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Wilde Readings Open Mic:

Hold Your Tongue

Books And The Stories They Tell: The Bletchley Park Recreational Library.

The other day when I was visiting my dad, he handed me a book and told me to read the last paragraph aloud.

As Smith recrossed the bridge, he stopped and stood in one of the recesses to meditate on his immaturity, and to look upon the beauty of the still expanses of white moonlight and black shadow which lay before him. At last he shook his head negatively, and went home.

“That’s how they wrote back then,” he said, listening to the air the paragraph left behind. I admired the sentiment, and probably agreed that it was, indeed, something, the way they wrote back then. The book was a Bernard Shaw novel that I had not heard about, Immaturity. I was holding a 1931 edition. Where was this going?

It didn’t take a moment longer to realize the paragraph and the way they wrote wasn’t why I was handed the book. He started telling me a story about the inside cover, the markings there, and a bit of history I might otherwise have never come across, something called Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park

Who knew? At the time and until the 1970s, only those that were supposed to, thanks to the Official Secrets Act. For me, a mystery was unraveling. Bletchley Park was a mansion in Buckinghamshire, England that housed a secret code-breaking operation during the second world war. I was instantly intrigued. Paraphrasing my dad, men were off fighting the war and women where tapped to translate Axis messages encoded by Enigma machines, contributing the secrets of intercepted messages to the war effort, and helping beat the Nazis ‘two years early’.

At its start, the operation at Bletchley incorporated a few hundred — you will have heard of Alan Turning and maybe Gordon Welshman and the Bombe machines that figured out the daily codes the Germans incorporated as fast as they could — and grew to an effort of thousands all working on decoding daily messages of the Germans. The following six minute clip provides a better introduction. (While it is a video, it is more a slide show of 360 degree images that you can move around in using the tool in the top left of the frame. Have a listen and look around.)

Part of my dad’s version of the story was personal history, working in England years later, and having associates who dated back to the war. I’ll skip all the details, but so-and-so knew so-and-so-and-so and the narrative found its way to explaining the book I had in my hand. Inside the front cover was an oval stamp “B. P. Recreational Library Club”, and, on the facing page, an oddly glued-in, folded-over piece of paper with dates from the forties stamped onto it. Under that was a listing of hand-written month/day dates, all crossed out.

I had no idea what I was holding. He explained the book was part of a lending library created to provide recreation to workers when they weren’t putting in 15 hour days decoding.

The agency itself also tried to facilitate off-duty leisure activities for the staff in addition to amenities to provide for their general welfare. As such, the agency made buildings available for various leisure and educational activities. Hut 2 initially served as a tea room, providing hot beverages, sandwiches and lunch vouchers. The hut also contained a lending library and was the home of the Bletchley Park Recreational club from its formation in October 1940.

The Hidden History of Bletchley Park, Christopher Smith, 2015

My dad explained the book had passed into my mother’s hands from the wife of someone he had worked with. It was actually part of the Bletchley Park collection during the Second World War – WOW! (The dates suggest just after, though the style of tracking due dates on the inside pages might have started after the war?) Over the years, the library had collected more books than needed, so this was one of eight or nine that had been decommissioned and given to my mother for keeps — he wanted to make sure I knew possession was legit. The other books in the collection were from Eastgate and Cheltenham, new locations for codebreaking during the war and after as effort, capabilities, and need grew.

Unbelievable, really, that such secrecy should have prevailed.

Jane Fawcett, Veteran, Hut 6

Obviously, I grew up in the house with these books and knew nothing of their secret past, that being the way of those who can keep secrets.

Now the story is out and I hold this book in my hands in awe. What a connection to the way they did things back when. We tend to obtain a book for the story written within, but sometimes the book is the story itself, a thing to learn from as it moves from the reaches of history into our moment. Here it is today, a treasure that is monument to heroes of the past, the women of Bletchley Park.

Tim Singleton
HoCoPoLitSo, Board Co-chair

Resources:

  • Bletchley Park is now a museum. Visit the webiste here online. Next time you are in England, visit the secret itself. It is on my To Do list.
  • Click here for an extended documentary on Bletchley Park via YouTube.
  • More on the codebreaking efforts of the Allies during World War II can be found Stephen Budiansky’s book Battle of Wits.
  • Christopher Smith’s Hidden History of Bletchley Park is also fascinating.
  • The Bletchley Circle — what do you do after the war if you were one of the super-smart Bletchley women? Well, back into the normal every day humdrum of ironing clothes and feeding children. This short-lived British mystery series has a few of them getting together to use their wits to solve murders, though. It is an interesting way to share the story.

Alice McDermott and O’Malley’s March headline HoCoPoLitSo’s 42nd Annual Irish Evening

HoCoPoLitSo’s annual Irish Evening on February 21, 2020, will feature award-winning author Alice McDermott, Celtic rock band O’Malley’s March and the Teelin Dance Company. McDermott, three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and National Book Award winner, will read, followed by a rousing concert of electric Irish folk music and championship step dancing. Click here for tickets.

“Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott’s stories of Irish-Catholic American life is back,” a Kirkus starred review noted about her most recent novel, The Ninth Hour.

The Associated Press said “[T]he story is exhilarating, largely because of McDermott’s lyrical language and unforgettable characters . . .[T]he nuns of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor . . are as fierce, funny, complicated and brave as any women in our fictional universe today.” The Guardian noted “McDermott’s award-winning body of work constitutes its own fictional world; she returns again and again to the Irish in the U.S., to the heartlessness and the consolations of Catholicism. … her new book unfolds without sentimentality or pity, but with a frankness of gaze that elevates her characters rather than diminishes them.”

The evening program begins at 7:30 p.m., but Irish coffee, Guinness, and other beverages and snacks will be offered for sale beginning at 7 p.m. and during intermission. Book sale and signing by the author after her reading. After intermission, O’Malley’s March, fronted by former Gov. Martin O’Malley, will play traditional Irish music and Celtic rock, with guitar, fiddle, harp, bodhran, electric bass, trombone, accordion, bagpipes and tin whistle.

McDermott joins the long list of illustrious Irish authors HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Howard County audiences, including Frank McCourt, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, and Emma Donoghue. For more than 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has celebrated the substantial impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature.

 

A Harlem Renaissance Speakeasy: Featuring Live Jazz and Poetry from the 1920s

“What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?… Or does it explode?”

                              — Langston Hughes

Join us in this celebration of HoCoPoLitSo’s 45th anniversary with a unique historical exploration of the art that transformed our world. Explore the power of words from writers such as Langston Hughes and live jazz by such greats as Duke Ellington in a not-to-be-missed speakeasy atmosphere evocative of the era. This transporting evening of live jazz, poetry, and visual art from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance honoring former artistic director Lucille Clifton is presented by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in partnership with Howard Community College’s Arts Collective. Tickets are available on-line at OvationTix or from the Horowitz Center Box Office on the campus of HCC or by calling 443-518-1500.

Honorary Chairman, County Executive Calvin Ball, will join local poets, musical theater performers, and a jazz quintet who will perform some of the most sophisticated literary and artistic works of the period. Signature cocktails, small bites, and period attire promise to make the evening magical. Musical theatre performances by Valerie A. Higgs, Mayumi B. Griffie, and Jamar Brown along with live music from Petra Martin and the Jazz Masters will recreate the golden age of jazz. Local poets and performers include Linda Joy Burke, Alan King, Faye McCray, Nana Owusu, Shawn Naar, and Chania Hudson, honoring the work of writers such as Countee Cullen, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Claude McKay, and Georgia Douglas Johnson.

This powerful event will be held October 5, 2019, starting at 7:30 p.m. on the campus of Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md., in the Rouse Company Foundation Student Services Hall, room 400. Admission tickets are $45 each and include a wide variety of speakeasy-inspired small bites. A cash bar will be available, serving two signature cocktails evocative of the era, plus beer and wine. Period attire is encouraged. Seating is limited.

HoCoPoLitSo is celebrating its 45th year of nurturing a love and respect for the diversity of contemporary literary arts in Howard County. The society sponsors literary readings and writers-in-residence outreach programs, produces The Writing Life (a writer-to-writer talk show), and partners with other cultural arts organizations to support the arts in Howard County, Maryland. For more information, visit www.hocopolitso.org.

Howard Community College’s critically acclaimed Arts Collective engages performers, creatives, and audiences with innovative events that ignite our collective imaginations. For more than two decades, Arts Collective has served as a creative cauldron, providing expert guidance and training to new and experienced artists in bringing vibrant life to diverse works on the stage; from the newly devised to the classics and all in between. Arts Collective’s positive, collaborative, educational environment is open to everyone. For more information, visit http://www.howardcc.edu/artscollective .

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; Community Foundation of Howard County; and individual contributors.


Direct ticket link: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe/10434325

Film/Author Presentation of Girl Rising with Aminatta Forna

Sunday, June 30 • 2:30 p.m.
Smith Theatre – Howard Community College

Join in saluting the founding of the Columbia Film Society and HoCoPoLitSo with an afternoon that celebrates the education of girls, the beauty of story, and the power of collective action. This joint anniversary event features a talk by one of the writers of Girl Rising and a showing of the documentary film that inspired global awareness about the importance of education for girls. Novelist Aminatta Forna wrote the portion of the film about a girl from her home country, Sierra Leone, and her dreams of education and independence. Forna will also read from one of her novels that pertains to social justice around the world. The Washington Post raved about her latest novel, Happiness: “An exquisite novel about how chance and love connect us.” After the author talk, there will be an intermission, refreshments, and a book signing, followed by a screening of the film.

The documentary Girl Rising, featuring the voices of actresses including Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez and Salma Hayek, focuses on the power of education for nine girls from Haiti, Nepal, Ethiopia, India, Egypt, Peru, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan, telling their stories through writers from their home countries. The Boston Globe noted, “The idea behind Girl Rising is strikingly simple and even more strikingly imaginative.” The Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County is a sponsor of this program. Visit the Girl Rising website here.

The Columbia Film Society was founded in 1968 by Helen Ruther and Marcia Gorrie. Showing nine films a year, the film society’s season ticket subscriptions typically sell out in a matter of days.

HoCoPoLitSo was founded in 1974 by National Book Award winner Ellen Conroy Kennedy, supported by Jean Moon and Prudence Barry. The first event featured future Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Carolyn Kizer and Lucille Clifton. A community-based literary organization, HoCoPoLitSo offers programs such as a writer-in-residence for the county’s high schools, an award-winning writer-to-writer talk show, The Writing Life (available on YouTube) and three major annual events: the Lucille Clifton Reading Series; the Evening of Irish Music and Poetry; and the Blackbird Poetry Festival. HoCoPoLitSo participated in the first Columbia Festival of the Arts, staging the play, “The Belle of Amherst,” about Emily Dickinson, and has offered festival audiences authors such as Garrison Keillor, Mary Oliver, and Amiri Baraka.

For tickets, sold through the Columbia Festival of the Arts website, click here.

 

 

HoCoPoLitSo’s partners for this event:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Wilde Readings Series Continues with Spring Line-up, Open Mics.

Wilde Readings is a free monthly literary reading series that provides local writers — poets, fiction, non-fiction — a chance to share their work with the community. The format showcases featured authors, as well as an open mic for interested audience members.

The open mic session offers a safe and supportive environment for teens and adults to share writing of all different forms. Open mic presenters are asked to keep their readings to five minutes or less. Come explore how a range of creativity can inspire and fuel the imagination and nurture one’s one craft and well-being.

Wilde Readings is sponsored by HoCoPoLitSo and coordinated by Laura Shovan, Ann Bracken, Linda Joy Burke, and Faye McCray.

 

Second Tuesdays at the Columbia Association Art Center in Long Reach. Starts at 7 p.m.

Spring featured Reader Line-up:

APRIL 9, 2019
Host: Linda Joy Burke

Bruce A. Jacobs is a poet, author, and musician. He has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN, and elsewhere. His two books of poems are Speaking Through My Skin (MSU Press), which won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, and Cathode Ray Blues (Tropos Press). His most recent nonfiction book is Race Manners for the 21st Century (Arcade/Skyhorse). His work has been published by dozens of literary journals and sites, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Gwarlingo, Truthout, and the 180 More anthology edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He lives in Washington, DC.

Bio for Naomi Thiers

Naomi Thiers grew up in California and Pittsburgh, but her chosen home is Washington-DC/ Northern Virginia. She is the author of three poetry collections: Only The Raw Hands Are Heaven(which won the Washington Writers Publishing House award), In Yolo County,and She Was a Cathedral(both from Finishing Line Press.) Her poems, fiction, and essays have been published in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, Grist, Sojourners,and other magazines and anthologies. Former poetry editor of Phoebe, she works as an editor for Educational Leadership magazine and lives in a condo on the banks of Four Mile Run in Arlington, Virginia.

 

MAY 14, 2019 — TEEN NIGHT
Host: Faye McCray

Kate Hillyer lives, works, and runs the trails near Washington, D.C. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and her essay “Learning to Dance” appears in the anthology Raised by Unicorns. Kate blogs at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors and The Winged Pen, and serves as a Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her on Twitter as @SuperKate.

 

 

Leah Henderson’s novel One Shadow on the Wall, is an Africana Children’s Book Award notable and a Bank Street Best Book of 2017, starred for outstanding merit. Her short story “Warning: Color May Fade” appears in the YA anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America and her forthcoming picture books include Mamie on the Mound, Day For Rememberin’, and Together We March. Leah has an MFA in Writing and is on faculty at Spalding University’s MFA program.

 

JUNE 11, 2019
Host: Laura Shovan

Wallace Lane is a poet, writer and author from Baltimore, Maryland. He received his MFA Degree in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from The University of Baltimore in May 2017. His poetry has appeared in Little Patuxent Review, The Avenue, Welter Literary Journal and is forthcoming in several other literary journals. Jordan Year, his debut collection of poetry, is a coming of age narrative, which uncovers what it means to live and survive in Baltimore City. Wallace also works as a Creative Writing teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools.

 

Jen Michalski  is the author of the novels The Summer She Was Under Water  and The Tide King (both Black Lawrence Press), a couplet of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books), and two collections of fiction. Her work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including Poets & Writers, and has received five Pushcart nominations. She was named as “One of 50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and “Best Writer” by Baltimore Magazine. She is the host of a fiction reading series in Baltimore, called Starts Here! and editor of the weekly online literary journal jmww.

 

 

Click here to follow Wilde Readings on Facebook.

April Wilde Readings to Feature Poets Bruce Jacobs, Naomi Thiers, Open Mic

Howard County’s monthly free reading series continues on the second Tuesday of each month. In April, the reading will feature poets Bruce Jacobs, Naomi Thiers, and an open mic — that means you, bring your work.

Wilde Readings is sponsored by HoCoPoLitSo and coordinated by Laura Shovan, Ann Bracken, Linda Joy Burke, and Faye McCray.

 

All are welcome, and everyone is encouraged to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center, or on the sign-in sheet when you arrive. The number for the Arts Center is 410-730-0075.

Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Poets Bruce Jacobs, Naomi Thiers and you.
Hosted by Linda Joy Burke.

April 9, 2019 • 7:00 p.m.
Columbia Association Arts Center

 

Bruce A. Jacobs is a poet, author, and musician. He has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN, and elsewhere. His two books of poems are Speaking Through My Skin (MSU Press), which won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, and Cathode Ray Blues (Tropos Press). His most recent nonfiction book is Race Manners for the 21st Century (Arcade/Skyhorse). His work has been published by dozens of literary journals and sites, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Gwarlingo, Truthout, and the 180 More anthology edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He lives in Washington, DC.

Naomi Thiers grew up in California and Pittsburgh, but her chosen home is Washington-DC/ Northern Virginia. She is the author of three poetry collections: Only The Raw Hands Are Heaven(which won the Washington Writers Publishing House award), In Yolo County, and She Was a Cathedral(both from Finishing Line Press.) Her poems, fiction, and essays have been published in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, Grist, Sojourners, and other magazines and anthologies. Former poetry editor of Phoebe, she works as an editor for Educational Leadership magazine and lives in a condo on the banks of Four Mile Run in Arlington, Virginia.

Remembering W.S. Merwin — Susan Thornton Hobby

W. S. Merwin, a fellow pacifist, writer, and gardener, was a hero in all things to me.

The poet died this weekend at the age of 91 in his Hawaiian home. He was one of the first authors who wrote verse about the catastrophes of the Vietnam War and its effects not just on the American soldiers, but on the devastated Vietnamese countryside and people. He refused to accept his Pulitzer Prize for his book The Carrier of Ladders in 1971 because of the tragedies occurring in southeast Asia centering on the Vietnam War.

Merwin reclaimed his “garden,” nineteen acres of Hawaiian pineapple plantation land that had been wrecked by agricultural abuse. Over forty years, he hand-planted the dirt with 3,000 palm seedlings and transformed barren fields into a native rainforest. That land is now in permanent conservation.

But most of all, I admire Merwin for his gem-like poems of sheer beauty. What this writer could do with words – both his own and with those of French, Spanish, Latin and Italian poets that he translated – was astonishing.

Merwin visited HoCoPoLitSo in 1994, just after he had won the first Tanning Poetry Prize, which was awarded to a master American poet, but before he won his second Pulitzer in 2009. He spoke to a small group of 50 people about the craft of writing, then read his poetry to the audience that crowded the ballroom, lobby and stairways of Oakland Manor.

Earlier that day, he taped an episode of The Writing Life, HoCoPoLitSo’s writer-to-writer talk show. On that show, he spoke with poet Roland Flint about a coming environmental crisis in the world: “What is happening to the great forests in the world, I feel it like an illness,” Merwin said, thumping his fist into his belly. Because people have cut themselves off from the world outside their windows and screens, “we find ourselves in a place that is false and dangerous, and increasingly destructive.”

To watch him read his exquisite verse, “Late Spring,” “West Wall,” and “The Solstice” from The Rain in the Trees, and two poems from Travels, “Witness” and “Place” watch The Writing Life episode.

 

West Wall
W.S. Merwin

In the unmade light I can see the world
as the leaves brighten I see the air
the shadows melt and the apricots appear
now that the branches vanish I see the apricots
from a thousand trees ripening in the air
they are ripening in the sun along the west wall
apricots beyond number are ripening in the daylight
Whatever was there
I never saw those apricots swaying in the light
I might have stood in orchards forever
without beholding the day in the apricots
or knowing the ripeness of the lucid air
or touching the apricots in your skin
or tasting in your mouth the sun in the apricots

 

To learn more about Merwin and his life, watch the documentary about his life. Or visit the tribute page on his publisher’s site.

Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording Secretary

 

On Reading: Two Love Poems by Vona Groarke and It’s Time To Fall In Love With Irish Evening

I swoon at a good love poem. Here’s a quick introduction to two that have me dizzy on my feet.

Vona Groarke Photograph: Ed Swinden/The Gallery Press.

Both are by Vona Groarke, HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for this year’s evening of Irish writing and music – it’s this Friday, don’t just mark your calendar, get your ticket. I offer these poems here as foreshadowing for the event, a beloved favorite annual occurrence that’s been going on for more than forty years now. Both poems I discovered while reading up in advance of her visit. Each has me in its own way a little breathless, smitten, staring newly in love at their marvel.

 

“What leaves us trembling…”

“Shale” is just a great little love poem, I think. It left me trembling. Read the the length of the poem here, it’s not long, but I am only sharing a few stanzas in this piece. It starts and ends by a ‘not telling’ device, meanders nicely in-between, but what it ends up saying along the way.

What leaves us trembling in an empty house
is not the moon, my moon-eyed lover.
Say instead there was no moon
though for nine nights we stood

on the brow of the hill at midnight
and saw nothing that was not
contained in darkness, in the pier light,
our hands, and our lost house.

I described it to a friend as perhaps opaque while trying to be translucent, but opalescent all the while. It’s that opalescent surface that’s dazzling and intriguing, then you peer through the shimmer into what the poem’s lovers share as example of us all. There’s the narrator relating a contemplative monologue, a scenario that is part plot, part seeming. I am not sure what is actually moment and what is shared mind, but it doesn’t matter, the poem’s lovers seem to find themselves at that point of realization and action that comes when two bodies/souls make that moment out of circumstance and each other that is a fusing. And that ending, wow, an unsayable understanding just left there. You know what I’m saying?

The sea is breaking and unbreaking on the pier.
You and I are making love
in the lighthouse-keeper’s house,
my moon-eyed, dark-eyed, fire-eyed lover.

What leaves us trembling in an empty room
is not the swell of darkness in our hands,
or the necklace of shale I made for you
that has grown warm between us.

That warming of such a tangible object is quite a making. What a poem. I’ll go back and read it again and again, wanting that answer, finding that stone.

 

“Let the worst I ever do to you be die.”

An aubade is a first-thing-in-the-morning poem lovers share to each other. Think of the nightingale and the lark in Romeo and Juliet. In that case, the debate was about which bird’s song was determining the moment over, the day begun, and the time together over, or not, one being the voice of morning, the other of night. A clever quartet for the two still in bed.

The poem “Aubade” from Spindthrift takes on a different sort of in-between-lovers morning scenario. As readers, we are on the sickbed where the caretaker of the couple narrates understanding and affection while tending the beloved. It is hardly a place for a love poem, one would think, but oh how it is. The poem is pictured here in its entirety, so have read.

It’s a way more transparent read that the previous piece, but you do gain a sense of Ms. Groarke’s way of presenting the world through her observations and language. Transparent, but the glass is beautifully etched with fern and foam.

And there’s one line that just dropped me:

Let the worst I ever do to you be die.

Such a sober realization of the inevitable, that we will die on those we love and that is quite a thing should we be the first to go. There’s a dearness and commitment in that line that is quite a realization. Ideally, it is the worst we’ll do. Is love ever ideal? And then that last, true-love line, pure presence, able and ideal, and love in action.

I am here, blessed, capable of more.

Beautiful. Love poems aren’t just for the young, the beautiful, the wooing. They are for the lifelong and every moment.

It’s time for you to fall in love… with Irish Evening.

Mentioned above, Vona Groarke will be reading from her work followed by a concert of Irish music and championship step-dancing at HoCoPoLitSo’s 41st Irish Evening on Friday, February 8, 2019 at Smith Theatre in the Horowitz Center for Visual Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.

For this year’s Irish Evening, music will be performed by The Hedge Band, featuring Laura Byrne on flute, NEA National Heritage Fellowship winner Billy McComiskey on box accordion, Donna Long on piano, and Jim Eagan on fiddle. Traditional Irish Dancing will be performed by Teelin Irish Dance, featuring owner and director Maureen Berry and the 2016 World Champion Saoirse DeBoy.

It’s going to be a special evening. You are going to fall in love with Irish Evening.

The program begins at 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets.

 

Tim Singleton
Board Co-chair

“He has these great books that give me feelings,” a young reader raves about Jason Reynolds

When young adult bestselling author Jason Reynolds heard that HoCoPoLitSo’s archive of The Writing Life shows featured episodes with Amiri Baraka and Lucille Clifton, he shook his head in wonder. When he heard that HoCoPoLitSo’s web site had more than one hundred taped shows with literature’s rock stars, he said, “Oh, I’m going down that rabbit hole!”

And indeed, YouTube has offered scholars, readers, and writers an amazing opportunity – to learn about craft from contemporary literature’s greatest writers. Since 1985, HoCoPoLitSo has been preserving on video a series of half-hour conversations between diverse authors. Many of those writers have recently gone to afterlife rooms of one’s own: Baraka, Clifton, Richard Wilbur, Donald Hall, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank McCourt.

No one has to set their DVR to catch the cable replays of these shows – just log onto YouTube.com/hocopolitso anytime. HoCoPoLitSo has spent more than ten years digitizing the brittle and fragile archival tapes to preserve those shows. The YouTube channel has garnered more than 1,100 subscribers and 400,000 views. And our latest upload, the show recorded with young adult author and poet Laura Shovan speaking with Reynolds, is already gathering raves.

One school administrator, after watching the show with Jason Reynolds, wrote, “This is a great conversation about author’s craft and decisions in a book (Long Way Down) that many of our students have read! Sharing with all my teachers.”

And a student reader wrote: “My language arts teacher met him a year ago and he signed two books for her and my teacher always pointed out the heart he put in the book and she always brags and says that this is going to be our favorite author and so far yes, he has these great books that give me feelings and before the Spider Man book came out, my teacher knew too.”

Reynolds is converting readers, just like HoCoPoLitSo wants to do.

 

Susan Thornton Hobby
Executive producer of The Writing Life

 

 

 

On Reading: So You Like A Good Bookstore? You Should Like A Good Bookstore Book.

Recently, I posted the Columbia Flier cover story about local bookstores to our Facebook page. The article post, featuring the likes of Books With A Past and the new Barnes & Noble at the Columbia Mall, got lots of attention. It is inspiring to see the love of the local store through thumbs up, hearts, and shares, and it has me thinking of the section of my own bookshelves that features books on books and bookstores, and writers on reading and writing. I thought I would share a few of the treasures there and recommend they find their way to your shelves.

My Bookstore – edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America and with an introduction by Richard Russo – It’s hard to put this down, but then it is hard not to put it down. It is a collection of an array of writer recollections of their favorite bookstores, and features towards eighty writers (Isabel Allende, Dave Eggers, Edith Perlman, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and so on) each providing a few pages of personal vantage and appreciation. Now, why would you want to put that down? To get in your car and head out to your own favorite local and live your own experience first hand, silly.

“I still own books that have remained alive and dear in my thoughts since I was a boy, and a part of the life of each one is my memory of the bookstore where I bought it and of the bookseller who sold it to me.”  — Wendel Berry in My Bookstore

84, Charing Cross Road – Helen Hanff – I think this was the first bookstore book I ever read and, if I remember correctly, it might have been my dad or mom that gave me the copy (or maybe it was my mother-in-law, we are an extended book reading family and all love this one). Can’t quite remember. I do remember it being absolutely delightful, an epistolary tale of a dutiful reader’s cross-Atlantic relationship with a bookstore that kept her in all the titles her mind wanted to pursue, no matter the whimsy or rarity. Short and sweet and I am thinking I should read it again. So delightful the story and characters, they made a movie. Trying to remember now if there was a sequel book. Hmm.

My Reading Life and A Lowcountry Heart – Pat Conroy – These are another introduction and gift from my dad. They chronicle the writer of The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides reading and writing life. I have only come to them in the last so many years, but am very happy to not have missed either. I binged the both. If you go on a Conroy binge – recommended – make sure to add The Water is Wide to the list. It adds bio of his development as a caring teacher to the reading and writing.

Sixpence House – Paul Collins – It was my mom that gave me this treat: imagine a whole town of bookstores. It exists, and this is the book about it. Well, it is actually the story about the author moving out of his American life and into Hay-on-Wye in Wales to run a bookstore in the town of bookstores. Any sane person would wonder Hay-on-What? Wonder through the pages of this book and you’ll add to your bucket list the desire to have a wander through the place itself one day.

“It really is an APPALLING thing to think of the people who have no books…It is only by books that most men and women can lift themselves above the sordidness of life. No books! Yet for the greater part of humanity that is the common lot. We may, in fact, divide our fellow-creatures into two branches – those who read books and those who do not.”  — Paul Collins in Sixpence House

The Bookshop At 10 Curzon Street and A Spy In The Bookshop – Letters between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill. You shouldn’t need more of an introduction than that. I am pretty sure that is what had me pulling these two volumes off of a used bookstore shelf in Chicago a while back. I think it was Chicago. Dig in, they are delightful. (Note: in my mind all the good bookstores tend to blend into one epic thing, a sort of heaven of a place that just drifts shelf to shelf.)

Books and Literary Life – both memoirs by Larry McMurtry. Oh no. I can’t find my copy of Books. Now, would I have lent it out? Hope not. Or did I borrow a copy to read? There’s more than this that makes me mad about these memoirs from the very famous Larry McMurtry. You see, he used to run a bookstore just down the way in Washington, D.C. and I was never clued in enough to the world at the time to know, to go. I never went. I never saw/met him as he worked behind the counter, easy as it would have been. That is a thing I will always regret. Fortunately, I have these two books to stew over, and I love that.

Of course there’s more (who/what would you add to the list? – in the comments, please). But that is enough for a blog post.

Notice that I haven’t linked you to any online opportunities to track down these things? When you are done reading in a sentence or so, get yourself in a car and head out to Books With A Past, Attic Books, Gramps Attic Books, Second Edition Books, or even the new Barnes and Noble outside at The Mall (we want all the brick and mortar books sellers to be successful, stocked and ready for us) or the older one at Long Gate. If you can’t find what you are looking for on the shelves, ask. They’ll track it down for you. It’s the bookstore way.

 

 

Happy Reading,

Tim Singleton
HoCoPoLitSo Board Co-Chair

 

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