Hooray for New Discoveries!

Around 3 p.m. yesterday I experienced the fatigue that comes from hunching over a laptop for several hours. I’d been sitting at my desk creating lesson plans and writing grants and now my shoulders ached, my eyes itched. A colleague (who is genius in many many ways) encouraged me to go to the new coffee shop next door to our office. Go stretch, she said. We knew that the Fair Trade Café on 1st Ave. near Roosevelt and Central had recently opened a second café in the Civic Space Park on ASU’s downtown campus. What we did not know is that next to the new café is The Fair Trade Store. This store took my breath away as soon as I entered. If you are that strange hybrid of fashionista like me who loves your boutique shopping with a little economic, social and environmental justice, you will love this store.

What is Fair Trade? According to the flyer for the clothing store “Fair trade guarantees producers a living wage, safe working conditions, the re-investment in communities, the empowerment of women and the prevention of child labor practices.” The clerk who I spoke to said that the purses were made from recycled newspaper, plastics, and tires. I know that sounds unattractive and maybe a little icky but the end results are funky and original creations. The clerk also said that the clothing—all of it very trendy and cute—was made by women because research shows that women who make a decent wage tend to reinvest in their local communities more than men.

How do I know where these goods were made? I don’t. My critical brain will force me to do more investigation of the store and the claims that it makes. But in general, I am all for a kinder, gentler form of capitalism.

The Fair Trade Store is having a grand opening celebration this Friday, October 2 during the First Friday art walk. In addition to clothing and purses there was jewelry, shoes, housewares, body care products and used books donated by customers. I saw books by Gloria Steinem, Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie and many others. Check them out. The store is located at 424 North Central Ave near Van Buren, downtown Phoenix.

"Let Music Thrill Your Butt"

Happy Monday! I will be posting soon now that I have a little time. I thought I'd share the first line of "poetry" the boy-child created with the magnetic poetry I bought over the weekend. A thrill indeed.

What Readers are Reading and Watching

I'm reading and loving Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. The Nigerian born writer also has a story collection that came out this spring titled The Thing Around Your Neck. Watch a video of her talking about the collection here.

Books that I've spied being read on the light rail: Angels and Demons, The Life of Pi, The Virgin Suicides.

Interested in the most popular books being read right now on NY subways? Go here.

A recommendation from the world of film. I recently watched the movies "Twelve Angry Men" and "12" back-to-back. The first flick, adapted from a play, came out in 1957 and stars Henry Fonda. It's about a jury of twelve men deliberating on a murder case where the suspect is a poor boy accused of killing his father. The remake (2007) is set in contemporary Russia and the suspect is a young Chechan boy accused of killing his stepfather. Both movies explore ideas about class, ethnicity, innocence, and guilt.

What to Read When Your Mind's on Detroit

One day I will finish my novel that is set in Detroit. Until that day, I relish each book I come across that has Detroit at it's heart. I'm upset that I lost my signed copy of The Mental Machine by Charles Johnson who is better known as Electrifying Mojo. Mojo was *the* DJ in Detroit when I was growing up and he reigned over the Midnight Funk Association, his reference to the cult of listeners that tuned in to his late night radio show. Sometime in the nineties, Mojo published a book of "narratives, poems and prose." I remember the day that Paul came home with a signed copy of the book and told me how he'd met Mojo at a bookstore in the New Center area. I flipped out. "You saw Mojo?" I screamed. Mojo had always been cloaked in mystery; the lore was that no one had ever seen him and certainly no one in my world could describe him. "He looks normal," Paul said. "Average brother." Paul told Mojo how much I loved his show and he signed the book "To Renee"....something something something. Sadly, I can't remember the inscription.

I see that used and collector copies of The Mental Machine are on Amazon and I may have to go ahead and buy another one.

I also wish that I had purchased a copy of a book that collected the quotes of Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young. I remember flipping through the book, which was small and perhaps self-published or published by a small press. I should have gotten it then but I didn't. Mayor Young was a colorful political character who liked to cuss. Two of my favorite quotes of his are these: "
"Swearing is an art form. You can express yourself much more exactly, much more succinctly, with properly used curse words." AND

"Aloha, Motherfuckers" (said to Detroit journalists as he spoke from Hawaii)
If anyone knows where I can find that book, please let me know.

In the mean time, there is a just published graphic memoir set in Detroit that looks dark and weird and lovely. It's titled Stitches by David Small and the NYTimes had a nice review of it over the weekend.

And if you're into books on music, I enjoyed Dan Sicko's Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk which follows the evolution of Techno music from it's beginnings in Detroit to its embrace overseas in Europe and elsewhere. There are priceless photos in the book, like one of DJ Ken Collier spinning at a party in 1981.

Schools, Poets, Windows, Mirrors

“Children need mirrors in which to see themselves and windows through which they see the world” – Lucille Clifton

I’m looking forward to President Obama’s address to schoolchildren tomorrow. I’m thankful that my kid will get to hear the speech in his classroom and I hope that he’s encouraged by the speech to make the most of his years in school. My son is in public school. His dad and I went to public schools and I went to public universities. I believe in the idea of public education, but honestly, I believed in it more before I had children. Like any parent, I want what is best for my kids and I’m not convinced that the best is at the public school just down the street. Part of it is that Arizona spends among the least amount of money per child in the nation and that our state legislature made even more cuts to education in the last budget. But I think I’d be worried even if I lived somewhere else. My friends who live in other states are like me, they constantly re-evaluate where their kids go to school and make adjustments. Private school or public? Charter school or home-schooling? There are so many choices for us to make, both good and bad, and that’s just talking about curriculum. Many of us also have concerns about diversity and cultural inclusion.

I like what Lucille Clifton had to say about how children learn: they need mirrors and windows. I hope I’m getting Ms. Lucille’s quote right. I wrote it down years ago when I heard her speak at Cave Canem, but I can’t find that notebook now and I’m working from my memory. I’ve heard Clifton speak on a couple occasions. In 2001 I was fortunate to be invited to an informal chat with the poet after one of her readings. There were about six of us in an L.A. apartment sitting wide-eyed at the poet’s knee (we were on the floor and Ms Lucille, of course, was seated on the sofa). Clifton shared so much wisdom about learning, writing, relationships, life. I felt then that had she not been a great poet she would have made a great educator.

There is a school here in Phoenix that was started by a poet named Mary Glover. Awakening Seed School opened in 1977 and it offers an amazing education to children from preschool through fourth grade. Glover has taken the best ideas from Montessori, Waldorf, and traditional education models. The result is a school that honors critical thinking, imagination, and respect for diverse cultures. It is a private school but it offers scholarships based on need. My son was there for a while and his sister is there now. It’s a school where the kids grow herbs and vegetables, cook with those vegetables, harvest and count what they’ve grown. It’s a school that teaches the West African tale of Anansi in kindergarten. It’s a school where children study myths from around the world, a place where students learn the history of catapults then construct their own catapult. It’s a school with an extensive library in each classroom, a school where a kindergarten teacher will write, illustrate and bind her own series of “first reader” books and give the entire series (35 little books) to each child. It’s a school where I’ve seen kindergartners who read and write like first graders.

I wish this type of education was available to every kid in our nation. We should do it just because.


My son will NOT get to watch the president tomorrow according to this slip of paper sent home with him that reads:

Schools nationwide have been invited by the Secretary of Education to watch a live speech from President Obama on Tuesday, September 8th. CUSD schools will not be able to view the speech live due to the technology that is being used to broadcast the speech; our bandwidth will not guarantee a quality feed to all classrooms. We will be able to use our current CUSD technology to record the speech and make it available to our students at a later time. We will keep you updated as to when and how we may use this broadcast.

Jayne Cortez on the air NOW

I'm listening to an interview of poet Jayne Cortez on blogtalkradio right now. If you can get to it (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/onword)take a listen. The show features poets and writers talking to other poets and writers about craft. They're talking right now about the similarities and differences between music and poetry....