On May 16th, seven of our authors (and one teen editor representing Canvas) came to Rochester, New York for CosmoCon to read from their work and celebrate the spirit of Cosmographia. It was an unforgettable event with lots of joy and camaraderie.
As a publisher, you hope to bring into the world art that you believe in. I have been very lucky to publish authors who are not just good artists, but good humans too. Deep, lovely, spirited people who were as happy to meet each other as I had been to meet each of them.
And I think that is maybe best expressed through a poem written by Trees of Life and Shade author Ron Searls as he reflected on his experience of CosmoCon.
A Night in May
by Ron Searls
We came like spirits of the wind
Summoned by a sorceress of language,
Words to beguile words,
Arriving from afar, like fitful Spring,
At the city by the lake.
We were seven: a time traveler to the past,
A man seeking the face of God, the
Imaginer of quirky assignation, the
Delver into murder, she, whose mother
Walked on eggshells, the nun, with parables
Of urban madonnas and the woman from Lebanon
Who rang beauty from the bells of her life.
We had not met, but now together
We could be for one night our truer selves,
Poets and authors, weavers of words,
Weavers of spells, to bind listeners
To the infinite worlds of mind –
The glory which surrounds us,
We creatures caught from clay.
Many thanks to Lindsay Herko and Daniel Herd for capturing the footage. And to Meags Downing and Linnea Schaefer for planning and executing the event with me. It was a great day, many months in the planning, and 100% worth it.
From the Opening Remarks by Publisher Nina Alvarez
A phrase appeared in my mind when I was 24 years old: “A mapped world is always small.” I don’t know where it came from, but it felt important and true, like a message. I was at that time actively trying to map the world of consciousness by studying literary theory and even chaos theory. I thought that if I could understand the inner workings of life, in a mechanical way, then I could stop feeling like I was at its chaotic mercy.
Over the next decade I learned in lesson after painful lesson that life cannot be mapped with the analytical mind. Instead it takes untold and unfathomable awareness gained only through experience: nuance of feeling, understanding, memory, perspective, mindfulness, and empathy. I learned to feel what was really trying to come forward all that time: the feeling of being in spirit, the feeling of transcendence, the feeling of belonging. Beyond words, beyond maps of meaning.
And yet, embodied in this awareness was its opposite. In a beautiful way, the making of meaning through inquiry, thought, creation, exploration, art, discussion, and self-reflection is a part of all this. The ineffable must be honored, the mystery of life always remains, and yet we are here, with our minds and our words and something that compels us to make art. To make meaning, even as we know all mind-made meaning is provisional.
As was written in the Tao Te Ching, the oldest excavated portions of which dates back to the late 4th century BC:
The Way - cannot be told.
The Name - cannot be named.
The nameless is the Way of Heaven and Earth.
The named is Matrix of the Myriad Creatures.
Eliminate desire to find the Way.
Embrace desire to know the Creature.
The two are identical,
But differ in name as they arise.
Identical they are called mysterious,
Mystery on mystery,
The gate of many secrets.
So in my mind and heart, Cosmographia is the two: the nameless Way of Heaven and Earth explored with the named Matrix of the Myriad Creatures.
Historically speaking, a Cosmographia is a map. It is also a Latin philosophical allegory, dealing with the creation of the universe. But when deciding on a name for the press, I was especially compelled by the Cosmographia of the fifteenth-century German cartographer Sebastian Münster. His Cosmographia of 1544 was the earliest German-language description of the world.
The author Matthew McLean wrote that Münster's Cosmographia was an immensely influential book that attempted to describe the entire world across all of human history and analyze its constituent elements of geography, history, ethnography, zoology, and botany.
To attempt to describe the world on multiple simultaneous planes. To attempt to map not just a flat geography, but a vertical geography, an internal geography, with edges that lead to the unknown. The edges where the map can chart no further. That is what Cosmographia means to me.
I am very pleased to be able to celebrate Cosmographia, which I founded in 2013, with many of our authors, and with all of you. And so, welcome to CosmoCon, a literary event for the mind and soul. I am so happy to have you here.
And with no further ado, I would like to introduce you to tonight’s first author: Elizabeth Bodien.
Spellbinding. Journeys with Fortune by Elizaeth Bodien is a book that I sat with last June, for no other reason than an inkling, and read ahead of all other submissions, which I had planned not to get to for a while yet. I was struggling with the same existential topics I always do: do we go on after we die? If so, why don’t we know for sure? Elizabeth’s recounting of her past life regressions was so compelling, believable, thoughtful, and measured that when I put down her manuscript, I felt much more certain that we do indeed go on. I knew I had to publish her book.
Elizabeth is what I would call a true polymath. She has incredibly deep and wide-ranging knowledge in many subjects, from anthropology to religion to astrology to education, and beyod. She is the author of two books of poetry: Blood, Metal, Fiber, Rock and Oblique Music: A Book of Hours. Her poems, essays, and book reviews have appeared in Cimarron Review, Crannóg, and Parabola (one of my favorites) among many other publications in the USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and India. Bodien grew up in the “burned-over” district of Western New York but now lives near Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania.
Below is a clip of Elizabeth Bodien, reading from her spiritual memoir Journeys with Fortune: A Tale of Other Lives.
Canvas Teen Literary Journal is a quarterly print and online journal with seasonal issues in October, January, April, and July. We publish the work of teen writers 13-18 years old, read and rated by a board of teen editors. Our contributors and editors are from all over the English-speaking world and represent some of the best teen writing out there, in our humble opinion.
Canvas was established by Writers & Books in Rochester, New York in 2013, ran continuously for 4 years, took a 1.5 year hiatus, and was restructured and re-established by Cosmographia Books in 2018. Nina Alvarez and Lindsay Herko both oversee the publication of the journal.
Canvas volunteers Linnea Scheafer and Lindsay Buck are currently learning the publishing process, and the board of teen editors read and rated hundreds of their peer’s work every season.
To give you a scope of what Canvas is, we usually get 400 submissions, our cap, within two weeks. The waiting list to be on the teen editorial board is over 100 deep. And the Canvas website has received nearly 22,000 hits in the last three months. Subscriptions to Canvas are in school and public libraries around the country.
We accept writing in almost any genre or format, and we also take cover art and interior art submissions. Writing submissions are opened quarterly and cap at 400 (formerly 500).
Each issue is available to read for free at CanvasLiteraryJournal.com. All issues are available for sale in print format through amazon, at a growing number of libraries, and through subscription.
Canvas is an equal partnership endeavor between me and the amazing Lindsay Herko.
I often say that Lindsay Herko if the best work partner I’ve ever had. Hands down. We complement each other, understand each other, and I can rely on her like I have never been able to rely on anything else, especially in the continual and often unpaid work of publishing.
LINDSAY HERKO, Editor-in-Chief of Canvas Literary Journal is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s creative writing MFA, where she also served as managing editor of Notre Dame Review. Her writing and visual art have appeared in Caketrain, BOAAT, Sundog Lit, Salt Hill, Luna Luna Magazine, and The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society. Lindsay has taught youth writing courses in Writers & Books’ SummerWrite program and currently teaches college-level writing courses at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) including experimental writing, world-building, and introduction to creative writing.
Lindsay was recently profiled in Notre Dame magazine about her work with Canvas. Notre Dame is her alma mater.
Lindsay Herko got up to introduce Canvas Literary Journal teen board Julia Pelletier. Julia is a sophomore at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Rochester, New York. Pelletier, a member of the teen editorial board, represented Canvas at CosmoCon 2019. She read from “The Moon’s Girl” by Fatima Younis (Autumn 2018) and "Butterfly Clips" by Makayla Barnes (Spring 2019).
Fatima Younis is a Muslim-American teenage girl who was born and raised in the DC Metro Area. She is all about changing the world with her writing. The author of the self-published novel Bon Voyage and poetry collection, Capture, her poetry has been accepted to the Claremont Review, and YA Review Network. She has been writing since she was a little kid, and it is one of her greatest passions, along with playing hockey and being outdoors, of course. Her poem “The Moon’s Girl” was published in the Autumn 2018 issue of Canvas.
Makayla Barnes is a senior at Shaker High School in Lathan, New York. She likes reading poetry, watching “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” wearing overalls, and singing to her cat. Her short story “Butterfly Clips” was published in the Spring 2019 issue of Canvas.
The clips below is of Julia Pelletier reading from “The Moon’s Girl” by Fatima Younis.
When I first read Trees of Life and Shade, by Ron Searls, I had this distinct feeling of floating under a dark winter night full of bright stars, moonlit snow below while reading the final poem: "Midnight Sonnet," part of which goes:
I see around me: hot love’s solar storms,
Supernovas of ecstasy, black holes of loss.
But beauty calls to beauty, though this night
Grind what remains, new stars must yet arise—
From the East, they slowly swirl into my sight,
What new patterns now I see, oh what surprise.
Though I depart, I leave above for you,
This star, these words, amid the indigo and blue.
Ron’s poetry feels to me like a the best of a life mined for beauty and meaning. But maybe it’s best explained by Elizabeth Bodien, who has said of Trees of Life and Shade:
"Not a book to race through but rather one to savor, Ron Searls’ Trees of Life and Shade includes both formal and free verse poems about trees, yes, but also poems about the Internet, volcanoes, cancer and T-cell counts, a Chinese pillow, Chopin, a dreaming cello, a puppet like a poem, myth, indeed the whole wild cosmos spinning with ants and termites to stars and planets. The collection is music in both subject and sound. 'Holographic cities pulse on the skins of brown onions.' I think of Baudelaire or maybe Walt Whitman on a cosmic scale."
Ron Searls’ poems have been published in The Lyric Magazine, Verse Virtual, and by Indolent Books’ online project “HIV Here and Now.” He is a recently retired software engineer. Before he retired, he remembered that he hadn’t graduated from MIT, re-enrolled, and finished with the class of 2015. And I am very pleased to share he recently won Lyric Magazines’ New England Prize. Founded in 1921, The Lyric is the oldest magazine in North America in continuous publication devoted to traditional poetry. Tonight he will be reading from his debut poetry collection, Trees of Life and Shade.
In late 2017 we published Blissful and Other Stories by a fiction writer I like and respect very much, Steven Huff. And we were able to bring on local illustrator Fawndolwyn Valentine to make the striking illustrations in the book.
And we were also able to record an audiobook with Steve narrating. You can get it on audible.
Heck, maybe you should get the book AND audiobook. There is a lot here to unpack and each stories bears multiple readings and listenings, disclosing new secrets with every turn. And I should know, I've read and heard each story at least a dozen times in preparation for publication and during recording and editing.
Steve’s style, because it is so very much his own, can be hard to adequately describe, but I like how these people have put it:
“Steven Huff is a master stylist and an American original.” – Jedediah Berry
“Huff's fictions sometimes shock, never cheat, always instruct, and persist in the memory, as real as the best and worst days of our lives.” —Sterling Watson
“Huff's characters … are … buffeted by the fates, living and dying not by chance but as organized by some all-seeing, -knowing, -powerful hand with a sardonic sense of irony and humor.” —Stephen Lewandowski
And maybe more simply, how an amazon reviewer put it: his stories reveal both dry humor and compassion for his subjects.
And I would add: many of which are situated in Western New York and will be immediately recognizable to some of you.
Steven Huff is also the author of the shorty story collection A Pig in Paris, as well as three books of poetry, most recently, A Fire in the Hill (Blue Horse Press 2017). Recent essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review and the Solstice Literary Magazine. He is a Pushcart Prize winner in fiction and an O.Henry finalist. He teaches creative writing at the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program at Pine Manor College in Boston, and is founding editor at Tiger Bark Press. He lives in Rochester NY.
He will be reading from Blissful and Other Stories.
In November 2018, we published a very special book: our only full-length novel to date: Island Chains. Patti Lavell had come to me a few years before with the book and I had always been so drawn in by the realism, swagger, and rawness of her characters. She’d written a Florida Keys suspense, though, and Patti, Cosmo volunteer Carolyn Birritella, and I had to really think through the story like a puzzle. Foreshadows, plants, all that had to pay off. Backstory had to make completely sense logically. Motivations had to be clarified and made consistent. In other words, I am here to say that writing and editing genre fiction is a lot harder than literary fiction. Sorry, everyone.
Patti’s characters, like Steve Huff’s, aren’t reflecting poetically on their childhoods or recounting spiritual journeys, but they are recognizable people trying to step up from chaos, addiction, violence, selfishness, and lack of awareness into a greater understanding of the world and themselves. I consider both authors to be soulful people, and not just because I know they both love whiskey and probably know magic.
Formerly of Islamorada, FL, Patti Lavell now lives in the Finger Lakes Region of the Empire State. She will be reading from her Florida Keys suspense novel Island Chains. is the author of the memoir Confessions of a Catholic School Dropout (2012), the novel Fat Chance (2013), and has been a contributing writer for Florida Keys Free Press and Keywesting.com. Lavell was the coordinator of a police academy in the Florida Keys and and now runs a remote bookkeeping business out of a camper in which she plans to travel the Americas.
Patti will be reading from Island Chains.
Holley M. Hill
I find a certain mysterious connection between childhood trauma and what I would call adulthood empathy. Yet the link between these, besides the obvious suffering that begets compassion, is something mysterious. Trauma removes us from our bodies, from our sense of safety, and it makes feel things we are not cognitively ready for. This can nearly ruin a person’s life; it just can. It can also create a deeply soulful person, an artist, a mystic. Sometimes it does both.
As she said in her personal essay at the CosmoBlog: “I did not write this book for others to read; I wrote it for the little girl inside of me to read. Now, I can be on both sides of this flipping coin, and tell that little girl what I had wanted my sister, or my mother, or my father to tell me when they heard my story. I can tell her how to heal herself.”
Holley M. Hill (not her given name) will be reading from her debut book, the cross-genre/hybrid collection of poetry, memoir, found pages from her childhood diary, and her stunning art, called There is Only Lampyrida—and sharing just a few images of her art from the book. She will be showing you some of that work. And when the reading is over, you can go downstairs and look at the art in her book.
She grew up in the wild woods of New England and in 2010 she earned a dual Masters in Education and Library Science. She has worked as a teacher, librarian, and artist. She lives in New England with her husband, Michael, and her daughter, Jane. She spends her free time reading, singing, and making art.
Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, a Roman Catholic saint, and a priest, once said, “If one wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”
Elizabeth Osta’s Saving Faith: A Memoir of Courage, Convition, and a Calling was the first full-length book we published, and in many ways one of the most notable. Because of the poignant history of Catholicism and education in the 60s and 70s, but also because of her singular journey as a postulant wresting with that soul-wrenching decision on whether to devote her life to one religion mind, body, and soul. A journey that required a long walk in the dark.
Saving Faith is also notable for winning the 2018 Amelia Island Literary Award for Nonfiction and was nominated for City Newspaper's 2017 Best of Rochester "Best locally written book."
Osta was born in Buffalo, New York, raised in Syracuse and graduated from Nazareth College of Rochester. She was a nun with the Sisters of Saint Joseph for 9 years spanning the 1960s to the 1970s. She and her husband Dave Van Arsdale live on the Erie Canal in Fairport, New York.
Laura J. Braverman
To cap our evening, I am very pleased to introduce to you, all the way from the country of Lebanon, 5.000 miles away, Laura J. Braverman. Our most recent title, Braverman’s Salt Water was just published THIS WEEK.
Robin Sinclair, a Cosmographia author who could not be here today, said of Laura’s Salt Water:
“Where is “our place” in this world? Is it where we were born, given the language to interpret it for the first time? Where we love? Where we learn illness, or break, or perhaps the city in which we rebuild ourselves? Is it the ground our ancestors traveled from before our birth, carrying transgressions and hopes as they searched for home themselves? Or perhaps the place we create as “home” with purpose? If so, what is left for us if that home is taken from us in revelation or heartbreak or the aging of our minds? Do we belong only to the place where we take our last breath or create our last memory in another?"
This is the gift Laura Braverman gives us as she paints her own story, line by line, within Salt Water—the questions we may ask of ourselves as we travel our own path.”
Laura’s book is the book of a woman who has matured through long periods of illness, loss, and the joys of family, travel, all while searching for meaning. This is a quintessential Cosmographia Book, I would say, one that travels the map, yes, and one that also explored the interior as much as the exterior, and finally ends with a section called Elsewhere: the ineffable last place to which the transcendent must rise up.
As Braveman writes in her poem "Iris Immortal:"
Have these wings
ever taken me where I was not
made to go?
Laura J. Braverman is a writer and artist. Her poetry has appeared in journals including Levure Litteraire, Live Encounters, and Sky Island Journal, and is forthcoming in the anthology Awake in the World, Volume II by Riverfeet Press. She received her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and studied poetry and essay at Stanford University, Bennington College, and the New School. She lives in Lebanon with her family. Tonight she will reading from her debut collection of poetry, Salt Water.