Caleb Ludwick: A Grassroots Writer

A few months ago I watched Caleb Ludwick read his story “Swim” at Chattanooga’s Hart Gallery on the Southside, for a local monthly reading series called Fusebox—just another thing solidifying Chatt’s burgeoning arts and lit scene. Another thing solidifying that scene: Ludwick’s self-published short story collection The First Time She Fell. Attuned with Chattanooga’s love of the Graphic Design culture, his book was designed, story-to-story, by ten of Ludwick’s buddies in the field. And these folks aren’t just coming from Chattanooga. Some are from Boston and New York, and that’s a testament to Chattanooga’s national notoriety as a “progressive” town—our arts culture isn’t quite as insular as you might think. Ten stories, ten designers. And not only is this unique from a publishing standpoint, it’s encouragement for us youngster writers who live with that deep fear of never being able to squeeze our work into the cutthroat, mainstream publishing industry. Chattanooga embraces grassroots entrepreneurship, locally sourced food, etcetera, and now: grassroots publishing is possible here, and with very positive results.

Ludwick had a chance to read at this semester’s Meacham Writers’ Conference, a conference that typically houses seasoned writers, accomplished in the publishing field—this year: Georgia Review’s chief editor Richard Corey, and author Rebecca Makkai, whose stories are frequently anthologized in Best American Short Stories; in past years: the late, acclaimed master of Southern letters William Gay, poet Philip Levine, and The Things They Carried author Tim O’Brien. So it’s an honorable gig, and I had a chance to talk with Caleb before his reading, and he’s as humble as you can be, just happy to be able to write, with a little recognition on the side.

Caleb says he was a late bloomer—and I like late bloomers, I’m one—though he’d always had that love of words, being an English major in college. He took a year off after college, and began reading constantly, being fueled more and more by each subsequent influence. “You come out strong with an influence with one writer, but then another,” he said. “I read all of Faulkner, then Hemingway as an antidote. Raymond Carver.” Caleb pursued an MA in Theology, and aspired to get his PhD in England, but he dropped it—what he ended up doing was going to France to study Southern Literature. During this time he and his wife had a baby, and after his studies he moved back to Chattanooga. But he quit writing for eight years. His new interest in Marketing and Copywriting took most of his personal time. His company 26 Tools—“like the 26 letters of the alphabet,” he says—deals with Creative Direction and Copywriting for companies like Rock Creek Outfitters, Easy Bistro, Chattanooga’s Create Here, as well as big national names like American Apparel and The Food Network. But this kept him ensconced in the field of creativity, and eventually Caleb began using some of his downtime crafting stories, which culminated in The First Time She Fell. Ludwick received a Make-Work Grant for his efforts, and then, he said, “the rest is just printing.”

He describes his collection as more of an art project than a typical short story collection. And if you leaf through The First Time She Fell, you’ll see why. Even the fonts, and their colors, are different for each story; the placement of words—some pages require you to turn the book horizontally to read it. Sometimes upside-down. So it sounds like Caleb just had a lot of fun putting this art project together, and that should be encouraging for young writers. The fun has paid off—it was cited as some of the best art in the Southeast by Print magazine.

Not to mention Meacham, which has thrilled and at the same time humbled Mr. Ludwick. “The outcome [of my work] is I’m here, teaching workshops with incredible people…being around people who love words has been encouraging.” Caleb and I talked about Chattanooga, how the arts and culture scene here is growing. “There’s a temptation to move away from Chatt,” he says. “People think to be an artist you have to move out to a big city. But there’s a lot to be done here in Chattanooga.” And I get the impression Caleb wants to be part of that growth, and really, he already is. I get the feeling he’s here to stay, which is good. Because how is the scene going to progress if every artist who finds achievement here then says “Well. Alright. Time to pack up and move to NYC, LA, Chicago, even Austin, Texas.” Caleb seems alright here, regardless of whether or not he gains notoriety. “My motivation was never to get published,” he said. “My motivation is to write…seeing things through others’ eyes, empathy, is why you write stories.” Caleb cares more about the craft of writing—“It’s all about the craft. No matter how good the story, the craft is what gets the point across”—than the idea of fame, the idea of getting out. He’s already found success. Writing and creativity has always been good to him.

So Caleb is here to stay, to lend his vision, his writing, and his flair for publishing innovation to a town that just keeps on glowing, brighter and brighter. And we’re damn glad to have him here.

Writing and the Human Face

This summer, as I was kneeling among a thousand other pairs of knees in a chapel nestled into the heart of a monastic community in the rolling hills of Eastern France, I gazed on the faces of each of the monks as they glided into prayer. Their white robes billowed, covering everything but their faces. Even the tips of their fingers were swallowed in the robes. Their wrinkles seemed to be etched deeper, their ears larger, their eyes so much more vivid, as if I was looking into a body of water for the first time: the deep green lake, the hazel mountain stream, the blue-green oasis of Caribbean water.

There truly is no end to the poetry residing within the art of the human face. Olivier Clément, a French theologian, once said: “Contemplation of the human face introduces us to a drama, in the light of our origins, then the night and waiting for an eternal sun. Every face, so worn as it might be, almost destroyed… as long as we see it with the eyes of the heart, it remains unique, unrepeatable, escapes any repetition.”

It was then I wanted to link this brilliant uniqueness to words. For it to become a challenge to writers anywhere: to portray the impossibility of repetition within a human face. In one of the brothers’ workshops at the monastic community, Taizé, he focused on the human face, showing slide after slide of human faces captured by ten of the top photographers in the last century. For anyone wanting something fresh to write about, something that pulls the poetry out of you, look up these photographers and write about the stories their faces tell.

Here are just a few: Dorothea Lange, a US photographer. She was a photographer during the Great Depression that I’m convinced captured the heart of people more than any other human could. Within this photo, “Migrant Mother,” how many images, stories, and emotions can be described? 

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Or take photographer Lalage Snow, for instance. He did a series of photos of several different people, mainly soldiers and some military nurses, that took place before, during, and after the war. 

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French photographer and solider for the French army, Marc Garanger, was required to take pictures of the  Algerian villagers for their new ID cards. Olivier Laurent, in the British Journal of Photography, wrote that “in less than a year later, Garanger’s images of shamed and angry Algerian women would become a symbol of French oppression over its Northern African colony.” 

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So, to all writers experiencing writer’s block or needing something fresh, you have a world of photography at hand. It’s a great tool for writing because it is often disconnected from our own memories, and the emotional and weighty personal baggage doesn’t weigh down the poem or story. Here are some other photographers: Marcel Imsand (Switzerland), Jean Dieuzaide (France), Josef Koudelka (Czech Republic), Roman Opalka (Polish-French), and Benoit Lange (Switzerland). Find images, faces, social situations that speak to you. Then start writing.

“…Sometimes the eyes are not only the vision of light but a donation. In the undefined prisons of this world, the face is a breach, it constitutes a gap of transcendence.” –Olivia Clément 

Aesthetic & form

Friends, the Sequoya Review is coming together again, earlier this year than any other. Usually, we are so busy in the spring, scrambling to get everything together–the pieces, the look and feel of the magazine, the website–that we have hardly any time to think about aesthetic as a concept. We have been forced, in the past, to sort of blindly grope around the subject of “good” work, using our intuition alone to guide us.

However, by moving the process to the fall we open up for ourselves a large swath of time. We are able to consider this concept of artfulness, and incorporate that into our selection process in a way never before possible. So, with this in mind, what is art? What are we to publish, as the Sequoya Review? I hope to answer this question, rudimentally and tentatively, now; moreover, I hope to spark some discussion in this matter, so that we can come to a better conclusion of who we are and what we publish. I hope that crowd-sourcing this endeavor may prove more fruitful than just laying down rules myself. My thoughts on the matter follow.

  1. The Sequoya Review is, first and foremost, a student publication. We provide a voice to the student population at UTC, fostering creativity here and giving it an outlet, holding up student work and showing it to the world at large, both academic and layman. This means we publish only work by those who are current students at UTC, however it does not mean that we should demand any less in the quality of the work; on the contrary, the students at this university have truly good work which deserves better than intellectual coddling.
  2. The Sequoya Review publishes good work. This is the crux of the matter: what is “good” work? Surely some definition is needed in order to proceed. Of course, with the different genres we publish it may seem difficult to give an across-the-board definition of aesthetic; but I believe that there are some qualities necessary to any work that we publish, and those are completeness and emotional truth. Of course, the work in question must be complete, which generally means some sort of tension and resolution. These are easier to delineate in what I will call the “timely” works, such as poetry, prose, and music, in which the piece unfolds before us through time as we read or listen to it; in visual art this is harder to do. However, if we look at a complete piece of art, it should have some element of tension within it (perhaps the creative process of the artist?) as well as a resolution (which, in the parenthetical case, would be the piece itself). In regards to what I’ve called emotional truth, I mean that quality of a complete piece that resonates with the viewer–that part of the author’s self that comes through in the recitation, reading or viewing of the piece itself. It is the connection that the producer makes through his art, the reaching-out into the world that causes others to recognize it as art. I feel that these two qualities cause a creative work, whether it be verbal, visual or aural in nature, to be what we call “good work.”

That’s a preliminary sketch of where we might be going as a magazine, but of course I can’t pilot this thing myself. We are a collective of students, and as we publish students we are also interested in what those we may publish have to say. So what do you think? What is “art”? What is “good”? Tell us in the comments.

Lois Lane takes a detour

This was my first semester as a part of the Sequoya Review staff.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about literary publishing and how to go about editing a literary magazine.  The first thing I learned was that I had no idea what I was doing.  I felt completely in over my head.  I am a newspaper editor, I deal with facts, attribution, quotation marks, and no comas before “and.”  I am a girl in the middle of a world of objectivity and I had been dropped into a sea of creativity.  It was daunting, nervewracking, and humbling.  Thankfully I was surrounded by people who had sat right where I was and they made it out alive, so there was atleast some hope for me. 

We dove right in to the reading process and I figured I would do pretty well with this, because I have been able to read for many years now.  With the first story I realized how different this process would be than editing my newspaper.  Any form of writing requires dedication and heart, because it is art.  This writing though, is like someone placing their soul out on the paper and I had to decide what I liked or disliked about it.  I began to wonder if I was really qualified to be making these decisions, what did I know about literary editing?  I was just the new kid on the block.  I definitely felt at home when the copy editing started though, that I did every week, so I knew I could at least handle dealing with the punctuation. 

With each story I became more emotionally invested in the process.  It was an honor to be able to read these writer’s thoughts and an even greater honor to be a small help in the process of getting them to publication.  So instead of focusing on all the things I didn’t know I started asking questions, even the embarrassing ones everyone else seemed to know the answer to.  I learned several things over the course of the semester, all of which I will be able to use in my future career as a journalist, writer, or circus preformer for all I know.

1. There will always be many people who know far more than you do so just accept it now and save yourself and everyone else the pain of you pretending you know everything.

2. Ask questions even if they are embarrassing, because not asking is far worse in the long run than not knowing.

3. There are unlimited types of writing and all of them are an art form.

4. You can always learn more about any subject.

5. Having a competant, well organized staff is not an option if you want success, it is a must.  End of discussion.