An Interview with Marci Vogel, first HBP winner (2015)

By Amanda Symes, ’15

The inaugural winner of Howling Bird Press’s award was Marci Vogel with her book of poetry At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody. Since 2015, Vogel’s writing career has continued to bloom. She finished her Creative Writing and Literature Doctorate with the University of Southern California in the poetry and literature track.

After graduating, she started serving as a Post- Doctorate Scholar Teachin.g Fellow at USC. It was supposed to be a two-year position, but they have asked her to extend her time into a third year

“Having the book was an important part of having that job. It’s like you’re teaching artists, teaching poetry writing for the creative writing majors and fiction writing. I wouldn’t have been asked to do that without a book,” said Vogel.

She has also been invited for readings and talks at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, the University of Strasbourg, Kelly Writers House, the University of Pennsylvania, the School of Beaux- Arts in Tours, France, and the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. She is currently working on a new book-length manuscript engaged with questions of language, displacement, ecosystems, and the redwoods of California.

“Planet Earth poetry. Environmental, ecological, ecojustice poetry,” says Vogel. “It’s my way of giving another resource to climate change.”

When asked what is it about writing that energizes her, Vogel replied, “Writing makes me feel better than not writing! I don’t feel like I’m in my own skin if it’s been too long from writing.”

Whether she is writing a syllabus, a course description, or a memo, for Vogel, it’s all writing.

“It doesn’t have to be a collection or great American novel. It’s writing an email to students. You can have someone feeling really supported because you know your audience. Real-world writing energizes me.”

Vogel believes poetry is for all people. Someone might not be a poet, but a poem can nourish them, sustain them, give them a way to say, “Oh, that’s what I’ve been feeling!”

Vogel likes to write at her own desk, surrounded by things she’s collected over the years. This includes her completely restored 1952 Olympia typewriter, which she purchased with some of the money from her first writing advance.

“I’m not working on my own work every day, that’s why I like to acknowledge how much work I put into an email or writing a class or student work. It’s all writing practice.”

Vogel is careful about structuring elements so that all readers, whether consciously or unconsciously, experience a process of development in the work. She says she is “careful that the little seeds are planted.”

Marci Vogel is the author of Death and Other Holidays, winner of the inaugural Miami Book Fair/de Groot Prize, and At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, winner of the inaugural Howling Bird Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry, prose, translations, and cross-genre inventions appear in Jacket2, FIELD, VIDA, Plume, Quarter After Eight, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, and Seneca Review, among other publications. She is the recipient of a Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, a Hillary Gravendyk Memorial Scholarship from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and residencies at North Street Collective in Mendocino County and CAMAC Art Center in Marnay, France.

Five Years of Howling Bird Press

Since its inception five years ago, Howling Bird Press has published five winning manuscripts, all with authors who have gone on to do wonderful things. The press has also been recognized for its work in Poets & WritersKirkusForeword Reviews, Columbia JournalThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe Literary Review, and The St. Paul Pioneer Press.

2020 marks the five-year anniversary of Howling Bird Press, the publishing house of Augsburg University’s Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Started by former MFA Director and Professor Emerita Cass Dalglish, Howling Bird Press is a student-run publishing program that offers an annual book contest where the winner is awarded a $1,000 cash prize along with book publication and distribution.

Students enrolled in the Publishing Concentration, a two-semester course sequence taught by poet James Cihlar, run the press while studying the publishing profession and the book trade. The students handle all the work of running a press, including acquisitions, editing, graphic design, production, marketing, and fundraising. Howling Bird Press books are distributed by Small Press Distribution and are available online and in bookstores nationwide.

The annual nationwide contest is open to manuscripts of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction on an alternating basis and is judged by the student editors and senior faculty of the MFA program. Along with the prize and publication, the winning author is invited to read at the MFA program’s summer residency in Minneapolis.

This year’s title, Self, Divided by John Medeiros, is the winner of the 2020 Nonfiction Prize.

Previous winning books are Irreversible Things, by Lisa Van Orman Hadley, winner of the 2019 Fiction Prize; Simples, by KateLynn Hibbard, winner of the 2018 Poetry Prize; Still Life with Horses, by Jean Harper, winner of the 2017 Nonfiction Prize; The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, by Jacob M. Appel, winner of the 2016 Fiction Prize; and At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, by Marci Vogel, winner of the 2015 Poetry Prize.

This fall, students will be reading poetry manuscripts in preparation for the 2021 prize.

First Howling Bird Press Publishing Editors

Students with winning author

The first three students to sign up for Howling Bird Press’s publishing concentration were not only adding a concentration on to their creative writing master’s program, they were helping develop the program for future publishing students. Amanda Symes, Ashley Cardona, and Kevin Matuseski are photographed with Marci Vogel at her book launch party in 2015.

Kevin Matuseski MFA ’16

It was quite lovely to be part of the first Howling Bird Press cohort of editors. The idea was to study everything in bookmaking from the initial manuscript to marketing after publication, so it seemed like a worthwhile endeavor for someone like me who wanted to eventually publish his own book. I even ordered a cake for the book launch! Those are things you don’t really imagine doing when you think of the book business, but there are many little tasks like that in publishing.

The most grueling aspect was the sheer quantity of reading we did to select a manuscript to publish. I was reading poetry manuscripts almost everyday—from right after work until I went to bed—for about a month. Then we came together as a team, with professors as our guides, to decide on the winning manuscript.

This was the most memorable to me—to have several people in one room with different tastes, values, and backgrounds—and to try to agree on the best manuscript. It was no easy task, but I think all of us were proud of our choice, Marci Vogel’s At The Border of Wilshire & Nobody.

Her book is now one of my most cherished possessions. Yes, it’s beautiful work, but it became even more valuable when we sat down as an editing cohort to read through it line by line. I think voracious readers often don’t slow down to do this, but it’s a rewarding process, especially with a text as beautiful and layered as Marci’s. You become more present with the text, you notice things, and you guess (sometimes incorrectly) at the intention of the author. It’s critical reading to the extreme.

Our appreciation for Marci’s work was compounded when we met the person behind the manuscript—a kind, humble, and wise person with a true passion for language. She even recommended a few books that I ordered for my daughter. It’s nice to have made a connection with someone so genuine. I see now that she has another book out, Death and Other Holidays. My copy has been ordered. I can’t wait to read it! It’s gratifying to see her continued success having been part of her first book release.

Ashley Cardona MFA ’15

Being part of the team responsible for creating and running Howling Bird Press is one of those experiences that I’m grateful for in ways that I’m only now fully realizing.

I learned what it takes to make a book happen. Proofing, layout, printing, cutting, binding—it was a fascinating process. And then, seeing Marci’s work finally transform from a PDF into a beautiful, tangible piece of art gave us all such a feeling of accomplishment and pride. To be able to bring her poetry to the page was a gift.

Promoting and celebrating the book came naturally for us. We were excited about sharing her work and ours with the world. Designing a promotional broadside felt like the right way to showcase the beauty of language and image that runs throughout Marci’s poetry. The bird of paradise image (below) plays with the language of the poem and serves as a reminder of place for much of her book.

We felt like we knew Marci before we ever met, and when we finally did meet for the book launch, we were met with warmth and grace—she is truly a delightful person and artist.

Amanda Symes MFA ’15

It was exciting to join the inaugural Howling Bird Press group. We not only got the chance to learn about publishing, we had the opportunity to help design the program. Our first assignment was to come up with the publishing house’s name. That was an exciting task that many other MFA students participated in.

To say we got a crash course in publishing is a bit of an understatement. The three of us in that first cohort had full-time jobs, families, were in different tracks in the MFA program (Nonfiction, Poetry, and Fiction), and were embarking on publishing the first Howling Bird Press book.

We were doing more than just a publishing job, though. And we were doing a few years’ worth of publishing work in two short semesters. We read over ninety poetry manuscripts, had back-and-forth meetings to whittle the list down to ten finalists, worked with professors in an all-day discussion to pick the winning manuscript, drafted a contract for winner Marci Vogel, edited her manuscript, designed an entire book—cover, layout, text—to print, finalized details with a book printing company, developed a marketing plan, implemented that marketing plan, and organized a book launch party.

For me, this process was terrifying and also one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life. I didn’t have a background in poetry or in publishing, so everything was new. And while it was daunting, I was reassured working with Ashley, Kevin, and Marci, all who are phenomenal writers. We found a way to work together, and work with the professors, to publish what has turned into one of my favorite books: At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody.

In the end, I learned more than I could have dreamed about the publishing process. It’s helped shape my writing and prepared me for what to expect when my manuscript is finished. It’s also been deeply rewarding to see the great things Marci has done with At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, and her continued success since.

Howling Bird Press – Five Years of Accomplishments

Howling Bird Press authors have accomplished so much in the short time since winning the annual publication award.

  • Still Life with Horses by Jean Harper, Simples by KateLynn Hibbard, and Irreversible Things by Lisa Van Orman Hadley have all been finalists for the Midwest Book Awards.
  • Simples was a finalist for Lyricality’s One Book Minnesota pick.
  • Irreversible Things won an Association of Mormon Letters (AML) book award.
  • Author Jacob M. Appel is the subject of a Netflix documentary and his Howling Bird Press winning book, The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, is mentioned. This book has sixty ratings on Amazon averaging 4.5 stars.
  • Howling Bird Press has reprinted both Irreversible Things and The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street due to popular demand.

Howling Bird Press authors are not the only success story, however. The publishing alumni have gone on to great things as well!

  • Tracy Ross published her books Broken Signals and James Dean and the Beautiful Machine.
  • Colin Mustful founded his own press, History through Fiction.
  • Ashley Cardona and Amanda Symes have won writing contests, publishing poetry and fiction (respectively) as part of anthology collections.
  • Three students have continued their studies in Georgetown University’s publishing program (Gabe Benson), the University of Minnesota’s MFA program (Brad Hagen), and Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s graduate program in Counseling with a focus on creative writing in Art Therapy and trauma (Ciara Dall).

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

The Master of Fine Arts program at Augsburg University is designed to accommodate writers who work full-time, live outside of Minnesota, or simply desire the flexibility of a low-residency experience. This two-year program—run jointly by Stephan Eirik Clark and Lindsay Starck—offers one-on-one work with mentors throughout the year, features an annual ten-day summer residency, and provides the opportunity to join a lifelong community of writers.

Students typically begin the program with a ten-day summer residency in Minneapolis, participating in daily workshops, readings, and mini-courses that focus on literary craft as well as career skills in teaching, editing, publishing, book arts, and advertising. The program includes three summer residencies in Minneapolis.

The first and second residencies are each followed by two off-campus semesters of work with faculty mentors in virtual classrooms that make use of online and other technologies. Each semester, MFA candidates register for a Mentorship and Creative and Critical reading course. In addition, students complete a craft paper during their third off-campus semester and prepare a craft talk in the fourth. Cross genre work is encouraged. By their third and last residency, students are expected to have produced a bound creative thesis.

Students are also given the opportunity to specialize in one or more career concentrations: Teaching and Publishing (Howling Bird Press). Classes are planned with a 5-to-1 student-to-mentor ratio for the close relationship needed throughout the course of MFA studies.

Blurbs are in for our next book!

Howling Bird Press is excited to publish Self, Divided by John Medeiros in fall 2020. Here is early praise for the winner of the 2020 nonfiction prize!

“Self, Divided is an immersive journey to the self’s ‘true north’ against the backdrop of identical twinship, growing up working class, coming out, and living with HIV/AIDS. Captivating not only for Medeiros’s evocative lyricism, but also for his original and imaginative use of narrative space, his quest to create an identity all his own is a sad, funny, and memorable story of growth against the odds, written in the language of hard-won victory.”

—Brian Malloy, author of The Year of Ice and After Francesco

“Most memoirs grapple with the individual seen again, but for John Medeiros this mirroring is literal. Self, Divided considers the author’s life as an identical twin. One brother is gay and HIV-positive, the other a straight Christian, each part of a whole that will not divide, even in times of desperate separation. How can two men, intermingled since birth but whose life paths diverge, come to truly brother one another? Rendered in lyric form that is at once severed and continuous, this memoir pulses deep.” 

—Barrie Jean Borich, author of Apocalypse, Darling and Body Geographic

 

Lisa Van Orman Hadley on #AugsburgStrong

When I first arrived at the Augsburg MFA residency as the winner of the 2019 Howling Bird Book Prize in Fiction, I was nervous. I had never been to Minneapolis and had never met a single person at Augsburg face-to-face. I met Kathleen Matthews first. She was warm and interesting to talk to as she walked me to my dorm room. That night I found my way to dinner. I felt like the new kid on her first day of school walking into the lunchroom for the first time, amidst a sea of unfamiliar faces. I approached a table with one empty seat and asked if I could sit down. From that moment on, I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about. I was welcomed into the circle and into the conversation. The students at the table were bright, kind, and thoughtful. Some of the people at the table had worked, together with Jim Cihlar, on my book as part of Howling Bird Press.

Let me pause here to talk for a minute about the press. It’s scary to hand off the book you have worked on for years and years to people you don’t know. But it was apparent from the very beginning that my book was in good hands. As they ushered Irreversible Things toward publication and beyond, the people that comprise Howling Bird Press were attentive, savvy, and hardworking. The finished product exceeded my expectations and I have very high expectations. 

During my three days on campus, I had experiences like the one at the dinner table again and again as I met more students and faculty. By the time I read my stories at Sateren Hall, I was reading to a crowd of friends. When I returned home to Salt Lake City, I had a whole community a thousand miles away at Augsburg. We have continued our conversations and friendships online. I feel lucky to be a part of the Augsburg MFA community.