Tag Archives: MFA

Curlie Blue

by Valerie Smith

Summer 2017

The Blues down south would cut you
like a paper mill and let your rotten stink
blow all the way north on a hot summer breeze.
That’s how she left, you know.

She was the second oldest of thirteen,
stocky as a sawed-off shotgun, red hair,
freckles and plump green eyes that traced
an un-retraceable line.

When I met her, she was Sunday dressed
in a full-length cashmere coat and matching
camel-colored hat. The wide brim tilted over
her right eye leaned into each heavy stride.

Legend has it, she snatched a black snake
out an oak tree in mid conversation and
ripped his head off in the street. She gripped
my hand and pulled a knife one night –

we stayed too late at Menlo Park Mall
and had to walk out the service exit.
I was just tall enough to see the blade
flash in the corner of my eye.

Her anointed hands could rub a rash clean
and make me believe the Blues
were always one bitter snuff can away
from spittin’ out the truth.

Valerie Smith

Valerie Smith delights in writing poetry and creative nonfiction. She is currently studying Creative Writing in the Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University where she is also a Graduate Teaching Assistant of first-year composition. Most recently, she presented her poems at the 2016 Decatur Book Festival. Her poetry has also appeared in Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource and BlazeVOX15.

Am I a Real Writer?

By Christine Schott

I have a confession to make. I don’t write every day. I don’t even write every other day. Despite the advice of every writing instructor and every craft book I’ve encountered, I have never managed to write more than once a week, and never more than two or three hours at that. And I’ve spent a long time asking myself if that means I’m not a Real Writer.

In my day job, I’m an academic, so I have plenty of experience with imposter syndrome, and it’s plagued my confidence as a writer for years. I know that most of us have full-time jobs in other fields, so I’m not alone in finding it hard to carve out time to write. But so many other people seem better at accomplishing it. I can’t get up at four a.m. to write before dawn; I object to four a.m. on principle. I can’t squeeze in fifteen minutes of writing during my lunch break; I just get settled in when it’s time to go back to work. What I’m left with is a jealously guarded window of time on Sunday afternoons when I hunch over my laptop or notebook and descend into a caffeinated frenzy of creation.

Astonishingly, writing once a week actually seems to work for me. In the past year, I’ve drafted one full novel and published several short pieces. And in that year, I’ve realized that the physical act of writing is only one part of the writing process. I’ve discovered that, while I’m only at my desk typing away for two ours on a Sunday, I’m actually preparing for those two hours every other day of the week. While I work out, I’m mapping my plot, imagining my beat sheet superimposed over the screen of the elliptical. I recently had a terrific revelation about a troublesome character while I was flossing my teeth. In the shower, I’m trying out lines of dialogue: yes, out loud. This habit must be particularly entertaining to my downstairs neighbor when my characters start arguing.

Some writers can compose in snatches, a sentence on the subway, a paragraph at lunch. The fact that I can’t do that has often made me feel unprofessional by comparison, as though, if I was a Real Writer, I would be able to wrestle my brain into submission and force it to produce art on a schedule. But the truth is I will never be that kind of writer. I need a large, uninterrupted swath of time to sit down and write: time to stare at the wall, gaze vacantly out the window, type and erase, type and erase. What I know now, though, is that I might not be able to write in short intervals, but I can think in them. My brain is at work even if my hands aren’t. So when I do sit down on Sunday with my coffee and my two hours of writing ahead of me, I have a head full of material waiting to be drawn out on the page. And whether that makes me as a Real Writer or not is beside the point: I’m writing, and that’s all I care about.

Christine Schott teaches literature and creative writing at Erskine College.  She is Pushcart-nominated author whose work has appeared in the Gettysburg Review, Dappled Things, Casino Literary Magazine, and Wanderlust.  She holds a PhD in medieval literature from the University of Virginia and an MFA in creative writing from Converse College and has been working for South85 for three years.

Always Having Something to Say, But Never Having Time to Write It

By: Shanta Brown

” Writing was and still is my calm and happy place.”

As an undergrad at Converse College, I wrote a lot outside of my regular homework assignments. Nothing would come between me and my writing, not even my roommate begging me to come hang out. Writing came so natural to me, like breathing. Whether I was having a good or bad day, I would write. Writing was and still is my calm and happy place. All of my family and friends should be thankful for this! 

Fast forward to almost 20 years, I have a husband, 3 kids, and a dog. I was like: Writing? Who, what, when, why and how? 


I must pay homage to all the wives and mothers who have mastered the art of living and writing! At first, I didn’t know how. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out, but I’m learning. Slowly, I had allowed my happy and calm place to disappear. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight nor was it intentional on my part. However, it happened and by the time I noticed, it was too late, or so I thought.

Professors. They Do More Than Teach. 

Thankfully, Professors Rick Mulkey and Susan Tekulve kept their eyes on me. Even though I was no longer their student, they invited me into their friendship circle. I’m forever grateful for that. They always made sure to invite me to reading and writing events. Along with them and my forever writing friend, Kathryn, writing remains a part of me. Even though I neglected it, the talent I have for writing never left me. I continued going to readings, but not writing; or editing someone else’s work; but not writing. At the time, I didn’t realize writing was slowly wooing me back. Even while attending readings and editing others’ work, my mind was full of poems that were not yet written – I just didn’t know it.  

Dear Me…

I’ve always had something to say. My husband will totally vouch for this. Looking back on this journey, I’m inspired to write a note to my 20-year old self and to my future self. 

Dear Poet Shanta,

Yes, you are, and are going to be. I know right now that it doesn’t look like it, but you are going to write your heart’s desire on paper. The change you wish you to see, you will write about. Writing loves you, and you love it. However, you two will break up for some years before reuniting. Please know that this time apart will be necessary. You will need to grow into your many roles: adulthood, womanhood, and motherhood. These roles will be your rearview mirror, your connector – linking your upbringing to your future. I know that you can’t see it, but I can. Whatever you do, just keep internally speaking. I promise you that when it’s time, you’ll be ready. Writing will come back to you, and you’ll get that same flutter in your stomach, and even in your soul, to grab that paper and pen, and you’ll start to write; because you know that you have a lot to say!

The Takeaway

So, for those of you who were bitten by the writing bug like me, I want to leave you with a small token of encouragement. Be satisfied with each stage of life that you live, and when writing makes its reappearance in your life, HOLD ON and WRITE ON!



Shanta Brown is a poet who writes about her strong southern family roots. She is an MFA candidate at Converse College. She’s also a Junior Poetry Editor at South 85 Literary Magazine. She was also recently selected for a Converse College MFA Graduate Teaching Assistantship to begin Spring 2021. She resides in Spartanburg, SC with her husband and three children.



Feature Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

The Practice of Prompt Writing

By: Hannah Marshall

“A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write…”

I used to hate prompts, their artificial sentiments bullying their way into my writing. Before I enrolled in the Converse College MFA in Creative Writing, I almost never used a prompt to jumpstart my writing. I believed in order for my writing to be pure, it needed to emerge organically. I wanted to freely write poems from my life experience, the words falling from the ether and onto the page. But you know what? Even back then, I used a prompt for pretty much every poem I wrote. I just didn’t know it.

The Magic of the Naturally Occurring Prompt

I used to always spend the beginning of my writing time reading a book of poetry, whatever was on my list at the time. I’d read maybe one poem, maybe ten or twenty, and then I’d have the sudden urge to write a poem of my own. These poems were responses to what I’d read, and though I didn’t have a written prompt, it was the words on the page that prompted me. I’d read something like these lines from “The Mother’s Apple” by Li Young Lee: “The blossoms give themselves to the wind. / Who will I be given to?” and I’d need to speak into the subject myself.

Sometimes, I’d be out in the world, doing life: walking by Lake Mendota, shopping for groceries at the local co-op, or changing my infant’s diaper, and I’d have that URGE to write a poem. These prompts were situational, brought on by events, but they were still prompts. Perhaps I’d see a Norway maple so yellow I could taste its brightness. Write it down! Or my baby would look at me in a way that I’d never been looked at by anyone before, her helplessness, her complete trust. Write about it!

The thing is, these situations take time and space to develop. I don’t have epiphanic moments every day, not even every week. And I don’t always get sparked to write when I’m reading someone else’s poems. I like to be in conversation with other poets, but sometimes it comes out in more subtle ways than, I must write about this same topic right away!

When the Magic of the Muse Is Not Enough

When I started writing more frequently during my time as an MFA student, I realized these occasional “natural prompts” were not numerous enough to sustain the number of poems I needed to be writing. I knew I needed to get over my illogical disdain of the writing prompt.

Sometimes, writers have dry spells. For me, however, I’ve discovered “dry spells” are simply times when I’m not being externally stimulated to write. These times, more than ever, I need prompts.

Benefits of Using Prompts to Write

Prompts are a way to artificially stimulate the writing process. And it’s okay that it’s artificial! I don’t need to know where I’m going when I start a poem, but I do need an inciting idea. Prompts provide that for me. I’ve found this quote from Richard Hugo’s book The Triggering Town to be very true in my own writing: “A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or ‘causes’ the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing.” A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write towards a “generated subject.” When the poem is finished, it’s impossible to distinguish between a poem I wrote from an artificial prompt and one I wrote from a natural prompt, because in both cases the prompt gave me a triggering subject. Once I got going, the generated subject revealed itself and might have little or no clear relation to the triggering subject. Thus, in edits, the lines about the triggering subject are often deleted, and the prompt disappears altogether.

Where to Find Good Writing Prompts

Now, post-graduation, I have not given up the practice of using prompts for my poems. I have books full of prompts, which I would recommend to any poet needing help: The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell is pretty much 100% prompts and writing exercises. The Poet’s Companion, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, has excellent writing advice as well as great chapter-end prompts. Poets & Writers posts prompts for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on their website weekly. The latter recommendations are especially good for days when you really want to immerse yourself in a prompt and maybe learn something along the way!

This time of the year is my favorite for writing prompts. Two years ago, I began participating in NaPoWriMo—National Poetry Writing Month—which happens, of course, in April, National Poetry Month. The “official” NaPoWriMo website posts a prompt each day for the entire month. I write a poem each day all through April, and I find that the constant production is great for my poetic muscles. It also forces me to move out of my usual subjects and write about unexpected things. I turn to researched poems about historical and biblical figures, or to bits of interesting scientific or medical news. I discover new tools available on the internet to spark interesting triggering subjects. My poems become more experimental because, since I’m writing a poem every day, I don’t feel pressured to have each one be good.

I have embarked on my third year of writing a poem each day for the month of April, and I’ve been looking forward to this since February. It’s now become a ritual of spring for me, a time of growth that coincides with the waking of the natural world. And I’m a prompt lover now, fully converted to the practice of using whatever works to write myself toward the next good poem.



Hannah Marshall, Poet

Hannah Marshall lives in south-central Illinois, where she works as the advising editor for the literary journal The Scriblerus. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, New Ohio Review, The Madison Review, Anglican Theological Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Converse College.


Feature Photo by Tyler Nix.

Converse MFA Students Mic Take-Over

Converse MFA Mic Take-Over

If you’re looking for a day after Valentine’s treat, visit Hub City Tap House for the Converse MFA mic take-over. The event will take place on Wednesday, February 15 at 8 p.m. and is open to everyone. Readers will include a mix of poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers reading original content. Several of South 85 Journal‘s staff members will be featured in the showcase. Readers for this event include third semester poet Russell Jackson, second semester Young Adult fiction writer Josh Springs, third semester fiction student Linda Meredith, graduate poet Kathleen Nalley, third semester fiction author Mackinley Greenlaw, third semester fiction student Katie Sherman, and third semester non-fiction author Jonathan Burgess. The take-over, hosted by Pints & Poets, is one in a series of readings that takes place every third Wednesday during the Spring and Fall months. Continue below for reader bios:

Russell Jackson holds a BA from The Evergreen State College and is a current poetry student in the MFA Creative Writing program at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. He serves as a poetry editor at South 85 Journal and his poetry was recently published in the Summer 2016 issue of The Donut Factory Literary Magazine. His academic interests are concentrated in LGBTQ literary and cultural studies. Literary heroes include Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, Paul Monette, Edmund White, Richard Blanco, and Nickole Brown. He currently writes and resides in Hendersonville, NC.

Josh Springs is a South Carolina native and has worked for multiple literary magazines, including the Mountain Laurel and South 85 Journal. Josh is a second semester, young adult fiction writer in the Converse College Low Residency MFA program. His favorite authors are Adi Alsaid, Patrick Ness, Flannery O’Connor, Edgar Allen Poe, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Linda Meredith is a current fiction student in the MFA Creative Writing Program. She is also the editorial contractor for Great Jones Street Press. In her fiction, you will often meet a darker, troubled character in a seemingly normal world. Her literary inspirations include David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, George Saunders, Raymond Carver, and Grace Paley. She currently writes in Spartanburg, SC where she lives with her husband and their English Coonhound, Memphis.

Kathleen Nalley is the author of the poetry chapbooks Nesting Doll and American Sycamore, and the upcoming full-length collection, Gutterflower (Red Paint Hill Press). Recently, her poetry has appeared in concis, Fall Lines, New Flash Fiction Review, and Slipstream, and in the violence against women anthology from Sable Books, Red Sky. She holds an MFA from Converse College, teaches literature and writing at Clemson University, and finds books their forever homes at M. Judson Booksellers.

Mackinley Greenlaw is a rank amateur currently sussing out his cultural value in Greenville, SC. His fiction is appalling, both literally and morally, and is best suited for a captive audience

Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist who covers fine food and parenting in Charlotte, NC. As an undergraduate, she was mentored by Pulitzer prize nominee George Esper at West Virginia University. Katie is currently pursuing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her family — Ben, Ella and Addie. Katie is the new Blog Editor for South 85 Journal. She’s currently working on a short story collection about social taboos afflicting women.

Jonathan Burgess is a South Carolina native and a Marine combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He holds a BA in English Language and Literature and currently studies creative nonfiction writing in Converse College’s MFA program. His work has appeared in O Dark Thirty; Blood & Thunder; The St Austin Review; The Journal of War, Literature, and the Arts; and Catholic Exchange. He lives in upstate South Carolina with his wife and four children.