I have a lot of HoCoPoLitSo memories. They start from way back when I was in high school and I had no idea the organization existed or what it did. All I remember was that I was on a field trip that left me wanting to be Derek Walcott once I grew up. Though a favorite HoCoPoLitSo memory, that is another story. Today I want to share a few moments of writers coming to see writers and what an honor it is to be in the midst of such occasion.
Many stories start with Irish Evening for HoCoPoLitSo. It is a landmark event. I think my awareness of other writers coming to HoCoPoLitSo events to see our headliner started one such evening. Maybe it was the Guinness, but more probably it was Colm Tóibín that brought Colum McCann down to our neck of the woods from his Manhattan apartment for the 21st annual Irish Evening. At that point in the now world famous career of Tóibín, it was a rare thing to him to this side of the Atlantic. McCann took advantage and a train to visit Columbia a year after he himself had read for Irish Evening.
I remember little of the reading that night. I seldom remember Irish Evenings and that is not for the drinking that often followed. They are labor intensive occasions to produce and I tend to be tending to that aspect. Tóibín’s voice is still in my head and bits of The Heather Blazing from that reading; I did catch some of it. What I do remember is that there were a handful of folks, me lucky enough to be among them, that headed off into the night with a number of bottles to listen to Colm and Colum talk about writing once the event was done and packed away. What an honor.
Quite recently, Colum McCann, now many books into his fame, came to another Irish Evening to read from Transatlantic, just about to be published. It was his first reading of the work to an audience and a fascinating occasion as he caught a sentence he hadn’t right and promised us he would go back to the galleys to correct it. An honest moment in the creative process.
I spotted a number of Howard County writers in attendance that evening. They were joined by none other than Alice McDermott and, I am told, George Pelicanos. The two had come from Baltimore and Washington, respectively, to take in one of the masters of prose in suburban Columbia. If we are dropping names here, I’ll add that the Governor came from Annapolis and even joined in to play with the band. After the evening at the green room party, McCann himself joined in the singing of songs.
Perhaps my favorite coming together of writers to see a particularly treasured writer was for the poet Stanley Kunitz in 1993. We all knew Mr. Kunitz was old old, 88, and that this would be the last opportunity we would have to see him. In a space that no longer exists as a venue for readings – the lower Nursing Lounge on the campus of Howard Community College – Kunitz read to a standing room only crowd that adored each and every syllable. The audience well knew his work and you could tell that he could tell: he put on a commanding performance.
I remember crowded in that room with us were Carolyn Forché and Gregory Orr who had come up from the University of Virginia for the occasion. Afterwards at a reception, all whispered to each other in awe and confirmed how lucky we were to have shared this intimate occasion with the great Stanley Kunitz. I went on to hear him read a number of times since that occasion: our collective luck grew as he lived to be 100.
Why do writers come to see other writers? For the occasion of Kunitz, it was likely reverence and the notion of ‘this might be the last time’ and one not to miss. On other occasions, it is probably more outright a taking in of craft, an opportunity to learn and admire. I know I go see other writers to learn and affirm what common language can do in the hands of masters. Thank you for that, HoCoPoLitSo.
Co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo Board
Have a favorite HoCoPoLitSo memory? HoCoPoLitSo is currently celebrating its 4oth season and would love to hear from you. Visit the Share Your Memory page and share a favorite story or two with us. As we collect favorite memories, we’ll share them in a future blog posts.
Emma Donoghue contains multitudes.
The Irish novelist writes from the point of view of a five-year-old imprisoned with his mother (Room), a French erotic dancer in 1870s San Francisco (Frog Music), a Victorian spinster enmeshed in a friend’s nasty divorce (The Sealed Letter), and a formerly destitute prostitute and fashion fiend of the eighteenth century (Slammerkin).
On Feb. 6, HoCoPoLitSo’s 37th Annual Irish Evening of Music and Poetry featured Donoghue and her various voices. The Dublin-born novelist read from two books, her blockbuster Room and her latest, Frog Music.
The audience ate it up. Donoghue’s voice flipped from character to character as she read from Frog Music. During the dialogue, Donoghue’s voice changed from the rough Irish of the spreading Irish-American family MacNamara — the youngest boy to the frazzled mother and the slightly drunken father — to the accented lilt of a French-born erotic dancer Blanche, to the husky farmer bartender next door.
And when she read from Room, Donoghue mimicked the open-faced innocence and twisted grammar of a five-year-old. As the screenwriter for the independent film of her novel, due out in the fall of 2015, Donoghue said she thoroughly enjoyed sitting on set, keeping her mouth shut, as the actors brought her novel to life.
In her first introduction for HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening, new Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson explained that a recent gala theme, “Ireland: Legendary and Contemporary,” made her think of Emma Donoghue. “Emma is a natural cosmopolitan. She moves easily in time and space and between historic and contemporary space. … She is a vivid narrator for our time.”
Earlier in the day, that vivid narrator sat down with D.C. novelist Mary Kay Zuravleff to film an edition of The Writing Life, HoCoPoLitSo’s writer-to-writer talk show (www.youtube.com/hocopolitso). The two writers laughed and talked about Donoghue’s work, which includes a dozen books of fiction, literary criticism, numerous short stories, plus several plays and radio dramas.
Donoghue spent her first 20 years in Dublin, “that early marinating leaves a mark,” she laughed, as the youngest of eight children.
“It made us competitive and loquacious,” she said. “It was a big and noisy, bookish house. My dad is a literary critic (Denis Donoghue, the Henry James professor at New York University).”
Her books, Donoghue explained, are “fiction that walks arm in arm with fact.”
Frog Music tells the story of a real unsolved murder from the point of view of Blanche, the “burlesque (to put it generously) dancer,” Donoghue says, a woman who is a new friend to the murder victim, Jenny Bonnet. Bonnet was, Donoghue says, “the ideal murder victim; she was born trouble.” The victim, a cross-dressing frog-catcher for San Francisco’s restaurants in the 1870s, and most of the characters in this novel, are based in a history that Donoghue meticulously researched.
Room is the least fact-based of her novels, Donoghue told the audience, but did take its premise from a real headline — a young Austrian woman kept captive by her father, Josef Fritzl, who sired seven children with her and kept three of those children imprisoned as well. Donoghue says she thinks of Room as part fairy tale, part science fiction and “a bit like a nightmare.” Five-year-old Jack tells the story — imprisoned with his mother, Jack doesn’t know there is more to the world than the room in which they are captive, thanks to the protective, magical world his mother builds with him in their small space.
Donoghue said that she doesn’t like to repeat herself, so she sets up new challenges for herself. Her next project is a book for the middle school market — “I’m far more scared of them as an audience,” she laughed. They might throw spitballs, she laughed.
Friday night’s listeners didn’t throw anything but applause Donoghue’s way. And they clapped (and some danced) through the second half of the evening, the concert of traditional Irish music and step dancing by Narrowbacks and young dancers from the Culkin School.
The Irish Evening is a long-standing tradition that helps raise money for HoCoPoLitSo’s programs for adult and student audiences. We need your support to produce these kind of events. Please consider clicking our “donate” button on this page.
Susan Thornton Hobby
Howard County Poetry and Literature Society board
While we are busy preparing for next week’s Irish Evening with Emma Donoghue — do you have your tickets? — we want to take a moment and recommend an event that is quite a favorite, the Super Bowl Sunday reading in Frederick, Maryland. This year, the wonderful Kay Ryan is to read at the free event.
As the Frederick News-Post reports:
Ryan will be in Frederick on Sunday [February 1st] as part of the C. Burr Artz Poetry/Lecture Series, kicking off the 2015 Frederick Reads season, the theme of which is Season of Wonder: Escape the Ordinary. Past poets in the annual event, traditionally held at the Weinberg Center on Super Bowl Sunday, have included Billy Collins, Nikki Giovanni and Natasha Tretheway, among others. A reading of her work will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
We will admit there are a number of best parts to this event. One is, obviously, the magnificent Kay Ryan. Two, for us, is that it is an event we are not producing, thus can sit back and selfishly enjoy the occasion, all ears and not a care in the world. The third is that, for those of us that fancy football, it gets not in the way at all of Super Bowl Festivities, though we admit that E. Ethelbert Miller was a little startled that we would do anything but put on jerseys and pregame with chips, guacamole and salsa and banter prior to Sunday evening’s sporting occasion. Don’t worry, the folks at Frederick Reads will have you back in time for all of that. The reading is perfectly placed into the day at 2 p.m.
We hope to see you there and we hope to see you the following Friday for our wonderful evening of Irish writing, music, and dance.
HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its 37th Annual Irish Evening is the international best-selling and award-winning author Emma Donoghue. She will read from her work starting at 7:30 p.m., February 6, 2015, at the Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College.
General admission tickets are $35.00 each and are available on-line at irishevening.eventbrite.com or by sending a check payable and mailed to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.
Donoghue, called “one of popular fiction’s most talented practitioners” by Kirkus Reviews, and a writer with “ingenuity” by the New York Times, will read from Room and her other novels. Donoghue’s reading will be followed by Narrowbacks in a concert of traditional Irish music with stepdancers from the Culkin School.
Donoghue has published eight novels and several pieces for radio, stage, and screen productions. Collectively, her works have won the Lambda Literary Award, the Stonewall Book Award for Literature, the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. A film adaption of Donoghue’s heavily praised 2010 novel Room is currently in production, with director Lenny Abrahamson and Brie Larson set to star. Donoghue has also been in close running for the Giller Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and the Orange Prize.
The Narrowbacks features Terence Winch on button accordion, Jesse Winch on bodhran and guitar, former Irish Tradition member Brendan Mulvihill on fiddle, Linda Hickman on flute and whistle, and Eileen (Korn) Estes on lead vocal and piano, who is the daughter of original Celtic Thunder lead vocalist Nita (Conley) Korn. Band members play a full range of traditional Irish reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slides and slow airs. They will also sing a variety of songs, including original compositions.
To be displayed during the event is Denny Lynch’s photographic exhibition, ‘The Carrolls of Offaly and Maryland, A Photographic Essay,’ a series of photographs that came about from Lynch’s fourteen-year study of the history of the Carrolls. Lynch has said of the exhibit, “This exploration gave me the opportunity to photograph beautiful landscapes, castles, towns, and monuments associated with this family on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Donoghue follows other great Irish authors who have come to Howard County, including Frank McCourt, Eavan Boland, Hugo Hamilton, Paula Meehan, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, and Colum McCann, to name a few. For years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has recognized and celebrated the enormous impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature.
The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, HoCoPoLitSo, will launch its poetry anthology, Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II, in honor of its 40th anniversary, at a reception on Friday, January 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Howard County Center for the Arts. The launch will be held in conjunction with the Howard County Arts Council and Howard County Tourism opening of two exhibits, Ho Co Open 2015 and Poetic Energetic. The reception will feature a poetry reading, live music and light refreshments and is free and open to the public. Snow date: Friday, January 30. For more information about the event visit: http://bit.ly/1t2ETim
The Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) has been producing live literary events for the community since 1974. Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II contains a selection of poetry from the variety of writers who have visited Howard County between 1994 and 2014, from the world-renowned Paula Meehan to the nationally acclaimed Mark Strand and Rita Dove. Distinguished authors such as Patricia Smith, Edward Hirsch, Mary Oliver and E. Ethelbert Miller have inscribed their words on the hearts of many Howard County residents; their poems are HoCoPoLitSo’s history, detailed in Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II. For more information, call HoCoPoLitSo at (443) 518-4568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining us and reading will be contributor E. Ethelbert Miller. A frequent HoCoPoLitSo guest E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. Miller is the founder and former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. He served as a Commissioner for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities from 1997-2008. He is board emeritus for the PEN/ Faulkner Foundation.
The author of several collections of poetry, he has written two memoirs, Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer (2000) and The 5th Inning (2009). Fathering Words was selected by the D.C. Public Library for its DC WE READ, one book, one city program in 2003. His poetry anthology In Search of Color Everywhere was awarded the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award in 1994.
HoCoPoLitSo is a nonprofit organization designed to enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. Founded in 1974 by National Book Award finalist Ellen Conroy Kennedy, HoCoPoLitSo accomplishes its mission by sponsoring readings with critically acclaimed writers; literary workshops; programs for students; and The Writing Life, a writer-to-writer interview show seen on YouTube, HCC-TV, and other local stations. HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; The Columbia Film Society; Community Foundation of Howard County; the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation; and individual contributors.
Online sales of Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II will start after January 23rd event.
HoCoPoLitSo’s forty years are full of cherished memories. In this blog post, board member Laura Yoo shares a favorite recent memory from the 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Series Reading with Rita Dove and violinist Joshua Coyne.
I was wowed, moved, and inspired during Rita Dove’s reading and Joshua Coyne’s music this past October. Their performances and their talk, facilitated by HoCoPoLitSo’s Co-Chair Tara Hart, was engaging and fascinating.
But in my memory of that evening, I am thinking of three young women that I met after the event. They were simply giddy with excitement. They stood behind me in line to have their programs signed by Ms. Dove. They whispered to each other, “That was so cool” and “I wonder if she’d take a picture with us?” I offered to take a picture of them with Ms. Dove, and later they also posed with Coyne and his friend Emmett Tross the singer. These three young women were stirred by the whole evening.
While the performance by Dove and Coyne was phenomenal, it’s these three young women who linger in my memory after the event. I keep thinking, how can we get more of that?
Even as a professor in the English department at Howard Community College, I don’t often witness such excitement about literature, especially poetry, from young people. And this makes me sad. I just want to grab them and say, “Can’t you see? Don’t you see just how beautiful and amazing these words are?”
I think we’re all born with the capacity for creativity, and for poetry. Poetry is everywhere in the lives of children. Everything they do rhymes and the very way they acquire language itself is poetic. My kindergartener says that at school, before they eat, they say to each other, “Bon appetit. Now you may eat!” You can’t tell me that’s not poetry.
In his famous TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson says that schooling kills creativity, and I wonder if it also kills interest in experiencing others’ creative productions like poetry. Schooling has become a pragmatic and utilitarian endeavor. There is very little room for what are (inaccurately) perceived to be purely aesthetic endeavors like literature and other forms of art. But what many don’t realize is that there is so much usefulness in literature. Steve Strauss, a columnist for USA Today and a small business expert, tells us about a research on the impact of studying literature,
Keith Oatley, one of the researchers, said the reason fiction improves empathy is because it helps us to “understand characters’ actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have.” This improves interpersonal understanding and enhances relationships with customers and business associates. When you hire an English major, you’re likely hiring someone who brings cognitive empathy to the table. (from “Why I Hire English Majors” in The Huffington Post)
So literature is not only beautiful but also useful.
By the time young people graduate high school and enter a college course like introduction to literature, many of them see literature as a chore and poetry as a mystery. When it comes to literature, most of them stand somewhere between empathy and fear – and perhaps those two feelings are not mutually exclusive.
One way that HoCoPoLitSo tries to cure young people of this fear is through our Writer-in-Residence program. This year, Joseph Ross of Meeting Bone Man (2012) and Gospel of Dust (2013) is visiting high schools in Howard County for poetry workshops. He writes in his blog about the students he worked with at Homewood:
They were asking to be seen and heard, “tenderly.” […] While these young people had been through some difficult times, they used poetry to name their sadnesses and to face them. This is what the power of poetry looks like.
In addition, for many years HoCoPoLitSo has worked with Bill’s Buddies of the Folger Shakespeare Library to visit Howard County schools. This year, thanks to HoCoPoLitSo’ s sponsors and partners, middle school students from all over the county were visited by actors from Center Stage.
Recently, I learned that those three young ladies at the Dove and Coyne event were Nsikan Apkan and her two sisters. Nsikan is a student at Howard Community College with great interest in poetry. She even wrote an article about the event for HCC Times (check out page 19 of the October 2014
We also have young people like Katy Day who is HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board and a student at University of Maryland, College Park, studying English and Psychology as well as Faheem Dyer who is HoCoPoLitSo’s student intern from Atholton High School. You can read about Katy’s curious claim that “humanities ain’t like the Pre-Chew Charlie’s” and read Faheem’s review of the Dove and Coyne event for the Raider Review.
Young people like Nsikan, Katy, and Faheem will create and carry the future of poetry and literature in Howard County, in Maryland, in the US, and in the world.
In the next few weeks, I will share with you my interviews with Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan. They will tell you what draws them to literature, to poetry in particular. They will tell you about the future of poetry. And we will all see that we need not lose heart about the future of literature, of poetry. We have Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan.
Keep calm and read on.
– Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board Member
Have a favorite HoCoPoLitSo memory? Share it with us through this online form and you may find the story the subject of a future blog post.
According to HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors members and staff, here are the best things we read in 2014.
- The Shack by William Young
- Fludd by Hilary Mantel
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
- Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros
- The Beautiful Things Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
- Inside Newark by Robert Curvin
- Breakfast with Lucian by Gordie Greig
One of my favorites was Dear Committee Members, a short entertaining novel by Julie Schumacher. The novel pokes fun at academia and academics in general, and it was fun to laugh at myself while laughing at the characters. A lighthearted book that I read over the course of two evenings snuggled up in my reading chair.
That is not the experience I had (and am still having) with Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. Before you read the rest of this, I want to make clear that I love this book.
I’m having a year-long relationship with this book – I’ve been reading it all year mainly because I can manage to read only a few pages at a time (although this may not be a reflection on the novel but just my inability to concentrate at 11 o’clock at night when I finally settle down with a book). It took some time and some mental-doing to really get into this dystopian novel by one of my favorite writers. The novel takes place in B-Mor in the future. We follow the story of a young woman who ventures out of B-Mor to the “counties.” The prose is poetic. At times the story seems to move along a bit too slowly and the prose very dense. The narrative structure and voice strike me as experimental. It’s not exactly a page-turner, but perhaps we might call it a thought-turner. It’s challenging, thoughtful, and beautiful. It’s quite an experience.
– Laura Yoo
member of HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors
One night in 2008 is when my relationship with HoCoPoLitSo began as a last minute favor for a co-worker. I said yes to serving as a volunteer at an event, and I am forever grateful I said yes.
That evening, I made the grave mistake of assuming what the occasion was going to entail and what sorts of people I would meet there. In my mind’s eye I had imagined Ego the food critic from the Pixar movie Ratatouille. Perhaps noses high in the air, shamelessly quoting pieces of literature as they try to “one up” each other on their knowledge base.
Boy, was I wrong.
When I first arrived at the event I met the many board members who were both happy and grateful that I was there to volunteer, and as the event commenced I had the chance to meet and talk to the audience members who were attending the annual Irish Evening. Among the audience members, the age range was as wide as the sea and conversations were varied from the intellectual to the, “Hey there have you heard of this new author?” I was in heaven! And I continued to volunteer for HoCoPoLitSo events for many years.
I’ve always been a “closet” fan of literature and the arts although I never quite found the venue to both learn and share my appreciation for the art. And now I had finally found my tribe, and I could come out of the literary closet and share my love of arts and literature with others. And no Pixar character in sight to date!
Recently when I was asked to join the Board of Directors, I enthusiastically accepted and felt as though the highest honor had been bestowed upon me. In the few meetings I’ve since attended I realize just how much work goes into every event, down to the very last detail and perhaps the most surprising revelation is how many events HoCoPoLitSo puts on within the calendar year. There’s constant planning, brain-storming, idea swapping, and meticulous work to bring as many events to the public as possible.
I was once told, “Anything worth having is worth working hard for”, and this is definitely an organization worth working hard for.
-Andrea L. Martinez
Member, HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors Member and long-time volunteer
HoCoPoLitSo has a history of pulling together people, words and music. A forty-year history, in fact.
On Oct. 22, HoCoPoLitSo made history again at a celebration of its fortieth anniversary, a free multi-media event called “A Word of Difference: Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne Celebrate History and Creativity.”
For the first time, prodigy violinist Joshua Coyne and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove shared the stage to perform works inspired by an almost-forgotten eighteenth-century Afro-Polish musician — George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Dove read poems from her biographical book of poems about Bridgetower, Sonata Mulattica, and Coyne played his own composition, “Fingers,” a plaintive work meant to embody Bridgetower’s doomed career. The program was filmed by a crew from Spark Media for a documentary of the same name as Dove’s 2009 book, and a selection of scenes from the documentary premiered at the HoCoPoLitSo event.
Dove, whose book was described by the New Yorker as “a virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso’s life,” explained Bridgetower’s story at the reading. First, a musical tot is discovered in the servant’s quarters and given a tiny violin, an overbearing African “prince” as a father showcases his son’s prodigious talents, the boy’s talent blossoms under Haydn’s tutelage and the patronage of the Prince of Wales. Then, as a youth, Bridgetower meets Beethoven.
Beethoven and Bridgetower collaborate on an intricate sonata, which the going-deaf composer dedicates to his “crazy mulatto,” according to historical letters. Then the story turns even more soap opera: the handsome young Bridgetower either insults or flirts with or steals (according to one’s perspective) a young woman that Beethoven has been coveting.
The elder musician rages, tears up the dedication page, and Bridgetower retreats from Vienna in shame. His career skids to a halt a scant decade or so after it began. He dies in the London slums seventy years after he played in Paris to great acclaim.
Dove read a poem about the father giving his boy “The Wardrobe Lesson,” so he’ll dress in bright colors and flowing costumes to highlight his “exotic” background. She read “Augarten, 7 a.m.,” about the early-morning concert that premiered the sonata, which Beethoven later rededicated to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who pronounced it so complicated it was “unplayable.” She concluded the reading with “The End, with Mapquest,” about her family’s trip to find the spot where Bridgetower died, in south London, asking at last, “how does a shadow shine?”
After Coyne’s two original songs were performed, one based on Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred” and sung by Emmett Gabriel Tross, and the second played by Coyne on the violin, Dove and Coyne sat down for a discussion with the audience, moderated by HoCoPoLitSo board co-chair Tara Hart.
The two artists talked about when they first met and how they threw back and forth improvisations on free verse and piano music. And Dove explained that she formerly played cello.
“I must have music in my life,” she said. “Poetry can make the language sing, and like music, can create an emotion that is speechless.”
Coyne talked about playing the Bridgetower sonata, about it being a dialogue between the piano and the violin, and how “it is a killer,” he laughed.
And they offered advice to artists everywhere, on which work was the hardest they have composed (both agreed, they were all the hardest), and to learn to relax about creating.
“This is not a race to be an artist,” Dove said. “It feeds something in you.”
Coyne agreed: “Make sure you’re not going too fast to notice things.”
Outside, after the cheese and fruit were picked clean, and the red-clad volunteers from Columbia’s Delta Sigma Theta alumnae chapter had gone home, Dove lingered for photos and signatures on her books. Across the glossy foyer, sticky notes papered a column with thoughts about the evening written by audience members: “DEEP,” “inspiring,” “awesome,” they read.
This performance was presented free to audience members to commemorate the first reading HoCoPoLitSo offered, in November, 1974, by the late poets Lucille Clifton and Carolyn Kizer. HoCoPoLitSo is grateful to partners and donors that made the evening possible — the Alpha Phi Alpha Foundation, Candlelight Concert Society, the Columbia Film Society, the Howard Community College Music Department and the Columbia (Md.) Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
To help HoCoPoLitSo continue pull together programs of this variety and quality, and make them available to all in the community, please consider making a donation.
Susan Thornton Hobby
A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the University of Maryland, College Park bookstore to purchase books for my classes this semester. I’ve done this enough times before that the process has become more of a script and less of a twisted Easter egg hunt.
While gathering my books, I noticed a difference in my book for psychology and my books for English literature. My psychology book is a large, heavy textbook. My books for English literature classes are book-books ranging from Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray to Sigmund Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.
I never realized this shift in my schoolbooks from textbooks to mostly book-books, probably because it happened so gradually. I don’t miss textbooks. There is a part in Deborah Eisenberg’s “The Girl Who Left Her Sock On The Floor”, in which the main character, Francie, is looking at a textbook and wonders, “who were ‘Editors Clark & Melton,’ for that matter, to be in charge of what was going on? To decide which, out of all of the things that went on, were things that had happened.” Textbooks are subjective summaries on various topics, parading themselves as objective facts. Don’t get me wrong; I am a huge advocate of the sciences. There is a place in this world for science and mathematics, and I am grateful for all of the young minds pursuing those fields of study. Science can offer the closest thing we will probably ever have to objective facts.
The humanities, however, do not summarize. The humanities give students raw materials and equip them with skills to critically analyze and interpret things for themselves. In my literature class, I’m not reading a chapter summary of Sigmund Freud in a textbook, like I am in psychology. I’m reading a book by Sigmund Freud. I get to decide what Freud was like and whether his science was “good” or “bad,” and how I think his writing influenced the world around him. How else do we know and understand the world other than by a collection of subjective experiences? Why should I put all of my trust in anyone else’s interpretation of the world when I have the ability to decide for myself?
If the humanities have taught me anything, it’s that what we know about the world is always changing. We get it wrong a lot. Sigmund Freud got it wrong, but there was a time when his science was understood as fact. The humanities have given me the ability to step outside of social norms and question History and Knowledge. The humanities have taught me to never say, “That’s just how we do it” but instead say, “How else can we do it?”
On the first day of class, one of my professors reminded us of a Saturday Night Live skit called “Pre-Chew Charlie’s” in which servers at a restaurant pre-chew their customers’ food. He told us that while we read any text, he wants us to “chew for ourselves.” That is why the humanities are so important. They are teaching our future generations to be chewers.
Chew on that.
Student on the HoCoPoLitSo Board