MFA Update

The semester is half over and I’m still getting my bearings. It takes me several months to get acclimated, and at this rate, I will be graduating by the time it happens.

I would have never imagined I would meet so many talented writers and wonderful people.

new-york-times-the-lost-art-of-writingThis semester we are talking to a lot of industry professionals.  So far we’ve spoken to author Nicole Kear who is delightful.  We spoke with other fantastic people and will speak with a few more before the end of the semester.

Many people who go to school for writing get “the look”. The one that says, “You need to go to school to write?” Of course these are thepeople who don’t write well.  No I don’t NEED to do anything, and not everyone has to go to school to write well. There are self-taught writers who are exceptional.  But those people usually don’t ask that question.

Next semester is the thesis semester. This is where I work on my exit piece. This is not the traditional thesis people think of when they hear the word. This is a tight and polished 75 page manuscript. Sounds easy?  It’s not.

Writing is hard work. My brain actually hurts now more than it did in undergrad. But I will get to May, graduate and miss it all. So no complaints. 

 

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Book Review #3

Book 1:  When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
Book 2: Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

I put these two together because they are both poetry books. They have nothing in common except I would have not read them on my own. These are school reads. I am not upset that I read them however.

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I met Natalie Diaz this month at a poetry reading in Harlem. As a person, she was down to earth and very cool. As a poet she is amazing. This collection is inspired by her late brother as well as her family life growing up.  Raw, emotional and sometimes shocking verse on every page.

After Diaz’s book, I read Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. He has won several awards for his poetry and it isn’t hard to see why. Born in Ho Chi Mihn City in Vietnam, he moved to Connecticut while still a toddler. His poetry touches on war, family and love.

Between the two of these poets I have been inspired to spend more time writing poetry. An art I had abandoned several years ago.

4 / 5 stars (for both)

 

2017-6-26-spoonbenders-ljdoyle-010Book 3: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
Fiction

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about psychics.  This one also played with a version of time travel. This famous family of psychics harbored a secret for years and of course we find out toward the end of the book. But I enjoyed the interplay and the family dynamics much more. Not to mention their interactions with the mob.

4 / 5 stars

 

Book 4: Now I see You: A Memoir by Nicole Kear
Memoir

Another ‘forced’ read for school. I say ‘forced’ because it’s not a book I would have chosen. About a woman who is slowly losing her site to a degenerative eye disease while living in NYC and navigating life.  There is humor throughout, which helps lighten an otherwise serious book.

4 / 5 stars

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Brown Skin Blues

African-American-Woman-SilhouetteWhen the alarmed buzzed as I exited the Urban Outfitters in Soho (NYC) I was confused.  I was leaving the store in the midst of a group of people, so I thought nothing of it. But I was called over to have my bag checked.

Usually I am not bothered by this, if I buzz then there is a reason, but that reason isn’t stealing. But if it is just me at the door and it buzzes, what can I do. However, this time I was surrounded by white people and Asian people, none of who they called back.

And the guard wasn’t nice about it either. I had a Fjall Raven Kanken on, one of many I own (my daughter used to work for the retail store in Soho). This bag is also sold in Urban Outfitters. My bag wasn’t in terrible shape, so did he think I stole it, or was I eyeballed the moment I walked in?

I am a 50 year old African American woman and I walked in to the store with my daughter. She was shopping, I wasn’t, but I looked around until I got hungry so I went to eat outside. But that was delayed.

I angrily opened my bag which had my sweatshirt stuffed on top of my food and wallet.

“OK you’re fine,” the guard announces and dismisses me with a wave of his hand.

“I know I’m fine!” My voice reverberated through the store. I was mortified at the accusation that I was a thief. He jumped at my outburst.

I turned and started back out, but I turned back to the Latino guard and said, “It’s because I’m black. You didn’t single out anyone else.” I was not quiet in my assumption. He didn’t respond.

I stood outside angry, but I couldn’t let the ignorance of others ruin my day. No matter what color the guard was, he was (unfortunately) trained to stop brown skin. 

BUT

I wasn’t the only one.  A few moments later some young African-American teenagers exited the store. He must have called them back because I heard one say, “Yo, he wanted to check our bags.” They were laughing, they didn’t stop for him. Were they guilty of theft? I doubt it. They were guilty of SWB (shopping while black).

My daughter came out of the store a few moments later, she wasn’t stopped.  I told her what happened. She said, “Oh, that’s why the guy (guard) looked away when I said ‘have a nice day’.”

Did he know we were together? Or is it because she had a bag that she wasn’t singled out?

Many young people like the teenagers don’t realize that this is racism. They think it is – well I don’t know what they think it is.

A friend told me that her students say they don’t experience racism. I told her that they don’t recognize it, but they experience it.

Do they realize they are followed around the store when they shop?

I wanted to tell the guard I make more than him in a month than he does in an entire year (exaggeration), but what would that prove? Nothing. He is conditioned, and no amount of money in my pocket is going to change a mindset or my skin tone.

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There Is No Balance In My Reading

I previously wrote a post about how my reading choices were made unconsciously, or by popular opinion.  This year I made the choice to read more People of Color. That has been successful. However, for many years I’ve tried to up my reading of Female authors as well. I’ve never been successful.

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Mary Kubica

My goal is to have as close to a 50/50 ratio as possible.

Currently I’ve read 59 books as of (Sept 1), out of these 59 only 19 were by females. There was only one female author I read 2 books by as well as one male author. So the ration stands. This is a ratio of 3:1 (I think the math is right). 

I would like to rectify this.  I can be more conscious of what I read until the end of this year, but unless every book I read from now until then is by a female, I will never reach my goal of 50/50.

Again I ask myself if I am doing this unconsciously. Do I just not like the books women write? I’m not one of those that read authors like Sue Grafton or Jodi Picoult, and I’m not in to romance or chick lit.  But women have written books I know I would read. Authors like Isabel Allende or Margaret Atwood are on my TBR list.  So why oh why am I not reaching for them?

I make a promise to myself that in 2018 I will reach the 50/50 goal. All it takes is a conscious effort.

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Book Reviews #3

Title: The One and Only IvanThe_One_and_Only_Ivan_cover
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Children’s Fiction

Sometimes I read children’s books. This one was suggested and recommended by one of my Professors. It was simplistic in its story but still carried that message (that’s the payoff) at the end. That good ole’ moral.

The theme of this book is friendship and what defines family. A great message for kids, but some adults need to read this too. They often forget what real friendship is.

The limited casts of characters and settings do not distract from the story.

I don’t want to give too much away. It is a charming book, easy read and inspired by a true story about Ivan the Gorilla.

 

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Title: StoryCraft – The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction
Author: Jack Hart
Genre: Non-Fiction

This book was assigned by my Professor and it deals with writing Narrative Non Fiction.

This book goes through the various parts of what makes great narrative nonfiction such as: Structure, Character, Scenes.  Each chapter gives examples which come from famous writers like Erik Larson who wrote the book Devil in the White City, as well as journalists (none of whom I heard of).

Although I’ve heard professionals and professors talk about this stuff ad nauseam, it never fails to give me an epiphany, like it is some new revolutionary knowledge.

I read several reading books a year and none of them are ‘light reading’, but this one I felt was more informative than the average book.

Did I like it? Did I not? Does it matter? No.

Basically the function was to ‘take book, put in brain’ and that’s what I did.

 

Behold the Dreamers

Title: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Genre: Fiction

Well now. When I like a book I usually let it marinate for a while.  This one I have a lot to say, but it is all good.  I don’t want to give anything away, but this book resonated with me. I’m not an immigrant so I cannot speak to that experience. I am a New Yorker though. 

Looks at the lives of two families. One from Cameroon Africa and one from NYC.  Both families are rich and both families are poor. But you’ll have to read it to understand my meaning.

This novel does have a denouement, but not one I expected. The tidy little bow gives one food for thought. I like things like that. If I invest time in a book of 400 pages, I want a payoff. I want to close it and go “hmm”.

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The Conscious Reader: What I Reached For This Year

 

james-baldwin

James Baldwin

Over my reading career, I’ve noticed that I don’t read many books by People of Color (POC). I don’t consciously omit them from my reading list. However, I do not consciously make an effort to seek them out either. I thought it was about time that I made this effort. I often read for authors I’ve read before, or books on best seller lists. I don’t say to myself, “Is this a POC?” It shouldn’t matter if the book is good. But what does matter is that the lists often don’t have many POC’s to reach for. In more recent days, the list seems to have more inclusion of POC’s, or maybe I’m just starting to notice.

My goal for this year was to read at least 1 POC (African-American/Black, Latino, Asian, Native American) a month. I low-balled it because I would be in school and wouldn’t be sure as to how much stuff I’d have to read for that.

These are the books I read thus far this year that were written by POC’s

  1. Imagine This: Creating the Work You Love – Maxine Clair
  2. Ghetto Klown – John Leguizamo
  3. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky – HeidiDurrow
  4. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – August Wilson
  5. The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
  6. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Lost Spells of Marie Laveau – Marie Laveau
  8. A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
  9. The Santa Muerte – Gustavo Vazquez Lozano
  10. Miss Burma – Charmaine Craig
  11. Kindred – Octavia Butler
  12. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah
  13. Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay
  14. Chango’s Fire – Ernesto Quiñonez

By consciously selecting these books I’ve read 14 of them (by September 1). I went back to my list from 2016 and though I read many more books by this time last year, I only read 7 books by POC’s. They were picked without making a conscious effort.

I am sure if I went back through my reading lists, I’d see a similar pattern.

Roxane-Gay

Roxanne Gay

Most of the books on the above list were above average. There were a few that I could have lived without, but that is always the way it is when any book.

 

My goal for 2017 was to read 12 books by POC. I have 4 full months left (as of Sept. 1), I will try and raise this goal to 20.

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An Adult Look Back on Children’s Books and Why I Resonated With Them…Really.

  1. One of my favorites was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. It House ust celebrated its 75th Of course I didn’t read it when it first hit the market in 1942, I enjoyed it during its 30th Anniversary. I no longer have the original hard copy, but I did buy it for my daughter when she was young, so I still have a copy. I liked this book because I live in New York City, and the book showed the effects of urbanization on a place that was once pastoral.  At the age of 5, I didn’t know that’s why I liked it. I just liked the fact that the little house find a new happy home after years of neglect.

Perhaps, for me, it was more about relatability. Was I happy where I was? Was I looking for a new place to reside? These are the things I think of 45 years later.

  1. Another favorite was Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. This one is celebrating its 78th year of existence. Again, didn’t read this one until the early 1970s. I liked this book because here is a little girl who is full of mischief but nevertheless well liked and cared for. And who can forget the clever rhyme scheme.

It was nice to see that although Madeline was a little big much for her caretaker, she was taken care of when it was needed, and not begrudgingly.  She was treated so well, that the rest of the girls wanted to also have their appendix (appendices?} removed. Now, I’m not saying my mother would not have taken care of me. Not at all. Of course she would have.  I just got a fuzzy feeling when I see other children, especially ones who are not at home, being cared for and loved. I bought this book (hardcover) for my son when he was small.

  1. The Snowy Day and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats were two books that I read around the same time. They were both written in the early 1960s, so they were not that old when I got my hands on them. And why did I like them? Well the protagonist was African-American, something that was woefully missing in children’s books in the early 1970s.

I just really liked seeing someone that looked like me in a book. There is no deep hidden psychological reason, just the obvious.  Yes, I bought these for my son when he was small.

An Honorable Mention: This one popped up while I was looking on Amazon.I had all but forgotten about it.

MAYBELLE

Maybelle the Cable Car also by Virginia Lee Burton. I hadn’t thought about this book since I was a child.  I didn’t even buy it for my children.  What I like about Virginia Lee Burton’s books is that they are urban.  She draws subways, cable cars, apartment buildings and just other very urban scenery.  What I really liked about this book is the drawing encircled the text.  Most picture books of the time had a picture and then under or above were the words.  This book had the text in varying places throughout the entire book.

Being in New York City in the 60s/70s I never rode a cable car; however, it isn’t much different than a city bus and that is how I related to it.

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