Round II Teaching “The Art of Race: (Re)-Imagining Ethnicity and Identity in Literature, Art & Pop Culture for January Term 2019

A new year, a new chance to teach a class that is my life’s work. Once again, for January Term 2019 at Saint Mary’s College, yours truly is teaching “The Art of Race: (Re) Imagining Ethnicity and Identity in Literature, Art & Pop Culture”. For four weeks, four days a week, two hours and thirty-five minutes a day, our class will read, screen, listen, and view art, literature, music, TV shows, and other creative works that reconstruct, reclaim, interrogate, re-imagine, re-invent, subvert, and explode notions of race, of gender, of ethnicity, and of sexuality.

New titles have been added to last year’s reading list, such as Tommy Orange’s, There, There and Allan de Souza’s How Art Can Be Thought. Our class will have a special class visit from poet and author liz gonzalez, where we’ll read and discuss her latest book Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds. And, to top it all off, we have a class field trip to the Museum of African Diaspora, which yours truly is both excited and nervous to coordinate.

In teaching this class for the second time around, I’ve found, once again, how hungry students are to learn and share experiences, thoughts and questions about race, racism, our U.S. history, and legacy. I’ve also found that students are primed and prepped to discuss these incredibly difficult and complex issues.

More to come as we venture into the second week, so stay tuned…

 

The Art of Race: (Re)-Imagining Ethnicity and Identity in Literature, Art & Pop Culture

COURSE DESCRIPTION

How do writers and artists such as David Mura, Tommy Orange, Harryette Mullen, Beyoncé, Kara Walker, and other historically marginalized creative practictioners, subvert, de-center, and make new notions of race, identity, gender, and sexual orientation? How do they challenge cultural otherness to incite as writer Pankaj Mishra calls “a bolder cartography of the imagination”? In this class we will explore how writers, musicians, artists, and comedians make stylistic choices of form and content to challenge dominant narratives and put center stage traditionally marginalized voices, neglected histories, and sub-histories. The aim of this course is to discover how art can complicate and challenge some of our greatest public narratives: race and gender; and how these narratives serve as writer Kaitlyn Greenridge says as a “collective and imagined space that exists only as a metaphor, rhetorical argument, figurative language, in short, as a fiction, though that does not mean that [they are] not real.”

Reading from diverse authors and viewing other artistic forms, we will consider the many different ways art and pop culture help us understand and challenge identity and politics, and conversely how we can interrogate notions of identity and politics to create art that incites a world awareness.

 

REQUIRED TEXTS

  • Tommy Orange, There, There
  • liz gonzalez, Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds
  • Allen deSouza, How Art Can Be Thought

 

READING LIST

Media Selections from Beyonce’s Lemonade, Key & Peele, El mar la Mar

Art Selections from Kara Walker, Ramiro Gomez and Jennifer Wofford

Poetry and Essay Selections:

  • Harryette Mullen, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be, “Imagining the Unimagined Reader: Writing to the Unborn and Including the Excluded”, “Kinky Quatrains: The Making of Muse & Drudge”, “Optic White: Blackness and the Production of Whiteness”
  • Kevin Young, The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, “The Shadow Book”, “How Not to Be a Slave: On the Black Art of Escape”
  • Dorothy Wang, Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry 
  • John Yau, “Please Wait By the Coatroom”
  • Diane Glancy,In-between Places, “July: She has some potholders”
  • David Mura, A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing
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“Recall work day mornings with your parents or guardians and write a description of their morning ritual before leaving for work”: Creative Prompt #3 for JanTerm043 “The Art of Race”

Image result for junot diaz drownStudents in yours truly Jan Term course “The Art of Race: (Re) Imagining Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Literature, Art, & Pop Culture” are working hard on their final project, which is a creative writing assignment to write poetry, short fiction, or a personal essay inspired by the artists, writers, musicians, and theorists we’ve studied on how race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality inspire and shape creative work and how the different forms of art can redefine and interrogate notions of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. We’re ending the term by looking at Junot Diaz’s Drown and his MFA vs. POC written originally for Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing for VONA workshops and later published by The New Yorker.

The students have really responded to and ran with the prompts we’ve been working with and requested a third and final prompt, which I’ve included below for you to have a go if you so choose.

Poetry:

Create a list of fifteen items, including objects, images, songs, movies, TV shows, magazines, albums, clothing, jewelry, toys, household items, etc. that remind you of your childhood. Don’t edit or over-think but try to list as many items that represent your childhood and adolescence then chose two or three and write about them in as full description as you can. What do they look like? What colors? What do they smell like? What do they sound like? What are the textures? Where are they soft? Scratchy? Smooth? Bumpy? What did it feel like to hold them? What kind of feelings surfaced when you engaged with them?  Where did they come from? Who gave them to you? Do you remember when you first received them or noticed them? What kind of memories are they attached to? What kind of wonder do they spark? Examine each carefully as if it were a precious stone or a sacred relic. How would you describe them to someone who couldn’t see and who didn’t know what your childhood meant to you?

Non-fiction:

Taking a cue from both Junot Diaz and Barbara Jane Reyes, recall work day mornings with your parents or guardians and write a description of their morning ritual before leaving for work. What did s/he wear for work (tie, heels, uniform, cuff-links)? How did s/he prepare in the morning? What kind of ritual did s/he practice? Hurried? Slow paced? Make breakfast? Rush out the door before you were awake? What kind of expression did s/he usually have? Worried? Tired? Excited? What did s/he take with him to work (briefcase, purse, coffee mug, water bottle, packed lunch)? Did you have time to talk with your parent or guardian before you both left for school or work? What did you usually talk about? Was there a specific memorable morning you shared together, and if so, what made it memorable? Conversely, recall the evenings or afternoons when your parent/guardian returned from work? What hour? Was s/he tired? Did s/he need time alone to decompress? Did s/he start cooking dinner immediately? What was the ritual returning from work?

Fiction:

Inspired by Junot Diaz, pick a memorable moment with a significant other or close friend and recreate the details of that moment. What time of day? Where were you? What where you both wearing? What was the weather like? What time of year? Who else was there? What were they saying? What were they doing? What was the dialogue between you and your significant other? What kind of tension were you facing together? What kind of tension were you both facing individually? What were your fears at the time? What were your hopes? What were your significant other’s fears and hopes? How did his/her fears and hopes conflict with yours? How did they coincide? Now twist the moment. How would it have gone differently if you said something opposite to what you actually said or did something opposite to what you actually did? Would you still be together as friends or partners? How would you have fractured or mended the relationship? How would you have complicated or simplified the moment?

More to come on “The Art of Race”…

What historical event, book, movie, TV show, physical landmark, specific place anchors your sense of self?: Creative Prompt #2 for JanTerm043 “The Art of Race”

Second creative writing prompt generated for the class yours truly is teaching, SMC Jan Term 043: “The Art of Race: (Re) Imagining Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Literature, Art, & Pop Culture.” We’ve been exploring how race, ethnicity, identity, gender, and sexuality inspire and shape creative work, such as music, film & TV, literature, and art, and how the forms and elements of creative work can help redefine, reconstruct, interrogate, and re-imagine notions on race, gender, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. So far we’ve read poets Carlos Soto Román, Barbara Jane Reyes, Harryette Mullen, and listened to musicians such as Beyoncé and Gingee. Viewed art by Kara Walker, and watched shows such as black-ish, Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, and Atlanta. We’re currently reading Diane Glancy’s, In-between Places  (University of Arizona Press, 2005), where she writes in her introduction:

Written language seems to me a landscape. Land bound in words. I pick up stones or rocks in travel as texts I can read.

There is a map you open like a book. There are books you open like a map.

There is a map you decide to call a book? A book of the territories you’ve traveled. A book of the in-between places you’ve lived. A map is a meaning you hold against the unknowing. The places you speak in many directions.

Image result for diane glancy in-between places

 

The below prompts are inspired by Glancy, Reyes, and Soto Roman. Have a try for yourself!

“The Art of Race” Creative Prompt #2

 for Different Literary Genres

 

Poetry:

What song/lyric/commercial/dialogue from TV or movie is stuck in your head? Look it up, so you can accurately quote, if you need to. How is this found text related to what you are feeling right now? How does it give insight or confuse or challenge your emotions or your thoughts? How is it related to something your mother/grandfather/brother/partner/friend/roommate once said or always says? Take one of the words and create a new line, phrase, or dialogue to spin it your own way.

 

Non-fiction:

What historical event, book, movie, TV show, physical landmark, specific place anchors your sense of self? Do some research on this anchor. What is its history? How did it come about? How does its story of evolution give insight into your (d)evolution? How did you first learn about this anchor? Who introduced it to you? When? Why? How do you feel about this anchor now? Does it root you or shackle you? How do you claim it as your own or how does it claim you?

 

Short Fiction:

Make a list of your fears and superstitions. Then add fears and superstitions that you know of from close friends or family. Close your eyes. Circle one of them. Whichever one you circled, have your main character confront that fear or superstition. Where are they? What are they feeling? What are they thinking? What physical sensations are they experiencing? Are they alone? Is anyone else there? If so, what are they doing? How are they helping or hindering? What do they say that worsens the situation? How does your main character fight back? How does fighting back make matters worse?

More to come on “The Art of Race”…

“What Keeps You Up at Night? What Gets You Out of Bed?”: Creative Prompts for SMC Jan Term “The Art of Race”

Week #3 of SMC Jan Term “The Art of Race” and yours truly believes the best way to describe the experience of teaching this course is through this image:

By the end of the term, I like to believe I will be ground down to an essence in which I could be sprinkled into a tasty mole.

We are moving into the final project for the course where students will choose a creative writing genre (poetry, short fiction, or the creative personal essay) to write their own story of race, identity, ethnicity, multiculturalism, difference, prejudice, and/or discrimination.

In addition to the basic principles of their chosen literary form, they are expected to incorporate ideas and creative analyses based on the authors we’ve read in class to creatively interrogate notions on how issues of race, identity, multiculturalism, difference, and prejudice intersect with imagination, literary style, and aesthetics.

Some prompts to get their creative engines revved:

Poetry:

Image result for invocation to daughtersTaking a cue from Barbara Jane Reyes poem “The Day” in Invocation to Daughters (City Lights, 2017) write about this specific moment. Note the time, the date, the location, and describe details of this particular moment for each of the seven senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, scent, balance). Note your surroundings. Where and how are you physically? How does that contrast or coincide with where and how you are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, artistically.

 

Non-fiction:

Taking a cue from Kevin Young The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, What keeps you up at night? What gets Image result for on the blackness of blacknessyou out of bed? Who is your imaginary “American”? Where does s/he come from? Describe the land? Use your senses, touch, smell, taste, see, hear, balance? What does s/he wear? Eat? How does s/he walk? Talk? How does s/he roll? What does s/he rock to or listen to? How does that music make him/her feel? What is his/her American dream?

 

Short Fiction:

Create a scene where a character first discovers s/he is different from others. Where does this scene take place? Who else is there? What are they doing? Wearing? How are they acting? How do the other characters create or take away space from your main character? How do the other characters create a mirror for the main character to see him or herself reflected? How does s/he react to his/her own self image reflected back? What kind of conflict and tension is created? Is there an exchange through words or action? How does the exchange or non-exchange heighten the interiority of tension your main character is feeling? What differences does s/he notice between her/him and the other characters? How does that affect the six senses s/he is feeling at the moment (sight, sound, taste, touch, scent, balance, and time)? What questions are raised for your main character?

More prompts to come…

 

New Releases from Brilliant Artists who are Guest Speaking for Jan Term Course “The Art of Race”

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Yours truly is  thrilled to have just confirmed three brilliant artists as guest speakers to visit my Saint Mary’s College of California’s Jan Term 043-01 course “The Art of Race: (Re) Imagining Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Literature, Art, & Pop Culture.

Each of these artists have recently released new work, which I have no doubt will engage and inspire my students.

I met our first guest speaker during my residency at MacDowell Arts Colony. Carlos Soto Román will be video conferencing from Santiago, Chile to discuss his new chapbook Bluff (Commune Editions), which you can download here.  He’ll discuss with the class his poetics and process of erasure or redacted poetry and the use of found text. As with my students, I invite you to challenge your pleasures by having a go at his work with the selections below: 

Image result for carlos soto Roman
 A Bad Penny Review:

 

Image result for barbara jane reyesOur second guest speaker is long time friend and deeply inspiring poet, professor, and community advocate (I owe so much to her!), Barbara Jane Reyes, who will be visiting our class on campus to discuss her new book just released from City Lights, Invocation to Daughters. Have a taste of her words here, courtesy of Poetry Foundation.

 

Our third guest speaker, who will round at our term is long time fellow Angelena, who I met lifetimes ago at the L.A. based Wide Eyed Workshops,  musician and artist Marjorie Light. Video conferencing from the City of Angels, Light just released her latest album Bundok. Give your self an aural treat of her latest tracks here and find out more about her work with KCET’s feature article.

Image result for marjorie light

I also need to give a shout out to all the crew of SMC’s ITS who have been working with me to get all the tech ready for the video conferencing to Santiago, Chile, and Los Angeles, CA. Fingers crossed that all the equipment and connections sync for the big dates!

I’m in awe of all these artists and am truly grateful to each of them for taking the time to share their work and inspire my students. More to come about “The Art of Race” and our guest speaker visits, so stay tuned…

Have to share this fabulous cover art for Bundok by Gingee

New Year, New Course to Teach: Jan Term 043-01: “The Art of Race: (Re)-Imagining Ethnicity and Identity in Literature, Art & Pop Culture”

 

After years and years and years of research, writing papers, presenting at conferences, not to mention living and breathing these topics in my every day life, for this January term 2018,  I will be teaching for twenty-six undergrads at Saint Mary’s College of California:

The Art of Race: (Re)-Imagining Ethnicity and Identity

in Literature, Art & Pop Culture

COURSE DESCRIPTION

How do writers and artists such as Junot Diaz, Louise Erdrich, Beyoncé, John Coltrane, Kara Walker, comedians like Key & Peele, and the creators of the show Broad City, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, subvert, de-center, and make new notions of race, identity, gender, and sexual orientation? How do they challenge cultural otherness to incite as writer Pankaj Mishra calls “a bolder cartography of the imagination”? In this class we will explore how writers, musicians, artists, and comedians make stylistic choices of form and content to challenge dominant narratives and put center stage traditionally marginalized voices, neglected histories, and sub-histories. The aim of this course is to discover how art can complicate and challenge some of our greatest public narratives: race and gender; and how these narratives serve as writer Kaitlyn Greenridge says as a “collective and imagined space that exists only as a metaphor, rhetorical argument, figurative language, in short, as a fiction, though that does not mean that [they are] not real.”

Reading from diverse authors and viewing other artistic forms, we will consider the many different ways art and pop culture help us understand and challenge identity and politics, and conversely how we can interrogate notions of identity and politics to create art that incites a world awareness.

REQUIRED TEXTS

  • Barbara Jane Reyes, Invocation to a Daughter
  • Junot Diaz, Drown 

READING LIST

  • Media Selections from Beyonce’s Lemonade and Key & Peele 
  • Art Selections from Kara Walker, Ramiro Gomez and Jennifer Wofford

Poetry and Essay Selections:

  • Carlos Soto Roman, selections
  • Harryette Mullen, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be, “Imagining the Unimagined Reader: Writing to the Unborn and Including the Excluded”, “Kinky Quatrains: The Making of Muse & Drudge”, “Optic White: Blackness and the Production of Whiteness”
  • Kevin Young, The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, “The Shadow Book”, “How Not to Be a Slave: On the Black Art of Escape”
  • Dorothy Wang, Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry 
  • John Yau, “Please Wait By the Coatroom”
  • Diane Glancy,In-between Places, “July: She has some potholders”
  • Zadie Smith, “Brother from Another Mother”, The New Yorker, 2015.

We will be kicking off the semester with pre-assignments that include reading Robin DiAngelo and Özlem Sensoy, “Leaning In: A Student’s Guide to Engaging Constructively with Social Justice Content”, Radical Pedagogy, (2014) , Syreeta MacFadden’s  “Beyonce’s Formation reclaims America’s black America’s narrative from the margins” The Guardian, (February 8. 2016) and watching Beyonce’s “Formation” from Lemonade. Even more exciting is a class visit with poet and professor Barbara Jane Reyes to discuss her latest book from City Lights, Invocation to a Daughter. With luck, I’ll be able to confirm more guest speakers.

Some of the questions I have to start, with hopefully many more to come, so the research, the writing, the living, and breathing can grow:

  1. How does art, literature, and pop culture help student understand their own positionality?
  2. How does art, literature, and pop culture help students understand the collective and individual racial imaginary? Male/Female imaginary? Class imaginary?
  3. How do students navigate, transform, challenge collective (public) and private (individual) narratives?

I’m of two hearts and minds about the course, since I probably won’t get much writing done myself, but instead will be discussing topics that fuel me and drive me with purpose and heighten meaning, hopefully not just for myself but for the willing students. Let’s see what this new adventure holds. Ready. Steady. Go!

Honored to be selected as Visiting Arts Faculty 2017-2018

I confess I have a debilitating case of imposter syndrome, so every bit of success comes with a dark lining of doubt,  but dear friend and writer Katherine Field, has urged me to celebrate this one, so this is me celebrating. I’m honored and excited to serve Saint Mary’s College of California’s Collegiate Seminar Program and January Term program in a new role as Visiting Arts Faculty for 2017-2018. More on this soon…

Recap on Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference, UK, Part I

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On the outskirts of Imperial College, London and just a block away from Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall, in the Huxley Building set on Queens Gate road, Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference took place Saturday 18 June through Sunday 19 June.
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On my way to the conference, a fifteen minute walk from our Kensington Flat where three generations of my family were blessed enough to call our home away from home in London, I got to see a quieter side of the great cosmopolitan city. Streets were virtually empty, and I spied one of the iconic historic blue plaques, alerting me to a former residence of none other than Benny Hill.
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The conference was all about process, valuing process more than the product of writing, which was really a pleasant surprise. Below are some tidbits from the panelists, whose ideas I will definitely be thieving for writing courses and for crafting my creative writing.

Rachel Robertson of Curtin University spoke on “A Mosaic Patterning: Space, time, and the lyric essay” where she illuminates on Bakhtin’s “chronotope,” how time and space are fused and unraveled, in which time knots and unknots itself, and narrative is suspended. Robertson cited the Zen phrase “emptiness is form and form is emptiness.” Form was a continual theme that arose throughout the conference, particularly the shaping of form through the crafting or process of art-making. Robertson compared how music and dance are the only art forms that truly free us from the historical space, embodying the “presentic” space, where time fails to be to be anchored or concretized. She also spoke of the bricolage, which was first introduced to yours truly at Miguel Syjuco’s reading of Ilustrado, when I asked him how he researched for his novel, he said he used a bricolage. Robertson spoke of bricolage as a repetition of imagery, a mosaic.

The second presentation of the panel was one of the most enlightening talks from Karma Waltononen from UC Davis. Her presentation covered “Writing Outside the Lines: From ‘Essay’ to Creative Non-fiction” where she talked about teaching the creative non-fiction essay as breaking away from the required rhetoric and composition. Many students tend to believe an essay means one thing only: a three point thesis with five point paragraphs and no real development for each paragraph.
Waltonen discussed how when she introduces an essay students feel like they’re having the rug pulled out from under them. She takes them back to the root of the word’s origin. ‘Essay’ is simply: to try.
She lets students know that they need to just take a chance and be rewarded for taking a chance.

Waltonen immerses them in the 4th genre and has her students think about the choices they make. She emphasizes that a good essay demonstrates a voice. At the end of the semester, students try to determine different writers’ style by having them guess whose voice is is whose. Another assignment is to have students record a conversation in the cafeteria, so they get a feel for what true conversational writing is.
They cover metaphor and simile, and, most especially, reducing wordiness or tightening prose.

She also goes over what she called ‘breaking rules prudently,’ which is what her grade school teacher taught her. Breaking rules should only be done intentionally for a certain effect, such as run-on sentences. What effect do you want on your reader? Finally, she has her students do a complete revision, and tells them she should only feel a slight deja vu when reading their revision. The changes should be foundational such as change in POV or moving from present to future tense. She does not want to know what happens next. Her challenge to students is letting them know that every word a student uses is a choice, and asking them “Are you being brave with this essay and how?”

Yours truly had a cushy presentation time, not too early and not too late. I was slotted at 11:15am on the first day, which gave me just enough time to see how other presenters presented, get the hang of the logistics, and then dive right into it. Along with the advantageous scheduling, I enjoyed the pleasure of presenting with two savvy professor writers who covered some innovative writing and teaching practices.

Laura Wetherington from Sierra Nevada College presented “Flipping the Creative Writing Classroom: Reading and Writing as Workshop.” In the flipped classroom, students gain exposure to new material. The flipped classroom is the anti-lecture, discussion based or workshop based, turning the workshop on its head. This kind of teaching has been dubbed the “new frontier” of the classroom. Students can reflect on authorial decisions to articulate why they made the choices they did and take creative approaches to reading. The emphasis is on reflective writing for each draft, and she has students revise with specific perameters, giving them a set amount of time to revise. Wetherington really stressed that students be conscious of the decisions they make on what to change with revisions, and she does this by giving them specific revision strategies that they have to choose from. She also quizzes them on technical terms and gives minute papers to guide their questioning with reading. Finally, she talked about the free-reading period where students came up with their own reading lists at the Poetry Center in the Sierra Nevada College. They roamed the library on their own to chose what they wanted to read to inspire their work.

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett from Newman University in Birmingham, UK covered “Trick or Retreat? The Value of Creative Writing Retreats in HE,” explaining how she takes her students to retreats where they learn how to write by deadlines. It’s a challenge to write on spot, on location, and they use the model of flipped classrooms. The marking or assessment is based on informed analytical engagement–a term I may have to borrow for my Craft is Culture class–and the students work on writing prompts first as a group then move onto their own individual work.

Our panel raised some heated debate, which was most welcome since I expect to answer the same questions and address the same reservations from my students and other faculty. For more info on my paper presentation “Craft is Culture: Writing and Reading a Global Imagination” click here and here. A South African writer kicked off the Q&A by asking me why we should force students to write diversely. She understood why reading diversely is important but writing with diversity in mind didn’t see urgent or necessary. Three other presenters answered her immediately, talking about intention, motivation, and the need to expand voice and perspective. Some recommended reading they pointed to me, which I have to look into is Paul Gilroy’s After Empire and Kimberly Crenshaw’s work on Intersectionality.

More on the conference and what I’ll be nicking for my own teaching and writing practices to come soon…

Part II: Recap on “Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference UK

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The view from the Kensington Flat, where I stayed during the conference.

Continuing coverage of “Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference UK,” held at Imperial College, London, there were so many enlightening panels that offered great insight on the process of writing and best practices in teaching. Below is a taste from the hastily scribbled notes I took. Check out Part I here.

Melissa Bender’s “Just Like Us?: The Novelist’s Responsibility to the Historical Record, which she said was more of a meditation, focusing on Gwendolyn Brooks, Year of Wonders, a historical account of Derbyshire, 1666, where the town of Ames was quarantined to prevent the plague. Bender highlighted the idea of fidelity and reflected on how writers make decisions to be or not to be faithful to history, knowing that there are different histories. She focused on our responsibility as writers and readers to history, and how the historical novel transports readers to a different place, which allows readers to empathize with points of view that aren’t their own. The historians’ challenge versus the historical novelists’ challenge covers such questions as (some of the below are from yours truly):

  • What or who is demonised and why?
  • What is fetishized and why?
  • What is exalted and why?
  • Are the specific subjects demonized/fetishized/exalted to reflect our contemporary values or the values of the past?
  • What is the source of all the problems?
  • How do you develop empathy though you have a different set of values?

Bender cited Sarah Vowell, who says “education is empathy” and that we learn about our situations by taking in other’s people’s POV. Its not about policing the details of historical fiction or the duty to historical record. Novelists must use their imagination since we can’t recreate the past. As readers and writers we need to think about the choices we make and the consequences we create through narratives.

Lauren Hayhurst’s research perfectly coincided with mine in her talk “Creative Writers as Cultural Representatives: A critique of the ‘political’ in relation to ‘literature’ and how Creative Writing can help reinvent Multiculturalism.” Hayhurst doesn’t doubt the power of Creative Writing in multiculturalism. She spoke of the difference between process and product, and how the process is hidden. Reviewing the idea of British Multiculturalism, which she explained was met or is viewed as “confusion and ambiguity,” she highlighted how there is no consensus in its definition. Hayhurst pointed to Paul Gilroy’s After the Empire, and how Gilroy claimed that reckoning with history requires active dialogue to create cohesion. Fiction as an engagement with creativity. Writers must take ownership of our responsibility as cultural representatives, especially since we rely and use our products, the novel or text, to engage and understand the world. What biases inform our interpretations? Hayhurst demands a recognition of novels as a source and form of knowledge. She also referenced Jennifer Web and Donna Lee Brian’s idea on “agnostic thinking,” how knowledge is contingent as opposed to “true,” which provides a framework for an active dialogue. Hayhurst urges us to examine our motivations and intentions as writers.

One of the questions her presentation raised for me is how do we maintain the creative journey and intellectual discovery for the writer but also take into account our responsibility as “cultural representatives” or as givers of “knowledge”? How do we balance our discoveries as artists with the discoveries of the reader or what we want them to discover in our work?

Hayhurst wrapped up her presentation focusing on how writing requires developmental, growing consciousness?  Aesthetic values and ethical values are tied up she argues, concluding that our positionality leads to interpretation and therefore representation to the readers. “Its about flexing the imagination, imagining for your own gain or for someone else’s,” she concluded.

I truly hope to reconnect with Hayhurst, so we can collaborate on future work!
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Toward the end of the conference, I had a chance to reconnect with a fellow Hawthornden resident, poet and professor Julian Stannard (photo above), who said that a poem is an accident. He read from his new work What Were You Thinking.

There were two papers that intriguingly covered process, valuing the craft of writing more so than the product. Annabel Banks’ “The Poesis Project: Real Time Capture of Poetic Process” and Rosie Shepherd’s of Goldsmiths College, UK, “Where is the Creative Process? Its right there!” seemed to be speaking directly to one another in terms of the physical process of writing and the process that takes form and eventually turns to content with a poem. Banks talked about how as we edit a text it grows and shrinks. The finished product could in a sense, as Banks explains, be the dead body, the corpse after its life has run its course. “We are networked, part of a knowledge matrix when we go online and work on a computer as opposed to working with the simpler technology of pen and paper” she says. Both Banks and Shepherd seemed to consider the product as secondary to the process and had me thinking how technology assists and enables content, meaning, and therefore interpretation.

Some general thoughts, that came up for yours truly is how do we imagine our imaginations? How is form formed? Craft is part artists’ intuition and other part artist’s extreme rationality. We make countless decisions as artists, and those decisions have to be calculated or based on some knowledge and prior experience or perhaps the artist’s intuition is simply based on gathered knowledge and experience. The product is a time stamp, a time capsule, and part of the continuum of work of the networked matrix. There is lots to ponder as the rains started to flood the streets of London. See the sky view from the Kensington flat below.

One more final installment to come. Stay tuned…

 

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Inciting the Global Imagination in Oxford & Lisbon

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Yours truly had the honor of presenting at two academic conferences this summer, 7th Global Conference Diasporas: Exploring Critical Issues, organized by Interdisciplinary.net and held at Mansfield College, Oxford, UK, 5-7 July 2014 and The International Conference Youth in/and Literature, organized by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Universidad NOVA de Lisboa in Lisbon, Portugal taking place 9-11 July 2014.

The Diasporas Conference ran con-currently with Interdisciplinary.net’s other conference “The Apocalypse”, and it was great fun asking those presenters how the apocalypse was going during mealtime. I also got a much appreciated dress rehearsal from the apocalyptic attendees who asked about my research and then surprised me with a host of questions, which even more surprisingly I found myself not only able to answer but enjoyed mulling over and discussing.

So what was presented in Oxford? Along with fantastic papers such as fellow Saint Mary’s College Professor Dana R. Herrera’s “#OFW: Social Media and the Public Discourse Regarding Overseas Filipino Workers” provocative topics included:

  • What Difference a Century Makes: Caribbeans in the Amazon in the Turn of the 20th and the 21st Centuries, Maria da Graça Martins
  • Locating the Self in a Disaporic Space: A Study of Imtiaz Dharker’s Poetry, Rimika Singhvi
  • The Stories We Tell: Drifting and Linking in Dionne Brand’s Prose, Eshe Mercer-JamesEconomics and Diaspora, Ram Vemuri

Each of the presenters on my panel complemented each other’s work, as we all spoke on ambivalence and pluralism to deepen the discussion of diasporas from multiple perspectives. See for yourself:

Session 8: Border-crossing Narratives
Chair: Richard Merritt

  • Then the World Widened: Daring Creative Writing Students to be Cartographers of the Global Imagination, Rashaan Alexis Meneses
  • John MacKenzie’s Letters I Didn’t Write: Home is Where You Are, Kristen Smith
  • Collaborations in Diaspora: Canadian Experiments in Cross-Diasporic Multi-Authored Poetry, Heather Smyth

And what exactly did I present?

The abstract:

Then the World Widened: Daring Creative Writing Students to be Cartographers of the Global Imagination

Pankaj Mishra called for a “bolder cartography of the imagination” in his essay “Beyond the Global Novel” (Financial Times 2013), and a chorus of critics echoed his sentiments posing that the “global novel” or “world literature” sacrifices the specificity of real political traumas for the sake of deadened, feel-good multiculturalism. Though no matter how publishers and academics categorize, plenty of creative writers in our proliferating MFA and PhD creative writing programs aim to tackle transnational narratives. Likely to fictionalize aspects of their own transnational experience or origins, a novelist-in-training will set the world as her stage and her characters as polyglots. How will she avoid the relativistic dead-zone of multicultural platitudes while interrogating notions of politics and identity? How does she begin to depict what Mishra demanded as a “challenging cultural otherness”?

The global or transnational storyteller will likely implement such techniques as the multi-stranded narrative. She will have to demonstrate multilingual sensitivity, and her fiction will undoubtedly straddle simultaneous senses of space and time. This paper examines ways for creative writing students to practice these specific techniques by exploring the works of Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss and Chris Abani’s Virgin of Flames both of which demonstrate linguistic virtuosity and polyphonic narratives with the intent to grasp what Bertolt Brecht named the “estrangement effect.” Taken from a craft rather than theoretical approach, this paper will illustrate ways to shape a de-centered, global narrative. For a cartographer at this scale must pursue intersections of truth and art, which requires from the writer and the reader a mutual construction of story and meaning. The writer, in this sense, relies on ambiguity and ambivalence to create a purposeful vertigo that is both world-making and world-breaking.

An excerpt:

In crafting the polyphonic narrative, the writer will want to assume that all perspectives, no matter the social or economic standing, have something to lose. From the wealthiest and most comfortable to those who are beyond the margins, every voice has to count. So how to justly cover the stakes? How to viscerally capture the urgency of what’s at stake for each character? The writer must ask herself:

  • How does each character represent a microcosm and how do these individual microcosms make a multiverse?

  • How does each perspective contradict, complement, mirror, and refract one another?

  • How best to splinter the self of each character, knowing that heart, body, and mind are in opposition with one another for each character?

  • How do these oppositional forces within each character map time and space both for the characters and for the reader?

The takeaway from this conference in this particular network  is that passion is key. Interdisciplinary.net goes to great lengths not to emphasize titles or rest on stature but to focus on shared interests and dialogue. Each of the presenters were deeply invested in their topics, which was most engaging and inspiring.

As for what happened in Lisbon, the two conferences couldn’t have been more different. The first one was small and intimate. Forty attendees maximum aside from the two organizers, everyone present sat on a panel, so attendance was expected through the duration of the conference. Conversely, at the New University of Lisbon, I never got a hold of how many attendees were present because people were always coming and going. Half of the presentations were in Portuguese, so panel attendance was uneven depending on which language was spoken. Despite the variation, the opening keynote speaker, Shane Blackman, Professor of Cultural Studies, Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, United Kingdom, proved most informative and timely, speaking on ethnography, which yours truly will be experimenting with come fall semester.

My panel included:

1) Bulgaria and Spain, Petya Yankova and Lida Aslanidou (University of York & City University London, UK)

2) “Then the World Widened: Daring Creative Writing Students to be Cartographers of the Global Imagination”, Rashaan A. Meneses (Saint Mary’s College of California, USA)

3) The Biggest Loser: Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter Series, the Queer Art of Failure, and the American Obsession with Youth Achievement, Michelle Ann Abate (Ohio State University, USA)

Of course, with the good counsel of a wise colleague I didn’t present the same paper from Oxford, but riffed off the original and found myself deeply interested in exploring how the bildungsroman of the 19th century reflects the building of a nation that mirrors the building of an individual through socialisation. Pushing the idea into a contemporary context, I’m curious to see how the bildungsroman, especially concerning the global novel, examines how individuals gain agency in parallel to how ethnic minorities might pursue sovereignty in the face of national hegemony. Yes, a mouthful, but this is the stuff that revs my engine. With that said, here’s an excerpt:

3. Performing Identity
Our identities demonstrate our allegiance to certain traditions and our rejection of other traditions. We essentially perform our allegiances or denial through identity. How we act and who we act with is our show of moral, personal, spiritual and physical integration into specific communities and even our integration into our larger global society. Jopi Nyman speaks to this in “Performing Englishness”: “By rewriting the generic repertoire of the Bildungsroman, the novel does more than represent a post-colonial critique of a Western genre. Rather, by redefining the process of learning in the context of the nation as a way of learning how to be English, the novel addresses questions of (national) identity and stresses its performative character.”[1] Identity is performative demonstrating our membership or rejection of values and traditions, and we might see the parallels between how the shaping of an individual identity reflects the shaping of a community or even a nation as Benedict Anderson speaks to in his Imagined Community.


[1] Nyman, p 97.

And now what?

I’m eager to continue exploring how global writers explore issues of identity, transnationalism and politics through craft techniques. I’m also hoping to scheme up a panel+workshop with fellow literary artists to explore the following themes:
1. How does your literary work serve or shape your social action or your commitment to social justice?
2. How do we read AND write for craft versus culture (in terms of being a person of color writer)?
3. How can writing & reading chart a “living” map of culture, identity, self, and community?

Stay tuned to see what happens next…