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To Read

3 May
  • Lunatic Fringe by Allison Moon
  • The Inscrutable Mr. Elizabeth by Marlene Leach
  • The Last Uniform by Mera Hakamada
  • White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Life long learning

14 Mar

Have you taken the strengths test from the University of Pennsylvania Authentic Happiness project? If you haven’t you should. It can tell you a lot about the things that you value and the places where you are strongest. One of the places that I am strongest in is education. I value learning and when I’m not busy reading/learning/researching I can be a little lethargic and grumpy.

So in an interest to help my fellow education valuing friends, here are a couple of lists of great books that every person should read. Take a look and see what you’ve read and what you haven’t. Make your own list of books to read before you die/turn ##/any other mile stone.

Shoot the Hype Man: My thoughts on Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name by Audre Lorde

25 Feb

It amazes me how much hype pollutes expectation and even more so poisons perception.  I’ve just finished reading Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name by Audre Lorde and I found myself feeling just meh about it.

Before anyone throws bottles, sends death threats or stops reading altogether let me get to the point of my post. I was introduced to Zami nearly six years ago in college. It was the book that all of my friends in American studies major friends were reading. The book my Gender studies major friends were raving about.  This book, the story of Audre Lorde’s life and love, was hailed by my scholarly friends as life changing.  For me I think this book suffers from what one of my favorite podcasts would call “the Juno Effect”.

Remember Juno? It was the movie about the quirky, intellectual, pregnant teen girl who throws quips at her family and friends with speed and ease. She changed the lives of those around her and handled being a teen mom with sarcastic grace.  When this film came out it was the talk of the town, critics loved it, teens identified with it, and everyone loved the well-written dialogue. Anyone and everyone who saw it bubbled over with good things to say about it. It was a “game changer”. This movie was getting more hype then Beyonce’s video when Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs.  After hearing this movie is a 20 out of 10 it’s kind of discouraging to discover it’s really an 8 or a 9.  Still great but not the earth-shattering thing it was hyped to be.

The difference between Juno and Zami is that Zami has become the Icon of a people.  I am probably committing intellectual suicide with my opinions. As a black, queer woman, many parts of this book spoke to me.  It’s well written and many of the moments resonated. There were times when I was reading and I felt propelled to the next page.  There were equally pages that felt unnecessary and made the book feel slow. I think this is true for a lot books and I think it’s even truer for biographies and autobiographies. It’s difficult to keep every page about a persons life exciting because let’s face it, not everyday of your life is exciting!

I say all this to say I appreciate the book. I’m glad that it exists and creates a space for discussion of the black lesbian experience.  I’m grateful to have the reference BUT I can’t say the book transformed my life. When you’re expecting life changing and you don’t get it, it’s disappointing. I’m sure when this post is read instead of reading that I thought the book was well-written and I know the feeling of flicking your eyes over someone trying to decide if that black woman is “fam”, people will say “She didn’t like Zami???? WTF???”

 

Black History Month: Lost

18 Feb

What keeps Black History Month alive? What keeps any heritage month alive? It’s february and it took me nearly two weeks to realize that it was Black History Month. You may be thinking “No big deal. You have a few weeks left to do something to commemorate. Why is it bothering you?” As a former Macalester Black History Month Committee member it means something to me that I forgot. It means something even more that in the week or so since I realized I’ve seen only 4 pieces of evidence to make me believe others remember as well.

To me the invisibility of black history month is a signifier of the way that activism and civil rights are being pressed into the background of American consciousness. If you are working in America today more than likely you are too focused on dealing with the work before you and the small instances of institutionalized racism that effect you personally to notice that the fight gone by is being forgotten. Students, school children and sometimes families that have small children seem to be the guiding push that keeps this particular heritage month alive. Even those purveyors of history seems to be waning. Feminists keep alive women’s history month with a call for equality for women. Where have the black activists, continuing to question the lack of black roles in hollywood or a canon that includes more than old white men and women, gone? Where are our questioners? Our button pushers?

In January the second inauguration of our first Black President reminded each of us of how far our country has come from Slavery and segregation. Yet, instead of sparking a discussion or our forefathers for the month of February, for the very least, I believe the inauguration allows Americans to pretend that we are truly colorblind. Despite the continued rhetoric about Obama’s blackness, having a black president to the majority of Americans means we’re even. We’re square. The history of black intellectuals and activists can go back to being just a single page in a textbook.

For those who continue to make a study of America and of the cultural shifts and signifiers of our current era, I would say that they know what the average American chooses to forget, there is no even. There is no color blind. While racial issues in America transform with each generation the struggles continue. And now they aren’t limited to single race issues. My mixed race friends will tell you it is a struggle to be remembered. A struggle to be heard.

This isn’t necessarily a call to action but rather a call to remembrance. Things have happened in the past. Things we can’t change and things we should never forget.  My ability to sit here in my “armchair” and observe the working of American culture as a queer, black woman are the direct result of the work done by so many leaders who have come before me. Remember what it used to be to be black in America. Remember because it wouldn’t take much to fall backward. We are just a hand out of the civil rights movement and we can easily go back to drowning in hatred and pain.

Where did I see black history month this month?

  • On the radio: Sunday nights on 106.1 KMEL they play a show that is truly community based and Black-centric.
  • At a bookstore: I went to two bookstores the last few weeks. I saw one display that was really about ten books on a table related to black history or black people. There were more books about the presidents than about black people.
  • NYSE: Did you see when they let all the black employees ring the opening bell? There were TWELVE of them. That’s it.

How can you remember? Try these books:

Books to Read in 2013

13 Feb

Yes it’s time…for the list to end all lists…the books I may or may not read this year. It’s a funny thing to make a list of books I think I want to read knowing full well that I may read all or none of these books and that would be alright. Still it’s nice to start thinking about what are the books that I have been meaning to read. There are often a lot! So here it goes:

Are you seeing a theme? 🙂

Friday Review: Fairy Tales in Electri-city

3 Feb

So you all know that the first book of my reading list this year was  Fairy Tales in Electri-city by Francesca Lia Block. I’m not going to lie to you…what drew me to this book initially was its small stature and visually engaging cover. Look how cool it is:


Truth be told I also expected this book to be like the usual poetry I like. I’m big into narrative and into monologues in poetry. I sometimes like to call them deep breath poems because I have to take a deep breath before I start to be able to read them aloud and they usually make me need to take a deep breath when I finish. I’m the experimental type, meaning that my work is fairly linear and easy to understand. This is the kind of work I generally enjoy reading and what I expected to get from this book.

While Block’s poems are like stories, there is something whimsical and abstract about them. They are each a page or two long, which isn’t difficult considering its a pocket sized book.  Admittedly, I easily get distracted, it the problem with our 140-character generation but I often found myself drifting while reading this. Most of Block’s poems are about love, the absence, seeking or regret of it. Each poem is beautiful its way but the quietness of the work sort of lulls you, the way a good bedtime story would. There is something about these poems that is both interesting and boring; beautiful and plain and demanding yet easy. Does this make sense? Over all, I didn’t really enjoy the book. This just wasn’t my aesthetic. I’m definitely a punch in the gut and then a sweet kiss as opposed to all sweet kisses. Has anyone read this book? Thoughts?

Friday Reflection: 5 Poetry Books

20 Jan

Another January Friday and another opportunity to share how I’m going to achieve my goals for this year. This week, that’s talking about the new poetry books I’ll be reading this year. Some of these are books I planned to read in 2011 and didn’t get around to and some are new this year but I’m trying to read new books and get new perspective.

  • Mule & Pear by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. This was one of the last books I purchased in 2011. Rachel is an excellent photographer and I have been interested in reading her poetry for a while. It won’t be the first book I read but it will probably be first or second.
  • Fairy Tales in Electri-city by Francesca Lia Block. I love fairy tales and science fiction so I am excited to read this one. I’m in the midst of reading it now and the poems are beautiful and haunting. I’m excited to finish it and hoping to find another speculative or Gothic poetry book to read later this year.
  • Come On All You Ghosts by Matt Zapruder. This book is actually from 2010 but I really liked his work when I heard him speak in 2011. It was on my list to read all last year and so I’m going to try to finish it this year.
  • selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee by Megan Boyle. I first heard about this book on HTMLGiant. Its supposed to be really good but I imagine its a little experimental for my tastes but I’m going to check it out anyway.
  • Up Jump the Boogie by John Murillo. Another sort of cheat. This book is from 2010 but was huge all through 2011. It won a ton of awards and I have been meaning to check it out all year but I like to avoid the hype. So now is a perfect time 🙂

 

Those are the five books I plan to read this year for sure. These are just the poetry books. I also plan on reading 20 books for pleasure. Maybe next week you’ll get that list. 🙂 Until next week!

 

 

 

The New Challenge

1 Jun

My latest challenge is a reading one. I figure if any time is a good time for me to take a break from writing and give reading an opportunity this is it. I’ve decided to put my nose to the grind stone on my 2011 goal of reading 20 books for pleasure. So far I have four and a half. The list is thus:

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
  • A Woman’s Morning Song by bell hooks
  • Suck on the Marrow by Camille Dungy
  • Squrril seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
  • An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (This is the book I’m half way through. I’m not enjoying it and may abandon it.)

I also have a list of books that I’m pumped to read:

  • An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorjan
  • Baking as Biography: A Life Story in Recipes by Diane Tye
  • Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles

I think I’m doing pretty well with my list. I’ve read all of the above books in the past month so I feel like I can handle the other 15.5 books. No problem 🙂

Sense its finally June, six months into the year, lets see how I’m doing with the goals I set back in January. Next week I’ll hit you with my updates! See you tomorrow for the Links I’m lovin’

Chapbooks?

24 Jan

Hello again my friends (or strangers as the case may be). Sorry for the delay in this weeks post. Last week was the first week back in school, also extremely stressful and depressing week for me but I’m back on track. So I said in my last post I was going to talk about the business of being a poet and I think chapbooks have a lot to do with it. In the poetry world chapbooks are a certain sort of currency, though  the value is still a little unclear to me.

Lets get technical for a minute. Wikipedia describes Chapbooks as “pocket-sized booklet” and “term currently used to denote publications of up to about 40 pages, usually poetry bound with some form of saddle stitch, though many are perfect bound, folded, or wrapped. These publications range from low-cost productions to finely produced, hand-made editions that may sell to collectors for hundreds of dollars.”

As the second more wordy definition may make clear, chapbooks are short, usually feature poetry (though apparently prose writers are getting into the swing of it) and can be made as cheaply or expensively as you like. Last year I made a chapbook for the final project of a book arts project I did (I use the term loosely here. Mine had only 6 poems in it). The point being that chapbooks while still a book occupy a different space than one might imagine. For most people chapbook has a grassroots, independent connotation, after it’s a form of self-publishing and if you’re attempting to get into book stores, it will probably only be picked up by small independent stores (which is awesome but still not always what you’re really shooting for).

As far as I can tell these are the up sides of doing a chapbook. Remember this is just my opinion and I am ever so happy to hear yours.

  1. It can get your name out there. Chapbooks can be a great form of self promotion for many reasons. Not only does it get a snippet of some of your best work out into the world and can give publishers the idea of where a book might lead.
  2. It’s probably the most control you will ever get over the publication of your work. Obviously this depends on whether you are self publishing a lot or not but the great thing about chapbooks is that you get to decide 100% what it looks like, feels like and where it’s received (this last one is a little iffy but you get my point).  If you end up publishing a book with a known publisher you probably wont get too much control over how it looks. Some people are lucky enough to be able to put this sort of information into their contracts but if you’re just starting out and don’t have the clout to get it in writing that you make these decisions than for the most part just kiss creative direction over the book design goodbye. There are some publishers who are really great about getting feedback from the writer about the way a book looks but honestly, a chapbook is total freedom.
  3. Publishers want to publish your chapbook. There are so many great chapbook contests and Publishers who just want to publish chapbook materials. Like I said, it’s a cheap way for you and them to see how your work will be received.  If people are buying up your chapbook they may love the larger book that you’re working on in a similar vein.  A few awesome places that publish chapbooks Ugly Duckling PresseRain Taxi and Dancing Girl Press. If you just want a big list of presses and contests that publish chapbooks try Every Writers Resource
  4. It doesn’t count as a book. This may seem like a downside but in the arena of awards and contests its great. Most Book awards or contests which are for emerging writers exclude chapbooks in the “previously published” description. Take for instance the Walt Whitman Award which is for a first book of poetry published by an US poet. If you read the guidelines it says “Books on a smaller scale, such as chapbooks and limited editions, will not disqualify a poet.”  You get your work in the open with a chapbook but you aren’t penalized for it in the end. Good stuff right?
  5. It gives you an idea of all the hard work that goes into publishing. Chapbooks are a great way to see the world of publishing from the inside without having to commit too much money or time.  When you are the marketing team, distributor, editor, writer, bookkeeper and financier for this project you’ll begin to strategize about the way your larger projects will need to look,  the amount of time it will take to do the entire thing and also why everyone is just rolling off quick rejection letters if your work isn’t up to par. It really can help you to understand this industry and that is something that no amount of reading articles on the net can change.

A lot of great reasons to give chapbooks a try. And while that last point may make you feel a little scared, just remember that chapbooks are supposed to be easy and fun. There are a bunch of websites around that will show you how to make them, and what to do after you’ve made them.

I personally am thinking of doing a chapbook with some of my thesis materials. I’m still not 100% decided but it’s looking pretty good for me. Will you make a chapbook?

I’m going to try for a double post this week with a list of really interesting blogs that I’m following on Google reader.