Friday, July 19, 2013

Tin House 2013

At Tin House- studying with Steve Almond.  Mentored by Jodi Angel. Both the real deal in a crowd of superstars- check this roster of everyone else- rauow!

The Writers Workshop is at Reed College, described last year by child tween thing as looking "like Hogwarts"- but with a lake and ducks and tall trees and hydrangeas and greenspace galore and eating outside and studying in Eliot Hall... and in Portland... one of my favorite cities ever...Sometime I will write about how the esposo and I just missed moving here...

Loving learning with great fellows- in workshop/ conference wide. Tribe gathers for craft lectures in Vollum, then readings every single night in the amphitheater outdoors...Thursday alone Karen Russell, Matthew Dickman, Luis Alberto Urrea--- Not even going to name check all the other reading rock stars- except to tell you that Jodi blew us all away when she opened the very first night...

Also reunited with the wolf pack*- remnants of Stephen Elliott's 2012 crew. Canada, Westerfield, Ciston- adore you too!


*All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel. …Think about it. There's escaping from the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, taming the wolves. Being thrown to the wolves, or throwing others to the wolves so the wolves will eat them instead of you. Running with the wolf pack. Turning into a wolf. Best of all, turning into the head wolf. No other decent stories exist. (Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood)...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole- Mississippi Delta Edition

I’ve been prepping for Rabbit Box Storytelling at the Melting Point tomorrow night- I have eight minutes to tell about a rabbit hole I went down.  The decision is difficult- ever since I was a kid I’ve loved to immerse myself in history- I’m still obsessed with the Holocaust.  Forced exercise, Arbeit Macht Frei, Eichmann "only following orders”- so many parallels to Escuela Caribe in my teens.

However, I decided to focus on 2010’s summer obsession- when I began exploring the untold histories of Greenwood, Mississippi, my hometown. I'd begun writing about this amazing teacher, Mrs. C., who taught me in 9th grade- I adored her- because she was one of the few adults who told us the truth about where we lived. How Emmett Till was lynched in our county.  And how (when I was in high school) Medgar Evers’ murderer still walked the streets and bragged, and how when Kennedy was assassinated  people in my town celebrated. Take note: that scene in the Help (which I only saw because it was filmed in my friends’ houses in Greenwood) where all the white people were crying over Kennedy’s murder, was a white wash.

In 2010, I began writing about the Delta, and, because I’m obsessive, discovered so many things I am not going to have time to tell.  How for a brief period, my hometown was a civil rights hotbed- Medgar Evers, Dick Gregory, Bob Moses, Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, James Bevel, Sam Block and so many others sacrificed so much to make Greenwood a better place.  Dr. King came twice. Stokely Carmichael was provoked into delivering the black Power speech in my town.  There was so much brutality, so many murders- it sickened me- but also beauty- that part in Don’t Look Back where Dylan is playing in the cotton field, it happened right near where I grew up.

But what I am focusing on is how white people behaved in Greenwood, and the segregationist literature, particularly 1957’s Manual for Southerners, which was printed in my hometown.  Because it’s important for people to understand how hate speech programmed generations of Southerners, of Americans, to be racist, and also that the painful history I unearthed was not just from Greenwood, but from Athens, and all over the world. It's important  to explore unwritten histories, no matter how painful- because knowledge is power- it's the only way to create a better world.

Monday, July 8, 2013

More from that Guernica Interview with Julia Scheeres

 I remember it was 1978 and I saw this magazine cover on our dining room table.  And there were bodies lying on the ground and I remember asking my mom what is that? She didn't answer my question, just flipped the cover over, said something about a bad thing happening. And I remember I kept hearing this name on the news "Jonestown" and for a while Jonestown was the news- it was inescapable- and I know I realized lots of people- including children- died- and as a kid, that resonated. I thought about it constantly. So I guess you could say I've been a Jonestown obsessive since I was four. 
I remember I didn't understand how parents could kill their children. I remember I didn't understand how so many people could kill themselves. And until I read Julia's Jonestown book, A Thousand Lives, which we discussed in the Guernica interview, I didn't understand that most people there didn't just "drink the Kool-Aid"- many died after months of being broken down- many were violently coerced.  She talks about it in our Guernica interview, and other things- how Jim Jones staged traumatic events to bond with his congregation, and how having been at Escuela Caribe (our reform school, where her memoir Jesus Land is set) helped her and Jonestown survivors bond. Her take (again in the interview) on how Jim Jones fits in culturally is not to be missed.  As is the witness she bears to racism in America- which resounded differently with her than with most whites- her adopted brother David was black. 
I loved our entire conversation, but obviously the Escuela Caribe parts hit the closest home. Ever since she and I spoke, and then I transcribed it and thought about it, I've felt like I understand so much more about myself, about so many survivors.  Some of my favorite parts are after the jump....Or read the entire interview at Guernica.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Interview With Julia Scheeres in Guernica Magazine

Recently I interviewed Julia Scheeres.  She wrote Jesus Land, a memoir about our reform school, Escuela Caribe, and A Thousand Lives: the Untold Story of Jonestown.  

One of my favorite aspects of the Jonestown book is how Scheeres captured the day to day tyranny of life under Jim Jones' rule.   I was intrigued to discuss how living in captivity at Escuela Caribe helped inform her Jonestown work, but I came to understand so much more not only about Jonestown, and racism, and religion, but also about myself.  Like why I shut down emotionally. And why one of my integral values as an adult is living in an open-minded community. But this is just why I'm interested personally.  There's so much more to be gleaned (such as how Jones used deceptions like the King Alfred plan and staged shootings to trick people into following him, his theory of revolutionary suicide, or details of racism in the heartland) in Guernica Magazine