Miscreants by James Hoch

If you are in Santa Cruz on July 10 at 7:30, you are in luck because James Hoch will be reading from his new book of poetry, Miscreants. I had the good fortune to read with James at the Rutgers-Camden Writers Conference a couple of weeks ago.
A little about James, which I swiped from his homepage:

Prior to teaching, James Hoch was a dishwasher, cook, dockworker, social worker and shepherd.

You can’t help but want to know more.
Miscreants takes a look at Camden, James Hoch’s hometown, and in particular the murder of a young boy that shocked the blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia. That poem had particular resonance with me as my first novel, Leaving Atlanta, is about the murder of children and the way that it devastates an entire generation.
At the reading at Camden, I was just James’s opening act. It was my job to warm up the crowd for what they had been waiting for, the James makes a jokelocal boy made good. His mother was there as well as his sister (who bought the bar that she used to drink in.) Other folks were in the audience clutching the notice of the reading that was printed in the local paper.
A couple of years ago, a student told me that his work took place in “Anytown, USA”, that he didn’t think that it mattered where his story was set. I disagreed with him and only wished that he could have been there to hear James Hoch read. When you hear a poet at the height of his skills read about a town that matters to him, it becomes clear that place done right is the red beating heart of every story that matters.
More goofy photos here.
James Hoch’s poem, The Car, is over at Verse Daily.

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“Lot 63, Grave C” a film by Sam Green

Part of the MacDowell experience is that the artists can give presentations of their work. These exhibitions are completely optional, but most people opt to participate. Last night, Sam Green screened his feature length documentary, “The Weather Underground” and several of his short films. (A side note. Looking on amazon, I see that “The Weather Underground” was nominated for an Oscar. We have been hanging out with Sam for ten days and he never even mentioned it. That guy is a class act.)

When Sam planned this event, he didn’t know that his short film, “Lot 63, Grave C” would win the Sterling Short Award at SILVERDOCS, a film festival going on RIGHT NOW in DC. (If you’re around you should go.)
The prize-winning film, has a tie-in with one of my favorite books, The Last of Her Kind. If you have read that book you may remember that Solange goes to California for a Mick Jagger concert, which was said to be the West Coast’s Woodstock, but things go terribly wrong. The Hell’s Angels killed a man right near the bandstand, an event that many thought to be the end of the idealism of the Summer of Love.
Sam Green’s film seeks to find out more about Meridith Hunter, the murdered man. He wonders why there were no photos of him, no quote from his bereaved mother. The title of the film refers to the site of Hunter’s unmarked grave.
Meridith Hunter’s death was caught on film and we see him, a young black man in a sea of white people. 1970’s-fabulous in a bright green suit, 18 years old, baby-faced. I couldn’t help wonder how he came to be at the concert, was he was all by himself. Why he was the one who got killed? We never find out who his people are, what they thought of his death. Could they not afford a headstone? Had the burial wiped out their savings? We never find out. There is not enough information on how Meridith Hunter lived. All we know for sure is how he died. It’s not enough, but it’s all we have.

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Tangled Roots and Life Matters

On Ed’s site, I saw a reference to an African-American Women’s Book Club in Seattle. Like many black women authors, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to book clubs, so I went over the the Seattle Times to see what was up. I was delighted by the story for two reasons. One, was that the women were reading Tangled Roots, by Angela Henry, a mystery writer and a member of our blog community! And also, because the women had taken thier love of books one step further and created “Life Matters”, a collection of their own writing. Check out the article.
And, um.. excuse me for getting personal on the blog.. but, Angela.. wasn’t there some talk about sending me a copy of the book? You can send it to me c/o The MacDowell Colony.

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Overlooked Brilliance

In New York magazine, sixy three critics list their favorite “underrated” books. The title is “The Best Books You’ve Never Read.”
I love the idea of it. Isn’t frustrating when you read a really marvelous book and discover that it only sold about twelve copies? So, I propose that we make a list of our underrated favorites. Here are ten of mine, not in order of favoriteness or underration.
Bombingham, by Anthony Grooms.
Sweetwater, by Roxana Robertson
Luminous Mysteries, by John Holman
Dying Young, by Marti Leimbach (please ignore the cover!)
Rattlebone, by Maxine Clair
Crackpots, by Sara Pritchard
Motherkind, by Jayne Anne Phillips
City Boy, by Jean Thompson
Rima in the Weeds, by Deidre MacNamer
Meridian, by Alice Walker
(thx ed for the original link.)

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Enda O’Brien Remembers Larry Brown

When Edna O’Brien lost her brother, John, to suicide, she didn’t know where to seek comfort. She tried rereading his novel, Leaving Las Vegas, but she couldn’t make herself connect with the words between the covers. What she did absorb was one of the names of the authors who blurbed her brother’s book: Larry Brown. She contacted Mr. Brown and began a letter excahnge that would continue until Brown’s death in 2004.
Here is an excerpt from her essay, “Meeting Larry Brown”.

“I did know John, and he did know my work,” Brown wrote. “Just keep faith in yourself and keep on writing. That’s what John had to do, too.”
Thus began a six-year correspondence. I was the neophyte; Brown was my mentor. When the harsh reality of writing would crush me, I’d write him.
“Much as I’ve written, I’m still scared of it in some way until I sit down and start doing it again and then all the fear goes out the window and I feel safe,” he wrote once.
In all, Brown wrote me five letters, and I wrote him 10. Our unique relationship included one face-to-face meeting. In September 2003, driven by an undeniable urgency, I took a frenetic 700-mile road trip to hear him read at a bookstore in Louisville, KY.

You can read the rest here.

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“They Needed To Talk”

My fixation with The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez continutes. I thought I had gotten that monkey off my back. (My students would beg to differ, I think.) But at least I had stopped thinking about the novel quite so much. But now, my Spelman Sister Jennifer, sent me a link to an article explaining the origins of the lovely photo on the book’s cover.
I just had to share. The photograph titled, “They Needed to Talk”, was taken by William Eggleston, who is said to have reinvented color photography.
Where are the girls in the photo toady?:

Karen and Lesa are both 51 now and divorced. Karen uses her middle name, Lucretia, and her married name, Hampton; she has a son and works as a nurse in Memphis. Lesa has two sons and a daughter and teaches high-school English in Nashville. From this photograph, it’s hard to believe that a few years later the women sang in a Memphis punk band called Gangrene and the Scurvy Girls. (They were the Scurvy Girls.) The band didn’t last. However, Eggleston’s delicate image of their youth did. And for that, both women say, they’re grateful.

Read the rest here.

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Yesterday, I treated myself to a fancy dinner at Kinkead’s, one of DCs nicer restaurants. I like to go to such places alone, pop up to the bar, and have my meal while reading a trashy mystery and people-watching. A charming older gentleman with similar plans sat near me and we struck up a conversation. He asked me to help him remember the name of a novel he’d read recently and enjoyed. I’m going to give you the description he gave me, word for word. The first person who gets it wins!

I am trying to remember the name of this book I read. It was quite good. Powerful, even. The author is a black woman. Older than you. The book is about a young man who has all these problems with his father, so he goes back to try and suss out the family history.

Let the brainstorming begin!

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I Think I’m Hip, but TRANQUIL???

I don’t know what made me fall off The Artist Way wagon. Something happened around chapter seven and I just sort of drifted off. This is very unlike me. I am a follow-through kind of person. I am not even doing the morning pages any more….
Well, look what I got in the mail! Lauren sent me Hip Tranquil Chick: A Guide to Life on and Off the Yoga Mat. It got lost in the mail room, apparently and just made it’s way to my door. I’ll admit, I was iffy— as I bear little resemblance to the “hip chick” on the cover, and no one has ever accused me of tranquility. But Lauren sent it and if Lauren sent it, it’s got to be good. (She hipped me to Instant Love last summer, which I loved.) So, I peeled back the cover and looked inside. Lo and behold! A manifesto. Just what I needed as I am getting ready to move into my New York Life!
This book– I’ll admit to not having read it, just done some targeted page-flipping — seems to combine the get-yourself-togetherness of The Artist’s Way, with a little bit more fun and a lot more yoga. It’s like The Artist’s Way, with shoes and stretches.

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Much As I Hate To Admit It

I’m going to have to read The Honeymoon is Over. I was just telling my students last week that love gone right, is great fun for the participants, but as a spectator sport…(as Ladylee would say:) **crickets**.
Love makes for good (if guilty)reading when it goes terribly wrong. And this books is full of heartbreaking remembrances and serious drama. The star, of course, is Terri MacMillian, with 100 Questions she wishes she had asked while she was so busy getting her groove back. For the ultra-nosey, here is a recent interview with Ms. MacMillan.

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Life Stories **updated**

Rebecca Walker’s second memoir, Baby Love, is out. I found her first memoir Black, White, and Jewish to be really disturbing, but oddly enough, my dad did enjoy it. Her new book is about her decision to have a child with her partner, Mechell Ndegeocello. (**update: wrong partner.) And, according to the Publisher’s Weekly review, the novel also details her big fight with her mom, Alice Walker, about the way that Rebecca portrays her in the first memoir. (Major drama. Apparently, wills have been changed.)
And look, Rebecca Walker has a blog.
And speaking of memoirs, A.M. Homes new memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter is on the shelves. I tell you, when I had my idea for my third novel, I thought it was such a novel concept. I was wrong and keep getting wronger.

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