A Writer’s Desire: Q&A with LSU MFA Alum Clarence Nero

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Creative Writing MFA from LSU, lauded novelist, national radio, and TV talk show guest, college professor, and now, New Orleans native Clarence Nero is working on adding screenwriter/movie producer to his list of accomplishments. We recently had a Q& A session with Clarence as he kicks off his fund-raising campaign for his latest project, bringing his first novel, “Cheekie, A Child Out of Desire” to the big screen:

 

Professionally, you didn’t start out as a writer. Did your childhood experiences growing up in the Desire Street Projects, probably the most dangerous neighborhood in New Orleans at that time, help you, or maybe push you, to start writing? I think what pushed me was a longing for something deeper and more meaningful in my life at the time. I was working as a chemist but I hated my job. The money was good but it wasn’t enough. And I also had issues from the past growing up in the Desire that I was running from and hadn’t fully dealt with. Writing was rewarding and healing at the same time. When I found the gift, I discovered my true self.

Your first novel, and soon to be film,  “Cheekie, A Child Out of Desire” is based on your childhood.  Were you worried, or concerned, at first about how relatives, friends, and/or people from the old neighborhood might react  to your writing?  I was definitely worried about how my family would react to the novel being based on their lives as well. So, what I did was allow them to read the manuscript before the book was published. There was only one person who wanted me to omit a few things and I did out of respect. But the story is authentic and it’s real. And I think everyone appreciated my brutal honesty. In the end, they, too, were inspired and healed.

You recently kicked off a fund-raising campaign for the film version of “Cheekie”.  What’s it like to see, and share your story on film? Right now, we are running a campaign to help raise funds for the film. And I am also in talks with potential investors. We have an excellent team. The director, Willie Burton, has been in the film industry for over 30 years and has worked on every film you can imagine from “The Color Purple,” “Shawshank Redemption,” to “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Straight out of Compton.” He won two Academy Awards in Sound Mixing for “Dreamgirls” and “Bird.” So, like I said, I have some good people behind me and it’s looking really good that it will be on the big screen for next year.

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Obviously a success story, what advice do you have for today’s youth, especially aspiring young writers, growing up in similar circumstances? My advice is to never give up on your dreams no matter how difficult things get or how many obstacles are thrown in your way. You have to keep picking yourself up each time you get knocked down. It doesn’t matter where you grow up, but where you end up. You can choose to do the right things no matter how much negativity is thrown your way. And, of course, always put God first because without Him nothing else is possible.

What’s the one thing you hope your writing reveals, to readers/viewers? I hope that it reveals that no matter how difficult the circumstances, there is still always profound hope. I encourage everyone to visit Cheekiethemovie.com for more information about the book and the campaign. Thanks and God bless.

 

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Clarence Nero grew up in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and graduated from Howard University. He has received favorable praise from Dr. Maya Angelou for his novel “Cheekie: A Child out of the Desire,” who she described as “one of our most promising writers.”

Nero has an MFA in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. He teaches at the Baton Rouge Community College. Please visit him at www.cheekiethemovie.com.

 

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MFA Annual Faculty Reading Event

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The annual MFA Faculty reading at the the Baton Rouge Gallery takes place on Sunday, September 13th at 4 pm at the Baton Rouge Gallery. Come join us for a spectacular multi-media afternoon as faculty from LSU’s graduate Creative Writing program take the stage for an unforgettable event. 

Jason Buch:

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Jason Buch is an Assistant Professor of Screenwriting and New Media at LSU. He received his B.S. in Computer Science in 1999 from the University of South Florida and his M.F.A. in Film, Theatre and Communications Arts in 2008 from the University of New Orleans. Jason served as an Associate Producer on the Telly award winning PBS documentary American Creole: New Orleans Reunion. He wrote and directed the interactive iPhone app So You’re Dating a Vampire and is currently in Post-Production on the first season of his web series, Arceneaux. Jason lives in New Orleans with three cats, a dog, and his fiancée, Stephanie. 

Zack Godshall:

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Zack Godshall makes films about unsung people and places that exist along the fringes of culture. His subjects range from claim adjusters working in post-Katrina New Orleans to divinely inspired folk architects. His first two narrative films, Low and Behold and Lord Byron, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and his documentaries have played on The Documentary Channel and garnered awards at film festivals around the country. Zack’s written work has appeared in The Southern Review, The Louisiana Field Guide published by LSU Press, and the film journal Hammer To Nail.  He is currently an assistant professor of screenwriting in the Department of English at LSU.

 

Laura Mullen

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Laura Mullen is the author of seven books: Enduring Freedom (2012), Dark Archive (2011), Murmur (2007), Subject (2005), After I Was Dead (1999), The Tales of Horror (1999), and The Surface (1991), which was a National Poetry Series selection. A new collection, Complicated Grief, is forthcoming from Solid Objects Press in fall 2015. Mullen’s honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. She is the McElveen Professor in English and Director of Creative Writing at Louisiana State University.

 

Joshua Wheeler:

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Joshua Wheeler is from Alamogordo, New Mexico. He’s a graduate of the University of Southern California, New Mexico State University and has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Iowa. His essays have appeared in The Missouri Review, Harper’s, BuzzFeed, [Pank] and many others. He co-edited the anthology We Might as Well Call it the Lyric Essay and his first book, Acid West, is forthcoming from FSG. This year he joins LSU as an Assistant Professor and in the fall will teach ENGL 2025: Fiction (The New Novella) and a graduate Creative Nonfiction workshop (ENGL 7001).

Each presenter will premiere new work. This event is free and open to the public.

Creative Writing Past, Present, and Future Series: New Delta Review Summer 2015

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Today, New Delta Review has published its summer issue!  This issue is packed with incredible works—from zombies to spaceports to minotaurs and morticians—and, as always, the writing is brilliant and innovative and formally diverse.

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Our summer issue features work from Joshua Wheeler, who joins our faculty in August, and Eric Tran, who, along with Chen Chen (featured in our fall issue), has been selected as the recipient of our annual Matt Clark Editors’ Prize. This prize is made possible by a generous endowment from the parents of Matt Clark, who was a beloved instructor and colleague at LSU.

 

New Delta Review is the graduate student-run journal for LSU.  We publish fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art.  This year, like the MFA program, we turned thirty!  To celebrate, we put together an anthology of some of the greatest work that NDR has published over the past few decades.  It’s a stunning collection, including fiction from Naomi Shihab Nye, Dinty W. Moore, Kevin Wilson, Stacey Richter, and George Singleton, and poetry from Billy Collins, Anne Carson, Ai, Patricia Smith, and Louisiana’s own Ava Leavell Haymon.

 

New Delta Review has made the successful transition to an online journal in recent years. This allows us to reach a larger audience and bring beautiful writing free to the public.  We maintain a print presence through special projects (like our anthology) and our annual chapbook contest.  This year, our chapbook contest winner is Leslie Marie Aguilar.  Her collection, Mesquite Manual is truly exquisite, and you can order your own copy here.

 

So please, take a look at our beautiful and stunning summer issue—it’s free and online—and if you’re like us and just love the way a book feels in your hands and looks on your shelf, think about heading over to our online store and getting yourself a copy of our anthology and chapbook.  We appreciate your support!

 

The Daily Reveille Talks With Creative Writing Director Laura Mullen About Louisiana Queer Conference

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http://www.lsureveille.com/daily/louisiana-queer-conference-to-be-held-at-lsu/article_7ef6e132-c908-11e4-b234-e7318ad3530a.html

 lmullenqueerreveillearticle Louisiana Queer Conference to be held at LSU – lsureveille.com: The Daily ReveilleDelta Mouth, a literary festival led by the University’s Creative Writing Program, is hosting Queer Night tonight to kick off the Louisiana Queer Conference. The conference provides leadership, social and networking opportunities to LGBT college students and their allies.

Read more…

 

LSU Creative Writing: Past, Present, and Future Q&A series – The Delta Journal

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The Delta Journal began as a literary page in The Reveille, but in 1947, Charles East, a Reveille features editor, decided to create an independent undergraduate literary publication, and founded The Delta Journal that is still in publication sixty-eight years later.  Designed as a “medium of expression for student literary output”, The Delta Journal boasts some notable contributors over the decades, including Robert Penn Warren, John Ed Bradley, movie critic Rex Reed, and nature photographer C. C. Lockwood.

LSU Creative Writing recently discussed The Delta Journal with current undergrad editors, Samantha Bares, and Brent Thibodeaux, in a Q & A interview as we continue our blog series, LSU Creative Writing: Past, Present, and Future.

 

LSU CWP: Tell us some things about The Delta Journal that people may not be aware of. Who is eligible to submit their work? Is submission, or participation limited to English Majors? What genres comprise the contents of the Delta Journal?

Brent T.: Beyond existing for almost sixty-eight years, the Delta Literary Journal offers undergraduates at LSU a plethora of various opportunities in which to exercise and develop their writing and editing abilities in a non-threatening and unpretentious environment. The journal brings like-minded and passionate artists together and exposes them to the realities and responsibilities that are inherently tied to running a literary journal. All LSU undergraduates are eligible to submit their work–not just English Majors. We publish poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and visual art.

Samantha B.:  The Delta Undergraduate Literary Journal is, and has always been, edited and produced by and for LSU undergraduates. We only employ and publish the work of LSU undergraduates, of any major. We accept submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art.

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LSU CWP: What was your inspiration/incentive for becoming editor of a prestigious, sixty-eight year old student publication?

Samantha B.: My inspiration for becoming an editor of Delta Journal was the journal itself! Two years ago, I went to a fundraiser for Delta. After a year attending every event Delta put on, sharing my work at readings and participating as an audience member, I loved being a part of our arts community. Then my poetry was published in Vol. 55. From there, I was fiction editor for Vol. 56, and now Editor in Chief for Vol. 57. It’s been one of the most enriching experiences of my college career.

Brent T.: My incentive is my persistent urge to better my craft and to help others who share that same passion for writing better themselves. Without a community to support and assist during the revision process, the writer falls short of polishing his/her work to its maximum potential.

 

LSU CWP? : Over the years, quite a few of The Delta’s contributors have become well known, if not famous. Do you ever imagine that some of the student talent discovered within The Delta’s pages will one day become best-selling authors, Oscar winning screen writers, or famous photographers, yourself included?

Brent T.: I do not doubt that some of our contributors will go off and achieve great things in whatever their future endeavors may be, but the reality is that gaining the right exposure and establishing oneself in the art world is an extremely difficult enterprise. Nevertheless, getting involved early with other writers and furthering one’s abilities to critique and revise will surely place them at an advantage with their artistic pursuits.

Samantha B.: I think it’s definitely possible. The work we publish is from the best and brightest young writers and artists in the state, some of whom have gone on to prestigious graduate programs at Syracuse, University of Iowa, and Notre Dame, to name a few.

 

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LSU CWP: Based on your experiences working on this publication, what can you take with you once you graduate from LSU? How valuable has this editorial experience been to your college career?

 

Samantha B.: This editorial experience has opened possibilities for me already, in that I’m now a workshop facilitator for a new nonprofit here in Baton Rouge called New South Story Lab, along with one of our fiction editors, Nicholas Molbert. It’s been an incredible growing experience for my writing, as well, preparing me for a career of enthusiastic participation in arts communities. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without it.

Brent T.: After graduation, I know I’ll take satisfaction in having developed my abilities as a writer and editor as well as having helped preserve one of the few gems LSU has to offer to undergraduate writers and artists. The people I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work with have inspired and taught me tremendously; those connections will always remain precious to me and will persist long into the future.

 

 

LSU CWP: What advice/encouragement can you offer future editors of, and contributors to, the Delta Journal? What are your hopes for the future of this literary magazine?

Brent T.: To future editors and contributors: communicate, reach out, stay determined, and never, as artists, cease to be heard. My hopes for the future of this journal are ineffable. I hope the journal continues to endure, grow, and teach young artists how to enhance the quality of their craft and ground them for success.

Samantha B.: To the future editors: everything’s going to work out! Working the way we do, curating and editing a journal while fighting to raise funds for publication year in, year out, it sometimes feels like an impossible task. But professors, mentors, and others in our writing community help however they can. We’ve managed to do this since 1947. We’ll be doing it until LSU is dust. To future contributors: Just know that everyone is nervous their first (and second, and fifteenth) time submitting their work to a journal. But it’s not half as scary as you think.

My hope for the journal is that it doesn’t just continue to exist, but thrives in an environment ever-hostile to the arts. We are a vital part of our community– not just because young creatives need publications like ours– but because every community needs the arts. I hope we publish well into the 22nd century, or at least until journals are telepathically beamed into the minds of readers (finally saving us the cost of paper).

 

 

 

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Samantha Bares and Brent Thibodeaux are both senior Creative Writing English Majors.

 

LSU Creative Writing: Past, Present, and Future Q&A series – Keija Parssinen, Visiting Asst. Professor of Fiction

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Keija Parssinen

As part of our continuing Q& A series, we talked to visiting faculty member, Keija Parssinen, author of “The Ruins of Us”, and the soon to be published, “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis”.

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LSU CWP:  Growing up in Saudi Arabia, and spending summers visiting family here in the U.S. obviously afforded you the experience of two very different cultures. What aspects of your multi-cultural childhood, if any, influenced your writing?

KP: It was the pull of childhood memories that drove me inexorably toward fiction writing! Saudi Arabia is one of the most complicated, extreme, and fascinating countries in the world. Spending my formative years there was like the ultimate writer’s gift–now I get to spend a lifetime trying to understand it all. Growing up an expatriate child also meant that I had no fixed idea about home, which means my fiction ranges widely in terms of setting. My first book is set in Saudi Arabia, my second in Southeast Texas, and my third in Lebanon. I feel first and foremost that I am a human being, and second, that I’m an American, and that’s very much a byproduct of the multi-cultural childhood.

 

LSU CWP: As a successful author, what fuels the ideas for your fiction projects, curiosity, imagination, or both?

KP: Because novel-writing demands so much time and attention, you have to be utterly in love with, and compelled by, your subject. A red-hot curiosity to know more about something usually fuels my first several months working on a project. With RUINS OF US, I wanted to better understand Saudi-American relations and what had led to 9/11; with my second novel, THE UNRAVELING OF MERCY LOUIS, I read an article in the New York Times magazine about an outbreak of inexplicable physical and verbal tics in a group of high school girls in upstate New York. Experts seemed to conclude that it was a case of convergence disorder and mass psychogenic illness, or mass hysteria, caused primarily by anxiety. Yet the community and parents of the girls rejected that diagnosis and tried very hard to find an organic cause or “real” diagnosis. I found it all so mysterious and wild, and therefore the perfect novel premise. Unlike my first book, this second one doesn’t draw at all on my background, and so I wrote it purely from a place of imagination, rather than memory. It was freeing, but also intensely difficult to make the emotions sing.

 

LSU CWP: Research for your first novel “The Ruins of Us” which is set in Saudi Arabia, and based on the custom of plural marriage, met with some incendiary reactions. Did that have an effect on how you researched and wrote your soon to be published second book, “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis”?

KP: I recently read a great piece of writing advice: The writer must never look away. It means that a writer has an obligation to write honestly, and I fully believe that. Some readers, Saudis in particular, accused me of being too critical of Saudi society. One woman wrote in her Goodreads review, “It must be exhausting to be so critical ALL THE TIME! Ha-Ha!” But that wasn’t at all my agenda. I hoped only to deliver a portrait of Saudi Arabia as I understood it to be, both through my research and my experiences. A writer’s work is also deeply personal–my book isn’t the story of all Saudis, everywhere. It is the story of a very particular family, at a very particular juncture in history. MERCY LOUIS also casts a critical eye on its societal milieu. I suppose like most writers, I am critical by nature, but my hope is that the criticality is counterbalanced by compassion for my characters. When Stephen Spielberg made “Munich,” about the taking of several Israeli hostages and the subsequent Israeli retaliation, both Israelis and Palestinians were angered by his treatment of the material, and he said he took it as a sign he was doing his job correctly–not serving as propagandist for one side or the other, but rather, presenting the material as honestly as he could. All writers must possess a certain degree of fearlessness.

 

LSU CWP:  What advice would you offer creative writing students, especially aspiring novelists?

KP: Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a momentum game, so try to write every day until that beautiful moment when your project catches fire and you can’t bear to be away from it for even a minute. Also, develop a thick skin. This profession is not for the faint of heart–you must prepare yourself for an abundance of disappointment, rejection, and self-doubt. But just get back to the work–the work will set you free. Remember to take joy from the work itself, and you won’t have any trouble returning to the writing desk, even in the face of all of the difficulties that attend this undertaking.

 

LSU CWP:  List five books you believe are “must read”.

KP: I’m going to cheat by listing five classics, as well as five contemporary works:

Classics:

MRS. DALLOWAY, Virginia Woolf

ANNA KARENINA, Tolstoy

THE AWAKENING, Kate Chopin

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, Edith Wharton

SEASON OF MIGRATION TO THE NORTH, Tayib Saleh

 

Contemporary:

HOUSEKEEPING, Marilynne Robinson

THE MEMORY OF LOVE, Aminatta Forna

Anything by Margaret Atwood

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, Jeffrey Eugenides

LIGHT YEARS, James Salter

 

Keija, along with a few other faculty members, will be featured at the following event, which is free, and open to the public:

Readers & Writers

Sunday, November 23, 4 pm
Baton Rouge Gallery

1985-2015:
30th Anniversary Celebration of the MFA in Creative Writing
featuring readings by faculty members Lara Glenum, Mari Kornhauser, Keija Parssinen, and James Wilcox