Category Archives: The Writer’s Tower
All about writing: trends, old media, freelance, editing, new media.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit one of my most favorite cities on earth, New Orleans, Louisiana. The occasion was cover the 2014 Words and Music, a Literary Feast which is sponsored by The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society and organized by the Society’s Co-Founder, Rosemary James. The Faulkner Society is a nationally recognized non-profit arts organization. As such it is a literary and educational institution. It receives grant donations, membership contributions, and contributions to their fundraisers all of which are fully tax deductible.
As I sat in on Master Classes and Workshops, networked with Editors and Publishers and Presenters, I noted in the catalog for Words and Music many events listed as a “BIG READ EVENT.” I knew that The Faulkner Society created and supported outreach programs for high school and college students and literacy projects for at-risk teenagers. As I networked with individuals at the Words and Music “literary feast,” I became apprised about how BIG READ projects funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts were integrated seamlessly in Words and Music. I further learned how The Faulkner Society embraces the BIG READ in its mission and integrates BIG READ projects in its endeavors.
The National Endowment for the ARTS (NEA) identified the tremendous need in our modern technological culture that reading in part had fallen by the wayside. Indeed, Gore Vidal had mentioned in numerous interviews before he died in 2012 that “Americans don’t read.” The BIG READ is a program created by NEA to bring back reading to the center of American culture. This program provides competitive grants to support innovative reading programs in designated communities.
As a former English teacher and professor I saw students struggle through reading literature. I worked tirelessly for 33 years attempting to improve students’ reading and appreciation of literature from 9-12, from Special Ed students to college level English and Advanced Placement Literature students. I taught in a district on Long Island where over half of the students were on reduced or free lunch. They often did not grow up in a reading household as I did; their parents often worked two jobs to put food on the table, if there were two parents. Sometimes parents or single parents did not encourage reading because their own reading skills were limited and it was painful to read. This situation happens nationally in many districts and certainly in New Orleans. So I was doubly thrilled to learn that wonderful literacy programs are alive and well. I felt a complete synchronicity as a former educator and professor and current writer and journalist when I discovered that a mission for The Faulkner Society’s was literacy and that they had exciting BIG READ projects encouraging literacy and appreciation of literature.
I became familiar with BIG READ during Words and Music and I must say I am impressed. Every day during Words and Music, there were a number of BIG READ events. Each of them was integrated into highlighting and revisiting the themes and experiences of the characters in the 2014 BIG READ focus book, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. Some of the events were on site at the Hotel Monteleone in the Queen Anne Ballroom. One example was the session that featured successful screenwriters and novelists, Carleton Eastlake and Loraine Despres. The workshop was on Creating Compelling Characters for Books, TV, and Film. Participants in the workshop were to have read Mengestu’s book. Eastlake’s and Despres’ discussion centered around how Mengestu created memorable characters and distinguished them through specific details, for example, their will to power, their conflicts with others, their backgrounds, their desires and goals.
Some BIG READ events occurred off site of Hotel Monteleone. One was held at Loyola University, Dana Hall. This was a BIG READ and PAN AMERICAN connections event. The title of the session was Immigration: It’s Human Toll and Its Inspiration for the Arts and Cultural Enrichment. The event was free and open to the public. This session was a joint venture with Loyola’s Center for Latin American Studies and Caribbean Studies directed by Uriel Quesada, Ph.D. The session featured Luis Alberto Urrea, Mexican-born American poet and bestselling author of the non-fiction book The Devil’s Highway and other works. The former Louisiana Poet Laureat Darrell Bourque open and closed the program with poems related to the migration of Acadians from Nova Scotia to Louisiana and how that migration greatly impacted Louisiana and enriched the culture.
Words and Music 2014 included many other BIG READ events which can be seen online at The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society website. There you will be able to browse through the Faulkner Society, note its mission and endeavors and gain an understanding of how innovation should be at the heart of literacy. It is vital that we who adore the written word and find reading an easy facility encourage this skill especially for those at-risk, young and old and not just those who are uneducated, but those who have an education and who do not read longer works but read short bursts online.
We live in an age that requires we read extensively and widely if we are to keep our vision of a democratic society viable and manifest in our political system. As part of this reading we need to be able to read critically and hone our critical thinking skills to differentiate the unsupported blather and straw man arguments from those works that are well supported with rational argument and facts. Worthy literature and non fiction are what inspire us to live and get through to the next day. It is paramount that BIG READ continue and that organizations like The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society continue to make magic for others.
If you are interested in reading more about the annual endeavors of The Faulkner Society in New Orleans, then check out their website linked in the first part of this sentence. Or contact Faulkhouse@aol.com to ask questions and learn more.
Excited to buy my first iPhone? I guess. but it wasn’t an outer body experience as buying Apple products has been for some. Maybe that’s because I’m a techie fail, a black hole when it comes to understanding mother boards and code and building cloud infrastructure and sequencing networks. I can figure things out if directions are given to me? But that’s it. I am one step above tech illiterate doggie doo with a single digit IQ. So if you are an uptown geek, then you will probably stop reading right about now.
After I got the iPhone, was I ebullient, addicted, umbilical corded? Nah. Actually, since I had a Motorola as well, can you believe my iPhone became my secondary phone to use in case I needed to reference something online? I preferred my old MO, my laptop, my Motorola for calls, the iPhone for referencing. I didn’t like the touch screen so much and since I type at the speed of light, slowing to one finger “tough” could never approach any viable functioning beyond snail pace to input type. That made me pissy. So, I hobbled along in the comfort of the tech semi-dark ages. But I was acutely aware of the awe this gadget produced in others whenever I pulled it out to reference something. Swoons, gasps, exclamations of approval filled the air as if this thing gave me character and substance and not the other way round. Frankly, I thought it amusing at the time and felt somewhat flattered that I was almost “in.” (I had never been “in” in HS. In college as a hippie, yes…but HS has its own sting and that poison was difficult to expurgate.)
Was it this faux flattery that percolated my appetite to lust for another bite of the forbidden fruit? I thought about buying an iPad. Did I need it? Do I need another piece of jewelry (Most of it is in the safe deposit box.)? I thought, well, I could compose my news articles easily without dragging my laptop around. Granted my laptop was small, and it worked well…everything there that I needed. I admit it. The super hype about the iPads was irresistible and the reveal had my heart and head feening. And at times there were visceral urges that I just had (I mean short of waiting in line for three days. I’m not insane.) to have one of those fabulous, incredible, virtual portals that professionals would be sashaying around with them like progeny. But when I was up close and personal with an iPad my friend (a line waiter) had, I thought, but I love my laptop. Why do I need two cameras? Taking pictures with an iPad is so pretentious, like you want everyone to know it’s an iPad you are taking a picture with. Big deal. (I know, I know. I can hear the geeks moaning about my fecal cephalic lack of appreciation for the iPad’s prodigious design and flawless tech perfection.)
But once you have that first bite, you become hooked. Like a confused obeser who doesn’t know she’s full (I used to be obese; I can say that word.) I had to indulge and buy another Apple product. Maybe I’d even join the holy crowd and worship at the shrine of awesomeness, becoming an owner of Apple, you know, get a few shares? The company’s earnings were spectacular, market share flying high like a dirigible with iPhones and iPads selling so rapidly the company couldn’t keep up production. Global sales…mega, mega. I like, thousands of others, regretted not buying the company when it nearly went belly up and Jobs came back in glory to take it over again after the board kissed his feet and became his willing slaves. I wouldn’t buy a lot of stock, just enough (100 shares) for it to be a symbol that I endorsed everything Steve Jobs stood for as an enlightened, Renaissanced, man of goodness, a shining glory.
So I went to Apple and I looked at the iPad. But I balked at the point of purchase. I had a headache. Over the next few days, I looked at other tablets and smaller laptops. I discussed the iPad with as many geeks as I could. I hesitated. Like a hunger pang that abates, my lust fled. Not sure why. Maybe because I would have to pay for a lot of stuff I needed, buying from the iTunes store, cha ching? I was sick of doing that on the iPhone. The interface with Mozilla that was paramount, I would have to tweak. And I had issues with my iPhone which was slowing. And two cameras? What for two cameras? I had enough cameras I wasn’t using: 35 mm beauties and digitals (top of the line when they first came out).
So instead, I went for another Apple product, their top of the line wireless router that I could stream with from Montauk (I live in NYC). My uncontrollable appetite did rear her fat head, you see? But this bite left me with a bitter taste: it was unappetizing and I got indigestion. The router was really pricey and weird to put together. And I had a hell of a time configuring it to my PC. Annoyed at my tech incompetence and blaming my bad gut, I returned it and bought a well reputed router that a one-year-old could set up. And I left the rising market share of Apple stock for the birds of the air to pluck. But since my phone contract was up, I purchased the next generation iPhone, knowing I would use it minimally, relying on another phone. My appetite for this next bite, though not particularly nourishing or filling was vital to my ego, cultural sensibilities and ethos. I indulged my lust.
And then Steve Jobs died. I wrote an article for Technorati and saw the TV programs about his genius, reheard his Stanford speech for the hundredth time and admired the man who was like a mastermining god, the new savior who walked on tech waters. Again and again it was repeated, his ambition, his “drive for perfection” and his “we’ll never see his like again,” and his business acumen and ruthlessness, all wonderful praise for an icon that geeks wept over, no exaggeration. (There were folks unrelated to his family who sobbed over his loss.) It was only a day later after I muted all the static that it came to me. The geeks who owed their changed lives to Jobs? The change was all theirs and had little to do with the man or the gadgets and in fact, they might have become someone greater if not someone else despite him not because of his Apple. But irrevocably, they had tied their own identities with Jobs; they were him and he was them. And they rued the days ahead because how would they be able to function without him to market the wonder and the magic of their addiction and keep their lives meaningful?
And then after Jobs was in the ground a few months, the dam broke and the waters roiled. What had been dredged up in secret and silted and drained away with each reveal of the next generation iPad and iPhone product could be stemmed no longer. Enter Foxconn. And slowly by revelation of a different kind, we began to understand the identity of the king serpent who delivered the Apple to us to eat.