Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rite of Passage: Poet, Playwright, and Performer Vivienne Glance

Vivienne Glance  is a poet, playwright and performer. Her poetry has appeared in journals, anthologies and online publications, and she has won places and commendations in competitions. Her poetry collection, The Softness of Water, was published by Sunline Press in 2009, and her work is featured in the anthology Amber Contains the Sun, published through A Few New Words, an initiative of the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Culture and the Arts. Vivienne has been a guest at Sydney’s Night Words, Perth, Big Sky, Sprung and writing WA’s Apropos Writers Festivals. Her full-length and short plays have been produced in London, Edinburgh, Seattle, Sydney and Perth. She runs poetry and playwriting workshops for children and adults, including performance poetry techniques. As an act of cross-cultural dialogue, Vivienne works with Afeif Ismail co-transcreating his poems and plays into English. One of their co-transcreated works The African Magician has been nominated for an Australian Writers Guild AWGIE. Following is the transcript of our email interview with Vivienne, which we are quite happy to share with our community.

~Upon first realizing oneself as a writer.

I was sixteen sitting an English exam, looking at the last question on the paper. There was a black and white photograph of a beach with calm seas, a rock pool and a rusty bicycle discarded on its side. We had to write a response to the image, and as I was rehearsing a stage version of Under Milk Wood in the school production, I found myself channeling a teenage girl’s version of Dylan Thomas. It was the best fun I’ve ever had in an exam and that’s when I thought not only that I wanted to write but that I enjoyed it too. Unfortunately we were not allowed to keep a copy of our answers, so that story has disappeared. But sometimes I wonder if my writing life since that time has been a futile attempt to rewrite that story: to recreate the flow of words and the joy of creation I felt then.

As to when I first considered myself a writer, well, that’s harder to pinpoint. I have always enjoyed writing and turned to words to help me make sense of the world as well as record its absurdities and delights. But was I a Writer? The question seems to imply a rite of passage, an acknowledgement from others that I was worthy of this moniker. I remember calling myself an actor after I’d had my first professional job, which for me was straight after Drama School, so I never had a time of uncertainty there. Writing was not so straightforward. I learnt about how to write from school, from life, from reading others, from attending ad hoc classes and workshops. That is, I designed my own apprenticeship. But public recognition for a piece of writing came when I wrote a play that was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1986, which incidentally also received a good review. As for calling myself a poet, that was probably when I was awarded second prize in a national poetry competition in 2003, although I still feel poetry has much more to teach me before I can truly call myself a poet as opposed to someone who tries to write poetically.

~Early Inspirations.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of forming words on a page, my initial inspirations came from trying to make sense of the world. I grew up in a pragmatic family; we were concerned with functioning, with providing food and shelter. As such there was little time for conversation or debates about issues, ideas, literature, science, and so on. I was constantly asking myself questions without getting answers, and writing was a way of mapping out responses to many things. From that grew the idea that characters with different points of view can contest these in a story or a play, or that a poem can open up perspectives and illuminate insights.

~On the Source of Ideas.

I visit as many places as I can and try to meet people from different walks of life. I enjoy representing diversity in all its forms. Sometimes newspaper articles can present an unusual story that can spark a series of connecting thoughts that will lead to a new theme or narrative. If there is a blank page in front of me and no inspiration, I will kick start an idea by noting down two or three “triggers” and find a way to connect them.

~On the Making of a Good Story.

Without meaning to be facetious – a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story in any form has to have a structure that enables it to have momentum, something that keeps the reader/audience/viewer engaged both intellectually and emotionally and wanting to know “what happens next?” This doesn’t mean it has to be fast-paced or a complex guessing game, rather that it provokes curiosity. I try to create drama by presenting opposing viewpoints or personality types through characters in the narrative.

~On Realistic Creative Writing.

Sometimes my writing is realistic, sometimes not. I like absurdist theatre and expressionistic, experiential poetry as well as realism in both poems and plays. Also in my writing I include male characters and people older than myself, and although I know both men and seniors, I don’t “write” these individuals per se. I look for traits, physical characteristics, language use, etc. and mould a composite character from several sources. Although I have to admit, I sometimes put in one or two of my own personal observations about life and attribute these to one of my characters – not telling which though.

~Any Surprises in Writing?

How much I love the joy of editing and redrafting! There is something about crafting a piece of writing that thrills me. The initial inspiration often happens in an unstructured almost trance-like state and in an intense burst of energy, often sustained over a few hours, which can be exhausting. However, the process that follows where ideas are teased out, words rehearsed and rearranged, when characters become “friends” or antagonists, and the writing is shaped on the page, for me this moment is perhaps similar to when a sculptor sees the statue emerging from the raw marble rock.

~What is Your Favorite Writing?

I wrote a performance poem about going to bed with a poem. I love performing this because it makes people laugh even though the writing is not particularly sophisticated. As for my favorite writing of all – I can’t say, that’s too hard.
I’ve never regretted writing anything, or hated anything as I see all writing as a process towards better writing. However, I have cringed at some of my earlier works when through experience I can see their mistakes and shortcomings.

~On the Writer’s Life.

My habit is to write for three hours in the morning if it is new work. Editing and redrafting can happen throughout the day. I prefer to write in blocks of days or weeks rather than a little each day. For longer works I need to hold it in my mind, so an extended time where there are no (or limited) meetings, social engagements etc. works best for me.

~Influential Books and Authors Include.

I read a lot of non-fiction, especially books about the natural world and the environment or current ideas in philosophy (for a general reader, that is). I buy and read books by many local West Australian (WA) poets, such as John Kinsella, Shane McCauley, Dennis Haskell, Kevin Gillam, Lucy Dougan, and many more. I enjoy the plays of Samuel Beckett, Sarah Kane, Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn, John Patrick Shanley, along with Shakespeare and some Jacobean drama. My guide and the touchstone I keep returning to is Shakespeare, even if this may be considered a cliché. He combines both poetry and drama, writes fascinating characters with complex interior lives, tells a good story and uses language imaginatively and beautifully.

~Now Reading?

I’m re-reading Gogol’s play The Government Inspector, reading Dennis Haskell’s latest poetry collection Acts of Defiance, and the non-fiction book by Guy Brown The Living End: the future of death aging and immortality. Two poets have recently caught my interest: T. Zachary Cotler who recently visited Perth and read an amazing poem titled Supplice, and local WA poet Mags Webster whose first collection is titled The Weather of Tongues published by Sunline Press.

~Long-term and Current projects.

I have had a long-standing interest with science (I have a Bachelor of Science degree), but in particular, with how science intersects with public discourse through the arts. I’m developing several ideas around aspects of science and technology at present and will bring my fascination with science and its achievements, and the place of science and the scientist in society, into both my playwriting and poetry. I’ve completed a play titled Staring at the Sun that fictionalizes and explores the ethics around the research of bio-medically-induced immortality and I’m looking for production opportunities. I’m slowly adding to and crafting poems for my second collection, which I anticipate will be ready for publication soon, alongside responding to a collection of photographs of the Athabasca glacier for an art and text publication.
Next year I’m hoping to collaborate on a script about the life of an important nineteenth century female natural historian.

~On getting started in drama.

I love standing up in front of a group of people and pretending to be someone else. I first performed in my friend’s garage at the age of five in front of our parents, and that was it – I was hooked! From then I embraced any opportunity to perform and joined a youth theatre group in Canterbury, England as a teenager. At university I joined the Drama Society, but being an actor was seen as too risky a profession by my family. So I “got a proper job” and rehearsed to perform in fringe shows in London during evenings and weekends. After a few years I decided I had to become a professional performer and re-trained as an actor. Since then I’ve been working in theatre, film, TV, radio, voiceover, etc. as well as directing and writing plays.

~Inspirational Drama Texts.

AS I mentioned before, Under Milk Wood was a magical play to be part of as a teenager with its rich cast of characters and poetic language. I enjoyed the story-telling in works like She Stoops to Conquer and The Importance of Being Earnest, which we performed at school. It was only after I had matured as a person and performed in some of his plays, that I really began to appreciate Shakespeare.

~Motivation to Act.

The love of performing will always be there. However, the roles for women, especially those over forty, are diminishing, both in number and in complexity and interest. My focus has been more on writing for performance, but I hope there will be opportunities to continue practicing my craft as a performer. Like any arts practice it must be engaged with regularly to keep skills fresh and the mind and body in shape.

~Honing Acting Skills.

Performance poetry is a small way to keep my skills honed. If there is no production opportunity, I try to challenge myself through participating in workshops. I recently attended a Magdelena Festival workshop in Perth with the amazing Australian performer, Margaret Cameron. I also perform in play readings when I can, which means I can “perform” several characters in a short time – a little like an acting boot-camp, I suppose. Reading lots of plays informs both my understanding of current trends in drama and my playwriting. 

~Acting and Roles.

I’m told my voice and the way I speak text are good qualities, plus I’m also told I have a “good stage presence.” Both of these are hard for me to judge as I live with my voice every day, and I can’t see myself perform. The last character is usually the all-time favourite! In this case it was the role of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova in John Aitken’s play The Ships Pass Quietly. This character wonderfully blended drama with poetry, and she stretched my emotional range. Akhmatova’s story is one of courage and resilience in the face of excruciating oppression.

Image and Text Copyright c.2011 by Vivienne Glance - All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 8, 2011

Conscience of an Artist - Vaneshran Arumugam

At the Fourth International Conference on Consciousness, Literature and the Arts (University of Lincoln, UK), Bibliotekos general editor Gregory F. Tague had the pleasure of seeing Vaneshran Arumugam perform Not an Angry Ape: Shakespeare’s Vision of Consciousness. The piece was co-written by Kriben Pillay, an associate professor in the Leadership Centre, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Vaneshran. To quote from the program brochure: “. . . the major clue to Shakespeare’s vision is the performance event itself; a compelling story stills the thinking mind to foreground mindful awareness, the what is of the here-and-now, where the perceiver and perceived, unobstructed by any false duality, collapse into the simplicity of seeing. This seeing is the ultimate consciousness.”

Vaneshran Arumugam has been a professional actor on stage and screen for nearly fourteen years, having completed his undergraduate studies at Wits University in Dramatic Art and Social Anthropology where he received the Marcella Pisanello prize for acting for his portrayal of Shakespeare’s Othello. He is much loved for his roles on TV, in particular that of Kash, in the longest running comedy series South Africa has to date – SOS. His highest award so far must be considered to be the International Fellowship from the Ford Foundation, which afforded him his postgraduate study at both Columbia University (New York) and the University of Cape Town, where he concentrated the experiences of his career into understanding Performance as a natural effect of Consciousness. These experiences included performing in local and international film and TV, but most notably on stages around the world, including the title role of Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon, in 2006. He appeared int the 2006 BBC arts programme Imagine Being Hamlet, which documented his RSC performance.

After his Profile, you will also find “Coming to the Point,” a manifesto of sorts by Vanesharan. We have also had the privilege of reading Vaneshran’s poetry and are happy to announce that some will be published soon – a link to the journal will be added when available.
~ * ~
I grew up with the legend of my grandmother’s amateur acting in East London, a small town on the southeast coast of South Africa. My grandmother had acted in both Tamil and English in her hometown of Durban as well as with an amateur group of dramatists in East London, whom I came to know much later as family friends and grandparents of some of my own friends in the Seventies and Eighties. It was inspiring for me to feel what respect and love my grandmother’s onstage and offstage storytelling inspired among her family, friends and in our community. This might be considered my beginning as an actor, for as the first grandchild I stage-managed/directed and starred in many a concert or play that we siblings or cousins mounted for the family or visitors.

But, it wasn’t until much later that I would give up the study of Physical Science and Biology, and commit myself to the study and practice of Performing in earnest with a penchant for classical texts, since already in primary school I had won the admiration of my principal by putting on a version of Oedipus Rex. (I was struck then by the protagonist’s crisis of having blessings and tragedies visit at once and how it was that none of us were familiar with this apparently famous story that had so much to teach about Fate.) With classmates in high school we made school history by mounting the first official school production to be directed by students. I also played King Henry in a production of Henry IV Part One. I think I had even then intuited the power that acting was able to wield, to change people’s minds or rally them around an idea. When I did eventually decide to follow acting as a study, and by implication, a career choice, I also intuited the science in acting, that there was more to it than entertaining a crowd with funny voices and that my dreams of being a scientist would not totally be going to waste by becoming an actor – at that time these ideas were viewed as diametrically opposed to each other.

Being an actor seemed, after a while, the only choice for me, to capture the interest I was developing in science, social science, poetry and spirituality. As an undergraduate I completed a drama degree with a Social (cultural) Anthropology degree, which made even more obvious to me that the science of performing was by no means confined to the stage.

In the beginning of my career, while my intellect was enchanted with the possibilities that seemed to be “locked” within the practice of performing, I was becoming a very popular TV actor, changing the way black actors, particularly of minority descent, were being cast, written for and enjoyed. I was resolute that I could not do my characters the injustice of being portrayed as one dimensional or stereotyped for only one viewpoint’s pleasure. So the personas of those early TV characters were driven by this sense of responsibility, while my theatre characters enjoyed more freedom from the political milieu of the Nineties – I was able to play roles far further from myself such as a corrupt Cuban government official in Michael Frayn’s Clouds, or a nineteenth century British Army kiddyfiddler in Churchills’s Cloud 9 – and was able to stretch myself in ways that weren’t dictated to purely from the environment’s political lens.

A good role is one that starts working on me even as I read it for the first time. I am still not certain how this works, but a good role always seems to be written for me and that there is no alternative but to play. There are many factors surrounding the role itself that will either contribute or detract from this initial feeling, such as the other people I am working with and so on. Perhaps all roles, once you have committed to making them yours, have the potential to become “good.” Having said that, there are some roles in television, particularly, that seem to have escaped this pattern.

A good story is one that has space enough to contain what is being related, but also what is actually happening between people performing and those watching. Sometimes it’s the skill of the writing that brings this about, sometimes the direction or the acting, or design, but there seems to be a golden ratio of balance unique to each story, or even the story of the particular production. The object is to release the imagination – my own, my fellow actors, the audience – and for these energies to commingle. For me there are various ways to achieving this, by embodying something familiar in a character, a trait, a habit, or by forcefully inciting a scene vocally, with power or poetic virtuosity and so on. But all are enticing the audience, other players, the moment into the act of imagining, co-creating even.

So for me, I do my best to stay imaginative, even around everyday things from cooking to exercising my body, to raising my daughter or holding conversation. I am conscious, as much as I can be, of acting a role, of participating in a performance, observing as a student the nature of people and situations and even the energy of things. In some ways I am always preparing for another role, even if I’ve not yet been cast in any particular role.

As I become familiar with a role, I begin to formulate a habit around what is required from me, whether it is spending time with the words, reading other texts, exercise (sometimes particular kinds of exercises, like tai chi or singing exercises). By the time it comes to performance, I “know” what the day needs before I can perform – how much I must eat, rest, train or even speak. So, the habit transforms each time, and has the ability even to change within a role when things arise that challenge or require attention. I learn about myself and others I am working with in this time; what my possible strengths and weaknesses might be in relation to this role, or even in my life. Some roles, like Hamlet, or Othello bring a lot to the table, while a comic role in a film might demand more from me than it “offers.”

Each role seems to have its own life, and in turn offers me a life, and usually this has resulted in a life that an audience gets a real feeling of, so it’s extremely difficult to pick out any one role that has been a favourite. There are, however, several that have brought with them immense change or realisations such as playing Angel in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Jesus Hopped the A Train or Othello, or an unnamed host of characters in my one person play titled You Expected Something Else.  Each piece has been customised to fit into my life, carving part of my story and shaping something of my future – this may sound somewhat trite, but I’ll try to illustrate. My great love and mother of my daughter played Osric opposite me in Shakepeare’s Hamlet when I was twenty three and at the height of my university career, which led to our wonderful relationship and parenthood of our child etc. When we separated some seven years later and I thought my existence had lost all meaning, I was cast as Hamlet on a far more epic scale – I would be performing at the Swan theatre at Stratford upon Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company under the direction of “Dame” Janet Suzman, no less. I had the keen sense that my life was arranged in concentric circles and the play was marking the coincidence of the closing and opening of a few great circles in my life – and that’s just following one simple narrative trail! That play took me to London, and while I may not have visited the queen, I did end up in a long conversation with Sting about Shakespeare and performing at his home around the corner from Buckingham Palace – of course, we also spoke about his favourite role…Hamlet. It was in the performance of this role (the second time round) under the expert guidance of Ms. Suzman, that I experienced a sustained manifestation of the full power of theatre, of my own potential as a storyteller, of the potency of ensemble, and the pervasive influence of Shakespeare. Things I had felt before, touched on, seen in glimpses, were here full blown and supported by an eager audience and production mechanism. I have not been the same since and neither has my acting.

I returned to study after that role and was awarded the Ford Foundation’s prestigious International Fellowship Programme award, investigating my own experiences of the overlap between Performing and Consciousness – drawing on my martial arts knowledge, to begin with, and other eastern philosophies and beginning research in neuroscience and modern physics to try to understand what it is that happens when we perform, or when a performance is “succeeding.” This took me to New York City where I studied under the generous wing of Kristin Linklater, one time teacher of Janet Suzman, at Columbia University. She seemed an adept of all the concepts I was trying to articulate and my six months with her revealed more to me about Performance and the Art of Not Knowing than I could have imagined – this is a master and I felt akin to a Shaolin monk learning a rare and potent form of Kung Fu at a faraway hilltop monastery.

And now my mission is to relate this “Kung Fu” in every performance I give, whether on stage, or on film, but also in the classes I teach, and if I’m really disciplined, the meals I cook and the conversations I hold. I believe it is this approach to performing that will incite the necessary cultural revolution that South Africa needs (perhaps the world too) – a revolution of the minds of people that brings about self- government through realising the power of your story and the stories you tell.
So, my project has been to bring this kind of storytelling to people here in South Africa and everywhere I can with the collaboration of as many as possible. I have, for instance, a project to bring A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a public garden in Cape Town at minimal or no cost to the audience that brings people together to enjoy, debate, and witness a different function of performance than they’re used to…one that has far more to do with their everyday lives than a lot of funny voices in costume, but hopefully we’ll have some of that too. I hope to bring another project called Not an Angry Ape, conceived and co-written with Prof. Kriben Pillay, which is a piece about Shakespeare’s precocious vision of human consciousness, into the world conversation around Being, how the mind works, what we humans actually are.

I write poetry, among plays and screenplays and whatever else brings ink to paper, but it is my idea that performing consciously is to being alive – what poetry is to the act of writing. Both these forms, intertwined as they are, ask everything of me to make my contribution to the world.

Copyright © 2011 by Vaneshran Arumugam

~ * ~
“Coming to the Point”

by Vaneshran Arumugam

As inhabitants of this earth with at least a few hundred thousand years of evolution supporting our story, it seems we still have much to learn with many of our latest and most necessary lesson plans coming from an older, wizened form of ourselves. It would seem that especially in the all but forgotten wisdoms of Harmony and Creative Discretion - generated from the Self and expressed through the self - that our ancient consciousness knows more.

This idea cannot be more apparent than with the way the Performing Arts have been subjugated to cede to the dominant systems of thinking and practice, to the extent that even new ideas with the potential of creating change, only very briefly are able to do, and usually to minimal effect, before being assimilated into a system of money-making proliferation and replication, dilution and deployment to the ends of the self-same system. Perhaps we can trace the development of the idea of Government itself, as a kind of performing art and see how much abstraction from its intended purpose it has suffered to serve, not just the people, but more and more its own need to exist and become ever more powerful (usually over the people).

If we take a philosophical or karmic perspective we may see that our evolution, and the evolution of these forms of performance and the very idea of Performing Art has come to this point, and does indeed have a point to prove! It is through the performance of these forms, based on the intrinsic nature of reality – interactive relationship – that the individual can begin to express toward or against any idea or even create new ones, which necessitates the participation of an audience, a social environment. Consider another example – the development of performance forms under various manners of slavery and oppression which became potent means of binding people, protecting the individual, as well as re-interpreting harsh conditions of Life toward joy, freedom and salvation.

Art is the obscured throne to which we are all heir, not merely a product of the Capitalist machine. Great artists will never be machined out of reality shows, or franchised musical theatre productions. And so great commentary, observation and inspired guidance and re-interpreting of our very evolution will not come from these sources. These machines may, and likely will, always be there, just like the people who pretend to be artists couched in their denial (another powerful story form) but the Source must be reclaimed by Real artists, who are always people conscientized and awake in their communities, in their silence, even – in their world, in themselves.

We, the people, must realise the need to claim the Arts back, elevated to its proper concept – an infinite source able to generate ideas, change, perceptions and work for producers, theatres, broadcasters etc. and not be in their service. Art is to reality, what a hammer and chisel are to a lump of rock – a technology with which to shape things. While we leave our Art, our storytelling abilities, enslaved to “the system” we feel oppressed under, we will simply keep generating the very oppression and denaturation we see the world over today – the story of our world today…the point we have come to.

We must empower our real artists by liberating the forms from the machinery, equipped largely to court profit, so that rather than a glimmer of light through the most restricted of cracks, our Performing Arts can radiate like a disinfectant torch, illuminating our surrounding so that we can see for ourselves instead of believing what we’re told (by those who believe what they’re told)! Then we can begin to do our thousands of centuries of evolution justice.

Copyright © 2011 by Vaneshran Arumugam

War Remembered - John Guzlowski


Lightning and Ashes:
Two Lives Shaped by World War II

Reading, Book Signing, Discussion

11 October 2011 – St. Francis College,
Founders Hall Theater / Callahan Center
180 Remsen St., Brooklyn Heights, NY
4:00pm – 6:00pm
Free and Open to the Public – Refreshments
A Video of Dr. Guzlowski's Reading is HERE
Editions Bibliotekos is pleased to announce that John Guzlowski will become part of a series sponsored by the English Department of St. Francis College. John’s reading and discussion will be the third such event initiated by us and hosted by St. Francis. The first event featured author Mitch Levenberg and poets Ruth Sabath Rosenthal, Lynne Shapiro, Anique Taylor, and Anne Whitehouse as a panel. The second event featured Nahid Rachlin who read from her acclaimed memoir Persian Girls. All of these authors are contributors to various Bibliotekos anthologies.

Born in a refugee camp after World War II, John Guzlowski came with his family to the United States as a Displaced Person in 1951.  His parents had been slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and refugee neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, he met hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead comrades, and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. His poetry, fiction, and essays try to remember them and their voices.

His poems also remember his parents, who survived their slave labor experiences in Nazi Germany. A number of these poems appear in his books Language of Mules, Lightning and Ashes, and Third Winter of War: Buchenwald. 

Winner of the Illinois Arts Award for Poetry, short-listed for the Bakeless Award, and nominated for four Pushcart Prizes, his poems and stories have appeared in such national journals as Ontario Review, Chattahoochee Review, Atlanta Review, Nimrod, Crab Orchard Review, Marge, Poetry East, Vocabula Review and in the anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust. He was the featured poet in the 2007 edition of Spoon River Poetry Review. Garrison Keillor read Guzlowski’s poem “What My Father Believed” on his program, The Writers Almanac.

Dr. Guzlowski’s critical essays on contemporary American, Polish, and Jewish authors can be the found in such journals as Modern Fiction Studies, Polish Review, Shofar, Polish American Studies, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, and Studies in Jewish American Literature.

Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz, reviewing the Polish translation of Language of Mules, for the journal Tygodnik Powszechny, said, “This volume astonished me.” 

A Professor Emeritus at Eastern Illinois University, John Guzlowski currently lives in Danville, Virginia, where he recently completed a novel about the German soldiers who murdered his mother’s family during the Second World War.

He keeps a blog about his parents’ experiences as Polish slave laborers and DPs at http://lightning-and-ashes.blogspot.com/ .

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reality of Fiction: Novelist George Rabasa

Photo: Keri Pickett
George Rabasa is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb (Unbridled Books); he is also the author of a short story collection (Glass Houses: Stories) and three other novels (Floating Kingdom, The Cleansing, The Wonder Singer). Glass Houses received The Writer’s Voice Capricorn Award for Excellence in Fiction and the Minnesota Book Award for Short Stories. His novel, Floating Kingdom received the Minnesota Book Award for Fiction. Another novel, The Cleansing, was named a Book Sense Notable. His short fiction has appeared in various literary magazines, such as Story Quarterly, Glimmer Train, The MacGuffin, South Carolina Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry, American Literary Review, and in several anthologies. George Rabasa was born in Maine, lived many years in Mexico City, and now resides and writes in Minnesota. George came to us when we issued our Call for Common Boundary: Stories of Immigration, and he sent us the wonderful (sensitive, touching, humorous) duo of stories (with truly memorable characters) that appear in that volume.
The Escape Artist
Among our expectations of good fiction is the implicit promise that it will cut the bonds that tie us to life’s conventions. I’m not referring to the relief that stories can offer from the numbing commute, the office, the news of the day. The escape that fine fiction promises is of a more revolutionary nature, delivering freedom from the conventional thinking and automatic responses that cloud our sense of our greater-than-human condition. In this way, the writer is a literary Houdini that shakes off his own chains and in the process frees his readers so that together they can enjoy a ride into parallel and unsuspected universes of mind, heart and soul. The fiction that does this is not buried treasure. It’s the work of a million writers throughout the ages whose works are free in libraries, or for a reasonable price at a favorite bookstore.

Liar Liar Brain on Fire
I was eight or so when I started inventing stories. I told them to neighborhood children who promptly repeated them to their parents and to their teachers.  My tall tales got around: The Hansens down the street keep their children in cages. Miss Norris, the sixth grade teacher, was once in prison for bank robbery. Señora Larios likes to sunbathe in the nude with her gardener. Having got wind of these stories, my parents decided I was a problem liar, not a budding artist.
I was regularly sent to apologize and confess my untruths to the victims of my fantasies. The idea was to shame me out my compulsive lying disorder, technically, and more evocatively, known as pseudologia fantastica.
The stories kept on coming, whether I told them to others or kept them to myself. My mind bubbled over with overheard voices and remembered faces. I imagined the secret lives of family friends. Chance encounters with bus drivers, clerks, school staff all gave rise to visions of mayhem and adventure.

Unlocking the Writer
I was not a good student in high school. I was too busy reading for fun – Spillane, Salgari, Steinbeck, Hemingway – to crack textbooks. And I was a master at spinning assignments, from history to biology, into fanciful narratives of inspired bullshit, good enough for a laugh and a C-.
I went to Clemson University and soon gravitated from an engineering major to the cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking, easy-loving crew that edited the Chronicle literary magazine. My first short story was about a homeless man panhandling the fashionable denizens of the upper West Side of New York. Then I wrote one about a bullfighter. I had never begged or fought bulls, yet I was not writing about these exotics; I was living them. I heard their voices and smelled their fear and humiliation. The stories were published in the magazine and I knew I had found my calling; I could make up stuff and be recognized for it.
More than that, fiction helped me reconcile the imagined world with the world I lived; the story fixes a moment so that it can be relived by anyone opening the page. Piggy will always lose his glasses in Lord of the Flies. Fiction’s concrete world is no less tangible than the moving flow of reality. And the voices I heard were as alive as any outside my head.
I had a slow apprenticeship. My first stories came slow and hard, to the point that I thought I was not really going to be the writer I had hoped to become. I was unhappy trying to write and I was unhappy failing at it. The muse had deserted me. But I kept reading, this time moving on to the Latin American boom – García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, Cortázar. Then, Nabokov, Woolf, Conrad, Kafka, T.S. Eliot, Whitman. I read above my head: Don Quijote, Under the Volcano, Madame Bovary, Crime and Punishment. I realized that I would never be more than a midget next to these giants, but I felt I had an obligation to honor the small gift of the imagination with which I had been blessed. I would have preferred to be a rock musician, a movie star, Mother Teresa. I accepted I was a one-trick pony and became a writer of fiction.

Process, what process?
I like to think that somewhere a writer has discovered a systematic approach to the composition of a novel – a step by step approach from ruminating to note-taking to drafting and revising. The result would be the seamless web of a novel with all the harmony and grandeur of a cathedral. No angst, no uncertainty, no fear. I haven’t met such a person. For most of us the process of writing is disordered, with much hesitation, exploration, improvisation. In the end, however, I generally feel by the time a piece is published that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. If I have illuminated some of the mystery of being human through stories and characters that grip and engage and move the reader, then the winding road has proven to be as direct as a bullet. I believe in the power of story to satisfy a basic human need. To fulfill this promise, I rely on basic technique – vivid characterization, a strong sense of place, the telling detail, the pursuit of a timeless sort of truth. I don’t have pet themes; my fiction carries my core beliefs without an explicit agenda.
In the process I have plumbed depths of compassion and understanding that I didn’t know I had. In my villains, I find that their evil is part of the human condition, and therefore integral to my own humanity.
I learn about myself through writers who tell stories in ways that I might never attempt. In the process I’m reminded that one can do anything in a novel, to escape strictures of logic and form and plunge into the unknown. This takes artistic courage. I recently read Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, a marvelously compelling shape-shifting narrative with mythic resonance. Before that, Bolaño’s 2666 with its hypnotic patterns of violence and uncertainty. And, some years ago, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. How do they do it?
I have also discovered new works and kindred spirits through my publisher Unbridled Books: Mark Estrin’s Insect Dreams, Peter Geye’s Safe from the Sea, Frederick Reuss’s A Geography of Secrets.
Good writing pushes me to write. To this end, I have a gentle work schedule that slowly but slowly has allowed me to produce four novels (and a couple of unpublished ones) plus a bunch of short stories in a collection and in magazines. I have a studio a couple of blocks from my home and I spend weekdays writing for about four hours divided in morning and afternoon. Some time is also spent reading, researching and indulging in various forms of idleness with the help of the internet.

Punching in at the Fiction Factory
As a reader I’m interested in the work habits and writing spaces of writers. When one of my readers asked about these things, I thought of a recent, typical morning:
I’m late, I’m late! It’s 9:13 and the brain is humming but the author is not writing. Not a good situation for the novel that has been in progress for several months. Still, I just can’t dive in. Like a good athlete I need a little warm-up – might strain a brain cell or two otherwise. So, I check e-mail (nothing much), calendar (nothing much), news headlines (way too much).
 I take a look around the Fiction Factory, and I’m energized by the red walls (“cayenne,” says the paint can), the Mexican rug with the Huichol designs depicting the symbols for eagle, corn, flowers, peyote. Packed bookshelves hold a lifetime of reading, and learning. This is where my masters live – García Márquez, Updike, Lowry, Borges, Nabokov, Cervantes – it’s a long list. There are pictures on the walls, some created by friends. On the i-pod player, Perla Batalla sings Leonard Cohen.
Before I know it, I’m staring at the screen, cursor blinking, words waiting to be arranged and rearranged. Commas achieve the importance of subatomic particles; take one out or put one in and the order of the universe has been altered. The new novel is about fifty pages long so far, and all I think about for the next hour or so is a sentence, a paragraph, a scene. I take one step at a time, without thinking too much about the finish line. Then I move on to the next sentence. And so on…
Finally, it’s lunch time! Work at the Fiction Factory specifies a decent time for lunch and reading and nap, followed by a couple of hours of the afternoon shift. Then, it’s time for meditation, exercise, wine, dinner, chocolate. Ah, a happy routine! While I’ve been told I should get a life, I can’t think of a better one.
Thirty-five years after publishing my early stories in college, my first book, Glass Houses: Stories came out to a few good reviews. Since then I’ve continued to listen to the voices in my head. I know myself to be my characters just as Flaubert did. When asked where Madame Bovary came from he answered, “Madame Bovary c’est moi.”
I’ve published novels about an immigrant smuggler (Floating Kingdom, Coffee House Press) and a torturing physician (The Cleansing, The Permanent Press). More recently, I wrote in the first-person voice of a legendary opera diva in The Wonder Singer (Unbridled Books).
My latest novel Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb (Spring 2011 from Unbridled Books) is a story of young love gone mad. Told in the voice of adolescent Adam Webb, he narrates his obsession and eventual tragic unfolding with Francine Haggard, aka “Miss Entropia.” More about my work can be found at www.georgerabasa.com and at www.unbridledbooks.com.
Copyright©2011 by George Rabasa
Photo Copyright©2011 by Keri Pickett

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Author Nahid Rachlin Self-Reflects at St. Francis College

By: Chandra Persaud

On March 17, 2011, a small crowd of students, faculty, and members of the community gathered in the Maroney Forum for Arts, Culture & Education at St. Francis College for Nahid Rachlin’s reading from Persian Girls: A Memoir, followed by a Question & Answer session and a reception in the theater’s lobby. The intimate setting was appropriate for a reading that delved deep into the author’s personal life.
            Professor Gregory Tague of the English Department at St. Francis provided the opening remarks, explaining that he first came into contact with Rachlin when Editions Bibliotekos, his small family-owned literary publishing company, was searching for pieces to be placed in two anthologies: Common Boundary: Stories of Immigration, published in 2010, and Battle Runes: Writings on War, published in 2011. Stories by Rachlin were published in each anthology, but her work left a lasting impression on Professor Tague and he was more than delighted when she agreed to the reading. Professor Tague then proceeded to give a brief biography of Rachlin including her education at Columbia University and then at Stanford University on a Stegner Fellowship as well as her notable recognitions. He shared reviews from prominent literary publications, such as The New York Times Book Review, Boston Globe, and Publishers Weekly, testifying to the value and richness of Rachlin’s work. Persian Girls: A Memoir was chosen by Christopher Merrill, Director of Iowa International Writing Program, as one of the best four books of 2006.  
            When Rachlin took the spotlight, she gave the audience some background information on her writing style. For many years, she wrote only fiction as a way to understand the world; she was able to escape any harsh reality through her writing. Even though her characters or plots stemmed from her imagination, her writing was always personal and somehow related to her life. For example, Foreigner, published in 1978, was composed at a time when Rachlin was questioning her own identity. While she always wished to write a memoir, she was rather surprised at how difficult the process turned out to be. The sole purpose for writing a memoir is telling the truth, the essence of the writer’s being, which meant that Rachlin could not make up any events or characters as she was accustomed to. It also meant that she had to embrace memories that took quite some time to come to terms with.  
            Excerpts from Rachlin’s memoir revealed an individual who is multilayered, whose life has been filled with emotions and experiences that continuously shape her writing, her perspectives of the world, and her being.
              The first few excerpts Rachlin shared revolved around her childhood and early teenage years in Iran. She recalled the time when she was forcibly taken back by her father, who was a well-educated judge in Iran, from her aunt who did not legally adopt her. Rachlin was given to her aunt, Maryam (her mother’s sister), as a baby after Maryam repeatedly pleaded with Rachlin’s biological mother, Mohtaram, to adopt one of her children. Maryam was a widow with no children of her own, while Mohtaram gave birth to ten children. Mohtaram promised Maryam that she could adopt her next child and Rachlin was that next child. When her father came to take her back at the age of nine to live with her biological family, Rachlin was reluctant to be separated from Maryam, the woman she still considers to be her mother. In an interview for The Writer’s Chronicle in 2008, Rachlin explained that at the age of nine, her father viewed her as “a woman…and he felt I [Rachlin] needed his supervision.” To help readers understand why her father must have felt this way, Rachlin explains in her memoir that, “Islam required women to begin wearing chadors, or head scarves, around the age of nine. Nine was also the age when Iranian girls could legally marry” (6).
            Rachlin also spoke about her upbringing in the home of her biological parents. She described her parents as being “half-Westernized” because they were not devoutly observant of Muslim customs such as praying, following the hejab, or fasting. Yet, they upheld many traditional standards of Iranian/Muslim life, such as believing girls and boys should not mingle together until marriage, marriages should be arranged by parents, education was for boys, and girls should tie the knot as soon as a suitable match was found. Rachlin shared a very close, loving relationship with her older sister, Pari, who like Rachlin, did not settle for the prescribed roles for Iranian girls and women. She yearned to be an actress and Rachlin a writer and, as Rachlin explains, both “wanted to use the arts to escape what we felt deeply as the oppression of our beings” (Interview for The Writer’s Chronicle, 2008).
            Rachlin also read an excerpt detailing the arranged marriage Pari reluctantly agreed to, despite being in love with someone else. Their parents did not find Pari’s love interest suitable for their eldest daughter and so repeatedly turned down marriage proposals from this suitor. The man whom they accepted as their future son-in-law was very wealthy and educated, but Rachlin later revealed he was also abusive and her sister’s marriage ended in a divorce. Pari passed away as the result of accidentally falling down a stairway while Rachlin was in America, but Rachlin still fears that her sister’s death may have been self-inflicted since Pari was dissatisfied with her life and not being able to live out her dreams.      
            Rachlin then shared an excerpt describing her initial experiences and feelings in America. After her two older sisters were married, she knew it was her turn next. To escape a life of domesticity, Rachlin convinced her father to send her to the U.S. to study at the age of 17 and he finally agreed, but on one condition: she must attend an all-women’s college in close proximity to her brother who could “keep an eye” on her. Rachlin spoke of the cultural changes she observed in America, particularly the freedom of women to dress, socialize, and go as they please. Yet, she also recalled the mixed emotions she experienced in those days, feeling relieved to be “out of the prison of her home” but simultaneously feeling alienated and insecure. She read about the time when the Dean of her college insisted she wear her “native costume,” or chador, on Parent’s Day. Rachlin never wore a head scarf in Iran and associated it with “a kind of bondage,” but the Dean never inquired about her feelings or preference for the covering.
Rachlin valued the freedom to write and express herself here in America with a sense of ease that she did not experience in her homeland, but her fear of being “discovered” still lingered during those initial days in her new environment.      
            The reading was followed by a Question & Answer session where Rachlin revealed further details about why her father allowed her to come to America. While in Iran, Rachlin was in the habit of reading censored books, many of which were written by American authors, that she managed to get from a bookstore’s owner whom she befriended. Rachlin’s father feared that her reading list as well as her writing could be interpreted as anti-government and to protect his family from the Shah’s secret police, he decided to send her to America.
When asked why she chose to refer to her mother and aunt by their names when Iranian/Muslim tradition deems such an act almost sacrilegious, Rachlin explained that, for the sake of clarity, she used names to distinguish the two women who played motherly roles in her life, but she considers her aunt, Maryam, as her true mother.
She also revealed that her book, Persian Girls: A Memoir, is not published in Iran and while many of her books have been translated into other languages, such as Portuguese and Dutch, none have been published in her native tongue, Farsi. Her decision to write in English and not in Farsi is emotional—she associates her native language with “taboo and fears.” Rachlin also answered questions about her homeland, explaining that customs, values, and laws vary by villages in Iran so while acts such as stoning a woman is accepted in one region, it may not be the case in another.
            A small reception followed in the theater’s lobby where Rachlin signed books and enjoyed small talk with guests.
            Nahid Rachlin’s Persian Girls: A Memoir is more than just a story about a woman who escaped a life of convention, giving her the freedom to accomplish her dreams. It also awakens readers to the values and traditions of a culture that many do not have a firsthand account of. Readers are given the chance to enter a world where Rachlin pulls back her many layers, revealing her core, her beginnings, her fondest memories and deepest pains.
            For more information about Nahid Rachlin, including a complete biography, interviews, and upcoming readings, visit www.nahidrachlin.com.

Copyright©2011 by Chandra Persaud

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Story Teller: Ruth Knafo Setton

Ruth Knafo Setton is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel The Road to Fez. Born in Safi Morocco, she is the recipient of literary fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and PEN. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in many journals and anthologies. Ruth is the Writer-in-Residence for the Berman Center for Jewish Studies at Lehigh University. She is working on a new novel and a collection of poetry. Ruth’s story “Living Between Question Marks” and poem “My Father Eats Figs” appear in the Bibliotekos collection, Common Boundary: Stories of Immigration.
            Every night for the past thousand years, under moon and stars in the Djma el Fnaa, the fabled square of Marrakech, a man tells a story. Wearing a white turban and djellabah, he stands in the center of a circle of people. Wide-eyed and rapt, they lean forward to catch his every word and see his every gesture. He is competing with the human circus in all its barbaric grandeur. Crowds stream past, drums pound, people dance, steam rises from food stalls, beggars wail, the snake charmer lures his six-foot python from a basket, the Berber pharmacist spreads his cures on a blanket, the henna woman tries to embroider your arms and hands with henna scrolls. Surrounding the magic circle of the storyteller are voices, a multitude of voices—beggars, vendors, the muezzin, singers, musicians, snake charmer, the crowd—yet his voice stands out.
I have watched the storyteller for hours as he weaves a web of magic around his audience. You don’t have to understand the language he is speaking to understand the power of story. All you have to do is listen to his voice, watch his eloquent gestures and you find yourself responding to the rhythm of his words, the dramatic pauses, the sense of tension and suspense he creates. Story is the answer and it is also the question.
Who are we? Why are we? What are we? Why do we want what we want? What is truth? What is true?
Story is you and me. Story connects us to each other and to the world.
            I am a storyteller. I tell stories to my students, I tell them to my children, I tell them with my pen—and in my daily life. When I write poetry I tell a story that pulses with images. At night I dream in story. When I see strangers I imagine stories. For me, always and forever, it comes down to our most ancient, necessary need: story.
            For my ninth birthday I received my first diary. The first words I wrote: “I want to be a writer.” This was the first time I articulated what I must have always known. It was always about words—and story—for me.
            When I was three, we left Morocco, where I was born, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. In America I received a hand-made gift: a picture book of the alphabet with an object illustrating each letter. A = Apple. B = Boat. C = Cat. That was the beginning of my love affair with English, a passionate love that has never waned.
            At age four, I sat on my mother’s lap as we puzzled through the first American picture book I brought home from the school library. We trembled as we opened the book to the first page. Flicka, Ricka and Dicka, pretty blonde triplets, smiled back at us, beckoning us into their black-bordered world where nothing evil could enter, no djnoun or rampaging mobs, no shrieking nightmare figures or serpents with human heads. For the moment, we were safe. What my mother didn’t know, what I already kept secret, was that I was not simply pointing out words, I was pressing and digging my index finger into the illustration, trying to penetrate the black borders of the story world and find the doorway that led from this world to the other world.
            That desire has never changed. Okay, so my finger wasn’t powerful enough to transport me from one world into another, but my imagination did the job with ease. I’ve always tried to bridge the world in which I live and the world in which I dream—with my reading and my writing.
            As I grew up, books were my food and air, their authors my earthly and spiritual guides. I read indiscriminately, haunting old book fairs, cracking open dusty volumes with inscriptions that offered glimpses into other lives—and connected me with people of other times and places. My fourteenth summer, in particular, was an orgy of passionate encounters. By day I flirted with neighborhood boys as I rode my bike, swam in the local pool, sneaked cigarettes in the evening and chased fireflies. By night I huddled under the cover with a flashlight (not to wake my sister) and let Colette, Isak Dinesen, Dostoevsky, D.H. Lawrence, W. Somerset Maugham, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Halliburton and the Brothers Grimm wrap their winged arms around me and fly me to lands that made me tremble and cry. Afterwards I collapsed in bed, shut my eyes and dreamed. My dreams were mini-series (the budding novelist) and cliff-hangers, sagas of adventure, mystery and romance. In the morning I awoke, dazed, reddened and exhausted. Like the twelve dancing princesses, I felt like I’d danced all night in an otherworldly kingdom. I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but that summer I decided I wanted to create magic with my pen. I wanted to transport my readers to a dream-land they never wanted to leave. 
            I read constantly, hundreds of books a year. Words are still my sustenance. This past year I’ve discovered the gorgeous world of contemporary young adult fiction. I’ve been on a reading binge … loving the dark bittersweet chocolate of The Hunger Games trilogy; the tart lemon of Incarceron, and the even tarter, almost sour sequel Sapphique; the gorgeously imagined Graceling and Fire; the spicy cider of Jellicoe Road; the lush Hush, Hush; the coolly frightening worlds of Matched and Across the Universe, and so many more…. It’s a cornucopia of riches, a feast. Reading them, I am fourteen again, dreaming of a world of infinite possibility, enchanted gardens of unimaginable beauty and horror, love so passionate it transcends death. I’m also teaching a young adult literature course this spring, which allows me to read more.
And yes, I’m writing a new novel that can be called young adult. It explores the power of myth in modern-day life, particularly myths of female power, through the eyes of a sixteen year-old girl. This new novel is profoundly inspired by a recent Mediterranean voyage during which I sailed and taught on a ship that stopped in Athens, Rome, Naples, Istanbul and Casablanca, among other ports. The experience of wandering through ancient-new cities while feeling the weight and timeless presence of history and myth was very moving on many levels. I was returning to my roots, retracing the voyage my parents made when they sailed from Tangiers through the Strait of Gibraltar, and across the Atlantic to New York City. This new book is set in contemporary America, but it goes back to our most ancient stories, myths, rituals, human dreams and yearnings.
I’m also working on a collection of poetry, several memoir-like essays, and the revision of my novel, Darktown Blues.
            While raising three children and working fulltime, I trained myself to write while changing diapers, packing lunches, helping with homework, doing private tutoring, and teaching in elementary schools and universities. Like Hamlet, I learned to find “eternity in a nutshell.” When people ask me, ‘How could you write with three children?” I tell them, “I couldn’t have written without them.” My children—and my family—taught me not only to be disciplined in the pursuit of my goal, but also to discern between what is important in my life, and what can fall by the wayside.
            It took me nearly seventeen years to write and publish my first novel, The Road to Fez. A coming-of-age novel that explores the interweaving lives of two Moroccan-Jewish girls, one fictional and the other, the legendary Suleika. A beautiful seventeen year-old Moroccan-Jewish martyr, Suleika refused to renounce her faith and was beheaded in Fez in 1834. In over 300 versions of her story, Suleika represents the shifting mirror of the Jew, particularly the Jewish woman, in the imagination of Muslims in pre-colonial Morocco and European Romantics. Spaniards and Frenchmen wrote plays about her tragic, mysterious life. Jews and Arabs prayed side by side at her tomb in the Jewish cemetery of Fez. As I pieced together the puzzle of her life, I realized she was a figurehead who stood on the border between Africa and Europe, Judaism and Islam, tradition and modernity, women and men, sacred and profane. Who was this girl who bridged so many worlds? And why would a young girl choose death over life? To me the subject was profoundly fascinating and disturbing with no easy answers, exactly what one hopes for from literature.
I rewrote the novel at least five times, trying to squeeze Suleika’s life into a semi-coherent narrative, the way I tried to squeeze mine, eliminating the hyphens and inconsistencies in my own identity, immigrant memories, dreams and longings that made no rational sense, the search for a home that didn’t seem to exist in daylight, the key that unlocked my grandparents’ house in Morocco, and even earlier, the house we had abandoned in Spain during the Inquisition. In my search for Suleika I discovered my own family: rabbis, Kabbalists and philosophers—and a grandfather who composed poetry in Classical Arabic and played his oud on a roof terrace against the sea wind. I faced constant discouragement and received enough rejection letters to wallpaper my room, including one so painful it was almost funny—yet it paralyzed me for several years: “You write well. Next time try writing about the real Jews.”
But I picked up my pen and notebook and soldiered on. There was no other way.
I write every morning, a cup of coffee in one hand, pen in the other. I write by hand in sketch books—no lined pages, no computer screen—nothing but my pen painting the white pages. The act of writing is intensely physical and sensual, and deeply personal as well. I hug this private world I’ve created between the covers of my notebook and keep it intimate and mine for as long as I can—until the story threatens to burst from the notebook. Then I type it up. That’s the movement from personal to public. That’s when I can edit, see clearly (at least more clearly), and share it with the world.
I write poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. Poetry has taught me the importance of each word and how to speak in the language of images: a wreath of yellow butterflies, a killer jewel, a sunken stone library, a block of ice colliding with the Old World…. Fiction, on the other hand, knows that the image, no matter how breathtaking, is never enough: we need the story. We crave narrative momentum, suspense, desire. When I write, my poetic and fictional impulses collide, struggle, interweave. My nonfiction attempts to see the pattern, to discern the method in the madness.
As I write I am like a detective searching for clues. I don’t know the solution, I don’t even know exactly what the mystery is about, but I do recognize a clue when I stumble over it. I pick it up and examine it in the light. And that leads me to the next clue. A detective groping in the dark, bumbling and blind, yet given moments of grace: a door blows open, light shines on a hidden path, a whispered word lures me around the corner. I have no idea where it will lead but I’m up for the adventure.
Every morning you can find me, pen in hand, working on a story or poem or essay. The shadows of palm trees sway over the pages of my notebook, even though I may be writing in wintry Pennsylvania. I hear the storyteller’s resonant voice, see his gestures and watch the enchanted faces of the audience. With the power of his story he has drawn a black border that guards and protects: the magic circle Scheherazade drew night after night for a thousand and one nights. The sounds, smells, sights of the frenzied, chaotic Djma el Fna’a recede. Time holds still.
Once upon a time … and they lived happily ever after. What a story lies between those words! Listen.
Text and Images Copyright c. 2011 by Ruth Knafo Setton