Category Archives: Writers and Poets

The 2017 Reading Project – February

In the January post, I indicated that I’ve added layers to my 2017 Reading Project (books I’ve “always” meant to read). The layer I added in February is: all fiction by writers of color. I allowed myself one exception since I was in the middle of re-reading a novel by a white British author when February 1st came around. As soon as I added this layer, dozens of books came to mind, books I’ve read reviews of recently, or have been meaning to read.

Some highlights of my February reading:

Clover, Dori Sanders – I heard about this book, originally published in 1990, because of Call Number, a CrateJoy book subscription box created by a librarian named Jamillah in order to help readers build a personal library of books by black authors. This book was the first selection. Clover’s voice is so compelling as she experiences the death of her father, living with her father’s new wife, a white woman, and her extended family’s grief. This is a coming-of-age story, as well as a story of a family coming to grips with death and a new family member at the same time. Clover’s relationship with her Aunt Everleen, especially as she butts heads and then becomes allies with Sara Kate, her stepmother, was moving.

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The Hilda series, Luke Pearson – These large-sized comic books are mad and amazing. Hilda cannot resist an adventure and I love that best about her. What I also love about her (and this is going to sound weird) is that she’s not drawn or depicted as stereotypically “girlish.” She’s got blue hair and gigantic boots. She’s just this little being who’s very compassionate and curious and always saves the day (after she messes everything up). The art is incredible.

kindredKindred, Octavia E. Butler – This is my always-meant-to-read selection this month. Butler was recommended to me a few years ago, and of course her novel Parable of the Sower has come up recently (alongside Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Orwell’s 1984) as being particularly relevant in our current political environment (/crisis). I listened to the audio version, narrated by Kim Staunton. My experience was similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in that I really enjoyed Staunton’s narration, even while wishing I’d read the book on the page (next time). Kindred is the story of Dana, a 1970s writer in California, who is somehow yanked back in time to a plantation in Maryland, where she saves the life of a young white boy. She returns back to her own time and her husband Kevin, only to return again and again to the plantation and the boy, Rufus, as he grows, each time protecting and saving him. Kindred reminded me of Outlander a bit, except set in more recent times (both the “present” and the “past” storylines are more recent), and of course the story of American slavery is still all-too relevant. Dana’s 1970s didn’t feel much removed from my 2017: her life felt very modern and distant from the past she journeys to. As Dana spends longer stretches of time on the plantation (as a slave, though she has special standing in the house because of her relationship with Rufus, the boy she saved), I was horrified by how she adjusts to slavery, how she is able to justify the actions of the plantation’s masters, even as she’s horrified at this herself. I was so scared for her, sad and angry for what she was suffering as a slave and what she was losing in her “real” life back home, and it was terrifyingly easy to imagine an 2017 version of Dana, of myself, in the story.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling with illustrations by Jim Kay – Here is my one exception. New large-sized editions of the Harry Potter series, illustrated anew by Jim Kay, are being released and I figured it was a great excuse to re-read. Mary GrandPre’s original illustrations have set a really high bar – so much of what we see in our head is because of her! – but Jim Kay has done a really fascinating job of adding new
dimensions, a slight twist to scenes and characters. It’s really remarkable.

Rad Women Worldwide, Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl – No princesses this mont28502749h, just rad women. I think the subtitle says it all – Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. This book is so visually arresting that I recommended it to several people just by reading it publicly (which I did on purpose), but I’ve also recommended it to a lot of people – friends and teenagers, boys whenever I can. Girls and women need to know about these amazing women, but so do boys and men. I’ve been loving what I’ve been thinking of as “kick-ass women encyclopedias” and I’d included Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (read in December) and Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath (January) in that list, if you’re looking for more.

Mooncop, Tom Gauld – This graphic novel just showed up randomly, so I read it. It is literally about a cop on the moon, though I’d say it’s also about loneliness and human nature. This Goodreads review by Jan Philipzig says it best: “Sparse, subdued, existentialist, melancholy, wryly humorous, and maybe even a tad romantic: I liked it quite a bit. 3.5 stars, I’d say.”

Kick-Ass 1-3, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. – A friend recommended these and I’d liked the movies a. I have to admit: I’m really conflicted. The art is incredible, of course. The story is unique, compelling. There’s a Kill Bill-level of violence that’s just insane. But. Two things. One – these books should really be called Hit Girl. They’re really about her. She’s the interesting character, the one who keeps rescuing Kick-Ass over and over. There would be no story without her. And two – something happens in Volume 2 that angered me so much, because it involved casual and devastating violence that was entirely unexplored in the story. And it should’ve been explored. It just seemed lazy to me that it wasn’t, and also a damn shame. I finished the series, but I could never quite recover from that disappointment.

The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward – Using James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time as lens, or a seed, the essays in this anthology meditate on race in America now. I was moved – angered, inspired, saddened – over and over as I read one essay each day. I was finishing the anthology when I saw I Am Not Your Negro, so the essays I’d read inspired by Baldwin were literally in conversation with Baldwin in my head as I watched the film.

Zombillenium Vol 1-3, Arthur de Pins – Not entirely about zombies, this trilogy of comic books about a theme park run by monsters for human guests is funny, weird and often really, really dark.

Queen Sugar, Natalie Baszile – I listened to the audio narrated by Miriam Hyman. Audio books are really making my commute so much more pleasant. I loved living with these characters for a few days. Charley Bordeleon moves from California when she inherits a Louisiana cane farm, feeling alien in a place that is fairly familiar to me. Not entirely, since I don’t have experience on cane farms, but it was still a cool experience to “know” some of the characters from my own experiences in Louisiana. It would be easy to view Charley’s brother Ralph Angel as “the bad guy” in the family dynamics, but since we get chapters told from his point of view and we know his intentions and his struggles, he’s impossible to dismiss. The idea that some family can’t be reunited or see each other’s side really resonated, but of course it was so sad. Charley’s struggle to work the farm and the way she gathers support and partners was probably my favorite aspect of the book.

Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel Jose Older – I’m a big fan of Daniel’s, having read both his young adult novel Shadowshaper and Long Hidden, the anthology he co-edited last year in preparation for a panel at the Louisiana Book Festival and his appearance at the library. I’ve been anticipating diving into his adult fantasy series, Bone Street Rumba, the third of which was just published in January. This first book does a ton of world building, offering a glimpse of an otherworldly and gentrified Brooklyn, and introduces a fascinating cast of non-corporeal and somewhat-corporeal characters. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, considering where this first book left off.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead – I loved Whitehead’s novel Zone One (another zombie book that’s not really about zombies) back in 2012., so I’ve been wanting to read his newest novel since it was published. The tension in Zone One was unreal and Whitehead definitely used his skill for tension in The Underground Railroad. I read it in about two days, completely gripped by the story of Cora, a slave who escapes a Georgia plantation and her desperate journey for freedom after that escape. I was entirely captured as a reader, and as a writer, I was just in awe of the skill with which Whitehead delivered this masterful novel. [He came to New Orleans shortly after I read the book, so I got to see him read from the book and discuss it, which was an incredible experience.]

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah – I listened to the audio of this memoir, which was a little less than 9 hours, during a spring cleaning binge and I was completely blown away by Noah’s narration. There’s just nothing like hearing someone tell you their story. And Noah is incredible at accents and voices. He says in the story that he picked up numerous South African languages during his childhood and this ability to speak to people in their language got him in and out of a lot of experiences. He uses that skill here, speaking and even singing in a variety of languages and accents. He’s an incredible writer, too, invoking scenes so vividly that I felt like I was sharing my house with a host of people whose lives were foreign to me, but who felt so familiar by the end of the story.

I read (or listened to) 32 books (and one issue of a comic book) in February, and these are the highlights.

 

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Filed under 2017 Reading Project, books, literature, what I'm reading, Writers and Poets

Missing New Orleans

I was offered a place at an artist’s residency called Soaring Gardens for the month of September. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to finance a month of writing without a source of income, so I launched a GoFundMe campaign. While I haven’t yet hit my goal amount, I’ve been inspired and encouraged by the generosity and support of everyone who’s donated and that has made me more determined than ever that this is going to happen.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share a list of what I’ll miss about New Orleans while I’m gone for the month. I’ve picked 6 things for the 6 days left of the fundraiser, which wraps up next Wednesday, August 20th.

1. My communities of friends, fellow writers and artists and other tango dancers. All the coffee dates, writing meetings and tango events that I would otherwise attend were I here. This includes one regular Peauxdunque Writers Alliance meeting and a special tango workshop with amazing teachers.

2. Saints games! I’ll miss the first 4 regular season games, unless I can find a local bar and convince them to show the games. The house is very rural, so this could be touch and go. But even if I do manage to watch them while I’m gone, I’ll miss the experience of watching them with friends *here* at places like Pelican Bay.

3. Speaking of Pelican Bay, one of my favorite things to do lately is pick up one of their daiquiris and take it to Indywood Theater (they’re close to each other on Elysian Fields and Indywood is BYOB). I’ve seen so many amazing movies there recently and their August calendar looks great. I’m afraid to even see what I’ll miss in September.

4. While this isn’t technically a New Orleans thing (or in Sept), I’m going to miss the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Saenger on October 1st. I’ll be driving back from the residency then, unfortunately. Darn!

5. Whenever I’ve left Louisiana in the past, I’ve craved good red beans and rice as soon as I cross the state line. So I’m sure that will happen now. And I’ll miss the roast beef po’boy at Parkway Bakery. I’ll miss a lot of other favorite restaurants/dishes, too many to name, but I know I’ll miss being able to get those red beans and that roast beef po’boy. It’s only a matter of time.

6. I’m not sure what I’ll do without the New Orleans Public Library. While the house has a library, I have been so spoiled by our wonderful library system and librarians. Books, movies, music, all at my fingertips. They just had a wrap party for their summer reading program and had adult summer reading activities all summer as well. But, in any season, the library is my mainstay. I’m going to be very sad when I take all my borrowed books back, and when I suspend all my holds. That will be the moment when I’ll know this dream I’ve been working toward has become a reality.

I know I’ll miss so much more than this (and people will be the biggest part), but I think I’ll be surprised by what I’ll miss once I’m at the residency. Luckily, it’s only a month and I’ll be back for the Louisiana Book Festival and Words & Music and… It will be a lot of fun to enjoy those six things (and everything else) once I’m back, having missed them for a little while. I hope you’ll enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer in the meantime.

There will be a going away party/celebration this coming Sunday the 17th, starting at 2 p.m. at Pelican Bay. If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, send me off or just enjoy brunch and daiquiris, you should swing by.

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Filed under Creativity, food, Louisiana, New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Women, NOLA Bloggers, The NoLA Life, Writers and Poets

Local author Ronlyn Domingue in the middle of the Simon & Schuster/Barnes & Noble contract dispute

This post was originally written for and hosted at NolaFemmes.

Recently, a friend of mine, Ronlyn Domingue, published her second novel, The Mapmaker’s War. Ronlyn’s a fantastic writer and The Mapmaker’s War is a inventive and inspired book. However, since her first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in 2005, the publishing industry has changed drastically. It’s often very hard for authors to make their books visible to the reading public.

It’s recently gotten even harder for some authors with recent titles from Simon & Schuster, including Ronlyn, because S&S is involved in a contract dispute with Barnes & Noble. This means The Mapmaker’s War, as well as other recent S&S titles, are not being carried in B&N stores.

The greater workings of this contract dispute are complicated, but the easy take-away is that authors with recent S&S books need help spreading the word about their books since there are no B&N front-of-store-placements or co-ops available to them right now. Please do them a favor and check out some of their titles here. Read them and tell as many people as you can to check them out, too.

Something else that’s changed significantly since 2005? Social media. Fans just voted on Facebook and picked Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest book cover. Together, we can tell people about the S&S titles we like and help the authors get read.

Ronlyn recently had book signing events in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where she lives. Her books can be found at the great local booksellers Garden District Books and Cottonwood Books, among others.

Ronlyn signing a huge stack of books at Garden District Books. She put handmade bookmarks in each one!

Ronlyn signing a huge stack of books at Garden District Books. She put handmade bookmarks in each one!

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Filed under books, literature, Media, Writers and Poets

Sisters in NaNoWriMo

A photo of your bloggers, taken by Aimee's son

By Emilie

In 2007, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time. I sent out the e-mail the organizers suggest, warning friends and family of what you are about to attempt and asking them for encouragement and accountability. My sister Aimee got that e-mail and was my biggest cheerleader that year.

We wrote together as kids. It came naturally to us both to tell stories together and to write them down. I wrote about this experience going into NaNoWriMo 2009, never realizing how much it had formed me until the story flowed out of me.

Aimee attempted NaNoWriMo alongside me in 2008, but we both failed to write the full 50,000 words. However, we have now supported each other to TWO NaNoWriMo wins in 2009 and 2010. I’ve learned more from Aimee’s wins than I have from my own (and I learn a lot from my own). She gets behind every year and only her determination to keep going brings her across the finish line.

And we’re hoping to win again in 2011, but it’s a bit different this year. Because now we’re writing together again. We’ve been talking about a story for a few months and at 12:01 on November 1st, we began writing.

Our first word counts were modest, under 1,000 each. But we wrote hundreds of words in a half hour. We began construction on a world and a few people who hadn’t existed were born.

Despite the enormous hurdles that always come with this wicked and crazy challenge, I feel more excited than ever because I am writing again with my original collaborator. It makes me feel like a kid again and that all things are possible, if we only just get started.

By Aimee

As I sit here trying to write about NaNoWriMo (instead of writing for it), my son is lying next to me hot with fever, coughing intermittently, and breathing with difficulty.  This is my fourth NaNoWriMo beginning, and the fourth time my son has decided to be ill on Nov. 1.  Already wholly unprepared for it to be November again, I feel almost defeated before I’ve begun (okay, shortly after I’ve begun).  Almost. Because this year, I agreed to partner with my sister. Write a novel together. Just like when we wrote stories on notebook paper and No. 2 pencils. When Emilie used an eraser. Gasp. I was excited about it even. Until about a week ago. Sure, let me add one more deadline in the ocean of deadlines that is my life. Insecurity. Doubt. Panic. I haven’t prepared. I didn’t know it was November already. I’m not a writer anymore. I spend my days reading manuscripts, not writing them. It’s only Nov. 1, and I’m already exhausted. At least my son is finally sleeping.

Where was I? Oh, writing. I’ve thought about what the past NaNoWriMos have done for me and how Emilie has encouraged me, challenged me, inspired me, and kicked my butt to keep me writing. But as I write, what really matters to me this year isn’t any of those things (even though I am grateful every day for those same things—they’ve changed my future). When I think of this year’s novel—our novel—I see two little girls with No. 2 pencils. Two little girls in love with a good story. Who decided that they had their own stories to tell. I’m honored to be here with you again, Emie. But let me warn you, I’ve decided I won’t be writing this November. Thanks yet again for the reminder that it’s so much simpler. What is better than a good story?

Break out the pencils. I’m ready to tell a story.

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November 1, 2011 · 11:54 pm

Peauxdunque Writers Alliance Presents Yeah, You Write

In 2007, a group of writers came together under the auspices of the Faulkner Society and the Words and Music Conference and formed Peauxdunque Writers Alliance. The crazy name came about because each and every one of the writers felt like they’d arrived in New Orleans from their own private podunks.

And now, the PWA has created a series of literary concerts called “Yeah, You Write.” The first event takes place at Tipitina’s on Thursday, October 13th at 7:30 p.m. Six writers will grace us with their words and the event will be emcee’d by writer/poet/MC/tour guide Nick Fox and followed by the dance visions of D.J. Sep. All for only a $5 cover.

Come hear Mat Johnson (author of “Pym,” winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature), Kelly Harris-DeBerry (local poet and literary activist, and founder of the Literary Lab), Amanda Boyden (author most recently of “Babylon Rolling”), Bill Loehfelm (past Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winner, author most recently of “The Devil She Knows”), Gian Smith (spoken word artist, author of “O Beautiful Storm,” featured in Treme Season 2 trailer), and Terri Stoor (PWA member and winner of the 2011 William Faulkner-William Wisdom short story competition).

These are the words of our time, our city, our region, and our Peauxdunque. We hope to see you there!!

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October 3, 2011 · 5:59 pm

Hollywood Car Wash by Lori Culwell

Lori Culwell was doing a giveaway of Hollywood Car Wash on Twitter. I missed the actual giveaway, but when I read the description of the book, I wanted to read it. So, I wrote her and asked her if she’d still send me one to review. And, she did, so that was extremely cool of her. Here’s the description that made me want to read the book:

From college student to Hollywood star in less than one year, Amy Spencer is living every girl’s dream. But will she survive the Hollywood Car Wash?

I was intrigued because of my background in movie production, primarily because I don’t have a lot of experience with the acting side of things. I thought it would be an interesting and fun read.

First, Hollywood Car Wash looks like (and is) light “chick lit” reading. The kind of book best suited for a beach or for carrying you away on boring plane trips. It’s so easy to get sucked into the story and care about Amy immediately that the pages will just fly by.

But, this book is also sneaky and really smart. During Amy’s transformation from an insecure, grieving theater major to a successful (but still insecure) lead actress, there is an actual physical transformation that might haunt you at night, like it haunted me. Think the Miss Congeniality sequence in the big airplane hanger mixed with any sequence from any SAW or Final Destination movie. Amy’s being pushed toward a “perfection” that can be measured by ratings and opinion polls but which demands bigger and bigger emotional and physical sacrifices. Leading up to and during the scenes at the dentist’s office, I was screaming for Amy to run just like I would during any horror movie.

This book made me think a lot about the price of fame and success (especially for women), but was wrapped up in humorous, scandalous pleasure reading.

My only complaint is that because there’s a romance (of course), I wish it had been developed a bit more. Part of me kinda likes that Amy and her Hollywood transformation/burnout are the main focuses of the story, but because the romance was there, I wanted more. Even as slightly underdeveloped as it is, it’s still believable, which is a big plus.

Originally self-published in 2007, Hollywood Car Wash won “Project Publish” and was re-released in 2009 by Simon & Schuster. It might be turned into a t.v. show (ironically). You can visit Lori Culwell, who also founded an Internet consulting firm, at her website.

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Filed under books, Film, In Business, Media, movies, New Orleans Women, Women, Writers and Poets

Bragalicious

Over at my personal blog (which has recently been re-named), Jill of All Genres, one of my most regular types of post is what I call the “bragging post,” where I take the opportunity to brag about the accomplishments of my talented friends. It’s one of my favorite things to do and luckily, there are no shortage of accomplishments to brag on.

Charlotte suggested that I post my most recent bragging on post, Bragalicious, here, since many of my shout outs are local New Orleanians (or Baton Rougeians). It’s been too long since I’ve written a post on NOLAFemmes, so I am happy to post Bragalicious here for you.

Speaking of NOLAFemmes and bragging…Judy’s post “Up, up and away!” was a “Freshly pressed” pick on the front page of WordPress yesterday (now page 2). That is totally bragalicious.

* * *

First and foremost, as we speak, pretty much all of The Peauxdunque Writers Alliance is gearing up for The Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers. Four of our members are attending, including Maurice Ruffin, Terri Stoor, Tad Bartlett and J.Ed Marston. That means something like 40% or so of our membership was accepted.

Jamey Hatley is also attending the Summit. Additionally, she’s won a prestigious waitership to Bread Loaf later in the summer.

Also, Maurice Ruffin‘s short story “And Then I Was Clean” will be published in UNO’s Ellipsis Journal.

Another Peauxdunque member, Joselyn Takacs has been accepted into the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University and is on her way.

A little birdie told me that Barb Johnson will be receiving the Barbara Gittings Literature Award at the ALA Conference tomorrow.

Sarah Morton is creating a graphic novel out of a short story written by Bobbi Perry, who attended the LSU MFA with me and Jamey. You can read it online!

Helen Krieger and Joseph Meissner are screening Flood Streets at the San Antonio Film Festival on Thursday.

Lindsay Rae Spurlock‘s song “As for Now” was featured on Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital.” You may still be able to download it for free if you like her Facebook page. Here’s an awesome photo of her, too:

Lindsay Rae Spurlock, photo credit Julia Henry

Congrats to all my phenomenally talented friends!

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Filed under Film, Musicians, New Orleans Women, NOLA Noteworthy, Singers, Women, Writers and Poets, Writing

In the Land of What Now Signing

Howdy y’all.

I thought I’d drop in to let everybody know that there will be a signing of the book In the Land of What Now this Saturday at the Metairie Barnes and Noble this Saturday from 2 to 3 p.m. This is the book that served as the blueprint for the movie Flood Streets, which I wrote about here at NOLAFemmes a little while back.

This event is the first Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation book fair and 20% of the proceeds will go to to LCEF, which awards grant money to local artists like Helen Krieger, the author of In the Land of What Now and producer of Flood Streets.

If you want to check out the stories that started Helen and her husband Joseph’s journey toward making a movie, this is a wonderful opportunity.

 

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Filed under books, Community Events & Forums, Film, New Orleans Women, Writers and Poets

Flood Streets – a local film

Last Thursday, I attended a private screening of a local indie feature, Flood Streets, hosted by NOVAC at Vintage Uptown. It was a gorgeous space and the entire event was wonderful.

I think everybody should know about this film, and the filmmakers behind it. The script was co-written by Helen Krieger and her husband Joseph Meissner based on a group of short stories Helen wrote about the often humorous situations New Orleanians found themselves in after Katrina. Together, Helen and Joseph created a production company, The Hatchery Media, and threw themselves into every aspect of filmmaking, taking on the producing and directing roles in addition to writing. Joseph plays one of the main characters as well. They recruited a dedicated crew (including co-producers Michelle Benoit and Glen Pitre) and a talented cast including Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Harry Shearer. You’ll find, as I did, a lot of familiar faces from the music community – Clint Maedgen from The New Orleans Bingo! Show and Meschiya Lake, just to name two.

Among its other projects, The Hatchery Media has also released a book of Helen’s stories that inspired the film, In the Land of What Now, which were sold at the event by Faulkner House Books. You can keep an eye on the progress of Flood Streets by signing up for the newsletter here.

An image from the film

The cover of "In the Land of What Next"

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Filed under books, Creativity, Film, Media, New Orleans Women, Writers and Poets