Interview with Stephen Tuttle

We had a great time hosting Stephen Tuttle’s reading on campus, so Black Rock & Sage reached out with a few more questions for our visiting author.

Black Rock & Sage (BRS): What does your creative process look like?

Stephen Tuttle (ST): Creativity is a hard thing to pin down, which is why we sometimes describe it in almost mystical terms. But I tend to agree with thinkers like Kirby Ferguson who argue that genius is not a matter of creating entirely new things but of finding new combinations of familiar elements. So, for me the process is about allowing a lot of different, seemingly incompatible, elements into my brain at the same time and then sitting with them long enough to see if connections start to emerge. The real trick, though, is being ready to capture those connections when they show up, and that’s where a daily writing routine becomes so valuable.

BRS: Your piece “Leah, Unloved”, recently published in The Baltimore Review, is particularly compelling as a retelling of a familiar narrative which seems to be part of a larger project; what is the benefit of returning to stories and engaging with them in such a critical way?

ST: “Leah, Unloved” comes from an ongoing project in which I retell or reimagine well-known stories from the Old Testament. The goal for me has been to take a familiar starting point and play with it or stretch it and maybe find something new in it. It’s a project I came to sideways, thinking at first that it was just a way to clear my head as I worked on longer projects, but I soon found it dominating my attention. The project has allowed me to see just how complex and narratively rich the Old Testament is and to appreciate the way stories inform other stories. The name for this kind of writing is “midrash,” which is a scholarly tradition dating back to the second century. The hope, always, is to better appreciate or understand a text that might otherwise seem to have been exhausted. What I’m learning is that nothing is truly exhaustible.

BRS: Are there specific works or writers that have had an impact on your own creative style?

ST: Steven Millhauser is probably the writer who has influenced me more than any other living writer. Aimee Bender is a close second. Both mix the ordinary and the magical in ways I find captivating. I love everything Amy Hempel has written (I’ll go out on a limb and pre-love anything she’s going to write in the future). Kelly Link is a national treasure. Tom McCarthy (particularly his novel Remainder) is the kind of weird I can’t stop reading. I wish I could do what Lydia Davis does. Yoko Ogawa takes more risks than any writer I know, and I have so much respect for that.   

BRS: How do you balance your roles as both professional writer and educator?

ST: It’s never easy to balance roles that could each, if we let them, take all of our time, and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I get the balance wrong. But when I’m most successful, it’s the result of scheduling very specific times for my writing and not letting anything else steal that time (once I open my email, I’m a goner). If I make the writing a priority, I usually find plenty of time for the rest.

BRS: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

ST: Having an active, enthusiastic writing group has helped my writing more than anything. The goal is to find two or three other writers who will agree to share work slightly more often than feels comfortable (I like deadlines that force me into truly rough drafts). A good writing group doesn’t need to include other writers with your same interests (you might all be working on very different things), but it should include people who are willing to take your work seriously without pulling their punches. Also, read until your eyes burn. Writers can never read too much. You should read things you love, things you want to emulate, things that are nothing like what you want to write, things you feel guilty for never having read, things that other people won’t shut up about, and things that will make you dangerously smart.  

Visiting Writer: Stephen Tuttle

We hope to see you at our upcoming event!

Stephen Tuttle Reading

On Thursday, February 6, Creative Writing at ISU will host fiction writer Stephen Tuttle. Tuttle will give a reading and then take questions at 5:30 p.m. in Idaho State University’s Bengal Café, inside of the Pond Student Union Building. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend.

Stephen Tuttle’s fiction and prose poetry have appeared in such national literary magazines as The Threepenny Review, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Normal School. His fabulist short stories combine tremendous appeal with exciting approaches to form.

Tuttle received his PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah and teaches courses in fiction writing and American Literature at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he is an associate professor.

Online Prose Contest Winner Announced!

“Paper Cranes” By Cheyana Leatham has been chosen by the editors of Black Rock & Sage as the winner of our inaugural online prose contest!

Additionally, we were trilled to work alongside the ISU art department and Dr. Leekyung Kang as juror who selected the artwork of Clarissa Jackman.

We are incredibly excited about how this venture has turned out and hope that you’ll take the time to view the pieces for yourself.

Check out the full short story and art here.

FutureScapes – A Creative Writing Workshop Opportunity

Hello BR&S Community! An interesting opportunity for student work has come across my desk that I wanted to bring to all y’all: FutureScapes at Utah Valley University.

This competitive annual workshop features leading literary lights, agents, and editors from the realm of speculative fiction. There is also the potential to earn a professional certificate in creative writing as part of the program.

Check out their website for more information and to register:

ISU’s Teaching Literature Book Award Winner – Jews in Medieval England: Teaching Representations of the Other

As part of our editors’ (questionably successful) attempt to bring something new and/or interesting to our community every once in a while, Kristen has read this year’s award winner, Jews in Medieval England: Teaching Representations of the Other. Check out her comments here!

Idaho State University – Teaching Literature Book Award 2019

Kristen W. –

Jews in Medieval England: Teaching Representations of the Other, edited by Miriamne Ara Krummel (University of Dayton) and Tison Pugh (University of Central Florida) won this year’s Teaching Literature Book Award, an international award presented by English faculty of ISU for the best book for the teaching of literature at the collegiate level.

The collection explores actionable methods for bringing critical discussions of otherness, as specifically experienced by Jews in Medieval England, into the literature classroom. It intentionally interrogates motivations behind the design of literature courses, attaching pedagogy to praxis. In doing so, this collection moves to show how the classroom can be a space for students to connect the history of Othering to their own current realities.

As someone who is just starting to teach, and is trying to find a way to attach my own moral preoccupations to teaching as practice, I find this potential intriguing and the collection provides models of various productive approaches. I am especially impressed with the explicit interdisciplinary elements of the texts and with how it negotiates teaching literature as a lens for such a wide range of disciplines. Throughout, there is a clear attention being paid to providing students with both procedural knowledge as well as conceptual knowledge, giving them the tools to explain both how and why Othering is enacted in texts and (as an extension) in reality. Though literature is not my focus, this dualist approach (which very much seems to be grounded in rhetoric and composition) makes the ideas accessible to me and others from various disciplines.

The texts addressed within the collection are also impressive; the cannon is represented – but not unquestionably – as is some (re)discovered diamonds. Further, the text isn’t limited to narratives as the collection explicitly includes images and performances. While analysis is obviously central to the various approaches, even more interesting is the repeated idea of student driven production and performance (drawing, acting, and other methods are discussed at various points).

I highly recommend educators (both experienced and newbs like me) pick this up. Jews in Medieval England: Teaching Representations of the Other not only provides a model for how to approach the concept of Othering in the classroom, it reminds us why doing so matters.