Monthly Archives: January 2017

Links and Lists in La La Land

lalaland

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone in La La Land

Just some links today, in case you haven’t seen these lists yet:

It’s awards season, and all the ALSC announcements have been made – Newbery, Caldecott, Batchelder (always so interesting to see what’s being translated from abroad),  Sibert, Pura Belpre, Seisel, Odyssey…and lovely Nikki Grimes has been awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award!! I’m also so pleased to see that Naomi Shihab Nye has been asked to deliver the May Hill Arbuthnot lecture.

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Poet and Novelist Naomi Shihab Nye

Nye is a role model for me, gracefully bridging the distance between poetry for children and poetry for adults.   Click here for a link to all the award-winners and Honor books. And for your reading pleasure, a small poem by Nye which, given the stance of our current president, seems timely:

TWO COUNTRIES

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers—silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

It’s also awards-season out in Hollywood. Click here for a link to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ nominations for the best screen-style storytelling of the year. Recent history tends to support the theory that during difficult times, people go for stories that are dreamy and sweet; they long for La La Land, and a movie of the same name is winning all the big prizes lately. It’s up for a gazillion or so Oscars.  Romance and music and pretty people dancing under the stars – what’s not to enjoy? Personally, though, I’m a glutton for heartbreak, so I’m rooting for Manchester by the Sea to get it’s share of awards. Sorrow that soaks your bones, good people struggling to do their best, not always able to – I can’t seem to get enough of it. Or maybe it’s just the pacing of M-B-T-S – I like stories told slowly and quietly, stories that send me out of a theater thinking.

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Casey Afflect in Manchester by the Sea.

I’m also very pleased to see Fences up for some nominations – it was a great play. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but hey, Denzel Washington stars, and it’s always a pleasure to watch him give himself over to a character. Haven’t seen Moonlight yet, but I’m betting I’ll like it, too.

That’s it for me this time around. I’m not living in La La Land, but I’m not living in Manchester by the Sea, either. Just real Seattle, which will definitely do. And to illustrate why, here is a recent photo of a inspiring event in our neck of the woods.  The crowd, by the way, stretched for three miles.

seattle-womens-march

Bravo, Seattle!

 

 

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The thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issue, it’s that they have shared stories.

Today Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

Argh. (said in anguish, not pirate-ese)

Let us turn instead to Barack Obama, outgoing President, and consider the role of reading and writing in his life.

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Between granting last-minute pardons and a stirring farewell speech, the tallying up of legacy (six million net new jobs, 32 million uninsured Americans now with health care insurance, Wall Street reform, etc.) and a final stroll through the Rose Garden, President Obama sat down with NYT book critic Michiko Kakutani to talk about what books mean to him. What follows are excerpts from the transcript.

What made you want to become a writer?

I loved reading when I was a kid, partly because I was traveling so much, and there were times where I’d be displaced, I’d be the outsider. When I first moved to Indonesia, I’m this big, dark-skinned kid that kind of stood out. And then when I moved back from Indonesia to Hawaii, I had the manners and habits probably of an Indonesian kid.

And so the idea of having these worlds that were portable, that were yours, that you could enter into, was appealing to me.

… I think I rediscovered writing and reading and thinking in my first or second year of college and used that as a way to rebuild myself, a process I write about in “Dreams From My Father.”

That period in New York, where you were intensely reading.

I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

And so even though by the time I graduated I knew I wanted to be involved in public policy, or I had these vague notions of organizing, the idea of continuing to write and tell stories as part of that was valuable to me. And so I would come home from work, and I would write in my journal or write a story or two.

The great thing was that it was useful in my organizing work. Because when I got there, the guy who had hired me said that the thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issue, it’s that they have shared stories. And he told me that if you learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.

But my interest in public service and politics then merged with the idea of storytelling.

Was writing partly a way to figure out your identity?

Yes, I think so. For me, particularly at that time, writing was the way I sorted through a lot of crosscurrents in my life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.

How has the speechwriting and being at the center of history and dealing with crises affected you as a writer?

I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to see when I start writing the next book. Some of the craft of writing a good speech is identical to any other good writing: Is that word necessary? Is it the right word? Is there a rhythm to it that feels good? How does it sound aloud?

I actually think that one of the useful things about speechwriting is reminding yourself that the original words are spoken, and that there is a sound, a feel to words that, even if you’re reading silently, transmits itself.

It’s what you said in your farewell address about Atticus Finch, where you said people are so isolated in their little bubbles. Fiction can leap —

It bridges them.

And so I think that I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful.

And then there’s been the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head. [Laughter] Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to be someplace else.

What books would you recommend at this moment in time, that capture this sense of turmoil?

… one of the things I’m confident about is that, out of this moment, there are a whole bunch of writers, a lot of them young, who are probably writing the book I need to read. [Laughter] They’re ahead of me right now. And so in my post-presidency, in addition to training the next generation of leaders to work on issues like climate change or gun violence or criminal justice reform, my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process.

We’re bombarded with information. Technology is moving so rapidly.

Look, I don’t worry about the survival of the novel. We’re a storytelling species.

I think that what one of the jobs of political leaders going forward is, is to tell a better story about what binds us together as a people. And America is unique in having to stitch together all these disparate elements — we’re not one race, we’re not one tribe, folks didn’t all arrive here at the same time.

What holds us together is an idea, and it’s a story about who we are and what’s important to us. And I want to make sure that we continue that.

• • • • •

As a lifelong reader and writer, I am cheered to learn the role of reading and writing and story in Obama’s life. I look forward to his next book. Meanwhile, he has given us writers a charge: to write the stories about who we are and what’s important to us; to write America.

You can read the whole interview transcription here.

Birds, Bees and Bumps in the Road

In February I will be in a group show at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery called The Birds and the Bees.  Lots of you know I was in a bike accident and lost the use of my right/write hand for a few months. I had agreed to take part in this show before the accident and thought that I would have to back out. But I started noodling around with my left hand and found that I could still make art.

Paschkis fracture-fraktur

It was odd: I could barely write out a grocery list, but I could paint or draw. The process was very slow but the awkwardness of it made it an adventure.

fraktur-horse

I was inspired by fraktur: stylized Pennsylvania-German paintings, mostly from the 18th and 19th century. My wonky left handed drawing seemed a good fit with this art form.  I sent an image to the BACART gallery and asked if they would be open to my left handed self in place of my right handed self. Yes!

Paschkis fracture fraktur

Fraktur suits the Birds and Bees show because although the images are romantic they are also slightly askew.

Paschkis head-in-clouds fraktur
Some of the images are about the plight of love and some are about the pleasures of love.

Paschkis drawn-together fraktur

Paschkis night-is-long-fraktur

Paschkis loves-arrow fraktur

paschkis do-not-deceive-fraktur

Valentine’s day can be alienating for single people so I also drew one fraktur for a happy person who is not part of a couple.

Paschkis solitude-fraktur

What I learned from doing this work is that good things can come from dismal situations. The accident hurt and slowed me down, but that slowness allowed me to try something new. I was replenished.

Paschkis renewal-fraktur

Is there a word for the good things that can arise from bad situations? Perhaps sluck would suit: luck from something sucky. I welcome your linguistic suggestions.

The paintings for this show were done with gouache and ink on handmade cotton paper from India. I hope that if you are nearby you can take a ferry to BACART on Bainbridge Island for the opening on February 3, 6:00-8:00. You can see this work and the work of 14 other pollinators. The show will remain up until February 26.  Thanks.

Paschkis eyes-fraktur

 

 

Kay Nielsen: An Appreciation

k-nielsen-poltarnees-coverWhen I was cleaning off my parents’ bookshelves, I came across a book, Kay Nielsen: An Appreciation, by Welleran Poltarnees. It was stashed between two larger art books. It must have been my mother’s, although I don’t remember her buying it. It was in a clear plastic bag with her name on it. Was my mother a fan of Nielsen’s work? She must have been. Like mother, like daughter.

I’ve been enamored of Kay Nielsen’s illustrations since I discovered them in my teens at my local bookshop. It was Kay Nielsen, edited by David Larkin (I bought it then and still have it). This was in the 70s, when illustrations of his were being re-popularized along with others of the “Golden Age of Illustration” such as Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac.

k-nielsen-poltarnees-frontispiece

Kay Nielsen: An Appreciation was issued by The Green Tiger Press in 1976. It is bound in hand-marbled paper. The interior is printed on heavy stock, with full color images tipped in. Along with both full and single color illustrations, there is commentary on the illustrations by Poltarnees, an autobiographical statement from 1939 and a 1945 interview by Jasmine Britton, the supervising librarian for the Los Angeles school system at that time.

k-nielsen-poltarnees-22-23

It is clearly a labor of love. I understand why my mother kept it sealed in a plastic cover.

Although I loved Nielsen’s work, I never bothered to learn more about who he was. In fact, for many years I assumed Kay was a woman. Of course, now such research is simple to do if you have a computer and a blogpost to write.

Kay Nielsen was born in Copenhagen in 1886. He attended art schools in Paris, then moved to London in 1911. He became celebrated and successful for his wondrous, dramatic paintings in books such as Powder and Crinoline and Hansel and Gretel.

k-nielsen-in-powder-and-crinoline-rosanie-or-the-inconstant-prince

k-nielsen-in-powder-and-crinoline-felicia-or-the-pot-of-pinks

kay-nielsen-hansel-and-gretel

k-nielsen-hansel-and-gretel

My favorite book of his is East of the Sun West of the Moon,

k-nielsen-east-of-the-sun-west-of-the-moon-the-lassie-and-her-godmother

k-nielsen-east-of-the-sun-west-of-the-moon-the-three-princesses-of-whiteland

particularly the image below, which resonated with my angsty teenage soul.

k-nielsen-east-of-the-sun-west-of-the-moon-the-three-princesses-in-the-blue-mountain

It surprised me to learn now that the illustrations I so admired were all produced between 1912 and 1925. He published one book in 1930. He moved twice to the United States, first in 1936, and again in the 50s after returning to Denmark. He worked for Disney for a few years, contributing to the “Ave Maria” and “Night on the Bald Mountain” sequences in “Fantasia”, where his influence is clear.

k-nielsen-sketch-for-night-on-bald-mountain

night-on-bald-mountain

But his style fell out of favor after the second world war and there were long dry spells where he and his wife had to rely on assistance from friends.

Jasmine Britton arranged to have Nielsen paint a mural for the library of the Los Angeles Central Junior High School in 1941.

k-nielsen-the-first-spring-mural

He painted another for the Wong Chapel in the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. His final work was a mural for Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

He died in poverty and obscurity in 1957 at the age of 71. Services were held at the Wong Chapel. His wife died little over a year later.

Tastes change. Thank heavens that tastes change back again, and that the work of artists who were once considered out of fashion can be brought back for new viewers to appreciate. I found several sites with information about Kay Nielsen. If you want to learn more and see more wondrous images, I recommend this piece by Terry Windling.