Professor Craig O’Hara nominated for Pushcart

Assistant Professor Craig O’Hara’s short story “The Corner” was published by the North Dakota Quarterly in 2013, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize shortly after. In this interview. O’Hara discusses his work, his nomination, and the writing life.

 1. Will you tell us a little bit about “The Corner,” including the inspiration behind it and a little bit about your process while writing it?

“The Corner” is about a prostitute in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam waiting on a Saturday evening for a client of hers who happens to be an American expatriate. The inspiration behind the story came out of the somewhat rough neighborhood I lived in during my time teaching in Vietnam. I know it sounds kind of strange, but sex workers were just a normal part of the community in which I lived. They were among my neighbors and the people I interacted with every day. They were the people I saw while going to the market or having lunch at the food stalls across the street. They were regular people like anyone else in the neighborhood.

I wanted to write a piece of short fiction about them to see if I could come to some greater understanding of their lives. I started the piece in 2001, but never could get it right. I always felt I was missing something in depicting the central character in a truthful, human way. I began to wonder if I could really write anything from a point of view so different from my own. The story spent a lot of time on the shelf while I thought about this and occasionally worked on revising it, trying to get the thing right and to write in a fair and authentic way about this fictional person I had created. The story only came together in its final form years later when I realized my struggle to really understand this character was the whole point of the story. After that realization, the story just took off and was fairly easy to finish.

2. How and when did you find out about the nomination, and what was your reaction?

I found out about the Pushcart nomination via a letter from the North Dakota Quarterly, the journal that published the story. It arrived just before Christmas and I was, of course, thrilled to hear the journal had thought enough of the story to nominate it. Made for a great holiday surprise gift. Sure beats getting socks for Christmas.

If I recall correctly, my immediate reaction was some kind of wacky, silly celebration dance in the middle of my living room. It must have looked pretty ridiculous. My wife probably thought I’d lost my mind.

If memory serves, we then went to the store and bought a nice piece of Stilton cheese and a baguette to celebrate. When we got home, we had a toast to good fortune and some wonderfully stinky cheese. The whole house smelled like the feet of angels for days afterwards.

 3. As a writer, where do you draw most of your inspiration from? (Life, in general? Other authors?)

Where inspiration comes from is a tough question. Mostly, it comes from just sitting down and actually writing. Some days are good, some are not as good, and some are great. I feel that a writer’s life and the themes of importance to him/her will always be there and come out through the individual stories themselves. You just write the story and if it’s really working, all the stuff of your life—personal experiences, stories others have told of their experiences, books and magazine articles you’ve read, your beliefs and feelings—will all inevitably come out of what you’re laying down on the page.

 4. What are a few books you would recommend Ball State English students add to their summer reading list and why?

I can always recommend anything by well-known contemporary writers like Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, and Lydia Davis. My strongest recommendation is to just read. Read what excites you and makes you want to go out and live life with the gas pedal nailed all the way to the floor. Read tiny little books like Sum by David Eagleman and big monstrous books like Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Read books that feel as comfortable as home and books from other cultures that take you to unimaginable places in your mind—authors like Banana Yoshimoto and Ben Okri come to mind. Read old books like Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne and newer books like Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco. Just read.

 5. Who would you like to thank or acknowledge in light of your nomination?

Writing is a tough calling to pursue, but it is infinitely easier when those close to you are there for support. I was lucky that my parents were always supportive of what is, admittedly, an out-of-the-ordinary career choice. They deserve a great deal of thanks and acknowledgment.

My wife also deserves credit both for putting up with my sometimes strange writerly ways and for more the more tangible support necessary while I spent a good number of years writing and reading all day, which is essential for any writer starting a career and figuring out the craft.

 6. Any advice for aspiring writers?

My advice is simply to write every day. Even if it’s just an hour or two.

Write on the days you’re feeling excited and inspired and on the days you feel the muse just isn’t there. Writing is work—satisfying work–but work all the same. Plumbers and accountants don’t always feel inspired to go to work every day, but they do it. Writing isn’t all that much different.

When encouraging my students to write I always tell them that the muse may not decide to visit you every day, but when she does, she needs to know where to find you. She should be able to find you with your pen and notebook or in front of your computer struggling and sweating and fumbling around as we all do, trying to say something real and meaningful about life through our art.

10 Things You Need to Know about Elizabeth Berg coming to Muncie


  1. Acclaimed, bestselling author Elizabeth Berg will be the guest speaker during a special program at this year’s Midwest Writers Workshop (MWW) on the Ball State University campus.
  2. She’ll speak at 7 p.m. Friday, July 25 in Pruis Hall.
  3. The program is open to the public. Admission is free, but registration through Eventbrite is recommended. Directions are available on that site as well.
  4. Entertainment Weekly has said, “Berg’s writing is to literature what Chopin’s études are to music—measured, delicate, and impossible to walk away from until their completion.”
  5. Berg is the author of more than 20 novels. Her latest is Tapestry of Fortunes, and her book Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club Selection.
  6. Her books will be for sale at the event, and she will do a book signing.
  7. Since its founding in 1973, MWW has been devoted to providing writers of all stages in their career the opportunity to improve their craft, to associate with highly credentialed professionals, and to network with other writers.
  8. This is the first year that MWW is offering one of its conference’s events to the entire community. 
  9. The English Department at Ball State enjoys a unique relationship with MWW. In the last few years, many English majors have had the opportunity to work at the conference as agent assistants and social media tutors. This year, eight English majors students will have that opportunity. 
  10. If you (or someone you know) is a Berg fan and you live within driving distance of Muncie, you need to be there.


Good News, Spring 2014

IbJK5etSN6dH6jAF4U0U_DSC_0280-1Better late than never! In the latest installment of our “Good News” series, the Ball State English Department highlights the accomplishments of the department’s students and faculty during the Spring 2014 semester:

Adrienne Bliss:

  • She had a chapter published in Fabricating the Body: Effects of Obligation and Exchange in Contemporary Discourse.
  • In addition, she had a paper accepted for presentation at the American Society of Criminologist’s Annual Convention last November.
  • Bliss has also been accepted to develop a class for the Interactive Learning Space Initiative in the Office of Educational Excellence for the 2014-15 school year.

Scott Bugher (B.A. 2013) has been accepted into the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Cathy Day’s book The Circus in Winter was selected as the Common Reader at Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana.

Kelsey Englert (M.A. 2014) was accepted into West Virginia’s MFA program with a full tuition waiver. 

Robert Habich received the Distinguished Achievement Award for 2014 at the American Literature Association meeting in Washington. The award, given annually by the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society, recognizes accumulated scholarly work and service in support of Emerson studies.

Darolyn Jones:

  • She was featured in an “Interview with Lyn Jones and Liz Whiteacre,” published in Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature.
  • She was also awarded Outstanding Proposal Submission, Diversity and Inclusivity Teaching and Research Symposium in the fall of 2013.
  • Jones also received the Excellence in Teaching (EXIT) University-Wide Award, for “Rethinking Children’s Literature: Reading for Change from Ball State University.”
  • Additionally, she received the Accessibility Faculty Member of the Year University-Wide Award from Ball State’s Office of Disabled Student Development

Craig O’Hara published his short story “New World Record,” in the upcoming spring issue of december magazine.

Paul W. Ranieri received the C. Warren Vander Hill Award for Outstanding Honors Faculty.

Emily Scalzo:

  • She published several haikus, including “thousands of windows” in Three Line Poetry,“Chess in Uganda” in Haiku Journal, “‘I brought the first stone’” at 50 Haikus, “Every now and then” at The Germ, and “Science is dogma,” “Lynch the President,” and “The Cubs’ new mascot” at Kalkion.
  • She published the poem “Ten thousand sharks” for River Poets Journal‘s National Poetry Month 2014: Pocket Poems, “Raspberry Sorbet” in Ms. Fit Magazine, and “Fourteen Months After the Motorcycle Crash” in Melancholy Hyperbole
  • Scalzo has also published her personal essay “Fat-Shaming: Why do I owe an excuse?” at The Mindful Word, and her photograph, “Flooded River at Muncie, Indiana After February 2014 Thunderstorm” was published in Midwestern Gothic.

Maria Staton:

  • She had her paper, “The Indian Maiden on the American Stage, 1800s-1850s” published in the HumanitiesDirectory, an international journal of contemporary scholarship relating to the arts and humanities.
  • Her paper “Teaching Writing in the Interactive Learning Space Environment” was also accepted for publication in the special issue of NUML Journal of Research in Social Sciences (JRSS) on Quality Higher Education.
  • Staton presented at the “Integrating Technology in Student-Centered Collaborative Leaning,” conference.
  • She also presented at the “Teaching Writing in the Interactive Learning Space Environment,” International Conference on Quality Higher Education in Islamabad, where she gave the keynote address.
  • In addition, she obtained $3,500 for the English Department from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan for hosting and advising a graduate student from the National University of Modern language.

Merrielle Turnbull’s Virginia B Ball Center for Creative Inquiry seminar’s student-created film Unconditional Acceptance: The Human-Animal Bond has been nominated for an Emmy.

Mary Lou Vercellotti:

  • She presented “The Development of Accuracy (Or Lack-there-of) in English Second Language Learners,” and “The Interaction between the Development of Lexical Variety and the Use of Trigrams in ESL” at the American Association for Applied Linguists (AAAL) Annual Conference held in Portland, Oregon.
  • Vercellotti was also chosen as an alternate for the Summer/Short-term Research Publication Grant by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Andrea Powell Wolfe’s film Down to Earth: Small Farm Issues in a Big Farm World, was screened at two film festivals and nominated for regional Emmy awards in six categories. You can check out the website and trailer here.