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Posts Tagged ‘books as mentors’

Lately I have begun to measure time by the way I savor or squander it. Yesterday, I had the day to myself. I spent many hours reading in silence. When I find my writing languishing, it is good to read the words of those willing to share the places they have stumbled and succeeded. “The Getaway Car” has traveled both paved and potholed roads.



Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.




Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, April 19th, 2014

-related to posts: The Ant & The Grasshopper – Ann Patchett & Lucy Grealy, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl”

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IMG00506-20100524-1640.jpg

See The World Without Going Anywhere – 88/365, Archive 365, BlackBerry Shots, May 2010, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, photo © 2010-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Seen on a walk through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2010. The things that are important are sometimes invisible to the eye. Like the images that develop in the mind and heart when we read.

_______________________________

ARCHIVE 365: Archive 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 7th, 2012

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By Teri Blair



Lawrence Welk’s Boyhood Home, Strasburg, North Dakota, July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


The Lawrence Welk Show was a Saturday night staple when I was growing up. My favorite acts were Cissy and Bobby, tap-dancing Arthur Duncan, and the guy on clarinet with big glasses. I didn’t pay much attention to the show’s host, though I wondered about his accent. I had a vague sense he came from the state just west of mine, but he mainly seemed tan and Hollywood and Californian. Not like the people I knew.

I’d seen his birthplace marked on my North Dakota map for years, and then one day, just like that, my mom and I decided to go. We checked out library copies of Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk. Mom read it first and told me she couldn’t put it down. I figured that was because she still watched his reruns on public television. Then I started reading it, and I couldn’t put it down either. That’s when I found out Lawrence Welk wasn’t just a tan and smiling Hollywood face. Far from it.

We took two-lane roads to get to Strasburg, ones where you can tell where you’re heading. Mom reread the first chapter out loud to us, the one about Lawrence’s childhood in North Dakota and his passion to play music and get off the farm. We wanted everything fresh in our minds.

Lawrence was born in North Dakota in 1903, one of eight children of immigrant parents. The ten of them lived in a tiny sod house, milked cows, and spoke German. Lawrence had four years of schooling before he begged his parents to let him quit. Since he knew how to read and write, they let him. A farmer wouldn’t need more than that, they figured. But Lawrence’s father had carried an accordion all the way from Europe, and that one musical box lit a fire under the third Welk son. He had an affinity for music, an insatiable appetite for chords and melodies and rhythm. He tinkered with homemade instruments, and learned everything his father would teach him about music.

Though his family assumed his future as a North Dakota farmer, Lawrence knew he had to live a different life. He didn’t know how he could, only that he must. Then when he was 11 his appendix burst. By the time his parents found someone with a car and he was driven to the hospital in Bismarck, he was almost dead. He lived on the edge of life and death while his poisoned blood was treated. Though only a child, he determined if he survived he would make his living as a musician. No matter what.

He spent the rest of his childhood hiring himself out to play accordion at every event he could find around Strasburg. Every nickel he made went to pay off the $400 accordion he bought through a mail-order catalog. A deep satisfaction stirred in him to watch the joy his playing brought to people, an intrinsic reward that would fuel him for decades.

The View From Lawrence Welk’s Bedroom, Strasburg, North Dakota,
July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When he left the farm on his 21st birthday, his father predicted his ruin as a musician. He told Lawrence he’d be back in six weeks looking for a meal. What followed were years of small gains and huge setbacks—trying to find work as a musician during The Depression wasn’t easy. Lawrence often went hungry. One time his band quit on him, embarrassed by his broken English and the way he tapped his toe to find the beat. He was naïve and trusting, taken advantage of more than once. He had to start over again and again with nothing but his accordion. But his internal compass was undeniable. His wife said years later that he was like a cork. When one plan failed, he’d be momentarily submerged before he’d pop up in a different place with a new strategy. By the time he landed the television program, he had paid his dues and then some. He had already spent 30 years on the road playing ballrooms.

After our tour of the homestead, I slow-walked around Lawrence’s childhood farm. I stood in the places he talked about in the book: the spot by the barn where he asked his dad for the $400 loan, the upstairs loft where his appendix burst, the tiny living room where he listened to polka music. I went to Mass on Sunday at the German Catholic church and sat where he had. I looked at the stained glass windows, the same ones Lawrence had looked at when he was a little German boy. He didn’t know how his story would end, but sitting there, I did.

Lawrence knew who he was, who he wasn’t, and he stuck with himself. And from that, I take great inspiration. By the time of his death in 1992, he had had the longest-running television program in history, and had helped launch the careers of dozens of musicians.

What is possible when we don’t deny our true selves?




_________________________




About Teri: Teri Blair is a writer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first piece for red Ravine, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Since then, she has written Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group, Discovering The Big Read, a piece about the largest reading program in American history, and Does Poetry Matter?, an essay about the Great American Think-Off.

Earlier this year, Teri was a writing resident at Vermont Studio Center in the heart of the Green Mountains. She finds inspiration on the road. Her writing pilgrimage to the Amherst, Massachusetts home of poet Emily Dickinson inspired the essay, Emily’s Freedom. At the end of September, Teri will be flying into Atlanta, Georgia to embark on her latest writing adventure — a two-week road trip in a compact Cruise America rolling along the Southern Literary Trail.


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I have not wanted to write on the Topic of Scars. Why? All the more reason to dig in. I see the tiny nicks on my hands and wrists every day. They remind me of what I was doing when I got them. Pulling the stainless steel blade across a grinding wheel when the dental tool shot into the air, gravity intervened, it landed on top of my hand. Lathering dark brown bees wax across handmade paper and birch bark, drips of scalding wax on my wrists.

The next thing I think about is the stage of life I was in when those things happened. My twenties in Montana. I went from moving cross country and having no job, to working at a gas station for a while, then went to the job center, took a dexterity test, and landed at a dental tool sharpening company on Reserve Street. Looking back, it was a crazy time in my life. The second scar, art school, late nights, living on fumes. I felt alive, on the edge of something.

Last night on the news, there was a woman being interviewed about her daughter. She is a few days away from giving birth and in a burn unit. She was sitting around the fire ring with some teenage friends when a couple of the boys threw bottles filled with gas into the flames. She got up to leave, turned to look back, and that’s when the bottle exploded. She still has not looked at the scars on her face. Scarred for life. Holding on to a past that is not there anymore. Maybe that is what a scar indicates — change. A past event, no longer the present, still impacting our bodies and minds in some unexplainable way.

Scars represent choices we made along the way. More so if they were obtained as adults, while we were undertaking a task that might have been unfamiliar to us. Or maybe we were tired and running a chainsaw, or working around chemicals, machinery, fire. There are deeper scars, emotional, that grip like the vise, unless we work to let go of them. Feelings of abandonment, abuse, uncertainty. Maybe a close loved one died when we were young. Our parents were divorced or in an accident. We moved from California to North Dakota, Georgia to Pennsylvania, where cultures are polar opposites. I learned to run from scars when I was a young adult. Dug in my heels. At some point, I just dug in, and did the work. The work of transforming those experiences into fuel for the future.

That’s the part I like to see in the novels I read. I like to notice where the person took the wisdom of age and transmuted some horrific event in their lives into a spark of passion, into something better. Maybe they became a doctor or nurse and gave back to others. Maybe they raised their children to have a different life than the one they led. I am noticing when I listen to The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, noticing how she wraps the characters’ lives around them at the end of the book, like a woven sheep blanket, one with an uneven stitch, a place of imperfection where Spirit can enter. I want to study the structure of the book, look for places in her life that might have contributed to the details she writes about.

I do that with fiction. I scour the novel for tidbits of truth, something that relates to the writer’s own life, the scars they may have endured. If I know the writer well, have read their life story, or they have written a memoir, I can get under the surface, read between the lines. Of course, it’s only my take on things. Every reader has her own version of the same story. That’s the deliciousness of writing. And reading. And of living. None of my five siblings ever remember my stories, the narrative of our growing up, the way I remember them. And neither do my parents.

When I went to see The Scottsboro Boys at the Guthrie a few weeks ago, that is what I noticed. That we bring to a piece of art or writing, our own age, history, and experience. And our baggage. We attended the after-play discussion and listened to members of the audience talk about race, prejudice in the North and the South, about the minstrel shows and what they represented, about scars our country has left behind. Scars that slowly heal. And become transformed.

It is slow. And each time we take a giant step, everything splashes back in our faces, knocking the breath out of us. There is a backlash that becomes tempered with time. America is a country of extremes. We elect a black President yet have a hard time looking at the legacy leading up to the moment in time when we elected him. History is behind us, yes. But not really. If you had seen The Scottsboro Boys, you would know what I mean. I was pushed to laughter and tears from the scars. Yet, it opened me. That is what good art does. It opens us. If you can’t look back, you can’t really go forward. At least, that is what I believe. Scars are teachers. What have I learned?



-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SCARS, and Guest practice, PRACTICE – SCARS – 15min by Louis Robertson

NOTE: Scars is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Guest writer Louis Robertson was inspired to join QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Teri Blair



The Big Read, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





Have you heard of The Big Read?


I found out about it completely by accident. I was perusing the CDs at my library, and saw one entitled The Big Read: An Introduction to My Antonia by Willa Cather. I took it home, and was enraptured by the 25-minute program. Ted Kooser talked about the significance of Cather to Nebraska, Garrison Keillor read excerpts from her book, and Colin Powell talked about the immigrant experience. What was this? The Big Read?


The Big Read began in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the largest reading program in American history. Their mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture. Communities all over the country can apply for grants to explore one of the 31 Big Read titles. In addition to reading the book, related events are planned to last approximately one month.







When I plugged my zip code into The Big Read’s website, I was happy to find there was an event within an hour of where I live. On a Saturday in February my friends and I jumped in my Subaru and headed east to the small river town of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. As Thornton Wilder was from the Badger State, this community had chosen Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey. We walked into a packed house at the Scenic Riverway Park building. The local organizers of the program spoke, a representative from the National Endowment talked about what is happening with The Big Read across the country, and we heard from Wisconsin author David Rhodes. He read excerpts from his book Driftless, talked about Thornton Wilder’s writing, and led a group discussion about what Wilder accomplished in his work. At the end of the program, we were all given two new books, a CD audio guide (just like the one I had found at the library), bookmarks, and a reader’s guide.


We were invited to join book discussion groups, and to come back for follow-up events. Wisconsin Public Radio will be performing a reader’s theater, and the local community playhouse will present Our Town.


I love to read, but like most readers, I get worried about the future of books and people to enjoy them. A faster and faster world makes a luxurious afternoon with a good book harder to claim. I am happy to support a program that is doing something tangible…something to bring reading back to the people.


To find out more about The Big Read (and to plug in your own zip code) go to:

http://www.neabigread.org.


Thornton Wilder, David Rhodes, From The Big Read Series, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.




About Teri Blair: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri has written many posts on red Ravine. Her first guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb early this year and wrote a follow-up piece published on red Ravine in March, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time.

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Again Calls The Owl Sketch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

Margaret Craven worked as a journalist and didn’t publish her first novel until her late 60’s (something I find strangely hopeful). Born in Helena, Montana in 1901, she grew up in Puget Sound, Washington of meager means, worked hard to be one of the first women to attend Stanford, and graduated in 1924 with honors.

Craven’s novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name was first published in Canada in 1967. Picked up by an American publisher in 1973, the book was on the 1970’s bestseller list. It was made into a film in 1973 and shown as part of the CBS television network’s “GE Theater” series.

Near the end of her life, Craven wrote Again Calls the Owl, an autobiography in response to readers’ questions about how she came to write I Heard the Owl Call My Name. On a recent visit, Liz’s mother bought an old copy of Again Calls the Owl to read on her plane ride from Wyoming to Minnesota. She passed it on to me.

As opposed to memoir, the book is sparsely written in the autobiographical style of laying down significant chronological events that shaped the author’s life. A highpoint was Craven’s unexpected rendezvous with writer Gertrude Stein. A friend of Margaret’s had grown up in San Francisco with Alice B. Toklas and arranged a meeting when Stein came to town for a hospital visit at Mark Hopkins.

Alice B. Toklas walked Margaret into Gertrude’s room where she sat on her bed writing letters in a red velvet robe (an image not hard to imagine). Stein welcomed the young writer and they had a long chat about writing that ended with Stein’s sadness at her friend Ernest Hemingway and “the change that had come with The Sun Also Rises,” something she termed “the beginning of his egomania.” 

Again Calls the Owl is a short read, about 120 pages, and includes Craven’s pencil drawings interspersed throughout the book. I wanted to share Stein’s writing advice to Margaret during their three hour visit. She wrote down what Stein had told her on the cable car ride home:


_________________________________________________________________

 

“Every writer must have common sense. He must be sensitive and serious. But he must not grow solemn. He must not listen to himself. If he does, he might as well be under a tombstone. When he takes himself solemnly, he has no more to say. Yet he must despise nothing, not even solemn people. They are part of life and it’s his job to write about life.”

 

“Be direct. Indirectness ruins good writing. There is inner confusion in the world today and because of it people are turning back to old standards like children to their mothers. This makes indirect writing.”

 

“A writer must preserve a balance between sensitivity and vitality. Highbrow writers are sensitive but not vital. Commercial writers are vital but not sensitive. Trying to keep this balance is always hard. It is the whole job of living.”

 

“When one writes a thing — when you discover and then put it down, which is the essence of discovering it — one is done with it. What people get out of it is none of the writer’s business.”

 

“Every writer is self-conscious. It’s one reason he is a writer. And he is lonely. If you know three writers in a lifetime, that is a great many.”

 

“You do not have to write what the editors want. You can write what you want and if you develop sufficient craftsmanship, you can sell it, too. I want you to write for the Saturday Evening Post. It demands the best craftsmanship.”

 

  -Gertrude Stein from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

 

_________________________________________________________________

Though Gertrude asked Margaret to stay in touch, she never contacted Stein again. I recently learned from Bo’s blog Seeded Earth that there is a statue of Gertrude Stein in New York City’s Bryant Park. Much to my amazement, it was the first public statue of an American woman placed in the whole of New York City — it was installed in 1992. (Here’s the link to view Bo’s photograph of Gertrude at Seeded Earth and read more about the sculpture.)

I see Craven’s euphoria about her visit with Stein much the way I feel when I go and hear Nikki Giovanni, Ann Patchett, Patricia Smith, Steve Almond, or Mary Oliver talk about their work and have a chance to shake their hands when they sign my books. Or when our Poetry and Meditation Group receives a card from Billy Collins, Gary Soto, or Robert Bly.

It is the same joy I feel from the privilege of having studied with Natalie Goldberg. The things she has taught me about the practice of writing are immeasurable. There is much to be learned from the wisdom and knowledge of published writers who have already paid their dues.

At the end of Again Calls the Owl, Craven reflects on Walk Gently This Good Earth, her novel about growing up in the Cascades and her father’s life in Montana. One last quote from Craven urges writers to take heed:

A professional writer must be careful what he writes now about the past which could be used to hurt innocent people unmercifully.

I think it’s time my country does what the Indians of Kingcome are doing. We must return to our roots, our own safety and integrity, and I think this is beginning to occur. Our lives depend upon it.

-from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

_________________________________________________________________
 
Resources:

 

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 10th, 2009 with gratitude to oliverowl

-related to post: Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Postcard From The Edge, note from Gary Soto, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Postcard From The Edge, note from Gary Soto, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Our poetry and meditation group meets again tonight. I’m looking forward to the poetry of local writer, Louise Erdrich. Though I have read many of her books, I am unfamiliar with her poetry.

A few months ago, we read the poetry of Gary Soto. It’s our practice of gratitude to sign a card at the end of the evening and send it off to the poet, a way to give a little something back for their great body of work.


Once in a while, the poet writes back:



Dear Teri & Friends:

I thought my ears were burning a week ago! What wonder news for a poet – – fans! I have a new book under contract & will have to wait a little more than a year before it arrives. I sigh with patience. And I sigh even deeper because we may never meet. ¡Qué Lastima!

Blessings,

Gary Soto



      \'57 Ford, postcard image by Robert Bechtle, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.\'57 Ford, postcard image by Robert Bechtle, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.\'57 Ford, postcard image by Robert Bechtle, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



We are so grateful for the kindness. We stand on the backs of the writers and artists who came before us. They inspire us to believe in ourselves, to better craft our work, to keep going when we want to give up, and to reach high and hard to fulfill our own creative dreams. It is hard to write in isolation. We need community.

If you’d like to start your own poetry group, the details are laid out in the Guest post by Teri Blair, Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group. Or maybe you were inspired by her piece, and your poetry group has already begun to meet. We’d love to hear how it’s going.

The books we devour are mentors. The images, photographs, and words connect us to something much larger. To all the poets, writers, and artists who came before us — Deep Bow.



        The Poet Writes Back, note from Gary Soto, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    The Poet Writes Back, note from Gary Soto, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

           The Poet Writes Back, June 2008, all photos © 2008 by
           QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, July 10th, 2008

-related to post, Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day)

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In her post Thornton Wilder & Bridges, guest writer Teri Blair said this about Mr. Schminda, her former teacher:

Years ago, I was given a reading list by my 11th grade English teacher. I was in the college prep class, and the list of 100 or so books were ones he wanted us to read before we graduated from high school. It wasn’t just his idea. He told us a committee of English professors had compiled it. These books were considered the bare-bones-minimum to have read before we darkened the first door of a collegiate hall.

This piqued the interest of several readers — myself included — and we asked to see the list. Teri generously reproduced it from mimeographed pages carried with her since high school. So, without further ado…(drumroll)…and in no apparent order except that which made sense to Mr. Schminda et al., here is…


THE “95 BOOKS” LIST
Provided by Teri Blair

JOHN STEINBECK
          THE GRAPES OF WRATH
          CANNERY ROW

HERMAN MELVILLE
          MOBY DICK
          WHITE JACKET
          TYPEE
          OMOO

WILLIAM FAULKNER
          LIGHT IN AUGUST
          INTRUDER IN THE DUST

MARK TWAIN
          PUDD’NHEAD WILSON
          CONNECTICUT YANKEE

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER
          THE DEERSLAYER
          THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS

WILLA CATHER
          O PIONEERS!
          MY ANTONIA

ERNEST HEMINGWAY
          A FAREWELL TO ARMS
          FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
          THE SUN ALSO RISES
          ISLANDS IN THE STREAM

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
          THE GREAT GATSBY

THORNTON WILDER
          THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY
          OUR TOWN

THEODORE DREISER
          THE AMERICAN TRAGEDY
          SISTER CARRIE

FRANK NORRIS
          THE OCTOPUS
          MCTEAGUE

STEPHEN CRANE
          THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
          MAGGIE: A GIRL OF THE STREETS

WALTER VAN TILBURG CLARK
          THE OX-BOW INCIDENT

JOHN HERSEY
          THE CHILD BUYER

DANIEL KEYES
          FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON

OLE ROLVAAG
          GIANTS IN THE EARTH

WILLIAM BARRETT
          LILIES OF THE FIELD

SINCLAIR LEWIS
          MAIN STREET
          ARROWSMITH
          BABBITT
          DODSWORTH
          ELMER GANTRY

EDNA FERBER
          CIMMARRON
          GIANT
          ICE PALACE

UPTON SINCLAIR
          THE JUNGLE

OWEN WISTER
          THE VIRGINIAN

NORMAN MAILER
          THE NAKED AND THE DEAD

HERMON WOUK
          THE CAINE MUTINY

HARPER LEE
          TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
          UNCLE TOM’S CABIN

LORRAINE HANSBERRY
          A RAISIN IN THE SUN

OLIVER LAFARGE
          LAUGHING BOY

THOMAS FALL
          THE ORDEAL OF RUNNING STANDING

PAUL ZINDEL
          THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON
          MARIGOLDS

JAMES AGEE
          A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

ROBERT PENN WARREN
          ALL THE KING’S MEN

JEAN MERRILL
          THE PUSHCART WAR

JOHN KNOWLES
          A SEPARATE PEACE

DALTON TRUMBO
          JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN

MICHAEL CRICHTON
          THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
          THE TERMINAL MAN

ARTHUR CLARKE
          2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

RAY BRADBURY
          FAHRENHEIT 451

NEVIL SHUTE
          ON THE BEACH

PAT FRANK
          ALAS, BABYLON

MARGARET MITCHELL
          GONE WITH THE WIND

BETTY SMITH
          A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN

RICHARD WRIGHT
          NATIVE SON

RALPH ELLISON
          THE INVISIBLE MAN

HAL BORLAND
          WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE

LEONA RIENOW
          THE YEAR OF THE LAST EAGLE

HAMLIN GARLAND
          SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
          DAUGHTER OF THE MIDDLE BORDER

EDITH WHARTON
          AGE OF INNOCENCE

JACK LONDON
          WHITE FANG
          CALL OF THE WILD
          SEA WOLF

CARL SANDBURG
          REMEMBRANCE ROCK

PEARL BUCK
          THE GOOD EARTH

RICHARD H. DANA
          TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
          HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
          SCARLET LETTER

JESSAMYN WEST
          THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION

ALDOUS HUXLEY
          BRAVE NEW WORLD

SAUL BELLOW
          THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH

ARTHUR MILLER
          THE CRUCIBLE

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
          CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
          A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

WASHINGTON IRVING
          THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
          RIP VAN WINKLE

EDGAR ALLAN POE
          THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
          THE RAVEN

BRET HARTE
          SELECTED STORIES OF BRET HARTE

SHERWOOD ANDERSON
          WINESBURG, OHIO

J.D.SALINGER
          THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

LANGSTON HUGHES
          SELECTED POEMS OF LANGSTON HUGHES

JAMES THURBER
          MY LIFE AND HARD TIMES

EUGENE O’NEILL
          BEYOND THE HORIZON


Postscript
In a brief email exchange about her former teacher, Teri said:

Mr. Schminda is retired now, but lives in the same small town where he taught English to high school juniors. He whet my appetite for good books, and it was more than passing on the list of classics to read. He was thrilled about literature and authors.

One of the books we read the year he was my teacher was Moby Dick. I remember him pacing up and down the aisles between desks waving his paperback in the air and talking about Captain Ahab. He got fired up thinking about the adventure of the whale hunt.

When we read The Grapes of Wrath, I was desperate to go to Oklahoma and retrace the steps of the Okies fleeing the dust bowl. I wanted to know and love books as Mr. Schminda did. We all had to do an in-depth study of a writer; I picked James Weldon Johnson, my friend Pam chose Stephan Crane, and Sherri’s was John Steinbeck.

Mr. Schminda told us that we’d have to write one paper after another once we got to college. He told us by the time we left 11th grade he was determined that we’d know how to write term papers. We wrote and wrote and wrote. And when I got to college, thanks to his instruction, I knew how to write.

Thanks, Teri, for sharing Mr. Schminda with us, and thank you Mr. Schminda for inspiring Teri and countless others with your passion for reading and writing.

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I was going through an old writing notebook I filled in Taos last year, when I ran across some notes I had jotted down on Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin. It’s good to re-read writing practice notebooks. Sometimes there are helpful quotes, raw images, inspirational lines to be plucked from the pages of wild mind.

We read Another Country and Giovanni’s Room for the Intensive and I’d checked out a bunch of library books on Baldwin. One was called A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973), published by J.B. Lippincott.

I remember thinking the generational differences between Baldwin and Giovanni would add a richness to their dialogue. It was true. At the time, Baldwin was 49 and Giovanni was 30.

On February 28th, 2007, Nikki Giovanni spoke On Poetry and Truth in the Ted Mann Theater at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. The talk ran on PBS the first week of April and Liz taped it for me. But I didn’t get a chance to watch it until after the closing at the Virginia Tech Convocation. I was riveted to the screen.

She started out talking about how her dog, her mom, her sister, Rosa Parks, and her aunt had all died unexpectedly within a year period in 2005; she started out talking about grief and loss. Then she went on to discuss in great detail, the children’s book she wrote about Rosa Parks, titled Rosa.

She considered the book carefully and wrote with historical precision, considering every detail. That’s the hallmark of a good writer. I could see that writing the book had helped transform her grief.

I wish I would have had a chance to see Giovanni and Baldwin dialogue. They are two writers who have a startling honesty and unwavering passion for what they believe in. Speaking strictly for myself, I am completely inspired by both of them. After hearing an archived Baldwin interview, or listening to Giovanni speak, I want to run out and write my next book.

In Taos last August, I shared some of the Baldwin and Giovanni dialogue with the writers in the Intensive. Some found it inspiring. I thought it might be good to capture here the parts on Truth and Love. You can also still buy the book.

It seems like famous writers and artists used to publically dialogue with each other more regularly than they do today. Maybe it’s my imagination. But I’m hungry to hear gifted writers speak about their work and have frank conversations with one another about the issues of the day.

And while they are at it, I’d like to give them a go at world peace or global warming. It wouldn’t be the first time creative intellectuals debated the truth – and came to a place of compromise and love.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 78 – p. 82 – On Truth

Giovanni: Exactly. And I’m talking about Chester’s [Himes] pursuit of truth. Because Richard Wright died, or was murdered, before he quit pursuing the truth.

Baldwin:  That’s right.

Giovanni: But Chester could say, Okay, I will pursue truth in this way, which looks a little better, so that you can make a movie out of it if you want to and it’ll still be true. And then takes it right to Blind Man with a Pistol.

Baldwin:  But, sweetheart, it’s the same thing we were doing on the plantation when they thought we were singing “Steal Away to Jesus” and I was telling you it’s time to split.

Giovanni:  But why do we –

Baldwin: Steal away, steal away –

Giovanni:  Why do we, as black writers, seem to be so hung up on the truth?

Baldwin:  Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation. Look, this is why no tyrant in history was able to read but every single one of them burned the books. That is why no one yet really believes there is such a thing as a black writer. A black writer is still a freak, a dancing doll. We don’t yet exist in the imagination of this century, and we cannot afford to play games; there’s too much at stake.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 92 – p. 95 – On Love

Giovanni:  People really feel the need to feel better than somebody, don’t they?

Baldwin:  I don’t know why, but they do. Being in competition with somebody is something I never understood. In my own life, I’ve been in competition with me.

Giovanni:  Which is enough.

Baldwin:  Enough? It’s overwhelming. Enough?

Giovanni:  Just by fooling yourself –

Baldwin:  That’ll keep you busy, and it’s very good for the figure.

Giovanni:  It makes you happy, you know.

Baldwin:  Well, it means that in any case you can walk into a room and talk to somebody, look them in the eye. And if I love you, I can say it. I’ve only got one life and I’m going to live my life, you know, in the sight of God and all his children.

Giovanni: Maybe it’s parochial, narrow-minded, bullheaded, but it takes up so much energy just to keep yourself happy.

Baldwin:  It isn’t even a question of keeping yourself happy. It’s a question of keeping yourself in some kind of clear relationship, more or less, to the force which feeds you. Some days you’re happy, some days you ain’t. But somehow we have to deal with that on the simplest level. Bear in mind that this person facing you is a person like you. They’re going to go home and do whatever they do just like you. They’re as alone as you are.

Giovanni:  Because that becomes a responsibility, doesn’t it?

Baldwin:  Well, it’s called love, you know.

Giovanni:  We agree. Love is a tremendous responsibility.

Baldwin:  It’s the only one to take, there isn’t any other.

Giovanni:  I agree and it’s awful; we’re supposed to be arguing.

Baldwin:  And we blew this gig.

Giovanni:  Goofed again. I think love is an answer but you have to be logical about it, you know.

Baldwin:  You say logical or rational and I say clear, but it becomes the same thing. You can’t be romantic about it.

Giovanni:  No, you can’t be romantic about love.

Baldwin:  That’s all, you know.

Giovanni: I think we’re in agreement.

Baldwin: You think we are?

Giovanni: Yeah.

Baldwin:  You asked the loaded question.

Giovanni:  I asked the loaded question?

Baldwin:  You did. You did ask the loaded question. But it’s all right, because we’re home free.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, May 14th, 2007

-related to post: Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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