiences:

While we are certainly proud of all the wonderful programming we are able to offer at the Story Catcher Workshop, the focus of all we do will always be on the WRITERS who come from far and wide to develop and share their own stories–this is why we conclude each workshop with a day to celebrate the writing of our participants. This year we had a great turn out for volunteers to read at the open mic that concluded the festival. What impressive work emerged from the workshops in just two or three days–and how inspiring to hear these selections shared with the writing community that gathered this year:


For a PDF version of this flyer: storycatcher16

Storycatcher is HERE!!!


The 2015 Storycatcher Summer Writing Workshop and Festival is upon us. Our writer-in-residence Anna Keesey is meeting with her advanced writers on Thursday, June 11th. The session was capped at eight writers, and sold out last month. This will be a great opportunity for those writers who have completed work that now needs some expert eyes to help guide it towards publication.

While the advanced workshop is full, there is still plenty of room for the GENERAL WORKSHOP, which begins on Friday, June 12th. Registration can be taken at the door. A complete listing of the workshop sessions can be viewed HERE, but these are the highlights:

  • A craft lecture from Anna Keesey
  • Workshops on Literary Nonfiction, Poetry and Fiction, from our writing faculty including Sean Prentiss, Steven Coughlin, and Alison Stine. (For profiles on the 2015 faculty, click HERE).
  • A reception followed by a KEYNOTE ADDRESS by Anna Keesey, which will include readings from her recent novel, Little Century. (open to the public)

On SATURDAY, June 13th, we take our workshop into the wilderness, with a full day RETREAT, starting in the morning at Camp Norwesca Lodge, south of the CSC Campus and in the Nebraska National Forest. Sessions on Environmental Writing, Young Adult Fiction and Character Development in Creative Nonfiction will take place at the Norwesca lodge. We will wrap up the evening with a COOKOUT at Chadron State Park and a campfire reading from Alison Stine.

On SUNDAY morning, June 14th, we will wrap up the workshop with a FESTIVAL, featuring a retrospective reading and talk by our special guest, Poe Ballantine. In the spirit of the conference theme, he will be sharing his experiences as a writer trying to capture the many “homes” he has made in the world.

As always, our festival ends with a celebration of the writing of our workshop participants with an open mic reading of their work. Both the presentation by Poe Ballantine and the open mic are open to the public.

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD! You can still register for the general workshop, which is an incredible value, and you can attend the public portions of the workshop for free. We would love to see a great turnout for all these talented writers gathering in our community.


Attend the StoryCatcher Workshop June 12 to 14

Nice write-up on our workshop from someone who should know! Thanks, Katherine!

Katherine Valdez

Writers of all levels and genres can amp up their skills by attending The StoryCatcher Workshop at Chadron State College in Nebraska, June 12 to 14. Among the featured speakers are Poe Ballantine and Alison Stine, whose first Young Adult novel Supervision was released by HarperVoyager on April 9.

Aside from learning techniques from top-notch faculty, both fiction and nonfiction writers meet others passionate about the craft. A friend and I attended last year’s workshop, about a five-hour drive from Fort Collins, and we met attendees of all ages and backgrounds. Registration is only $150.

“What is it that makes stories interesting? What calls to us?” asked author and Colorado State University professor Todd Mitchell, during his session “Techniques and Tips for Developing Plot, Character, and Scenes.” “How do I make it a story that begs to be told?”

Mitchell, author of the novel Backwards (a Colorado Book Award finalist)…

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2015 Storycatcher Workshop: Writing Home

cropped-storycatcherworkshopnologosmall1.jpgJune 12th to 14th 2015

We are excited to announce our 2015 Storycatcher Writing Workshop Faculty.


For information about the costs, schedules and sessions, please visit the workshop menu at the top of the page.

Writing Home: Capturing Your Place in the World


2015 Writer in Residence: Anna Keesey

Anna Keesey is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  Her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories.  She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and has held residencies at MacDowell, Bread Loaf, Yaddo, and Provincetown.  Keesey teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.

Keesey’s historical novel Little Century (2012 Farrar, Straus & Giroux) has been widely-praised for capturing the drama and tumult of nineteenth-century homesteading, cattle ranching, range-wars and railroads—themes very familiar to those of us living on the Great Plains—but Little Century is instead set in frontier Oregon, reminding us that the West extends beyond our horizon, to the promise of the Oregon Trail itself. From the author’s website: annakeesey.com:

“Here is a fine novel, written with grace, about the settling of Oregon and the evening redness in the West. In the desert town of Century, haunted by Indian blood and barren to the core, the cattlemen hate the shepherds and the shepherds hate the cattlemen. But as the community is about to consume itself with greed and vengeance, a young orphan from Chicago shows up with a moral clarity that outstrips her age, to remind us that character matters, and that justice is pursuant to to conscience. Little Century is a frontier saga, a love story, and an epic of many small pleasures.”

  • Joshua Ferris, author of And Then We Came to the End

“In this novel of stunning beauty, Anna Keesey gives us the American West at the turn of the century, and a cast of unforgettable characters who will risk anything to tame it. Oregon’s hardscrabble frontier comes utterly alive for us, and in prose so lovely, spot-on and accomplished, I found myself dog-earring nearly every page. An incredible debut—and a writer to watch.”

  • Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

Thursday Advanced Workshop Pre-sessions

Intermediate to Advanced Level. Writers will meet as a group in the morning for workshop focusing on peer editing, revision and shaping your narrative towards publication. In the afternoon each participant will meet with Anna Keesey for a thirty minute individualized consultation on a work of fiction already in progress. Participants will submit their writing in advance of the workshop. Space is limited and additional registration fee required.

Friday General Session–Craft Lecture: “Lollygagging: Emerson and Me and You.”  

All Levels: this lecture will focus on the elements of literary fiction with an emphasis on writerly craft and technique. Should we listen to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s one-time admonishment to ‘make haste’?   What exhortations from others can help us to write more, and write better?

 Friday Evening Keynote Reading: “Landscapes and Loss: Readings from Little Century.”


Sean Prentiss

Creative Nonfiction

Sean Prentiss has lived in most parts of the United States–the East Coast, Florida, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and now New England. And wherever he has lived, writing and the power of stories has always been a part of his life.

Sean is a writer who focuses on creative and  environmental essays, poetry, a few short stories. He also writes craft essays concerning on creative nonfiction. He is the author of Finding Abbey: A Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave (forthcoming Spring 2015 from University of New Mexico Press), the co-editor of an anthology on the craft of creative nonfiction, entitled The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, and the co-author of Environmental and Nature Writer: A Craft Guide and Anthology (forthcoming 2016 from Bloomsbury Press).

Sean also publishes magazine articles, and he is the creative editor for Backcountry Magazine.

When he is not writing, traveling, canoeing, mountain biking, or drinking a dark beer, Sean is an assistant professor at Norwich University in Vermont. There he runs the Norwich University Writers Series and the Chameleon Literary Journal.

Before Norwich, Sean has also worked as a trail builder with the Northwest Youth Corps in the Pacific Northwest, dishwashed in five states, and did about a million odd jobs ranging from demolish to construction to driving cars.

He lives on a small lake in northern Vermont with his beautiful wife, Sarah.

Author’s Website: seanprentiss.com

Friday General Session 1: Literary Nonfiction

All Levels: This workshop will focus on ways to recognize, understand, and apply techniques involved in the production of memoir.

Saturday Retreat Session 1: Environmental Writing

All Levels: This outdoor workshop will examine techniques writers consider when addressing the environment, and issues relating to the environment, in their writing.


Alison Stine

Prose and Poetry

ALISON STINE’s first YA novel Supervision will be released by HarperVoyager on April 9, 2015.

She is also the author of three books of poetry: Wait (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), Ohio Violence (University of North Texas Press, 2009), and Lot Of My Sister (The Kent State University Press, 2001). Her work has appeared in more than 90 publications including: The Nation, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Tin House, and Poetry.

Trained as a performer, Ali’s original stage plays and musicals have been produced at the Cleveland Playhouse, the University of Nebraska, La Habra Depot Theatre, and the Trilogy Theatre Group. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and received the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Ali holds a B.A. from Denison University, an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. from Ohio University. She has taught as the Emerging Writer at Gettysburg College, Visiting Assistant Professor at Grand Valley State University, and Postdoctoral Fellow at Ohio University, and is on faculty at the Reynolds Young Writers’ Workshop at Denison University.

Author’s Website: alisonstine.com

Friday General Session 3: Fiction

All Levels: This workshop will focus on ways character, voice, and imagery contribute to the writing of a successful story.

Saturday Retreat Session 2: Young Adult Fiction

All Levels: This workshop will focus on the various approaches involved in producing a successful young adult story.


Steven Coughlin


Steve Coughlin’s first book of poetry, Another City, finalist for the FututreCycle Poetry Book Prize, will be published this summer by FutureCycle Press. His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in several notable magazines and literary journals, including the Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Green Mountains Review, Seneca Review, New Ohio Review, and Slate. In the Summer 2013 issue of Pleiades, Coughlin was the featured emerging writer. In commenting upon his writing style poet J. Allyn Rosser states that Coughlin is “strong, capable, and original . . . [he is a writer] capable of radically different tones and angles of approach.”

This past year Coughlin joined CSC’s English and Humanities department as an Assistant Professor of English. Prior to this Coughlin earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts Boston, his master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Idaho, and his Ph.D. from Ohio University in English with an emphasis in creative writing. While at Ohio University, Coughlin also served as Editor of the literary journal Quarter After Eight, a nationally recognized publication of innovative literature and commentary.

General Session 2: Poetry

All Levels: This workshop will discuss approaches to avoid writer’s block in the writing of poetry.

Storycatcher Festival

The last day of the workshop is a FESTIVAL, open to the public, and set aside to celebrate the work of our participants, to promote writing and creativity in the region, and to highlight achievements of an important writer or figure associated with writing whose work echoes the spirit of Mari Sandoz.

Special Presentation: Poe Ballantine


At Home in the World—My Writing Life

 In a retrospective of his writing life, inspired by what he has called his “years of itinerancy,” Poe Ballantine will take us behind the scenes of representative stories and essays from various stages in his publishing career, sharing his struggles and successes in becoming a working writer, and the recurring theme of “place” and “home” in his life and his writing, particularly from the perspective of an often-times drifter and outsider. Poe will chart the evolution of his storytelling, reading selections of his writing and then explaining the connections he drew from the time and place the work was crafted—from his earliest short stories, essays and novels to his most recent work. Along the way, he will share his insights about process, the importance of the small press (breaking in), writing about the community you belong to, balancing family and career, and any other questions, problems, and concerns for the budding writer might seeking to find his or her place in the world.

For well over twenty years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, trying to make a living as a writer. At age 46, he finally settled with his Mexican immigrant wife in Chadron, Nebraska, where they had a son who was red-flagged as autistic. Poe published four books about his experiences as a wanderer and his observations of America. But one day in 2006, his neighbor, Steven Haataja, a math professor from the local state college disappeared. His memoir of these events, Love and Death on the Howling Plains of Nowhere was published to critical acclaim in 2013. A feature-length documentary based upon the book was released in 2014. (www.loveandterrorthemovie.com)

Poe Ballantine’s work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, regularly in The Sun MagazineKenyon Review, and The Coal City Review. His second novel, Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire, won Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. The odd jobs, eccentric characters, boarding houses, buses, and beer that populate Ballantine’s work often draw comparisons to the life and work of Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. In addition to garnering numerous award nominations including The Pushcart Prize and The Pen/O. Henry Prize, Ballantine’s work has been included in the 1998 Best American Short Story and 2006 Best American Essay anthologies. Most recently, his “Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel” was included in Best American Essays 2013.

(Author Info: http://hawthornebooks.com/authors/poe-ballantine)


Faculty TBA: Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer

Graduate students and others who have writing classroom experience (either as a teacher, student or both), and whose work shows promise, may apply for the Emerging Writer Instructorship.

The successful applicant will be honored as the “2015 Storycatcher Emerging Writer,” will have tuition waived for all sessions, including the advanced workshop, will attend all of the conference events for free, and will lead a workshop session of their design for the rest of the Storycatcher participants. A small stipend will be provided for their instruction and to help defray a portion of their travel expenses. See application for details.

Overview of the Workshop

For more detailed information, check the workshop menu at the top of the page.

General Workshop & Retreat: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 12-14,

  • General Workshop & Retreat Tuition: $150, which gains you access to all open workshops and special sessions over the three days.
  • There is no deadline for General Registration, and you do not need to sign up for any specific sessions in advance.
  • Students and Mari Sandoz Heritage Society Members Receive a 20% discount.
  • A limited number of scholarships are available for student writers. See application for details.                 

ADVANCED Revision Workshop: Pre-Session on Thursday, June 11th

With 2015 Writer-In-Residence, Anna Keesey.

Meeting a day before the general workshop, writers who have prose work (fiction or non-fiction) in progress and are interested in revising and refining their writing for publication will gather in a small writing community for one-on-one feedback with Anna Keesey.

  • Advanced Workshop Tuition: $100 (Advanced & General Workshop Special Rate: $200)
  • Space is limited to 8 writers, so early registration is encouraged.

Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer Instructorship

Graduate students and others who have writing classroom experience (either as a teacher, student or both), and whose work shows promise, may apply for the Emerging Writer Instructorship. The successful applicant will be honored as the “2015 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer,” will have tuition waived for all sessions, including the advanced workshop, will attend all of the conference events for free, and will lead a workshop session of their design for the rest of the Storycatcher participants. A small stipend will be provided for their instruction and to help defray a portion of their travel expenses. See application for details.

Lodging & Meals:

Affordable lodging and dining options are available. Contact us for further details.

For more information about the workshop, a complete schedule and for registration information, please visit us at www.storycatcherworkshop.org or www.facebook.com/storycatcherworkshop

or email mevertson@csc.edu


I had a nice surprise in my email this week. Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor society, will be holding its international convention this coming March in Albuquerque. The theme is “Borderlands and Enchantments.” My wife and I certainly find that New Mexico lives up to its enchanting sobriquet–so much so that we have attended the Taos Writing Workshop in the past, and spent this recent break in Taos and Santa Fe. Brenda was so excited that she got up early and snapped a sunrise among the adobes on Thanksgiving morning. We christened the day “Taosgiving,” and we were indeed thankful to be there!


Taosgiving Sunrise

So the setting for the 2015 Sigma Tau Delta conference is already very appealing. The keynote speakers will be some of the most prominent voices in contemporary Native American and South-Western American literature: Soto, Ortiz, Silko.  Those of you who have taken courses with me in Native American literature, Literature of the West/Great Plains, and Literature Across Borders know that we have explored the words and wisdom of these writers many times over. I’m so excited by the prospects of hearing them in person.

On top of all this, I was extremely pleased to learn that our chapter will be honored at the conference for 85 years of service! As you all know, we have a very active chapter here at CSC (just scroll through some of our earlier blog entries to see examples–of students presenting and attending recent conferences in Savannah and Portland, for example). I know that some of our students will be attending and presenting in Albuquerque as well, and we hope to be there to accept our recognition as an octogenarian chapter! You can find out more about the conference by visiting the Sigma Tau Delta conference page:


AND, as if these items were not enough, when scrolling through some of the conference materials, I happened upon an image of our very own Sarah Labor, who presented at last year’s conference, and who penned an award-winning entry for the conference blog. Check it out:


I’m so proud of our chapter and of the students who have represented their insights and talents on this prominent and international stage the past few years. The members of Sigma Tau Delta on our campus arrange and bring to fruition a number of wonderful events (chronicled in this blog space!)–and obviously participate on the national/international level–with very little direction or oversight from the faculty sponsors; they do this almost entirely on their own. I’m confident we will continue to have an ENCHANTING group of Sigma Tau Delta students representing our program brilliantly for years and years to come–and look forward to attending the 100th anniversary of our chapter’s inception. (Hey, it’s good to have a goal!)



Hoping you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving break. The weather for many of us was warm, and I’m sure the family, friends and food gathered around your respective tables was as well.

A couple of poems inspired by the holiday:


W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms 
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you 
we are standing by the water thanking it 
smiling by the windows looking out 
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you 
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators 
remembering wars and the police at the door 
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you 
in the banks we are saying thank you 
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us 
our lost feelings we are saying thank you 
with the forests falling faster than the minutes 
of our lives we are saying thank you 
with the words going out like cells of a brain 
with the cities growing over us 
we are saying thank you faster and faster 
with nobody listening we are saying thank you 
we are saying thank you and waving 
dark though it is


And another from Gary Snyder:

Prayer for the Great Family — (after a Mohawk Prayer)

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day–
and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave, and aware

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars–and goes yet beyond that–
beyond all powers, and thoughts
and yet is within us–
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife

so be it.

-Gary Snyder


Discipline: The Good Life

Dear Outsiders–my last entry focused on the idea of self-discipline, and the price we pay for the privilege to WORK WITH WORDS in our daily lives. Lest we think that studies in the humanities is all work and no play, let’s shift gears today and affirm that while our chosen discipline entails a lot of struggles, we got into this gig in the first place in order to have…


Indeed, those who have adopted the humanities, the liberal arts–and reading and writing in particular–as disciplines have done so, largely, because we find them FUN. I shared the definition of “discipline” in the first blog this week, but we didn’t discuss the etymology. Remember, words are fun, so let’s take a look, courtesy of Dr. Google:


So there you have it–the Latin form focused on “instruction” and “knowledge,” but by the time the English got ahold of “disciplus,” they transformed it into discipline–the “mortification” or “scourging oneself” as in religious penance. Given what I outlined in my previous post–the self-torture we administer in order to WORK WITH WORDS, the English may have translated it correctly! Think of Reverend Dimmesdale–literally whipping the guilty weight off his shoulders at night with bloody straps while countless English students on any given night are figuratively “scourged” in their forced reading of the text! Of course, for many of us, such self-discipline (the reading of The Scarlet Letter, I mean) is not “work” or “torture,” but, dare I say, FUN?

In this sense we adhere to the final transformation of the word–we become “disciples.” Life-long learners. Followers of an extensive parade of teachers–in classrooms, in texts, in person, in mind, in spirit. And why hitch ourselves to such a train? Because it’s fun!

A few weeks ago I found myself in a cornfield outside of the north-central Nebraska town of Neligh, grooving with a wild mix of ranch kids, political activists, hippies and farmers, listening to Neil Young lay down some impressive reverb with Willie Nelson’s kid–guitar sounds the likes of which had probably not echoed in that cottonwood shelter belt in, well, forever. Young is one of my favorite performers, so I was digging it, of course–but even in that moment of pure joy, the English major emerged: I became a disciple, once again, of the words. When Neil sang an acoustic version of “Comes a Time”–a song of great personal significance to me–the tears poured forth. Then came his pump-organ rendition of “Mother Earth,” and the harmonica for “Heart of Gold.” Somber–self-searching moments. HARVEST THE HOPE CONCERTThen he plugged in and things got loud and funky as he played a series of numbers from his rollicking album Ragged Glory, a pre-grunge favorite of mine, before wrapping his short set with a call to environmental arms with “Who’s Gonna Stand Up (and save the earth)?”

Now that was FUN! And, deep. The context–those words, with that music, in that place–and the conversations engendered from that moment, the reflection, the ideas pulled forth from deep in that brainstem. Wordsworth had Tintern Abbey, where he proclaimed  “That in this moment there is life and food/For future years” and that “Thy memory be as a dwelling-place/For all sweet sounds and harmonies” to be recreated in moments of tranquil recollection, in the mind, or on the page, as I am writing this very moment… Not an ancient church being reclaimed by nature, but I think my corn-field concert is just as worthy of such thoughts “too deep for tears.”

Or, to slightly alter the lyrics of another cut from Ragged Glory, you’ve got to “Love to Learn.”

Late one night I was walking
in the valley of hearts.
A spirit came to me and said:
You gotta move to start
You gotta take the first step
You gotta crawl to be tall
And then she told me something,
something that
I’ll never forget.

You gotta love to burn. LEARN!
You better
take your chance on love.
You got to let your guard down
You better take a chance,
A chance on love.

Well, that was a stretch–but experiences like Neil Young jamming in a corn field do it for me. I think English Majors and students of the Humanities have a special affinity for such moments. We love to get together and get deep, man–drive life into the corner, as Thoreau was telling my students this morning, and see what it is all about. This is one of the true JOYS of our discipline–the FUN we get to have by living in close association with serious readers and writers on a daily basis. My students may not agree, but I have a lot of FUN in classes–even in the hard work of preparation and grading. We have tremendous FUN in and around our offices just sharing some thoughts over a cup of coffee on the latest thing we read, taught or learned–and both the pleasures and frustrations attendant with our discipline.

And there are the perks. I’m looking forward in two weeks to attending the Western Literature Association conference in Victoria, British Columbia. The theme for this year’s conference is “Bordersong,” and we have put together a panel presentation–from little Chadron State College–that is going to rock those Canucks. Here is the composition of our panel presenting on Thursday afternoon, November 6:

Plain Songs with a Beat: Music and Walking as Spiritual and Social Journey in the West:

Matthew Evertson: “Escape Artists: Songs and Settlement in Three Nebraska Writers”

Steven Coughlin: “Finding a Voice: Thea Kronberg’s Rejection of Gendered Social Conventions in Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark”

Thomas Deane Tucker and Kathleen Woods: “Rucksack Revolution: Images of Walking in the West in Kerouac”

So notice the clever language used throughout–the alliteration and vivid imagery, the double meanings behind “Plain” and “Beat,” and the way we have integrated seemingly disparate themes and topics into one set of presentations? See how our panel aligns with the broader conference theme of “border songs”? What do we have here other than a shining example of FUN WITH WORDS?

And it is our WORK with words that allows us this opportunity–to travel to a part of the world we have never been. To mix and mingle with other lovers and workers of words. To attend several panels at the conference and continue to “love to learn.” (And, to skip several panels and learn more about Victoria and the region and the local taverns and restaurants).

For those of you planning to be future educators–such joys await (along with all the hard work). For our current students, you, too, can have FUN WITH WORDS. Two years ago our department helped to send EIGHT of our students to the Sigma Tau Delta International Conference in Portland, Oregon. (We sent students again last year to Savannah, Georgia).

Student trip to Porland, 2013

Student trip to Porland, 2013

Portland, 2013

Portland, 2013

Our students have not only attended such conferences, they have presented their work to much acclaim. If you are involved with studies in English and Humanities at CSC, you have many such opportunities: open mic events, field trips, writing workshops, fundraisers, etc… You can learn more about such opportunities by reading earlier entries in the OUTSIDEYOURSELF blog–just scroll down for insights from students who attended the Portland conference, for example.  One of these blogs outlines specifically what you can do to WORK WITH WORDS and have a good time doing it. Here it is: https://outsideyourself.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/work-with-words-get-paid-for-your-passion/

If you live and learn in this region, perhaps you have a chance to visit our big city to the North. Driving back from Rapid City, I’m always impressed as I round the curve of Buffalo Gap National Grassland–and perceive the wide open plains before me. You can see all the way to Chadron–and at night you can see the lights beckoning. You pass a sign. This IS the Good Life–not because of where we live, but how we live.

You’ve gotta love to learn, baby. You gotta take a chance…

Outside Your Self-Discipline

Hello Outsiders. Yesterday we explored the definition of “discipline,” and I posed the following question:

As English Majors and Minors, teachers and students, and general lovers of the written word–can we advance in our discipline without discipline? How much of our work within the discipline will involve “obeying” and “rules”? As a teacher or a student–how much do we enforce one to support the other?

We all love to read and write, for sure–but it can’t be all fun, can it? In posting midterm grades today, I was reminded of the cycles and seasons of the academic life. I love college so much, I never left–but for some reason I find myself surprised at various times each semester by the sheer volume of reading and writing we all choose to take up as practitioners of this discipline (as teachers, students and life-long learners). At times like this, our lives certainly seem governed by a lot of “rules” we have to “obey.” Are we crazy?

My wife thinks so. She teaches High School English–and there the pressure is even more intense. This past Friday found her grading essays when she got done with school, much of the day on Saturday and Sunday, then meeting with a colleague at 7pm on Sunday evening to go over grades to be shared with students the following day. When she was able to join her children and husband for a brief respite and linger over dinner (pizza is a sure-fired way to call her forth from the grading den), we barely recognized the stranger in our midst. She had bloodshot eyes and “grading elbow.”

Now that’s crazy. Yet we have more English Education Majors in our program than ever. What gives?

We love words. What else can be the explanation? (Well, to be fair, we may not “love” the words in that particular passage of the seventeenth essay we have graded that evening, the one with all the comma errors, but we know that, eventually, we will arrive at a passage that blows us away and takes our heads clean off, as Emily would say). Those of us working within this discipline take on faith that language will be our savior, at some point–every week, we will be vindicated in our chosen path. My students suffering through those long passages of Emerson will emerge from the Concord woods, transparent eyeballs ablaze, arduous midterm exam conquered,  and encounter a black bird sitting in their study, ready to creep them out and reaffirm their belief that, somehow, literature is fun!


Our discipline requires of us a lot of hard work. Any professional career or course of study will, obviously–but are English majors special gluttons for punishment? As I chat with students this week of midterms, I’m reminded of just how much they have on their plates–all the writing projects and all the pages to read. I remember being overwhelmed many times throughout my undergraduate and graduate career, wondering just how in the hell I was going to digest all of that material! Let alone savor it, meditate on it–engage is slow reading, as Deane Tucker wisely advised a few blogs ago. How could I possibly get through it all. Sometimes (gasp), I couldn’t! I’d have to prioritize or “triage” which assignments across my courses demanded my attention first and foremost (hint to my students, it is always American Lit). When I was unable to complete a reading assignment, I would feel intense anxiety–not that the professor would call on me, or that I would screw up a quiz or exam–but that I was being left out of that shared reading experience of the class. I would sometimes get upset when the professor would CUT a reading from the schedule. How masochistic is that? I somehow felt, deeply, that motto you see emblazoned on bags from Barnes and Noble: “so many books, so little time.” But was it worth all the the 3am essays, the cups of joe, the frantic call of the inkjet minutes before class? Who would choose this?

And so I understand the near revolt of my students this morning who complained that we had set aside just ONE day for Edgar Allan Poe. (Trying to lure me into the catacombs for a nice draught of wine was a bit over the top, though). We are all addicted to reading–though we might not all pick the same poison. (For those of you going on to teach, when you get your own classrooms–you can assign as much Poe as you want. For now, let’s turn our pages to Walden…)

In short, we have chosen a discipline that does require, at times, a certain devil’s bargain. In order to get “paid” in good grades, diplomas and, eventually, salaries, we agree to live within a world of self-discipline. We will read a lot–and not always for pleasure. We will write a great deal–often, not for the fun of it. We will internalize the rules of acceptable usage and, when needed, obey them. We will prop open our eyelids and push through to the end of the chapter. We will tap tap on our keyboards until we reach that word count. We will assess the written work of others, many who won’t share our perverse love of language. We do this because we know no other way to fill our lives with what we love.


In this blog space a year or so ago, I penned a promotion for our program that sought to appeal to all you hopeless reading and writing addicts out there. WORK WITH WORDS became our mantra. It has that nice double-meaning that all English majors can appreciate: find a profession where reading and writing are integral, and where you get to literally “work” with language day in and day out. A colleague recently shared a link to a website that endorses this theme, helping us to imagine why we might want to study within the arts and humanities, and seek out those attendant careers. Here is a link to the website:


You can make more money elsewhere, perhaps. You might have more free time to watch Big Bang Theory, or surf the internet. But at the end of the day, will your brain thank  you? Will you get outside yourself? Face it–you need words, and they need you. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can turn the page…



In the Discipline: You can Leave Your Hat On….

evertsonDear Outsiders–this week the blog will focus on the concept of “discipline.” I hope to explore this idea from several angles: discipline in the classroom, self-discipline within your chosen field of studies, the work of building expertise within a discipline and, finally, the idea of integrating disciplines (or being “interdisciplinary”).

Part ONE: “You Can Leave Your Hat on…”

I often “discipline” my writing students when they begin a paper with “Webster’s Defines…” (insert topic or idea here). This is possibly one of the lamest ways to start an essay–but, as the maxim goes: do as I say, not as a I do:

Google Defines “Discipline” like this:


So what do you think? Many of you reading this blog are educators, plan to be educators, or are currently in classrooms with all sorts of educators attempting to impose “discipline.” What IS our role in regards to discipline the classroom–particularly the ENGLISH classroom, which (I know it is hard to believe) is not always the most enthralling environment for some students. What frustrates you in your learning environment–either as a student or (potential) instructor? Texting okay? Snapchat? A noisy classroom is a sign of “learning in progress” we are often told–is this true, or an excuse for chaos? Those students chatting in the corner–disruptive? Open debate and discussion with no ground rules–should we raise hands? Pass around a conch?

And what about that guy over in the corner with the hat on? (here I would link to the titular Joe Cocker song, but it will bring up a clip from 9 1/2 Weeks, which introduces up all sorts of disciplinary problems for this blog, and perhaps disciplinary action against the blogger).

The reason why I bring up the HAT is that I know some teachers who simply cannot abide such cover in the classroom–and it struck a chord with me this weekend when I listened to an episode of This American Life that was devoted to the idea of classroom discipline. Here is a link to the episode:


In the opening anecdote, a middle school student has been asked to remove his hat. He refuses. Several teachers then share their views on how the situation should be handled–from a sharp look to throwing a shoe, and everything in between. The episode explores many issues related to classroom discipline–from what seems to be a pretty clear connection between race and discipline, to comparing and contrasting “zero tolerance” approaches vs. more discuss/redirect approaches. What is the best way for a teacher to manage a classroom? Listen to the program to find out. (Spoiler alert–there is no right or wrong approach…).

Which brings us back to Webster’s, er, Google–and that dictionary definition. In viewing the concept as a verb, we discipline our students, our classmates–maybe ourselves–by training to obey rules or codes of behavior, usually with some sort of punishment. As a noun, we think of discipline as that  “practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Whether an action or a thing, neither one of these sounds too pleasant. But what of that second definition: “a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education”? As English Majors and Minors, teachers and students, and general lovers of the written word–can we separate the two? Can we advance in our discipline without discipline? How much of our work within the discipline will involve “obeying” and “rules”? As a teacher or a student–how much do we enforce one to support the other?

“Tune in” for the next blog, which will explore this question further.

Dr. Evertson