A poem by e.e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
by e. e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,glady beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colors of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Quoteables: "The Way We Learn to Look"

There's a wonderful conversation about poetry and political realities in the latest issue of Gulf Coast. The conversation begins with several poets discussing the Deep Water Horizon explosion and the soft language that was used to describe that accident:

Fred Marchant: The "innocence" of the word "spill" is a political construct or artifact. I don't yet have the exact word for what this event is, but it is more than a spill, is closer to a bleed and a wound, and is certainly representative of a deep violation of our compact with each other and our compact with life on the planet.
And then a little later, this from Patricia Smith:

Strange that I became a poet, since I was raised not to trust language or, for that matter, anything I was seeing. I was raised by a woman who was convinced that the moon landing was staged in an Arizona desert. Growing up on the west side of Chicago--the part of town everyone told you to stay away from--language was used not so much to communicate, but to keep us in our place. The "national insurance" my parents paid every week was nothing but a white, outstretched hand. Our "modern urban development" was a slum, plain and simple. I learned early that soft language almost always hid hard edges.

So I don't look at the pretty pictures, or even the murky shots of the underwater spew. I look beneath everything I hear. That's where I find the verbs and nouns that nobody wants to use.
--from "The Way We Learn to Look: A conversation with Nick Flynn, Brenda Hillman, Dorianne Laux, Fred Marchant, Laura Mullen, and Patricia Smith," Gulf Coast, Winter/Spring 2011.

Can You Help Me Get Published? from Xtranormal

Poetry: Christian Campbell

Congratulations to Carribean poet Christian Campbell who won the Aldeburgh first collection prize for poetry on Friday! I was just reading his collection, Running the Dusk. Here is a poem from that collection:


A well-loved lit classic
packed in each bag, and a Harvard
sweatshirt to match the Pakistani
passport -- Iqbal goes first, catching
a flight to France. Then me,
in a tie and soft pants, khaki hat
to keep my head tame. We chat
clipped and colonial, like our tutors,
grinning out Oxford with a nod.
At immigration I put on airs
and styles, let the maleness growl
without teeth. Hold my chest
with untouchable height. All like
a politician, a Sidney Poitier,
an old Bahamian man. I look
only ahead and walk straight-back,
like my grandfather. Speak like he spoke
to foreigners, in his best moods,
he would put on the mouths
of all the Englishmen he'd met,
playing the Queen and how
she gave him his MBE -- Pa.
There, reciting and reciting Blake,
until he fell down blank and silent
as any road in Nassau
the morning after junkanoo.

--copyright Christian Campbell 2010 from Running the Dusk (Peepal Tree Press)

My Year in Writing

In February, I wrote about my son's challenges with writing. He was not at all interested in writing or reading. His grades in these areas were not good and everyone in the house was frustrated. Amir was in fourth grade at the time. Things have changed since then. He's now in fifth grade and he received an A in reading on his first report card. He's enjoying the books that he reads for class. On December 9th, he'll represent his class in the school-wide spelling bee and if he wins that, he will represent his school at the Arizona spelling bee. My child who brought home a report card last year with Cs and a D is now on the honor roll.

One of the differences between this year and last is his teacher, Mr. Z. Mr. Z is one of those master-teachers you encounter only a couple times in your life, if you're lucky. He is compassionate, energetic, funny, smart, inspiring. And he's a man. This is only the second time that Amir has had a man as a teacher and that's not okay if you believe, as I do, that gender matters with role models. Mr. Z recommends books to Amir that a young boy on the cusp of his teen years can relate to, like Wringer by Jerry Spinelli which is about peer pressure and violence. The book that the class is reading now, Maniac Magee (also by Spinelli and a Newberry Award winner), is about a young boy who likes to read. It's also about race relations. Amir's class has discussions about race and racial stereotypes. I don't think it's a coincidence that Amir is interested in reading and writing at a time when he's reading literature that's relevant to his life.

I've talked about Ava's writing this year in a recent post. She's reading and writing up a storm. She too has an incredible teacher.

And my writing? I've been getting it in. I promised myself to focus more on my own goals this year, and I did. I grabbed moments to write whenever I could and I stopped feeling guilty about it. I learned to say, "Shut the door, I'm writing" and "Stop talking to me, can't you see I'm writing?" or "Ain't shit funny. Interrupt me one more time and see what happens." Just kidding with the last quote. I would never talk like that to my family....

Most journals now have an online submission manager and that makes submitting my work so much easier. With just a few clicks you can submit a story. I clicked a lot this year. I also invested in getting professional feedback on my manuscript from a fiction editor. I applied for grants and residencies. I placed a few stories, a poem, and essays. I'll be reading my poetry at Tempe Center for the Arts in April 2011 as part of a series moderated by Catherine Hammond. I'll be reading my essay about Obama as part of a panel at AWP in February. And I'll teach creative writing at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Spring 2011. CGCC has a new and exciting Creative Writing program headed by Patrick Michael Finn.

So here's to the Writing Gods. May they continue to watch over us.

Friday Fun

The Yale Anthology of Rap

I have to admit that I'm dorky enough to be really excited by this anthology released last week. I relate to hip-hop through language more than beats; I remember writing down all the lyrics to Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" just so I could see the words on paper and study the narrative.

So an anthology that professes to examine the poetic tradition of rap sounds good to me.

If this review in NY Magazine is right, YAR is different from other books on hip-hop (and there are tons) because it focuses on textual analysis of lyrics and not on music or personalities. Funny how the author, after reading the anthology, concludes that Big Daddy Kane is the best rapper (poet) ever. I'm wondering how the lyrics of Biggie and Lauryn Hill will rank in the canon and hoping that I can finally understand the lyrical power of Jay-Z which is lost on me when I listen to his music.

A Few Lit Links

The case against becoming an English professor? Tayari Jones responds.

Anis Shivani says MFA programs are corrupt.

From 2008: Charles Johnson on Black narrative in the 21st century.

Helena Andrews looks at the Hollywood history of Ntozake's For Colored Girls.

Writing (and reading) for Family

Earlier this year I decided I wanted to write something for my grandmother on her 100th birthday in September. I thought whatever I wrote could be private, for her to read and remember, but as the party planning got more elaborate, I was placed on the schedule of events. I'd be reading "Reflections." When I learned that there would be an audience I tweaked what I'd written and then I filed it away. That was in July.

I need about two months between finishing a piece and looking at it again for revision. By then I'm less attached to what I wrote the first time. It just so happened that in August and September, I was so busy with work and family that all I had time to do was read it a second time. I didn't make any revisions. I told myself that the piece was fine. I promised myself I'd look at it again when we got to Atlanta for the party. I pictured myself on the hotel bed with my laptop, making changes, reading it aloud. Of course, that never happened.

I was anxious, then, because I had not revised my "reflections." There would be 300 people in attendance, and a lot of them would be church folks that I didn't want to offend or bore. Let's be real, a churchgoing audience is used to a different type of rhetoric than you find in a quiet essay. I guess I was also nervous that my father, brothers, nephew, sister-in-law, cousins, uncles, aunties would be there to listen. I'd never shared with them a personal essay that I'd written.

I also kept replaying a scene from the movie, "Death at a Funeral" starring Chris Rock. In it, Rock plays a writer who's been working on a novel for forever. He's a serious brooding type with little sense of humor. At his father's funeral, Rock reads a eulogy which is filled with the kind of flat and boring historical facts that just won't fly with black folks at a funeral. I'd filled my essay for my grandmother with flat historical facts. I mean, how else do you talk about living for an entire century?

And then, at the party other people got up and started saying the same historical stuff that I'd written. Even if it wasn't exactly the same in content it was in spirit. Unoriginal ideas are not something we writers strive for.

I started revising in my head. I began mentally cutting and pasting. "The beginning was boring," I thought. I'd start with the third paragraph.

Reflections were scheduled at the close of the event. There were two readers of reflections: me and one of my grandmother's friends. The friend was from a senior citizens group that meets to play bingo and such. This gray-haired woman was exactly the type of phenomenal speaker you never want to follow. She had no notes. She was funny. She told personal stories about my grandmother that were endearing and specific. I am certain that the words she spoke were mostly spontaneous. She was brilliant.

When it was my turn, I walked up to the front with my two typed pages. I decided right there not to read the first page. Instead I just talked. i told them how I'd fretted about this reading. How I'd researched all these historical facts which were not really relevant. I told them that I was happy I'd done the research because it helped me understand the dilemma I faced when talking about my grandmother. On the one hand, I was reading about an America pre-voting rights for women, pre-civil rights for blacks, and a world where a lot of ugly things were happening. On the other hand, there was Rubie and her constant laughter, her flowering garden, her delicious pound cakes. I told them that it was hard to reconcile these very different images without conceding that maybe Mama Rubie's life was blessed. I admitted that "blessed" is not a word I often use but that it seemed appropriate to describe a woman who thrived despite such low expectations.

I then shared a few personal stories and read from the end of the essay. This was a section of the essay that was written more like a prose poem. I got a little emotional as I read, but it was an emotional day.

I heard Toni Morrison say once that the revising is never done, not even after publication. I'd add that the revision process continues even as you walk to the mic.

New Blog!

Check out a new blog I've started, The So-Called Middle. It will document middle class life using mostly photos, videos, and quotes.

Recommended Reading

I just finished this novel and really liked it. Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z. by Debra Weinstein was published in 2004 by Random House so I'm a little late to the party. The novel is set in a university creative writing program and the main character is a young poet who is being mentored by an uber-famous faculty member. It's funny and smart and a very quick read.

The Nature of Power + Pimps?

A new documentary opened this weekend in select cities. The film is about the nature of power, geopolitics, and self-empowerment....I think. I'm not exactly sure what Ghetto Physics will be about, but the trailer has me curious. It opens in Tempe, AZ on October 15th at the Harkins Valley Art Theater.

The trailer mentions the U.S. invasion of Iraq which made me think about President Bush for nearly an hour on this Sunday morning. I thought I'd share this video of "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" provided to you by David Letterman:

Writing at Age Five

Do you remember what you were writing at age five? I have homemade books that I created and school papers that I wrote from about age eight, but I don't recall my first scribblings of words.

Ava, our resident kindergartener, is a furious scribbler right now. In one year, it's gone from symbols:

to the random use of letters (on a homemade telescope):

to the creation of menus:

birthday cards:

copying words seen on art:

notes to her brother:

random thoughts:

and this morning, the creation of a computer keyboard:

BTW, Ava is NOT spelling "zucchini" or writing notes to her brother on her own. She has the initial idea, and then asks for help with the spelling.

Grading Papers. Will Return Soon.

Sign of summer
Originally uploaded by DawndiQBU
It's that time of the year when I start to realize that summer is truly gone and I'm somewhere in the middle of a fall semester juggling many deadlines. So far, so good. The trick, for me, is staying on top of 1) courses that I teach; 2) outreach curriculum & events; 3) Ava's classroom schedule; 4) Amir's classroom schedule; and 5) my personal writing deadlines. I posted a few months ago that I purchased a large calendar on which I scribble brightly colored deadlines. I have so many dates to remember, they sometimes are written sideways or bleed into the next day's box. The calendar is probably illegible to everyone but me. When I look at it (it's this big, flimsy plastic board held up by magnets on the refrigerator) I wonder how I landed this deep in middle American kitsch.

Amir is on fall intercession right now, so there are no reports or papers that he's writing for the next few weeks. It has started to rain, finally, for days in a row. The break from 100+ heat makes it easier to concentrate on everything that begs to get done.

The gray skies and rain, and the witty students I'm teaching this semester have stoked my creative juices. In other words, in the middle of all these dates and deadlines, I am finding time to write! Of course all this busy-ness and inspiration means that blogging has fallen off, but I expect to post more once I have finished grading my first round of papers.

Seen on the Train

Titles that I've seen people reading on the light rail:

Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse by Peter D. Schiff and John Downes

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John

R.I.P. Varnette Honeywood

Los Angeles artist Varnette Honeywood has passed away. You may remember her work was featured on The Cosby Show. Safe travels Ms. Honeywood.

Hello, Can Anybody Hear Me?

Last week I read responses that my students had written to assigned readings. One of the prompt questions was, "Who is the audience for this essay?" We'd talked in class about how you determine an author's intended audience. We'd talked about by noting where the work was first published, looking at the language, understanding the writer's themes. Still, when it came time to answer this question, most students wrote "African-Americans" for the essay written by a black man and "Latinos" for an essay written by a Mexican-American woman. I was a little shocked by their answers.

Both essays were literacy narratives that explored the writers' relationship with written and spoken language. I'm pretty sure the authors thought that they were writing about universal themes that many people could relate to. Yet, here was a group of college freshmen who believed that these writers spoke to an audience that was determined strictly by race.

* * * * *

Driving home at night I'm listening to the radio. Terry Gross, the host of "Fresh Air" announces that Jonathan Franzen will be the guest on her show. I let out a big sigh. I've heard the latest Twitterverse controversy about Franzen: Does he get unnecessary hype because he is a man? I'm tired. I've been working for twelve hours. I'm a woman writer that has yet to publish a book. Franzen is everywhere in the media. I'm thinking that this interview will be a downer.

Before I can change the station, I hear Gross ask him about the controversy. The way she phrases her question makes me cringe. She says something like "as if you're responsible for your success." Franzen responds. He says that the criticism of him has not been in the form of ad hominem attacks. He says it is a feminist critique about how we read and understand certain writers. He says he agrees with the critique.

* * * * *

I'm reading a review of Freedom that talks about Franzen's sharp insights into human nature. The example used is this quote from the book, "Then she waited, with parted lips and a saucy challenge in her eyes, to see how her presence--the drama of being her--was registering."

I remember that Terry Gross also quoted this description during her interview. I read and re-read the quote. I want to see the magic that they all see. It is hard to judge an excerpt without the context, but I just don't notice anything exceptional about the prose or even the mocking use of the word "saucy." It's a funny description of a character, but is it an acute observation into human nature? What if it appeared in a romance novel? Would the observation then be called brilliant?

* * * * *

Carleen Brice writes on her blog about the release of Getting to Happy, Terry McMillan's sequel to Waiting to Exhale. She remembers how McMillan's success inspired her to become an author. One commenter recalls how many people of different races were reading WTE when it first came out. I remember that, too. I remember that the person who first told me about the book was a girlfriend who is white.

* * * * *

I'm reading an essay by the poet Sarah Vap. It's about how readers and writers connect. In it, she writes, "If everything goes well in the reading of a poem--that is, if I have arrived at the poem with an opening in my heart and my mind to my own historical language, and if the author has written the poem with an opening in his or her heart and mind to their historical language--and if bridges have been crossed by both of us so that we intersect somewhere on the big continuum of language--then, I believe, the author and I will meet in the space of the poem. And in this meeting, our private histories with language will change forever. And so, because of this, we will also have to change."

I'm realizing how much baggage or "historical language" we all bring to reading any piece of writing. It really is a miracle when we create words that connect with an audience.

R.I.P Ron Walters

Dr. Ronald Walters, the former campaign manager for Jesse Jackson during both of his presidential bids, passed away on Friday, September 10th. Walters, who had a thoughtful and low-key rhetorical style, was was a distinguished scholar in African-American studies and political science and the author of several books. Here's a link to a video of Walters speaking to Bill Moyers in 2007 about Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Thanks to Dr. Mack H. Jones for the news of Dr. Walter's passing.

For Colored Girls...the Movie

So here is a promotional photo for Tyler Perry's cinematic version of For Colored Girls... that's been floating around the internet. Tyler, if you're listening, there are a whole bunch of women artists who consider Ntozake Shange's chorepoem an essential and groundbreaking part of our literary and performing arts canon. Please please please don't mess it up.

note, passed to superman by Lucille Clifton

note, passed to superman

sweet jesus, superman,
if i had seen you
dressed in your blue suit
i would have known you.
maybe that choirboy clark
can stand around
listening to stories
but not you, not with
metropolis to save
and every crook in town
filthy with kryptonite.
lord, man of steel,
i understand the cape,
the leggings, the whole
ball of wax.
you can trust me,
there is no planet stranger
than the one i'm from.

--copyright Lucille Clifton, from The Book of Light (1993)

Countdown to Rubie's 100th Birthday!

My family is preparing for a big birthday bash for my father's mother, my Mama Rubie, that will take place on October 2nd and 3rd in Atlanta. My aunt Miriam is the one doing the hard detailed work and the rest of us are really just going to show up and enjoy. I'm still tinkering with a short tribute that I'll read at the gathering. Before I wrote the first draft, I pulled out my teacher's edition history book to remember the political and cultural events that my grandmother has witnessed. It's amazing to think of how much the world can change in the span of one (long) life.

On September 30 which is her actual birthday, Willard Scott will send Rubie his birthday wishes on The Today Show, so watch if you're able.

When its all over, I know that moments from the event will inspire later fiction that I write. No family event is complete without drama; I'm already getting a taste of it as folks stress out about the planning. The great thing is that when the date arrives, we'll forget the pettiness and prickly personalities and celebrate a remarkable woman. I can't wait to see my grandmother all dressed up, probably with a hat, and surrounded by her many relatives and friends.

A Sobering Labor Day Quote

"There's no big movement agitating to make working conditions or economic conditions better for most people today."

~ Jefferson Cowie, author of "Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class."

Cowie talks to Joan Walsh on Salon about race, class, and the politics of labor.

Saying No

say no
Originally uploaded by 32bitwonder
From The Chronicle of Higher Education: great essay by Rachel Toor about saying no to the professional opportunities that take you away from writing.

Writers in the Schools

Over the weekend I was in Houston for the inaugural Writers in the Schools (WITS) national conference, and it was all kinds of amazing!

WITS is a nonprofit organization now in its 26th year that is headed by Executive Director Robin Reagler and Associate Director Long Chu. WITS sends writers into underresourced communities to provide young people with a chance to work with professional writers. Among the WITS alliance are organizations like Community Word Project in New York, Inside Out Literary Arts Project in Detroit, Badger Dog Literary Publishing in Austin, Wick Poetry Center at Kent State, and Arizona State's Young Writers Program where I work.

The whole conclave was great from the hotel service to the pedagogical training that was shared. Debra and Jeanette were two Houston area teaching artists that talked about their first years of teaching in the program. These women were young but confident, knowledgeable and funny before a crowd.

The most emotional moment for me was listening to Michele Kotler, founding director of Community Word Project. She spoke to a crowd of about 100 teaching artists and alliance members. I could not give Michele's speech justice with a summary but it was a clear-eyed argument (wrapped in a personal story) about privilege, class, art, and literature. I wanted to shout like you do in church. Listening to her, I remembered the importance of literary activism especially in poorer communities where folks are often voiceless.

I'm usually anxious when I think about writing especially about my own writing ambitions. It was nice to focus instead on how to help more young people make their voices heard.

For more information about WITS go to witshouston.org and witsalliance.org

Kid Talk

kids' talk 3
Originally uploaded by Barbara Moors
Ava said something yesterday that reminded me why I love the way children express themselves. Kids will articulate original ideas in their own language. Of course there are times when they repeat things that they hear. But sometimes they will share an observation that’s totally them working stuff out in their brain. That happened yesterday. After going with me to the grocery store and pet store, after Ava helped me cook dinner and then we bathed her and did her hair, she said this: “You do everything to help keep me alive.”

A Poem

Free Falling

You and I are right here
flung hard onto a hawk's wing.
We've grown accustomed to the grisly
view below. Once, I watched video of a hand
blown clean from the body; a pale scorpion
dropping curled in desert sand. A girl's face
with an opening where the nose should be.
These pictures dig holes that never close,
as if war was not blood and bones and teeth
and skin shot through the air, as if I am not made
of the same, as if strategies for torture make sense.
Any day now, I expect to raise myself from this ride,
throw my body full from the bird and land
upright and giant.

--copyright 2010 by Renee Simms

MY MIC SOUNDS NICE "First-Time" Teaser

I'm looking forward to this documentary, "My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-Hop," by Ava DuVernay. It airs on August 30th on BET.

I Heart Antoine & Kelly

Jezebel has a great post, "How A Viral Video Star's Rant Got Him A New Home," that follows up on Antoine and Kelly Dodson, the brother and sister who became internet stars after speaking out about Kelly's attack by a rapist. I agree that there isn't one way to read the public's fascination with their video. There were many reasons to love the You Tube clip:

Because of Antoine's theatrical performance.
Because Kelly and Antoine chose activism when they could have remained quiet victims.
Because Kelly and Antoine were so comfortable in their skin.
Because the clip showed a community usually ignored by the media.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear the Dodson family is on the come-up.

Emerging Voices + Strange Cargo

Now, in its 15th year, PEN's Emerging Voices Program is a wonderful opportunity for writers from diverse communities to be mentored, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to present their work to a larger audience in Los Angeles. Here's a description of the program from the penusa.org website:

Emerging Voices

Emerging Voices is a literary fellowship program that aims to provide new writers, who lack access, with the tools they will need to launch a professional writing career. Over the course of the year, each Emerging Voices fellow participates in: a professional mentorship; hosted Q & A evenings with prominent local authors; a series of Master classes focused on genre; and two public readings. The fellowship includes a $1,000 stipend.

The Mentorship Project grew out of PEN USA’s forum “Writing the Immigrant Experience,” held at the Los Angeles Central Library in March 1994, which explored the issues, problems and challenges faced by first and second generation immigrant writers. It was evident from the forum that many of the culturally diverse communities of writers in Southern California have special needs and are often isolated from the literary establishment. In the fall of 1995, PEN USA initiated Emerging Voices as a literary mentorship designed to launch potential professional writers from minority, immigrant and other underserved communities.

Participants need not be published, but the program is directed toward poets and writers of fiction and creative nonfiction with clear ideas of what they hope to accomplish through their writing. There are no age restrictions.

This project is supported in part by grants from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, The James Irvine Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

And finally, thankfully, the Emerging Voices anthology, Strange Cargo, has arrived with a forward by Janet Fitch. My story, "At Four Thousand Feet and Rising," is featured in the anthology; so is the work of Stephanie Han, Shonda Buchanan, and Denise Uyehara who were fellows in the program with me in 1999.

A reading from the anthology takes place at Skylight Books in L.A. on September 12th, 5 pm.

Ninth Ward

Congratulations to Jewell Parker Rhodes whose debut children's book, Ninth Ward, was chosen as the selection for Al Roker's Book Club for Kids on the Today Show. I'm really loving the cover of this book. Read a review of Ninth Ward here.

About Overrated

Over the weekend, writer Anis Shivani published a list of his "15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Authors," which includes Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Amy Tan among others. Shivani's list created numerous debates on Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere.

I think passions ran high because of the snarky tone of the piece, which I really hated. But I also think people cared because Shivani raises legitimate issues about who gets published and why. This is a sensitive topic for any writer, established or not, because the odds are stacked against publication and/or recognition.

I also disliked the fact that there was such racial and gender diversity on a list of OVERRATED writers, when the praise lists contain so few women writers and writers of color. I also think that Shivani should have focused his critical analysis on the institutions that he says perpetuate literary mediocrity like publishers, awards committees, MFA programs, etc. Targeting the writers seemed cruel and beside the point.

Anyway, I look forward to reading Shivani's forthcoming underrated list. And I've enjoyed following the conversations about his list, including this thread linked from the Rumpus; this blogpost by Becca; and this essay, "Becoming a Writer" by Junot Diaz. Someone linked to the essay as evidence that most writers, including Diaz, work long and hard to do what we do.

Depression Era Photos

Huffington Post has a neat slideshow of rare color photos from the Depression Era. The photo above is a couple in Puerto Rico in 1941. Check out the pictures here.

Supreme News

This is an exciting time to be a lawyer. Cases about California's Prop 8 and Arizona's immigration law are making their way through the court system and will likely be decided by the Supreme Court. Both cases will set important precedence.

And now, for the first time in history there are THREE WOMEN on the Supreme Court!! My heart does little flips.

Quotables: Anne Rice and Alisa Valdes

Author Anne Rice made the following Facebook status update announcing that she has decided to leave Christianity:

"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control," the author wrote on Wednesday on her Facebook fan page. "In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

For the entire story go here

And on her blog, The Dirty Girls Social Club author Alisa Valdes wrote this about the discrimination she's encountered in Hollywood:

When someone like me suggests, armed to the teeth with personal anecdotes and examples, that the “liberal” Hollywood elites continue to employ racist, unrealistic and damaging stereotypes of Hispanic women, they laugh it off and decide that I’m crazy.

To read the entire 8/2/10 entry go here.

Poetry by Niki Herd

Please put this book on your list immediately: The Language of Shedding Skin by fierce poet Niki Herd. It is her debut collection and it was a finalist in the Main Street Rag poetry competition. The book is available for preorder here and the general release is December 28th.

A Civil Conversation about Immigration

The Conversation
Originally uploaded by njchow82
The Arizona Humanities Council has a series called Project Civil Discourse and on August 19th they're presenting "A Community Conversation on Immigration" from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Rio Salado Conference Center. The event is free, but you need to register.

At the event, participants will sit a table and discuss a topic of the immigration debate for 30 minutes. Then you rotate to a new table to discuss the topic with different people. Three topics will be introduced. For more information go to projectcivildiscourse.com

Post-Racial Era Discussions About Race

If you are getting tired of the shrill discussions about race that were sparked by the Shirley Sherrod firing, I suggest you check out these thoughtful pieces on race and publishing written over the last three years by black women writers:

"Writers Like Me" by Martha Southgate

"Reading Too Much Into Race
" by Carleen Brice

"Black Writers in a Ghetto of the Publishing Industry's Making
" by Bernice L. McFadden

"Readers, Rise Up"
by Tayari Jones

Last week, author Lori L. Tharps wrote a provocative piece on the networking site SheWrites where she asked for white ambassadors to help get the word out about her new book. I think Tharps intended for the piece to be a humorous and informative essay about the challenges black writers have in marketing their books, but based on the responses to the piece, I'm not sure her intentions were clear.

People have noted that Sherrod's NAACP speech was nuanced and talked about race in a way that was not simple. I think that anytime you're aiming for the truth, and not a soundbite, what you say will be nuanced. This is why writers and literature are so important, especially today amidst our fast paced media culture. Sometimes the quieter and more reflective voices have the most to say.

Dog Update Number 1

Seymour at the rescue shelter

Seymour, a three year old chihuahua mix, has been at our house for six days now. Incidents of pee in the house: three. The shedding has been minimal. I didn't want a goofy dog who runs, jumps, and aims to please all of the time and I'm happy to report that Seymour is more of a depressed neurotic like the rest of us which is quite nice. He's more like a cat than a dog but he's warming up to us as time passes. He growls at Paul, tries to intimidate Ava with his tiny teeth, but is usually friendly to me and Amir. He treats me like the alpha dog of our house and is kindly rewarded for this with chicken flavored treats.

I fought against a pet for many years even though I grew up with a poodle (Muffin Pierre Renee Richardson) and owned three cats as an adult. But I'm glad that I gave in to the kids' request for a pet. They are learning responsibility, the nonverbal language of animals, and how to be compassionate towards another living being. It's cool to watch the kids bond with this little dog. The other day, Seymour began laying on his back, exposing his belly for a rub, which I tell the kids is always a good sign.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I am reading this book now, a little bit after it was the featured book of a book club that I belong to in Phoenix, Sisters of the Desert Sun. I'm sure you've heard of The Immortal Life... since it's been highly publicized . It's the story about Henrietta Lacks, a black Southern woman who had her cancer cells taken without her knowledge and used as an important tool in medicine. Her cells were the first to become immortal, they've been replicating for half a century.

Anyway, I am struck by the poetic vision of the author, Rebecca Skloot. This could have been just a science story with a little narrative about the Lacks family thrown in. Instead Skloot seems interested in the social justice angle of the story and uses juxtaposition, irony irony, and other literary techniques to dig into the heart of the story. Take this passage about the white male researcher, George Gey, who takes the HeLa cells as they are known and starts distributing them:

He sent shipments of HeLa cells to researchers in Texas, India, New York, Amsterdam, and many places between. Those researchers gave them to more researchers, who gave them to more still. Henrietta's cells rode into the mountains of Chile in the saddlebags of pack mules. As Gey flew from one lab to another, demonstrating his culturing techniques and helping to set up new laboratories, he always flew with tubes of Henrietta's cells in his breast pocket. And when scientists visited Gey's lab to learn his techniques, he usually sent them home with a vial or two of HeLa. In letters, Gey and some of his collegues began referring to the cells as his "precious babies."

--from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Copyright 2010 by Rebecca Skloot

A Little of This. A Bit of That.

Here's an interesting essay in Slate magazine about taking ten years to write one novel.

Honoree Jeffers writes about the problems of contemporary black hip hop poetry in The Kenyon Review.

The winner of the Passion Project Contest on SheWrites will give an emerging writer all the tools she needs to put together a winning nonfiction book proposal.

The Idlewild Writers and Poets Conference will happen August 12-14 in Idlewild, Michigan. The focus of the conference is "the rich literary legacy associated with this historic African-American community known as one of the premier entertainment and performance venues during the 50s and early 60s."

An article in The Guardian chronicles how abandoned property in Detroit is being converted into farmland. I've been hearing stories about an increase in wildlife in once strictly urban areas. A friend who grew up in Southfield, Michigan with me says that her parents have a family of deer that visit their backyard regularly.

"This was Once All Underwater"

That's what Paul and I kept saying to friends while we drove around Sedona recently. The city is 4500 feet above sea level, but if you ever take a guided tour of the famous red rocks, you'll learn that it was "once all underwater," and that you're walking in a prehistoric seabed. The gradations in the rock are supposed to be evidence of the water as it receded over time.

All I know is Sedona is one of my favorite places on earth, followed by Paris. The scale of the place, like the Grand Canyon, is mind boggling. I'm trying to carry the bigness and three-dimensionality of Sedona around with me because everything looks so small and insignificant in comparison. In other words, it was a good vacation.

The photo is courtesy of Daily Venture.

R.I.P. Harvey Pekar

I was so sad to read that Harvey Pekar, the comic book writer of the American Splendor series has passed away at 70. I loved how he embraced being ordinary, midwestern, awkward, and how he found humor in very ordinary experiences. The Washington Post has a piece about Pekar that includes this quote about his writing philosophy:

"The humor of everyday life is way funnier than what the comedians do on TV," Mr. Pekar once said. "It's the stuff that happens right in front of your face when there's no routine and everything is unexpected. That's what I want to write about."

If you've ever felt like a misfit, you've got to read Pekar's work or at least rent the movie American Splendor which stars the actor Paul Giamatti.

Organization is Key

This is not a sexy post.

It's about organization. I've spent this summer doing work that I've ignored or avoided for years, like figuring out what that stuff is that's crammed between my bedroom wall and headboard (one hundred dusty gift bags) or what that stuff is pushed into the far corners of my closet (photographs and school papers from college). I've thrown away tons of paper, and bought plastic filing drawers for the papers that I could not throw away. There are Paul's papers, my papers, Ava's ENDLESS drawings and Amir's ENDLESS school papers. Getting all of these things filed in a drawer system is important for two reasons, so we can find them and because Arizona is dusty, dusty, dusty and papers attract dust.

I've been to Goodwill several times to unload. I've painted two rooms (well I served as the general contractor and gave instructions). I've bought furniture, rearranged stuff and de-cluttered the house in general. On the side of the refrigerator I placed a huge calendar that shows all of our schedules for the next four months. I've included writing deadlines in this large calendar which has helped me see how I can merge what's a priority for me (writing and publishing) with my kids' many commitments. I can't emphasize enough how helpful it is to see where I have empty blocks of time. It has helped me visualize when I can sneak time to write other than in the middle of the night.

Last year, I made a vow to make writing a priority in my life in a way that I had not before then. I'm glad that I did and I'm starting to see the fruits of my effort, but oowee! the stress that I endured trying to finish a manuscript while working full time and toting kids to extracurricular activities. The stress was unbelievable. For the first time in my life, I experienced total exhaustion, chest pains, and migraine headaches. For the first time in decades, I had to see a doctor for symptoms and not a routine visit. I realized then that keeping four calendars in my head and not sleeping was insane. A friend, Dawn, laughed with me that multitasking is overrated. In fact, I'd say its not multitasking but more like ADHD.

This doesn't mean that my life is less busy or that I have more time to write. It just means that I can negotiate the chaos with more ease, which will be important when, on July 20, our family adopts Mr. Seymour Simms shown below.