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Friday, October 13, 2017

Q&A with New York Times Best Selling Author Beth Macy

"Reporting From The Margins" at the Tower Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 17

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 4:16 PM

We talked with New York Times Best Selling Author and journalist Beth Macy about her experience writing her non-fiction books "Factory Man" and "Truevine" as well as her 30 years as a newspaper journalist.

Beth Macy
  • Beth Macy
“Truevine,” a book Macy spent over two decades researching and writing, is the story of two African American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks and their 28-year long battle to get them back. Her book “Factory man” tells the story of John Bassett, a feisty small factory owner who launched an anti-dumping petition against Chinese manufacturers—and won.

Source Weekly: “Factory Man,” at its roots, is a compelling story. After first hearing about
John Bassett, did you immediately reach out to him?

Beth Macy: I asked a friend of mine who knew him. I was like, well, is he a good storyteller, is he a good talker? And he said, “Are you kidding?” He says things like, “the fucking Chi-
comms aren’t going to tell me how to make furniture!” And I was just, oh my God, not only did he file this case, he won it and he used the money to keep the factory going—but on top of that he’s like something out of a Faulkner novel. He’s really totally unique and kind of badass. So then I prepared to go meet with him. If it’s somebody that I feel is pretty important, I usually try to find a go between. I was able to find a friend of mine who has an aunt that worked for him in the factory. And he sort of put in a good word.”

SW: Before writing this book, you didn’t have a background in business or
economic journalism—was it difficult gaining his trust that you were the person
to tell his story?

BM: When I got there, I felt John was really surprised about just how prepared I was. I knew everything about the family, I had spent a week researching the company that he was born to inherit and the little factory town that he came from. Not only that, I knew about why he was no longer at that company and why there had been a big family feud. It was just funny. I was just writing a piece for the newspaper at the time and then when the piece came out, the day the story came out, he called me and was all choked up. He had been, sort of, made fun of for years about this because everybody was like, “it was a globalized world!” You know, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills—this guy, why would he think he could succeed if nobody else has been able to? When he called me to say that he liked the article or whatever I told him I was thinking of writing a book proposal and he said well sure. I don’t think he ever thought he’d see me again.

SW: Did you contact him after he had already won, or was this after during the
process.

BM: So he had already won once, and then the case has to be reconsidered every 5 years and he has just won a second time. The more that I figured about how truly complex and complicated it was, the more I realized after I sold the book that I didn’t know much at all, that I really had only done 10 percent of the research. So I spent the next year reporting and writing—about a year and a half. It’s like anything, as it gets more complicated it’s kind of challenging and you get nervous at first, it’s like oh god I have to up my game. But it’s always ultimately more interesting when you can not only entertain the reader with a great yarn but you can teach them something about why these little communities, like I’m driving through right now, look the way they do, why all the jobs are gone.

SW: How did it take you from writing the initial article to sending the book in to be
published?

BM: The article came out in Feb. 2012. I sold the book in June of that year and then I had a year after that to write it and then I won a prize and that gave me a little more time. I actually did some research in Asia for the book. So I guess about 18 months, which is very quick.

SW: What kind of research did you do in Asia?

BM: So there is a moment early on in the book where this displaced factory worker, this woman who had worked for this one company for 37 years, lost her job. It was the only place she had ever worked, straight from high school to the furniture factory...I sure would like to know what it’s like on the other side of the world—about the people that replaced me, what their lives are like.” That just gave me the thought, well gosh we have to try to answer that question. She also wanted to know what her bosses lives were like because they were traveling back and forth from Asia all the time.

It took me just about eight months just to convince a company to let me go to where
their furniture was made in Asia. They let me go, but they were very nervous about it.
“Well, we’ll let you go, but two things: we don’t’ want you to write about the worker
conditions and we don’t want you to write about our executive’s lifestyles in Indonesia. I’m thinking, you have people in your PR department that gave you that advice? Of course I’m looking into worker conditions and the lavish lifestyles of  Indonesia! You’ve got to give them credit, they let me go see it. They kept me on a tight rope. It was really interesting.
They were able to send their kids to school, it was neat because they were grateful for the work.

I asked one of the middle designers, a mid-level worker, what Wanda had asked me,
“Do you ever think about the people that you replace?” They looked at each other and kind of laughed, like what a dumb question lady. Then they looked at me like, sorry for being rude, then they said, “No, but we do worry about the people that are going to replace us.”

They were very aware that as their wages went up, there was a chance that somewhere in Africa or somewhere else in Asia with a cheaper labor pool could very easily take their jobs. So that was interesting. It was kind of an unexpected moment.”

SW: “Truevine” took decades to research and write. How’d you hear about the
story and what drove you to tell it?

BM: It was like 1991, a photographer had told me the story. This made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. He told me there was this story of these two brothers that had been kidnapped and sold to the circus because they were albino and there was talk that their mother had gotten them back. But he didn’t know really anything about it, he had grown up hearing this story. He told me that the caregiver (for Willie, the surviving brother) ran this soul food restaurant. “It’s the best story in town, but she won’t let anybody get it.” And I said, "Well, I’m going to charm my way into her life."

Well, it wasn’t that easy. It took a lot of convincing.

BM: With that story, I had a lot of archival research, because they were quite famous. In their heyday, they were written about thousands of times across the country in Canada, other countries. So there was a lot to find out about attempt. But the showman often changed their names. So I would find little wrinkles in their stories by looking at these clippings from 19-teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, they didn’t retire until the early 60’s. Much the way in the way I did “Factory Man,” I’m trying to tell this history—in this case racial history, Jim Crow history—and trying to do it through one family.

SW:  What is different about writing books versus writing a newspaper article? Do
you feel you are reaching a different audience with a book?

BM: I feel like it is just deeper reporting. You know the writer, Robert Caro, he says, “time equals truth.” So there are things that I can learn about the brothers or about John Bassett because I have a whole year, 18 months or almost two years, or in the case of George and Willy (“Truevine”) almost 25 years to be thinking about. Then to be learning new things and bouncing those things off of a subject that is still alive. Your tapestry that you’re trying to paint is just so much richer because you have all this time.
truevine.jpg

To me that’s the real value of a book. You can read about someone taking a knee or riot in some city or police brutality and a community being really upset about that. But to understand it when you know the little stories that come before it of the ancestors of African Americans today—who are still fighting for some of the same things—why they feel it so much differently than white people feel it. I just feel it is our job as the white community to know this history too. As a journalist it is my job to sort of explain this and I hope to imbue people with empathy.

Macy’s new book “Truevine,” will be available on paperback on Oct. 17.





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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Haters Gonna Hate, Lovers Gonna Love.

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2016 at 2:07 PM

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There is a pretty interesting piece over at Birth Movies Death about the death of pop culture fandom. Author Devin Faraci makes some excellent points about the consumers attempting to take control of the creative process by heaping giant piles of hate (via social media) on writers, artists, filmmakers, etc. 

Recently, there was a twist in the newest Captain America comic that sets up Steve Rogers as not only a Hydra agent, but a secret one for almost his entire life. We have no idea what the arc of this story is or where it is going, but fandom has decided that the writer is a nazi and that he has undone 60 years of what has made Captain America great. It's a bold and controversial character choice to be sure, but isn't that what we want from comic books nowadays? An actual attempt at a story comic collectors haven't seen before?

What I found the most interesting was that writer Nick Spencer and Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort have started receiving death threats over the matter. Over stories being told about fictional comic book characters. Here's one Brevoort received via Tumblr:

Spelling errors kept in:

"As a Former Active Duty US Marine and a Disabled Veteran, I want you to know that when I joined the Marines back in 95’ I did so under a strict Code of Ethics. Truth, Honor and Justice. This Code was inspired by Steve Rogers. I knew I could never be the person he was, I just wasn’t mentally built for it, but it gave me something to strive for. Yes, the Character of Steve Rogers AKA Captain America is a fictional one, but it is also one that emboydies what the Idea Human Being, not just American should strive to be. Steve Rogers never claimed to be perfect, but he tried his best every day to do the right thing no matter what.

For the last 21 years I have modeled my own Moral Code after the belief that I would NEVER tell a Lie, No matter the consequences. There is no such thing as “a little white lie”. My Honesty, and My Honor was everything to me. It kept me from becoming the Monster that I could have easily become. Thanks to your idiocy and disregard for what an American Symbol stood for, you have made it “OK” to disregard those Ideals. It apperantly is ok to Lie, Cheat, Steal and Murder, because Fuck It, who cares right? Steve Rogers aka Captain American has been doing it for 75 YEARS.

Fine, congradulations, you have made the last 21 years of my life and the Code I lived by, the hardships I endured because I refused to sacrifice that Code MEANINGLESS. You have disgraced what Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had the character stand for. The whole point of that Character was to showcase the potential of what human beings could be. Dispite the Odds stacked against them.

So, thanks to you two I will be throwing away my Moral Code, and become The Monster, that people feared I might become, that I myself feared I would become. I will use every resource at my disposal, every avenue that I can to locate and track you down. I WILL find you eventually, and I WILL kill you in the most painful way possible that I can think of. The ONLY way to stop me is to have me killed. But hey, that should be a walk in the park for you right? I mean I am just one disgruntled Marine, what is one more life compared to the MILLIONS of LIVES you just dismissed by making Captain America a Hydra Agent ALL ALONG. NOTHING and I mean NOTHING you say will erase what you have done, HYDRA was ALWAYS SYNOMOUS with NAZIS. You CANNOT seperate the two. So enjoy your “Fame” while you are able to still draw breath. It’s just a matter of time before I find you."


This could be a serious threat or someone who has taken trolling to an entirely new level. Regardless, this is a staggering amount of care and effort taken to make someone afraid for their lives over a creative choice they are making. When did loving something so fiercely that it made you feel part of a tribe become knuckle popping anger about not liking how another kid is playing with your toys? 

The point of this isn't just to say "Why can't we all just get along," but to just shed some light on the fact that pop culture creations do not make us who we are. Defining ourselves by the things we like can sometimes be fun, but when threatening lives and contemplating murder become an offshoot of fandom, we're missing the forest for the trees (or just burning the entire forest down to spite it). 

Watching movies in the theater have definitely proved to me that common courtesy is a dead language, but there's still a chance to save decency. Sure, be upset about how your favorite comic character is being treated, but guess what? This is comic books. After one writer does a 6-12 issue arc, someone else comes on and changes everything altogether. If you don't like the weather, wait for it to change. Don't try to murder the clouds because of the rain drops.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hold the Door

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 3:07 PM

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Spoilers for this week's "Game of Thrones" throughout: 

Last Sunday's "Game of Thrones" brought the death of a fan favorite character who seemed too pure not to make it at least to the end of the journey. As Bran's erstwhile packhorse and best friend, Hodor has been carrying the crippled kid since Season One, it only made sense that Hodor would continue to be Sam to Bran's Frodo. Yet innocence and purity have never thrived North of the Wall (and don't do any better South of it), and Hodor's untimely and brave demise was well earned.

What makes this death more interesting, however, is that it's the first truly massive one that comes from a book the readers of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series haven't read yet. There are many characters dead on the show that still live in the books, but this is the first that really rocked the audience and created a precedent for Season Six of the show.

HBO's series has finally outpaced the novels as the upcoming sixth book ("The Winds of Winter") still doesn't have a release date. Book readers are now in a position where they have to parse what happens on the show with guessing what will happen in the books. Just because Stannis dies sitting against a tree in the Battle of Winterfell doesn't mean he'll go out like that in Book Six. Anything can happen this season and book readers and non-readers alike will share the surprise together for the first time. 

In a short featurette after Sunday's episode, show-runners and creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were quoted saying that Hodor's fate came from Martin himself and wasn't an invention of the writers for the show. According to a recent Vanity Fair article, "Winds of Winter" will still have the reveal of Hodor's name (Hold the Door), but the context will be different in the novel. This should placate some of the book's fans who are struggling with the fact that the TV show is basically spoiling all of the plot development in the upcoming novels.

The books are the books and the show is the show, and while the television series has done an excellent job adapting the big moments and characters from the novels, Martin's work is where it's at. There are dozens of characters that don't appear in the show and the fact that each chapter is from a different character's viewpoint means we get to see how their minds work. As much as it was fun to see Jon Snow come back to life, understanding what it feels like from his point of view will be a completely different and equally rewarding experience. The show will not ruin the books, instead the books will add depth and shading to the series that will only enhance what is already there. 
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Friday, May 29, 2015

INTERVIEW: Orange is the New Black's Piper Kerman talks prison reform—and who she'd want to bunk with

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 9:59 AM

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Tonight, Piper Kerman, author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison—now a popular Netflix original series entering its third season—speaks in Bend tonight as part of the Deschutes Public Library Foundation's Author! Author! series. I chatted with Kerman for a profile in this week's issue, but she had more to say than fit in print. Check out our full interview below, in which Kerman talks about alternatives to incarceration, her work teaching writing to inmates, and what qualities she would look for in a prison bunkmate.

Source Weekly:
Oregon is one of the states that’s pushing to “ban the box,” and help end job discrimination against people with criminal convictions. Have you encountered any difficulties with that personally?


Piper Kerman: For me, I was so incredibly fortunate. I had this strong network of family and friends and former employers, and a guy that I new ran a company and he hired me and I started work the week after I came home from prison. And it’s impossible to overstate the importance of that first job I had coming home from prison. The data also shows that whether someone gets to work right away and whether they earn a living wage, obviously, has a huge impact on recidivism. It’s my point of view that the other thing that’s important, not just the money that you earn for yourself and your family, also, I shed my skin as a prisoner and regained my place as a citizen because of that job. It’s so important. And this is the number one thing that hear from other people who, like me, have a felony conviction. They just apply for hundreds and hundreds of jobs and they can’t get a break.

SW: You mention that privilege pretty early in the book. In what ways do you feel your relative privilege impacted your experience with incarceration and in what ways do you feel like incarceration had a leveling effect?

PK: I think it had a huge amount to do [with it]. I always say that the most unusual thing about my story is not that I committed a crime. Because we know that middle class people and wealthy people commit crimes, they’re just much less likely to be held accountable than poor people. And 80 percent of people accused of a crime are too poor to afford a lawyer to defend them in court, even though that doesn’t necessarily match to everyone that commits a crime. So the most unusual thing about my story is that I was policed and that I was prosecuted and that I was punished with prison. And that has a lot to do with privilege—class privilege, racial privilege. And you know, that’s readily apparent to anybody who looks at the criminal justice system, and it’s ironic because of course we have this expectation that the system will treat all Americans equally and that every American will get a fair day in court, but that just doesn’t match up to reality. So we have a lot of work to do.

While you’re incarcerated, there’s a degree of leveling—everyone’s got eight numbers next to their name—but of course, if you have a family on the outside that is able to come and visit you and to put money on your commissary books, those things make a huge difference. Those lifelines to the outside world are important in terms of people returning home successfully and it seems like being able to afford soap and toothpaste and stamps and phone time are all really important as well.

SW: You’re obviously a big advocate for prison reform. Are there a few reforms you’d most like to see move forward?

PK: I think the number one most important thing is for us to stop putting so many people in prison and jail in the first place. I think there are many people who currently fill up our prisons and jails who shouldn’t be there for a variety of reasons. Either their offense is really low level and doesn’t warrant confinement, [or] in some cases, people’s primary issue may be substance abuse or mental illness, and prisons and jails do nothing really to address those problems. And so, when somebody comes back to the community, which the vast majority of people do, those issues are best solved in the public health system not in the criminal justice system. So there’s a lot of opportunity to get people out of prisons and jails who don’t need to be there without impacting public safety. We know, actually, that the states that have reduced their prison populations the most have also seen the biggest declines in crime, so no one should imagine that having a big prison population is doing a lot to increase public safety, in fact the opposite may be true. So I think that’s the single most important thing.

SW: What do you think are the alternatives to incarceration?

PK: I think that victims of crime have to have a strong voice in what alternatives to incarceration look like because it’s incredibly important to make sure that victims of crime, that the harm to them is recognized and that the system, and also the offender themselves, make those folks whole to whatever extent is possible. That’s important, but it’s also important to recognize that our idea of who is a victim of crime is a little off, because the people who are most likely to be victimized by violence are young men of color, and we rarely think about them as victims of crime and we rarely ask them what needs to be done to make them whole when they get victimized by violence or other crimes. So it’s important to sort of recognize that crime and violence do affect different communities differently and the criminal justice system as it currently functions doesn’t address those things real well. We know that for low level offenders—people who’ve committed low level drug crimes, low level property crimes—that interventions that don’t include incarceration generally get better outcomes.

And so there’s programs like Justice Home, which is run by the women’s prison association where I’m on the board, that’s in New York. Women who are looking at at least a year or more in prison when their district attorney agrees, they get the opportunity to stay in their homes, stay with their kids, go through whatever programs are necessary for them—and it varies—it might be mental health, it might be substance abuse, it might be parenting classes. There’s a variety of things that come into play. And if they complete their program successfully, sometimes they get the chance to actually have their record expunged. And that program has been incredibly successfully. It costs about $17,000 per family, per woman, and incarceration in New York state costs $60,000 a year per person. So it seems to me like a no brainer.

In the Pacific Northwest there’s some really interesting programs that have been done. There’s one in Seattle called LEAD, which stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. And this focuses on certain neighborhoods in Seattle where the local police have been seeing what are often called “frequent fliers,” people who are arrested again and again and again, often for very low level offenses. And LEAD creates an intervention where the cop themselves, the law enforcement professional, maybe catches someone committing a crime or is going to arrest someone for committing a crime, and has the opportunity to give them the opportunity to go into treatment services or get other kinds of help and interventions that they might need rather than being arrested and going to prison. And the program has been in place for several years and the results are quite impressive.

SW: What do you think are the barriers to having more programs like these? As you said, it’s not more expensive. Do you buy into the idea that we’re kind of reliant on the money that the system makes?

PK: Yes. I think that we have built the biggest prison and jail population in human history, and when you build something so big, suddenly, a lot of people start to draw benefit out of it. And I think that is probably the single biggest obstacle to doing more common sense criminal justice, is that a lot of people are making a lot of money off the current system. So it’s incredibly important to address the fact that folks are making a lot of money off the status quo if we want to change the status quo.

SW: Did you encounter a lot of women who were in prison because of their efforts to survive?

PK: Yeah. I mean, again, we see such a vast number of people who are accused of a crime in the court system who come from the poorest communities. And who really are in very desperate straights before they’re arrested. I think that’s true across the board. Certainly if you look at women and girls in the system, you see that to be true. And you see, women do not tend to commit violent offenses. Two-thirds of women and girls in the system are there for non-violent offenses, so they do tend to be drug offenses and property crimes.

SW: To bring it back to the book, can you talk about why you felt moved to write it and why you took that leap to turn it into a now very popular television show?

PK: I just thought that if anybody experienced the things I experienced and saw the things I saw, they would think really differently about the criminal justice system. And they would think really differently about who’s in prison and why they’re there and what really happens to them there, which from my experience, really departed from what many people assume. Many people assume that, first of all, most people don’t necessarily think of women first, people assume that everyone who’s locked up in prison is there for a violent crime, which is not the case. And many people also assume that there’s a lot of rehabilitation happening in prisons and jails, and there’s just not. There’s a lot of warehousing of people. So I hoped that if people thought a little bit differently about the real people who fill up our prisons and jails that they might ask for things to be done differently. And it’s really important for people who are fortunate and who might be lucky enough never to have their lives touched by the criminal justice system to advocate and ask for a better system. Because the people who are most impacted by the criminal justice system tend to come from communities with the least political power.

SW: Did you ever worry that the after the book came out, that it could affect your career or other prospects?

PK: I just always felt like I was fortunate to be able to be straightforward about my past, about my mistakes, and the fact of my incarceration. During that entire six years between pleading guilty and actually being sent to prison we spent a lot of that time trying to keep that under wraps and nobody wants to be living a lie, people want to be able to be honest about themselves, but they also want to be able to move past their past and be able to move forward, that’s a really important opportunity.

SW: What was the biggest mental shift between your perceptions of prison and your experience? What did you learn that you weren’t expecting, or what myths were busted for you?

PK: The thing that I feared, of course, was violence, because that’s associated with prison and prisoners. And some American prisons and jails are extremely violent and dangerous places, but you know, I never saw any violence while I was incarcerated. There’s plenty of conflict because prisons are crowded and prisons are scarce—and scarcity by design is part of what prison and jail is—so there’s always gonna be some conflict, but I didn’t experience violence while I was incarcerated and that was a big difference between what we currently think about.

SW: Is there anything you miss from that time of your life?

PK: There are people I miss. There are people depicted in the book that are still in my life in some way and I stay in touch with them and those friendships are really important to me. There’s nothing I miss about the experience of being incarcerated but there are definitely people I think about and I’m like, I wonder how she’s doing. Not every single person in the book is in touch and obviously I didn’t write about every single person I encountered in the book because obviously I was incarcerated with hundreds and hundreds of women.

SW: Is there something specific you’re hoping people in Bend will walk away with from the Author! Author! presentation?

PK: I just hope that people come away and recognize that our current situation really isn’t serving them well and that’s why its well worth it for them to speak up or take action in some way to get some improvement in Oregon’s system and obviously in the national system as well.

SW: Tell me something you’re excited about in the third season of “Orange is the New Black.”

PK: I’m really excited about the third season, there’s all kinds of great stuff. Great character development with the folks that people are already in love with and some new characters as well. The thing I’m personally most excited about is there’s a story line in the new season, which reveals something about the American criminal justice system many people don’t even know about, they’ve never heard of it. So I’m excited about that.

SW: Do you have a favorite new character?

PK: Everybody asks that, it’s so hard to pick. I can’t pick. There’s just too many. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

SW: If you could choose a prison bunkmate who would you pick?

PK: You want somebody who’s got a lot of skills. Let me think about this for a minute. Who would be good, who would be good...

SW: Maybe this question is easier. Is there a prison in America that, if you had to go back, wouldn’t be as bad?

PK: I’m teaching writing right now at a men’s medium security [prison] in Ohio, which does more rehabilitation than any prison I’ve ever seen. It’s still not a place you’d ever want to spend a night, but still they’re doing some really interesting and innovative things there.

SW: How’s the teaching going?


PK: Great. My students are great. I’m also teaching at one of the women’s prisons in Ohio as well. So I’ve got a men’s class and a women’s class and they’re writing nonfiction and it’s great.

SW: Do you have a favorite prison memoir?

PK: Were reading a huge number of prison memoirs as part of these classes. All the books we’re reading are first person narratives grounded in the criminal justice system. So probably it would be Joe Loya’s The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell.

SW: Is there a movie or other media portrayal that you think does a good job showing with the criminal justice system is like?

PK: “Orange is the New Black!”

SW: Did you have any other thoughts on that bunkmate question?

PK: I keep on thinking of Queen Latifah, but I wouldn’t want another African-American woman locked up in prison. I never want that.

Author! Author! presents Piper Kerman
7 pm, Friday, May 29
Bend High School Auditorium, 230 NE 6th St.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Share Your Story with the Library of Congress Using Your Smart Phone

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 2:01 PM

PHOTO CREDIT: STORY CORPS VIA PHOTOPIN (LICENSE)
Everybody has a story to tell. For the modern day storyteller, media like podcasts and anonymous blogs give the opportunity to share those heartwarming and embarrassing human experiences with ease. From The Moth to Post Secret, Americans have fed the growing cultural obsession with recording those events—ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary—that captivate audiences of strangers worldwide. Never one to take the stage myself, I am filled with admiration for the comedians, poets, and storytellers who bravely divulge their personal stories to become part of the shared brain that is our cultural consciousness. 

The first time I experienced the vicarious thrills and heartaches of another person's spoken narrative was in the backseat of my family's station wagon 12 years ago. We were listening to the loathsome local public radio affiliate, which is the bane of any family road trip for pre-teens everywhere. My perma-angst was dissipated, however, when a new short radio program was aired. The segment, known as "StoryCorps," was the brainchild of radio producer Dave Isay who envisioned his program as a way to give voice to everyday people with meaningful stories to tell, "particularly those who'd been told that their stories didn't matter."

For those who've never heard StoryCorps, the program—whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs—records the oral histories of diverse folks in their mobile and permanent StoryBooths around the country, usually in an interview-style format with a friend or family member. The recordings are then stored for perpetuity in the United States Library off Congress; some of the most compelling stories are broadcast by NPR in segments like the one I heard over a decade ago.

It was announced last night at the annual TED Talk Conference opening that StoryCorps, with the aid of a $1 million prize from TED, has developed a smartphone app that will allow anybody to record their story to be archived at the Library of Congress. This tool, which gives anyone with access to a smart device the ability to be heard for generations to come, has huge implications. The ignorance and hatred that arises from the inability of some people to relate with others whose experiences and identities differ from their own will be mitigated. The recurring mistakes that have plagued mankind—from the minor to the Earth-shattering—could be avoided with the wisdom imparted by those who have lived and learned.

And best of all, I will be falling asleep to the bedtime stories of strangers for conceivably the rest of my life.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Dearly Departed" brings authors of yesteryear to Tin Pan Theater

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Tomorrow night at 7:00 pm a group of wildly famous, uber-talented authors will be hanging out at Bend's Tin Pan Theater. And, get this, they're all dead. Writers such as Oscar Wilde, Gerturde Stein, and Dorothy Parker will be brought to life again by students of the OSU Cascades Low Residency Creative Writing MFA Program—and hopefully a few non-student lit-geeks—as part of their "Dearly Departed" tribute to authors of yesteryear. The cost is a mere $5 suggested donation and if you act fast, you might still be able to join the roster. 

I interviewed Irene Cooper, Creative Writing MFA student who will be making her impostor debut as American satirist and poet Dorothy Parker.

Source Weekly: How does "Dearly Departed" support the MFA Program's philosophy— to "teach ourselves to play outside our comfort zones" and "celebrate our own and each others' adventures in self-expression"?

Irene Cooper: "Dearly Departed" is a whimsical way to tap into some of our literary lineage. I say whimsy, but costumes are a funny thing. Some people feel liberated by costumes, some feel protected by them and others feel entirely exposed by dress-up. "Dearly Departed" is a fabulous opportunity to explore our literary icons as people to whom we have a connection, without worrying about egos, because, you know, they're dead.

This demure lady's got one sharp tounge - DOROTHY PARKER VIA PHOTOPIN (LICENSE)
SW: Who will you be channeling and how will you prepare for the event?

IC: I am almost completely certain I will come to play as Dorothy Parker. I have selected a few poems that may be read under the allotted time (I sense that Mrs. Parker was punctual, among her other celebrated qualities). I screened Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle a while back and I watched Anne Hathaway read one of Parker's essays (no help at all). I have a wig.

SW: What kind of creative and artistic license does this kind of literary event afford participants and audience members that a more traditional reading does not?

IC: There is a certain protocol to a so-called traditional reading that is hard to put aside without some major shift. If the reading is of someone else's work, I think the reader aims to honor the writer in a sincere manner. So, someone stands at the front of the room, others sit and listen respectfully. One might shake it up by changing the space or in some way re-drawing the boundaries.The costume, here, is the shift. It provides a chance to embody the artist, to run some blood and oxygen through the material, and to perhaps take a little liberty with one's interpretation. We love them, we respect them, but again, they're dead, and we're not, and most of this stuff is now public domain.

Irene Cooper is a Creative Writing graduate student at the OSU-Cascades Low Residency MFA Program.
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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Interview: Get-Lit's Diane Lane on the Power of Poetry

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 10:44 AM

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Last week, we chatted with Get Lit-Words Ignite founder Diane Lane, who is in Bend this weekend for the MUSE Women's Conference. Her program uses poetry to encourage teen literacy and empowerment. (Scroll down to the video to see those results in action.) Lane had more to say then we could fit in print, so here's the full interview, in which she talks about the power of poetry, how she got hooked, and what some of her Get Lit alums are up to now.

Source Weekly: Why is teen literacy especially important for girls/young women?
Diane Lane: Spoken word poetry gives girls the opportunity to express the parts of themselves they don't usually reveal. The writing of a poem is not finished until you feel sated and spent. You only get to that place by telling the deepest truth you can tell. That truth can be funny, it can be clever, it can be nuanced and hidden, or even scholarly, but it is not superficial or pat or untrue. Interesting art requires some kind of honesty. Girls live in a world where they are encouraged to "cover up" their acnes, scars, opinions, weight—and reveal, even flaunt, what has been deemed pleasing. It's liberating for girls to realize that they matter for a whole other set of criteria. And that their first obligation is to tell the truth to themselves. Once they are aligned with that feeling, they have the choice of whether of not they want to share it. Publishing, performing, these are all ways of getting it out. And then often they discover how their truth can move and liberate others.

Teen literacy is important for girls because knowledge—about anything—brings confidence. Incidentally, I know people who don't love books but they are "literate" in surfing, cooking, sewing. Just deeply know something...anything...and then sharing what you know—that’s my definition of a happy, deeply joyful life.

SW: What is the relationship between literacy and empowerment, and what role do you see Get Lit playing in that?

DL: When you know something, anything, you are empowered—filled with power. I know about books. I love them. I always have. I love poets. I love authors. I have spent most of my life reading. Anything. Everything. If I had to walk to the deli to buy some milk, I went there with my head buried in a book. So again—it's really not about being "literate" as in "reading a lot." It's about knowing whatever you are passionate about deeply. Because our school careers are so tied to reading, it helps in our society to read well. But there are many successful people who don't read well. One gift of Get Lit is that it doesn't require that people who are not inclined to read books to read and read and read. It just asks that you go deeply into whatever you do read. And I mean deep. You have to listen to poetry; you have to claim the poem that speaks to you—actually raise your hand and reach for it; you have to memorize it; and then you have to perform it. Learn about the person who wrote it. And then you have to respond to it by writing a poem of your own. This increases someone’s confidence. Greatly. Enters them into a world that was heretofore restricted. Gives them a secret society. Makes them hungry for more. "A specialist in a particular brand of study." A scholar.

SW: Tell me about the Poet Puff Girls. Did they come out of the Get Lit program?
DL: The "Poet Puff Girls" are comprised of Rhiannon, Belissa, and Zariya. Originally, they were three freshman girl that attended LACHSA (Los Angeles County High School of the Arts) and were studying the Get Lit Curriculum in school with their teacher, Susie Tanner. They graduated from the Get Lit program and then competed against the other LACHSA students to represent their school at Get Lit's annual CLASSIC SLAM—the largest teen poetry festival in Southern California, and the only slam to combine classic recitation with spoken word response in the nation. They, along with three other teens, won LACHSA's slam and competed in the Classic Slam. The LACHSA team came in second of 22 teams. This year there are 40 schools competing. Rhiannon was the top scoring poet of the night. When it was over, she started coming to Get Lit classes after school and on weekends and eventually the other two Poet Puff Girls (Zariya and Belissa) came too. They auditioned to be on Get Lit's Brave New Voices team representing Los Angeles and were three of the six poets who won. They went to Philadelphia to compete in BNV, the international teen poetry festival, and came in third place after Washington, D.C., and South Africa. But it wasn't over. John Legend heard about their poem, "Somewhere In America" and booked them to perform with him at the Hollywood Bowl. Queen Latifah saw them there and booked them on her show. Their video went viral with over 5 million views and is the most watched video from The Queen Latifah Show ever. Now Rhiannon, Belissa, and Zariya—along with our other Get Lit Players, including Marquesha, are flown around the country to perform and their poems are requested by counties all over the world including Japan, India, Australia, and more.

[Check out video of the Poet Puff Girls below.]


SW: How many schools have adopted your program and how can more get involved?
DL: The Get Lit Curriculum is currently being implemented in over 50 schools—including some middle and elementary schools. Schools can request the Curriculum by contacting us at amanda@getlit.org.

SW: Tell me about the support and recognition the program has received from President Barack Obama.
DL: Recently, the Get Lit Curriculum was selected by President Obama's TurnAround Arts Committee to be placed in California's lowest performing elementary schools.

SW: What impact—measured or anecdotal—do you see the program having on graduation rates?
DL: It makes them soar, because it gives kids a joyful reason to come to school that builds skills and knowledge. We always say, "Get Lit builds scholars not statistics."

The impact of Get Lit's Curriculum in school has been well documented by Arts Evaluator Professor James Catterall. It has also been told by the success of our students. Most recently, one of our Get Lit Players, Walter Finnie, told his story of dropping out of high school and selling drugs before finding Get Lit and turning his life around. The Get Lit Curriculum introduced Walter to Langston Hughes. Walter learned that Langston attended Lincoln University, so Walter applied to Lincoln. He was accepted and today is a freshman on the honor roll. His poem "Stand Clear" about his journey won first place in a national contest about the drop out problem called "Raise UP.” Walter was flown to The Kennedy Center where he performed his poem and won a scholarship. 95 percent of our Get Lit Players go to college and over 70 percent with scholarships.

SW: Oregon has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. Do you think Get Lit would work in rural environments, as well as urban ones?
DL: Absolutely! It is currently being implemented near Bakersfield, which has the absolute lowest literacy rate in the nation. The magic all starts with "claiming" a poem. Poems are like medicine. You choose the right one that speaks to you and then through memorization, it does its work transforming and elevating you, and then your life.

For people who struggle with reading, poems are short. They are not intimidating like a book. And just because you struggle to read, doesn't mean that you are not brilliant. That you are not insightful. That you are not struggling heroically with huge issues every single day. Poems are short, but they are deep. They give the mind and the heart and the soul something to chew on. So they appeal to people who are beyond children's stories emotionally, even if their reading skill level has them at a lower level. There are many reasons that people can't read. Lack of intelligence is usually not one of them. Many brilliant people are dyslexic for example. They were meant to do other things than sit on a bed and read for 20 years like I did!

SW: What will you be bringing to the MUSE Conference?
DL: Well first of all, I am bringing Marquesha. Or actually, she is bringing me! Marquesha is the embodiment of the talent, possibility, and generosity that is Get Lit.

SW: What are your favorite poems to perform?
DL: I love to perform Walt Whitman. Jimmy Santiago Baca. Everything. But right now I am too busy running Get Lit. Two different sides of the brain!

SW: What was your education around literature and poetry like? How did you come to fall in love with the written/spoken word?
DL: I was afraid of my own shadow as a kid. Although I do remember the first poem I ever performed—my first show. I played the grass. "I am the grass so green and sweet. I am soft. I am cool. I am kind to your feet. I take many days to grown and to grow. You will find me on hillsides and wherever you go." I was terrified! But afterwards I wanted to do it again. It was thrilling! I didn't perform in another play until I was over 20 years old.

I hated poetry in high school. It was always about—coincidentally—flora. Fauna. By dead old men with white beards. Taught to me by teachers who acted like they loved it and like I should love it too. But I didn't understand what they were talking about. I didn't give a hoot about flora. I was from New Jersey. So I cared about the height of my hair. And who I was socially. And where I was going in the world. There weren't any poems about things like that. I loved to read. I read Danielle Steele and Norma Klein and books about beautiful girls finding love. Later, because my parents were salespeople I was exposed to Zig Zigler and Dale Carnegie and read them by the ton in college. I didn't know anything about classic literature until I was 19 years old and went to model in Japan. There I went on a weekend job to Hokeido with models from Russia, France, and Australia. While we waited to shoot they discussed the books they were reading. Stendhal, and James Clavell, and Dostoyevsky. It was unsettling. I had always read more than anyone else that I knew. And here were these models, some of whom hadn't graduated high school, reading classical literature—for fun! It blew my mind! Literally! Allison, from Australia, asked if I would like her to share with me the list that her brother in law—a college professor—had made for her. I worked off that list for the next 10 years of my life, later adding poetry and plays.

As much classical literature as I was reading—and I fell in love with Tolstoy and Twain and all of it—I still hated poetry. Until I was in my early 20s and a Broadway actress named Viveca Lindfors (72 years old) cast me in a play and then joined my theater group, recruiting us all for her guerilla poetry troupe. She performed Walt Whitman's "Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born?" And it was if time stopped. I understood it. It was how I'd always felt. The same thoughts. I'd almost forgotten: "I'm old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise...Stuff'd with the stuff that is course and stuff'd with the stuff that is fine." And it was as if, for the first time in my life, my inner world was addressed. Brought into the room. And I was not alone. I had this new best friend, Walt Whitman. I delved in deep. Frequenting every old bookstore in New York. Buying used books from Russian booksellers in the street. Finding poems that I could understand and wanted to memorize. Then later I'd perform them live in the streets of New York with our group. I discovered DH Lawrence, ee cummings, Anna Deveare Smith. Viveca said that we each had to have an hour repertoire. It was a thrilling time in my life. I was becoming a scholar. Knowledgeable. I felt so sad for the years I sat bored out of my mind in high school believing that this kind of "advanced" learning wasn't for me. For who, then? I learned that Twain sold his books door to door so common people would read them. Dostoyevsky said that he learned to write in prison and that the prisoners were his brothers. And that Walt Whitman said, "Camerado, I give you my hand. I give you my love more precious than money." And that Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Pope for teaching the peasants to read. And that these writers were not the property of the kids in the honors classes. No. These warriors would embrace my profound averageness. They would love anyone who loved them. And then later, I met Jimmy Santiago Baca when I read his story about learning to read and write in jail. And how he fell in love with Wordsworth and the great poets. And I read and I read and I read until, as Walt Whitman says, you get to the point where a little voice inside your head says, "You contain enough. Why don't you let it out then?" Which I did as a one person show about books. I invited Jimmy to come. And the rest is history.

SW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DL: I'm very glad to be going to Oregon and the Muse Conference! It is my first time!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mosley Wotta Records New Spoken Word Track 'Markets' with Collothen

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 11:02 AM

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Local artist and musician MOsley WOtta (Jason Graham) shared a new track yesterday—a spoken word piece titled "Markets (Song from thew Field), a collaboration with Collothen (Colten Tyler Williams), mixed by third seven (Billy Mickelson).

Currently available streaming on MOWO's Bandcamp site, the track promises to be the first in an ongoing spoken word project with Collothen. Reminiscent of the abstract lyrical politicism of Saul Williams in both content and delivery, "Markets" touches on slavery—referencing auction blocks and the old minstrel song "Jimmy Crack Corn"—and capitalism—tying in Coca Cola, indebtedness, and cycles of consumption that feed on destruction ("dentist getting mad at me cuz I got no more cavities").

While the lyrics describe themselves as "verbal ballet," the piece feels more modern, like the "jooking" of Lil Buck where each phrase flows effortlessly into the next without allegiance to time signatures or conventional forms.

Here are the lyrics:

Loose lug nuts got a circus in his tent sick slick chump gotta nerve circuits serving servants serfs up its abstract on purpose word to the wordless sing songs in the field squeeze horn of plenty cork-less get them bearings caring we detecting genuine reflection genuflecting if we just work together but na na na whipping back to that auction block ha ha chop chop get it while its hot concession refuge confessions trigger tensions colonel pops pop father singed by his own sin a blessing glass house hard rock’s hard knocks bloody whip rivulets like she gave me water Quasimodo back to your singing strings ring the alarm hands forced on the face time orderly raped all is well as you can see its been erased can’t see clearly in this coma glock coma hit the snooze and rolled right over well it’s time to get up is time to get up its time to get up for the morning wake so sitting in your seat or standing on your feet let us hear you scream this is so much more than entertainment please this is verbal ballet interlaced with scrupulous beats these are songs from the field mighty roar worn script ripping amplify your bit yipping at the gods of war man of war born in the land of coca cola invented my santa clause paragraph three reads red hat black boots legally bound to a bowl full of jelly for saggy heaven’s sake tell me hell yell me in the face when does lunacy break the tip of the ice berg lettuce in on the secret shhh first debts free get them to buy it and hooked they will be as a member united the more you eat it the more you feed it the more you leave it the more you need it the more you grow it the more its weeded the more you play it I’m afraid to say it you’ve been sacked had and cheated parasitic depleted leaches acquitted leaving open scars to brace the bleeding break the broken bone condoned as healing as my pensive mind is really as another prison pushes past capacity juxtaposed with a dentist getting mad at me cuz I got no more cavities you have to be yanking my chain pulling my leg they like it working when its broken declared deputy deficit mr. mars here we come it’s all missiles cloaked as rocket ships in this galaxy far far from okay the empire strikes backwards they lack worth without facts heard the cattle absurd uphill the battle to polish up a death rattle prattle sheer nonsense poised and ready to flex test the limits of the bars scar cell blocks with your larynx unmasking overlords with vocal chords I’ll see your sword an raise it I’m holding pens straight full house over aces this is my fire poker face it much to masters uh maze meant jimmy cracked his corn casing goes much to masters amazement jimmy cracked his corn casing goes these are songs from the field.

Check out video of MOsley WOtta performing the piece below.

Songs From The Field from Rise Up on Vimeo.


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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Harper Lee to publish "sequel" to "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Posted By on Tue, Feb 3, 2015 at 9:40 AM

In case you haven't heard, Harper Lee will publish her second novel—the first since her 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning debut "To Kill a Mockingbird"—on July 14. The book, "Go Set a Watchman," was actually written before "To Kill a Mockingbird" and is centered around the same main character, Scout, returning to her hometown as an adult. Lee's editor at the time suggested she turn flashback scenes from "Go Set a Watchman" into a book of their own—and "To Kill a Mockingbird" was born.

That original manuscript was recently "rediscovered" by attorney and family friend Tonja Carter, the BBC reports. The famously reclusive (we're talking J.D. Salinger-level) author is not likely to do any press for the book, but probably wouldn't be in any condition to even if she desired it. The 88-year-old author has lived in a nursing home since having a stroke, and reportedly has trouble seeing and hearing. Her comments regarding the book were released in a statement from her publisher, Harper Collins. 

"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman," Lee said in the statement. "It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn't realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."

According to the press release from Harper Collins, the "new" book in set in the mid-1950s, about two decades after "To Kill a Mockingbird:" 

Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father's attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.

The publisher plans to print an initial run of 2 million copies.

Are you excited about the new book? What personal and political issues do you think Scout is grappling with?
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

PICK: Oregon Book Award Tour with Elena Passarello and Kari Luna

Posted By on Sun, Sep 14, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Kari Luna (left) and Elena Passarello will read from their Oregon Book Award-winning works.
  • Kari Luna (left) and Elena Passarello will read from their Oregon Book Award-winning works.


sunday 14

Oregon Book Award Tour

WORDS
—Screw rock stars, we word nerds love a good lit tour. Oregon Book Award winners Kari Luna, author of “The Theory of Everything” and a self-identified whimsicologist (not to be confused with Cari Luna, Oregon author of “The Revolution of Every Day”), and essayist Elena Passarello, whose “Let Me Clear My Throat” deconstructs the deeper meaning of the sounds we make, read from their books.

2-3 pm. Downtown Bend Library, 601 NW Wall St. Free.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

PICK: High Desert Poetry Cell

Posted By on Sat, Aug 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM

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saturday 16
High Desert Poetry Cell


WORDS
—Poetry’s canon is full to brimming with men—Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, some guy named Shakespeare—and yet the lyric art form has a decidedly feminine reputation. The High Desert Poetry Cell is working to change that with its compilation “The Guys’ Home Relationship Maintenance & Improvement Poetry Manual,” a book of poetry about, you know, guy stuff.

6:30 pm. Paulina Springs Books, 252 W. Hood St., Sisters. Free.
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

PICK: Know Local Authors

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 1:00 PM

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sunday 10
Know Local Authors

WORDS—As part of its Second Sunday series, the Deschutes Public Library presents Central Oregon writers for a meet-and-great. Among the local literary luminaries are Dave Edlund (author of alternative energy thriller “Crossing Savage”), Sisters poet Marean Jordan, and award-winning children’s author Kai Strand. Authors will read from and discuss their books, which will also be available for purchase.

2 pm. Downtown Bend Library, 610 NW Wall St. Free.

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