A blog post by Laura Yoo
“My favorite part of the book was when James’s parents died!” my 9-year old son Sammy yelled. And everyone around the table yelled back, “What? Oh my God! Why?” He had a perfectly reasonable response: “Because! That’s what made the whole story possible!”
Five 9-year old boys sat around the kitchen table at the home of Brooke Dalesio on a gorgeous, sunny April afternoon talking about Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. School had gotten out three hours early, and the five boys were invited to the first installment of the Boys’ Book Club organized by Brooke for her son Nate and four of his friends. Brooke is a reading specialist who currently works with education majors at University of Maryland College Park, supervising their student teaching. She also works with the reading team as a Title 1 reading tutor at the five boys’ school, Longfellow Elementary in Howard County, Maryland.
Back in February, when Brooke texted me with, “I have a crazy idea that I thought we could do together,” I responded with, “I’m scared.” She proposed to host a book club for a few of Nate’s friends, including Sammy. After a few more text messages back and forth about the logistics, I answered the call with “What the hell! Let’s try it!”
At first, Sammy wasn’t so sure. I guess he just didn’t know what to expect. He asked, “Is it like school work? It sounds like school work.” I assured him that it’d be EVEN MORE FUN than school work. Brooke got the ball rolling by emailing the moms, and Sammy started reading James and the Giant Peach. He loved it right away. When he was finished, he handed it to me (I had not yet read the book) and moved onto Fantastic Mr. Fox. He was counting the days til the first book club meeting. (I cheated by listening to the audio book of James and the Giant Peach, which I highly recommend, by the way.)
For the first book club meeting, Brooke offered fresh peach slices and peach smoothies for snack. They also munched on peach flavored gummy snacks that Sammy and I found at Lotte. While the boys enjoyed their snacks, they started the meeting by sharing general impressions of the book. They kept raising their hands – just like in school – instead of having a conversation. But that was okay – they’d need practice.
They took turns picking discussion questions that Brooke had prepared. The boys got a kick out of the question asking them to find “juicy words” from the book. They loved “ghastly,” “mammoth,” “frantically,” “brute,” and “peculiar.” (Later, one of the boys used “peculiar” in his sentence, just casually throwing it in there as if he’d always known that word.) Brooke told them about British English versus American English, and we listened to a short clip of the audio book on my phone so we could hear the accent. Other questions asked about their favorite characters, how James changes throughout the book, and about the role of magic in this fantasy novel. My favorite question, though, asked the boys to imagine other ways that James and his friends could have gotten out of some of the sticky situations during their adventures, because it encouraged creative problem solving.
After the discussion, the boys created a storyboard of the novel using a long piece of paper Brooke had prepared. They had to decide how to break up the story and how they’d represent the important events in the book. This part got a little hairy and Brooke and I offered some suggestions, but we let them sort it out. (Brooke, by the way, is much better at letting them be than I am. I’m, shall we say, much more “hands on.”) And of course they did a fantastic job.
Brooke did the facilitating, and I enjoyed my peach smoothie and observed with fascination. I loved the level of energy in the room. The boys were excited to talk and to share their ideas. Sure, they all got a bit silly at times. Occasionally, one of them would get up and walk around the room – or dance. They talked on top of each other. Sometimes they got excited and yelled. Still, Brooke kept her cool and steered the group back to the table and back to the book. Other times, she just let them get their energy out for a minute or two. I was impressed. This was a serious level up from “playdate.”
The boys agreed on The BFG for their next book club meeting, which will be in June. After the official book club meeting was adjourned, the little literary scholars dashed outside to play basketball and soccer in the sun while enjoying peach flavored ice pops.
“It was awesome,” Sammy said to me as we left Nate’s house. He cannot wait til June. I joined my first book club when I was 38 years old, so clearly Sammy is getting a serious head start thanks to Ms. Brooke’s “crazy idea” that turned out to be quite awesome.
A guest blog post by Nsikan Akpan
Characters in stories are hardly given enough credit for their bravery of taking on the task of representing the idiosyncrasies and lifestyles that the public prefers to keep private. Clare and Irene in Nella Larsen’s Passing are appropriate examples. Irene’s complexion is light enough to pass for a white woman but makes the choice to side with her true community. On the other hand, Clare, Irene’s friend from childhood, is also light enough to pass for white and finesses this fact to marry Bellew, a white racist. As readers maneuver their way through the lonely, privileged lives of both Irene and Clare, we find that wealth and passing for the sake of wealth may not be worth one’s peace of mind. It can lead to a fatal end.
Passing by Nella Larsen examines themes of hypocrisy, physical (racial) as well as social “passing,” and the sacrifices made for the American dream. Passing is a form of pretending, and sometimes we cross boundaries when playing pretend. What makes Larsen’s work significant is that it displays passing as an example of natural human desire to survive. Judging Clare equates to judging anyone that has been put in a situation where the only way out is to be something they are not. Humankind has done worse for survival. Still, Clare’s life is a lesson: one can make it to the other side and realize there is nothing there for them.
I am reminded of O. J. Simpson’s story. Simpson, a black man, had been a supreme football player, the first to run over 2,000 yards in one season. He was an athletic mogul. He helped paved the way for athletes to not only play the sport of their choice, but to do so while starring in movies, commercials, and gaining fortune from various endorsements. He was treated as an American hero and embraced by white America. If Larsen’s Clare had her pale skin that allowed her to pass as white, Simpson had wealth and his white wife that made up for his chestnut skin color and allowed him to pass in white society. In 1978, Simpson starred in a famous Hertz commercial, running through an airport as people – notably, all white people – cheered him on. “Go Juice, go!” They hailed. Until they stopped. In 1994, Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman. When Simpson was accused of murder, he became black again.
Passing is seductive. Joe Bell, a childhood friend, said of Simpson, “He is seduced by white society.” In Larsen’s novel, Clare was seduced enough to want to be a part of that society, so much so that she became a part of it. As examples of passing – physical and social – Clare and Simpson demonstrate that passing does not turn out well in fiction or in real life. In Larsen’s words, Clare “had been there, a vital glowing thing, like a flame of red and gold. The next thing she was gone.”
While reading Passing, I realized that there are many types of passing. I have come to recognize my own privilege of intellectual passing. I am an educated and cultured black woman who has sat next to distinguished authors and poets. These stimulating cerebral experiences allow me to go into spaces where my color is not considered because my ability to articulate trumps any stereotype that is connected to me. Or so it seemed. It turns out that intellectual passing connects very much with racial and social passing. We must put an end to associating intelligence with whiteness.
I have made a conscious choice not to give into passing. What Clare showed me is this: One can fool people with skin but not with soul. Throughout high school, despite my dark skin, I made myself “more palatable” for my white counterparts. Every time I had an opinion on something, I tried my best to express it very nicely, or sometimes I’d say nothing at all, knowing people might take it the wrong way. Fortunately, I have grown out of that nonsense. I am who I am. An exit is always available, but for me, passing is never an option. It’s too exhausting. In my own skin, I am at rest.
A blog post by Laura Yoo
Expanding and Deepening the Reading List: How Centennial Lane Elementary School is providing diverse books to its students
“All children and young adults deserve excellent literature which reflects their own experience and encourages them to imagine experiences beyond their own.” – Cooperative Children’s Book Center
One afternoon when my son was 4 years old, he began to jump up and down excitedly while watching TV. He was screaming, “Mommy! She’s talking in Korean!” Indeed, a cat-like animal in a cartoon called Littlest Pet Shop was speaking in Korean while the other animal and human characters tried to understand her. The Korean-speaking animal was a ferret named Jebbie Cho who later meets a recurring Korean character on the show, a human named Youngmee Song.
My son hears Korean all the time at home, spoken by his grandma and by mommy and daddy when they don’t want him to know what they’re saying. But seeing Korean characters and hearing Korean names on TV was special. His family’s cultural identity was being reflected back to him. He saw himself. And what I saw on his little face was a sense of validation and pride. What I witnessed was the power of representation.
At Centennial Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City, Maryland, parents, staff, and teachers understand this power of representation, particularly as it is reinforced in children’s books. With the support of school staff and teachers, the members of the CLES PTA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee created a book list with 70 titles that represent various nationalities and heritages as well as LGBTQ, dis/abilities, and religions. Many of the books also explore diversity as a general theme.
The CLES DEI BOOK LIST includes titles like Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, a GR 4-6 book about an 11-year old girl with a photographic memory and cerebral palsy; Skin Again by bell hooks, a GR K-4 book about skin – about what it is and what it isn’t; and The People Shall Continue by Simon Ortiz, a GR 1-5 book about the history of Native Americans. The CLES’s list demonstrates a wide definition of diversity and aims to be as inclusive as possible.
“[It’s important] the kids see themselves in those books,” says Sabina Taj, the chair of the committee. The project, which is coordinated by Anu Prabhala, has received a donation of $500 from a parent to achieve the goal of purchasing some of these books for the school’s media center. The committee’s work has been supported by CLES Principal, Amanda Wardsworth, and the list of books has been reviewed and approved by the school’s Media Specialist, Marnie Beyer. “This was truly a labor of love,” says Ying Matties, a member of the DEI Committee.
“I’m hoping each school asks the diverse populations of the individual school and teachers to use this process as a model to create their own,” says Ms. Taj. She emphasizes the importance of focusing on community involvement in gathering ideas and feedback from various stakeholders. Then, she says, the various lists compiled by many schools could be combined to create an even more comprehensive and representative sample of books for the students in Howard County.
This vision reflects a national debate and discussion about representation in children’s books. A national non-profit organized called We Need Diverse Books, founded by YA and MG writer Ellen Oh, envisions “a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” There is tremendous power in seeing what is possible. As Marian Wright Edelman famously said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” This idea was reiterated when Misty Copeland became the first African American to be named principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre and when Sheridan Ash set up a program for PwC called Women in Tech. When the Time Magazine published its “Firsts” issue about female firsts, they titled it, “Seeing is Believing.”
However, at Centennial Lane Elementary School, it’s not just Muslim children or children with two dads who will benefit from reading these books. As B.J. Epstein, professor of literature who researches and teaches children’s literature, writes in The Conversation, “Research on prejudice shows that coming in contact with people who are different – so-called ‘others’ – helps to reduce stereotypes.” So, the effect is twofold: children will learn about themselves and children will learn about the experiences and lives outside their own. Duncan Tunatiuh, author and illustrator, notes in Language Arts, “we need multicultural books so that different kinds of children can see themselves reflected in the books they read, and so that children can learn about people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.”
The Diverse Books project at Centennial Lane Elementary School is one of the various ways that parents, staff, and teachers are trying to encourage and implement curriculum that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The DEI Committee is also currently working with the school administration on organizing Community Circles, a venue for diverse parents to provide in-person feedback to the school on how to make it more inclusive to all its constituents.
Note: To learn about setting up a DEI Committee in your school, please contact Sabina Taj <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For more information on the CLES DEI Committee’s work, please contact Anu Prabhala <email@example.com>.
a blog post by Anne Reis, HoCoPoLitSo Board Member
Poetry is alive and well at the Homewood Center, Howard County’s alternative school. I know this to be true because I am Homewood’s Media Specialist and for the past 10 years, with the support of HoCoPoLitSo, I have been able to host poetry workshops in my library.
Students who attend Homewood have not succeeded in the comprehensive school environment. Poetry gives these students a safe and therapeutic way to express themselves and exposes them to the power of the written word. The transformative power of poetry was never more apparent than earlier this year when HoCoPoLitSo’s Writer-In-Residence, Joelle Biele came to our library for a visit.
From the moment that she greeted the students with her calm spirit and razor sharp intellect, she engaged them in a different way of thinking. With so much emphasis in school curriculum on STEM related subjects, students are rarely given the space or the time to think creatively.
Ms. Biele began her presentation by literally opening the space in the room with a Youtube video of Sandhill cranes migrating. The peaceful images of cranes in flight gave our students a moment of Zen and the background knowledge that they needed to understand her poem, Autumn. Ms. Biele challenged our students to think about what it means to write and the types of writing that they do in their daily lives. Is a text writing? Can a Facebook post be poetry? And from where does a writer find his or her voice?
Students were also asked to respond to the prompt called “I am.” Such an important question for every young person, and perhaps even more important for the struggling learners at Homewood: Who Am I? Who asks students such questions and who cares about their answers? The answer is loud and clear: poets!
For many of the students at Homewood the time spent with Ms. Biele was their first encounter with a poet, but hopefully it won’t be the last.
a blog post by Laura Yoo
It was my very first visit to the famous Dodge Poetry Festival. It was Saturday, October 22nd in 2016, right around 7:15 in the evening. There stood on this enormous stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center a petite Asian woman, speaking with a slight accent and a lot of voice. She read her poem, “One Child Has Brown Eyes.” First I googled “vacuity.” Then, I was mesmerized. Also on stage were poets like Martin Espada, Robert Haas, Claudia Rankine, and Jane Hirshfield, but it was Marilyn Chin who spoke to me that night. She was smart, powerful, and funny – and she looked like me.
Ever since getting a serious high on Macbeth in high school, I’ve been studying and loving English literature. In college, I chose all of my electives to be in English literature, and I studied abroad in England to nerd it up with Shakespeare and Jane Austen – and to drink a lot of beer. My area of study was eighteenth-century British literature (which even other English majors didn’t want to touch) so I can say for sure there were no likes of Marilyn Chin in my curriculum. In the last 10 years, thanks to HoCoPoLitSo, I’ve met many wonderful writers and poets, and among them a few Asian American writers, too. But the poet embodied and represented by Marilyn Chin was something new for me.
See, I always wanted to be like Sandra Oh’s character in Grey’s Anatomy, someone who wasn’t on the show to play Asian. She was just another doctor, who happened to be Asian. Her name wasn’t Johnson or Smith. Her name was Cristina Yang, best friend to the main character, but the “Yang” part did not define her character. Sandra Oh, who is Korean-Canadian, plays this “best friend” role also in Sideways and Under the Tuscan Sun. In both of these movies, she is just the best friend, not the Asian best friend. I applauded these characters. Yes! Finally! Asian people are just people! In retrospect, however, I am seeing that in some ways this is denial, a kind of self-imposed erasure. Yes, it hurts to be locked inside the limits of stereotypes, but it also hurts to deny my self from myself in an apparent fight against such stereotypes. At this point, I can hear a frustrated voice saying to me, “What do you want, then? You want Cristina Yang to be Korean or not?” Well, I think I want Cristina Yang to be her self, all of the things that she is.
Recently a Korean-American writer, Mary H.K. Choi, posted this:
From this post, I suspect that, like me, Ms. Choi has been struggling – maybe unbeknownst to her – with her relationship to the Korean part of her “Korean-American” identity. So, I have been thinking about my own going home (or coming home) and how art helps me on that journey. A great example of such art is Ms. Chin’s novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen, which Sandra Cisneros called “bad ass,” Maxine Hong Kingston “What fun!” and Gish Jen “Deeply provocative and deeply Chinese.” The story of two Chinese girls growing up in California focuses very much on their grandmother’s voice and legacy, weaving 41 separate stories together into what Ms. Chin calls a “manifesto.” The story is magical, mythical, and yet so very painfully and beautifully real. The opening story is heartbreaking, shocking, and ultimately triumphant.
Ms. Chin’s poem, “How I Got My Name: An Essay on Assimilation,” is another good example. It starts like this:
I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g
of “becoming.” Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.”
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn’t pronounce the “r.”
The assimilation happens with the choosing of an “American name.” I am also named after a white woman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, but more accurately the character Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie the TV show. My mom had watched this show in Korea and loved the character. This custom is seen as practical as it is difficult for Americans to pronounce Korean names. Luckily, my family – like most Korean people – also could not pronounce the “r” and has always called me Yoonji, by my real name. Now, my little sons hear my mom calling me Yoonji and once in awhile, very quietly, they test it out in a kind of whisper “Yoonji” and then giggle. It’s like they’re wondering, “Who is this Yoonji? She’s like a whole another person from my mom who is Laura.” Maybe so. Maybe not. All of this, of course, is not to deny the name Laura, which my mom gave me and therefore an important part of my identity. Besides, it’s a beautiful name. But it’s complicated, you see.
I know it sounds cliche to say this, but Ms. Chin’s poetry, novel, and her performances have raised my awareness. No, it did not happen like a bolt of lightning or anything that dramatic, but rather like a gradual stewing and simmering in this idea about who I am and what I am. So, on this International Women’s Day, I want to thank her for being on that stage on that day at Dodge Poetry Festival to help me widen the way I might think about my cultural identities.
I am ecstatic that I will have another chance to meet Ms. Chin and maybe – if I have the guts – thank her in person on April 26th when she reads at the Blackbird Poetry Festival at Howard Community College. Read more about Marilyn Chin’s visit here.
A blog post by Laura Yoo
I did not grow up with Dr. Seuss because by the time I came to the United States from Korea, I was already 10 years old and my parents certainly didn’t know who Dr. Seuss was. That’s right. I had a Seuss-less childhood.
It was when I was in high school and doing a lot of babysitting that I came across Dr. Seuss. The children just loved his books, almost as much as they enjoyed watching Disney movies. I learned quickly that Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham were some of the kids’ favorites. As a 15 year old, I didn’t see the real value of these books, of course. They were just fun.
Now as a mom to young children, a teacher of writing, and a human fascinated by language and literature, I have a whole new appreciation for Dr. Seuss. Hop on Pop, The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham are probably some of the most popular of Dr. Seuss’s books. My own two boys say Fox in Socks and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish are their two favorites.
While all these are wonderful stories, my personal favorite is Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book. This is the book that truly showcases Dr. Seuss’s genius.
Oh boy, does it work. Try to stifle the yawn while you read it. You can’t do it. At least half way through, someone – you or one of the little listeners – will yawn. And once that first yawn comes out, there’s no stopping the flood of yawns to come. As Dr. Seuss says: “A yawn is quite catching, you see. Like a cough.” Turns out – just reading the word “yawn” or seeing illustrations of creatures yawning will make you yawn. That’s how powerful a yawn is.
So, by the time you reach the end of the book to read “When you put out your light, / Then the number will be / Ninety-nine zillion / Nine trillion and three” I swear the little ones look sleepy – and I am also sleepy.
And this is one of the many magical powers of Dr. Seuss. Yes, the silly names, the nonsense words, and the insane rhymes are so fun to read. Yes, the books have valuable life lessons. In addition to all that, it will help your kids go to sleep. Now, if he had just written a book called Dr. Seuss’s Clean Up Your Room Book…
Happy Dr. Seuss Day!
The Fierce Revolution of Marilyn Chin
HoCoPoLitSo and HCC’s Tenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival
Award-winning poet and author Marilyn Chin headlines the tenth annual Blackbird Poetry Festival for HoCoPoLitSo and Howard Community College (HCC). Born in Hong Kong and raised in Oregon, activist poet Chin unflinchingly explores the intersection of the Asian and American worlds.
The Blackbird Poetry Festival, held April 26, 2018, on the campus of Howard Community College, is a day devoted to verse, with student workshops, book sales, readings, and patrols by the Poetry Police. The Sunbird poetry reading, featuring Ms. Chin, as well as Washington, D.C., poet and educator Joseph Ross, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students, starts at 2:30 p.m. Ms. Chin will read from and discuss her poetry, including her most recent work, Hard Love Province, during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Hard Love Province won the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf National Prize for Literature that confronts racism and examines diversity. Former winners of this prize include Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston, Gwendolyn Brooks and Oprah Winfrey. Nightbird admission tickets are $20 each (seniors $15 and students $10). Click here for tickets.
Marilyn Chin co-directs the MFA program at San Diego State University and has won numerous awards for her poetry, including from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Prize, and many others.
Chin is the author of four poetry collections: Hard Love Province (2014), Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (2002); The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994); and Dwarf Bamboo (1987). She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (2009). Pulitzer Prize-winner and Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove noted about Hard Love Province, “In these sad and beautiful poems, a withering portrayal of our global ‘society’ emerges – from Buddha to Allah, Mongols to Bethesda boys, Humvee to war horse, Dachau to West Darfur, Irrawaddy River to San Diego.” In his review of The Phoenix Gone in The Progressive, Matthew Rothschild said Chin “has a voice all her own — witty, epigraphic, idiomatic, elegiac, earthy…She covers the canvas of cultural assimilation with an intensely personal brush.” Booklist contributor Donna Seaman described the tone of Rhapsody in Plain Yellow as “Chin paces the line demarcated by the words Chinese American like a caged tiger, fury just barely held in check.”
Joseph Ross’s newest collection of poems, Ache, was published in 2017. Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock, noted “The poems in Ache do just that, they ache – from the wounds inflicted by racism, from history’s ravages. The wail, the poems insist, ‘is the language/inside every tongue.’ Joseph Ross’s moral vision is unsparing, truth-telling, fierce.”
Google started with a good motto: “Don’t be evil.”
A new policy on the Google-owned YouTube channel though, seems like a teeny bit of corporate evil to thousands of small, independent channels.
The new policy, announced this week, forbids smaller channels to monetize their videos – earning pennies per view – because they don’t have enough subscribers or time that viewers watch their videos.
YouTube sent HoCoPoLitSo an email Jan. 17 that read as follows:
Under the new eligibility requirements announced today, your YouTube channel, hocopolitso, is no longer eligible for monetization because it doesn’t meet the new threshold of 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers. As a result, your channel will lose access to all monetization tools and features associated with the YouTube Partner Program on February 20, 2018 unless you surpass this threshold in the next 30 days. Accordingly, this email serves as 30 days notice that your YouTube Partner Program terms are terminated.
Grammatical errors aside – and those truly bother us literary types – the announcement is another cut that the arts cannot afford.
HoCoPoLitSo uses its YouTube channel to show editions of its writer-to-writer talk show, The Writing Life, featuring conversations with Nobel and Pulitzer winners, with local poets made good, with beloved authors like Lucille Clifton and Frank McCourt and Amiri Baraka who have died. Often, we have the most extensive interviews with writers like Gwendolyn Brooks; that’s because HoCoPoLitSo’s founder Ellen Conroy Kennedy had the foresight to begin recording the show to preserve – in a kind of literary time capsule – the moments of writers talking about their craft. Here is a smallest sample, the wonderful Stanley Kunitz talking about the value of poetry:
In a little more than a month, HoCoPoLitSo will be removed from the possibility of making tiny amounts of money on these shows that help fund the taping of new shows, like the one just uploaded featuring Laurie Frankel, and the digitization of archived shows, such as the Michael Longley and Edna O’Brien vintage gems that hit YouTube this week. HoCoPoLitSo usually makes only a few pennies per view, but in this current climate of reduced funding for the arts, HoCoPoLitSo needs every penny. YouTube revenues added a few hundred dollars a year to the budget; that amount could fund a visit by HoCoPoLitSo’s writer-in-residence to a high school.
What can literary lovers do? It’s not too hard. Help us reach the goal of 1,000 subscribers – the channel has 890 now – and 4,000 hours of watch time in a year. Subscribe. Try one episode of The Writing Life while you’re folding laundry or doing your New Year’s resolution sit-ups; Frank McCourt will make you laugh with stories of his Irish childhood, Tyehimba Jess will cause a brain explosion explaining and reading his three-dimensional poetry from Olio, dear Lucille Clifton will warm your heart and put a fire in your gut on five different episodes. Think of the time as a creative respite from the chaos of business and politics. And, as always, donate to help our small nonprofit bring literature to this capitalistic world, which sorely needs it.
Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording secretary and
YouTube channel manager
To subscribe to HoCoPoLitSo’s YouTube channel, click here and then click on subscribe (it’s free).
Friends of HoCoPoLitSo shared their favorite and memorable reads from 2017.
If you haven’t read them yet, put them on your 2018 reading list!
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Published late 2016, but read it in 2017. Maybe this doesn’t count as a 2017 book. Loved the audiobook! – Michelle
Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre. A history of the British special forces (SAS) in WWII. It reads like a novel and is full of vivid descriptions of war and the morality play of the battle against the Nazis and evil. My favorite line in the book. “Tragedy and comedy are brothers.” I couldn’t put it down. – Peter La Count
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, is about a family whose little boy feels best as a girl, and the choices the family makes while facing this crisis of identity. The novel is heartfelt, funny, and informative, as well as being a Good Read. – Kathy Larson
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders For it’s language, innovation, multi-genre span and heart, Lincoln in the Bardo has stayed with me all year. The story recreated my image of Lincoln, a historical figure who looms large in the minds of all those educated in the US. The “matter-light-blooming phenomenon” is an idea that crosses the boundaries of fantasy, philosophy and religion and is one of the reasons the book is not just a novel, but also a poem and an inspiration. – Cherise
The Hate You Give – Allison
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. A true story of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager, who finds himself working in the upper ranks of the Nazi party and is recruited as a spy for the Allies. – Erin
HAPPY READING IN 2018!
This is a guest blog post by Susan Thornton Hobby in commemoration of #ThankASoldierWeek (Dec 19-25) and sharing #veteranswritingproject
I’m a Quaker. I don’t believe in war. Among my many bumper stickers is this one: “War is not the answer.”
But I do believe in warriors, and in supporting those who believe differently than I do and who serve their countries.
This week is “Thank a Soldier Week,” a commemorative week made up by a marketing company. But I agree with the sentiment. Other than on Veteran’s Day, I don’t believe Americans think about the troops, much less support them enough. Fewer than one percent of Americans have participated in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of us don’t have direct experience with wartime, unlike in past generations.
My Grandma Jane had five children serving in World War II at one point; her daughter Margaret joined underage and drove a transport truck.
I had three grandfathers, two by birth, one by marriage. All three were in the military. My mother’s father joined the National Guard at 17, then at age 20, when World War II broke out, he joined the Marines. He rose to the rank of sergeant major, and served in special forces in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He retired after 35 years in the corps. My mother stands when she hears the “Marines’ Hymn.”
My father’s father was in the Marines as well, met my grandmother at Quantico and drove supply trucks through Shanghai during World War II. Fifty years afterward, he could still describe the route he drove through the city.
My stepfather’s father served in the Canadian Army and landed on France’s beaches during D-Day. My stepfather took his father to Normandy for the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and for a few weeks, they visited battlefields, villages, and cemeteries together. He remembered distinctly many spots they found.
I had heard stories of war, some of my grandfathers’ tales and some from my years as a reporter. I had seen old black and white pictures of battles and movies about conflicts. But I don’t think I truly started to understand the horrors of war until I was in college, when I read Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece, “The Things They Carried.”
That’s the power of story, the power of literature, to describe something in a way that thirty years later, I can’t forget the image of a man carrying, through Vietnam’s horrors, a small, milky-white pebble found on a beach by a girl and mailed to him.
O’Brien describes the literal things these soldiers carried – canned peaches and mosquito repellent, rifles and smoke grenades, girlfriends’ pantyhose and letters from home. But he also talks about the metaphorical burdens they bore: “They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”
Or later, he writes, “Some things they carried in common. Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections.”
His writing humanized the soldiers and the Vietnamese people they were fighting; with the act of inventing characters and story, he told more truth than I’d ever heard about war.
I think the “Thank a Soldier Week” is meant to urge everyone to express gratitude to those who have served, and to maybe put together a care package or two. Those are good aims. But I think we need more stories, more stories about war written by people who have actually been there. I urge people to learn about and support the Veterans Writing Project, which offers free writing seminars and workshops for veterans, service people and their families. Their sister site publishes out a quarterly literary journal, O-Dark Thirty (O-Dark-Thirty).
The Veterans Writing Project describes itself as: “We approach our work with three goals in mind. The first is literary. We believe there is a new wave of great literature coming and that much of that will be written by veterans and their families. The next is social. We have in the United States right now the smallest ever proportion of our population in service during a time of war. … Our WWII veterans are dying off at a rate of nearly 900 per day. We want to put as many of these stories in front of as many readers as we can. Finally, writing is therapeutic. Returning warriors have known for centuries the healing power of narrative. We give veterans the skills they need to capture their stories and do so in an environment of mutual trust and respect.”
We should read more of their stories, so we can understand the troops who keep us safe. Literature brings me joy and solace; I can only hope it does the same for the soldiers who are carrying what most of us cannot.
#ThankASoldierWeek (Dec 19-25)