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Enter the Reader’s 2014 Short-Fiction Contest: I’m with the Banned! Deadline September 2! PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 17 July 2014 12:53

For our 2014 short-fiction contest – co-sponsored by the Bettendorf Public Library – we’re celebrating banned and challenged books. Our 20 prompts are all drawn from famous (and sometimes infamous) novels that school boards, governments, or other arbiters of taste and morality didn’t want people to read.

The deadline for entries is September 2.

We’ll publish winners and favorites in the September 18 issue of the River Cities’ Reader – just in time for Banned Books Week, which this year runs September 21 through 27.

We’re also planning an event featuring readings of winning and favorite stories at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 25, in the Bettendorf Room of the Bettendorf Public Library. More details will be announced later.

The Girl with the Dragon or Two: River Readings at Augustana Presents "Seraphina" Author Rachel Hartman, April 28 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 17 April 2014 06:00

Rachel HartmanRachel Hartman, the April 28 guest in Augustana College’s River Readings at Augustana series, is the author of the 2012 young-adult novel Seraphina. It’s a fantasy tale of royalty and knights and the faraway kingdom of Goredd; of a mysterious murder and supernatural powers and fanciful beings named Loud Lad and Pelican Man.

More specifically, it’s a story of the 16-year-old girl of Hartman’s title, a gifted music instructor who’s harboring a bit of a secret: She’s not actually a girl. Or rather, she’s half-girl, and half-dragon. And she’s hardly the only dragon in town.

It turns out Goredd, as we learn on the book’s eighth page, is a kingdom where dragons are able to assume human form, even if they don’t have much understanding of, or use for, human emotions. Yet if you ask Hartman how she landed on the idea for Seraphina, and for her transformable creatures in general, she’ll no doubt admit that inspiration didn’t come from mythology or legend or previous works of fiction. It came from an inability to illustrate dragons.

Emerging from His Fantasy World: Augustana Professor Kelly Daniels’ Lean, Thoughtful Memoir PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 19 September 2013 05:00

Kelly Daniels. Photo by Joshua Ford (

In ninth grade, Kelly Daniels was called to the principal’s office, where his father was waiting. Dad took Kelly and his younger brother Ole for a drive, and after a while, he said, “I figured you should hear it from me first.”

He said he woke up in jail. And: “To be honest, it was kind of a relief when the guard finally told me I killed Barclay.” And then: “You can cry if you want.”

But Daniels didn’t cry. What he felt instead was “something that still kind of amazes me,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “It was a strange reaction. It just seemed like all of a sudden my life brushed against the news. ‘This is a big deal.’”

He felt something similar when he emerged from a week-long fever that nearly killed him in Honduras: “There was this same sense ... of my life being like a book.”

And now it is – and a good one, too. Daniels, an associate professor of English at Augustana College, earlier this year published his memoir Cloudbreak, California. (He’ll celebrate its release with a party from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday, September 27, at the Bucktown Center for the Arts, and he’ll also read from it as part of the River Readings at Augustana series on January 16.)

Winners and Favorites from Our 2013 Short Fiction Contest PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 05 September 2013 05:53
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

These are the first words of the Bible, and they were also one of 50 “great beginnings” that we offered our readers as opening lines for our 2013 short-fiction contest. (See the full list at We had lots of submission rules, but the other main criterion was a 250-word limit beyond the chosen prompt.

We received 134 entries, and we’re printing prize-winners and other favorites here.


Southern (Ohio) Gothic: Donald Ray Pollock, April 25 at Augustana College PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 08 March 2013 05:29

Donald Ray Pollock

Because there’s no rational response to a terminal cancer diagnosis, Willard Russell’s course of action following his wife’s death sentence doesn’t seem as strange as it should.

In Donald Ray Pollock’s novel The Devil All the Time, it’s a prayer log in the woods, “the remains of a big red oak that had fallen many years ago. A weathered cross, fitted together out of boards pried from the back of the ramshackle barn behind their farmhouse, leaned a little eastward in the soft ground a few yards below them.” Willard goes there every morning and evening “unless he had whiskey running through his veins,” Pollock writes, and he often takes his son Arvin.

Lest that sound peaceful and perfectly pious for a man who had little use for the church after what he’d seen in World War II, allow Pollock to set the scene as the condition of Willard’s wife deteriorates: “Maggots dripped from the trees and crosses like squirming drops of white fat. The ground along the log stayed muddy with blood.”

This is in Part One of The Devil All the Time. Out of desperation, Willard begins offering blood sacrifices at the prayer log – animals he killed or scraped off the roads. “But even he had to admit, they didn’t seem to working ... ,” Pollock writes. “There was one thing that he hadn’t tried yet. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t thought of it earlier.” And that is when Willard decides to kill his landlord.

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