afternoon with argument/research papers

IMAG0053Spending time this afternoon with a large stack of composition argument/research papers. I’ve found no way to make the process easier for me other than to organize and seperate out to about ten or twelve papers a night in prep for about ten to twelve conferences the next day. So important for me to comment and also meet individually with each student to discuss.

i am a visitor in your world documentary

On Tuesday I had the fortune of attending a private screening of the inspirational documentary film I am a Visitor in Your World . The film was about Rebecca Babcock, a young writer and blogger diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 25. The film was a poignant account of her life and struggles and Rebecca’s story was so affecting. I liked the idea that her poetry from her blog was used as voiceover.

After the film there was a Q and A regarding the editing, cinematography and the music used in the film as well as commentary from Rebecca’s mother, Mary. The DVD is currently available at the filmmaker’s website.

quick review: orwell’s down and out in paris and london

Downout_paris_london

Drafting and revising semi-orphaned novel project but had some time to finish reading Orwell’s memoir/nonfiction/autobiographical novel about a young writer’s time in the ghettos of Paris and London. He works in restaurants and sleeps in homeless hostels. Pawns his clothes for food and also closely observes the down and out people he encounters. What strikes me most in Orwell’s work has to be his readability and the chapter movements. I’m also struck at his closely drawn character studies of those he encounters–the fat man in Paris and also Bozo in England are the stand outs. One thing that seems consistent throughout his writing is the strong sense of empathy and humanity. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

“Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then what is work? A navy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out-of-doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course – but, then many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout – in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

“Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that is shall be profitable.”

day of good news

Two pieces of good news: Today I learned I will be a member of a Latino Lecture Panel at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on April 28th and also that I was accepted into Sergio Troncoso’s advanced workshop at the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.

quick review: luis alberto urrea’s the hummingbird’s daughter and queen of america

I first read the short fiction of Luis Alberto Urrea in graduate school. The discovery of a prolific Latino author whose work moves so adeptly from English to Spanish was important to my development as a writer. I enjoyed his collection of short stories Six Kinds of Sky and the keen worlds and characters drawn, his humor and surrealist edge. At the time I was struggling to capture Spanish speaking folks and the stories from the old neighborhood of my youth, struggling to make my work less obvious and overtly political. And the influence of his work stays fresh in my mind.

hummingbirds-daughterIn reading Urrea’s most recent novels, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and its sequel Queen of America, I am pleased to find these lengthier works equally representing for me what writing should aspire to be.

Over the course of two novels, set in the 1880’s to the turn of the century, the incredibly dynamic character of Teresita the Saint of Cabora, the Mexican Joan of Arc, rises from abject poverty and abandonment to her place as spiritual leader. Described as a “saint with grit” by Stacey D’Erasmo of the New York Times Book Review, Teresita survives rape, returns from the dead and learns to practice ancient magic, and travels to the United States after the Mexican-Tomochic rebellion. In the sequel Teresita survives as a celebrity of sorts travelling and experiencing the United States—St. Louis, San Francisco and New York City—and she marries and divorces. She also survives a medical industry out to exploit her healing powers. All based on historical events and Urrea’s research.

queenamerica

The most influential aspect of the two books for me though is the form, the lyrical and dream-like passages. The masterful use of third person limited omniscient narration. How the dreamscape that is Urrea’s writing style creates so many varied characters and experiences in an incredibly wide and brilliant spectrum. From field hand, Indian healer, to Teresita’s Mexican landowner father, Don Tomás, to the bandits, cowboys and tycoons, the cast of characters represents the complicated nature of hierarchical class structures at play in pre-turn-of-the-century and pre-revolutionary Mexico. Masterfully, Urrea immerses us in Teresita’s myth across a multitude of voices. I admire the novels’ contrast of authorial voice and character in nearly every chapter, creating this Mexican and American border world from inside and out, and more importantly, in terms of social class, from quite literally the bottom up. (Urrea’s lively and playful performance in the downloadable audiobook versions only enhanced my experience of these distinct voices.)

Ultimately, I have to admit to taking advantage of Urrea’s skill—stealing stratagems of technique once again into my own struggling work. I’m thinking of the author and critic Jim Harrison’s words: “One finds and understands his own voice finally through the voice of others.”

I tell my Midwest community college students that the key to nonfiction is in the facts and that creative nonfiction—as well as fiction—is in the telling. And the power from Urrea’s work perhaps is that he devoted twenty-years of research and study of Mexican political, cultural and religious history as well as struggled with the form. And in many other historical novels or footnoted historical books, the political thought becomes so blatant and relentless that readers stop hearing it. Yet in Urrea’s two novel saga, the insight into Mexican, American Indian and American history, I believe, along with the shifting voices create an inextricable link between human experience, political conflict and historical socioeconomic conflict. Another lesson for writer in the merging of form and content to craft a meaning greater than the sum of its parts.

grading and the b and n

IMAG0048

The most difficult aspect of teaching has to be the hours grading. And I have to admit commenting on lit analyses is my biggest weakness. Have to get out of the house and out to Barnes and Noble along with D for coffee and a place to focus.