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Numbers 51-55

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Newsletter # 51
November 12, 2003



Meredith Sue Willis will be teaching a three-session online creative writing class starting January 2, 2004. Limited enrollment- deadline for applying is December 19, 2003- Cost $120. If you're interested, get more information at MSWclasses.

There was a time in the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies when I wanted to become a public school teacher in the New York City. I read a whole string of inspiring memoirs by teachers about their work. Many of these are still in print or available from online used book stores: Herbert R. Kohl's 36 CHILDREN and George Dennison's THE LIVES OF CHILDREN were two of my favorites. I wanted to have similar experiences and then to write my own book.

In the end, though, my work turned out to be as a visiting writer in the schools, and what I published was three practical guides to creative writing plus, later, two novels for children in the voice of a New York City kid named Marco. What I'm building up to saying is that I thought that particular genre- three-quarters memoir and one quarter pedagogy-was in my past. But then I picked up a 1999 book from Teachers College Press written by a young teacher from the southern U.S. who ended up as a public school teacher in a largely Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago. I just peeked inside-this one was definitely destined for the big Read Later stack-and an hour later realized I had been sucked in, willy-nilly. Now I want to recommend it, not just for people in the field of education, but for general readers as well.

The book is called HOLLER IF YOU HEAR ME: THE EDUCATION OF A TEACHER AND HIS STUDENTS, and in it Gregory Michie narrates his struggles to figure out how to teach. I am still appalled by how little training a person can have and be set in front of a group of children, but Michie learned fast and was soon using creative writing, team teaching, video cameras, and books written by people with the same background as his students. In particular, he brings to the attention of a group of girls Sandra Cisneros's wonderful HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, and eventually Cisneros herself comes to visit the school-and then writes the introduction to this book.

Perhaps most successfully, Michie uses video and film to facilitate his students' explorations. Like most great teachers, he educates himself anew every day and teaches through relationships. This isn't to say that his style is necessarily a model for every teacher, but what the book demonstrates so well is how one man can nurture his own way of teaching.

Michie's development as a teacher, however, is only half the book: the other half is transcripts of Michie's interviews with his students, usually a year or more down the road from when he was their teacher. In these substantial and masterfully edited passages, he captures voices and aspirations in a way that is worth far more than the cost of the book. It made me remember why I read all those books all those years ago- and why after so many years I am still inspired and delighted by my opportunities to work with children and young people in public schools.

                                                       --Meredith Sue Willis




West Virginia writer Carter Seaton has just published a new book that I had the pleasure of blurbing (is that really a verbal nowadays?). I want to pass on my recommendation here: The book, FATHER'S TROUBLES, is a rousing good story of the wildcatting days of the nineteen twenties in the Appalachian mountains. Fortunes were made overnight- but often at the expense of honesty. Lawrence Burgher is the main character of this novel of four generations; he is a poor boy with that All-American early twentieth century zeal to succeed. He is determined to buy, sell, and cut corners on his way to a life with servants, big cars, and big deals. He is also the lifelong lover of one woman, his wife, and the story of their love affair is the most poignant part of the book. But Lawrence's personal ambition and an era when winning was valued at any cost lead him to ruin. Seaton manages to make even details of finance gripping as we trace Lawrence's fall. There is a kind of magnificence in his story, but the novel also shows the widening circles of suffering that a man seduced by a predatory business culture can create.

Jonathan Greene has what he calls "a wee book" of poetry from Bob Arnold's Longhouse Press in Vermont. It's called HUMMINGBIRD'S WATER TROUGH and has twelve short poems bound in a fold out format. Only 100 copies were done, so it's a collector's item: The very reasonable price is $7.50 or $10.00 postpaid. They can be had from Longhouse at River Road, Guilford, Vermont 05301. The publisher can be reached at poetry@sover.net.

Greg Sanders recommends the work of New School professor and author David Gates (WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD, JERNIGAN, PRESTON FALLS). Greg says, "I know he's not for everyone, but he's a great...minimalist.... He's a big fan of--or at least takes a big interest in--metafiction, and points out how it goes back at least to Shakespeare."

And, looking for a short read, I picked up Peter Taylor's A WOMAN OF MEANS. That Southern gentleman sure could write! And I don't mean fancy images, I mean the kind of subtle sentences that burrow under the surface and turn up all kinds of interesting truths.


A New Literary Magazine is launched! Hamilton Stone Editions is proud to announce the first issue of The Hamilton Stone Review, featuring poems by James V. Cervantes, Wendy Battin, Dick Allen, and Gwyn McVay and fiction by Joan Newburger, Ellen Alexander Conley, and Shelley Ettinger. Take a look at the very first issue at Hamilton Stone Review. Truth in advertising: I'm part of the collective that runs Hamilton Stone Editions, and I'm proud to say I was the fiction editor for this issue. The poetry editor was Halvard Johnson.

Another online magazine I'm associated with, EP;PHANY, literary magazine of NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, has a new issue up at http://www.epiphanyzine.com. There are stories by Carole Rosenthal, Rick Rofihe, and Leanne Ellis as well as poems, nonfiction, drama and some really striking black and white photos taken by a GI during the Vietnam War.

See the special Rochelle Ratner issue of SUGAR MULE online at http://www.marclweber.com/sugarmule/sm17.htm. It includes Poetry, Fiction, Translations, Memoir, and an overview of Rochelle's poetry by Corinne Robins.

LITERARY MAMA, a new online literary magazine at http:// www.literarymama.com features dynamic, mama-centric writing by mother writers about the complexities and many faces of motherhood. They publish fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, literary criticism, book reviews, columns, and profiles about mother writers. Their premiere issue is now on online with fiction, non-fiction, literary criticism, and poetry by: Gayle Brandeis, Ericka Lutz, Susan Ito, Carol Zapata-Whelan, Lois Rubin, Karen Vernon, Dayna Macy, Elaine Starkman, Christina Conrad, Leah Korican, Svea Barrett, Barbara Crooker, and Ronda Broatch.

And one more for Barbara Crooker! "Yes, folks,"she writes, "he's chosen another one, 'My Middle Daughter, on the Edge of Adolescence, Learns to Play the Saxophone,' for Friday, October 24th. The "he" is, of course, Garrison Keillor's WRITER'S ALMANAC at www.writersalmanac.org .

Look for a story by Greg Sanders at the MISSISSIPPI REVIEW in the archives if not in the current issue.


I have a very short story called "Recessional" online at COELECANTH journal at http://www.coelacanthmagazine.com/recessional.html .

I'm also represented (and very proud to be there) in a collection of wonderful women writers from the Appalachian region published by the University of Kentucky: LISTEN HERE: WOMEN WRITING IN APPALACHIA, edited by Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson. It has pieces by everyone from Barbara Kingsolver and Gail Godwin to Dorothy Allison and Harriette Simpson Arnow.


Take a look at Belinda Anderson's attractive, inviting website at http://www.belindaanderson.com, It has links to some of her articles, especially her story of real-life publication, which is a little more work that some of us expect- but still satisfying in the end.

Barbara Heisler-Williams calls our attention to a very interesting project called Book Crossing at http://www.BookCrossing.com. Take a look!


Do you need business cards? A company is offering 250 full color cards for what they call free but includes a shipping and handling charge of $5.25. Go to http://www.VistaPrint.com/nation.


If you're looking for ideas to jump-start your writing, I've begun a page of writing starters- free one-shot exercises for anyone who stumbles across them. I'm putting them out partly to publicize the online classes I run occasionally (for a fee), but they are also out there in the spirit of the Internet as a place for exchange and discovery. You can find them (and I'll be adding more from time to time) at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/writingexercises.html.

And then there's National Writing Month: a website that encourages people to write a novel during the month of November! It is at the very least an interesting idea: http://www.nanowrimo.org/index.php?s=2 !!



Newsletter # 52
December 8, 2003

Welcome to new subscribers! This newsletter is about books and online reading. Your comments and suggestions are not only welcome, they are solicited! Send them to MsueWillis@aol.com, and unless you say otherwise, I will feel free to edit what you write to use in future issues.

This issue focuses on books by two excellent writers, Keith Maillard and Lee Maynard, both born and bred in West Virginia– Maillard in the extreme northern part of the state, and Maynard from the southern section. Both moved away as young men, but often go home both in body and in imagination. If you haven't heard of them, you ought to check them out– their books would make a far more rewarding holiday gift than the cheese log in the gift catalogue on your night table! West Virginia literature specialist Phyllis Moore offers comments on the work of Keith Maillard, and then Christine Willis discusses Lee Maynard's new novel plus a recent interview Terry Gross did with him on National Public Radio.

I'm looking forward to hearing what YOU are reading.

                                                    --   Meredith Sue Willis

Of Keith Maillard, Phyllis Moore writes:

I've read Maillard's book of poetry, three of his novels, and have skimmed the others. My favorites are ALEX DRIVING SOUTH and LIGHT IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN and his poetry, DEMENTIA AMERICANA. As to writing poetry and fiction, he's about as good as they get. He does meticulous research and creates real people and places. As an ordinary reader, his choice of the country club set as the focus of GLORIA didn't really pique my interest, but he nailed the characters, and it includes so much history of the development of industry in that area. THE CLARINET POLKA didn't capture my interest [either.]. I had expected it to be about some of the minor Polish characters in ALEX DRIVING SOUTH and it wasn't....The protagonist and his high school companions [in ALEX DRIVING SOUTH] are wonderful examples of teen angst and the accompanying sexual tension. Two of the senior boys get drunk and drive from Wheeling to what sounds like Greene County, Pennsylvania, on a crooked road.... Route 19 (also called the Washington Road)...like a twisted washboard. I wish he had written a sequel to ALEX. In addition to being such a fine writer, he's a genuinely nice guy!

Christine Willis says of Lee Maynard:

I enjoyed SCREAMING WITH THE CANNIBALS (Lee Maynard's new sequel to his cult favorite CRUM) very much....I thought [however] that the [NPR Fresh Air] interviewer, Terry Gross....was very superficial in her questions, and she treated the notion of being from the Appalachians as... some sort of sensory input-blocked circumstance.... her questioning made me feel this guy, Lee Maynard, had managed to transform...something other than human into human. (By the way, Lee said during the interview that there are two types of West Virginians: those who would never leave and those who must– I am paraphrasing. I would add a third category: those who leave and write about the area from which they have escaped!)

The reader of SCREAMING WITH THE CANNIBALS must appreciate the love and respect that Jessie has for women. I know that many people will misread Jessie's interactions with women, but having known West Virginians of the male persuasion, I know that Jessie is functioning differently. He admires females for their depth of spirit, warmth, and cleverness. He never speaks of women in derogatory terms, and even if the females' involvement with sexuality is described from the male perspective, Jessie at least admits to and celebrates their involvement with their sexuality.

The [church] revival in SCREAMING WITH THE CANNIBALS is powerful. The fear created by having attended a couple myself was immediately revived as I read Jessie's account. There is for all people– no, for many people– the fear of "being found out." So this revival experience which covers, thankfully, many pages, speaks to many people. Just as the genuine revival experience causes a crescendo of emotions, so did the description of Jessie's experience.

Further, Lee captures the West Virginian sensation of "not being" ... not Northern and clearly not Southern ... what are they? That is not answered in the novel. I don't think it can be answered. I wish Terry Gross had been smarter with Lee. I mean that: I was offended for him that she took such a superficial approach. He, however, responded to her shallow questions with dignity and grace, and further, managed to make points of significance. She spent more time on CRUM, I suspect, because she was trying to capitalize on the pre-human condition she tried to create. In SCREAMING WITH THE CANNIBALS, Jessie has left behind the hidden and secretive world of the incestuous and ignorant billies of the hill and has begun to experience life in the open. I think that was not mysterious enough for Terry.


From Bill Robinson, we received a suggestion for a hard-to-find book that sounds like a tremendous lot of fun: "Your newsletter's mention of the era of the Bard, took me back to one of my favorite Bard-era minor writings. As I recall the author was Peel, or Peal, or thereabouts. The title was something like THE BOOK OF CONEY CATCHING. A coney is a rabbit, and another word for a country bumpkin (thus, Coney Island, need I say more). In great detail it is a manual for taking a country boy (visiting the big city, London) for anything of value he may have. I found it while writing a Dictionary of the Big Con, in an NYU course in Semantics."

Allan Appel recommends what he calls "a spectacular Israeli novel– LOVES OF JUDITH...by Meir Shalev, and a truly grand, moving Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Kafka, deeply felt work. It was recommended to me by the translator, Barbara Harshav, who I met up here in New Haven."


Phyllis Moore recommends something for us from the Writers Almanac the poem for Wednesday, November 19, 2003, "Topography," by Sharon Olds. The poem begins, "After we flew across the country we/ got in bed, laid our bodies/ delicately together, like maps laid/ face to face, East to West, my/ San Francisco against your New York...."

Don't miss fiction and poetry in a new online literary magazine: Hamilton Stone Editions is proud to announce the first issue of THE HAMILTON STONE REVIEW, featuring Poems by James V. Cervantes, Wendy Battin, Dick Allen, and Gwyn McVay; fiction by Joan Newburger, Ellen Alexander Conley, and Shelley Ettinger. Take a look at the very first issue at Hamilton Stone Review. Truth in advertising: I'm part of the collective that runs Hamilton Stone Editions, and I was fiction editor for this issue. The poetry editor was Halvard Johnson.

Another online magazine I'm associated with, EPIPHANY, literary magazine of NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, has a new issue up at http://www.epiphanyzine.com. There are stories by Carole Rosenthal, Rick Rofihe, and Leanne Ellis as well as poems, nonfiction, drama and some really striking black and white photos taken by a GI during the Vietnam War.


Ceres Gallery is hosting a celebration of the fall books from Marsh Hawk Press Thursday, December 11 with Rochelle Ratner, author of HOUSE AND HOME, Basil King, author of MIRAGE, and Chard deNiord author of SHARP GOLDEN THORN. All three will read - sign books, etc. Ceres is at 547 West 27th Street, 2nd floor. 7:30 p.m. $8 donation. Proceeds go to support Planned Parenthood.


Especially for those with an interest in memoir and writing workshops comes a new book from Publishers Place edited by John Patrick Grace called THE LIFE WRITING CLASS which collects work from a life writing class. Publishers Place also has a new collection of memoir from a physician named Dr. Constance Hayden. Brochures and books are available from Publishers Place at 945 Fourth Avenue, Suite 200A, Huntington, WV 25701. See their website at Publishers Place.

J.C. Todd and others including Hugh Seidman and Maura Stanton are represented in an anthology of new poetry and fiction edited by David Dodd Lee called SHADE 2004 It is available from Four Way Books, POB 535 Village Station, New York, NY 10014.

Blair Mountain Press has a new trilogy by Victor Depta called A WEST VIRGINIA TRILOGY. They are at 2027 Oakview Road, Ashland, KY 41101.


My very short story "Recessional" is online at COELECANTH journal.

I'm also represented (and very proud to be there) in a collection of women writers from Appalachian region: LISTEN HERE: WOMEN WRITING IN APPALACHIA, edited by Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson.


If you're looking for ideas to jump-start your writing, I've begun a page of writing starters– free one-shot exercises for anyone who stumbles across them. You can find them at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/writingexercises.html.



Books For Readers Home





Newsletter # 53
December 27, 2003


I want to end 2003 by talking about a book that took most of the year for me to finish– Azar Nafisi's READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN. I had expected to be drawn in immediately to this memoir about women defying a repressive government by reading Western literature (the subtitle is "A Memoir in Books"). Instead, I repeatedly laid it down. There was something about the passionately feminine sensibility of the writing style that put me off. I also had trouble differentiating the young women in Nafisi's subversive and exclusive private class. Thus, even though their stories of torture in prison and oppression by the Iranian Islamic Revolution and male relatives are stunning, I still couldn't separate one from the other.

Only when I read the afterward did I realize that the women were composites rather than individuals. I suspect Nafisi really wanted to talk about the real women, and was constrained. I also had another realization: I was interrupting my reading of this book to read the books Nafisi and her students were discussing. The memoir is organized into sections named after Western authors: Nabokov; James; Austen; etc. Western literature in English was her academic specialty at the University of Tehran until she was dismissed for refusing to cover her hair in a way satisfactory to the authorities.

Once I realized this– that I was laying aside her memoir to read or reread the books she was talking about– I began to value the memoir itself more highly. I reread LOLITA (see Newsletter #48 and #49), then two more Nabokov books, PNIN and the stunning little INVITATION TO A BEHEADING. Next, I turned to her favorite Henry James novels, DAISY MILLER and WASHINGTON SQUARE. DAISY MILLER, in particular, caused great controversy among her students– whether Daisy is a strong young woman or a brazen harlot. The Iranian perspective made issues about how a woman looks to society (DAISY) or how a woman obeys her father (WASHINGTON SQUARE) far more contemporary than they ever been to me before. The claustrophobic worlds of WASHINGTON SQUARE and DAISY MILLER take on special meaning when you realize what they meant to Nafisi's students.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I finished READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN itself. Slowly but surely I had been drawn into the memoir on Nafisi's terms. She seduced me with her deep passion for great novels. Nafisi says, "Every great work of art...is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life. The perfection of beauty of form rebels against the ugliness of shabbiness of the subject matter. This is why we love MADAME BOVARY and cry for Emma, why we greedily read LOLITA as our heart breaks for its small, vulgar, poetic and defiant orphaned heroine."

In the end, the memoir does exactly what it claims: it describes the suffering of intellectuals under a religious fundamentalist regime, and it offers hope through the sheer uplifting quality of great literature. Nafisi's Iran, which she loves and also needed desperately to escape, is only one Iran: others, including her students who stayed, would tell other stories. But Nafisi's passion for literature and sharing it with others makes me feel that, even though it took me six months to read her book, I had been privileged to study with a master teacher.

                                                   – Meredith Sue Willis


I just reread Ursula LeGuin's wonderful THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and was delighted with it, but amazed by how little I remembered from my first reading twenty years ago. That's another great thing about good books: they give you different things at different times. If you've never read THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, though, you really owe it to yourself if only for its interesting invention of a people who switch gender depending on who they fall in love with. LeGuin is a far better writer than most in the science fiction field: there is lots to think about in biology and mythology, but the heart of the story is how a friendship develops from deep suspicion to something very like love.

I also read– for the first time– the famous geometric science fiction novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott. Published around 1884, there is a new edition with an introduction by my son's math professor, Thomas Banchoff, who makes it clear that the novel was at least partly a satire on Victorian society– a good thing given the female inhabitants of the two dimensional world of Flatland! Toward the end, the book increases in depth and interest beyond its mathematical cleverness as the narrator, A Square, begins to understand the limits of his own world and makes an imaginative leap far beyond what even his three-dimensional mentor grasps.



Sometimes I go to the textbook section of college bookstores to see what they are reading in English and comparative lit classes. On the shelf for an American Lit class at NYU's bookstore, I found a reasonably priced edition of Charles W. Chesnutt's THE HOUSE BEHIND THE CEDARS. This is a really interesting novel about race in the post-Civil War era. It has its limitations– for example, while all the characters are described as having what we call a "Southern" accent, the only speech patterns transcribed are those of poor ex-slaves. The main characters are mixed blood and so light skinned they easily pass for white. Passing is to some extent the subject of the novel, and is presented as easy on the surface, but psychologically difficult. Chesnutt was himself a light skinned black man who ran a successful business in Cleveland but spent much of his youth in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He won prizes for his writng but couldn't make a living at it. In the end, the plot turns on too many coincidences and ends with melodrama, but it is an extremely worthwhile read for its examination of the complexities of race in the U.S. in the late 1800's.


TIN HOUSE has a regular feature at http://www.tinhouse.com/Issues/Current_Issue/lostnfound.html on rediscovered books called "Lost and Found."



Roberta Allen has a new writing column called "On Time" at http://www.prairieden.com/allen.

Phyllis Moore suggests an article in Poets & Writers about a novelist whose dad wanted him to be a doctor:

If you're looking for ideas to jump-start your writing, there is a page of free writing prompts at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/writingexercises.html.






Newsletter #54
January 28, 2004


For the last several weeks I've mostly been working on books that I am reviewing for other publications, but I also read Scott Oglesby's new novel RIDING HIGH. New York City is one of the main characters, the place where Steven McGowan plies his trade of bike-riding house-calling dealer of marijuana. The book has a rousing cast of semi-street people, who range from Steven, who is having a spectacular mid-life crisis to his somewhat more grounded live-in lover Molly to Maxie the homeless schizophrenic with impeccable manners (when he's taking his meds), to Igor, son of an affluent Queens businessman and connoisseur of marijuana, hashish, and even more exotic organic products. There is also Igor's sometime business associate Abo the Russian immigrant– and of course Steven's father Ed from rural Louisiana who wants to come for a visit, hoping to take Steven, his anti-war son, to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington to honor his other son, who died in Vietnam. These people all spill over the top with emotions and quirks and talk, but they are witty and amusing– and, in the end, deeply lovable. The novel follows several days of Steven's disintegration, trying to keep his love relationship alive, trying to avoid his father, to reach his father, to avoid the responsibilities of life– and to take them on. It is a thoroughly good-humored and entertaining novel.

Other recent reading: I re-read A PORTRAIT OF A LADY, prime Henry James, back when his sentences were long but still serving drama and character rather than the fine workings of human consciousness. If you haven't read it, it starts out appearing to be a typical nineteenth century marriage novel, but turns into one of subtle psychological horror. Young Isabelle Archer wants so much to do something important with her life, and is a noble creation, but the real stars are the bad guys: you'll never forget Madame Merle whose life consists of being a perfect friend and guest– and her remarkably indolent and evil partner-in-crime, Gilbert Osmond.

I also read my first Jane Rule novel, AFTER THE FIRE, which I picked up in a university book store sale bin. I'd been hearing for a while of the New Jersey born Canadian, but this was my first novel of hers, and I was delighted with its touching, frank realism. Set on a vacation island near Vancouver, it has not much sex, but lots of love, community, and insights into racism (the main character is half Japanese, and her grandparents died in internment camps), class distinctions (the younger women have jobs that put them in the position of serving other people), and certainly gender roles. Mainly, though, it is a small scale, frankly naturalistic story that welcomes and moves the reader. Any fans of Jane Rule out there to recommend which of her books I should read next?

                                                          – Meredith Sue Willis



Phyllis Moore writes, "Those are thought provoking comments about READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN. As I recall, we started reading it at the same time. I've kept putting it aside, too. But, I still have it by my favorite reading chair and will try it again....You might enjoy this odd coincidence. After reading Lee Maynard's second novel, SCREAMING WITH THE CANNIBALS, I decided to read the novels Jesse, the young protagonist, read more than once and lugs around in his backpack. This led me back to the novels of Jules Verne and Hemingway. It also rekindled my interest in the 'hero's quest' as described in the writings of Joseph Campbell and others. Believe me, Jesse has the art of being a testosterone-laden teen on the way to manhood down pat. He is listening to his 'inner voice' and is more than ready for adventure. [Lee] Maynard might just be a "master teacher" for writers. Both his writing style and the rapid-fire plot capture the emotional intensity of his characters. The novel provides a chance to view the interior workings of one teen as he embarks on the journey of self-discovery and experiences the complexities of life."




Jamie Rhein says, "Over the course of the past year I have been and still am reading A FINE BALANCE by Rohnton Mistry. It is a wonderful novel set in India during the time of Indira Gandhi's rule. Why is it taking me so long to get through it? I keep skipping ahead so I know of the characters' misfortunes before I get there and can't bear to go on. The characters are wonderful and their fates are so grim, but then not so grim, since despite it all, they see possibilities and have laughs throughout. The prose is perfect. I put [it] away temporarily in December in order to read HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (a fine book, but a bigger downer than a FINE BALANCE and two books by Elizabeth Berg, one a group of short stories, the other, a novel. I love the simplicity of her work as it manages to capture the truths of everyday people in everyday life."

By the way, Jamie just had a piece accepted for publication in HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN about Katharine Wright, of the aviator family.


Lynne Gleason writes, "Last month I finished LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, which still haunts me. It's not a style I would attempt to imitate, but what a pleasure to read. I just finished O PIONEERS, which is one of the Willa Cather novels I hadn't read before. I will admit I read THE DAVINCI CODE, but didn't like it, even as an airplane read....The novel I am working on is set in Colorado, where I live, and requires research– I'm a frequent customer at http://www.abebooks.com– so, I have books like THE LOOK OF THE OLD WEST, SOUTHERN UTE WOMEN, and A CENTURY OF THE QUARTERHORSE on my desk."




Maggie Anderson, who teaches at Kent State, was born in New York City and has her roots in West Virginia, has some lovely poems from her books online at http://www.pshares.org/issues/article.cfm?prmArticleID=2939;    http: //www.wmich.edu/thirdcoast/anderson_self.html; and http://www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?45442B7C000C04030E73. I especially like the one from her early childhood when she is living in New Jersey and looking at New York city. The love poem is nice too.




Here's a new one by Halvard Johnson:

Sonnet: It's Better to Turn on the TV

It's better to turn on the TV than to curse the darkness.
Beware of swarthy men (or women) carrying almanacs.
Report any suspicious activity to 1-800-ACT-FAST.

When you meet the Buddha on the road, arrest him.
If we don't reelect Bush, the terrorists have won.
All roads lead to Guantanamo, aka Gitmo.
The only thing we have to terrorize is terror itself.

If we reelect Bush, the winners will be the terrorists.
Business art (Andy said) is the step that comes after Art.
Snipers up upon the roof, corn be heavy pretty damn soon.
The devil finds work for idling hands up on the deck.

If one spreads butter on both sides of one's bread, one
need not worry which side's better cuz there's butter on't.



Take a look at the website of poet Juanita Torrence-Thompson, including samples from her new book CELEBRATING A TAPESTRY OF LIFE at http://www.poetrytown.com.

Also, don't forget the Poetry Daily and Writer's Almanac.  Does anyone else have suggestions for good places to go for random poetry reading?

SALON seems has a series in which writers tell their favorite books– I found it looking for commentary on Henry James's PORTRAIT OF A LADY. SALON charges, but you can get a free "Day Pass" if you're willing to look at a couple of advertisements.

For more on RIDING HIGH, go to http://www.ridinghigh.net/.


If you're looking for ideas to jump-start your writing, there is a page of free writing prompts at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/writingexercises.html.



The redoubtable Reading Divas have a new issue up. They say, "A new year is a great impetus to take a class, create a new identity, learn Cantonese, get hitched, or just submit your reviews, essays, stories.... Another option is to simply kick back with cocoa and enjoy:"




Newsletter #55
March 1, 2004


Bill Robinson sends the following book review:

"HOTTENTOT VENUS (Doubleday, New York, November 2003) is the new, and sixth historical novel by Barbara Chase-Riboud, a Carl Sandburg Prize poet, sculptor and novelist. She is the author of SALLY HEMINGS; VALIDE: A NOVEL OF A HAREM; ECHO OF LIONS: A NOVEL OF THE AMISTAD; THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER (a prequel to Sally Hemings); and ROMAN EGYPTIEN (in French). In 1996 she received a Knighthood in Arts and Letters from the French government. Born in Philadelphia, of Canadian-American descent, she was educated at Yale University, and she divides her time between Paris, Rome, and the United States.

"HOTTENTOT VENUS is the history of Sarah Baartman, born in the colony of Good Hope, South Africa, in 1789. After the murder of her husband, her child, and most of her tribe, she was taken to London and Paris, dubbed the 'Hottentot Venus,' and exhibited for the rest of her life nearly naked in a cage. This novel is not for everyone. Perhaps in time it will be. It has been given the American Library Association's best fiction award (to be awarded in June at the convention in Orlando, Florida).

"The novel's key accomplishment, and there are many, is how in a brief first chapter the author has the reader willing, if tearfully, to be shown every minute detail of the horror Sarah Baartman lived, then to follow her into a monstrous life after death in a Paris laboratory until she is allowed, centuries later, the peace and rest of a funeral pyre in her homeland.

"An enormous and consistently solid accomplishment throughout the novel is the quality of the research, layer upon layer, allowing the people of the book, after two centuries, to live and breathe.

"In subject and content this novel is perhaps the best means to nail down all in one place everything that is wrong with racism, slavery and colonialism, including what we have now – the out-sourcing of manufacturing to places where, like what we are shown of the early 1800's, there are no unions, no child labor laws and no regulations about workplace safety."

I remember reading a review of HOTTENTOT VENUS earlier, but I'm glad to be reminded by Mr. Robinson of what sounds like a very worthwhile book.

I just finished reading ADDIE: A MEMOIR by Mary Lee Settle, the National Book Award winning West Virginian novelist. ADDIE is organized not around the narrator/author, but rather about her grandmother, who is a woman who might have lived in obscurity, or might have been a victim of poverty, and was in any case looked down upon by many– but in the end ran the little world of her large garden and extended family memorably and capably, if not always successfully. It is an admirably shaped memoir, and I especially recommend it for how it captures the complexities of people's perceptions.

Ingrid Hughes offers more memoir recommendations:

"Some wonderful memoirs are portraits of parents and family as well as self-portraits. One that isn't enough known is AKE: THE YEARS OF CHILDHOOD by Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate and playwright. It's my favorite book to give people. Both his parents were remarkable, his mother no less than his father, and the last chapters of the book focus on the movement she and other Nigerian women formed against unfair taxation in the thirties. It's a four star book, absolutely.

"Another such memoir is called PERIOD PIECE, and it's by one of Darwin''s granddaughters, Gwen Raverat, about the extended Darwin family growing up in the late Victorian and Edwardian years, also very loving, and charmingly illustrated.

"Allen Ginsberg's KADDISH is a wonderful portrait of his mother, a paranoid schizophrenic whom he treats with full respect. There's [also] a terrific, really excellent Norton book, THE NORTON BOOK OF WOMEN'S LIVES, a very big book you can get at the library that has a wide range of excepts from women's autobiographies, some of them out-of-print." I hope nobody lacks for good reading material after these suggestions– but there is more below, both books and online.


Poet and novelist Rochelle Ratner (see some of her poems in the new issue of the HAMILTON STONE REVIEW) has been working for years with PEN American Center's Prison Writing Program. Among other things, the program sponsors a yearly contest for writers in American prisons. Many of last year's winners appear online. More information can be found at: http://www.pen.org/prison.html




Speaking of the HAMILTON STONE REVIEW – the poets represented in the new issue include not only Rochelle Ratner but also by Jane Augustine, Michael Heller, Rebecca Kavaler, Sybil Kollar, Larry Goodell, Lewis LaCook, Roger Mitchell, Tom Raworth , and Joseph Somoza. Fiction is by Jane Lazarre, Richard Perry, and Susan Robbins. Find it all at http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr.html.



Keith Maillard suggests another Jane Rule book that the calls a classic: DESERT OF THE HEART.



Shelley Ettinger has poems in THE MISSISSIPPI REVIEW at http://www.mississippireview.com/2004/1001-0104-Ettinger.html.


Halvard Johnson, poetry editor of the HAMILTON STONE REVIEW (see above!), has new poems at NEWTOPIA MAGAZINE – http://www.newtopiamagazine.net/content/issue15/newpoetry/centcom.shtml. Hal says, "Not responsible for typographical errands."


Don't miss Jen Berwin's brilliant 'nets that make new poems out of Shakespeare's sonnets at http://www.conjunctions.com/webcon/bervin.htm . (See below for how to get her book)


Barbara Crooker has new poetry at Pebble Lake Review http://www.pebblelakereview.com/issue/Barbara%20Crooker.htm and miller's pond: www.millerspondpoetry.com/vol7-1web.html.



WEST VIRGINIA MUSIC AND READ ALOUD FICTION A new CD has just been released of the OUTLAW WRITERS TOUR - LIVE IN WV. The Outlaw Writers Tour was captured on a single track of magnetic tape in all its red and ragged glory. The result is the latest CD from Rattler Records: "OUTLAW WRITERS TOUR - LIVE IN WV". The disc is a mix of "gutbucket American music and storytelling loaded with heartbreak, broken bones, bar room brawls, alien abduction, and fashion tips for the ladies." The CD features seven songs THE DELIBERATE STRANGERS, five new numbers and two covers by Rev. Robert Wilkins and Hank Williams. The literary section includes LEE MAYNARD's "Tommy Hatfield" is an unpublished chapter from CRUM and CHUCK KINDER's "Stars and Bars", a chapter from his latest novel LAST MOUNTAIN DANCER, which will be published by Carroll and Graf in the fall of 2004. For more information, go to http://www.deliberatestrangers.com.



Meredith Sue Willis's story "Tales of the Abstract Expressionists" is up at http://www.tatlinstower.com.



he Electronic Book Review has new reviews at www.electronicbookreview.com .






The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at Amazon.com. An alternative way to reach Powell's site and support the union is via http://www.powellsunion.com. Prices are the same but 10% of your purchase will go to support the union benefit fund. For a discussion about Amazon and organized labor and small presses, see the comments of Jonathan Greene and others in Issues #97 and #98 .



If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget your public library and your local independent bookstore.
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris.   Bookfinder has a feature that tells you the book price WITH shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
A lot of people whose political instincts I respect prefer the unionized bricks-and-mortar bookstore Powells (see "About Amazon.com" above) that sells online at http://powellsbooks.com.  Another good source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at http://www.allbookstores.com/ .
Take a look also at Paperback Book Swap, a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of your old books and get new ones by trading with other readers.

If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, get free books at the Gutenberg Project-- most classics, and other things as well. Libraries now lend e-books too!




Please send responses and suggestions directly to Meredith Sue Willis at MeredithSueWillis@gmail.com. Unless you instruct otherwise, your responses may be edited for length and published in this newsletter.

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#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!
#145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë
#144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu
#143 Little America; Guns,Germs, and Steel; The Trial
#142 Blog Fiction, Leah by Seymour Epstein, Wolf Hall, etc.
#141 Dreama Frisk on Hilary Spurling's Pearl Buck in China; Anita Desai; Cormac McCarthy
#140 Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay, Dolly Withrow
#139 My Kindle, The Prime Minister, Blood Meridian
#138 Special on Publicity by Carter Seaton
#137 Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon;The Professor and the Madman; Game of Thrones; James Alexander Thom's Follow The River
#136 James Boyle's The Creative Commons; Paola Corso, Joanne Greenberg, Monique Raphel High, Amos Oz
#135 Reviews by Carole Rosenthal, Jeffrey Sokolow, and Wanchee Wang.
#134 Daniel Deronda, books with material on black and white relations in West Virginia
#133 Susan Carpenter, Irene Nemirovsky, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kanafani, Joe Sacco
#132 Karen Armstrong's A History of God; JCO's The Falls; The Eustace Diamonds again.
#131 The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism
#129 Baltasar and Blimunda; the Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, new and recommended small press and indie books.
#128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement
#127 Olive Kitteridge; Urban fiction; Shelley Ettinger on Joyce Carol Oates
#126 Jack Hussey's Ghosts of Walden, The Leopard , Roger's Version, The Reluctanct Fundamentalist
#125 Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset; Books on John Brown suggested by Jeffrey Sokolow
#124 Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University
#123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing
#122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list
#119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer
#118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family!
#117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity
#116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown
#115 Adam Bede, Nietzsche, Johnny Sundstrom
#114 Judith Moffett, high fantasy, Jared Diamond, Lily Tuck
#113 Espionage--nonfiction and fiction: Orson Scott Card and homophobia
#112 Marc Kaminsky, Nel Noddings, Orson Scott Card, Ed Myers
#111 James Michener, Mary Lee Settle, Ardian Gill, BIll Higginson, Jeremy Osner, Carol Brodtick
#110  Nahid Rachlin, Marion Cuba on self-publishing; Thulani Davis, The Road, memoirs
#109 Books about the late nineteen-sixties: Busy Dying; Flying Close to the Sun; Looking Good; Trespassers
#108 The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords
#107 The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy
#106 Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more
#105 Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher
#104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007
#103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski
#101 My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on Amazon.com; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the Amazon.com debate
#97   Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more
#96   Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults
#95   Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng
#94   Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more
#88   Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
#87   Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers)
#86   Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more
#85   Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia
#84   Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor
#83   3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code
#82   The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls
#81   Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso
#80   Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy
#79   Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway
#78   The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford
#77   On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick
#76   Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy
#75   The Makioka Sisters
#74    In Our Hearts We Were Giants
#73    Joyce Dyer
#72    Bill Robinson WWII story
#71    Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald
#70    On Reading
#69    Nella Larsen, Romola
#68    P.D. James
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
    Boyle, Worlds of Fiction
#63    The Namesame
#62    Honorary Consul; The Idiot
#61    Lauren's Line
#60    Prince of Providence
#59    The Mutual Friend, Red Water
#58    AkÉ,
Season of Delight
#57    Screaming with Cannibals

#56    Benita Eisler's Byron
#55    Addie, Hottentot Venus, Ake
#54    Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule
#53    Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin
#52    Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard
#51    Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton
#50    Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography
Richard Price, Phillip Pullman
#47    Mid- East Islamic World Reader
#46    Invitation to a Beheading
#45    The Princess of Cleves
#44    Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books
#43    Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door
#42    John Sanford
#41    Isabelle Allende
#40    Ed Myers on John Williams
#39    Faulkner
#38    Steven Bloom No New Jokes
#37    James Webb's Fields of Fire
#36    Middlemarch
#35    Conrad, Furbee, Silas House
#34    Emshwiller
#33    Pullman, Daughter of the Elm
#32    More Lesbian lit; Nostromo
#31    Lesbian fiction
#30    Carol Shields, Colson Whitehead
#29    More William Styron
#28    William Styron
#27    Daniel Gioseffi
#26    Phyllis Moore
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
   Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction
#22    More on Why This Newsletter
#21    Salinger, Sarah Waters, Next of Kin
#20    Jane Lazarre
#19    Artemisia Gentileschi
#18    Ozick, Coetzee, Joanna Torrey
#17    Arthur Kinoy
#16    Mrs. Gaskell and lots of other suggestions
#15    George Dennison, Pat Barker, George Eliot
#14    Small Presses
#13    Gap Creek, Crum
#12    Reading after 9-11
#11    Political Novels
#10    Summer Reading ideas
#9      Shelley Ettinger picks
#8      Harriette Arnow's Hunter's Horn
#7      About this newsletter
#6      Maria Edgeworth
#5      Tales of Good and Evil; Moon Tiger
#4      Homer Hickam and The Chosen
#3      J.T. LeRoy and Tale of Genji
#2      Chick Lit
#1      About this newsletter
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