Reading and Writing Bosnia

Black Lawrence Press sent me Vedran Husic’s story collection Basements and Other Museums this week, and I feel moved by his work. The stories revolve around experiences of the Bosnian war and emigration to the States. The writing is packed with wise observations, mystery, lyricism, and dark humor. Here’s a striking passage from the story “Deathwinked” (available in its entirety on Electric Literature) about the city of Mostar:

Mostar, my city, you are far from me now, but I peek through the spyglass and you appear so near. In my third floor apartment, in the neverdesperate America of my childhood dreams, at my desk, armed with pencil and paper, sensitive as a landmine, fumbling similes like live grenades, I, the young, triple-tongued poet, write down the name of my birthcity like the name of a former lover. Mostar. Mostar, my city, stunned quiet. They took the Most, threw it into the river and made you unnamable. My city, one night you went dark all around me. You trembled and could not be embraced. The bombs fell on you, near-constant and heartbeatloud. I recommend war-tourism to any artist, poet especially, a month or so of up-close-death, a month, or twenty-three, of dark-houred explosions in a world maddened by sirens. You’ll never lack material, or have to account for sudden mood swings, and you’ll never lose at those drunken games between friends, intimate games, those poetic games of whosufferedmost.

I keep slowing down to read and reread passages like this one, even though their rhythms urge me forward. I want to visualize the narrator’s images faithfully while allowing space for the memories they conjure up for me.

The most recent essay I wrote is about Bosnia. It will appear in The Rumpus in a couple of months. It describes my return to Sarajevo eleven years after my family’s war-time departure. Writing it brought up the city’s streets for me, its pockmarked buildings. It brought up my grandmother’s old apartment in the Grbavica neighborhood. I felt restored after finishing the piece, and more aware of how rich the past had been. I feel honored, and a bit nervous, to share it in The Rumpus. I will post a link here once it’s live.

Good news also came from the lovely Denver Quarterly. They will publish one of my poems in their upcoming issue. I will share a link here too, once the issue is available.

New Projects

This past fall, lots of starts and stops broke my writing flow, but when winter came, things evened out. Most recently, I completed an essay about visiting my native Bosnia. The visit took place about ten years after my family left Bosnia due to the war in the Balkans. The essay unearthed lots of buried memories, and it is surprisingly filled with lushness and sunlight.

Currently, I’m working on a short story about a young woman’s sexual awakening—it is darker in nature than the essay—and I look forward each day to uncovering more and more about my character.

When it comes to publications, my short story, “On the Dalmatian Coast,” was reprinted this fall in the anthology Everywhere Stories III  by Press 53. I was so excited to give this piece new life. Each of the stories in this volume takes place on a different spot on the planet or in a different state in the United States. I’m grateful to Editor Cliff Garstang for all of his meticulous work.

The lovely Baltimore Review also just gathered the pieces they published in their online issues this past year into a print issue. I was delighted to receive my copy this week. The issue is thick and packed with good work. My short story, “Peephole,” is included in its pages and also remains available online on the BR website. Finally, I’m excited to have two poems forthcoming from New Ohio Review and Moon City Review this spring.

I’m so looking forward to working on new projects and connecting with other writers in 2019. Happy New Year!

Writing News

Cold January left me feeling disconnected from my writing—on top of the weather, I had an endless case of the flu—but I’m slowly starting to feel like myself again. The flu even generated a vivid fever dream that I am turning into a prose poem. I have also started writing about Bosnia again—a short story from the perspective of an aging couple—and it feels significant to revisit the spaces of Sarajevo now. They are providing me with a sense of comfort, and they are generating childhood memories, as well.

I have not been finishing pieces, really. Rather, I’m endlessly changing, tweaking, and molding things, and also starting new work. It feels good to work without pressure or expectation.

Press 53 also notified me this week that they will anthologize a story of mine, “On the Dalmatian Coast.” I initially published the story in a small literary magazine and am excited to give it new life. It is a piece I wrote while in the MFA program seven years ago, and it meant a lot to me at the time. The piece will appear in volume three of the anthology Everywhere Stories this fall.

I also have an article about filmmaker Paul Shoulberg coming out next month in IU’s The College Magazine. Paul and I met at a coffee shop in Bloomington and had a lengthy and invigorating conversation about his creative work and views on life. I will link to the article here when it comes out.

In terms of readings, several of us former MFA’s from Indiana University will have a reading in Tampa during the AWP Conference in March. The reading will take place at Four Green Fields restaurant on Saturday, March 10th, at 5:00 p.m. So look to forward to being with these gorgeous writers and friends in a relaxed setting!

I’m so grateful for all these waves as they come. It’s such a pleasure to connect with other creative people and to examine my own inner spaces again through my work.

Flash Publications this Week

I’m thrilled to announce that my flash fiction piece “Shifted,” which was based on a real break-in, appears in the new issue of Front Porch. It is available online. My nonfiction piece, “Sarajevo on the Phone,” is also available this week from Storm Cellar Quarterly (in print or e-book format). The piece initially appeared in my chapbook earlier in the year.

I’ve recently started working on my novel again and may give short work a break for some time. The novel takes place in my native Sarajevo, and I’m loving the process of revisiting streets and buildings on the page.

Essay Acceptance

Earlier this year, I was invited to a local grade school to talk to a class of fifth and sixth graders about being a war refugee. I discussed my Bosnian childhood with them, as well as my family’s move to Spain and ultimately to the States. Something unexpected happened during this session, and my reaction to the event too was unexpected. I wrote a personal essay about it, and I am happy to say that the piece was accepted for publication by the international journal of the humanities War, Literature & the Arts. I feel honored by this acceptance, since this journal puts out work that is both beautifully written and highly perspective-giving. I will announce the publication of the piece here once it is out.