Monday, August 13, 2018

2018 Summer Library Series: Library Time by Rachel King

Welcome back to the 2018 Summer Library Series in which writers remember their childhood libraries. This week's writer hails from Portland and shares the kind of magic that only you, dear reader, would know of. Please enjoy this week's reflection.

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Hillsdale Branch Library,
an earlier version of itself

Library Time

by 
Rachel King

I grew up near the Hillsdale branch of the Multnomah County Library system in Portland, Oregon. Based on the fact that my parents were readers, and that Multnomah County Library items are checked out at four times the rate of the national average, it’s not surprising that I received a library card as soon as I could write my name.

I remember the tire swing in the park across the street from the library where my siblings and I pushed each other until we felt like vomiting; the kind and reserved children’s librarian who for some reason let us show our rabbits as an extension of the summer reading program; the day at age eight that I walked toward the children’s section on the back wall of the library, saw a book on the second-to-bottom shelf, and my life changed. The book was Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

I don’t remember where I read it: maybe in a clearing between bushes at the back of the library park, maybe in the magnolia tree in my parents’ side yard, maybe on my bed on the top bunk, probably in the blue recliner in the living room where I tuned out family noise to focus on the written word.

Rachel King reading as a younger version of herself
I do remember I cried while reading the final paragraphs. As Cassie says, “I cried for things which had happened in the night and would not pass. I cried for T.J. For T.J. and the land.” It was the first book over which I cried, and I don’t cry over much. If a book could get me to see these characters and this place so clearly, then books were magic. And I’ve never stopped thinking that.

After childhood came the Knight Library at the University of Oregon, where I practiced conjugating Russian verbs on a study room blackboard; the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, where I checked out dozens of books at a time, which I read in between working various jobs and trying, for the first time, to write seriously; the Wise Library at West Virginia University, where I found amazing poets while shelving books in an empty, elegant Robinson Reading Room at midnight or one a.m.; the Louisville Public Library, where I used the free internet once a week to talk to my friend on Skype; my current local library, the Midland branch, where I go to check out New York Review of Books Classics and browse Russian books and DVDs; the Oregon City Public Library—my mom’s childhood library—where now, as an on-call library assistant, I help patrons.

When I moved back to Portland, I went to the Hillsdale library. The old library building had been demolished, and replaced with a larger one on the same site. But inside was the same children’s librarian from my childhood, and to me, she looked no differently. And most importantly, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry was still on the shelf, for another generation to discover.

Hillsdale Branch Library as its newer self

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Rachel King,
photo used with permission
Today's library writer:

Rachel King is a writer and editor who lives in her hometown, Portland, Oregon. Her stories have most recently appeared in One Story and Flyway; her poetry chapbook Between Work and Light is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Learn more about her work at www.booksrachelking.com










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Continue enjoying reflections from the Summer Library Series: http://www.erinpringle.com/p/summer-library-series.html

Monday, August 6, 2018

2018 Summer Library Series: Two Libraries by Lane Falcon

How fast the summer flies once its wings catch wind! Flowers bloomed, grass died, sprinklers worked or broke, and hopefully, you have read books in your window, by the lake, or from various lawn chairs. Amidst all of this, the 2018 Summer Library Series got lost in July--but, thankfully, August has rediscovered it, and the series will resume and run through September.  

Every week, writers will share library memories from their childhoods. This week, poet Lane Falcon remembers two times, twenty years apart, in which she found herself in the library. I hope you'll find yourself in your own library very soon.

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Two Libraries 

by

Lane Falcon


Lane Falcon, high-school era
I admit, the library didn’t figure largely into my life until I was pregnant with my daughter Cecilia, and alone, in New York City. As a child, my fondest memory of the library happened in high school, in Palos Park, Illinois, when I earned a detention for performing a back walkover behind the shelves, egged on by a daring friend, whom I later lost touch with.

The principal couldn’t help but crack a smile when he listed the offense. I’d been reported by my English teacher, Ms. Such and Such, who I didn’t realize had a view of my acrobatics behind the shelves from the table where she sat.

This teacher never did like me, or so it seemed— complimenting my poinsettia tights and writing me up for wearing too-short shorts once in the same class—but in retrospect she was probably not too far off from where I am today: Thirty-Something and Frustrated.

The principal said he had never given a detention for doing back flips in the library, but he gave it to me anyways. I was no longer afraid of being yelled at by that point, but felt relieved that he hadn’t scorned me for being a show-off or a jackass--the edge of delinquency excusable in a young girl in too short a skirt with big orange flowers splashed across her legs.

Lane Falcon
Some twenty years later, I was living in New York City, and the library appeared with pregnancy. Though I was making nearly six figures at the time, didn’t own a car and had minimal bills, I was still convinced that I'd go broke with a child, would no longer enjoy the luxury of regular manicures and pedicures, and would resort to dyeing my own hair (which, I swear, stress was sucking the color from). I had been living in a state of three-new-books-a-month-delivered-from-Amazon-to-my-office cush that, along with cabs to work and daily excursions for mocha chip soy Frappuccinos with an extra shot of espresso, I could no longer take for granted. So I turned to my local library for answers.

The library is located across from the Dykeman subway stop, and up until the week I was due, I’d visit at least once a week after work, pee in the soiled-smelling bathroom, pick out a few books, pee again and then rush the five blocks home so I could pee again. I remember a few of the books I checked out during that time. The Stand by Stephen King, some book about rich yuppie parents having sleazy hook-ups in Prospect Heights, good ole’ Harlan Cobens, Kristin Hannahs probably…most embarrassingly of all, I even remember reading The Lucky One by Nicolas Sparks. In my third trimester, I hit some kind of stride, accepting the platforms— the public library, the subway— where pregnancy grounded me. That was one of the happiest times of my life.



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Lane Falcon and her daughter Ceci,
photo used with permission
Today's library writer:

Lane Falcon lives in Alexandria, VA with her two young children. She has an MFA in Poetry from Smith. Her poems have been published in The American Poetry JournalThe Cortland Review, OmniversePankSixfold, and more. She is at work finishing a collection. She works in communications and fundraising.





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Enjoy more library reflections from writers who have contributed to this summer and summers past:


Friday, July 13, 2018

Personally Speaking with Neal and Erin, KRYS Radio 88.1 FM/92.3 FM Spokane

Your hosts, Neal and Erin, of KYRS's Personally Speaking
Good news! You can tune in EVERY Saturday at 5 PM (PDT) to enjoy Personally Speaking, an awesome show on KYRS Thin Air Community Radio. My friend Neal and I interview people in Spokane area who are doing interesting things. Formerly known as"So There I Was", the show is nearing its fourth year of life.

Stream live on KYRS.org, no matter where you live.

Personally, I love the show.

Upcoming Guests in 2018

  • Itchy Kitty
  • Pivot Spokane
  • Atari Ferrari
  • Rick, fixer of bikes
  • Mark Anderson, Spokane's poet laureate
  • Stage Left directors

Guests in 2018
  • Children's Theatre production of Les Miserables (directors)
  • Dr. Stacy Hill, professor of education at Whitworth University
  • Breanna White, artist and educator, owner of TypeBee LetterPress Printshop (Post Falls, ID)
  • JJ Wandler, owner of Total Trash Records and Vintage
  • Sharon Randle, Acting President of NAACP 
  • Cast of Stage Left's production of And Then There Were None
  • Kathy Callum, archaelogist, geologist, master gardener, master composter
  • Reina Del Cid (folk band)
  • Ben Kardos, folk singer/songwriter from Newport, WA
  • Phillis Kardos, Newport, WA community member against the proposed smelter

Follow us on Facebook for upcoming guests, good jokes, and more!


Thursday, June 21, 2018

2018 Summer Library Series: Neighborhood Libraries by Cetywa Powell

Welcome back to the 2018 edition of the Summer Library Series. Every Thursday this summer, a guest writer will be sharing childhood memories of reading, books, and the library. Should you panic while waiting for the next Thursday, please enjoy past contributions here: http://www.erinpringle.com/p/summer-library-series.html

Today's piece is an excellent reminder of both the importance of books and neighbors who read, and how a library can become a neighborhood, not just serve one. Please enjoy today's reflection by Cetywa Powell.

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Neighborhood Libraries
by
Cetywa Powell

Cetywa's membership card, used with permission
Libraries didn’t play a large role in my life until much later. My father’s work took him to Sweden, where he got his Ph.D., and later Africa, where he researched a disease called “Sleeping Sickness.” 

In Sweden, where I did half of my kindergarten, I didn’t speak the language and spent much of my class time in silence. The next half of kindergarten was spent in Hawaii, where my mother is from. I don’t recall ever frequenting the library there.

My father’s research then took him to Nairobi, Kenya. I read voraciously, but the books were from neighbors and friends, never from the library. In fact, in those days, Nairobi’s library had books that were so old and outdated, I felt they had been there from the colonial days (Nairobi was an English colony and got its independence in 1963). I visited that library once and had no desire to go back.

My reading came from the neighbors’ libraries. Our American neighbors introduced me to the Noddy series as a kid and later the Anne of Green Gables books. From down the street, I borrowed the Chronicles of Narnia series. And from someone else, I read George Orwell’s novels: Animal Farm and 1984.
Cetywa Powell, photo used with permission

When we returned to the U.S., we settled first in Denver and finally in New York, where my father was from. Denver was a difficult year so I spent a large part of my time reading. Although I don’t recall where my books came from, I do remember every book I read.

My love for libraries started in New York. There are two libraries that come to mind: the small New York library that I walked to from our apartment to borrow books and my college library at Columbia University. Although Columbia’s main library, Butler library, is one of the largest libraries in the United States, I was impressed only with its interior architecture, not its manuscripts. I spent many hours studying there, looking up between breaks to stare at the room(s) in awe. I’m ashamed to say I never actually thought to borrow any of their books.

Now, I’m a member of the Los Angeles public library, and my fondness for libraries extends beyond just books. I appreciate their free classes, their up-to-date movie collection, their free computers, and their monthly book sales where books cost just 25 cents. They’ve saved me when my computer crashed, when my printer ran out of ink, and I when couldn’t find a movie online. We even got free solar eclipse glasses from them for the solar eclipse in 2017.

Butler Library, Columbia University: more here
Los Angeles Public Library, photo from DryWired
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Today's Library Writer: Cetywa Powell is an editor, photographer, and filmmaker. She runs the small press, Underground Voices, which features new, hard-hitting work by award-winning writers in its magazine, e-book series, and book line. As a photographer, Powell's work has exhibited in galleries in France, New York, Los Angeles, Maryland, Virginia, Hungary, Florida, the Trieste airport in Italy, Vermont, and Texas. She is based in Los Angeles. Learn more about Powell and her visual work here: http://www.ten8photography.com/T8About.html.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

New Story: Valentine's Day in Willow Springs #82


I have a new story, a long story--in fact, we should probably call it a novelette--in the new issue of Willow Springs. The name of the story is Valentine's Day, and it follows the story of three brothers on a winter night, six years after their father's death.

Willow Springs is a publication of the MFA program at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. It's rare for a journal to take on a work of this length, not only because very short fiction is the rage, but also because of the printing space involved. Valentine's Day is fifty pages long. That's a genuine risk the staff took in accepting the story.

Please support their decision and read the story by purchasing your copy of the journal for only $10 from their websitehttp://willowspringsmagazine.org/current-issue/

It will be several years before this story/novelette is collected into a book, and this is likely true of the work by other writers in the journal. Don't wait. Pick up a copy now: http://willowspringsmagazine.org/current-issue/

And follow the magazine on Facebook while you're at it: https://www.facebook.com/willowspringsmag.

P.S. Literary journals make unique and awesome gifts. It's true. They're cheaper than brunch or a movie, last longer, and are better for you and everyone you love.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

2018 Summer Library Series: How Many Libraries by Azaria Podplesky

Summer Library Series 2018 

Child sketching, child reading (c. 1795, France)/photograph by Sharon Mollerus
used under CC license

The Summer Library Series has officially returned this year. Every Thursday, all summer, writers will share reflections of their childhood libraries. Should you panic while waiting for the next reflection, please enjoy past summers here: 2015, 2014, 2012.

I began The Summer Library Series after a deep longing to take part in a Summer Reading Program like those I participated in as a child every summer. I loved the suspense created by the librarians covering the new books with sheets. I loved even more the day of the great unveiling when the sheets were pulled back in front of a crowd of us kids, and there was always a crowd because every school teacher had dutifully marched her students from school to the downtown library so that the librarians could remind us to visit the library all summer. I loved the stickers on the inside, all blank on that first day, and slowly filled with the names of whoever read each book first. What an honor to write my own name in a book!

In addition to the reading, I remember the events. I remember hurrying from the front of the library to the back, where the daily or weekly events were happening. I remember sitting in the back of the library on the floor, watching The Red Balloon off a projector, and another time The Snowman, whose music haunted me into my adulthood and I finally found again and now watch every winter. I remember librarians sitting above us, reading stories.

When I was back home visiting my childhood library, I found several books still holding the names of children I'd grown up with. One name belonged to a girl in my grade who died a few years ago, but her careful cursive in the front of that book brought back her face from when we darted among the shelves searching for glossy new books to check out, read, and inscribe--always flipping open covers to discover whether someone beat us to the first read.

I may be an adult and I may have technically aged out of the bracket of readers who take part in Summer Reading Programs, but I have found that the Summer Library Series brings with it my love for libraries and the thrill of finding new writers and stories.

Without further ado, please enjoy this week's reflection by Azaria Podplesky.


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How Many Libraries Can One Childhood Hold?

by
Azaria Podplesky


Azaria Podplesky and sisters
(Azaria is in the front)
During my consistently inconsistent childhood, libraries were one of the few constants. As an Army Brat, growing up involved moving across the country every two to three years. In my 27 years, I’ve lived in four states and attended 10 schools. (But who’s counting?)

Being in a military family also meant having to navigate a new school and city and make new friends on a fairly regular basis, which was a challenge at times for my introverted younger self. Knowing there was a library at my new school or near our new home, however, always made moving easier.

There was the library at Greenwood Elementary School on Fort Lewis, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where I attended school for second, third and much of fourth grades. Helping the librarian, Mrs. Santuff, reshelve books during recess filled me with so much pride, though I admit the weekly reward of gummy bears also had something to do with my willingness to help.

And then there was the library at C.C. Pinckney Elementary School on Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, where I remember checking out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to see what all the fuss was about, four years after it was released.

Better late than never, right?

I also remember using Accelerated Reader points, which were earned by taking a test after finishing a book, to buy trinkets from the school store. My proudest purchase came at the end of sixth grade, when, after saving up my A.R. points for months, I bought a disposable camera, which I used to take pictures of my friends and teachers on the last day of school.

My family still talks about the beautiful main branch of the Richland Library, also in Columbia, with its wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that let in an abundance of natural light. Also of note to a younger Azaria: the library’s huge children’s room, which research has told me is 20,000 square feet, that features a 40-foot mural of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Richland County Main Library
Inside of Richland County Library
Then there was the Lacey Timberland Library in Lacey, Washington, and, during our second stint on Fort Lewis, the Grandstaff Memorial Library, which was within walking distance of our house. I felt like Matilda, sans little red wagon, every time I walked home with an armful of new books to read.

I, clearly, could go on.

But no matter what state I lived in, the libraries I visited were comfortingly familiar.


Timberland Library

The Bailey School Kids books, by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey, were always going to be near Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series, which were never too far from My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, or The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, three of my favorite books growing up.

Every time we moved, getting a library card was high on our list of priorities, and, if we moved during the summer, we always signed up for the summer reading program. It gave us kids something to do, for one, but the presence of books all over our new space always helped make the house feel more like home.

Now, as an adult, I still find myself letting out a contented sigh when I walk into the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library, almost as if to say “Ahh, I’m home.”

Looking at the library card I keep safe in my wallet, I think my younger self would be happy to see that I’ve continued to keep libraries close to my heart. I can assure her that no matter where the future takes me, a visit to my local library will always be at the top of my to-do list, most likely before I’ve even finished unpacking.

From a site with every WA library card: here

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Azaria Podplesky,
photo used with permission
Today's Library Writer: Azaria Podplesky works as the entertainment writer at the Spokesman-Review. In the past, she has freelanced for the Inlander, Seattle Weekly and the Oregonian. She graduated from Eastern Washington University with degrees in journalism and communication studies in 2012 and currently calls Spokane home. Thanks to her Army brat upbringing, she finds the idea of growing up in just one city, or visiting just one library, nearly impossible to comprehend. Follow her on Twitter (@AzariaP) for writing updates and everything entertaining in Spokane.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In the Land of Mad Winters: New Story in Lake Effect Literary Journal

Lake Effect, Volume 22
I have a new story out in Lake Effect (Volume 22). It’s one of my favorite journals, and this story is one of my new favorites from my next collection (once I finish it).

"In the Land of Mad Winters" is the third story I've published with Lake Effect, and hopefully not the last. Lake Effect is housed at Pennsylvania State University and run by the students at the Behrend College in Erie.

Thanks to all those who worked on creating this beautiful volume. Add the journal to your summer reading, support students in the humanities, and discover a host of new writers by purchasing your copy here:

https://behrend.psu.edu/school-of-humanities-social-sciences/academic-programs-1/creative-writing/cw-student-organizations/lake-effect/lake-effect-volumes/volume-22


Beginning excerpt of Erin Pringle's story "In the Land of Mad Winters"
in Lake Effect, Volume 22 (Winter/Spring 2018)
My Lake Effect collection grows

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fuse Book Club: June Meeting in Spokane, 2018

In June, the Fuse Book Club will meet to discuss books that we've read in club so far, so choose a book or two (or many) to read or re-read, and plan on a lively discussion of patterns, connections, and questions.

2018
May: Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli
April: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
March: So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Feb.: Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Jan.: Any full-length work by MLK





2017
Dec. Reader’s choice, any book by a minoritized author that was published in the past 5 years.
Nov. Between the World and Me Ta-nehisi Coates
Oct. Barefoot Dogs by Alberto Ruiz-Camacho
Sept. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – Sherman Alexie
Jul-Aug. Waking Up White – Debby Irving


P.S. You get a discount at Auntie's Bookstore for taking part in our club, so go get the pages to read today! :) :)

We meet June 13th, 6 PM at the Downtown Public Library
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/180719389220053/

Monday, April 23, 2018

Newspaper Clippings Sent on a Monday, with a Letter

Usually, my grandmother's letters to my mother arrived every Tuesday, from Evansville, Indiana to Casey, Illinois in terms of address. For me, they appeared from the memories of my grandmother's house to the mailbox across the road--the bumpy road that hurt bare feet and took bearing.  

The first many years of my childhood, our address was RR3 (Rural Route), but then 9-1-1 was invented and made its way onto the television and then to our rural town. When it arrived, it turned all the country roads into numbers. I remember my mother complaining. Or huffing. Because, save lives, sure, but change our mailing address? 

It must have been a subject at coffee. She was not the only mutterer.

And this is how anyone entering Casey now would have no idea where Hickory Lane was, or where Dupont Road is, where my sister lived in a trailer when I was little. Or any other country road that was a rural route for the mail-person but a name for the people who lived on that rural route called it.

My mother must have worried that at least one of her mother's letters would not forward to this strange new address with its many numbers. 230th street, my mother said as though streets were not called such things. Maybe there was a first avenue, or a second, but one does not count into the hundreds for a street. 

I think she didn't find the street number melodious. 
My guess is that she grew up on Linwood Street in Evansville, and that is what street names are supposed to be like. 

Also, my mother has a habit of numerology and coincidence, and I don't think she had any birthdays on the 230th day of the year--that she knew, and probably she didn't know any of her former friends' social security numbers where it might be more likely that a 230 would appear at one point in her life so that she could connect it to her current life.

Numbers as a kind of inscrutable fact that, once harnessed to each other through time, provide my mother with a hint of control about who she was and has become. Fishing line thrown out over a pond, hooking one part of herself and reeling to where she stands, toes in the mud.

Who will know the roads? my mother wanted to know. 
The EMTs are from here, too, my mother pointed out.
This was years before my father lay in bed, after the cancer pushed him down, and my mother stood at the window calling 9-1-1 and the EMTs were, in fact, confused as to how to find our road. And it was snowing. 

What if they don't come? my mother may not have said, but her whole body said it as she stood at the picture window, willing the road to carry the ambulance to her, to him.

Every Tuesday, my grandmother sent a letter that contained information about her life that my mother found comforting, and I did not. My grandmother reported on what dinners she had made for my grandfather and herself. She talked of the weather. Of the chat she had with so-and-so neighbor. Of church. Of plans for the following week that would be reported on in the next letter. What birds had she seen in her backyard? How many robins? After my grandmother died, we found a stack of index cards, and on every card was the date and the weather. 

Besides my grandmother's small, perfect cursive, I most remember the enclosures in her letters. A swatch of fabric from a blanket or ornament or sweater she was making. Stickers for me. Sometimes a church bulletin. Newspaper clippings with words my mother knew from childhood--people's names, place names, street names. These letters were their own kind of fishing line, connecting Mom to her past, to her childhood, to keep alive--perhaps--the city where she placed her home, her memories, her envisioning of a future, regardless of what that future had become.

Pictures were more rarely enclosed. My mother's parents were not picture-takers. I don't remember either of them ever taking a picture of me, or taking out a camera, or asking me to stand on the porch or in front of the holly tree, or anywhere that pictures would typically be taken. And where the few black-and-white pictures of my mother's childhood are taken. I don't know who took them. 

Photography was a kind of luxury. it was also a way of thinking about self and others. Of moments. Certainly, my grandparents took pictures at one time because there were photoalbums kept in the entryway bookcases by the front door. I don't know where the albums are now because they scattered after my grandfather died, when my grandmother sold the house and had to sort among what was more or less valuable, and then when my grandmother died, and her children arrived to do their own sorting. I'm sure someone has them. It is likely that they'll return to my life later, the way the flowers you have names for bloom up wherever you are, if you don't wander beyond the climate.

I flew back to the Midwest, to Casey, to Rural Route 3 earlier in April and I saw my childhood from this new vantage point of mother, of lesbian, of more time passed between now and past griefs, of daughter of an older mother. I bicycled past the absences I could bear. The cabin where my piano teacher taught me how to play. The place where my sister's trailer once was. The stone quarry and its red trucks moving like violence among the cornfields that continue to reach as far as the sky, which is forever.

Part of the visit, beyond my son meeting his entire family and seeing this place where his mother grew up and hearing her talk like her own mother talked about Evansville, was to read from my newest book at the library where I grew up. It was a wonderful experience. I am grateful to feel so held.

Here is the newspaper clipping my mother would clip and send to my grandmother, if time functioned differently. From The Casey-Westfield Reporter


 








Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Whole World at Once at the Casey Township Library, A Reading

You're invited.


April 7, 2018
1 PM (CST)
Casey Township Library
307 E. Main
Casey, Illinois

Free and open to the public

The Whole World at Once will not be available for purchase at the event, but I will sign your copy if you bring it. You can purchase the book from these online stores (click to be taken to the book's page):


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Building Book Movements, Not Fires: a Follow-up Interview with Michael Noll


BUY BOOKS TOGETHER. CHANGE PUBLISHING. CHANGE AMERICA.

If 25 people buy the same book at the same time, it creates a blip on a sales chart.
If 250 people buy the same book at the same time, the blip grows.
If 2,500 people buy the same book at once—or 25,000—an industry starts paying attention.
If 250,000 people buy the same book, the writer becomes a major figure.
If we all buy books twice a month, every month, a movement is built.



Last year, after the presidential election, writer Michael Noll began a project to amplify minoritized voices, to help America see itself in literature (as its mission statement reads), and to diversify reading and publishing as a kind of push-back to a presidency that would negatively affect the people whose voices were/have been, made invisible, historically underrepresented, and/or discredited by louder majoritized voices.

To achieve this, Noll created a website named Books are not a Luxury; every month he featured at least two books along with book-discussion questions, an essay about the featured book, and an interview with the writer. Enough books, certainly, to create a year of book clubs, from selections to questions.  

Last year, I spoke with Michael about this project: Building Book Movements, Not Fires. This year, I wanted to check back in as a kind of year in review. And that is the interview you'll find below.

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Q1. Books are Not a Luxury has celebrated its one-year anniversary. What have you found most rewarding or successful about the series?
MN. A teacher in Austin bought a copy of Mychal Denzel Smith's Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, and almost immediately one of his students, a young African-American woman, saw the book and grabbed it. Then, she wrote a short response to the book—on her own, not for an assignment, but because she was so excited by what she had read.

Q 2. Can readers expect any changes in the coming year?
MN. I'm taking a pause from the project for the moment. I had some family issues that I had to attend to. When the project returns, it will probably take a revised form. I started Books Are Not a Luxury after the election, when it seemed so clear that half of voters had completely disregarded Trump's racism and misogyny. I didn't have any illusions that promoting books by the groups targeted by Trump's rhetoric would change anyone's mind, but it did seem like there were a lot of people acutely interested in listening to people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. At the same time, writers from those groups often face significant obstacles in getting their books published and in front of readers. So it seemed like an opportunity to do essential work on two fronts. It's still important work, but if I think about Books Are Not a Luxury in the context of all that has happened in the past year (calling reps, marching, getting emotionally overwhelmed, getting a second and third wind), I want to find a way to support marginalized writers in they're doing right now. That means writing and publishing, of course, but it's also become clear to me that, at least in terms of the literary community, it has been writers from these groups taking the lead in political resistance. This has meant time away from their work. So I think it's possible that supporting writers may also mean supporting the political work that they're doing.

Q 3. Are there any Books are Not a Luxury book clubs? Could a person start one? 
MN. I don't know of any formal groups, but I know that several groups have read some of the books and individuals have informally suggested books from the project to their clubs. People can absolutely start one. And, if groups have read a book that really spoke to them, they can contact me to let me know. Or, and this might be even better, they should reach out to the writer. It seems small, but fan letters can mean a tremendous amount to a writer.

Q 4. Has the mission of the series deepened, or developed in this past year? 
MN. You know, reading books by non-white, non-cis writers shouldn't be a special project. It ought to be just par for the course. For many readers (and publishers and agents and publicists) it isn't. I do think it's important to make a concerted effort to correct the gaps in one's reading, but it's also important to turn it into a lifelong habit and not a special project. One of the things you see, politically speaking, is people who were part of a political counterculture decades ago now suddenly finding themselves unaware of current issues and ways of talking and thinking about race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and ableism. These are not static issues. You have to keep learning and engaging with them. You saw this with Hillary Clinton at a rally where a young Black Lives Matter protester confronted her about her "super predators" remark back in the 90s. Clinton got pretty condescending in her response. I think a lot of politicians have been surprised at the ways that these issues have changed around them. So, I'm trying to find ways to listen to people from different backgrounds in all possible ways: through books, radio, TV, film, social media, in-person, in politics, however I can.

Q 5. How has reading these books affected your space in the world? 
MN. It was humbling. I think it's pretty easy to start thinking, "Oh, I'm woke (whatever that means). I'm an evolved moral, ethical person." Then your certainty about your own righteousness runs into someone else's experience.

Q 6. This is an excellent series, and clearly takes a vast amount of work. Are you doing this all by yourself? Are others involved? 

MN. I had a lot of help. Bookstores, especially BookWoman in Austin, have always been on the forefront of promoting diverse authors and books, and they continued to do so with this project. I also wrote none of the text associated with the project. Instead, I found great writers who could speak to the experiences or content or background of a book and asked them to write an essay in response or interview the author. My role was mostly project management. 
Q 7. Could someone donate to the series, or become a member? Surely, there are costs. Or, maybe I should ask, how can someone support this series directly? Maybe the need isn't financial, but a need for additional energy?
MN. The best thing that people could do is start their own version of Books Are Not a Luxury--online or in person. The project was never intended to be any kind of permanent structure. It was part of a larger response by millions of people to the presidential election in particular and the generations of bigotry and injustice that led up to it. There are a lot of ways to learn about great books by writers from marginalized groups. Here's one place to look: VONA offers writing workshops for people of color. Their faculty are amazing, and people ought to read their books. Another is the annual Tournament of Books, which is a good place to find great books. 
In general, though, I've found that I find out about most books through word of mouth—and by word of mouth, I mean social media. I'm either friends with or follow a lot of writers on Facebook, and I pay attention when they talk up a book. Obviously, most readers aren't going to friend writers on Facebook, but I do think it's a great idea to follow their public profiles on any platform and pay attention to what they're reading. Writers talk about books and tend to know about them before the general population does. 
Then, read those books and discuss them with others. That's the magic of books. They lead to conversations, and we need better conversations about these issues.

Q 8. What's the feedback like that you've been receiving from readers or writers, or both?
MN. It's been overwhelmingly positive. in particular, I'm always struck by how much it means to writers for someone to reach out and say, "Your book was great. I'd love to talk to you about it." I wish everyone would write the authors whose books they love.

Q 9. Do you have the books planned out for this year, or how does the vetting work?
MN. Not yet. I'm also doing a lot of the same work over at Read to Write Stories, the blog where I post writing exercises based on published work. As a writer and teacher, I've been frustrated by the ways that books by writers of color, in particular, are often discussed differently than booksby white writers. David Treuer talked about this in his great book Native American Fiction: A User's Manual. He visited an art gallery with an exhibit of Native American art, and there was a sign posted telling people to view the art with their hearts, not their heads. He took offense to the sign as it suggests that Native art can't be held to the same standards as non-Native art. I think the same thing is true for books. When craft gets discussed in writing classes, the models are often by white writers. Non-white writers work is discussed as important, which it is, but it's also well-written and a model for other writers.

Q 10. What do you like about reading itself? You're a writer, an avid reader, a director of a large community/state-wide writing program. What is it about books, words, the act of reading that you've made it your life? (These may be two questions.)
MN. Most of it's natural, not really something I've chosen. I can make intellectual arguments about why reading is superior to watching movies or TV, but the truth is, I can pretty much take or leave any TV show or movie, but I love reading. There's something about being utterly immersed in good writing, in a story or argument, to the extent that you cease to be aware of your surroundings. At its best, those stories are engaging and entertaining and immerse you in complex worlds that make you aware of nuances that hadn't known about before. It's like when I first started wearing glasses as a kid and looked off of my parents porch toward a far-off pasture and said, "Hey, those are cows over there." Without the right lenses, I hadn't seen what there was to see. Books function the same way, I think. 

🕮

Michael Noll is the author of The Writer's Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction (2018, A Strange Object Press). He's also the editor of Read to Write Stories and Program Director at the Writers’ League of Texas. His short stories have been published in American Short Fiction, Chattahoochee Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Indiana Review, and The New Territory, and been nominated for New Stories from the Midwest. His story, “The Tank Yard” was included in the 2016 Best American Mystery Stories anthology. He lives in Austin, TX, with his family. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Reading and Conversation with Ann Tweedy and Erin Pringle in Olympia, Washington

Did you know that there's a highly expected chance of rain showers in Olympia, Washington this Friday?

It's true.

So, I think, What better way to spend a rainy evening than at Last Word Books listening to Ann Tweedy read poetry and then discuss, with me, language, the body, grief, memory, and identity? I'll be reading, too.

I think rain and a bookstore will be lovely. And I look forward to the sounds meeting.

111 Cherry St. NE
Olympia, WA
Friday, March 23, 2018
7-8:30 PM
Free and open to the public

Erin Pringle

Ann Tweedy
Last Word Books, 111 Cherry St. NE, Olympia,WA