This week, Meagan Cass’s students at The University of Illinois Springfield will be reading our submission queue! They will recommend their favorite stories to our Fall Guest Editor, Venita Blackburn, for final consideration. We talked to Meagan Cass about her students and what she hopes they’ll learn.
We’re so excited to have your class read our submission queue this week! Can you tell us about your class and the students?
We have students from my Advanced Fiction Workshop as well as editors from our new national, undergraduate literary magazine, Violet Margin, reading. In the workshop, we had a special three-week unit devoted to flash fiction. We looked at hermit crabs, fairy tales, and horror flashes by writers like K.B. Carle, Carmen Maria Machado, Tyrese Coleman, Meghan Phillips, Rikki Ducornet, and more.
We’re writing out of the University of Illinois Springfield. We have a creative writing club here as well as the Shelterbelt Reading Series which brings writers from around the country to campus (or, currently, to Zoom).
Are your students familiar with flash fiction?
They are! We read flash fiction in all of my workshops, and in the literary publishing class we always look at a few stories from SLQ and talk about how this magazine was instrumental in creating space for flash within the contemporary landscape. I’ve also taught stories I’ve found through Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction, the excellent anthology of flash by writers of color edited by Megan Giddings. I find that my students are often at their most adventurous within flash fiction. Working theory: maybe there is something inherently irreverent baked into flash itself?
What do you hope your students will learn by reading the “slush pile”?
Ah, so much! I think reading submissions is a great chance for us to learn more about our own taste in fiction, the kinds of stories we are drawn to over and over again. It’s also an occasion to interrogate our reading practices as we compare our responses with one another. What do we notice that others don’t and what do we miss and why? I also hope it expands our understanding of what is possible within this flourishing subgenre.
Do you have a favorite flash fiction assignment you can share with us?
I love teaching a bunch of flash fairy tales along with Kate Bernheimer’s essay “Fairy Tale Is Form, Form is Fairy Tale.” Then we do the following prompt:
Write a flash fairy tale in which a character is trapped inside something that wouldn’t normally hold a human being: a dresser drawer, a coat pocket, a jar of pickles. Your fairy tale must include exactly three colors (no more, no less). You may use only 1 proper noun. Use some, all, or none, of the following words: glass, salt, wood.
Length limit: 500 words
Meagan Cass’ first full-length collection, ActivAmerica, won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction, judged by Claire Vaye Watkins. Her flash fiction was selected for SmokeLong Quarterly’s The Best of the First Ten Years anthology and the Wigleaf Top 50. She is author of the chapbook Range of Motion (Magic Helicopter Press, 2014) and her stories have appeared in DIAGRAM, Mississippi Review, Joyland, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. She teaches at University of Illinois Springfield and co-edits Craft Chaps at Sundress Publications. She lives in St. Louis.