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.

Friday, June 27, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Two Bookcases by Donald Anderson

Mural of Old Butte Library,
photograph from The Montana Standard
Welcome to the 2014 edition of the Summer Library Series.  Every Friday for much of the summer, writers will share reflections on their lives in the library.  

To kick off the season, Donald Anderson shares the important stories that came from his father, from near his front door, and from the shelves of the Butte, Montana Public Library. 


Two Bookcases 
by Donald Anderson

From Butte Digital Image Collection
There were two bookcases in my childhood home. Waist-high and constructed of pine (that wood of the novice carpenter), they flanked the front door to the house that had jammed and that no one used. Except for a partial set of Wonder Books, there were no children’s resources in those varnished shelves, dedicated as they were to volumes of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and religious tomes like Ben-Hur and The Robe, and a blue-covered, thumb-indexed Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
My earliest sense of children’s stories came from my father, who could repeat from memory long sections of “Hiawatha” or “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” and the full texts of poems like “The Village Blacksmith” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” He invented bedtime tales, serials he recounted about Indian boys, eagles, Eskimos, bears, gold fields, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. There were big-headed dogs in most of his stories. And it was my father who encouraged me to read, as he had, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jack London, James Oliver Curwood, Booth Tarkington, and the entirety of the Bomba the Jungle Boy series, all titles from the children’s shelves at the Butte Public Library. It was my story-telling father who had taken me there to sign up for the paper card that gave me access on my own (though the librarian, hardly about to fork over the card, kept it filed in a box on her desk).
Photo by Ed Uthman,
used under CC license
More than 40 years ago now, when I was readying for college, four books in particular (that I checked out with my now walleted and laminated card) introduced me to a world of literature beyond which I’d yet ventured. I recall these four books (each requiring a maximum two-week completion) with clarity, a sense of privilege or charter, and affection. Catcher in the Rye startled me with its wise guy voice and its indictment of adult hypocrisy. Then as if the allure of the Big Apple in Catcher hadn't been enough, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead made me want to flee Butte, Montana, to build big city skyscrapers and to sleep with tall, lean women who wore black clothes, smoked, and maybe spoke French. But if I’d wanted to hang with Holden Caulfield and be named Howard Roark, I knew for fairly certain that I did not want to be Nick Adams or Jake Barnes.
When I came upon In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises, my life as a reader was recalibrated. Nick and Jake seemed real to me, not imagined in the way Caulfield and Roark had felt to be. Nick and Jake weren’t clever or powerful. The lives they’d lived and were living were the serious and direct consequence of the world in which they existed—the world I was beginning to know: a world of flawed fathers, vulnerable health and governments, failed loves, and random danger. Though it would take some time to coalesce, In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises made me want to be a writer. And then: John Cheever, Alice Munro, V.S. Pritchett, William Trevor, Gina Berriault, Andre Dubus, Frederick Busch, Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, Richard Ford. . . .
We are (I believe deep in my bones) where we’ve been and what we’ve read, and these days I carry a library literally in my hands: my Color NOOK. When I add a book to my NOOK, I feel as though I’m checking it out, but without the need to return in 14 days. I can walk about, a bookcase of books in one hand indefinitely! I suppose I should report that in my adult homes I have always installed floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with physical books, many of which purchased at library sales. 


 Longtime editor of War, Literature & the Arts: an international journal of the humanities, Donald Anderson is editor, too, of aftermath: an anthology of post-vietnam fiction, When War Becomes Personal, and Andre Dubus: Tributes. His collection Fire Road won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award. His most recent book is Gathering Noise from my Life: A Camouflaged Memoir. You may visit his website at

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Coming Soon! Summer Library Series 2014

Library Books, photograph by timetrax23
(used under CC license,
Tune in next Friday for the beginning of the Summer Library Series (2014). Every Friday, a writer from across the virtual street will be sharing reflections on the most important library--right here on What She Might Think.

Return on Friday, June 27 to enjoy a piece by writer Donald Anderson, who is also the editor of War, Literature, & the Arts.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Quick Poetry Review: Mute by Raymond Luczak

I stumbled into Galludet's Spring issue of the Deaf Studies Digital Journal (, and discovered several storytellers and poets I didn't know about, one of those being Raymond Luczak who recited a poem from his book Mute

Mute by Raymond Luczak (Midsummer Night's Press, 2010) is a collection of poetry that investigates language, the body, and where love intersects, falls away from, or struggles across those worlds.  

"How to Fall for a Deaf Man" begins the collection and sets up one of the recurring themes in the book, which is to ask the imagined, potential partner (typically a hearing person) to move outside of himself and experience the world in a way that creates shared experiences--shared experiences between the speaker in the poem and the experience the imagined partner does not have:

As you drive home, notice how rhythmic
telephone poles and corner signs are.
Wonder why no one ever thinks of making music
for eyes alone.

Pockets of vivid imagery like this occur across the book while colliding with the subtext that underscores many of the poems, which is how often the voice of the poems has been misunderstood, mistreated, isolated and interrupted by the "you," who is both the hearing partner (or potential partner) and, due to direct address, the reader.  Mute, then, is in some ways the total love poem--for it both understands what is keeping the I and you apart and is, therefore, trying to sew together, poem by poem, experiences and images and memories so that I and you can, as Adrienne Rich writes, 

move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air. 
(from II., in Twenty-One Love Poems)

Mute deals with more than just this, for it isn't just a beautiful how-to guide for pointing out the difficulties in loving across two languages; it also responds to the experience of watching friends die, of memories never said to those now gone.  But regardless the focus, the lines are always patient, careful, wondering.  

Overall, Mute is a well constructed collection, and the book itself is built nicely, enjoyable to hold in the hands, and about the size of your back pocket.

Ordering Mute online:
Order Mute from Amazon or the press itself (free shipping via the press, and more royalties to the poet, as always). 

Checking out Mute from your nearest library:
And, as always, check to see what library closest to you has the book available, and if it's not available, ask your librarian to order a copy. 

More about Raymond Luczak:
Visit his website here.  
Luczak recites one of his poems from Mute, "Instructions to Hearing Persons Desiring a Deaf Man" on YouTube.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Finalist in Sustainable Arts Foundation Spring Awards

My Henry
Good news, kids:

Out of 900 applicants by artists and writers to the Sustainable Arts Foundation, I was a finalist. Said a juror about my work, "You are an intensely talented young writer and your story was filled with unexpected and unforgettable imagery.”

The Sustainable Arts Foundation's mission is to support artists with children.  Thanks to my son Henry Valentine, I became one such artist.  

For more information about the most fantastic Sustainable Arts Foundation, see 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Missing Time in Lake Effect (Volume 18)

My story "The Missing Time" is now available to read in the most recent issue of the literary journal Lake Effect.  I'm pleased because I especially like this story and because this is my third publication with the journal.  I was lucky to attend AWP in Seattle last weekend and pick up an advance copy.  You should pick up a copy, too.  Here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Looking Out of Broken Windows, Debut Collection

"[Dan] Powell uses surreality and magic – a wheeling-dealing cancer, unborn twins scanning their parents-to-be, a self-starting fire – to illuminate truths with poignancy and humour, paying subtle homage to the short story masters who inspired him, from Kafka to O’Connor and Carver." 

LOOBW cover--Tania Hershman, founding editor of The Short Review

Just a quick note that Dan Powell's debut story collection, Looking Out of Broken Windows, is due out in less than weeks from Salt Publishing.  I'm quite looking forward to reading his work, since I first encountered him several years ago when he'd stumbled across The Floating Order and took the time to write about it.  A few summers ago, Dan contributed to the Summer Library Series that I ran here on What She Might Think.  It seems fitting now to share Dan's childhood reading experience now that it has culminated in his first book.

Please enjoy Dan's piece, "The Library That Delivered."

Learn more about Looking Out of Broken Windows at his webhome.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Minnesota Review Features Excerpt of How the Sun Burns

The Minnesota Review, publisher of my story "How The Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble," is featuring the story on their blog today. The magazine has nominated the story for a Pushcart Prize and is in the process of featuring each of its nominees.  Today is the day for my story, so swing over and have a look, and consider purchasing the issue of the magazine in which the story appears.

The story is the title story for my next collection, How The Sun Burns.