After a ten-day stint in San Francisco, California giving readings and hanging out with friends at Berkeley, Oakland; I’ve returned to Athens, Georgia. Wow, is the weather in San Francisco is so different from Athens. The air in the San Francisco is as dry as a the monumental redwoods, and the air of Athens is wet and heavy with mist. I am glad to be mentally in two places at once.
I gave readings at the University of California, Berkeley; Galeria de La Raza, and at the Inter-Tribal Friendship House in Oakland, three workshops on writing to Native teens and elders. Next week: Mr. Peabody reads Blessed Harve and other stories of adventure.
Mr. Peabody likes to travel as well as any other bird. He also likes to read books on planes, in cars, or on the train. He’s my 6 foot tall Pink Flamingo friend, but since I’m Choctaw, I spell it Pink Flamiko. Get it?! This week he’s reading the Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, edited by Daniel Justice and Jim Cox. It’s chockfull of grand tidbits about American Indian and indigenous literatures. Stay tuned next week for more great books in American Indian literature; about my move to Georgia, and other personal news.
- A novel set in the Middle East and Oklahoma in 1913-1917, & 2011 with a Choctaw protagonist, or two.
- A chapbook of poems on Mary Todd Lincoln.
- A new play co-authored with actress and playwright Monique Mojica titled, Sideshow Freaks and Circus Injuns. (In rehearsals this summer in Toronto, Ontario.)
- A couple of scholarly books.
- That’s hard to say because I write in different genres. The novel I’m working on is composed of many different genres woven together. In a way its a continuation of the work I began in Miko Kings: An American Indian Baseball Story, 2007, Auntlute.com.
- I’m afraid I can’t do anything else.
- Well, there are a couple of other things I can do.
- Maybe I would rather live inside of books. See the above paragraph.
- Seriously, I began writing about Choctaws because I am Choctaw and so few were writing fiction and poetry about our tribe. Happily that has changed. And as an artist I have changed too, and my writing is developing in new directions that I could not have imagined even five years ago.
- The story tells me what I’m working on. I let the voice develop the form I’m writing. Sometimes it’s only a line that I begin with, and frequently I don’t know what I’m working on until the body begins to take shape. I also think I become a new writer with each book I finish.
Up Next is the Fabulous Heid Erdrich
Here’s another book that sits on my taxicab-yellow bar. I frequently grab Cell Traffic, 2012, first thing in the morning for an eye-opener. This amazing book gets me off to work and I teach it in my classes. Heid and I have been friends for many years even after the time I nearly ran her down in the middle of the street in Austin, Texas, sometime after 1 am. We were in Austin for the AWP conference and I was driving my brother’s big old Ford truck and couldn’t find the brake pedal as quickly as I would have liked. Whew, was that a close call.
Now for the serious stuff: Heid E. Erdrich is also the author of National Monuments which won a Minnesota Book Award in 2009. Her new non-fiction book is Original Local: Indigenous Foods Stories and Recipes from the Upper Midwest, 2013. Heid is Ojibwe enrolled at Turtle Mountain. She engages the world in many forms, most recently through short poem films which you can see at heiderdrich.com.
What a lovely time to be in the south! Bright blue skies, warm temperatures in the 60s, and heavenly food at Graylyn International Conference Center in Winston-Salem. Graylyn (above) was constructed in 1932 and served as a country estate for the Gray family. They lived here off and on in the 1930s and 1940s and finally the estate was donated to Wake Forest University in 1972. (I’m sure there’s more to the story but I don’t know it.) Anyone who does reply here.
I’m staying here, and have been walking the grounds today, writing and trying to finish some poems I’ve been working on for years. Or so it seems. Poems are all I can work on when I’m on the road. Fiction requires so much more head room.
This morning green-headed mallards were honking and flying around the pond. You can see a few on the other side of the water. Being here has really been a joy. A shout out to my hosts for ensconcing me at Graylyn so I can write, and prepare for my lecture/reading on Monday night , 2/24/14 at Wake Forest University. I taught at Wake as a visiting writer over a decade ago in the spring of 2001. As I remember the undergraduate fiction writers were very good. During the interim years, the friends I made have remained in touch, but mostly through email. What a treat it is to see them again. Women’s Studies professor Mary DeShazer and I had a great meal (Thai food) last night in downtown Winston-Salem. Her new book Mammographies: The Cultural Discourse of Breast Cancer Narratives (2013) is a must read! Mary argues that breast cancer narratives of the past ten years differ from their predecessors and suggests that the ethics and efficacy of genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomy have shifted the politics of prosthesis and reconstructive surgery. And today so many women are opting to have their breasts removed rather than risk breast cancer. The book is a companion to Mary’s 2005 Fractured Borders: Reading Women’s Cancer Literature.
My other dear friend in Winston-Salem is Emily Herring Wilson, also a writer. She and I met nearly 20 years ago at MacDowell Colony, a writer’s retreat in New Hampshire. Her recent books include Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener (2010), North Carolina Women: Making History by Margaret Supplee Smith, Emily Herring Wilson, and Doris Betts (2007); No one Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence (2005); and, Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence–A Friendship in Letters (2003). She’s currently at work on a new biography and we spent a lovely evening together catching up by a warm fire at her place. It’s still cold here at night.
I promised I would post a picture of Kirstin Squint’s class at High Point University in High Point. I was just there last week. They were a great class and asked a lot of good questions about my first novel, Shell Shaker, (2001) Picture below: (top row, left to right) (me), Kyle Rother, Nick Lieberz, Cole Gibson, Kevin Garrity, Patricia Chandon, Lexi Koperna, Shannon Curley.
(Bottom row, left to right) Stephanie Bogutz, Michelle Tarangelo, Julia Choquette, Sydney Anderson, Amy Sanborn, Olivia French.
Next week, I promise to post reviews of Susan Power’s new novel, and Ken Hada’s new book of poetry!
Okay, I haven’t been keeping up with current events. I didn’t know who was playing in the Super Bowl, and I completely blanked on the President’s State of the Union Address. But I have been reading books. Well. . . , I haven’t managed to read three books a week, but I swear in late November, early December I read four and five books to keep up with my excellent Illinois MFA graduate students.
Each week when the Illinois’ MFA candidates and I met for class (at my house) we enjoyed great food and wines. Kristin Walters (fiction) provided excellent wines and champagnes, Nolan Grieves (fiction) brought specialty handmade desserts, and Katherine Scott Nelson (fiction) brought her incredible homemade breads. Check this out:
It was a cold evening in Urbana, Illinois and we sat around drinking red wine with hot Challah bread, (above) fresh fruits and vegetables and we talked about great books. I miss hanging out with them. For grins I’ve added a picture of the cheesecake that Scott also made. We ate it the night we discussed The Lover by Marguerite Duras.
Now that I’m on sabbatical, I’m reading fewer books and on a diet. No more rich desserts while reading, just trashy gluten free, and living without (everything good) magazines. I also found an internet article on how to spoil myself with chocolate salt rubs. (It’s good to be bad.)
Ahem. Back to books. Here are a few recommendations. If you don’t do another thing this February, read poet Dean Rader’s new book of poems Landscape, Portrait, Figure, Form, Omnidawn, 2013. The lines are gorgeous, the sentiments inextricable from experience. “Here is wind as it locks and reloads above the waves. And there, the clatter of gulls scattershot across the beach. Notice the couple caught in mid-laugh as the little dog of time tags along behind them, its leash a tink tink tink in the distance.” – From “Self Portrait As Photograph Never Taken.”
Next I recommend Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife, it’s told from the POV of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. It’s been out since 2011 but I didn’t get around to finishing it until January 2014. From Philip Carroll Morgan’s Riding Out The Storm, I learned a great deal about the Chickasaw Byrd family. I predict Morgan’s book will win awards from the Oklahoma Center for the Book.
Before you draw breath run out and buy, steal, but read The Whetting of Teeth (Organic Weapons Art, Detroit, 2012) by poet Jamaal May. His work is new for me, but now I’m hooked. Here’s a small offering. “Go ahead and squeeze, but not before you put on some tea, clean two cups, lift shades and pin back curtains. Not before the end of this song, before dawn reaches in, before you turn the page, or a woman apologizes for dialing the wrong man again — not before you learn her name, how to pronounce it, how to sing it with and without regret catching in your throat — Are you done?” – From “How To Get Your Gun Safely Out of Your Mouth.”
What can I say about the Tenth of December by George Saunders, it has received praise from everyone everywhere. Saunders is truly the Meryl Streep of the writing world. And like everyone else, I love his stories. Read it again and again, just before sleep. “Sticks” is my fav.
For everyone who thought that I was exaggerating in “I Fuck Up In Japan” in Choctalking On Other Realities, Aunt Lute Books, 2013, about how Japanese people wanted to try on my red beaded warrior coat, here’s a couple of pixs. (I have others but . . . I can’t show them.)
Next week: Reviews of Ken Hada’s new book, and Mona Susan Power’s new book!
Recently I made a decision, well, a plan to read three new books a week. I can’t tell you how much better I feel about myself. I’ve made a pact to devote time to reading for pleasure, something I usually don’t do during the academic year because of all the class readings, student papers, committee work, and manuscripts and of course, tenure review papers. (You get the idea.) So, I’ve put a plan in place. Read a couple of books of poems, and a novel, and/or a scholarly book each week. But the number is 3. In some ways, I think I’m returning to a pattern in my life when I was very little and living in Bethany, Oklahoma. The Bookmobile would come to our street and the neighborhood kids, myself included, would pick out a couple of books to read. Funny how memory plays tricks, perhaps it was only one book, regardless, I had a Bookmobile card that I’d filled out myself. Each of us would run to the big van, greet the driver and decide on a book we hadn’t read. It was quite thrilling. Only two events happened in our poor neighborhood in Bethany that were worth screaming for: the day the Bookmobile would arrive, and (in summer) the day the Ice Cream man in his red and green truck stopped on our street. “Back in the old days,” there was no such thing as going to the library, or running to a Brown Derby for a dip cone, even though it was only 5 cents. Life for a one-car family living on the edge of poverty, (less than $2100.00 a year) meant no frills, no books, no joy rides that burned gasoline. We were a family that had to rely on my grandmother’s stories on Saturday nights for adventure thrills. (More on that later.)
The history of bookmobiles begins sometime in the mid-nineteenth century in Great Britain. By 1904 in the US, the People’s Free Library of Chester County, South Carolina starts carrying wooden boxes of books to rural areas. The concept continues today and Bookmobiles are still in use worldwide. Check out the Association of Bookmobile Services and Outreach at: http://abos-outreach.org/
Like so many children all over the world my lifeline to reading was the Bookmobile. Recently, I was asked in an interview when I knew I wanted to become a writer. I said by the age of six or seven because I began writing dinosaur stories. After thinking about it, I realized it was because early in my life I was exposed to reading books, and of course hearing my grandmother’s stories. But what if the Bookmobile had missed our street? Would I be the writer I am today. Probably not. Thank you Bookmobile, you fostered a desire in me to write, and to read.