Legendary Locals of Pottstown available for pre-order!

I am so excited to announce that the Legendary Locals of Pottstown is now available for pre-orders at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Arcadia Books. It will be released Oct. 14, 2013.

Arcadia Publishing, the largest publisher of local history books in the country was great to work with. They came across my Positively Pottstown blog about a year ago and asked if I’d be interested in profiling “legendary locals,” broadly defined, and things just took off from there.

This was an incredibly cool project. The photographer, Ed Berger, and I met so many amazing Pottstown people, who I can’t thank enough for taking the time to share their stories. This is my first book, so I have to keep pinching myself to make sure this is really happening.

I will keep you updated as book signings/events are held this fall so that the community can hear some of the stories of the people in the book and to get the book into your hands.

South Atlantic MLA conference

This past Saturday I delivered a paper entitled, “Escape and Re-Invention: The Automobile in This Boy’s Life and Anywhere But Here” for a panel at the 2012 South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference in Durham, NC.

The panel theme was “Horseless Carriages and Hybrid Mustangs: Travel and the Automobile in Twentieth- and Twentieth-First-Century American Literature,” which was right up my alley, since I had focused on the automobile in American fiction and nonfiction for my graduate lecture at Bennington last January. I really enjoyed digging into Tobias Wolff’s memoir and Mona Simpson’s novel again and learned so much from the other panelists and the ensuing discussion.

My colleagues on the panel were Rebecca Godwin of Barton College and Jason Vredenburg of the University of Illinois. Rebecca’s paper was on “Pickups, Cadillacs, Mavericks, and Jeeps: Traveling the Mountain South in Robert Morgan’s Short Fiction.” It was a special treat to have  Robert  Morgan, who is on the faculty at Cornell, in the audience! Jason’s paper was on “The Early Automobile and the Transformation of Travel in Edith Wharton and Theodore Dreiser.” I appreciated the opportunity to learn from them and came way with several books I’d like to read to enhance my  understanding of this area of literature, which continually ties into my training as an urban planner.

Photo by Danielle Newton

The panel chair was Ben Lowery and the secretary was James Everett, both of the University of Mississippi. Of course, I think it was a great topic, with a lot of rich material to be mined, which also allowed for a lively discussion with audience members, including some of my Bennington classmates: Margaret Rich, Catherine Faurot and Danielle Newton. Catherine and Danielle’s paper, “All My Tears Be Washed Away: Revelations of Displacement in Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball,” was also part of another engaging panel/discussion. Thank you to everyone associated with the Horseless Carriage panel and to SAMLA for a very positive first experience presenting at an MLA conference!

Reading at Cornelia Street Cafe: August 31

I’m totally stoked to be on the program for the debut of the Bennington Writers Series. It’s happening Downstairs at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Manhattan on Wednesday, August 31 at 6 pm, hosted by the incomparable V. Hansmann. See details below and come on down… or up… or sideways to hear some good stuff.

6:00PM  BENNINGTON WRITERS SERIES

V. Hansmann, host

A.N. Devers;  Leslie Maslow;  Jeremy Oldfield;  Sue Repko

Featured reader will be A.N. Devers, and she is joined on stage by Leslie Maslow, Jan. ’13; Jeremy Oldfield, Jan. ’12; and Sue Repko, Jan. ’12, three current Bennington students.

This is the first program of what we hope will be an ongoing multi-genre series.

A. N. Devers work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bust magazine, the Brooklyn Rail, The Paris Review Daily, The Southampton Review, The Rumpus, TimeOut NY, Tin House, Lapham’s Quarterly, and The Washington Post. She is on the editorial board at Pen America: A Journal for Writers & Readers. She received her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and is the editor of writershouses.com, a website for literary pilgrims everywhere.

$ 7 includes a drink

Publication news

Feels like I’ve been walking in the desert a long time. Although I’m blogging all the time and churning out writing that at least some people are reading, it felt like I hadn’t snagged a literary credit in quite some time. I’m happy to report some good news!

I’d actually learned of this first tidbit when I was at my first residency at Bennington, when another student & accomplished writer, Jamie-Lee Josselyn, told me she’d seen my six-word memoir in “It All changed In An Instant,” More Six-Word Memoirs. Only I’d never heard from the editors or gotten my free copy! So, I finally ordered a couple copies and am now officially announcing this achievement in the blogosphere. I’ll even tell you what the six words are!

“Pottstown. Princeton. Forever straddling two worlds.”

I submitted this online several years ago, long before I became totally immersed in my hometown’s revitalization, but it still holds true. I think it will hold true until I take my last breath. There you have it. On page 120.

In other news… a flash memoir, “How to wave like a queen,” is now up at Swink Magazine. This piece was inspired by a Dinah Lenney workshop at Bennington this past June, when I evidently had my homecoming queen past on the brain. I had blogged about it, too, in Reminiscences of a Queen. I’m very excited to have my work in Swink, which I have admired for years (and submitted to, unsuccessfully. There’s a lesson there for all of us.)

Finally, an essay submitted a while ago will be appearing in the anthology, TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. My piece is called “Observations from the Planet SAHM.” (SAHM stands for Stay-At-Home Mother.) I’m not sure about the publication date. The publisher is Coffeetown Press; there doesn’t seem to be info on their website yet. I’ll keep you posted. Again, this is another cool place to be. The line-up of women writers is impressive, and I’m just glad to be in their company.

That’s it for now!

What I’m reading this term

I’m in my second of four terms in The Bennington Writing Seminars (nonfiction track), and below is a list of what I’ve read so far and plan to read through December.

The reading list is devised by the student and the mentor for any given term. I was thrilled when my mentor, Susan Cheever, and I sat down in June in the living room of my dorm at Bennington, and she started reeling off questions, “Have you read this? Have you read that? I can’t force you to read anything, but if you’re getting a master’s degree, you really should know these books.” It was kind of embarrassing, because I was usually answering, “no.” Although I took a bunch of lit classes as an undergraduate, my major was psychology. Then, a few years later, I went on to grad school in urban planning, and for a long time, I only read public policy books. Imagine a life without novels and memoirs 😦 but that’s how it was.

The result of this conversation was an amazing list of classics and some newer books. I can also swap out for something new that comes along at any time, which is how I ended up reading Sophia, the biography of Tolstoy’s wife, which has only been out for a few months. I was going to read a biography of Tolstoy, but then I was like: let’s hear about the wife who nurtured him through his great works and then was totally dissed by his followers and him at the end of his life. Let’s hear her side of the story!

So, here you go!

June/July 2010

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (Pevear & Volokhonsky edition)

Sophia Tolstoy, a biography – Alexandra Popoff

August

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

Capote: A Biography – Gerald Clarke

Shot in the Heart – Mikal Gilmore

The Executioner’s Song – Norman Mailer

[I don’t recommend reading all these in the same month. Really depressing insights into family dysfunction and how NOT to raise your sons.]

September

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte [a romance! shake off those murderers! hooray!]

The Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

Charlotte Bronte biography – Lyndall Gordon

Jean Rhys Interview – Paris Review

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

October [some of these will be re-reads from a long-ago college course]

Emerson Essays

First We Read, Then We Write – Robert Richardson on Emerson

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

The Scarlet Letter & other stories – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne: A Life – Brenda Wineapple

November

The Invention of Solitude – Paul Auster

Self-Consciousness – John Updike

The Control of Nature – John McPhee

Waterfront – Phillip Lopate

December -?

Middlemarch – George Eliot

The Pine Barrens – John McPhee

Ward 6 and Other Stories – Anton Chekhov

Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey – Janet Malcolm

The Journalist & the Murderer – Janet Malcolm

Tolstoy – Henri Troyat [the bio. I temporarily ditched in favor of Sophia above]

Moving back into the present day… I’d like to read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Dave Cullen’s Columbine, the latter of which is sitting on the floor right next to me as I type this…


Imperfection in the writer’s life

I read the passage below at Rosh Hashanah services last Thursday morning. For those of you who are wondering why I was observing the High Holidays: while I was raised as a Catholic, I married a nice Jewish man. I haven’t converted, but we did raise our sons in the Jewish faith and, truth be told, I go to more services than all of them! Anyway, the rabbi of our small Jewish Reconstructionist congregation in Princeton has begun a tradition of asking a few members to reflect on a theme for just a few minutes during High Holiday services. This year’s theme was perfection/imperfection, interpreted in any way we like. Here is my offering below.

Oh, I must add, it was especially moving and a total surprise when the poet Alicia Ostriker got up after me and read her poem, Prayer in Autumn from The Book of Seventy.

Imperfection in the writer’s life

This past January I began a low-residency MFA program in nonfiction at Bennington College.  I spend ten days in Jan. and June on-campus. The rest of the year, every month, I mail 25-30 pages of new work, a few book reports, and sometimes a critical paper to my mentor for that term. The experience of submitting these early drafts at the end of each month to someone I barely know, putting myself at the mercy of someone successful and well-published, can be an emotionally-harrowing experience.

The work isn’t ready. The ideas are half-baked, the transitions choppy. Not only is the writing not perfect, it’s deeply flawed. But if I want to become a better writer, this is the system I’ve chosen to get me there – this regular, voluntary humbling.

The thing is, it’s not like I haven’t been through this before – coming face-to-face with my writing’s imperfection. My writing has been rejected hundreds of time. For anyone who has tried to get their work published, whether it’s for the school newspaper or The New Yorker – rejection and revision are facts of the writing life.

I have two thick folders in the bottom of my desk drawer filled with rejections.  What that batch of correspondence says is: your work is not right for us. It doesn’t work for us. After receiving these letters, some no bigger than a scrap of paper, I have to accept that if I want that particular story or essay to be read somewhere, in some format, by people I’ve never met, then I am going to have to engage in a kind of teshuva and turn around, go back, examine it with fresh eyes, identify its flaws, admit my culpability in creating this flawed thing and try to set it right.

This is no easier now than fourteen years ago when I started writing in earnest. It’s one thing to acknowledge that my work doesn’t resonate with enough readers to put it on the best seller list. It’s another to go through this re-examination process, again and again, with less resistance, to embrace it as a way to move the work to a better place, a higher plane.

There is no such thing as perfection in a piece of writing. And yet there are times when the prose sings. We know it when we hear it. We feel it. A connection is made. Sometimes, because we’ve let our guard down, because we’ve let ourselves be vulnerable, in the presence of other imperfect creatures, we do receive the gift of a moment – it’s often just a moment – when we feel aligned again. Which is about as close to perfect as I think we ever get.

On returning to “the real world”

I’ve been holding melancholy at bay the past few days.

First, absolutely first, I miss my Bennington people, my “tribe,” as I think Nick Flynn described it. And the rhythm of those days. The morning stretch, the pounding heart and then the racing thoughts, all day long.

Second, a kind of writing challenge was issued to me, and I’m already in the thick of it, alive in it, alive in the sadness of the material, the capturing of it, the putting it down. Nothing to be done about that, I guess, but push through to the end.

So as not to be a complete downer, I’ll admit to also missing the ready-made cafeteria foods, the fruits, vegetables and salads already washed and cut up, and the inventive tofu entrees. I just don’t know why I have to do my own hunting,  gathering and preparing here in the real world. Would love to figure a way around that.

The conversion is almost complete.

I can’t even remember when I first put up suerepko.com. During the late 1990s, I think, when I was writing that nanny novel that never sold. I’ve always been one to conceive of a full-scale marketing plan before I even have a book to sell. Business cards used to figure heavily in these schemes, but now WordPress allows me to indulge my more sophisticated website design & development fantasies. (I took the photo in the header and put the text on it all by myself!) I do know that I snatched up that URL back in the day and, sure enough, a few other Sue Repkos have cropped up on the interwebs in the interim. Who dreamed there could be even one more??

It’s taken me months of infrequent work to move the information from my longstanding website to this WordPress site. I hope I don’t have to do this again anytime soon. I have some writing to do.

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