Adventures in Germany!

This semester, my husband and I are fellows and writers in residence at the Hanse-Wissenchaftskolleg (HWK) as part of the Fiction Meets Science project.

He’ll be working on a new scholarly book about Cognitive Literary Studies called Narrative and Experience and I’ll be finishing my next novel, a book about a 19th Century naturalist who goes in search of a mysterious creature he learns about from the natives of an island he’s sent to explore.

Our two sons (12 and 13) are attending the Max-Planck Gymnasium here in Delmenhorst, which has been a crash course in German-language immersion for them. Thankfully, there are many kind English-speaking teachers and fellow students to help them along!

I’ve been settling in to work on my book, tentatively titled The Second Voyage of Audley Worthington. It’s been especially dreamy to have an office space devoted only to my writing where I can put up what I like to call my “murder wall”—post-its of all of the dates and timelines and big and little ideas I’m trying to hang onto while writing this book!

Our fellow fellows ;- ) come from all over the world and are studying all sorts of interesting things. Everywhere you turn, there’s someone fascinating to talk to!

We’re especially loving the interdisciplinarity of the HWK. On Wednesday, we went to an outstanding lecture by Kenny Coventry of the University of East Anglia on his research into the way particular words used for spatial concepts work across languages. Later there was a lovely dinner, followed by drinks in the cozy fireplace room, where  Lida Sherafatmand, an Iranian-born artist now working in Malta, drew a portrait of me!

(Review by Ellis: “Wow! That is amazing! But she forgot to put in all your wrinkles.”)

The staff here at the HWK (or Hah-Vay-Kah as it’s pronounced here) have been incredibly welcoming and helpful to these four bungling Americans with only rudimentary German-language skills!

Special thanks to Kerstin Schill, Dorothe Poggel, Thurid Werner, Wolfgang Stenzel, Christine Gehrking, Bijan Kafi, Michael Killig, Jens Bagull, and Kerstin Labusch for helping us get oriented!

Initially, we thought we’d all four be squeezing into a single tiny 500-800 square foot apartment and likely to murder each other before our time here was done. Instead, the HWK staff surprised us with two adjoining apartments!

The boys are delighted to have their very own flat! They’ve had fun exploring the institute’s ping pong and foosball room and getting to know the other kids and families here at the institute.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Schill and the HWK team, to Susan Gaines and the Fiction Meets Science board, and to our departments and universities for making this adventure possible for us!

Writer friends, scientist friends, artist friends, social science friends, I cannot say enough good things about this place—it is THE DREAMIEST! To quote the text I sent to our family when we arrived: “It’s ten thousand times better than we even expected!” If you’re interested in applying, you can find more information here.

More soon!

Publication Day!


Today’s a special day for me. It’s the publication day for my new book, Other Possible Lives.

A few things to share:

Thank you to everyone who’s already pre-ordered! If you’re interested in ordering the book, you can do so direct from the publisher here. Ordering direct from indie presses like Broadstone helps support the vital work these small presses are doing in making a home for poetry.

If you’re in Orlando, come celebrate with me at the launch party: Monday, October 21, 7 p.m. at Park Avenue CDs. There will be books! There will be sweet jams! And best of all, thanks to the good folks at Park Avenue CDs and Orange Blossom Brewing, there will be free beer!

If you read the book and don’t think it’s terrible, I’d be super grateful to have you rate and review the book on Amazon, and/or Goodreads.

I know it’s unusual for book clubs to read books of poems, but one of my biggest goals as a writer is to make work that invites readers in–especially folks that think they don’t like poetry. (Top Secret Confession: I used to think that, too!) I’d love to talk with your book club in person or by video chat. If you’re interested, you can reach me here.

Do you or someone you know run a reading series or host literary events? I love to read, talk to budding writers, and connect with readers. You can reach me here.

Are you a book reviewer interested in reviewing the book? I’ve got a box full of ARCs, and I’d love to send one your way! You can reach me here.

Do you love the cover as much as I do? Check out more art by painter and generally awesome person Michael Eble here.

And finally, thank you times one million to friends and colleagues who’ve helped this book find its way to readers via blurbs, excerpts in publications, readings, etc.



New Book!

Launch Party: save the date!

Hope you can join me on Monday, October 21, 7 p.m. at Orlando’s Park Avenue CDs to celebrate the launch of Other Possible Lives. Stay tuned for more details coming soon!

UPDATE: 😍🤩😁 Look how beautiful this cover is!! Thanks to Michael Eble for the cover image and to Larry Moore and Broadstone Books for the design!

I’m excited to share the news that my next book of poems, Other Possible Lives, is coming out this fall. I’m looking forward to sharing the cover and blurbs soon.

Here’s my wish for this book: that it will find its way to readers who will love it as much as I do. Thanks in advance for putting up with the occasional promotional post over the next few months, and deep gratitude to the friends and colleagues helping this book find its way to readers via blurbs, excerpts in publications, readings, etc.

One of my favorite things as a writer is connecting with readers; I’d love to visit your campus, talk with your students and book clubs (in person or via Skype), participate in your reading series, etc. If you’re interested, I’d love to hear from you! You can drop me a line at chrissy AT

As you may know, with all new books (but especially with books of poems) it’s challenging to get them on readers’ radars. Pre-orders are one of the most helpful things you can do to help give a book legs, and this one is available here.

And finally, word of mouth is key, so I (and ALL writers!) deeply appreciate it when you’re able to review, give books as gifts, ask your libraries to order copies, invite us to your campus/institution/book clubs to read and give talks, and share books you like via social media and IRL recommendations. It doesn’t have to be for this book—just do it for the last book you really loved, especially if it’s one you think isn’t getting as much attention as it should. I promise there’s a grateful author on the other end!

Photography Inspiring Poetry Inspiring Composition Inspiring Performance

I’m so glad to have a video of this performance to share!

Here’s the backstory: years ago, after seeing this photograph of graffiti on a wall near the ruins of the World Trade Center taken in the days after September 11, 2001, I wrote the following poem, which will appear in my new book, Other Possible Lives.

Annus Mirabilis

“See, I have written you 

on the palms of my hands”

—Isaiah 49:16

You are alive.

The words cling to the side of the wall,

a statement of desperate belief,

that she might come walking—

and who knew—

out of the rubble,

a year of miracle and wonders.

I will never forget you.

See, I have written you

on the walls of the city.

When I arrived at the University of Central Florida (UCF) this fall, I met the composer Alex Burtzos, who asked if I’d like to collaborate on a piece he’d be writing for the UCF Chamber Choir to perform during the annual UCF Celebrates the Arts event.

He picked this poem, composed a gorgeous, haunting, and innovative piece around it, and then passed it on to David Brunner, whose chamber choir performed this last month at the beautiful Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts. 

My husband and I in the front row of this gorgeous performance space, just before the premiere.

Photography inspiring poetry inspiring composition inspiring performance! You can see the performance here:

Poetry Cocktail Party

Looking forward to reading this Friday, (4/26) with this stellar lineup of Orlando-area poets, including Orlando’s Poet Laureate, Susan Lilley!

Winter Park Paint-Out, Kerouac Project of Orlando & the Polasek Museum present the 2019 Poetry Cocktail Party

Friday, April 26th

5-8 p.m. cocktail party at the Polasek Museum

6pm: Naomi Butterfield (Kerouac House Board)

6:15 p.m.: Amy Watkins

Amy Watkins is the author of the chapbooks Lucky, Milk & Water, and Wolf Daughter (coming in June 2019). She lives in Winter Park with her husband and daughter and a mean-spirited ginger cat.

6:30 p.m.: Nylda Dieppa

Nylda is an author, educator, coach, and social justice activist living in Orlando, FL. She is the author of the award-winning book Alborada: A Poetic Memoir Across Cultures and has read her poetry in a variety of venues in Orlando and New York City. The proud grandmother of six delightful grandchildren, Nylda is the leader of the Maitland Writers Group and publishes its eponymous newsletter.

7pm: Stacy Barton

Stacy Barton is the award-winning literary author of Lily Harp (2015 INDIEFAB), Like Summer Grass, and Surviving Nashville: Short Stories. Her work has appeared in various literary journals including Gargoyle, Best of Potomac Review, Ruminate, and Southern Women’s Review. Stacy is also the author of picture books, plays, animated short films—plus hundreds of live shows for Disney, SeaWorld, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey and others.

7: 15 p.m.: Chrissy Kolaya

Chrissy Kolaya is a fiction writer and poet who’s brand new to Orlando, having lived all over, from Chicago to California to rural Alabama, and, most recently, the frigid wilds of Minnesota. She teaches creative writing at UCF and is the author of two books: Any Anxious Body: a book of poems about family secrets, and Charmed Particles: a novel about high-energy particle physics, gifted and talented teenage girls, Mary Kay ladies, and one woman’s obsession with novelty convenience foods of the 1980s.

7:30 p.m.: Susan Lilley, Orlando Poet Laureate

Susan Lilley is a Florida native and is currently serving as Orlando’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Drunken Boat, Saw Palm, Hippocampus, The Florida Review, Sweet, and other journals. Her two chapbooks are Night Windows and Satellite Beach. She is a past winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award and has held a State of Florida Individual Arts Fellowship. She has taught at University of Central Florida and Rollins College, and currently teaches literature and creative writing at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park. Her new full collection, Venus in Retrograde, was published spring of 2019 by Burrow Press.

Collaborative Project Premiere

Really excited to share the news about this collaborative project with composer Alex Burtzos, which premiers here in Orlando on Sunday! 

UCF poet and musician collaborate on emotional choral piece

By Arielle Feldman | March 15, 2019 

UCF Chorus

Based on a poem by Chrissy Kolaya, Alex Burtzos’ choral piece “Mirabilis” will be performed by the UCF Chamber Singers at UCF Celebrates the Arts.

“You are alive.” These three simple yet powerful words—painted on a wall near the World Trade Center ruins—brought Chrissy Kolaya to a record-screeching halt.

“The image of it just took my breath away,” says Kolaya, who came across the graffiti in the days following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. “It struck me that whoever had made it was engaging in a kind of entirely understandable magical thinking: if I write that this is so, it will be.”

So, Kolaya went and did her own writing, using the anonymous writer’s graffiti as inspiration for her poem “Annus Mirabilis.” At the time, she was working in publishing in Chicago, editing a series of books that frequently quoted the Bible. One verse in particular always stuck out to her: Isaiah 49:15-16, which reads, “I will never forget you./See, I have written you/on the palms of my hands.” The rhythm and cadence of those lines inspired the final line of her own poem: “See, I have written you/on the walls of the city.”

“Annus Mirabilis” is featured in Kolaya’s forthcoming book of poems “Other Possible Lives,” which is coming out summer 2019 and available to preorder here. Now the poem lives in musical form as well, thanks to a collaboration between Kolaya, who is a UCF English assistant professor, and UCF Music assistant professor Alex Burtzos. Burtzos composed a choral piece based on Kolaya’s poem, which will be performed by the UCF Chamber Singers at UCF Celebrates the Arts. The piece will premiere on April 7, 2019 as part of the UCF Choral Concert: Building Bridges, in the Walt Disney Theater at Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts at 7:30 pm. The concert is free for UCF students and people age 18 and under if tickets are reserved by April 5 at 5 p.m. Standard tickets are $5.

An interdisciplinary collaboration is born

Burtzos and Kolaya, both new to UCF, met at the College of Arts and Humanities faculty orientation in fall of 2018 and found instant camaraderie. Their conversation drifted to the types of poems that translate well into choral pieces. “What was interesting to me was that it wasn’t all what I had imagined,” says Kolaya. “I thought it would need to be a rhyme-y poem with a lot of repetition, but what Alex told me was that a short, image-focused poem was often the best.” Kolaya sent Burtzos a packet of all the poems she thought had potential for a strong choral composition. He selected “Annus Mirabilis.”

“Chrissy’s poem deals with a powerful national trauma, but this piece is intended to transcend that event by drawing attention to aspects of love, hope and optimism about the future,” says Burtzos.

More collaborations are coming

When asked if more interdisciplinary collaborations are on the horizon, Burtzos says, “Absolutely. Perhaps the best thing about working in an academic environment is that you’re surrounded by gifted, creative people all the time. I want to collaborate as much as possible.” He plans to write pieces for the UCF wind ensemble and orchestra next year.

Kolaya shares the same sentiment about blending disciplines at UCF. “I love those moments when artists from different areas are able to come together to create work,” says Kolaya. “There’s a fantastic energy in interdisciplinary collaboration. Being part of UCF Celebrates the Arts is also a great introduction to some of the cool things happening on our campus and the possibilities we have as an institution full of really interesting, creative people!”

Visit the choral concert’s webpage to reserve tickets. View the full line-up for UCF Celebrates the Arts here.

#TeamDzanc AWP Offsite Reading

AWP-bound friends, I’m excited to be reading with Dzanc Books press-mates Julia Dixon Evans, Alice Hatcher, Jac Jemc, Robert Lopez, Jarret Middleton, Lance Olsen, Emma Smith-Stevens, and Jason Tougow, this Friday, March 29, from 7-9 p.m. at the Erickson Gallery in Portland.

It’s a quick walk from the convention center. Hope you can join us for short readings, drinks, snacks, and shenanigans!

Curiosity, Connection, and Kindness: a few thoughts on AWP

I put the piece below together for some of the grad students I teach, many of whom will be heading to AWP for the first time later this week. I thought it might be useful for us all as we hit the road for our annual conference/homecoming for writers.

The first time I went to AWP, I was terrified and overwhelmed. There were so many people there trying to accomplish all of the same things I was; suddenly everything I imagined for myself seemed impossible.

After many years, and lots of trial and error, I’m now able to see AWP in a very different way: as chance to connect with other folks who are as excited to geek out over writing as I am. 

My mantra these days: Go with an attitude of curiosity, connection, and kindness.

If you find yourself in a panel that isn’t what you thought it would be or doesn’t seem useful to you, it’s completely okay to sneak out if you can do so unobtrusively. If you think this is likely to be the case, try to snag a seat in the back and on an aisle if at all possible. You can check out another panel (again, if you can sneak in unobtrusively) or roam the book fair. 

Remember: as big and as overwhelming as it may seem while you’re there, the writing world is small, and these folks will be your colleagues for the rest of your career: behave accordingly (including and especially at evening and offsite events).

Be kind to the people tabling in the book fair. Whatever kind of a long day you’re having, theirs is probably longer and filled with more awkward interactions. Should you find yourself book-fair chatting with an editor who has rejected you or has been sitting on a piece for quite some time, stifle the urge to tell them this. Instead, tell them something you like about their journal: the cover, the design, a piece you admired in it. 

Buy books and journals if you can; if you’re on a tight budget, note that nearly everything will be deeply discounted on Saturday as the conference comes to a close.

If you’re an introvert, pace yourself, but don’t hide out. You may want to make use of the conference quiet room (

Keep an eye out for folks who seem to be terrified and overwhelmed, and if you can, invite them to join you and your friends for a conversation, a meal, an offsite event.

Looking forward to seeing you all there, and if you find yourself feeling lost or lonesome, I hope you’ll reach out. My AWP dancecard is is always a more-the-merrier one, and you’re welcome to tag along with whatever I’m up to.

Safe travels, everyone! See you in Portland!