Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Demarva Review

Here’s an area journal that’s looking for submissions…I always figure that if they’re asking, you’ve got a better shot. So, send out your work!

The Delmarva Review, a regional literary review, announces it is now seeking writing for an “all new” issue in the spring 2008. The publication will consider submissions from all writers, on a rolling acceptance basis, until January 31, 2008. Writers are invited to submit poetry, short fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or short reviews.

Publication guidelines call for “great story-telling and moving poetry. In creative nonfiction we are particularly interested in material influenced by the land and cultures of the Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva regions. Established and emerging writers are encouraged to submit their best work.”

“We also seek illustrative artwork in the form of line drawings and black and white photography. Our standards are for well-written, evocative prose and poetry exhibiting skillful expression,” according to the submission guidelines.

The Delmarva Review, published annually by the Eastern Shore Writers’ Association, was originally founded to feature writing from the Delmarva region, but it now welcomes all writers. Detailed submission guidelines and additional information can be found on the publication’s web site.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Baltimore Writers' Conference

Here’s an upcoming one-day conference that may be of interest. (Okay…some shameless self-promotion may be involved here, since I’m among the panelists!)

Baltimore Writers’ Conference: Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, Publishing
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Towson University Union
8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

My panel is shaping up to be pretty good (if I do say so; but my fellow panelists both have interesting things to say about the process of writing a novel). Here’s our blurb:

When Is a Story a Novel?
It’s a favorite comment of workshops everywhere: “You’ve got enough going on here for a novel, not a story!” Well-meaning but confusing: what is “enough” for a novel? If you really have “enough” for a novel, why do you have only 18 pages? Should you take the plunge and expand your story…if so, how to proceed? Three novelists will explore the early stages of novel-writing, offering strategies to help writers at all levels move from 18 pages to 300.

I will be speaking along with Katharine Davis and Maribeth Fischer, and here are their impressive bios:

Katharine Davis began writing fiction in 1999. Capturing Paris (St. Martin’s Press, May 2006) is her first novel. She is completing a second novel that takes place on the coast of Maine.

Maribeth Fischer is the author of two novels, The Language of Goodbye, awarded Virginia Commonwealth University's First Novel Award for 2002 and The Life You Longed For (Simon and Schuster 2007), chosen as a Book Sense Notable Book for April 2007, as well as a Literary Guild alternate selection. Fischer's literary essays have appeared in such journals as The Iowa Review and The Yale Review, and have twice been cited as notable in Robert Atwan's Best American Essays. She has also received a Pushcart Prize for her essay "Stillborn."

The conference also features one-on-one meetings about participants’ manuscripts, literary arts exhibitors, opportunities to meet journal editors, and panels about screenwriting, blogs, and various issues of craft.

Here's where to go for registration and additional information. Perhaps I'll see you there!

Monday, October 29, 2007

True Suspense

Sunday’s Washington Post Arts section had a short piece about a video playing at the Hirshhorn Museum called “Deeparture,” in which artist Mircea Cantor put a wolf and a deer into a small, all-white room and filmed their interaction. I’m not sure what PETA would make of that (well, yes I am), but the result is fascinating—no bloody messes, but the two animals seem hyper-aware of each other as they sniff and stare and edge about the small space.

The Post asked the artist why the wolf didn’t eat the deer and he said, “I don’t know how to answer! I was not even interested in that. For me it was a matter of the tension in the image….We all know that deer and wolves never live together. So what is beautiful is to keep this tension—as though you had a bow, and you kept bending it.”

I was reminded of one of my favorite quotations about suspense and tension, from another visual master of tension, movie director Alfred Hitchcock, which is explained here:

“In dramatizing this fear, Hitchcock employs a technique he calls the "Bomb Theory." This scenario runs as follows: Two men are sitting at a table discussing baseball. They talk for about five minutes, when suddenly, there is a huge explosion, which gives the audience a terrible shock, which lasts for about fifteen seconds. According to Hitchcock's Bomb Theory, when the scene opens, you show the audience that there is a bomb under the table, which is set to go off in five minutes. While the men are sitting casually discussing baseball, the audience is squirming in their seats, thinking Don't sit there talking about baseball... there's a bomb under the table! Get rid of it! The audience is overwhelmed with the sense to warn the characters of the danger which they perceive, and which the characters are not aware of. Hitchcock's method transfers the menace from the screen to the minds of the audience, until it becomes unbearable - at which point there is a climax. An important footnote to this theory: You must never let the bomb go off and kill anybody. Otherwise, the audience will be very mad at you.”

The theory applies to writing, too: giving information to the reader often results in greater suspense and tension than withholding it.

To watch the video of “Deeparture,” go here.

And apropos of nothing, there was a charming photo the Post ran in the Sunday print edition (that I can’t find online) of the Three Stooges with Moe Howard’s little girl. Who could imagine having a Stooge as a father?! Talk about an interesting premise for a novel! (Most amusing bit from the article, which was prompted by the release of the Stooges on DVD: “While major gags were scripted, the Stooges’ face-slapping and eye-poking were not. For such scenes, says [daughter] Joan Howard Maurer, “you know what the script says? ‘The Stooges do their stuff.’”) Stooges fans can read more here.

Finally--yay, Red Sox!!!! Sometimes you just want the great outcome without the suspense of a seven-game series!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Work in Progress: My Fabulous Writing Group

I’ve been in a writing group since 1998. I am one of two of the original members left from that first meeting (which occurred exactly as the nation was learning the name “Monica Lewinsky,” to give you an idea of how long ago all this was). As a group we’ve weathered many upheavals and arrivals/departures. The group read the entire manuscript of my second novel, A Year and a Day, in draft and was invaluable in helping me find and shape my story. We’ve read complete drafts of three novels that were subsequently published (The House on Q Street, Lost and Found, and The Bowl Is Already Broken), one that was handed in to the editor a few weeks ago, and several novels that will be published once they’re complete. This is not to mention the countless short stories and occasional essays that are handed in for critique.

When I say this group has changed my writing life, I’m not exaggerating. Yes, there are flaps; yes, there can be tedious discussions about when to meet if we have to change our regular meeting time; yes, there’s a lot of traffic when I drive from Virginia to our current meeting place in northwest DC. But it’s hard for me to imagine not having this group to show my early drafts to, though I’m sure there will be a time at some point when it feels right to move on, as many in the group have done at various points.

Since people often ask what makes a good group, I thought I’d share some of our guidelines and the decisions we’ve made that I think have ensured our longevity.

1. We decided that 6 is the optimal number of participants. With a group of 6, it’s likely that at least 4 people will be able to make each meeting, so we determined that’s the minimum for a meeting. In today’s climate of busy-ness, it’s unrealistic to expect that anyone can attend EVERY time, so we have a built-in allowance for missing meetings.

2. We decided we wanted only to invite women to participate in our group, and that seems to work for us.

3. We are primarily focused on fiction, and perhaps even more so novels, though we also read memoir. But I can’t imagine what we’d say if a poet were to attend…rather, speaking only for myself, I can’t imagine what sort of useful critique I could offer. “Um…nice poem. Great line breaks.” So, we stick to what we know best.

4. Though this may sound repellent to writerly free-spirits, we try to have a certain amount of structure in how we run things. We try to meet on the same day throughout the year (i.e. the second Thursday) to keep those tedious discussions about when to meet to a minimum. We don’t meet over dinner or any food, which encourages too much socializing (there are other places/times to socialize with these smart women); in fact, we generally chat for 10-15 minutes, then we get down to—and stick to—business. We meet in a neutral location, vs. meeting in someone’s house, so that no one has to run around vacuuming their house and hiding the clutter.

5. Logistically, we work on an every-other-month submission basis, with three submissions per time. When it’s your turn, you mail up to 35 pages. This is especially useful when working on a novel, as 35 pages is a decent-sized chunk. We follow a workshop format of each person speaking her piece in turn; the writer is silent until the open discussion at the end. If you miss a meeting, you return your comments before the next.

6. Finally, we make all our decisions by consensus, not majority. This way, everyone generally feels invested and content with the outcome of decisions. It may take a while to reach consensus on some points—especially when it comes to inviting new people to join—but we’ve found that it’s really the only approach for us.

There have been people I’ve met with horror stories about groups they’ve been in (“I never wanted to write again”; “we started meeting in secret, hoping we could ditch him”), and I empathize. A bad group is worse than no group. But a great group—like mine!—truly is priceless and is worth the effort to cultivate and maintain.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


What to make of the following convergence of events? One can’t help but notice….

--Folger Poetry & Lecture series brochure arrives in the mail. Eleven speakers in the series, two women.

--October 29 issue of the New Yorker arrives. Twelve writers listed in the Table of Contents, one woman.

--Oprah picks another book for her book club. Despite a viewership of, oh, what—99.9 percent women??—she chooses Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Okay, fine, a modern classic…but according to blogger M.J. Rose, since January 2005, Oprah has picked 9 books—each by a man. Since 2003, she’s picked 15 books, 13 by men.

--Read an interesting interview with writer Kate Christensen in Maud Newton and came across this quotation:

“That said, and to answer your question more directly, it does seem to me that male writers are taken more seriously just because they’re men, and conversely, female writers have to work much harder to be taken seriously just because we’re women; I don’t have any hard statistics to back this up, but almost every time I open the NYTBR, I become convinced anew. Anyway, it’s a little dispiriting, but there’s nothing I can do about it but keep writing.”

--And, to top it all off, I read this in Slate’s new blog written by women:

" The Science of Female Self-Doubt -- More on women, science, and stereotype threat: A new study published by Psychological Science of undergraduate women majoring in math, science, and engineering found fresh evidence that cues of gender-imbalance negatively affect not only women's performance but their desire to perform. (The study was conducted by Claude Steele and others.) In the study, some women watched a gender-balanced video about an upcoming conference in their field, while others watched a similar video in which male speakers outnumbered female. The participants who watched the latter video "reported a lower sense of belonging and less desire to participate in the conference, than did women who viewed the gender-balanced video." (Men who watched the videos didn't report any differences in their sense of belonging--but those who watched the video with more women expressed more desire to participate in the conference.) Interestingly, the women experiencing stereotype threat also demonstrated more "cognitive vigilance"--that is, they remembered more about the video and the room in which they saw it than did the first group. More analysis here at Inside Higher Ed (scroll down).

"I suppose it hardly bolsters the case for (or against) an all-women's blog--but it may have some bearing on the perennial discussions of why there are more male bloggers than female bloggers in fields like politics. Via Inside Higher Ed. Posted Monday, October 22, 2007 2:20 PM by Meghan O'Rourke"

If you’re not depressed enough, read (or reread) Francine Prose’s essay first published in Harper’s magazine, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are Women Writers Really Inferior?” It was published in June 1998 but still rings uncomfortably true:

“But some of us can't help noting how comparatively rarely stories by women seem to appear in the few major magazines that publish fiction, how rarely fiction by women is reviewed in serious literary journals, and how rarely work by women dominates short lists and year-end ten-best lists.”

Continuing on:

“In fact, as so often happens, the statistics outdo one's grisliest paranoias. In last year's New York Review of Books, twenty-five books of fiction by men were reviewed and only ten books by women--in essays written by three times as many men as women. In 1997, The New Yorker printed thirty-seven stories by men, ten by women; Harper's Magazine printed nine stories by men, three by women. Since 1992, the Editors' Choice lists in The New York Times Book Review, arguably the most powerful voice in the book-review chorus, have included twenty-two books of fiction by men and eight by women. Since 1980, sixteen men and two women have won the PEN/Faulkner Award; and fourteen men and four women, the National Book Award.”

I was in the audience when she delivered this essay as a speech at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and I was disgruntled for weeks after. I'm not saying someone needs to be keeping a 50-50 tally chart...but still.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fame and Fortune for DC Writers

I was reading my new issue of Poets & Writers magazine last night and came across this relevant award for DC writers, sponsored by Poets & Writers, Inc. Since it involves a free trip to my favorite city, I feel compelled to pass along the info:

Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award

Two prizes of $500 each are awarded annually to a poet and a fiction writer from a select area, typically a state. Each winner also receives an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to give a reading and meet with writers, editors, publishers, and agents. The 2008 contest is open to residents of Washington, DC. Poets and fiction writers who have published no more than one full-length book in the genre in which they are applying are eligible. Submit five copies of up to 10 pages of poetry or 25 pages of fiction by December 1. There is no entry fee. Required application and complete guidelines are here.

So, DC residents, this opportunity makes up for not having full representation in Congress, right?

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Get Involved

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness will take place March 20-23, 2008, in Washington, DC, and the organizers invite proposals for panel discussions and workshops. The deadline is December 1, 2007. Full guidelines and additional details can be found at here.

From the website: "Split this Rock invites proposals for panel discussions and workshops on a range of topics at the intersection of poetry and social change. Possibilities are endless. Challenge us. Let’s talk about craft, let’s talk about mentoring young poets, let’s talk about working in prisons, connecting with the activist community, sustaining ourselves in dark times, the role of poetry in wartime. Let’s remember great poet activists and discover new, let’s think international, visual, collaborative, out of the box. A panel may consist of 3-4 persons, with one person designated as facilitator. Please title your panel and include brief biographical information for each participant, along with a two paragraph description of your panel—what are the questions you wish to explore—why is this conversation timely and necessary at this time—how will this panel further the goals of Split This Rock? How are the members of your panel uniquely qualified to lead a conversation on your proposed topic? We have a strong interest in interactive conversation and community building, so please indicate how you will involve participants in the discussion."

Monday, October 22, 2007

J.K. Rowling Meets Ernest Hemingway

J.K. Rowling’s big revelation this weekend that Albus Dumbledore is gay reminded me of Hemingway’s “iceberg principle”: "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing."

So the discovery was surprising yet inevitable—because she had that knowledge about that character in her head, the resonance is there on the page, even if the exact words are not...what we should all aspire to in our writing.

Nancy Drew: Literary Heroine

How can I resist sharing this poem about my favorite girl sleuth, Nancy Drew? (via today’s Writer's Almanac)

Yes, I was a major fan back in the day...I could never understand why the public library wouldn't stock the books, meaning I had to swap them with the neighbors, scour yard sales for old copies, and save up birthday money to buy them at WaldenBooks ($1.50 each plus 5 cents tax). I guess the library was afraid those genre series would rot our impressionable little minds. But once I got a little older I found the shelves and shelves of Barbara Cartland romances in the adult those are real mind rot (not that I noticed at the time). The librarians must have been fooled by the "historical" settings. Thankfully, Agatha Christie was shelved just down the way, and my obsessive reading shifted there in time.

Nancy Drew
by Ron Koertge, from Fever. © Red Hen Press.

Merely pretty, she made up for it with vim.
And she got to say things like, "But, gosh,
what if these plans should fall into the wrong
hands?" And it was pretty clear she didn't mean
plans for a party or a trip to the museum, but
something involving espionage and a Nazi or two.

In fact, the handsome exchange student turns
out to be a Fascist sympathizer. When he snatches
Nancy along with some blueprints, she knows he
has something more sinister in mind than kissing
with his mouth open.

Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house,
Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin.
Pretty soon the police show up, and everything's
hunky dory.

Nancy accepts their thanks, but she's subdued.
It's not like her to fall for a cad. Even as she plans
a short vacation to sort out her emotions she knows
there will be a suspicious waiter, a woman in a green
off the shoulder dress, and her very jittery husband.

Very well. But no more handsome boys like the last one:
the part in his hair that was sheer propulsion, that way
he had of lifting his eyes to hers over the custard,
those feelings that made her not want to be brave
confident and daring, polite, sensitive and caring.

(You can listen to the poem here. )

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I’m feeling a bit under the weather, so no long essay today. I’ll be back on Monday. For now, check out this rant about the difficulties of finding time and space for one’s own writing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Upcoming Classes at the Writer's Center

I will be teaching two of my favorite one-day classes this fall at the Writer’s Center: a workshop about dialogue and a beginning class that focuses on finding your creative voice. Details follow, and, as always, if these don’t appeal to you, do check out the other great options offered by the Writer’s Center.

Dialogue: How to Talk the Talk
Saturday, October 27, 2007
10:00 AM to 4PM

Dialogue seems as though it should be easy since we all talk! But written dialogue should reverberate beyond the sounds of everyday conversation, serving many purposes: revealing character, moving the story forward, supporting your setting. How do you accomplish these effects in your own fiction and memoir? This supportive, hands-on workshop offers tips and techniques that will help the voices of your characters come alive. We’ll be doing a number of exercises in class, so bring pen and paper! 1 hour lunch break.
Location: The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD
Details and registration information are here.

Finding Your Voice: Creating Memorable Fiction and Memoir
Sunday, November 4, 2007
12:30 PM to 6:00 PM

Have you always wanted to write but couldn’t quite find the courage to pick up a pencil? Or perhaps you’re a secret writer, scribbling stories in private notebooks, compulsively filling the pagesof your journal? This supportive, hands-on workshop will give you courage to write and direction about how to proceed. Through discussion and writing exercises, participants will learn some basic techniques of fiction/memoir writing. The goal is to leave with several promising pieces to finish at home. Bring a pen and lots of paper!
Location: Leesburg Town Hall, 25 West Market Street, Leesburg, VA.
Details and registration information are here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thnking about Self-Publishing?

WNBA, an excellent networking group I belong to, is sponsoring the following program:

Panel Discussion on Self-Publishing

Agents and publishers unresponsive? In this do-it-yourself era, self-publishing can be a more effective way to get your work in the hands of readers. And it can be a springboard to developing a relationship with a commercial publisher.

Date: Thursday, October 25, 2007
Time: 6:30 to 9 p.m. (light refreshments)
Cost: Free to members, $10 for non-members
Location: Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives
1201 17th Street NW
Washington, DC
Metro: Farragut North or Farragut West


Joy R. Butler is an entertainment, intellectual property and business attorney with degrees from Harvard. She is also the author of two books, including The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle (distributed by Biblio/NBN). (Go here to read Joy’s “Guest in Progress” piece.)

Carla Danziger self-published Hidden Falls, a mystery/romantic suspense novel set in Norway, with iUniverse, a print-on-demand publisher in 2004. In January 2008, the work will be published in Large Print by Thorndike Press, the world’s leading large-print-publisher.

Sheilah Kaufman is a cookbook author, culinary instructor, food writer, and lecturer who has alternately self-published and had books published by New York publishers for the past 40 years. She is the author of 25 cookbooks.

Veronica Li’s first novel, Nightfall in Mogadishu, a thriller set in Somalia, was published by print-on-demand publisher AuthorHouse. Her second book, Journey across the Four Seas, was produced by conventional publisher Homa and Sekey Books.

Go here for more information; to RSVP, please email: ncweil AT

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Short Story Is Dead Again

Well, speaking of Maud Newton’s fabulous literary blog as I do below, here's a not-to-miss link: Jean Thompson, author of Throw Like a Girl, on the state of the short story, inspired by Stephen King’s introduction to the new edition of the Best American Short Stories and excerpted in a recent issue of The New York Times Book Review.

Monday Morning Sluggishness

If you’re finding it hard to get going on your work this morning, as I am (I think it’s because today is the first real autumn-feeling morning here, where the bed is sooooo warm, inviting lingering, and my house is soooooo chilly), you may enjoy this time-waster: quiz yourself here on which of these first lines of famous books you recognize. Either you’ll feel smart and inspired, or you’ll feel like a dope who’s permitted to loll in bed a bit longer.

(I think I remember first reading about this site on the fabulous literary blog, Maud Newton.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Guest in Progress: Doreen Baingana

This came in while I was away, and while the Brooklyn Book Festival was a short time ago, on September 16, the observations remain insightful. We’re all looking for a writing community—whether it’s at a festival, in a class at the Writer’s Center, through an MFA program, in a writing group, through blogs, and so on. One of my favorite things is how these various communities overlap one another, as seen by how my paths cross with the author of this piece, Doreen Baingana.

I had heard of Doreen when she won the prestigious AWP award for her first book of short stories, but I believe I hadn’t actually met her (briefly) until we were both reading at a book party for Richard Peabody’s first anthology of DC women writers, Grace and Gravity (my memory is a bit fuzzy because there were something like 20 women reading!). A year later, we crossed paths at an event at the Writer’s Center, where we both teach. After that, I invited her to participate in a panel I was moderating at the Washington Independent Writers conference this past June and we hung out together at the conference. (I certainly agree with her comment below: “Attend festivals, writers!”) She’s fun, funny, and sharply smart (raising her hand to question WIW conference keynote speaker Francine Prose’s sweeping allegations about writing classes in front of 300 people also makes Doreen brave in my book!).

I guess all this is not to drop names (which I, too, can “drop giddily”!) but to note that the writing world is both small and large—and yes, it is important to get out there and meet people. Not to “make connections” and “network”—but to find your community and to explore what other communities are up to. I see the writing world as not having pigeonholes—rather, places in which to nest.

The Brooklyn Book Festival

Ah, fame! Actually, not quite, but there I was, in a room full of other authors, everyone chatting nonchalantly, and I couldn't help but think, is this really happening to me? Edwidge Danticat was serenely holding court in one corner surrounded by about four other writers I didn't know, except for Walter Mosley. Well, I know his hat and longish face, so I knew it was him. One of the organizers mistook me for Gloria Naylor! Was that a good thing or not? I look nothing like her, except for our skin color.

I was sitting with Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House, which I think is one of the best lit. mags. there is right now in America, and he is my friend! I know, I am awful at dropping names; I drop them too giddily! I met Rob in Kenya last December at the SLS Literary Festival, so when he organized a panel on African writing for the Brooklyn Book festival, he thought of me. The moral? Attend festivals, writers! Of course, if I had been among millions of other writers at an event here in the States, he wouldn't have known me from Gloria Naylor's daughter, so I should amend the moral to read, "Attend foreign festivals!" And perhaps there not being too many African writers who could hop across the Atlantic and get to New York easily helped too. Well, perhaps he likes my writing too; I shouldn't be too modest.

Our reading should not have been called, "Africa Now," but "Africa Based in America Now." It always tickles me how, after only one book, I am a kind of a "Voice of Africa," here, but I am not complaining! I read with Uzodinma Iweala, a Nigerian writer also from Washington D.C. His book, Beasts of No Nation, a harrowing story of a child soldier, has won lots of prizes, including the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers Award. The third reader with us was Mohammed Naseehu Ali, author of The Prophet of Zongo Street, a collection of short stories of such startling variety and deep humor, set both in New York and Kumasi, Ghana.

What I enjoyed most about it all was the camaraderie among us -- dare I call it a real community -- among African writers who knew each other mostly by name. I had met Mohammed at another reading earlier this year, and e-mailed back and forth with Uzo. There we were outside later, enjoying the glow of praise from the audience, chatting, laughing, being photographed, as Chris Abani joined us too (his latest book, Song For Night, was recently reviewed in the New York Times Book Review), and Walter. Sorry, I must mention him again. He is hilarious, by the way. So, unlike most writing events I attend in the US, I was not one out of one, two or three black people in a sea of white, or the only one with an accent. I guess this is New York, this is Brooklyn: everyone is different and the more different you are, the more hip. The ambiance was so much more relaxed and cool. I suppose it is unfair to compare this to the Washington Independent Writers events, for example, but they are so cold and official, so DC!

It is events like this Sunday's that remind me how much fun it is to be a writer, but this is 1% or less of the writing life. How did I get there, with only one book, I ask myself. By writing that one book. And how long can I keep being invited with only one book? Yet one more good reason to get off my ass and finish my second one, if only to chat with Walter like we're old friends, as we watch a long line wait patiently to get their latest Edwidge Danticat book signed. Now she writes: she publishes a book every other year, it seems. Good for her. My other hero is Junot Díaz, who has his second book out now after eleven years! Yay! It's not too late! There is hope! ~~Doreen Baingana

Doreen Baingana is a Ugandan writer and author of Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005, Harlem Moon/Doubleday, 2006), which won the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Award in Short Fiction. She teaches at The Writer’s Center, among other places.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Happy Birthday... my wonderful husband! Since it's a "significant" birthday, attention must be paid! Come back tomorrow for more substantive blogging.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Local Poetry, Part 1

This was in Saturday’s Washington Post, but I can’t find a link. I’m usually suspicious of “found poetry,” but this example amused me…maybe because I’ve had my share of Metro problems. I’m sure all of this will be familiar to anyone in the DC area who rides Metro on a semi-regular basis. Here are some excerpts:

Rhymes With Orange Line
By Monica Hesse

In the esteemed tradition of found art, we arranged these recent Metro alerts and advisories into poetry, as an exercise in elevating our prosaic, irritating commutes.

An outbound Green Line train at Prince George’s Plaza
Was delayed because of a sick customer
Who required medical assistance.
Trains shared the opposite track
(until the person could be moved).

An inbound Yellow Line train at Huntington
Was dispatched late because Human Waste
Was found on the track.

An inbound Yellow Line train at Crystal City was delayed because of
a door problem
a mechanical problem
a personnel problem
a problem.
. . . .

An inbound Red Line train at Bethesda
Was delayed to allow Metro Transit Police
to search
for a suspect.

An inbound Red Line train at Cleveland Park
Was delayed to allow Metro Transit Police
to search
for disorderly children.

An inbound Red Line train at Rockville was delayed because of smoke.
a smoldering crosstie.
a debris fire.
On the track.
Customers experienced moderate delays.

Local Poetry, Part 2

Speaking of local poetry, check out the excellent new issue of the DC-area’s preeminent online poetry journal, Beltway Poetry Quarterly. With a theme of “the evolving city,” this issue is an anthology of 36 poems that address the multiplicity of ways that cities change over time.

Co-edited by Teri Ellen Cross and Kim Roberts, the featured authors are:

Abdul Ali * Joseph Awad * Kimberly L. Becker * Japheth Brubaker * Rick Cannon * Kenneth Carroll * Grace Cavalieri * William Claire * Ramola D * Heather Davis * Mark DeFoe * Greta Ehrig * Mark Ftizgerald * Martin Galvin * Brian Gilmore * Fannie H. Gray * Daniel Gutstein * Jessica Haney * Joyce Latham * Grisella Martinez * E. Ethelbert Miller * Kathleen O'Toole * Jose Padua * Linda Pastan * John Peacock * Elizabeth Poliner * Katy Richey * Joseph Ross * Carly Sachs * David Salner * Kate Powell Shine * Tanya Snyder * Dan Vera * Joshua Weiner * Rosemary Winslow * Katherine E. Young

It’s fascinating to see how these poets make artful aspects of our daily landscape (“Running Errands” by Heather Davis, "K Street, Deconstructing" by Joyce E. Latham). And it’s always a pleasure to read new work by two of my personal local favorite local poets, E. Ethelbert Miller and Linda Pastan.

For more information, go here.

Monday, October 8, 2007

I Return, Humbled and Inspired

Okay…back from a wonderful vacation to Paris! I’m not sure what I might be able to add to the conversation about Paris that hasn’t already been said, but here are some of my quick impressions:

Yes, it rains A LOT in Paris. So much that most of the time, Parisians seem used to getting wet and don’t bother with an umbrella…so much that the fancy department store we wandered through had a special “umbrella and raingear boutique.”

Yes, the food is DELICIOUS. In ten days, we had only one bad meal and one mediocre meal: both were due to stumbling randomly into a convenient place out of exhaustion. On the other hand, we stumbled randomly out of exhaustion into plenty of other places that turned out to be amazing. After recovering from jet lag and the nine million things I need to do this week, I plan to dig out my old copy of Julia Child and get busy learning how to cook more French dishes—veau blanquette is first on the long list.

Yes, it helps if one speaks FRENCH. (Duh.) Sadly, what snippets Steve remembered from his high school French (Ou est la biblioteque, Françoise?) were not as helpful as one might imagine. Nevertheless, we got by, mostly, and I will no longer scorn those goofy audio guides in museums that happily came in English. As for eating, I immediately learned the words for “brains” and “horse” so I wouldn’t accidentally find myself facing either item on a plate (I imagined I would have eaten about anything else though I wasn’t put to the test). There was an amusing incident where I nearly ordered an appetizer of “fromage”-something, thinking it was a cheese tart, but we instead decided to order the foie gras yet again. (Yes, I’m evil, eating foie gras and veal left and right). Later, we saw that I had nearly ordered “headcheese.” Which probably would have been served with a lovely sauce that would have made me think it was the best thing I’d ever eaten….

Yes, it is absolutely HUMBLING to be in the presence of such great art, to be walking the same mazey warren of narrow streets (lost, hopelessly examining the useless maps in the guidebooks yet again) as Rodin and Degas and countless others, to sit quietly inside a church that was built in the 11th century, to drink wine at the bars where Hemingway drank (quite a number of these; sadly, we couldn’t hit them all), to be reminded that history actually didn’t begin when the Pilgrims showed up on Plymouth Rock in 1620.

In the midst of so much amazing history and stunning art, I am surprised that what still brings me to tears is thinking of my first glimpse of the Mona Lisa and the moments I spent gazing at Venus de Milo at the Louvre. I wouldn’t expect either of these experiences to have had the power they did—both works are virtually clichés, thanks to abundant T-shirts and cheap parodies in knick-knack catalogs. Yet despite the pack of people crowded around the Mona Lisa (all taking flash photos despite the signs saying not to), the painting was luminous, the famous smile timeless, the beauty beyond description.

The mob scene was worse around Venus de Milo—a tour group had just descended and literally every single person of the 50 shoved to the front to get their picture taken while standing next to the statue; they didn't even bother to look at the work itself. The mass of humanity was ridiculous and demeaning and goofy: and, honestly, who on earth wants to see all these photos on cell phones of people ruining a beautiful, timeless statue by pushing their stupid faces in front of it? And yet. The longer I stood there, a bit removed from the scrum, the more lovely and solid and serene and perfect the statue seemed; even the members of this unthinking, unseeing tour group couldn’t destroy it—so….

Yes, ART is ultimately, always, the thing that will prevail. And as writers, however humble, we are fortunate to feel called upon to take our own miniscule steps along that path toward timelessness.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.