Gone on Vacation....

Dearest WEGO-ites....

What a year it's been! Some 150 of us-- students, teachers, and alumni -- came together to form a professional student organization: WEGO. The goal was to create an organization for our graduate writers-- a place in which they might share, network, explore the craft, and build friendships. I think we've accomplished all of these goals, and more! Here's a quick lookback over 2006-07: (**cue swelling background music**)

In late September, WEGO (the Writing-English Graduate organization) came into being as an "unofficial" student group, sponsored by the PSU English Department. I was hired as the WEGO Coordinator and Michele Glazer became the WEGO Advisor. We were off!

In early October, we held our (hopefully-to-be-annual) fall "Meet and Greet" at the Simon Benson House. A wonderful time was had by all-- some 100+ attended! Special thanks go to English chair Elisabeth Ceppi; we didn't have any budget $$ yet, and Prof. Ceppi was kind enough to front the $$ for the event. The event introduced our two newest professors, Paul Collins and Debra Gwartney (both in nonfiction).

In late October, we got the 'WEGO Blog' up and running. It continues to be a work in progress, but I have had a great deal of feedback about how the Blog has helped WEGOnians keep in touch with the writing program. Check the Blog on any given day and you might find job opportunities, calls for submissions, information about new classes, or even congratulatory messages.The Blog has been particularly important to our part-time students, helping them feel like they were part of the writing community, and helping them know what was going on at any given time.

A WEGO email list was created around this time. Besides providing an important communication tool, the list has also come in handy for some other purposes, including providing resource people to mentor "Firsties" in the program or to answer questions of prospective students.

In November, WEGO was not only functioning on its own, but had taken concrete steps to differentiate itself from EGO (the English Graduate Organization), an important step in giving our writing students an "identity" separate from EGO, the graduate organization for literature students.

In December, the EGO and WEGO coordinators met for a "summit meeting," at which time we laid out a proposed schedule for the rest of the year and discussed the possibility of shared events. (Note: one of these was to be the annual EGO-WEGO book sale, which is an EGO event but which EGO agreed WEGO could become part of. Unfortunately, the event wasn't held--but next year, it certainly will be.)

In January, we "incorporated" WEGO as an official SALP (Students Activities and Leadership Programs) organization, giving us a small but viable working budget for the year. This included creating a WEGO constitution, and hiring yours truly as the first WEGO coordinator and establishing Michele Glazer as the WEGO Advisor. (Note: Although we got WEGO started in the fall, I was not officially hired until after the fall term SALP deadline for incorporation of new groups; thus, we had to wait until winter term to officially join SALP.)

Also in January, Michele Glazer went to Montana for a visiting professorship, and Debra Gwartney stepped in as acting WEGO Advisor.

In February, we planned the first annual "WEGO Call for Papers." EGO had had its own 'CFP' in previous years, and had offered one or two slots for writing students. This year, we made the decision to split off and have our own CFP, creating three prizes in each of three categories: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. We also found outside-the-program judges in each of the categories.

In March, the "WEGO Call for Papers" was posted, and the submissions poured in-- almost 50 of them, which meant that more than 1/3 of current WEGO students had taken part!

Also in March, we held a "WEGO Logo" contest, selecting full color and black and white logos (both created by WEGO members in the publishing program).

In early April, we posted a request for applications to fill the WEGO Coordinator position for 2007-08. Michele Glazer returned to PSU, and she and Debra Gwartney decided to continue serving as joint WEGO Advisors.

We also added Library Thing to the Blog.

In mid-April, we announced the 8 winners of the "Call for Papers." Winners received Powells gift cards. And....

In May, we held an informal reading by the "Call for Papers" winners. The reading took place in N407, and featured refreshments. About 20 people attended.

In early and mid-May, 22 students in the nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and publishing programs defended their theses/portfolios and passed their oral exams, thus qualifying for their MA or MS in writing or publishing!

In mid-May, a new WEGO coordinator-- Jessica Machado-- was selected and will begin her term of service in the fall. In addition, a WEGO events coordinator-- Jeff Alessandrelli-- was also appointed. Jessica will be the general WEGO coordinator, while Jeff will assume key roles in planning an annual speakers program and assisting the writing faculty with the Kellogg Awards.

In late May, we put on an open-to-the-public evening reading by a selected group of senior and graduating students in fiction and nonfiction. "Tales Tall and True" was our second annual spring reading, and was well attended (40-ish people) and lots of fun.

Also in late May, the current and incoming WEGO coordinators and the two WEGO Advisor met to consider the 2007-08 schedule. The WEGO student group pulled together to nominate their "writing teacher of the year," Debra Gwartney.

And now, in June, we finished up our classes, wrote our final papers, and saw another academic year come to a close. Several of us also walked in the June 16 graduation-- where we all sat together, in writerly solidarity.


It's been a wonderful year, my friends, and you've all helped to make it so. I'll be serving as WEGO coordinator through June 30. After that, WEGO and the WEGO Blog will go on hiatus until the end of August or so, at which point Jessica will step in and pick up the reins. I know that she and Jeff are going to do a great job next year-- I can't wait to see what's next for WEGO!

Many blessings to all-- have a most excellent summer!

Sue Pesznecker, M.A. (How about that!)
Your devoted WEGO coordinator, and a proud alumnus of the nonfiction program


Celebrate our new graduates!

From publishing:

Please join me in congratulating the following graduate students in publishing on satisfactorily completing their oral exams.
Dan Bostian
Dianne Brenneman
Elizabeth Buelow
Dana Clark
Allison Collins
Jennifer Davis
Andrea Deeken
Monica Garcia
Abbey Gaterud
Cameron Marschall
Joanna Schmidt
Jon Sanetel
Loretta Stinson
--Dennis Stovall


From nonfiction:

Warm congratulations to Susan Pesznecker for completing a thesis for the Masters in nonfiction writing, and for passing her written exam and oral defense. At the end of this multi-layered effort was, of course, more recognition of her fine work: Sue won this year's Bates Award in the Essay.

--Debra Gwartney


From poetry:

The following students have completed the written work and oral defense for theis MA in poetry: Caitlin Channell, Grier Phillips, and Lacey Young.

--Michele Glazer


A list of my students who finished their Theses and defended them:
Beth Keegan: novel
Nina Jett: short stories
Dave Devine: novel
Leslye Walton: novel
Peggy Savage: novel
--A. B. Paulson


Congratulations, Debra Gwartney: Writing Teacher of the Year!

Congratulations to Debra Gwartney, selected by her students as winner of the 2007 John Eliot Allen Teacher of the Year Award for the writing faculty!


Ceremony for the Allen Teaching Awards
Friday, June 8, 2007
Smith Memorial Center
Room 327/329
3:30 - 5:00 PM
(Ceremony from 4:00 - 4:30 PM)
Refreshments and drinks will be served!


Debra, this roast is for you, fresh from the newly incorporated WEGO sub-group known as FOG (Friends of Gwartney). And you're wondering if we're kidding, aren't you?



My head can be swimming with ideas, insecurities, passion, or meaningless thoughts, and I'll enter Debra's classroom, full of students with their own moods and issues, and collectively, we seem to reach an understanding of wanting to be there, wanting to learn. Debra's energy is focused and her disposition is easy, almost tranquil. But when I walk away from a class discussion or a chat in her office, I'm amped up and inspired to challenge myself as a writer. Her steady, light-handed guidance encourages me to get more out of my writing.
--Jessica Machado


I am not a religious person, but more times than I can count this year I have thanked God for Debra Gwartney. I cannot imagine a finer colleague and this award demonstrates--no surprise here--that her students feel the same way about her as a teacher and mentor. We're all so lucky to have her and it's lovely to have this opportunity to formally acknowledge that.
--Liz Ceppi


Debra-- Congratulations! As long as you realize that now they're going to expect you to work this hard every year.

Thanks for everything,
--Tony Chiotti


Congratulations, Debra. Your voice will forever echo in my brain when I'm writing an essay--"what are the stakes, what are the stakes, what are the stakes" Thank you for requiring me to think; your award is richly deserved.
--Karen Kirkwood


Hooray, Debra! The world is full of people like me who’ve been lucky to have you as a mentor, teacher, and friend. It’s no surprise to any of us that you’d win this award in your first year at PSU! Congrats!
--Kathleen Holt


Debra! Congratulations on the award. You're one of the most talented people I know and I look forward to taking another class from you. You're one of the best teachers I've ever had.
--David Holley


When I began the graduate nonfiction program two years ago, Debra was my first writing teacher—in a class on memoir writing. At that time, she was still commuting from Eugene, riding the train back and forth once a week in what must have been an exhausting schedule. But you’d never have known it to watch and listen to her in action. She has been one of best and probably the toughest teacher I’ve ever had, in any subject. And it’s been wonderful, because no matter what she asks you to do, she’s right there with you while you’re doing it. Her professionalism, kindness, high self-expectations, and mentoring are examples for us all to aspire to, and her writing’s not bad, either. (big grin)

I just finished my thesis—as my Advisor, Debra chaired my committee and led me through a somewhat grueling oral defense that proved a meaningful rite of passage. To my fellow students I say, “Take a class with Debra Gwartney. It will make you a better writer.” To Debra, I offer my deepest thanks, and, as she would say, warm wishes.
--Sue Pesznecker

P.S. Debra—I’ll email you again in ten years or so. I have a feeling that with a little reflective distance, new insights will bubble to the surface.

(Below: Sue's May 11 thesis defense. L-R: Katy Barber (History), Sue, Debra, Susan Reese, and Hildy Miller.)


You can tell Debra that I tried to list her as all numbers 1-3 of my top choices, but had to settle for just number 1. She richly deserves this award... she's a great teacher and an amazing woman. And her reputation as a hard ass is still intact!
--Shannon Carson


Debra is the best editor I’ve ever worked with. And it’s a good kind of pain.


When I first came to PSU, after a 12year break between finishing my BA and starting my MA, Debra was my first professor. My first thought was, "My God, this is going to be hard!"

And hard it was. Debra holds her students to her own high standards, balancing time and compassion for us with staunch demand for accountability. Even as she mentors her students, she also pushes us to shimmy farther and farther out on the skinny branches of our comfort zones, to take risks in our writing, and, in the case of personal narrative, to eschew the victim role and be ever more culpable as we proceed.

The word "den mother" comes to mind, fierce and protective as a mama bear, but also stern and formidable.

In addition to her vast knowledge and commitment, Debra is a poised, classy lady whose very presence has professionalized the PSU English department. I wouldn't mind being more like her when I grow up (grin).

Congratulations Debra on this much deserved award!
--Meryl Lipman


I love teaching at PSU primarily because I fall in love with my students each term and feel like the luckiest person alive because I get to share time with them, so when the wonderful writer (yes, I read her c.v., have heard her read, and have read her work) Debra Gwartney joined our full time faculty, I couldn't help notice that she is always on campus whenever I'm there, that her door is always open, and that her students flock through that door...and she is always quietly and patiently, with her warm, soft smile, offering them her ear and her valuable feedback...her friendship. Now she (and Paul and Tony) have transformed the Kellogg Awards into a true celebration of students and their work. Oh, how lucky we are to have Debra among us, bringing her constant caring light to us all.
--Susan Reese


Congratulations, Debra! My older and younger selves agree that you're an awesome teacher.
--Alexis Nelson


There are three things the very wise Debra Gwartney told me:
  • "How do I know where you're going, if I don't know where you've been?"
  • "When the action is hot, write cool."
  • "We need to see you in scene rather than in summary."
Unfortunately, I have only one item to share: When teaching in Cramer Hall, Room 483, don't forget the dry-erase markers! (Does this count as use of my one career exclamation point?)

All kidding aside—congratulations on your well-deserved award. I'm so happy you're here at PSU.
--Julie Miyagi


Debra Gwartney: Learning with her Students

PSU students have chosen Debra Gwartney as an outstanding teacher, though she was appointed professor less than a year ago. Based on five of Debra’s classes I have a theory how she’s developed rave reviews.

First of all, Debra, a teacher of writing, is a writer who’s regularly published in Salon, and the Oregonian. She is a student of Vivian Gornick, whose book on the craft of writing (The Situation and the Story) tops her students‚ must read list.

Second, Debra’s a bundle of energy—gracefully balancing a dozen enterprises including her role as thesis advisor to graduate students and co-manager of the PSU non-fiction writing universe. The only rest she takes—that I have witnessed over three years—is to fix herself in her chair, fix a deadline in her mind, fix her pencil in her hand, and write.

Third, she continues her main job of single mom, partner to four women, ages 19 to 34 whose normal adolescent outrages form the centerpiece of Debra’s forthcoming book-length memoir.

Fourth, Debra is a grandmom twice over, and commutes from Portland to Eugene to nourish and to savor her growing family.

Debra has been a writing teacher - journalism, memoir, creative non-fiction—for a dozen years. She’s held adjunct appointments at the University of Oregon and Portland State, and presented a variety of short-courses such as those at Haystack on the Oregon coast.

Her first PSU teaching assignment in the fall of 2004—at which I was one of twenty five lucky students—perhaps reveals what makes her such an extraordinary teacher. The English Department had assigned her the regular offering entitled Writing About People. There were a few undergraduates, taking a full class load, but the majority consisted of part-time students: mature writers, employed women, and a handful of moms and grandmoms.

We got underway reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and—in turn—each of us wrote and circulated a short original work which, through class discussions, served as grist for our learning mill.

And learn about the arts of writing we did. Debra led the discussion of each student’s work—interspersed with creative writing classics that she selected—with a standard set of questions for us: What was memorable or particularly vivid in the piece? Where did the piece really begin? What confusions, if any, did we experience? Where in the work were we fully engaged? What craftsmanship gripped us relentlessly?

Time after time, piece after piece, we examined each other’s work and began to identify landmarks in our readings: pitfalls to avoid; useful scenic devices that oriented us; dialogue that built depth; deployment of too many, too few or just enough characters; learning the tools that keep readers grounded while turning pages.

We focused on the work before us, never the craftsman—and we learned to dissociate the narrative voice from the character in the story named “I.” Since most of our own writing took the form of memoir, we learned to deepen the voice of “I,” reflecting about a character named “I,” learning what the older “I” has come to understand about an earlier, younger character. In the first days the focus of the class—without any formal decision, but to everyone‚s satisfaction—shifted to memoir from our starting point of Writing About People. We redesigned our course to suit ourselves.

And there you have a hallmark of Debra’s tradecraft: to go, with the class leading the way, where the students want to go. Time after time in the classes I’ve taken with Debra, I've been a part of an unusual learning-centered community, with we students doing most of the talking during classes and with Debra in the role of attentive umpire: allocating air time and verifying the direction of our march.

There are few wall flowers, shy, inarticulate members in Debra's classes. And few or no prima- donnas. She recognizes and makes available to us, the insights of other master teachers; their books, their theories, their pet peeves. Primarily, she rounds up the wealth of experience that each class citizen brings to our mutual task. Her two-hour classes, and her three-hour classes, flash by.

I’ve studied with Nobel scholars including Mark Van Doren, Linus Pauling, and Irwin Edman, who, like Debra, make student digging and discovery a vital part of classroom learning.

Thank you, Debra,
Felix (and Norene) Gurley-Rimberg


Hot damn, Debra! It's great having you here.

Dennis Stovall


Congratulations, Kellogg Winners!


Bryn Reese


Amanda Fortin
Helen Gorham


Nina Olligschlaeger


David Devine


Lucy Burningham


Sue Pesznecker


Jonathan Fine


Tony Chiotti


Jeff Alessandrelli


Regina Godfrey



David Devine


Lydia Hoffman


Jennifer Park Johnson


Mary Mirpourian


Jason Allen


Lacey Young


Regina Godfrey



Helyn Trickey


Jennifer Park Johnson


Many thanks to this year's Kellogg Committee:

Tony Wolk, Chair
Paul Collins
Debra Gwartney

Thanks also to all of the English Department staff and faculty who helped support this year's awards and the PSU English and writing students!


WEGO student, alum, and faculty-- recent publications....

Recently Published

Merilee Karr, “Missing” in Creative Nonfiction (winner of the "Silence Kills" Essay Contest), Issue 33, Fall 2007.

Meryl Lipman, "Hamsa's Hair" in Alchemy, Summer 2007.

Diana Abu-Jaber, "Seizing Power from the Woman Warrior" on All Things Considered (NPR commentary), June 2007.

Karli Clift, for the formation of Inklings, a book services company specializing in editing, book design, and indexing.

Monica Garcia, Hate Mail, which was well received in the 2007 Book Expo America.

The Ink & Paper Group (five imprints by Ooligonians under one publishing umbrella) has released:
Monica Garcia's Hate Mail
Jessica Morrell's Voices from the Street
Julienne Busic's Lovers & Madmen
Lucy Burningham, "Closed Quarters" in Portland Monthly, June 2007.

Jonathan Fine, "Sasquatch Watch" in Portland Monthly, June 2007.

Merilee Karr, interview with new OHSU President Joe Robertson in Metroscape, Spring/Summer 2007.
Debra Gwartney, "Job's Daughter" in Oregon Humanities, Spring/Summer 2007.

Kelle X. Lawrence, "Chance Booty" in Oregon Humanities, Spring/Summer 2007.

Mary Rechner, "Secret Lives" in Oregon Humanities, Spring/Summer 2007.

Dan DeWeese, Review of "The Straw Man" in Oregon Humanities, Spring/Summer 2007.

Kathy Haynie, "But I Wanted to Write Fiction!" in Oregon English Journal, Spring 2007 .

Meryl Lipman, "How Green Does Your Garden Grow?" Windermere Northwest Homes and Lifestyles, Spring 2007

Jessica Machado, "Hotel ... Motel ... Holiday Inn" in Willamette Week, May 23, 2007.

Jessica Machado, "Time to Shake Your Booty" in Willamette Week, May 23, 2007.

Jessica Machado, "Beer, Beer, and More Beer" in Willamette Week, May 23, 2007.

Meryl Lipman, "Zukes, Cukes, and Sweet One Thousands; Tips and Reasons for Growing Your Own Food," Windermere Northwest Homes and Lifestyles, Spring 2007

Jessica Machado, "Close Encounters of the Hipster Kind" in Willamette Week, May 2, 2007.

Michele Glazer, “Metonymic Sonnet” in Boston Review, March/April 2007.

Paul Collins, “"Have Prodigy, Will Travel” in New Scientist, April 2007.

Sue Pesznecker, Review of: "Nuit of the Milky Way," in Pangaia, #46, April 2007.

Paul Collins, “Namejacking: Seven Books Even Their Authors Don't Recognize” in The Believer, April 2007.

Michele Glazer, “The least amount of stirred air a figure needed” in Black Warrior Review, Vol. 33, No.2.

Paul Collins, “The Worst Pulp Novelist Ever: Remembering Leo Guild” in The Stranger, March 14, 2007.