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High School Student Tunes into Siobhan Fallon via HoCoPoLitSo’s The Writing Life.

October 16th marked my first experience with HoCoPoLitSo’s “The Writing Life”.

I’m an aspiring writer and high school senior, and this year I’m developing my craft under the mentorship of Dr. Tara Hart, creative writing professor at Howard Community College and Co-Chair of HoCoPoLitSo. She’d invited me to HCC-TV’s taping of a Writing Life episode with writer Siobhan Fallon, hosted by journalist Kristin Henderson, and I was excited to accept—I’d never been in a T.V. studio before.

On the morning of the taping the campus was bustling, and I wondered if the featured Howard County Book Connection project author, Siobhan Fallon, had had any trouble finding a parking spot.

My first thought when I arrived at the HCC TV studio room was that I was overdressed,—but that was okay—it actually made me more comfortable; perhaps I was drawn to the down-to-earth yet relaxed nature of it all.

Mrs. Fallon was wonderful. I learned with surprise that she currently lives in Abu Dhabi, and I tried (unsuccessfully, I think) to fathom what kind of jet lag she must’ve been feeling. Nevertheless, she was amicable and eager for her interview.

FallonTheWritingLifeHCCTVI got a peek into the room where the interview would be conducted, and I later marveled at how seamlessly the green screen behind the two arm chairs was turned into a sophisticated yet comfy library background. Being someone with little to no experience in TV and film, I thought it was pretty cool.

I sat in the “control room” while the taping was taking place, and not only was I able to listen to the interview (and watch it from three different camera angles), but I was able to hear the correspondence among the director and crew as well. I’m thankful for that, because I think it gave me a more well-rounded view of the entire production. Being a writer myself, I naturally emphasized the content of the interview with Ms. Fallon as the most important part of the taping, but now having seen both sides of the production I firmly believe that the technical aspect of it all is just as necessary and important.

That being said, the interview was wonderful. Siobhan Fallon is the author of the award-winning short story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone, the content of which focuses on the emotional (and for most of us intangible) experience of military life. Ms. Fallon herself is a military wife, and I nearly choked up when she mentioned that soon her husband will be given leave for two years, and how wonderful it will be to have “such a long time to be together”.

But anyone writer could easily relate to her interview, as she gave wise and thought-provoking insight on the universal topics of fact versus truth, writing from different points of view, the short story versus the novel, and how personal experience ties into all writing, even fiction.

I almost got teary for a second time when she talked about care packages. Just a few days before I’d sent one to my nineteen-year-old cousin for his birthday; he’s serving in Afghanistan as an army medic. Hearing Mrs. Fallon speak so intimately about the military experience made me miss Jimmy more than ever, and I hope to share this post and the episode with him eventually.

All in all, my first experience with “The Writing Life” was personally and professionally gratifying in every way. I made some great new connections, with Ms. Fallon, with the TV crew, and with the other HoCoPoLitSo board members. They seemed so excited that I’d come, like it was their honor and not mine, and that just made me feel special.

I took a picture with Dr. Hart to commemorate the day, and left feeling satisfied and eager for the next episode. It was a lovely morning.

— Emily Bellor

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.

HC Library Miller Branch

The Library’s Megan Maguigan, Siobhan Fallon and Lisa Bankman, also from the Library.

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).

HoCoPoLitSo

Authors Siobhan Fallon and Kristin Henderson.

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:

YouKnowWhenTheMen– 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?

Siobhan Fallon
Author of You Know When The Men Are Gone

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.

On Homewood and Uncloaked Light — Truth Thomas Reflects on Literature, The Homewood Center, and The Legacy Project

Why does literature matter, and why should any person, governmental body, or private sector limb give funding support to reading and writing programs? Invariably, such questions come to haunt the days of all poets and writers from time to time. Whether these queries come from poetry audiences, or from friends around dinner tables; for any writer, they are about as welcome as bedbugs on a honeymoon pillow.

Certainly, HoCoPoLitSo (Howard County Poetry and Literature Society) is not immune to such a biting question in a time when the economic outlook of our days is cloudy. But every now and then literature happens that is so inspirational that it silences all interrogations about its worth. In that context, it gives me great joy to report that HoCoPoLitSo’s All-County Writing Competition represents such an inspirational event. It has come to my attention that eleven students recently won awards in our annual writing extravaganza. Among them is a student I taught in the setting of the Legacy Project Poetry Workshop Series at Homewood High School. My heart is full for all of the students who excelled in the contest, but it is especially full for Homewood and the “Lord.”

Homewood Center is the county’s alternative school, where students are sent if they do not “fit in” to mainstream—regular—Howard County schools. WhHomewoodCenteren Bob Marley sang about “the stone that the builder refused . . . ” he could have been singing about this school. There is a police sub-station-like office at the front of the building (right across from the principal’s office), and that police presence is there for a reason. Many of the students at Homewood are in crisis, whether they are in the midst of difficult life situations or in the grip of battles to overcome profound life traumas. Many of them are there because they have suffered some kind of abuse, through no fault of their own. The staff is heroic, but make no mistake, it is not a Kumbaya-singing, marshmallow-roasting-around-the-campfire kind of place.

A friend and colleague, David Barrett, who is a former chair of HoCoPoLitSo, teaches there. He is, as are all the teachers at Homewood, fully committed to helping young people succeed. Several years ago, he invited me to Homewood to start a poetry workshop series called The Legacy Project. The point of the program, which ran for three years, was to extend avenues of hope to students whose lives were streets of trouble. Toward that end, I exposed the students to poetry—and to the power of their own creative voices—as an esteem-building exercise. Another purpose of Legacy was to teach young people that all people have something of value to offer the world—to leave behind. The program worked. It enriched the lives of many students and my life, as well. In that effort, I was privileged to work with Anne Reis, who is the media specialist at Homewood. Later, when workshop numbers grew, I was equally blessed to engage the assistance of another very talented poet, Alan King, who helped me facilitate the workshop.

It was there, in the creative frame of The Legacy Project, that I first met Lord Magloire. He was in the ninth grade then—and was gifted. His work, although in need of refinement, reflected his great love for books—particularly classic literature. Lord was a poet of promise who wrote of Homer as easily as he did TuPac Shakur. What I recall is that he needed someone to affirm his writing gifts—to push him. That we did, and Lord’s poetry blossomed. He overcame an abundance of his challenges and literature helped him to transform his life. In a poem he composed for the Howard County Library’s Word Up! Competition in 2011 called “The Cool,” Magloire wrote: “I come out of the cool like a slice of / cheesecake . . . I just am . . . through art . . . ”

This year, in HoCoPoLitSo’s annual writing contest, Lord Magloire won third place in HoCoPoLitSo’s poetry contest of all the submissions from all the high schools in Howard County, and was named by his teachers as winning a Promise and Achievement in Language Arts award. When a child is given the gift of self-esteem, it represents a fire that cannot be easily extinguished. In that uncloaked light, literature matters (and organizations that support literary enrichment matter) as instruments of that ignition. Yes, the next time someone asks me about the merit of art over a meal, I’ll just tell them a little bit about HoCoPoLitSo and a lot about the “Lord.”

The full list of creative writing winners is Jennifer Baik, Sarika Reddy, Brianna Richardson and Melanie Zheng (Centennial); Lord Magloire and Justen Williams (Homewood); Darby Dicks, Genevieve Ferris, Elizabeth George, Sarah Owoeye and Jennifer Piegols (Mt. Hebron). The honored judges were: Patricia Van Amburg, poet and professor at Howard Community College; Heidi Vornbrock Roosa, adjunct instructor at Howard Community College; and Sarah Cotner, media  and resource specialist. I extend my affection to all.

Truth Thomas
Board member

HoCoPoLitSo: The Known Fertile Ground

Poet, publisher, and HoCoPoLitSo board member Truth Thomas takes a look at the year ahead for the organization and sees the promise of fertile ground.

FertileGround 4

Fertile ground is a wondrous thing. That is one of the first lessons I remember learning as a child growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, along with the fact that my late grandmother could cook anything and make it taste good. Indeed, in the right hands, even a small stretch of land can yield a multitude of edible miracles. In the context of literary activist organizations, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) represents a similar patch of fertile ground.

The first grand HoCoPoLitSo New Year harvest is the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, our 2012-2013 writer-in-residence. Brown holds an MFA in creative writing from American University and is brilliance personified. He is a highly published poet, Cave Canem Fellow, Tony Medina workshop alumnus, and the author of an inspiring collection of coming-of-age poems entitled Wisdom Teeth.  It gives me great joy to announce that he will be visiting every high school in Howard County to captivate our young people with the sunshine of his work.

In addition to the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, the New Year brings the literary bounty of our 35th Annual Evening of Irish Music and Poetry. This year, the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Colum McCann will be featured. McCann has published five novels, numerous short stories and a storehouse of articles. His book, Let the Great World Spin, won the National Book Award in 2009. I have always loved Irish Evening, because by virtue of it, I have been blessed to see the profound similarities between African Americans and Irish people. Both groups of folks have come through suffering with unbent backs of beauty. The event will be held at 7:30 p.m., March 1, 2013, at the Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College.

The literary crop of events that will spring forth from the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in 2013 is one of great volume, quality and diversity. On March 19, HoCoPoLitSo partners with the Howard County Library—the fairest of them all—to welcome Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edward P. Jones into our midst.

On April 23, HoCoPoLitSo connects with HCC to host the Blackbird Poetry Festival. This year, the festival highlights the sterling poetry and photography of author Rachel Eliza Griffiths—a Cave Canem Fellow, as well as the poetry of author Kendra Kopelke, director of the MFA program at the University of Baltimore. There are many more events planned that I will refrain from mentioning, at this time, because a little suspense makes life worth living. Suffice it to say that one of those events has something to do with the Columbia Festival of the Arts in June, and that the writers invited will stir ovations in every heart. Yes, I think that is enough to say, for now.

Truth Thomas
Poet and board member

 Speak Water, the latest collection of poems by Truth Thomas, is available online from Cherry Castle Publishing. A kindle e-version is available through Amazon.
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