Sophfronia Scott on Writing About a Generation

26 Aug


I had the opportunity to interview Sophfronia Scott for the Festival of Women Writers. She is the queen of outlining, and her discipline makes me realize how structure can actually free up creativity. Sophfronia’s first big publication was writing about Generation X for Time Magazine. Since I am interested in the notion of categorizing people and literature by generations — the Beat Generation! — I was excited to ask her about her role in speaking for a generation.

Here is a snippet from our Q&A:

Nikolopoulos: While at Time Magazine, you and David Gross collaborated on the story “Twentysomething,” about Generation X. From the Lost Generation to the Beat Generation, and from Generation X to Generation Y, society tries to label groups of people based on when they were born and their shared historical and cultural experiences. As a writer, in what ways do you see yourself speaking for your generation?

Scott: The point of the Time Magazine story was that our generation, having observed and taken in the issues of the previous generation, seemed to be proceeding with our lives in a very thoughtful, observant manner. As a writer I tend to pursue my projects in similar fashion. Yes, I want to tell a good story or write an engaging essay but I’m also conscious of the fact that the story or essay has a deeper meaning. The story or essay interests me for a reason—I know I’m trying to say something important even if I don’t know right away what it is. The novel I recently completed explores sexuality, love, identity, and faith and when you read it you may find it challenging to what you believe about these things. In the big picture my writing, I hope, on some level will always leave you questioning who you are, what you believe, what your life is, in a style that will move you in positive ways.

If you missed it, I also did a Q&A with fellow Festival instructor Esther Cohen.

And, Breena Clarke interview me for a Q&A.

Nerdy Travelers Rejoice: A Bucket List of Literary Museums for Literary Travelers

21 Aug
Bustle came out with a listicle entitled “9 Best Museum In The World for Book Lovers, Because There’s Nothing Like An Original Manuscript.” It has some fantastic recommendations that this nerdy traveler will undoubtedly be adding to her bucket list.
No list can ever be complete, so I’d like to add my recommendations:
The Beat Museum
It should come as no surprise that I’d recommend the Beat Museum in San Francisco. Not only can you see a huge collection of Beat Generation mementos, but there’s also a bookstore that sells first editions, signed copies, and other collectibles.
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historical Site and Interpretive Center
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center out on Long Island is the place for fans of the Good Gray Poet. What I love about this museum is that it gives a snoopy look into the private home life of the poet and also keeps his tradition alive through contemporary poets. There’s also a wall in the museum that makes me think Whitman inspired Kim Kardashian….
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
Speaking of birthplaces, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is a must-see. (It’s currently closed but will reopen in a few months.) Oh, sure, he’s remembered today for being one of our presidents, but he was a prolific author, and his birthplace shows how he went from a sickly reader to a big-game hunter. I wrote about the museum in the introduction to his Hunting the Grisly.
Washington Irving’s Home
Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, is also a fun visit—particularly around Halloween! I went there a few years ago with a friend and to this day we still talk about it.
Junibacken Museum
I mentioned the Junibacken Museum, devoted to Astrid Lindgren’s works in Stockholm, Sweden, in a recent post. It’s particularly fun for children, but even adults may enjoy it.
The Writer’s Museum
I would also recommend The Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. My sister and I visited there quite a few years ago and saw the literary lives of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson come to life. My sister does a mean Robert Burns impersonation.
Some people go to the beach on their vacations. I visit museums and bookstores.

Poet Esther Cohen on Collaboration

19 Aug


I had the opportunity to interview poet Esther Cohen for the Festival of Women Writers. She is an amazing talent, and I learn so much just from listening to the types of questions she asks. As someone who has studied writers in collaboration, I was particularly interested to ask Esther about her collaborative projects.

Here’s a snippet from our Q&A:

Nikolopoulos: You’ve done several collaborative projects. For your book Unseen America, you gave cameras to the working class so that they could document their lives and you helped tell their stories. For Don’t Mind Me: And Other Jewish Lies, you worked New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chas. For Painting Brooklyn Stories, you contributed bio-poems to Nina Talbot’s portraits. What is it about collaboration that appeals to you? 
Cohen: Yes I have done many collaborative projects, all my life. I’ve written poems with visual arts like the wonderful Nina Talbot, I was lucky enough to collaborate with amazing cartoonist Roz Chast, and I’ve been doing an ongoing project for many years with my favorite photographer Matthew Septimus (our work is on the ON BEING blog on the NPR site at Other people often bring our own work Somewhere Else. Matthew’s pictures, for instance, take my words into another place, a place they want to go.

You can read the rest of the Festival of Women Writers blog.

And just in case you missed it, here’s the interview novelist and Festival co-founder Breena Clarke did with me.

A Swedish Children’s Author’s World War II Diaries May Make for an Enlightening Read

17 Aug
Pippi-Longstocking1024768Inger Nilsson in Pippi Longstocking 
I just found out that Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren’s World War II diaries are set to be published in English for the first time in autumn 2016. I had the opportunity to see the Swedish author’s ephemera at the Junibacken Museum devoted to her in Stockholm, which I wrote about for The Literary Traveler.
As the daughter of a Swedish-American mother, I grew up on Astrid Lindgren’s works. I watched the 1969 film adaptation starring Inger Nilsson repeatedly on VHS.
I’m also interested in these particular diaries because it happens to be the time period of literature that I study the most. After all, this was the era that gave rise to the Beat Generation, the era in which a young Jack Kerouac was roaming the seas. You can read more about Kerouac’s sea voyages in Burning Furiously Beautiful.

A Collage of Art and Literature at the Guggenheim

14 Aug
Carol Bove, Vague Pure Affection, 2012, wood and steel shelves, paper, brass, concrete, and acrylic, 85″ x 35 1/2″ x 16″. © Carol Bove, photo courtesy Maccarone Inc., New York
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an artist. So I became a writer. At Scripps College, I majored in English literature and minored in studio art. I wrote my thesis on the influence the Abstract Expressionist painters had the Beat Generation. At The New School, I studied the collaboration between the poets and painters of the New York School, which also touched on a lesser extent on the Beats. Next month, at the Festival of Women Writers in the Catskills, I will be teaching a writing class called Cut-Ups, Jazz-Poetry, and Picture Poems: Writing Under the Influence of the Beat Generation.
So you can imagine how excited I am about the Storylines exhibit at the Guggenheim. Robert Anthony Siegel did a provocative write-up on it in The Paris Review.
* * *
You can pick up your copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” here.

This May Improve Your Mood about Your Social Media Presence

12 Aug

WereAllKerouacy02 copy

This is me reading at Ronnie Norpel‘s fantastic reading series Tract 187 Culture Clatch at The West End —/ photo by author Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Over the years, I’ve blogged about everything from twitter to pinterest, in the effort to help fellow writers think about their social media presence. Why? Because every conference and expo I’ve attended has drilled the need for social media into my head. Swirling around my brain, I hear platform, platform, platform.

But platform is about so much more than social media.

According to Rob Eagar’s article “Stop Grading an Author’s Social Media Presence” on Digital Book World, publishers are “misguided” in how they look at an author’s social media presence. He suggests what authors and publishers should focus on is:

  1. Email list and performance
  2. Monthly website visitors
  3. Speaking schedule or webinar participants
  4. Previous sales history

I’d highly, highly suggest reading the full article. What he says makes a lot of sense.

Does this mean we abandon social media?

By no means! It means social media is simply one tool in our toolbox. Okay, toolbox metaphors aren’t quite my lingo—nor my “brand”—but the point is that publishers, agents, librarians, and readers value the fact that an author uses social media, so we should maintain our online presence, but we should also look to diversify. Give a reading. Engage with people who leave comments. Send out a newsletter. Host a webinar. Maintain your backlist. Participate in a panel.

That’s what I’m doing at least. Or at least trying to do.

You can find the facebook page Paul Maher Jr. and I run for Burning Furiously Beautiful here.
My Twitter handle is @stephanieniko.
I pin about Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation and lit life and 1950s fashion and nighttime road trips and the Greek beauty and deer on Pinterest.
I write articles for other publications.
I am reading at Word Bookstore in Jersey City.
I am teaching a writing class at the Festival of Women Writers.
I am participating on a panel at BinderCon.
I am co-organizing the faith and writing conference called The Redeemed Writer: The Call and the Practice.

There’s so much more to writing than, well, writing. I enjoy it, though. It’s stretching me as a writer, as an entrepreneur, and as a person.

I’m Reading at WORD Bookstore in Jersey City

6 Aug


I am beyond excited to be reading at WORD Jersey City. I’ve been a fan of the bookstore since before the Jersey City location existed when they only had the Brooklyn location. I look forward to reading their newsletter, which always has inspired book recommendations. They also curate great literary events for readers, writers, and authors. It was a secret dream to read at WORD, and now it’s coming true!

It all happens August 18 at 7:30pm at WORD Jersey City (123 Newark Ave.). I’ll be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” 

Here’s the official info:::

Authors participating in the 2015 Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, NY join us at WORD to share readings from their books. Performers include Evie Shockley, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, E.J. Antonio, JP (Juliet) Howard, Breena Clarke, and Stephanie Nikolopoulos. It will be hosted by fellow author Cheryl Clarke.

Evie Shockley, resident of Jersey City, professor of English at Rutgers University, poet and author of a half red sea  and the new black. Her essays and criticism have been featured in leading journals of African-American thought. She is a 2013 member of the Festival.

Cheryl Boyce Taylor, resident of Brooklyn by way of Trinidad,poet and author of Night When Moon FollowsRaw Air, and Convincing the Body. Founder of NYC’s Calypso Muse Series. She is an editor of the distinguished online poetry journal, The Wide Shore. Her poetry has appeared in numerousliterary and poetry journals. She participated in  the 2013 and 2014 Festivals.

E.J. Antonio, resident of New York City, poet and author of Rituals in the Marrow: Recipe for a Jam Session (cd) and two chapbooks, Every Child Knows and Solstice. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is an avid spoken word artist and Cave Canem  fellow. She is a 2014 participating Festival Writer.

JP (Juliet) Howard, a native New Yorker, originally from Harlem, poet and author of Say/Mirror. She is curator of  Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, a monthly New York salon featuring notable women writers. She is a Lambda and Cave Canem graduate fellow and will be participating in the Festival for the first time in 2015.

Breena Clarke, a resident of Jersey City by way of New York City and Washington, D.C., author of three novels: River, Cross My Heart an Oprah Book Club Selection in 1999, Stand the Storm, named one of the Best 100 Books of 2008 by The Washington Post, and in 2014 Angels Make Their Hope Here.  She is a co-founder and co-organizer of the Festival of Women Writers.

Stephanie Nikolopoulos, a New Yorker and co-author with Paul Maher Jr. of the biography Burning Furiously Beautiful: the True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. She is a blogger, essayist, editor, and cyber journalist. Her essays on art and literature have appeared in a number of publications. She is a participating Festival writer this year as well as in 2014.

Cheryl Clarke, Emcee, a resident of Jersey City by way of New Brunswick and Wash., D.C., author of four books of poetry, the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement, and The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry, 1980-2005. She is a co-organizer of the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.

Facebook RSVP encouraged, but not required.

So, not only do I get to read at a cherish bookstore, but I also get to read with an impressive group of writers!

The event is just a mere taste of what what’s to come at the Festival of Women Writers taking place September 11-13 in Hobart, New York — a quaint town in the Catskills known for its many bookstores. These authors and many more will be reading and teaching writing all weekend long. I had such a blast last year and can’t wait to go again. I’ll be teaching a new class this year, which I think is going to be a lot of fun if you’re into experimental writing styles. You can register for the Festival here.

If you missed it, you can see the Festival of Women Writers spotlight on me here. Breena Clarke interviewed me for this one. (For last year’s spotlight, go here.)

Here too is a radio interview I did with Simona David while at the Festival.

Get all the latest announcements on my readings and teaching gigs in the Appearance section of my blog.

Hibiscus Nectarine Tea: A Trip to Hawai’i in a Glass

4 Aug

When I was attending college in LA I became friend with few ladies from Hawai’i. We were equally distant from home, each of us taking a six-hour flight to get to Scripps. More than just the physical distance, we felt culturally far from our origins. They were used to the slower and friendlier island life, where drivers rolled down their windows and signaled the shaka sign while saying “aloha” and everyone let them through. I was quickly pegged as a New Yorker thanks to my mostly black wardrobe, sarcasm, and the way I quickly walked through crowds, ignoring strangers who tried to engage me. I knew a hand gesture as well, but it was a lot less friendly.

One of my dear Hawai’ian friends had the corniest sense of humor. As we’d walk around campus, she would point to one of the beautiful blooms, and ask me, “Do you know what this was called?” She amazed me with the way she always seemed to know the name of every tree and budding flower, and I was glad to pass the test. “A hibiscus,” I answered. She pointed to another bloom just a little lower on the tree. “What is this one called?” I paused, confused. Was I missing something? This was surely the same flower. “A low-biscus,” she laughed. I groaned.

Summer calls for tropical drinks, and what’s more tropical than hibiscus? I decided to make a hibiscus iced tea infused with fresh fruit.

Hibiscus Nectarine Tea

This is not the sweetest of teas, so you may want to add sugar or honey.
Or, turn it into a festive summer punch by adding a splash of gin!
Brewing your own tea is a great money saver for the starving artist.
It’s also more healthy because it allows you to control the sugars and preservatives. Hibiscus is a natural source of vitamin C. It’s also believed to lower blood pressure. It’s like a trip to Hawai’i in a glass!

Please Touch the Art

3 Aug

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If there’s one art event to check out this summer, it’s Jeppe Hein’s Please Touch the Art. Brooklyn Bridge Park brings art outdoors, making it accessible and fun for children and hipsters alike. Please Touch the Art is an experience. It’s a scavenger hunt of touchable art.

From the Brooklyn Bridge Park website:

Danish artist Jeppe Hein’s parkwide installation, Please Touch the Art, presented by Public Art Fund, features 18 playful sculptures designed specifically for public interaction. Jeppe, now based in Berlin and Copenhagen, studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Art and the Stadelschule in Frankfurt. His works have appeared all over the world. This exhibition includes three distinct bodies of work: Appearing Rooms, a series of “rooms” formed out of jets of water that appear and disappear throughout the day; a large Mirror Labyrinth, featuring evenly-spaced vertical elements of varying heights made from mirror-polished stainless steel that multiply the surrounding landscape; and 16 Modified Social Benches that upend the idea of a traditional park bench with their unconventional angled, curved, twisted, and bent forms.

Such fun! Definitely one of the most memorable things I’ve done so far this summer.

Texting as a New Yorker

30 Jul
There’s a Kerouac aphorism that goes, “Don’t use the phone. People are never read to answer it. Use poetry.”
I love that. I always feel anxious making a telephone call. What if the person is in the middle of dinner? What if they’re out with somebody else? It would appear I’m not the only one who feels that way. Try to walk down sidewalk in New York City without having to weave around someone who has stopped in the middle of the pavement to answer a text or who is walking at a creeping pace because they’re trying to text and walk at the same time. So annoying.
I loved Thrillist’s “14 Texts Every Single New Yorker Has Received.” Meagan Drillinger nails it not just with the texts but with the reality behind the texts. It’s a bit of hyperbole. I certainly haven’t gotten all these texts. But then again, I’m not a millennial. Some, though, are just so New York:

“Where are you?” “Brooklyn.” [silence…]

Yeah, they’re not coming to meet you.

“Know anyone who needs a roommate?”

Whether you have a friend of a friend who is maybe possibly thinking about moving to New York, or your landlord just hiked your rent up a gajillion percent, someone is ALWAYS looking for an apartment. Usually this is a mass text.
Read them all here.
I think the text I most often get is: “Just got off the train.” It’s written to signal the person I’m meeting is on their way.