PEN Oakland: A History and An Excerpt

Self is holding in her hands an actual copy of Oakland Out Loud, newest anthology from PEN Oakland. Nifty little book, small enough to fit into a woman’s handbag.

Inside are poems — such as Claire Ortalda’s “Gift Wrapped in Grass”; Sharon Doubiago’s “Hip Hop Hopi Hope (for the Hip-Hop Generation)”; Ishmael Reed’s “Hit and Run”; and Opal Palmer Adisa’s “Ocean Memories I” — and story excerpts and short shorts such as Trena Machado’s “Repetition”; Jalmira Marie Skalna’s “Bessie”; and yours truly’s “Rita and Tony.”

Here’s a short history of PEN Oakland by Claire Ortalda, one of the book’s assistant editors:

PEN Oakland, the brainchild of writer and activist Ishmael Reed, was launched in fall, 1989, at the Asmara restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland at a lunch meeting hosted by Ishmael with soon-to-be-cofounders Floyd Salas, Reginald Lockett and Claire Ortalda. Here Reed outlined the idea of forming a multicultural branch of PEN to, as Jack Foley would later write, “promote works of excellence by writers of all cultural and racial backgrounds and to educate both the public and the media as to the nature of multi-cultural work.

OK, so there’s the purpose of PEN Oakland’s founding. Now to the plans for Oakland Out Loud. Here’s a word from Oakland Public Library Director Carmen L. Martinez:

Oakland Out Loud is an opportunity for Oakland residents to rediscover their public library system which will proudly co-sponsor the Oakland Out Loud Literary Series in 2007.

And, last but not least, a blurb from William Wong, author of Images of America: Oakland’s Chinatown and Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America:

PEN Oakland writers are an amazing array of voices. Soak up their powerful prose and poems about the internal and external world, near and far.

In closing, a very short poem by Maria Ochoa, “Foreign Policy”:

American foreign policy

Is like a two-timing lover

Still out there, acting like a dog

With no leash long enough


Brain Cloud, Tuesday, 22 May: Daly City, Ma-Mon Luk, Manila Mail, Gloria

Today, my bad, my bad: self abandoned on-line students and went gallivanting in Daly City. Ostensible purpose of trip (as all trips now require ostensible purpose, given that it now costs self about $50 each time she fills up) was haircut at “Structures.” Was late, as usual, but Michael was finishing his lunch so had to wait anyway. Afterwards, frowned at myself the whole time, practicing to see which angles produced the most horrific double chins. Michael apparently not amused, gave self very cursory haircut, could hardly wait to get on to next customer, a very smile-y young Filipina.

Then, had to drop off stuff for Dearest Mum at Fave Tita’s house. But, first, dropped by Ma Mon Luk for “Special” siopao (the one with a hard-boiled egg in it) for hubby’s “baon” (so he will not feel tempted to eat out all the time with assorted female co-workers). Decided to have myself some lunch, couple ahead of me was loading up with the siopao and the siomai and the mami, so followed their lead and ordered chicken mami. Decided to eat it at restaurant, sat down at table, and began to read free copy of Manila Mail.

Reading produced the following bits of information:

    A priest (last name: Panlilio) won an apparently honest election to become governor of Pampanga, defeating two entrenched opponents.
    A mayor and his aide were shot to death at a town fiesta celebrating their May 14 election victory.
    Kids still play a traditional game of rolling a coconut around on the ground (like soccer?) in a small town in Bulacan.
    Manila Mail wants young women between ages of 16 to 28 to send in pictures to be featured in their “Filipina Portrait Gallery” (so sexist!). Current fetching young woman is 20 years old, daughter of a proud Filipino couple in the East Bay. She wants to go into a career in fashion and her favorite TV shows are Nip/Tuck (Kinda racy choice for model Filipina) and Saved by the Bell (This choice completely incomprehensible; perhaps this is a typo). Nevertheless, young woman does indeed look very good.
    Valerio’s of hot pan de sal fame has new branch opening in San Jose. Bakery is now run by the family’s third generation.
    A Filipina in the East Bay was recently inducted into Realtors’ Hall of Fame (had no idea there was such a thing).
    Some journalist made a quip that he “felt safer in Afghanistan” than in the Philippines during election week. Which set off immediate furor. Which — come on, lighten up, guys! Anything that gets us into newspapers here is not a bad thing!
    Gloria reports at Makati businessmen’s luncheon that some American journalist told her that America was borrowing Philippines’ successful counter-insurgency techniques in Mindanao. (Howl with laughter). Who was this sage who Gloria, the President of our country, chooses to quote as if he had pronounced judgement from on-high? Perhaps he was a stringer, merely attempting to flatter her? Wow, that sure did the trick! Don’t know that Philippines does have counter-insurgency strategy in Mindanao.

Lady in front of me, clad in green color-coordinated top and pants (reminding me of Dearest Mum, right up to the lacquered hair), turns around suddenly and inquires if self would like to purchase some boneless bangus. Look up stupidly and say, “Where? Here?”

Yes, lady says. Whereupon she gets up, goes to a box in the corner, opens said box, and produces two slices of a — suppose that’s bangus — in a freeze-dried package. “Only $10,” she says.

“Ah, I didn’t see that on the menu,” self says doubtfully. “Is — is that from the Philippines?”

Yes, lady asserts her bangus is flown in directly from the Philippines.

“Ah, why — why isn’t it on the menu?” self asks, suspiciously.

“Oh, I am just beginning,” lady says airily. “Next time you come, you buy, ha? Just go to the lady at the counter and say you want some bangus.”

“OK,” I say.

(You know, I must have a strange kind of face — it’s a face that my Vietnamese hair stylist Michael is bored by, but which other people think is communicating a need to converse. I don’t know why, when self’s nose was buried deep — and I mean deep deep — in Manila Mail, page 8 )

But, anyway, this is life! It is so profoundly surprising and interesting, and self will never be bored, not until she keels over from — from — extreme neck pain?

Now, dear blog readers, must commence grading English 1C midterms, which self should have handed back yesterday. Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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