Tag Archives: PEN

My Q&A with Nancy Agabian

14 Aug

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Nancy Agabian is a writer, teacher, and literary organizer working in the spaces between race, ethnicity, cultural identity, feminism and queer identity. She was honored as a finalist for the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially-Engaged Fiction for her recently completed novel The Fear of Large and Small Nation, which is based on her experiences as a Fulbright scholar in Armenia. In 2012 she was awarded for excellence in teaching at Queens College, where she taught as an adjunct for a decade. She currently is teaching in the Writing Program at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. And get this — this year she’ll be joining us at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers to teach the workshop WRITING LYRICS: Image, Emotion, and Justice! Here’s a little about her workshop:

Though we use the word lyric to describe a line of text in song, rap, or poetry, the word, according to the dictionary, refers to “expressing the writer’s emotions, usually briefly”.

In this generative all-genre workshop, we will write about the emotions that arise from experiencing and witnessing racism, in and outside of ourselves, on the street, in our workplaces and schools, on TV and online.

Looking to the work of Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde and Claudia Rankine, we will do a few writing exercises to explore the use of image, metaphor, and point of view as ways to translate the emotions of our experiences into expressions of justice.

(This 2-hour workshop was featured at the Queens Public Library, sponsored by St. John’s University and The Newtown Literary Journal).

You can register for the workshop here. This year’s Hobart Festival of Women Writers will take place September 6-8.

I had the opportunity to interview Nancy for the Festival blog. We chatted about women as keepers of family history, her writing process, and how performance art has influenced her writing. You can read my interview with Nancy Agabian here.

I’ll be teaching the writing workshop Wild Women on the Road, which you can register for here.

 

Gift Guide for the Beat Reader

14 Dec

The writers associated with the Beat Generation were anti-Consumerism, and I have a hard time believing they’d want anyone to buy beatnik merch. They would want you to buy and read their literature instead. However, if you have friends who love Beat literature, you may be hesitant to buy them On the Road because chances are they probably already have dog-eared paperbacks of both the standard novel and the scroll version. Here are a couple of alternative Beat-inspired gifts.

Amram

Musician and author David Amram did jazz-poetry performances with Kerouac and other poets. He also wrote the scores to films such as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate and has jammed with a wide variety of musicians. David Amram: The First 80 Years chronicles his genius talent. (You can watch a video of me reading with Amram here.)

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Another gift-worthy film is Ginsberg’s Karma, a “documentary about the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg and his mythical journey to India in the early 1960s that transformed his perspective on life and his work.” The film was edited, produced, and directed by Ram Devineni, and features poet Bob Holman. I saw this film at the PEN World Voice Literary Film Feast a few years ago and was inspired to get involved in some of their subsequent projects.

billykoumantzelis

Billy Koumantzelis was a friend of Kerouac’s back in their hometown of Lowell and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. I picked up this CD when I was at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2011. It’s full of stories about Kerouac hanging out at bars, getting into fights, and appearing on The William Buckley Show and makes a great gift for someone who wants to hear stories from someone who knew Kerouac. (I got to meet Koumantzelis last week, and he is a true gentleman. I’ll be sharing stories from that soon.)

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Allen Ginsberg had a portrait of poet Walt Whitman hanging in his apartment. This framed portrait of Gregory Corso is a great tribute to a poet who loved the Classics.

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Jack Kerouac was inspired by author Thomas Wolfe. Bundle up Look Homeward, Angel and You Can‘t Go Home Again for the Kerouac fan.

the-visitation

Kerouac wrote about the Grotto in Lowell, which is a beautiful and peaceful space to visit. Artist Jonathan Collins, whom I met at one of my readings, did a series based on the Grotto, which would make a lovely gift.

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Another person I met at a reading was Larry Closs, author of the book Beatitude.
 I stayed up late one night reading this heartbreaking-but-hopeful book of love, friendship, and the power of literature. You can read the synopsis here.

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I haven’t finished my California road trip posts yet (so many posts, so little time!), but it will include my visit to The Beat Museum in San Francisco. I was greeted by none other than proprietor Jerry Cimino himself, whose stellar work in preserving Beat history I’ve been following for many years. He took some time out to chat with me and show me the plethora of rare and first-edition Beat books. Even if your budget isn’t big enough for a first edition, you can still get archival lit mags, which make a really cool gift.

Sea

Another place soon to be featured on my California road trip is City Lights Bookstore. In addition to rare and signed copies of books, you can also get some exclusive works here. At Sea is an “Exquisite handmade letterpress edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s new poem” for poet Pablo Neruda.

Of course there are tons of biographies, walking tour books, graphic novels, films, and so forth that would also make great gifts, but if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path (heh), these might be the gifts you’re looking for.

Lowell of Yesteryear

11 Oct

It’s so much fun to attend Lowell Celebrates Kerouac and visit this great American literary icon’s old stomping grounds, many of which still exist today.  However, much of Lowell has changed over the years.  The streets are smoothly paved.  There’s a color television in almost every home.  UMass Lowell continually expands its presence.  New restaurants serving delicious food have opened up.  Even new communities of immigrants have moved in.  Instead of rotary phones plugged into the wall, people have iphones with apps.  A new family lives in Kerouac’s birth home.  Experiencing Kerouac’s Lowell is about more than just dots on a map.  You have to step back from the tour group, close your eyes and really listen to the rush of the Merrimack River.  You have to imagine a time period when chocolate chip cookies were a novelty, Art Deco looked crazy modern, and women used menstrual cups instead of tampons.  You have to imagine the Great Depression.  You have to imagine a gallon of gas costing 10 cents.  You have to hear swing music.  The NFL draft is a new concept.  Ball-point pens are invented.  And you are just a kid soaking it all in.  Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 and was a kid growing up in Lowell in the 1930s.  Here are a few nostalgic photos of Lowell….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.