Friday, November 20, 2009

"Voicing the Spiritual Self: The Interfaith Language of Doubt and Belief " at The Writers Place last night

Here I am opening the evening and welcoming our audience of 60+ to The Writers Place on behalf of the board. This TWP event is just one of a number of events that take place all over Kansas City for the Festival of Faiths put on annually by the KC Interfaith Alliance. This is the second year we've done this at TWP.

Donna Ziegenhorn from Festival of Faiths welcomes and announces some of the final FOF events.

Lee Slusher (Stumbling Deer) plays inspirational Native American flute throughout the early part of the program.

Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star editor, author of two books and one of Kansas City's primary voices of reason and tolerance, served as the evening's emcee.

Two of the event's authors, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Diane Glancy, in the audience at the beginning of the evening.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, poet laureate of Kansas, begins the evening's readings. "I've ventured into midrash on this, the traditional Jewish practice of reinterpreting Old Testament stories. Or if you want to be academic, you could call it a feminist revisionist subversive postcolonial recreation."

Diane Glancy, Cherokee writer extraodinaire, reads a short essay that takes us flying the Great Plains with her. "Often people ask me to speak on Native American spirituality, which I do, but when they ask me to speak on my own, I speak of Christianity. They're always disappointed."

Karta Purkh Singh, practicing Sikh since the early 70s, reads a meditation dialogue with his mind and a list of rules for life. "Sweat some each day. ... Serve someone else, the most humble person you know."

Xánath Caraza, one of our great Latino Writers Collective writers, reads poetry in Spanish and English about key moments in her life. "When I came to the United States, I suddenly became a woman of color. In Mexico, I was just a woman--with challenges, of course. Now, I found I was a woman of color, and I thought--how wonderful! I can be purple or gold or green or whatever color appeals to me that day since I am a woman of color."

Natasha el-Scari reads from her poem, "I Am a Citizen of the World." "You're going to have to change the color and shape of that box if you want to put me in it."

Bukeka Shoals graces the end of the evening with her powerful voice and original music.

This was a remarkable evening of talent and diversity of voice and approach to spirituality. Alejandro Siqueiros, cultural attache to the Mexican Consulate, attended and said, "This was marvelous. I have never seen anything like it. The different voices and different beliefs! It was a wonderful and enlightening evening."

And all I can say is, Amen!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've been remiss in my blog correspondence lately, due to extreme busy-ness. But for a quick catch-up, here goes.

I was thrilled and delighted to receive the Midwest Voices and Visions Award, given by the Alliance for Artists Communities and the Joyce Foundation. This will give me a month-long stay at Ragdale and a substantial stipend. I'm very honored and grateful for this tremendous gift of time to write and so looking forward to the month of February at Ragdale.

I'm doing final edits and proofing on my novel, Every Secret Thing, and hope to have it off to the editor right after Thanksgiving. So wish me luck, everyone.

I've been working hard on the Latino Writers Collective's fourth annual reading series, our biggest and best ever. Last year's will be tough to follow with the wonderful Sandra Cisneros, but we hope to keep on in the vein of success we've been mining since we began in 2007. I'll put up the schedule and bios and other info on the blog this weekend.

Sponsored by MARCHAbrazo Press, the Latino Writers Collective is reading in Chicago on Saturday, December 5, at 6:30 pm at Latte on Lincoln. Just found out about the big party the Guild Complex is giving for my pal, Ellen Placey Wadey, later that same night and hope to work things out so that, after our reading, we can join literary Chicago as they honor Ellen for all her wonderful years of work in guiding the Guild Complex's literary activities. If you're in Chicago, come out and see us first, though. I'm bringing up eight of the Collective's finest readers, and Chicago's in for a big surprise! A wide variety of voices and styles of poetry and short fiction--and kick-ass presentation.

And finally, on Monday, November 30, at 7:00 pm, wonderful poet and editor, Maria Melendez, will read at The Writers Place, 3607 Pennsylvania, as part of Park University's Ethnic Voices Series.

Maria Melendez is the new editor/publisher for Pilgrimage magazine and lives in Pueblo, Colorado. She has taught creative writing and American literature at Utah State University and Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, IN. Her work in community outreach and education includes five years as a poet-teacher in K-12 classrooms with California Poets in the Schools, and three years as writer-in-residence at the UC Davis Arboretum, where she taught environmental writing workshops for the public. Her poetry collection How Long She'll Last in This World (University of Arizona Press, 2006), received Honorable Mention at the 2007 International Latino Book Awards and was named a finalist for the 2007 PEN Center USA Literary Awards. Flexible Bones, her third collection of poetry, is forthcoming from the University of Arizona Press in 2010.

Join us if you can!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Latino Writers Collective Brings Award-Winning Latino Writers to Kansas City Public Library

The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (University of Arizona Press) is the 2008 winner of the International Latino Book Award in Poetry. Reviewers have loved it. In fact, Booklist referred to it in a review as “a ravishing collection of poems,” and the El Paso Times described the book as a “compelling and exhilarating addition to Latino letters.” The anthology of new Latino poets is so highly regarded nationally that the Ford Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Southwest Airlines joined with the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture to send the editor and key contributors on a successful national reading tour. The Latino Writers Collective now brings The Wind Shifts tour to Kansas City with editor, Francisco Aragón, and two contributors, Brenda Cardenas and John Olivares Espinoza, who will read their work at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th, on Wednesday, September 23, at 6:30 p.m. The evening will include a reception and booksigning. RSVP at

Aragón is the author of Puerta del Sol (Bilingual Press, 2005) and the forthcoming Glow of Our Sweat (Scapegoat Press, 2010). His work has appeared in various anthologies, including, Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies (W.W. Norton & Company), American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement (University of Iowa Press), Evensong: Contemporary American Poets on Spirituality (Bottom Dog Press) and, Deep Travel: Contemporary American Poets Abroad (Ninebark Press). He directs Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) at the University of Notre Dame where he edits Latino Poetry Review. He also edits Canto Cosas, a book series out of Bilingual Press for Latino and Latina poets. He serves on the boards of the Guild Complex in Chicago, as well the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP). Aragón holds degrees in Spanish from the University of California at Berkeley and New York University, and an MA in English and an MFA in creative writing from the University of California at Davis and the University of Notre Dame, respectively. He lives in Arlington, VA and works out of the ILS’ office in Washington, D.C.

Visit his website:

Cardenas' first full-length book of poetry, Boomerang, will be published by Bilingual Press in the fall of 2009. She also has a chapbook of poems, From the Tongue of Brick and Stone (Momotombo Press, 2005). She is co-editor of Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest (MARCH/Abrazo Press) and has twice received Illinois Arts Council finalist awards in Poetry. Cardenas ' poems have appeared in U.S. Latino Literature Today, Poetic Voices Without Borders, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, RATTLE: Poetry for the 21st Century, Prairie Schooner, and others. With Sonido Ink(quieto), a spoken word and music ensemble, she released the CD, Chicano, Illnoize: The Blue Island Sessions (DeSPICable Records, 2001).

Olivares Espinoza is the author of The Date Fruit Elegies (2008), the inaugural collection in Bilingual Press/Revista Bilingüe’s new poetry series, Canto Cosas. In 2009, The Date Fruit Elegies was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award in poetry. Espinoza was born and raised in Indio, California to Mexican parents. He holds degrees in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside (B.A.) and Arizona State University (M.F.A), where he spent time writing about his experience working as a gardener with his brothers and father in the nearby resorts. John and his wife live in San Jose, California, where he teaches at the National Hispanic University.

This event will be the first in another of the Latino Writers Collective’s successful annual reading series. Cuarta Página (Fourth Page) Reading Series is co-sponsored by BkMk Press, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City Hispanic News, Letras Latinas, Mattie Rhodes Latino Cultural Arts Division, Park University, UMKC Women’s Center, The Writers Place and other community organizations. The series is made possible in part by funding from the Missouri Arts Council.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

P.O.W, A Poem From Heart's Migration

This is a poem from my new book, Heart's Migration, that I've had requests to publish in my blog. So, here it is.

(Warning! This poem is strong stuff about violence in the home and not for children.)



Before I fall into the past,
I drive to the library,
thumb open a book
about the death of a child
in Greenwich Village and
to trash-filled rooms smelling
of milk, urine, beer and blood,
doors locked and curtains drawn
against the world,
dirty baby brother caged in a playpen,
mother nursing broken nose,
split lip, overflowing ashtray,
and father filling the room to the ceiling,
shouting drunken songs and threats
before whom I tremble and dance,
wobbly diversion, to keep away
the sound of fist against face,
bone against wall.

The book never shows
the other little brothers and sister hiding
around corners and under covers,
but I know they are there
and dance faster,
sing the songs that give him pleasure,
pay the price for their sleep
later, his hand pinching flat nipples,
thrusting between schoolgirl thighs,
as dangerous to please as to anger
the giant who holds the keys
to our family prison. Mother
has no way to keep him from me,
but I can do it for her and them.

Locked by these pages
behind enemy lines again
where I plan futile sabotage
and murder every night,
nine-year-old underground,
I read the end.
Suddenly defiant, attacked,
slammed into a wall,
sliding into coma, death
after the allies arrive,
too late, in clean uniforms so like his own
to shake their heads at the smell and mess—
the end I almost believe,
the end that chance keeps at bay
long enough for me to grow and flee,
my nightmare alive on the page.

Freed too late,
I close the book,
two hours vanished,
stand and try to walk
to the front door on uncertain legs
as if nothing were wrong.
No one must know.
I look at those around me
without seeming to,
an old skill,
making sure no one can tell.
Panic pushes me to the car
where the back window reflects
a woman, the unbruised kind.

In the space of three quick breaths
I recognize myself,
slam back into adult body and life,
drive home repeating a mantra,
“Ben will never hurt me--
All men are not violent,”
reminding myself to believe the first,
to hope for the last.


Years later, my little sister will sleep,
pregnant, knife under her pillow,
two stepdaughters huddled
at the foot of her bed,
in case her husband
breaks through the door
again. Finally,
she escapes
with just the baby.

My daughter calls collect
from a pay phone on a New Hampshire street.
She’ll stay in a shelter for battered women,
be thrown against the wall
returning to pack
for the trip back to Missouri,
a week before her second anniversary.
With her father and brother,
the trip home will take three days,
and she will call for me again.

Ana and Kay, who sat in my classes,
Vicky, who exchanged toddlers with me once a week,
Pat and Karen, who shared my work,
and two Nancys I have known,
among others too many to count,
hide marks on their bodies and memories,
while at the campus women’s center
where I plan programs for women students
on professional advancement
and how to have it all,
the phone rings every week with calls we forward
to safe houses and shelters.

In my adult life, I’ve suffered no man
to touch me in anger,
but I sleep light.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

(c) 2007 Linda Rodriguez

Back from Macondo--Part Three

After the Friday vision session

Friday began with a vision and planning session where members of the foundation board and this year's participants looked at what worked and what didn't and planned for future growth to keep the foundation and the workshop strong and supple enough to meet the needs that the future would bring.

This discussion continued at a long lunch. Then the final afternoon seminar on translingual writers (those who write in a language other than their first language), which engendered an energetic discussion because we had so many translingual writers there.

Friday evening was our culminating public event. It was held at Casa Navarro, an historic building complex in downtown San Antonio. It kicked off with live music by Orqestra Tropicante.

Josslyn as Lady Day

Josslyn Luckett, emcee of many disguises, was in Billie Holiday mode as she hosted the evening. The dynamic writers reading were Liliana Valenzuela, John Olivares Espinoza, Jessica Lopez, Elaine Beal, Francisco Aragon, Deborah Miranda, and the magnificent Ruth Behar, introduced by Sandra Cisneros.
Liliana Valenzuela reading

Jessica Lopez reading

Francisco Aragon reading

Elaine Beal reading

Deborah Miranda reading

Ruth Behar reading

An after-hours party

Macondo is the brainchild of the incredible Sandra Cisneros, author of the novels, The House on Mango Street and Caramelo, the short fiction collection, Woman Hollering Creek, and the poetry collections, My Wicked, Wicked Ways and Loose Woman. She started the Macondo Foundation to help talented mid-career writers who were also involved in community-building. She started the Macondo Writing Workshop around her kitchen table. Sandra is still at the core of what Macondo is, although she has a dedicated board that makes decisions and sets direction for the foundation now and has done the necessary planning to ensure that the foundation will survive long after she is gone. But Sandra is the soul of Macondo.

La Sandra

Sandra having fun with Jennifer De Leon

Sandra and the Macondistas, those who belong to the Macondo community and return year after year, have written a code of conduct that every writing workshop/class/community would do well to study, The Compassionate Code of Conduct. And they are serious, very serious, about adhering to it. To read it, go to the Macondo website. This community that Sandra has fostered is like an ideal family--if your family were other writers who were also committed to creating a better world in one way or another. And I feel privileged and proud to be a member of that community.

Thank you to the Macondistas who took photographs--Deborah Miranda, Liliana Valenzuela, Jennifer De Leon, and any other I've forgotten.

Back from Macondo--Part Two

After the workshops, we attended seminars
(Seminar on writing short pieces with Belinda Acosta and Beatriz Terrazas)

Macondo Foundation staff sold Macondo bags and took donations at all the readings
Pictured here: Olivia Doerges and Yvette De Chavez

Resistencia Bookstore, founded by the late raulrsalinas, sold authors' books at the readings

Me, Jenn De Leon, Sebha Sarwar, after we read Wednesday night
with Liliana Valenzuela, Jenn's and my Macondo buddy.

Sebha reads on Wednesday night

Jenn reads on Wednesday night

Marjorie Agosin reading Wednesday night

La Marjorie reading Wednesday night
(She brought tears to my eyes with her dramatic, heartfelt reading.)

Josslyn Luckett emceeing Wednesday night's reading

Thursday night's readers with some from Wednesday,
Rene Colato Lainez, Reggie Scott Young, Ching-In Chen, Jenn De Leon, Charles Rice-Gonzales, Josslyn (again emceeing), Stephanie Elizondo Griest, and Margo Chavez-Charles

Fan Wu reads Thursday night

Ching-In Chen reading Thursday night

Celeste Guzman Mendoza reading Wednesday night

From Wednesday on, we had readings by participants every evening. I read on Wednesday evening with Vincent Toro, Rachel Jennings, Celeste Guzman Mendoza, Sehba Sarwar, Reggie Scott-Young, Jennifer De Leon, and the marvelous Marjorie Agosin introduced by Ruth Behar. We had a wonderful violinist and tango dancing. As with each evening's program, Josslyn Luckett hosted with humor and style.

Thursday evening, Fan Wu, Ching-In Chen, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Margo Chavez-Charles, Rene Colato Lainez, and Stephanie Elizondo Griest read with Pat Little Dog, the recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award from the Macondo Foundation. We had excellent mariachi music, and as usual, the party continued into the night at several venues around town.

More Macondo later.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back from Macondo--Part One

Macondo! What a magical word--and what a magical experience this summer's Macondo Writing Workshop in San Antonio was! I was in a workshop called Casa/Hearth/Diaspora with Marjorie Agosín and Ruth Behar as leaders. Other workshop members were Richard Blanco, Celeste Guzman Mendoza, Margo Chavez-Charles, Toni Margarita Plummer, Vincent Toro, Levi Romero, and Rachel Jennings. This group of writers was awesome! Ruth and Marjorie were extremely generous with their time and attention to our work, and they were full of fun and corazon. My fellows in the workshop were a diverse and highly accomplished set of writers who were all pursuing ambitious writing projects involved with the workshop's theme. Some were working in poetry as I was, some in fiction, and some in creative nonfiction, but all of us were trying to define, find, or recreate home and roots in our work. And through the loving respect and careful attention we gave each other's work, we came to consider each other familia. It was difficult at the end to say goodbye to these people I hadn't known just a week earlier.

The Casa/Hearth/Diaspora Workshop Family
Vincent, Celeste, Toni, Richard, Ruth, Marjorie, Levi, Margo, me, Rachel

If that had been all Macondo was, it would have been a gift, but Macondo is even more. Vincent Toro, who was in my workshop, runs a summer youth program for a local arts center and had asked others coming to Macondo if we would be willing to come work with his young people one morning. Six of us said "yes," so Wednesday morning we rose early and made our way downtown to the theatre where Vincent's teens were waiting for us. We thought we were going to teach them something about writing and maybe a little about performing their writing. Boy, were we mistaken! These kids are already dynamite young writers and performers. They performed a small fraction of their usual show to our enthusiastic cheers. We read some of our work to them and later shared some writing exercises we've found helpful. San Antonio must be so proud of these young people!

Charles, JP, Ching-In, Jessica, Joslyn, and me with Vincent's whole group of talented kids

And there was still much more to Macondo. I'll have the second part of this up tomorrow.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Catching Up--Book and Reunion--Amid Pre-Macondo Jitters

I'm resigned to being a lazy blogger. This summer has been so packed with activities and tasks, and I've been in and out of town so much that I have not kept this blog up the way I had hoped. I have nothing but the highest respect for those people who blog daily. I can't even seem to manage weekly, which is what I was hoping for originally.

Part of what has made this summer a madhouse has been all the attention my new book has been getting--a very good thing from my point of view. I
nterviews and readings take time, and when placed in an already crowded schedule, they will squeeze out things like updating a blog. But aside from being important to sales of the book, they are just plain great fun. Here's a link to a radio interview on KCUR, Kansas City' NPR station.

I also did something I've never done before. I went back to Manhattan, Kansas, for my high school reunion. I had been out of touch with my graduating class. They couldn't find me, and when I would leave my contact information with the high school (as I did several times), it never made its way to those organizing reunions. Finally, an old friend from high school found me on the internet and reconnected me with my high school class. (Thanks bi
g time, Bill!)

Manhattan High School (Old that we attended on right)

Konza Prairie, the landscape surrounding Manhattan, KS
(c) Bill Curnutte

I don't know that I expected much out of the reunion. I wanted to see people again that I had known when we were very young, and that was about it. What was so surprising was the instant sense of connection with these folks I hadn't seen for decades. And my own teary sentimentality when Norman Byers, our class vice president, led us in the school anthem! We toured the old school, and when we walked into the auditorium where I had performed so often with many of these same classmates, it almost felt as if I ought to be walking up onto the stage to sing and whirl with Pops Choir or walk with exaggerated hip swings (that always embarrassed me), pig in arms, downstage singing Moonbeam McSwine's part in Li'l Abner. Very eerie sense of deja vu!

It was terrific fun, though, to reconnect with so many classmates, who have turned into very successful--but more importantly, truly nice--people. It's very odd but very satisfying to feel this sense of connection to these people who have not been a part of my life for so many years but who are nonetheless important to me, though I had not realized it. Now, we're planning the next reunion in five years and trying to stay in touch in the meantime. Go, MHS Class of 1964!

Part of why things have been so hectic lately is that I'm trying to take care of everything that needs doing before taking off to San Antonio and the Macondo Workshop next week. Very exciting! I've been fortunate enough to get into the Famosa workshop with Ruth Behar and Marjorie Ago
sín, Casa/Hearth/Diaspora. (My husband's incredibly jealous since he knows Behar's and Agosín's work from his own work in Jewish studies!) They've given us some interesting preparatory work, and the manuscripts from the other workshop members are widely varied in style and universally fascinating.

I'm looking forward to seeing the fabulous Sandra Cisneros (founder of Macondo) again and other friends, Francisco Aragón and Ellen Placey Wadey, as well as people I only know from email or from their work, such as John Olivares Espinoza, Margo Chavez-Charles, Rachel Jennings, Levi Romero, Vincent Toro, and Richard Blanco. I'm nervous, of course. I sent in drafts of poems I'm working on, as requested, not finished work. I hope that in the workshop I'll get a better handle on this book I'm writing. It seems as if I'm writing in two very different styles--and each is a departure from my usual style. I don't know at this point if I'm breaking important new ground for myself or wandering down dead-end roads stylistically.

So back to trying to get everything taken care of before I leave, especially getting all the content for Tercera Pagina to Tina Landis for the Latino Writers Collective blog. We're growing so--with new members all the time. It's wonderful to see an organization that used to just be five or six of us about to hit 50 members in number and grow beyond that.

I'll try to get an entry up soon after I return from Macondo about that experience. Until then, read and write and be happy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cristina Henriquez's The World in Half

Cristina Henriquez has won great praise for her short stories and her debut collection, Come Together, Fall Apart. The World in Half is her first novel, and what a stunner of a novel it is!

Henriquez weaves together the poignant stories of a military-wife mother whose infidelity with a Panamanian local sent her back to the U.S. pregnant, divorced, and disgraced to a hard, self-isolated life and a daughter who is dealing with that mother's early onset Alzheimer's when she discovers a hidden cache of letters from her missing Panamanian father who, rather than abandoning her and her mother, had been abandoned. The daughter, Miraflores, impulsively drops out of college to visit Panama to find her father as her mother disintegrates daily. Miraflores' search in Panama pieces together the story of her parents' love affair, even as she falls in love with the more experienced, if not much older, Danilo, a flower vendor who has taken her and her romantic quest under his wing.

In Panama, it becomes apparent that Mira is searching for herself and her mother as much as for her father. Panama itself becomes a character in this book, for Mira is learning about this unknown country that is as much a part of her heritage as the U.S. is--and she is falling in love with Panama just as she is with Danilo, who has been deserted by his own parents. She feels herself becoming a different person in Panama from the guarded bookworm she has been in the States. In Panama, she is a fuller, braver version of Mira.

As Mira's search for her father reaches a climax, so does her mother's deterioration. She must leave Panama to take up her familial duties once more. The question for the reader is, will she follow in her mother's sad footsteps and leave Danilo and Panama forever behind, as well?

Within this romantic structure, Henriquez deals with some serious issues--the desire of children of mixed heritages to claim both, racial and ethnic discrimination, the sad history of Panama's repeated colonizations, the fears of Alzheimer's engendered in the children of its sufferers, the nature of passionate love so binding that it lasts through years of denial and destroys lives.
At the end, she doesn't tie things up neatly, but neither does she leave the reader in despair for the lives of these people she has led us to care for. Henriquez and her book specialize in the quiet strength, endurance, and occasional rewards of hope, and that hope is her gift to the reader.

This is the debut of a novelist to watch for. I can't wait to read her next book. Check out The World in Half here. And happy reading.