Archive | May, 2011

Poet Dean Kostos Celebrates Birthday at Cornelia Street Cafe

24 May

Once a month for about twenty years, the Greek-American Writers Association has been meeting at the Cornelia Street Cafe.  This month’s reading–held last Saturday, May 21–happened to fall on host Dean Kostos’ birthday so we were in for a special treat.  Normally, Dean doesn’t read his own poetry but to mark the occasion he read in addition to guests Vasiliki Katsarou, Sharon Olinka, and Angelo Verga.

New Jersey poet Vasiliki Katsarou was nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize.  She curates the Panoply Books Reading Series, a monthly poetry event in Lambertville, NJ.  She co-edited, along with Ellen Foos and Ruth O’Toole, Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems (Ragged Sky Press).  She studied comparative literature at Harvard.  She received her MFA in filmmaking at Boston University and studied philosophy and film at the Sorbonne so it’s no surprise that on Saturday night she said, “For me, film is a rich source of material for poetry.”  She went on to read a selection of poems about film.

Sharon Olinka is a New York City poet and literary critic.  Her first book of poems was A Face Not My Own (West End Press) and her most recent book is The Good City (Marsh Hawk Press).  Her poetry has also appeared in Colorado Review, Long Shot, and Luna, among other publications.  Sharon read on Saturday about “angry punishing writers of ever hue” and “those writers with voices like whips.”

Bronx poet Angelo Verga won a Bronx Council on the Arts BRIO award.  He curates poetry and performance at Cornelia Street Cafe.  He penned several collections of poems: cross The Street From Lincoln Hospital (New School), The Six O’clock News (Wind Publications), and A Hurricane Is (Jane Street Press).  His poetry has also appeared in The Village Voice, Mudfish, The Massachusetts Literary Review, among other journals.  He graduated from Iona College.  Like Charles Bukowski, Verga worked for the US Postal Service.  Since May 21 was supposed to be Judgment Day, according to one sect, Verga joked on Saturday, “I wanted to read an end of the world poem” before launching into a section from A Hurricane Is.

Dean Kostos is Pushcart Prize nominee and a recipient of a Yaddo fellowship.  He wrote Last Supper of the Senses (Spuyten Duyvil), The Sentence That Ends with a Comma (Painted Leaf Press), and Celestial Rust (Red Dust Books). He is also the editor of the seminal anthology Pomegranate Seeds: An Anthology of Greek-American Poetry and co-edited the anthology Mama’s Boy: Gay Men Write About Their Mothers. His work has also appeared in Barrow Street, The Dos Passos Review, Rattapallax, Red Rock Review, Southwest Review, Vanitas, and on Oprah Winfrey’s Web site  Normally stoic, Dean gave a heartrending reading that testified to the power of poetry.

The next Greek-American Writers Association event will take place on Saturday, June 18, at 6pm, at Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia Street; NYC).  Hosted by Dean Kostos; featured poets include Kosta Anagnopoulos, Catherine Fletcher, Elizabeth Haukaas, & George Wallace.  Admission is $7. Book Club Party: May ’11 Edition

23 May

On Tuesday I attended the book club party, which was held in the swanky underbar at the W Hotel in Union Square.  The event was hosted by Jason Boog, who presented four diverse readers for the evening: Jamie Cat Callan, Jonathan Franklin, Steve Friedman, and Shana Mahaffey.

Jamie Cat Callan showed up with hot pink casts on her arm and leg.  Even post-accident she looked tre chic.  She read from her latest book Bonjour, Happiness!  In this easy-to-digest and engaging work of nonfiction, Jamie writes about being inspired by her French grandmother to travel to France.  There she seeks out the secret to joie de vivre.

Jonathan Franklin gives a firsthand account of the rescue of the Chilean miners in his new book 33 Men.  The journalist, who was at the mine site during the ordeal, interviewed all but three of the miners and one hundred of the rescuers to tell the real story behind what we heard on the news.  He shared some stories of the personal lives of some of the miners, and it individualized the men who were trapped and rescued.

Steve Friedman read from the chapter “The Ant, the Grasshopper, and Nicole Kidman,” in his new book Driving Lessons: A Father, A Son, and the Healing Power of Golf.  I hate sports and golf especially, and I’m neither a father nor a son, but I have to admit I was rather captivated by the section Steve read.  I picked up a copy and am looking forward to reading it.

Shana Mahaffey was the representative fiction writer and read from Sounds like Crazy.  It’s about a voiceover artist who–wait for it–hears voices in her head.  She has dissociative identity disorder and lots of cats.  It’s a lighthearted read about a woman whose personality becomes fractured.

I also got to meet petite model and author Isobella Jade at the event, who was super-friendly and we talked all about teen lit and making mud pies.

What a fun night!

How to Murder a Woman’s Sense of Worth

20 May

The other night I watched the 1965 film How to Murder Your Wife.  First of all, the dancing was outrageous!  I wish I could travel back in time and attend parties in the 1960s.  Okay, but second of all, the clincher of the movie is that a comic-strip writer is on trial for supposedly killing his wife and sets out to prove that she—and all wives—deserve to be murdered.  The all-male jury acquits him on those grounds!  A quick Internet search and I discovered it wasn’t until 1975 that the Supreme Court ruled that women could not be excluded from the jury pool.  (Marissa N. Batt wrote an enlightening article on this in 2004 for Ms.)

1975!  That’s not that long ago.

Close to five decades after How to Murder Your Wife, the comedy Bridesmaids has just come out.  I was talking to a guy I respect the other day about wanting to see it, and he verbally rolled his eyes about it being a chick flick.  I disagreed saying it’s supposed to be like The Hangover but with women as the leads.  I’m not so sure my argument won him over.

As much backlash as there has been over feminism and as much as people think women have obtained equal rights, it seems that that’s just not the case.  Women and girls will watch movies with men as the central character, but if a movie has a female lead it’s denounced a chick flick, unsuitable for guys.

According to a new study released this month, 31% of children’s books have a female central character.

Only 31%.

Are the VIDA findings so surprising then?

Brunch @ Supper and a Walk along the Pier

19 May

Sunday I went to one of my favorite places for brunch: Supper.  With exposed brick, stained-glass windows, and an eclectic mix of chandeliers, the East Village establishment fits in with the view of downtown Manhattan I had in the ‘90s—cozy and sort of bohemian.  I almost exclusively have Eggs Florentine for Sunday brunch but when I go to Supper I get Molly’s French Toast.  It comes with strawberry butter and freshly cut strawberries, bananas, blueberries, and raspberries.  It’s hard to say whether I love raspberries or Hollandaise sauce more….

After brunch we walked over to Chelsea Piers, which I’d never actually been to before.  There’s a trail outside where you can walk along the harbor.  The salty smell of the river reminded me of my childhood.  There’s a ship near there that was converted to a bar called The Frying Pan.  I’d first heard about it a few years ago when I was covering Slideluck Potshow, which was having its after-party there, for Resource Magazine, but I hadn’t actually gone because a woman journalist going to the pier at midnight seemed like a good way to inspire a Law & Order episode.  Now that I actually went to visit it—in the daytime—it was so cool!  They had an actual train car onboard the boat—it was the turducken of transportation!

Writing Wednesday: Richard Stratton

18 May

On Saturday night, I went to a professional’s group gathering in which author-filmmaker Richard Stratton spoke and presented a short film.  My friends were hosting the event in their lovely Financial District apartment, where we could watch the sun set over the Statue of Liberty.  After a cocktail hour of mingling over wine and beer, cheese and pretzels, we settled into chairs to hear more about Stratton’s life story and projects.

Richard Stratton smuggled drugs before getting caught and imprisoned for eight years.  He was friends with Norman Mailer and while in prison wrote the novel Smack Goddess.  The PEN American Prison Writing contest awarded him first prize for a work of fiction in 1989.  He has since gone on to write for Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Spin. 

When he was released from prison, he brought his knowledge and experience into his career as a writer and filmmaker, raising American consciousness on what that life is really like.  He was a consultant on the Emmy Award-winning HBO prison documentary Thug Life in D.C. and on the dramatic prison series Oz and producer for the indie film Slam, a favorite at Cannes and Sundance.  Steve Fishman wrote a great article on Stratton for New York Magazine, which goes into more depth on his fascinating life story.

One tidbit revealed during the chat on Saturday night is that Stratton—who is originally from Provincetown, MA, and now resides in New York—is related to the Lowells who came over on the Mayflower.  Lowell, MA, is named after the Lowells.  Lowell is where Jack Kerouac (On the Road) is from, so if you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll probably guess that my ears perked up at the mention of Lowell.  I’ve actually been working on a piece set in Lowell, and now I’m considering doing some more research into the Lowell family.

Stratton is currently working on a film about an autistic child who loses his firefighter father on 9/11, and screened a short of it for us.

The evening inspired me to think more broadly about writing—both in terms of how writing and film are connected and in its purpose for raising awareness for the general public.

Writing Wednesday: Hung Up on the First Line

18 May

I often get hung up on the first line.  I feel like if I get the first sentence right, the rest of the work will have a better chance of coming out right too.  Maybe that’s because I generally don’t write with an outline.  Rather, I allow the first line to determine the direction of the piece.

That’s probably not the best way to write.  It’s probably better to know what you’re going to say and then say it.  But sometimes it takes writing about something for me to really wrap my head around it.

Unfortunately, that puts a lot of pressure on writing a good first line.  I guess that’s why the whole revision process is so important.

What about you?  Do you know ahead of time exactly how your story is going to conclude?  How does your first line determine the rest of your piece?

Light at the End of the Tunnel

17 May

For awhile it felt like the light at the end of the tunnel was a train speeding toward me.  All the books I’d been working on at the publishing house came in at once in a raw stage, needing to be edited as fast as my eyes could fly across the type.  Meanwhile, “finals” week approached for my MFA program, and I had twenty-page papers to write and a presentation.

As if my expected workload wasn’t enough, a writing opportunity for a magazine came along that I couldn’t pass up—and I’m very glad I didn’t.

And then there were the lunches.  Usually I try to reserve my lunches for catching up on emails and doing some writing or editing.  Yeah, yeah, I know, nerdy of me, but I try to make the most of my time.  Well, right as all the big projects were landing in my lap, so were working lunches.  I had a lunchtime phone chat with my mentee one day and lunch with my book-publishing mentor another day.  I had lunch with my former editor and a writer, with whom I’d had the privilege of working with.  There were also long-overdue lunches with book-publishing colleagues who’d had birthdays or started new positions.  Each of these lunches were important to me so I found a way to pack them into my schedule.  I love hearing about all the amazing projects everyone’s working on and I get so inspired by them.

Because it was the end of the semester, I also went out after class with my fellow writers to celebrate.  I get to read such personal moments of their lives in the essays they write each week, so it was nice to sit down with them over a glass of red wine and decompress after the end of the semester.  –The end of our first year!  We’re halfway done!  Man, it goes by fast.

I’m also working on a super exciting project for Burnside, which I can’t wait to tell you about.  Soon, I promise!

So, all this to say, I’ve been a bit crazed lately but life is really good.  I love the work that I do and the people with whom I work.  I’m so thankful to my family and friends for giving me the space, encouragement, and prayers to get what I needed to do done.  And I’m thankful to all of you for reading my blog and supporting my writing.

Now, as life returns to a more normal pace, I’m actually feeling a bit anxious about how to handle my newfound time.  Do any of you ever feel like that?  I’m still in the midst of some personal writing projects, but I also have plans for long walks in Central Park, deep conversations over sumptuous meals, choosing which books I want to read.  And, sleeping.

Blogging goes without saying.

Painting I made several years ago.

Feast of the Flowers

2 May

Greece’s Feast of the Flowers is not a literal feasting on flowers.  It’s a celebration of springtime, the hearth’s rebirth.  If you are interested in actually dining on flowers, though, there are a surprising number of options.

Gardenias, hibiscuses, jasmines, lavender, pansies, roses, and violets are among popular flowers that can be eaten and enjoyed.  Some may be an acquired taste, but the ones just mentioned tend to be the least offensive varieties.’s home cooking site offers some great introductory descriptions of edible flowers.  Please, please, please keep in mind though that some flowers don’t just taste bad—they’re toxic.  So be careful what you not only put in your mouth, but what you use to garnish your plates.

Edible flowers can be used in teas, liquors, and punches as well as in salads and on cakes and other pastries.

Diana Henry talks about the ancient uses of flowers and the contemporary use of cooking with flowers in Middle Eastern cooking in her article “Heaven scent: cooking with flowers” for the Telegraph.

You might be interested to know that many Greek pastries, such as kourabiedes, call for orange flower water.


1 May

We all know that April showers bring May flowers, but Greeks celebrate May 1 (also known as May Day, Labor Day, and Protomayia) with the enchanting Feast of the Flowers.

Revelers flee to the countryside on this national labor holiday to herald spring.  By May 1, most of the Greek islands are warm with gentle breezes and the mainland can even get hot.  It’s a marvelous day of picnicking and flying kites and enjoying nature.

People spend the day collecting flowers and turning them into wreathes.  There are even several flower festivals throughout Greece.