Thursday, January 21, 2016

Reading as a Writer

The deadline for enrolling in the Clarion West One-Day Workshop that I'll be giving in Seattle on February 21 is February 2. If you're a writer interested in honing your understanding of narrative or are having problems with a particular story (or both), this workshop is absolutely for you. When I offered it last year, I was pleased at how hard we all worked and surprised by how intense and far-ranging our conversations were. The format provided ample space for moving between the particulars of the stories we critiqued and more general narrative issues and techniques that form part of the working writer's landscape.

Here's the official description for the workshop:

Many first-rate, well-published writers take time out of their busy writing lives to attend critique workshops with their peers. Why? First, critiques from a variety of readers give writers insight into how the words they’ve put on the page are being transformed into the stories that unfold in their readers’ heads. And second, participation in critique groups enables writers to sharpen their understanding of technical issues. This workshop will offer insight into how others are reading your story and help make it into the story you would like them to be reading.

Students who enroll in this workshop will be asked to submit a piece of writing in advance, which will be distributed for critique by a subgroup of the class. All students’ works will be critiqued by both the instructor and several other students. Over the course of the day, attention will be given not only to the stories being critiqued but also to the critique process; techniques for reading critically and for communicating effectively will be covered. Because of the intensely interactive nature of this particular workshop, and to ensure that all students receive adequate attention, enrollment is limited to 12 participants.
 If you're interested in attending, here's the URL you need:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015, pt. 29: Kiini Ibura Salaam

Pleasures of 2015
by Kiini Ibura Salaam

One of the essential questions that artists have to answer for themselves is how they will be present, how they will show up and use their voices, in service of what sensation, expression, intention? In a 2015 interview, National Book Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes states: 
“I’m just interested in being present, not in being representative of anything.”

Hayes’s statement holds the tension of public and private--publicly people want to sort you, classify you, use you as a mouthpiece, a representation, but as an artist, the only way to authentically do your work is to be present to your self. It is something of a koan: How can you truly be present in and with and for yourself if you are representing someone or something else—even someone or something that looks and sounds exactly like you?

Much of the art I enjoyed in 2015 pivoted on questions of presence and representation.

Ava DuVernay’s Selma

In January, I started my art immersion for the year with the film Selma. I found it to be a riveting and intense look at one slice of the Civil Rights movement. What I appreciated most about it was the layers of the Civil Rights Movement that it revealed. History has flattened somewhat the broad span of groups involved with changing the laws and practices of segregation and voter discrimination. The students, the voting rights activists, the local workers, the movement architects, the superstars, the rabble rousers, the freedom riders—everyone joined the resistance from a different angle, representing a different demographic and a different motivation, and all these disparate strands came together to speak in one voice.

The other thing the film did was take an unflinching look at the indiscriminate violence that was visited upon anyone pushing for an integrated, equal society. The film demonstrated that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t a sanitized event that—with a few marches and songs—created a more just society. The willingness of so many to be beaten, jailed, and killed was the thing that moved the needle in awakening the consciousness of a nation.

John Lewis’s March

Selma dovetailed quite nicely with the graphic novel March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. John Lewis was a college student during the Civil Rights Movement and was active in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). SNCC was already working in Selma when Martin Luther King and his leadership from the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) came to town to support the push for voters’ rights. The graphic novel’s striking illustrations and compelling storyline tells the boots-on-the-ground story of one young man who was unflinchingly committed to change in this nation.

Though Selma and March deal with times past, both were shockingly relevant to our nation’s contemporary identity, especially in a year filled with protests, murders, and marches.

Toshi Reagon’s musical production of Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower

The evening after I saw Selma, I went to The Public Theater to see Toshi Reagon’s musical production of Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. One thing that was conspicuously missing from Selma was the music of the movement. With the exception of MLK calling up Mahalia Jackson in the middle of the night to sing to him so that he might hear the voice of God, DuVernay chose not to include song. There was, of course, a soundtrack, but during the march when there was singing, DuVernay showed the actors mouths moving but did not reveal the audio.

During that time period, music was a major component part of protests, whether anti-war or anti-discrimination. There has been a lot of study of protest music, notably Soundtrack for a Revolution, a wonderful documentary about the music of the Civil Rights Movement and what it meant to the marchers, how it kept them fearless and motivated. I suspect DuVernay did not use the music in the film because we are saturated with the image of people marching and singing. To a degree, I think the national narrative we’d like to believe is that the marching and the singing made change. The song was spirit food—it fed the marchers, steeled their strength and their resolved, helped them carry on when they were tired and face death when they were scared, but it isn’t what won the battle.

Toshi Reagon was born into the tradition of activist folk music. Her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, was deeply engaged in the Civil Rights Movement and other activist movements. She was also a founder of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Toshi was named for activist, filmmaker, and wife of Pete Seeger—Toshi Seeger, so activism runs deep through her lineage. Early in 2015, Toshi did a series of performances to workshop the songs she’s developing for an opera of Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. Because I saw it on the same day as Selma, I couldn’t help but view it in conversation with Selma and it was almost like the musical answer to Selma. Performing music from the folk tradition and the church tradition with nods to rock and spoken word, Toshi gathered a wonderful group of performers to bring Butler’s words to life through song. I can’t wait to see the opera. One of the songs—dealing with the company-sponsored town—referenced how hard it is not to sell out when faced with the difficulties of life. For me, much of Butler’s oeuvre deals with humans in untenable situations and the unthinkable acts that we engage in when our backs are against the wall. One of the songs for this evening had a chorus that went something like: you think you can’t, but you will; you think you won’t, but you will, you will, you will. It is so Butler.

Wild Tales

This film had nothing to do with representation—except, perhaps, the representation of other types of stories on film, something Argentinian filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky pleads for in this passionate, philosophical crowd-funding video. Wild Tales features five madcap stories about the ravenous nature of revenge—how it consumes the person seeking revenge and burns down much more than the intended target. As stated in a review from The Guardian: Characters surrender, gratefully, to the thrill of losing it and letting someone have it.” The end result of the film is quite thrilling as you watch people push themselves to the limit to take revenge on others—and suffer the consequences. Rotten Tomatoes calls it Wickedly hilarious and delightfully deranged.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski’s futuristic romps through time and space

Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski

Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski presented a series of drawings at MoCADA in the spring that features big-bottomed, curvaceous women who seemed to be both futuristic and of the moment. There was so much playfulness as she explored self-image, mythologies, and the fantastic. I loved the exuberance, unexpectedness, and other-worldly nature of the work. More images and thoughts from the artist here.

Cassandra Wilson’s Tribute to Billie Holiday

For her tribute concert to Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson created an immersive experience that built its own setting, aura, and sensation of romance--transporting us into two hours of altered feelings that mirrored the fluttering pleasures of being in love. Being vulnerable before others is immensely challenging. Wilson immersed herself in emotion in front of a packed theater. She was positively altered by the music, the musicians on the stage, emotionally embodying that which she was singing. It’s the type of presence I want to bring to my work.

When we called her back for her encore, she strapped on her guitar and used it to introduce sonic dissonance and squeals as accompaniment to her vocals on the classic Strange Fruit. At the end, she went wild, continuing to improvise on it while slamming it back down in the stand. She left the guitar squealing while she exited the stage, leaving her band to reconcile the sound, to handle what she had flung out into the world.

Basquiat’s Notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum

You can’t see Basquiat’s work without thinking about representation, fame and pain. … I was discomfited at the spectacle of all of us, seeing his notebooks, his private scribbling, each page in each notebook taken apart so as to spread our consumption of him wider—especially as I suspect the consumption of him, the contradictions therein, led to his overdose death. This experience was thought provoking as it showed how Basquiat worked through his ideas and creative impulses. I am often jealous when I see artists playing with their thoughts, creativity, process, ideas, because I dream of returning to a state during which my creativity roams without constraint. As someone who squeezes in the time to work when I can, I am inspired when I see other artists existing in state of creative immersion. The exhibition showed the depth and breadth of his creative instincts, impulses and compulsions.

One Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence Exhibition at MoMA

One-Way Ticket was a fantastic exhibition centered around Jacob Lawrence's seminal Great Migration series. I also appreciate seeing art I learned about in art books in real life. Seeing this series really made me reflect on my commitment to making work. The series consists of a 60 very small panels made with humble materials. The small scale and readily available materials, made me think that the artist was dedicated to telling his story with whatever materials he had on hand. The work itself was great to see in person, but what really elevated my enjoyment of the exhibition was the expansiveness with which the exhibition was mounted. There were additional rooms that stretched out to share literature, music, video, and photographs of other artists from the time period. It was wonderful to get a multidimensional view of the explosion of black arts at the time. Fantastic

What Happened, Ms. Simone?
I found this Netflix documentary about Nina Simone absolutely riveting and layered. The level of presence she brought to performing was a major theme of the documentary, but for me the theme that was most compelling was the issue of representation—how issues of abuse, family, mental health, freedom, the cost of life, the cost of fame, genius, racism, social unrest and escape are explored through her body and her presence. I felt each of these issues intensely and viscerally through the lens of Nina Simone’s tumultuous life. She was a woman of the times in one sense—in the sense of a woman being expected to marry and let her husband take care of things. At the same time, she was timeless, a woman of another world completely, with her vision, her talent, and her fierceness. An amazing portrait of both a woman and a time; a society and a situation.

Michelle Dorrance’s The Blues Project

I was thrilled to see Michelle Dorrance’s Blues Project at Lincoln Center this summer. It was such a breath of fresh air on so many levels. Throughout the concert, it was clear that something different was happening—in addition to the fact that it featured tap choreography that was more like what you see in modern dance, than Broadway razzmatazz, there were female hoofers going in hard with the foot stomps and thumps as I’ve only seen men do. Dorrance also included in her dance company dances of different sizes, heights, and shapes. Throughout the show, it was clear that this was a passionate groups of dancers committed to a rare artform. Later in the year, Dorrance was awarded a MacArthur fellowship for her work. Her interview is here and you can see her dance here. Like her dancers, Dorrance is a delight and a marvel to watch. As Gia Kourlas of The New York Times states Dorrance’s “sunny charisma and lanky body work in mesmerizing combination as she glides across the floor or hits it with fury. (Her coordination and speed are incredible.)" The New York Times does not exagerate,

Clementine Wamariya’s essay Everything Is Yours, Everything Is Not Yours

In a multi-part essay, called Everything Is Yours, Everything Is Not Yours, Rwandan Clemantine Wamariya writes about her life as a refugee following the Rwanda massacre. in addition to the harrowing details of surviving while the world is crumbling around you, Wamariya has a piercing analysis of the world and a wit that makes you want to keep reading and reading.

Grace Jones at the AfroPunk Music Festival
The other thing that makes me jealous of artists is when I see an artist being completely free. At 67 years old, Grace Jones is a riot of freedom, self-possession, outrageousness, and ferocity. Changing her robe and headgear between every song, Jones pranced her way through a full set at the 2015 Afropunk music festival. We were thrilled, we were enchanted, and we were inspired, as she:

Wearing white paint on her nude body and a corset/codpiece, Jones took us back to the days of disco with a bubble machine and riding through the crowd on a man’s shoulders:

She had men in body paint dancing on poles and she freaked them:
She changed her headwear and covering with every song:

And she hula hooped the entire way through Slave to the Rhythm (This video link doesn’t show the night I went, the night I went that hula hoop didn’t stop.)

Wishing you all a fierce 2016 full of presence, passion, and bold artistry.
Be well. Be love[d].

Kiini Ibura Salaam

Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer and painter from New Orleans, LA. Her work is rooted in eroticism, speculative events and worlds, and women's perspectives. Her fiction has been published in a number of anthologies, including Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Dark Eros. Her essays have been published in Essence, Ms., and Colonize This. She is the author of the KIS.list, an e-column that explores the writing life. Her first collection of short stories, Ancient, Ancient, was published by Aqueduct Press in May 2012 and was a co-winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award. She lives in Brooklyn.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Aqueductistas in your online neighborhood

The classic workshop Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction, taught by writers and editors Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, returns in its first online offering.  This is the
four-hour introductory workshop, and the basis for Aqueduct Press Conversation Piece #8, the  diversity-in-fiction writing handbook Writing the Other: A Practical Approach.

The date/time for the workshop will be 2PM - 7PM (Eastern) on Sunday, February 21, 2016.

Registration is now open.

Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction
When: 2PM - 7PM (Eastern) Sunday February 21, 2016
(includes 1 hour lunch break)
Location: ONLINE via GoToMeeting
Price: $150 + service fee ($156.24 total)

Learn more and sign up here.

Special thanks to K. Tempest Bradford for serving as our tech goddess.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 6, 1 (January 2016)

The new issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is out! This general issue has an essay by me, a remark by Josh Lukin on a letter by Joanna Russ that was published in Twelfth Planet Press's Letters to Tiptree, a lengthy discussion of Frankenstein  by Eleanor Arnason, poems by Mary Agner, Anne Sheldon, and Sonya Taaffe, reviews by Tanya DePass, S. Quioyi Lu, Nisi Shawl, Maria Velazquez, and  Stevie Watson, and a profile of the art of Erin Harrop. Subscriptions and single copies (print and electronic) can be purchased at

l. 6 No. 1 — January 201. 6 No. 1 — January 2016

The Tiptree Symposium
   by L. Timmel Duchamp

Sighting of an Aqueductista
    by Josh Lukin

Flash Fiction

A Troubling Reflection
   by Wilma Bernard

Poems by

Mary Agner
Anne Sheldon
& Sonya Taaffe

Grandmother Magma
Thirteen Ways of
Looking at a Monster
   by Eleanor Arnason

Ghost Summer and Other Stories,
by Tananarive Due
   reviewed by Tanya DePass

Dark Orbit, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
   reviewed by Nisi Shawl

The SEA Is Ours, edited by Jaymee Goh & Joyce Chng
   reviewed by S. Qiouyi Lu

Flesh & Wires, by Jackie Hatton
   reviewed by Stevie Watson

A Small Key Can Open a Large Door,
edited by Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness
   reviewed by Maria Velazquez

Featured Artist
Erin Harrop

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Rose Lemberg's Marginalia to Stone Bird

I'm pleased to announce the release of Marginalia to Stone Bird as the forty-eighth volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series. In this powerful debut collection, Rannu Award-winning poet Rose Lemberg explores the deep-rooted fluidity of gender, tradition, language, and desire in landscapes as familiar as high fantasy and as foreign as San Francisco. Written in the voices of immigrants, shape-changers, sentient ships in a distant future and heroes of a mythic past, her poems inhabit a fragile, vital space of complex identity and story as a conscious act, stubbornly urging the reader's attention toward the marginal, the liminal, and the unheard—a firebird cautioned to burn less brightly, a ghost-child ignored by the gods, a lover laying a road of words for a beloved to follow. By turns devastating and deeply hopeful, Marginalia to Stone Bird writes a fearless commentary on our history and others.

It is available now from Aqueduct Press in both print and e-book editions here.