Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Community Forum on Language, Stereotypes, & Communication

The Community Coalition on Race had a terrific forum last night on Language, Stereotypes, & Communication, and Carolyn Hunt did a really super job of directing the actors she and Alysia Souder assembled. The table discussions were apparently quite deep– several people said they’d never have gone so far so fast without the improvisations. I was personally deeply moved by the actors: Luis Marmolejo, Horace Jackson, Naja Selby, and Kate McAteer--- actorstheir human energy and skill. It occurred to me that, among other things, they gave the lie to another set of stereotypes-- about actors being narcissistic, can’t talk without someone writing their lines, etc. etc. They opened up so wonderfully to each other and to us, and added all sorts of good stuff to the material we gave them. I especially loved the Evil Word fluid sculpture– wished for it to go on and on–brilliant idea to do several of them as positive/negative (the girl who seems to love being a ‘ho, the woman offended; the kid calling out to his friend “Yo, Nigga!” etc.) My only regret is that the town officials did not come out in force (some of them were there but I wish the others had come too). Another amazing thing: the whole evening was right on schedule, which almost never happens, James VanOosting and Sandye Wilson brief and strong, a full half hour of table discussions, and at the end, I think people felt energized rather than exhausted.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

At Columbia University

April 26

It was a very pure delight to be on campus yesterday sunny, cool. It made me at least partly want to be part of now, not to keep gasping over the old black and white photos of Ted Gold and J.J. and Rudd and all the rest. There were pink balloons all over campus, some kind of festival with food and games, people with little kids, all the lovely students tossing frisbees, showing their bodies off, playing baseball in the field with the red flag (which means you’re supposed to stay off the grass) Our graying group not the main event at all, and frankly, that is a good thing.

At the sundial, people reading off the deaths of all 90,000 victims so far of the Iraq war. They hit a gong for each death. This was all day, you’d come out to go to the next venue, and there were the pink balloons and the green lawns with frisbee players and some black and white antiwar banners waving in the breeze, people eating and strolling and the pink and granite buildings– and then the brass gong and softly amplified voices giving a date, “four American soldiers, one four year old Iraqi, in Fallujah...” And then five solemn gongs.

At the law school, across the plaza, that huge chunk of steel in front of Law– twisted horses and hammers--a whole plaza roofing over Amsterdam Avenue that didn't used to be there-- reminder of how the university dominates up there. There was a rather elegantly dressed black woman from a tenants’ organization from Harlem who was heckling Lee Bollinger at the Law panel. She shut up when she was promised to be the first speaker in the Q&A– and of course Bollinger didn’t stay to listen.

April 25, 2008

It’s late, and I’m back from Day 1 at the ‘68 - ‘08 events. The first panel I attended, the feminist one (Catherine Stimpson, Sharon Olds, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Grace Linda LeClair and more) and the law panel (Gus Reichenbach, Lee Bollinger, Ray Brown, Sam ??) were extremely interesting.

Speakers that were especially gripping to me included Grace Linda LeClair the “sex girl” of Barnard who got expelled for living with her boyfriend-- who did not, of course, get expelled from Columbia. She made front page news– and spoke about learning how that icon, “Linda LeClair the sex girl” was so unlike herself-- now a pleasant faced smiling woman with good speaking skills, a sense of humor, grown children, a career (I’m not sure what, but she has run capital campaigns, she says). Sharon Olds appears to be very nice, too– I think I’m looking forward to reading with her tonight.

At the law panel: Gus Reichbach I could have listened to a lot longer, telling about his struggle to stay in Law School, to get accepted by the bar. How nice that we have one of us as a Justice of the New York Supreme Court! Also Ray Brown, very handsome and beautifully dressed, talked about the fact that his cohort was the first (at Columbia College, anyhow) to have a reasonable number of black students– total of 70 or 75 not counting Barnard.

At the black studies panel Thulani Davis told a wonderful story about her father, which I wish Andy's father Howard Weinberger had been alive to her. The story is that her father, a light-skinned man, was studying for a Ph.D. at Columbia in the 1920's, I think. The professors, he said, seemed to be avoiding him, and he assumed it was old fashioned racism, but then one professor called him in to his office and said, “Davis, exactly what are you?”

To which Mr. Davis replied, “Why, I’m a Negro.”

And the professor said, “Well thank God! We thought you were a Jew!”

Andy’s dad always said how Columbia was incredibly anti-Semitic– and I never got it, because it seemed that everyone I knew there (my roommates, the SDS people) was Jewish.

There was, however, a little more to her story: Later, when her Dad was working on his thesis, he was told he should start over with a new subject (was this engineering? Chemistry? Not sure) because there was some German doing the same research, and they couldn’t have a Negro beating out or shaking the glory. So her Dad left Columbia, and we can all relax-- they were racist too.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Friends and Magnolias

April 13

We had dinner last night with Tony and Mary, such fun to be with them after so much time passed. We discussed aged parents and youthful offspring. Tony is going back to work as a principal after retiring! Ryan and Anne about to graduated respectively from Northeastern and Rutgers. I still miss having them across the street, that terrible storm of a summer when Joel left for college, they moved, and Charley Brown kicked the bucket while being boarded at the Maplewood pet store. That came up during our conversation, and I almost cried. Mary said, “Imagine how you’d feel about a dog!”

Magnolia Haiku

Magnolia blossoms
Sweet and potent hanging there–
Defiance of gray.
Grass suddenly green:
Magnolia time has arrived:
Pink backyard geysers.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Books for Readers # 107


I'm offering a four-session online creative writing class called Summer Stories during the month of July 2008 for writers of memoir and personal essay as well as short story and novel. The class is appropriate for beginning writers but will give ample stimulation to advanced writers who want to move forward with their projects. Students who have taken this class in the past will find new exercises included and, of course, new responses to new work. There will be exercises and individual feedback on up to 1000 words per week. Sessions will be posted online and emailed on July 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2008, with homework due a week later. The class will close as soon as it is full. For more information, see


....just a little more Maria Edgeworth! (Is this an addiction?) Last issue I wrote about CASTLE RACKRENT. Next I read THE ABSENTEE. Many people think this first of Edgeworth’s novels was her best, and I would agree that her novels of manners are more uneven, but she’s worth reading even when she’s sloppy. After reading THE ABSENTEE, I did an edit of the Wikipedia ( article about it as follows: “ Just before coming of age, Lord Colambre, the sensitive hero of the novel, finds that his mother Lady Clonbrony's attempts to buy her way into the high society of London are only ridiculed, while his father is in serious debt as a result of his wife's lifestyle. Colambre falls in love with his mother's companion, his supposed cousin, Grace Nugent. Colambre travels incognito to Ireland to see the country that he still considers his home. Along the way he is briefly ensnared by a cold hearted adventuress who wants him to marry her daughter and who informs him that his beloved Grace is not Mr. Nugent's daughter at all, but rather an illegitimate child! This is confirmed by letter by his mother, who, while a social climber and generally frivolous, is very loving to Grace and has never told her about her parentage. Colambre is heart broken and feels he can never love a woman with such a heritage.
“He visits his family estate and discovers that his father's agents are oppressing the local peasantry and probably cheating his father as well. He reveals himself to the evil agents, and there is a race back to London, Colambre trying to stop his father from signing documents that would ruin some of the good peasants, the agent's agent trying to get the papers signed. Colambre makes it back just in time to stop his father from ruining the people, and he then assists his father in paying off his debts, on condition that the Clonbrony family return to live in Ireland. The final section concerns Colambre's love for Grace and how it is discovered that she is– yes!– both legitimate and an heiress! There are many turns of plot and lots of information about Ireland as well as Irish dialect and details of shallow London fashionable life and the egregious results of the propertied classes treating their Irish lands as a resource to be exploited rather than as a relationship among classes and with the land.”
The things I dislike about the novel are the hero’s fastidiousness about legitimate birth, and the heroine’s apparently bottomless passivity. You have to remind yourself that the biggest argument against female passivity is Edgeworth herself, who ran an enormous family and their property and wrote books and traveled besides.
Then, just to complete my little Maria Edgeworth festival, I also read a purported biography, MARIA EDGEWORTH by the Hon. Emily Lawless– a funny old fashioned book published in 1905. I bought it used, online, and it turned out to be a reject from the Santa Cruz, California, Public Library– last checked out on March 24, 1923! The writer, an Anglo-Irishwoman like the author, loves CASTLE RACKRENT, but not Edgeworth’s other books. She also thoroughly disapproves of Edgeworth’s patriarchal papa. It wasn’t the biography I was looking for–although I did enjoy meeting Hon. Emily. Which seemed to have been the real subject of the book.
I also read HEALTH PROXY by Robert Roth, which was recommended here by Carole Rosenthal in Issue #104. It’s really pretty stunning– all about life in tiny gray apartments in the Village among people who were (and still are I suppose) cutting edge and political and full of talk. It is extremely gripping, that in-your-face quality of the ancient mariner stopping you and holding you with his extreme honesty. It’s the insistent scrupulousness with which he examines himself, his friends, and his failings that engaged me. I really couldn’t put it down. See Carol Rosenthal’s comments.
Final notes: I re-read Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL after my husband bought it for me and brought in home from the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. It is much funnier than I remembered, and I had totally forgotten some of the wonderful short poems.
And, for something completely different– I read the Phaidon COURBET by James H. Rubin after visiting the big Courbet Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I didn’t know I liked Courbet particularly, and wasn’t all that overwhelmed by the melodramatic series of youthful self portraits in the beginning of the exhibit, but by the end, I really was overwhelmed by the hunting scenes, the landscapes, the dead fish, the bowls of wonderfully imperfect apples. The book is an excellent, reasonably priced introduction to him: to his democratic, anti-upper class approach to life and art, and to his self-publicizing. He has some of that quality of the Newly Discovered, Much-celebrated Self that you find in Whitman’s poetry. Good art book– I often go to the Met’s big exhibits and decide not to buy the enormous catalogs with their scholarly articles and large price tag. Also, I don’t want to have to carry them home on the train. Ten I buy the Phaidon introductions instead!
Finally, speaking of Wikipedia, I hope everyone is using it not just for the odd bit of information, but also to put in notes about your favorite writers and other subjects. It is especially important to put in short articles about writers who may be missed otherwise: overlooked or young writers, regional writers. You should also edit the articles on subjects you care about. I did a whole edit of the article on “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” which I thought was tendentious in a bad direction. Wikipedia is so often the first source that comes up on Google that it has become an important influence on human knowledge. So share what you know– it only succeeds when everyone’s information is shared.
--- Meredith Sue Willis


...says, “I found a just mind-blowing passage on blindness in Pamuk's "The Black Book" -- quoted most of it
(Did I mention to you what a wonderful book Saramago's "SEEING" is? It's set in the city of "BLINDNESS" four years later, a political fable. The both books in combination are, I think, hugely more than the two of them separately.)” Notes on SEEING:


Magdalena Ball of recommends her best 2007 books: Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD and Emily Ballou’s APHELION. She says “the two books couldn’t be more different. McCarthy, as I know you know, is the spare king of desolation. No other writer could do what he did in that book and pull it off with the same sense of beauty and even renewal (but only the merest hint). Ballou, on the other hand, is almost baroque by comparison. Her writing is linguistically rich and upbeat always.”


Pamela Erens’ novel THE UNDERSTORY (reviewed here in Issue #100 ) was named as a finalist for the LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Prize in First Fiction. Very exciting news!
Carter Seaton, author of FATHER’S TROUBLES, has been awarded the 2007 Denny C. Plattner award for Outstanding Non-Fiction for her piece “Those Who Came,” which appeared in the 2007 Spring Edition of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE, a literary journal published by Berea College.
Jennifer DeWitt reports that she has just an article published in the DAILY RECORD of Madison/Chatham, New Jersey in their special section called "Madison Chatham This Week". Looks like it will be a regular gig for me. She thinks this may be a regular column, too. See it at her article for Senior Citizens Guide magazine: She says that having two non-fiction articles published has also inspired her fiction writing.
Glad Day Books and Triboro Pictures have announced the official website for the film based on Leora Skolkin-Smith's EDGES, set to be shot on location in Jordan and Jerusalem:
Diane Lockwood’s book WHAT FEEDS US is one of two poetry collections featured
in the new e-issue of RATTLE. The feature includes 5 poems from the book. See
Penny Harter’s new collection of poems THE NIGHT MARSH is just out from WordTech. The publisher's web page for the book is, and Penny’s page for the book is . Here’s a sample poem:
Feeding the Horses in Texas
for my father
Dad kept yellow corn from the feed store
in a garbage can out behind the shed.
Dawn and dusk, he shoved a rusty scoop
deep into that can, dumping hard kernels
of boyhood memory on the family farm
into a galvanized pail.
Then he sniffed the wind and nickered
until two horses crossed the neighbor’s field
to rest their muzzles on the split-rail fence
and talk to him.
And he made more horse noises,
grinning back as they curled floppy lips
to bare big teeth and munch this ritual gift
from an old man lost in his yard,
who raised that steel bucket
as if to his own mouth.


TEMPORARY PEOPLE by Steven Gillis (Black Lawrence Press, April 2008) is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Gillis is the author of the novels Walter Falls and The Weight of Nothing, both finalists for the Independent Publishers Book of the Year and ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year 2003 and 2005.
Warren Adler’s NEW YORK ECHOES has just been published, to be followed shortly by FUNNY BOYS, a new novel. Adler is the author of THE WAR OF THE ROSES and many other books.
Judith Victoria Hensley ‘s TERRIBLE TINA has just been published. See the website at
A new book by Norman Jordan. Learn more .


Ed Myers writes to say he has found an interesting resource for writers, ( Ed says, “Someone described this to me as Facebook for writers. The site's goal is to provide writers with a networking site and a place for building a community of writers and readers. One has to apply and get screened, etc.....It looks promising to me in several different ways...Have a look.”


Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 9 p.m. is the broadcast date and time for Diane Gilliam Fisher's amazing volume of poetry, KETTLE BOTTOM. West Virginia Public Radio's version, produced by Kate Long, is sure to be a very special and long remembered program.
A new book review online: THE INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS, Carter Jefferson, Editor, . See the website at
Barbara Crooker recommends – which also has several of her new poems.
Magdalena Ball ( Is the host of Compulsive Reader talks which is live at the second Tuesday f the month at 6 p.m. It is permanently available in podcast form.
The HAMILTON STONE REVIEW’S Issue # 14 is up at featuring selections from Hamilton Stone Edition's 2008 Book List by Rebecca Kavaler, Jane Lazarre, Eva Kollisch, and Rochelle Ratner; and poetry by Bobbi Lurie, CL Bledsoe, David Thornbrugh, Alex Cigale, Georgios Tsangaris, John M. Bennett, Burt Kimmelman, Jamie Cooper, Cheyenne Nimes, and Laurie Price.


PARK SLOPE’S 440 GALLERY– Claudia Carlson and others read on Sunday, April 13th from 4:40-6:00 pm at 440 Gallery, 440 Sixth Avenue (at 9th St., F to 7th Ave.) CONTACT: Brooke Shaffner at Admission Free
Wednesday, April 16th at 6:00 PM
Miguel Ortiz
King of Swords
Miguel Ortiz's new novel is a sweeping historical work based on the life of his grandfather in Puerto Rico.
ROSARY O'NEILL, Award-winning New Orleans playwright, announces the representation of a two volume anthology set of her plays by Samuel French: A LOUISIANA GENTLEMAN and OTHER COMEDIES AND GHOSTS OF NEW ORLEANS. Friday, May 9th from 6:00 to 7:30 PM at the Marquis Room of The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY 10003. Call (212) 475-3424 for more information. See her website at .
JOHN AMEN is reading 4/9 at PoetsWednesday, 582 Rahway Ave, Woodbridge, NJ; 4/10
NYC Pedestal Event at the West Side YMCA (The George Washington Lounge) 5 West 63rd Street (between Central Park West & Broadway) New York, NY 8pm. For more readings, around the country, see and


Meredith Sue Willis’s next one day “Jump-Start Your Novel” workshop at NYU will take place June 7, 2008. NYU’s SCPS Writing Classes are at


IMPORTANT NOTE: Meredith Sue Willis makes no claims and has no special knowledge about these contests– please check them out carefully! I just pass on things that look interesting.

WriterAdvice, is searching for flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction that grabs, surprises, and mesmerizes readers in fewer than 750 words. If you have a complete story or memoir with a strong theme, sharp images, a solid structure, and an unexpected discovery, please submit. Visit the website,, for details about offering your pieces. Questions? Send an e-mail to SPECIAL PERK: All entries accompanied by an SASE will be returned with brief comments.
Deadline: April 30, 2008
First Prize: $1,000
and Publication of Book
Contest Judge: Thylias Moss
For full guidelines, see Website for more information.
MARSH HAWK PRESS Mail to: P.O. Box 206, East Rockaway, NY 11518. Entry fee.
THE INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS offers a $100 prize for the best entry in its "Lasting
Impressions" contest. Write a 600- to 900-word book review that includes the reason this book made a lasting impression on you. Send it as plain text in your e-mail message form to this address. Include a bio of 50 words or less. First place - $100 with publication in the May issue of IRB– Second place - $50 and possible publication– Third place - $25 and possible publication. Entry fee - $5.00. Entries and payment must be received by April 20, 2008 Learn more at:


A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION Invites Applications for Literary Gift of Freedom Award. Deadline: October 31, 2008 A Room Of Her Own Foundation ( is dedicated to helping women artists achieve the privacy and financial support necessary to pursue their art. To this end, the foundation annually provides an award of $50,000 to a woman writer. The foundation's 2009 Literary Gift of Freedom Award will be given to an American woman writer who is a U.S. citizen and will be living in the U.S. during the grant period. Acceptable genres for this grant are poetry, playwriting, creative nonfiction, and fiction. Visit the foundation's Web site for complete program guidelines:
2008-2009 Teachers &Writers Fellowships are now available online at . These fellowships are for people 30 and under who show exceptional artistic promise and are in the New York City area (or have their own place to stay there.) The Fellowship period is October 1, 2008, to May 31, 2009. During that time, T&W Fellows will receive a $10,000 stipend, Office space and resources (e.g., computer, supplies) at T&W, and much more. Applications for the 2008–2009 T&W Fellowships must be RECEIVED by 5:00 PM (Eastern), Monday, July 7, 2008 If you have questions after reviewing the guidelines and application form, please e-mail or call 212-691-6590.


I’ve been reporting for some time in this spot that Ingrid Hughes writes:Ingrid Hughes writes: “My union newspaper says, ‘Forget, which has engaged in union busting on two continents. Try Powell's Books ( the largest unionized bookstore in America....An alternative way to reach their site is from; prices are the same but 10% of your purchase will go directly to the [Powell’s bookstore] union's benefit fund.’” For the complete discussion, see the comments of Jonathan Greene and others in Issues #98 and #97 .

Now Amazon is causing a new stink in the publishing world! They are demanding that certain publishing options be replaced by their exclusive Print on Demand Company Book Surge. Take a look here to read more: