Literary Currents: June

After two years of updating this place pretty regularly (once a month, on average), I’ve completely fallen off the wagon these past few months.  Excuses abound– a lot of my energy is going towards planning my future these days as well as wrapping up spring semester at the school where I teach, among other things– but, in order to catch up, I’m going to try something new that might become a regular feature.  I’ve seen “Currents” lists on other blogs, and I think using that as a round-up for all things literary in a given month is a great idea.

 

Current Fiction: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Those of you who have ever heard me talk books know that Song of Solomon is one of my all-time favorites, but the last time I read Beloved— I was 19, I think– I didn’t have much historical or contextual information to go with it, or a knowledge of African-American literature in general.  I’m only a few chapters into it this time and I can already tell that it’s going to be a completely different reading experience than the first time around.

Current Nonfiction: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I just finished this book and recommend you go out and buy it immediately.  It’s amazing.  As much as I love fiction, I also love character-driven, well-structured journalistic nonfiction (think Jon Krakauer) and this book is exceedingly well done.  Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at Johns Hopkins and whose cells were taken without her knowledge and then used for scientific research.  That story itself is interesting– the cells went on to become extremely important in developing vaccines and cancer drugs, among other things– but it also tells her family’s history and the impact that her cells and the medical research done on them had on her family, which raises a host of questions about research ethics.  I couldn’t put it down.

Current Literary Link: Book Food Comes To Life

Photographing Literature’s Famous Food Scenes via NPR.  Photographer Dinah Fried took scenes from well-known books involving food and carefully and artistically recreated them.  The pictures are beautiful.

Alice's tea party in Wonderland

Alice’s tea party in Wonderland

 

Current Literary Controversy: Should Colleges Include Trigger Warnings On Books?

Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm via The New York Times.  I found this article debating whether or not colleges should be required to put trigger warnings on books with potentially sensitive or traumatic content and thought it was interesting.  I’ve posted it on facebook and sent it around to the other English teachers at my school, and it’s engendered a lot of good debate with strong support for both sides.  It’s a topic worth thinking about.

Current Author Essay: Junot Diaz Talks MFA , Writing, And Race

MFA vs. POC by Junot Diaz via The New Yorker.  I am a HUGE fan of Diaz’s and his straightforward critique of MFA programs’ lack of writers of color is beautifully written and poignant (much like everything else he writes).

Current Literary Event: Bad Writing Salon

A friend of mine recently hosted the second Bad Writing Salon, a night where a bunch of us get together and read nonsensical stories, cliched poetry, and snarky high school essays from our younger years.  It’s the kind of evening where your abs and cheeks hurt from laughing so much.  Bonus: Although I didn’t read it (opting instead to read a poem I wrote in high school, since it was shorter), I found the following short story, complete with embarrassing 5th-grade picture, while I was digging through old files at my parents’ house.

That hair.  Those glasses.  A tye-dyed coconut alien?  Oy.

That hair. Those glasses. A tye-dyed coconut alien? Oy.

Current Poem/Homage: “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou

Like many, I was saddened by the news of Maya Angelou’s death last week.  I appreciated the honesty, openness, and strength in her writing, and one of my oldest memories of being affected by a poem can be attributed to her.  I was 14, one of the youngest students in my high school creative writing class, and another student performed “Phenomenal Woman”.  I don’t remember why, now– it must have been part of some assignment.  And I can’t remember that student’s name, just that she was older than me and had curly red hair.  I do, however, remember her performance.  It was slow, it was sassy, and it was spot-on.  I had never heard the poem before and immediately fell in love, and I’ve gone back to those words time and time again whenever I’ve needed to remind myself that beauty is as much about attitude and how you carry yourself as anything else.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Phenomenal Woman, indeed.

Phenomenal Woman, indeed.

 

 

 

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