Category Archives: Events

Madison’s Writers Resist: Photos and Cap Times’ Review

The Capitol Times’ reporter Lindsay Christians attended the January 15, 2017 Writers Resist event, where Madison authors read in support of democracy, compassion, fairness, decency, inclusion, freedom–all the things we hold dear–and writes about it in the article attached below. First, some photos from the event:

This one was taken by James Lee Phetteplace:

And another shot taken from the balcony by the Cap Times photographer, where you can see the entire space and the beautiful bima of the Gates of Heaven synagogue:

And a shot by the Cap Times photographer of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing poetry fellow Derrick Austin with a blurry-faced me in front of him.

And finally, the article:

MADISON WRITERS RESIST GIVES BILLBOARDS TO THE POETS
by LINDSAY CHRISTIANS | The Capital Times
PHOTOS BY MICHELLE STOCKER

19 writers read poetry, short essays and fiction at the Gates of Heaven during the Madison Writers Resist event.

Before Madison Writers Resist on Sunday night, poet Marilyn Annucci unearthed a few poems from a notebook and made some changes. As she did, she was struck by how that process of revising things from the past is much like the work of citizenship itself.

“Writing is really a form of democracy,” Annucci said. “It takes love and attention. It’s a process.”

Madison Writers Resist, a lively, well-attended reading in the Gates of Heaven synagogue, joined 90-some events taking place around the country and the world on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

The stated purpose of these gatherings was “to resist the Trump administration.” But in Madison’s two-hour-plus event, 19 featured writers dropped the new president elect’s name less than a handful of times.

Many of the writers had ties to the university. Author/educator Kara Candito and artist Victor Castro organized Madison Writers Resist with Rita Mae Reese of Arts + Literature Laboratory and Ron Czerwein of Avol’s Books.

Sean Bishop from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s creative writing department opened with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

The five-minute time limit made a good fit for poets like Derrick Austin, Natalie Eilbert and Jamel Brinkley. Brinkley read Ada Limón’s “A New National Anthem,” and Eilbert read an excerpt from a longer work of her own called “The Lake.” She read some of what she’d written after the election, “in the age of the autocrats.”

“The tyrant glides along, orange dander colliding with the brutality of naming us what we are,” she read. “Rust sprinkles in the long grass and I loop its belt around and around my waist.

“I have nothing to say to you, America. Wear your safety pins. Register. Safety. We have failed us.”

The assembled crowd heard from Madison’s poets laureate past and current, Fabu (a Capital Times opinion columnist) and Oscar Mireles, editor of three volumes of “I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin.”

Mireles read a poem that recalled his mother, his aunt and two of their friends picketing outside trains in Minneapolis that meant to deport Mexican immigrants.

“They were afraid to hold up the picket signs, yet were more afraid worse things would happen if they did not.”

Some writers read work not their own. Timothy Yu read Allen Ginsberg. Sarah Fuchs choked up during an excerpt of James Baldwin’s 1984 essay “On Being White … and Other Lies.” Marcela Fuentes read Albert Rios’ “The Border: A Double Sonnet.”

Araceli Esparza gleefully reported before reading that she’d just followed her poem’s author, January Gill O’Neill, on Twitter. O’Neill’s “Old South Meeting House” sounded like a powerful call to action, especially apt in Gates of Heaven: “We draw breath from brick. Ignite the fire in us. Speak to us: the language is hope.”

Novelist Dale Kushner read a bit of Walt Whitman, but opened with a story about her father. Kushner came to college in the 1960s, “when cities and campuses were battle zones,” and before she left her father took her aside and said, “don’t sign anything.”

“He was worried that I would be signing radical petitions,” she said, “assuming that I was a lot more daring than I was. But he was also coming from a lineage of persecution and exile.

“He knew well the power of the state to crush opposition, and the charisma of demagogues to lead the naïve into danger.”

Some poets, like SP Mulroy and Andy Gricevich, read their own work, exploring difficult compassion and shared vulnerability. Judith Claire Mitchell read an excerpt from her first novel, “The Last Day of the War.”

Especially powerful were two poems by Rubén Medina, a professor of Latin American literature at the UW.

“Applying for Citizenship” explored Medina’s relationship to “this, my nation of others,” the adopted country he has called home for four decades.

The poem took the form of a series of “conditions,” some humorous — TV commercials should be limited to one minute per hour — and others more serious.

“The White House should be moved to Puerto Rico, the Congress to Harlem, the United Nations to Wounded Knee,” Medina read. “Half of the billboards in this country should be given to poets or anyone who wants to imagine the nation, the other half to children.”

Medina followed that with a first reading of a poem called “Homeland” with the repeated refrain, “This country has never been mine.”

“Countries don’t have owners,” Medina read.

A short open mic section followed the main event, though most folks cleared out before that began. James Lee Phetteplace got in several pertinent zingers to the president-elect: “They may like the cut of your jib now, but when the winds shift they’ll cut that jib.”

Readers and listeners at Madison Writers Resist raised more than $2,000 for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. Another similar event, not associated with Writers Resist but in the same vein, is set for March 18. Nasty Women Reading is taking submissions through Feb. 3 and will be a benefit for Planned Parenthood.

“Giving writers something to do, to look forward to, is really important,” said ALL’s Rita Mae Reese. “But also I think people need to hear the voices in their community.”

When Dale Kushner got up to speak, she put it another way.

“This inspiration is what feeds us, is what we need,” Kushner said. “I’m happy to be here today to encourage all of us to imagine together how we can create public spaces that feel safe for controversial discourse.”

 

Madison’s Writers Resist Reading: Details and Thoughts

I know I often write about how honored I’ve been to have received this award or that nomination, to have been invited to this reading or that lecture, to have my name mentioned alongside the names of other writers I admire. I never use the word casually. I mean it sincerely every single time. I always wanted to be a writer, but I began writing seriously later in life, and I’m still amazed that my work has been published at all and that I’m a member of a creative writing program, much less one as respected as the University of Wisconsin’s. Both those things–being a published writer and teaching–were beyond my wildest dreams, so when someone acknowledges my work when there are so many better and more prominent writers around–well, that’s even farther beyond those dreams, and I’m not kidding around;  I am truly, deeply honored.

But having used the word honored in all those other contexts means that I’m now in need of a word that means “honored and then some.” Honored-plus? Super-honored? Full-fat honored? HONORED in all caps? Because that’s how I feel about having been invited to be a featured reader at the Madison Writers Resist event on Sunday, January 15: extra honored with a cherry on top. If you want the time and place, you can jump to it by clicking here.

But in this post, I wanted to say a little something more about this reading.

As a great many American citizens are aware, Writers Resist is an international movement that was conceived after the US election by the poet and activist Erin Belieu. The idea is elegant and powerful: on January 15, 2017, the date of Martin Luther King’s birthday, writers, readers and citizens seeking solidarity and inspiration will gather in their cities and towns to hold what is described as “a ‘reinauguration’ of our shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech, and the fundamental ideals of democracy.”  To date readings are being held in about 75 locations, from New York and Boston to Seattle and San Francisco to Zurich and Hong Kong.

The Madison event, which is a fundraiser for the Wisconsin ACLU, takes place from 6 to 9pm. It  was organized by Sean Bishop, Kara Candito, Ron Czerwien, and Rita Mae Reese, four formidable poets who live here in Madison. The readers have been asked to read briefly from relevant passages of either their own work or the work of other writers who inspire them. After these readings there will be an open mic.

The featured readers in Madison include Masood Akhtar, Marilyn Annucci, Moisés Villavicencio Barras, Araceli Esparza, Fabu, Dale Kushner, Lissa McClaughlin, Rubén Medina, Oscar Miralis, SP Mulroy,  Timothy Yu, and me, as well as all 6 of this year’s Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing fellows, Derrick Austin, Jamel Brinkley, Natalie Dawn Eilbert, Sarah Fuchs, Marcela Fuentes, and Barrett Swanson. I know many of these writers and am genuinely excited to hear them read, one after another.

Making it all just a little more special is the location of the reading, the beautiful Gates of Heaven, a former synagogue adjacent to James Madison Park. It helps make this feel like an almost spiritual event. I believe it will be a consoling event, a healing event.

My teacher Marilynne Robinson (talk about honors–not much beats having Marilynne Robinson as your teacher) once told us that the English who colonized this country did not celebrate Thanksgiving once a year as we do today or as suggested by the traditional Thanksgiving stories we were told as children. Rather, she said, whenever the religious leaders believed something had occurred that gave them particular reason to express gratitude to their god,  the colonists would gather together in church and as a community give thanks. These were known as days of thanks-giving and they occurred frequently throughout the year.

We have had many days of coming together in fear and despair of late. I see the Writers Resist readings as a worldwide day of thanksgiving. We give thanks for our voices, our convictions, our ferocity, our freedoms, our intellects, our imaginations, our power. That we in Madison will be gathering in the once-sacred Gates of Heaven to read to one another on this day of thanks-giving makes our event all the more moving.

And so, once more, the details: Sunday, Jan. 15, 6 – 9pm, the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 302 E. Gorham St. Featured readers will begin at 6pm and an open mic will follow.

 

Racine Public Library’s Breakfast with the Authors

img_3585Along with fellow Wisconsin authors Michael Perry and John P. Riordan, I spent a lovely morning with 75 supporters of Racine, Wisconsin’s public library at the Friends of the Library’s annual Breakfast with the Authors.  I addressed the group and then got to chat with many of the attendees individually–including this budding author who showed me her own first book.

Scotland Photo Album

IMG_0287The ten days I spent in Scotland, giving readings, meeting with book groups, visiting bookstores, and doing signings, was so much fun. A beautiful country full of warm, welcoming people. Dour Scots?  I didn’t meet a single one. And haggis? Guys, that stuff rocks.

The main reason I went to Scotland was an invitation from the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The festival is held at Charlotte Square, a private park that opens its wrought iron gates for 17 days in August for the event. Tented buildings are erected along the perimeters for the readings, lectures, performances, and book sellers. The big bookstore where I signed books is to the left in the above photo. And the statue is of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. The photo captures a rare moment when a seagull was not sitting on his royal head.

Here are some more photos from my time in this beautiful country:

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Benjamin Johncock and I sign books after our Edinburgh Book Festival panel, and then…
One week later, my former MFA student Rowan Hisayo Buchanan at the same table signing her first novel Harmless Like You
…one week later, my former MFA student Rowan Hisayo Buchanan sits in the same signing area after her panel. Harmless Like You is her first novel and it marks the beginning of an exciting career.
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Here are both UK editions of A Reunion of Ghost–soft and hard cover–on the “Reading Today” shelf at the Book Festival. Always fun to see one’s book in a big, busy book store…
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…but sometimes it’s even more fun to see one’s book in a small shop in a small town where they’re limited by space and have to be choosy about what they stock. This is the Waterstones Book Store (think Barnes & Noble in terms of national scope, but independent bookstore in terms of the way each individual shop is run) in Aviemore in the Eastern Scottish highlands. This copy of the book is all dressed up in its “Waterstone Book Club” sticker (Waterstones chooses 6 books a year for the honor) and some kind words from the local booksellers. Also, if you buy A Reunion of Ghosts in Aviemore, you get another book at half price! Might be worth the trip! And finally…
...the Haggis collection from, I think, the menu at our hotel outside Aviemore, in a wee village called Boat of Garten. Haggis pakora! Haggis lasagne! I, for one, would recommend the haggis with neeps and tatties (or turnips and potatoes). Good stuff.
…while I’m suggesting things to read, here’s the Haggis collection from the menu at our hotel outside Aviemore. The hotel was in a wee village called Boat of Garten, but had a surprisingly excellent restaurant. We skipped the Haggis at this stop, but look at this international flair. Haggis pakora! Haggis lasagne! Something for everyone. Well, okay, maybe not everyone. Where is the haggis matzah brie, I ask you?? In the end, however, I would recommend sticking to the basics and ordering the haggis with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Really good stuff. Kind of like stuffed derma. Honestly, haggis could really use a better publicity team.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

EIBPIf my event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival was the most enjoyable book festival gig I’ve done to date it’s all because Daniel Hahn, the moderator, was so prepared, smart, and funny. And it’s also because the other writer in the room, Benjamin Johncock, was also whip smart, thoughtful, and gracious. And it’s also because I got to go out afterwards with my beloved British editor Lettice Franklin who came up from London so we could meet at last.

Above is a picture Don took of (left to right) Dan, Ben, and me, the three of us just moments away from talking our heads off about everything from historical research to why it takes forever to write these books to the use of commas.

East Side, West Side, All Around the…World

This crazy, wonderful summer! I turned 64 in early July and, yes, I’ve been doing the garden and digging up weeds, but even though I agree that one could not ask for more, the universe has somehow decided to give me lots more anyway. There was the Vermont Studio Center residency in early July. Then, a few weeks later, in non-A Reunion of Ghosts related activities, Don and I spent 10 days in beautiful Ecuador, 7 of those days exploring the mind-blowing Galapagos islands. Here’s a picture from your average morning in the islands:

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But turning to book-related travel, a week ago I read in the Scribblers on the Roof reading series at Ansche Chesed, the Upper Westside synagogue, where, to my delight and amazement (it was a hot August evening in NYC, after all) the place was packed. The horrible heat and humidity of the prior days had broken and there was a gentle breeze as first the smart and witty Janice Weizman and then I read from our respective novels. After each reading the audience asked intelligent and illuminating questions. There was even homemade chocolate cake. (Happy birthday, event coordinator Josh Hanft!)

13995530_10153637746241246_4494351262501133145_o (1)And to make things even better, a classmate from my Bethpage High School days, Ira Temchin, was sweet enough to take the A train down to see me. There is such a strong connection among my BHS crew–stronger in some cases now than it was back in the day. We have a different perspective at this point in our lives: we see our similarities rather than the silly differences that can keep short-sighted kids apart and cliquish. The blessing/curse that is Facebook is at its blessingest when it comes to my high school classmates, facilitating connections and allowing us to feel physically closer than we are in reality. I truly turn into a sentimental puddle when it comes to this particular community of fellow 64-year-olds, so seeing Ira was deeply meaningful. Anyway, enough of that! Here’s a picture that Ira took of me reading.

There was no time to linger in the city, though. The morning after my reading, I zipped right back home. The next morning I spoke by phone to the members of the Marlboro Public Library’s book club who’d read Reunion this month. Thanks to Monmouth County, NJ librarian Robyn Miller for selecting the book and her unwavering enthusiasm for it. Her questions were smart and probing, making me think about my own work in new ways.

And now, after a week at home catching up on school work, I’m preparing to travel to Scotland for 10 days. I’ll be flying out on Friday, reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Sunday, and meeting with the Edinburgh Jewish Women’s Book Group on Monday. Info about both events, the former public and the latter private, are here.

IMG_0733After Edinburgh, I–I should say “we” because Don is coming too–will be traveling to Glasgow and then taking a couple of days to explore the west highlands, ancestral home of this little person, my west highland white terrier Josie, who, I sense, has a tartan neckerchief in her near future.

So–yes, what a crazy, busy, happy summer filled with blessings galore. And if this post were to have an acknowledgments section the way a novel does, then I’d be acknowledging Clare Juddson Kagel, a reader who befriended me and snagged me the Ansche Chesed invite, the aforementioned Josh Hanft and Robyn Miller, author and erstwhile kid sister Jessamyn Hope for connecting me with the Edinburgh book club, my publicity team at 4th Estate in London, and the University of Wisconsin’s Art Institute for awarding me its 2015 Emily Mead Baldwin-Bascom Prize, which helps pay for the parts of all this travel that are writing-related. I am so incredibly fortunate.

Sunset in New York City: A Reading

There’s a scene in A Reunion of Ghosts where the three sisters narrating the book discuss the almost luridly colored sunsets over the Hudson River that they can see from their Upper Westside apartment. In fact, that scene inspired the jacket of the British paperback edition of the novel. Here’s the jacket next to the real deal.

Eng pbk                          ny_sunset_over_the_hudson_river_2_143

How perfect, then, that this Monday (August 8 at 8pm), I’m going to be closing out New York City’s summer reading series, Scribblers on the Roof, which takes place on the rooftop of the UWS synagogue Ansche Chesed, and where, I’m told, the backdrop to the reading is the topic of the sisters’ conversation itself: the sun slowly setting over the Hudson.

Reading with me that night is debut novelist Janice Weizman, whose historical novel The Wayward Moon received a Midwest Book Award and an Independent Publishers Book Award in historical fiction.

So…from sunset to the wayward moon’s rise. It should be a beautiful evening.

CWW Follow-Up

This post from the Council of Wisconsin Writers site includes more of Lee K. Abbott’s  kind words about A Reunion of Ghosts, as well as the excerpt I read from it:

“Enthralling Novel” Won Edna Ferber Award

CWW continues to recognize its 2015 award winners with the introduction of Judith Claire Mitchell of Madison, whose novel A Reunion of Ghosts took top prize in the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award contest. Mitchell, a UW-Madision English professor specializing in fiction writing, preceded A Reunion of Ghosts a decade earlier with her debut novel, The Last Day of the War. She didn’t have prepared statement when she accepted the Edna Ferber Award at the May Banquet, so she recaptured her remarks for this post with this:

“When I accepted the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award at the Council of Wisconsin Writers awards banquet, I spoke extemporaneously and emotionally. To be honest, then, I’m not exactly sure what I said when I stood behind the podium in that beautiful room and looked out at the members of the Council of Wisconsin Writers, this array of talented poets and authors and book lovers, some of whom I’m lucky enough to consider friends.

“I know I spoke a bit about Edna Ferber herself. Ferber, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, was a close friend of George S. Kaufman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. The two also teamed up to write the plays The Royal Family, Dinner at Eight, and Stage Door. As it happens, George S. Kaufman was my husband’s great-uncle and his legend looms large in the family. So receiving an award in Ferber’s name has double meaning to me: not only is it a tremendous honor to receive an award named for a great woman novelist, but this award has won me lots of points with the in-laws.

“But, of course, the more overwhelming and humbling aspect of receiving the Edna Ferber award is that it places my novel among works by the incredibly talented Wisconsin writers who have been acknowledged by the CWW over the years. Thinking about the work of such writers—including my fellow faculty in the UW-Madison Creative Writing Program, such as Ron Wallace, Sean Bishop, and Amaud Jamaul Johnson, and my former students, such as Lydia Conklin and Chloe Krug Benjamin—and looking out at the audience of awardees and writers, I couldn’t help but be mindful of the abundance and quality of literary talent in this state. To be welcomed into this club by the CWW and judge Lee K. Abbot whose comments brought tears to my eyes, is something for which I’ll always feel grateful”.

In selecting A Reunion of Ghosts as the winning entry, the Edna Ferber Award judge wrote:

“Lordy, what an artfully accomplished novel this is, not least because Ms. Mitchell has masterful command over two important features peculiar to the “willed word,” tone and point of view.

“First, consider her material: chemical warfare, The Great War, the Holocaust, adultery, dementia, mass shooting, the plague that is AIDS, a species of incest, murder by samurai sword, and suicide, lots of suicide. In the hands of a less savvy writer, such calamities, large and small, are but grist for the mill that is bathos, a sophomoric sentimentality and clumsy melodrama. For Ms. Mitchell, however, such is a chance to test the moral balance of the “imagined real world” through an unexpected instrument, humor. Yes, the book is by turns mordantly wry, even slyly cynical—not a laugh-riot, exactly, but rueful and arch bemusement, a kind of fatalism served up in puns (“no noose is good news”) and badinage and slapstick and linguistic hijinks and pointed but all-too-common absurdity. Charlie Chaplin, methinks, would approve.

“The point of view is likewise artistically felicitous, first person plural. No, not the fey rhetoric of royals of yore. Instead, Ms. Mitchell synthesizes, or fuses, the sensibilities of the three sisters at the heart of this instance of the “liar’s art.” Such a strategy occasions distance and intimacy, a way of examining the long-gone and the painfully present with fidelity and honesty. Furthermore, it permits her to conflate time in ways that remind us that structure, too, can be another way to make meaning. It gives her access to venues known and not, through diaries, news clippings, letters, historic documents—well, to anything that turns the world, no matter its era, into language.

“I am enthralled by this novel. I am beguiled. I am charmed. And, to be sure, I am humbled. A Reunion of Ghosts is a sterling example of what Updike argued was the work that fiction did best: to turn the there and then into the here and now.”

Here is the excerpt of Mitchell’s winning work she read for Banquet attendees:

Vee has stopped writing. All these months, while we’ve worked on this project, Vee’s been the most reluctant, not to write, but to write about Vee. “Can’t we just skip me?” she asks.

“You have to tell your story,” Delph argues. “That’s how these things work.”

Vee scowls. “Who are you?” she says. “The Emily Post of suicide notes?”

Even this evening, when we started writing about Vee’s marriage to Eddie, Vee sighed with great weariness. “All right,” she said. “Fine. Let’s just get through it fast.”

But now she’s stopped. “What’s the matter?” Lady asks. “Don’t you feel well?”

No, Vee says. It’s not her health. It’s what we wrote. It’s the last thing we wrote, the phrase “but then.”

“ ‘But then,’ ” Lady repeats.

“I know,” Vee says. “It’s ridiculous.” The word ‘then.’ ” But she’s never really thought about it before, she says. And now she has. The word then. It’s captured her attention.

Lady and Delph regard Vee with a sisterly blend of compassion and contempt. “You’re not suddenly taken with the word then,” Lady says. “You’re just avoiding writing about what we were about to write about.”

“No,” Vee says. “Really, I’m serious. Think about it.”

“Think about what?”

“Think about then.”

“I would like to think about then,” says Lady. “I would like to write about then. You’re the one who won’t think about it.”

“I don’t mean think about the time then. I mean think about the word then.”

“I know what you mean,” Lady says.

“Who’s on first?” says Delph.

“Then,” says Vee. When you think about it, she says, that four-letter word, that most quotidian of adverbs—it’s kind of astounding.

Then as adverb: I married my husband then. Then as adjective: I married my then husband then.

Then as noun: I married my then husband then and after then, I was happy.

“I can’t believe I’ve never focused on this before,” Vee says.

“No more gin for you,” says Lady.

Vee is drunk, it’s true. But so are we all. It’s only Vee who’s this animated, gushing, alive. Then! This amazing, enchanting little word. See the adverb then travel in two directions at once! Watch it spin around, encompass both the past and the future!

The past: I hadn’t noticed you then.

In this example, then means long ago and far away, it means a few seconds before I did notice you, it means that fall semester of college, that English class at Columbia where the professor, forced to admit Barnard women for the first time, refused to call on said women, thus reasserting the masculine hegemony, or as we put it back then, his male chauvinist piggery. And this boy on the other side of the classroom, this funny-looking boy with long hair and big ears, he raises his hand, ostensibly to comment on the use of kenning in Beowulf, but instead—ambush!—he goes, “Professor, you just called on me now, the very moment my hand went up, but you haven’t called on that woman over there who’s had her hand raised for half the class. How come?”

The future: And then I fell in love with you.

Here then means “next,” which, by definition, means in the future, means later, as in one breath later, the professor getting hot, growling, “I’ll damn well call on whoever the hell I feel like calling on if and when I feel like calling on them,” and the boy gathering his books, then walking out, and the girl who’s been raising her hand feeling obligated to gather her books too—the sound track to all this: Revolution has come! Time to pick up a gun!” as sung by the perennial protesters outside Schermerhorn—and then the girl chases after the boy, into the hallway, where she says—awkward and stammering, a disgrace to second-wave feminism, or, as we called it at the time, women’s lib—“Thanks, I guess.”

Then the boy proclaims, in a voice that echoes through the empty hall, “The dick-swinging dog shall sleep the sleep of the sword,” thereby doing a little kenning himself, and the two of them walk to their respective registrars’ offices together, first his at Columbia, then hers at Barnard, both the boy and girl dropping the English class and signing up instead for an introductory class in pre-Christian religion where they will learn that the Egyptians worshipped the scarab beetle because it laid its eggs in shit.

“From shit!” the professor will exclaim. “From shit came life! And then . . .”

Two phrases of note: and then and but then.

And then, Vee has decided, is positive. It implies something to look forward to: and then the girl went back to the boy’s dorm, and then the girl lost her virginity to the boy in the top berth of his rickety bunk bed while side one of Surrealistic Pillow played repeatedly until the guy in the room next door shouted, I get it, Glod, you’ve got somebody to fucking love, and then the boy and girl blushed and looked into each other’s eyes and made the same gargoylish grimaces of embarrassed horror, and then they began to laugh, eventually so hard they were crying and their faces turned red, and then, when the boy was capable of speech again, he raised himself up on one elbow and looked at the girl’s crimson and blotchy face, and then he said, “Wow, I always thought falling in love took longer.”

Thank You, Green Bay; Thank You, Tucson

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I’ve been crazy busy recently–teaching my undergraduate courses, working with my soon-to-be-graduating MFA students on their theses, doing all that it takes to put together next year’s new class of MFAs, doling out advice about the writing world to students and alums, plus a million other UW-Madison Program in Creative Writing-related things–and so have been remiss in expressing my thanks for some of the more recent book events I’ve been invited to do.

mainImageSo a belated thanks to Green Bay’s The Readers Loft and its vibrant community of readers who came out to hear me talk and to talk to me about the writing of A Reunion of Ghosts on March 8. We had a full house and everyone had already finished the book, meaning It was the first time I could talk about the ending without worrying about spoiling it.

And another belated thanks to the Tucson Festival of Books. TFoB is one of the 5 biggest book festivals in the country with over 400 writers and over 150,000 visitors. It’s free to the public, but still manages to raise huge sums for area literacy programs. And as large as it is, there is but one paid employee; everything else is handled brilliantly by roughly 300 volunteers. In short, it’s a true labor of literary love. I was delighted to be invited and to experience the excitement firsthand.

Overall shot of the Tucson Festival of Books on the UA Mall and surrounding area, Saturday, March 10, 2012. Over 100,000 people were expected to attend the Festival. Photo by David Sanders/Arizona Daily Star. #155160.

My weekend in Tucson began on Friday, March 11 when two volunteers, Bruce and Lucy Thurston, scooped me up at the airport as if I were someone important. That night, I attended the annual kick-off event, the Authors’ Dinner. My table was sponsored by the Marshall Foundation which supports educational, health, and youth-oriented charitable organizations in the Tucson area. The Board members and staff of the Foundation who I got to dine and chat and drink wine with were absolutely lovely…as was the evening hosted by Alan Zweibel, one of the original writers of SNL and, therefore, a personal hero. At the end of the meal I screwed up my courage and chatted him up, summoning forth my semi-dormant Long Island accent so he’d know I was mishpocha.

The next day I sat on two panels, “Ghosts of Our Pasts” with Aline Ohanesian and Jan Ellison, and “Dangerous Histories/Dark Secrets” with  Adrienne Celt, Erika Swiler, and Mark Ferguson (we’re pictured below at our post-panel booksigning session). And that night–one of the best parts of my trip, though not at all Festival related–I got to spend some time catching up with my former MFA student, Kasey Erin Phifer-Byrne.

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On Sunday, the final panel with Joshua Mohr and Pen/Faulkner nominee Julie Iromuanya was on “Dark Comedy.” And then Bruce and Lucy came and whisked me to the airport.

In short: an exciting whirlwind.

And then it was right back to work at the university–which is always very fulfilling and gratifying, but I still have to admit that, when spring break comes next week, I won’t object to having a plate that is slightly less full than it is right now.

Meanwhile, in honor of my weekend in Tucson, here’s a link to some of the aforementioned Kasey Erin Phifer-Byrne’s poetry.