Monday, April 05, 2021

Thoughts About Religion for Easter 2021

     Easter is the Hope Holiday. All the religions I've encountered have powerful, human strengths: Buddhism focuses on embracing, not running from, what is going on right now. Judaism performs its most important rituals within the family, and instead of building inspiring architecture, offers study and truth-wrestling. And Christianity, the faith I was raised in, offers hope of reconciliation even at the utmost extremity. This, the vital humanist message of Easter.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Intimacy of Vivid Description


 An exchange on the Intimacy of Vivid Description--and What It's Good For....
This is a link to a piece in A Journal of Practical Writing--a short consideration of the important for writer and reader of vivid description.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

 New Books for Readers Newsletter #213 just  posted!

Pauletta Hansen reviewed by Bonnie Proudfoot; a conversation about cultural appropriation in fiction; T.C. Boyle; Eric Foner; Attica Locke; Lillian Roth; The Snake Pit; Alice Walker; Lynda Schor; James Baldwin; True Grit, and more. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

After Reading Eric Foner's A Short History of Reconstruction

This is a kind of book report, but reading history is often how I organize my understanding of  politics.  I read a few books of history a year, usually because it seems like a good story, or--as in this case--because I'm looking for parallels to today.

Sometimes I read history looking for evidence that it was even worse back then.

I may decide to read Eric Foner's unabridged book on Reconstruction another time, but this one, at 260 pages, gave me the overview I wanted.

Here are my biggest takeaways:  first, the Radical abolitionist Republican-led Reconstruction after the Civil War ended gave ten years of significant political advances  (fewer economic advances)  to black men and by extension black families.  There were black sheriffs, police, voting, the teaching of basic literacy, Black state legislators and members of Congress. Laws were passed giving basic civil right to freedmen.  The emphasis was, however, all on the vote and politics: Americans have always, apparently, looked askance at land redistribution.  Property seems to be viewed as sacred, especially by the affluent and wealthy. 

My next big takeaway was that much of what was forced on the South by the Federal government actually benefitted all working people, including those in the Appalachian Mountain South.  This included especially things like public schools and libraries. The Jim Crow laws really weren't put in place till the 1890's.  Segregation is not such a deep and ancient tragic flaw, then, as so many twentieth century writers would  have us believe–I'm looking at you Bill Faulkner.

Federal laws were put in place, flagrantly ignored in the South, and much later used in the twentieth century as the basis for civil rights cases.

Then there was the incredible viciousness of the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan (founded in 1865, extended into almost every southern state by 1870). Over and over men who were considered leaders were murdered, sometimes in broad daylight. Under President Grant, laws and enforcement by troops quashed it, but it was replaced by other organizations and tactics, such as, after the federal government withdrew, Jim Crow laws and suppression of Black voting and opportunities.

Meanwhile, during the 1870's and 80's the North was industrializing with enormous speed, with huge numbers of immigrants, the beginning of unionizing and big strikes and equally big union busting.  The workers in the North rarely made any common cause with the freedmen.

Finally, the Republican party made its turn, toward what was called reform (to end corruption and put the "Best Men" into high government positions). They believed in minimal interference from the Federal government (this begins to sound like the GOP I know). Schools, libraries, enforcement of all kinds should be done by the States– and that was the end of Reconstruction in the South and the beginning of the "Redemption" of white supremacy. And the Republicans became the party of big business.

The thing that continues to amaze me is how my own public school education in industrial West Virginia never even touched on labor issues at a time when the United Mine Workers were very powerful, let alone the complexities and brutality of Reconstruction. Each time we studied American history, we stopped with the Civil War. If Reconstruction was ever mentioned, it was as a bad time when bad people exploited the poor crushed Southerners, and gross black men dressed up in red silk waistcoats and aped white gentlemen.  Looking back, I am appalled, but no longer astounded.

But some things persisted: certain Federal laws; long memories of people who had experienced the time when there were Black Congressmen.  There was always Black self-improvement, and people founded schools and colleges and began the lawsuits. There was the tense but fruitful disagreement between W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, and eventually Jesse Owens representing America in the face of the Nazis, and the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, and  Thurgood Marshall before the Supreme Court, and the modern Civil Rights movement, and now Black people in the highest offices of the land.

I have no generalizations to make here: just a sadness for all the lost lives and creativity, and amazement at how slowly change happens.  But it does happen, and I believe it happens through a multitude of small choices and concrete  actions by ordinary people.  We are all called to do what we can.

Monday, January 04, 2021

The Ultimate Fiction Writer's Prompt!

Stuck?  Looking for a way to get going on writing something new?  Try the ultimate fiction writer's prompt. using "What If."  

This prompt, hardly unusual or new, comes from a piece I wrote for New Year's 2021 about cultural appropriation and creative writing.  Take a look at it at The Journal of Practical Writing.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Winter Solstice Poem by Hilton Obenzinger


December 21, 2020
Winter Solstice 

An older woman in the parking lot of the supermarket was crying, her tears rolling down to her mask. People gathered around her, at a distance, and someone asked her if she was OK and why was she crying. She pointed to the Christmas decorations, lights flashing, a decorated tree, Rudolph's red nose, and all the rest. "I miss Christmas. All of this" – she pointed at the holiday lights – "don't make up for hugging my grandkids. I'm alone. The phone's not enough." And all of the people sighed. The sigh contained millions of regrets and losses tumbling out of their souls. They had come to console her, but they needed consolation themselves.

For a second everyone in the parking lot was swept up in shared sorrow, everyone stopped, remembering all that they were missing. And the silent roll-call of loss went like this:

Missing my senior-year trip to Spain. Missing my belly-dance class. Missing my job, missing my paycheck. Missing grandma, and grandma's missing me. Missing Zumba, missing Spanish class, missing teachers in the flesh. Missing God coming to visit me in huge crowds in Macy's. Missing my chorus, no Handel this year. Missing a big feast, missing food, missing sitting in a fancy restaurant or a greasy spoon. Missing going to a basketball game, missing the way people crowd into a movie house, sniffing each other before the film starts. Missing the tongue of flame that would sweep up a prophet. Missing my love, now gone, missing my brother, dead, and my friend, succumbed, missing grandpa dying alone. Missing latkes and chicken soup with friends at my house, missing the tamales my aunties would make. Missing sitting in a coffee shop and reading a book or scrolling down my laptop, watching everyone milling around. Missing the stand-up comedy club, and all the insult comics lambasting Christmas, missing the Nutcracker, missing the kitsch. Missing the way people are smashed together watching the fireworks on New Year's Eve. Missing the touch of my kids far away.

And then the brief interlude ended, and everyone dabbed their eyes, adjusted their masks, and someone told the grandma who was weeping that she wasn't alone, that all of us are missing a lot, and we never know how precious it could be to do all the normal things until they are taken away, but everything was going to be much better next year, we'll be free of the virus then, a madman will not be in the White House, we just have to hold out, stay steady, wait for the vaccine. That was a happy lie to make us forget our sorrows, and even though we all knew it, we were comforted, and we wished with all our hearts that it would all come true.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

New Issue of Books for Readers # 212


New Issue of Books for Readers # 212

Reviews by Donna Meredith and Carrington Hatfield
Books by Octavia Butler, Madison Smartt Bell, Yxta Maya Murray, Sidney Schama, Wallace Stegner, Timothy G. Huguenin, Cobb & Seaton, and more.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

One America News Network is scary....


Do you have four minutes to get a glimpse into one source of information for a lot of Americans?  Here is a clip from One America News Network.  They describe themselves as "owned by Herring Networks, Inc. Herring Networks, Inc.... a family owned and operated, independent media company focused on providing high quality national television programming to consumers via its national cable networks. The for-profit company was established in 2004 and has its primary production operations in California and Washington, DC." 

The main page of their website has pieces on slow mail for Christmas, buttons for sports and entertainment– the sorts of things we expect from the news, and everything  has pretty high production values.  The video clip I watched is this:

An attractive, dark eyed young woman with a cityscape and a Christmas tree for a backdrop introduces a short interview between two white men in suits talking about the Supreme Court decision (that was decided a day ago).  The guys sound smart and talk about how the SCOTUS decision (remember, already decided yesterday) is going to throw the presidential election into the House of Representatives because it is highly unlikely either candidate will get 270 electoral college votes.  For support of this opinion, there are video clips of people who seem to be counting votes and voting, and lots of innuendo about illegal and improper voting.

Everything looks very much like network news and high end cable news.

I have a simple point: if this is the "information" you have, you are thinking and making political decisions in an alternative world to this one.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Why They Vote for DT....

Kwame Anthony Appiah who writes "The Ethicist" column in the New York Times  is always interesting, and today's column includes  a letter from someone who is thinking of stopping communication with her friends who voted for DT.  She feels she can't be friends with people who share the president's values.

 Appiah's answer is worth reading in whole, but the meat of it, to my mind, is  "...perhaps the gulf between you and these friends arises from differences in your epistemic capacities — the ability to gain reliable information. Our beliefs depend not just on our own brains but also on the social worlds we live in....people can be epistemically disadvantaged by gaining their beliefs from social networks that are radically unreliable. We get many of our false beliefs in the same way we get true ones: by listening to the views of people we trust.....the misjudgment here may not reflect bad moral values."

I love the idea of "epistemically disadvantaged."

I've been talking a lot with various friends about why people vote for DT, and I've come up with these reasons:

1) Some people see most of DT's failings, but are willing to accept them as long as he is the best chance for stopping abortion. One-issue people can set aside a lot to support their cause.

2) Some people see DT as giving the finger to the establishment, and identify with this.

3) We are all influenced deeply by the people around us and what they believe/how they see the world.

This is pretty close to Appiah's "epistemic" argument, about the people around us, but it's also about the ways we get our information.  For example, I read The New York Times and The Nation, rarely watch television news, but do occasionally listen to radio news: NPR  or 1010 WINS, if I'm in the car.  

I'd also add that while my liberal and left-wing friends are at least as intolerant of their opposites as the Trumpsters, I do feel that their relatively high level of education is significant.  Obviously there are people who went to college and those who didn't on all sides, but people who are formally educated (and those who have educated themselves with serious effort, including reading books) have access to everything the people who rarely read have-- plus a lot more.  They may also have training in how to sift through sources.

I'm struck by how many of my high school Facebook friends who are religious Christians seem to  adore DT.  One man alternates Facebooks posts of Biblical quotes with short lessons that seem quite thoughtful with reposts of godawful screeds with little basis in fact.  

I suspect that people who didn't go to college (or in the case of this friend, went to Bible college) tend to look at what they do read as texts to be accepted and shared as they do the Bible.  This doesn't mean they worship right-wing pundits, but that they are perhaps oddly too respectful of the written word.  If you are trained in memorizing and searching texts for enlightenment and life-lessons, it may be carrying over to anything else you read.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

 New Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers-- #211 with reviews by by Deborah Clearman, Ed Davis, Rebekah Ferrell, Ingrid Hughes, Eddy Pendarvis and others of books by Lillian Smith, Donna Meredith, Lavie Tidhar, Henry James, Octavia Butler, Deborah Clearman, J.K. Jemisin, Penelope Lively, Walter Mosley and others, with poems by Hilton Obenzinger.! 


Monday, September 28, 2020


October 2020

Meredith Sue Willis News


Two new books:  A science fiction novel
and a novella set in Southern West Virginia:

Publicity and Fun Online:

 Youtube interview of MSW by Carter Seaton about Soledad  at

Discussion of Soledad in the Desert   with Tyler Chadwell,
Eddy Pendarvis, Donna Meredith, Phyllis Wilson Moore--and MSW at

MSW talks about revision on Youtube talk on revision at

One Day Writing Workshop with Meredith Sue Willis  ONLINE at NYU
Saturday November 14, 2020
1:00 PM to 5:00 PM Online (Zoom)  Sign up now!

Comments on Saving Tyler Hake:

Meredith Sue Willis figuratively returns home in this unique novella!
                                                                                                    ~Phyllis Wilson Moore, West Virginia’s literary maven 
Saving Tyler Hake is a realistic story told by English teacher Robin Smith about how she and other educators reached out to help a student following a family tragedy. Willis is a master story-teller and honestly reveals the same challenges faced by educators and families in Appalachia today. Great read!
                                                            ~ Kathy Manley, author of Don’t Tell’em You’re Cold: a Memoir of Poverty and Resilience
 Meredith Sue Willis’s vividly drawn characters pull you into their small town in the mountains of southern West Virginia where hurts, jealousies, and secrets won’t lie buried . . .
                                                                    ~ Anna Eagan Smucker, author of Rowing Home
Meredith Sue Willis is a masterful storyteller who never gives too much away, but uncannily gives just enough to keep me always eager for the next page. This novella is superbly nuanced with not a word misplaced. Meredith reveals the inherent selfishness in even the best of people, without judgment, an accomplishment few of her contemporaries can do as well.
                          ~Marc Harshman, Poet Laureate of West Virginia and author of Woman in Red Anorak, Winner of the Blue Lynx Prize.
Comments on Soledad in the Desert:

Reading Soledad in the Desert now, the loss of worlds Willis imagines does not seem entirely of the realm of fantasy, but rather a parable of loss, along with a hope for regeneration, that we should heed.

                                                            ~ Diane Simmons
The enjoyment of this story is all about a unique style of writing that works. It is the tale of a group of people re-inventing their culture on an alien world, seen through the eyes of one of the children. So, the story starts with simple and childlike writing, which develops as the child matures and society grows.
                                                                  ~ Gordon A. Long   (Renaissance Writer)
Both books available from the usual online suspects. 
Or, order Soledad  in the Desert from the publisher
at Montemayor Press.
Order Saving Tyler Hake from the publisher
at  Mountain State Press.










MSW Home 


Monday, June 29, 2020

New Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's BOOKS FOR READERS #209

New Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's BOOKS FOR READERS #209

Books by Cassandra Clare, Lissa Evans, Suzan Colón, Damian Dressick, Madeline Ffitch, Dennis Lehane, William Maxwell, and more. Reviews by Eddy Pendarvis, Ed Davis, Donna Meredith, and Joanna Ezekiel!