Thursday, January 31, 2013

Countdown to AWP 2013: Youth Hostels in Boston

Like most conferences, the AWP conference takes place in one hotel, and attendees are encourages to book their rooms there. Because the AWP conference is so large, there are several associated hotels called "overflow" hotels.  All of these are very expensive.  The main hotel, Boston Sheraton runs for $259 a night, and up.  And while this seems pretty steep to me, especially for MFA students who, even if they have a teaching assistantship, are making about $1,000 a month.  Or maybe the starving artist part comes later.  Or. . .  anyway.  The Boston Sheraton, and the "overflow hotels," are already sold out.

So, if you're attending AWP this year, and you are trying to spend as little as possible, here are some other ideas.

Youth Hostels.  No, they are not only in Europe.  More and more cities have more than one hostel for young-ish travelers, and medium cities are starting to follow suit.  Of course, Boston is pretty large, so there are so many choices.  They also seem perfect for writers since writing requires absorbing as much of the experience that exists outside of the standardized one.

I've stayed in hostels in Europe and in the U.S. and have found that they always add a more unique experience than the standard hotel room since the hostels encourage discussion among travellers and are often located in neighborhoods, or at least in parts of the city that aren't dedicated only to high-end shopping and chain restaurants.  I haven't stayed at the hostels below, but if I were attending AWP this year, I would try to book a room in any of these.

Hostelling International
Here's the situation with staying at Hostelling International:

As of 1/29/13, there are rooms available in the premium and standard dorms for $44.99-$59.99 a night. A private room with a bath is twice as much but $100 less than the Sheraton.


Private Room W/ Ensuite Bath


Premium Female Dorm


Premium Male Dorm


Premium Mixed Dorm


Standard Female Dorm


Standard Male Dorm


Standard Mixed Dorm


Economy Female Dorm


Economy Male Dorm


According to their website, to stay at a youth hostel, you need to have a membership, which costs all of $3.

As of 1/29/13, this is what was available at 40Berkeley, according to their website:

1. Standard Doubles contain two twin-sized beds, a desk, lamp, chair, and night stand. Most rooms include a ceiling fan and either a clothing rack with hangers or a closet. All bathrooms are shared, with both a women's and a men's bathroom on each floor.
We are currently renovating all of our rooms. During this
transitional period, you may stay in either a renovated or a
non-renovated room.
Click on photo to the right for pictures of both room types.



Standard Triples contain three twin-sized beds or one twin and one set of bunk beds. Most have a bureau, night stand, ceiling fan, lamp, and some have a sink. Room specifications can be requested in reservation notes, but are not guaranteed. All bathrooms are shared, with both a women's and a men's bathroom on each floor.
We are currently renovating all of our rooms. During this transitional period, you may stay in either a renovated or a non-renovated room.
Click on photo to the right for pictures.


Guests at 40Berkeley also evidently get some additional perks--for free: free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, a free pass to New England Aquarium, Museum of ScienceHarvard Museum of Natural HistoryPrudential SkywalkLoew’s Boston Common Theatre

Of the three hostels, this hostel has received the best and most consistent reviews via Google. It's also the most inexpensive of the three.  As of 1/29/13, this is what was available:

Room Types5th6th7th8th9thNo. Of guests
Basic 6 Bed Mixed Dorm28.0028.0028.0028.0028.00
Standard 10 Bed Mixed Dorm28.0028.0028.0028.0028.00
Basic 10 Bed Male Dorm28.0028.0028.0028.0028.00
Basic 10 Bed Female Dorm28.0028.0028.0028.0028.00

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Countdown to AWP 2013: If You Were Me on March 7

What's AWP?  Some Background

Every year the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) holds a four-day conference in a major city in the United States. This year, the conference is in Boston, March 6-9.  Around this time, droves of grad students attending MFA programs in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction board planes and smash their backpacks in friends' cars to travel across the country--or, if they live nearby, a few blocks away--to attend the conference.

Irish Poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney,
One of the Keynote Speakers at AWP 2013
The other attendees include instructors who teach Creative Writing and/or writers themselves--typically writers who write within the genre known as literary realism.  Guest speakers are invited, a book fair of small presses and journals occurs daily, and panels run throughout the morning and afternoon on subjects that range from craft-based discussions, to how-to-improve-the-creative-writing-classroom discussions, to readings by people published by the same press or journal within the previous, or forthcoming, year.

Each hour there are five and ten events occurring, and since a person can't attend every single one of them, I've highlighted one event per scheduled hour that, were I flying 2,768.1 miles to Boston, I would mark off to attend.

1) The times, titles, and locations come from the AWP schedule as it was posted 1/28/13. The times, locations, and presenters sometimes change last-minute, so double-check the printed schedule you receive on-site.

2) Often, the titles and descriptions of panels end may not, in reality, match your expectations.

3) In my experience, it is difficult to find a quiet place or room where attendees can decompress by working on their own writing.  It is my advice then that attendees find at least three nearby coffee shops where they can go to get away from the hubbub.

Wednesday, March 6
Because Wednesday is mainly dedicated to registration, book-fair set up, and an evening, invitation-only awards event, I likely wouldn't arrive in town until Wednesday night.  However, there are a number of interesting off-site events that you should check out if you do arrive on Wednesday.

Thursday, March 7
While there are panels scheduled before nine A.M., I would not be awake enough, or pleasant enough in my mind, to attend.  I would likely inadvertently scowl at the presenters, and that wouldn't be very considerate. For the full list of Thursday events, click here.

9:00-10:15 A.M.
"Modern Fairy Tales and Retellings"
Room 107, Plaza Level

Writers Presenting: Anjali SachdevaJohn CrowleyJane YolenKelly LinkKate Bernheimer
Summary: Several contemporary writers who retell fairy tales, or fairy-tale-like stories, will discuss "the need for fables in modern society and the literary marketplace" and some of the considerations they take while moving from fable patterns into contemporary fiction.

Why would I attend? I would especially want to attend because the writer Jane Yolen is speaking, and she's a prolific writer of very good children's and young adult books.  Her work has also been subject to controversy, and is one of the more censored of our children's authors.  Because it's not often that children's authors attend, or speak at, AWP, I would make a point to attend.  Also, I feel like it's about time that I meet Kelly Link.

Conflict: One of my very good friends, Jack Kaulfus, is reading from her fiction on the A Cappella Zoo panel, which occurs at the same time.  (Room 203, Level 2)  It's more than likely that this is the panel I would attend.

10:30-11:45 A.M.
Poetry Reading for Troubling the Line: 
Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics
Room 310, Level 3

Writers: Tim Trace Peterson, TC Tolbert, Max Wolf Valerio, Dawn Lundy Martin, Trish Salah

Summary: Panel of poets whose work is forthcoming in an anthology by Nightboat Books/Eoagh. Reading followed by a discussion "about how issues of trans and genderqueer embodiment and identification influence writing" and how the writers consider their own bodies in relation to the body of the poem.

Why would I attend? I'm not familiar with any of these writers or the press, and while I haven't attended AWP for a few years, this panel is the first I've seen dealing with this topic, and so I'd be interested to listen and be a part of the discussion since the discussion is important for all writers to think about, especially in terms of how such issues are then imaged in writing (or not).  I know that transgender topic panels are not uncommon abroad at Fantasy/Science-Fiction conventions, and so am glad to see this conversation happening within literary realism, too.  Would also be a quick, effective way to find some poetry that may be of interest to my own Creative Writing classes.

Conflict: The panel, "Odes, Psalms, and Praise Songs," also seems interesting and is in line with my belief that the writer's role is to be the bard.  (Room 206, Level 2.)

Noon to 1:15 P.M.
Reduced to I: 
Israeli and Iranian Poets
Room 108, Plaza Level

Writers: Maya PindyckHadara Bar-NadavRoger SedaratOfer ZivKatayoon Zandvakili

Summary: Poets will read from their writing. The official description suggests that there will be discussion, possibly in regards to the effects war, the language of war, and the conflict between the countries have on the poet experience.

Why I would attend: Besides that it is difficult to find writing in the U.S. in regards to war and so issues of war and the writing of it are high on my radar, I would want to attend because I am damn stupid about the conflict between these countries and completely ignorant about these poets and their work, and so this panel would help to remedy that.

Conflict: Evidently, this is international hour, as several international groups have been scheduled--a problem that doesn't occur in the other times on this day.  From Black British Writers to Iranian writers to Ireland's poetry center to Afghan women writers . . . the ability to connect with writers abroad seems broad, but the scheduling makes the reality minimal.

1:30-2:45 P.M.
Picture Book Writers in an E-Book and App Era: 
How Can Writers Change the Way We Envision Story to Take Advantage of New Technology?
Room 103, Plaza Level

Photograph by John Blyberg, used under CC license
Summary: The title is so specific that there's really not much more to say.  The presenters will discuss how e-book technology will affect how writers tell stories; for example, music is an option on e-books and so might influence how writers present their texts.  (Or should such possibilities affect the story?--Seems like a question that will come up, or should be brought up.)

Presenters: Laurie A. Jacobs, Rubin Pfeffer, Jean Heilprin Diehl, Emilie Boon, Julie Hedlund

Why would I attend?  As a self-professed luddite, I'm always interested in discussions regarding the relationship between technology and storytelling.  I'm especially interested in this in regards to children's literature because many children's books are pretty expensive and, as such, tend to exclude people in the lower class.  Therefore, in thinking about children's literature via very expensive E-readers is especially intriguing. That the authors mainly write very young children's books, the conversation might be more or less interesting.

Conflict: By this point in the day, had I attended all of the previous panels, I would be really thinking about taking a break to look through the book fair or have a glass of wine with friends I haven't seen in a long time.

3:00-4:15 P.M.

"CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) Keynote Address:
Room 101, Plaza level
Presenter: Max Rudin

Summary: Rudin will discuss the role his publishing house plays in America's literary canon.

Why I would attend: I'm interested in the influence a publisher has in shaping the voice of a country and how changing perceptions of a country's identity function to change both the way writers approach their subject but also how publishers consider or reconsider certain writers as more or less authentic--especially when publishing is also driven by economic forces as much as historical preservation.  It would also be good to witness how the publisher himself seems to be thinking of it.  And since it's likely that a number of publishers will be attending this, I would want to hear what they're hearing.

Conflict: None. I'd just have to go to this one.

4:30-5:45 P.M.
Growing Up in a Warzone: 
Voices of Writers on War and Childhood
Room 206, Level 2

Summary: Non-fiction essayists read from their work and discuss the effects war had on their childhoods, or at least on the writing of their childhoods.

Presenters: J.L. PowersPeauladd Huy, David Griffith, Aria Minu-Sepehr, Marnie Mueller

Why I Would Attend: While I typically anti-gravitate toward non-fiction, the two subjects here trump my typical interests, and I'm interested in hearing the stylistic choices the writers made in how they presented the content.

Conflict: It's late in the day, and I would be very aware of the growing number of people gathering in the bar area to relax and discuss their thoughts about the day. The reality would likely be that the previous panel got me to thinking so much that I would want to go find Jack Kaulfus and talk to her about it.  She always has smart things to say about, well, everything, really.

6:00 P.M. - 8:25 P.M.

Boston skyline, 

from Wikipedia

Since this is the first night after a full day of events, this is typically when the attendees congregate in the lobby/bar area and meet up with old friends and meet new people.  Plans for dinner are made, and Boston night explored.  Those with real stamina may attend more off-site events.  

8:30 P.M.-10:00 P.M.

A Conversation Between Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott, 
Moderated by Rosanna Warren
Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Level 2

Summary: Self-explanatory
Why I would attend: This will likely be the only time I would ever hear Heaney read in person, and when I was in Dublin, I heard just fantastic things about his recitations.


Stay tuned for selections for the Friday, March 8th AWP schedule.
Until then, what AWP event on Thursday seems most interesting to you, and why?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Good News: Pushcart Prize Nomination, "Winter's Wooden Sparrows"

Greetings!  I wanted to share the good news that my story "Winter's Wooden Sparrows" has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the fine people over at the literary journal Lake Effect.  The story came out in Spring 2012.  You may remember.

To read the story, you can order a copy of the issue at the Lake Effect website.

To preview the story, visit this other part of the Lake Effect website.

"Winter's Wooden Sparrows" is one of the stories in my next book, How The Sun Burns.

From Lake Effect

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Humane Christmas to You, Too

Misha, Hiberian Husky ready for a home
(Photo by Dogtown Artworks)

Last Spring, I highlighted the dignified photographs of shelter animals from Tuscola, Illinois that my brother and sister-in-law had begun taking as volunteers.

Like a holiday refrain, and like the animals at the shelter near where you live, the animals at the Douglas County Animal Control and Shelter keep arriving.

Since there's already a public campaign warning people against adopting bunnies at Easter since the gifts are usually dumped, I'm not suggesting that you should go adopt a dog without wanting a dog, but even visiting the shelter this holiday and giving the animals a walk or a pat on the head would be a lovely gift.  Some shelters, like the Austin Humane Society, take online donations that would help go toward veterinary care, food, care. . . and often, the prevention of euthanasia.

To learn more about the photographs of shelter animals done by the Pringle photographers, please see: Inside Their Eyes: Shelter-Dog Portraits

Friday, September 28, 2012

In Review: The Summer Library Series

The first time I tried to check out a book from the library, that is, a book with no pictures, I was in first grade.  The book was A Vote for Love.  Evidently, I had been roaming on the other side of the children's section and found the metal racks where the teenage romance novels were kept.  When I took the book to the circulation desk, the librarian eyed the book then eyed me, and wanted to know if I realized the book had no pictures.  I was terribly insulted.  Yes, I knew it had no pictures.  Obviously, it has no pictures.  Maybe she even dared to ask me to get my mother's permission.

. . .

Forgive me.  I want to go on, but only because I need another library story to read.  It is Friday, after all.  And dedicated reader, you've been following What She Might Think, so you know what every Friday has meant all summer: a visiting poet or fiction writer has appeared to share a new, original essay on his or her childhood experience at the library. More than 1,000 readers know what Friday means here at What She Might Think, for that's how many readers came to read library essays this short summer.

But the wind is busy pushing summer backward in order to allow autumn to do what autumn has always done best: signal the end of warm, good things.  The Summer Library Series is over.

Editing the series has been, for me, one of those experiences that, while it's happening you both know you don't want it to end and that it absolutely will.  The essays themselves will not stay on What She Might Think forever.  It is, after all, each writer's work, and this website is no library archive.  Every writer wrote out of interest in the project and, I would say, a generous understanding of generosity.  Because of that, we must give them back their work.  Even the grasshopper knew that the ants' generosity had its limits.  So it is not just the end of summer, but nearly the end of our time to read the essays, too.

But now is now, and so reflections are here for only now, and they're artful, beautiful, strange, beating things:

Children reading in New York Public Library, circa 1920
Once upon a time, in a library, Owen Egerton smuggled horror novels into the children's section and "wished to God [he] could read!"  Matthew Brennan's mother was a painter, and her paintings hung in a library long gone.  Jack Kaulfus rode her bike almost every day one summer in Texas to air-conditioning, to a library, to a man who never questioned why she was choosing the books that she did, only her thoughts about them.  Dan Powell waited for a van of books to stop so that he could climb up the stairs to one of the most traveled vehicles that came through Colwich. Laura Ellen Scott's desk was empty at school because she was busy walking four miles to a library where there were enough books that she never encountered a nurse romance if she didn't want to.  The library discarded what came to be TJ Beitelman's favorite book, and he took care of it so that he could return it to the library, not knowing that they wouldn't take it back. John Kenny's library was a toyshop. Juliet E. McKenna just read and read read and read. Heather Anastasiu's town took place at her library. David Hadbawnik became David Hadbawnik over the course of reading in libraries while in Van Nuys, California, a little girl named Kathryn L. Pringle, fell in love with a statue outside her library and then decided to become an archaeologist.  Steinbeck killed Stacey Swann's pony in Sealy, Texas.  And then the library ended on a Saturday in Cincinnati for Stona Fitch.    

The series is over, but autumn is lovely, with the leaves how they change, and the air on your cheeks.  It is just the weather for a long walk that leads to a library. All our library authors are there, too, waiting for you in the shelves.

Warm Regards,
Erin Pringle-Toungate



Friday, September 21, 2012

Summer Library Series: Library Days by Stona Fitch

Every Friday this summer authors have been sharing their childhood experiences at the library, and we've now arrived at the final Friday of the Summer Library Series here at What She Might Think--not to mention the final Friday of summer. 

This week's author is novelist Stona Fitch who went to the Cincinnati Public Library until one day in fifth grade. In fiction, it's sometimes said that a way to start a story is to bring a a stranger into town, as that's a way to introduce conflict, tension, and suspense in a piece.  And it is.  But when the stranger appears in real life . . .  that's the day that ends more than a library. 


by Stona Fitch
Working my way down the aisles, 
I picked out novels like a crow, 
attracted by shiny covers and big type. 

Cincinnati Public Library, photograph by OZinOH ,
used under CC license
The self-study math program my fifth-grade teacher gave me fit in a carton that I hauled around like ant with an enormous crumb. The laminated lessons included a test every ten cards. But tucked in the back were the answer cards, so honest students could grade their own tests. I soon discovered that skipping ahead to the answer cards and pretending to take the tests saved a lot of time. In short order, I moved on to 10th-grade level, so far ahead that I could spend class time daydreaming.

Hauling around the math carton gave me the illusion of intellect—the middle-school equivalent of carrying around the two-volume set of Musil’s Man Without Qualities. That carton said I was smart, not just a scrawny dreamer in white corduroys, a web belt, and a blue button-down shirt.

On winter weekends, the carton earned me rides downtown to the main library, clearly the only edifice in southern Ohio large and scholarly enough to let me pursue my interest in mathematics. Every Saturday, my father would drop me off at the library while he went to work at the paper plant down by the river, an arrangement designed to keep me out of trouble.

The Cincinnati Public Library squatted on a full block of Vine Street, a brick heap of the International Style that looked like a joint project of I.M. Pei and the Aztecs. The airy, cement-walled reading room allowed it to stay extra cold during the energy crisis, now in full bloom. Students and eccentrics clustered on long expanses of tables and desks—everyone bundled in sweaters and down jackets, giving the library a gulag-ish vibe. We should have been carrying picks and shovels instead of books.

At the library, I ditched my math box and prowled through the fiction stacks, sampling books the same way my sister abused a box of chocolates, jamming her little finger into each soft middle to see what was inside then putting them back in the box, hole side down.

Working my way down the aisles, I picked out novels like a crow, attracted by shiny covers and big type. Hours flew by. A hunt for Nazis (The Odessa File) segued to depressed guy in Pennsylvania (Rabbit Redux) then on to an interplanetary catastrophe (Cataclysm!). These choices weren’t intentional—these titles just happened to be at eye-level.

One Saturday in early December, I had to leave the fiction section to go to the men’s room downstairs, a smoky haven for creeps. I peed and washed my hands and found myself alone in the dingy bathroom except for someone grunting and rustling around in one of the stalls. The stall door flew open and a tall man rushed across the bathroom. He wore a blue pin-stripped suit and a white shirt and looked exactly like a bank manager, except his fly was open and he was stroking himself with intense devotion. His watery face was a rictus of ecstatic pain or its reverse.

I turned to run but he grabbed my gray sweater and pulled me down toward him. My clunky black orthopedic shoes slipped on the tiled floor as I tried to get away. He had a firm hold of me but I managed to wriggle away, freeing my spindly arms from the sweater, which slipped past my face in a blur of gray wool. I slid into the wall next to the hand-dryer, stunned, my concave chest heaving.

Our brief fight left the banker with nothing but my wooly husk, which would suffice, apparently. He balled it up and mashed it into his cock over and over.

Photograph by Joe Thorn, used under a CC license
I struggled to put the scene before me in words to convince myself it was actually happening. A banker was fucking my sweater in the men’s room of the Cincinnati Public Library!

After a moment he gave a gruff yelp. Then he held my used sweater toward me like a gift.

No thanks. I shook my head and ran, slowing only to grab my math box on the way out.

My library days were over.


Stona Fitch lives and writes in Concord, Massachusetts and is the author of five novels, including Give + Take (2010), Printer's Devil (2009), and Senseless (2001).  "Library Days" is an excerpt from his memoir-in-progress, Funny As Hell. He is also the founder of generosity-based publisher Concord Free Press, which gives away its books, asking only that readers donate money to a charity or someone in need. Readers are encourgaed to pass the book on to another reader after they're finished.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Summer Library Series: Then Steinbeck Killed My Pony by Stacey Swann

Welcome back to this Friday's installment of the Summer Library Series wherein an author reflects about his or her childhood experience at the library.  This week's author is fiction writer Stacey Swann who grew up attending the Gordon Memorial Library in Sealy, Texas.


by Stacey Swann

I refused to finish the book or to forgive the librarian.

From unknown children's book, please contact me if you know its name

You know the stereotype: the shy child, always reading, happiest when tucked away in the library, more comfortable in the solitary world of books than making friends. But I wonder if that stereotype might be missing something. Maybe my own childhood love of books was less about how they allowed me to embrace my shyness and more about how they let me rebel against the shyness I was saddled with. To be, as I bonded with and became those characters, definitely not shy.

When I was six, the Sealy, Texas public library moved from a cramped space across the street from the Methodist church to a large, modern building across the street from the public pool (in towns as small as Sealy, every building comes with locational context). Built through a bequest from the late Dr. Virgil Gordon and his wife Josephine, I suspect it was a fancier library than most small Texas towns could boast in 1980.

My mother brought my sister and I there often throughout our childhood. Despite not having been there in more than twenty years, I can still remember the glass display case by the water fountain, the large wood-lined meeting room, and the shelves and shelves of books. I owned my best loved books—The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion series—but the library satisfied my need to read every single Encyclopedia Brown book, and that alone made me adore the place.

Those early heroes were well-loved because I could see myself in them. When Tolkien begins The Hobbit, he introduces us to Bilbo by saying that the Baggins clan “never had any adventures or did anything unexpected . . . This is story about how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.” And Encyclopedia Brown “wanted to be helpful. But he was afraid that people wouldn’t like him if he answered their questions too quickly and sounded too smart.” I could identify with these characters even when they went on to do things totally outside my own comfort zone. Those books straddled the line between safe and scary.

     In the fourth grade, my school librarian—probably due to my love of The Black Stallion—suggested I check out The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. I doubt she had read the book herself. This was not a “safe” book for a shy, horse-loving nine year old. The title pony is killed off in the first chapter. Even decades later, I can’t shake this image: “When he arrived, it was all over. The first buzzard sat on the pony’s head and its beak had just risen dripping with dark eye fluid.” Our protagonist goes on to strangle the buzzard until it vomits on him, then beats it to death with a rock until its head is “a red pulp.” I refused to finish the book or to forgive the librarian.

In retrospect, though, that librarian, that book, likely pushed me in a more interesting, more challenging direction. By sixth grade, I had more than exhausted the Gordon Library’s children and young adult section. Instead, I ripped through the books my parents checked out. (They didn’t mind if my sister and I read them, as long as we didn’t take them from the living room or move their bookmarks.)  I happily consumed Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, and Colleen McCullough, but I most vividly remember Stephen King.

A mere two or three years after The Red Pony incident, I was transfixed by his story collection Skeleton Crew. I haven’t read it since, yet the details of “The Jaunt,” “Survivor Type,” and “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet” are fresh for me. Before I entered high school, I had finished The Bachman Books, It, The Eyes of the Dragon, and Misery. I had moved from shy characters in extraordinary circumstances to countless variations of personality placed in violent and outrageous circumstances.

While I’ve never fully shed my shyness, it did seem to retreat through my junior high years. I even joined the Debate team in high school. After all, I reasoned, even if I did embarrass myself at a speech tournament, that was nothing compared to eating your own hands and feet in order to stay alive. (Seriously, check out “Survivor Type. ” King himself said, "As far as short stories are concerned, I like the grisly ones the best. However the story 'Survivor Type' goes a little bit too far, even for me.") 

"Girl Reading" by Leah Kelley,
used with photographer's permission
In writing this essay, I stumbled on the news that my library, like so many across the country, is in financial trouble. Its future is even more complicated because it's technically a private library, and neither the city nor the county say they can give more than a fraction of its operating budget. Regardless, the library is an amazingly important space, even besides all the good it does the community in the expected ways. It’s a vast place where we can still stumble accidentally upon books, be exposed to things that might veer away into unsafe territory. Because it is those things, those unexpected and challenging encounters, that really make us who we are.


Stacey Swann
Stacey Swann lives, writes, and teaches in Austin, Texas. Her short stories have appeared in Epoch, Versal, The Saint Ann’s Review, Memorious, Freight Stories, and The Good Men Project. Once a contestant on the game show Jeopardy!, Swann was also the editor of American Short Fiction, a recipient of a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, and a finalist for the Jesse Jones Fellowship. Swann is currently at work on a novel entitled Olympus, TX.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Summer Library Series: The Ontological Architect by kathryn l. pringle

map to van nuys public library, van nuys california
Welcome to the first Friday of September and the eleventh (!) week of the Summer Library Series here at What She Might Think, where all summer writers have visited and reflected on their childhood experiences at the library.  

This week's library author is poet kathryn l. pringle, who grew up digging through the shelves and the past, at the Van Nuys Public Library in Van Nuys, California.


picture of Mr. Pringle holding his baby girl and later poet, kathryn l. pringle
kathryn l. pringle and her father
by kathryn l. pringle

I needed cold, hard FACTS and I knew exactly where to get them: the Van Nuys Public Library.

Photograph of the pillared entrance into Van Nuhys Branch Library, Van Nuhys California
Van Nuys Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library,  
Photograph by Vahe Manoukianused with photographer's permission
When I asked my father, now 86 years old, what he could remember about me and the public library in Van Nuys, he thought for a moment and said, “When you were really, really little you loved The Little Engine that Could.”

My father would take my sister and me to the library often. I want to say he was an avid reader, but compared to my mother, who always had a book in her hands unless she was working or eating, he was just a little above average on this scale. We were, in fact, a family of readers and so economics came into play. A family on a budget equaled a family that frequented the public library. That, and I feel certain that my father didn’t want a house with books on every wall (which, ultimately we did have, because everyone knows once you love a book it must always be within reach).

Photograph of the large sculpture of the Native American Fernando
Fernando - Photograph by Vahe Manoukian 
used with photographer's permission
There was no such thing as a quick trip to the library (I maintain this is still true today). We had to park a little bit out of the way because the library was in this giant quad, filled with government buildings and replete with well-maintained plants, grassy areas, and my second-favorite statue (the first being the Amelia Earhart statue, of course): Fernando.

I both loved and feared Fernando. He stood so strong and fierce and half naked. He was maybe my second crush (after Amelia Earhart). So with the walk from the car, my lingering with Fernando, and my father’s usual answers about the courthouse (I’ll get to that in a minute), it took about twenty minutes for us to actually get INTO the library itself.

The library was our activity center. We didn’t do scouts or play sports or take music or dance lessons - we went to the library.

Once inside, the touching of every book in the children’s section was an absolute must. How, with those soft plastic dust covers and that library book smell - the smell that to this day I swear is the smell of potential energy - could anything else have come first?

Photograph of poet kathryn l. pringle as a child kneeling before a book
kathryn l. pringle
Then, my use of the library had been dictated by whim. Picture books and puzzle books were IT. But one day, quite suddenly, everything changed. The Van Nuys Public Library and its place as the most important institution on Earth revealed itself to me when, at the ripe old age of eight years old, I decided to become an archaeologist. Being the diligent, overachieving student that I was, I therefore had to begin my studies immediately. My subscription to Archaeology magazine, with its large print and too-easy maze games leading through ancient tombs, had been disappointing. I was serious and needed serious books. I needed cold, hard FACTS and I knew exactly where to get them: the Van Nuys Public Library.

At eight years old I had finally realized that the library was this amazing RESOURCE. It was this place that was filled with critical information and it was all mine for the taking. And I took the hell out of it. (Incidentally, it was about this age that I also realized the Van Nuys Public Library sat in the same quad and directly across from Van Nuys County Courthouse and Los Angeles Superior Court--as well as Van Nuys City Hall, the Los Angeles Sheriff Department, and the Los Angeles County Registrar--and I began suspecting that all people in the vicinity NOT entering the library were criminals. . .  thus, the many questions for my father to field on the way into the library.)

Monument for van nuys public library
Photograph by Vahe Manoukian used with photographer's permission
I began with books on Ancient Egypt and branched out in every possible direction. Sure, there was the occasional books by Dumas, Twain, Blume, Poe. . . but mostly there was ancient history and bones. By junior high I was still obsessed. I was so dedicated to pursuing archaeology that my nickname was “Digger.” I even carved a replica of an ancient Egyptian barge out of balsa wood, and it was so cool the school librarian asked if she could put it on display in the school library.

Ultimately, however, I didn’t become an archaeologist. I branched off into a related field, a field that I had always been leaning toward but hadn’t realized. I became a writer--a cultural anthropologist or an ontological architect of sorts. And it all still begins with a visit to the public library. Every book I write starts there with massive amounts of research. Not much has changed since I was eight.


picture of kathryn l. pringle writing in her office
kathryn l. pringle
kathryn l. pringle is a poet living in Oakland, Ca. Her book fault tree recently won Omindawn’s 1st/2nd book prize (selected by CD Wright). She is also the author of Right New Biology (Heretical Texts/Factory School), The Stills (Duration Press), and Temper and Felicity are lovers (TAXT). 

Her poems can be found in journals such as the Denver Quarterly, Fence, Phoebe, and horse less review. Her work can also be found in the anthologies Conversations at the Wartime Cafe: A Decade of War (WODV Press), I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues), and forthcoming in The Sonnets: Rewriting Shakespeare (Nightboat Books). 

Check out to find out whether your library has books by kathryn l. pringle.