Every month is literary for readers and writers, but it seemed like April has been especially full of events for me, both as participant and audience. Here’s a brief rundown:
I’m going to cheat and start with AWP, which was at the end of March, so practically April, right? I went to a lot of panels and gleaned these nuggets:
- From the panel on putting together an anthology, which included luminous poet Kelli Russell Agodon: The role of the anthology is to bring whatever is missing to light, to break ground, to open doors, to open readers’ minds.
- From the panel on decolonizing travel writing moderated by exuberantly peripatetic Faith Adiele: Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel has a mission to “transform the faces of travel and travel writing to reflect the true diversity and complexity of our world.”
- From the panel on writing book reviews: Reflect the language and experience of the book you’re reviewing. Combine close analysis with cultural analysis. Don’t punish a writer for failing to accomplish what she never intended to do.
- From the panel on Latinx speculative fiction moderated by Kathleen Alcalá: What is speculative in the mainstream is real life in real time for Latinx writers.
Also, I read at an AWP off-site event in the great company of Margaret Malone, Kristen Millares Young, Jason Arias, Woody Skinner, and Sidney Wade. Many thanks to Atelier 26 Books and Moss: A Journal of the Pacific Northwest for organizing the event!
I bought a lot of books, more than I should’ve, more than I intended to, more than my downsized shelves in our downsized apartment allow. One item that doesn’t take up much space but packs a wallop is One Story Issue Number 251 which is Natalie Serber’s excellent story “Children are Magic.” The story is magic. Serber’s writing is sharp, funny, and poignant. You can order a copy here.
Soniah Kamal, Elliott Bay Books – April 3
At the beginning of April, I attended Soniah Kamal’s talk about her novel Unmarriageable. She was fierce funny, and fervent as she talked about her writing, her affection for Jane Austen and her novels, and the effects of colonization on her education and her identity as a Pakistani American woman raised in the British system. She was rightfully and deeply pained when she referred to the epigraph by Thomas Babington Macaulay she included in Unmarriageable which begins “…I have never found one among them (Orientalists) who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia…”
Orcas Island Literary Festival – April 5-7
The first weekend in April, I made the trip to the Orcas Island Literary Festival with three top-notch Seattle writers – Jennie Shortridge, Sonora Jha and Claudia Rowe. We were on various panels at this terrific festival, which featured headliners such as Mat Johnson and Terese Mailhot. We were lucky enough to be housed in a cabin in Beach Haven with a deck yards away from the Salish Sea, which provided the perfect atmosphere for a little bit of Sunday morning writing before we headed back to Seattle.
Guest in Rebecca Brown’s Creative Writing Class, UW Bothell – April 12
Rebecca Brown was one of my first writing teachers, so it was very special to be invited to talk to her creative writing students at UW Bothell. Her students had read Hola and Goodbye. We had a wonderful discussion about immigration, language, names, and other issues that appear in my book, and students offered up examples from their own experiences. They were such careful readers of the book and asked thoughtful questions.
It was an afternoon as productive and vibrant as the wetland that fittingly surrounds Rebecca’s classroom. The diversity of a wetland is sort of a metaphor for the depth of Rebecca Brown’s writing and teaching prowess.
In his review of her most recent book, Paul Constant called Rebecca Brown the “smartest writer in Seattle.”
Aside from “genius,” the other word I would use to describe Rebecca Brown is “elemental.” And I mean that in both senses of the word. Anyone who has seen her sweep into a group reading knows that she is a force of nature. She has turned entire rooms upside down with five-minute readings because she is a Category 5 Writer.
But the lesser-used definition of “elemental” is my favorite interpretation of Brown’s writing. As our understanding of the universe has grown as a species, we’ve learned more and more about the very smallest pieces of everything — from the classical understanding of elements to molecules to atoms to protons and neutrons to quarks and leptons. Brown isn’t just a genius at words. She’s a genius at the invisible forces that bind words together….
In addition to being one of my first writing teachers of fiction, Rebecca will also be one of my first writing teachers in non-fiction. I’ve signed up for her workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference this summer. Can’t wait.
Kathleen Alcalá and Leigh Calvez, University Bookstore – April 15
With the release of her book The Deepest Roots in paperback, Kathleen Alcalá appeared at the University Bookstore with naturalist writer Leigh Calvez, who talked about her book The Breath of a Whale. These authors reminded us of the fragility of our planet and of how survival depends on sustainable practices.
Valeria Luiselli at SAL – April 17
Valeria Luiselli read excerpts from Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and her new novel Lost Children Archive and talked about how the two are intertwined both in terms of their content and her process of creating them. “It’s never inspiration that makes you tell a story,” she said. “It’s rather things such as anger.”
I write with my ears. Completely.
A novel is about rhythm. You have to find a kind of respiration to take you all the way.
New Suns Anthology Reading, University Bookstore – April 18
Nisi Shawl, author of the recent Everfair, edited the anthology New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction By People of Color. She was joined by contributors E. Lily Yu and Alberto Yáñez who read their stories. Yáñez talked about how his Mexican heritage and his background in religious studies influence his work. Yu, whose story “Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire” slyly demurred to comment on whether her story of a “vain and foolish emperor, who made up for his foolishness by a kind of low cunning” was inspired by the current political landscape.
The forward is by LeVar Burton who writes “…these stories are delivered by vibrant, authentic voices bursting to weigh in on the human condition and our journey of human evolution.”
Bibliophilia Storytelling Festival: Beginning, Middle, and End – April 19
Bibliophilia was Paul Constant’s Literary Event of the Week for the week of April 15-21. It was my first experience with this festival, and it was one of the most fun and most creative events I’ve been lucky enough to take part in. My role was easy. I was the Beginning of Beginning, Middle and End. I read three-fourths of one of my Angie Rubio stories, then I turned it over to the group of improv actors who provided the Middle. They picked up where my story left off and brilliantly improvised a continuation of the story. It was amazing to watch them assume the lives of these characters and create their own story. It was funny, tender, and absolutely brilliant. And ephemeral. Unscripted, the words and gestures were of the moment. Such fleeting art, and, wow, these actors were good. The performance was capped by a poem by Jalayna Carter, created in response to my story and the improv. It was a fitting and lovely End. Bibliophilia is the brainchild of the multi-talented Jekeva Philiips, “a writer and idea machine driven by enthusiasm for the collaborative.”
Paul Constant said of Bibliophilia “… it’s fun to get some creative people into a room and reimagine ways in which literature can interact with other arts, too. When you experiment with two potent forms like literature and theater, you’re likely to invent something interesting along the way.” Really, I couldn’t agree more.
The All-American Oriental Magic Show – April 20
In her one-woman show, Maritess Zurbano performed magic while telling the story of the racist and sexist obstacles she faced in becoming a magician. Maritess astonished us with her sleight of hand, made us laugh with her unscripted banter, and left us wanting more of her wit, skill, and talent. She’s written a memoir, so someone needs to get her a book deal so we can all read it.
Guest in Peter Donahue’s class – April 24
I did a video chat with Peter Donahue’s class at Wenatchee Valley College at Omak, that is, after I fumbled away ten minutes trying to figure out how to make the audio work. His students asked great questions. I’m always delighted to find how carefully students read a book as part of a class assignment. I’m so appreciative of teachers who assign my work to their students. Peter is the author of three novels and a short story collection, and the editor of several anthologies.
Mineral School Annual Benefit – April 25
This festive gathering was a chance to support Mineral School, an artist residency program housed in the former elementary school of the town of Mineral in the foothills of Mount Rainier. It was also a chance to meet and mingle with former residents and appreciate the dedication and hard work of the board, staff, and intrepid founder and director Jane Hodges. Mineral School is a unique residency that can have a profound impact on an artist’s life. I wrote about my residency here.
There are no book-related events on my calendar for May. My husband and I are off to Spain to see art at the Prado in Madrid, architecture in Barcelona, the Moorish palace in Granada, the Picasso Museum in Málaga, and that rock of British territory on the Iberian Peninsula.