Upcoming Trips: Hampton Roads, Virginia and San Luis Obispo

Here it is, the first day of a new semester, I’m supposed to teach “Intro to Literature” to a brand new crop of freshmen in TWO HOURS, and what am I doing? I’m fantasizing about the two trips I’m scheduled to take this fall.

The first is to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, to participate in the ODU Literary Festival (I was too embarrassed to let the organizers know that this was my first ever invitation to read at a festival, but no one reads my blog so I can show my wild excitement here–!). I’m trying to wangle a stay at an inn called the Tazewell at the university rate, and I’ve already picked up a AAA tourbook of the “Mid-Atlantic States” where I’ve noted that the three Editor’s Picks for things to see in the area are:

Nauticus, the National Maritime Center, which is at One Waterside Drive, on the Elizabeth River, and features “more than 150 exhibits that explore the naval, economic, and natural power of the sea.”

Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, 1 mile south of the Rudee Inlet Bridge, which “spotlights Virginia’s marine environment.”

Virginia Living Museum, which has a “Virginia Underground Gallery” (how cool is that!) and an exhibit on the James River ecosystem

And, though not on the Editor’s Picks, I love that there is something called Boykins Tavern , built in 1762, on the Isle of Wight.

Oh! And here’s the time and date of my reading:

Thursday, Oct. 19– 1:30 PM
I’m reading from my second collection, Mayor of the Roses.

My second trip this fall is to San Luis Obispo for Thanksgiving. A, who’s going back to Cal Poly in a few days (and taking his fantastic computer with him, which means that I will be posting only the gimpiest-looking things from now on), is an RA (at Muir, the freshman Math and Sciences dorm, which, coincidentally, was the dorm he stayed in when he was a freshman, two years ago) and can’t come back until Dec. 16. He gets a free single room and a very generous meal plan, so we can’t complain, especially not when other soon-to-be-juniors can’t even find a decent apartment for less than $900/ month in the SLO area!

We can’t abide spending Thanksgiving alone, so my husband and I are driving down. We thought of bringing the beagles, but Bella gets car-sick and Gracie barks at everything. So we’re lodging them at the Peninsula Pet Resort, where they can have all the “yappy snacks” they want!

This time, we’re staying at the Vagabond Inn on Madonna Road, just across the street from A’s favorite eating spot, Tahoe Joe’s (which has the GREATEST steaks, and I can say this because I’ve eaten at Harris’ Steak House and the House of Prime Rib!). Looking forward to a wonderful weekend on the Central Coast…

Oh well, back to tweaking my “Intro to Lit” syllabus! I’m starting off with a poem by Carolyn Forche, who I’ve never taught before. The poem is “The Colonel.”

Next week I’ll do some poetry from Sylvia Plath (“Daddy”), Sharon Olds, and Luisa Igloria…

Filipino American Studies at Skyline College

Some mighty interesting things going on at Skyline College, where Liza Marie S. Erpelo is Assistant Professor.

First of all, there is apparently a Filipino American Studies Program.

Then, there’s the Kababayan Program, which Liza coordinates. I’d been hearing about this program for years but just stumbled on the website recently.

Two new courses focusing on the Filipino experience are being offered this fall:

Music 665 BA: Traditional Kulintang Music of the Southern Philippines
Master Danongan Kalanduyan
T Th • 12:35 – 1:50 pm • Room 1-115 • CRN #90210 • 2.0 units

English 104 AK: Applied English Skills for Cultural Production
(a.k.a. “The Pilipino Cultural Night Class”)
Liza Erpelo
T Th • 2:10 – 3:25 pm • Room 2-111 • CRN #90209 • 1.0 – 3.0 units

This year’s Pilipino Cultural Night will feature Master Danongan Kalanduyan. English 104AK students will earn college credit for helping to put together this once-a-year cultural event.

Liza’s also going to be teaching English 110: Composition, Literature & Critical Thinking with an all-Pilipino line-up of texts– whoa!

Here’s the reading list:

M. Evelina Galang, One Tribe
Jaime Jacinto, Heaven Is Just Another Country
R. Zamora Linmark, Primetime Apparitions
Barbara Jane Reyes, Gravities of Center
Brian Ascalon Roley, American Son
Marianne Villanueva, Mayor of the Roses

Happy 30th Birthday, Calyx Press

In her Introduction to the latest issue of Calyx, a journal of art and literature by women, publisher Margarita Donnelly writes:

When Calyx was founded in 1976, the four founders and I believed that a female aesthetic in literature and art existed and that it could be better seen and nurtured by publishing women’s work in the context of other women’s work. We named the journal Calyx — the protective covering on the flower bud. We envisioned Calyx as the cup allowing the blossoming of women’s imagery that would bear fruit and bring forth new life.

In the past, women’s creative work was often rendered invisible or impotent — through lack of documentation or loss or misrepresentation or, most commonly, through rejection and miscomprehension. But in 1976 the founders of Calyx believed the world was changing and were sure women’s art and literature would be accepted into the mainstream and given equal status and that the need for Calyx would be short-lived. But here we are celebrating three decades of publishing, and the statistics for women are only slightly improved. In the past twenty years the number of women recipients of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry has reached twenty-five percent. In 1998 when the Modern Library made a list of the top one hundred English language novels, only eight by women were included. A recent list of the top one hundred American novels selected by authors and published by the New York Times Book Review gave Toni Morrison’s Beloved the top spot, but still listed few women’s novels in comparison to men’s. A recent survey of small press publishing by a Calyx intern revealed only twenty-five percent of those published are women. In evaluating major literary anthologies, women’s literature currently averages ten percent of the work included, up slightly from the seven percent representation of women in anthologies in 1976 when Calyx was founded.

In writing about Calyx for our tenth-anniversary anthology, Florilegia, Eleanor Wilner said, “… when I think of Calyx, I think of people, of themes, of paths– as if … we were making deep tracks for each other, so that it’s impossible to say ‘she went that way first’ or ‘those are her prints,’ but only that the path is there, there are safe houses along the way, we’re going together. This is, for me, feminism’s best self, the positive form of that old female anonymity; here, it is a chosen anonymity, a conversation in which everyone has her own voice… That’s what’s missing in mainstream America, and in the world of letters too …”

During the past thirty years Calyx has provided the public with a conversation by over 3,500 women authors and artists that is a collective expression of the different realities of women’s lives, visions, and dreams. A reality previously defined by a limited elite that excluded women’s perceptions has now been opened up to include a multitude of voices that are flourishing. In reviewing Calyx Journal during our twentieth anniversary, John Berry, editor-in-chief of Library Journal, said, “Calyx has survived two decades of struggle in a society that only grudgingly pays for excellence, especially in challenged genre like the short story or poem. Yet here in Calyx such works thrive, and move, and command your attention. I am proud that we simple citizens, through the National Endowment for the Arts, actually have supported this paragon of the literary arts, this exemplar of what great writing and editing can create. From here will come our literary heritage.

Calyx published my first book, in 1991. If not for that, I doubt I’d still be writing today.

Back in 1976, when Calyx was founded, I was a 17-year-old freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University, in love with a boy who was a blackbelter in karate and who liked to wear platform shoes. I thought I’d live forever in Manila and become, possibly, a teacher. I’d been told I could write, by a wonderful and inspiring teacher named Doreen Fernandez. But I didn’t take her praise seriously enough. What I really wanted was to be married, to live in a nice house, to have possibly four children and maybe to surround myself with interesting people, artists and intellectuals and what-not, the way my mother had.

Seven years later, I was beginning the Creative Writing Program at Stanford. Why was I there? I wasn’t sure. I’d worked in New York for a year and didn’t like it, so going back to school felt right. I was on a full scholarship, so my parents didn’t complain.

A fellow classmate named Beth Alvarado was sending stuff to Calyx, a women’s journal. Try, she said. But Beth was a little bit like a hippie, and besides I didn’t like the odds. Somewhere I found that they accepted only .17% of the manuscripts sent to them. I don’t know what data I was using, but I do remember writing that figure in a little notebook, next to the word Calyx Journal. It wasn’t until 1986, a few months after I’d had my son, ten years after the Calyx founding, that I submitted something, “Siko”.

It was Marilyn Chin who gave me the tip. She paid me a visit, and I showed her my newborn and we walked together to Peet’s and she told me about an anthology, the first Asian American women’s anthology. And that was how I came to be included in The Forbidden Stitch.

And, here’s another interesting thing: Some years ago, after looking very carefully at high schools for A, we decided to enroll him in Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton. Which turns out, coincidentally, to have been Margarita Donnelly’s exact same high school. “I was there when it was an all girls school,” Margarita told me. “I was a boarder and very unhappy.”

They should give her a plaque. They should have her speak at high school graduation instead of the Steve Cases and Thomas Hennessys they’ve had over.

Through Sept. 30, 2006, Calyx is offering a promotional rate for a one-year subscription (that’s three issues) for only $9.50. That’s the price of


movie ticket. In return you will have in your hands, three times a year, a lovely bound journal whose content, I guarantee, will move and astonish…

My Last Reading: University of Santo Tomas, Manila

While I’m very, very flattered to be mentioned in the same article as “A Filipina’s Breasts and the Erotics of Empire” in a recent issue of the University of San Tomas‘ campus paper, the Varsitarian (too bad only Tagalog speakers can decipher the link) I’m glad they put the cover of my book as the visual, though the article was mostly about Nerissa Balce’s lecture on the terrible exploitation of Filipinas around the world.

I read at the University of Santo Tomas at the end of June, during a whirlwind trip home (In just over two weeks, A and I also traveled to Bacolod and Puerto Prinsesa). There’s a family connection to the University, but I won’t talk about that here. The UST folks were very generous and gracious, and I had a good time. I wasn’t sure what story to read, but Zack convinced me to read “Mayor of the Roses”, his favorite from my second collection. So I did read it, though it was extremely disconcerting to have my mother-in-law in the audience. She’d come at the invitation of my mother.

I don’t often invite family to my readings. What– so they can hear me read about a gruesome rape? It’s not the best way I would have chosen to introduce my mother-in-law to my writing. But she was there, and I read.

Apropos of which, I was in Berlin not too long ago, reading the same story at the Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, and there, too, another person invited by by my mother was present– this time the Philippine Ambassador to Berlin. Admittedly, “Mayor of the Roses” is still the hardest thing for me to read in public. I find it hard not to get choked up, but people ask me all the time to read it. People say, “You should make it into a movie; it is so great.” It’s so great? I can hardly bear to hear my own voice reading it. I even had to trick myself into writing it, by pretending I was a disembodied narrator floating in and out of the proceedings…

By now I’ve lost the thread of what I meant to say about “Filipina breasts” and that story. They’re completely anti-thetical, don’t even deserve to be in the same blog, but this is precisely what I’ve done…

Book I Am Interested in Reading (After Perusing the Aug. 13, 2006 Issue of The New York Times Book Review)

After reading Hillary Frey’s review of Bobbie Ann Mason’s new collection, Nancy Culpepper:

Bobbie Ann Mason’s Nancy Culpepper

NYTBR Aug. 20, 2006

Books I Am Interested in Reading (After Perusing the Aug. 20, 2006 Issue of the New York Times Book Review):

(1) After reading Dave Itzkoff’s review of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. SheldonJames Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

(2) After reading Liesl Schillinger’s review of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman— Steve Martin’s 1991 novel, L.A. Story

(3) After reading Meghan Daum’s review of Eliza Minot’s second novel, The Brambles— Eliza Minot’s first novel, The Tiny One

(4) After reading Rachel Donadio’s end-paper essay, “What I Did at Summer Writer’s Camp”– Lorrie Moore’s story collection, Birds of America

The Way This Works

I created this blog on A’s computer. He was home on summer break, and his HP Pavilion f1703 is way cooler than my Blueberry iMac, circa 2000.

Alas, all good things must end, and A is returning to college which, for those of you not in the know, is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He has to be back for RA training by Sept. 3.

Which means that, unless I miraculously acquire the funds to acquire a newer, cooler Mac, this blog will be on temporary hiatus until A chooses to visit us again, which in all probability won’t be until mid-December (RAs have to stay on campus through the Thanksgiving break, isn’t that terrible?).

At least, without the distraction of a blog, I might actually be able to squeeze some writing in, in between the three courses I have to teach this semester, and the three out-of-town trips I have to give for readings — at the ODU Litfest; San Diego State; and the Smithsonian, and the relatives who are coming to visit in September and October …

Quote for the Day

From Oriana Fallaci as quoted in “The Agitator”, an article by Margaret Talbot in the June 6, 2006 New Yorker:

Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon … I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.

New York Stories

We went to The Strand Bookstore (18 miles of books!), twice.

We were supposed to meet Penny and Elizabeth and Rebecca and Tita Gladys but instead we went to The Cloisters.

I was going to catch up on reading Dao Strom’s The Beautiful Order of Girls and Boys because I’d only read to page 82 and the review is due in a month, and someone told me that the bus ride to The Cloisters on the M4 was an hour and a half each way. But the woman who sat next to me, who was bringing her four kids in from New Jersey for sightseeing, talked the whole way there about how nice Filipinos are, and how I must not miss the Lincoln Center Out of Doors concerts; the Mayan exhibit at the Met; and the Central Park Summer Stage concerts. I got a neck ache from having to crane my neck to face her and having to nod yes, yes, yes.

The people in New York are very friendly.

Or, at least, they are in August. The city and everyone in it seemed to be in a holiday mood, notwithstanding the approaching fifth-year anniversary of the World Trade Center, notwithstanding the movie of the same name which was pulling in good crowds at all of the Manhattan theatres.

The first chance we could, I dragged A to the Met and we dashed to see Raphael’s Colonna Masterpiece. We saw diggings and frescos unearthed from the island of Cyprus. A said he wanted to come back.

We saw Manang Bebot, who served us delicious mushroom omelettes and enormous papayas and frothy cappucinos at her E. 40th street apartment before driving us to her gallery in Tribeca, pointing out the apartments of Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert de Niro along the way.

We went back to the Met on a Friday night and went up to the roof and saw the skyline of West Manhattan across the trees and could not understand the installations by Cai Guo-Qiang until we were back in California and read the brochure and found out that the two life-size wooden crocodiles, which we thought were imbedded with colorful plastic push pins, were actually imbedded with “sharp objects confiscated at airport security checkpoints” and were intended to address “war, terrorism, and religious and cultural strife.”

One day, A spent the afternoon by himself in Central Park. It was the day after we had arrived from California and he was still in love with the City. The next day, he reached for his wallet, and it was gone. There followed a period of depression when he thought he had been pickpocketed. We had lunch with Elda and she said, “People rarely get pickpocketed here.” And, in truth, A admitted that the wallet might have fallen out of his back pocket while he was sitting on the grass, on Cedar Hill, watching a softball game.

He went back to Central Park and tried to re-trace his steps. There were now many people trampling over the spot where he had sat. I told him, you will never find your wallet. Consider it your gift to a person less fortunate than you.

But he couldn’t let go of that precious object, not so much because of the money inside but because of the various mementoes he carried around with him– old school IDs, an old Jamba Juice card.

He went to the 86th Street police station and the police there told him that no wallets had been turned in for weeks, months.

Last night, we flew home to San Francisco. My husband picked us up. He had arranged all the mail in a neat pile on top of the dining room table. The most recent arrival, from just this morning, was a small padded envelope addressed to A. The return address was Closters, New Jersey.

My husband was curious. “Did you order something on-line?” he asked A.

A didn’t answer; he took the package to his room. Silence. I knocked on his door. He opened it. He was holding a letter in one hand, and in the other, his wallet.

The letter said:

Dear A——,

My husband works in New York City and found your wallet in the middle of Park Avenue yesterday. He brought it home and asked me to mail it back to you. The only address we found was this one in California, so we hope it gets to you OK.

This was what the wallet contained: 14 cards, a driver’s license, an ATM card, car insurance, medical insurance, club cards, and school IDs. There was no money. And a fortune from a Chinese cookie. Looks like a good one!

P.S. The wallet is dirty from cars running over it.

Best of luck to you,

Linda S.

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You: A New Translation of Jose Rizal’s Seminal 19th Century Novel

The Noli, as it is fondly known in the Philippines, is our great 19th century novel. Written in Spanish in the waning days of the Spanish colonial regime, by a mestizo doctor named Jose Rizal, it is the only novel that directly addresses the evils of colonialism in my home country. It features cruel Spanish administrators, a lascivious priest, flighty aristocrats, alienated intellectuals, and one beautiful and virginal Filipina, the iconic Maria Clara.

Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, came to Rizal through his work translating Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. He pulled a thread; the thread led him to Luis Francia, who unraveled the story of the novel. Which ultimately led to Augenbraum taking on the project of translating the Noli for Penguin Classics.

And, as far as serendipity goes, it’s also why Elda Rotor, a Filipina graduate of George Washington University, is now Executive Editor of Penguin Classics. The publication of the Noli is her first project.

Rizal is my countryman. His execution was ordered by a barbaric Spanish governor general who was soon re-called to Spain. I’ve never been sure what to think of him, since he spurned the advances of Andres Bonifacio, who approached him when he was about to launch the Filipino revolution. Rizal was a man of ideas; he did not endorse the violent overthrow of the Spanish regime.

Yet his words proved far more dangerous than the bolos Bonifacio raised at the Cry of Balintawak.

Coming in October: Harold reading from his translation at Manilatown Center, Kearney Street, San Francisco, Oct. 11, 6 PM. See you there.

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