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Success Stories & Testimonials

Here are the stories we received after the 2018 and 2019 conferences. Email Justin Balog questions to bearriver-questions@umich.edu.

Beth Aviv

Her poem, "Summer Light," recently appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, issue #37. 

Pia Borsheim

A number of her individual poems have been published in journals and quarterlies, and my fifth collection, "Above the Birch Line," will be published by Gallaudet University Press in the fall of 2021. 

Testimonial

The encouraging workshop leaders, the great camaraderie of other writers, and the beautiful setting make Bear River hard to beat.

Phillip Crymble

He used one of the writing prompts assigned in Laura Kasischke's 2018 workshop to write a poem titled "So Far Away." That poem was selected as the winner of the Penny-Farthing Prize for Lyric Poetry by Diane Seuss. It appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Guesthouse

His poem "North American Birds" was selected to appear in the 2019 edition of The Bear River Review.

Kelly Fordon

Since I attended in 2009, I have published two short story collections with Wayne State University Press--"Garden for the Blind" (2015) and "I Have the Answer" (2020) as well as a poetry collection, "Goodbye Toothless House" with Kattywompus Press (2019). You can view her website here

Testimonial

I worked with Antonya Nelson and loved her class. While there I deconstructed "White Angel" by Michael Cunningham and I still think about it all the time. It was one of the best lessons I've ever had about how short fiction works, and why, and since then I like to spend at least 1/3 of every workshop I teach delving into the work of great writers.

Andrea Hansell

Andrea says, in 2016 I started a short story entitled "Eastbound Train" in response to a prompt in Antonya Nelson's fiction workshop.  It was based on an incident in my grandmother's life in Ukraine during World War I, which made it historical fiction -  an entirely new genre to me.  The finished version of this story was a finalist for the 2017 Lascaux Prize for Short Fiction and was published in their anthology.  This story would never have been thought of or written had I not attended Bear River and worked with Tony.   

 

Testimonial

From the workshops and craft talks and readings, to the writers I met and continue to correspond with, to the morning sun sparkling on the water and the plentiful soft-serve ice cream. Several of my pieces that I tried out in the Sunday student readings have been published.  "When the Wild Called," a memoir about reading Jack London to my little brother, was published last year in the "Books, Books, Books!" issue of Minerva Rising.  "Taming the Wild Tummy," an account of my first and last experience wearing Spanx, was just published in "Big," an anthology about life in plus-sized bodies published by Caitlin Press.

Stephanie Kadel-Taras

Testimonial

None of the work I produced at Bear River 2019 has been published. But the encouragement of my poetry peers in my workshop led me to submit more after Bear River. One of my colleagues from the workshop, who is widely published, kindly agreed to consult with me about his submission strategy; his advice helped me move forward with my goal to submit more. The result is that I had a poem accepted to Bear River Review and another poem accepted to Yellow Arrow Journal. I hope for more in the future!

Caroline Maun

The most recent reward of her work at Bear River is a new chapbook titled “_Accident_,” published in 2019, with Alice Greene & Co., a publisher whose work she came to admire because of the editions of Allison Swan's and Keith Taylor's poetry. As someone who came to creative writing outside the academy, she has appreciated being able to study with a variety of nationally-recognized faculty members in the program. What she has learned at Bear River informs her pedagogical practice and has generated a lot of new work over the years. 

 

Testimonial

I usually start thinking about being at Bear River in late November of every year. I especially value the great faculty, the friendships that have deepened as a result, the opportunities extended to support students at my university, the partnerships that have formed. I value the intentional effort to set aside the time to primarily focus on being a writer in the context of the network of support and friendship of the conference as it has developed over time.

Larry Parrott

A few of his essays were published in The Bear River Review and Walloon Writers. He is currently 300 pages into a memoir/autobiography, entitled “Pieces of My Corps,” about his life and upbringing and the two years he spent in Ecuador with Peace Corps.  

 

Testimonial

Mardi Jo Link was a patient, encouraging and knowledgeable leaders.  Unlike other sessions, she did not require authors to sit and listen -- she wanted us to respond to compliments and criticisms in-path.

Kelly Plante

At Bear River, she shortened her existing personal essay, “My Toenail Myself,” a riff on Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” so that it would be short enough to read at the student reading. The revisions she made for the reading and the feedback I received after, including from Jerry Dennis, helped her to improve the work so that it would go on to be published in the Bear River Review and to earn an honorable mention at her alma mater, Oakland University’s Alumni Literary Nonfiction Contest. Kelly says, my essay “Digging with Wolves,” which braids together society’s mistreatment of animals (wolves) and how similar egoic forces prey also on the psyche of young women, from the perspective of a particular young woman coming-of-age (me), which I began in a creative writing class at Wayne State University, is published in Prometheus Dreaming. Another personal essay of mine titled “Psalm 139” braids together my experience pregnant with my son with feminist readings of Mary Sidney Herbert’s 16th-century translation of the Psalms; it is published in the Bear River Review and won second place in Oakland University’s alumni literary no fiction contest this year (2020). 

Testimonial

The setting of Bear River, time and place, time and again, has inspired me to continue writing throughout the year. Jerry Dennis’s workshops have helped me to improve my skills to write “place.” The connections I’ve formed in his workshops, the inevitable deep at times dark conversations in a nonfiction writing workshop but also the laughs that we have shared, are long lasting and impact my writing, and the joy that comes from writing, in ways that are unquantifiable.

Shelli Rottschafer

Her piece "Morning Ritual" was published in the Bear River Review

 

Testimonial

From my connections made at Bear River, Jerry Dennis will now be performing from his latest work at Aquinas College through the Contemporary Writers Series.  His performance date will be November 19, 2020 at 7:30 in Wege Ballroom on Aquinas College Campus.  This is free and open to the public, so if you are in the Grand Rapids area, please come and hear him speak.  Also, Anne Marie Ooman, Mardi Jo Link, and Laura Kasischke have performed in this series in the past. 

Ksenia Rychtycka

Two poems titled "Train Ride To The Past" and "Leaving Roznitiv," which were first written in Richard Tillinghast's workshop, were published in Mused Bella Online Literary Review. These poems are also included in a poetry chapbook which she recently completed. 

 

Testimonial

Bear River is a magical place and one of my fondest memories is attending Patricia Hampl's memoir workshop. I am in touch with many of the writers from that workshop and we continue to encourage each other. The atmosphere at Bear River is always supportive and positive and the work is inspiring which is why year after year so many of the same writers return to the shores of Walloon Lake. My poem Grandfather Revealed received an honorable mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards and my poem Ode To Journeying received an honorable mention in the Rochester Writers Margo Lagattuta Award. My short story collection Crossing The Border was selected as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and received a 5-star review from Readers' Favorite.

Susannah Sheffer

Susannah says, that two poems begun in Eric McHenry's workshop last year will be published in Poet Lore later this summer. Going back over the years, two poems begun in Michael Dickman's workshop were later published in The Examined Life and in Barrow Street. A poem begun in Marianne Boruch's workshop was later published in an anthology put out by Jewish Currents titled "Borders and Boundaries." Other poems of hers have been published over the past few years in The Threepenny Review, The Massachusetts Review, Tar River Poetry, Copper Nickel, Painted Bride Quarterly, Lake Effect, The Connecticut River Review, and Third Wednesday. Outside of poetry, she is involved in other kinds of work and other kinds of writing, most recently, she was the author of a 2019 report called “Nobody To Talk To: Barriers to Mental Health Treatment for Family Members of Individuals Sentenced to Death or Executed” which you can find here

 

Testimonial

Even when I can't say that a given poem was explicitly begun in a Bear River workshop, I can always credit the effect of my connection to the Bear River community and the impact of studying so many wonderful poets there. This is tough to answer briefly, especially as we approach the week when I would typically be traveling from Massachusetts to Michigan for the annual Bear River experience. The magic of Bear River -- the beautiful languor of the setting mixed with the urgency of needing to produce a solid draft by the following morning -- has had an enormous impact on my writing life, as have the connections I have made, and sustained throughout the rest of the year, with other writers I've met there.

Jan Shoemaker

Her essay, "Visible," which she worked on in Mardi Jo Link's group, is forthcoming in the journal, Meat for Tea. Her poetry collection, "The Reliquary Earth," was published after she worked on some of its poems in Richard Tillinghast's group, and her essay collection, “Flesh and Stones: Field Notes from a Finite World,” was published after she worked  on narrative nonfiction in Tom Lynch's group. In all of these sessions, the generous feedback of fellow group-members was helpful in shaping my work. 

 

Testimonial

How to distinguish among them? The talented friends I made at Bear River continue to enrich my work and life between conferences. The small group writing exercises and discussions, the evening readings, and the hours in between sessions where we wrote amid so much natural beauty have all been delicious. And the casual gatherings of like-minded people all bent on improving our craft--well, there's nothing like it, is there?

Jennifer Sperry-Steinorth

Not only were several poems that appear in her book "A Wake with Nine Shades" (Texas Review Press, 2019) first drafted or revised during my time at Bear River, but the people she met at Bear River connected her to other opportunities to grow as a writer, which in turn has influenced all of her work for the last decade. 

Jennifer says, my poem, "Range" inspired by an encounter with the Camp Michigania horses (and people) is forth coming in Massachusetts Review and I believe an interview will be published online around that time. That poem appears in my recent collection "A Wake with Nine Shades". Next Spring a hybrid text, "Her Read"--a marriage of poetry and visual art will be released, in full color, hardback, also from Texas Review Press. This is a work I have been engaged in since the summer of 2016, and I am indebted to my dear friend, marvelous poet, artist and Bear River staff member, Carrie Tebeau for her encouragement of this unusual project. 

 

Testimonial

At Bear River I have met writers that I continue to stay in touch with-- who continue to inspire and nurture me through the year, the years. Bear River is not simply a long-weekend writing conference, but a community of writers. There are many individual stories I could share (come have a glass of wine on the porch and I will), but the best one, in my opinion, is the one that doesn't end. Time at Bear River improved my writing, but more importantly, it helped me find my way as a writer, to making a life as a writer.

Ellen Stone

Ellen says, my first full length book of poems, "What Is in the Blood" was just published in March 2020 by Mayapple Press. A number of poems in the book were drafted after prompts from Bear River: “The psychiatrist talks to the family” and “Survival instructions” with Eric McHenry, “Trouble" with Tarfia Faizullah,“ My parent's hands” (originally published in (Two Cities Review) and “Heat” (originally published in The Museum of Americana) with Laura Kasischke, and, “Dear sons and daughters of hungry ghosts” (originally published in Neat) and “Transmigration of souls” (originally published in Jenny) with Michael Dickman. Both “My parent's hands” and “Heat” were nominated for a Pushcart prize. “Heat” was also nominated for Best of the Net. Additionally, the Bear River Review first published “Rhubarb” from "What Is in the Blood." This year I have a sonnet, “American Abortion sonnet #7” published in Choice Words: Writers on Abortion (2020) edited by Annie Finch. This anthology is one of the first of its kind gathering decades of writing about the fight for reproductive rights in this country. I was alerted to the anthology by Desiree Cooper at Bear River after hearing her read her piece, "First Response" and seeing her film, "The Choice." Her chapbook, “The Solid Living World” won the 2013 Michigan Writers Cooperative Chapbook Contest where she met some of Writers' staff at Bear River. Her poems were first published in their journal, Dunes Review in 2014 after a drought of nearly 20 years. 

 

Testimonial

Bear River essentially was responsible for resurrecting my publishing career after a long pause when I raised my three daughters and taught high school full time. Bear River is also a sacred space for my writing community to gather yearly. I have met so many brilliant writers at Bear River who I now consider friends and colleagues. Bear River is responsible for helping me create my writing community. Many of the poets and writers I worked with or met at Bear River volunteered their time to come into Community High School (the high school where I taught for over 20 years) as guest writers: A. Van Jordan, Peter Ho Davies, Keith Taylor, Thomas Lynch, Laura Kasischke, Tarfia Faizullah, Patricia Clark, Scott Beal, Karrie Waarala, and Zilka Joseph. 

Alison Swan

Wayne State University Press will publish her book of poems, “A Fine Canopy,” in October 2020. Jane Hirshfield, Marianne Boruch, Donovan Hohn, and Ross Gay--and her fellow workshoppers--all had a hand in shaping her thinking and process along the way of its making. 

 

Testimonial

I must say, Ross Gay's workshop, wherein we built a carnival from objects found in our room, knocked something loose in me. What an adventurous playful group to be a part of! That something was aided and abetted by reading Gay's Book of Delights, for sure. Truthfully, though, I have many fond memories--one more: dozens of writers sitting in the lodge's center room, heads bent over laptops, writing. I love to think of that! View of Walloon Lake out the big windows. Jack's bookshop through one set of double doors. An anticipated talk or reading through the other set.

Ryan Walsh

At Bear River, he finished final edits on a manuscript, which became his first book, Reckonings (Baobab Press, 2019). He wrote the final three poems he needed to round out the collection. 

 

Testimonial

Though this effort was separate from my workshop, I was very thankful for the space, time, and inspiration Bear River provided. I worked with Ross Gay quite a bit, and our conversations fueled the final edits on my collection. Ross and I took a nice long walk meandering all the trails around the campus. That was memorable.

Claire Weiner

Changing My Mind About Beets - a poem published in After Hours Press, a literary magazine with a "Chicago focus." She began the poem in a workshop with Fleda Brown. 

 

Testimonial

Bear River is the first place I ever had the courage to declare myself a writer and a poet.

Donna Zajonc

This past year, she self-published her book entitled “SASSIE”. It is a Cinderella story taking place during the '30's depression and dustbowl in the Midwest. 

 

Testimonial

I remember the good spirit with which participants and faculty listened and appreciated each 'camper's' reading.  Most of them, we wrote during the four-day workshop.

Sally Weston Ziph

In 2018 she took Laura Kasischke's workshop titled "The Sensory as Source of Inspiration" which resulted in the short story, "Freakin' Hawaii," published in the Bear River Review that year. 

 

Testimonial

Besides the workshop, I especially enjoyed the evening readings by workshop leaders and students, and the hike I took on campus with a new friend I met at Bear River. She and I have stayed in touch and she is a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. I am currently a low res MFA student at Miami University, and I have been chosen as a first runner up in the annual Miami Academy of American Poets contest for 2020. I also recently had a poem published on The Five-Two, and a book review of mine will appear in next month's issue of The Harbor Review.