Tag Archives: project bookshelf

Project Bookshelf: Nikki A. Sambitsky

My bookshelves house more than just books: they hold my life’s journey upon their shelves. Though the shelves themselves are beginning to buckle under the weight of the books, knickknacks, and magazines, my two bookcases still stand tall and proud. On one shelf sits a pile of Poets & Writers and The Sun magazines, while another holds a stack of cookbooks that were both purchased and handed down to me in my early 20’s.

Yes, my bookshelves tell the story of my literary evolution. I can stand in front of them and pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped being a journalist and began being a creative nonfiction essayist.


I believe that transition takes place somewhere where The Elements of Style by Strunk and White bumps up against Bluets by Maggie Nelson.

Look even deeper among the neatly organized rows, and you can see where my love of unconventional nonfiction began and my need to read traditional creative nonfiction ended. That, I believe, can be seen in my second bookcase on the first shelf where Wild by Cheryl Strayed touches Book of Mutter by Kate Zambreno, which touches On Looking by Lia Purpura, which touches Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes. (Please also see Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak, and Lying by Lauren Slater, which are both located on the smaller bookcase, second shelf down.)

I’m proud to say that my bookshelves showcase growth, evolution, a deep desire to stretch, read, learn, imagine, and fly. 

Nikki A. Sambitsky earned her MFA in creative writing, specifically focusing on the lyric/fragment essay (creative nonfiction) from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Sambitsky holds a BA in journalism from Central Connecticut State University. She is currently working on her collection of lyric/fragment essays, which center on mental illness, her family, and her husband and two autistic children. Sambitsky enjoys writing essays that explore family, family issues, and autism. Her journalism work and creative nonfiction has appeared in many publications including The Helix, Gravel Magazine, and West Hartford Magazine. She was a scholarship recipient to the 2018 Slice Literary Writers’ Conference, and her essay, “Happy Birthday (Numb)” was selected as a finalist in the nonfiction category for the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference Emerging Writers Contest. Sambitsky was also a scholarship recipient to the 2018 Murphy Writing Workshop of Stockton University. Her most recent essay, “Penny Drop,” is slated for publication in Longridge Review, in November 2018. She lives with her husband, two children, and way too many animals in a peaceful, rural, area of Connecticut.

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Project Book Shelf: Hannah Kitterman

My book shelf went through a massive downsizing after I graduated. I moved back to Clarksville to live with my parents for the summer, and most of the books that I had collected throughout my literature-based classes are still in boxes in their basement. When I got my service position with AmeriCorps, I went through those boxes in an attempt to only bring the books I could not live without which also had to fit in my car. After a good deal of soul searching, the books that made the journey with me are ones that are related to moments in my life. These are books, or plays, that I like to revisit often.

I know most of Much Ado About Nothing by heart, but I can never part with my copy because my dog tried to eat it when he was a puppy. I have my used copies of Dubliners and Ulysses, both books that I read in my last semester at UTK which held my hand as I prepared to graduate. I have a copy of Mindy Kaling’s newest book, Why Not Me,which is hysterical and something I should not read in quiet places. I have my collections of poetry by Rupi Kaur and Mary Oliver, both of which I can rely on to lead me on an emotional roller coaster.

My cookbooks were a necessity and I am a very big supporter of using baking to relieve stress, much to the pleasure of my friends and roommates. On top of my book shelf are odds and ends that I have kept up with, all which either hold some small memory like the bottle cork from my graduation party or, like my swimming goggles, are just something I use regularly. I still feel a little sad to not have my full collection of books in Knoxville with me, but I am also looking forward to the greatest luxury not having my immense catalogue of literature has forced me to get: a library card.

Hannah Kitterman is a native Tennessean currently living in Knoxville. She graduated from the University of Tennessee last May where she studied English Literature and French. During her time at UTK Hannah was a member of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band where she played the trombone and gained experience with heartbreaking losses and feverous fandom. Hannah is currently serving as a member of AmeriCorps with I Bike KNX, a nonprofit that advocates for safe bicycling habits. You can find her at various intersections in Knoxville counting the number of pedestrians and people riding bicycles or reading with a cup of coffee while on the lookout for dogs to pet. She has never met a burrito or a dog that she did not love.



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As you can see, my bookshelf isn’t so much a bookshelf as it is multiple bookshelves and stacks of unplaced new buys. As a virgo sun, I am extremely anal about having everything in alphabetical order (by authors last name, of course) to achieve the feel of a real home library. However, as a gemini moon and sagittarius rising, I can never buy just one book! Because of this, I often end up purchasing books by the tens and twenties, resulting in the stacks of books haphazardly thrown on shelves while my anxiety screams about how disorganized it is as well as how long it will take to organize.

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I love collecting odd trinkets that catch my eye for whatever reason whether they be weird, interesting, or funny. Various shelves are adorned with these trinkets such as my hungry hippo, old lost photographs, glowing alien toys, and carved wooden stump. Similarly to my fascination with odd trinkets, I have a fascination with odd books. Many books found on my shelves are those found browsing places like yard sales, GoodWill, and McKay’s. Funky books like my ombré, vapor-wave copy of Hamlet, my copy of The Practical Guide to Tarot and the Runes, and a copy of Woodburning with Style add a fun flare to my collection and opportunities to read on fun things I might not have normally picked up.


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Additionally, I have many books of sentimental value that have been passed along through my grandmother, aunts, my mother, and finally I such as my collection of Steven King novels or original copy of A Night to Remember. These books have been well taken care of for many years and you can feel the love in the pages. They mean so much to me as the first novels I ever owned – though perhaps that is slightly macabre. Similarly, I have an unfortunate obsession with Franz Kafka and own every book he has published, including a completed work of texts just to be absolutely sure i’ve missed nothing! I even own a collection of aphorisms that I carry around like the world’s worst bible.

The rest of my books are miscellaneous selections left over from English and Philosophy classes taken previously at UT. As a double major in two reading and writing intensive studies, i’ve managed to amass quite the collection of novels and academic texts, all of which I still enjoy reading to this day despite the fact that they may of been attained for a simple freshman 101 course. If you asked me to pick a favorite book from my shelves, I don’t think I could do it; I simply have too many to decide!


Nik Buhler is a queer poet from middle Tennessee who attends the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where they are a senior who studies English Literature and Philosophy. When they are not at home chainsmoking, drinking beer, and playing with their adorable cats, Buhler can be found in coffee shops and libraries craving fries, furiously typing out papers due the next day, and screaming about the existentialist movements influence on modern literature.

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Project Bookshelf: Grace Prial

Admittedly, this project felt at first to me like one of the most intimate get-to-know-yous I’ve ever experienced. Nonetheless, after some hedging about it, I decided to be transparent, rather than shy away or curate something––if I’m feeling shy about it, it’s because it’s probably also one of the most effective get-to-know-yous I’ve ever experienced. I love my bookshelf. More than just the stories on the pages, it’s got the fabric of my life folded into it.

It goes something like this: 1) whatever I consider “classics,” from ancients to romantics to modernists, 2) prized possessions, 3) coursework books and contemporary lit, 4) history and political theory, and 5) art, poetry and anthologies, plus a small pile I’ve been looking at recently and can’t fit back on the shelves. Really, I could, if I took down shelf 2’s corner for photographs, art made by people I love, and treasure boxes, but that would be impossible. I need to be able to see those as much as I do my copy of Decantations, an essay collection by my paternal grandfather, my first edition copy of Timebends, Arthur Miller’s autobiography gifted to me by a college professor, the weightless yet 1,164-page complete works of Shakespeare, printed on onion paper and used by both my father and me through our respective English degrees, my high-school copy of Lolita, read so many times now it’s held together by a rubber band, a Spanish workbook from 1935 gifted to me by my maternal grandmother called El Patio de los Naranjos… And others. This prized collection is held up by a makeshift bookend: two pieces of metal unevenly welded together by my younger brother when he was still learning.

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I have no doubt that a complete investigation into this bookshelf may very well reveal everything there is to know about me. I’ve listed some of the more precious items by way of introduction, but truly every title on these shelves points to a moment in my life when I learned something profound, when my worldview changed or expanded, when I was challenged, comforted, incited, or inspired. These shelves are my journey up to this point, they reflect what I know, how I think, what I love. Now, that said, it’s time to add more.


Grace Prial is a graduate of Rutgers University–Newark with a BA in English. She lives in New Jersey and is passionate about her studies on the reflection of political movements in literature.


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Project Bookshelf: Spencer Trent


My bookshelves are as much emblems of aspiration as accomplishment. They are an amalgam of things read and reread, things boldly started but never finished, and things that I imagine will make for good doorstops when I move into a new house someday with several hundred doors in need of propping open. They are gifts, fifty-cent steals, and occasionally regretted splurges. But always they surprise me in how quickly they accumulate, and I find myself again and again like a desperate Minnesotan shoveling snow in the bleak midwinter but knowing in my heart that I will never be able to keep up. It’s a wonderful feeling.


I hate to play favorites, but there are a handful I return to over and over, among whose ranks I would count the following: a pocket-sized collection of poems by Wallace Stevens, from which I have been fruitlessly trying to remove the remnants of a pesky price sticker for years; a well-thumbed copy of Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematograph that I turn to when in need of some healthy bewilderment; and an indeterminately stained copy of Plastics as an Art Form which reminds me that ugly things can be pretty, too.



Spencer Trent is a writer of fiction, poetry, and film criticism living in Knoxville, TN. He graduated from the University of Tennessee with degrees in Creative Writing and American Studies, and his work was recognized with the university’s Margaret Artley Woodruff Award for creative writing as well as the Knickerbocker Award for free and experimental verse. His writing has been featured in Arts Knoxville, Blank Newspaper, and the Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine. He makes a living working in television production and, when not hunched over a keyboard, can likely be spotted by the glow of the nearest cinema screen.

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Project Bookshelf: Jenna Geisinger


As you can see, my bookshelf isn’t much of a bookshelf at all. Right now, it is a box and three piles on the floor. I am in the process of moving to North Jersey for graduate school. This is not all of them. I have a terrible habit of leaving the books I’m currently reading out on coffee tables, counters, armchairs of couches, etc… It is this habit that made me want a bookshelf because my family will use my books as coasters (my biggest pet peeve) and leave coffee stains on covers, or just stain the entirety of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. The pages are warped and stuck together. (My mom is trying to convince me to leave some books home, but I will lay in traffic before I leave my books with those careless people).

Some of my books are pieces of comfort—stories I love and reread over and over. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorites. When I transferred to Stockton University from community college, I was so nervous. What if I couldn’t do it? I found solace in Rowell’s novel, whose protagonist suffers the same social anxiety as me. Cath’s life and circumstances were very similar to my own, and even though she subsisted off of protein bars because she was too afraid to ask where the cafeteria was (100% something I would do), she made it. It was the first time I found a book where the protagonist suffered from anxiety, but the anxiety was merely a trait of the character, rather than the focus of the novel. I felt like someone understood how I thought and felt.

Other books I love because of the stories of course, but also because of the memories associated with them—as if they could be pressed into the pages like a flower. I reread them and remember who I was when I first read them, where I was when I bought them. I bought Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalist and read most of it on a trip to Yale with my independent study, where Shilo and I explored New Haven, CT, getting lost trying to find a bookstore. We went to handle the earliest edition of Aphra Behn’s Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, which we had been helping our professor edit in terms of where to put footnotes for “The Clever College Student.” The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I bought in the second-hand bookstore we eventually found. Tenth of December by George Saunders is in the mix there, which I started reading because a professor commented that a short story I wrote reminded him of George Saunders, and then it became a comfort after I was in the hospital room when my beloved grandmother took her last rattled breaths.


Jenna Geisinger is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer from New Jersey. She attends the MFA Professional and Creative Writing Program at William Paterson University, while working as an associate managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and a reader for Philadelphia Stories, where she has been published.

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Project Bookshelf: Emme G. Marshall

My bookshelf is a conglomeration of my literary experience — some of them were bought for college courses, some were picked up in curiosity, others were given as gifts. Each of them individually holds a special place inside of me, just as the books keep pieces of you as you read them (figuratively, and literally. Your DNA is definitely trapped somewhere in those pages now).

The first shelf houses fiction, where some of my favorite novels live — I first read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves when I was 14 and it changed my entire world. I probably was not intellectually mature enough to handle what that book threw at me. Nonetheless, it was necessary. Other notables are 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon — these novels were read at a strange transitional period in my life, and because of that their meanings resonate with me even more. Murakami does a beautiful job of thrusting the reader into a liminal, dream state. Read him.

The second shelf stores the bulk of my ultra-prized poetry collection. This is arguably my favorite shelf, aesthetically, and in terms of content. The look of the slim paperbacks stacked haphazardly on top of one another inspires me to collect more and more, and have these little-big stacks everywhere in my home. In terms of content, poetry is my thing. My favorites off of this shelf are Brenda Hillman’s Loose Sugar because not only is it one of my all-time collections, but also because she SIGNED IT and left me an endearing note. Priceless. Another favorite would have to be Sharon Old’s Stag’s Leap. This book was taught to me by one of my most beloved professors, so the meaning intertwines with both the concrete experience, but also, what lies in the pages themselves.

Lastly, the third shelf has a big old mix of things: nonfiction, sociological theory, philosophy, and ghost stories. My copy of The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological

Anarchy, and Poetic Terrorism, which is bookmarked by a signed sheet of paper from Kaveh Akbar. This shelf also has some copies of the literary magazine I was poetry editor for, The Phoenix.

Some things that exist around the bookshelf that I must dote on – the old radio (which still works!) was given to me on my sixteenth birthday by a friend, and on top of that rests two collections of poetry along with some beautiful zines created by some of my favorite local artists. Note the pooling of candles beside the shelves, because what poet doesn’t NEED candles, and the plastic scythe that rests behind the shelf acts as a metaphor that I haven’t been able to figure out yet. Reap what you sow?



Emme G. Marshall is a soon-to-be graduate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she studied creative writing with a concentration in poetry. Her work has been published in Public Pool, and she worked as a poetry editor for the university’s literary arts magazine The Phoenix. Some of her most favorite things are cicadas, vintage clothing, and fizzy drinks. Also, Fiona Apple.

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Project Bookshelf: Jessica Hudgins

I moved in January and haven’t made a place for my books. I brought a few stacks that I thought I’d read but mostly I haven’t touched them. I have a stack of weird choices I made at AWP, where you’re all excited to be seeing everyone, and to get free totes and sometimes drinks, that I mostly haven’t touched, either. I have been checking out a lot of things from the library and flipping through Mike White’s Addendum to a Miracle (Waywiser, 2017), showing it off to friends to surprise them, make them laugh.

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I recently read Three Tall Women and A Raisin in the Sun; plays seemed more approachable to me with the distraction of moving, getting a job. These two especially are quick, I read them both in one night, and really funny on their way to breaking you. If I’d read either before, I don’t remember, and I’m so glad, because I found them, it seems like, at the right time. I also got The Norton Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Brad Leithauser, who’s faculty at the graduate program where I got my MFA. Two incredible stories in it, “The Axe,” by Penelope Fitzgerald, and Marghanita Laski’s “The Tower.”


Otherwise I have Stevie Smith and Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Alicia Stallings and bell hooks. A review copy of Erin Dorney’s I Am Not Famous Anymore, out by Mason Jar Press, which is based in Baltimore. There are a lot of shelves, originally for tools, in the shop my grandpa was in the process of converting into a living space. We can’t find yet where the plumbing leads, or if there’s a crawlspace. The book in there I most like is Christine Schutt’s Florida.



Jessica Hudgins is a writer currently living in Mansfield, Georgia.

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Project Bookshelf: Valerie Lick

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I had to make some difficult decisions for this project. Should I pretend I typically organize my books in any way other than “there’s room here”? Should I remove the objects that probably don’t count as literature, such as the packets of instant noodles? Should I move my potted plants into the frame so it looks like I at least have my aesthetic together? In the end, however, I decided to keep it authentic.

Let’s start with the bookshelf. You’ll notice that, rather than being suspended in the air like any self-respecting shelf, it simply rests on the surface of my desk. By the time my university saw fit to grant me a bookshelf (three maintenance requests into the year), the supports on which I could hang the shelf were already occupied by other important things like my ridiculously large scarf collection.

Next: the contents. This is, as the ramen suggests, a dorm room bookshelf. Many of the books I grew up with are a hundred miles away. I still have a pretty solid, eclectic collection here in Knoxville. They’re all mixed together: writing manuals and government directories and best-selling mysteries. There’s a copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God found in a used bookstore’s free bin and annotated by three different owners. There are two gigantic literary bibles, one of Shakespeare and one of theoretical approaches, both of which are on their third renewals from the university library because no way am I paying for that kind of paper. Also pictured: my university’s literary arts magazine, an account of my hometown’s strike history that I’ll definitely get around to reading someday, and a copy of The Great Gatsby fairly studded with sticky notes as a result of a paper on classism and sexuality that nearly killed me from exhaustion.

A couple of these books and authors are the reason for my English major. I was a bookish kid but from eighth grade through tenth grade I was deeply ashamed to be caught reading for fun. But in the summer before eleventh grade, I picked up an anthology of Toni Morrison novels (the one slightly to the right of the ramen) and read the entirety in a week. Since then, I’ve gone back to reading widely and wildly. I’m very into American literature from the latter half of the 20th century, but I’ll also always be in love with modern literature, especially if it’s a sci-fi thriller or it references Appalachian folklore. I have yet to find a book that combines both qualities, so please send me your recommendations!


Valerie Lick, the artist currently known as Val, loves those tall, weedy plants that are kind of like daisies except the blooms are really small. She can be found looking mean and studying literature at the University of Tennessee, where she is a rising junior. She thinks that there should be more intersections between science fiction, Appalachian folklore, and fashion journalism.

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Project Bookshelf: Laura Villareal

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I enjoy reading across genres, but I mostly own poetry books. I love reading YA, nonfiction, and adult fiction, but I don’t usually read them again so I check them out at the library. Essay collections, short story collections, and poetry books are endless sources of inspiration for me. Those are books I like to keep on my shelves. I come back to the books on the top shelf often. I’m also a return reader of literary magazines like Poetry, Tin House, and One Story.

Here are some of my top shelf books:

Coin of the Realm by Carl Phillips

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

SanTana’s Fairy Tales by Sarah Rafael García

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

Hour of the Ox by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

Hum by Jamaal May

All of Ada Limon’s books

In the Garden of the Bridehouse by J. Michael Martinez

mxd kd mixtape by Malcolm Friend

Our Lady of the Ruins by Traci Brimhall

Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky

Under that I have one cubby for Popchyk and two cubbies for poetry books. The other shelves are for miscellaneous books. There’s really no order to them. I have books like:

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother by Amy Stewart

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami


Laura Villareal is from a small town in Texas with more cows than people. She earned an MFA from Rutgers University-Newark. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee, Black Warrior Review, Breakwater Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Freezeray, Reservoir, The Boiler, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and scholarships from The Highlights Foundation, Key West Literary Seminar, and VONA/ Voices. She’s also a reader at Winter Tangerine.

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