Tag Archives: fiction

A Look at the Kentucky Book Fair on November 17

KBF_2018_UPK_ProgramAd.jpgNow in its thirty-seventh year, the Kentucky Book Fair is expanding to become the signature piece of a larger event, the Kentucky Book Festival. Organized by Kentucky Humanities, the Kentucky Book Festival will span from November 12 to 17 and involve six days full of literary events around Lexington, culminating in Kentucky Book Fair on November 17 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm at Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. The fair will feature more than 180 authors, including over twenty-five who have been published by University Press of Kentucky (UPK):

 

 

In addition to authors who will be signing their books on the main arena floor on November 17, the Kentucky Book Fair will host a series of panel discussions and presentations for authors and readers alike on the main stage and in breakout rooms that day. Several panels include UPK authors eager to share their work:

The Kentucky Book Festival will be holding a series of events throughout the week at several different locations around Lexington. The events include readings, cocktail parties, trivia, and more:

  • Monday, November 12, 6:30 to 8:00 pm—The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning will host “New Kentucky Poetry & Prose” with readings by Willie Davis, UPK author Jeremy Paden, Robert Gipe, and Maureen Morehead. Free and open to the public; no tickets required.
  • Tuesday, November 13, 12:00 to 2:00 pm—ArtsPlace will host “A Literary Luncheon with Silas House” featuring him reading from his new novel Southernmost. Tickets are required and available for $40 at kyhumanities.org; seating is limited.
  • Friday, November 16—Jonathan S. Cullick, author of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men: A Reader’s Companion, will teach a KBF Master Class on the basic rhetoric principles of persuasion and how to use them to more than 300 students. This event is for preregistered students and not open to the public.

Dedicated to honoring the profession of writing and to providing a format for authors to meet their reading public, the Kentucky Book Fair attracts thousands of avid readers and patrons nationwide. Featuring a broad range of titles including children’s books, military history, mystery, nature, fiction, and nonfiction, the fair attracts promotes reading across genres and age levels. Founded in 1981, the Kentucky Book Fair is the state’s leading literary event.

A full list of Kentucky Book Festival activities can be found on the Kentucky Humanities website.

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A Conversation with Lena Mahmoud, Author of Amreekiya

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Photo courtesy of Lena Mahmoud 

In Amreekiya: A Novel, author Lena Mahmoud deftly juggles two storylines, alternating between Isra’s youth and her current life as a married twentysomething who is torn between cultures and trying to define herself. The chapters chronicle various moments in Isra’s narrative, including the volatile relationship of her parents and the trials and joys of forging a partnership with Yusef. Mahmoud also examines Isra’s first visit to Palestine, the effects of sexism, how language affects identity, and what it means to have a love that overcomes unbearable pain. Featuring an authentic array of characters, Mahmoud’s first novel is a much-needed story in a divided world.

 

Lena Mahmoud was nominated for Pushcart Prizes for her story “Al Walad” and her essay “The Psyche of a Palestinian-American Writer” and was shortlisted for the OWT Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sinister Guru, KNOT Magazine, Pulp Literature, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Sukoon.


What first drew you to writing? Was there a specific moment or experience that made you want to become a novelist?Mahmoud_Amreekiya_Design7.indd

As a child I had a very active imaginary life. I often played out stories in my room or
backyard, but I didn’t start writing until I was eleven. I wasn’t much of a reader before that; I didn’t like most of what I read in school because to me it was boring and so homogenous, but when I read Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, about a girl who lives in many foster homes after her mother’s imprisonment—something much different from the cookie cutter chapter books I had been assigned in school—it made me think that knowing someone else’s story can enrich a reader’s life and make them see things differently. I thought that it would be such a great thing if I could do that, and I had always liked thinking up stories and acting them out. When I wrote them, though, I found that I could also make the story better by revising or rewriting it, so I have stuck with it for almost two decades now.

The dual narrative structure is one of the most intriguing facets of Amreekiya. Why did you choose to juxtapose the story of Isra’s childhood alongside her life as a married woman?

Isra’s adult chapters were the first part that I wrote, and I always intended to somehow explain the backstory of her losing her mother and being abandoned by her father. In the early drafts, I wrote out prologues and epilogues to give this backstory, and they just didn’t work for the novel. Then I started to explore Isra’s past more and more. I thought that showing how she and her husband Yusef first met and what it was like growing up with Amu Nasser and Amtu Samia really made the novel more developed. I didn’t want to do it as a completely linear narrative because the past never really goes away; the memories cling to our minds and influence our decisions. By having the two narratives happen concurrently, it more clearly revealed how the past affected the present.

Explain the significance of the title.

While the word “Amreekiya” technically means American in Arabic, it is often used colloquially to mean “white girl” or “white women.” In the novel it’s most often applied to Isra’s mother, but sometimes to Isra as well. I think, ultimately, that it represents a concern that a lot of the characters have: how “American” should they be? It’s most obvious in the case of the younger generation like Isra and Yusef, who wonder about how they would be judged for using birth control, but the older generation also must confront this issue, like Amu Nasser does when he returns to Palestine and is judged for how “American” his children act.

How have your personal experiences inspired or shaped Isra’s story?

I am mixed like Isra is, and a lot of the narratives I saw about people who were part white/part any Middle Eastern ethnicity seemed to always be about that person shedding their ties to whatever Middle Eastern culture s/he belonged to and trying to be as white as possible. I thought that was both unrealistic and dangerous standard to set for people like Isra and me, so I wanted to write a story to show that it’s more complicated and that it’s not necessary to choose between the two cultures, though that is often what others pressure mixed people to do. I didn’t want to write a memoir, though, because I wanted to show what it must be like for someone who does not have any friends or family who understand that sense of in-betweenness. In my case, I have three full siblings who are mixed like me (as well as five siblings from my parents’ previous and subsequent relationships), and I had the advantage of growing up and knowing my parents much better than Isra ever had a chance to know hers. Isra does have close connections to some people like Hanan, Sana, and Yusef, but they see her as being just like them without truly acknowledging that Isra’s ethnic background and experience are somewhat different. Of course, there are people at the other extreme, like Amtu Samia, who see Isra as being completely different, which is even more detrimental.

Amreekiya deals extensively with the intertwined issues of race, class, and gender. Did you set out to confront these topics, or were they a natural outgrowth of the story itself?

Yes, it was my intention to demonstrate how race, class, and gender affect the characters, especially Isra, because I think that too often we think of those as being abstract social or political constructs without considering that they have a strong influence on our everyday lives. Like many writers who come from marginalized communities, I have often heard from various people in the literary community that highlighting these issues make it less universal, but I do not agree with that view. Even if we are unaware of how our place in society or a particular community affects our lives, it still impacts what we become and what sort of lives we lead or will lead, so it much more accurately depicts our lives to see how race, class, and gender play role, rather than making it as invisible as we possibly can. With that being said, I also didn’t want to make Amreekiya a novel that had a heavy-handed political message telling my readers what to think. Instead, I wanted to tell a story that raised questions for my readers to think about.

Isra’s story is left fairly open-ended at the conclusion of the novel. Why did you choose to leave the status of Isra’s marriage and future ambiguous? Do you see yourself ever revisiting her narrative?

At one point I had a tidier ending for Amreekiya, but in all the years of revising and rewriting it, I thought that it didn’t make sense for Isra to have her life figured out by twenty-four. She still has the conflict of trying to figure out which options would be better for her. Should she live on her own? Should she resume her life as it was with Yusef or possibly pursue a different path with him? Of course, there are still all the expectations of the people around her as well, which is a force that will never go away. As for revisiting Isra’s narrative, I don’t have any plans to do it now, but I do sometimes find myself considering what she would be doing now, so I haven’t ruled that out.

Kentucky Novelist, UK Professor Enjoys Sweet Peach of a Summer

“Another sweaty summer presents itself like a gift. Sun is a peach outside the window, grass all calmed down.”

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University Press of Kentucky author Crystal Wilkinson has had a summer of gold. From her novel, The Birds of Opulencebeing named the winner of the 2016 Appalachian Writers Association‘s Appalachian Book of the Year for Fiction to Wilkinson herself being appointed as the 2018 Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Murray State University, Wilkinson has spent the hot summer months earning both professional and personal honors.

Birds follows four generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with—and sometimes surrender to—madness. The book hones in on the hopeful and sometimes tragic navigation of life as seen through the eyes of the Goode-Brown family. This marks the fourth award The Birds of Opulence has won, including the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, the Weatherford Award for Fiction, and the Judy Gaines Young Book Award. Wilkinson’s novel was also named the debut selection of the Open Canon Book Club, which was created by New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash to introduce readers to varied voices and portrayals of the American experience.

Birds is not the only one of Wilkinson’s books that has gotten attention this summer. Her second short story collection, Water Street, has been selected as the One Book Read at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. The program is a community-wide effort to help eliminate illiteracy in the region, with faculty and staff at WKCTC collaborating with many local and college partners to promote reading.

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Wilkinson’s work has earned her personal honors as well. The Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Committee and the West Virginia Center for the Book selected her for the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award. Previous recipients include Henry Louis Gates, Charles Frazier, Frank X Walker, Denise Giardina, and Silas House. In conjunction with the award, she will be the One Book, One West Virginia Author for 2019, and Water Street will be read by students across the state.

In addition, Wilkinson has gained speaker representation from Authors Unbound, which will broker her events in the form of literary engagements, one book programs, distinguished lectures, keynote appearances, community visits, and a variety of signature events.

Pictured at the top is Wilkinson sitting on a book bench designed by Bowling Green artist Lora Gill. Book Benches: A Tribute to Kentucky Authors is a public art project that features book-shaped benches, each themed around a different work by a Kentucky author, that have been placed around Lexington as a way to encourage reading. Wilkinson’s bench will be installed along South Limestone Street in front of the University Press of Kentucky office in November.

To top it off, Wilkinson accepted a new position as Associate Professor of English in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at the University of Kentucky. Further information on Crystal Wilkinson, her books, and her upcoming events can be found on her new author website: https://www.crystalewilkinson.net/.

From all of us at Kentucky Press, congratulations on a wonderful summer, Crystal!

Galley Giveaway: Let’s Get Fictional #1

UKY01 Birds of Opulence Selected.inddAs our fans and followers may have noticed, we have some exciting works of fiction due out this Spring. We’ve had the pleasure of working on them for months now, waiting for this moment—the time when we finally get to share them with you!

From now through 5:00 pm Eastern on Wednesday, January 13, enter for a chance to win one of five available advance reader copies of The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson. Fill out the form below to enter our contest and read this compelling tour de force before it’s published next month.

Also, click “read more” below to enjoy the first chapter of the work that Pulitzer Prize finalist Maurice Manning has called “lyrical and visionary, unconventional, and infused with beauty.”

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Congratulations Writing Contest Winners

The Winners of our First Micro-Fiction Contest

First of all, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who submitted an entry to UPK’s very first, Micro-Fiction contest! We had a great time reading through the entries, and it was incredibly difficult to select the grand-prize winner and runners up. But select we did!

Our entrants were asked to write an ekphrastic micro-fiction (300 words, or less!) piece of prose or poetry in response to one of two images:

3 Runners-Up will win 1 Kentucky fiction or poetry book of their choice published by the University Press of Kentucky, and 1 Grand Prize Winner will win a prize pack of 3 Kentucky fiction or poetry books published by the University Press of Kentucky.

View our fiction titles here. Find poetry titles here.

And now, we present to you, the

Grand Prize Winner

Congratulations Patricia Holland of Paris, Kentucky, for her prose piece: “Threads!”

And, congratulations to our three runners-up:

Liz K. (“Thread Baring”)
Sarah H. (“Sewing Not”)
& Rich G. (“And Still You Sew On”)

Threads

My great-grandmother Nanny believed she could foretell the future by studying the clipped threads and bits of fabric that caught on the hem of her skirt whenever she made a new dress.

She taught me to sew and as I pedaled away on her treadle machine, she also taught me to respect her strange, Irish superstitions. To her, those stray threads found on my clothing had landed there to help her analysis my future. Different colored threads meant different things. Black did not mean death. Blank was the color of my true love’s hair. Threads in red, yellow, green or pink were fine unless they were from my wedding dress. My Nanny sang, “Married in red, you’ll wish you were dead/ Married in yellow, you’re ashamed of your fellow/Married in green, you’ll be ashamed to be seen/Married in pink, your spirit will sink/ But when you marry in white, you’ll find the love of your life.”

For a time after she taught me how to sew, I believed that stray threads really could show me a glimpse of my future. Do I still believe that those bits of colored thread have a mystical meaning and power? No, I don’t; but I still remember and treasure Nanny’s long-ago lessons. So as I sew up my white wedding gown and think about the pattern my life will take, I’ve taken a mare’s nest of tangled threads from the bottom drawer of Nanny’s sewing machine and made a small silk drawstring bag to hold them.

I do believe in traditions so I’ll make sure that on my wedding day I’ll have something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Nanny’s tangled threads are old, my dress is something new. My Irish lace veil will be borrowed and my garter will be blue.

Read the entries from our runners-up after the jump

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Happy Birthday James Still!

On what would be the 107th birthday of the Dean of Appalachian Literature, we present our favorite titles by Mr. Still and a few other tidbits to remember a great American writer.

View all titles by James Still at the University Press of Kentucky

View a documentary from Western Kentucky University and WKYUJames Still: Man on Troublesome Creek

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Take this opportunity to explore a glossary of regional dialect and terms used in Mr. Still’s works

Compiled by Tiffany Williams of McRoberts, KY for The Hills Remember: The Complete Short Stories of James Still edited by Ted Olson

Some of our favorite words:

Big Thick: noun An unabridged dictionary. “My old teacher used to say that once a body breathed chalk dust and pounded the Big Thick Dictionary he was spoiled for common labor.” (pg. 285). (POM)

fat mouth: noun One who talks too much or blabbers. “I might do ’er, fat mouth.” (pg. 355). (DARE)

grands and greats: noun One’s descendants; thus, a profusion of people. “It would take Adam’s grands and greats to rid that ground in time for planting.” (pg. 231).

light a shuck: verb phrase To run fast, leave in a hurry. “I whistled up Trigger and lit a shuck down the road.” (pg. 179). (DSME)

piddle: verb To deal or work in trifling or petty ways; to act idly or inefficiently; to loiter. “Bot was company for Uncle Mize, with me in the fields trying to conquer weeds, and Broadus and Kell piddling.” (pg. 84). (MW) Hence piddling, adjective Trifling, insignificant, paltry. “A mighty piddling few.” (pg. 162). (DSME)

sheep’s eyes: noun Presumably, the bubbles that form on the surface of a liquid that are comparable in size to a sheep’s eyes and indicate that the liquid is at a boil. “Stir till it ’gins making sheep’s eyes, and mind not to over-bile.” (pg. 247).

A Famed Giveaway: Celebrating Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Nominees

The Carnegie Center in Lexington has created a Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame to honor 200 years of writers in the state, and we’re celebrating with a special giveaway!

From the field of thirteen finalists, six writers will be selected as inaugural members of the Hall of Fame and their names will be announced at a public gathering on January 24. The University Press of Kentucky is proud to publish books by and about many of the finalists, and, this week, we’re giving away one of these books to a lucky winner.

View eligible books here.

The Finalists:

  • Harriette Arnow
  • William Wells Brown
  • Harry Caudill
  • Thomas D. Clark
  • Guy Davenport
  • John Fox Jr.
  • Janice Holt Giles
  • James Baker Hall
  • Thomas Merton
  • Elizabeth Madox Roberts
  • James Still
  • Jesse Stuart
  • Robert Penn Warren

To enter our giveaway, fill in the required fields below with your name, address, and the title of the book you would like. (View the eligible books here) We will randomly select one winner on Wednesday, January 30 at 1:00 pm.

Good luck, and spread the word!