Laurie Frankel’s Goodbye For Now
A Howard County Book Connection Event
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 • 1 p.m.
Rouse Community Foundation Student Services Hall, Room 400
Howard Community College
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044
If you could connect with your beloved dead through technology, would you? Laurie Frankel’s novel, Goodbye for Now, is a love story with technology at its heart. Join us to hear Frankel read from her ground-breaking book at HoCoPoLitSo’s series celebrating ground-breaking poet and HoCoPoLitSo artistic advisor Lucille Clifton. Gather with a group of curious minds for this intriguing discussion. The New York Times said Frankel’s book, “extends the reach of technology just beyond our fingertips, where it feels possible.” This program is brought to you by the Howard County Book Connection; a partnership between Howard Community College, the Howard County Public Library System, and the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo). A book signing will follow. Tickets not required.
Seniors can request transportation by calling 410.715.3087. For other accommodations, call 443.518.4568 by October 16
This event is free. Click here to register and let us know you are coming.
Wilde Readings, Columbia’s literary reading and open mic series, eagerly launches season two on September 12th at the Columbia Art Center. When poet and author Laura Shovan approached Linda Joy Burke and myself about starting a reading series in Columbia, we offered our full support. Because Wilde Readings is funded through private donations and a generous grant from HoCoPoLitSo and is housed in the Columbia Art Center in Long Reach, any concerns about funding and a venue disappeared. Before the three of us could begin the daunting yet exciting task of selecting authors for our first year’s lineup, we first solicited naming ideas from several of our friends in the writing community. While there were many names we liked, we selected Patricia VanAmburg’s suggestion to use Wilde Readings—a dual homage to Wilde Lake, Columbia’s first village, and Oscar Wilde, a writer known for both his wit and his bravery. His words, which appear as a tagline on our promotional materials, “A writer is a person who has taught his mind to misbehave,” capture the spirit of what we hope good writing encourages.
It was especially important to all of us that we present a variety of voices and styles, as well as represent the demographics of our area and balance male and female voices. With those parameters in mind, I hope you’ll agree that our 2016-2017 inaugural series fulfilled those goals and provided our audience with ten evenings of engaging, thoughtful, and provocative voices. Fiction was well represented when Jen Grow, Jan Bowman, Austin Camacho, and Susan Muaddi Daraj shared short stories and novel excerpts. Poetry and spoken word performances, both with political undertones, captured our audience’s attention when Michael Rothenberg, Ron Kipling Williams, Ken “Analysis” Brown, Maritza Rivera, and Shelly “Says So” Washington performed. Le Hinton had a most unusual approach to his rendition of poems from his “Cotton” collection—he passed around real cotton bolls for the audiences to feel both the velvet smoothness of the white fiber and the contrasting prickles of the supporting stamen and leaves. The remaining readings featured the impressive and highly regarded poetic voices of Grace Cavalieri, Merrill Leffler, Sally Rosen Kindred, Michael Ratcliffe, Nancy Naomi Carlson, Sue Ellen Thompson, Virginia Crawford, Sam Schmidt, and City Lit’s own Carla Dupree.
Wilde Readings’ lineup of literary artists for the fall of 2017 promises to be as engaging and diverse as our opening season. We kick off the series with Debbi Mack, New York Times best-selling author of the Sam McRae Mystery Series and Pat Valdata, whose most recent work, Where No Man Can Touch, is a book of persona poems in the voices of female aviation pioneers. In October, Michael Salcman, poet, physician, and art historian, will speak about his latest work, A Prague Spring, Before and After, along with his photographer, Lynn Silverman, a professor of photography at MICA. In November, we will feature the work of D.C. poet Henry Crawford reading from his inaugural collection, American Software, and Susan Sonde, author of several books and a two-time Pushcart Nominee and winner of numerous prizes and awards. We close out 2017 with Doritt Carroll, D.C. native and author of a new chapbook entitled Sorry You Are Not an Instant Winner and poet Alan King, Bowie, Maryland, resident and author of Point Blank and Drift.
This year, in addition to lining up an exciting roster of literary guests for Wilde Readings, Laura, Linda Joy, and I plan to reach out to local teens who aspire to become writers. We’d love to put together a roster of interested writers to participate in a dedicated teen night as part of Wilde Readings. Last year, Mahitha Vijily, a teen writer from Marriotts Ridge High School, saw our event in the local papers and decided to bring her family and her book of poetry to the April Wilde Readings event. She blew us away with her provocative voice and skillful use of language and even sold a few copies of her book, Thoughts of a Wildflower. We hope to engage more voices in the coming year.
When we open the fall series on September 12, 2017, at the Columbia Art Center at 7pm, Laura, Linda Joy, and I will be there to welcome everyone, sign up open mic readers, and introduce our featured authors. We hope to see many attendees from last year and anticipate welcoming new folks as well.
By Ann Bracken
Today – September 6th – is National Read a Book Day. And on this occasion, I’m sharing with you 30 books that changed me.
These are the books that exposed me to new things (like about racial passing in Nella Larsen’s Passing), changed the way I felt about a subject or what I knew about the subject (like about death and dying in Ann Lamott’s Hard Laughter), or seemed to push the conventions of literature (like the way Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy experiments with structure and narrative voice). These are the books that made me say, “What? A book a can do THAT?!?!”
For most of these works, though, I don’t remember the exact plot or the details that made them so impressive. For some of these books, I bet the timing was what mattered. When I read Crime and Punishment, for example, it was right after high school. And I read it for fun. I think I was pretty proud of myself for reading a Dostoevsky for leisure. That made me an official adult.
Though I don’t remember the details, I remember the sensation. I remember the sense of awe inspired by Waiting for Godot and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. These books blew me away with their deep investigations of humans – about who we are, what we want, what we believe, what we lack, and what we could be (both beautiful and hideous).
I remember feeling very grown up after reading books like The Laramie Project and Middlesex. These books introduced me to the things that happen in the world to real people that I might otherwise have been shielded from.
I remember feeling envious when reading works like Playing in the Dark and Between the World and Me. These are the books that showed me what a human mind can think through and what a human mind can then articulate into language. The envy comes from recognizing these writers’ genius as well as the fact that I will never achieve that.
I remember the labor that went into studying Paradise Lost and Macbeth. So much to excavate and discover – again and again – in pouring over works like those. And the sense of accomplishment that comes from cracking the code in some small way to understand the text.
I also remember specific lines from these books that stay with me. Like “There is no story that is not true” from Thing Fall Apart. Like “A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe” from The Things They Carried. And these unforgettable words: “Let me imagine … what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say” from A Room of One’s Own – and I never forgot about Judith Shakespeare.
Oh, and of course – I remember the laughing and the crying. Really laughing out loud while reading Me Talk Pretty One Day. And really sobbing while reading The Kite Runner.
My literature students are writing this week about why we read and study literature. As for me, I read because I want to be changed. Even in some small way. By the time I read the last page of the book I want to feel a little different and be a little better than when I started the book.
Why do you read?
“Wait! What? Frank O’Hara lived in Baltimore?! When? Where?”
That ‘Where?’ wasn’t really the question I had in mind as I had the address in front of me – 2044 Linden Avenue, not that I knew where it was off the top of my head. I did want to know when he had lived there and why and quickly found the answers to those questions from what I was reading – he was born at Maryland General and lived in Baltimore for the first year or so of his life. But where? I wanted visual connection. So I did what has since become reflex for this reader, I turned to google, typed in the address, and took a look. The map showed the location of Linden Avenue just off North Avenue. I’ve driven by there before; I never knew. I hit Street View and there it is, the childhood street of Frank O’Hara. Pretty cool, I thought.
I love it when the literary world and the everyday world meet. It brings literature to life, makes you think about what you read in a different way, and often deepens your understanding of both.
Another time I was reading the absolutely delightful New York Walks, Six Intimate Walking Tours of New York’s Most Historic Neighborhoods , editor). The 92nd Street Y put it out a while back, soliciting the expertise of their Talks and Tours program guides. These walks around the Big Apple are legend. The book is broken up into tours of different sections of NY/NY and a reader gets to worm their way along and learn about the place without taking a step if they are on some out-of-town couch. That is a nice feat in itself, but it is such a good book that makes you wish you were on the streets with each sentence. “Hey, wait a minute,” I thought and reached for google Street View once again. Pretty magic. There I was in lower Manhattan or in one of the carriage alleys near Washington Square. Click. Click. Look around. Click. Visual connection with what the page was sharing. Here’s a sample:
Return across Fifth Avenue (carefully! — you are mid block) for a glimpse of Washington Mews. Your view may be restricted by a closed gate, since the mews is privately owned, both the houses and the alley itself.
This cobblestone alley, built in 1831, provided Washington Square’s elegant houses with access to their private stables or carriage houses. With the rise of the automobile at the beginning of this century, these un-heated one- and two-story structures fell into disuse. Many were rented to artists who were willing to endure cold and any lingering equine scent, simple because the rent was cheap.
I found this trick works for novels, too. I was reading Colm Toibin’s The Blackwater Lightship and was so struck by the idea of the place that I hopped in someone’s google Street View car and took off for County Wexford to have a look for myself. Quaint, kind of stark, beautiful. Here are two shots from the road:
Can you imagine growing up there young and full of ambition?
In real life I associate my own experiences with what I am reading. I supply the picture that goes along with the author’s words. We all do it. It is one of the ways that we can get into a book and it can get into us. Reading is a shared effort between the projection of an author and the a reader’s ability to understand through their own experience-driven interpretation. I have found that I can enhance what I bring to my part of that task with a tool like Street View. It often gives me a sense of place that adds to the text something I might not otherwise be able to contribute. Landscape, architecture, the bustle of a place, the emptiness — these are some of the things you can see for yourself with the tool. It can be very helpful. I encourage my students to use it to enhance their own work with a text. It can help deepen their understanding. So, while you are making a list of supplies for the school year ahead, make sure to jot down google Street View. You’ll be one click away from anywhere you might want to check out for yourself.
HoCoPoLitSo, Board Co-chair
Margaret Atwood was hitting me over the head.
Well, not really hitting, like in her cameo in “The Handmaid’s Tale” television series, in which she smacks Elizabeth Moss in the head.
No, the subject of Margaret Atwood – not the actual Margaret Atwood — has been clubbing me for the last seven months. Here’s why:
- In January, the sign from the Women’s March: “Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again.”
- The profile in The New Yorker, describing Atwood as a “buoyant doomsayer,” recounting her penchant for reading palms, and explaining how, since she doesn’t drive, she often drags a cart loaded with used books through Toronto to donate to the library.
- The aforementioned, terrifying television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale.
- The copy of her Booker Prize-winning novel, The Blind Assassin, which was balanced on top of the growing pile on my nightstand, then cascaded onto the mound under my bed. I heard the Canadian novelist calling me through the mattress.
So when I went on vacation this summer, I took Atwood with me.
I started reading The Blind Assassin on my last day in Colorado, and it delayed our hike a bit because I had to finish a chapter. The story starts with the suicide of the protagonist’s sister, who drives off a bridge without slowing down, her white-gloved hands gripping the steering wheel. What would be a climax for any other writer is just the beginning for Atwood.
Since I’m trying to write fiction, after years of telling the truth as a journalist, I’m having to make stuff up. It’s hard going – I can turn a phrase and describe a scene, but plot? It proves elusive. Atwood is teaching me to read like a writer, and, I hope, write like a reader. Her plots – the hateful girls and their tormented protagonist in The Cat’s Eye, the dystopian, reproductively challenged theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale, the nineteenth-century murder tale in Alias Grace – are masterful.
The Blind Assassin sounds complicated, but in Atwood’s deft hands, the reader spins along quickly in the book, flashing back and forth in time, into and out of the world of the science fiction novel within a novel. Iris, whose sister, husband and daughter all die untimely deaths, tells the story from her silver years, writing herself back in time to her privileged childhood and her young marriage to her father’s competitor to save the family fortune. But interspersed in Iris’s tale is her sister’s novel, about an illicit affair in which the man, to entertain the woman in bed with him, tells a story about a blind assassin and his lover, on a faraway, violence-torn planet.
About halfway through, this reader thought she had it figured out. Then, by two-thirds through, I had it figured out a different way. By the end, though, Margaret had blindsided me again, her plotting twists and turns slapping me around like I was the punk in the fight.
I marvel at her imagination, her structuring, the control that Ms. Atwood had over me. The Blind Assassin’s protagonist and narrator – writing her own story – explains:
The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.
Impossible of course.
I pay out my line, I pay out my line, this black thread I’m spinning across the page.
All the while the protagonist is teasing us, telling us half-truths and outright lies mixed in with reality. The voice, the plot, the book, they hit you like a ton of bricks.Thanks for schooling me, Professor Atwood. This writer – slightly more black and blue – will get back to work now.
Recently, the siblings went through the home we grew up in. It was time to move on, that is to say, pack it all up and send it in new directions – keepsakes and sales. It is a task I wasn’t quite prepared for, a lot of work, certainly, but also an un-anticipatable rite of passage. Mom’s recently gone and dad has moved into a new place, size-suitable for one and already a wonderful nest of books with him heart and center. It is decorated with a number of precious memories, artifacts of the place that was, the life that is, time unstuck as it moves on, backwards and forwards in the present moment.
The sibling task, as you might imagine, was full of stories. Every single object had history. Our individual histories, our parent’s history, the family history. The six of us latched on to things that particularly resonated with our own hindsight, collected things that in an instant can take us back to the special place that is the family, that is growing into the world, gaining a sense of being from within the nestle of love and care and the forward tromp of formative years. Some of these stories we shared out loud. Some we let resonate in the silence within us, awed and full of emotion.
About this time it just so happened that I had picked up John Berger’s book Here is Where We Meet from one of my own shelves to have another go at reading. Grabbed it from a store when it came out and, for some reason, didn’t settle into it. The narrator visits/re-visits places important to his life and within those places re-meets those now dead who were once key to his own being. “The dead don’t stay where they are buried,” says his long-dead mother as she meets up with him in Lisbon for the first chapter. Pertinent, this time I was bewitched. Towards that chapter’s conclusion, she says, “Do us the courtesy of noticing us.” I love how a book casually picked up can provide such a parallel framework to where one is off the page. It is a breathtaking magic. My world was full of notice waiting to be noticed.
There’s a fork my Mother gave me a few years before she died. It is something that charmed me from the first time I saw it. There’s a curve to its tines, shaped over the decades and generations by vigorous beating against the side of mixing bowls, its mettle not full up to the task. When young, it was the curve that struck me – how cool – and I took in the science of the story: friction, hardness, softness. [Many years later, Mom would give me a copy of the The Dalkey Archive (Flan O’Brien) and I was amused by the bicycle-stealing policeman who was only being protective of the citizenry – you see, he understood the danger of friction and the exchange of molecules, bike riders and bikes shedding themselves into each other; he wanted to protect people from becoming bicycles. Hard to explain in a referentially clear way without the book in hand. Track it down, it’s a good read and will start you thinking. The fork, for us, was a perfect illustration of how this crazy idea was a truth.]
Later on I came to understand using that fork was a way the generations could hold hands across time, the gone and the present meeting in the mixed handle of effort. I’ll take it out and use it once in a while, though these days it is mostly artifact and talisman. All I have to do is look at it to reach back and hold on.
Going through the homestead I grabbed the copy of Wilkie Collins’ Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, a Dover Paperback. It reminded me of those Dover catalogues we’d pour through once the mailman brought them to us (see how memory spills out of things?). Opening it, a note in one of the end pages reminded me I had given it to her as a Christmas present in 1984. It is one I hadn’t read, so I set to the task. By the looseness of the pages, it seems like it had been read a couple of times and that comforted me. It seemed a way to share the space and mind of this person now physically gone from the place of living, a way to hold on to a connective something and pass time together again. I imagined how she would have taken to the stories, thrilling in parts, tedious in others, ever so English and of their time throughout.
Books are on the way out, or so I hear. Maybe I’ll be one of the last to hang on to them, especially the keepsakes from the childhood home, the ones the parents once held up to their faces. For me, they are part mirror/window still reflecting/looking on that time and person, a way to reach out and hold on to what was and what is as we all pass through living and linger in the stories of our interconnected lives, a way of noticing and perpetuating each other.
Tim Singleton, board co-chair
A guest post by Kathy Stowe (HoCoPoLitSo’s Program Coordinator)
Searching for authors to take me through the rabbit hole into a new world has been an unending but rewarding task since I was old enough to walk the mile to the local library, the summer after third grade. When I saw the movie Winter’s Bone, I knew I had to seek out Daniel Woodrell. Rarely have I been so rewarded. Woodrell conveys in just a sentence an entire world, an unfamiliar but believable territory that exists somewhere frighteningly close. It’s Neil Gaiman without the alternative universe.
William Boyle, in a review of the recently released movie Tomato Red, also based on one of his novels, called Woodrell “the battle-hardened bard of meth county.” An apt description for a man described as a “lady stinger of a writer” by E. Annie Proulx on the book jacket review of Woodrell’s 1996 Give Us a Kiss: A Country Noir. Even the book’s title gives you a little shiver, conjuring up images of a perverted uncle. The lady stinger, a “little black thirty-two” tucked into a blue pillowcase that held his traveling clothes, accompanies Doyle Redmond on his family errand into the Ozarks to convince his older brother, Smokes, to turn himself into the law even though “us Redmonds have never been the sort of bloodline who’ll give up our kin easy to the penitentiary.”
In Give Us a Kiss, this particular Redmond, Doyle, has just one true love, “following his fantasies out and scribbling them down … telling stories … big wet whoppers” that “ … eventually … shade toward truth.” Having escaped the academic world in a stagnant pond-green Volvo listed on the hot sheets as yellow, Doyle has left behind the world of four published novels nobody much had read. He’s also left behind the Volvo’s owner, his two-timing wife who had “been in a frenzy to be a poet both revered and lusted after … . A hybrid of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carolyn Forché, and Gypsy Rose Lee.”
A quick check reveals Woodrell lists four published novels, meaning another tendency of mine, rummaging about in favored authors’ lives, might get a satisfying scratch. Lists of books carried in a box along with the pillowcase of clothes and the lady stinger, and references to authors, music and Doyle’s own writing process offer possibly slightly veiled autobiographical insight into the rather reclusive, fascinating mind of Daniel Woodrell. I too take great joy in looking under rocks to imagine, examine and describe the “dashingly scuzzy dudes,” just for the joyride of it.
Oh, and as in other Woodrell novels, sex and the Dollys are involved. The newest novel released as a film, Tomato Red (2017), and Winter’s Bone (2010) also feature the Dollys, a legendary clan of criminal persuasion, another backwoods family tribe who aren’t nearest and dearest to the Redmonds. Sex in the form of Doyle’s attraction to Niagra, Smokes’ girlfriend’s (Big Annie) 19-year-old daughter who tells him, “I believe we got the makings of a dream that’ll burn mighty hot, Doyle, you’n me.”
Woodrell’s ability to transport the reader to another world includes transforming words to smells and taste. Squirrel meat soaked in buttermilk doesn’t make my mouth water until he describes the old Folger’s can of bacon grease, burger leavings and whatever “from a United Nations of edible critters” that Big Annie cooks it in.
Woodrell, an author who is “…not the type who can exclude people socially just because they operate under some bad habits,” creates a world of memorable characters. He describes a neighborhood where “Some old boy across the road and down a few houses kept up a racket trying to cut the grass of his entire yard with a Weedwhacker. He stopped and dragged an ice chest along behind him after every five or six paces of whacking.” His evokes a believable world with unbelievable skill. This post aimed to give the reader enough of a taste to want to check out one of our best American writers. Start with Give Us A Kiss … .
Recently, Tyehimba Jess posted an article on his Facebook that caught my attention. The TSA is starting to have people open up their carry on baggage and thumb through any books they might have brought along for the flight. The practice is being modeled in Missouri and California and expected to be expanded into airports across the country.
This idea struck me as problematic, not just because of the invasions of individual privacy – WHAT ARE YOU READING! WHY? – with the probing, but because, well, I tend to pack a lot of books.
Off to somewhere for a week? First, there are the travel books that detail things to see and do. I like the old Eyewitness series full of cut-away illustrations that point out picture perfect details. I’ll also pack a smaller, more efficient guide that shares the speedy info of top ten lists of Things To Do, or Eats, or Watering Holes. That’s mandatory. And maybe another kind because I like the way it’s written, you know, one of those with no pictures or just uninteresting line drawings, but sentences loaded with information. Maybe there’s a novel about the destination that I should have already read, or there’s some other work that’s just good travel writing on the locale. Except for the novel, this batch of must-have-along tomes is for the suitcase. Well, maybe not the smaller one, especially if it has a map to muse over through the flight.
Usually, when I am traveling I’ll take a book (or two) that I am just about to finish. Maybe I’ve saved the last stretch for just such an occasion. Maybe one of these books gets finished on the plane and the reading journey starts out on a high. One book down. These are perfect for the carry on. Maybe two. One down, reach for the next and you are done two books before landing. The vacation is already a success.
But I usually don’t jump right into the second almost-finished book in the air. My tactic is to start something new, get into it as the miles go by so that when the ground comes under my feet again, my mind is firmly settled into the read, ready to integrate it into the days and activities ahead. Since it is the beginning of the vaca, it will probably be something heady, something that will take a day or two to plunder, deep but maybe not quite out and out philosophy with frustratingly chewy sentences. Only enough to make me think, not work — this is vacation after all. The perfect book would be a tool to keep attention from when the wheels touch down through the bovine stand-still of disembarkation, however purposelessly long that might take. That’s three or four books so far. Not bad, certainly nothing too much to worry about.
I always have trouble deciding which books to pack in the suitcase, you know, the ones that will take me all the way through the length of the week. That’s five days worth of pages or maybe seven, depending on the trip. My mind says about twenty books should cover it. I’ve never read that many in a week and I never will, but I like to pack on the safe side. It gives me options.
Truth be told, I probably get out twenty books to take (the travel ones don’t count) and lay them out on the bed while I am packing. I will put a few back. Not really going to get to this one or that. A thousand pages? Who am I kidding? Certainly not me. Not this trip.
I’ll aim to get the suitcase load down to ten. Or eight. But then it might go back up when I remember poetry. Those volumes are thin and shouldn’t count as whole books, right?
Inevitably, I’ll finish the suitcase, having remembered clothes and toiletries at some point, zip it up, and start to wonder about my selection. If it didn’t zip up nicely, I might have to subtract a title or two, but I tend not to take books out of the suitcase once they are in, well, not usually. A week of clothing must factor in and, sigh, maybe some book gets saved for the next trip. If it strikes me that I have left out a particular subject, I’ll throw another book or two into the carry on. I need to be prepared.
Come time to board… actually, come time to go through this new security procedure, I may have seven or so books in the carry on, throw the Kindle on top. Maybe ten. Add a magazine. That should do it. (How many books am I traveling with overall? Don’t ask.)
What this all boils down to is an apology. If you find yourself late for a flight in the future and some jerk is holding up the security line, it might be me. I am so sorry. Inevitably, I’ll want to share all the reasons why each book was chosen with whoever it is that has been assigned to be curious about my reading. It might take a while. I like to gush. I like to ambassador reading. I’ll be talking to them about David Foster Wallace or James Baldwin or Mary Oliver or Zachary Lazar or the Nibelungenlied or….
Co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo Board
p.s. Packing for the return trip is slightly more problematic. You see, every destination has its own book stores.
One of the rites of Memorial Day Weekend is the opening of public and private pools. The weekend, while not an entrance into summer proper, does set us thinking forward to a more leisurely pace in the days ahead, the cheer of those at waterplay, and, if you are like me, of summer reading. Who doesn’t like an hour or so poolside with a good book?
But pools aren’t just fun, games, or the odd hour with a novel in proximity. They do need their maintenance and the start of the season has me thinking back a few years where I loved being the one to volunteer for the weekly tasks of skimming and filter cleaning the communal family pool at the in-laws. I’d look forward to the Saturday morning activity, put on my shorts and bare feet, plug in the iPod headphones, and head on over to the task where I could use the forty minutes or so to catch up on poetry podcasts. I had discovered the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Lecture series, thinking a touch of lesson with my work wouldn’t be bad, and found this opportunity for dedicated listening time. It was perfect: an outside activity, knocking off a chore, getting smarter in the process. That there is summer for me.
So, with the odd peeper, dragonfly, or spicebush swallowtail for company, I’d get at the task with Elizabeth Bishop, Kwame Dawes, Simon Oritz, or Dunya Mikhail in my head. Wow, what a joy. The work was mindless: scooping crepe myrtle blossoms, half pink, half beginning to brown, from the surface of the water, emptying the scuppers of that soup of older blossoms and twigs and maybe the bloated last bit of a frog that left its voice behind in its invisible, but ever so loud kin, and the sweeping of other debris from around the pool to keep it from becoming next week’s filter stew: I’d fill my mind with these voices and their work and what others had to say about it. That’s how I discovered the brilliant Ilya Kaminsky, who at the time orchestrated the series, often himself in conversation with the featured writers. I’d look at the lacework of light on the pool’s surface and delight in the mixture of activity and education, musing on what I was hearing. I’d be in awe of the skill and wisdom of those I was listening to: Eavan Boland, Rita Dove, Gary Snyder, Gwendolyn Brooks….
When Les Murray bubbled up in the news a few years ago, I went looking for him and found this gem and bubbled it up poolside into my ears. I loved listening to stories about Frank O’Hara — did I almost fall in? yup — and, then, there is this series of international poets in conversation that is just marvelous, a window into another part of the world that only poets and their work can seem to provide – here’s an example, and another. I might have stopped and rested my arms on the broom handle not to miss a word of some of those. There were so many treasures to discover. One of my all time favorites is when I learned that Elizabeth Bishop in her college days was picked up by the police under the suspicion of solicitation. OK. Listen for yourself in the link above.
Find yourself a pleasant chore to do, one that might last forty minutes or an hour, put on some headphones, and invite these great conversations to join you. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll find you might even be looking forward to that chore the next time it comes round. Happy listening.
Board Co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo
If you have your own list of literary podcasts to listen to, add it below in the comments and I’ll catch up with them. Another favorite of mine is the New Yorker series where one writer introduces another writer’s short story which they then read to you.
If video is your thing, check out HoCoPoLitSo’s own work of recording writers in conversation on our YouTube Channel where you will find a growing collection of episodes of The Writing Life. Here’s E.Ethelbert Miller to tell you a little about that:
Like the moths that flit thickly around their outdoor lights in rural Virginia, the words must fly around Carrie Brown and John Gregory Brown’s house on the campus of Sweet Briar College. Because not only Carrie and John are writers, but so is their daughter Molly McCully Brown.
Family lore holds that a tiny Molly used to wake in the middle of the night and call for her mother or father because a poem was waiting and she couldn’t yet write well enough to capture it. And she had two parental examples of how to live an adult life: Catch those words swooping around and write them down.
Molly’s first book of poetry won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, and starting in September, she’ll work as the inaugural Jeff Baskins Fellow at the Oxford American magazine.
John Gregory and Carrie Brown are returning to Columbia, the town where their family story started, for a reading to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of this town. The pair of novelists met while working at the storied Columbia Flier, and then began their family and their careers as authors.
They’ll read together at an event June 4 at Slayton House that HoCoPoLitSo is calling “Of Stars and Hurricanes: Two Columbia Novelists Return.” Carrie Brown’s newest novel, The Stargazer’s Sister, centers on the life of eighteenth-century astronomer Caroline Herschel, while John Gregory Brown’s 2016 book A Thousand Miles from Nowhere follows a man fleeing the wreckage of his life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Both authors’ main characters, while living in different centuries and countries, seek redemption, for a way to save themselves.
In her opening chapter, Carrie Brown writes that Caroline thinks “a girl was not taught anything that could save her in the larger world.” Desperate to escape an abusive mother and repressive poverty, Caroline is rescued by her elder brother, William Herschel, an astronomer who, with Caroline’s help, discovers Uranus and myriad comets. Carrie explains that the relationship of the siblings – in which Caroline so closely cares for her brother that she sometimes feeds him bits of bread and cheese while he keeps both hands and his eyes on the telescopes he manufactures – was “fertile material” for a novel.
The Boston Globe writes, “Carrie Brown takes up the real life saga of the Herschels and breathes fresh life into it in her lyrical and riveting new novel … .”
“Historical fiction fills in the spaces where history is silent,” Carrie explained at a recent reading in Baltimore. Carrie tells the Herschels’ story, massaging it into the arc of fiction, to “tell the other truth of their story.”
John Gregory Brown’s fiction is based in history – the horrible story of Hurricane Katrina – but is invented whole cloth. A former New Orleans professor loses his way, buys a store that becomes a gathering spot and exchange depot, then flees north ahead of the hurricane winds. “I am a wrecked ship,” the protagonist says in the novel. He winds up at a rural Virginia hotel owned by an East Indian widow, then discovers a community willing to lend him aid and an epic poem that might save his soul. The Boston Globe calls his book “…a tale of redemption that is both believably prosaic and incredibly, quietly moving … .”
The two novelists will read together and answer questions at this event, which also honors Ellen Conroy Kennedy, the founder and longtime executive director of HoCoPoLitSo, and her husband and longtime supporter and board member of HoCoPoLitSo, for their decades of contributions to Columbia’s cultural life.
For tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2725249.
For more information about Carrie Brown, visit http://authorcarriebrown.com/
For more information about John Gregory Brown, visit http://jgb.blog.sbc.edu/about/
For more information about Molly McCully Brown, visit https://mollymccullybrown.com/
— Susan Thornton Hobby