Steps of Beitou

My Second PhD Exam Is Here…

Dear readers,

Sorry for the slow posting this week. I’ve been reading plays and poems in preparation for my second PhD exam, which starts in about 30 minutes. My first exam was on the history and theory of the novel; this second exam is on contemporary literature: novels, stories, plays, and poems published since 1945.

Before I took the first exam, I didn’t realise how physically intense it would be. It was strangely less of an intellectual challenge than a physical one. The sheer bodily exertion of planning, writing, and revising four separate essays, imagining all the time how the professorial committee would react, searching through scholarly books and novels for that half-remembered quotation–it was quite an overwhelming experience.

If anyone is preparing to do such an exam, I would recommend, alongside all the reading, a period of athletic training. Take up spin, or regular running, just so you can push through, late on the Saturday afternoon, a third or four re-write of that paragraph about 18th century metafictional novels.

Despite everything I’ve said about the gruelling nature of the experience, I found out at the end of last week that I passed the first exam with flying colours–a pass with distinction, the highest possible mark. It was a great relief, but I’m still in a small amount of denial that I have to devote a second weekend to the same process. And I had imagined I would happily settle down, during the week and a half gap between exam one and two, and in great ease work my way through the best British, American, and African plays of the last sixty years.

Instead, I mostly spent the time recuperating–although I have now read, finally, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — an amazing play. The exam begins imminently, and once its three days are up, all my PhD’s scholarly work will be done. I will have completed all general requirements–coursework, languages, exams–and will focus exclusively on my writing. This is a wonderful anticipation.

Best wishes to you all and your own creative and scholarly endeavours. See you on the other side,



Don’t Miss Out! Last Day for the Hands On Literary Festival in New Orleans!

Dear readers: today is the last official day to propose a reading, panel, or paper presentation at the Hands On Festival, in New Orleans, over New Year’s Eve.

After today, the schedule will be initially penciled in, and then chiseled in stone, and while late proposals will be considered, there’s no guarantee that space will still be available.

Or, instead, something awkward might occur, like your reading of extreme-formalist poetry being added to a session entirely made up of naively-historicist flash-memoir.

Ugh! I get chills just thinking about it.

Plus, today is the last day for the early bird discount.

The festival takes place from the 28th of December until after midnight on December 31st, New Year’s Eve. Mark Twain says that no American can understand the United States until she has been to New Orleans. Although not American, I agree with that claim. Plus the festival itself is great fun and an excellent way to meet new writers and readers. Plus the food is wonderful.

You can submit a proposal for a reading, paper, or panel here.

You can register for the festival here.

You can watch the festival’s video here.

The Young Writers Institute Returns: University of Tennessee, Knoxville


If you know any high school students or teachers in the Knoxville / east Tennessee area, let them know about the Young Writers Institute: April 18, 2015. 

It’s a free day of creative writing classes, with workshops offered in almost every writing genre (fiction, poetry, screenwriting, songwriting, journalism, etc), with classes for both students and their teachers (teachers can take teacher-focused classes in fiction and poetry). All instructors are published experts in their field. At lunchtime, everyone settles down for some great music (last year, the amazing local band Hudson K rocked the lecture hall). Breakfast snacks and lunch are provided. 

April 18 is some way off, but if you’d like to get on our mailing list, send an email to the official in-box at


Modern fiction, it's often said, is merely competent. Here's to some "incompetent" fiction.


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