D.C. Diaries

Get Your Write On This Summer in DC

July 25-31 is Hurston/Wright Writers Week! This is your opportunity to take classes in Building The Novel, Advanced Novel Writing, Poetry or Nonfiction.
I’m teaching the class on Building the Novel:

A workshop designed for writers who have completed 75-100 pages of a novel and who are familiar with the technical aspects of fiction writing. The course will be conducted as a workshop with in-depth critique and analysis of a selected portion of the manuscript, as well as discussion of the broader issues and challenges inherent in writing book-length fiction.

The faculty is really exciting– Marita Golden, Michael H. Cottman, and A. Van Jordan.

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How To Crash a Ball: A Primer

Disclaimer: Tayari Jones is not suggesting that she has ever attended any event to which she has not purchased a ticket. She is a writer and this is merely a work of imagination.

A lot of people were wheeling and dealing to get tickets to various inaugural balls. Well, as we start planning for inauguration 2013, I would like to present this handy five point guide for getting into events to which you have not been explicitly invited. In other words this is what you do when don’t exactly have your ticket situation sorted out.

  • Know Somebody. You’ll be way more successful in getting into a ball if you know someone on the inside who will be willing to vouch for you once you make it past the monitors.
  • Crashers Can’t Be Choosers. To successfully crash an inaugural ball, you need to laid back about which ball you go to. I’d say give yourself a list of three places you’d like to be and then head out. If you have your heart too set on one particular ball, you’ll be way too determined for the easy-going persona of the successful ball crasher.
  • Blend. Try and pick a gathering that you basically look like you belong to. I probably wouldn’t try and crash the “Tuxedos and Cowboy Boots” ball, because, well, I’m me. (I thought about crashing the google ball, but the invitations were barcoded. That technology intimidated me.) If you are ball crashing in an environment in which you are pretty comfortable, you can achieve the I’m-Supposed-To-Be-Here attitude which will discourage anyone from asking to see your ticket.
  • Gussy Up. If the monitor likes your dress, s/he is way less likely to hassle you.
  • Be Discreet. Please don’t crash a ball and tell everyone that you did it! There will be people in attendance who paid good money for those tickets and they do not want to see you gloating while scarfing down a plate of lamb chops.
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    Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

    Eventhough I had completely committed to going to bed earlier, my good friend, Sanderia Smith, convinced me to whip out my glad rags one more time and go to the Congressional Black Caucus Ball. I was wiped out from having gotten up at 5am to become of one two million frozen witnesses to history. But Sanderia is an old friend and I hadn’t seen her in a long time.

    The CBC ball was a pretty subdued affair. I don’t know if everyone was just sort of tired like I was, or if it was because folks were sort of bummed that O-Man didn’t put the CBC on his list of balls he planned to visit. The CBC had reserved a large and lovely space– the entire mezzanine of the Capitol Hilton, but half the tables were sadly empty at just 10pm.

    I think this is a sign of the economy. I was told that several organizations canceled their balls because people just weren’t buying tickets. When you think about it, balls are very expensive to attend. Let’s break it down. The obvious expense is the tickets which may be about $400, but there are so many other costs. Dress, shoes, hair, nails, taxi to get there… It can easily run you nearly $1000. As much as people love Obama– they were willing to freeze for him!– it’s just too expensive to fete and definitely to expensive to fete him at more than one ball.

    Never the less, I did my part to make it merry! Sanderia and I danced, talked to strangers, and ate fondue. We ran into Dr. Johnetta Cole (swoon!) and told her how much we admire her. When I saw a woman wearing the same dress as me, in the sprit of unity, I did not demand that she go home and change.

    See, it’s a new day.

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    Knock! Knock!

    The Combined Workshop
    I am just getting back from Washington, DC where I gave a reading and workshop at American University. The picture you see above is from the combined creative writing workshop, a unique feature of their MFA reading series. Here’s how it works: the visiting writer reads three student-manuscripts and leads a roundtable critique in front of the complete whole entire fiction program and thier teachers.
    From the pic above you can see we had a lot of fun, but I was a bit worried going in. Leading a workshop is a bit like making macaroni and cheese… everyone does it differently.
    Guest-teaching a workshop is particularly crazy-making for several reasons. For one, as a guest of the university, I tend to try and be low drama and low maintenance. Unlike J-Lo, I do not submit a rider in advance. I show up and do whatever work they need me to do with as little fuss as possible. But leading a workshop, well, you can’t help but force your personality on the group. (This is not the way my mama taught me to be a good guest!) Secondly, I didn’t want to step on the regular professors’ toes with some of my, admittedly, idiosyncratic ideas about writing. I was able to restrain myself and not quite cut loose the way I do at my home workshop. And the third thing that threw me off was the knocking.
    Apparently there is a whole trend in the MFA world that when someone says something you agree with, you knock on the table. For a person not used to it, it is like having an exchange with a flock of enthusiastic woodpeckers.
    But can you believe that it works? It did! We had a great time. There were three really interesting a meaty stories on the table and the class of 45 gave valueable input and loving critique. Amazing. I wasn’t traumatized and neither were they. As a matter of fact, we all sort of left the room sort of jazzed.
    I must give credit where it is due. E.J. Levy, Denise Orenstien, and Andrew Holleran are the usual professors and I could see the evidence of all thier hard work.
    Before I wrap up this entry, I have to say how nice it was to be in DC again. A few of my students from GA made the trek to American for my reading and also some of my good friends.
    There are a few photos here.

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    The Saddest Day of The Year

    On Monday, the members of the 2007 Jenny McKean Moore Community The 2007 Jenny McKean Moore WorkshopWriters Workshop met for the last time and it just about broke my heart. As many of you know, my position here at George Washington requires me to teach one class to GW students and one class to regular folks in the DC area who want to take a writing class. I taught one group in the fall and one in the spring. They have been the highlight of my experience here.
    This semester, we were a small group. We started out with twelve and life called and some of our members couldn’t finesse time off from work, or they had family obligations, or maybe just changed thier minds. By the end, we were nine and we were serious about what we were doing.
    You all know that diversity is important to me– and by diversity I don’t just mean racial diversity. I mean real mixing of folks. We were nine people with nine very different jobs, different ages, men, women, gay, straight, some had kids, married, unmarried. We were so different that you would have thought we did it on purpose. But we were so alike and so compatible that you would have thought this, too, planned.
    I’m going to miss them. I hope they all keep writing and working on thier projects. I hope they keep the listserv going. I like to think that I gave them good instruction, but anyone who has ever been in a workshop knows that a writing group is only as good as the members. The teacher is just one person. These folks were good to each other and to themselves. You can see it in thier work.
    Here are pictures from the party— where I held my composure and didn’t get all weepy and sentimenal. I saved that for this blog post.

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    To Sir, With Love

    Far be it from me to jugde anyone for being a groupie. From time to time, I put the fan in fanatic and I think it is a Anticipation in the Taxihealthy way to express yourself. So when I call my friend, Raquel, a “hard-core groupie”, please don’t take it the wrong way.
    Rocky came to DC yesterday, all the way from Bloomington Indiana. She invited me to a show. I could get the tickets from ticketmaster. (Y’all know I love myself a concert, so I agreed, still fuzzy on the details.) I hopped on line. “What am I searching for?” I asked her, all while clicking keys.
    “John Hope Franklin,” she sighed.
    “The historian?”
    “Yes,” said Rocky. “I just love him.”
    Well, different strokes and all of that. Some people love the Brand New Heavies, other, more sensible people, like Rocky, have a thing for 92-year-old historians who have changed the world.

    Continue reading

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    We Like The Boys In The Band….

    Usually, I make it a point not be be charmed by musicians. Let’s just say that experience is the best teacher. But when I was thinking of ways to entertain Nokuthula Mazibuko, the World Literature Fellow at GWU. I immediately thought of my favorite D.C. spot: Busboys and Poets. When I looked at the website and saw that PS 24 was playing, I knew I had hit the jackpot.
    The show was scheduled to start at 8pm, so I picked Nokuthula up at 7:15. You can see already, that I was tuning out the voice of experience. The show didn’t kick off until 9pm.
    We were glad we had come early because we got a chance to talk with the band members When I told the percussionist, Jali-D, that Nox had come all the way from South Africa, he invited us to meet the rest of the band. We met Psalm, the lead singer, who hails from NYC and also Waldo, a military kid who has lived all over the world.
    I am a big fan of PS 24. I once heard them described as “folk hop”– which sort of captures their hip hop roots and their conversational tone. I sort of endorse this description although it has the weird vibe of a movie pitch. The real truth is that their music is hard to classify. Yes, I can see the hip hop influence, but I can also see something that is unique to this trio of musicians. I think the secret to their sound is in the drumming– which screams Dee-Cee without becoming go-go. And let us not forget the lyrics. Some are a little bit confessional–“She was like a carrot in front of a jackass…” Some are political–“George Bush is crazy!” And whimsically profound, like the anthem to childlessness.
    Today was a long day. Nokuthula and I went shopping and also did hair, but I am so delighted that we stopped into Busboys and Poets to see PS 24. I asked Jali-D the origin of their name. He gave me a few explanations— there is a school in NY called PS24. The initials could stand for Powerful Secret. At the end of the day– or the night– I decided it didn’t matter so much. They are brilliant musicians. I don’t mind a little mystery when it comes to great music.
    And yes, yes, yes… I did take pictures.

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    Writer’s Blockparty

    Last night was the final meeting of the 2006 Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Writers Workshop here at George Washington University.
    Last summer, I solicited applications for the Washington, DC community. I was looking for writers who wanted to take a class. I was looking for folks who wanted to make community, who wanted to make better art. I received about 150 applications, but I whittled it down to 20. Twenty showed up for the first class and by the party we were still 16 strong.
    These writers have earned my respect and the respect of everyone in the English Department here at GWU. They came to class after long days at work. Some took subways, others parked illegally. They had to arrange for childcare for ten weeks in a row. The found time, not only for their own writing, but to give thoughtful and helpful criticism to their classmates.
    We are a diverse group: Despite the 50 year age span, despite the fact that we are different races, sexes, religion, and social classes we sat down and got to work. We have made each other better and richer.
    In short, they knocked my socks off. If you see me walking barefoot, you’ll know why.
    Last night, we got together to break bread together, drink wine together, and play stupid party games together. It was a fine and fitting send-off. I think Jenny McKean Moore , the amazing woman to whom all this is dedicated, would be pleased.
    photo album.

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    Bring Back The Funk In Music!

    It’s 4:09am, and I am just back from the Brand New Heavies concert at the 930 Club in DC. I have Kamilah Aisha Moon as my blogging co-pilot. We’re too overwhelmed to blog the old-fashioned way, so we are just going to have a little chit-chat about the miracle that is the Heavies.
    Tayari: Isha, was that hot or what?
    Isha: Yeah, they brought it hard.
    Tayari: Word.
    Isha: What was your favorite part of the show?
    Tayari: I liked the part when they sang, danced, played instruments, etc.
    Isha: Me, too. The show was tighter than Susan Taylor’s cornrows.
    Tayari: It’s almost 4:30 in the morning, we need to go to bed. Where’s the towel I swiped from the stage? I need to spread it on my pillow.
    Isha: Did that towel belong to sexy Andrew, the one on the bass? Or was it Simon’s? He’s adorable. I know it couldn’t be N’dea’s. She’s too gorgeous to sweat.
    Tayari: Don’t worry about that. All you need to know about this towel is that it’s mine.
    (thx, Lauren for the BNH graphic from the NYer)

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    The Most Important Play You’ll Ever See

    Last night I experienced something important. In The Continuum is being performed at the Woolly Mammoth theatre here in Washington, DC until September 25.. You must see this play. I know that I recommend many things on this site, but there is no recommendation more heart-felt than the one I am offering here. I went to see the play with Maxine Clair, and after it was finished, we looked at each other and said, What can we do to get more people to see this play?

    Continue reading

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