Craft is Culture: Psyching up for The International Creative Writing Conference 2016

Great International Acceptance

Joy. Trepidation. Excitement. Yours truly tumulted through a gamut of responses when I opened the email declaring acceptance of a presentation proposal I almost gave up on and didn’t submit. But how could I resist the chance to throw in my hat for The International Creative Writing Conference, UK to be held this coming June at Imperial College, London? And what better topic to tackle than identity and creativity?

I’ve just assigned myself a hefty reading list to hopefully answer questions I’m a little scared to approach. The urgency to these questions is undeniable, not just for myself but for our writing communities. Below is the abstract and following are a list of links and articles that have spurred my mission along with the reading list I’ve assigned myself for the next few months.

Craft is Culture: Writing & Reading A Global Imagination

“In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all…” Junot Diaz states in his “MFA vs. POC” (New Yorker, 2014) thereby igniting an urgent conversation about diversity in the literary arts. For historically marginalized artists, creative writing begins and ends with perilous tension. If we write and read from this premise, we are primed and prepared for the necessary conflict to fuel our art. How do we engage and interrogate craft to help us explore our understandings of identity and politics, and, conversely, how do we test notions of identity and politics to enrich and deepen our craft? Recognizing that craft is culture and that tension drives all creative writing, this presentation explores reading and writing practices to incite a global cultural imagination that ultimately pinpoints intersections where truth meets art.

“We’ve certainly seen an increased urgency among individual student writers to locate themselves and their work within the evolving culture,” she says. For some, that urgency comes from self-identification with a particular ethnic or racial heritage. Others want to explore race as a means, as Voigt says, “to expand imaginative empathy without encroachment or appropriation.”

Assigned Reading

ed. Rankine, Claudine, The Racial Imaginary 

Young, Kevin, The Gray Album

Shivani, Anis, Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies

Anzaldúa, Gloria, Light in the Dark/ Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality

and more to come…

The hope and ultimate aim is to expand these ideas into workshops engaging communities in the flesh. If you have any suggestions or would like to dialogue about craft and culture, please don’t hesitate. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Teaching two brand spanking new courses for L&CS this spring semester

Reading the likes of Azedah Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad, Fareed Zakaria’s Post-American World, Jared Diamond’s Collapse, and revisiting Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for two new classes I’m teaching within Saint Mary’s College’s Liberal & Civic Studies Program. Students are coming to me in class proud about how conversant they’re getting concerning world politics, global matters, and environmental issues. I must confess, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut during class discussions. Its hard to keep silent when the readings and subjects are so stimulating.

122 Environmental Responsibility in a Global Community 

Taken the semester immediately following L&CS 121 whenever possible, this courses focuses on the natural world in which we lie, and the complex interrelationship between human activities, the values which determine these activities and their consequences for the environment. Different societies’ belief systems along with their responsibilities and attitudes toward the environment are examined. Students are required to devote time each week to a service-learning project, write essays, intellectual integrations and a self-assessment. Class sessions are supplemented by a biweekly activity lab. Prerequisites: L&CS 121, English 5, Collegiate Seminar 20/110. 

123 Modern Global Issues

The purpose of this course is to gain broad-based exposure to some of the cultural, political and economic issues related to and arising from the processes of globalization. Students will study recent critical dialogues and philosophies of globalization, including issues of ethnicity/race, gender, identity, urban culture, post-nationalism, multiculturalism and post-colonial studies. Students are require to participate in class, lead discussion, write essays and news articles responses, give an oral presentation and complete a midterm exam.   Prerequisite:L&CS 121 or permission of instructor.

We’ve watched some of the following videos to supplement subjects and texts recently covered:

Slajov Zizek on “Cultural Capitalism:

Hans Rosling on “The Magic Washing Machine”

Saving the Bay Documentary

Radio, podcasts, and interviews on Art, Culture, History, Science, Politics, and more

Recently my Pa asked suggestions for good radio shows about Art. Here are some of my favorite go-to sites. These links always inspire my writing and teaching. Let me know what you think and help us add to the list.

In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg– he brings in top scholars and academics to discuss art, literature, science, and history. There’s an undeniable Western slant, but the discussions are always riveting and the participants often argue, which is entertaining.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/in-our-time/

Simon Schama on BBC 4– art historian who’s endlessly fascinating
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/programmes/people/VGVmL25hbWUvc2NoYW1hLCBzaW1vbiAoaGlzdG9yaWFuKQ

Terrence McNally– he doesn’t really cover art but his guest speakers are the leading thinkers and writers on politics, culture, environmental studies, global issues, etc, and the topics are always urgent.
http://temcnally.podomatic.com/

logo

Image from Web TV Hub

FORATV– I make my students watch videos of authors we’re reading on this site, looks like they have some good art interviews
http://fora.tv/subtopic/arts

TED talks– Hands down the most comprehensive site for interviews with all the leading international and national thinkers, movers, and shakers. This is an incredibly comprehensive and popular site. I subscribe to their weekly newsletter, which is worth it cause you can see what the latest talks are and click on any that you want to hear. This is an essential resource that I check regularly. Very, very inspiring.
http://www.ted.com/talks

And, just for kicks, here’s a clip on RSA animate, which I’m currently addicted to, with Slavoj Zizek’s First as Tragedy, Then as Farce:

Write-up on ACTC’s 17th Annual Conference sponsored by Yale in New Haven, CT

From April 14 through April 17, 2011, I had the honor and pleasure of presenting at the 17th Annual Conference for the Association for Core Texts and Courses, sponsored by Yale University, and co-sponsored by Augustana College, Boston College, and College of the Holy Cross, hosted at The Omni Hotel in New Haven, Connecticut. This year’s theme was “The Quest for Excellence: Liberal Arts and Core Texts.”

One of the plenary speakers argued for the spirituality of 19th century French poetry focusing on a particular piece by Mallarme, and two scientists, a quantum physicist and a chemist, responded with genuine enthusiasm about the connections they’d made to the poem presented and how the poem demonstrated the fragmentation in quantum physics and solvation of chemistry. The engagement from the scientists was wonderfully inspiring, and I truly hope to see more reaching out across the disciplines.

Thankfully the last speaker for the plenary sessions called for more cross-disciplinary collaboration and criticized the institutions for making such collaborations impossible. ACTC focuses more on critical and scholarly work though some of the panels centered on best practices and pedagogy. The panel “Core Images, Part II: Learning, Examples, Practice” brought together art historians and art professors who urged the use of art as a vital source for discussion and inquiry. Tatiana Klacsman from Augusta State University and her presentation “The Iliad in Teaching Art History within a Humanities Framework” covered how culture and values can be analyzed and evaluated through Greek artifacts. Mona Holmlund from University of Saskatchewan discussed approaches to indigenous art, especially in contrast to the Western canon with her presentation “The Challenges of Integrating Indigenous Knowledge with the Western Canon.”

Another literature scholar posed the worry of art replacing the written word, and an attendee followed up by asking how much time should faculty dedicate to art versus text. I had to counter that time is a measure of value, and everything discussed on that panel came down to values whether we’re comparing Indigenous art to Western or text versus image. As Socrates lamented the rise of the written word claiming that text would corrupt the rich oral culture of his time, everything comes down to values, which is determined by culture. We need to keep this in mind anytime we weigh one thing against another. As scholars we should constantly be checking our values and be wary of how our values factor into our curriculum, especially considering how those values may be servicing our goals for diverse student populations.

My own paper certainly evolved out of this consideration of values, which I presented for the panel “Contemplating Critique: How Far Back in Time is It Used?” Here’s an excerpt:

Engaging First-generation Students with Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality

Through his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau draws in First-generation students through affective means, modeling an essential method of critique and analysis that demonstrates an individual’s agency of power based on reason, observation, and imagination. Rousseau provides a critical point of connection for students who may not be traditionally accustomed to the culture and privilege of higher education, and, through his narrative and argument, students can discover a means for engagement within their communities.

Nicole, we’ll call her, was a student who had yet to find her footing, academically. By simplest definition, she is a first-generation student. Neither of her parents had earned their undergraduate degree, and the college experience was all together uncharted waters for her and her family. She floated through Greek Thought and listlessly wandered through the likes of Dante, Augustine, and Chaucer in Roman/Christian, consistently feeling estranged by authors who looked and sounded nothing like her, describing cultures and concepts that seemed completely foreign, and irrelevant to her immediate experience.

By the time she came to my class as a sophomore, she had found her niche on campus and was part of a strong social network, but, academically, she was still unanchored and her displacement seriously affected her GPA. Still, Nicole was hungry for intellectual nourishment, knowing she lacked purpose in her studies, which inhibited her from realizing her full potential. By mid-semester, she was barely treading the choppy waters of Cervantes, Hobbes, and Locke, until, suddenly, to both her surprise and my own, Nicole reached terra firma with Jean Jacques Rousseau.

More coverage and reflection post-conference is forth coming.

Globalisation & Cosmopolitanism

On the Facebook, of all places, I reconnected with a fellow SMC MFA’er and college professor who is teaching a fall semester course on “Globalization and Cosmopolitanism,” two passions of mine. Our discussions got me thinking about how I could revamp some of my composition courses. Below is a list of possible source materials that come to mind as I consider re-designing my syllabi (all sources deal with transnational politics, immigration, citizenship, etc):

FILMS

1. The Constant Gardner

2. Bread and Roses

3. Dirty Pretty Things

4. The World


5. Kinamand

6. Maria Full of Grace

7. Angel-A

8. Recommended by colleague, Where the Green Ants Dream

ESSAYS & ARTICLES
1. Roger Cohen’s NY Times’ columns deal with globalization and global citizenship, and I’ve had some classroom success with his astute article “The Global Rose as a Social Tool” published March 13, 2008:

Most of the roses I saw were destined for the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain in Britain, with a price tag of the equivalent of $10 already affixed. I asked Helen Buyaki, aged 27, one of 1,800 employees at the farm, what she earns: “4,500 shillings a month.” That’s 70 bucks.

Look at the global economy one way and Buyaki earns the equivalent of seven bunches of roses for a month’s labor. That smacks of exploitation. Look at it another and she has a job she’d never have had until globalization came along.

2. Arundhati Roy’s speech “Come September”, September 18, 2002

Nobody puts it more elegantly than The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman. In an article called, “Craziness Pays”, he said, “The U.S. has to make it clear to Iraq and U.S. allies that…American will use force without negotiation, hesitation or U.N. approval.” His advice was well taken. In the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the almost daily humiliation the U.S. government heaps on the U.N. In his book on globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman says, and I quote, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas…and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.” Perhaps this was written in a moment of vulnerability, but it’s certainly the most succinct, accurate description of the project of corporate globalization that I have read.

BOOKS
1. Unmasking Los Angeles: Third World Cities, non-fiction collection of essays, edited by Saint Mary’s professor, Deepak Sawhney

2. Graceland, novel by Chris Abani

3. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Saijie (also adapted into a film but the books are always better)

4. The Secret Agent, novel by Joseph Conrad

5. Travel as a Political Act, non-fiction travel book by Rick Steves

6. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, philosophy by Kwame Anthony Appiah

Mantones de Manila at La Pena Cultural Center

An installment of the five part series “Enlaces” exploring the Spanish, Indigenous, Arabic, and African influences in the music and dance of the Americas, on February 20 at La Pena Cultural Cultural Center in Berkeley, “Manton de Manila” showcased the beautiful embroidered silk shawls introduced across the globe by the Spanish.

Featuring:
María de la Rosa & Rudy Figueroa – Mexican Dance
Parangal Dance Company – Philippine Folk Dance
Theresa Calpotura-Classical Guitar
Asociación Cultural Kanchis – Peruvian Dance
De Rompe y Raja – Afro-Peruvian Cultural Association
Javier Trujillo – Peruvian Guitar
Virginia Iglesias – Flamenco Dance
Jorge Liceaga – Spanish Guitar
Edwin Lozada – Poetry
Paul Flores – Narrator
Exhibition of Mantones de Manila – Courtesy of Edwin Lozada (Carayan Press)

Curated by Edwin Lozada, editor of Field of Mirrors and member of PAWA Inc., Lozada owns an impressive collection of mantones de manila that span from 1820 to present time, gathered from all over the world. The show traced the history of these embroidered shawls back to Canton, China, purchased by the Spanish in Manila, which starting from 1571 through 1811 served as an integral port to the Galleon Trade. The popularity of these shawls spread to Mexico, Peru, and Spain, just to name a few countries. Weaving song and dance while chronicling the shawl’s diaspora, we start first in Veracruz, Mexico.

Unfortunately, no videos or photographs were allowed by the audience, but to get a feel for the similar threads that run throughout these cultures across the globe, here are some samplings from other sources. The first performance was Mexico’s National Dance, the Jarabe Tapatio:

After the dance, the dancers told the story of La China Poblana who was neither from China or Puebla but may have been a Mughal Princess named Mirrha taken captive by the Spaniards and brought to Puebla where she was bought by a wealthy Dona and Don and christened Catarina de San Juan. She’d fashion the most beautiful embroidered skirts that glittered and shimmered, and wear them when she went to the market. The ladies of Puebla soon adopted her style, and the skirt spread across Mexico. For more on Mirrha’s history check out Stitches in Time.

https://i1.wp.com/www.yucatanliving.com/article-photos/events/10082007-frida.jpg

Image from Yucatan Living

The evening’s performance then transported us to the port that made the embroidered shawl so famous. From Manila, “El Paseo”:

We also learned of Saint Martin de Porres (1579-1639) the Black Saint or La Santa Negra, the first saint of the Americas. Born illegitimately from a Spanish nobleman and a young, former black slave, he grew up poor but learned the medical arts at the age of ten and was already devoted to taking care of the sick. Porres later joined the Dominican Order and led a life committed to charity.

http://sandradi.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/saint-martin-de-porres.jpg

Image from Novena

In honor of the Saint of Peru, two dancers performed La Marinera:

The dancing ended with a rousing and riveting flamenco from Andalusia Spain:

And the rest of night belonged to the mantones themselves. Spanning from 1820 to 1940 (?), the later the shawl was made the more elaborate the embroidery and the longer the fringe, each one more beautiful than the next. From striking reds, gorgeous greens, vibrant blues and purple, the mantones de manila are marvelous creations made more unique and more lovely by the many different cultures that have stylized this shawl and called it their own. This show made me wonderfully proud to be a Chicapina.

https://i2.wp.com/www.museo-oriental.es/imagenes/didactica/Filipinas,%20trampol%C3%ADn%20hacia%20Oriente/Bordados%20y%20mantones%20de%20Manila.jpg

Image from Museo Oriental, Valledolid

For more information check out “Truth about the manton de Manila” by Bea Zobel Jr. on TravelSmart.net and watch for Lozada’s much anticipated book on the history and influence of the manton de manila.

___

Enlaces (Connections That Bind Us) El Mantón de Manila presented by La Peña Cultural Center in collaboration with Gabriela Shiroma (CulturARTE), Carayan Press, PAWA, Inc., Community Music Center-San Francisco

“the many ways in which our individual memories, histories, and stories may intersect with our cultural memories, histories, and stories”

Poet and Professor Barbara Jane Reyes covers the University of San Francisco fiction talk and workshop for her class “Filipino American Arts” in her post “Random: Culture, Commodity, Performance, Production”

…I am also thinking about erasure and invisibility (so, what’s new?). Last week in class, we discussed Lysley Tenorio’s story, “Save the I-Hotel,” which moves back and forth between the 1930’s and 1977, specifically the day of the final evictions of the I-Hotel. The story follows two men, laborers named Fortunado and Vicente, who are I-Hotel residents during that entire time period. We get the kind of care they exhibit toward one another, one helping the other find employment, sharing space however cramped, protecting each other from white male violence, keeping each other company when loneliness and homesickness are consuming, lending a coat to keep the other warm. It’s very tender. How do these things not amount to love, and how is this love never romantic? So that’s that, about erasure and silence; we simply cannot know that 100% of the Manongs were hetero, though we never ever hear about Manongs who were not.

I am also thinking of Rashaan Alexis Meneses’s visit to my class, also last week. She discussed how she came to her story, “Here in the States,” from the anthology Growing Up Filipino II, and her series of stories about immigrant workers in our urban areas (specifically, Los Angeles), what things about their American lives we never know because even though they’re omnipresent, we never ask them to tell us their life stories. She talked about the process of writing these stories and considering an audience who may not have the same cultural knowledge, how much to explain and translate, and how to explain and translate, while balancing what the story needs, at what pace it needs to move, from whose point of view it must be told.

She also conducted a writing workshop for my students, based upon memories, items that always occupy a special or significant place in our memories, and how to go about writing about these things. We started with a list of seven items and from there, did a freewrite engaging all the senses. I like this, the practice of keeping a written inventory of memories to which we can always return as artists. I like how this practice can bring to light the many ways in which our individual memories, histories, and stories may intersect with our cultural memories, histories, and stories. My students had some really great responses, and were, for the most part, quite open about why those items were so important to them, and where they are now in relation to these items. I later on told Rashaan about my mental inventory, and that I always go back to the same memory; all of th.e items on my list pertain to that memory of visiting Papa’s house in Gattaran when I was six…

Read the rest of the post here.

More coverage on the fiction workshop at the University of San Francisco will be forthcoming…

“a recent outpouring of memoirs, fiction, poetry, blogs and even some readable military reports by combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan”

The New York Times’ writer James Dao covers war-time writing from soldiers in his article, “A Well Written War, Told in the First Person,” published, Monday, February 8, 2010.

Excerpt:
The current group is different. As part of a modern all-volunteer force, they explore the timeless theme of the futility of war — but wars that they for the most part support. The books, many written as rites of passage by members of a highly educated young officer corps, are filled with gore, inept commanders and anguish over men lost in combat, but not questions about the conflicts themselves. “They look at war as an aspect of glory, of finding honor,” said Mr. O’Brien, who was drafted for Vietnam in 1968 out of Macalester College in St. Paul. “It’s almost an old-fashioned, Victorian way of looking at war.”

Read entire article

Reading List

Memoirs & Poetry

JOKER ONE: A MARINE PLATOON’S STORY OF COURAGE, LEADERSHIP, AND BROTHERHOOD By Donovan Campbell. (Random House.) Read review.

ONE BULLET AWAY: THE MAKING OF A MARINE OFFICER By Nathaniel Fick. (Houghton Mifflin Company.) Read review.

THE UNFORGIVING MINUTE: A SOLDIER’S EDUCATION By Craig M. Mullaney. (The Penguin Press.) Read review.

HERE, BULLET By Brian Turner. (Alice James.) Read review.

LOVE MY RIFLE MORE THAN YOU: YOUNG AND FEMALE IN THE U.S. ARMY By Kayla Williams. (W. W. Norton.) Read review.

POWDER: WRITING BY WOMEN IN THE RANKS, FROM VIETNAM TO IRAQ. Edited by Lisa Bowden and Shannon Cain. (Kore Press.)

Military Reports

FIXING INTEL: A BLUEPRINT FOR MAKING INTELLIGENCE RELEVANT IN AFGHANISTAN By Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Capt. Matt Pottinger, and Paul D. Batchelor. Read report.

AN UNRELEASED ARMY HISTORY ABOUT THE JULY 2008 BATTLE OF WANAT By Douglas R. Cubbison. Read the draft report (pdf).

Its not a small world after all?

Covering the flip side to “world music” The Guardian’s Tony Naylor in his “Is Ethno-techno exploiting world music?”reports some musicians love the freedom this genre grants and others think that freedom is a shameful lie:

Matias Aguayo, however, is less enthusiastic. Born in Chile, raised in Germany, now resident in Buenos Aires, the electro maverick concedes that it may be a matter of taste – “and, in most cases, putting samples of traditional songs on a techno beat is in very bad taste” – but he rejects any deeper reading of this “ethno-minimal” trend. To him, such music is cheap “exoticism”, in a colonial tradition. Where you, in La Mezcla, might hear a joyful intermingling of ideas, he hears a Western techno producer imposing order: “It doesn’t seem very ‘free’ to me. Adding a few congas and a ‘Latino’ vocal does not reflect a willingness to learn from other cultures.”

Such musical references feed into the idea of techno as this fluid global community, but Aguayo is scathing: “Maybe for techno’s easyJet set it’s a small world. But ask young musicians in Santiago or Buenos Aires how easy it is to move around. It’s naive, in a brutal way, to say that we’re all world citizens.”

Think on that next time you’re whooping it up to La Mezcla.

Read the article.

Deborah Orr points out “Diversity and Equality are not the same thing”

Sure Deborah Orr may be criticizing U.K. society but the words ring true across the Atlantic in her article published in today’s The Guardian, “Diversity and Equality are not the Same Thing”

Here are some of the meatier sections to her astute argument:

…the Conservative leadership has embraced not equality, but diversity.

This is social progress, of course. But it is not the progress that the left once envisaged. On the contrary, in the same time as the argument for diversity has made such strides, the increased equality that was assumed to be part of its goal, has not materialised at all. Instead, inequality in Britain is now much greater than it was prior to the success of its various “equality” campaigns…

Does this matter? Is it important to understand that diversity and equality are different things, and that they are sometimes even at odds with each other? After all, the rooting out of discrimination achieves social justice, whether in the name of diversity or equality…

Yet who in the political mainstream is advancing this argument? Even Barack Obama, the world’s most potent embodiment of the advance of diversity, has trouble setting out, let alone winning, the equality argument.

In the current issue of the London Review of Books, US academic David Bromwich writes about Obama’s difficulties in persuading the nation of the overall benefit of his healthcare reforms. In a stinging phrase, just as applicable in this country, he says: “Equality in the United States in the early 21st century has become a gospel preached by a liberal elite to a populace who feel they have no stake in equality.” Miserably, he’s quite right.

Read more of the article here.