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:
Here are some numbers about Afghan refugees:
- 2 million Afghan citizens were displaced by violence in 2015.
- 5 million are awaiting repatriation or citizenship in Pakistan, but the government there is starting to force the refugees back to Afghanistan.
- 1 million wait in Iran and are enduring increasingly rough treatment and deportation.
And here’s why we can read those sentences and glaze over: because our brains can’t comprehend the millions of stories in the refugee crisis.
That’s why one photograph, of one drowned toddler and his two tiny shoes sparked more outrage than the daily tally of refugees. That photo told a story that had been incomprehensible.
Novelist Nadia Hashimi, who is of Afghan descent but grew up in New York and New Jersey, wanted to tell one family’s story, to show the humanity in the humanitarian crisis that is the migrant emergency.
Hashimi centered her 2015 novel, When the Moon is Low, around a schoolteacher, Fereiba, who lives with her family in Kabul until the Taliban imprison and kill her husband. She and her children escape the violence of Afghan’s capital and endure boat trips in the dead of night, border crossings, predatory smugglers, hunger, cold and exhaustion in their quest to reach family in London.
In the prologue, Hashimi writes in the voice of Fereiba, who is lying in a hotel bed with her children: “One day, we will not look over our shoulders in fear or sleep on borrowed land with one eye open or shudder at the sight of a uniform. One day we will have a place to call home. I will carry these children — my husband’s children — as far as I can and pray that we will reach that place where, in the quiet of their slumber, I, too, will rest.”
Hashimi will read from that novel June 26 as part of a program HoCoPoLitSo is producing with the Columbia Festival of the Arts’ summer festival. The Toronto Star wrote of When the Moon is Low: “A heartfelt story of courage amidst a world short on compassion.”
Hashimi’s own story is compelling. Her mother grew up in the 1960s and ’70s in a modern Kabul, going to college, wearing mini skirts, listening to music with her friends. When the Soviet invasion was imminent, her mother migrated to the Europe, then got her master’s degree in engineering. Her father emigrated to the U.S. to seek his own education. Afghanistan, under the influence of the Taliban and extremist warlords, forced women to cover, divided families, reinstituted child marriage and outlawed women’s education.
Now a pediatrician from Potomac with four children, Hashimi has written three novels in four years. When she traveled to Afghanistan after the publication of her first two novels, she found it much changed from her parents’ stories. The years have not been kind to her parents’ home country, she told an audience at the Miller Library earlier in April. Since 1970, life in Afghanistan has become especially hard for women — who were for years forbidden to work, go to school or walk unaccompanied — and she wanted to tell those stories.
When the Moon is Low is particularly topical now, in the midst of the ongoing wave of migrants seeking a better life than in their turbulent, violent native land.
Foreign Policy, in a fascinating piece about the responsibility of America in the twisted history of Afghanistan, wrote, “The case of the Afghans, one of the world’s largest refugee communities and the second-largest group – behind Syrians – to arrive in Europe recently, should serve as a reminder that the origins of today’s predicament are neither recent nor confined to the refugees’ home countries.” (Full article.)
America and its policies bear responsibility for the refugees struggling to reach a peaceful place. We should not ignore the crisis, neither its numbers, its images nor its stories. Join HoCoPoLitSo and the Columbia Festival of the Arts on June 26 to hear Hashimi read from When the Moon is Low, and a sneak peek at her upcoming book about the stories in a women’s prison in Afghanistan, House Without Windows (August 2016).
— Susan Thornton Hobby
HoCoPoLitSo board member
and recording secretary
Presenting Beans with No Salt: a Performance of Poetry and Percussion with Steven Leyva and Josh Soto
Kittleman Room of Duncan Hall
Howard Community College
February 6, 4-6 pm (Get Tickets)
Join HoCoPoLitSo for a coffeehouse afternoon of poetry and music, flavored with a bit of Zydeco as a warm-up for Mardi Gras.
Baltimore poet and Little Patuxent Review editor Steven Leyva reads from his work, centered around his tuneful hometown of New Orleans. He will be accompanied by drummer Josh Soto on congas and drum set. Coffee and snacks will be served before and during the performance, and a question and answer session follows.
In Créole the word Zydeco could translate to “Green Beans,” but colloquially a better approximation would be “Beans with no salt,” which is a sly way of expressing hard times. The reciprocal movement between lack and plenty, famine and feast, often inspires innovation in literature and music, making the borders of genres porous. Using improvisation, audience participation and a bit of luck, Leyva and Soto seek to carve out a space in the ear and imagination where hard times breed a new music for the heart, and percussion becomes the poet’s blank page.
This event is presented by HoCoPoLitSo in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts winter performance series, “Beyond the Blues.” Join us for Poetry and Percussion at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, at the Kittleman Room on the campus of Howard Community College. A book signing and reception will follow. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors. They are available online through Brown Paper Tickets.
Columbia, Maryland, is almost fifty. At forty years (young) itself, HoCoPoLitSo has watched what was once America’s New City grow up. Way back when, there seemed hardly a thing to do in a place that had only just magically appeared out of the vision of James Rouse and onto the landscape, a new type of community curiously growing out of the farmland of Howard County.
Today, Columbia boasts ever more things to do and the schedule can be oh so cluttered. Back in the day, that wasn’t so true, not true at all. That lack of things to do was the impetus behind a bunch of Columbia pioneers forming the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in order to bring their favorite writers to town to read to them and their friends. They wanted something to do. Something special to do. They made it happen and it has been happening every year since.
It’s been a great forty years and the organization continues to “enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages,” as its mission states. The list of writers HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Columbia dazzles many from afar who — drop-jawed — wonder how a suburban town that didn’t exist all that long ago is a now a treasure on the literary landmark map and regarded around the world. At last count, the list of visitors includes 5 Nobel prize winners, 17 US Poets Laureate, 11 National Book Award winners, 22 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 7 Maryland Poets Laureate.
This weekend, another name will join the list: recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Ethiopian American novelist, and book club favorite Dinaw Mengestu.
On Saturday, Mr. Mengestu will read from his work as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts’ “American Routes” program, a weekend festival of exploring the visual and performing arts. Mengestu’s route to America began when his family fled war-torn Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States when he was two years old. His novels and nonfiction pieces open a window into the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America. “This is not an immigrant story we already know quite well,” writes The Washington Post. He is expected to read from his latest novel, How To Read The Air, as well as a selection of his beloved The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, set in Washington DC.
Please join us and become a part of the history of HoCoPoLitSo, the Columbia Festival of the Arts, and the wonderful, unique place that is Columbia, Maryland.
For tickets, event details, a video preview, and directions, visit this Columbia Festival of the Arts event webpage.