The Sound of Applause

The Sound of Applause is the name of the name of the Northeast Ohio public radio program that plays during Here & Now (which I’ll largely withhold my opinions about here but let’s just say it’s a distant third for me up against Morning Ed. & All Things Considered). I’ve learned about tons of plays, movies, books, performances of all sorts, through The Sound of Applause since moving to Cleveland, and on January 8 at 12:33 pm, my own book was what other people were learning about on The Sound of Applause. Here is the interview, with Dan Polletta.

Two other notable Walmart Book of the Dead-related things:

Laura Maylene Walter’s beautiful “difficult and devoted” 2017 reading list at the Kenyon Review blog includes it–“a must-have for casting spells in a Walmart.”

New Pages features a review of Walmart by MacKenzie Hamilton that I love so much I can’t come up with an adjective to describe it.



Roland Barthes says somewhere that he only pretends to think that writing is playing, even though he writes–seriously–about play and its importance. That’s one of the many reasons I’m in love with poststructuralists–they try so hard not to be serious in a field where you’re almost professionally obligated to be serious. And you’re professionally obligated to be serious in English precisely because there’s NO REASON to be serious.

I think about this most often at conferences, where the FORMS are so entrenched–“here is my conference paper!!!!” “here I am listening to your conference paper!!!” “here are my questions in response to your conference paper!!!”…–that the constant calls for “innovative papers” hardly make a ripple (or at least not one that I’ve noticed in my own conference-attending).


Josh McElroy

Because of these thoughts, I made a U-turn in an academic essay I was in the middle of writing: I made it into a play instead. I don’t think it’s boring anymore; for one thing, it’s a musical. Part of it will be performed at Cleveland Public Theatre’s Entry Point, a works-in-progress festival. The director is named Kat Martin, and she’s a dramaturgical genius. I didn’t know what dramaturgy was before I started this process, and I don’t exactly know what it is now, but I’m very interested in it. The two actors in the play, Josh McElroy and Jessica Toltzis, are outstanding. Tears have sprung to my eyes while watching them practice. They get to and beneath something that’s deeper than what I know how to say. I’ve never done anything like this before.The festival is 7-10 pm, Thursday, Jan. 18-20, at CPT, and the play I wrote will be performed on the evenings of Friday and Saturday, Jan. 19 and 20.

Walmart Reviews, Readings & Features


Reading at CWRU English Department Colloquium Oct. 20, 2017


Book Review – The Walmart Book of the Dead @ The Same, by Laura Eppinger

Upcoming Readings

Brews & Prose on January 9, 2018 at 7 pm at the Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City (Cleveland OH), with David Giffels

Driptorch Reading Series on February 16, 2018 at 7 pm, Arrow Coffee, Manhattan KS

Literary Cleveland‘s Between the Lines on March 21, April 18 2018 at the Happy Dog on Euclid Ave (Cleveland OH)

& Features

In Their Own Words at The Poetry Society website (including SPELL for Making One Not Have to Work in the Gods’ Domain from Walmart and a short piece on it)

“SPELL to Shed One’s Ideology in the God’s Domain” (from Walmart) @ wigleaf

an interview with Tyler Mills at The Bind that ends like this:

T.M.: Your book launches right around Halloween. If The Walmart Book of the Dead were a Halloween candy, what would it be?

L.B.: An apple with a razor blade in it.

Tyler recently had this poem in the Guardian that I’ve been thinking about all the time. It’s called “Hansel in College.” It begins, I did not believe in a “we”: / only you, smoking in the street, hardly real.

One of My Favorites: Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply

Among the books I loved most this year was Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply, which walks some of the same roads as The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. But I loved The Rules Do Not Apply more, because the way it covered rejecting academe’s obfuscatory language to try to create a fuller, truer identity as a woman is more adamant, clearer, and more gorgeous. What I liked best about it was that it didn’t lie, when so much written or said about being a woman, and growing older as a woman, is about lying, or leaving out information. I wrote down some of my favorite parts:


As we reached our thirtieth birthdays, my friends and I were like kernels of popcorn exploding in a pot: First one, then another, and pretty soon we all bursting into matrimony. There were several years of peace, but then the pregnancies started popping.


It felt as if I had conjured her out of the dark. Not just the bewitched darkness of the blackout, but all nights that had come before then, when I went to bars and parties, searching for someone who wasn’t there. But she was here now.


When Lucy was little, they used to go to a cabin on the Toutle River during the summertime, and her father lifted giant rocks and rearranged them to make her a paddling pool. He would introduce her to people by saying, “My daughter is six years old”—or “seven,” or “thirteen”— “and she’s never done a single thing wrong.”


I had sort of hoped that once you’d made a declaration of commitment to someone you truly loved you would stop being sodden with lust for relative strangers. But also I sort of thought, who cares? Who cares if sometimes you sometimes bring out your seduction skill set briefly, for a person other than your spouse, and you have a little adventure with your body? Why did that have to be at your spouse’s expense? Couldn’t you promise your deepest love, your first allegiance, to your favorite person without locking yourself in a chastity belt and presenting her with the key?


From the minute the dragon of our fertility came on the scene, we learned to chain it up and forget about it. Fertility meant nothing to us in our twenties; it was something to be secured in the dungeon and left there to molder. In our early thirties, we remembered it existed and wondered if we should check on it, and then—abruptly, horrifyingly—it became urgent: Somebody find that dragon! It was time to rouse it, get it ready for action. But the beast had not grown stronger during the decade of hibernation.


Lurching between lives is hell. Even if one life is manifest, and the other is mostly hypothetical, the inability to occupy your own reality is torment, is torture, it is sin and punishment all in one.


Mary said she would pray to god to talk to me, too. I thought: I will never have that.


You want someone to look at you with lust—after years of laundry…


…someone who I alone had known, during his whisper of a life.


I had become a cautionary tale, like the women Elizabeth Hardwick described in Sleepless Nights who “wander about in dreadful freedom, like old oxen left behind, totally unprovided for.”

Walmart Book of the Dead Buzz & Events

The link to pre-order The Walmart Book of the Dead on Amazon is up!


Daniel Robison interviewed me for Case Western Reserve University’s The Daily and it resulted in this great article, here.


In Zip Dialog, our former neighbor and current friend Charles Lipson calls The Walmart Book of the Dead the “best book title in a long time”! Can’t believe I made Zip Dialog.


On October 26, the day the book is released, I will be reading from it at Mac’s Backs Books in Coventry at 7 pm.


On October 20, I will read from the book at Case Western Reserve in Guilford Parlor at 3:15.

Managing Student Blogs

I have used student blogs for a few different literature courses*, and I’ve experimented with a few different methods of collecting and managing URLs (i.e., the blog addresses). The first time I ever assigned blogs, I had students email me their blog addresses and then I kept the links in a bookmark folder in Safari. I kept links in subfolders, GRADED and UNGRADED, to organize where I was in the grading process. For those earlier blogging assignments, I also graded on a different schedule than I do now: I looked at students blogs three or four times during the semester, rather than every week. Here’s an example of one of those earlier blogging assignment sheets.

One of the problems with looking at student blogs a handful of times a semester was that students ended up writing a bunch of posts before every blog check, rather than doing the kind of regular writing I was hoping to promote. I also wanted an easier way to organize the blog URLs. Also, it took a really long time to grade the many posts that had accrued.

The changes and improvements I’ve made as I’ve experimented with student blogging have been geared toward:

  • encouraging more regular writing among students
  • spending less time grading
  • finding more organized ways to corral student blog addresses

After a lot more thinking and experimentation, I settled on a system that addresses these issues–at least for now. During the first week of the course, students create their blogs and submit the URL via Google form. The beautiful thing about a Google form is that it automatically populates into a spreadsheet, which I use for grading and keeping track of student blogging. This allows me to easily and quickly grade student blogs weekly, rather than once in a while–which means students write more often (and with lower stakes) and, I think, with less stress.

To create the Google form, choose a BLANK form, and create a “short answer” question like, “What is your blog address?” Also include any other information you’ll need to organize student blogs on the spread sheet that you’ll make. For example, in addition to the blog address column, my student blog spreadsheet has columns for: EMAIL ADDRESS (so I can email a student to ask them if I may publicize their blog post to other students); NAME; COURSE NUMBER; and a yes/no/maybe question asking whether I may publicize their blog in class.

Here’s what it looks like what it looks like.

I give students a deadline by which to fill out the form, and then I check out the spreadsheet. To do so, click on the RESPONSES tab, and then click on the little green spreadsheet icon (“View responses in sheets”).

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 1.44.20 PM

Here’s what part of my spreadsheet looks like–with part of it obscured to protect the innocent.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 1.50.00 PM

I’ve added a column to keep track of whether I’ve shared the blog with the class (I just say YES if I have). In the blank column, I note if a post was late. I bold blogs I’ve already graded, and keep in regular text the blogs I haven’t graded yet. At the end of the week, when the grading is done, I select all and put everything back into regular text. I keep the grading very simple, because the goal is to get students to write on the course texts, period, end of story. If they’ve done that by Sunday at 5 pm, they get full credit (2 points in my system). I usually check student blogs early Saturday to lighten my load Sunday evening, which allows me to bold a few blogs before the big rush on Sunday. This system has worked really well for me so far.

I’m going to close with some notable blogging resources I’ve discovered in my few years of using higher ed blogging:

Mark Sample does an all-class blog, which is cool to consider… His rubric in this post helped me figure out how to do a very simple rubric for my own blog grading. I’m convinced Laura Gibbs is a genius; she’s a total innovator in getting students to think critically and deeply online, using blogging as one of her many tools. I’ve also been very inspired by Lisa Logan’s article, “Blogging the Early American Novel.” 

If you have any questions about any of this, I’m more than happy to help if I can.

*note to self: write a post about the wonders of assigning student blogs in advanced under grad and graduate lit courses