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SUNY Purchase’s “Italics Mine” Literature Magazine Unveils Their 16th Issue

Italics Mine releases their 16th issue of literary work by the SUNY Purchase community.

Purchase, NY – 1 May, 2019 – On May 1, 2019, at 4:30 in the Buffer Room of the Admissions Building, Italics Mine will release the 16th installment of their student run literary magazine. Comprised of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, interviews and book reviews, issue 16 features the work of 45 SUNY Purchase contributors, including work by Winnie Richards, Liv Rouse, and Gio Martin. Contributors will read from their work and copies of the issue and branded merchandise will be available for sale. A light reception will follow the readings.

When asked about the launch of issue 16,Trisha Murphy, a student editor on both the events & poetry boards says, “Italics Mine has been an experience unlike any other. Working one on one with contributors has been so exciting, and provided me with experience I would not have gained elsewhere.” Christina Baulch, a literature major, says of the editing process, “As an editor, I really enjoyed getting to connect with the variety of talent on our campus. Our contributors come from across the disciplines, so it was a joy getting to know them through our correspondence.”

Issue 16 is a culmination of two semesters worth of student collaborative editing as part of a two-sequence course entitled Editing & Production, taught by Creative Writing Assistant Professor Mehdi Okasi. The journal opened for submissions in fall of 2018 and the student editorial boards have been diligently reviewing and evaluating submissions over the course of two semesters on a rolling basis. The May 1st launch party celebrates the hard work of the editorial staff by providing a platform for new student creative work. More information about the magazine can be found online at http://www.italicsmine.com.

Italics Mine showcases the new, creative literary voices of Purchase College students—majors and non-majors alike—through print and web. The diversity of the student population is reflected in the pieces we strive to share with the entire college community. Italics Mine aims to further student writers and help them grow with assistance from their editors.

Mitchell Angelo, Poetry and Art Editor

 

mitchangelo133@gmail.com

Writing People We Know

By Elana Marcus 150812_MOV_MistressAmerica.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

In the 2015 Noah Baumbach film, Mistress America, college freshman Tracy meets her stepsister, Brooke, for the first time. Inspired by Brooke’s eccentric personality, Tracy writes a short story about her to submit to the school literary journal. After Brooke discovers the story, she is enraged. A whole interrogation scene follows where essentially every character in the movie yells at Tracy for what she’s done. Tracy breaks down in tears. Brooke threatens to sue. After watching this film, I found myself thinking deeply about this issue of writing people we know and the risks we take in doing so.

Anyone who writes fiction has probably found herself in Tracy’s position at some point. There have been many times where I’ve met someone and thought about fictionalizing them. But then the questions arise: is it okay for me to do this? Would it be considered stealing if I write about this person without permission? Will the person be mad at me if they find out that I’ve written about them? Is this immoral? It’s not like we can just walk around town with a disclaimer taped to our foreheads that reads: anything you say or do in my vicinity may be used in a story.

I think it’s safe to say that most (if not all) writers draw inspiration from their lives. It would be nearly impossible to create every single element of a story solely from the imagination, and a story should have some element of emotional truth. It isn’t so much a question of whether it’s okay to write about actual people, but when it is acceptable .

This past February, I was part of a small group of students who met at Purchase with novelist Elif Batuman, whose 2017 novel The Idiot sees the author drawing heavily from her own personal experiences in college. At the meeting, I asked her about the experience of writing characters based on people she knew. She answered that she started writing these characters long after she knew them, and she felt that waiting to write them was helpful. I’ve received similar advice from former teachers, who have said that waiting a while to write about people you know can better help you write them as characters and better analyze the circumstances under which you knew them.

Writing about people who are currently a part of our lives can certainly be a challenge. It could be easy for a writer to hold back when writing these characters because they don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings or risk potential conflict. But the details that are being held back may be the most compelling traits of this character. I once made a short film that was inspired by a friend of mine who had a habit of being late and unreliable, and a mutual friend approached me about it, saying that it might hurt her feelings. My friend ended up being completely okay with it, but it did force me to think more about whether the projects I work on could hurt the people I care about. In certain cases, waiting to write about someone could be beneficial. If you end up losing contact with this person or don’t see them as often, you most likely won’t have to worry about causing conflict and can feel less restrained in how you portray this character. Writing people we know may also feel uncomfortable, much like running into someone you dreamt about the night before. It can feel awkward, and this could also cause you to hold back when writing the character. I have written stories inspired by people I knew in my past and people I am close to now, and thankfully it’s worked out well for me in both cases. But I have also felt uncomfortable doing so and had trouble seeing the person as a fictional character.

Here’s my advice: if you’re inspired by a person and you want to write them as a character, give it a shot. See what works best for you. If writing about a person you know is working well for you, go with it! If you’re finding it difficult, let some time pass and try again in the future. You’ll have a different perspective on this person by that point and that could make the process of writing them clearer. Also, change enough about them so that the character on the page becomes distinct. I once heard that if you’re writing real-life people as characters, change at least one detail about the person’s physical appearance. This will allow you to see this person as the character you have created, rather than just a total imitation of the person who inspired you. Seek to use this person to create rather than imitate; they are just a jumping off point for the character you are creating.

The Sliding Razor: Effects of Sensory Imagery in Writing

By Shannon Magrane

Must scream

Sensory imagery, by definition, is an element of writing in which the five senses (sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell) are described in order to make your readers feel what your characters are experiencing. By evoking a sensory reaction, the writer enables the reader to be part of the characters’ physical experience. It has long been said that bad characters cannot carry a good plot, but good characters can carry a bad plot, so it is essential that the reader be connected to the characters above all. As such, the writer must make it as easy as possible for the reader to empathize with them. If the writer successfully achieves that, then they tie the reader’s emotions to those of the characters, and invest their audience completely in their story from beginning to end.

I understood this concept only on a basic level when I first started writing fiction seriously, much the same way you understand a recipe from reading and memorizing it, but not actually seeing or cooking the dish. It did not fully hit me how effective it could be in practice until reading “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” a 1967 short story by Harlan Ellison. In Ellison’s tale of a nightmarish future, one of only five humans left alive on Earth tells the story of how they spend the rest of their lives imprisoned, immortal, and tortured by the supercomputer that ended the world in the first place. This computer’s name is AM. He can think. He can reason. And he can feel…but the only thing left for him to think and reason and feel is how much he hates humanity.

This was the story that fully opened my eyes to the true potential of sensory imagery to reach inside the reader and fill them to the brim with emotion. Note your reaction to lines like, “AM said it with the sliding cold horror of a razor blade slicing my eyeball,” or, “The pain shivered through my flesh like tinfoil on a tooth.” The latter set my teeth on edge and made me taste metal. I was horrified, I was afraid, I was in the shadow of pain, but at the same time, I was amazed, fascinated, downright inspired.

Ellison’s use of language and intimate sensory imagery made me feel as though I were experiencing every pain the characters endured, an experience that no other writer had managed to evoke until that point. I sought to explore more of this skill, of how to make the words flow so fluidly and so vividly, digging deep as I could into the depths of what a person can feel. Such brilliant details can make another world or an alternate reality entirely tangible to the reader, no matter how wild or unfamiliar it is. It is these evocative details that a reader can recognize through the sensations of their own body, thereby becoming fully immersed in the people and in the world that the author has created. For an author who wants to create this re-familarizing effect in his or her audience, such details are essential to include.

Sensory imagery, of course, can and should be used to conjure other emotions besides fear. Though it feels like common knowledge, all five senses must be considered to get the full range of the sensation you are trying to convey. Think: do you have a headache, or is a jackhammer relentlessly pounding at the crevices of your brain? Are you happy, or did a fierce electric current just shoot through your veins? Are you disgusted by something, or does your skin crawl as though you’ve been dunked headfirst into cold bile? Which set of words makes your body react as you read? Which can you connect more to? And, quite simply, which sounds more interesting?

A writer should look into their own memories, their own experiences, to project onto their characters and narration. But when you do, focus less on the emotion that is being felt and focus more on what is going through the body as it is happening: over the skin, piercing the eardrum, holding the organs and muscles inside. All the little details of what you feel are valuable, and can deeply enrich a story. Above all, as a writer, you must show, not tell, and use of sensory imagery is an incredibly effective way to do that.

Image: SugaryAshes. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Drawing. DeviantArt. https://www.deviantart.com/sugaryashes/art/I-Have-No-Mouth-And-I-Must-Scream-439695641

A Celebration and a Weight to Bear: Exploring Violence, Loss, and Culture in Tarfia Faizullah’s Registers of Illuminated Villages

By Mitchell Angelo 

Tarfia Faizullah is a Bengali-American award-winning poet. Her second collection of poetry, Registers of Illuminated Villages, examines violence: both personal and societal. She utilizes the confessional style to present the reader with real life challenges she has faced. Faizullah blends the philosophical with the tangible. Her work makes the reader ask questions about the nature of humanity, and what it means to be good.

Faizullah discusses living as a person of color in The United States, specifically in “Self Portrait As A Mango.” In it, the collection’s first expletive appears, and its place is well earned. With the opening stanza, “Your English is great! How long have you been in our country? / I say, Suck on a mango, bitch, since that’s all you think I eat anyway,” Faizullah takes down ignorant white people. This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is similarly straightforward and dialogue-heavy. Throughout it, the speaker’s self-comparison to a mango acts as a metaphor for objectification—as a possible reference to ignorant people who compare non-white people to inanimate objects. In expanding on this comparison, Faizullah holds nothing back. She makes sure the reader clearly understands what she is articulating. The result is a poem of fury.

Toward the end of “Self-Portrait as a Mango,” the speaker examines self-worth as a person of color, finally concluding: “This mango isn’t alien just because of its gold-green bloodline. I know I’m worth waiting for.” This line marks her refusal to give in to the self-hate she has been taught by white society. It is a proclamation of self-love— a moment of strength against the violence “Registers of Illuminated Villages” expands upon.

In addition to conveying fury and defiance, Faizullah calls for her audience to learn and relearn loss. “To The Bangladeshi Cab Driver In San Francisco” is an example of this. Here, a sorrowful narrative unfolds as Faizullah recalls hearing a cab driver speak the language she learned as a child. She writes, “I could open my mouth to you in the register I know we know, but don’t, or won’t.”

Reading this poem—especially this line—as a person of color, my heart broke. I saw the speaker’s decision to stay silent as evidence that she is not ready to relive negative experiences she has had within her culture. I, along with plenty of Faizullah’s other readers, have had the exact same experience. My culture feels like both a celebration and a weight to bear, especially having grown up in a predominantly white neighborhood. And at times, I too have opted for silence. In “To the Bangladeshi Cab Driver in San Francisco,” Faizullah puts this silence into words. Though heartbreaking, the poem was so important for me to read. It resonated with me not just on a cultural level, but on a deeply personal level as well.

Loss of the language of one’s childhood is one of several types of loss that Faizullah makes known to her readers. For instance, “Registers of Eliminated Villages,” the collection’s almost-namesake, is a breathtaking piece about loss of innocence, about children struggling to find a safe, warm space to exist in an area ravaged by war. With the lines, “A mother turns to a father / in the cold room they share, / offers her hands to his spine. / I curl inside her, a silver bangle / illuminated by candle’s / flame,” Faizullah examines the beginning of life amidst living beings already struggling to survive. These instances of experiential dichotomy appear over and over throughout the collection, giving Registers of Illuminated Villages the strength and power it needs to become a vital piece in poetry.

Registers
Registers of Illuminated Villages was published on March 6, 2018 by Graywolf Press. The collection is 112 pages long. It is available for purchase for $16 via IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

 

Dynamic Characters in Theatre and Writing

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Legendary actress and theatre practitioner Uta Hagen. Originator of the “6 Step” Method. 

As a Theatre and Performance Major, I’m often asked to consider my character’s wants when playing a role. “What is my motivation?” is a question that actors pose so often that it’s parodied. But as it turns out, there’s something to this question. Actors use it to better inhabit their characters. If I can take anything away from my training as an actor, whether from the physical or method/emotional practices, it is that to create a real character, you have to find their desire.

I discovered quickly that this is not just a concept valuable in acting, but also in writing. The actress and theatre practitioner, Uta Hagen, came up with the “Six Steps,” a very technical approach to dissecting theatrical roles. Her strategy asks you, the actor, to answer six “in character” questions: 1) Who am I? 2) What are the circumstances? 3) What are my relationships? 4) What do I want? 5) What is standing in my way? 6) How will I get what I want?

In typical practice, actors will physically write down the answers to these six questions. In doing so, they uncover distinctive behaviors and quirks that contribute to their understanding of the character. This deepened understanding can greatly inform acting decisions, affecting everything from bodily movements to line delivery. This is because with each of the six steps, the actor takes a step deeper into the character’s mind.

I soon realized that this line of inquiry could help me better write my own fictional characters. Though designed for actors, Hagen’s questions are clearly applicable to fiction. In almost every novel, a dynamic character’s desire for something difficult to obtain catalyzes their journey, while the obstacles they face along the way drive the plot.

Given these similarities, why not apply this acting strategy to the writing of your own characters? You’ll hopefully find that this six-step formula will force you to explore your character’s desires. After all, a character will always want something, and whether you are becoming a character or creating one, it is important to figure out what that “something” is.

Another character concept related to desire is the idea of “bits.” This idea, which I also learned about in acting class, deals with the pacing of a scene in relation to the character’s wants. When using this strategy, the actors mark up their scripts with all the places their characters want change. Consequently, they can pinpoint the exact lines where tonal shifts should take place. This is not as easily done in a novel or short story. That being said, by practicing “bits,” actors may develop a better feel for the rhythm of dialogue, and of language in general. This knowledge, of which words or phrases to emphasize and which to handle softly, directly translates to the writing process, to pacing in particular. As a writer and an actor, I can safely say that pacing is as important to writing fiction as it is to performing on stage.

It’s so important to recognize how much different forms of art can inform one another. It’s one of the most valuable things I’ve learned as a double major. When using theatrical practices in fiction writing, I’ve found my characters gaining a new life.