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.

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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.

Redwood City Home to Play on Words at Dragon Theatre

On October 9th, 2017, Play on Words was fortunate enough to be given the space to perform on a stage, with lights, sounds, microphones, everything by the Dragon Theatre located in the Redwood City’s downtown theater district neighborhood. Leaving San Jose is hard to do, but the good folks at the Dragon made it all possible with Monday Night Play Space, when they make the theatre available to local artists like us to do cool stuff.

The night was titled “Leading Women,” and you can watch it all on our YouTube page!

New Videos

Let’s talk about all three segments:

1) “Exposure,” by Julia Halprin Jackson. Read by April Culver.

It begins with breasts, and ends with a camera. What happens in between is a picture of a place, Spain, at a time, the George W. Bush era, that shows us the experience familiar to Americans in college abroad at a crossroads of culture, sex, work, and life.

2) “The New Life,” a translation and adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova by Melinda Marks. Read by Melinda Marks.

This translation rules! For real, it puts this Dante fellow in the time and place of the artists and poets and people that hang around artists and poets talking about those things that artists and poets always invariably talk about: death, sex, and love. Sprinkle in some obsessive impulses (does Dante really move away to some other place NOT because of the woman that also moved to that place?) and you got yourself some good old fashioned Dante angst. Check it out.

3) “Unigirl,” by Leah Griesmann. Read by Ivette Deltoro.

Ivette reads this gem by Leah Griesmann, one of the first writers featured by Play on Words, where we walk in the shoes of an unicycle riding escort who is getting their doctorate and needs to make some money in between teaching gigs over a summer. Want more, click the link and tell us what you think!

Leading Women: October 9 at the Dragon Theatre

For the first time ever, Play On Words is performing in a theatre! We are kicking off our 2017-2018 season with a special reading at the Dragon Theatre in Redwood City on Monday, October 9. This show features work by Bay Area women writers who challenge–and occasionally mock–gender norms. Unlike our ensemble shows, Monday’s performance will showcase two short stories and one translated monologue. Look forward to work by:

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Leah Griesmann

Leah Griesmann has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Key West Writers’ Workshops, Seoul Art Space Yeonhui, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, the DAAD (Berlin), and the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. Her stories have appeared in Burrow Press Review, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, The Weekly Rumpus, Union Station, The Boiler, The Cortland Review, Boston University’s 236 Magazine, and PEN Center USA’s The Rattling Wall, and have been performed at Litquake San Francisco, The Center for Literary Arts, Sacramento Stories on Stage, the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood, and the Shanghai American Center.

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Melinda Marks

Melinda Marks, Play On Words co-founder and casting director, has performed as an actor for more than 25 years. Melinda has an MFA in Shakespeare and Performance with a concentration in directing at Mary Baldwin University and an MA in Theatre Studies from San Jose State University.

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Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson, Play On Words co-founder and publicity director, is a writer whose work has appeared in Oracle Fine Arts Review, West Branch Wired, California Northern, Fourteen Hills, as well as selected anthologies. She has an MA in creative writing from UC Davis and currently contributes to Washington Square, San Jose State University’s alumni magazine.

 

 

We are delighted and grateful to showcase performances by Melinda, as well as:

ivettedeltoroIvette Deltoro is the casting assistant and patron experience manager at City Lights Theater in San Jose and artistic manager of the Mini Lights Emerging Artist Program at City Lights. She is also a local actress whose credits include City Lights Theater Company’s I and You and Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

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April Culver

April Culver earned her BFA in Acting at Drake University. Some recent roles include Mrs. Givings (In the Next Room, Pear Theatre), Cordelia / The Fool (B8 Theatre), Catherine (A View From the Bridge, Pear Theatre), Gillian (Permanent Collection, Piedmont Players ), Constance (Three Musketeers, Silicon Valley Shakespeare), Calpurnia (Julius Caesar, Silicon Valley Shakespeare), Sonya (Uncle Vanya,  Pear Theatre), and Olivia (Shakespeare in Hollywood, Silicon Valley Shakespeare).

RSVP for our show here. There is a $5 suggested donation for Monday’s show. Hope to see you there!

Deadline Extended to October 15

Call for Submissions Alternate DE

Good news, Playonwordsians: We are extending the deadline for the chapbook that we are producing in conjunction with the fabulous Flash Fiction Forum. You’ve got until October 15 to send 500 words of fiction, nonfiction, poetry or theatre to activistchapbook@gmail.com.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a brief recap of recent headlines that might trigger a response:

  • Last week, Trump announced that he plans to rescind the DACA program, which will affect approximately 800,000 students and their families who are working and studying legally in the United States.
  • Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma displace thousands of families, many of whom may have been previously displaced by Katrina in 2005.
  • Charlottesville–August 12, 2017, and the rise of neo-Nazism.
  • Trump’s July announcement to ban transgender citizens from serving in the military.

There are lots of ways to resist and show solidarity with communities whose livelihoods and basic civil rights are at risk. We’re hoping to provide a platform for writers to speak up and speak out.

We look forward to reading your work.

Call for Submissions: Activist Chapbook

Attention poets, playwrights, and other creative writers!

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Community activists from Play on Words and Flash Fiction Forum are producing a chapbook and want your fiction, poetry, works of theater and creative nonfiction work about activism.

Specifically, we’re interested in the complexities of activism (humorous, tragic, inspiring, or all three), situations that call for activism, pitfalls and rewards of activism, and above all, the personal, unexpected, and inexplicable. We’re interested in stories that move but don’t preach, and shed light on communities or causes that may not make it to the news every day. Help us prove that our words matter–perhaps now more than ever.

In addition to publishing a chapbook in collaboration with Flash Fiction Forum, Play On Words will select a number of the accepted pieces for a corresponding performance in early 2018.

GUIDELINES FOR SUBMISSION:

  • Deadline for submission is August 31, 2017.
  • Please limit submissions to 500 words.
  • Email submissions to activistchapbook@gmail.com

ATTENTION ARTISTS:

  • We are also seeking black and white artwork that speaks to these themes. Submissions can be emailed to activistchapbook@gmail.com. 

 

Betsy Miller’s “Collectibles”

Do you have enough Betsy Miller fiction in your life? We thought not. That’s why we were delighted to share more of her work at New Year Nouveau in January at Cafe Stritch. Watch Melinda Marks read Betsy’s “Collectibles”:

Betsy also writes under the name Bethany Gray. This same piece was previously published by Evil Girlfriend Media. She is one of the co-founders of Thinking Ink Press, a small independent press. She is currently working on a children’s picture book, Brooklynn Bunny’s Super Boots, and on a young adult novel called Dance, Interrupted.

Introducing the World of Bethany Gray

Melinda Marks reads "Collectibles" by Betsy Miller at New Year Nouveau. Photo: Andrew Christian.

Last week we were delighted to perform another piece by Silicon Valley writer Betsy Miller, who also writes under the pen name Bethany Gray. Melinda Marks kicked off New Year Nouveau by reading her story “Collectibles.” We’ll be posting video from that performance over the next few weeks, though in the meantime you can watch the show in its entirety at South Bay Pulse’s YouTube page (see Part I and Part II).

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Melinda Marks reads “Collectibles” by Betsy Miller at New Year Nouveau. Photo: Andrew Christian.

Bethany Gray writes stories about things just below the surface of your life that you can almost see out of the corner of your eye. Gray lives in Silicon Valley, where she also writes about passive-aggressive wireless equipment that wants you to think it’s your fault. But it’s totally not.

Publications, Honors or Awards:

Betsy Miller is the author of The Parents’ Guide to Perthes, The Parents’ Guide to Clubfoot, and The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and in various magazines and publications.

Upcoming projects:

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Betsy Miller, also known as Bethany Gray

I’ve recently started using the pen name Bethany Gray for my speculative fiction set it apart from my children’s health books. My story “Collectibles,” which was performed at Play On Words, is a Bethany Gray story that was edited a bit for length. You can read the full-length version online at Evil Girlfriend Media, where it was published as an EMG short. You can also read “The Language of the Dead” at Youth Imagination magazine. That’s a spooky story for teens that was published for Halloween. As 2016 unfolds, stay tuned for more Bethany Gray stories, and possibly a Betsy Miller book.

 What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I love seeing the actors bring stories and plays to life. The shows are a lot of fun.