Tag Archives: immigrant

Does Where You Live Determine Your Education?

22 Feb

Doesn’t it seem sometimes like life imitates art? That the same issues that were being written about — class, education, nationality — in the books of previous centuries can still be written about today?
Does where you grow up determine your education? Does it depend on coming from the “right” type of family who signed you up for extracurricular coursework? Or, is education self-determined? Can you embrace the autodidact tendencies of Massachusetts-raised Jack Kerouac, who skipped school to read voraciously in library?
Education was paramount in my family. My father especially believed that getting a good education was my job. It was his job to have a job, to have a career in which he could earn money to provide for his family. This would allow him to put me through the best and most expensive college so that one day I could have a reputable, well-paying job. Consequently, as a teenager, I could babysit occasionally, but I was not allowed to hold a regular after-school job when instead I should be studying. From what I observed growing up, that was common among the class of immigrant families in my hometown. Parents who had pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps worked tirelessly so that they could provide their children with a good education that would enable us to live better, easier, more fruitful lives.
Yahoo Real Estate recently came out with its annual list of most educated states in America. It didn’t surprise me at all to see my home states of New Jersey and New York on the list. I attended a Blue Ribbon high school in Bergen County, New Jersey, and my classmates and I went on to attend some of the highest-ranked colleges in the country. Not only that, almost every single friend from my childhood that I’ve kept in touch with went on to grad school as well—and that includes people that were in honors and AP classes and people who were never really into academics.
I mention friends first because I didn’t grow up with extended family nearby. My cousins—those from my father’s side, first generation; those from my mother’s side, here just a few generations longer—were in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these states as well were all in the top ten most educated states in America!
That’s not to claim that my family is the most well-educated or that we use our education to further traditional, high-paying careers. Some of us have master’s degrees, others of us just graduated high school. Some of us have careers, others of us are homemakers. Some of us read for pleasure, some of us play video games. Still, we have the foundations and the options to choose what we want to do. I’m reminded of the eighteenth-century British novels I read about women of a certain class, who were well educated even though they were never going to use their education outside the home. They would surely study French and Latin and learn to play the piano and paint frescos because it made them more interesting, more desirable, more well-rounded. They enjoyed learning for the sake of learning.
I think there’s something to be said for living in a state that values education. Even if one prefers to work with her hands or to be a stay-at-home father, both of which are noble, being well educated provides options and allows one to enjoy a rich interior life. One of my friends lived in a state that did not value education. Rather, when her daughter raised her hand to answer questions in class, her classmates mocked her for being interested in school. The girl began to shut down, to stop raising her hand, to stop caring about school. Fortunately, my friend recognized what was going on and was able to get her out of that situation. Now her daughter reads and writes even outside the classroom.
I go through phases where I get lazy and watch a lot of Netflix. Right now, though, I’ve been reading and writing a lot again—and it feels so good! I can’t believe I ever got so distracted and lazy to stop doing what I love. Suddenly my life feels richer. I feel like I’m doing what I’m called to do. And part of me has been thinking about furthering my education again. I’ve been missing the structure and challenge of academia. I’ve been wanting to be exposed to new ideas, to be challenged by books I’d never think to read on my own. I wonder if it’s worth it to get my PhD. University costs are so outrageously expensive, and when you work in the arts, where little money is the norm, it’s hard to justify going into debt. That’s why I’m glad I live in New York. New York is a university unto itself. There are so many great readings, lectures, and panels I can attend—and often for free. I can go to the library and check out books at random or I can do a little digging and find recommended reading lists like Allen Ginsberg’s Celestial Homework.
In descending order, the most educated states in America are:
  1. Minnesota
  2. New York
  3. Vermont
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Virginia
  6. New Jersey
  7. Connecticut
  8. Maryland
  9. Colorado
  10. Massachusetts
No matter where you’re from in America, though, you can educate yourself by seeking out mentors and reading good books. Even if one is illiterate, a lot of libraries and churches offer volunteers who can help.
You might also be interested in:::
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The Wall Street Journal Excludes Greek American Novels in Its List about the Immigrant Experience

7 Oct
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In a list of “10 Notable Novels about the Immigrant Experience,” there are bound to be many great and notable novels who don’t make the cut. This isn’t about just literature, though. This isn’t just about craft or sales numbers.
It’s nice to see a novel about a Swedish-American family on the list, as we Swedes are sometimes overlooked. However, I was disappointed not to see any novels about the Greek-American immigrant experience on the list.
That being the case, I would like to offer up Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, which in portraying three generations of Greeks weaves a story of immigration and the American Dream.
What would you add to the list?
PS::: Remember that time Jeffrey Eugenides’ vest was Tweeting? And a great quote from the author.

Immigrants à Gogo

22 Jan

 

garychangimage via Vulture

Discussing how all immigrant writing is dystopian, the unique pressures of being the children of immigrants, and critiquing their own cultures, Boris Kachka’s interview with Chang-rae Lee and Gary Shteyngart in New York magazine offers brilliant insight on the state of immigrant literature.

Here’s a quote from Shteyngart that particularly resonated with me:

And to jump off of that, I teach Native Speaker in my “Immigrants à Gogo” fiction class at Columbia. I read it every year, and there are phrases like “my mother’s happy kimchi breath” that bowl me over. I didn’t know one had permission to write like this about one’s ethnicity. I was absolutely shocked that one could get away with that. And I didn’t see that with a lot of immigrant writers. I still don’t. I can think of Junot Díaz, a few other immigrant writers, but there’s a lot of this sort of endless overcoming of obstacles, racism, the triumph over adversity, and off we go. And that’s not what Chang-rae writes.

Growing up, I wasn’t at all interested in immigrant fiction because I so often found it to be depressing studies of being the Other. Or else, the overriding factor of the book was ethnic pride or the mystery and allure of that culture. As Lee said:

And the people leading those ethnic pride parades are those members of your group that you probably least admire.

Kachka’s interview with Lee and Shteyngart brings to the forefront many of the concepts I’ve been thinking about for my own memoir, which deals not so much with a personal immigrant experience but more so with expectations and identity from a tangential viewpoint.

You can read the full interview here.

Tim Z. Hernandez Gives a Behind-the-Scenes Look at Manana Means Heaven

16 Sep

TimTim Z. Hernandez photo courtesy of the University of Arizona Press

I’ve often thought that poets make the best prose writers, and I was reminded of this once again as I read award-winning poet Tim Z. Hernandez’s novel Mañana Means Heaven. The story is about Bea Franco, the real-life woman who inspired Jack Kerouac to write one of the most poignant passages in On the Road—the story of “the Mexican girl,” Terry. Mañana Means Heaven is by no means a work of fan fiction. It is beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched, and stands on its own. Even as I got caught swept up in the story, I kept wondering how Hernandez did it—how was he able to write such a captivating story about a real person, one he’d met and interviewed, one whose children he’d met, who for so long seemed mythical herself yet was perhaps overshadowed by Beat mythmaking?

When the University of Arizona Press asked me if I’d be interested in participating in a blog hop with Tim Hernandez, I jumped on the opportunity. Special thanks to the University of Arizona Press for arranging this interview and for being great to work with. And, of course, a big thanks to Tim for so thoughtfully answering all my questions.

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How did you first come across Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and how old were you?

I first read it when I was around 17. I believe a friend of mine from Sweden, Jonas Berglund, turned me onto it. He was the poet back then, while I was mostly into painting. He was trying to get me to go backpacking with him in Europe, and he kept telling me how cool it would be. He told me I should read “On the Road,” so I did. That summer I split with him to Europe.

What did you think of it at the time and how has your perspective on the novel changed over time?

I’ve read OTR three times now. At age 17, and then in my early twenties, and then later at around 30. At age 17 I identified with the desire to break free, to adventure and take risks, to get away from the place I called home. In my early twenties I began questioning whether or not these guys, Kerouac and his crew (The Beats), were just completely insane. Also, the idea of a threshold appeared. I related more with the underlying question Sal Paradise was seeking to answer, that is, do I continue on this path of wild abandon, this path as perpetual seeker of truths, by whatever means, OR, do I fall in line with the rest of the world and live a “normal” life clocking in day to day and having a family? It was a matter of maturation. Not that I decided to let go of that desire “to seek” but just that I would go about it differently, in my own way. And then by age thirty, I was reading the book less for its subject and more for the writing itself, the technique and process, and also the idea of lineage. This is what sparked the initial seed for Mañana Means Heaven.

In the introduction to Manana Means Heaven, you say that you became interested in the story of “the Mexican girl” Terry/Bea Franco because it was the part of Kerouac’s novel that you could relate to. I understand that your parents were migrant workers near where Bea’s family worked as migrant workers. I know you also worked for the California Council for the Humanities interviewing immigrants about their lives and struggles. Were your parents immigrants? Can you talk a little about your relationship to and interest in the migrant worker experience and how it relates to your writing?

Yes, all of this was very influential to my wanting to write about Bea Franco. My work with CCH, and even the Colorado Humanities today, has been very instrumental in the research and process for the making of this book. It’s the experience of working for them that has emboldened me to walk up porches and knock on the front doors of total strangers, for the sake of stories. Not to mention, having these two entities as a resource throughout my research has been invaluable. As for the other part of your question, my parents were migrant farmworkers, but they were born in Los Angeles and Texas, so they weren’t immigrants. I’m the third generation in my family to be born here in the United States, and I think this is also why I related to Bea so much once I finally met her. My first question to her was, “What do you think about being called the Mexican Girl?” She laughed and replied, “I’m not from Mexico, I was born in L.A..” So she was very conscious of her own identity in this way too. She was not an immigrant by any means, and I believe that it’s possible this assumption about her is what kept Kerouac biographers from finding her, or even looking. In any case, having come from the same background as Bea Franco, the farmworker experience, living among the labor camps of the San Joaquin Valley, this was all part of my growing up. My parents and grandparents used to travel all over picking crops, grapes, hoeing sugar beets, so I knew the people from this place very well. When Sal Paradise entered the San Joaquin Valley in “On the Road” I felt he was now entering my world, a distinct place that is in every fiber of who I am, and I knew I could write about this with some authority.

Similar to your experience with Bea Franco, part of what continues to draw me to Kerouac is his ethnic experience and how he writes about feeling a duality within him. I was born here in New York City, but my father is an immigrant. He moved here from Greece when he was in his thirties, and he felt embarrassed because sometimes people couldn’t understand him because of his accent. Kerouac’s parents were immigrants from Quebec, and although he spoke English as a child he really didn’t feel comfortable with the language until he was a teenager. I think our immigrant experience was much different, though, because of our skin color. Kerouac is seen as a quintessential American novelist while Bea got pegged as “the Mexican girl” even though they were both born here in the States. Was Kerouac’s portrayal of the immigrant experience something you were interested in or were you mainly interested in telling Bea’s story?

Yes, all valid points here. Bea too was in that strange purgatory of “immigrant born in the U.S.,” and she too was very light skinned with green eyes, and because of it was sort of an insider-outsider, similar to Kerouac’s and your own situation. In some of our conversations she talked about how she was treated differently, sometimes cruelly, while growing up because of her complexion. In many ways, hers was a real “Chicana” experience, before the term was popular. She was balancing between two cultures at once, was educated in Los Angeles public schools, spoke fluent English and Spanish. She loved both the Mexican classic songs, and the big bands of her time. In 2010 she still had stacks of records by Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, folks like that. When I first met her she had a portrait of Ronald Reagan in her dining room. It took my aback for a moment, until I asked her about it. I was afraid she’d say something like, “He was our greatest President.” But instead, she said, “He was a great actor and I loved his movies,” and then she chuckled. Bea loved being American, and even though her father was from Mexico she clearly identified with aspects from both sides of the border. In regards to the last part of your question, yes, I was mostly after Bea’s story, about who she was/ is. As a fan of Kerouac’s writing, in the beginning it was tough for me to distance the two, but it was necessary to do so. If I was to write about Bea’s life, to fill in that “missing link” about who “The Mexican Girl” was, I had to start from scratch. That is, I had to, in some ways, reject what other biographers had written about her, and even reject what Kerouac himself had written about her, and go straight to the source—Bea and her family—and start there. So then the question of what she remembered of her time with Jack was no longer significant. Instead I would ask her, Tell me who you are? Where were you born? Who did you love? Approaching it this way would allow readers to enter the book on her terms, not based on anything else written about her previously. This is what I was after.

The Beats have often been criticized for the way they treated and portrayed women. In fact, I have been criticized in the media for being a woman who likes Beat writing. You’ve given voice to one of the most influential women connected to the Beats. The story of “The Mexican Girl” was the first part of On the Road Kerouac got published in a lit magazine. Some might argue that Kerouac used her for her body or for gaining experience for his book. Your depiction of their relationship was quite tender and sympathetic toward both of them. It reads like a beautiful love story. What was your thought process in writing about Bea striving to make a change in her life and cheating on her husband, and Jack leaving and never reconnecting with her?

Yes, my initial idea, as I started to envision the book, was that I’d somehow have the opportunity to “even the score.” That I would make Jack out to be this womanizer only after his own “kicks” or “experiences.” Of course, this was still before I had ever met Bea. Too, I think in order to write a good story, an honest or authentic story, at least in this case, one has to suspend those kind of judgments about their own characters. This occurred to me after I had met Bea and began speaking with her. She never viewed herself as the “damsel in distress,” and in fact, was a woman who took responsibility for her own decisions, in her early years and even now, yet was also very much a romantic. After speaking with her I quickly saw that she was not the naive “Mexican Girl” that Kerouac made “Terry” out to be in “On the Road.” Nothing in our conversations told me that for Bea, at least in her own mind and heart, ever doubted their relationship was a real possibility. Of course, she was aware that this could also mean a new start for her and her children. And this is the sense I get too from reading her love letters to him. In the end, the relationship had to feel like a very real possibility, for her mostly, but for Kerouac too. Because if he didn’t believe in it, then going by what I know about her, she would not have wasted her time.

You tracked down the real Bea Franco and got to know her. How did she feel about being a character in Kerouac’s novel and how open was she when answering questions for your book?

When I located her in September 2010, she nor her children had any clue about the legacy of “The Mexican Girl.” She was just about to turn 90 years old, and when I did tell her, I said something to the effect of, “Did you know you are a famous character in a famous American novel?” Her children, Albert and Patricia, laughed out loud. Bea just sort of nodded and said, “Oh really. I didn’t do nothing so special.” The next thing I did was take out a list of over 20 Kerouac biographies that mention her name. She just shrugged, like it was no big deal. Her son though, Albert Franco, who Kerouac dubbed “Little Johnny” in On the Road, he opened up his laptop and started typing stuff into the search engine. There he was now at age 70, blown away by it all. I can’t describe the feeling of it, but the word “surreal” comes to mind. I just sort of sat there praying they wouldn’t kick me out of the house. A couple of visits later, while interviewing Bea, Albert asked me, “After all these years…how can so many people mention my mother’s name in their books and never tell us about it?” I didn’t have an answer for them. But I knew right then that I had already done a couple of interviews and still had not formally asked their permission. I felt, symbolically at least, that this was necessary. So I asked her point blank, “Bea, can I write the book about your life?” She said, “Sure.” I replied to her, “What would you like the world to know about you?” She answered, “Oh, I guess that I tried hard to be a good person.” Albert was sitting with us too. At the time he looked reluctant with the idea of yet another book. I told him, “People will continue to learn about your mother from all these books, or I can write the only book with her input, her own words, from her perspective, and after that everyone will no longer guess at who she is.” I think it was after he did his research on me and saw that I was a kid from Fresno whose parents were also migrant farmworkers, did he finally begin to trust me. Of course, Albert and I are now great friends.

How did her children react? You uncovered Bea’s affair and described her and Jack’s relationship in pretty sensual terms. Did you feel any awkwardness writing about any of this or any responsibility toward her and her family for how you portrayed the events?

Patricia and Albert are both very proud of the book. As are the rest of their family and friends, many of who are the children or grandchildren of some of the background characters in my book. As for the “sensual” aspect, this is probably where I had the toughest time writing the book. Which seems weird coming from me, since both of my first two books have been called “raw,” “graphic,” “sexual,” in past reviews. But here I was dealing with someone else’s life, not purely my own imagination. My first attempts with the love-making scenes were horrible. A good friend who was a first reader told me, “You’re writing as if Bea herself is standing over your shoulder.” And this was true. I was worried about losing the trust of her and her children. I didn’t want it to come across as distasteful. But still, in order for anyone to be convinced of this romance, an affair where two adults holed up in a hotel room for several days, then the range of intimacy had to be present—everything from long talks in the wee hours of the night, to the ebb and flow of emotions, sex, regret, risk, liberation, all at once. I’ve long considered myself to be the kind of writer who doesn’t shy away from “the real,” and in fact, this is what I returned to as the book was being written.

Manana Means Heaven is categorized as a work of fiction. How much of it is true? In literature, where do you think the lines are drawn between fiction and creative nonfiction?

This is the kind of question that would require many pages to even scratch the surface, so I’ll try and give you the brief version. “Fiction” and “Creative Non-Fiction” are genres, and I treat them as such. Neither are qualified substitutes for “the actual.” Isn’t this part of what Kerouac’s own legacy is built on? The idea of writing it as he lived it? If I had to put it into a percentage I would say about 75% of Manana Means Heaven is “true” from Bea’s perspective. The other 25% is authored by me, but also rooted in truth, about the life of farmworkers in the 1940’s, about the history of that part of California and the people who worked the land. Like I told Bea herself, even though it’s called “fiction” it’s still closer to the truth about who you are than anything else out there. Which is odd when considering that most of what is out there can be found in the “Non-fiction” books shelves. Reason being is that biographers have only counted on Kerouac’s version of events. One of the first biographers I contacted when my research began was Paul Maher Jr. This was because his book, “Jack Kerouac’s American Journey” had the most unique pieces of information about Bea than any other book out there at the time. I wondered how he knew certain things, so I asked him. Turns out he had read Bea’s letters to Kerouac, which were housed in Kerouac’s archives at the New York Public Library. So Maher had dug a little deeper than most in regards to Bea. And now only recently, Joyce Johnson’s new book “The Voice is All” has echoed some of what Maher had discovered. I imagine now that my book is out we’ll start to see more accurate information about Bea Franco, which is also a big part of why I wrote this book.

You’re also an award-winning poet. I think poets often make the best writers. Can you talk a bit about how you approached this novel as a poet or how the writing process differed?

Yes, ultimately, I feel at home with poetry. For me, prose is like going to work, slinging a hammer from 6am–5pm. Poetry is like the ice cold beer you crack open when the day is done. Poetry was my focus throughout my undergrad and graduate degrees. But I do love telling stories too. Why can’t both happen? In writing I don’t begin by saying “I’m going to write a poem today.” Or, “I’m going to make this a story.” I write and allow the muse to tell me what it is. Even then I’m skeptical, or open about it. I keep writing until I get to a point where I go, okay, now I have to make a decision here. In the end, my main goal is tell a damn good story. It so happens that for me a good story is one that works on multiple levels. Not merely subject, but on the line level. For me a good story also has language that sings, that isn’t afraid to dig deep in the crates, use fresh turns of phrase, make rhythm, use imagery that evokes emotion.

Can you talk a little about the literary device you used in opening and closing the book in the same way?

Yes, there are two ends to the book, Bea’s story, and then my search for Bea. The idea of starting the book at the second ending emerged somewhat organically. I had to figure out how to let the reader know that this book is rooted in my interviews with Bea, and I had to address the one thing that I knew would be on the minds of Kerouac fans, that is, what did she remember of her time with Kerouac. And then there was one big wrench in the machine that I also had to figure out how to get around. By starting from the very end of what is considered the “non-fiction” portion I was able to set these three things up so that when the reader finally enters the “fictional” portion of Bea’s story, they have suspended their idea of “fiction.” The book went through something like twelve drafts before I could figure this part out. There was a lot of shuffling chapters around and reconfiguring the whole thing…in fact, there were times when I thought to myself, who am I kidding? It’ll never work. But I finally found a combination that did work.

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Tim and I will be continuing this conversation this Thursday night at La Casa Azul.

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Meanwhile, join Tim Z. Hernandez on the rest of his blog-hop!

Tim Z. Hernandez Blog Tour:

Tuesday, September 17 | The Daily Beat http://thedailybeatblog.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 18 | La Bloga http://labloga.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 19 | The Big Idea http://www.jasonfmcdaniel.com/

Friday, September 20 | The Dan O’Brien Project http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/

Saturday, September 21 | Impressions of a Reader http://www.impressionsofareader.com/

“Beat Generation” Premieres during Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

10 Oct

 

Kerouac’s play “Beat Generation,” written the same year that On the Road was published, will also have its premiere tonight.  The event stage production is taking place during Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, the week-long literary where fans from across the country make their pilgrimage to Kerouac’s hometown in Massachusetts.

As The Guardian reports, until around 2005, Kerouac’s play “The Beat Generation” sat unpublished in a New Jersey warehouse. In 2006 Da Capo Press published the play, with an introduction by A. M. Holmes.  Kerouac, who had a great interest in film, never got to see his own play put on or his novels made into a film.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) raised funds through Kickstarter to stage the play in Lowell and is presented with UMass Lowell.  It was made with “the support and collaboration of Kerouac Literary Estate representative John Sampas,” according to MRT.

The play centers around the same group of New York City friends Kerouac often wrote about, as they pass around a bottle of wine.  Perhaps even more so than his novels, which are rich in poetry, the emphasis in “Beat Generation” is on dialogue.  Kerouac had a great ear for the unique syncopation of everyday language and the lingua franca of the working class.  As Kerouac himself said:

One thing is sure: It is now a real play, an original play, a comedy but with overtones of sadness and with some pretty fine spontaneous speeches that are as good as Clifford Odets.

Odets (1906-1963) was a playwright raised in Philly and the Bronx who wrote such plays as Waiting for Lefty and Golden Boy.  Born to Russian- and Romanian-Jewish immigrant parents, Odets used ethnic language and street talk in his plays.  Arthur Miller said of Odets’ work,  ″For the very first time in America, language itself . . . marked a playwright as unique.″  Kerouac himself was the son of immigrant French-Canadian parents and made use of both ethnic language–his own joual dialect as well as Greek and Spanish–and street talk.

For information on the special events surrounding the play as well as tickets, visit MRT.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac: The Typewriter

9 Oct

 

One evening, a student came into our writing workshop at The New School and announced he’d bought a typewriter.  We were all very impressed.

“What kind?” we asked.

“Where did you get it?”

Most of us were in our twenties or thirties and had grown up using computers.  Many of us had entire mini computers—smart phones—jammed into our pockets and purses at that very moment.  We’d attended readings in bars across Manhattan, where authors had read poetry off their iphones.

But a typewriter!  Now that sounded really literary.  The click-clack of the keys echoing in a bare-bulb room.  Allen Ginsberg’s first-thought-best-thought mantra forced upon a generation accustomed to the “backspace” button on our keyboards.  Facebook procrastination less accessible.

And the history!  Continuing the beautiful tradition of authors attached to specific models of typewriters.

This evening, the documentary The Typewriter will screen at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center Theater (245 Market St.) as part of the Lowell Film Collaborative with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.  Here’s a little bit about the film from its website:

Three typewriter repairmen the filmmakers have interviewed all agree that their business is better than it has been in years.

Perhaps it is a reaction to the plugged in existence of today’s 24/7 communications world. Perhaps it is mere nostalgia and kitsch. Perhaps it is an admiration for the elegance of design and the value of time-tested workmanship. And for some, like typewriter collector Steve Soboroff, it is the appeal of owning machines on which American writers like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Ray Bradbury, John Updike and Jack London typed some of their finest work. (He also owns typewriters once owned by George Bernard Shaw and John Lennon)

The film is directed by Christopher Lockett and produced by Gary Nicholson.  You can read fascinating typewriter stories here.

As for Jack Kerouac, he owned several typewriters throughout his lifetime but most famously used a 1930s Underwood typewriter.  His father was a printer, so even from a very young age, Kerouac was in a world full of language, literacy, typography, and printing presses.  Not surprisingly, he had a reputation for being a speed typist.  myTypewriter.com offers some background information on Kerouac’s—as well as other literary figures’—use of typewriters.  Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will also include information about Kerouac’s typewriter.  Larry Closs‘ novel Beatitude also includes a plot involving Kerouac and typewriters.

Here’s a tip for those of you attending Lowell Celebrates Kerouac or if you happen to find yourself in Lowell any other time: you can see one of Kerouac’s Underwood typewriters, and other memorabilia firsthand at the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center.  It may sound like an unlikely place to view some of Kerouac’s possessions, and it’s not really well advertised, so it’s easy to miss if you don’t know about it, but the exhibit is open 1:30-5:00pm except on major holidays.  It’s free, but even if it weren’t the entire exhibit is fascinating.  The case display for Jack Kerouac is very small, but literary pilgrims will appreciate it nevertheless, since it’s rare to have opportunities to view his personal travel gear and typewriter in person.  The exhibit is engaging in retelling the story of immigration to Lowell.  Many of the immigrants were from Greece so the exhibit gives insight into the influence of Greek culture on Lowell.

10 Things You May Not Know about Jack Kerouac

27 Sep

Here are ten things you may not know about Jack Kerouac.

  1. His parents were French-Canadian immigrants, and he didn’t learn to speak English until he went to school.  It wasn’t until he was a teenager that he began feeling comfortable conversing in English.
  2. He was the baby of the family.  He had an older sister named Caroline (nicknamed “Nin”) and an older brother named Gerard, who died when he was just a boy.
  3. He was a Classicist.  He used to skip school just to go read the Classics in the library.
  4. He attended prep school.  Graduating a year early from high school, he had a scholarship lined up to attend Columbia University, but they required him to attend Horace Mann Preparatory School first.
  5. While in school, he wrote music reviews.  He also had a job as a sports writer for his hometown paper.
  6. He joined the US Navy and the US Merchant Marine.
  7. His go-to food while hitchhiking across the country was apple pie.
  8. His first book, The Town and the City, was published under the name John Kerouac.  When he drew the cover he envisioned for On the Road, he also wrote his name as John Kerouac.  His parents had given him the name Jean-Louis, and John was the closest Americanization of his name.
  9. His first marriage took place in prison.  He had been arrested as a material witness after his friend murdered a man who had been stalking him.  Kerouac’s girlfriend agreed to post bail if he married her.
  10. In addition to writing, he also was a painter.

My Festival of Faith & Writing Festival Circle: Holy Grounds — The Role of Place in Your Spiritual and Literary Life

9 Mar

As I mentioned a while back, I’ll be leading a Festival Circle this year at the Festival of Faith & Writing held at Calvin College.  It’s a tremendous honor to have been selected to facilitate a discussion group at this prestigious writing conference, where so many authors I admire will be speaking.

In case you’re unfamiliar with what Festival Circle is, here’s how FFW describes it:

This year, we are once again offering Festival Circles, small groups that will meet at least two times during the Festival to discuss a topic of common interest. Each circle, composed of approximately 12–15 attendees and led by a Festival participant, will meet during Thursday dinner and Saturday lunch. Because the circles are scheduled to meet at the same time, it’s possible for attendees to participate in only one.

They go on to explain its purpose:

We hope that Festival Circles will give you a place to connect with other attendees, and to deepen and extend your experience of the Festival.

I want to share with you the description of the Festival Circle that I’m hosting:

Holy Grounds: The Role of Place in Your Spiritual and Literary Life
By looking at what the Bible has to say about the setting of a story, this circle will encourage participants to carefully consider the role of place in their writing, and challenge them to see how different locations affect a story’s style and content.

Facilitator: Stephanie Nikolopoulos
Bio: Stephanie Nikolopoulos (www.StephanieNikolopoulos.com) has worked in book publishing in Manhattan for ten years, is the visual arts editor for Burnside Writers Collective, and is a co-leader of the Writers Group at the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York; her writing has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and books across the country.

I’m genuinely passionate about the multi-faceted subject of place.  I wrote about place for my undergrad thesis at Scripps College, my Burnside Writers Collective column Church Hopping talks about the architecture of unique and beautiful places, the travelogue I wrote an introduction to obviously has a strong emphasis on place, the nonfiction book Burning Furiously Beautiful I’m co-authoring describes how the landscape and history of place affected one of America’s greatest novels, and the memoir I’m writing deals very much with place. My resume aside, I love traveling.  I moved out to California for college without ever even visiting the state first.  I’m the child of an immigrant so place has always played an important role in my identity, in my understanding of who I am and where I come from.

Place isn’t always about a physical place, though.  Place can be a mood, a mental space, a spiritual space.  Place can be about a journey, whether that means hopping a train, opening a book and getting lost in the imagination of an author, being moved to tears, learning something about yourself, understanding the world better, or opening yourself up to a new relationship.  A journey from point A to point B isn’t always a single straight line.  This is true for a traveler (even Jack Kerouac had an infamous setback when he first set off on the road), for a writer (hello, thesis draft number 452), or for a person of faith (Paul went around killing Christians before he went on the road to Damascus and saw the light; as a boy David may have killed Goliath but as an adult he committed adultery … and had the woman’s husband killed; Peter adamantly denied even knowing Christ and then became a martyr).  As the old Paula Abdul song goes, two steps forward, two steps back….

With all that in mind, know that I am on a journey too.  I simply want to walk alongside other writers and talk about the meaning of place in all areas of our lives.  If you would like to join my Festival Circle or any of the others, you can find out how to do so here.

Gripster: Documentary Films, Dolphins & Pirates

11 Jul

Arion Riding a Dolphin, by Albrecht Dürer (ca. 1514; public domain)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Greek American photographer and film director Louie Psihoyos is the son of an immigrant from the Peloponnesus.  The Peloponnesus incidentally is where my immigrant family came from as well.  Whether it’s a coincidence or a matter of upbringing that Psihoyos was intrigued by dolphins, the Peloponnesus has a dolphin myth.

Arion, the poet who invented the song and dance (called the dithyramb) for the wine god Dionysus, was kidnapped by pirates while returning to Greece from Italy.  In an effort to save his life, Arion sang to the poetry god Apollo, before flinging himself off the ship.  His song attracted a pod of dolphins and one of them carried him to safety, bringing him to the sanctuary of the sea god Poseidon in Cape Tainaron.

A swashbuckling tale of pirates, wine, and poetry, you have to admit this is a pretty cool Greek dolphin myth!

It led me to study up on Cape Tainaron.  Also known as Cape Matapan, it is the southernmost part of mainland Greece.  It’s located in Mani, which reputedly has the world’s best extra-virgin olive oil, grown organically on mountain terraces, and is also known for its superior honey and syglino (pork with oregano, mint, and orange peel.)  There are also some stalactite and stalagmite caves, which are partly underwater, and can be visited by boat.

I’m putting Cape Tainaron on my to-do list for the next time I go to Greece.

For more on Poseidon, check out:::

Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth

Gripster: 2011 Coney Island Mermaid Parade & Greek Mermaid Myths

Greek American Film Directory Louie Psihoyos Saves the Whales

7 Jul

Al Gore & co. made it trendy to go green in the millennium.  Back in the mid- to late-19980s, when I was growing up in a small suburb in northern New Jersey, America’s environmental concern was a little more specific.  We all wanted to Save the Whales.  In 1986 the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling.

For photographer and documentary film director Louie Psihoyos, that dream apparently never went away.  Psihoyos’ Oscar Award-winning film, The Cove, uncovers the all-too-real tragedy of dolphin hunting.  (Oceanic dolphins are part of the suborder Odontoceti, toothed whales.)

The film director more recently discovered that the Santa Monica sushi restaurant The Hump was using the meat of protected sei whales in their dishes.  Whale meat is illegal in the United States and was being imported from Japan, which is still a whaling nation (along with the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Iceland and the aboriginal communities of Alaska, northern Canada, and Siberia).  The meat was linked back to seafood vendor Ginichi Y. Ohira, who pled guilty for knowingly selling the whale meat for unauthorized purposes.  He faces arraignment in September.  As for The Hump, it closed its doors, saying:

The Hump hopes that by closing its doors, it will help bring awareness to the detrimental effect that illegal whaling has on the preservation of our ocean ecosystems and species. Closing the restaurant is a self-imposed punishment on top of the fine that will be meted out by the court. The Owner of The Hump also will be taking additional action to save endangered species.

One such action will be to make a substantial contribution to one or more responsible organizations dedicated to the preservation of whales and other endangered species.

It’s nice to know that photographer/film director Louie Psihoyos hasn’t given up the cause of saving the whales.

Psihoyos was born in Dubuque, Iowa, one of the oldest cities west of the Mississippi River.  (Note to self: today publishing is one of the fastest-growing industries in Dubuque, Iowa.)   He is the son of  a Greek immigrant who fled the communist occupation of the Peloponnesos region of Greece during World War II.

Check back tomorrow to hear the story of a dolphin myth from the Peloponnesus!