To Kill a Mockingbird: Go Set a Watchman: Between the World and Me

Originally posted on Lighting Out for the Territory:

In 1963, I was ten years old when my younger brother, Johnny, and I crawled into the back seat of our grandparents’ car and headed off to a drive-in movie theater in Carlsbad, New Mexico, to see To Kill a Mockingbird. I was too young to have paid much attention to the publication of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel three years earlier in 1960, so it was not the fact that it was a movie that made this a special event. I had never been to the movies with my grandparents, and I would never watch another with them except on TV. They weren’t people who went to movie theaters. They listened to the radio and late at night watched TV.

Unrepentant racists for their entire lives, it’s hard for me to say why they were so compelled to see the movie that they couldn’t wait until my brother…

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STERN by Jane Hammons

STERN by Jane Hammons.

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I is for insight incite and it’s all right

Originally posted on Lighting Out for the Territory:

Today in my Nia class, the instructor informed us that after 10 years she is leaving in order to earn a teaching credential. I didn’t sign on for Nia originally; it replaced a more standard kind of aerobics class that I took at my local YMCA. And at first I didn’t like it; I found it’s combination of Isadora Duncan modern dance moves, tai-chi and a sort of meditative approach to movement unsettling for reasons that make me laugh now. I didn’t want to think very much about my mind and body; I just wanted to get my heart rate up.

At the beginning of the class the instructor teaches a brief lesson about whatever happens to be the focus of the day–balance, strength, flexibility, mobility. The lesson is meant to make us mindful of our bodies as we move about the gym while also being mindful of our emotions…

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it’s a body: it’s a female

Originally posted on Lighting Out for the Territory:

30Days52-2014-128ltWhen Gerald So, editor of The 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly, asked me to join the April 2014 blog tour celebrating National Poetry Month, I knew exactly which poem I wanted to write about: Kim Addonizio’s Dead Girls. I have it taped to the side of my desk; it frequently gives me writer’s block.

In most cases writer’s block is not a good thing. But I don’t mind being stopped and made to think about how I’m representing a female character, especially if she happens to be a corpse. A couple of years ago I wrote a little about the uses of the female body in crime fiction for pattinase, crime writer Patti Abbot’s blog.

If the female body that is the focus of the crime(s) isn’t doing some kind of cultural work then I have to revise. I feel this way about representations of living women and…

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My SXSWedu 2014 on Storify

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Writer’s Event: Daniel Alarcón (a CW110 assignment I’m doing with students in the class)

On Tuesday, February 11, novelist and journalist Daniel Alarcón read from his most recent novel, At Night We Walk in Circles. The event was co-sponsored by Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley and the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, where Alarcón is currently Scholar in Residence. He is also a Fellow at the Center for Investigative Journalism.

at UC Berkeley

at UC Berkeley

Alarcón began by telling us that this novel had taken him seven years to write and that the first version was boring. Taking a break from the writing, he pitched a story to Harper’s magazine (which I assume is this amazing essay: All Politics is Local: Election Night in Peru’s Largest Prison), and took off for Peru where he was able to live in Lurigancho, the prison. Immersion journalism, he said, often leaves writers with a lot of extra material, and some of that fueled At Night We Walk In Circles. The identity of the novel’s narrator remains a mystery until the last quarter of the novel. Alarcón said that like readers, he did not exactly know who this narrator would be, and the discovery was one of the pleasures of writing the book. The novel tells many stories at once, and Alarcón commented that a novel can’t survive without two parallel tracks of narrative. Otherwise it has no momentum, the problem with the draft he scrapped, which he described as “a sleeping cat.”

After the reading, Alarcón responded to questions, one of which was about why he wrote in English instead of Spanish. He said writing a novel has so many layers that adding Spanish would have been a complex one that he did not want to wrestle with, referring to the language of Borges and García Márquez. Alarcón moved from Peru to the United States with his family when he was three. He does speak Spanish, and Radio Ambulante, his radio program which he described as being like This American Life, is conducted in Spanish. A young woman who identified herself as Peruvian-American told Alarcón she had come across one of his essays (The Writing Life–a column in the Washington Post) and that she really identified with it. She asked if he planned to write more about himself. His answer was no. But he also likened himself to the narrator of this most recent novel: someone who is always asking questions and who has been to all of the locations in the novel. Though he does not name the city, he confirmed that it is Lima, his birthplace and a city he “has a spiritual need to understand.” So, in a way, he is writing about himself.

I’m a big fan of Alarcón’s short fiction and look forward to reading his new novel (must admit to struggling a bit with Lost City Radio). If Daniel Alarcón is taking requests, I would love to see a collection of his journalism. His nonfiction is some of the best around.

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