Up today at Role Reboot, the online magazine for “life, off script,” is my ooey-gooey, ultra-TMI story of the horrible accident my mom had when I was a kid and how it changed our family. I wrote this in part to honor my mother, the greatest non-complainer in the history of tough mothers. I cry every time I think of this memory — and then I remember she rarely did. Thanks, Tuni Chilcote, for teaching me what it means to be strong. Read it here: http://rolereboot.org/…/details/2017-05-mother-taught-femi…/
Here’s the piece I wrote about the runup to the election and telling Emily that Trump won on November 8th. Although I’m still afraid, I’m cautiously optimistic, like many on the left, that Trump’s bad management and waffling will blow his chances at destroying Obama’s legacy.
“Despite eight years of progress, the racist, sexist America that I grew up in wasn’t actually gone, it was just waiting in the wings.”
I’ll be reading from my newly-released chapbook of poems at the downtown branch of Cleveland Public Library this Saturday, April 8th at 1 pm, with an open mic to follow. Help me celebrate my debut publication and enjoy refreshments and work by other Cleveland poets. The library is located at 325 Superior Ave. (2nd floor, Literature Department / Ohio Center for the Book).
Lit Cleveland is also offering a free poetry workshop with Damien Ware that morning. It takes place from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm, also in the Lit Dept. / Ohio Center for the Book.
I’ll also be reading at Mac’s Backs on Coventry with Damien Ware on Wed. April 12th from 7-8 pm, with an open mic to follow.
Many thanks to Amy Dawson and Evone Jeffries of Cleveland Public Library for setting up the poetry reading, and also to Suzanne DeGaetano for hosting me at Mac’s.
Thanks to Karen Schubert and Liz Hill of Lit Youngstown, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about Great Lakes literary arts organizations and how place informs purpose at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington D.C. last week.
The other panelists were David Hassler of the Wick Poetry Center; Kelly Fordon from Lit Detroit; and Janine Hairston from the Indiana Writers’ Consortium. I loved learning what other literary arts centers around the country do, and what lessons we might learn and borrow from them.
I also got to interact with other lit arts centers during the rest of the conference. Other highlights included seeing Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, give a keynote on Thursday night, having dinner with friends Cathy Barber and Mimi Plevin-Foust, and checking out Capital Bikeshare as I rode back and forth to my friend’s house off H Street.
It was fun to see all of the activity happening in DC, including many cranes in the air.
A year or two ago I saw a robin’s nest perched on a stop light in my neighborhood and thought, “I’ve gotta write about that.” I think that several times a day and nothing comes of it, but this one stuck around. I named the poem “Oh, Man, Even the Birds in this City.” Here’s the first stanza:
“At West 58th and Bridge / an empty nest sits on the crossbar / of the stop light, / a patchwork bowl of / mud, sticks and grass.”
I thought the nest was abandoned but then I saw birds in it. The cars flew past and no one noticed. The birds making a nest in the intersection seemed like a metaphor for making it in our tough, resilient city.
“A few days later, / a robin fluffs her feathers while / cars and trucks whiz-blam by. / Why so determined to settle here?”
I wrote it, workshopped it once or twice, and kept sending it out. Recently it was published by the Santa Ana River Review, the literary magazine of the University of California at Riverside. Check out the poem here (it’s on p. 98).
When I saw the call for submissions in 2015 for “A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City,” out now from the City Club and Guide to Kulchur Press, I knew what I wanted to write about. I grew up in an in between time when racial hope and the legacy of racial segregation were equally present. The elementary school I attended, Roxboro in Cleveland Heights, was 50/50 black-white, but on the other hand the tracking system there started early. Racism was a heavy topic in our household, as my grandfather on my mom’s side came from Texas and carried prejudiced attitudes with him when he came to work as an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. Growing up, I heard stories from my mom about my grandfather forbidding her from playing with black children, even as I made black friends at my school.
“When I became friends with Lonnie, a black classmate, I asked my mom if I could invite him home for lunch (back then, kids with stay-at-home moms could do this, an anachronism in our test-centric world),” I write in my piece, which is called Roxboro. “I remember eating peanut butter and jelly with him and giggling in our basement playroom as we bounced around on a giant ball.”
Now I live in Cleveland with my wife, Katherine, and our three children. Our two school age kids attend Campus International, a CMSD school. But we are protected by the mantle of privilege, and racism persists: “My hopefulness was punctured last year when I learned of Tamir Rice’s death. Home with my kids on Thanksgiving break, I couldn’t stop clicking on the iterative headlines on Cleveland.com. As I watched the video of Timothy Loehman pulling onto the lawn and killing the 12-year-old boy two seconds later, I felt a black pit open in my stomach and fell into it.”
I just picked up my copy of A Race Anthology a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to digging into it. There are many, many fine contributors here, including the likes of RA Washington, Sharon Holbrook, Mary Weems, Ali McClain and others. Check it out here.
Also, read Amy Hanauer’s wonderfully written piece on Cleveland.com about it here.
Blogging isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’m a perfectionist, which sucks if you want to write more than one blog post per year because you’ll never put it into the world. Blogging isn’t about waiting until you have a perfectly polished gemstone, it’s about getting your work out there (well, not too out there) and can also be about developing ideas still in formation.
The truth is, I’m kind of afraid of blogging. I’d rather sit behind a pretty wall of words than be exposed in a raw vulnerable state. When blogging first became popular it was considered “lesser than,” books and magazines still the most valuable content. I wanted to put my writing out there in some permanent, aggregated way, but I also wanted it to be validated by someone else.
Blogging can be a way to build an audience and try out new ideas. Blogging appeals to me now because it’s entrepreneurial and you can write and publish quickly. You can see how people react online, creating a quick feedback loop that allows you to develop ideas or gauge interest in a topic. Sharing your ideas makes the work less lonely.
Tonight I went to Lit Cleveland’s “The Craft of Blogging” with Jill Miller Zimon, Nikki Delamotte and Darlene Norwood English. I was inspired by how Jill leveraged a political blog into all kinds of work, including speaking, teaching and writing; how Nikki published her first words on her blog and now works at Cleveland.com, in part because she has a keen grasp of writing online and social media; and Darlene’s personal blog that has powerful posts about embracing her natural hairstyle, how Sandra Bland’s death affected her, and other topics.
Over the past year, I’ve been blogging more. Maybe with the inspiration of these social media mavens I will complete my goal of writing a post a week this year. Or maybe I’ll just get sucked into the next season of Homeland.