Friday, February 22, 2008

More Reading the World

I’ve been thinking about the many speeches and reunited friends that I came across at the Reading the World conference.

Rita Williams-Garcia's keynote speech, “Getting Off the Block,” was about getting out of your comfort zone, your block, physically and emotionally. As Page mentioned, I had a chance to see a side of Rita that I don’t often see… Rita as a young girl, from a military family, packed up in the car, dealing with racism and moving from coast to coast. For her, one fear that loomed large was the fear of coming home to a house all packed up and ready to leave.

While living in Seaside, CA, Rita told how her class had “traveled” to Japan. They did this by learning all they could about Japanese culture and customs. And when the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima to end WWII, Rita said her class cried with them, they cried for the people of Japan, the people they had recently “met.”

Sarah Ellis brought the conference to a close with a “Synthesis of Reading the World.” She marveled and mused on how we all traveled there, by plane, taxi, BART, to gather to celebrate books for young people. (like how we do for our Res!) How all things, from the Kabuki Hot Springs schedule (found in her hotel room, Miyako Hotel in Japantown) to goddesses on stage (a reading by Doris Orgel), and the power of letter-writing (Alma Flor Ada speech) connects and energizes us.

In addition to Rita and Sarah, Naomi Shihab Nye was also a keynote speaker. She blew me away…

Naomi spoke about the power of the possible switch of perspective in our stories, of making mistakes and gaining redemption when you least expect it. She told this story:

Once Naomi mistook someone’s house for a museum. I missed how she ended up in this house, but she and a friend walked in, thinking the house was a museum, wondered why nothing was tagged or marked, and looked around at the objects in total awe. Soon she realized it was someone’s home after the owners asked her- hello? What are you doing here?

She was so embarrassed and never told anyone. A few years later, a young man came up to her and asked if she had walked into a home once and thought it was a museum. Naomi said yes, but how did he know? The young man turned out to be the homeowners’ son, a teen back then. He had always wanted to thank her because, from that day, he saw his parents in a different light; he began to see how special his parents were because Naomi, a stranger, had seen the special-ness in the things they “collected”. She thought she had made a terrible, embarrassing mistake and wanted to forget the whole thing. But to her surprise, the mistake turned out to be something more, not just for herself, but for a stranger as well.

I’m not doing justice to the story; you had to be there. Sniffles, reaching for Kleenex all around. Naomi is such a bold speaker… she speaks with frankness and enthusiasm, and with such reverence for the written word & for young people.

Sarah had the brilliant idea to have Naomi as a guest writer at VCFA. I agree; her writing and stories would inspire. This week, I’m reading Naomi’s book of poems for girls, A MAZE ME. I’m sure you all have read her poetry and novels.

I felt lucky to hang with VCFA folks and I didn’t have to leave home!

Ok, guess I did my writing for this morning.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Poetry & Reading the World

Over the weekend, I attended READING THE WORLD, a conference on multicultural books for children and young adults. Poet and author Naomi Shihab Nye spoke on Sunday. Her keynote address engaged every audience member, bringing tears to many. I fell in love with her voice, her reflections on making mistakes and how redemption heals the heart, and her love and reverence for words.

Yesterday, I got her book of poems for girls, A MAZE ME, from the library. Reading the 1st poem, ROSE, I wonder about writing a poem myself. Rose is not a flower, but a spider; a spider and her web forever living in a girl's memory.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Now I'll talk about the rain. My 1st July '06 residency was hot and humid. Icky sticky. So I wasn't looking forward to going back to Vermont in July 2007. To my surprise, the weather was wonderful, breathable. Warm, cool at times, with lots of rain. Rain and cool weather I can handle.

The first Sunday morning, before the Res took off, I sat in my dorm room with the window open. I was going to go out, but a downpour started. The rain came straight down and filled the streets with swirling waterfalls. The sound lulled me, not to sleep, but to a sense of quiet. I was somewhat nervous about the upcoming, final "creative thesis" semester, but I didn't care about that, at that moment.

The rain was cool and soothing. And I knew it would be a good residency.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

There's a moment during one of my residencies that I want to remember. It happened last January, my 3rd semester residency. It snowed a lot during that Res. I remember sitting in one of the lectures (can't recall which one), and noticed the snow falling outside the window. The snow falling is gorgeous beyond any words I can put together. It floats and hovers. The snow collects on the tree branches and makes more gorgeous art. And I felt so happy. So happy to be there, listening to that lecture, among writers, while the snow floated outside. And at peace.

Now I understand why so many writers write about the snow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I've been home from my VCFA graduating residency for 2 1/2 weeks. Finally feel like a normal (somewhat normal) human being after getting a nasty cold.

This week, I'm polishing my manuscript PAPER SON. At the residency, I read the prologue and chapter 3. The reading went very well, and I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment and surprisingly, calmness.

Faculty member David Gifaldi wrote to me and said the Vermont College graduation was a highlight of his life. With my family and VC friends there, I now understand why. I didn't anticipate how emotional every part... the lecture, the reading, the moments with my classmates, and of course the graduation... would be. I'm still feeling its glow.