First Thoughts on Michael Jackson's Passing

I am glad that Michael, first crush, is gone. It was difficult to watch his pain, a pain so deep it caused addictions and self-mutilation. I'm wondering if we expect too much of artists. We're okay with their deep sense of empathy when they can express the sublime, but we mock them when they express the ugliness of the world, when they themselves do ugly things. I'm thinking that there's a lot of pain in life. I'm thinking how music reaffirms what's good.

Events + Happenings

Arizona State University YAWP 2009 presents, "That Different Yield: A Reading by the Young Adult Writing Project," Wednesday, June 24, 7:00 p.m. at Changing Hands Bookstore. Sponsored by the ASU Deptartment of English, the Young Adult Writing Project is a summer writing program based on a creative journaling approach for students in grades 8-12.

For more information about YAWP go here

Congratulations to Indigo Moor who won the 2009 Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize. His winning poetry collection, Through the Stonecutter's Window will be published by Northwestern University Press.

A Writer Is Not a Juggler: How We Get It Done

A friend and writer emailed me the other day to ask how I "keep all of the balls in the air." She thought that I had found a way to balance motherhood, writing, teaching, etc. I couldn't answer her right away because I was too busy teaching then shuttling off to the office for a quick meeting and more work, then coming home to fix dinner, then reading my students' work and responding to it, then reading my students' questions and responding to that, then spending time with my own children, bathing them, tucking them in.

The truth is that I am a mess. Balls in the air? I have balls ricocheting off of everything around me. I don't complain in public but I've decided that that may be a problem.

I don't want my friend to think that I've got it all together, and I never want to be the reason why some young writer thinks that it is easy or ideal or even manageable to publish while having a partner and raising children.

So here is the truth. Sometimes I get frustrated by my busy lifestyle and I take my frustrations out on those closest to me. I can be mean when I want to but it doesn't last for long and I always apologize when I'm done.

Sometimes I let things go, I neglect them. I've recently neglected my house (it's filthy), Ava's hair, and grocery shopping. I am purposely neglecting the "pedestrian shit" as Peter J. Harris once called it.

I could spend hours making perfect cornrows and getting the gunk out of my vents. As buddhafun blogged, a woman is judged by the cleanliness of her house (I'd add that we're also judged by the cleanliness of our kids). But I try not to worry about whether people think I am clean.

Sometimes I ignore my children. Toni Morrison is on record as being against that, but that's how we roll over here. Mommy is writing; find something to do.

I do not have sustained time to write. I am often interrupted in mid-thought to wipe a butt. My weekends are filled with birthday parties, swim lessons, baseball games, and neighborhood kids.

My friend asked how I reconcile a family-centric, Costco lifestyle with the allure of an urban, bohemian writer lifestyle. I don't. I've made choices and I have two young people who are my responsibility. After I am pulled every which way, and I am tired, I sit down to write. It is a struggle but it gets easier as the kids get older. And for me, there's something about having to fight extra hard to get my work out there that makes the small triumphs even sweeter.

Writers + Revolution

With the news of political unrest in Iran, I've been thinking about Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and what a great graphic memoir that is to teach. It's about a girl growing up in the aftermath of the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. I taught portions of it last summer and asked students to write and illustrate their own coming-of-age stories thinking of historical events that were unfolding at the time.


Then I came across this. Azar Nafisi, an Iranian writer and author of the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, was interviewed by Al Jazeera about the recent elections in Iran. I found this part of the question and answer interesting:

You've talked about and write about the importance of literature and culture in the fight for human rights and liberty in Iran and around the world. But is art, culture, literature ever going to be more powerful than religion? Is it enough to start a revolution?

"If you look at it in the long term - yes it is. I never forget when Paul Ricoer, the philosopher, came to speak in Iran. He was an eighty-year-old but was treated like [the American rock star] Bon Jovi.

At one point the minister for Islamic Guidance said to him: "People like us [politicians] will vanish but you people will endure." That will always remain with me. We don't remember the king who ruled in the time of [14th century Persian poet] Hafiz, we remember Hafiz."


Nafisi also says that the most interesting aspect of the election is not its outcome but that the reform candidate, Mousavi, was once part of the Iranian regime. She says, "many within the ruling elite in Iran are realizing they cannot rule the society the way they claimed they could. A good example is Mr. Mousavi himself."

For more of the interview, go here.

So Good It Makes You Feel Sick

Today is the first day of a three-week creative writing class that I'll be teaching.
I was going to post a piece about that wonderful magic that happens when the instructor learns new tricks or gets new ideas from her students; how a writing workshop raises the bar for everyone present because each writer wants to be as good as that last best story that received all the praise. Instead I'll just say that I'm so nervous about teaching I feel sick. I didn't sleep at all last night. I dreamed and re-dreamed that I was teaching students that I haven't yet met. In the dream, I always forgot something, a handout, or I lost my train of thought and the students were looking at me like I'm crazy. Maybe I am crazy.

Yes, teaching is a wonderful thing but I'll have to write about that when I get over my nausea.

Inspirational Shorts

*Buddhafun has a great post on the life of historian and ethnic studies pioneer Ronald Takaki.

*Tayari Jones is doing profiles of authors with first books being published this year. Her third profile, of novelist Marie Mutsuki Mockett, gives hope to those of us writing in mid-life.

*Friend and writer Rae Paris had her story, "The Girl Who Ate Her Own Skin," selected as recommended reading in the prestigious PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories 2009. The story was published in the Indiana Review. Bravo Rae!

*Marilynne Robinson won the Orange Prize for fiction for her novel Home. Agence France Presse reports that when "asked about the value of a woman-only prize, the author said it could act as 'a corrective to a tendency to treat books written by men more seriously than books written by women'."

*Stumbled across this blog, Color Online, which describes itself as "a community committed to the promotion, empowerment, and political awakening of young women. It is our mission to cultivate self-development through literary study, educational programs, cultural events, and community service." Color Online is doing great work and has a great blog. Please check them out and support.

Summertime Story Looking for Good Home

I've been reading, writing, revising. I've surprised myself with how focused I've become. I have a story that needs a home, but this is not the easiest time to find journals that are looking for new work to publish. I've found a few that are still accepting submissions during this vacation season. The Boston Review, Fence, Oregon Literary Review, Crazyhorse, and Denver Syntax are all still open to submissions. There are many more, I'm sure, especially if you include snail-mail submissions or journals like Glimmertrain that require a reading or contest fee. But the going is tough.

I write the most in June and July, but I will probably be waiting until fall to send out what I write.

The Dangerous Shirt + Book Fair

The Leimert Park Book Fair takes place this Saturday, June 6, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Leimert Park Village in south Los Angeles. The event will feature readings by noted authors including poet Al Young and speculative fiction writer Tananarive Due. There's a tribute to Octavia Butler scheduled and a sampling of food prepared by healthful cookbook author and chef Bryant Terry. For more information go here. (photo of drum circle at Leimert Park shown above).

And next Wednesday, June 10, in Tempe AZ, poet Alberto Rios will read at Changing Hands Bookstore. He'll be reading from his new poetry collection, The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press 2009).

Characters on the Light Rail

I like to see what books people are reading on the light rail, but I also like just people-watching. I've seen a couple people recently who have stayed with me and who may end up in something I write one day.

One was this dude, talking to himself, slightly cross-eyed, who had chickenwire wrapped around his head and ears.

There was the kid thrown off the train for not wearing a shirt.

The drunken couple that fell down on the train, made out on the train, then exited on Apache Road near a row of seedy motels.

The mother who rides each day for two stops with her son and daughter; the kids are always dressed in school uniforms.

The man who shouted scientific words, formulas, and science jargon to no one in particular.

A List in Honor of Sotomayor's Nomination

By now we've all heard the statement made by Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, that has been criticized by some politicians and journalists.

Sotomayor said:

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Although Sotomayor's critics say that her remark raises concerns about her judicial temperament (some have even called her racist), by all accounts her record reveals that she's been a fair and impartial judge.

Sotomayor's statement was part of a written presentation titled "A Latina Judge's Voice" that Sotomayor gave in 2001 at a lecture at the UC Berkeley School of Law. The remark has caused a mini-controversy for her nomination and prompted the NYT to publish an article asking whether identity politics is stylish once again.

Since I've been alive, racial identification has been exploited for political purposes; it's the reason we enacted civil rights legislation.

But that doesn't mean cultural and racial identification are bad.

Take the arts. I'm thankful that in the arts (generally-speaking) one's identity is not considered a handicap or something to play down. After all, an artist's sexual, cultural, and racial identity is crucial to her artistic voice. Many of the best writers explore the meaning of their identity or culture. What kind of literature would we have if one's life experiences or cultural practices were left out? Would the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and its influence on poetry have ever happened?

I think that reading the literature of a specific cultural group, of say, "writers from New York with Puerto Rican roots," may be a good way to broaden one's perspective about that culture, to teach tolerance, and to combat ignorance. So, in honor of the positive effects of cultural identification, here's a list of American writers with Puerto Rican roots (please feel free to add more writers that fit the description) :

Willie Perdomo
Judith Ortiz Cofer
Martin Espada
Miguel Algarin
Sandra Maria Estevez
Piri Thomas
William Carlos Williams
Pedro Pietri
Miguel Pinero