The Conglomerate: A Blog

Named for the uppermost rock formation in Sewanee's corner of the Cumberland Plateau, The Sewanee Conglomerate is the magazine's blog. Check here for short pieces about books and current events written by SR staff and guest contributors.

May 2017
Erik Weihenmayer is a world-class outdoorsman and the bestselling author of three books.  Though he lost his eyesight to juvenile retinoschisis, Weihenmayer summited Everest on his quest to complete the Seven Summits.  He has since conquered several of the world’s most difficult climbs.  He continues to stretch the boundaries of disability, and inspires others to do the same through his books and his nonprofit organization, No Barriers.  We met after one particularly moving speech at my high school alma mater, Darlington School, and discussed climbing, inspiration, and his literary endeavors.   His most recent book, No Barriers: A Blind Man’s journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon, was published this February.  —Ansley McDurmon   SR: What drew you to write about your own life experienc...
April 2017
Jenny Offill is the author of two novels, Dept. of Speculation and Last Things, as well as a number of children’s books, including Sparky! and While You Were Napping. She has also coedited two collections of essays, The Friend Who Got Away and Money Changes Everything. Earlier this month, she read from Dept. of Speculation on a visit to Vanderbilt University in Nashville; we took the opportunity to ask her about memory, her writing process, and anti-patriarchal literature. —Lily Davenport and Ansley McDurmon   SR: You’ve written two novels—Last Things and Dept. of Speculation—as well as numerous books for children.  How did you get involved in writing for both adult and young audiences?  And how does your process differ, depending on which genre you’re working in?...
April 2017
There aren’t many surface similarities between Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and Octavia Butler’s Fledgling—the former blends critical theory and personal history to chronicle Nelson’s marriage to Harry Dodge, her gender-fluid partner, while the latter is a speculative-fiction take on vampire lore. However, they complement one another in startling ways. Both books upend traditional familial structures, and explore the visceral strangeness of the human body. Neither presents a manual for living beyond the usual or the binary, but each celebrates the conjunction of what American society terms deviant with what it calls domestic. To that end, some of the most arresting moments in The Argonauts involve strangers who assume that Nelson and Dodge are a heterosexual, cisgendered couple, and th...
April 2017
Jennifer Habel is the author of Good Reason, winner of the 2011 Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition, and In the Little House, winner of the 2008 Copperdome Chapbook Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Believer, Blackbird, Gulf Coast, LIT, The Massachusetts Review, The Southeast Review, and elsewhere. She is the coordinator of creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. We published some of her work in our Winter 2017 issue, with more forthcoming in the Spring issue; she also agreed to talk with us here about centos, getting permission to write, and the miniature. —Lily Davenport   SR: Tell us about your centos. How does your process differ from your usual mode when you’re working on one? Do you collect scraps of text that strike you in some way, and construct a poem whe...
April 2017
Lauren Groff is the author of a short-story collection, Delicate Edible Birds, and three novels, including Arcadia (2012) and Fates and Furies (2015). Her work has appeared in magazines and journals such as the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Tin House, and One Story, as well as anthologies including The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and four editions of Best American Short Stories. Her latest essay, “Machado de Assis at the Rio Olympics,” appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of the SR. We asked her about working across genres, navigating place and scene, and her love for Tristram Shandy. —Lily Davenport   SR: You’re primarily a fiction writer.  How do your process and approach differ when you turn your hand to nonfiction, as ...
April 2017
When Mary Ruefle visited Sewanee to receive the 2017 Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry at the beginning of March, we brought fellow-poet Michael Dickman in to give a lecture on her work. While we had him here, we asked him to talk about her poetry with an English class at Saint Andrews Sewanee, a private school (grades 6-12) near the University campus. Here he is in one of their classrooms, reading her poem “Proscenium Arch”:   http://thesewaneereview.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/16917188_226782171126773_2208588757605548032_n.mp4 Video courtesy of David Andrews     Ruefle has authored 12 books of poetry, including My Private Property (2016) and Trances from the Blast (2013), as well as two collections of prose, and other writings. She has receiv...
March 2017
Erin McGraw is the author of three novels, most recently Better Food for A Better World (2013), and three collections of short stories, including The Good Life (2004) and Lies of the Saints (1996). Her story, “Ava Gardner Goes Home,” is forthcoming in the Spring 2017 issue of the SR. We asked her a few questions about humor, the challenges of writing about real people, and the limits of short fiction. —Lily Davenport   SR: How did “Ava Gardner Goes Home” come to be? And how did the story change, in terms of plot, narration, and so on, as you moved from the initial concept to the finished piece?   McGraw: I spent a couple of years immersed in Frank Sinatra, listening to his music and reading everything I could find, including James Kaplan’s massive biography. ...
January 2017
Last August, my friend James competed in and won the Trans-North Georgia (TNGA), a three-hundred-twenty-mile mountain bike race. As its name suggests, the TNGA begins on the South Carolina side of a bridge over the Chattooga River, crosses the Chattahoochee National Forest and the Cohutta Wilderness, and finishes under a green road sign that reads Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama—Governor Robert Bentley. The start and the finish are different from almost all points in between in that they are flat and paved. Riders spend most of the race climbing and descending nearly ninety thousand feet of double-track dirt and gravel trail. I was the only person to congratulate James upon finishing, because there isn’t any award ceremony. Completing the race is the trophy. When you’re done, you turn off...
January 2017
“What is art, Clev?” “Art is patterns intelligent creatures enjoy.” “Are you an intelligent creature?” “Do you like to eat cake?” I sighed, exasperated, and suppressed the impulse to fire back a non sequitur of my own. I was talking to Cleverbot, an AI that (as procrastinators everywhere know) is easily accessible on the Internet; I wasn’t procrastinating, exactly, but I had just finished Louisa Hall’s Speak, a novel that consists in part of a series of conversations between a child named Gaby and a bot called MARY3. Speak reads like a blend of Isaac Asimov, Mary Shelley, and Virginia Woolf, and I was curious about the real-life equivalents of Hall’s eloquent bots. While I hadn’t expected Clev to pass for human—even I, who read less science writing than science-fiction, know we’re...
January 2017
In the summers, vines encroach upon a historical marker several miles from the Sewanee Review offices, threatening to hide a tribute to the Highlander Folk School. The folk school’s history resides in an equally-obscured part of the American memory, and I knew very little about its importance, despite the marker. Sewanee Professor and Highlander historian Emily Senefeld filled me in on the forgotten space. The school, she explained, was the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement: the Walcott sit-in at Greensboro, the Montgomery bus boycott, Citizenship Schools, and Pete Seeger’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome” grew out of the three-building operation in Grundy County, TN. “The Highlander Folk School was creating grassroots activism models decades before the most famous instances ...
January 2017
They came like swallows and like swallows went, And yet a woman’s powerful character Could keep a swallow to its first intent; And half a dozen in formation there, That seemed to whirl upon a compass-point, Found certainty upon the dreaming air, The intellectual sweetness of those lines That cut through time or cross it withershins. W. B. Yeats In her role as vice president and editorial director at Grove Atlantic, Elisabeth Schmitz has commanded the admiration and trust of hundreds of writers, publishing colleagues, and aspiring literary editors. We recently met at our NYC neighborhood restaurant, Community Food and Juice, to talk about editing, publishing, and the literary passion fostered by Grove Atlantic under the intrepid leadership of its publisher, Morgan Entrekin. In t...
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