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.

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!

Play on Words Podcast: The POWer Half Hour

POWartPODBy interviewing artists, writers, and performers from past shows, to learn more about their artistic and creative process, to speak on San Jose, and to shed light on our passions, we endeavor to produce this podcast. Ryan Alpers is the creator, producer, and host of the “Play on Words POWer Half Hour” and will, in the first season, pair recorded segments with the writers, performers, and creators of previous Play on Words shows. Guests include Gary Singh, Melinda Marks, and more!

Andrew Christian
Andrew Christian

In the first episode, we talk with Andrew Christian about how he approached writing his poem “Scars,” performed at Cafe Stritch in San Jose, teaching high school English, and how he uses creative writing to empower emerging voices in his classroom. We’re really excited for this, and the upcoming episodes, so stay tuned and tell your friends!

We chose to host our content primarily on Sound Cloud, so take a listen to the POWer Half Hour Podcast. We can’t wait to tell you more, so be sure to follow us on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest #POWPOD updates. Hooray podcasts! Hooray!

Keiko O’Leary’s Dreams

Well, Playonwordsians, we did it: we powered through New Year Nouveau. Thanks to everyone who joined us last night in person and online. We wanted to introduce you to one of our new contributors, Keiko O’Leary, whose piece, “The Golden Beauty of Carlina Johansen, Author of Milliner’s Dreams,” was performed last night by Alex Draa.

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Keiko O’Leary

Keiko writes short stories, primarily flash fiction. She also organizes the almost-weekly writing group Write to the End. She is a co-founder of Thinking Ink Press.

Publications, Honors or Awards:

I’m proud to have participated in the Flash Fiction Forum’s first annual pubcrawl, where I read my flash piece “The Ghost of Ice Cream.” My story “White Mice” was also chosen for a Flash Fiction Forum. “White Mice” is available from Thinking Ink Press as a postcard that includes my original artwork Warning: Narrative Hazard. (Okay, I also make visual art. But shh! Don’t tell anyone.)

 Upcoming projects:

Since 2004 I’ve organized Write to the End, a writing group that meets most Tuesday nights. Anyone is welcome. Please visit http://writetotheend.com for details on how to attend. There you can also read articles about writing by members of our group.

Thinking Ink Press is looking for submissions. We consider any length or genre, but I’m especially interested in flash pieces for our postcards and Instant Books, since I design those. (Instant Books are small books folded from a single sheet of paper. They’re so exciting! Have you seen the one we did for Betsy Miller’s Play On Words story “Bees”?) Please see our call for submissions and our flash fiction publishing formats.

 What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I love things like Play On Words. I found out about Play On Words because Thinking Ink Press launched the Instant Book of Betsy Miller’s “Bees” at Take Flight when Adam Magill read “Bees.”

And I’ll tell you a secret: When I was revising “Carlina Johansen,” I imagined it being performed, and I made my decisions with performance in mind. Seeing a Play On Words show inspired me to do that.

 Which writers or performers inspire you?

It took me years to figure out that lead roles in Kate & Leopold, X-Men, and The Prestige were all played by the same actor: Hugh Jackman. I saw him in performance at the Curran Theatre, and even though I was in the VERY BACK row of a completely sold out house, the experience was like having coffee one-on-one. Now that’s skill! I aspire to write as well, and as intimately, as Hugh Jackman performs.

As for writers, I’ll mention Julio Cortázar. I read him in Spanish, and he writes like he’s making love to the reader. His command of syntax is insane – he can control you completely just by the structure of his sentences. I don’t know what the English translations are like, but he has a great (flash fiction!) piece called “Continuidad de los parques” (translated as “Continuity of Parks”). One of my favorite longer pieces is “La autopista del sur” (translated as “The Southern Thruway”).

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

I read Waiting for Godot in high school, and do I dare say I fell in love? I’ve since seen a few performances, and it always makes me laugh and feel understood, and it leaves me completely obsessed with the text. Even though I haven’t read or seen it for years, little phrases bubble up into my life from time to time: “A country road. A tree. Evening.” “There’s man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.” The funniest part is where Pozzo makes Lucky “think” and Lucky spouts all sorts of repetitive and disjointed but conceptually connected phrases that seem to follow the structure of some sort of a logical argument. Just the rhythm of it is enough to cause uncontrollable giggling. I know there’s a lot of meaning to be found in that speech, but it’s also just plain fun. I’m sure Beckett had a blast writing that part.

Thank you for the opportunity to think about these things I love. I can’t wait to reread the pieces I’ve mentioned here. And I can’t wait to see the next Play On Words!

Want to join the conversation? Sign up for our new email newslettertweet us, catch up on Instagram…and if you see us in San Jose we’ll usually accept a high five.

Cellista and the “End of Time”

What do you get when you combine classical music, community organizing, a real passion for the arts, and savvy business sense? In a word: Cellista, also known as Freya Seeburger. Fans of San Jose’s The Commons might have seen this remarkable cellist performing downtown over the last few years–or gracing the stage at SubZERO fest, South First Fridays, and any number of venues in the Bay Area and beyond. This week we are delighted to share an excerpt of Cellista’s latest work, an introduction to “The End of Time,” a piece that was originally performed in a World War II prisoner of war camp–and one that she will be performing, alongside the Juxtapositions ensemble, this spring in San Jose’s Anno Domini gallery. We hope you can join us this Wednesday at Cafe Stritch for New Year Nouveau to see her monologue performed live.

cellista
Cellista

Since moving to downtown San Jose, California in 2010, Cellista has been actively involved in SJ’s vibrant arts scene as a performer as well as arts enabler both participating in and organizing community-based projects. Her arts-based company Juxtapositions reflects her love of San Jose and the entire Bay Area. Cellista aims to foster new audiences, and stages for the arts by presenting performances that promote inter-arts collaboration, innovative programming, and community dialogues facilitated by artists themselves.

Cellista is a noted performer.  She has recorded and performed with independent rock, hip hop, and classical groups including Van Dyke Parks, The Awesöme Orchestra Collective, Grammy-nominated artist Tanya Donelly, and The Coup (as a member of Classical Revolution) as well as Casey Cresenzo of The Dear Hunter.

Cellista’s penchant for performing music in unconventional spaces, and her devotion to collaborating with artists across mediums has led her to create unique performances that incorporate elements of classical music, improvisation, and visual art.

Her debut solo album Finding San Jose will be released in Fall of 2016.

Publications, Honors or Awards:

Cellista’s musicological research writing, focused on interdisciplinary topics in music, including French composer Olivier Messiaen’s “Quatuor pour la fin du Temps,” earned her a panelist position at the 4th annual College of Liberal Arts Graduate Student Symposium (CLAGS) at the University of Nevada, Reno, as well as SFSU’s “Otey” award for research writing.  In April of 2015, she presented her paper, “The End of Time,” as an invited speaker at the University of Calgary’s graduate music symposium.

She is the recipient of the Nagel’s scholarship and a Bell Foundation grant awardee.

She is a recently appointed member of the San Jose Arts Commission.

She studies with cellist Jennifer Culp (SFCM, Kronos Quartet), and members of the Alexander String Quartet.

Upcoming projects:

I will be performing Messiaen’s “The End of Time” with the Juxtapositions ensemble on February 20, March 12 and 13 at Anno Domini gallery in San Jose. As part of this unique installation, I proposed the idea of creating artwork inspired by Messiaen to the artist Barron Storey. His work will be on display  at Anno Domini starting February 5. You can join us for the opening on February 5 or click here to buy tickets for our February 20, March 12 and 13 performances.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

Julia is my rad neighbor.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Anais Nin’s life was a performance that inspires me. Ferlinghetti. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Illuminations by Rimbaud opened the gateway for some pretty angsty teen years and a whole life of good art making.

Want to join the conversation? Sign up for our new email newsletter, RSVP for our January 6 show, tweet us, catch up on Instagram…and if you see us in San Jose we’ll usually accept a high five.

As a reminder, our January 6 show will be collecting $5 donations at the door. We also will be live-streaming this show with South Bay Pulse–stay tuned to learn more!

Marilyn Horn-Fahey’s “Neighbor”

 

At Play On Words, we love it when we meet writers we love who, in turn, introduce us to writers they love. We call it the transitive power of awesomeness. We learned about Marilyn Horn-Fahey’s work through San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum, and were delighted to perform a few of her flash fiction pieces last summer at our Words & Music show. We’re delighted to read her piece, “Neighbor,” this Wednesday at New Year Nouveau at Cafe Stretch. We hope you can join us.

Marilyn is a technical editor in Silicon Valley.

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Marilyn Horn-Fahey

Publications, Honors or Awards:

My stories have appeared in Switchback, Fine Linen and Marathon Review, among others. Learn more at marilynhornwriting.com.

Upcoming projects:

Thinking Ink Press will publish a collection of my stories in 2016.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

POW performed two of my stories in July 2015. There’s nothing quite like hearing your words interpreted by others! I’m hooked.

 Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

The War of Art. Anyone who faces resistance when trying to write should read it. Resistance is such a jerk!

Want to join the conversation? Sign up for our new email newsletter, RSVP for our January 6 show, tweet us, catch up on Instagram…and if you see us in San Jose we’ll usually accept a high five.

As a reminder, our January 6 show will be collecting $5 donations at the door. We also will be live-streaming this show with South Bay Pulse–stay tuned to learn more!