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Blog Entries tagged 'writing'

Mixed Chicks Chat, Interview with Heidi Durrow and Fanshen Cox

I share this hour-long interview (which I did from the Costco parking lot!) with Louie Gong, President of Maven. I come in after first half-hour--and have a lot of fun with the chicks.

We talk Buddhism, coming to the end of identity, and much more--all while trucks and cars and huge shopping carts careen past. I love these chicks. We met when they invited me to give the inaugural opening keynote at their baby, the Mixed Roots Film and Literature Festival in Los Angeles. 

Listen.

 

March 15th, 2009

Today, in Waikiki

Walking around Waikiki today, I felt I was inside of a postcard, or somehow trying to be inside of one. It was what it was supposed to be, this Waikiki, and yet it was all completely contrived. It was once what it was, but it was now trying to be what it was. It succeeded, but left me wondering if it ever existed in the first place.
 
This excerpt from White Noise by Don Delillo summed up my feelings perfectly:

"Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing.

THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA.

We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides -- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

"No one sees the barn," he said finally.

A long silence followed.

"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.

We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

Another silence ensued.

"They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said."

March 7th, 2009

Frank O'Hara, Channeled by Zadie Smith in the NYRB

Zadie Smith's talk on Obama and cultural multiplicity is all kinds of lovely. I especially like the way she worked in this poem by Frank O'Hara:

I am a Hittite in love with a horse

I don't know what blood's

in me I feel like an African prince I am a girl walking downstairs

in a red pleated dress with heels I am a champion taking a fall

I am a jockey with a sprained ass-hole I am the light mist

in which a face appears

and it is another face of blonde I am a baboon eating a banana

I am a dictator looking at his wife I am a doctor eating a child

and the child's mother smiling I am a Chinaman climbing a mountain

I am a child smelling his father's underwear I am an Indian

sleeping on a scalp

and my pony is stamping in

the birches,

and I've just caught sight of the

Niña, the Pinta and the Santa

Maria.

What land is this, so free? 

And here's O'Hara again, this time via Don Draper, the center of the universe that is Mad Men:



Lovely, lovely, lovely. And all of it, so true.
February 12th, 2009

Adventures in Editing: Ted Solotaroff, from The Nation

I love this posthumous memoir from editing great Ted Solotaroff, published in the current issue of The Nation. The vignettes about working with writers are endlessly fascinating.This one about James Baldwin, the civil rights movement, and miscegenation is a fave:

"The climax of the second act of our relationship came in early 1963. Norman had commissioned a piece by James Baldwin on the Black Muslim movement and had done a good deal of hand-holding in the prolonged course of Baldwin's writing it. By the time Baldwin finally finished the piece, it had grown into the book-length journey through the shadowland of black militancy that would be published as "The Fire Next Time." When Norman inquired about it, Baldwin told him that it had turned out to be too long for Commentary and that it had been sent to The New Yorker. Already in a fury, Norman then found out that The New Yorker had accepted and scheduled it. A ton of fat went into the fire.

This, in turn, further energized Norman's rage by activating his memories of growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the Jewish kids were oppressed and the black kids were their oppressors. One night, Baldwin showed up and Norman let him have it. Baldwin said he should write the tirade he was hearing, in effect providing reparation by giving Norman an idea for a powerful piece of his own. Indeed, Norman was so turned on by the idea and its boldness that he was able to blast through his writer's block to produce his famous essay "My Negro Problem--And Ours." I think he was also emboldened by the opportunity to announce a truth, like the one about success, that none in his liberal cohort dared to admit and that would put him right back at the center of attention.

Normally, a piece by a member of the staff circulated in manuscript like any other and benefited from our comments. But Norman's came around already in type, not even galleys but page proofs, all set to lead off the next issue. It was the first time he had openly pulled rank, and it stung. All the more so when he wound up his self-exposé of the fear- and hate-twisted feelings of whites--liberals no less than reactionaries--toward blacks by making a large and, to me, very dubious point that the stigma of color and the hope of ending it as a poison on both sides of the racial barrier would not come in time, by way of the liberal panacea of integration, to spare us Baldwin's "fire":

I share this hope, but I cannot see how it will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear: and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means--let the brutal word come out--miscegenation. The Black Muslims, like their racist counterparts in the white world, accuse the "so-called Negro leaders" of secretly pursuing miscegenation as a goal. The racists are wrong, but I wish they were right, for I believe that the wholesale merging of the two races is the most desirable alternative for everyone concerned.

Up to that point, "My Negro Problem--And Ours" had been a nakedly candid account of how Norman's boyhood experiences in Brownsville had left a residue of fear, hatred and envy of blacks in his psyche, which gave the lie to liberal racial pieties. But for him to then try to trump integration with miscegenation was very troubling: first, because of the heroic civil rights movement in the South that daily was gaining wider and deeper Northern support through its nonviolent strategy and practice; and second, because he was doing so in a banner piece for the "new Commentary," which was trying to chart a course for pressing political and social reform. I thought it through and decided that I couldn't feel right working there if I didn't let him know what I thought. So I walked down to his office and we had it out. As clearly as I can remember, the discussion went along these lines:

"I guess since you sent this around in pages, it's set in stone."

"What do you want to say about it?"

"I think it's courageous, strong and valuable up to the end. But I think the conclusion you come to about the solution being miscegenation is untimely, to say the least, and all wet if the deep-down feelings are what you say they are. I think it will do you and the magazine a lot of harm, and I think you should reconsider it."

By then he had turned to ice. "Is that all?" he said.

"No, it isn't. There are my own reasons. We're trying to keep the image and values of a more humane America alive and working, and about the only concrete political action toward that end is the civil rights movement. What you're saying in effect to those black ministers and students who are risking their lives is to stop trying to integrate, stop trying to claim their constitutional rights and liberties, and find some white chick or guy and have babies. That's how it's going to be read."

He said coldly, "I'm not proposing miscegenation as a solution but as the best outcome, given the refusal of whites, particularly liberals, to own up to their real feelings about Negroes." Then he said, his voice clenched with anger, "I don't ever want to hear you tell me again what's good or bad for Commentary. Ever!"

I could sense we were now on the fast track to an explosion that would end with my leaving the magazine--which I wasn't prepared to do. "Well, thanks for hearing me out," I said, and then got up and left.

There was some hue and cry about the miscegenation issue, but it was mostly swallowed up by the applause the piece received. Norman was back at his favorite place, and I was moved toward the periphery at Commentary."

February 5th, 2009

Obama's One Thousand Pieces, The Guardian UK

November 7th, 2008

By Rebecca Walker

I can finally stop for a second. And breathe. The election wasn’t stolen.Our candidate is alive. We showed up, changed the world, and plan to get up tomorrow and do it again. We know this because Obama won and there is a whole lot of world left to change. We also know this because President-elect Obama has already sent his supporters an email requesting our suggestions on public policy. True to form, he expects our input to begin right now.

November 7th, 2008

Five Favorite Books for Venus Magazine

the lover

I almost always read for inspiration. I’m on a perpetual hunt for books
that make me want to sit down and write my own. I can’t believe they
are so hard to find—there are millions of books, after all. But to find
my books, the ones that call my name, is a major deal. Once found, I
read these books in bed at two in the morning, take them on airplanes
again and again, and get teary-eyed remembering who I was the first
time I cracked their pages.

Read More

October 13th, 2008

Double Blood, Greater Good Magazine

Double Blood

September 17th, 2008

   

Like many biracial Americans of my generation, my parents met in the
tumultous cultural revolution of the 1960s. They married when it was
illegal for people of different races to do so, and continued to challenge
entrenched assumptions about race by having me. It was dangerous work.The Klan threatened our interracial family in Mississippi often. My father's Jewish mother disowned him for marrying a black woman.

September 17th, 2008

San Miguel Atencion

Hey here's an interview I just did for the paper in San Miguel de Allende about the upcoming writer's conference. Hope someone out there comes up and says hi. This interview was with Gina Hyams, editor of the Searching for Mary Poppins:

1. What is your writing schedule like? Do you have a favorite place to write or any creativity-inducing rituals?

Since having my son, I have had to throw a lot of my ideas about where and when to write out the window. I now write anywhere I can charge my laptop: the bed, the sofa, a chair in the backyard. I also write in hotels more lately, and try to build a few extra days for writing into my lecture schedule. My other trick is to wait until I really know what I want and need to say. Then I add a few months onto that until I can't contain it anymore. The urgency makes me write faster.

2. You have been extremely brave about delving into and revealing your complex personal truths in your memoirs and you have paid dearly for doing so. You wrote in Baby Love that your mother was so furious about what you wrote in Black, White, and Jewish that she disinherited you. Was it worth it? Is it worth it?

Well, it certainly wasn't the best financial decision I've ever made! Because my mother is such a powerhouse in the industry (think Oprah and many, many others) and people take sides, the estrangement has had a serious impact on my career and the resources available to me.

Access aside, as millions of people know, my mother is a tremendous human being and I love and respect her deeply. The rub is that, like her, I'm a writer: my life is my material. It's an issue all writers deal with: Is it possible to tell my story without hurting others? What happens to the world of letters if writers only write what is acceptable? What is the point of writing if you can't be truthful?

Some of my favorite memoirists, women like Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Audre Lorde, Diane DiPrima, Marguerite Duras, Susanna Kaysen, bell hooks, Lucy Grealy, asha bandele and others, didn't write what made everyone comfortable. They wrote what they needed to write, and the truth of their expression stands the test of time. I hope my work does the same.

So I guess that's a yes. It is worth it. And the cost is tremendous. I often tell writers in my workshops that their biggest fear about telling their story can come true: you can lose the people you love the most. But, as many of those same writers like to tell me, the opposite is also true: you can become closer to the people you love; telling your story can be a cathartic place of healing. I thought that would be true for me and my family. So far, not so much. But there is still time. I'll never close the door.

3. You have edited three non-fiction anthologies and contributed to at least twenty others. Why do you think anthologies as a genre became so popular and do you think the publishing trend is over? What is your new anthology about and when will it be out? I hear there is a local author in it.


The first anthology I read was This Bridge Called My Back by the late Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua, and my all-time favorite is We Are the Stories We Tell. The genre endures because it fulfills a human longing to see the world from different points of view, all at once. And then there is the fact that collections are like parties for introverts: you meet the most fascinating people without having to leave the house. It's the original virtual community.

My new anthology is about new family configurations. It is called Walk This Way: Introducing the New American Family. It's about all the ways people are living these days: from birthing at home without a midwife, living polyamorously, and inviting the nanny to be a full-fledged family member, to co-housing, transracial adoption, and intercultural ex-pat life. SMdA resident Susan McKinney de Ortega is covering that last topic, and I'm thrilled to include her essay about moving to San Miguel, falling in love and starting what to some may seem like a non-traditional family.

4. Have you been in San Miguel de Allende before? If so, what is the first experience you look forward to having (place to go, etc.) upon each return?

This will be my first trip to San Miguel de Allende, though my mother owns a house in Mexico and I've spent over two decades going back and forth: the country is in my blood. I'm looking forward to speaking Spanish, a language I love, and eating carne asada with beans and rice. I'm looking forward to the light, the warmth of the people, and the focus on family rather than consumerism. I'm looking forward to architectural beauty and diversity. And of course, I am looking forward to meeting some wonderful writers.
December 11th, 2007