Tag Archives: Writing

The Magic Words

by Linda Kobert

It was late, after ten at night. I’d just won my first Scrabble game in months, and my friends and I were all relaxing after a typical cutthroat contest. We’d been on the go since early morning that Saturday: graduation at the school where my husband teaches, then making the rounds of student parties. At the end of the day, my husband and I landed at our friend’s house to chat about the new grads as we faced off across the game board, which we do nearly every week. But the competition was over; we were relaxing, finishing up the wine, sorting out our summer plans. And then it hit me: I hadn’t written a word all day. I sprung from my chair with the realization. “We have to go,” I said. “I have to write.”

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Stonecoast Reading Series: Stonecoast Stories

This month’s Stonecoast Reading Series event will feature an evening of words and music, with fiction faculty member Sarah Braunstein and fiction alum and musician Dave Patterson

Wednesday, June 26th – Stonecoast Stories 

7:00pm at Local Sprouts 649 Congress Street, Portland, ME

Sarah Braunstein

Sarah Braunstein is the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, winner of the Maine Book Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Agni, Ploughshares, The Sun, and on NPR’s All Things Considered. She has been a member of the Stonecoast MFA faculty since 2011.

High Spirits 1

Dave Patterson is a writer and musician from Portland, Maine.  He attended the Bread Loaf School of English and is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program in Creative Writing.  His fiction has appeared in The Onion River Review.  He also writes music, including the concept album, How We Hunger, and plays with his wife Anna under the name The High Spirits. 

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Stonecoast Reading Series: A Feast of Stonecoast Poetry for National Poetry Month

This month’s Stonecoast Reading Series event will feature poet and Stonecoast alum Richard Cambridge, who will read from his work as well as the work of fellow Stonecoast writers and other favorite poets.

Wednesday, April 24th – A Feast of Stonecoast Poetry for National Poetry Month 

7:00pm at Local Sprouts 649 Congress Street, Portland, ME.

Richard Cambridge

Richard Cambridge

Richard Cambridge’s work has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, Nantucket JournalAsheville Poetry Review, and other publications.  He is the author of a collection of poetry, Pulsa— A Book of Books (Hanover Press), of which Robert Pinsky wrote, “Full of heart, sincere ambition and a genuine devotion to the mysteries of language,” and The Cigarette Papers— A Memoir of Addiction (Fern Hill Records), from which he developed a one-man play that opened at The Institute of Contemporary Art, and was hailed by the Boston Globe as “A tour de force.”

Cambridge is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. He was a finalist for a residency at the Fine Arts Work Shop in Provincetown, MA, and he won the Masters Slam at the 1997 National Poetry Slam. In 2011 he graduated from the University of Southern Maine with an MFA in creative writing (Fiction) and completed his first novel, RIDE, based on a hitchhiking journey.  He is currently at work on a new novel titled 1970, an alternate history centered on his experiences with the Black Panthers, featuring a cast of supporting activists who successfully bring revolution to America.  He is a Fellow Emeritus at the Black Earth Institute, a think tank that encourages awareness of the arts as a means of promoting a progressive, inclusively spiritual and environmentally aware society.

The Stonecoast Reading Series was created in 2013 in celebration of the program’s 10th Anniversary and as a way to give something back to the inspiring, creative people of Portland, Maine. The reading series occurs on a bi-monthly basis and features the talents of our students, alumni, and faculty. 

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Stonecoast Reading Series Kickoff and Celebration of Black History Month with Performance By Lady Zen

Lady Zen, photo by Helen Peppe

Lady Zen, photo by Helen Peppe

by Ashley Johnson

University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program will kick off its Stonecoast Reading Series on February 27 in celebration of Black History Month and the MFA Program’s Tenth Anniversary. The event will feature the music and poetry of Stonecoast student and local performer, Lady Zen.

“Black History Month highlights a tradition of creative expression,” says Stonecoast’s Associate Director, Robin Talbot. “One of Stonecoast’s fundamental values is to foster culturally diverse writers who have a clear understanding of the role writers play in social activism. We honor those writers who have contributed to these values.”

One of these writers is Stonecoast student and social activist, Lady Zen. Born in Brazil and adopted by American parents, Lady Zen began a journey in creative expression as a vocal child prodigy. She won numerous awards, including a J. William Fulbright Scholarship for Opera Performance. In 2007, Lady Zen moved to Portland, ME and experienced a renewed sense of creativity. She shifted her focus to poetry and began working with Portland’s music scene. In 2010 she released a five-track EP titled “Poverty to Poetry.” Lady Zen was also named a Maine Poet of the Month in 2012 and was a semi-finalist on the 2012 season of the X-Factor.

The Stonecoast Reading Series will occur on a bi-monthly basis beginning in February and will feature students, faculty and alumni from the program. Future events will include a celebration of National Poetry Month on April 24 with a reading given by Stonecoast Director Annie Finch, “Stonecoast stories” on June 26 featuring faculty member Sarah Braunstein, author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, “Writing Nature: An Evening of Creative Nonfiction” on August 28, and “Goths and Demons: A Halloween Spookfest” featuring popular fiction writers on October 23. Stonecoast’s Director Annie Finch said of the Reading Series, “Stonecoast MFA has long wanted to start a reading series in order to give something back to this inspiring, creative community. Our tenth anniversary is the perfect time to launch, and Robin Talbot has developed a fabulous, must-see kickoff event.”

The Stonecoast Reading Series kickoff event will take place at 7:00pm, Wednesday, February 27 at Local Sprouts on 649 Congress St. in Portland.

For further announcements and a schedule of upcoming events in the Stonecoast Reading Series visit the Stonecoast MFA website at https://cms.usm.maine.edu/stonecoastmfa.

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Faculty Interview: Aaron Hamburger on Writing and Teaching

It’s always fun to sit down and chat with the Stonecoast MFA faculty. So, we were especially excited to have  alumna Linda K. Sienkiewicz S’09 interview fiction faculty member Aaron Hamburger. Not only is Aaron a terrific guy, but he’s a fantastic teacher and writer. We hope you enjoy the interview!


When and how did you realize you were meant to write?

Aaron: When I was 12 and my English teacher asked us to enter a short story contest. I wrote a story, loved it, but forgot to bring it to school on the day it was due, and so I lost the contest. I decided I wanted to show that teacher I deserved to win. So that’s how I got started, and I just never stopped.

What excites you about teaching?

Aaron: Sharing my love of writing and literature, but also sharing my love of learning and teaching in general. I think whatever subject you’re teaching, you’re actually teaching critical thinking skills that apply in so many areas in life.

You’re big on craft, precision, word choice, grammar–where does that exactitude come from?

Aaron: From my training in my MFA program. Specifically, I had two wonderful classes with a professor, Richard Locke, who taught us the immense power of seemingly tiny choices on the level of language in a variety of masterpieces in Western Literature, including the essays of George Orwell. (If you haven’t read “Politics and the English Language” by Orwell, do so immediately!!!)

Also, I taught freshman comp, and during my training, I realized how little I knew about how words and sentences were put together. It was important to me to learn that, just as a painter learns how to mix colors or a musician practices scales on the piano.

What do you think is your main goal as a writer?

Aaron: To figure out what I think and what I feel. I think E. M. Forster said something to the effect of how do I know what I think until I say it? By trying to express myself in as precise a way as possible, I can better determine what my life is.

What obstacles do you struggle with as a writer, and how do you overcome them?

Aaron: Time, money–but actually these are really a matter of will, more than anything else, of learning to say no when it’s necessary. But the biggest problem for me, which I’ve only recently come to understand, is that my ego and ambition sometimes pushes me to pursue subjects or stories that aren’t really mine to tell. It takes a remarkable fortitude to pursue your own obsessions, even at the expense of finding an audience who’s as interested in what you write as you are. Nevertheless, it’s the only reason to be a writer, I’ve come to understand.

How do I overcome the temptations of ego and ambition? Humility, humility, humility. You put down your head and go to work. You do not compare or envy or resent. You expect nothing in terms of rewards except those that come from the satisfaction of getting your work done on any given day.


Aaron Hamburger was awarded the Rome Prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his short story collection THE VIEW FROM STALIN’S HEAD (Random House, 2004), also nominated for a Violet Quill Award. His next book, a novel titled FAITH FOR BEGINNERS (Random House, 2005), was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Boulevard, Poets and Writers, Tin House, Details, The Village Voice, The Forward, and Out. He has received fellowships from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, as well as residencies from Yaddo and Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Currently he teaches writing at Columbia University, NYU, and the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit Aaron online at http://www.aaronhamburger.com/

Linda K. Sienkiewicz earned her MFA from Stonecoast summer ’09. Her fiction and poetry is published in Prairie Schooner, Spoon River Poetry Review, Rattle, Clackamas Literary Review, Bartleby Snopes, A Twist of Noir, and other print and online literary journals. She has a poetry chapbook award from Heartland, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and three other published chapbooks. She’s working on the sale of one novel while writing another. Visit Linda online at http://lksienkiewicz.wordpress.com/

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