Wordstrike!

29 07 2010

The Asian American Writers Workshop has just announced what their calling Wordstrike, or a boycott of Arizona by writers (and mostly writers of color), in protest of the racist / xenophobic SB 1070. Some of my favorite writers and/ or writing teachers, including Jessica Hagedorn, Junot Diaz and Chris Abani, have signed on. I’m also heartened by these images of the protests happening in Arizona right now. I also stumbled across the video below on Twitter last night, which was ironic given that I’m in San Antonio right now at Macondo workshop in San Antonio, home of the Alamo. It’s a great video that draws the connections between pro-slavery, white supremacist forces and the anti-immigrant forces at play in Arizona and elsewhere. I love how it illustrates how African-American and Latino folks have more in common around this issue and its history than not. Now I wish someone would make a good short video relating this racist Arizona law and others like it to the plight of Asian and other immigrants in the US.

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Where I’m At and Where I’ll Be: Macondo, PAWA blog, Litquake

28 07 2010

I’ve been pretty absent from the blogosphere of late—busy with my consulting work and getting ready for the Macondo Workshop, which is where I am at this moment, typing away in my dorm room—but I am doing stuff, as I mentioned in my last post, just not talking about it here. Still have to figure out how to make time for my blogs so that they can reflect what is going on in my life. Any suggestions folks have on how to do this would be most welcome! It’s all about balance.

As evidence that I’ve been a busy girl, I helped interview a couple of fellow Pinay VONAites from this past summer for a post on the PAWA blog. Thanks to Barbara Jane Reyes for hooking us up.

And my writing buddy and fellow speculative fiction writer Claire Light asked me to read this coming October at the annual Litquake festival in San Francisco. This will be a reading sponsored by the Carl Brandon Society, which supports the development of science fiction/speculative fiction writing by people of color. I’m honored to be part of this particular event, and to participate in Litquake for the second time.

But for now, here at Macondo, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and/or connecting on a deeper level with some amazing folks, like:

Gabriela Lemmons, a poet who’s one of the founding members of the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, MO. The group sounds amazing and breaks all the stereotypes many of us have about whitebread Midwestern life.

Veronica Reyes, an accomplished educator and poet who hails from East Los Angeles, and has been cracking me up and keepin’ it real the way only El Lay folks can.

Poet and political activist Vanessa Huang, whom I met at VONA a couple years ago. She’s currently working on a book of poems and self-organized what sounds like was an amazing feedback session from her community of comrades and poets back in Oakland. I hope she writes about it as it sounds like a fascinating complement to the traditional writing workshop that’s much more rooted in community.

The fierce poet and editor Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran, whom I bonded with the second night I was here after I had a mini-breakdown (long story). We then realized we had a LOT of acquaintances and friends in common back in the Bay and that we even used to hang out at the same queer dance club back in the ’90s! He just finished editing an upcoming issue of Yellow Medicine Review that will be the first of its kind, as it will feature writing by indigenous queer folks from all over the world.

Ching-In Chen, a poet who published a book, The Heart’s Traffic, last year and recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at UC Riverside. Ching-In is smart, funny and super-talented. I’m glad I could catch up with her here to get my signed copy of her book.

And poet and fellow Bay Area nonprofit worker Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, whom I know because I did some fundraising consulting with the organization he works for, Justice Matters Institute, a few months ago. It’s been good to briefly connect with Lorenzo as a writer here at Macondo.

More updates to come soon. Got to rush off to workshop in a few—my day to get critiqued!





Yes, I am Thinking and Saying Things, Just Not Here

9 07 2010

Oscar Grant mural in downtown Oakland on 17th and Telegraph

As a person of color, a writer, an activist, as a long-time resident of Oakland and someone who is Bay Area born-and-bred, I have some strong opinions and feelings about yesterday’s verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial re: the murder of Oscar Grant. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to blog about it now because I have other writing to do, but if you’re interested in finding out more about what I think, please visit my Twitter feed, which is the main way I’ve been communicating with folks about what’s happening here.

And special shout out to Max Elbaum, fellow activist, writer and Oakland resident, whom I ran into at the rally last night downtown. He told me he's been following my blog (not sure which one) so just want to give him special thanks!





VONA Reportback and the Real Work

28 06 2010

I was offline much of last week because I was at VONA, short for the Voices of our Nations writing workshop, at the University of San Francisco. I had the privilege and pleasure of being in an advanced fiction workshop with author and all-around-cool dude Mat Johnson, who wrote Hunting in Harlem and the graphic novel Incognegro, among several other books.

Despite the tough-looking photo on the home page of his web site, Mat was a generous and encouraging teacher. He gave lots of critical feedback too, don’t get me wrong, but what’s a writing workshop if someone doesn’t slice and dice your work? His case-study lectures on structure were especially helpful to me, and I made a note to myself that when I get stuck on a story, when it’s basically at the stage where I feel like I can’t do anything with it anymore, I should do what Mat did with our stories / novels-in-progress in class and figure out two things: 1) What’s this story about? and 2) What’s actually happening? We made scene ‘maps’ to identify what’s actually on the page (versus what we are ‘trying’ to write), which was extremely useful to all of us. It was also good to work with a writer (and especially a father) who has children and realize that it is possible to have a career and a family at the same time.

And Mat left me with a healthy dose of much-needed inspiration when he said to me a few times, “I can’t wait to see your short story collection. That’s a book I want to read.” (I recently found out that I didn’t make the cut for the Hyphen short story contest, although a friend and fellow VONA alum won the grand prize, Sunil Yapa. So while I’m happy for Sunil, I was a bit bummed.) But there’s no better anecdote for rejection blues than having an accomplished writer I admire telling me they expect more from me. Makes me want to get my butt in the chair and start writing! The same thing happened when I met Bino Realuyo for breakfast a few years ago in New York City and he told me, somewhat gravely, at the end of our conversation, “The next time I see you, I want to see your book.”

The Student and the Teacher: Me and Mat Johnson at VONA



And of course, the other magic at VONA is being around 60+ other writers of color from all over the country who are all dedicated to crafting their work and making it as good as it can be. I made new friends, as always, and got to reconnect with old writing buddies, and got terrific feedback on the short story I’m working on.



Me and Emily Yamauchi, a super-talented writer and new buddy



The view from the campus is pretty gorgeous, too.

View from Lone Mountain Campus, where VONA workshops take place

Been feeling a bit of post-VONA withdrawal these last couple days, which since this is my fourth time doing the workshop, I know is normal. And now the real work begins. I’ve set aside most of this week to write, and to hopefully put into practice all the brilliant advice Mat and my fellow writers gave me this week. Butt in chair. Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Avoid Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. That’s my goal for this week. Wish me luck.





Loneliness

7 05 2010

Being a writer can be damned lonely. Maybe I’m feeling this way right now in particular because I just found out that one of my ‘Uncles’ (a family friend that I grew up with as a little girl) just passed away yesterday, and that his funeral is tomorrow, and I got the message about it on my cell phone voicemail. And that I’m sitting here alone, and feeling sad and isolated from my family (whom I have a very difficult relationship with), and wishing on some level that things were different.

And then, I thought, let me write about this. Because writing is the one thing I can do when I’m feeling lonely that sometimes—not always—but sometimes, makes me feel a little less so.

Which is ironic, because writing is a very lonely act. I think that’s why when we get together with each other—especially when we find a group of writers we like and vibe with—it’s like we can’t get enough of each other. That’s what happened a couple weeks ago after the reading I did with a few other writing buddies from last year’s VONA workshop for writers of color. Five of us read at a local cafe to a small but attentive audience, and then we proceeded to head out to a nearby restaurant/bar to hang out, eat, talk writing, laugh a ton, and just be.

It felt good, warm and right to be there with them. We don’t hang out all the time—I hadn’t seen one of them in almost a year—but we share a bond as writers that I don’t find with other people, even other artists. And these moments of connection with other writers can do a lot to assuage the intense loneliess I sometimes feel when it’s just me, here, at my laptop, at home alone or even in a cafe surrounded by a sea of strangers, typing away, trying to articulate something that dwells deep inside my psyche—and sometimes succeeding, oftentimes failing.

I think this loneliness factor—that the act of writing by its very nature is a solitary act—is what spooks a lot of people about writing. I was at my dentist earlier today getting my teeth cleaned, and talking about my writing and other work, and he said, “Well, it’s a gift, isn’t it? Not a lot of people can write.” I wanted to say, “Well, they can, it’s just that they choose not to.” But I decided to just nod and let him stick metal instruments into my mouth.

Sometimes—I would say maybe 30% of the time—the loneliness and the solitary nature of writing doesn’t bother me. At these times, in fact, I enjoy it. The loneliness becomes a blanket of serenity, giving me the quiet stillness that allows me to really listen to my mind, to let the images in my head flow out of me, to allow my consciousness to pick up on the subtleties of language and meaning that otherwise get drowned out by the quotidian distractions of modern life. At these times I guess I’m able to transform or distill the loneliness into concentration—and the result is often decent, if not good, writing, and a full feeling of satisfaction which motivates me, ultimately, to keep writing during those times when the loneliness just feels shitty and well, lonely.

But right now, I’m remembering Uncle Tito, and allowing the loneliness to wash through me, and letting it work for me by writing about it here. And maybe you, a writer yourself or an aspiring writer or just someone who likes to read about writers, will feel a little less lonely because you’re reading this.

Or maybe not, and that’s all right too.





Writing Workshops Comin’ Up

5 05 2010

Despite the fact that I have so little time to write creatively right now because of work overload (but hey, I gotta make my money somehow!), I have to find some time to work on the manuscripts I need to turn in soon for VONA. I just found out that I got into the Advanced Fiction workshop with Mat Johnson, but didn’t hear back about Week Two, for which I applied to Chris Abani’s workshop as my first choice and Tananarive Due’s workshop as my second choice. (Incidentally, I just finished Due’s modern-day vampire novel My Soul to Keep. I already turned in my manuscript for the Macondo workshop on revision that I’m signed up for with Carla Trujillo, who was one of my professors at Cal long, long ago when I was just an idealistic youngster.

I’m looking forward to having two, if not three weeks’ worth of ‘writing time’ to hang out with my literary buddies, talk about writing, critique each others’ work and generally cavort about town and have fun. I’ve never been to San Antonio either (or Texas at all for that matter) so I’m looking forward to doing a lil’ traveling this summer.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I get into a VONA Week Two workshop…wish me luck!





A Great Day for Writers of Color: Congrats Geoffrey Fletcher!

8 03 2010

Geoffrey Fletcher Accepting His Oscar

I was already pumped last night watching the Oscars because I knew that Mo’Nique was a shoo-in (and deservedly so) for the Best Supporting Actress award, for her portrayal of Mary Jones in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. But I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled when, before Mo’Nique had her turn on the stage (where she KILLED it, by the way, on so many levels—but I’ll let the rest of the blogosphere write about that)—‘Precious’ screenwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. What a win! Not just for Fletcher, who has now made history as the first African-American writer to ever win an Oscar, but also for Sapphire, whose novel Fletcher adapted for the film. She looked ecstatic when Fletcher won—I saw her in the audience, standing up and applauding with the rest of the ‘Precious’ crew, who all wore some shade of sapphire, I’m guessing in her honor, and I have to say as a writer I could feel her joy. Even if it wasn’t ‘her’ award per se, it was originally the story she wrote, and without that story, ‘Precious’ wouldn’t exist.

As for Fletcher, he seemed as surprised as everyone else was when he won, and his acceptance speech was one of those sincere, spontaneous and emotional speeches that make the Oscars worth watching. And while his award isn’t getting nearly as much press coverage as Kathryn Bigelow’s first-female Best Director win for ‘The Hurt Locker’, as a writer of color, I feel the impact of Fletcher’s win—for a movie about Black folks directed by a Black man, based on a book by a Black woman—more than anything else.

Congratulations, Geoffrey Fletcher, and thanks for giving all the rest of us writers of color something to be hopeful about and proud of today.