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Occasionally, the writers who read at the Wilde Readings will answer our six burning questions about their craft and literary favorites. This month, Rissa Miller, who read at Wilde Readings on February 11th, answers our questions. Ms. Miller is hosting a free poetry workshop at the Nest in Clarksville on February 12th at 7 pm.
Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?
I’d like to say something more honorable or romantic, but if poets seek truth, I must confess – it’s myself. All things I write, whether poetry, fiction, article, or essay have some part of me in them. Many people have influenced my writing. There are high school English teachers whose voices still echo in my mind as I write; a particularly tough professor will always be with me. She didn’t allow me to use the word “that.” Of course, my friends, family, husband, animal companions – each life that has held my heart, as well as enemies and those who hurt me, will always show up in my writing. They are the souls that formed my voice.r
Where is your favorite place to write?
Anywhere quiet. Home, work, libraries, coffee shops, laundromats. I’m not particular. I’ve written on napkins in cafes, walked out of meetings to write poems in the bathroom at jobs, and scrawled in ballpoint pen up my own arm at stoplights in the car.
Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?
Hot green tea. It’s more of a life ritual, I always have hot green tea, even when working out. But writing almost cannot happen without a mug besides me, gently filling the air with steam and subtle verdant aroma.
Who always gets a first read?
My husband, Nathaniel. Well, sometimes our dog, The Dude, hears me read aloud first. After them, my critique group, Ali, Melisa and Robin, see things in early stages.
What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; in poetry, Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda. Each one I’ve read several times; each I am confident I will read again.
What is the most memorable reading you have attended?
Allen Ginsberg. Hearing the master himself read Kaddish, the epic poem about the life and death of his mother, literally gave me chills. At the time I was working as a journalist and had the incredible opportunity to interview him afterwards. Though I rarely get nervous and was never star struck around celebrities, Ginsberg made me break out in a cold sweat and stutter through me questions. Not just a famous personality, he was a true influence on the history poetry and writing, as well as a moment in American Society. It was such an honor.
Rissa Miller is hosting a free poetry workshop at the Nest in Clarksville, Maryland on February 12th at 7 pm. No experience required.
The next Wilde Readings is on March 10th at the Columbia Art Center and will feature authors Reuben Jackson & Edgar Silex.
Harvest is about food, of course, a storing away of all the energy and sunshine and hard work of summer for a slower, more contemplative time. Sure, there are pumpkins, but fall is also about the last tomatoes and corn, and the starchy parsnips and potatoes that last all winter long.
I think of poems and stories as a kind of harvest, storing up the ephemeral to be savored later.
The Between the Leaves Project is about linking writing with the food we grow and eat. HoCoPoLitSo and the Howard County Library have teamed up to put literature — about collard greens and zinnias and raspberries and butter beans — in the Enchanted Garden at the Miller Branch.
Signs, bearing excerpts from poems and novels that relate to the crops being grown, have been thrust into the garden plots, a lovely quarter-acre just outside the Ellicott City library branch. The vegetables and fruits grown in the garden by volunteers, from library teens to Master Gardeners, are harvested every week and donated to the Howard County Food Bank.
The signs offer a little taste of literature in the garden, but if you’d like a full serving, attend the harvest reading on Oct. 28. Authors, board members of HoCoPoLitSo, and staff and friends of the library will read poems that will leave us hungry. Hear works by Robert Frost, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Gary Snyder, Pablo Neruda, and other authors. Snacks will be served and books with the poems, as well as excerpts from novels and short stories, will be available for borrowing.
Join us at the drop-in reading 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28, at the Miller Branch library in the garden under the twinkling lights, for an evening of poetry to savor.
Register online or by calling 410-313-1950.
Susan Thornton Hobby
Join forces with author, library and HoCoPoLitSo to offer a book of dreams for everyone
The inside cover of Jason Reynolds’s book For Every One says it all. We’re supposed to pass it on. The book’s dedication reads, “For You. For Me.”
His book is about dreams, and how hard one must work to achieve them. He wrote about trying to focus on his ambitions:
“So I went out and bought all the books on all the ways to make dreams come true, laying out the how-to, somehow spinning life into a fantastic formula for dummies and dream chasers, written by experts and dream catchers who swear that I can one plus one and right foot left foot my way into fulfillment, never taking into consideration all this mess I got strapped to my back and my head and my legs and my heart.”Reynolds wants everyone to hear about following dreams. So does HoCoPoLitSo. The Howard County Library and HoCoPoLitSo are joining forces to bring Reynolds to speak to the East Columbia Library Oct. 9. And we’d like to share this gift of a book. The library and HoCoPoLitSo are raising money to give out 100 copies of For Every One to students who attend his reading. Pupils from Lake Elkhorn, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake, and Harper’s Choice middle schools will be bused to the reading, joining lots of Reynolds’ fans at the event. Register here for the event. Every dollar raised is matched one to one by funds from the Kathleen Glascock Challenge, a memorial fund named for an inspiring Clarksville Middle School media specialist who believed that books could change lives. She and Reynolds would have had a lot to talk about. It’s hard not to get goose bumps when Reynolds, who didn’t read a book cover to cover until he was nearly 18, talks about teenagers. “All I want kids to know is that I see them for who they are and not who everyone thinks they are,” he told the Washington Post last year. Reynolds, now a best-selling author with nine books, a Newbery Honor, and National Book Award finalist on his resume, says he wants to tell the stories that he wasn’t seeing on library and bookstore shelves – tales of black and brown teenagers handling tough issues. His goal is “putting that on the page with integrity and balance, to acknowledge the glory and the brokenness. That’s all I want to do. It’s a lot, but so are they.” Librarians around the county can’t keep his books on the shelves, and they’re thrilled that Reynolds is coming to read. Anne Reis, media specialist at Homewood Center, the alternative school in Howard County, was introducing Jason Reynolds to two classes of “very reluctant readers,” as she called them. They were disruptive, she remembers, until she started playing a “The Daily Show” clip of Trevor Noah’s talk with Reynolds, who emphasized the importance of hip-hop to his writing, and how young people are the antidote to hopelessness. “They heard the truth of his message and that he respects them and wants to write for them … . They were completely silent,” Reis said. “A pin could have dropped and you would have heard it. Jason Reynolds has an authenticity in his writing that speaks to the kids at my school. They are psyched to meet him in October!” Donate here: https://hclibrary.org/classes-events/glascock-challenge-seeks-to-inspire-reluctant-readers
Susan Thornton HobbyRecording secretary, HoCoPoLitSo Board
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.
Presented in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts, another of the wonderful reasons there are so many things to do in Columbia, Maryland, these days.
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.
From Abu Dhabi to Howard County and Back, Author Siobhan Fallon Lives Through the Jet Lag to Tell About It.
Jet lag, medically referred to as desynchronosis, is a physiological condition which results from alterations to the boy’s circadian rhythms resulting from rapid long-distance transmeridian (east-west or west-east) travel on an aircraft.
I was asking for it. Heading to Maryland from Abu Dhabi, with two little daughters in tow, was bound to be trouble. But when the generous folks of Howard County chose You Know When the Men Are Gone for their Book Connection Project read, there was no way I was just going to send an ethereal Skype-self to their computer screens on October 15 and 16th. I wanted my flesh and blood and exhausted self right there in person.
We arrived in NY after nearly 24 hours of transit (made interesting by my nine-month-old trying to pull the hair out of the head of the nice lady in front of us all the way to Heathrow). On October 14, I left my girls with my mother and drove a rental car to a hotel in Howard County. I got on the treadmill for an hour of uphill climbing while looking through my notes and skimming my stories, brushing up for the talk the following morning at Howard Community College (HCC).
Ten p.m. (six a.m. Abu Dhabi time) I was in my room and wired (for future reference, getting on a treadmill at 9 pm is not a good way to tire oneself out). I decided to post the upcoming readings on Facebook and ended up getting into a lively discussion about Kenny Rogers with Laura Yoo, HCC faculty member and member of the board of directors at HoCoPoLitSo. I mentioned Rogers’ lyrics make for great stories, she posted her favorite childhood songs with videos, and she even found one where Kenny still had his wonderful, original face.
Her sense of humor confirmed what I had already suspected — these events were going to be awesome.
And each one was, filled with enthusiastic, kindly, curious readers in sparkling learning spaces at both HCC and the Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System (no wonder it was voted Library of the Year 2013).
Here are some of my favorite moments:
– After reading at HCC, a student asked me to sign his book. His teacher required proof of attendance and he had me inscribe a paperback to her. I couldn’t help adding, Please give this man an A for creativity!!
– When I walked into Margaret Garroway’s English class (she joined forces with other English classes and the room was full), Margaret was in Alex Trebek mode, moderating a trivia game, classes pitted against each other with representatives sitting at a long table in front. The trivia was taken from my collection, and there was even an answer I didn’t know (but the students did, good job, guys!).
– After the English class, one student brought me a red sharpie and asked me to sign the cover of his book rather than inside. Everyone behind him in line liked the way it looked and asked to borrow his pen (I liked the graffiti feel of it myself—I’m going to start carrying a red sharpie and ‘tag’ all my books from now on) until the poor kid had to run off to his next class.
– During the taping of HoCoPoLitSo’s TV show The Writing Life, I finally got to meet fellow mil spouse author and my Writing Life host, Kristin Henderson. When I lived in Virginia, she and I played email tag (she is part of a group of mil spouse writers who get together once a month; alas I had my hands full of new baby and the move to Abu Dhabi and couldn’t manage to meet them). She is just as fabulous as I imagined her to be.
Now I am back in Abu Dhabi. Yes, I spent about a week downing too much coffee and railing at my kiddos for not sleeping enough (the nine-month-old was waking up bright-eyed at 2 a.m. every night, ready to pull my hair out).
Jet lag be damned, I wouldn’t trade a minute of the great time I had at Howard County.
Oh, and can somebody please tell Trivia Pursuit to add questions about my stories to their next edition?
Special thanks to Candace DePass, Lisa Bankman, Alesia McManus, and Susan Thornton Hobby for all their hard work coordinating this trip across time zones! I hope to be back in your beautiful Howard County again someday.
Co-chair of the HoCoPoLitSo board and Division Chair of English/World Languages at Howard Community College, Dr. Tara Hart previews a few upcoming Banned Book Week events in Howard County:
My New Jersey high school reading list made sure I met and never forgot Ray Bradbury’s perverse firemen, called to burn wherever books were found. Pop culture let rebellious ‘80s teens share Kevin Bacon’s Footloose character’s horror at finding that his new hometown is a place that incinerates piles of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in front of the public library. Much more recently, Terry Jones’s treatment of the Koran lit a global flame that continues to profane what many hold sacred. Also, “Hundreds of books [including, ironically, Fahrenheit 451] have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 326 in 2011. ALA estimates that 70 to 80 percent are never reported,” (www.bannedbooksweek.org). We may not understand, or feel we understand all too well, what drives those who burn or strive to hide books, but the good news is that the drive to protest such destruction and suppression is loud and sustained.
The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) celebrates National Banned Books Week (September 30 – October 6, 2012) and our freedom to read by partnering with Howard Community College to present an important conversation between Jeannette Seaver, widow of publishing giant Richard Seaver, and Michael Dirda, Pulitzer-Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post, about the historic role of Grove Press in the publication of banned books through discussion of Richard Seaver’s extraordinary memoir, entitled The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the 50s, New York in the 60s: A Memoir of Publishing’s Golden Age (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).
“Dick” Seaver had a unique gift for recognizing, appreciating, and advocating for the translation and publication of previously unknown authors, especially Samuel Beckett, and was a unique presence in the publishing age that ultimately delivered to American readers, triumphing through much literal trial and other’s error, essential titles that continue to be challenged by contemporary citizens, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Naked Lunch, The Story of O, The Tropic of Cancer, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The memoir resonates, in spite of his modesty, with a spirit of highly intelligent discernment and sense of vocation that played an enormous role in revolutionizing the American literary landscape, leading it from priggishness to possibility.
Michael Dirda is a well-versed expert on such landscapes and an ideal conversational host for Ms. Seaver, who is fascinating in her own right as an accomplished musician and later publisher who shared her husband’s intellectual and professional life and has her own opinions of and experiences with many of the literati mentioned in the book. It promises to be an engrossing, important, provocative, and academically enriching event, so come join today’s literati at “Freedom to Read: The Historic Role of Grove Press in the Publication of Banned Books,” with Jeannette Seaver and Michael Dirda, Tuesday, October 2, 2-3:20 PM in Monteabaro Recital Hall in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College. The event is free and open to the public. Also check out HCC’s “parade” of banned books and the media clip festival that week.
Dr. Tara Hart
Board co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo
For more information, see
For event details, visit
For thirty-one (31) years the HOward COunty POetry and LITerature SOciety (HoCoPoLitSo) has awarded book prizes to the winners of its All County Writing Competition, and honored students nominated by their teachers for Promise and Achievement in Language Arts. To foster lifelong reading habits and a love of literature, HoCoPoLitSo presents book awards with personalized bookplates. The tradition continued this year as HoCoPoLitSo board members made presentations at all Howard County public high school honors assemblies for seniors.
The ten creative writing winners were AMY FARB (Centennial), WEI YUE LU (Centennial), and MARY SIMPSON (Centennial) in the personal essay category; CAROLINE CROWDER (Mt. Hebron), JACLYN ANDREWS (Howard), PATRICIA CARMONA (Mt. Hebron) and BRIDGET MACKRELL (Mt. Hebron) in the poetry category; and in the short story category, REBECCA CURRAN (Mt. Hebron), JULIA DUNN (Howard), and SYDNEY CHANMUGAN (Mt. Hebron). This year’s judges were Patricia VanAmburg, writer and professor of literature, Joyce Braga, young adult author, and Mark Braga, technical writer and engineer.
In addition, twenty-six students were chosen by their English Departments to receive HoCoPoLitSo’s Promise and Achievement Award in Language Arts. The honorees were: LAUREN BERMAN, JACOB SMITH (Atholton) SARAH CALVERT, WEI YUE LU (Centennial), EMILY SCHWEICH, ANNELIESE FAUSTINO (Glenelg), SIERRA SIMPSON, JASON SCHOENFELD (Hammond), SIERRA PETERS, RACHEL McMURRER (Homewood Center), LINDSEY SABLOWSKI, MADELINE STUDT (Howard), JESSICA GUERRERO, JUSTIN BIEGEL (Long Reach), COURTNET O’HARO, JONATHAN MATHEWS (Marriotts Ridge), NICHOLAS CORTINA, HANNAH VAUGHAN (Mt. Hebron), LYNN COURNOYER, ROSS RHEINGANS-YOO (Oakland Mills), HALEY SWEETON, ALEXANDER SHAW (Reservoir), IFEOLUWA OLUJOBI, CHRISTINA ROMANO (River Hill), EMMA BOONE, JOE WAN (Wilde Lake).
Thirty-five students in all received books by such outstanding poets and writers as: Margaret Atwood, Sandra Beasley, Hugo Hamilton, Donald Hall, Shelia Kohler, Laura Lippman, Frank McCourt, Grace Paley, Francine Prose, Reynolds Price, and Colm Tóibín. HoCoPoLitSo has been dedicated to enlarging the audience for contemporary poetry and literature through public readings, special events, writer-in-residence visits, and The Writing Life, a cable television series produced at Howard Community College, since 1974.
HoCoPoLitSo is supported by the Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government, the Maryland State Arts Council through the State of Maryland and the Department of Business and Economic Development, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Columbia Film Society, the Columbia Foundation, the Jim & Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation, the Rouse Company Foundation, and Friends of HoCoPoLitSo.
Now that Edith Pearlman has won the National Book Critics Award for fiction, what is she going to do? She’s going to visit Columbia and read from her acclaimed work, that’s what. Mark your calendars for Wednesday, June 27, 2012 and get yourself reading a copy of her Binocular Vision, wonderful stories often exploring the theme of accommodations people make in life. You’ll be glad you did.
Who is Edith Pearlman? some find themselves asking… like, um, even The New York Times, “Why in the world had I never heard of Edith Pearlman? And why, if you hadn’t, hadn’t you? It certainly isn’t the fault of her writing, which is intelligent, funny and quite beautiful.”
Pearlman’s website touts:
Edith Pearlman has published more than 250 works of short fiction and short non-fiction in national magazines, literary journals, anthologies, and on-line publications. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Collection, New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection – Best of the Small Presses.
And yet it is just now, in her seventies, she is finding the greater fame and public attention she deserves. The National Book Critics Circle board, a group of 600 reviewers selecting Binocular Vision for the award, stated the recognition “a triumph for Pearlman’s distinctive storytelling, bringing it to a larger audience.” We are all glad for that — this is work that deserves to be read. And we at HoCoPoLitSo, working with the Columbia Festival of the Arts and the Town Center Community Association,* are ecstatic to be bringing Pearlman in person to Columbia so soon after this accolade.
We’ll keep you abreast of details, like ticket sales, here and on our Facebook page (you are following us, aren’t you?) as they develop. In the meantime, share this wonderful news with friends in email, on Facebook, with your book clubs, everywhere. And get yourself a copy of her work to enjoy! It won’t be long till you are listening to her in person, getting a chance to ask her questions you have and to sign a copy of your new favorite book.
* Guess what intimate venue the reading is going to be held in….