Lyra Dresses for Success

Tonight’s the night! We are thrilled to be performing 10 original pieces inspired by activism to San Jose’s Cafe Stritch. We will be performing work in chronological order, starting with “Dressed for Success,” an excerpt of a memoir-in-progress by writer Lyra Halprin. We first performed Lyra’s work in July 2015, when her piece “Drive, She Said,” introduced us to the California highway in the late 1960s. We were drawn to the way she shares implicit messages about humanity by showing what it means to demonstrate at any age. For Lyra, to write about one’s family is in itself a political act. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself, her process and “Dressed for Success,” which will be included in Activate, our forthcoming chapbook.

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Lyra Halprin

Tell us about your writing.

 

I’m a former reporter and UC public information person now trying to harness my holy writing gears and transform essays and journal entries into a book about a girl growing up a feminist in California in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. My manuscript feels more urgent in the wake of the frightening political reality of the last year and the birth of my first granddaughter. I am reminded that members of my family perished in the Holocaust and family and friends were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era but I grew up in a vibrant activist household filled with hope and optimism. I want to share that with my daughter, son, granddaughter and other young people and show them that art, music and progressive action can thrive during chaotic political times. I believe the secret to staying happy in this crazy world is having a big humor gene, people you love and a soft dog.

Publications:

My commentaries have aired on NPR, Capital Public Radio, and KQED San Francisco, and appeared in newspapers, magazines and online venues.

A story about my dad and his art professor Chiura Obata was featured in the literary journal California Northern in Memoir: The Sequoia in the StormFamily, memory, and Chiura Obata’s art of resilience. Other stories have appeared in the Sacramento News and Review, and the Santa Monica Daily Press, including one in which I described growing up as Jewish child during a time when released-time religious education trailers were parked outside elementary schools and Nativity scenes were displayed in public parks. My commentary on NPR’s Day to Day described wearing my daughter’s insulin pump for a day.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I was thrilled to hear the focus of this show and chapbook was Activism, something near and dear to my heart. I want to share my enthusiasm and joy in the arts and how they can both thrive and produce change during times of oppression.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Doris Haddock, aka Granny D, whose walk across the country at the age of 88-90 to champion campaign finance reform inspires me daily. I was lucky enough to hear her speak about her journey and treasure her memoir, Granny D: You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell, in which she describes the beautiful landscape of our country as she tells the story of her life and the importance of citizen activism.

Gloria Steinem and her dogged pursuit of equality and social justice mixed with stories about life as a woman and how we help each other survive.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose book Between The World And Me reminded me of the honor and importance of writing to inspire our children.

Alexandra Fuller, whose memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight showed me another way to put a story together.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

I listened to the audiobook recording of The Book Thief and was floored again how art can move and inspire me. I hope the Flash Fiction/POW chapbook on activism does the same!

Join us at 7 pm at Cafe Stritch tonight to see Arcadia Conrad perform Lyra’s work live. Hope to see you there!

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Tarn Wilson’s Father Refuses

One exciting trend emerged while we were reading submissions for our Activists Unite show: We noticed writers responding to similar themes regardless of era. Among our chapbook submissions we were excited to stumble across an excerpt of Tarn Wilson’s memoir, which included a 1968 letter that her father had written to his university administration. Keenan Flagg will be reading this letter, as well as her interpretation of it, tomorrow night at Cafe Stritch.

Tarn Wilson is the author of the memoir The Slow Farm (Ovenbird Books: Judith Kitchen Select, 2014) about her childhood with her hippy parents in the Canadian wilderness. Her essays appear in Brevity, Defunct, Gulf Stream, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, J Journal, River Teeth, Ruminate, South Loop Review, and The Sun, among others. She is a graduate of the Rainier Writing Workshop and a co-founder of Creator Schools, which offers writing courses for innovative Bay Area teens and adults. She is currently at work on a new memoir, How to Become the Second Most Popular Girl in the Sixth Grade.

She also directs and teaches at the Creator School. She shared some insight into this piece with us.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
It has been so inspiring poking around your website. What a fantastic gift you have given writers and the community! (And I’ve loved your performances I’ve seen.)  Thanks for all your efforts.

What inspired you to write “My Father Refuses to Attend his Commencement, May 1968”?
“My Father Refuses” is a letter I found after in some files after my father’s death. I love it because is so perfectly encapsulates the earnest, sometimes naive activism of ’60s. I find it both charming and maddening. I included it in my memoir the Slow Farm, about what it was like living with hippie parents in the wilds of British Columbia.

I am a local high school creative writing teacher.

tarn wilson

We hope you can join us tomorrow at Cafe Stritch to see her work performed–and to preorder our chapbook, Activate! 

April Reclaims America

We are excited to promote the work of writers whose art intersects with activism. Children’s book writer and poet April Halprin Wayland is one such unicorn. April is the author of seven books, including More Than Enough—a Passover Story (Dial) which has been praised by the New York Times, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly; the gold medal-winning picture book, New Year at the Pier—a Rosh Hashanah Story (Dial), and the award-winning novel in poems, Girl Coming in for a Landing (Knopf). She was named UCLA Extension Writers’ Program Outstanding Instructor of the Year, where she has been teaching since 1999. When she is not writing, April plays the fiddle, hikes with her dog, and helps people vote. She blogs at TeachingAuthors.com and is the co-founder of www.AIforC.org, a progressive PAC of 1200 published children’s authors and illustrators.

We can’t wait to perform two of her poems. “My Arms Are Tired,” and “So This is How You Felt” at our Activists Unite show next Wednesday at San Jose’s Cafe Stritch. Her poem “My Arms Are Tired” will appear in Activate, the chapbook we are producing in conjunction with San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum.

Recent publications, honors or awards:

UCLA Extension Writers’ Program’s Outstanding Instructor in Creative Writing

For the book New Year at the Pier (Dial):
The Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for Younger Readers (best Jewish picture book of the year)
starred review in Publishers Weekly 
Tablet Magazine’s Best Book of the Year

For the book Girl Coming in for a Landing, a novel in poems (Dial):

  • The Myra Cohn Livingston Award for poetry given by the Children’s Literature  Council of Southern California.  
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor Book for Children’s Poetry, presented by the College of Education and the University Libraries at Penn State University and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.   
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection.
  • Nominated for a Best Book of the Year for Young Adults by the American Library Association (ALA)
  • Nominated for the ALA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers

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Six-time winner of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Magazine Merit Award for Poetry
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April’s album, IT’S NOT MY TURN TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA AND OTHER STORIES (which includes five stories, seventeen poems and a fiddle tune) won the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Medal for Storytelling.
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8-2017 AHW with BE KIND sign after rally in solidarity with Charlottesville 8-2017
April Halprin Wayland

April’s upcoming projects:

Reclaiming our country.  

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
The dynamite energy of Play on Words and the topic.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

singer/song writer:
Joni Mitchell ~ the poetry of her lyrics changed my life

performance:
Hamilton ~ for it’s audacity and raw energy and crazy-wonderful word choices

books:
Recent: Train I Ride by Paul Mosier, a beautifully crafted, highly original middle grade novel.

My all-time favorite picture book: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, which at its core is about being resourceful. This book gave me permission to draw my own world and then step inside it.

As the writer Nikos Kazantzakis said, “You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go.

 

Want to see April’s work performed live? Join us on Wednesday, January 17, for Activists Unite at Cafe Stritch.

Leah Griesmann on Activism

We at Play On Words are always delighted to follow the careers of previous contributors, writers and artists. That’s one of the reasons why we were excited when Leah Griesmann answered our call for submissions for Activate, the chapbook we are producing in conjunction with San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum and other local community activists.

In addition to being one of our first featured writers, Griesmann has has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, Seoul Art Space Yeonhui, the Key West Writers’ Workshops, the DAAD (Berlin), and the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University.  Her fiction has been read or performed at Sacramento Stories on Stage, Lit Quake San Francisco, PEN Center USA, the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood, and the Shanghai American Center.

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Source: Twenty20 Stock

She was kind enough to answer some questions about her latest contribution to Play On Words.

What inspired “Before the War?”

It’s a flash fiction piece, and takes place in a fictional world, but the kernel of the idea came from attending the march against the Iraq War in San Francisco some time after September 11th. The protestors I interacted with knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the march was going to have no impact on the war. The most vehement protestors disputed the idea that the U.S. was a representative democracy, or that human actions would have any impact on the machine. And yet, there everyone was, marching. Many were marching out of a sense of personal responsibility, or even futility, rather than hope that the protest would make a real change. Years later, even before the Trump era, those thoughts and feelings of futility have often filled my mind as well. It’s hard not to give into them. Still, the idea that people show up to make their voices heard, putting their bodies and livelihood on the line, is powerful, and one of the most hopeful things I can think of. As a fiction writer, this type of tension and contradiction interests me.

Do you have any personal experience with activism?

In the U.S. I have attended marches and protests, and have been active with several causes, including National Adjunct Walkout Day. There’s a strange tension I feel within the U.S.—the fact that Americans think we can make a difference, that we can see victories of activism here and there, but also incredible setbacks, and the difficulty to create lasting change. Sometimes activism can seem like a band-aid on a broken system while the system’s injustices just continue. Recently I’ve been living outside the U.S., and have been able to witness successful activism in in other forms. In South Korea for example, citizens brought down their corrupt president through week after week of candle light protests. It’s always inspiring to see activism succeed—to see people unite rather than fight, within their own power.

What do you think about Play on Words San Jose’s plan to read your piece? 

I am always excited to hear what actors bring to a piece. I write characters with a certain image or voice in mind, then am amazed when performers bring their own interpretations and talent to them. Speaking for my own work, I think the dramatic power of the written word is best achieved when the works are read by actual actors.

Want to hear Leah’s work performed live? Join us next Wednesday, January 17, at Cafe Stritch! Learn more on our Facebook event page.

Lita Kurth’s Salvador

Lita Kurth is a writer-professor-activist who one could easily spot at any number of Bay Area literary or political events. The co-founder of San Jose’s amazing Flash Fiction Forum came to us at Play On Words with the idea of publishing a chapbook, igniting a conversation that continues today. We’re delighted to perform Lita’s piece, “Roque Dalton, Salvador,” at Activists Unite, our January 17 show at Cafe Stritch.

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Lita Kurth (left) with Flash Fiction Forum co-founder Tania Martin

What inspired your piece?

 

A long time ago when Anne and Mark’s Art Party was still held at their house, I was moved and captivated by an installation, “Dialogue With a Dead Poet,” by Tessie Barrera-Scharaga, which was set up in their front yard as an homage to Roque Dalton, a revolutionary I hadn’t heard of. I decided to do an ekphrastic piece in response. It went through many renditions, and I just couldn’t seem to move it beyond my internal experience into something others might connect with. I wrote it as a too-cryptic dialogue poem, a third-person piece, a first-person piece.

When I researched Dalton, I was blown away by the improbable events of his life! I’d heard of the Dalton Gang, but had no idea that one of them fled to El Salvador and that his son, Roque, became not only a notable poet, but perhaps the most significant revolutionary in El Salvador. I’m fascinated by people who give their lives for a cause and interested in how people combine art and politics, and how often revolutionaries get killed by their own side. So this piece was an exploration of those phenomena;  the “Salvador” in the title refers not only to the country but to the literal meaning, Savior, and ironically, a savior who could not save himself.

Recent publications, honors and awards:

Most recently, I received a fellowship to the upcoming Writers in Paradise workshop with Stewart O’Nan, and was invited to participate in the 2018 Cinequest Poets in Performance event. In the fall, In the fall, I was honored to be a featured reader for the Peninsula Literary Society

My creative nonfiction piece, “This is the Way We Wash the Clothes,” won the 2014 Diana Woods Memorial Award. A flash fiction, “Gardener’s Delight” (Dragonfly Press DNA) was nominated for a Pushcart (2016). My 2017 creative nonfiction piece, “Are We Not Ladies?” was nominated for Best of the Net by Watershed Review

Upcoming projects:

January 10 will be our first Flash Fiction Forum of the new year! Also, for the De Anza community, there will be our joint FFF-Play on Words Activate! reading, February 28th from 5-8 pm. I’ll be teaching a small, non-credit, online class for those working on book-length projects, meant to help people, including myself, keep going! See Lita Kurth Writing Workshops on Facebook for details.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
When I first heard about it, I thought an actors-reading-writers effort was a magnificent addition to the wonderful community of writers and artists that has emerged as one of San Jose’s increasingly visible assets.

Which writers or performers inspire you?
I am so amazed and humbled by writers such as Jamie O’Neill who wrote At Swim, Two Boys and Stewart O’Nan who wrote The Good Wife. I admire their fearlessness in addressing high-voltage topics and the way they bring to life the personal human suffering behind cruel political decisions.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.
Once, in a depressed, dissociated, alienated mood in the middle of a grim Wisconsin winter, I went to a performance of Death of a Salesman because I had a free ticket. It was so profoundly acted and so wrenching that I left feeling both wrung out and connected, reminded that, at all times, there are precious and important and meaningful things in the world and, I would say now, art can help us remember those deeper layers and get us through times of suffering and dullness.

Want to hear Lita’s work performed live? Join us on Wednesday, January 17, at Cafe Stritch. RSVP on Facebook to learn more.

Christine Stoddard

Part of our goal in creating Activate, our new chapbook, was to share the sometimes-underrepresented stories of fellow writers and activists. We were moved by Christine Stoddard’s “Thirty Pounds in Three Months,” which details one character’s physical reaction to the 2016 election. We look forward to performing her work at Activists Uniteour January 17 show at San Jose’s Cafe Stritch.

Stoddard is a former Annmarie Sculpture Garden artist-in-residence and an M.F.A. DIAP candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY). Her work has appeared in special programs at the New York Transit Museum, the Queens Museum, the Poe Museum, and beyond. She is the author of Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing) and the founder of Quail Bell Magazine. Born in Virginia to a Salvadoran mother and American father, Stoddard lives in Brooklyn. 

Christine Stoddard Headshot CroppedHer publications, honors and awards include:

  • Folio Magazine’s top 20 media visionaries in their 20s for founding Quail Bell Magazine.
  • Laberinto Projects Summer 2017 Visiting Artist, Coatepeque, El Salvador
  • 2012 Puffin Foundation National Emerging Artist Grant

Her upcoming projects include:

On February 2, her film & video show “Lady Pandora” will be at the FiveMyles Gallery in Brooklyn.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I’ve really been eager to have my work performed again. This seemed like the place!

Which writers or performers inspire you?

bell hooks, David Sedaris, Ada Limón, Joan Didion

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Want to hear Christine’s work read aloud? Join us January 17 at Cafe Stritch!

Activists Unite on January 17

It’s January 2018, which means that after a year of catastrophic fires, hurricanes, fake news and even scarier real news, we are still here. No matter who you are or where you live, you must have felt 2017’s ripple effects. Remember the travel ban? The attempt to exclude transgender soldiers from the military? What about the 800,000 Dreamers whose American likelihoods still hang in balance?

After the conclusion of the 2016 presidential election, we at Play On Words resolved to use what we have to amplify the voices of our community. We wanted to find a way to give people space to express what they were feeling, to share their experiences, to offer perspectives on what it means to be an activist. That’s why, when the kind folks of San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum communicated a similar desire, we decided to partner with them to create a chapbook. Together with FFF co-creators Lita Kurth and Tania Martin, writer and professor Maria Judnick, and graphic designer, artist and writer Peter Caravalho, we agreed that this is our way of channeling all this–feeling–into something productive. And that is how the Activate, our activist chapbook, began.

We spent a few months reviewing submissions and brainstorming the best ways to make our vision come to life. POW and FFF fans will soon have the opportunity to purchase Activate at upcoming shows–more on that to come. But first, know this: This book is a labor of love, a volunteer effort to create something that we feel represents a cross-section of the stories that haven’t yet made the headlines–stories we believe portray the complexity of our time.

As part of this project, Play On Words is producing its first truly themed show on Wednesday, January 17, at San Jose’s Cafe Stritch. Join us at 7 pm to hear selections chosen from the chapbook. We will be rolling out more information about our first show of the year, including bios of featured writers, over the next few weeks.

If you need a POW fix before then, don’t forget to check out the POWer Half Hour on Soundcloud and iTunes! Ryan has produced seven great episodes so far, with a few more to come.