William Hazlitt Prize news, new Orion post

I’m very pleased to tell you that my essay, “The Art of Waiting,” was a runner-up in the inaugural William Hazlitt Prize, sponsored by Notting Hill Editions, which honors the best essays written in English. Canadian author, academic, and politician Michael Ignatieff was the winner, with his outstanding “Raphael Lemkin and Genocide,” first published in the New Republic. The other runners-up are “Politics 2013” by JT Barbarese, “Light Entertainment” by Andrew O’Hagan, “The Empathy Exams” by fellow Graywolfer Leslie Jamison (her debut essay collection of the same name comes out next year), and “The Shadow of the Scroll: Reconstructing Islam’s Origins” by Sameer Rahim. It’s an honor to be in their company, and I hope you’ll consider ordering the handsome book (pictured above) that will include all of our essays.

For more on William Hazlitt, check out this page from Quotidiana, which includes a brief bio and a good selection of his work. I highly recommend “On Going a Journey,” relevant reading in the face of iPhones, social media, etc. etc.

Also: my students and I have a new post on Orion‘s blog.



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Recent Photos







From top: Halloween on River Road / sleeping Julius / sleeping Loretta / felted wool puppy by Sophie / me / clover

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Views from Above

Aerial photo of a former tobacco farm in Cerro Gordo, NC

Aerial photo of a former tobacco farm in Cerro Gordo, NC.

About two years ago, at a Creative Capital retreat sponsored by our state’s Arts Council, I met Ken Abbott, an Asheville-based photographer who has been doing incredible work with low elevation aerial photography (LEAP). Using a tethered balloon and a digital camera, Ken photographs landscapes that are sometimes beautiful, sometimes ravaged by development (including mountaintop removal). He’s even gotten himself into trouble (almost) documenting supermax prisons from above.

Ken and I had the idea to collaborate on a project with students, and with generous support from the North Carolina Arts Council, the North Carolina Humanities Council (and wonderful Indiegogo contributors!) brought our pilot program, “Views from Above,” to West Columbus High School in rural eastern North Carolina. For two weeks, we worked with students to do both land and aerial work–photographing using the LEAP system, evaluating and arranging images, and doing landscape work and interviews in two small towns. With plenty of student help, I’m blogging about the work on Orion‘s website for the next few weeks; check out our first post here.

Ken, by the way, will publish his first book next year with GFT. I saw the collected photographs while we were in Columbus County and can’t wait to get a copy.

P.S. Orion is accepting submissions November 1-15!

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a personal note


I am pregnant, and Richard and I are so happy to be expecting a baby girl in less than a month. I feel like I’ve lived with this pregnancy for so long now, and have gotten so used to my new lifestyle (decaf coffee, no wine, no Jillian Michaels 30-day Shred) and my big belly that everyone must know, but last week someone came up to me at Trader Joe’s and gasped, “Belle? Are you pregnant?” (Trust me, it is quite obvious, but she was very sweet.)

I didn’t post about it here because, well, I wasn’t posting much, but also because it felt like such fragile and improbable news. In the spring, when I was newly pregnant, I collected four-leaf clovers that I found along the river in a small notebook I used to take with me to the RE office. The first half of the book is all notes from those visits: E2 levels and follicle counts, plus the flavors of the Keurig machine in the reception area, what was on television, the color and texture of the wallpaper…  The second half is filled with dozens and dozens of pressed clovers.

Even when we relaxed a little about the pregnancy, the news felt very personal, and when I thought of posting her sweet ultrasound profile (which I look at all the time), it occurred to me that I could see it as an invasion of her privacy, so I didn’t. I think after she’s born I’ll be able to tell whether she’d be okay with having her photo on a blog or not, and we’ll go from there, and in the meantime I can post a picture of Julius sleeping in her crib and Loretta sleeping in her basket of diapers.

Otherwise, I’m writing about it: recently here and here, but also in some new pieces that are still coming together.

(The photo above is of me in Iceland last Christmastime, the big trip Richard and I took before beginning IVF.)


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“The Science of Citizenship” in Orion


Some books you can’t wait to read–you have to get them the day they come out, and then you devour them in a day or two. That was my experience with Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I blogged about in February 2010. I read it as an argument for the value of science education in our culture, and later wrote an essay for Orion about why skimping on science is bad for an engaged and informed citizenship.

To document the piece, I used Skloot’s work, my own experience as a poorly-trained Brooklyn classroom teacher, as well as my more recent teaching experience working with the dedicated science teachers at Hawbridge in North Carolina. I also paid visits to the inspiring Environmental Charter Middle and High Schools in Los Angeles, and spoke with Sandra Laursen, who codirects a research unit devoted to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. You can read the article online in full here; it will also appear in Leave No Child Inside, an anthology just published by Orion.

(Above: seedlings in the hydroponic greenhouse at ECHS.)

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News to share…


The first of a few pieces of writing-related news…

I’m very excited to tell you that “The Art of Waiting,” first published in Orion, was selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013. Not only that, but it is also on the shortlist for the William Hazlitt Essay Prize, sponsored by Notting Hill Editions, a British press devoted to  essayistic nonfiction writing. The prize (£15,000!) is for the best essay written in English. I’ve been working my way through the incredibly diverse and thought-provoking essays of the other finalists–you can read them here–and feel honored to be in their company. Please take a moment to read fellow Graywolf writer Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams,” from an exciting new book by the same title that Graywolf (and Granta, I believe) will release next year. But really, read them all–the list of other writers includes M.J. Hyland, Barbara Hurd (a fellow Orion contributor), and Mark Haddon.

I also want to mention a couple of recent prose pieces in At Length. In the past few months, we published Vanessa Hua’s captivating novel excerpt, “The Sea Palaces,” Jeff Oaks’s inventive and devastating “The Big Father Essay,” and just today, Meaghan Mulholland’s delicate and gorgeous short story, “The Long Life Hotel.” I’m very proud to play a part in bringing these incredible stories into the world, and hope that you’ll read and enjoy them.

(Photo above: one of my students from a recent NC Arts Council Project, Views From Above. More about that soon, too!)

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New Work in the Sun


Back in February, Richard and I finally decided to have our low-producing well drilled deeper. We felt good about hiring the Maness Brothers (that’s their rig above, through our living room window), but knew that there were no guarantees–we could invest thousands of dollars without improving our situation at all. At the same time, we began another uncertain and expensive project–our first round of IVF.

You can read “The Whole House,” an essay I wrote about making leaps of faith, in the Sun‘s September issue. Click here to read an excerpt.

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