Monday, December 19, 2011

Books of Interest by Writers of Color—Cornelius Eady, Brenda Cardenas, Kimberly Becker

Cornelius Eady Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Putnam) Eady is an acclaimed poet and dramatist. His book of poetry, Brutal Imagination, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001. His libretto for the opera, Running Man, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999. His six other books of poetry and three other works of drama have also received various major awards. His work is full of the music of the blues and jazz riffs, as well as clear-eyed, large-hearted consideration of his family and the African American community within which he grew up. He uses simple, deceptively clear language to deal with complex concepts and multiple stories simultaneously. His work contains layers and layers of clarity, truth, and paradox. 

Another major writer of color who has given back extensively to his community, Eady also made a name for himself as a teacher and mentor of young writers. In 1996, he and poet Toi Derricote co-founded Cave Canem, a writing community for African American writers with a first book prize, an anthology, a summer retreat, and workshops and events throughout the year and throughout the country. Eady is the Miller Professor of English and drama at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Normally, for a writer as successful and well-known as Eady, I’d link you to his website, but his is undergoing work right now. So, here is the link to Eady’s publisher—Putnam, one of the big guys, but show support for our authors and maybe we’ll see more of them at these big publishers soon.

Brenda Cárdenas Boomerang (Bilingual Review Press) Cárdenas is an activist/poet of the borders, the margins, the justapositions of languages, cultures, and forms. Yet underneath her fascination and experimentation with style, stories are her substance. She tells the stories of family, friends, herself growing up and adjusting or not to modern America. She tells the stories of who and what gets lost in translation and border-crossing. She shows how the multiplicity these give the culture and language of the country she loves and rails against enrich and enliven it beyond compare. Her two collections of poetry are just the beginning of what will be, I’m sure, a rich and acclaimed career. If you have a chance to hear this poet read in person, grasp it with both hands. She is an electric performer of her own work.

Here is the link to her book. As usual, I encourage you to patronize the small presses who make the work of so many writers of color available.

Kimberly Becker Words Facing East: Poems (WordTech Editions) Cherokee/Celtic/Teutonic, Becker has published her first book in 2011. This is a book of the difficulties and joys of homecoming after searching and wandering. Full of delicate and truthful observation of the natural world and the emotional world alike, her poems are full of rivers, stones, feathers, and tears “bumping up against the stories.” Becker has already been awarded several grants and fellowships and seems to be at the beginning of a significant career. This is a poet to keep an eye on as she further develops her art.
Here is the link to her book. 

Tomorrow I will post the jacket copy that I just received for my new book, Every Last Secret. I'm very excited about it. Many, many thanks to those of you who already pre-ordered it. You are all wonderful friends and supporters!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Literary Mystery Novelists—Sandra Parshall

If you're looking for a good holiday gift for a friend or family member who is a reader, I heartily recommend one of Sandra Parshall's novels. They are complex, suspenseful mysteries with characters who come alive on the page and a setting so richly realized that it becomes another character. Now seems a perfect time to remind holiday shoppers about this fine writer.

I first found Sandra Parshall’s books when I read her second book in the Rachel Goddard series, Disturbing the Dead, a book dealing with the Melungeons, their isolation, and the discrimination they have faced and still do. It was beautifully written, and I was sucked into the world Parshall created. Her books have received much critical praise, and I believe in an earlier day when books were not so pigeonholed, they would have been shelved as literature (and probably wouldn’t have sold as well). Her newest book in the series, Under the Dog Star, is another finely crafted book that stresses rich characterization and deals with complex social issues.
Sandra Parshall bio

I was born and raised in South Carolina, and the first job that paid me for writing was that of weekend obituary columnist on my hometown paper, The Spartanburg Herald. Eventually I became a reporter -- after putting together a feature on my own initiative and giving it to the editor to prove I could do it. From there I went to jobs on newspapers in West Virginia and The Baltimore Evening Sun. I covered everything from school board meetings to a mining disaster, health care in prisons, poverty in Appalachia, and the experiences of Native Americans living in the city.

I've written fiction since childhood, but I didn't find the genre I feel comfortable in -- mystery/suspense -- until a few years ago. The Heat of the Moon was my first attempt at psychological suspense. My friend Babs calls it "Sandy's pecan pie dream book" because the entire story came to me during a fitful night after I had overindulged in holiday dessert. With its publication, I'm setting off on a new phase of life, and I hope to make a lot of new friends along the way.

I've lived for many years in the Washington, DC, area, and currently share a house in McLean, Virginia, with my husband, a long-time Washington journalist, and two unbelievably spoiled cats.

For those new to your series, can you describe the Rachel Goddard mysteries? What was your inspiration for this series? How would you describe Under the Dog Star to someone who has not read any of your previous novels?
When I wrote the first book, The Heat of the Moon, I didn’t intend to turn it into a series. That decision came about after I sold the book. Rachel is a veterinarian with a troubled personal past, and the events of the first novel cast a shadow over her life in subsequent books. The original idea came to me in a dream: two little girls outside in a rain storm, crying for their mother. The image stayed in my mind until I discovered who the girls were – Rachel and her younger sister, Michelle – and what happened to them. In book two, Disturbing the Dead, I moved Rachel from urban Northern Virginia to the mountains of southwestern Virginia, because I felt that would provide a stronger setting for a mystery series.

Under the Dog Star stands on its own as a mystery, although I believe the story will be richer for those who have read the previous books. Rachel races to save a pack of feral dogs wrongly accused of mauling a prominent doctor to death, and at the same time she becomes involved in the lives of the doctor’s mistreated adopted children. Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger, the man Rachel loves, believes the doctor was killed by a trained dog used as a weapon, and he suspects a link to illegal dogfighting. This is a fast-paced mystery/suspense novel, but it’s also a story about the meaning of family and the power of compassion.

What's your writing process? What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you keep to a set schedule? What are your writing habits?
My “process” when I begin a new book consists of sitting down at the computer, saying a prayer, and plunging in. I write a fast, very messy first draft that I would never show anyone. This is the period when I’m almost overwhelmed by doubts about what I’m doing, my choice of plot elements and characters, the possibility that I can’t make a book our of this mess I’m creating. I enjoy the second and third drafts much more, because the story is there and all I have to do is shape it. I try to write in the morning and early afternoon at least five days a week. Toward the end of a book, I will write six days a week. But I’ll go crazy if I don’t get away from it for at least one day out of seven.

What projects, literary or otherwise, are occupying you at the moment?
I’m writing a fifth Rachel book and bringing back Michelle, who doesn’t appear in Disturbing the Dead, Broken Places, or Under the Dog Star. Someone is stalking Michelle, and when Rachel tries to help her sister deal with the harassment, she becomes a target too. At the same time, Tom Bridger investigates the killing of a young woman who was working with an Innocence Project to free a man she believed was wrongly convicted of murder.

Who were your literary influences growing up? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?
I didn’t grow up reading Nancy Drew – I still haven’t read a single Nancy Drew book – and didn’t open an Agatha Christie novel until I was in my early thirties. I was one of those weird kids who read Russian novels and literary fiction. Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor were strong influences. Other authors who have influenced me are the ones I began reading in my twenties and thirties, and those books aren’t always similar to one another. I love Edith Wharton’s portrayal of desperate hearts and minds imprisoned by society’s expectations. I love Edna O’Brien’s lush prose, but I also love Ruth Rendell’s economical, razor-sharp writing. Rendell is the author who made me want to write psychological suspense. Thomas H. Cook is another favorite I’ve been reading for a long time. I love his style, but I’m most impressed by the depth he achieves in characterization.

What inspired you to write your first novel? Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I wanted to be a writer since childhood, and I made many false starts on novels during my teens and twenties. I completed several books that weren’t published before I wrote The Heat of the Moon. I was trying to write literary or mainstream fiction and never imagined writing a mystery, so I discovered fairly late that I have a gift for suspense.

Do you belong to a critique group of other authors? Do you find it helpful? In what ways?
My critique partnerships have all been online, and I’ve found them enormously helpful. Writers can never see our own writing as clearly as others do, because we can’t set aside the personal emotions attached to it and look at the words on the page and nothing else. A good critiquer can assess what you’ve written and also tell you what seems to be missing. It’s essential to find critique partners who understand what you’re doing and share your sensibilities. If you write thrillers and don’t even read cozies, you might not get much benefit from a critiquer who writes and loves cozies.

What is your advice to aspiring writers? How important is it for a young writer to be a reader? What would you recommend they read?
I don’t see how anyone can be a writer without being a voracious reader. We can absorb a certain amount of technique through reading, and even a clumsily written piece of fiction can teach us something if we take the time to study it. My advice to aspiring writers is to read everything, not simply the novels and stories they enjoy most. Don’t sneer at bestselling authors of genre fiction; read their books, find out what makes them appealing to so many people. You may be able to apply what you’ve learned to your own writing, without sacrificing your own special voice. Don’t restrict yourself to one genre, or to fiction, for that matter. Read about the world and the history of human society. Read psychology popular science. The more you know about the world and about human nature, the richer your writing will be.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your writing career? What has been the hardest part about being a writer?
I think most writers are surprised by the amount of time and effort – not to mention money – they have to spend on promotion. I enjoy talking to readers and have gradually lost my terror of public speaking, but even the things I enjoy will take time away from writing. The hardest part of being a writer, though, is simply doing it, plowing ahead in spite of an interior voice that’s always whining, “This is too hard! I can’t do it!” At a conscious level, I know I can do it, but sometimes I have to hold my published books in my hands to give myself confidence to try again.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Books of Interest by Writers of Color—Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas

When this post was originally written, Sing was only available for pre-order. It is now available for immediate delivery. With the holiday madness and impending deadlines, I have been reposting blog entries of special importance and relevance. If you are looking for a Christmas present, Sing would make an excellent choice.

This is the second post in the Writers of color series concerning Allison Adelle Hedge Coke and the groundbreaking new anthology of Indigenous poetry from all the Americas that she's labored for years to bring to fruition.

I have in my hands an advance copy of Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, edited by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke (University of Arizona Press) scheduled for publication on October 27, 2011. This means the book is already available for pre-order, and soon you can have the immense pleasure of holding it in your own hands to read.

The first anthology of Indigenous poetry from all the Americas, Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas offers the multilingual work of 81 poets from Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, used twelve translators (poets and writers themselves), and took eight years to become a reality. It will be difficult to do justice to this phenomenal achievement in this limited space, but I will try.

Sing was the cherished brainchild of editor Hedge Coke, who spent eight years tracking down poets, making connections, gathering poems, writing an introduction, formatting, and organizing the work with substantial assistance from her son, poet Travis Hedge Coke. Since all the travel and work of those years was at her own expense, Hedge Coke laments in her introduction her inability to include as wide a variety of poetry from all the Indigenous traditions in the Americas as she desired. What she has brought together, however, is more inclusive and more diverse than any previous anthology and is a flood of riches for the reader.
Those who teach Indigenous Literature or Native Studies courses will find this book a necessity. Nowhere else can you find such a plethora of Indigenous voices speaking to their contemporary truths and to their heritage and cultural traditions. It will make a wonderful introduction to studies of culture, literature, and song.

As you turn the pages in Sing, you repeatedly encounter sharp blasts of truth, songs of celebration and of mourning, warnings of danger, hauntings, memorials, invocations, and paeans from such a cultural variety that it becomes difficult to stop reading, to tear yourself from the lives and hearts shared in this book.
This anthology includes highly acclaimed, well-known (in the United States) Indigenous poets, such as Sherwin Bitsui, Joseph Bruchac, Heid and Louise Erdrich, Santee Frazier, Diane Glancy, Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, Simon Ortiz, and Hedge Coke herself. It also includes emerging poets we may not all know and poets who are highly acclaimed and well-known in other parts of the Americas—Hilario Chacin (Colombia), Rosa Chávez (Guatemala), Fredy Romiero Campo Chicanga (Colombia), Hugo Jamioy (Colombia), Ariruma Kowii (Ecuador), Leonel Lienlaf (Chile), Lee Maracle (Canada), Jorge Miguel Cocom Pech (Mexico), and Morela Del Valle Maeiro Poyo (Venezuela). Known in U.S. literary circles or not, the poets in Sing uniformly offer high-quality work.

Sherwin Bitsui’s opening poem, “Calyx,” protects, presents, and prepares to open the bud that will become this book’s bloom. Bitsui submerges us in vibrant images that evoke the sacred within the everyday—“at zero hour/ the poem spilling its seeds into your mouth”—in an effort to give a hint of the power behind a childhood memory—“How do I describe her daubing my face with cornhusk?

Duane Niatum’s poem, “Riding the Wake of the Paddle Journey,” ends the volume with the deepest return to the beginning, to the home from which we sprang, whether we have known it before or not, as Niatum sings us “… to this path to be servants of our ghosts,/ the family keeping the storytelling stone// that shows our flesh’s formed by tide and stump…,”closing the circle of flight, escape, and migration with the deepest state of belonging.

Along the journey, you will find stepping stones of words and image, and depending on the direction you follow, you will have two or three or more journeys before your circle closes in the song of home, of place, of the land and the people that sing within your blood. Below is one short, quick trip through the beauties of this book.

“My brother’s shadow flutters from his shoulders, a magician’s cape.” Natalie Diaz (U.S. in English)

“The child-sun skitters adolescent/ It desires to touch the moon…” Hugo Jamioy (Colombia in Kamsa, Spanish, and English)

“I’m coming home leaving home finding home…” Tenille Campbell (Canada in English)

“Glow-worm, you whisper into the moon’s ear.” Morela Del Valle Maeiro Poyo (Venezuela in Karíña, Spanish, and English)

“… dark feathers of the old way’s pride/ mixed in with blessed Kateri’s/ pale dreams of sacred water.” Joseph Bruchac (U.S. in English)
“With our arms of volcanic warmth…” Ariruma Kowii (Ecuador in Quechua, Spanish, and English)

“Finally, reaching across feather-light and closing the distance/ Your face gently cupped in wings…” Al Hunter (Canada in English)

“The ripe fruit/ is the sweet eye of the tree.” Jorge Miguel Cocom Pech (Mexico in Mayan, Spanish, and English)

In the end, the abundant treasures of Sing defeat me. This review offers such a tiny taste of its bounty that the reality of its riches evades capture. You will have to pick up the book and open it for yourself. When you do, be sure you have plenty of time to wander lost in its many worlds.

Here is the link to order the book. As usual, I suggest you patronize University of Arizona Press who brought this book to the world.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Literary Mystery Novelists—Paul Doiron

One of the most important things to know about Paul Doiron is that he is a Maine native. Maine plays a big role in his life. He is editor-in-chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, Down East Books, and He blogs at He is even a Registered Maine Guide. All of these ties to Maine come to fruition in his books, The Poacher's Son and Trespasser, which feature a Maine game warden, Mike Bowditch. The forests and countryside of Maine are as much a character in Doiron’s books as his troubled, but engaging protagonist, and Doiron’s evocative descriptions of the rough terrain bring it to life.

Doiron is noted for his multifaceted characters and his realistic depictions of their lives, relationships, and choices. He is a writer who pays close attention to language without losing the suspense and complicated plotting that are valued in mysteries. His first book, The Poacher's Son, was nominated for most of the awards in the mystery field and won several. Look for Trespasser, his second novel released in June 2011, to make a similar splash. Doiron is definitely a writer to follow.

Here is the link for Doiron’s new book.

Paul Doiron is the author of the Mike Bowditch series of crime novels, including The Poacher's Son, which won the Barry Award for Best First Novel and the Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel and has been nominated for an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and a Thriller Award for Best First Novel, and the Maine Literary Award for "Best Fiction of 2010." His second book in the Mike Bowditch series, Trespasser, has been called a "masterpiece of high-octane narrative" by Booklist. The Poacher's Son received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal, and Trespasser received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal. Doiron is the editor in chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, Down East Books, and A native of Maine, he attended Yale University, where he graduated with a degree in English, and he holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. Paul is a Registered Maine Guide specializing in fly fishing and outdoor recreation and lives on a trout stream in coastal Maine.

For those new to your series, can you describe the Mike Bowditch mysteries?
I write a series of a literary suspense novels featuring a young Maine game warden named Mike Bowditch. I hope what sets them apart from similar books is my devotion to describing the environment in which Bowditch works and the psychological complexity (and I hope reality) of the characters.

What was your inspiration for this series?
Years ago, I wrote a series of magazine features about some offbeat wildlife encounters for Down East: the Magazine of Maine, and I realized I was quoting game wardens for all of these stories. In Maine, game wardens are full police officers (they perform the duties of cops wherever there isn't a road, which is pretty much everywhere since Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation). I realized that a game warden encounters every conceivable form of crime in Maine, and that a warden would make an excellent protagonist in a series of suspense novels.

How would you describe Trespasser to someone who has not read your previous novel?
It began when a young woman I knew hit and killed a deer with a car on a remote rural road, and she didn't know what to do. The guys who stopped to "help" her before an actual police officer arrived terrified her more than the accident, and I began to think about a fictional scenario where my game warden shows up at a crash scene belatedly and finds both the woman and the deer missing. Trespasser is truly the sequel to The Poacher's Son in that Mike is trying to get his life together eight months after the events in that book, especially repairing his relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Sarah, but he's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and his guilt drives him to commit a series of reckless, self-sabotaging actions. He inserts himself into a decade-old murder case that resembles the circumstances of the young woman's disappearance and he begins to wonder if the man originally imprisoned for that crime was a scapegoat and a real sexual predator is still on the loose.

You’re the editor-in-chief of a major regional magazine and a registered Maine Guide. How do you fit your own writing into such a busy life?
By sacrificing my personal relationships. I mean that as a joke, but I am lucky to have a patient wife who understands what these books mean to me. I have met few people who are capable at multitasking (and even with them there's a cost), but I have learned to shift my attention quickly from project to project. I always say that I'd prefer to spend my days staring at a trout stream than a computer screen, but for the moment the novels and my work at Down East are preoccupying my attention. That won't be forever.

What's your writing process? What is a typical writing day like for you?
You often hear the advice, "Write everyday," which is smart. My day job certainly requires me to write every day on something or other, but I don't always work on my fiction. I typically devote my weeks to Down East and my weekends focused on the novels. It's not ideal, but I have to say that Mike Bowditch is always lurking in the back of my mind. Hemingway used to recommend letting stories brew in your subconscious between writing sessions, and there's a lot to be said for that approach.

What are your writing habits?
One advantage to being a professional journalist is that you learn you can't sit around and wait for the muse to arrive. You have to sit down and do the work. I try to set quotas for the amount of words I need to write each week, and I am good at meeting self-imposed deadlines. There are so many potential distractions just living your life, and the only person who will make your novel a priority is you.

What projects, literary or otherwise, are occupying you at the moment?
I've been the editor in chief of Down East Magazine for more than six years, and it's been a great ride. Down East is one of the largest and most successful regional magazines in the nation. Two years ago, I was also given editorial charge of our book division (we publish about 30 new titles a year), so I've had to learn the other side of the publishing business. It's given me a unique perspective. By day I am a hard-ass editor complaining about late and difficult authors, aware of the business pressures of selling books in the year 2011. By night I am that selfsame neurotic writer complaining about my own book editor and worrying about what my agent isn't telling me about my career.

Who were your literary influences growing up? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?
Hemingway, first and foremost. (So many male authors say that, I feel sheepish to admit it.) But my very first inspiration was actually J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember finishing The Lord of the Rings and immediately sitting down and beginning to write. Prior to that, I'd always been a reader, but Tolkien inspired me to begin creating something of my own. Later I found other writers who fired my imagination. It's a diverse list to say the least: Poe, Conan Doyle, Stevenson, Flannery O'Connor, Faulkner, Chandler, Hammett, Tony Hillerman, Mailer, P.D. James, Austen, James Lee Burke, Denis Johnson, Raymond Carver, Henning Mankell, Tim O'Brien.

What inspired you to write your first novel, The Poacher’s Son? Had you always wanted to be a writer?
For the longest time I thought I was going to be a cartoonist and then I read the Lord of the Rings, as I said, and my sights changed. When I told people that I wanted to write for a living, they would always nod and say, "Yes, but what are you going to do for a job?" That's an excellent question! Every young writer should be asked it. I wrote a lot of stories when I was in my twenties, but honestly I had nothing to say: I was too callow. It was only after my life began to settle down and I rediscovered my deep interest in the Maine outdoors—which is so rarely rendered with accuracy—that I realized I need to write a story about the North Woods and perhaps my own experience of being an impetuous, callow young guy could fuel the story if I made him a Maine game warden.

The Poacher’s Son won immense critical praise. Did that make writing the second novel harder or easier?
My agent encouraged me to begin writing my second novel before the first had even sold. That made the composition of Trespasser so much easier, since I mostly wrote it before The Poacher's Son had even been published, let alone before the first reviews started coming in. The greater danger to me beyond the awards I've won—for which I am undeserving but extremely grateful—is actually the expectation of readers now. When you write a series, your fans get invested in your characters, and they want you to shift in very specific directions. There's a fine line between acknowledging the validity of their responses and beginning to pander.

Do you belong to a critique group of other authors. Do you find it helpful? In what ways?
I have a few author friends whom I share my drafts with. I've been part of writers groups in the past, and they can be great if you have the right chemistry and similar habits and expectations. There are many occasions when I've wanted to bring a troublesome chapter to a group. Instead I have had to puzzle it out on my own since I don't like to use my editor as a constant sounding board.

What is your advice to aspiring writers? How important is it for a young writer to be a reader? What would you recommend they read?
Persevere. There are almost no overnight successes. You have to read, you have to write. Open yourself to criticism because you're going to hear it eventually. Better to hear it from your writing group than from an agent who won't explain why they won't take you on or a book editor who is too busy to give you feedback. Worse, you might even get your book published and then watch it be eviscerated by reviewers. That's why it's so important to work hard on making the manuscript as solid as you can up front.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your writing career? What has been the hardest part about being a writer?
The most surprising thing? No one knows anything. That's William Goldman's famous line about the screen trade but it applies to the publishing industry now, too. The digital revolution has publishers scrambling. And there are increasingly few certainties about what will sell. What this means for writers is that the pressure to create great books is being multiplied by new demands: create a Web site; tweet several times a day; do as many public appearances as you can; blog, blog, blog. Being an author today isn't the same as it used to be—you're now a brand that you yourself must market—and you need to be comfortable with change. But it's an exciting time, too. Revolutionary periods always are.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Books of Interest From Writers of Color--Marjorie Agosin, Lise Erdrich, Phyllis Becker

This was the initial post in my series on Books of Interest by Writers of Color series way back when. I haven't come close to running out of good writers yet, but I'm running low on energy and time right now, and I have lots of new followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook who've not seen these posts and may not know about these wonderful writers. If you're looking for Christmas presents, books by these authors or any of others I've profiled on my blog would make a great gift!

Books of Interest From Writers of Color-Part 1

Well, I'm later starting this series of posts than I'd hoped, but here goes. These will not be reviews since I'll be talking about three writers at a time in each post and that doesn't leave enough space for a real review. (Though I may post some of my reviews that have run in other places along the way.) What I'm trying to do here is to bring some attention to writers of color who might otherwise not receive it. Some of them may be well-known in their field of poetry or whatever, but probably aren't outside of that. I will probably look at someone highly regarded within their field but not well-known by the general reader each time, along with a couple of emerging or new writers. I want to give a brief overview of their work and info on where it can be found for teachers or those interested in learning more or purchasing it.

Caveat: The world of writers of color is fairly small. Most of the writers I will mention in this series are friends or acquaintances of mine or friends of friends. Not always, of course—of the three Erdrich sisters mentioned below, I’ve only met Heid once very briefly. However, since I’m trying to get people to read writers of color and make a resource for teachers and librarians here, I will not post about anyone, friend or not, whose work is not good. It would defeat the purpose. Fortunately, I know a lot of wonderful writers of color.

Marjorie Agosín, La luz del deseo/The Light of Desire (Swan Isle Press) This is the latest of many wonderful books by this gifted poet and activist. (See October 2010 of this blog for a fuller account of her many awards and books.) This book is a gorgeously produced bilingual edition of an unusual effort on the author’s part. Usually, her poetry deals with injustice and oppression, often against women, or what she calls, “memory activism,” in which she imaginatively recreates her own ancestors and the oppression they faced—the poet is the child and grandchild of Holocaust survivors who settled in Chile. La luz del deseo, however, is a poetic love song in the tradition of the Bible’s Song of Solomon that celebrates not only a passionate human love affair but the poet’s love of Israel and her calling of that country back to the ideals on which it was originally formed. For La luz del deseo, I will give the link to the small press which published it since I believe in supporting these small presses without which we wouldn’t have many writers of color published, at all. Buy it from them. But if you want to see a wide selection of all the many books of Agosín, click on this Amazon link, as well.

Lise Erdrich, Night Train (Coffee House Press). This collection of extremely short pieces of fiction is the first by Lise Erdrich, sister of well-known novelist Louise Erdrich and highly regarded poet Heid Erdrich. Played out in the towns and reservations of Indian country, Erdrich’s brief stories put us into the hearts and minds of a dizzying array of characters with skill and love. Here’s a link to Coffee House Press for the book. Also, check out the sisters. I’ll be dealing with each of them later. This is a multi-talented family of Native writers.

Phyllis Becker, How I Came to Love Jazz (Helicon Nine Editions). In this first book, Becker writes of an African American woman’s life in the heart of the country with an emphasis on both identities. Jazz plays a major part in her family history and in her poetry, which echoes to the rhythms of America’s greatest music form. Becker isn’t well known outside of the two-state area of Missouri and Kansas, but she really should be, and I think she will be as more and more people discover her work. Here is the link for her book.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Coming Up on the Holidays

This was taken at my reading at the Alliance of American Artists national conference in Chicago at the end of October. I can't imagine for which of the three poems I read I would make this kind of gesture, but I am nonetheless. Ben calls this "Let My People Go!" I may need some of that energy now.

It's the beginning of December as I write. I have no Solstice, Christmas or Chanukah shopping/baking/decorating done (and we're a family that celebrates all three holidays--and expects handknitted or handsewn presents from me). I have page proofs of Every Last Secret to go through with a fine-toothed comb, looking for typos and other errors. I have three reviews, two essays, and two guest blogs to write (speaking of which, I was guestblogger on Jungle Red Writers yesterday--check it out), plus five short chapters left to write on Every Broken Trust. After a lot of traveling to sing for my supper, my house is a disaster area, and I'm expecting guests for the holidays, including one from Germany. My 19th wedding anniversary is coming up two days after Christmas, and I haven't even a thought of what to do for it or what to give my sweet husband.

My first impulse is to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head, but I don't think that would work for an entire month. So it's time to roll up my sleeves. To facilitate my futile efforts to get all this done in time, I intend this month to post some of the earlier posts in the Writers of Color series and in the Literary Mystery Novelists series, interspersed with occasional online bursts of current panic. This will give new followers and readers a chance to see these posts and learn about these writers, and it will give me a chance to get through the month without committing hara-kiri.

To remind myself to calm down and that I can get a lot of work done when I am in a good, healthy state of mind I will return to this photo. This was the view out my studio window when sitting at my desk while I was at Ragdale on a terrifically creative and productive residency. The last patch of virgin prairie east of the Mississippi.

And here's a poem I wrote while at Ragdale about something that happened while I was there.


Walking the narrow path
through mounds of snow,
cold air stinging my nostrils,
waking up my lungs,
walking with the contentment
of a good day’s work swallowed whole,
heading in the dark frosty air
toward a bright-lighted room
with warm supper and companions,
movement on the periphery of vision
startles, something large.

I stop, turn slightly to my right,
eye to eye with a three-point stag.
One long, long half-second’s stare,
then strong legs gathering and leaping,
bounding four feet each time,
five amazing leaps across my path
vanishing behind a large tree, supporting shrubs,
probably running straight out now
back to his home on the prairie.

I stand, paralyzed, mute,
breathless laugh, wide smile,
breathing deep of the wild night.

That's the frame of mind I want to get into. What are you doing to be less frantic for the holidays? How will you keep your sanity during these busy times?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Books of Interest by Writers of Color--Rudolfo Anaya

Rudolfo Anaya needs no introduction, since if a person knows only one Latino writer, Anaya will probably be that writer. He is justly famous for his first book, the seminal Bless Me, Ultima, but that was just the beginning of a long series of novels, plays, poetry, short fiction, essays, children's books, and anthologies that Anaya has published. He may be defined by that classic first book, but only because people forget that his second novel, The Heart of Aztlàn, won the American Book Award, that his third novel, Tortuga, was acclaimed as even finer than the first two, and that much of his other work is as lyrical and mystical as Bless Me, Ultima was.

In addition to the mystical, spiritual elements which are always important in his work, Anaya also has written some of the best description and analysis of the difficulties that face Chicano and Mexican families when they move into American cities and face the poverty, discrimination, and crime they find there. More than any other author, he brings these two disparate elements together--the indigenous mysticism and the realistic portrayal of urban life--successfully melding them in his work.

Order Randy Lopez here

In Randy Lopez Goes Home: A Novel (University of Oklahoma Press), Anaya reverses that progression his characters take from the rural to the urban. Randy Lopez long ago left his hometown village in northern New Mexico to seek and find success in the urban Anglo world. Along the way, though, he's lost something intangible, and he returns to Agua Bendita to try to find what's missing in his life. Like all of Anaya's heroes, Randy is on a spiritual quest.

Anaya is considered one of the principal founders of the Chicano literature movement. Not only the author of
30+ books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s and 10+ anthologies, he is the recipient of a long list of awards, including two NEA Fellowships, a W. K. Kellogg Fellowship, The Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, PEN Center USA West Freedom to Write Award, the Mexican Medal of Friendship, Award for Achievement in Chicano Literature, the National Medal of Arts, and five honorary doctorates. He won the PEN Center USA West Award for Alburquerque.

In addition, he has worked from his earliest days to open doors for other Chicano/Latino authors. He has edited a number of anthologies showcasing the work of younger Chicano authors and founded Rio Grande Writers Association, an organization to support and encourage Chicano writers and those who publish and teach their work. Anaya has mentored many newer writers to this day and continues to do so.

In all of Anaya's work, he is concerned with Chicano mysticism and mythology, which combines pre-Christian beliefs with elements of traditional Catholicism, and with the relationship of humans to nature. He also focuses on the clash of cultures that occurs in New Mexico between the dominant Anglo society and the Mexican and Indian peoples the Anglos found when they took possession of this land. 

Once again, Anaya brings his lush and lyrical style and his characteristic myth-making and mysticism and concern with the sacredness of nature to bear on a story of a man seeking the spiritual connection he's lost with the help of a female curandera figure and of spirits and naguals. Anaya is a cultural and literary treasure, and we are lucky to have him telling us stories of the heart and of the spirit.