Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Review: Now Write! Nonfiction

Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism, and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers

Edited by Sherry Ellis
332 Pages
Published December 24, 2009
ISBN: 1585427586

Reviewed by Hildie Block

Somewhere between Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft by John Gardner comes the new Now Write! Nonfiction. While many writers may have moved beyond the support provided in some of the classic workshop books like Bird by Bird – others find the academic writing in Art of Fiction too lofty and far removed from the act of writing. (Who isn’t put off by the idea that The Grapes of Wrath was not destined to be a great book because it used the classic stereotypes of a “bad guy” – instead of making all of the characters complex and well rounded)?

Similar in style to books like Lamott’s Bird By Bird or Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Now Write! Nonfiction approaches topics in memoir, journalism and creative nonfiction. The book contains short one to two page chapters about a concept in writing, and then a quick specific exercise to help you explore that concept. The chapters are written by various popular nonfiction writers, like Lee Gutkind, the father of creative nonfiction, Gay Talese, Dinty Moore, and American University MFA professor Myra Sklarew.
This is the second Now Write! – the follow up to the popular Now Write! Fiction, which both do well and have a large following. Both students and instructors alike may find this easy-to-follow book handy to have for workshops and during the time in between. Some topics of interest that are covered: how to turn an experience into a personal essay, starting points for writing (words, evocative images, memories, photographs), and exercises to deepen or liven your story and make it meaningful. Chapter titles include: “Riffing” –which contains a list of words for riffing experiments: “What Was That Like?” “Your First Kitchen,” “Stepping into Photographs,” “The Author as Character,” etc. The over eighty chapters and exercises are split into sections with titles like “Get Writing,” “Characterization,” “Revision” “Truth in Nonfiction,” “Dialogue and Sound,” “Place,” and “Craft.”

Hildie S. Block, MA writing, Johns Hopkins. Writing instructor at American and George Washington Universities. She's the coeditor of Not What I Expected: the Unpredictable Road from Womanhood to Motherhood, published in 2007. She's published about 50 short stories in literary magazines like Gargoyle, Cortland Review, The First Line, San Francisco Review, LIterary Mama, Motherverse, The Imperfect Parent, and elsewhere. Her essays have appeared places like PopMatters, In the Fray, Organic Family, and elsewhere. Her blog for writers is Click here to see Hildie's workshops at The Writer's Center.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wrapping Up the Week with Robert J. Samuelson and More

A brief post today. First, on June 6 Sally and John Freeman will be hosting a special cocktails and conversation (and dinner) event at their home. That event features Robert J. Samuelson, the award-winning writer and author of the new book The Great Inflation and its Aftermath. Sally is a hardworking board member at The Writer's Center, and she and John have put this event together as a benefit. You can learn more about it by clicking here to be directed to a page on this blog.

Next, the editors of the hilarious Bethesda World News are looking for a summer intern. Here's the job description:

New Publication Seeks Intern--Must Be Funny
Looking for a fun way to gain journalism experience? We're seeking a
summer intern to help with various aspects of publishing a fledgling
parody newspaper. Must have a sense of humor, web/social media knowledge,
and your own laptop. Duties may include promotional activities, website
maintenance, idea-generating, video production, and writing. Please note,
this is an unpaid position. Hours/days flexible, p/t. We're willing to look
into college credit, if that's a factor. Please email your resume and
direct any questions to The Editors at

And finally, workshop leader Nan Fry was recently interviewed by Charles Tan over at Nan was recently published in Viking's anthology The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Zahara Heckscher on Writing Staycation

Here's Zahara discussing Writing Staycation, her week-long writers' retreat at The Writer's Center, which is coming up in March. Here's the description:

Do you dream of participating in a writing retreat, but can’t get out of town? This workshop, a non-residential week-long retreat at The Writer’s Center, is for you. Join us for an intensive, supportive, exhilarating, focused week of writing. Each day begins with a short reading and brief discussion. Then tons of time for working on your own writing–whether it is poetry, a novel, or nonfiction work in your brain, or a manuscript that needs some final polish. Optional lunch speakers, afternoon walks, and group shares.

If you're interested in the workshop after watching this video, you can register here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mark Twain and Two Calls for Submissions

You may have seen the discussion of Mark Twain's autobiography at The Writer's Center's Facebook page yesterday, or not. Either way, here's some information on what amounts to an incredible thing: 100 years following his death, Twain's autobiography will see the light of day. Why stipulate the 100-year wait? We'll soon find out! Learn more about this book here.

Though we've not yet announced the winners of the Fall 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowships (we're down to the finalists which the EWF will select from next week), we're ready to announce our Spring 2011 call for Emerging Writer submissions. You can learn more about that here.

And don't forget, we're still accepting submissions (until July 1) for our Undiscovered Voices Fellowship. Learn more about those fellowships--where you can take up to 8 free workshops a year--right here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Behind the Line: An Interview with Translator Marian Schwartz

2017: A Novel

It has been a while since I've done an interview for First Person Plural. But today we have a very special interview subject: renowned Russian translator Marian Schwartz. She is a prize-winning translator of Russian fiction, history, biography, criticism, and fine art. She is the principal English translator of the works of Nina Berberova and translated the New York Times bestseller The Last Tsar, by Edvard Radzinsky, as well as classics by Mikhail Bulgakov, Ivan Goncharov, Yuri Olesha, and Mikhail Lermontov. Her most recent book translations are Olga Slavnikova's 2017 (Overlook Press), Mikhail Bulgakov's White Guard (Yale University Press) and Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov (Seven Stories Press), now out in paperback from Yale University Press. She is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowships and is a past president of the American Literary Translators Association. For more on Marian Schwartz, visit her Web site at

K.E. Semmel: You once said: "Russian literature has developed differently from the rest of Europe." What do you mean by that? How has Russian literature developed differently from the rest of Europe's?

Marian Schwartz: Under glasnost, beginning in 1987, Soviet publishers focused on putting out all the works that had been denied the public lo those many decades, virtually all of them works known in the West, leaving little opportunity at the outset for contemporary writers. Once that backlog had been covered and they turned to current authors--by this time in the post-Soviet period--their focus moved to kinds of literature that could not have been published before. Writers were drunk on the possibility of writing about sex and violence in particular, subjects that were no longer inherently provocative in the West but are there. Also, curiously, Russia produced a serious "women's fiction" genre into which they slotted most of the worthwhile women writers, though some, like Tatiana Tolstaya, had the wit to remain with the general pool. This curious departure highlights one important way Russian literature differs from Western European: gender relations. Russia generally favors the "separate but equal" view of gender status, and as a result, the romantic relationships can be hard for us in the West to swallow. The other marked trend in post-Soviet literature is a deeply intellectual focus on style per se that is studded with allusions to Russian culture and history in general and Russian literature in particular. Russian writers have retained the intensity that has always intrigued the West but it can be inward-looking.

KES: That's interesting, because as I was reading 2017 I got the sense there was a lot of Russian history and culture in there (some of which I may not have fully understood). The most obvious example is the fact that 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The novel won the Russian Booker Prize in 2006. Why do you think it was so well received in Russia? Was it the comic elements of the narrative which poke fun at society in a smart way? The social critique the book offers on the current state of Russia?

MS: All these qualities played a part, certainly. Slavnikova's social critiques are right on the money but they also acknowledge the all too human plight Russians have found themselves in since the Soviet Union's demise. She is sympathetic to the longing for glitz that goes hand in hand with people's feeling that they've lost their moral bearings and their alarm at Russia's fragility. So yes it's comic and smart but it also feels very real. Another aspect that struck me when I was translating was her deep connection with heartland Russia, here, the thinly disguised Urals and the city of Ekaterinburg. She was able to incorporate the local lore associated with prospecting and minerals into the plot and make a mythological creature one of her characters in a very appealing way. But beyond the incredibly engaging stuff of her stories, she is a remarkable stylist and has a tremendous sense of pacing. This book is very well put together.

KES: In a recent (and very informal poll) I conducted on The Writer's Center's Facebook fan page, I asked our fans to tell us what great books they'd meant to read but hadn't quite gotten around to yet. There was a wide range of great books named, but the largest segment actually were written by Russians. The classics like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy. Besides Slavnikova, which contempory Russian novelists should the rest of the world be paying attention to?

MS: I know more about the more established fiction writers, some of whom have been published with some success in English already--Viktor Pelevin, Tatiana Tolstaya, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Boris Akunin, and, lately, Vladimir Sorokin and Ludmila Petrushevskaya. To these I would add, besides Olga Slavnikova, Mikhail Shishkin ("Maidenhair"), Leonid Yuzefovich ("Cranes and Pygmies"), and some of Dina Rubina's massive output, especially her relatively recent "On the Sunny Side," about growing up in Tashkent after her family was evacuated there during the war. And these are just the ones I'm familiar with. As for younger writers, I recently translated some of the stories in the forthcoming "Moscow Noir" anthology (Akashic Books) and was impressed in particular by Andrei Khusnutdinov, Sergei Kuznetsov, and Aleksandr Anuchkin. Russia's a big country with a vigorous literary tradition and I don't pretend to have the complete picture, but I do try to keep up.

KES: How did you get involved with Russian literature to begin with? When did you begin translating?

MS: I was an innocent, not to say naive, victim of Russian literature. I began studying the language as a freshman at Harvard and somehow it wouldn't let me go. Believe me, I am not the first American fly to be trapped in this particular web. I began translating in graduate school, at the University of Texas in Austin, where there were some remarkable translators--Paul Schmidt, Sidney Monas, Richard Sylvester--and a genuine appreciation for the endeavor as such. My first published translation was an excerpt from Vladimir Mayakovsky's travelogue, "My Discovery of America," about crossing into the United States from Mexico to the United States at Laredo, Texas, originally published in a New York art magazine and then republished a few years ago in Two Lines.

KES: 2017 is a dense book that unfurls slowly (in my end notes I write "a strange, difficult, beautiful, rewarding book"). How long did it take you to translate the novel? And what were some of the challenges you faced while working on it?

MS: This book has had several incarnations, and excerpts have been published in Glas and Subtropics. An NEA grant allowed me to complete the full manuscript, which made finding a publisher a little easier. By the time I received the grant, Slavnikova had produced a somewhat shorter version for Gallimard, for the French translation, and this is the manuscript I eventually used for this edition.

One of the most interesting challenges I faced was one I faced once before, when I translated Lost in the Taiga, another book with extensive descriptions of geological formations. R. Michael Conner, a fine scientific translator specializing in geology, helped me both times to translate the terminology accurately. He explained the exact land and rock formations being described as well as the properties of the various minerals that appear. Precision on that level gives a text a conspicuous sparkle, or at least that has been my experience.

KES: On a very nuts and bolts level, what is your process for translating a project? What steps do you take?

MS: When I teach literary translation, I talk about the Four Passes.

In the first pass, after I know I'm going to translate it, I translate very quickly and put every inspiration--good and bad--down on paper. I look up very little, let some phrases stay as trots, even leave bits in Russian.

For the second pass I do a painstaking cross-check between the translation and the original, making sure I've got everything there and solving many of the issues that arose in the first pass. Because often a question that arose at the beginning will get answered by the text itself later on. Or the answer will have come to me. At this point there will still be things I can't figure out how to express properly as well as words and phrases, even situations, I don't understand at all. All of this is duly noted in the translation.

The third pass, I read only the English, keeping the Russian close to hand. When I'm wholly in the English, many more problems will jump out at me, so I do heavy rewriting and draw up a query list for the author or whatever native informant I'm using.

For the fourth pass, I incorporate the answers to my queries and polish polish polish. I think of this as one pass, but I often do it several times.

Last but not least, I find someone to read the entire translation to me out loud while I follow along with the Russian. A kind of fail-safe. If I can't get a live person, I use reading software, whose pace I can adjust and which works all kinds of crazy hours.

The first pass is by far the most exciting.

You can read my review of 2017 at Three Percent, the blog of Open Letter Books, here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Review: Graphic Europe: An Alternative Guide to 31 European Cities

Graphic Europe

Graphic Europe: An Alternative Guide to 31 European Cities
Edited by Ziggy Hanaor
Cicada Books
288 Pages
Published: April 2010
ISBN: 0956205305
Reviewed by K.E. Semmel

This post originally appeared on the Art and Literature blog today. Thank you to Art Taylor for allowing me to repost it.

Summer Travel
With summer nearly here, it’s time to make your travel plans. If you’re heading to Europe, you can either dust off your overused Fodor’s or your Rick Steves, or you could treat yourself to a new kind of travel guide: Graphic Europe: An Alternative Guide to 31 European Cities.

Your Average Tour Guide, This is Not

The foreword explains: “Graphic Europe is intended to be a beautiful object, but also one that is a usable, functioning travel guide.” By those standards, readers will judge. So you, a judging reader, hold the rough spine in your hands and stare at the cover. There you see 31 city names in 31 different fonts and sizes. Next you flip through the pages slowly, then faster. You see the colors and shapes and images explode before your eyes. Is this a beautiful book? Ja, si, oui, yes—whatever language you choose, this is a gorgeous book. The editor, Ziggy Hanaor, is right about that. But is it usable? If you’d like that answer now, skip down to the subheading below “Places to Eat, Stay, and Drink, etc.” In the interim, I’m going to write about something else.

I don’t really know who Ziggy Hanaor is (a quick web search—I didn’t see her bio anywhere in the book—revealed that she’s the editor of other books, Making Stuff for Kids and Breaking the Mould: New Approaches to Ceramics, among them), but what she’s put together here is a really fun, mold-breaking book. The special touch, she writes in the forward, is that the illustrations by the graphic designers are “a personal interpretation of the cities in which the individual designers live.” It’s that personal touch that’s the very heart of this incredible book—one of the coolest, most original travel guides on Europe I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for the traditional places found in most common tour guides, I suggest you avoid Graphic Europe. But if you’re game for something altogether different, this is the book for you.

Altogether Different
I’m not a graphic designer, and I realize I don’t have the necessary language to explain why I love the book, but I love and admire beautiful designs, the work of true craftsmen and women. It’s the lines, the color, the fonts, the shapes, the weird angles, the way of seeing something old anew. Fresh images, that’s what I like. Imagine more than 30 of the best designers in Europe coming together to create a mosaic. All each designer had to do was concentrate on his or her own city. And in concentrating on their city they found its pulse, its glowing center, and designed it for the world to see. What’s altogether different about this book is that it flips travel writing on its head, asking the natives of a city to carve the shape of it for others to see.

Places to Eat, Stay, and Drink, etc.
In Graphic Europe you’ll find personalized designs by homegrown artists, native sons and daughters who love their city and want to show it off to the world. But while design tastes vary for each designer—radically and happily—each city is sectioned off very practically with the same simple elements like any good travel guide. In this book they are Places to Stay, Eat, and Drink (bars), plus Shopping, Galleries and Culture, Walks and Architecture, and Events. The result of this structure is a balanced and helpful summation of some of the most interesting things tourists—especially those who are a little hipper—might want to check out next time they’re in Europe. To answer the question of whether Graphic Europe is “a usable, functioning travel guide,” you must know by now that my answer is a resounding jawohl!

As much as I would love to, I don’t see how I can talk about individual cities. How can I talk about just one? Or two? This is a book you have to hold in your hands and really experience; my words could never approximate the power of seeing it as the art object it truly is. (Luckily for me, since we live in the 21st century you can see exactly what I mean at the book’s Web site right here, and I can avoid clumsily trying to describe it.) But here’s the wonderful thing about this book: There’s something for everyone here. It can simply be a book you love to flip through because it’s just so visually interesting. It can be a book that you look to next time you fly to, say, Riga, because you want to find out what to do there. It can be a combination of the two. No matter how you look at it, this book works. I won’t say it works for everybody all the time, especially for “events,” because the events here are dominated by graphic design events, but it works. On your next trip to Europe you may want to tug along (or put on your e-reader of choice) a traditional tour guide just in case, but Graphic Europe is far and away the one travel guide I would highly recommend to anyone going to Europe, whether for the first or fiftieth time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

LitArtlantic: Day 3. The Young Songwriters' Showcase, The Hive, and More

Today at LitArtlantic:

12 pm – 4 pm Artists and arts organizations will convene beneath our tented outdoor space to create The Hive, an opportunity for audiences to connect directly with literary, songwriting, film, and theatre artists and organizations. Click here for a list of participating organizations. (On Walsh Street)

12 pm – 1 pm “The Writer's Life: A Report from the Field,” a panel sponsored by American Independent Writers. David A. Taylor (screenwriting), C. M. Mayo (novels), Alan Elsner (journalism), and Kevin Quirk (biography/memoir) discuss their lives as professional working writers, including the story of their careers thus far, their creative processes, and the business aspects of making a living at one's art. (Jane Fox Reading Room)

1 pm – 2:15 pm Young Songwriters' Showcase sponsored by Songwriters’ Association of Washington and hosted by Margot MacDonald. Featuring Margot, Rene Moffatt, and Alex Culbreth. (Allan B. Lefcowitz Auditorium)

2 pm – 3 pm Workshops for children sponsored by Round House Theatre. Join Round House’s teaching artists as they inspire your children to act, create plays, and perform! (Jane Fox Reading Room)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 2 of LitArtlantic: Creativity Crossing Borders and Romantic Warriors

On tap for LitArtlantic tonight. FREE events at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. Call 301.654.8664 for details:

7 pm “Creativity Crossing Borders.” Artists discuss their approaches to creating work, using other art forms and artists as their inspiration or their guides. Featuring 9:30 Club founder and filmmaker Bill Warrell, photojournalist-poet-radio producer Askia Muhammad, writer and media producer Amy Souza of SPARK: art from writing: writing from art, and musician/performer Chrystylez Bacon. (Jane Fox Reading Room)

9 pm “Works In Progress” film screening sponsored by Docs In Progress. Docs In Progress will screen a not-quite-finished documentary followed by a moderated feedback session in which the audience can provide constructive comments to the filmmakers. Romantic Warriors looks at how young bands of today have transformed Progressive music into something new. Filmmakers Erica Ginsberg, Jose Zegarra Holder, and Adele Schmidt will all be on hand, and the will welcome feedback in a Q & A session. (Allan B. Lefcowitz Auditorium)

See the trailer for Romantic Warriors:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

LitArtlantic Kicks Off Tonight with StoryStereo, 8:00 P.M.

LitArtlantic kicks off tonight with Story/Stereo at 8:00 P.M. at The Writer's Center. We're excited that it's finally here, and we hope to see many of you throughout the weekend. We've got plenty going on. If you click on the LitArtlantic page right here on this blog (above), you'll see the schedule of events. OR you can visit LitArtlantic's Facebook page right here for expanded information.

You can read some press coverage about LitArtlantic from the Gazette here, or from the Examiner here.

Story/Stereo: A Night of Literature & Music presents a reading by Emerging Writer Fellows William Archila (The Art of Exile) and Allison Amend (Stations West). Musical guest is local legend Don Zientara of Inner Ear Studios. As always, a special thanks to musical curators Chad Clark (Beauty Pill) and Matt Byars (The Caribbean) for selecting the musical guest.

William Archila was born in Santa Ana, El Salvador in 1968. At the age of twelve, he fled a civil war that tore his country apart and immigrated to the United States in 1980. He eventually became an English teacher and earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon. His poems have appeared in Agni, Blue Mesa Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Georgia Review, The Los Angeles Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry International, and Poetry Daily, among others. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife. His first book is The Art of Exile.

Allison Amend was born in Chicago on a day when the Cubs beat the Mets 2-0. She graduated from Stanford University and holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her IPPY Award-winning debut short story collection, Things That Pass for Love, was published in October 2008 by OV/Dzanc Books and a novel, Stations West, was published by Louisiana State University Press’s Yellow Shoe Fiction Series in March, 2010. Allison lives in New York.

Don Zientara, the groundbreaking local legend of the music scene, is the founder of Inner Ear Studios in Arlington and a musician in his own right. In the 1980s, he played with the band Under Heaven. Now he has two solo albums out, Sixteen Songs and Clocks and Watches. Learn more about Inner Ear Studios here:

And about Zientara's own music at Dischord's Web site:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Hive @LitArtlantic: List of Participating Organizations

Here are the organizations participating in The Hive @ LitArtlantic on Saturday, May 22 from Noon to 4:00 P.M. What is The Hive? It's our former “small press fair”--the one we've hosted each spring for the last 17 years. The Hive @LitArtlantic is now an expanded version that features organizations spanning the storytelling arts of literature, theatre, music, and film. In short, a resource fair attended by local and regional organizations whose work supports artists and the art of storytelling: small presses, film production companies, funding organizations, and arts education organizations. Click on the live links below to learn more about the organizations. An asterisk denotes LitArtlantic sponsor.

Maryland State Arts Council
Furniture Press
Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County*
Paycock Press and Gargoyle Magazine
Gival Press
The Baltimore Review
The Word Works
American Independent Writers*
National Writers' Union
Kings Estate Press
Maryland Humanities Council
Potomac Review
No Tell Books
Women in Film and Video
Fall for the Book
Docs in Progress*
Broadkill River Press
Washington Writers' Publishing House
The Television, Internet, and Video Association of DC
Round House Theatre*
The Theatre Lab
So to Speak
The Writer's Center*
Ningen Manga Productions
DC Film Alliance

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

LitArtlantic: Creativity Crossing Borders

On Friday, May 21 The Writer's Center and LitArtlantic present "Creativity Crossing Borders," a panel featuring artists discussing their approaches to creating work. The program begins at 7:00 P.M. at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. Call 301.654.8664 for additional info or visit Creativity Crossing borders is sponsored by the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Here is the outstanding lineup of panelists:

Born in Washington, DC, Bill Warrell became a force behind the avant-garde art and music scene, opening D.C. Space (1979), 9:30 Club (1980), and District Curators, Inc (1978). After 25 years as a leader in presenting and producing performing arts for the stage, radio, and video, Warrell began producing documentary and feature films. The first documentary, titled Jazz Dancing with Bill T Jones, was produced in 2000 and his first independent feature film produced was Crazy Like a Fox in 2004. DCI Production was established in 2005 and features Maker of Saints based on the novel by Thulani Davis (2009). Warrell is also a visual artist and premiered his incredible collection of paintings that celebrate jazz and jazz musicians entitled "Ode to Life: The Paintings of Bill Warrell" in October 2009. Read about Warrell at WTOP's Web site. He was also featured recently in Washington Post Magazine.

Askia Muhammad is a poet, journalist, radio producer, commentator, and photojournalist. He has been multiply awarded by the National Association of Black Journalists for his work on National Public Radio, with first place “Salute to Excellence” awards for his commentaries on “Mississippi and My Memories” and “Mike Tyson: Check Yourself” and a third place “Salute to Excellence” award for "Ethel Payne Postage Stamp.” He has served as the editor of the Web site Muhammad Speaks and as the head of the Washington office of The Final Call, the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam. He has worked as a commentator for National Public Radio and a columnist for Washington Informer. He is the author of the book Behind Enemy Lines.

Amy Souza is a freelance writer, editor, and media producer. Her articles have been published on the Web and in daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and alumni, trade, and national magazines. She also edits and produces e-newsletters and has produced corporate videos, online and CD-based instructional materials, and segments for national and regional public television shows. Souza has a master’s degree in radio and television from San Francisco State University, and in 2009 she received an honorable mention for magazine feature writing in the Writer’s Digest 78th Annual Writing Competition. Amy is also the founder of SPARK: art from writing: writing from art. Find her online at

Christylez Bacon (pronounced: chris-styles) is a Grammy nominated Progressive Hip-Hop artist and multi-instrumentalist from Southeast, Washington, DC. As a performer, Christylez multi-tasks between various instruments such as the West African djembe drum, acoustic guitar, and the human beat-box (oral percussion), all while continuing the oral tradition of storytelling through his lyrics. With a mission towards cultural acceptance and unification through music, Bacon is constantly pushing the envelope – from performances at the National Cathedral, to selling out two consecutive concerts at the Mansion at Strathmore, becoming the first Hip-Hop artist to be featured at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, composing and orchestrating an entire concert for a 12-piece orchestra commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institute, or recording a Folk/Hip-Hop children’s album. Find him online at

Moderator: Suzan Jenkins

Recognized as one of the Top CEOs You Need To Know in 2009 by The Gazette of Politics and Business, Suzan Jenkins has over 20 years’ extensive experience spearheading organizational and programmatic development in the non-profit arts and culture sector from world renown organizations such as the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Recording Industry Association of America. Over the course of her career Jenkins has created local, national, and international initiatives and educational programs which celebrate constituents and provide opportunities for creative expression; identified and framed strategies for sustainability; encouraged and developed initiatives for lifelong learning in the arts and humanities; and heightened awareness regarding art, culture, and non profit management. She has produced several recordings and is the Conceptual Producer of the Peabody Award winning series Let the Good Times Roll, produced for Public Radio International. Find her online at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Local Music Legend Don Zientara Will Perform at Story/Stereo Thursday, May 20

Story/Stereo's musical curators Chad Clark (Beauty Pill) and Matt Byars (The Caribbean) have scored a huge win for this week's Story/Stereo, the kick off event for LitArtlantic: Don Zientara.

Don Zientara, the groundbreaking local legend of the music scene, is the founder of Inner Ear Studios in Arlington and a musician in his own right. In the 80s, he played with the band Under Heaven. Now he has two solo albums out. If you click here you can see him performing "Waterloo Sunset." Learn a little more about his second solo album, Clocks and Watches, at Dischord's Web site.

Just look at this list of his clients at Inner Ear. It's astonishing. Dave Grohl, Henry Rollins, Jawbox, Bob Mould, Fugazi--that's just a few of them. Below is a little history of Inner Ear Studio. Come on out to Story/Stereo Thursday at 8:00 P.M. at The Writer's Center. Emerging Writer Fellows William Archila (The Art of Exile) and Allison Amend (Stations West) will read. And Don Zientara will follow with his musical performance.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

IMMIGRANT SONG (Live) ~ Margot MacDonald

Here's singer/songwriter Margot MacDonald on Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." (One of my favorite songs when I was a kid.) She'll be hosting the Young Songwriters' Showcase at LitArtlantic on Saturday, May 22 from 1 pm – 2:15 pm. The event is sponsored by the Songwriters’ Association of Washington and features Margot MacDonald, Alex Culbreth, and René Moffatt (Allan B. Lefcowitz Auditorium)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LitArtlantic: Kevin Quirk and The Writer's Eye

On the docket for LitArtlantic's Saturday, May 22nd program is Kevin Quirk. Quirk is a writer, self-publishing coach, and book editor among other things. And he's the author of A Writer's Eye and, most recently, Brace for Impact: Miracle on the Hudson Survivors Share Their Stories of Near Death and Hope for New Life.

What he does is provide information to authors on how to publish and how to meet their publishing goals. But I don't need to speak for him.  You can learn more about him at his Web site.

And you can meet him, along with C.M. Mayo, David A. Taylor, and Alan Elsner at LitArtlantic.

The Writer's Life: A Report from the Field (Sponsored by American Independent Writers). Saturday, May 22, 12:00-1:00 P.M.

Learn more about this event and LitArtlantic by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

LitArtlantic: David A. Taylor and Soul of A People

Today's video snippet is David A. Taylor, a workshop leader here but also an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker. His Soul of a People won some serious accolades this past year. Here's a short promo for the film, which he'll no doubt discuss at LitArtlantic on Saturday, May 22 at The Writer's Center. (Noon-1:00 P.M) The Writer's Life: A Report from the Field, with fellow writers C.M. Mayo, Alan Elsner, Kevin Quirk and Jessie Seigel. More here.

You can learn more on this film here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Christylez Bacon Performs "Mambo Sauce"

For the next couple weeks, in the run up to LitArtlantic on May 20-22, I'm going to post only information on the many great artists and performers who'll be part of the festival. To kick things off, I'm going to post this really great performance by local progressive Hip Hop artist Christylez Bacon at Strathmore from 2008. Bacon will be part of the "Creativity Crossing Borders" panel on Friday, May 21 at 7:00 P.M. 

Artists discuss their approaches to creating work. Featuring Bill Warrell, Askia Muhammad, Amy Souza, and Christylez Bacon, with moderator Suzan Jenkins, CEO of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County.

If you'd like to know more about LitArtlantic, you can visit the LitArtlantic page here on this blog (see the banner at the top), or you can visit the LitArtlantic page on Facebook.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How to be a Writer

Here's a fun post by member Laurie Lesser Chamberlain.

Ever since you told your fellow second-graders how you spent your summer vacation, everyone’s been telling you what a great storyteller you are. Even your e-mails get praised. You know you have talent, and true genius doesn’t have to follow rules. Being a great writer comes naturally to you. But just to be sure you succeed in this dog-eat-dog world, here are a few small tips you should keep in mind as you go down that road to becoming America’s next Hemingway. And have fun doing it.

First, act the part. Appearance is everything, for a writer. Nothing says “successful writer” more than a beret on your head and a baguette under your armpit. And sprinkling your speech (and your prose) with obscure foreign phrases adds that little je-ne-sais-quoi that people will just love, even if they know you’ve never been further east than Brooklyn Heights. Don’t worry about sharing anything you’ve actually written (or actually writing anything), as long as you talk a lot about being a writer and “living the writer’s life.”

Don’t try too hard. You’ve got a natural gift, why sweat it? There’s no need to search for a clever, witty way to express yourself when there are so many tried and true expressions out there already. Clichés become clichés for a reason – use them. To your heart’s content and with gay abandon. And don’t worry about seeming pretentious. Throwing in technical words that no one will understand will make you look smart – and the odd foreign word or expression can only add to your cachet (see above). And don’t bother to proffread your work or worry about grammar. That’s what editors are for.

Don’t worry about making sense. If someone complains that your heroine, who was a brunette in the first chapter, gets her “golden locks” chopped off in Chapter 3, shrug your shoulders and ignore it. You shouldn’t have to compensate for your readers’ lack of imagination. And if you find yourself dragged into a sentence that is so long and convoluted that even you can’t find your way out of it, don’t worry. Think of Faulkner. Or James Joyce.

Write only when you feel like it. Discipline is for athletes, you’re an artist. You don’t need practice, or training – all you need is an agent. Writing should be fun, not hard work or drudgery. Remember, writing is a gift you were born with, not a skill that can be learned or developed. And stay away from formal writing programs and workshops – they will only stifle your creativity.

Forget about writing only about what you know. The sky’s the limit when it comes to choosing your subject. Sometimes just changing the label is enough – you added a few juicy incidents to your memoir? Just call it fiction. The action in your story could never happen in the real world? Sci-fi. Don’t worry about accuracy or consistency. Any publication worth its salt will have fact-checkers who will correct any minor “inconsistencies with the truth.”

Finally, don’t listen to your critics. Ignore them, please. They’ve got their own agenda to push and never have your best interests at heart. If, once you are published – and you will be! – you should get a bad review in a major newspaper, then do the thing you do best – write. Send a letter to the editor complaining about the review, leave comments on every blog you can think of about what a moron and how incompetent the reviewer is, and most important of all, don’t take any of what he or she has written to heart. You know best.

Follow these simple rules and you won’t go wrong. Leave the classics like The Elements of Style or On Writing Well to other budding writers, less gifted and less confident than you. And for those of you who are saying that rules are made to be broken, I wish you luck. If you ignore my suggestions, writing will be full of hard work and responsibility. And that’s no fun, is it?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Perseverance: Women's Studies: The Movie

For those interested in making films, Lonnie and Cindy Martin's story is one of true perseverance and determination. On June 8, R-Squared Films' Big Bite Entertainment label will release their film Women's Studies. This after they've worked on it for about five years, maybe longer. They started up their own production company, Ningen Manga, and the film can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

I met them a few years back through a friend of mine, and I've heard their incredible story over the years. I completely admire their determination to finish this film and get it out there.

With so much involved in the making of a film, it almost seems like a crazy endeavor even to begin making one. With all the financing you have to acquire and set-wrangling you've got to go through just to even score locations to film in, unless you have huge backing it just seems like a nearly impossible project. Well, they've done it. They've gone through all that and now they have their first film.

I encourage you to take a look at these Web sites. Whether you're a fiction writer, poet, or filmmaker, you have to have this kind of perseverance to dream something big and to see it through.

More on Women's Studies at .

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Guest-blogging: A Flourishing New Literary Genre and a Powerful Tool for Promotion (Plus 10 Tips for Coming Up with Your Own Guest-Blog Posts)

On this Cinco de Mayo who better to have as a guest on First Person Plural than workshop leader C.M. Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire? Here she talks about a subject all writers need to know.

Today—the very apt "Cinco de Mayo"—is the pub date for the paperback edition of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, my novel based on the true and international scandal of 1860s Mexico and (yes) Washington, DC. I invite you to read all about it--- watch the trailer, enjoy an excerpt, hear my Library of Congress lecture about the research, and much more at

What an education the last year has been. My novel came out in hardcover last May 5th; shortly thereafter, I embarked on a cram-packed, coast-to-coast book tour, beginning with a launch at the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington, DC, then on to bookstores as diverse as Vroman's in Pasadena, CA; Bookworks in Albuquerque NM; and Book People in Austin TX. I also participated in several writers conferences and bookfairs, among them, the Texas Book Festival and the Virginia Festival of the Book. As a first-time novelist, I have have been fortunate indeed. That said, this is not my first book. My short story collection, Sky Over El Nido, was published in 1995; Miraculous Air, a travel memoir of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, was published in 2002, with a paperback edition in 2007; and an anthology, Mexico A Traveler's Literary Companion, came out in 2006. All of these were markedly different publishing experiences from this one, in part because my publisher, Unbridled Books, has a crackerjack marketing team, but also because publishing and communications themselves have changed.

One of the most surprising changes is the increasing importance of guest-blogs for book promotion--- and indeed, for any kind of literary promotion (perhaps you have a new literary journal, a new poem, a reading series?).

What's a guest-blog? What you're reading right here. It's a new literary genre--- closely related to, variously, the essay, the newspaper article, and whatnots on a bulletin board.

I felt very avant garde back in 2006, when I wrote my first guest-blogs for Wendi Kaufman's now, alas, apparently abandoned "Happy Booker" blog ("If I Had an iPod: Top 5 Mexican Music Selections ") and for the travel blog, World Hum ("The Speed of Rancho Santa Ines").

But over the past year, in promoting this new novel, Holy Smokes! I've written for:

Work-in-Progress ("How to Hang in There and Finish Your Novel"); ("What Connects You to the 1860s?");

A Writing Life ("Break the Block in 5 Minutes"); ("A Book Club Meeting Menu");

Largehearted Boy (Playlist for The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire);

Red Room ("C.M. Mayo Celebrates a Batch of Bookstores");

Potomac Review Blog ("Who Knew That Mexico Had a Half-American Prince?");

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Blog ("VCCA Memories");

and more.

I'm not unusual in this regard; many long-established writers are newly busy with guest-blogging--- and hosting guest-bloggers. On my own blog, Madam Mayo, I've hosted several other writers on their so-called "blogtours," among them, Sandra Beasley, Sandra Gulland, Joanna Smith Rakoff, Porter Shreve, Tim Wendel, and many more (view the full line-up of Madam Mayo's guest-bloggers here). Two more examples: Leslie Pietryk and Christina Baker Kline, both outstanding novelists, frequently host other writers on their blogs, Work-in-Progress and A Writing Life.

In sum, guest-blogging is at once a flourishing new literary genre and a powerful tool for literary promotion. While you probably won't get paid in cash to write a guest-blog, you will get paid, and sometimes very handsomely, in clicks. And if you don't think that counts, check out what facebook charges per click for advertising. (Speaking of which, please click here.)

Herewith 10 tips for coming up with your own guest blog posts:

1. Think about music: what songs might make a great soundtrack? Which songs might your characters would sing in the shower?

2. Think about food: any recipes from the book? Any recipes your characters might concoct?

3. Think about places: perhaps a certain city or mountain or lakeside resport in your book (or etc) is special. Photos, please!

4. Fantasize: which actors could play the parts in the movie? If your character were born in Virginia in 1960 instead of say, France in 1765, where would she work?

5. Tell a story about the book (e.g., how I found my agent; why I finally, with much gnashing of teeth, threw out chapter 1; the day I got the idea to write the book)

6. Thank those who helped you (Chekhov? Tolstoy? Teacher? Mom? Husband? Dog? Cat?)

7. Select an excerpt that might work.

8. Interview yourself (don't be shy!) Ask yourself three questions about the book.

9. Offer helpful hints (How to bake bread; how to write a novel in 12 easy steps (ha ha); how to keep your cat off the laptop; how to find time to write; how to find an agent.)

10. Generate lists, e.g., three poets who influenced my understanding of rain; 10 reasons to take a writing workshop; 7 cities I wish were in the novel but they didn't make the cut ; my favorite places to write in Washington DC; 5 books everyone in Bethesda should read right now; 4 yoga poses to make your creativity bloom...

P.S. More resources for writers here.


C.M. Mayo is the author of the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books); Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions), and Sky Over El Nido (University of Georgia Press), which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her many other awards include three Lowell Thomas Awards for travel writing, three Washington Writing Prizes, and numerous fellowships, among them, to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and Yaddo. Her work has appeared in many outstanding literary journals, among them, Chelsea, Creative Nonfiction, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Paris Review, and Tin House. An avid translator of contemporary Mexican literature, she is also founding editor of Tameme and editor of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. For more about C.M. Mayo and her work, visit

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The In-between Spaces: P.B. Stevens.

Today's guest is member P.B Stevens. Here she is.

She thought she had to have an education abroad, wear a tweed jacket, and be interestingly tormented; she was only “boringly” tormented. This was one of many insights that caught my attention ten years ago while reading Elizabeth Berg’s “Escaping into the Open,” a creative writing “how-to” book. Curled up in my tan stuffed rocker in my small, sundrenched living room, I devoured the story of her emergence as a writer.

Indeed, there was no education abroad, tweed, or torment for Berg. Berg traced her beginning to her first poem at age nine, composed at her favorite childhood haunt, a gully decorated with wildflowers and encased in willow trees. Despite avid writing throughout her high school career, Berg enrolled in college and chose nursing for her profession. I read this, rocking slowly back and forth in my rocker, and a notion germinated.

Memories of my own childhood entered one by one: the small girl in brown pig tails sitting under a huge oak tree, composing the family’s Thanksgiving prayer with paper and crayon; the chubby-cheeked third grader who sat at her desk furiously writing an essay about the chipmunk at the park who had all his winter stores stolen (told from the chipmunk’s perspective of course); the awkward, skinny eighth grade girl lying belly-side down on her bed, composing a doleful poem to her estranged older brother.

I too, had been a writer since childhood, despite my choice of a completely unrelated career. It was that day in the rocking chair, reading Berg’s story, when my “career” as a writer drew breath. It was also that very same day that my acute struggle with allowing myself to be a writer was born as well.


At The Writers Center’s “Writing the Future” Conference this past March, I met numerous writers from diverse walks of life. Through various random conversations, I discovered that like me, many of these writers engage in other “paid work” for their profession. Also like me, many possess deep-seated desires to fit more writing into their daily lives. On the drive home that day, I mused upon whether this issue was one of modern creation. Was this a result of the too-fast paced Western lifestyle with incessantly ringing cell phones and chiming email accounts? Or was this an age-old issue for writers, throughout time? Had other writers, even some famous and exquisite ones, squeezed and sandwiched their writing into their otherwise ordinary lives?

Admittedly, this question became a bit of an obsession over the next several days. In any spare moment, with nose to Blackberry screen, I pecked out various search strings such as “famous writers’ day jobs” and “paid professions of famous writers and poets.” I expected to find a few such writers. I was amazed to find many.

The list, which is not exhaustive, includes these “greats:” T.S. Eliot the school teacher and bank clerk; Charlotte Bronte the governess; Nathaniel Hawthorne the customs worker; Nora Zeal-Thurston the anthropologist; Wallace Stevens the insurance executive; Toni Morrison the English teacher and professor; and even Chaucer, Milton and Spenser, all full-time working civil servants.

Gone was my image of the anguished artist sitting day and night at his rustic desk, cigarette butt smoldering in the ashtray as he scratched out his masterpiece. And gone too was my excuse. Perhaps Stevens or Zeal-Thurston once (or often) chided themselves for taking time away from their paid work for their essentially unpaid, or at least lowly paid, art. Perhaps. But they obviously worked through it - and to the world’s betterment, too.

Yes, these great writers honored the art enough to carve out that sacred time to put word to page. And there is the crux. We as writers must silence the imps who flit about our heads, whispering in our ears that time away from our paid work equals income stolen from the family’s coffers (or whatever niggle your imp whispers to you). And so, to pay homage to that sentiment born from my obsessive search strings, this piece was composed in the car dealership waiting room and edited at my daughter’s piano lesson. It is no masterpiece, agreed. But it is a testament to honoring the trade, the art, and the need to do what one must – because it embodies who one is.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Review Monday: Daughters of Empire: A Memoir of a Year in Britain and Beyond

Daughters of Empire: A Memoir of a Year in Britain and Beyond
by Jane Satterfield
Published in 2009
Demeter Press
ISBN: 1550145037

Reviewed by Shelle Stormoe

American culture is awash in stories about motherhood, especially stories about the particularly female conflict between work and family. In that sense, Satterfield's book covers familiar territory. Born in England but raised in the U.S., Satterfield goes back to Britain as a tag-a-long on her husband's Fulbright teaching fellowship. She plans to finish a poetry manuscript and teach at a local university, but instead finds herself pregnant for the first time. Often left alone in a country that is at the same moment "home" and entirely foreign, she must confront the realities of motherhood while she fights her fears of becoming consumed by her child's needs.

In the early essays in this volume, Satterfield explores this idea through meditations on the oppressive practicalities of the British healthcare system that make her feel as if she is her body, and erodes her American "sense of entitlement." She examines her own mother's nostalgic longing for England, and the lack of choices her mother faced as she grew into adulthood. Satterfield fears she will be forced into a similar restrictions, which plays out in life. A job offer is rescinded; her husband's incessant work effectively exempts him from domestic duties, which fall to Satterfield.

This lack of control over her own physicality and destiny, prompts her to meditate on the books and music that helped define her youth and her expectations for adulthood. She adopts a tone that is both scholarly and intimate while she examines the work of the Bronte's, the 90s British band Oasis, George Harrison, and a long list other poets and novelists. Over and over, she repeats the point that these old inspirations hold up poorly once she's crossed the threshold between hopeful young poet and married mother.

In memoir, it can be dangerously easy to force a life that is, as most lives are, messy and non-linear into a sentimental and familiar plot structure. Satterfield avoids this pitfall by refusing to wrap up her year in England into a tidy narrative. She arranges her essays into an order more driven by theme than by chronology. The pieces jump from England, to later experiences in the U.S., and then back to England. She shifts forward in time, so that the reader knows her marriage will end in divorce, and that she will marry again, before she tells the story about her daughter's birth and first husband's indifference. She interrupts her series of longer essays with a spare, poetic examination of starvation, a metaphor for her insatiable appetite while pregnant and the painful way her literary ambitions begin to starve in the face of motherhood.

Reading this collection is a bit like hearing all the stories of a new friend's life, but in a random order punctuated by days and weeks of silence, so that every story must begin again, must cover much of the same ground the previous story covered. This structure keeps the book from seeming too much like other motherhood memoirs, and more accurately reflects the reality of her experience.

Shelle Stormoe will begin work as a Visiting Lecturer of  Writing at the University of Central Arkansas this fall. Her essays and interviews have appeared in River Teeth, Divide, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Arkansas Times and elsewhere.  An essay is forthcoming from Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal.  She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.