Next Up at Yuba Lit: Three Powerful Women

In a year in which I hope powerful women will see many triumphs, political and otherwise, I could not be more thrilled by how the lineup for our next Yuba Lit has come together. Novelists Mary Volmer and Ruth Galm, and poet Alicia Vandevorst! All on one program! Thursday July 14th at 7 p.m. at The Open Book in Grass Valley.

Read all about it on the Yuba Lit website:

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 · Books · No Comments »

Summer 2016 Classes

I’m excited to be offering three of my favorite classes this summer.

At Stanford Continuing Studies I will be teaching a 10-week personal essay course starting June 27, “Mastering the Personal Essay with the Masters.” The class filled within 24 hours, but Stanford is now offering a second section, which still has room.  If you join the wait list you will be added to the second section.  Full information here.

At the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, I am offering a one-day workshop on “Gesture Writing: What Writers Can Learn from Visual Artists about Capturing Life on the Page,” on Saturday June 25. Full information here.

Also at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, I am offering a six-Saturdays workshop for memoir writers in the middle of finishing a full manuscript. This class offers big-picture feedback on a submission of 75-125 pages. This class is limited to five writers.  Full information here.

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 · Uncategorized · No Comments »

Summer Writing Classes

I wrote this as the “What We’re Reading Now” item for the next Grotto Classes Bulletin, so thought I’d also share it here:

I’m halfway through Rachel Cusk’s Outline, and it’s everything the rave reviews promised. I first read Cusk in 2004, when I loved her novel The Lucky Ones for its bitingly unsentimental portrayal of motherhood, an aspect she took to new degrees in her later memoir A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. Outline is something stranger: a novel about a woman writer who goes to Greece during a very hot summer to teach a writing conference, and ends up listening to—and relaying to the reader—the life stories of random people she encounters, starting with the thrice-divorced Greek millionaire she meets on the plane.

The narrator’s spare retelling of these autobiographies—rendered almost without dialogue—quickly becomes an examination of the way we construct, come to believe in, and often become trapped within, our self-made life narratives. Bonus for the working writer: the book becomes a revelatory meditation on story itself. “Reality might be described as the eternal equipoise of positive and negative, but in this story the two poles had become dissociated and ascribed separate, warring identities,” the narrator reflects on the Greek playboy’s life tale. Despite the layers of investigation in Outline, there’s nothing “meta” about the experience of reading it. Every paragraph offers a startlingly articulated truth, or re-electrifies an old cliché. Absorbing.


The summer session of Grotto Classes will be posted soon.  I’ll be offering a “Mega Memoir Manuscript” workshop for writers who have reached the middle stage or further in a full manuscript–each writer in the class (limited to six) will workshop a long submission of up to 125 pages.  I’ll also offer a one-day June 25th “Gesture Writing” workshop.  This class was very popular and filled quickly in the spring.

Meanwhile, registration opens in five days for my online “Mastering the Personal Essay with the Masters” 10-week course at Stanford Continuing Studies.  I love teaching this course, in which we close-read masterful short essays by the likes of Grace Paley, Ian Frazier, and Dinty Moore, then try out borrowing their form to write our own.  This class also tends to fill quickly, so grab a spot on May 16th if you’re interested.

Thursday, May 12th, 2016 · Books · No Comments »


Nayomi Munaweera held the capacity crowd rapt at our March 17th Yuba Lit, reading alongside local Sierra fiction writers Dmitri Keriotis and Ben Preston. The next Yuba Lit will be held on May 19th, featuring fiction writers Ernest J. Finney and Jane Voncomfort, and poet Julie Valin. Full info here on the Yuba Lit website.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading new work at the Women’s Writing Salon in Grass Valley on April 23rd at 3 p.m., and at Frances Stroh’s “Stranger Than Fiction” series at San Francisco’s Edinburgh Castle Pub–alongside Tom Barbash, Julia Scheeres, Alan Black, and Maury Zeff–on May 1st at 3 p.m.

Monday, March 28th, 2016 · Uncategorized · No Comments »

Notes on Emerging Talents in San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake

The lifelong ballet-addict in me can’t resist commenting, especially on the charismatic gifts of Esteban Hernandez and Julia Rowe. Here are my notes, on Medium, with photos.

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 · Uncategorized · No Comments »

There is a wonderfully described character named Moiseika in Chekhov’s story “Ward No. 6″ who, although he has been consigned to the madhouse wing of the hospital, has picked up the habit of tenderness. Chekhov writes: “Moiseika likes to make himself useful. He gives his companions water, and covers them when they are asleep; he promises each of them to bring him back a kopeck, and to make him a new cap; he feeds with a spoon his neighbor on his left, who is paralyzed.”

Even though the word tenderness isn’t used, we feel its presence in these details, even when Chekhov goes on to enter a disclaimer by way of his commentary on Moiseika’s behavior: “He acts in this way, not from compassion nor from any considerations of a humane kind, but through imitation, unconsciously dominated by Gromov, his neighbor on the right hand.”

In a provocative alchemy, Chekhov combines words and deeds to cause us to reconsider the origin and nature of tenderness. Where does it come from? As a deed, does it still move the heart, even when abstracted from humane motives?

Somehow, the image of the isolate man performing gentle acts without expectation or even self-knowledge stays before us as an odd beauty we have been brought to witness. It may even reflect back upon our own lives with a questioning gaze.

–Raymond Carver, “Meditation on a Line from Saint Teresa”

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 · Uncategorized · No Comments »

Raves for Third Yuba Lit

I’m feeling more grateful than ever to have resettled in the Sierra foothills after hosting the January 21st Yuba Lit, which drew upwards of 60 local literature lovers to hear poet Indigo Moor, novelist Josh Weil, and emerging memoirist Cris Mulvey. I think it’s safe to say the readers held the room entranced; quiet “oohs” and “aahs” could be heard throughout the readings at the most rhythmic lines and arresting images. We had our fun, too, mingling during intermission with local Sierra Starr and Szabo wines, holding a contest for “most romantic” title to be found among the used books sold by our host venue, The Open Book (the winner: The Agony and the Ecstasy!). And we raised more than $250 for the Bear Yuba Land Trust.

Some unsolicited audience feedback:

“Another stunning night.”

“I have been attending the bimonthly readings sponsored by Yuba Lit and have been very impressed by high caliber work, the diverse readers, and your delightful introductions.”

“I’ve just come home from the reading on Thursday night and want quickly to thank you for your powers of organizing and bringing into being a memorable evening of nourishment expressed in the hard work (and humor!) of writers we may not otherwise have come to know. It was a fabulous selection, the proverbial feast.”

March and May Yuba Lits are already in the works:

Thursday, March 17th, 7 p.m.

Nayomi Munaweera, Bay Area-based author of the acclaimed novel Island of a Thousand Mirrors, and the about-to-be-released novel What Lies Between Us, set in Sri Lanka and San Francisco

Dmitri Keriotis, Grass Valley resident and author of The Quiet Time, a collection of stories

Emerging Nevada City fiction writer Ben Preston

Thursday, May 19th, 7 p.m.

Jordan Fisher Smith, Nevada City author of Nature Noir: A Park Ranger’s Patrol in the Sierra, and his new book, Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature

Ernest J. Finney, award-winning author of seven books of fiction, most recently Elevation: 6,040, set in Sierra and Nevada Counties in the 1980s

Julie Valin, beloved Nevada City poet, editor, teacher and publisher, author of The Distance Between

Yuba Lit is seeking volunteers, and we could use donations to cover the expense of flyers and venue rental. We’d love to bring more supporters into the Yuba Lit fold! Contact me at rachel (dot) howard (at) gmail (dot) com if you’re interested.

Great thanks to our host venue The Open Book and its generous owner, Nory Fussell, to Harmony Books proprietress Stacey Colin, to Amy Rutten, Mary Wade, to our Yuba Lit bartenders John Parent and Niel Locke, and the Yuba Lit DJ Todd Wahowske, and greatest thanks to our awe-inspiring readers, Cris Mulvey, Josh Weil, and Indigo Moor, for reconnecting us with the full powers of language.

The Yuba Lit website is

Friday, January 22nd, 2016 · Uncategorized · No Comments »

Third Yuba Lit January 21st

I’m so pleased about the lineup for the third Yuba Lit community reading on Thursday, January 21st. Sacramento poet Indigo Moor will read with much-lauded novelist Josh Weil and emerging memoirist Cris Mulvey. Read all about them at the Yuba Lit website: Hope you can join us for this great night of live literature if you live in the Sierra or Sacramento region. 7 p.m. at The Open Book 671 Maltman Dr., Grass Valley. $5 cover benefits the Bear Yuba Land Trust.

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015 · Uncategorized · No Comments »

Second Yuba Lit, New Online Winter Course

What an honor it was to present fiction writers Louis B. Jones, Janis Cooke Newman, and Amy Rutten at the second-ever Yuba Lit reading on November 19th. About 65 literature-loving listeners attended. You can read about it, and see photos, here.

The next Yuba Lit will be held Thursday, January 21st. I’m working on the lineup, while finishing a dream-job semester of teaching the Craft of Nonfiction seminar as a Visiting Writer in the MFA program of Saint Mary’s College.

I’m also working on a new course offering for Stanford Continuing Studies’ Online Writer’s Studio: “Writing About Spirituality.” I’m especially excited about the pluralism of this course–we’ll be reading across a wide range of faith traditions and genres. Registration opens November 30th.

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 · Misc. · No Comments »

To me it happens like this: at first I struggle, it’s hard to get started, no beginning seems to me truly convincing; then the story sets off, or bits already written gain power and suddenly find a way of fitting together; then writing becomes a pleasure, the hours are a time of intense enjoyment, the characters no longer leave you, they have a space-time of their own in which they are alive and increasingly vivid, they are inside and outside you, they are solidly in the streets, in the houses, in the places where the event must take shape; the thousand possibilities of the story choose themselves and the choices appear inevitable, definitive. Every day you begin work by rereading to regain energy, and rereading is pleasant, in perfecting, enriching, touching up the past to make it fit with the future of the story. Then this happy period comes to an end. The story is finished. You are no longer rereading the work of the day before but the entire story. You’re afraid. You test it here and there, nothing is written the way you imagined it. The beginning is insignificant, the development seems crude, the linguistic forms inadequate. It’s the moment when one needs help, to find a way to draw the ground on which to place the book, and understand what substance it is truly made of.

–Elena Ferrante as excerpted in Guernica

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 · Books · No Comments »

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