Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Four Libraries by Michael Martone

It's fitting that on the fourth Friday of the Summer Library Series, that writer Michael Martone brings us the stories of four libraries.  From Montana to Michigan to Delaware, we somehow missed the middle, and so today's reflection tours the Hoosier State, Indiana.  Enjoy!


Four Libraries
by Michael Martone

Little Turtle Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana. From library website.
The Little Turtle Library, Fort Wayne

See! See me read! Look! Look at me read! Here, the words became words. Still, years later, when I am sleepy, when I have read too much the wordness of a word will evaporate.  The “the” will no long have that the-ness. Has that happened to you? The letters that long ago at the Little Turtle Library snapped to attention will go all soft and stange, will refuse in my brain to mean. Strange.  I will  have that sense memory of what it must have been like, years ago, when the letters of the “the” inflated meaning to be meant. Mother read to me from the primers whose author, I just now learned, was from Indiana like me. Zerna Sharp, of Hillisburg, imagined Dick and Jane. “See, See,” my mother said, and I saw.

From, used under CC license
The Saint Francis College Library, Fort Wayne

We would walk there from our house on Spring Street, Mother and I.  Both of us carrying bags of our books.  Mother was completing her Masters, whatever that was.  A freshman high school English teacher, she would let me “cut” my grade school classes, go with her to Central High downtown.  At the big library tables there, I listened to her tell the stories of giants in Greek Mythology to her students.  I sank into the giant library chairs.  The library at the college, housed in the massive Richardsonian Romanesque Bass Mansion, was once the summer home of the metal foundry owner.  Turrets, cupolas, towers, gothic arches, tiled roofs, porte-cochères, stained glass, spiral stairs, balconies.  The walls were loafs of stone like the sugar-cubed walls of the Troy my mother’s students made for the Odyssey unit, then left behind for me to collect. The books, the books were crammed everywhere. There were nooks and crannies, and the nooks and crannies were everywhere. Books stacked on the built-in oak shelves. Stacks of stacks.  I see now that it was probably all that odd distorted perception of childhood, but the library that housed books seemed to be a house built of books. Furnished by books. Chairs of books.  Desks of books.  Stairways of books.  So many books the books seemed to be built out of books.

Irwin Library, photograph by Richie Diesterheft, used under CC license
The Irwin Library, Butler University, Indianapolis

On the basement floor, I leaned and loafed at my ease observing the stacks and stacks of poetry.  I discovered William Carlos Williams whose book I think I selected for the primer-like insistence of the name of its author.  Inside, I discovered that his poems too echoed Dick and Jane, so much depending on white chickens, on red wheelbarrows. Listen:

munching a plum on

the street a paper bag 

of them in her hand 
They taste good to her

They taste good

to her. They taste

good to her…
The Medical Library, Jordan Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington

I went there to write.  The reading room was empty and ornate, the famous limestone beveled into spines that looked like bindings.  I knew I had a vasovagal response, a syncope usually triggered by the sight of blood but for me it was the sound of Latinate words describing blood or the body.  So “blood” would not floor me but “hemorrhage” would. Contusion. Laceration. The word “Syncope” would cause me to faint.  As a writer I wanted to write words that would act on the viscera of the reader.  Move the reader.  Take the breath away. Words to make the reader light-headed, dizzy, down for the count. I would wander the stacks between the sentences I constructed (the abstract concoctions that I hoped to make concrete), find an ancient worn tome of dissection, an anatomy richly marbled with the magic Latin and crack it open.  I read just a snippet, enough to be surprised, be delighted, my blood pressure plummeting, knocked over by the wordy words. 


Michael Martone has always had the name Michael Martone, from the time he was born in Fort Wayne, to the publication of his most recent book of fictions, Four for a Quarter.  His other, very many books include The Blue Guide to Indiana, Michael Martone, Racing in Place, The Flatness and Other Landscapes, Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler's List. He is the editor of a number of titles, including the fiction anthology Not Normal, Illinois: Peculiar Fictions from the FlyoverMartone teaches writing at University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa and is the recipient of a number of awards, including The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award.  For a more detailed biography, see his faculty bio here.

This piece was originally prepared for the Indianapolis Library.

Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Card Catalog by Stephanie Noll

Welcome back to Friday! From Butte, Montana to Detroit, Michigan, the Summer Library Series now travels east to Claymont, Delaware and the two important libraries from the childhood of writer Stephanie Noll.  Enjoy!


Card Catalog
by Stephanie Noll

from getty images/
My elementary school experience was unfortunate, and not just because I was the fattest kid in class, always, though that didn’t help. My early reading abilities attracted the attention of my first grade teacher, who suggested that I take a test to determine if I was gifted and talented. I didn’t understand the meaning of those words, but I knew that such a designation came with privileges. In the small working-class town of Claymont, Delaware, the gifted and talented children rode a bus to a school in a nicer neighborhood. I wanted to ride that bus. I wanted to be around kids who were never without a book and who didn’t stumble over words when asked to read out loud. I imagined that in the kingdom of “Gifted and Talented,” I would not be called on by the teacher to tutor a classmate; I would not be bullied for my weight or for my excitement to answer any question the teacher posed.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t pass the test. In a solemn meeting of which I remember fragments, my teacher told me and my mother that I’d missed by one question. “One question!” she shouted, angry with the system, I knew, and not me. “If they would sit and talk with her, they’d know,” she said.

We did not fight the decision. I’m not sure what could have been done. But the school had a plan: they would allow me to take English and language arts classes with students in a grade above me, but I would stay with my class for math and science, social studies, art, music, gym. No one saw any problems with this solution; no one considered that the older kids might not accept me into their reading circles; no one imagined that I might have to miss recess or art or gym with my own class so that I could read from the Skylights basal. One correct answer shy of gifted and talented felt like a punishment.

One day, I left my 4th grade reading class, and when I returned to my 3rd grade class, the door was locked. I considered all the places where the class might be, but none of the usual suspects fit. I started to cry in the hallway, feeling untethered and lost and resentful. The only place I could think to go was the library.

The school librarian was an old lady with huge framed eyeglasses holding thick lenses. She hardly looked up from her crossword puzzle when I entered, and such is my first recollection of the independence and safety that I would associate with a library. From the shelves I pulled favorites like Harriet the Spy and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I sat at a small wooden table, books stacked like bricks all around me. I sat and read until the day’s end, and when my mom picked me up, I told her what happened.

from getty images/#181894596 /
The next day she arranged for me to re-take the gifted and talented test, and this time, I passed. After the first day of fifth grade in a new school in the nicer part of town, I came home, excited and satisfied. “The
kids,” I told my mom, “are just like me.” I fell in love with school and became aware of how much I didn’t know, aware that I wasn’t the smartest kid in the room. Early in the year, we were assigned a research project: write a report on an aspect of ancient Roman culture, such as education, mythology, social structure, food. We were required to consult several sources and encouraged to go to THE library. Not the one at the school, not the one in our classroom, but the county library on Concord Pike. A place with two floors and a card catalog. Beautiful wooden tables and chairs where you could (and I would, for all my secondary years) sit for hours and read and study and daydream and imagine yourself a scholar. Just being there made me feel older and smarter but also aware of a disconnect from my peers—I wasn’t sure that even my gifted and talented classmates would be so jazzed to spend an afternoon with a stack of notecards and a new Bic pen.

When I didn’t have assigned research projects, I’d make some up for myself: for awhile I read all I could about Impressionist painters; I studied the life and work of Jane Goodall; in my later years, I cut school to go to the library where I read every book Jack Kerouac ever wrote and everything written about him. In college I’d get lost in the stacks, intending to check out books about whatever subject I was supposed to be pursuing but pulling books at random just because their titles intrigued. The library has always been a place to escape, to daydream, to remind myself that there is so much to learn, especially for a kid like me, someone whose gifts and talents were really just her desire to know more.

Stephanie Noll lives in Austin, Texas and teaches writing, literature, and education courses at Texas State University-San Marcos. Formerly the editor of Badgerdog Press, she takes part in marathons and triathlons, tells stories as part of fundraisers for the Austin Bat Cave, moderates panels on women writers at the Austin Film Festival, and raises her two sons with her husband Michael.  To read more of her writing, check out her flash fiction, "Me" in The Owls and her articles over at Copper Apple.  She is at work on a memoir.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Long Live Literacy! by D.S. Sense

Mark Twain Library, Detroit, MI
Today, the Summer Library Series moves from Butte, Montana to Detroit, Michigan as D.S. Sense reopens the doors of the Mark Twain Library and brings us into the vivid once-was.

Please enjoy.

Long Live Literacy!
by D.S. Sense

Growing up on the Eastside of Detroit, I was afforded many cultural experiences some children took for granted. Although the inner city was plagued with drugs, violence and dilapidated landscapes . . . we still had remnants of grandeur peaking up from the ashes and history of what once was. One landmark in particular shined like Emerald City (at least in my eyes) and that building was "The Mark Twain Library." I enjoyed long walks and class field trips to this wonderful place located at Gratiot and Iroquois, on the outskirts of the historical Indian Village. Upon arrival I would stand on the lawn just to take it all in. "The Mark Twain Library" resembled a castle with its beautiful architecture influenced by the early French settlement in Detroit.

Once I opened the doors there was the quiet hustle and bustle of bookkeepers, teachers, students, and regulars all in their own microcosm of existence. Some faces buried in books for hours oblivious to the world around them. The smell of xerox ink, floor polish, and books added to the mystic and charm of the building. I would hurry to find the latest Beverly Cleary, R.L. Stine, or National Geographic and hide out in the safest place on earth . . . the coveted window seat in the children's nook! I loved how secluded it was and how the Willow trees brushed against the glass when they swayed to and fro. I was an avid reader who read well beyond my years so I would fly through those reads then reread them so I wouldn't lose my seat!

Once it was time to leave I would get sad almost to the point of tears. It was as though I sensed that "The Mark Twain Library" would not be a part of my city or life for much longer. Unfortunately, it closed its doors due to lack of funding during my last year of middle school. Although Detroit has its "Main Library" located on Woodward Ave, "The Chandler Park Library" located on Harper Ave and even the "Farmington Hills Library" in one the city's suburbs, all of which I frequent and like, none of them can compare to my quaint little castle "The Mark Twain Library."


Deidre Carmen Smith, or D.S. Sense, is a writer, slam poet, and hip-hop artist living and performing in Detroit.  She has been featured in the Michigan Citizen  Her albums include D.S. Sense, Start Up Money, and most recently, Space Audissey.  Listen to her accapella version of “Ya’ll Ain’t Ready for This” here. You can also follow her on twitter.