20 NEVADA HUMANITIES
CONTRIBUTORS RUBY BARRIENTOS ANDY BUTTER BRITT CURTIS MARK CURTIS ANDREA ELIZABETH JULIAN GUY JAMIE HEMINGWAY NATHAN LACHNER CHRIS MONZON DANIEL MORSE ANNIE SAUNDERS TYNA SLOAN MICHELLE WAIT ERIC WIRTHLIN
CONTENTS INTERVIEW WITH KIESE LAYMON pg 6-13 CHAPTER 1 Bodies! .............pg 14-16 Humanities in Prison + Writing Behind Bars .............pg 18-21 Muzzled Words .............pg 22-24 CHAPTER 2 A Tribute to Adrian C. Louis .............pg 26-27 This Side of the Divide .............pg 28-31 Wild Cards .............pg 32-33 CHAPTER 3 Crossings.............pg 34-37 Kaleidoscopes: Diversity in Sci-fi.............pg 38-39 Queerstorias.............pg 40-42 CHAPTER 4 No Place Like Home............pg 44-45 Las Vegas Writes .............pg 46-47 A Woman’s Work is Never Done .............pg 48-51 CHAPTER 5 Loose Tongues............pg 52-54 Telling Stories From the Ivory Tower.............pg 56-57 Don’t Skip Out on This .............pg 58-59
DEAR READERS, The Holland Project is thrilled to present this zine in collaboration with Nevada Humanities and KWNK Community Radio in honor of the 6th Annual Nevada Literary Crawl. This publication is a Lit Crawl in review, expanding on the dialogues and ideas presented in many of the panels which occured in Reno on September 14, 2019. We assembled a team of writers, artists, musicians, radio DJs, students, and community members to cover these panels, collect interviews and highlights, and return with their reflections and takeaways. This team has also included suggestions for further reading, listening, and viewing in order to continue the conversation well into the future. Collected interviews and links to these suggestions are available on our website at hollandreno.org/blog. We hope you find the following insightful and inspiring, and that you are encouraged to continue an exploration of exceptional literary work happening in Nevada and beyond.
See you next year at the Crawl! The Holland Project
Keynote speech and Q&A at the Nevada Museum of Art
Kiese Laymon’s Keynote Speech at the 2019 Nevada Literary Crawl not only provided insight into the writer’s breakout memoir Heavy, but it more importantly set the tone for the entire day that followed. Laymon left us with questions and challenges. He encouraged us to consider how we view our own and others’ bodies when we move through this world, consider how we love and how often we express that love, and to try and understand what literary liberation truly looks like while always striving for it. Prior to his speech which occurred before an audience of hundreds at the Nevada Museum of Art, Laymon graciously met with our correspondent Tyna Sloan to chat family, writing, and hip-hop.
BY TYNA SLOAN TS: So I want to start with a particular moment in Heavy, when your grandmother takes you in the Impala to pick up the washing from that family and she tells you to stay in the car and not talk to that “crazy little white boy”. And he comes up to the window and he says, “So you’re uh Reno’s grandson?” and here it is – you are in Reno! So I was saying, “well what did he mean by Reno? I live in Reno and Kiese is gonna be here in Reno and I wanna know!”. Why did he call her Reno? KL: You know, I want to say that it has something to do with Reno, Nevada, but I think my grandmother gave that family an alias. It was a part of her keeping herself all in tact. She didn’t want this family whose underwear she washed, who sometimes treated her respectfully, who often didn’t, she didn’t even want to give the benefit of knowing her actual name. And because you’re getting paid under the table, you can do that. Do you know what I’m sayin’? So it was one way she could keep herself safe from the people who were paying her. I think she told me one day the father called her Reno and then she just went along with it. And she was like, “Yes, yes, no, no.” But you know, that whole scene is partially about how older, black women spent their lives sort of insulating their actual interiority from the people who pay them. There was no reason to trust the people who pay them, she wanted to keep them at an arm’s distance. So she went along with Reno. But yeah when I was a kid, I was like “Who is Reno?” My grandmother’s best friends called her Kat, which was her nickname, nobody ever called her Reno. So I was just confused from the jump. But I’m glad to be in Reno now! I forgot about that connection.
Let’s go into writing a little bit. You talk a lot about how your mom was the driving force behind you writing. I’ve read it in your essays and in the book, and even heard you speaking on Youtube videos and what have you. As a parent myself, I think “Okay, I can see that”, making your children do something because it’s good for them. But there comes a point, I believe, that there’s a switch that flips and you do it because of the intrinsic value of doing it. You can say where it all started from, but where was that switch where you knew you were going to do this? That’s a great question, it’s hard to source when exactly that happened. You know, I played sports all my life, but before I could practice or go to a game, my mother made me write. I had to read the dictionary and then I had to write essays using dictionary words. So I always looked at writing like discipline. But by the time I go to high school and I started writing for the newspaper, and I could write about what I wanted to write about, I still wasn’t as audacious to think I could become a writer. I didn’t even know what that meant. But I knew at that point I was going to write for the rest of my life. The things I didn’t understand, writing helped me slow ‘em down. I know other people use different things – some people I know use instruments, some people I know make beats, some people I know rapped. I used to do all of that stuff too. But for me just sitting down, revising a passage, and trying to make sense of it and make music of it, just became something that made me feel good. So even when I went to college I still didn’t think I could become a writer. Then I got on a newspaper there and I became an editor. Then, I got kicked out of school for some stuff I was writing. And at the point I was like, “Alright, I don’t know how I’m gonna eat off of this, but I’m gonna write for the rest of my life.” And then you just get lucky, some things happen and some breaks happen. For me, I think it was in high school when I really started to do the writing I wanted to do as opposed to the writing that my mother made me do. But I was already mechanically sound because of the training that she gave me. And that’s why everything I write, especially Heavy, it says my name on it, but that’s my Momma’s investment. Without her that book doesn’t exist, for better or worse.
Its funny you should say that because I almost feel the same way about your other writings. I went backwards, I started with Heavy and then I started reading other things. Like a patchwork quilt, I could fill in little tiny gaps and have a better understanding of what was happening in Heavy by reading your other materials. What I noticed is that everything you write is heavy. I remember looking at the book when it came into the library and I was like, “I don’t want to read that, I really don’t.” Then I read it. And this brings me into my question, how do you balance the demands of the reader while taking care of the reader because of what you’re writing? Nobody ever asked that question. So, I used to love... I still love hip hop. I’m one of the last of my friends who was like a hold out. And when I was kid KRS-One – who now I’m very critical of – had this line where he was like, “People died so I could rhyme, you think I’m gonna grab the mic and waste my nation’s time?” And for the longest, I thought about that not when I was writing but about what I was publishing. The thing about all writers and artists is the stuff the audience sees is just a smidgen of the stuff we create. If I’m gonna put something out there, you know I do want it to resonate with my intended audience, but on a sentence level I want them to feel cared for. I want them on a sentence level to be like, “Oh that’s a familiar sentiment” or “he’s remixing a sentiment that I know” or “this person sees me.” But I do think sometimes in my art the initial grasp is what people would call heavy or ultra-provocative. I mean the title of that book is How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, that’s a very provactive title. I think there’s a lot of comedy in that book, I think there’s a lot of comedy in Heavy too. But I’m not trying to grasp you with comedy and then bring you into something really deep and possibly traumatic, and you know, catastrophic. I’m trying to grab you with the shared catastrophic and then hopefully bring you into some comedic and some other stuff. The risk is that because we all are us and we live in worlds that are always hitting us, and familiar relationships that are hitting us and we hit other people, sometimes people don’t want read a book called How to Slowly Kill Yourself, sometimes people don’t want to read a book called Heavy. Even when it’s just the word on the title. We were going back and forth about what we were going to put on the title and somebody was like, well, should we misdirect and put the last picture of my mother on my Twitter? Which is the last picture my mother and I ever took of each other. In that picture, it’s kind of like a happy picture, you know I’m posing and she’s right there and she’s sort of proud. But then I was just like, “Nah, let’s just put the word on there and just go with it”. So that’s what happened. That’s a
great question, thank you for that. I thought about it too because of my reaction to it. It wasn’t just that the book resonated, I’m a crier. I’m reading it and my daughter pops out her door, “Ma, are you reading that again?” and “Why don’t you put that book down and take a break?” And I’m just *sobbing* on the sofa... Right! Sometimes I think if I could revise that, I wonder if I would. Take it down a notch in terms of some of the stuff that causes pain. I never wanna hurt people with my art, but it’s tough in a world that gave me books my entire life that erased me, that erased my grandmother, that erased my mother. So when you erase people you erase their joy, erase their pain, erase their ambiguity, erase their uncertainty, and so sometimes retrospectively I wonder if it was a little too heavy. Because I don’t want anyone to cry in front of their children, you don’t want that. I get how it can be ultimately useful possibly, but you don’t want to hurt people. I think it was maybe more of a cathartic cry. I didn’t feel any trauma, but it was definitely one of those things where I understood a lot of the pain. And that’s just my way of getting through it. My kids understood that, it’s not the first time they’ve seen me cry with a book on the sofa. So thank you for that! ... You love hip hop and I love hip hop. You know Hanif, you guys are mates, and I read Love Letter to A Tribe Called Quest. It was so much fun! I couldn’t understand how he remembered all this so well. This really, truly is a love letter because it touched him so deeply that he could write this love letter to Tribe. So who would you write a love letter today? Man! Dropping bombs today! Today, if I could write a letter I think I would write to... hmmm… OK could I do two? It’s a tie! The two would be Lauryn Hill and, partially because of things that have happened in the last few weeks, Jay-Z. Lauryn Hill because if Heavy is inspired by an album, that would be Miseducation more than any other album. And also I just think we didn’t treat Lauryn the way she should’ve been treated, and then we turn around and say why isn’t she what we think she should be. Anyway, there’s a lot. I would talk to Lauryn, I would write a letter to Lauryn and hope she’d write back. And Jay, I would write a letter about friendship to him. I love Jay-Z, I’m super critical of Jay-Z. I taught Jay-Z classes for like five years when I was at Vassar in New York. I think he writes a lot about capitalism and I think he writes a lot about regret, but the whole thing with Kaepernick or whatever, I really want to
write to him about friendship. Because beyond all of that other stuff I think the friendship part of that got neglected. I think you talk to Kaepernick before you do that because that’s what friends do. I’m from the Black Deep South where organization and community are rooted in friendship. Without it you have no organization or community, or you have a weakened community. I would just make the argument that abiding friendship is gonna make him richer if that’s what he wants, but also just make him more potent. Excellent! I’ll be waiting for those letters. Who would you write to? It’s a hard question, right? I never thought about it! Oh good grief, I put all my energy in thinking of a good question that I can’t even answer... I think I would write to MF Doom. I want to know! Right? What are you hiding behind that mask? Decades later we still want to know! Which is amazing that we don’t know in this era with the internet, in which we think we know everything. Like, what are you hiding? Doom would be great, man, that’s a great answer! Because you never get that question, instead of thinking about the artists I really want to write to, I’m thinking about the artists people know. So I’m glad that you said Doom. Because, real talk, you know who I really want to talk to is Jean Grey. I was at an event and she sat next to me, and it was the most… I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of famous people and collaborate with a lot of famous people, I never in my life have felt so, like, “Can I turn my neck and look at you?” Because she’s just what I want to be as an artist. What was your very, very first experience with hip hop? You’d never heard it before. My parents weren’t together, they had me when they were nineteen and twenty, and then they moved to Winsconsin. They separated almost immediately and my father moved to D.C. I went to visit him and my momma dropped me off there for a summer. And we went to see Sugarhill Gang, like waayy back, way back. And I can’t even front... you know how some people talk about hip hop memories and are like,
“...and that’s when I fell in love.”? That was not the first time I fell in love. I was like, “That’s kind of cool”. But the first time I was captivated and I knew that life from this point on was going to be different is when I heard Run-DMC’s first album and I heard this song “Sucker M.C.’s”. That was a whole different kind of song. We had never heard people deliver lyrics that way, we didn’t know what a break beat was. And those were dudes who could care less about what we way down south were feeling and thinking, but still, they were just super heroes. I just wanted to be Run, and my boy wanted to be DMC, and my other boy who died wanted to be Jam Master Jay. When I was maybe 12 or 13, we had just moved here from Oakland and I had a paper route in my neighborhood. I saw a cassette tape in the road and I like music so I pick it up and take it home. I start playing it and I’m like, “What is this?” I had never heard this in my life, it was the first NWA album. And I was so sneaky, so so sneaky because once I played it, I was like “Oooh!”. And then I said to my little brothers, “Come in here, come listen to this!”. And it was our little secret getaway. I mean the cussing and everything else! I loved that Fat Girl song so much, it was so horrible, but… that was my own first private little taste, and it was mine. And that was before cable for a lot us. I mean my momma wouldn’t even let me have cable anyway. So I’d be listening to NWA and I don’t if you know this group 2 Live Crew, that shit was straight porn. You just listening to porn like real low on your tiny little radio. And yeah for worse, I think, that introduced us to sexuality in a weird way that a lot of us don’t even talk about. Cause if you didn’t have a TV or you didn’t have cable, you couldn’t see it on TV, but you could definitely hear it. I remember liking listening to NWA because it was different, I liked the beats, and it was silly, but then it started going into this other direction where I kind of receded from it. I didn’t want to go there and it made me feel really uncomfortable, it wasn’t who I wanted to be. It wasn’t anything I wanted to hear and so that pushed to start exploring other places like with Pharcyde, Del, People Under the Stairs. I had Del come to my class when I was in New York because I used to teach his album. And you’re right, NWA, especially after Ice Cube left, they were literally killing sex workers on tape and making songs about it. I tell my kids a lot of times now, because they often want to talk about Odd Future being “so out the box”, that that’s stuff they were doing in the 80’s. Like the necro rap, people were literally rhyming
about killing and eating people. And I was just like, “Yo, this is a little too much for me, fam.” But at the same time I remember watching those movies, the Freddie movies and all of that, but that was different for me. One more, can I tell you one of my lies? I used lie all the time and I would tell people that Del used to be my ex-boyfriend and everyone believed me! You can ask my best friend. Did you ever meet Del? NO! [laughs] I used to tell that lie, but everybody knew it was a lie. And my lie was Tootie. You know Tootie from the Facts of Life? I was like, “Yeeeah my auntie is friends with so-and-so and they friends with Kim Fields. You probably know her as Tootie, but, we talkin’.” People be like, “Man, shut up fool! Tootie don’t know you.” That’s really imaginative Del though! Just quickly, I want to say thank you for chatting with us and sharing your life, your work, and your love of hip hop. And all the best! Yeah, I want to thank you for the best interview I ever had in like, thirty minutes! Never thought that would happen in Reno, but thank you! •
The complete interview with Kiese Laymon is available online in addition to an edition of Phonolinguists with Tyna Sloan (a.k.a. Tenacious T) exploring Laymon’s memoir Heavy. Learn more at kwnkradio.org!
BY ANDY BUTTER + MICHELLE WAIT Tucked in the back of the Washoe Public House the expectant audience sardined in to hear UNR’s MFA candidates read poetry, fiction, and nonfiction centered on the “body”. Cadavers, broken noses, spiritual bodies, bodies of water, and more made appearances as the authors tested the limits of how “body” can be defined or how “bodies” emerge. As Andy Butter, Danielle Mayabb, Manuela Williams, Harrison Blackman, Leanne Howard, Karley Pardue, and Michelle Aucoin Wait dived into what it means to possess a body, the audience responded viscerally. Two readers, Michelle and Andy, tasked themselves with inhabiting the literal and metaphorical bodies of each other’s poetics. In order to do so, they imagined the lived experiences of each other’s physical bodies, and how corporeality influences their writing decisions. They spent the weeks before writing each other’s pieces. Neither of the poets saw the work that they would be reading until they were standing in front of the audience, which made for a cooperative experience of anticipation, awkwardness, and affirmation shared between reader, writer, and listener. The authors have included the following poems...
Written by Michelle Performed by Andy Letter from Grand Marais to Reno, September 22, 2030 After Richard Hugo Dear Michelle, In honor of the fall equinox & the coven, I finally added the triangle to my shapes. It didn’t hurt as bad as I remember. As I pierced my skin with the inky needle, the black blood whirling almost wrote a poem: Would you pluck the arrow from where it blooms or push it on through? But that is a different letter, a different poem. Yesterday, I ran as far down the northwestern shoreline of Lake Superior as the receding sand would allow. Ten years at almost sea level hasn’t taken away the lung capacity I expanded in the Sierra Nevadas, so I hiked, legs burning, to Devil’s Kettle, ran twice up and down the stairs, then bathed in the final miles of the burbling Brule. I wondered if I lay still with exhaustion would the rainbow trout, chinook salmon, smallmouth bass, and the even tinier mouthed Bikini Bottomites feed on the skin of my feet. I miss Lake Tahoe’s big blue body, how she could take your breath before you ever put one foot in the icy waves slapping at her sandy shores. They say she is blue because all of the other colors in the light spectrum are absorbed in her vastness, blue light scattered back because she couldn’t contain one more color. In honor of her and the coven, I light a blue candle, call upon the peace and patience of her element. In honor of the harvest, I eat pomegranate one prismatic seed at a time and then by the fistfuls, juice dripping down my neck—a vegetarian vampire role model. Love, Andy P.S. Equal parts dark and light illuminate projects brought to fruition.
Written by Andy Performed by Michelle Wouldst Thou Like to Live Deliciously? Fuck yes I wouldst and long too. Isn’t this the preferred state of things anyway? Everyone too busy cracking jokes in the kitchen, ruffling the small dogs shiny coats, smelling the day-worn palms of their lover to ever pick up a gun? Entire afternoons lounging upstairs in the golden light, perfecting our methods of giving head. All the shouted thank yous and hallelujahs tangled up on the ceiling fan blades like plucked nasturtiums, wilted in the heat we made. Pleasure a chore we get ahead of. The rat-tat-tat of an ecsatic body a weapon on the front lines of domestic terrorism. Wouldst thou like to live delightedly? Fuck yes I wouldst and for a long time too. But I can’t yet. Ask again once everyone’s got a boiled crawdad sticking out of their mouth from a feast I made. Ask again when there is a night no child has slept in a cage. Then I will sink my hands into the bonne terre, call it home, start digging a garden bed, bending the land toward a goodness I won’t see in my lifetime. Wouldst thou like to live slant? Fuck yes I wouldst, and loudly too. For a while let’s leave the brothers behind, send them away with babies swaddled to their chests, give them to do lists to tend the tomato patch, to kiss their sons sweetly on the cheeks. The patriarchy taking a vacation so good it never comes back but they do. In the meanwhile, O sisters, let’s go down to the river, watch the Mississippi’s slow sway drag our ankles in. Lets lay down on the shore, play our hands in each other’s hair. Wouldst thou like to walk home alone at night for once without fear? Fuck yes I wouldst but I got folks yet to bring along with. It’s a long walk home, brothers. It’s a long walk home, sisters. It’s a long way yet, babies and children and grannies and papas and chosen mothers and found fathers. It’s a long way yet and every step trod on some dead that hasn’t been put to sleep properly. The journey is so long we need two names. One name we toss out to hang deliciously in the night sky among our homemade constellations. The other I only say into the private amphitheater of my hand cupped behind your ear, also delicious.
in BY ERICA WIRTHLIN
When I walk into the security checkpoint, I take only my driver’s license, my keys, paper, and a pen. I hand these items over and am given my yellow visitor’s pass. I walk through the metal detector, and even after one year, I still hold my breath. I wait to be escorted to my class and then am left with the twelve men in the small room that stores old puzzles and games. This is my Cultural Perspectives class at Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC), and I knew I needed to communicate how important this group is at the Nevada Literary Crawl. I was the first speaker for the panel entitled Humanities in Prison. I spoke to the physical and mental restrictions placed on the men in prison and how our classes together are some of the only times these men have to be in an open dialog that is free of the authoritarian and dehumanizing overtones of the prison. The next speaker was Susan Chandler, who has been teaching classes at NNCC for over six years. Susan’s reflections on her newest class, American Voices, emphasized the importance of proximity. In prison, officials tell you it’s best not to shake a man’s hand or be too friendly or else you become an easy “mark.” However, in Susan’s class, the students work alongside her and one another to tackle big questions such as how to end the double standard of justice in America. One man, Alex, offered this insight, “The answer cannot be hate. Hope, love and trust are the solutions.” These are supplied in abundance by Shaun Griffin, former poet laureate of Nevada and last speaker of the panel, who has volunteered his time for several decades with NNCC. He states, “Books save lives,” a statement with such simplicity that it belies the serious work of creating space for reading and writing in prison. These tools pull men through their darkest hours of serving time and offer an anchor once the men are paroled into the bleak prospects available to those who have been incarcerated.
Writing Behind Bars was a follow-up panel that offered a firsthand account of the power of literature in these men’s lives. Shaun introduced us to three formerly incarcerated men who had all flown into Reno that morning to attend the Lit Crawl. Cornell Wilkins, the first to speak, discussed how writing inside and outside of prison connected him to a larger world. The day he stumbled into the poetry class off the yard was his first step on a path that led to him earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology and pursuing a master’s degree. He explains that he was denied twice for a graduate program due to his criminal record, reminding us of the stark challenges men like Cornell face. His resilience was rewarded with a spot in a program for policymaking. I was captivated by the next speaker, Durrell Grier, who was infused with a kind of lyricism in his every day speaking to the point that every word he said sounded like the start of a poem. More surprising still, Durrell had never written much of anything, much less poetry, before taking the creative writing class at NNCC. Like many, joining Shaun’s class was pure luck, according to Durrell. He battled cancer while in prison and books became a source of strength. Thankfully, Durrell has been in remission for over a decade. Through this process, he also found his own voice. He stressed the
“Humanities in Prison” at Pignic Pub
importance of providing a platform for voices at the margins of society. He closed with his poetry – a spoken word labyrinth of syllables that reminds us all of the power of a single voice. Ismael Santillanes was the last speaker to share his journey into poetry while in prison. He described how he used to be one of the men who wore a mask to protect himself until he realized it was turning his face gray with hopelessness. It took a lot to peel his onion, but Shaun’s poetry class became an exercise in honesty and vulnerability. He had to keep asking himself, “Why? Why? Why?” He revealed that the trick is to ask enough times because, after a while, you will find a little piece of yourself again. One piece of Ismael now is his poetry, which he read for us. It was a revelation on the cycles of life and death with deeply intimate metaphors for a person’s capacity to transform. In prison, where men are often metaphorically dead before they ever die, the panel impressed upon us that every line written by these men was fought for and hard won. There is such an urgency for people in prison to fight for their words, to write, to have a voice, and we should be alongside them in their struggle.
Indeed, books save lives. Hope, love, and trust do all the rest.
The Razor Wire by the men at Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC) available at Sundance (Reno) or via Shaun Griffin A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca Indelicate Angels by Ismael Santillanes (panelist) The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
ABOUT THE PANELISTS – Susan Chandler retired after 20 years of teaching in the School of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Reno. For the last several years, she has been teaching creative writing and cultural perspectives classes at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, a medium security state prison.
Durrell S. Grier is a Los Angeles native now residing in Las Vegas. He is a writer, and it’s his lifelong passion for writing that has always helped him better communicate his thoughts and ideas. For him, the literary arts expose an essential element of creation itself that he does not experience anywhere else. Shuan Griffin co-founded and directed Community Chest, a rural social justice agency for 27 years. He is a poet with a recent release by the University of Nevada Press in 2019 titled Because the Light Will Not Forgive Me– Essays from a Poet. Griffin also serves on the Nevada Humanities Board of Trustees. Ismael Santillanes is an author currently living in Coachella Valley, California where he also spent his formative years. Santillanes is the author of Indelicate Angels and it was in a Nevadan prison where he learned to look upon the blank page and to write always from the heart. Cornell Wilkins earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is a poet and works as a substance abuse case manager in Las Vegas. Erica Wirthlin is an instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College and educational advisor with the Davidson Academy. Wirthlin is also a volunteer teacher at Northern Nevada Correctional Center where she teaches cultural perspectives and creative writing.
ACT! There are so many ways to get involved in this work. If you’d like to support, here are Erica’s recommendations – VOLUNTEER at Northern Nevada Correction Center by visiting their site at: http://doc.nv.gov/About/ Volunteer_Information/Home/ DONATE to fund the purchase of books for students in the prison www.gofundme.com/f/supportcultural-perspectives-andcreative-writing ENGAGE stay on top of issues and initiatives to end mass incarceration www.vera.org/issues
BY JULIAN GUY When I read about Ahmed Naji in interviews and new stories leading up to his panel at the 2019 Reno Literary Crawl, the shock of his prison sentence consumed his interview questions, news briefs, and captivated an international audience. Naji is a talented writer, and his worldwide recognition is nothing short of well-deserved. In 2013 he published a collaborative work with artist Ayman Al Zorkany titled “Using Life.” In his work, Naji writes about friendships and relationships, but with sci-fi twists on reality. Using Life explores these complexities of life and love through a sci-fi lense in the city of Cairo. In 2015, following the publishing of an excerpt from this work, a formal complaint was filed against Naji for “disturbing public morality.” A reader had claimed Naji’s writings on cunnilingus gave him a heart attack, and Naji found himself facing a distopian reality of his own, something no other writer in Egypt had faced, a two year sentence for distributing pornography. “No one had ever gone to prison for pornography,” Naji says, who was ready to pay the fine, in court with money in his pocket when he heard the devastating, unprecedented sentence. What I didn’t know before speaking with Naji though, was how instrumental prison became for his self-identification as a writer. “I didn’t identify as a writer but I found myself in prison for my writing,” Naji says as a crowd leans forward in their seats at the Lake Mansion. The door is open and the last warm air of summer blows in. Naji stands in front of a slide projector which flashes a picture of the Tora Prison complex. Because of the international media attention surrounding his case, and the overwhelming support and solidarity of other Egyptians and writers around the world, Naji found himself in the “VIP cell” at Tora Prison. As he puts it, “unless you steal 2 million, you can’t sit with us.” Due to a unique series of events in prison, Naji found himself looking at writing in a completely different light. In prison, everybody reads, but nobody is an intellectual reader. Instead, dense, intellectual works like that of Dostoevsky are turned on their head and even found humorous and entertaining. Naji was forced
to read books as he had never read them before, simply. Naji, also being a writer amongst rich men and bankers who had coveted millions, needed to find a way to earn their trust and friendliness. He began to interpret dreams for people. Dreams were one of the few ways Naji was able to write freely in prison. “At any time they could take my writing,” he says. The projector flashes a page from his journal. Dreams were an outlet for writing and self discovery. “Write while you are still inside the dream,” Naji says. As you wake. “Before even washing your face.” It wasn’t until Naji met Prisoner X though, that his dream of being a writer was fully realized. X was a monster. In prison for stealing millions under his father’s name, and therefore he had dragged his elderly father into prison alongside him. When X’s father had a heart attack and others rushed to help him, X stood silent in the corner smoking a cigarette. “Terrible,” Naji says. Until one day, Naji found X crying alone in the showers over a sappy romantic novel. Even the cover was too much for X to see without breaking down, and for Naji, in this moment, everything clicked. Writing could break even the toughest, most unfeeling men, it could land you in prison, it could make sense of hazy dreams and unknown emotions, it was a universal language to hold onto when life left you nothing else to hold, and Naji loved that.
Ahmed Naji speaks at the Lake Mansion for “Muzzled Words”
If it’s going to be melodrama and tragedy, why? We already live in this. I prefer to show the reader something different and I prefer to show something completely from my imagination, but is connected to the people and the essential things. I believe the essential things in most people is friendship and love as the main things that shaped our life.
In our interview with Ahmed Naji, he recommended picking up any books by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar, a huge influence on Naji’s work. But he also wanted to stress to the American reader to seek out more writing being published outside the US. When coming to this country, Naji was shocked to discover the lack of translated writings (even from Europe) are available in bookstores despite a massive book industry. He challenges us to open our hearts and open our minds to the work of non-American writers starting now!
Julian Guy interviews Ahmed Naji post “Muzzled Words” panel
The following poem by Ilya Kaminsky, for me, combines the light and dark emotional sentiments that are present in both Ahmed Naji’s conversations and work. Though it is a loose tie, both Naji’s stories and Kaminsky’s poetry feel housed in the same place in my heart. –Julian
A Cigarette By Ilya Kaminsky Watch — Vasenka citizens do not know they are evidence of happiness in a time of war, each is a ripped-out document of laughter. God, deaf have something to tell that not even they can hear — you will find me, God, like a dumb pigeon’s beak I am pecking every way at astonishment. If you climb a roof in the Central Square of a bombarded city, you will see my people and me — one neighbor thieves a cigarette another gives a dog a pint of sunlit beer.
BY MARK CURTIS I learned something the afternoon of Saturday, September 14, after Gailmarie Pahmeier delivered her generous introduction, Shaun Griffin began explaining why he felt Lewis wasn’t as well known or as celebrated as some Native American poets. Griffin thought it was because Louis’ work was more real, more raw, way more provocative than other poets. Folks—the ones who talk about poets and publish their work—may have simply been afraid of his words, put off by his point of view (which doesn’t give a damn about what you might think about it), alienated by his honesty. Frankly I could hear it in the Louis passages that Griffin read, and I actually felt it in the piece Everett George read about Lewis’ drunk father. I can’t remember whether it was Griffin or Lindsay Wilson who recalled how they tried to get Lewis to come back to Nevada for one event or another, and he never would. He just wasn’t interested. Oh, what did I learn? I learned that I want to find more of Lewis’ work and read it. I love raw, and real, and honest. You don’t run across it much these days.
In junkie alleyways I whispered of forgotten arrows in the narrow passages of my own discarded history. Then, when I was old enough I ran back to Indian land. Now I’m thinking of running from here. Pine Ridge, South Dakota February 1988
excerpt from “The Sacred Circle” from Fire Water World, Louis’ fourth book of poetry
ABOUT ADRIAN C. LOUIS – b. 1946, Nevada d. 2018, Minnesota
As a member of the Lovelock Paiute tribe, Adrian C. Louis grew up in Nevada and earned a BA and an MA in creative writing from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The author of numerous poetry collections, Louis also worked as a journalist and an editor, and was a cofounder of the Native American Journalists Association. He was the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Fellowship. He taught at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota and at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota. In an interview, Louis stated his themes as “personal survival” and “I’m writing about my life. I guess deep down I sort of fancy myself as speaking for certain kinds of people who don’t have a choice—for the downtrodden.”
THE SIDE OF THE DIVIDE: STORIES of the
BY CHRIS MONZON On an early Saturday afternoon, the wind blows lazily down California St carrying with it the last gasps of summer and the first fallen leaves of autumn. Inside Old World Coffee Lab gathers a relatively diverse group of lit crawlers, listening intently as Danilo Thomas kicks off This Side of the Divide: Stories of the American West. Over the sound of ground coffee beans and steamed milk, three authors share excerpts of stories from the anthology book of the same name. First, Miranda Schmidt’s Aquarium tells the story of Susan: a woman transient in both time and place as she unpacks her life into a new apartment in the wake of a divorce, remembering an old college girlfriend, a husband who never seemed to understand her and grappling with the idea of inevitable change. We move from Miranda to Mark Maynard’s Last Call at the Smokestack Club, which concerns itself with the plight of a small Wyoming mining town bar as it contends with two representatives of the mining company who wish to extort the owners into handing it over. What follows is an icy nocturnal western narrative of vigilante justice: Mark jokes that this is, “his first double homicide,” and expresses gratitude to us as we bear witness to a crime. We end with Siân Griffiths’ Sk8r, which follows a young Ilsa who finds refuge from her broken household in the edges of a Riverside suburb and watches a group of young skaters. This peace is, however, broken with the sudden appearance of the decapitated head of a small puppy. A common thread that runs through these stories is one of place and feeling. Though we move from a vast winter mining pit to a dusty suburb’s edge to the mind of someone grappling with memories, it’s clear that the paradoxical idea of Western
tradition exists within each of these narratives--paradoxical in that there are things that can be easily identified as Western, but are more clearly defined as Western through their subversion. Miranda describes her character as an internal frontierswoman, charting not physical nature but human nature, while Siân describes the male dominance of the West and how it is, largely due to films depicting the West, an imaginary construct much like how she depicts Riverside’s artificial beauty contrasting itself with the beauty that surrounds it. Having the opportunity to talk to the authors themselves was incredibly important as well, just like their stories, they each had a different relation to the West. Miranda, first growing up in Illinois, found the landscape of the West to be one that allowed for them to self-define, echoing the pioneers of yesterday. As a queer author, it was especially important to find community; exploring identity is one of great significance for their characters as well as themself. Speaking with Mark Maynard, (and after apologizing for failing his class haha) we talked about the resurgence of the West in popular culture, and discussed how yesterday’s stories are still today’s stories--we can’t ignore the context of the past when discussing the ideas of the present. Siân found herself experiencing both the suburbs of LA as well as rural Northern Idaho growing up and found the feeling of growing up to be one of in-betweenness. This is not lost on her writing as her character finds herself torn between places much in the same way. I strongly recommend picking up a copy of This Side of the Divide from Sundance, reading through the stories, no matter where they take you, I can guarantee you’ll find a piece of yourself reflected on the page.
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ABOUT THE PANELISTS – Siân Griffiths teaches creativing writing at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and she has a second novel and short fiction chapbook forthcoming in 2020. Currently, she also reads fiction as part of the editorial team at Barrelhouse and American Short Fiction. Mark Maynard is an English and creative writing professor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. Maynard is the recipient of a Nevada Arts Council Artist Fellowship and Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award. His story, “Last Call at the Smokestack Club” appears in the anthology This Side of the Divide. Miranda Schmidt is a writer and educator son to be teaching with Literary Arts Portland and Writers in the Schools. She has edited for numerous publications including Seattle Review and Phantom Drift, among others and is currently working on a novel about haunting in addition to a series of ecological lyric essays. Danilo John Thomas is currently the Managing Director of Baobab Press located in Reno, Nevada. He is the author of multiple chapbooks and an award winning fiction writer. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Matchbook Vol. 5 from Small Fires Press, Tampa Review, and Fugue, among others.
Artwork by Andrea Elizabeth inspired by the panel “This Side of the Divide”, 2019
Wild Cards is a shared world anthology series about superheroes set largely during an alternate history of post-World War II United States. In this history, an alien virus which rewrites DNA and mutates survivors was released into the Earth’s atmosphere in 1946. For over thirty years, the series has been edited by George R.R. Martin (best known for his epic fantasy novels adapted into Game of Thrones) and co-edited by sci-fi writer Melinda M. Snodgrass. Wild Cards is a collaborative project and includes contributions from dozens of authors in its nearly thirty volumes. The series is currently in development for streaming television. KWNK Community Radio correspondent Annie Saunders chatted with longtime Wild Cards contributors, Carrie Vaughn and David Durham, to ask pressing questions for fans who want to know everything as well as discuss growing diversity and perspectives in science fiction writing. We’ve included one question here, the full interview available online at hollandreno.org/blog.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS – David Durham is current faculty with the Stonecoast master of fine arts program of University of Southern Maine as well as the master of fine arts creative writing program at University of Nevada, Reno. He is the author of seven novels, has been featured in four George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards novels, and also worked as a writer/ consultant for television.
Carrie Vaughn and David Durham at the Wild Cards panel
Carrie Vaughn is based out of Boulder, Colorado. She wrote a New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, along with several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels. Two of her short stories have been up for Hugo awards and one her most recent novels, Bannerless, was the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award.
Do you face any challenges with the collaborative nature of Wild Cards? Such as control issues, or sometimes voices are not as loud as others, or any other challenges along the way? CV: You do have to check your ego at the door sometimes and be really honest about what is the best way to tell this story. Somebody may have a better idea than you did. And also just the team effort, you need to be willing to play and adjust your stories to fit with others. One thing that makes Wild Cards unique in shared world anthologies, is creators have veto powers over when others use their characters. You get to read it and check off on it. I find sometimes you really have to be open minded and trust the process. The editors have the big picture and maybe necessarily I don’t. I’m such a Type A control freak anyway that I think it’s a good environment for me to work and be open to ideas I wouldn’t have on my own. Sometimes we novelists are just bent over our keyboards and stewing in our own thoughts and this really pushes me to work with other people. DD: George is a pretty demanding editor that gives feedback that is completely honest. It could kill your soul, but it doesn’t because you want to be there working. There have been plenty of times when I would do a pitch – because we have to do a pitch for each book that we get included in – and I’d give a pitch that he would like something about it, but then has this idea and that idea. So I take all that on board and then how do I still make this my story, with my characters, my own, but also serve the purposes of this book? And I love that process. I wouldn’t want to do that all the time, I’m glad that my novels can be my novels, but I’m also really appreciative of working in a framework where I have to make it work for my editors and other writers. We do a pretty good job of working together and respecting each other’s characters.
Wild Cards is available in print with many editions in the series available online and as audio books. For recommended readings from our panelists, please see coverage for “Kaleidoscopes: Diversity in Sci-Fi” on page ##.
BY RUBY BARRIENTOS An audience full of attendees, young and old, hang out amongst one another until the goddesses of poetry gather on the patio of the bar. It was a warm fall day, which felt as though summer had never actually left. Reno writers Brandy Burgess, Elisa Garcia, Joanne Mallari, Garnet Sanford and Michelle Wait gathered to share their work, and speak about how poetry moves between sites of contradiction like “ghosts that can move between walls,” said Mallari. The panelists discussed the contradictions which exist in topics such as religion, sexuality, and culture. They are the ghosts who can move through those contradictions. Each poet, or shall I say ghost moving between their own walls of contradictions, read aloud their writings. Sanford shared a poem inspired by sexuality and dating apps in which she discussed the daunting task of looking for love during our technological age. Garcia read a poem which touched on her cultural experiences as a Mexican American. She spoke about the exclusion she felt when she moved from a diverse community in LA to Reno, which lacks the diversity of the community she grew up in, as well as the difficulties she experienced while struggling to find her place here. Wait read “Lilith,” a poem she said she had written in red, the title based on a bible scripture. In this poem, she combines the sacred with the profane, and tries to bring women’s voices to the front by utilizing language specifically for women. Because, Wait states, “there are enough white men in literature.” Mallari and Burgess spoke about how the contradictions within their poetry merge naturally during the writing process, and that when they write they become their most authentic selves.
Each of these poets shared their vulnerability and process of weaving through their identities through the use of poetry. Moving like ghosts, these poets bravely explore the contradictions present in our society’s expectations of sexuality, feminism, religion, and culture by using their passion for creativity.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS – Brandy Burgess is an education technologist with a master’s degree in religious education from Loyola University. She also moonlights as a Reno poet and artist. Much of Burgess’ work focuses on the impact of the information age on intergenerational communication. Elisa Garcia is a spoken word poet originally from Los Angeles who teaches poetry workshops with local high schools and performs with the Spoken Views Collective. Garcia is the director of Sierra Literary Cooperative and hosts the quarterly variety show Lit at Nite. Joanne Mallari is a Reno based poet and the 2019 Nevada Humanities Poet-in-Residence. Mallari’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications and she is currently working
on her first collection of poems, Daughter Tongue. Garnet Sanford is a poet and writer from Nevada’s high desert. Her work has been featured in numerous publications such as River Styx and Potomac Review, among others, and her 2019 poem “A Fire in Douglas” was recently selected as a finalist in december magazine’s Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize. Michelle Wait is a transplant from the Deep South and current MFA candidate at University of Nevada, Reno. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including Tiferet, Maudlin House, and Lady/Liberty/ Lit with her work largely critiquing and challenging the patriarchal structures that for centuries posited women as less than men.
Crossings panelists Joanne Mallari, Elisa Garcia, Michelle Wait, Brandy Burgess, and Garnet Sanford
Artwork by Ruby Barrientos inspired by the panel “Crossings”, 2019
BY JULIAN GUY The Kaleidoscopes panel took place mid-afternoon, sun shining through the windows of 1864 tavern, as the crowd of us squeezed into small couches, filling the room. Several published writers led discussions on diversity in Sci-fi, from lending their advice and expertise on writing diverse worlds different from the Eurocentric medieval fantasy stories we are all too familiar with, to speaking on the cutting feeling of being poorly-represented in fiction. While the whole lot of us were kept busy, notebooks open scribbling down suggestions for further reading, David Durham, Maggie Shen King, Carrie Vaughn and Ellen Klages captivated the room. The advice that has, without fail, been consistent between my writing professors, English teachers, and our panel of experts is, that in order to be a good writer, you must first be a good reader. So, reader, I present you with our expertsâ€™ favorite works of diverse Sci-fi: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard War for the Oaks by Emma Bulls Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse Other worthwhile authors to pick up and read at your favorite cafe or baseball game or disco: Silvia Morena Garcia, N.K. Jemisin, Ahmed Naji.
“Everybody wants to see themselves in a story,” says writer Carrie Vaughn. She says that while reading sci-fi, “I saw a version of myself that had no bearing on reality. Put girls in the position of doing awesome things, so we can see versions of ourselves that are representative of reality.” The same is true for many cross-sections of identity that are poorly represented in fiction, if at all. To be able to see yourself as someone other than villains and side characters is essential. As writers and readers, we too need to start questioning stories that fail ABOUT THE PANELISTS – to represent diverse realities, that David Durham is current faculty with the fail to introduce us to new cultures Stonecoast master of fine arts program of and ideas and characters with University of Southern Maine as well as the backgrounds and experiences master of fine arts creative writing program at University of Nevada, Reno. He is the author of contrary to our own. As one of seven novels, has been featured in four George my writing professors once said, R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards novels, and also write not what you know, but what worked as a writer/consultant for television. you want to know. Read to learn, Maggie Shen King grew up in Taiwan and to grow, to explore, to test, not to currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. validate what is comfortable. She is the author of Excess Male, which was Start with this list. named The Washington Post’s 5 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels in 2017, among other accolades. Her short stories have appeared in the New York Times, Ecotone, ZYZZYVA, and many more.
An interview with panelists David Durham and Carrie Vaughn about the growing diversity in science fiction, what they’re reading right now, and their contributions to the Wild Card series is available online at hollandreno.org/blog.
Ellen Klages lives in San Francisco and is the author of three acclaimed historical novels. Her short fiction has been translated into numerous languages as well as nominated for or won multiple Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Mythopoeic, and World Fantasy awards. Carrie Vaughn is based out of Boulder, Colorado. She wrote a New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, along with several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels. Two of her short stories have been up for Hugo awards and one her most recent novels, Bannerless, was the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award.
BY JAMIE HEMINGWAY Local Latinx activists Felicia Perez, Lydia Huerta, and Anthony Martinez were the featured guests of Queerstorias, a panel dedicated to showcasing the activism, organizing and storytelling created by local queer and trans people of color. Each panelist had the opportunity to share their vision for what the local community can turn into when everyone comes together to find solutions. Felicia currently sits on the board of local entities such as The Holland Project and the Sylvia Rivera Center for Social Justice. Her first observation of Reno as a new resident: Where are all the tall buildings? Where are the people of color? Since moving to the area in 2012, she has worked hard to get involved and make a difference. Though she is battling a chronic illness, she still gives much of her time to the community, working to discover how to dismantle the barriers. Using the image of children standing on boxes, working to look over a wall and coming from different levels of equality, she reminded the audience that the real issue is the wall itself.
Queerstorias panelists Felicia Perez, Anthony Martinez, and Lydia Huerta
Anthony shared his journey as a college student coming to terms with his place in the world as a queer activist. He is incredibly active at UNR, serving as a resident assistant and as ASUN president. At the 2019 National McNair Conference at UCLA, Anthony presented his research on queer and trans people of color and their community development entitled “QTPOC in the U.S.: An Analysis of Queer & Trans People of Color Organizations.” His main focus is on discovering the means and methods of creating safe spaces for queer and trans individuals. Though his focus initially began with an academic focus, his research has expanded, and he has begun to think of the needs of Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) in the world outside of the University. ABOUT THE PANELISTS – Lydia Huerta is a professor Dr. Lydia Huerta is current faculty in the and community member who has Gender, Race, and Identity program as well as a strong background in creating the Department of Communication Studies at community spaces for QTPOC. In the University of Nevada, Reno. Her primary research examines the cultural production New Mexico she worked to build a created in response to the women-killings safe space for students that, once in Ciudad Juarez since 1993 with additional queer activities were incorporated, research areas that include migration, gender blew up in popularity. Although focused education, and social movements. funding was later pulled, she Anthony Martínez is a student in political learned a lot through the experience. science and international affairs as well as She brought that grassroots knowSpanish language and society. His initiatives how to Reno, working with others at the University of Nevada, Reno include to create the Sylvia Rivera Center the creation of the Department of Diversity for Social Justice. The Sylvia Rivera and Inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusive floor in the residence halls, and research for QTPOC Center’s mission is to provide organizations through the McNair Scholars services rooted in social justice Program. to underserved and marginalized communities, with a focus on Felicia Perez is a public speaker, educator, and author, and currently works with the QTPOC. Her belief is that you have Center for Story-based Strategy. Her previous to talk to the people in the local experience includes work for the ACLU of community if you truly want to Southern California, the CA “No on Prop 21” create change. campaign, Caligfornians for Justice, UC Santa
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Barbara External Vice President of Statewide Affairs, and Chair of the National Queer Students of Color Caucus/board member of the United States Student Association (USSA).
A main point from the panel was the fact that change is slow, so you have to keep knocking on the door to effectuate it. Each panelist stressed the importance of getting involved, and working together. Remember that if you want to be an ally, just ask how you can help!
In the days following the Nevada Literary Crawl, Jamie Hemingway and Felicia Perez met in the KWNK Community Radio studio to expand on the topics explored in Queerstorias. Listen to the full interview online at hollandreno.org/blog.
FURTHER READING! Our three panelists shouted out their recommended must-reads related to Queerstorias– FELICIA’S PICK An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz LYDIA’S PICK Am I This or That? Supporting Queer and Trans Students of Color by K. Martinez and Romeo Jackson ANTHONY’S PICK Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere
BY BRITT CURTIS No Place Like Home showcased writings that raised many questions about our relationship the concepts of place and home. We began with author Laura Newman who read a story about a black woman who picks up a young native hitchhiker in rural Nevada. The woman is going the opposite way, but wants to drive and is curious about finding a young stranger – who is both in and out of place - in the middle of nowhere. After her story, I peeked at my notebook. I had written these snippets: -”You can never go home, but you can never leave it either.” -The kind of towns that ate their young. -What do you expect from a lake made of tears? -Who knows what goes on in a landscape of pale dust… -It was a showgirl of a sky. And the words gypsum, Bruno’s ravioli, reverse mirage, and powder keg – the last phrase referring to white women. Her story radiated Nevada – places, haunts, landscapes, sights and smells that are home – but also a loneliness, an isolation, a sense of sadness, at being dropped or deserted in a desolate land. The sentence I then scrawled from panelist Everett George’s reading said – “Will they be ok if I leave?” His scene (two young men talking at a party) was familiar in a sense to anyone who’s been in high school or has grown up in a small community, but the stakes and emotion were heightened – the pressure and responsibility the young men feel for their friends and family members on the rez, wading through suicide and depression that looms around every corner and in every body, to “getting out” – moving on to new places. Is it possible? Or when it comes down to it, is getting out really the goal?
We also heard from Amy Kurzweil, a cartoonist and author. From Amy’s, I wrote “humor binds the cracks” as she showed us illustrations and animations abut her immigrant grandmother Bubbe – what leaving home and losing home means. What is home when you’ve left or lost it? How are traditions manifested or tweaked, what is new, what is clung to? The differences in place, in home, heightened by the frustrations of an American daughter (the psychologist), with the loving patience of a granddaughter (the artist). At the end, home is neither the Warsaw Ghetto Bubbe escaped, nor the America where she rebuilt her life and raised her daughter. It’s in the tired laughter at the kitchen table where ABOUT THE PANELISTS – three generations of women work Everett Ray George began writing at a young hard to find and understand each age and in 2015 wrote a play and formed a other.
Everett George’s short story Daytime Reading with Nito www.nevadahumanities.org/ blog/2019/9/12/daytime-programmingwith-nito Laura Newman’s 95 Words Off and on for 20 years, Newman has entered the RN&R challenging short fiction contest, read online at www.lauranewmanauthor.com/ titles/95-words/ Amy Kurzweil Writings + Comics www.amykurzweil.com
theater troupe. This group made their debut shortly after at the Bruka Theater in Reno and performs yearly ever since. George has been an intern at the Institute of American Indian Arts and was also the winner of Yale’s 3rd Annual Young Native Playwriting competition.
Amy Kurzweil is a New Yorker cartoonist and author of Couch: A Graphic Novel, which was a NYT Editor’s Choice and Kirkus Best Memoir in 2016. Her writings, comics, and cartoons have also appeared in numerous publications and her work as been nominated for a Ruben Award. Kurzweil has received fellowships and honors from The Norman Mailer Center and Macdowell, among others, and is currently in residence with the Black Mountain Institute. Laura Newman is a 2019 finalist for LitMag’s Virginia Woolf Award and is a many time winner of Reno News & Review short fiction contest. Her first book, Parallel to Paradise, was the recipient of a Poynter’s Global Ebooks award and one of the stories was accepted in Huffington Post’s 50 Fiction Series. Her second book of short stories will soon be available.
BY NATHAN LACHNER Las Vegas Writes is a book-length anthology that compiles essays, fiction, non-fiction and poetry that addresses life in the Las Vegas Area. The collection was initially established as a project to create a serial novel between several local authors—the first edition of the Las Vegas Writes publication was a serial novel, entitled Restless City. The presentation at the Nevada Literary crawl showcased several works from the ninth volume entitled “Live Through This.” Past editions of have been oriented around specific themes or objects, such as photographs of Las Vegas areas; however, Scott Dickensheets, editor of Las Vegas Writes, asserts that this recent issue was based around the concept of “Unnatural Disasters,” a subtle nod to the Las Vegas shooting that took place at the Mandalay Bay casino, inevitably impacting many people in the community. The stories read by the panel addressed issues of trauma, man-made devastation, and paranoia: The first writer to present on the panel, Cindi Moon Reed, is a staff writer at the Las Vegas Weekly. Reed presented her story about touring a nuclear bunker in the Las Vegas area from the Cold War Era, and shortly thereafter hearing about the Mandalay Bay shooting. The bunker and the shooting, when contrasted with each other illuminate a strange anxiety that tinges the contemporary world. During the Cold War, families purchased or built underground shelters to protect themselves from nuclear threats, but this story makes me consider the general anxiety that people must face today. Instead, in present day, individuals who create “unnatural disasters,” through acts of violence may be indistinguishable from the people we interact with daily, making the object of a cold-war bunker seem like an artifact of a previous state of national paranoia. Kristy Totten read a story about the relationship with her father that struggled with addictions to both drugs and alcohol. Kristy asserted, at first,
her father’s addictions was entertaining to her. His alcoholism dissolved his stern fatherly persona. He would cruise around with her in the car, blasting rock music with a pint of liquor stashed in the door. But as her father’s addictions grew more serious, he endangered her life on several occasions, like when he drove through the Nevada desert while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Addressing her father’s behavior, Totten asserted, “I wish that it had ended at the time, but it didn’t.” Totten’s non-fiction story about her relationship with her father is confessional and honest with a ABOUT THE PANELISTS – Scott Dickensheets is based out of Henderson, humorously insightful delivery. Nevada and is the deputy director of Desert The story ends on an open Companion magazine. Scott has edited, conote, leaving the listeners with edited, or contributed to eight volumes of the curiosity about how the story Las Vegas Writes series. between her and her father Geoff Schumacher is the senior director ends. of content for the Mob Museum in Las Vega having previously worked 25 years in journalism. He is the author of Sun, Sin & Suburbia: A History of Modern Las Vegas and has edited, co-edited, and contributed to seven volumes of Las Vegas Writes.
Alan Nadel’s Containment Culture: American Narratives, Postmodernism, and the Atomic Age This book of criticism speaks on the phenomena of “Containment Culture,” in which families would stay within their homes in the suburbs in order to protect themselves from the imagined threat of nuclear warfare and urban crime.
Cindi Moon Reed is a current staff writer at Las Vegas Writes, having previously served as assistant director at the Black Mountain Institute as well as founding arts and entertainment editor of Vegas Seven magazine. Lissa Townsend Rodgers has written for numerous Nevadan magazines and websites, and currently is the recipient of three Nevada Press Association awards. Her forthcoming non-fiction book about gangster women will release with Huntington Press in 2020. Kristy Totten is an Emmy-winning journalist and producer at Nevada Public Radio. Her projects include “State of Nevada”, a public affairs show covering cannabis, homelessness, and city hall scuffles as well as co-producing “Spicy Eyes” which explores Las Vegas food and culture.
BY RUBY BARRIENTOS The room was quiet but full at Washoe Public House as audiences waited to hear poet Vi Khi Nao and archivist Kimberly Roberts read. Vi Khi Nao, with her calm presence, quietly stepped up to the microphone to read her poem “The Day God Smokes My Grandmother” from her book The Old Philosopher. The poem discusses, in a humorous yet morbid way, a grandmother who has died. Vi Khi Nao’s use of language induces a surreal image of a cruel god smoking her grandmother and other family members as cigarettes. After her reading, she graciously walked back to her seat to let archivist Kimberly Roberts get on the mic to read Memo to a Wonderland Secretary from the 1965 college textbook Effective Secretarial Practices. Kimberly even dressed the part, wearing an outfit you might see on an episode of Mad Men. Kimberly states that she’s the comic relief after Vi Khi Nao’s morbid poem. In reality, however, it was Vi Khi Nao who followed up with poems that lightened up the mood of the room despite their dark undertones. It was as if she was playing a spontaneous tennis match against Kimberly Roberts, she was Rafael Nadal playing with her poems as if they were her left and right hands. Each time Kimberly finished reading an excerpt from the college textbook, Vi Khi Nao had already read the vibe of the audience and picked poems in rebuttal to what Kimberly was reading. This playful exchange kept the room entertained and engaged with her poetry. Once the reading was over I caught up with Vi Khi Nao and asked the typical question most artists are asked which is: why do you do what you do? What inspires you? She said she was inspired by tennis player Rafael Nadal, and spoke about how she applies his philosophy on the game of tennis to her own writing. After hearing what she had to say about Rafael Nadal, her style of presentation made a lot of sense; she had played a tennis match with her poetry.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS – Vi Khi Nao’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaborations. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications and she is the author of three poetry collections Sheep Machine, Umbilical Hospital, and The Old Philosopher, the short story collection A Brief Alphabet of Torture, and the novel Fish in Exile.
Kimberly Roberts holds a master’s degree in the history of photography, landscape and science from the University of Nevada, Reno and currently serves as the Photograph Curator in Special Collections. She grew up all over the American West, mainly in Colorado, and also holds a degree from Colorado State University.
Artwork by Ruby Barrientos inspired by the “The Day God Smokes My Grandmother”, 2019
THE DAY GOD SMOKES MY GRANDMOTHER God pulls my grandmother Out of a finely made cigarette pack Made of human tobacco & Long Khanh’s red earth & Bed sheets as long As a rubber tree. My family – all twenty of us – my grandmother, My cousins, my aunts and uncles All lie in a large cigarette cot Called a bed with tinfoil bed sheets pulled to our chins. We lie in rows on top of each other. Over soft bones. While my uncle steps out into my grandmother’s grapevine. He withdraws a cigarette from His jean pocket and drags a smoke. A cigarette smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, God pulls my grandmother Out of her cigarette bed. She is wedged between my first aunt and my second aunt. He thumps her head against the wooden lid of the well & Lights my grandmother’s head up. A fluttering of smoke is steamed out of her toes. God inhales and exhales the soul of my grandmother Until she withers and becomes an accordion of ash. Then God flicks the rest of my grandmother across Our neighbor’s spinach garden. God and my uncle take turns smoking.
While God finishes nearly a pack of us – one by one – My uncle still ponders over his last three, Sitting in their nearly empty compartment. My uncle stares into the ashtray of his hand And sobs until his hand becomes soot. We stay inside of our floorboard cigarette case And ponder when God is going to Develop lung cancer From smoking us. Not long ago, in Long Khanh, God handrolls his own cigarettes. God licks the sides of our bed sheets With his wet tongue. And rolls me into a thin tobacco-burrito. God smokes my cousin first, the one who was run over by a train In my uncle’s backyard, near my grandmother’s grapevine. God, the chronic smoker, likes his cigarettes Aged three. Short and stumpy. God doesn’t like to smoke me. I smell too much like a conflicting Mixture of lavender and walleye.
BY CHRIS MONZON As the sun sets and the wind picks up, Dr. Daniel Pérez greets the small group gathered on Royce’s patio and begins Loose Tongues, introducing himself, Dr. Lydia Huerta, Dr. Ignacio Montoya and student Macario Mendoza Carrillo as the speakers of the panel. The panel explores each of the panelists relation to jotería--a term which describes queer culture in the chicanx and latinx culture--both as people working with members of the community and as members of the community themselves. Dr. Daniel Pérez begins the talk describing his work with jotería queer poetics and where it fits alongside queer poetics by all people of color and general queer poetics as well. He first references how, a lot of the time in specifically poc queer poetry, the subjects of the poems can be written as ambiguous in order to avoid not being published in a straight world. A lot of the time with jotería poetry, Dr. Pérez has noted that there’s a lot more unabashed approaches to writing and depicting homosexual desire. He references Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera and how she describes Los Atravesados, or, those who exist on the margins, those who are othered. He mentions that due to already being marginalized, there tends to be a move towards open expression and the development of a stronger voice of resistance. Gloria Anzaldúa refers to it as her “serpent’s tongue,” which Dr. Pérez expands upon as the “lengua de la mariposa,” or the “butterfly tongue.” What Dr. Pérez argues is that, within latinx and chicanx culture, there exists a cult of silence--things that are difficult that should be discussed are often ignored. Jotería poetics allows for the raising of a consciousness, emboldening those to use their lengua de la mariposa to address what’s
wrong in their society and lead social change through jotería communicative practice. I find there to be a great parallel to his work and that of James Baldwin’s treatise on whiteness: the oppressed and marginalized can understand the oppressor better than the oppressor themselves as privilege can often blind them, and with this in mind, can identify the work needed to enact necessary social change. Dr. Ignacio Montoya then explains how the work that he and Macario do stems from this concept of jotería communicative practice, that “occupying a queer brown body allows for familiarity of the margins,” which leads to a desire to raise the voices of others who exist in the margins as well. Dr. Montoya and Macario have been engaged with the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Macario working on projects such as a book and a social network for members of the tribe and Dr. Montoya working to get a recognized Paiute curriculum at the University. Of great concern for both of them was understanding how to engage and elevate a marginalized voice correctly-how to do it in a non-exploitative sensitive way, which largely has to do with listening to the members of the community first. What Dr. Montoya believes this illustrated was, first, how a jotería experience informs this approach, but, second, how it can still demonstrate marginalization that he experiences due to that fact that the work that he is doing is not recognized by the University as going towards his tenure. Another struggle that was discussed during the Q&A was how it can be tough to contend with the fact that the Paiute language (and its erasure) can be perceived as valid only through the context of an established institution, one which was born of a culture that actively participated in said erasure. What Dr. Montoya describes then is the balance of privilege, of operating within a culture of oppression and utilizing what can be utilized to provide a solution while also recognizing commonalities between other marginalized communities. Dr. Lydia Huerta then described her work with trans immigrants who travel together under the name “Caravana Mariposa,” or the Butterfly Caravan. She made her way to New Mexico and began work with students of the University of New Mexico who operate as members of the university’s Dream Team, which is a team that works specifically with undocumented people of the LGBTQ. The work began at the New Mexico
ICE Detention facility which is the only facility that has a unit specifically for trans individuals. The Caravana Mariposa had surrendered there in order to petition for safe passage due to the rates of violence towards trans individuals in their home countries. Dr. Huerta assisted the migrants with their intake forms, asking them questions and helping translate, and also helping to teach them how to survive as trans individuals in American society. Upon asking about preferred pronouns, she realized that the concept of gender neutral pronouns was just not thought about in these communities-that they were approaching the members of the caravan with concepts that were unique to American culture. As time went on, however, the discussion changed as members of the caravan had been murdered by ICE, one through the withholding of AIDS medication and the other through physical violence. Now, the conversation that the Dream Team has with these trans immigrants is less geared toward surviving as a trans individual in American society and more towards simply surviving under a carcel system. The question Dr. Huerta raises, with relation to ‘Loose Tongues’ is, how are these acts of violence shaping the queer trans identity for immigrants? She brings up that the Butterfly iconography is seen as one of freeing, of migrating, of strength in the face of adversity, but, she says, “I wonder if their metamorphosis from caterpillars to butterflies is going to be very marked by this carcel violence that they are experiencing in these detention centers.”
Google Arts&Culture Exhibit – JOTERÍA by UCLA Chicano Research Center Phoneix New Times article – “Migrants Inside ICE’s Only Transgender Unit Decry Conditions” by Hannah Critchfield New Mexico Dream Team – www.nmdreamteam.org
ABOUT THE PANELISTS –
Dr. Lydia Huerta is current faculty in the Gender, Race, and Identity program as well as the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her primary research examines the cultural production created in response to the women-killings in Ciudad Juarez since 1993 with additional areas that include migration, gender focused education, and social movements. Marco Mendoza-Carillo studies art and linguistics and is actively conducting research on revitalization efforts of regional indigenous languages. He works side-by-side with members of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Pyramid Lake Tribe, and his mentor Dr. Montoya to promote and encourage the use of the Northern Paiute (Numu) language in public. Dr. Ignacio Montoya is an Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Montoya’s current research includes a focus on indigenous languages of North America. He has been working with memebers of the Native American community to preserve and fortify local Indigenous languages including Nothern Paiute, Washo, and Shoshone. Dr. Daniel Enrique Perez is the Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion for the College of Liberal Arts, and an associate professor of Chicanx and Latinx literature at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research centers on the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality, especially concerning queer Chicanx and Latinx identities.
J O T E R I A P L AY L I S T Ma n i t a s Ne r v i osas “IllumÍname” Jav i e r a Mena “Noche” N i ñ a D i oz “Sopresa” M i s s B o l i v i a , A le Sergi , L i to V i t ale “En el Mar” Kr uda s Cu b ensi “Mi Cuerpos Es Mio” Cu m b i a Queers “Mientes” K i n g Je de & Mi ss Ni na “Reinas” M A N CA NDY “Al Volante” R i co D a la sa m & Di nh o “Braille” Ze m m oa “No Pensar en Ti” Je s s i ca 6 “Prisoner of Love” M i Am o Se b ast i án “Baila como hombre” A l g e r i a Ra mp ante “Este Cuarto Crece” Ru b i o “Hacia el Fondo” Arca “Thievery”
Panelists for “Loose Tongues”
Link to full playlist available online at hollandreno.org/blog
from BY NATHAN LACHNER
Academia sometimes makes me think of the well-known riddle, “If a tree fell in the woods, and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” But instead of considering a tree, I wonder what the importance of highly educated people speaking with each other in seminar rooms has if that information cannot be spread to the general public. The panel, Telling Stories from the Ivory Tower, consisting of Katherine Fusco (Professor at the UNR English Department), Carlos Mariscal, and Bretton Rodriguez (Coordinators of Thought on Tap), sought to facilitate this question through a Q & A and discussion at the 1864 Tavern in the Midtown Area. The discussion that took place primarily addressed the importance of a humanities in education. The speakers also considered how can academics attempt to translate academic conversations into more local and inclusive dialogues. Rodriguez and Mariscal bring academic conversations out of the “ivory tower” through their informal salon, Thought on Tap. Their website explains “[Thought on Tap is] a new public engagement series designed to showcase research by University faculty and graduate students, while having important conversations with our local communities.” Public engagement efforts such as this are just one way to bring academic conversations into the local community. Rodrigez, when asked “who are the humanities for?” cleverly asserted the humanities are for humans. The “Ivory Tower” panel emphasized the idea that subjects like the humanities may not be pursued by everyone because of the misconception that the study of art and humanities is impractical to working class populations. Rodriquez and Mariscal highlighted in the discussion, the humanities have the ability to enrich a person’s life and give them the opportunity to ponder life’s large questions; however, many public educational institutions stress the importance of fields of study that have a blatant utility in the workforce, such as STEM fields.
In the discussion, Fusco brought up how the value, or utility, of studying the humanities are being asked more and more at public universities; but the validity of a humanities education is less harshly interrogated at private institutions, enforcing the false belief that art and the humanities must be reserved for the social elite. Fusco ends this strain of thought by proposing the concept that the humanities should be for everyoneâ€” especially for people that think that they are not for them. Bringing the humanities to the general public may be a matter of changing public opinion about the arts, showing that they are valuable and enriching for all populations. One solution to the problem of the Ivory Tower is to bring academic conversations into the local community while demonstrating that fields like the humanities are valuable and mind-opening, not just for the culturally elite, but for everyone.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS â€“ Katherin Fusco teaches courses in on film, theory, and 19th and 20th century American literature at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has written for a number of national outlets, is the author of two academic books, and winner of the Modern Language Associationâ€™s William Riley Parker Prize.
Carlos Mariscal is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno with appointments in the ecology, evolution, and conservation biology, and integrative neuroscience. Mariscal is also a co-founder of Thought on Tap. Bretton Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Core Humanities at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the use and manipulation of the past in medieval histories as well as epics, romances and history plays. He is a co-founder of Thought on Tap.
BY DANIEL MORSE Reno native Willy Vlautin’s latest novel, Don’t Skip Out on Me (2018), opens with its protagonist dutifully recording his dreams in a bed-side notebook. Whereas another writer might then spin dream images into and out of the narrative, Vlautin depicts Horace Hopper simply adding another tick to his count of a recurring, but sparsely described, nightmare. Vlautin’s novel has no time to tease out the significance of the vision, let alone to indulge the opaque grammar of dreams more generally, because Horace has to get to work. Vlautin is known for writing characters whose lives revolve around labor that’s low-paid, uncertain, and dangerous, that is when they’re lucky enough to get it and clear-headed enough to accept it. But just as Horace is eager to trade his night world for the waking one, so too is the novel keen to take up the labor of narrative. During my interview with Vlautin at Lit Crawl, I was struck by his humility, openness, and enthusiasm for telling stories. Between his old band, Richmond Fontaine, and his recent one, the Delines, Vlautin has written and recorded thirteen albums—an impressive stack for any musician. But Vlautin has somehow paired his prodigious musical output with a collection of five novels. As he makes clear in the interview, this is largely a product of sticking with what he knows and loves. And a lot of hard work.
EXCERPTS FROM OUR INTERVIEW On the relationship between writing and writing/playing music, and music that tells stories....
WV: All my books started as songs and the ideas behind them started as songs. So, yeah, they’re married, but they bicker a little bit like an old married couple. They are rough on each other. Like this last book I did...I pulled off it maybe seven different times where I’d be nose tothe grindstone, working pretty hard on the book and you know, was doing OK, and then I all the sudden I had to stop and start trying to be a musician again and it’s just different way of thinking. Then when I’m writing and a lot, I don’t play a lot of guitar, or that much really. So yeah, they help each other, but they’re kind of enemies. They’re like siblings. They love each other, but they want to beat the shit out of each other sometimes. I’ve always been attracted to music that told stories. Mostly because I didn’t like my life, and by listening to songs where you’re transported somewhere else ... I mean, that’s heaven. You’re 13 and you’re listening to Nebraska or East Street Shuffle, and all the sudden you’re in New Jersey with some guy. Or I don’t know, you’re listening to The Pogues and all the sudden you’re in Dublin walking down the street with some beautiful woman, when really you’re just in Reno and a depressed kid. So I loved that and wanted to do that. I also always wanted to write about where I grew up. I’ve always loved Reno, Willy Vlautin and Daniel Morse so I loved writing stories about it. When I was homesick and scared in Portland and wrote songs about Reno, I wrote homesick songs and wrote novels about Reno because I wanted to move home, but I didn’t want to come home a failure.
The full interview between Willy Vlautin and Daniel Morse is available online at hollandreno.org/blog.
SPECIAL THANKS Thank you to our partners Nevada Humanities and KWNK Community Radio! Shout out to Tom, Annie, Griffin and Bridget for recording and editing panels and interviews for radio. Thank you to all our contributors and panelists for your time, energy, and thoughtfulness. Photographs by Alisha Funkhouser. Zine compiled by Alana Berglund.
Alongside KWNK 97.7 FM, we were able to again cover the Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl – an event that brings writers, thinkers, artists,...
Published on Oct 4, 2019
Alongside KWNK 97.7 FM, we were able to again cover the Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl – an event that brings writers, thinkers, artists,...