Barnes & Noble is Ryan's most recent online distributor.
A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Ryan Blacketter is the author of Down in the River: a novel. He has received a literary grant from the Oregon Arts and Culture Council and a prison teaching grant at the Idaho Humanities Council. He works as a mentor for PEN America's Prison Writing Program. His short stories appear in Antioch Review, Crab Orchard Review, Eclectica Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Image. His story collection The Ice Festival was a semi-finalist for the 2018 Hudson Prize. A Tennessee Williams Scholar, a former Tin House slush reader, and a teacher at Portland WITS, he has published essays in the Observer, the Rumpus, Quillette, and elsewhere.
Ryan values singular voices in the culture, especially the apolitical, the contradictory, the individualistic. He has published in journals that are religious or atheistic, left or right, or ones that embrace nothing at all besides good writing.
The new paperback edition of Down in the River is available at reliable online distributors including Amazon, Ingram, Barnes & Noble, and Broadway Books. The latter is one of Portland's most celebrated booksellers. If convenient, it's always a good idea to spend your money at a great independent bookstore.
Praise for Down in the River: “A heartbreaking, macabre pilgrimage.” –Paste Magazine
“Even as Lyle runs toward trouble and danger, his youthful optimism, however delusory it might be, flickers in these pages, compelling the reader to journey deeper into night, in search of hope and redemption.” --The Rumpus
“Dark and grisly, it’s a novel that holds both popular appeal and deeper intellectual pleasures, one you can recommend to friends who read only an occasional Stephen King novel or those who read the most lauded literary fiction.” --Fiction Writers Review
“Ryan Blacketter's Down in the River is an impressive debut novel that effectively tackles themes of mental illness and grief.” --Largehearted Boy "A remarkable, darkly startling and endearing debut novel." --The Quivering Pen "[Ryan] has a marvelous eye for the emotional textures of the most commonplace experience, the kind that familiarity makes almost subliminal." --Marilynne Robinson
"A strange, haunting journey across the shadowy landscape of grief and longing. To our good fortune, Ryan Blacketter is a heroic guide into this exploration of the mysterious workings of the human heart . . . This is a brave first novel from a writer to be watched." --Mitch Wieland, author of God's Dogs
"I can't remember when I've liked a character as much as I like young Lyle Rettew, or when I've cheered one on so hard, despite the fact that he's clearly crazy and his quest is doomed." --Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy and Other Stories "Blacketter's prose is paired with the torque of a plot that lives and moves like an indomitable engine. This difficult and necessary story is inbreathed with a ferocity that leaves the reader shaken." --Shann Ray, author of American Masculine "I was completely enthralled by this haunting, page-turning novel. The disturbing events, the evocative landscape, and the chaos of mental disorder self-medicated by drugs and rebellion are all rendered in humanizing, beautifully-rendered realism."
--Wayne Harrison, The Spark and the Drive "Down in the River is a startling, disturbing, and ultimately entrancing novel, a fever dream that astounds and never sits still for a moment, breathlessly played out in the sad twilight between the innocence of childhood and the despair of age, life lived on the last edges of love and loyalty strained to their limits."
From "The Catcher in the Rye Has Been Neglected for 17 Years--It's Time for a Rebellion": But the greatest significance of Rebel in the Rye might be that it has broken a long near-silence regarding the novel—in terms of positive comment, that is. https://observer.com/2017/08/the-catcher-in-the-rye
From "The Rebel Left Has Vanished": Norman Mailer, for example, was very much a leftist, but that wasn’t the whole story. He excoriated the architects of the Vietnam war, and pilloried right-wing journalists who branded everyone on the left a communist, as many good leftists did. But his intelligence roamed across political boundaries. (This essay reappeared in Arts & Letters Daily).
From "Albums of Our Lives: Alien Lanes": I discovered Guided by Voices fifteen years ago, while miserably married and fully employed, teaching ESL in Atlanta. In those days, I was earning money for curtains, towels, and bedspreads. Instead of working full-time as a writer slash part-time anything, I woke at 3:30 a.m. to write before work. After my job I went to my counseling appointment—for my attitude and my drinking.
Ryan is proud to have worked for PEN America's Prison Writing Program since 2015. For a hundred years, PEN has defended writers from harassment, censorship, even the penalty of death, all over the world. He also worked for PEN as editor to temporarily "sculpt" PEN-award-winning prison essays to manageable size for the authors to read excerpts to audiences, in 2018.
Along with other Iowa grads, he worked part-time as a One Morgan Writers' Workshop Thesis Adviser to 8th graders at Morgan County Middle School in Georgia, in 2017-2018, conducted online.
At Penn State York's Osher program, in fall 2018, he taught Hemingway stories that demonstrate the author's enormous compassion and creative innovation.
Letter from author and prison writing program manager, Caits Meissner, at PEN America, August 31, 2018:
"My experience of Ryan Blacketter is one of great thoughtfulness and contribution. Working with three incarcerated aspiring writers as a mentor in PEN America’s Prison Writing Program, Ryan has leveraged his own life experiences to forge a bridge of connection, building trust in order to model and support each writer in their creative endeavors. Our mentees come to the process at stages of varying skill level and commitment to craft, and Ryan’s openness, excitement and adaptability all prove to be tremendous assets in meeting our participants where they arrive to our work. Attuned to the particular care and inquiry this relationship demands, Ryan has moved towards the difficult conversations prison shakes to the surface. Our work in this space requires a nuanced and open questioning of boundaries, personal limits and challenged philosophies. I’ve found Ryan to be an intelligent, open, actively engaged and thoughtful participant in raising and exploring the most important questions that drive our shared work.
Selected Reviews, etc., of Ryan Blacketter's novel Down in the River:
Paste Magazine's interview with Ryan Blacketter: "The human story is a fairly dark one with painful and dangerous impulses that we all have. And that's coupled with a fortress-like psychology that most people have, protecting them from the awareness of the fact that they are part of this human experience." Paste Magazine
Fiction Writers Review: "What makes this novel so warm and heartbreaking despite its gruesome material is that all the characters are driven by their love and concern for each other." Click here to read the entire review: Fiction Writers Review
In this class we’ll examine the writing life from the perspectives of six writers—Ernest Hemingway, Annie Dillard, Francine Prose, John Gardner, ZZ Packer, and Anne Lammott. They all seem to agree: Although the writing life is risky and impossibly difficult, it is nevertheless exciting and always worth the effort. Apart from discussing these authors’ books—A Moveable Feast, The Writing Life, Reading Like A Writer, On Becoming a Novelist, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, and Bird by Bird—we’ll commit to a daily habit of reading and writing.
High-Risk Fiction: A Writing Workshop This class encourages fiction that, like all good writing, takes emotional risks. This riskiness sets literature apart from the dishonesty of bad books, TV, and movies. Workshop is not confession, but in the privacy of their writing rooms students might begin to tell personal stories that perhaps they have only told about other people.
"Tell everything on yourself," Raymond Carver urged. Virginia Woolf would have agreed: "If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people." Yet we will never assume anything in a story actually happened to the writer. Rigorous storytelling, of course, evolves into fiction, blurring and even obliterating its source material. We will read published stories as models. Amy Hempel writes of a woman who abandons a close friend dying of cancer, and confronts the aftermath of her choice. Thom Jones explores one soldier’s psychological territory of war, aggression, and epileptic torment, in which “illness” provokes dark illuminations of self and humanity.
Chekhov’s Characters: A Writing Workshop
In this class we will study ten of Chekhov’s short stories. Each story offers multiple lessons toward mastery of craft. We’ll devote most of our time to studying his character portraits. Chekhov presents an astonishing variety of people in his fiction, surprising us again and again with complex, often contradictory human truths. "The Teacher of Literature" treats a man who constantly tells his friends and family of his own happiness, and discovers that beneath his surface he is quite a different person. In "The Petchenyeg," however, we meet a truly miserable man with a distorted vision who believes any happy person must be pretending.
No question is settled for Chekhov. He is more interested in the myriad ways we deceive ourselves than in any fixed truth. Perhaps for Chekhov truth is simply the careful observation of human beings.
Hemingway: A Writing Workshop In this class, we will read the short stories of Ernest Hemingway as writers, applying his mastery of craft to our own fiction. Hemingway is still the most influential writer of our time. His literary principles are universal. He was no minimalist, nor a mere innovator of style. Writers around the world claim him as their greatest teacher, including such talents as Albert Camus, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Frederick Barthelme, and John Updike.
To read Hemingway well is an experience of profound enrichment. He rendered human experience with such intensity and truth, creative writers will always search his prose for secrets.
While discouraging Hemingway imitations, this class will examine concepts that writers of all tastes can use to improve their work. We’ll discuss sensory detail, compression, density of meaning, musical language, coiled dialogue, and the iceberg principle. We’ll devote the second half of class to workshopping our own stories.
As time permits, we will correct an assortment of distortions about Hemingway. Where it matters most—in his work—Hemingway demonstrates enormous compassion and deeply humanistic values.
Raymond Carver: A Writing Workshop
In this class we will study the short stories of Raymond Carver. Called "the American Chekhov" by the New York Times, Carver wrote about the common people of the West—waitresses, salesmen, loggers, and, especially, the out of work.
His characters are often haunted by their own failings. But they would sooner drink or change the subject than own up. They blame others, tell lies, inflict subtle cruelties, and fail to love. Although tempted to judge them and find less honest reading, we keep turning pages for, of course, we are reading about ourselves.
Carver achieved the highest level of emotional power, spiritual force, and artistic excellence in his short fiction, each line rewarding the careful reader with its precision and depth. Thus he became the most influential author of the late twentieth century, inspiring a generation of writers, including Richard Ford, Ann Beattie, Amy Hempel, and Tobias Wolff.