30 November 2013

commencement essay

The combination of Thanksgiving holiday weekend and celebration of the Hanukkah Festival of Lights feels like just the right time for the publication release of my essay "Seemingly Unrelated Events" in the newest issue of December literary magazine, the Revival Issue (Vol 24) December 1, 2013. This is a version of the commencement speech I gave as the student speaker for the Pacific University MFA commencement ceremonies in June of this year.

I am honored to be included in this magazine alongside some terrific writers and friends from Pacific University, such as Marvin Bell, Peter Sears, Dawn Robinson, Jeanne Morel, Jaydn DeWald, and Karen Holman, among others. Another amazing and wonderful opportunity. 

My thanks to all who made this possible, my family, teachers, mentors and friends. And my husband who's talked me down from the metaphorical ledge more than once whenever I am faced with a writing or speaking challenge.

Subscribe to December for the current issue and much more. My opinion: literary works are always a good investment of the mind. 

~ sherri

"Exactly 444 years before the day of my birth, Hernando Cortes set fire to the
Aztec aviaries of the besieged city of Tenochtitlan, the story written in Crossing OpenGround by Barry Lopez. It is 1989. Lopez is already a renowned author and National Book Award recipient, writing about human culture in the context of the natural
world. I am a 23-year-old English undergrad at Weber State University with two small
children, living on welfare in a trailer park under the runway flight path of nearby Hill
Air Force Base, painfully aware that my marriage of three years is failing. I am instantly
connected to the images of the birds burning in their cages. Connected by my own
despair. By my birth date there on the page." [subscribe to read more]
                                                ~Sherri Hoffman, from "Seemingly Unrelated Events"

19 October 2013

reading in milwaukee

Outside of Tokyo, our family lived in a house with a sunroom that looked out over the garden, and that was our playroom. Maybe I was five. In that sunroom, my brother, sister, and I would listen to records, 33s or 45s, and one of our favorites was the 1946 Disney rendition of Sergei Prokofiev's Op. 67: Peter and the Wolf.  You know the one: Peter is represented by the strings; Sasha the bird by the flute; Sonja the duck by the oboe; and the wolf. . . . We must have listened to that record a hundred times, and every time the wolf first appears—all brass and drums—we'd leap, screaming, over the high, arched back of the green couch to hide.

Reading in public is sometimes like that for me. Not that I'll be leaping over any couches anytime soon, but the clench of fear in my chest as I approach the microphone is the same. Every time.

Nerves aside, I am privileged to be reading with some fine faculty and grad students from my new digs at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee: Creative Writing Professor Mauricio Kilwein Guevara, and graduate students Tobias Wray and Elisa Karbin.

Meet me there:
Friday, October 25
Boswell Book Company
2559 N Downer Ave
Milwaukee, WI
~ sherri

01 October 2013

new fiction: looking to land

Sometimes I tell stories from my real life—maybe even from those old, bad days—and people don't believe me. Some of my best rejection letters disclaim the believability of my personal stories.

It's fine, really. I'm grateful that my life manifests in a different space these days. Plus, I can't ever imagine running out of material, if that's all to be said for some of my past.

I've learned to mix it up, the real and the imagined. Bank back the fantastic real; expand the fabulist fiction. But every once in awhile, a kernel of raw truth might surface in one of my stories. I leave it up to the reader to guess, as I'm certain I  don't have to say which it is.

That's the beauty of writing fiction.

My short story, "Looking to Land," is published in the newest issue of Spilt Infinitive. My thanks to the editors for including me—I feel like I got to eat lunch at the cool kids' table today.

 ~ sherri

31 August 2013

upending the cart

Ten years ago, if someone had told me what I'd be doing this year, I would have laughed in their face. Or cried. Or both. But certainly not believed anything like this could happen to me in real life. Since January, it has been an ongoing series of amazing, life-changing, cart-upending moments, so much so that the only way to keep myself grounded throughout has been to remain focused on one event at a time; the cumulative whole has been overwhelming to consider.

The results are these. In January, I completed my MFA in Writing at Pacific University. In June, I was privileged to be the student speaker at the Pacific MFA commencement ceremonies. Then for the 2013-14 school year, I was accepted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee into the PhD in Creative Writing program and additionally honored with a Chancellor's Award and a teaching assistantship.

So in August, I said fond and difficult farewells to my family, dear friends, and all the supportive communities of home, left my marketing career of 25-years, and moved to Milwaukee, WI for the next phase of my development that begins at UWM. More than a shift of geography, it is a fundamental re-direction of psyche and purpose.

And finally, on a deeply personal note, this summer I also met with my first-born daughter, whom I had relinquished for adoption 28 years ago when she was only 10-days old. It was a reunion that exceeded all imagined expectations for being so sweet and full of joy.

Once again, my life is changed forever.

I remain grateful for the opportunity.

 ~ Sherri

By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

01 July 2013

back to school

Your husband climbs Mt. Hood
but you have to work your
crummy job with the
manager who stares down
your shirt and shows you
pictures of his
penis from his phone
as if by accident.

Remember when you were
eleven and every Saturday 
you pedaled a little 
bicycle three miles out 
St. Claire to the cool 
metal stables near the 
sand dunes to ride that 
blind horse for
one hour?

Fearless it is then.

~ Sherri H. Hoffman

   MFA in Writing
   Pacific University
   Class of 2013

*Written for "Other Heroes" by Heidi Shuler, a Pass It On Poetry - This Book Is For You kickstarter project. The original version of this poem was added to the back of a numbered edition and left at Z Coffee in Longview, WA. May it gather many poems as it goes out into the world. You can read more about this project and Heidi's work at www.heidishuler.com.

26 May 2013

an amazing honor

Saturday, June 29, 2013

June Commencement
Pacific University 
Master of Fine Arts in Writing

4:00 p.m.
Forest Grove Campus
Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center
McCready Hall
2014 Cedar Street
Forest Grove, OR 97116

Student Commencement speaker: Sherri H. Hoffman

Who knew? I am honored to have been selected and will do my best to speak for my class full of talented writers and poets. Many thanks to all who have lifted me up so that I might be here now.

~ Sherri

...and I always love a good excuse to post Eminem. ;-)

20 April 2013

come rain or come shine


Thursday, April 25, 6:30pm

Rain or Shine Coffee House
5941 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97206

Happy to be reading with some of my good friends:

Julia Stoops,
Steve Denniston,
Mary Milstead,
...and me.

Bios posted on the venue website:

Rain or Shine Coffee House

Of course, you can still purchase the book at Powells Books and online:

Brave on the Page

Thanks to editor and publisher Laura Stanfill from Forest Avenue Press for her great PR work. It's all coming together! Check out some of the latest:

Portland Mercury


See you there, come rain or come shine...

06 March 2013

the first publication

Jess Walter reads at Powell's from his new book of stories, We Live in Water. He answers the follow-up questions, some pointed and complex, some just curious. He gives up details of his life in Spokane, as a kid, as a writer. The real stuff. Without pretense.

Once a couple summers ago, we played basketball. Jess was my partner in a 2x2—his bad luck as I was out-of-shape and out-of-practice. He kept us in range with a mean 3-point shot, and I had a few lucky slop-shots fall, but it wasn't enough to pull out the win. He shrugged. Good game, he said.

At Powell's, he talks about rejections—his short stories, his boyhood self—without bitterness. As if it is all just a part of the process leading up to the moment of him standing at the podium answering our questions.

I want to ask him what he's reading lately, but we're out of time.

I want to make one more shot, but we'd already lost.

I want to tell him how my first publication was a line from my cover letter to Howard Junker on the back cover of Zyzzyva saying that my writing group closed every week with his quote made famous to any one of us who'd ever gotten that same rejection letter: Onward!

Instead, I hear Jess' voice whenever I read his stories:

     Bit slides the book forward. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. What's a hallow, anyway? he asks.
    The clerk takes the book and runs it through the scanner. I guess it's British for hollow. I don't read those books.
     I read the first one. It was pretty good. Bit looks around Auntie's Bookstore: big and open, a few soft chairs between the rows of books. So what do you read?
     Palahniuk. That'll be twenty-eight fifty-six.
     Bit whistles. Counts out the  money and sets it on the counter. Shit, he thinks, seventy cents short.
     The clerk has those big loopy earrings that stretch out your lobes. He moves his mouth as he counts the money.
     How big are you gonna make those holes in your ears?
     Maybe like quarter-size. Hey, you're a little short. You got a discount card?
     Bit pats himself down. Hmmm. In my other pants.

          ~ Jess Walter, "Anything Helps," from We Live in Water
Jess signs books.

Thanks for talking about the stories being rejected, I say.

Two novels published, he says, and I couldn't publish a short story. Who's this one for? 

Twice before I've had him sign books for my daughters. Me, I say. I spell my name for him. Two Rs. I.

They used to tell you to put a collection together. Now they tell you those are never published. But here it is. He hands me the signed book.

That's why this one is mine, I say.

He gives me that Jess Walter smile, and I feel like he gets it.  

 ~ sherri

24 February 2013

short notice - reading this Weds

One of the consequences of having my home life turned on its head at the moment is a distinct lack of organization in other areas of my life.

I will be reading at this month's Wildfire Gathering and Reading, a monthly reading sponsored by Christi Krug and Wildfire Writing.

Weds, February 27
6 - 7:30pm

Cascade Park Community Library
Community Room 
Vancouver, WA 98684
 Hope to see you there. I'll read something Wildish.
 - sherri

21 February 2013

february is a dervish

...if the whirling includes a funeral and a wedding, both unexpected. January—with final MFA residency, thesis, and graduation—seems calm in comparison.

I fall back on simple beliefs.



a² + b² = c². 

And George Saunders. I adore George Saunders.
"One idea that gives me a lot of comfort – and I’m aware it sounds corny – but I like the thought that any of us could find a sort of fictive corollary, in our minds, for any other of us. That is to say, since one person’s brain is actually very physically similar to any other brain, and because the neurological processes are similar, we are more alike than we might think – and fiction (reading or writing it) is a way to remind ourselves of that fact. When Tolstoy describes childbirth in 'War and Peace,' any of us who’ve been through that get a weird jolt of recognition. And what a weird thing that is – some guy who died over 100 years ago is causing intense activity in your brain. Magic, really, and hopeful – since that implies that deep and profound understanding of another’s motives and feelings is not only possible, but probable, if we just lean into it a bit."
     ~ George Saunders, interview on The Diane Rehm Show
I have a similar, less elegant theory: the Cockroach Theory. When I wake up to discover I've turned into a cockroach, I go to my community, raise my hand, say, "Hey! I've turned into a fuckin' cockroach!"

At least one person will answer. "Yes," they say. "That happened to me. Here's what I did."

Write that.

 - sherri


I like relativity and quantum theories
because I don't understand them
and they make me feel as if space shifted about
like a swan that can't settle,
refusing to sit still and be measured;
and as if the atom were an impulsive thing
always changing its mind.

~ D. H. Lawrence