Peauxdunquians read at Words and Music

On November 9, the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance helped kick off the 2011 Words and Music Conference in New Orleans, with four Peauxdunquians invited to read at the Words and Music Writers Alliance annual meeting in the Cabildo, which fellow Peauxdunquian (and award-winning filmmaker) Helen Krieger caught on video.

First up was Terri Stoor, gold medal winner in the short story category of the 2011 William Faulkner-William Wisdom writing competition, who read “Bird Dog,” her second-runner-up entry in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition’s essay category:

Following Terri, Tad Bartlett read his poem, “new century/old century, three acts,” which was a finalist for the 2011 Marble Faun Poetry Prize:

J.Ed. Marston then read a trio of poems, “Mangy Brown Dog,” “Limit-Perfected Fish,” and “Steel on Wood.” “Limit-Perfected Fish” was also a finalist for the 2011 Marble Faun Poetry Prize:

Finally, Maurice Carlos Ruffin read two flash fiction pieces, “Cocoons” and “Mercury Forges.” “Mercury Forges” will be published in the upcoming Apalachee Review:

Words and Music will continue through November 13, with most events happening at the Hotel Monteleone.

Pictures from the First Ever Yeah, You Write!

After Tad’s gorgeous summation of our lively event at Tipitina’s on Thursday, here is a gallery of images for you, courtesy of our Friend of Peauxdunque, Kiki Whang.

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If you missed out of the FIRST EVER Yeah, You Write event, sure you missed the beginning of a legendary reading series. However, there will be other opportunities to participate in the EPIC LITERARY CONCERT SERIES that is Yeah, You Write.

Quick Peauxcrunque recap

There will be a proper debriefing and a full posting of gratitude and wonderment in the next few days, complete with the brilliant pictures taken by our many friends last night, but for now these quick thoughts on Yeah, You Write 

Terri spun golden morphine threads; and Kelly made us all dance uncontrollably and exclaim involuntarily and think unfetteredly; and Bill put us right there on a Staten Island street at four in the morning, where we were angry at the audacity of evil; and Amanda hung us in a tree, afraid of a washing machine, perfectly one with tornado-green clouds; and Gian made us the poets with him, and us of this city with him, and he created this “us” out of this crowd of “I”s; and then Mat “Poison in My Cock” Johnson — well, what more can you say — except there was joy and fear and intensity of a level even higher than any all night when Mat took the stage.

And then there was excellent Mr. Nick Fox, an emcee like no other (who you must employ for your next show, whatever it is, because you simply will not believe how he turns a mere event into a Spectacle)! And, of course, without DJ Seppe spinning the tunes before and during and after the everything, it could have been just another reading in just another room.

But this wasn’t just another room. This was Tipitina’s, the Temple of ‘Fess. We had writers on stage at Tipitina’s, goddamnit, and it felt right and it felt good. Thank you, Tip’s. Thank you, Terri and Kelly and Bill and Amanda and Gian and Mat. Thank you, Faulkner House Books for being there to sell our performers’ books. Thank you, Emilie Staat for making it all happen.

And that was the brief recap.

Yeah, You Write! Get PeauxCrunque with Peauxdunque …

Peauxdunque is one day away from the first Yeah, You Write event, a literary concert and DJ dance party (ya’ heard?) at Tipitina’s on October 13th! Doors open at 7 p.m. and show starts at 7:30. New Orleans poet and Emcee-extraordinaire Nick Fox will be presiding. Tickets are available online and are already starting to go; get yours now! Want to hear more about Yeah, You Write? Listen to this interview of Peauxdunquian Emilie Staat and featured performer Amanda Boyden by WYLD’s Hal Clark.

Our featured performers have been busy in the lead-up to Yeah, You Write, sharing their insights on writing and living in interviews by Peauxdunquians Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Emilie Staat, and Tad Bartlett. Check out the interviews with Mat Johnson, Amanda Boyden, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, Bill Loehfelm, Gian Smith, and Terri Stoor, then get ready for some great, one-of-a-kind wordage and a Peaux-Funquey dance party at Tip’s, tomorrow!

PWA Interviews Kelly Harris-DeBerry

Poet Kelly Harris-DeBerry will be reading from her work at the Yeah, You Write literary concert at Tipitina’s on October 13th. Kelly and Peauxdunquian Tad Bartlett shared an email exchange over the weekend about the power of poetry and the meaning of “literary activism”:

Tad: Kelly, you are known around New Orleans as not just a poet, but also as a “literary activist.” Assuming you consider that a fair descriptor, what does it mean to you to be a “literary activist”?

Kelly: I don’t know what people mean when they use the phrase literary activist. I hope it means I’m a good trouble-maker. I care about how people are cared for, especially when it comes to literacy and the literary arts. I’m involved in two organizations whose work is about service to both children and women in this city as it relates to literacy and literary equality.

I work in the adult literacy field. Each day I see how illiteracy affects an individual’s ability to fully participate as a citizen in society. After Katrina an alarming number of residents could not get the assistance they needed because they couldn’t read or read well enough to understand the forms. During the BP Oil Spill, The Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans was hired to take BP claim forms and convert them into plain language. Again, people couldn’t get services due to them because of literacy and language barriers.

Two things concern me greatly about literacy in New Orleans: 1) I believe literacy is a justice issue. It’s always been a justice issue. If Black folks didn’t know how to read and interpret U.S. laws, we’d still be in courts fighting Jim Crow. The current language on ballots and in proposed legislation is becoming so purposely complex that many people may not understand how to vote. 2) Each day it becomes clearer that much of adult education is about getting learners to achieve specific benchmarks, but we rarely get an adult learner or, let’s say a GED graduate, to the pleasure of reading. I want to take GED graduates on field trips to local bookstores and libraries to make reading applicable in daily life beyond passing a test or applying for a job.

TB: So it sounds like you have taken way more on your plate than what is commonly perceived to be the typical job description of “poet”?

KH: I am interested in how poetry can function in public places beyond bars and traditional readings. Too often writers are reading to the choir. The other day a woman came up to me in the grocery store and said, “Aren’t you that poetry lady?” There’s a certain gratification in being recognized by a non-writer. There’s a special relationship in New Orleans, it seems, between community and artists. Many of the artists in New Orleans themselves are an extension of the community. I don’t sense that artists here seek to dictate what art is or its function. Go to the French Quarter and people are artists because they say so (for better or worse).

Poems and Pink Ribbons [tb: a workshop and reading series for breast cancer patients, survivors and loved ones, presented by the Literary Lab with a final reading and celebration on October 22 at 2372 St. Claude Avenue] was in my heart for about four years. I just sat on it. The combination of having a mother who survived breast cancer, and a mother-in-law who didn’t, provoke me to want to honor them with service. Everybody wears pins and walks, but I wanted to do something more impactful, hence Poems & Pink Ribbons. Different poets around the city have volunteered their time. The majority of the participants probably wouldn’t have called themselves “poet” prior to the workshop. They’ve become more organized, more serious poets as the weeks have gone by. One lady even has a binder and she organized her binder into class notes, poem hand outs and poems that she’s been writing. Poems & Pink Ribbons has an engine of its own now and I am just along for the ride.

Another event that is drawing interest from beyond the universe of writers is “Daughters of Domestics: Poets & Academics Respond to ‘The Help’.” [tb: a response to “The Help” by poets and academics, on October 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Xaview University Qatar Pharmacy Pavilion at 1 Drexel Drive]. It started from a poem I was writing about my own mother, who at various times in the late 80s and 90s cleaned homes for white owners. My mother turned 60 this year and for some reason it made me go public in my poetry about my mother’s cleaning days. Five months later “The Help” was released in theatres.

TB: What responsibility do you think that writers have beyond the mere expression of an idea or the telling of a story?

KH: I can’t say what other writers should be responsible for. I can only say I feel a responsibility to write well and with care about everything. A janitor approached me after a reading and said, “I don’t like poetry, but I like your stuff,” and I asked him why he didn’t like poetry, and his answer suggested that he didn’t know poetry could include him. I suggested some books and poets for him to read; I hope if I ever run into him again, his views on poetry will have changed.

I’m told my great-grandmother wanted to be a poet. I never met her. Apparently her ability to recite poems to her children in her living room and in church was electric. She was laughed at in her community and scolded about staying in her place. So I do kind of feel this responsibility to be true to the people and things that have impacted my life.

TB: Turning to your poetic work, I find it interesting how you are able to use the lens of uniquely New Orleans culture to create sharp focus on more general cultural phenomena; for example, in your poem “Michael’s Second Line,” which explores the greater cultural tribute to Michael Jackson upon his death through the very specific New Orleans death ritual of the second line. Or maybe it’s the other way around, using Michael Jackson as the lens through which to focus on New Orleans. Which way does it go, and is that a familiar theme in your work? [a clip from the second line that inspired “Michael’s Second Line”]

KH: Like photographers, I think poets should use a wide range of lenses to capture different angles and depth in their work. The poem functions as a New Orleans lens. The MJ second line closed the gap between icon and fan. MJ, this larger than life person, became a marcher, strutter in the line. There was some controversy about having a second line for Michael Jackson because he’s not a N.O. musician and because of the molestation controversy. However, the second line is about burying and blessing the hurt, The people are the judges; they deem who’s worthy of the ritual. It was fascinating that this larger than life person becomes everyday people – everyday New Orleans, if only for a moment.

I’m from the Mid-West—Cleveland, OH.  Many of my poems reflect blue collar ideals. I must admit moving South has sharpened my sense of place and people in my work.

TB: Another of your poems, “A Pissed Off Bird,” gives voice to an avian spokes-bird with a long list of grievances about the ruin the human race has made of birds’ initial deal with God. It swerves from acerbic humor to a lush imagining of a bird’s uninterrupted world, to dead-on social commentary. Is this a hard balance to strike, to keep the pace in a poem, to address serious social issues, and at the same time avoid any semblance of preachiness?

KH: A local music writer once said, a good trumpeter resists playing every note and trick he knows. Many singers ruin the National Anthem because they can’t resist oversinging. Ever felt like you just heard an audition instead of the sacred song? I think poets have to resist making junk drawers out of poems. It’s hard to create balance in life and poetry. And sometimes you just have to resist saying yes to everything both in life and in the poem. I’m learning that less is definitely more. It’s all about discipline.

I wrote that poem during the BP Oil Spill.  I remember being in a certain part of town and feeling as if I had walked into a gas station. You know I never wrote an ecology-themed poem until moving to New Orleans.

TB: So, why poetry?

KH: I wish I had some fascinating story about growing up around books or having parents who were educators or getting a book I couldn’t put down, but neither is the case. The short-story is: I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about poetry. As a child, I recited Easter speeches in church. I wrote my first poem in 6th grade. It was called, “Be a Leader not a Follower”; I guess even then I was grappling with social issues. I showed it to my father.  He said, You know that’s a poem. That’s how I knew I’d written my first poem. Then, I had no concept of being a poet. Poets aren’t invited to Career Day. I wanted to be a pediatrician until high school, until I introduced a poet named Mwatabu Okantah at a school assembly in ninth grade. I was hooked and quickly learned that having notebooks of poems was no fluke. I learned I couldn’t live without making poems. Something kept drawing me to the page, catching my eye, pulling my ear. Next thing I knew, whoa, I’m a poet.

TB: What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received or given?

KH: Wayne Brown, a Jamaican poet, told me,  “Write beyond the epiphany.”

Many thanks to Kelly for this fascinating discussion. We look forward to hearing her work at Yeah, You Write, at Tipitina’s Uptown on October 13th.

PWA Interviews Mat Johnson

Mat Johnson, winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature for his novel Pym, will be reading at the literary concert Yeah, You Write this Thursday at Tipitina’s. Recently, Peauxdunquian Maurice Carlos Ruffin asked Mat some questions.

A Conversation with Mat Johnson

MCR: Where does a story begin for you?

MJ: To me, it’s more about what it ends. I look at story as the ride towards epiphany. Something important is realized, either by the characters or the reader. What comes before that is the facts that lead up to that point.

MCR: What balance do you try to achieve between characterization and plot?

MJ: Characters have to be real enough that you care what happens to them, and there has to be enough plot that we don’t get bored just looking at them. The rest is defined by whatever story you have to tell. If the story demands more action, it will make less time for character development. If the story is an internal journey, that makes less time for demanding plot devices. The key is to figure out what kind of story you are trying to tell and then feed it what it needs.

MCR: Do your characters choose their actions or do you?

MJ: I sit there typing and try not to bore myself. So I write myself into moments even I didn’t expect. Enough of those, and the characters start looking like people I didn’t consciously intend for them to be. From there, I consciously try and build on those traits. So it’s a trade off. The art is knowing when to control the page and when to let it run wild.

MCR: What do you do when you’re having a difficult time with a story?

MJ: I walk away from the page. I talk it out with friends. Usually, it’s going rough on the page because there is something I missed, something I’m not understanding, because now I’m reading it and going, “Naw, something’s off.” When I can come up with a way to rethink what I’m working on, then I come back to it.

MCR: What is the best bit of writing advice you’ve gotten?

MJ: “This reads like I’m stuck next to some guy on a plane and forced to listen to his life story. But I’m not stuck. And I can just put it down and walk away.” Michael Cunningham told me that about a book I was writing. It was great advice, because it got through my thick head that my book was not interesting. It gave me the strength to walk away from it and try to write a book that was actually engaging. That ended up being Drop, my first published novel.

MCR: What has been the most surprising thing about the professional writing life?

MJ: That it doesn’t pay shit. I thought I’d be living on a boat by now.

The last two questions were offered by Evelyn Alfred, who is hosting a Pym discussion group on Twitter.

EA: Is there a specific reason why you didn’t discuss the experience on Tsalal?

MJ: Yes. I don’t like to go into breakdowns of my work, I like it to be digested by the reader without my extra-guide, but the ending mirrors Poe’s original ending. Much of Pym is referenced from moments in the original material, but I have my own meanings for them.

EA: What happened to “White Folks” the dog?

MJ: I refuse to talk about White Folks! That would be racist!

Mat Johnson will read at Yeah, You Write, Thursday at Tipitina’s.

PWA Interviews Terri Stoor

Terri Stoor, member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance and winner of the 2011 short story gold medal in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom writing competition, will be reading from her work at the Yeah, You Write literary concert at Tipitina’s on October 13th. Fellow Peauxdunquian Tad Bartlett took some time out this week with Terri to chat with her about her writing:

TB: Terri, much of your work, including Bellyful of Sparrow, for which you won the gold medal for short stories in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom competition, seems to involve the intersection between humor and death, or between everyday tragedy and some sort of quiet transcendence. First, do you think that’s fair? But second, do you find these intersections to be rich veins for stories?

TS: I think that’s a fair assessment of my work, though it wasn’t until you pointed it out that I realized that 90% of my stories involve death, either just passed or on the way. Death distills everything down to its essence, it cuts the crap, it brings issues into focus. Whether you know you’re dying (and aren’t we all) or you’re dealing with what’s left after someone is gone, it’s a good way to get to the core of the story. As for humor, well, some of the most horrific things that happen in life are also very funny. Humor is what makes the pain bearable.

TB: Speaking of rich veins, do you find it easier to write stories about the small towns you experienced growing up, or do you see yourself gravitating toward setting stories in larger cities such as New Orleans?

 TS: I love writing about small towns. There are few places as loving or as hateful as a very small town, often at the same time. They choose whom to include or exclude, seemingly at random. I don’t know that it’s easier to write stories about the towns I was raised in, but I am drawn to the sanctity of what others might consider small lives. No one has a small life from their own perspective, and I like to explore that. New Orleans is really a collection of small towns, with her neighborhoods, and I could easily see setting stories here.
TB: Tell me about your writing process. Where do you start with a story? Where do your stories first come from?
TS: Someone wrote (and I wish I could give appropriate credit), “I don’t know where the ideas come from, but I know if I’m not there to write them down, they go away again.” Anything can inspire a story for me: a turn of phrase, a face glimpsed in a passing car, a dream. Once in awhile I start with a title. I write my stories whole, from the beginning to the end, and most often in one long sitting. The story I end up with, once I knead it and roll it out may be nothing like what I began with, but the initial outpouring goes down on the page as one piece.
TB: Do you feel there’s a particularly oral quality to your storytelling that translates to the page? Might this come from your past experience as an actor and in stand-up comedy?
TS: Sure. I often read passages aloud, to get the mouthfeel of them, to see how they come off my tongue. It’s the quickest way for me to discover when something is too cute, or just not working. If it’s not flowing on the page, when you read it aloud, it’s really obvious. As a writer, I don’t think I’m trying to enlighten you or educate you; all I want to do is tell stories.
TB: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received (or given, if you’ve given advice better than any you received)?
TS: The best advice I’ve received is probably from Memphis native and current New Orleans writer Jamey Hatley: “Be fierce.” It applies to so much of writing, being fierce about getting your butt in the chair, being fierce about the work itself. Great advice. The best advice I’ve ever given is definitely, “It’s as easy to love a rich man as a poor one,” to my daughters. I consider it an investment in the quality of my eventual retirement home.
TB: Thanks, Terri! Looking forward to your reading at Tip’s!
TS: Thank you! I’m looking forward to it as well. Should be a great event.

PWA Interviews Amanda Boyden

Amanda Boyden will appear at Yeah, You Write at Tipitina’s on Thursday, October 13th (that’s next week!). Peauxdunquian Maurice Carlos Ruffin asked Amanda a few questions.

A Conversation with Amanda Boyden

Maurice Carlos Ruffin: Where does a story/novel begin for you?

Amanda Boyden: If I’m in the nascent stages of a novel, I’ve usually decided on my characters.  I know who they are and how they’ll respond to most anything.  The characters help me write the rest.  Seriously.  I tend to determine a handful of plot points, maybe a dozen or so, and let my characters lead the way from one to the next.  I love how my peeps occasionally surprise me.

I don’t write stories that often any more, but when I do, they usually spring from something small, an observation or glimpse of a slice of life that’s odd or unusual.  I watched a kid kick a dying pigeon down the length of a street gutter once, twenty years ago, and knew I had to write about it.  A shirtless man falling off his bike.  A neighbor running out of her bright blue house paint before she’s reached the roof.  Those sorts of moments.

MCR: What balance do you try to achieve between characterization and plot?

AB: All readers have particular tastes.  I know a number of current graduate students who are perfectly content to read a story where very little happens.  I, on the other hand, have a pretty good-sized appetite for plot.  I like stuff to actually happen in a story or novel.  But that said, if I can’t inhabit the protagonist’s brain and body, I’m not at all interested in what’s happening, plot-wise.  I need to know a character through-and-through.  So, I suppose I try my damnedest to balance both elements, to weight them as equally as I’m able.

MCR: Do your characters choose their actions or do you?

AB: I usually attempt to set up the obstacle course for the characters, but invariably they jump through the hoops and leap over the walls in a different order or bypass some rope swing altogether.  The characters themselves regularly change their paths.

MCR: What do you do when you’re having a difficult time with a patch of writing?

AB: When I hit a section that isn’t simply flowing with the usual genius ease that I’m so used to–I’m joking!–I’ll double-back and reread/edit.  A little like clicking on the refresh icon, I suppose.  It helps put me in the character’s headspace, if nothing else.  I do write from beginning to end without skipping forward, so my process can resemble sewing by hand, not liking a line of stitches and pulling them out, trying them again with more care.

MCR: What’s the best bit of writing advice you’ve gotten?

AB: Hmm.  I like to think we all have little people perched on our shoulders as we write, keeping us in line, in check.  Fortunately a good number of excellent writers (my husband Joseph Boyden being one of them) have told me in ridiculous harmony–I have a full choir standing on my shoulders–to not let my writing get too precious.  I’m utterly in love with the word, so I have to guard against my line writing usurping character or plot.  I’m always cutting away sentences or full paragraphs that my little shoulder people would call “too Too.”

MCR: What has been the most surprising thing about the professional writing life?

AB: Really?  That I can live it.  How many people get to live out their deepest, most heartfelt dreams?  I’m living the life I imagined as a kid.  Life is so beautiful and rich, and I get to write about it for a living.

Amanda will be reading new work at Yeah, You Write, next week at Tipitina’s.

Yeah, You Write: Tickets on sale online

You can now purchase tickets online for the Yeah, You Write event, right now! Get yours ahead of time, before the room fills up.

Mat Johnson, Amanda Boyden, Bill Loehfelm, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, Gian Smith, and Terri Stoor! Emcee’d by Nick Fox! Dance party following, with DJ Sep spinning the tunes! Drinks served up by Tip’s!

Yeah, You Write!

A year ago, the Peauxdunquians had a vision, a collective vision of a city with vast cultural resources — artists and musicians and writers and chefs, all striving for funky and ultimate soulful expression, celebrated not just by their peers but by ecstatic audiences, too. And then we realized that vision was the place where we live, right here in New Orleans. We flock to restaurants to share the creations of our artistic chefs; we jam our clubs to listen to bands who play our music. And now it’s time to step it up for another group of our artists, the nationally acclaimed writers of our city and our region.

New Orleans and the South have always been a city and a region of incredible writers. They can be as much our rock stars as our musicians are, and now they are coming together in one of our grand temples: Tipitina’s uptown, the altar of ‘Fess himself, will be hosting the first Yeah, You Write event, on October 13, 2011, from 7:00 until the celebration ends. Six great writers, emcee’d by local poet Nick Fox, and followed by the dance visions of D.J. Sep. All for only a $5 cover.

Come hear Mat Johnson (author of “Pym,” winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature), Kelly Harris-DeBerry (local poet and literary activist, and founder of the Literary Lab), Amanda Boyden (author most recently of “Babylon Rolling”), Bill Loehfelm (past Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winner, author most recently of “The Devil She Knows”), Gian Smith (spoken word artist, author of “O Beautiful Storm,” featured in Treme Season 2 trailer), and Terri Stoor (PWA member and winner of the 2011 William Faulkner-William Wisdom short story competition). These are the words of our time, our city, our region, and our Peauxdunque.