Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Author Spotlight: J.K. Rowling

I grew up on Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling was not so much as a person as an idea - the person who created Harry Potter. I didn't really think too much about whoever this "J.K." person was. As long as they kept on pumping out Harry Potter books, I was happy.

And then I decided I wanted to be a writer. And all of a sudden, I was a bit more interested this J.K. Rowling character.

So, it turns out she's a complete badass. This is probably obvious to anyone who knows the Harry Potter books - because COME ON - but did you know that she created the series while raising a small child on welfare?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

AWP Conference 2015!

AWP : Bonnaroo
writing : music

Except AWP is even better!

I had no idea what to expect when I booked a ticket to Minneapolis and signed up to volunteer at AWP 2015. I also had no idea that my experiences surviving summer musical festivals were going to come in handy at the largest writing conference in the country.

AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and each spring they hold their biggest bonanza - the AWP Conference! Or, as it's known in the writing world, "AWP." 

"You going to AWP this year?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world!"

This year, it was held in the lovely literary city of Minneapolis - and it basically felt like being at the Grammy's of the writing world. Except sometimes you didn't know that someone was famous and awesome until you read their name tag and then you had an inner freakout moment.

Cutthroat Journal celebrates Joy Harjo
Ways that AWP is just like a giant music festival, but for writing:
  1. There are people sleeping on benches and in random corners of the convention center / festival grounds.
  2. People huddle around electric sockets to charge their devices.
  3. You're trapped somewhere for 4 days. Obviously, the food will be terrible and overpriced. Like at a music festival, I came prepared with the essentials: almond butter, apples, hummus, carrots, and dark chocolate.
  4. You are constantly having to choose between one cool band / panel presentation over another one happening at a different stage / conference room.
  5. You lose your friends when you go check out that sci-fi author you adore (but they hate) but then run into them serendipitously at the panel on graphic novels.
  6. You meet other people who love that obscure band/lit mag that no one else knows about.
  7. You have no shame about asking your literary/musical heroes to sign your arm.
  8. You sacrifice looking cute to wear comfortable shoes.
  9. Your favorite band/writer plays new music/shares new stuff and you pee a little in your pants.
  10. Your body and mind are exhausted after day one from all the walking between stages/conference rooms and taking in some much amazingness (inspiration overload?) and you're not sure how you're going to make it to day three.
  11. VIP parties are not as cool as you think they're going to be.
  12. Free drinks exist, if you can bear the long lines.
  13. So much drinking and excitement = the inevitable post festival/conference cold. Cue to me binging on Emergen-C.
  14. You leave the conference/festival feeling like you never want to hear live music/read a book again -- but you're also mega inspired to go out there and get your creativity on!
Roxane Gay reading at the Literary Loft
So why is AWP even better than Bonnaroo, the biggest music festival in America? Well, AWP is like seeing your favorite band, and then getting to hear them talk about how they write music, why they write music, what they're working on right now, what they think about dolphins, etc. 

Here's a photo of the keynote speaker, Karen Russell, and a dolphin.

But hands down, my most favorite AWP moment had to be this one:
Joy Harjo on the sax!

Next year, it'll be in L.A. and you can be sure I'll be there, Emergen-C in hand.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

There's poetry in the water!

Friends! In case you weren't already aware, April is poetry month! Lately, I have been surrounded by people who believe with all of their heart that poetry saves lives, and I am beginning to see the light.

We were so lucky to have Naomi Shihab Nye here with us to kick off the celebration last week, and the party is just getting started. (I am still feeling the afterglow of her visit... Her book of poems, Honeybee, has been my constant companion these days.)

I am finding that poetry is alive all around us, sometimes in unexpected places. Over the weekend, I attended the loquat festival in New Port Richey where I was surprised to find a healthy community of literary enthusiasts. Part of the day was "O! Loquat!", a literary festival where people from all walks of life were invited to pen their odes to our favorite urban fruit and share them with the crowd. It was very special to hear people's poems about their favorite tree in the front yard, or in my case, to share a haiku about my favorite way to eat loquats - baked into a pie!

O! Loquat! poetry reading
And the poetry train continues! Today, my students and I were privileged to host poet-activists Amir Rabiyah and Tahani Salah, two inspiring poet-activists who use their art to confront important social issues such as racial and gender discrimination. They led a writing workshop that explored the theme of identity, which is a very interesting topic in our international classroom. (My students come from countries as far away as Oman, Venezuela, and China.) It was an awesome experience and I think everyone got a lot out of it, including myself.

I have been taking in all of these delicious poetic experiences, and even though I have always been a lover of poetry, I must say that I am developing a more intimate connection with the art form with every passing day. We will see what comes of this love affair - will it be just a fling? Or a life-long relationship?

 My advice to you? Take some time to dip your toe into the fun fountain that is poetry. Play with words, be kind to yourself , have no expectations, and see what happens. Language is your clay, so start sculpting!

 As Naomi said when she was here - write a poem on a postcard and send it to someone who might be surprised to hear from you. You never know how your words might touch a person's soul.

Naomi's nuggets of wisdom

This is more for me than for you, but here are my notes from Naomi Shihab Nye's reading, panel discussion, class visit, etc.

Put your character on the witness stand. Ask them - what is this story about?
Let the characters be who they are.
Revision is a wild, chaotic time. She revises by hand.
Don't be afraid of flash and burn. It's okay to be ruthless for the sake of the story.
To the question: must we always write what we know?
We all know more than we think we know.
Write what you know, but also write towards what you want to know. (William Stafford)
Don't expect perfection. Go easy on yourself.
Be kinder to yourself - Jack Kerouac (big Kerouac fan, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Tom Waits)
Be more restful in your work. It should be fun!
To the question: what do you do about writer's block?
I pull one of my favorite books off the shelf to get heartened.
Pay attention to the small details. We should give ourselves continuous small treats.
Images can transport us.
You are never too old to keep a notebook. She always keeps one with her.
William Stafford's process: horizontal writing (on the couch), morning writer. Grounded himself in the date, then wrote notes or prose fragments from the last 24 hours, and lastly, "aphorisms" or flamboyant statements that ask big questions. Then he played with all of it.
You don't have to wait for something big to happen. Lots of small things are happening around you all the time.
The purpose of poetry is to recognize the details of people's lives, so we can see our shared-ness.
Celebrate poetry month! Write to people who wouldn't expect to hear from you. Readers and writers are very tied together.
Develop a regular writing practice. You get more with a regular practice.
Found revelation in reading plays
Try new things - write on construction paper.
Hit up the nobodies, they might become somebodies.
Old country travel tradition - always carry a plant, always stay rooted

Get ready for more of this as I am heading to Minneapolis tomorrow for the AWP conference! More amazing writers laying on their wise words....... I'll be the one furiously taking notes!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Call Jack.

What a week to be an MFA student at USF! In celebration of poetry month, we've had the honor of hosting Naomi Shihab Nye on our campus all week! Ask anyone who had any contact with her at all and they will tell you that they are ENCHANTED by this vivacious and kind-hearted woman. I honestly don't know where to begin. She inspired me as a writer, but also as a person. I wholly admire the way she moves about in the world, and I know I am not alone in saying that I felt touched by her presence.

I have so many golden nuggets in my notebooks from the past few days, but I think I will leave you with this one special story.

Naomi is a lifelong fan of Jack Kerouac's work and she also happens to share a birthday with him. So, on her 20th birthday, she looked up the phone number for Jack Kerouac in St. Petersburg, Florida - and she called it! She let it ring a long, long time, until finally, on the 20th ring, who should pick up but Stella Kerouac, Jack's widow! They had a long chat, and in the end, Stella asked Naomi when she could come down to St. Pete for a visit. And so, that is how Naomi Shihab Nye was able to spend several days in Jack Kerouac's home with Stella reading over never-before seen manuscripts and transcribing them on tapes!

And so, anything is possible, friends. Don't be afraid. Pick up the phone. Call Jack. Maybe Stella will answer...

PS - This Restless Writer will be spending a month in Nebraska this summer doing a writing residency at the Art Farm!