Tag Archives: #amreading

Nonfiction Picks from Joy Neal Kidney and Gwen Wilson

I’ve been reading instead of writing lately. Today I want to share two of the nonfiction books I’ve enjoyed.

Book #1 is biographical and historical nonfiction based on the author’s family history.

A year and a half ago I reviewed Joy Neal Kidney’s nonfiction book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. That book opened my eyes to the “home front” during WWII—what the war was like for some American families. Joy’s family, in particular, suffered great loss as three of her grandparents’ sons died in battle.

Joy has a new book out called Leora’s Dexter Stories. The subtitle, “The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression,” gives an idea of what story lies inside. It’s also an understatement. This book uses a variety of sources, such as journals and family stories to piece together a heart-breaking account of the poverty experienced by the Wilson family during the Depression.

Too bad this book can’t be required reading of every American and every student in American schools so that we learn not only what hardships people went through during that time but also how hardworking, clever, and resilient they could be. Our ideas of recycling and repurposing today are a joke compared with what Leora, Clabe, and their children did to survive. For awhile the only thing that kept them from being homeless was when the two oldest sons joined the Navy and sent money home to the family. The family endured criticism and gossip from others because of the need to sometimes be on a form of relief, although they worked very hard as tenant farmers or in other jobs. I managed to hold off crying until daughter Doris, Joy’s mother, an amazing basketball star, had to leave her full-scholarship business college because she couldn’t afford rent. This book is a powerful tribute to the Wilson family.

 You can find Joy here: JOYNEALKIDNEY.COM

Book #2 is a coming-of-age and family dysfunction memoir, set in Australia.

Australian Gwen Wilson, writer of the blog Garrulous Gwendoline, has published a memoir called I Belong to No One. On the cover it also reads: “One woman’s true story of family violence, forced adoption and ultimate triumphant survival.” I wasn’t sure what I would find when I started to read, but I was immediately hooked by Gwen’s storytelling voice. As you might expect from a woman who bills herself on WordPress as “garrulous” and says in the memoir that one of her favorite words is loquacious, Gwen’s voice expertly tells her story and imparts her personality. Her voice is strong, confident, and positive because so is the woman telling the story of her childhood and youth. She also comes across as humble and sincere. This is the successful, mature adult looking back at her upbringing. And while she was clearly always very emotionally strong and generally positive, she was not always confident because the life experiences she went through from a young age tried to grind her down. But Gwen didn’t let them keep her down. Whenever she could catch a lucky break, she would run with it. Finally, she caught one in the form of a job in the shipping world and was able to move forward with her adult life.

Nevertheless, with Gwen’s muscular and straightforward prose, the majority of the story details what she had to overcome. Legally, she was raised by a single, mentally ill mother who was not capable of parenting her. But in reality, Gwen was raised by her older brother Steve and a series of surrogate moms in the form of neighbors, aunts, and friends’ mothers. This patched-together group of “moms” are where Gwen learned how to be a woman. The topics covered from Gwen’s first person perspective include domestic abuse, illegitimacy (in a time when that really mattered), forced adoption, child neglect, poverty, and rape. The rape scene and how it was handled afterward should be mandatory reading for anyone who is unsure of the #metoo movement. It reminds me of how things were when I was young (so we need to remember that we have made some improvements in society and law regarding rape). Gwen truly had nobody to turn to—and no rape crisis centers as they hadn’t been invented yet.

Gwen’s descriptions of her homes and the people in her life are carefully and wonderfully drawn. I find it difficult to move from under the spell of her story and back into my own life. Gwen was born the same year as memoirist Mary Karr. There are similarities in topics, but Australia in the 60s and 70s was much different than the United States. And Gwen had less advantages than Mary Karr had. But anybody who found The Liar’s Club or Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle fascinating will find Gwen’s book just as hard to put down.

I hope to have reviews of a couple more books next week!

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Felix update: First we went through the exact same disappointment at a different ultrasound facility on Tuesday–it was another screw-up and they sent us home. However, the next day he had his ultrasound. It showed a liver tumor, enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen, and other smaller issues. I haven’t been able to talk to his regular vet after she got a copy of the report but we did speak briefly and hypothetically. It’s unlikely that we will put him through more testing as it would be traumatic to him and probably to no avail. But a decision has not yet been made. If we don’t do more testing, we will provide hospice for him at home. I have started giving him subq fluids (under the skin with a needle) once a day, as well as several meds. The internist who performed the ultrasound was so impressed with Felix’s chill personality. He really is the epitome of a “good boy.”

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Filed under #writerlife, Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, History, Memoir, Reading

Giving Back to Poetry

I’ve been reading more than usual lately. For one thing, all my Ann Cleeves (Vera, Shetland, 2 Rivers) books on the wait list at the library have been coming available. Then I’ve got a few fiction and nonfiction books I’m rarin’ to read. Additionally, I’m reading a couple of brand new poetry books that I plan to review for journals or this blog. The best way to  understand a poetry collection, for me, is to prepare for writing a review. So reviewing is actually a benefit to me, not just to the poet who wrote the collection.

Something new that I am starting to do is to read the new issues of journals that are emailed to me. It’s not that I didn’t read any of them before, but sometimes I would hit delete if I felt like I had too much going on and plenty to read. But I’ve decided that that is not good because without all these wonderful lit journals a lot of writers, including myself, would be screwed. Then I am choosing one of my favorite pieces from the journal and sharing it on social media.

I have a belief that underlies these endeavors. Too many poets (I can’t speak for creative nonfiction and fiction writers because I know a lot more poets) are so involved with their own writing or maybe the writing of their “big star” inspirations that they do not put enough back into the poetry community. Of course, I include myself in this number.  There are certainly plenty of exceptions to this phenomenon, including the work that lit mag editors and small press editors and owners do, especially those that continue long past the “it will help my career” period. Two special names that immediately spring to mind when I think of helping the poetry community are Trish Hopkinson  whose website is a treasure for poets and Neil Silberblatt who runs the Facebook group Voices of Poetry. I’ve talked about Diane Lockward’s craft books on here several times. Her books, monthly newsletter, and press (Terrapin) are all important to the poetry community. In fact, she has a new craft book coming out soon. It’s called The Strategic Poet. I’m super blessed to have a poem in the tome (that rhyme is how you can tell I’m a poet hahahaha). The poem is called “After the Call from the Animal Welfare Office: A Triple Triolet,” and it’s a response to a horrific cat hoarding situation in Phoenix last year.

There are many more poetry helpers, too. The work that I am doing for the community is miniscule compared to that of others, but I am trying to keep #poetrycommunity at the forefront of my decisions as much as possible.

Let’s make it a great week ahead!

 

 

 

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Filed under #amwriting, #poetrycommunity, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Poetry, Reading, Writing Talk

A Week with AWP

For some reason way back when I thought it was a good idea to sign up for the AWP conference that was to take place on Zoom just a few weeks after the Barrelhouse conference. AWP was this past week. I didn’t have time for it right now, and then my internet went down for two days. Good grief. I heard that the sessions might be recorded and left up so that attendees can view them later, but without the live chat function. You might recall I attended the AWP in person a few years ago in Tampa.

These are the sessions I did manage to watch.

Free Verse: Making a Life outside the Tenure Stream: Victoria Chang, Paul Guest, Ada Limon, Jennifer Popa, Maggie Smith

Invincibles: Women Writers Publishing After 50: Peg Alford Pursell, Valerie Brelinski, Jimin Han, Geeta Kothari, Naomi Williams

Loss, Memory, Transformation: Women Poets and the Elegy: Allison Adair, Melissa Cundieff, Cara Dees, Janine Joseph, Yalie Kamara

To Contest or Not to Contest: River Teeth and the UNM Press Provide Insight: Joan Frank, Phillip Lopate, Joe Mackall, Elise McHugh, Angela Morales

Crossover Collaboration: Poets with Visual Artists, Dancers, and Musicians: Jeffrey Bean, Rebecca Morgan Frank, Douglas Kearney, Timothy Liu, Joanna White

Beyond the Brady Bunch: Reinventing the Poem of the American Family: Geffrey Davis, Blas Falconer, Keetje Kuipers, Erika Meitner, Oliver de la Paz

New and Known: Poetic Forms and Traditions: Roy Guzman, Khaled Mattawa, Diane Seuss, Mark Wunderlich

Every single one of these sessions was life-giving. Just wonderful.

I plan to check in on some of the other sessions in the next week or two.

I’ve also snuck in reading a collection of Shirley Jackson short stories–some I have read, but most are new to me.

I tried to make a few collage pieces for art journaling, but couldn’t really devote much time because of the conference.

And I got in some cat snuggling. But I really want to get rid of the pain in my arm. It’s been five or six months now. Good grief.

Have a great week! Here’s a bunny from my yard.

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Filed under #writerslife, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Reading, Writers Conference, Writing

Bits and Pieces of Living

At least October’s poetry writing month is over so I don’t have to feel guilt about not writing much. We are now into the big novel writing month, which I don’t participate in, having NO clue how to write a novel. I’m still spending more time revising, organizing, and submitting than I am writing anything original.

I’m also reading several new-to-me poems a day. I’m reading at least one novel, two memoirs, and one children’s book right now.

And I’m getting my morning pages done by bedtime.

But I also am juggling work-work, home-work, and cat-work, as well as trying to fit in the other bits and pieces of The Artist’s Way.

And I cannot stop my hit or miss exercising, which mainly consists of stationery cycling, some stretches, and a few weights.

It sounds like a lot, and it is, so can I keep it up? Through the holidays? HAHAHAHA.

All this and worries about what recipe to use for gluten free stuffing.

I almost forget the most exciting thing. I discovered Christopher Buckley’s poetry. I guess there is a political person with that name, but this is Christopher Buckley the poet. Here’s a sample.

Getting There

Time to give up
grieving my mother’s loss,
faulting my father and
his Neolithic moral certitude
about every detail
on the evening news,
his general absence
hanging like the gray
sheets on the line.
Never mind how
mismatched in the heart,
I should be grateful
they were there at all,
for that moment
that childhood stretched
like fog, the beach empty
and unmarked.
It comes to little now
who I forgive, mourn,
or thank. The dust shifts
and we are barely
suspended in the light.
I know this little thing:
there’s a boy somewhere
in a station where
the trains still run,
wearing scuffed brown shoes,
gray overcoat, and cap;
someone has neatly parted
and combed his hair.
He is waiting
to be taken by the hand
and told where we are going,
to hear we are headed home—
though I can see nothing
beyond the smoke
and midnight haze
at the far end
of the platform,
where I am not
even sure of the stars.
Poetry (May 2012)
I do love how this poem speaks to the importance of our childhood experiences of family and place.
For the week ahead: Go get ’em, Tiger! (Haha, does that date me or what?) And, no, dear Tiger is not involved in that expression. Tiger says hi from her outdoor playpen.

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Filed under #amrevising, Family history, Memoir, Poetry, Reading, Submissions, Writing, Writing Talk

Cats and First Sentences

This past week I have been babysitting my daughter’s cat. Isabella Rose is a sweet brown tabby. My daughter watched Perry once for a week, so Izzie knows Perry and they get along fine. At one point, I thought Perry was in love with Izzie, but that ardor has cooled and they are just “parallel play” buddies, like toddlers. The other day I let Perry go in the bedroom alone with Izzie because I was busy and thought he would babysit her for awhile. Hah!

When I went back to look for him, I couldn’t find him anywhere. I started to think the gardener had let him out of the bedroom and had forgotten. I searched the whole house. Nada. Then I remembered something. The bedroom was once his bedroom when he was new to our house. At that time, he clawed a hole in the bottom of the box springs so he could climb up in there.

Sure enough, I found him up under the bed. With the boards and the fabric bottom surrounding him, I thought he was stuck up there. If you want to see a very dark video, check out my Instagram. If you have an account, please follow me, and I will follow you back if you “like” Perry’s pic/video (so I know you’re legit haha).

Come to find out, Perry just didn’t want me to take him out of Izzie’s room. He got out of there just fine when he wanted a treat.

Before I let you go, tell me if you think this is an appalling first sentence for a chapter (because I do):

The first hint of fall filled the crisp late afternoon air.

It’s boring, but that’s not the problem I find with it. What the heck is the “first hint of fall”? Huh? WHAT specifically fills the air. I can’t imagine it. There is no image so of course I can’t imagine it. Is it a smell that fills the air? A sound? Please share it with me, writer.

I discovered this annoyance in Rita Mae Brown’s Tall Tail, one of the cat mystery series Brown writes with Sneaky Pie Brown (her tabby who MUST have passed on by now). It’s a Bantam Book and Brown is a big-ass writer. Years ago, I read her influential lesbian novels Rubyfruit Jungle and Six of One. She’s a good and prolific writer, but I’m really appalled at the poor editing (on the part of an editor?) that would allow this sentence to go to press.

Why am I sharing my frustration? I tend to think that if the book has a big publisher it’s been well edited. But I guess not. This is not my first disappointment of this nature either. Is this a new development in the world of books or have I not noticed it before?

OK, done, time to think about other things.

Perry says HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Love and light to you and yours!

Luanne

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Editing, Writing

Author Kelli Donley on the Arizona Indian Schools

Recently, I read a suspenseful and engaging novel that gives context to a controversial piece of Arizona history: Counting Coup by Kelli Donley. I had met Kelli at the Phoenix MEET YOUR LITERARY COMMUNITY event in early October. I wrote about it here. My booth was right next to Kelli’s, and as we sat and chatted, I looked over her three novels. They all appealed to me, but Counting Coup is her most recent–and the first sentence grabbed my attention, as did the subject of the “Indian schools” in Arizona.

I asked Kelli to write a guest post about the Indian schools. If you are intrigued by the subject, you will want to rush to purchase a copy of Counting Coup. (If you like contemporary romance, you’ll love it, too!)

MEET KELLI DONLEY, AUTHOR OF COUNTING COUP

I grew up in a suburban ranch-style home in the middle of Mesa, Arizona, just off of Alma School Road. The neighborhood was like so many others. We had a basketball hoop in the front yard, a swimming pool in the backyard, and a series of colorful goldfish in a bowl on the kitchen counter. My bookshelves were marigold, lined with precious Nancy Drews my mother had collected before I was born. My brother and I would fight over the remote on hot summer days, arguing over “I love Lucy” or “Brady Bunch” episodes. When my mother was at the point of putting us on the curb in a box marked “free,” the calendar would switch to September and we would be shuffled down the street to school.

We were Astros, attending Alma Elementary. It never occurred to me to ask any questions about Alma School Road, even though our school had a different address. But when we’d go to Phoenix to visit my grandmother in her tiny, smoky apartment, we’d drive down Indian School Road. Indian School? I saw neither Indians nor schools from the backseat of my mother’s Chevy Citation.

I remember asking my mother and receiving a brief, vague answer that brought forth images of the trailer park-ridden, dry desert reservation we’d see from the highway when traveling to Tucson to visit our other grandparents.

Indian schools were where Indian children went to school.

“But, Mom,” I persisted, smelling a mystery, “Mom, we have Indian kids at our school. Wayne is in my class. His brothers are older. You know them!”

“Oh, well those kids live in our neighborhood. Of course they attend your school.” And then she did that little toss of her hand that meant, “Don’t bother me. We’re done with this topic.”

Was the Indian school like the one I attended, with chalkboards and globes and a music room where the recorders always reeked of Pine Sol? My questions went unanswered.

Some 25 years passed. I went to college, traveled, joined the Peace Corps, wrote a couple novels, and to everyone’s surprise, married a man in my hometown. I’d found my professional passion working in public health, and loved being a wife and stepmom in Mesa.

One cold December day, I was invited by two colleagues to visit their recent project at the Phoenix Indian Steele Park in central Phoenix. They’d been awarded a grant to restore one of the remaining buildings at what was once the Phoenix Indian School. They explained the school was opened in the 1890s, and at its biggest, was hundreds of acres of farmland that students were expected to tend. The school closed in the 1990s, and the land was purchased by the City of Phoenix from the federal government. Too quickly, city officials bulldozed buildings, dug lakes, and created the modern-day park—all with very little input from the local American Indian community. Three buildings were saved from destruction.

We stood in front of one of them.

I followed the women into an adobe building so old the window panes were wavy from time. Cobwebs kept aging beams above woven together. Missing floor planks made navigating the long narrow walkway a game of hopscotch. Two steps into the doorway, taking in one long look of the now empty rooms, goosebumps rose on my arms and my stomach began to ache. I turned on my heel, retreating outside.

They followed, confused.

“What happened in there,” I asked rubbing my arms and trying to calm my breath.

“What do you mean?” one of the women asked.

“Something terrible happened in that room,” I blurted, feeling my cheeks turn red from unexpected emotion. I felt crazy, but only momentarily.

The women’s heads nodded. We sat together in a clump on the concrete stairs leading into the adobe music room. It was here, sitting next to them, I would learn that for more than 100 years, American Indian children were placed at boarding schools, and not just in Arizona, but across the United States, Canada, and Australia. The initial motivation was to break Indian culture and create new Christians. “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” was a commonly repeated refrain.

It is a complicated history, but eventually, children were no longer taken against their will to attend the schools. Instead, many attended in later years because there was no other option on their tribal lands.

One of the women shared a story about how her grandmother, from a northern Arizona tribe, had been kidnapped at age 5 by federal employees and brought to the school. She hadn’t been able to return until she graduated at age 18. By then, she no longer spoke the language of her parents. This would forever impair her ability to connect with family, tradition, and culture.

The same colleague went on to then tell me how her parents divorced when she was in junior high. Her mother struggled. She sent her two older daughters to the Phoenix Indian School until she could care for them herself. They spent two years together at the school.

I had a thousand questions. First, how could I have spent more than 30 years in Phoenix and never known about the school? This history wasn’t included in our education, or field trips. It wasn’t on any test. There was no day of honor or remembrance. In the shade of a date palm, I looked up at the haunted adobe music room, and realized the park was sacred earth. Children died here, their bones buried under the grassy lawn of today.

This chance meeting planted the seed for my latest novel, Counting Coup. This is the story of Avery Wainwright, a professor who uncovers a stack of 60-year-old letters. Written in the 1950s,

the letters tell of a year Avery’s grandmother, Alma Jean, spent teaching in the Indian school system. The ghostly yet familiar voices in the letters tell of a dark time in her grandmother’s life, a time no one had ever spoken of.

Today, the American Indian boarding school system remains, albeit voluntary. Health outcomes for American Indian children in the United States remain among the worse. These boarding schools allow children to graduate, but still keep student at a fragile age away from their families and home.

I have a thousand more questions to ask, and many more stories to write about my homeland. Thank you for reading!

For more information about Counting Coup and my other novels, visit: kellidonley.com.

Kelli Donley is a native Arizonan. She is the author of three novels, Under the Same MoonBasket Baby and Counting Coup. Inspiration for this novel was found hearing colleagues’ stories about childhoods spent at the Phoenix Indian School. Kelli lives with her husband Jason, children and small ark of animals in Mesa, Arizona. She works in public health, and blogs at www.africankelli.com.

Thank you for visiting, Kelli!

 

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Fiction, History, Reading