Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
TOP TEXAS BOOKISH DESTINATIONS
Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies, including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the Texas novels The Paragraph Ranch and A Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Blake Kimzey is a 2014 graduate of the MFA programs in writing at the University of California Irvine and is the recipient of a generous 2013 Emerging Writer Grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. He is the author of the award-winning chapbook Families Among Us. His work has been broadcast on NPR, performed on stage in Los Angeles, and published by Tin House, Short Fiction, McSweeney’s, FiveChapters, Byliner, Puerto del Sol, the Los Angeles Review, Mid-American Review, the Lifted Brow, Day One, PANK, Fiction Southeast, Juked, Keyhole, and Monkeybicycle, as well as anthologized in Surreal South ’13. He has received fellowships to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers as well as the Vermont Studio Center. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Dallas and recently finished writing his first novel.
When Blake Kimzey was growing up in Prosper, Texas, it was a small town of 1,200 with one blinking light. The explosion of mega-bedroom community of the Metroplex seems an apt metaphor for the similarities in Kimzey’s writing career. A love of history and literature when he was an undergrad at Texas A&M took him to a creative writing class at a community college, and from there he’s been published in some of the literary leading journals and publications, and his collection of short stories have received notable praise. Along the way the professor of creative writing at UT-Dallas has established Writing Workshops Dallas to help other writers find their path. He talked with Lone Star Lit this weekend via email.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Where did you grow up, Blake, and how would you describe your experience?
BLAKE KIMZEY: I grew up in Prosper, Texas. The town has grown since I graduated high school in 1999, but I remember it as a small town, just 1,200 people, a blinking yellow light sagging over Highway 289, and a FINA gas station. We lived out in the country on a few acres. I have three brothers and we were always outside, always in the woods, where I discovered my imagination.
When did you first decide you might want to be a writer?
I always loved telling stories, tall tales out in the woods with my brothers and cousins, but it wasn’t until I got to Texas A&M and took literature and history classes that I discovered a love for reading, for narrative. This led to writing, and my first instinct was to be a journalist. I wrote for the student newspaper at A&M, The Battalion, and covered sports and wrote a column. I was writing so much on deadline that I built up the confidence to write my first bit of fiction, and from that point I was hooked. It wasn’t until I took an Introduction to Fiction class at a local Dallas community college, though, that I realized I wanted to seriously pursue creative writing.
What was your first break as a writer?
Getting my first story published in a great literary journal called Short Fiction. That led to story publications in Tin House, McSweeney’s, NPR, and Vice, and eventually to an award-winning short story collection that was published in 2014. Because I was publishing short stories I heard from several agents who were interested in my work. After I finished my first novel I reached out to those warm connections and was able to choose my agent. My first novel is out on submission now.
If one of our readers is new to your work, what would you like them to read first?
What brought you to Texas?
I would have to say my family, when they arrived in north Texas in 1865.
What inspired you to start Writing Workshops Dallas?
I started Writing Workshops Dallas with this mission in mind: to bring writers out of the wilderness and into community with each other. Ten years ago, when I was working in a cubicle with a dream of being a writer, I discovered a writing workshop at a local community college that gave me my first mentor, a trusted group of readers, and, most important, deadlines to finish work. I found a group of writers around the workshop table who took my work as seriously as their own. That was transformative for me as a writer and allowed me to take my work seriously. I found meaning and direction in my work.
When I moved back to Dallas after six years out of the state, I saw there was nothing like that community college course I had taken a decade ago. So I started Writing Workshops Dallas, but there would be no classes without our amazing roster of instructors. Our goal is to fill a need for creative writers who want a dedicated creative community outside of the university system, for those writers looking to take the next step in their writing journey. We believe having a literary community is essential to the life of any creative writer, no matter the stage of your career.
How would you describe Writing Workshops Dallas and the range of services it offers?
Writing Workshops Dallas is an independent writing school for hardworking writers who want to strengthen their voice, develop a greater understanding of craft, and forge a path to publication along the way. We offer multi-week writing courses, single-day seminars, online classes, and individual consultations to fiction writers, nonfiction writers, poets, and screenwriters. Our in-person and online classes are inclusive and intentionally small, offered on a rolling basis throughout the year, taught by award-winning authors. Each class offers a rigorous, deep dive into craft with a focus on workshopping new student work. In each of our multi-week classes every writer has to submit two new pieces of work to the workshop (two new short stories or novel excerpts in our fiction workshops, a series of poems for the poetry workshop, two essays for the nonfiction workshop, etc.). When these classes wrap, we want every writer to have new work that they are equipped to revise and send out into the world. In each of our classes we read a book on craft and a collection of stories or a novel (or collection of essays or poetry for our nonfiction and poetry classes). We also offer beginning through advanced classes in each genre so students can keep pushing forward with their work. We’re very proud of the number of students who have returned to take classes with us.
How does the work you do with Writing Workshops Dallas, a community group of writers, complement your day job as a professor with the UT-Dallas Creative Writing Program?
I love teaching. The craft concerns of leading a fiction workshop fuel my own creative writing practice. I'm asking students to write new work and I would feel like a fraud if I wasn’t doing the same, facing the blank page right along with them. I love my undergraduates at UT-Dallas. They are talented and imaginative students. For most, though, my class is an elective that they take at UT-Dallas. My students at Writing Workshops Dallas, however, are all working professionals who have made a choice to invest in their craft at a different point in their lives. Many of them leave work and come to workshop and they have an intensity and fire about them, a commitment to writing that I recognize from when I too would leave my desk-job at the end of the work day and head to that community college writing class in the evening. I was all in, and so are the students at WWD. So teaching at UTD and WWD gives me the opportunity to teach students at both ends of the creative writing spectrum. The two teaching environments keep me inspired and at work and I love it.
Any big plans for 2019?
We’ve added a great group of online classes to compliment our in-person classes and are lucky to have such a talented roster of instructors. We’re also launching Writing Workshops Paris this summer in partnership with Dallas-based Carve Magazine. We plan to have an intense week-long writing workshop in Paris, France (July 21–28, 2019) for fiction and nonfiction writers. We plan to announce our guest faculty soon. In the meantime, applications are open and this is something that we’re so excited about!
What’s on your to-be-read pile on your nightstand?
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin; God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright; Widow: Stories by Michelle Latiolais; Norwood by Charles Portis.
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These stories are like tiny portholes into worlds teeming with rich, surprising life. Blake Kimzey is a master miniaturist.
—Ramona Ausubel, author of No One Is Here Except All of Us and A Guide to Being Born
Blake Kimzey has given us all the pleasures our imagination can bear, six stories to savor slowly, to break our hearts and then mend them. —Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk and In the Devil’s Territory
Each of the stories in Blake Kimzey's astonishing chapbook Families Among Us are intricate, beautifully written universes unto themselves. These stories blur the lines between what is real and what is possible yet they are also intimate and familiar because they are stories about people and connection and the very human desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves. —Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist
In Families Among Us, Blake Kimzey's inventive prose summons six weird worlds of the imagination--but more than anything else, these imagined worlds conjure not some other space but the forgotten weirdness of the world we know, revealed here in all its wondrous everyday magic. —Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods
“Following the likes of Orson Welles and his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, Rod Serling and the television series The Twilight Zone, and John Carpenter and his film The Thing, Blake Kimzey’s Families Among Us delves deep into different, yet equally mysterious phenomena. Kimzey’s collection proposes that we need look no further than our own homes and communities for the source of the curious and the bizarre, and it is through these otherworldly, yet earthly, creations that we discover that which binds us all.”
—Colorado Review, Center for Literary Publishing
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