Back in the Swing of Things

“The way to rock oneself back into writing is this. First gentle exercise in the air. Second the reading of good literature.

It is a mistake to think that literature can be produced from the raw. One must get out of life…one must become externalised; very, very concentrated, all at one point, not having to draw upon the scattered parts of one’s character, living in the brain.”

― Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

Constraint and Wildness

“My trouble seems to be to bring together in me the Puritanical iron hand of constraint and the gushes of pure wildness. One can’t survive or write without both but they need to come to terms. Rather narrow walking.”

– Robert Lowell in a letter to Elizabeth Bishop, 1959


Five-Star Review from Bust

Such a beautiful review from Bust magazine. Thank you, Laurie Cedilnik!

Here’s an excerpt:

“This compelling debut is shaped like a search for a long-lost friend, or an examination of a love affair that left the author forever changed. . . . Wilbanks weaves a fiercely candid account of reconciling with a faith whose tenets seem set in stone.”


Publisher’s Weekly Review

I got an awesome early birthday present today: a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly for When I Spoke in Tongues!

Here’s a snippet:

“Wilbanks, winner of a Pushcart Prize for essay writing, debuts with the captivating story of how she turned away from God. She eloquently explores her long journey from being a Pentecostal Christian who spoke in tongues to being an atheist. . . . Whether writing of these scars, her dad’s rusty pickup trucks, or massive Pentecostal revivals in Lagos, Wilbanks captures the scene beautifully. Wilbanks’s slow deconstruction of her family-given religiosity is an evocative inversion of the average spiritual journey.”


Interview with Dickson Lam in The Rumpus


Paper Sons_Front Cover_FinalDickson Lam’s dazzling debut memoir, Paper Sons, which came out in March from Autumn House Press, traces Lam’s journey from a teenage graffiti writer growing up in a housing project in San Francisco, to a high school teacher working with underserved youth. As Lam does his best to unravel the tangled threads of violence in his family’s past, his richly rendered narrative pulses with life as he explores what we owe to one another, if we’re ultimately destined to repeat the mistakes of our parents, and whether there can be such a thing as redemption.

Alison Hawthorne Deming, who selected Lam’s book for the 2017 Autumn House Nonfiction contest, cited the way that Lam combined memoir and cultural history, the quest for an absent father and the struggle for social justice, naming traditions in graffiti and Chinese culture: “This is an important book, beautifully crafted, rich and poetic images and juxtapositions, that offers insight and compassion for a nation struggling to make sense of its immigrant nature.”

Lam, whose work has appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, Hyphen magazine, and The Rumpus, teaches at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California. Recently, he and I spoke about the writing advice that transformed his approach to his book, the role of taggers in the graffiti hierarchy, and the duty of a memoirist.

To read the full interview in The Rumpus, click here.

Memoir Workshop on June 9th

I still have some spots in a three-hour memoir workshop that I’m doing for Writespace in Houston on Saturday, June 9th. All levels welcome. Sign up here or send me a note for more info.

Here’s the workshop description:

“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” —Maya Angelou

At the heart of our lives are our stories. Stories of times we were lost and found, broken and whole, asleep and awake. The most haunting personal stories steal liberally from the sensory world of poetry and the narrative world of fiction, even as they plumb the depths of real life.

In this memoir workshop, we will excavate our own unique stories and begin to piece them together into a cohesive whole. We will read and discuss short pieces by writers who have mined the threads of their past to build compelling narratives, and we’ll work through prompts designed to turn rich, messy fragments into powerful narratives.

All levels of experience are welcome. Workshop participants will also learn techniques for building a strong narrative arc, writing vivid scenes, and prioritizing the rich details that make prose come alive. Please bring your favorite writing tools, such as a laptop or a notebook and pen.


WritespaceThis was my first year participating in Writefest–an amazing new writer’s conference in Houston sponsored by Houston Writers’ Guild and Writespace.

I participated in the panel called “How to Get Published in Literary Journals” and moderated a panel with Andrew Sullivan, CP Heiser, Michael J. DeLuca, Holly Walrath, and Karen Bovenmyer. I was especially excited to meet CP Heiser, since Unnamed Press published Jessie Chaffee’s terrific new book Florence in Ecstasy.