Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Ashleigh Bryant Phillips. Her debut story collection, Sleepovers, is available from Hub City Press. It is the winner of the 2019 C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize.

Phillips was raised in rural Woodland, North Carolina. She’s a graduate of Meredith College and earned an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her stories have appeared in The Oxford American, The Paris Review and others. Sleepovers is her first book. She lives in Baltimore.

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Don’t Go Crazy Without Me is partly about being raised by a father who taught you and your brothers to be hypochondriacs. What’s it like living during a pandemic?

At first, I felt like an expert at handling the anxiety because I’d been worried about diseases taking me out all my life. But this is  a hypochondriac’s nightmare: a disease that behaves capriciously, that causes no symptoms in some and total organ breakdown in others, a virus that is so tiny it can float in the air for hours or linger on an innocuous looking surface. Just the words CYTOKINE STORM — when your own immune system goes into overdrive and kills you — puts my nervous system into overdrive. 


Present, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, Tuesday, 1:00 p.m.

The three psychiatrists and I sit at the conference room table writing trauma case studies. As the professional writer in the room, my job is to smooth out the prose, prune the jargon. We’re writing about children to whom awful —sometimes unspeakable things—happened. The psychiatrists would say these case histories are factual, but I know they are stories and, like all stories, have inciting events, climaxes, and resolutions. Readers long for epiphanies and revelations, redemption, and happy endings. But shift a few words or reorder paragraphs and epiphanies  evaporate, redemption erodes to reveal darker currents.

Let this sink in,



so far in
until you feel
that same somersault
feeling in our gut.
It may take awhile
or it may take a second
depending on the color
of your skin or how loud
your voice can say, “I too
have had enough!”

Obviously, with the title, ‘Waxing the Dents,” one might think we could have a lot of car poems here, maybe, but really what is the internal connection between those words and the title poem?

Well, let’s just say there is a tracing of the track, so to speak, between the disconnect, damage and  brokenness of relationships, mainly as found in my own relationships between Fathers and sons and men in general due to what I perceive to be our lack of intimacy skills.

As the last stanza in the poem says,

He thought the fact that we’d
gathered there, under a
blazing, burnt August sky,
proved we had passed that
place on the road where
father and son kill each other
for fun, rather than spending
a long, silent day waxing the
dents in what men made to
carry them both far away
from each other.

Of course, you didn’t know. How could you

It’s not as if you were raised like the others,

grown from the ground of the ruptured & raptured,


the sweetly forgiven, abandoned to the truth

of never settling down with the unsettled self,

with words they denied & flesh they condemned


for not believing in what the hands used to call the soul,

which turned out to be a misunderstanding;

you thought they said soil.


The gritty, gone, going away of everything

precious and good. A mudslide boy,

down the hill of all your hopes and dreams,


the daily unfolding of your disappearance,

a black & white print of your cheap silhouette,

hat an angry god fondled with guilt, while choking


on mirrors he said was the light. How painful the

swallowing must have been, & still be so wrong

about being right, like all religions based


on blood and the million ways to spill it.

Of course, you didn’t know.

How could you?

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Roxane Gay. A contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, she is the author of several bestselling books, including Bad FeministDifficult Women, and Hunger.

Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014Best American Short Stories 2012Best Sex Writing 2012A Public SpaceMcSweeney’sTin HouseOxford AmericanAmerican Short FictionVirginia Quarterly Review, and many others. Her other books include Ayiti, An Untamed State, and World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects. She lives in Los Angeles.

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In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, TNB Poetry has created this space for BIPOC voices to shine. We will be publishing work by Black poets daily.  Black Lives Matter.

In the throes of war,
the body keeps
in FIGHT or flight.


sharp in—and–out-in-out-in-in mouth breaths keep the fire RAGING.
blood floooows to hindbrains before spilling.

as I scream “Americaaaaaaaa, Americaaaaaaaaa”…

In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, TNB Poetry has created this space for BIPOC voices to shine. We will be publishing work by Black poets daily.  Black Lives Matter.

You knew your time was short and Umi discovered this news too. She said on one of your first dates she read your lifeline and it barely reached the base of your thumb. Somehow I knew.

Do you remember how I used to say that I wouldn’t get married unless you would officiate? I don’t know how I knew, or whether I thought this ultimatum would preserve you.

Perhaps knowing that I was in good male hands would grant us both peace

In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, TNB Poetry has created this space for BIPOC voices to shine. We will be publishing work by Black poets daily.  Black Lives Matter.

Inspired by the story of Charles Wootton, born in Bermuda. This black man was killed by a white mob in Liverpool – he was chased into the River Mersey and pelted with stones until he drowned on 5 June 1919.


History will haunt

until it is acknowledged.

A slosh of settled attitude

enveloped a body,

the heart was a river run dry –

of blood.

Charles Wooton fled 18 Upper Pitt Street,


A question rather than a bed,

always on the look-out,

eyes in the back of the head.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Susan Choi. Her latest novel, Trust Exercise, is available in trade paperback from Henry Holt. It is the winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction.

Choi’s first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. Her third novel, A Person of Interest, was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2010 she was named the inaugural recipient of the PEN/W.G. Sebald Award. Her fourth novel, My Education, received a 2014 Lammy Award. Her first book for children, Camp Tiger, was published in 2019.  A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, she teaches fiction writing at Yale and lives in Brooklyn.

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In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, TNB Poetry has created this space for BIPOC voices to shine. We will be publishing work by Black poets daily.  Black Lives Matter.

You take my breath
So you can
In your privilege
My air
No air
Now in my lungs
Because I’ve been
Holding my tongue
A word spoken…

In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, TNB Poetry has created this space for BIPOC voices to shine. We will be publishing work by Black poets daily.  Black Lives Matter.

The bold arc of your odyssey: from soul-shunting slavery to sweeping vision,
From bales and blisters to blackboard chalk and opened books—
Dear Booker, as in your flinty era of lynch-ropes and urgent witness,
Brother after luckless brother is consigned to runaway gunfire,
Though they claim this purblind, punch-clock carnage,
This jeopardy (our children turned to carrion in Ferguson, our water turned     poison in Flint) is not a form of broadcast war.

Booker, you died in 1915—in a cat’s-cradle of malignant war,
Human beacon, slave-no-more, captain of perpetual vision,
In a roiling era of gas masks and carnage,
Each battle-lost son a poppy blooming on a black lapel, or pressed into a gilt-edged book,
Each staunch fusilier surrendered to the incessant gunfire
Of Flanders Fields—conveyed in soldier-poets’ verses of keen witness—

You know, a mile away / I can smell a child of divorce. / The smokiness of melted wedding rings / and the sheer drama / of custody conflict / settle heavy in their hair. / Trauma inevitably produces / a certain look / in a student’s eyes / a sunken sleeplessness / but to be fair / sleeplessness is usually just attributable / to stress / and school is stressful— / it isn’t a disorder / to just be unhappy. / And please, do not interrupt me / if it was serious, I would notice. / Don’t you know / that $70 t-shirts can’t hide / self-inflicted wounds? / Do you really need a thesaurus / to tell you / that smiles during math class / are synonymous / with nothing / but profound joy? / Why yes, I am still befuddled / by the Challenger disaster / —why do you ask? / It’s a basic question: / how could a screw / have been left loose? / I thought the upper class / had eradicated / brokenness. / And how could anyone / leave this Earth / or make it out / of their house / if some deep, rumbling / part of them / needs repairs? / And if it does / shouldn’t they do what I did / when I was sad for like two months, / once? / That is, / dye their hair pink / send up a low-budget angst flare / bright enough to stand out in / a chattering navy sea / of Georgetown sweatshirt-clad suburbanites? / Why would they not want to / share something with me / and likely be told, / Yes high school is hard / for everyone? / God, did you people really think / you’d have a productive meeting / about supporting mentally ill students?! / What are we, anyway: therapists? / You know, I might’ve trained / as a therapist / but it’s very taxing / to be this skilled / at projecting / my lifelong wellness / onto others. / And no, I know, / what you’re thinking / but I’m not just scared / that my own kids / might actually / go through something / that I can’t / pay their way out of— / I’m very perceptive is all. / Now that I think about it / I actually would’ve made / a great Army sniper, / not because I’m / a stellar shot / but because I’m so good / at having someone / in my sight / and not thinking of them at all.

it’s hard to tell,
with the familiar way the sunshine hits your face as you walk outside,
that an invisible danger buzzes silently under surfaces previously thought benign,
and you shake your head every time you remember.

is it here, in the skin most familiar to you,
the breath of the one you think you love?
and even so, i wonder, can you turn away as they lean in to whisper,
to tell you a secret you already know you can’t keep?

is it here, in the handle of the front door to your childhood home,
the same door you slammed so many times both in anger and anticipation,
the one you still expect to see your mother standing behind?