Writers Institute

Gary Fincke, Ph.D.


Gary Fincke

Fincke is the Charles B. Degenstein Professor of English and Creative Writing and director of The Summer Advanced Writers Workshop.

Winner of the 2003 Flannery O’Connor Prize for Short Fiction for his collection, Sorry I Worried You, Fincke has published 26 books of poetry, short fiction and nonfiction, most recently, the novel How Blasphemy Sounds to God (Braddock Avenue Books, 2014), The Proper Words for Sin (stories, West Virginia University, 2013), The History of Permanence (2011), which won the Stephen F. Austin Poetry Prize, The Canals of Mars (memoir, Michigan State, 2010), The Fire Landscape (poems, Arkansas, 2008), Standing Around the Heart (poems, Arkansas, 2005), Sorry I Worried You (stories, Georgia, 2004) and Amp'd: A Father's Backstage Pass, a nonfiction account of his son's life as a rock guitarist in the band Breaking Benjamin (Michigan State, 2004).

Winner of the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry Magazine and the Rose Lefcowitz Prize from Poet Lore, Fincke has received a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize as well as seven fellowships for creative writing from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His poems, stories and essays have appeared in such periodicals as Harper's, Newsday, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, American Scholar and Doubletake. Twice awarded Pushcart Prizes for his work and cited 12 times in the past 14 years for a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays, Fincke had his prize-winning essay "The Canals of Mars" reprinted in The Pushcart Essays, an anthology of the best nonfiction printed during the first 25 years of the Pushcart Prize volumes. His story, “The Blazer Sestina,” won the George Garrett Fiction Prize, and other recent stories have been cited in Best American Stories, the O. Henry Awards, and Pushcart Prize volumes. His essay “Cemeteries” was awarded the Lewis Prize for Nonfiction from the magazine Weber Studies.

Fincke also writes a bi-weekly newspaper column, which has been distributed by Scripps-Howard. Columns have been reprinted in the Atlanta Constitution, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, The Sacramento Bee and dozens of other newspapers throughout the United States and Canada.

Coach of the men's tennis team from 1981 to 2001, Fincke had more than 145 career wins and five league championships during his tenure. He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in Selinsgrove. Two of his children, Derek (creative director, Klunk & Millan Advertising) and Shannon (artist and teacher), graduated from Susquehanna with degrees in English and art; the third, Aaron, attended Duquesne University, and after touring with the rock band Lifer (Universal/Republic Records), played guitar with the band Breaking Benjamin (Hollywood Records), before joining a new band Gentleman East.

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How Blasphemy Sounds to God

How Blasphemy Sounds To God (Fiction, 2014): Braddock Avenue Books

"Gary Fincke has always been brilliant at limning the loneliness of the young and their confusion as they confront the greater mystery of the world. In following Corey Gillis through his hard lessons as America shifts from the McCarthy era through the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam and the Summer of Love, How Blasphemy Sounds to God takes on faith, doubt, love and disappointment with a winning, wry intimacy. As Corey's father says, being human means "You don't always end up doing what you expect to." – Stewart O'Nan, author of Snow Angels and Emily, Alone

"With How Blasphemy Sounds to God, Gary Fincke has written another extraordinary work of fiction—a novel in stories—that explores the dark heart of America and the possibility that people may yet find a way to make their lives meaningful." – Robert Boswell, author of Tumbledown and The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards

The Proper Words for Sin

The Proper Words for Sin (Fiction, 2013): West Virginia University Press

“Fincke’s people counter their everyday terrors not with any flighty hope but sheer gritty determination. Fine, close work from a master.” --Stewart O’Nan, author of Snow Angels, The Odds, and Emily, Alone

“I’ve been a fan of Gary Fincke’s for many years, and this dynamite new collection just confirms what I already knew—namely, that Fincke is a short story writer of uncommon gifts. Fincke lets his characters breathe while making the reader hold his or her breath. This is what I want from fiction. It’s all I want from fiction.” --Steve Yarbrough, author of The Oxygen Man and Safe from the Neighbors

The History of Permanence

The History of Permanence (Poetry, 2011): Stephen F. Austin University Poetry Prize Winner

The History of Permanence draws from an intimacy of landscape, places of both unrest and clarity. Gary Fincke’s poetry contains a rapt simplicity, humor, and grace. I love this book.” --Denise Duhamel, author of Girl Soldier and Ka-Ching!

“Gary Fincke combines the empathy of Philip Levine for our ordinary lives and the thinking intelligence of Carl Dennis. His poems always convince the reader with their intelligence, with their subtle wit and humor, and with their deep feeling as they simultaneously strive for a history of permanence and comically acknowledge our human failures.” --Robert Cording, author of Common Life and Against Consolation

The Canals of Mars

The Canals of Mars (Memoir, 2010): Michigan State University Press

This is a riveting "memoir of weakness" from a very strong writer. The Canals of Mars is a memoir that explores and ponders "weakness," which in Gary Fincke's family was the catch-all term for every possible human flaw—physical, psychological, or spiritual. Fincke grew up near Pittsburgh during the 1950s and 1960s, raised by blue-collar parents for whom the problems that beset people—from alcoholism to nearsightedness to asthma to fear of heights—were nothing but weaknesses. In a highly engaging style, Fincke mediates on the disappointments he suffered—in his body, his mind, his work—because he was convinced that he had to be "perfect." Anything less than perfection was weakness and no one, he understood from an early age, wants to be weak. Six of the chapters in the book have been cited in Best American Essays; the chapter that provides the book's title, "The Canals of Mars," won a Pushcart Prize and was included in The Pushcart Book of Essays: The Best Essays from a Quarter Century of the Pushcart Prize.

 Book by Gary Fincke

The Fire Landscape (Poetry, 2008): University of Arkansas Press

“The Fire Landscape is an eloquent addition to a masterful body of work by one of our best multi-genre writers.”
—Michael Waters, author of Darling Vulgarity

“No one is better than Gary Fincke at locating grand gestures inside the fragile details that make up a life. . . . The old dangers, the old fears, rise before us with radioactive language and an exactness of phrase, of line, that feels like catechism.” —Fleda Brown, author of Reunion

The Fire Landscape is a series of poem sequences that chronicle a wide variety of coming-of-age moments from childhood in the 1950s through the beginning of the 21st century. These deeply layered, complex narrative poems are connected by close personal observation of place and time but also by the politics of the Cold War and its aftermath, including a sequence driven by the May 4, 1970, shooting of students by the National Guard at Kent State where Gary Fincke was a student at the time.

 Book by Gary Fincke

Standing Around The Heart (Poetry, 2005): University of Arkansas Press

"Standing around the Heart shows Gary Fincke at his inimitable best, careless of fads and schools, handy with a great range of subjects, but, at the core, Romantic, preternaturally alert, fond of stories, and as drawn to wisdom as to comedy. Fincke writes a poetry of abiding generosity, of true feeling and thought. His is an essential American voice."
—Rodney Jones, author of The Kingdom of the Instant

"For Fincke, knowledge leads us to the heart, to joy and sorrow-- and the result is always a marvelous poetry that is both accessible and yet strange, both true and yet mysterious."
—Andrew Hudgins, author of Ecstatic in the Poison

 Book by Gary Fincke

Sorry I Worried You (Fiction, 2004): University of Georgia Press

"Gary Fincke writes wonderfully quirky, unpredictable stories full of vivid characters and unforgettable details and moments. There's a lovely, hilariously wry sense of humor at work here, but there's also a truly heartfelt compassion for the lives of ordinary working folks-- those little failures and triumphs that make a reader gasp in both recognition and wonder. This is a remarkable collection."
—Dan Chaon, author of You Remind Me of Me

"Sorry I Worried You is remarkable . . . each story so immediate and engaging that you're pushed straight through to the finish. . . . the stories rely on simple humanity drawn in straight, indelible lines."
—Andrew Irvin, New York Times Book Review

 Book by Gary Fincke

Amp'd (Nonfiction, 2004): Michigan State University Press

"Amp'd is a wild ride, a father's blow-by-blow account of his son's sudden rise from gritty local clubs to the shark-and-groupie-infested waters of national stardom. Studded with revealing anecdotes and inside knowledge of the music business, Gary Fincke's highly readable memoir is a unique contribution to the literature of rock and roll."
—Tom Perrotta

 Book by Gary Fincke

Writing Letters for the Blind (Poems, 2003): Ohio State University Press
Winner of the 2003 Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in poetry

"This book is deep and wide, making use of history, science, medicine, and folklore, yet it is accessible from the beginning to end, poems of significance that will have an audience."
—David Citino

 Book by Gary Fincke

The Stone Child (Stories, 2003): University of Missouri Press

"Gary Fincke is one of literary America's best kept secrets. He is a terrific, no-nonsense writer, and The Stone Child is his best work to date. These stories quietly examine the mysteries and complications of contemporary life with seriousness and great compassion."
—Robert Boswell

 Book by Gary Fincke

Blood Ties: Working-Class Poems (Poems, 2002): Time Being Books

"I am moved by how deeply these poems engage working-class experiences, the intersection between the personal and the historical, the flawed, overlooked, and often forgotten side of our daily realm. Blood Ties memorializes the past and honors the life lived. It is a book to be remembered."
—Edward Hirsch, author of On Love and How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry

 Book by Gary Fincke

Almanac for Desire (Poems, 2000): BkMk Press, University of Missouri

"Gary Fincke engages those large ideas that shape the fabric of family and community over the course of time. And he does it without giving up intensity of language or his poet's capacity for introspection. His voice vibrates with originality and substance. These are ambitious, serious, breathtaking poems."
—Greg Michalson

 Book by Gary Fincke

Emergency Calls (Stories, 1996): University of Missouri Press

"These ten stories are little gems.  Gary Fincke is a terrific writer.  His situations develop fast and are immediately engaging.  His characters are memorable, occasionally eccentric, always believable. He creates his effects without ever appearing to try very hard."
—Steve Yarbrough

 Book by Gary Fincke

Inventing Angels (Poems, 1994): Zoland Books

"The appearance of Inventing Angels is a happy occasion, for this collection of poignantly wise poems announces to the world that Gary Fincke has taken his place in the first rank of American poets of his generation."
—David Citino

 Book by Gary Fincke

For Keepsies (Stories, 1993): Coffee House Press

"With a keen ear for dialogue and an eye for the right detail, Gary Fincke creates lives that have slipped their middle-class moorings and gone inexplicably adrift.  He guides us through the wreckage of these baffled hearts desperate to communicate themselves, and he does it with an intelligence and wit that makes us all seem ultimately salvageable."
—Clint McCown, editor of The Beloit Fiction Journal

 Book by Gary Fincke

The Double Negatives of the Living (Poems, 1992): Zoland Books

"Gary Fincke doesn't flinch from what life can do to us, but, instead, he faces it head on with honesty and rhythmical work mastery... I respect him for this courage, and I admire his poetry for finding the words and rhythms to express his vision in such a fine way."
—Len Roberts, author of Sweet Ones & Black Wings


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