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When I got the news that I was tapped to be the 2012-2013 HoCoPoLitSo writer-in-residence for Howard County back in early August, I was as nervous as I was excited. The nervousness I mention first because with my own schedule that ebbs and flows with the responsibilities of being a working poet and teacher, I wondered if I could fit these visits in, and more importantly, if I could find my way around in the mysterious Howard County.
Honestly, Howard county was only familiar to me for two reasons: the city Columbia and the absolutely awesome vegan restaurant not too far from Columbia called Great Sage. But beyond the nervousness, my excitement was also sparked by the mystery of the unknown. As my imagination began its snowball’s journey down the hill of infinite possibilities, all sorts of questions were percolating around in my brain . . .
What are Howard County high schools like?
What will they think of my poems?
Will they care?
Will I get lost?
Will they relate to my poems?
How should I present my poems?
Should I just read?
Should I talk and then read, or read and just talk?
I carried all of these questions with me on my first school visit to Oakland Mills High School and I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to find that my first reading would be in the school’s media center. As I scanned the faces of those students that first day as they filed into the library, quietly chatting to each other while stealing looks at me, I was strangely calmed by the spectrum of expressions I saw.
There was curiosity, vague interest, teen-aged skepticism, and of course, the glazed over “Am I really here for poetry?” look. What I realized, after taking in the expressions I saw, was that I had worn each and every look displayed in front of me. I was reminded that I was a high school student once, a student who was immediately skeptical, inquisitive and up-in-arms whenever we were told we had a special guest speaker.
So I bundled up all of my nervousness and excitement, and made myself a promise in the few seconds that remained as Joyce Braga (a HoCoPoLitSo volunteer) introduced me. I wouldn’t read at the students, I wouldn’t lecture the students. To me, poetry is a conversation, a call and response; to rob the person or audience of their right to respond is a crime. So I opened my first reading that day and every day since then with a question. “Who in this room — be honest — actually likes poetry?”
To be continued …
Derrick Weston Brown
To support HoCoPoLitSo’s Writer-In-Residence program in Howard County high schools, consider making a donation.
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….