For more information on the artist and examples of her incredible work, visit her website JenStark.com.
by Deborah Deck-Suárez
I’m sharing this poem by Deborah Deck-Suárez at ThirtyCreativeStudio because tonight, when I needed to be (should have been) writing, I was doing the old point and click around the web. I ended up at Deb’s site and found this poem. I was so inspired by the beauty of her words, and by the strong sense of connection, then loss, then longing conveyed in those few short lines, that I clicked off the internet and started writing.
Resources: The Daily Post
What would you think if I told you that in 2010 magazines like Harper’s, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, Granta, The New Yorker, and most of the other big names, published more work written by men than by women?
Would it shock you? Surprise you? Raise an eyebrow?
What if I told you that those magazines didn’t publish just three or four more articles by men than by women, they published three or four times more. It calculates like this:
- The Atlantic published 154 pieces written by men, 53 by women.
- The New Yorker: 449 by men, 163 by women.
- The New York Review of Books: 462 by men, 79 by women.
That raises more than eyebrows, it raises questions and VIDA is doing the asking.
VIDA, a literary group formed last year in response to gender inequality in print, has just published The Count. I might have called it “The Countess,” but that’s probably too cutesy. The Count is literally that, a count of male to female writers in the country’s most prestigious magazines, and it is proof positive of just how skewed the ratio is.
As a woman writer, the survey could be depressing. I could throw up my hands and say, “Why bother, there’s no breaking into the old-boy’s club.” If it was just a survey, it would be depressing, but it’s not just a survey, it’s the beginning of a conversation and VIDA is leading the way.
“Our count is by no means a blame-game,” says Cate Marvin, VIDA co-founder. “It was time to stop speculating that things didn’t seem entirely fair and find out if we did in fact have reason to be concerned. The conversation only begins with the numbers.”
More data on submissions and books published by gender is needed for a true picture, but what is included in “The Count” makes it clear that there is a startling imbalance and something needs to be done. Yes, the conversation has started. As a woman who writes, it’s now my responsibility to be a part of it.
For more details, read the study by VIDA: “Numbers don’t lie. What counts is the bottom line.”
For an analysis of the numbers, read A new tally by VIDA shows how few female writers appear in magazines from slate.com.
Resources: VIDA, The Daily Post
If you’re a writer finding it difficult to make time for writing, think about joining the Silent Writers Collective tonight for its weekly online silent retreat. All writers are welcome to join in at 9 EST and PST and commit an hour (more if you want) to their art.
You can work on your own project or use one of the exercises provided below.
- From PW.org: Fiction and Poetry prompts
- From Writerly Life: A photo prompt, “Mist and Spaciousness”
- From Verbal Verbosity: The 100 Words Challenge Prompt
- From me: A photo prompt, “On the Rocks”
- From Plinky: Quickie questions to ponder
For more information, visit the Silent Writers Collective.
Resources: The Daily Post
Fifty years ago today, Robert Frost made literary history by being the first poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration.
John F. Kennedy asked Mr. Frost to read a piece of his work. As the Inauguration Ceremony approached, the poet understood the importance of the moment and decided to recite “Dedication,” a poem he wrote specifically for the occasion.
A full-fledged blizzard the night before, left the city frozen in a blanket of white. Although the sun was shining on Inauguration Day, sub-zero temperatures and whipping winds stayed on, causing delay after delay.
When it was finally time to recite his poems, Mr. Frost took the podium. Bundled in a long wool coat and thick scarf, the wind blew his hair in every direction. He began reciting “Dedication” but stumbled and stopped. The sun’s glare reflecting off the snow made it impossible to read his new poem.
Rather than falter through a botched recitation, Mr. Frost changed direction. He put his plan and his poetry aside, and recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.
Reading the words of “The Gift Outright,” I’m excited and astonished, again, at the inherent genius of art. How appropos those words are for the occasion. I’m also inspired by Mr. Frost’s action. He knew what was most important. He put his ego and his poetry aside and did what should have been done for the occasion.
I’m sure I would have done the same on the spot. It’s afterward that I wonder about. Would I have pouted, whined? “Waaaa, I put a lot of work into that poem. Stupid snow ruined everything. My life suuuuuckkkkks!”
Past experience tells me I would be whining. It’s a character flaw I need to work on. A lot of artists and writers I know would whine; we’re a needy neurotic bunch. (Kanye West keeps coming to mind.) Robert Frost didn’t whine though. He took the road not taken and that made all the difference.
Way back on December 31, 2010, (six days ago) I accepted the WordPress.com Post A Day challenge to post on my blog every day for a year. WordPress helps out by posting a daily prompt on their Post A Day blog to keep participants inspired. I’m on Day 5. So far so good.
Now Poets and Writers, has kicked off The Time Is Now, a series of weekly prompts and exercises to inspire writers of poetry and prose to stay committed to their writing all year long.
“The most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline. Talent and luck always help, but having a consistent writing practice is often the difference
between aspiring writers and published writers.”
Every Monday PW will post for poetry, and every Thursday for fiction. The first installment for poetry is posted now. The fiction prompt goes up tomorrow. To have the prompts sent directly to your email, you can sign up at The Time is Now Signup.
If you’re a writer and you’re not familiar with PW, I urge you to GET familiar with them. As the nation’s largest nonprofit literary organization, they are an incredible and reliable resource for information on competitions, workshops, techniques, agents, and publishers. What I’ve found most through their site and their magazine is a sense of community and encouragement. In the announcement introducing The Time is Now, PW.org says, “the most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline.” That’s certainly true, but the camaraderie I’ve found at PW, goes a long way.
The presents aren’t wrapped yet, I have more shopping to do, and those flippin’ cookies will not be baking themselves, but I’d rather think about books. In the spirit of the season and in no particular order, here is a list of the best novels I read this year.
“Girls in their Married Bliss” by Edna O’Brien. A Dublin bookseller recommended this book after we chatted about Irish authors. I started reading it on the walk back to the hotel and didn’t stop until I finished. It was written in 1964, and there are some anachronisms, but Baba is so fresh, funny, and irreverent, I loved her immediately. The novel is the third in a trilogy about Baba and Kate, who grew up together in the Irish countryside and now live in London, both unhappily married. The two characters take turns as narrator, and despite Baba’s sauciness and all the laughs (and there are many), the story is dark, cynical, and heartbreaking. This novel is available in the U.S. only as part of “The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue.” I haven’t read the other two stories, or anything else by Edna O’Brien, but her work is on my list for 2011.
“Nemesis” by Philip Roth. If you know much about me, you probably know Philip Roth is my favorite writer. Ever. Period. It’s not a blind love, though, and his last few books haven’t had the stunning impact on me as “The Human Stain” or “American Pastoral” did. “Nemesis” is set in 1940s Newark during a polio epidemic. It is the simple but tragic story of Bucky Cantor, director of the neighborhood playground and ordinary “nice guy.” The seeming simplicity of the writing and the story put me off at first. I thought maybe Mr. Roth was phoning it in. Who could blame him? This is his 32nd novel and boy, his hand must be tired! By the end of the book, I knew I’d judged too quickly. The story might be simple, but it is brilliantly so. The raging epidemic, the death of neighborhood kids, the life-altering guilt, and where is God in all of this? Bucky wants to know, so did I. Weeks after finishing the book, the questions still linger. That’s powerful writing.
“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen. It took a little self-debate, but I decided to include this book on my list. It should be here; I did like it, but I don’t understand what all the big noise was (is) about. Franzen is an excellent writer and this is a well-told story, but the preachiness was a turn-off, and so was its occasional self-importance/ self-awareness. Enough has already been said by others about “Freedom,” but I just read this piece from the New Yorker Book Bench blog, and I thought I’d share. It’s pretty funny, as is the author. The Year in Reading: Tad Friend. It’s a great light look at a novel that no one is looking at lightly.
“The Ice Age” by Kirsten Reed. This book cover jumped off the shelf to grab my attention, and the first few paragraphs were just as strong, maybe more so. Think of a cross between “Lolita,” “Catcher in the Rye,” and “On The Road.” It is the story of a 17 year old girl who starts hitching and is immediately picked up by Gunther, a mysterious, quirky, older man. Together they vagabond around the country, staying in seedy hotels or crashing with an odd cast of Gunther’s friends and former girlfriends. The narrator, as 17 year old girls sometimes do, imagines Gunther is a vampire, but she’s also smart enough to know what a silly fantasy it is. That’s the thing about our narrator, she’s as cool, goofy, and naive as most teens, but she’s also incredibly astute, more so than most of the adults she meets, and her insights add to this book’s poignancy. Unfortunately, this book is not available in the U.S. (Why not?!? — would some smart American publisher please pick this up!), but used copies can be found on Amazon, and I still have my copy if anyone wants to borrow it.
“Lost” by Alice Lichtenstein. Susan, Jeff, and Corey, three very different and distinctive characters come together after Susan’s husband, 12-years her senior and suffering with Alzheimer’s, wanders off on a frigid New England morning. Alzheimer’s stories can get mired in the sentimental, but this novel does not; it’s beautifully and cleanly written. Jeff, the search and rescue expert, first judges Susan to be a stoic. As a biology professor she has a scientist’s mind for facts, but she’s more than that. She’s also deeply caring and in love with her husband. Jeff deals with his own trauma as his wife, a woman lost in her own way, repeatedly betrays and humiliates him. Corey, a 12-year-old rendered mute after a family tragedy, has a secret that binds all three of them. Each character is lost and in need of redemption, but by connecting with each other, the novel ends on a hopeful note. Ms. Lichtenstein’s writing is spare and poetic, a perfect complement to the story.
“Bastard Out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison. This book has been on my list forever, and I’m so glad I finally read it. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an unforgettable one. Knowing that most of the trauma is autobiographical made it even more difficult to take in, and I had to put the book down a few times because it was just too disturbing. The title refers to Ruth Anne, the main character, nicknamed Bone. Not only does she bear the labels “illegitimate” and “poor white trash,” she must also endure the physical and sexual abuse of her stepfather. Her large extended family is an assortment of drunks, fighters, womanizers, and the women who put up with them. As screwed up as they are, they are fiercely protective of one another and provide Bone with a sense of belonging and home. Throughout the book I wondered how someone survives this kind of devastation, and I’ve since heard Ms. Allison say in interviews that writing saved her. Lucky for us, because she tells this story with honesty, resilience, and grace.
“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Oh, to write like Kazuo Ishiguro, with that much precision, clarity, and meaning. Stevens, the main character and narrator, is the butler in charge at an English estate. He is completely devoted to his employer, Lord Darlington, and blindly accepts Darlington’s words and actions, when they are clearly misguided. In his loyalty, Stevens’ only concern is the mechanics of running a proper English household. As the novel progresses, we learn there’s more to him than that, but his commitment to propriety prevents him from sharing that part of himself. This is a quiet and subtle novel about missed opportunities, suppressed emotions, and a life lived in devotion to the wrong master. Stevens is a remarkable character and this novel is a pristine example of writing that transports you seamlessly into a different time and place.
Now I need some reading recommendations for 2011. Any suggestions?