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Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-pericp.com)

 

The September 10-11, 2010 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest gathers authors and artists to investigate the theme Curiouser & Curiouser: The Book in Flux.

Some guests, like University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ph.D. candidate Sarah Chavez, are Hispanic, Others, like first-time festival panelist Peter Kuper of Manhattan, New York, are not, but explore Hispanic themes.

Nebraska native Belinda Acosta, the Latina author of two Quinceanera Club novels, was a panelist last year and the Austin, Texas resident would like to come back again.

Chavez, a Fresno, Calif. native poet, has completed a chapbook she’s expanding into a full-length volume. This will be her first Omaha Lit Fest. She read some of her original work at an August 26 preview. She looks forward to the fest, saying she’s “impressed” by the supportive literary community here and by the diversity and quality of writers presenting at area lit events.

In her poetry Chavez explores the working class character of Fresno. She also explores borders and boundaries of identity. Her father is a first generation Mexican-American migrant worker. As a girl she joined her father laboring in the fields. Her Irish-American mother comes from upper middle class roots.

Chavez said by phone, “I was always sort of aware of this transferring back and forth between cultures. My parents divorced fairly early on, so I was always going back and forth, crossing like city and cultural borders, learning you act like this in this environment but then you can act like this in this other environment.

“So I was always aware of this mobility and the tenuous nature of environment. I was also aware of being, like my sister and I joke, ‘half breeds.’ Because of that mix we’re able to pass in different areas. I go to minority programs and have cultural cachet as a Mexican there but then people don’t automatically assume I am of that heritage. I don’t quite fit, I don’t look like this but I don’t feel like this other group.”

She considers different cultural expectations attending Latinas or African-American women and white women. She examines what it means for women of color to move away from traditional domestic duties to inhabit professional and academic roles.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Political cartoonist and illustrator.Kuper anticipated a two-year siesta in Oaxaca, Mexico with his wife and daughter, but when a teachers’ strike there was violently put down by government forces, he went from casual tourist to engaged reporter. His visceral Diario de Oaxaca journal sketches and commentaries capture how nature and civilization, history and modernity, bounty and deprivation are intertwined there.

He prized playing the role of first-hand witness and participant. In a phone interview he said this active, intimate experience “made it feel we were inside of Mexico rather than standing on the edge regarding it from a slight distance.” He said when he first arrived he made up for his “lousy” Spanish by using his sketches to communicate with people, adding that his habit of walking the streets offered interactions that drew him deeper into local rituals and customs.

His work expresses the surreal-like quality of nature run riot amid a busy tourist trade, an oppressive regime, crushing poverty and citizen protests.

“It’s fascinating. I kept on feeling I was walking through a metaphor.”

Perhaps most striking to him is how people risk everything to oppose an unjust ruling class. He’s quite taken by the politicized street art there. He’s also impressed by how every day people make art an expressive part of their life, whether arranging flower and candle homages for Day of the Dead festivities or painting murals.

“There’s so much creating of art that goes on in daily life as a natural thing to do,” he said. “It really gives me a sense of art having purpose, enriching and playing a role.”

He said the whole experience shook him up artistically, putting him on a different track once he returned home.

“It challenged and opened me up to trying different approaches. I had to sort of reinvent myself with the new information.”

Acosta grew up in Lincoln. She was active in Omaha theater, helping found the Center Stage Theatre and touring a one-woman show on Midwestern Latinas, before attending the University of Texas at Austin to focus on writing.

A freelance journalist by trade, she’s a contributing writer for the Austin Chronicle and Texas Observer. Her books Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over chart family relationships within the backdrop of the quinceanera, which she finds ironic since she never had a quince herself. But she said she researched the coming-of-age celebration in preparation for her books.

She’s presently working on a new book set in Nebraska.

For event details, visit www.omahalitfest.com.

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MCC Creative Writing Forum – October 28-29

October 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Join yours truly and fellow area wordsmiths, along with keynote speaker Sam Ligon, for the MCC Creative Writing Forum on Friday, October 28 and Saturday, October 29 at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus.  This all things considered writing forum is highly recommended for aspiring and emerging writers looking to navigate the process, publishing and business sides of the craft.It’s a chance to hear from and ask questions of veteran writers from different genres and mediums. Networking opportunities abound.

Hope to see you at the Writing for Local Markets panel I am a part of from 9 to 10:20 a.m. on Saturday.

Full event details, presenter bios and registration information can be found or linked to below.

 

MCC Creative Writing Forum
Registration Now Open
$45 Regular forum Includes all sessions, hospitality and a copy of Sam Ligon’s book.
$25 Student forum High school and college students. Includes all sessions, hospitality and a copy of Sam Ligon’s book.
$20 Friday only Includes opening session, poetry slam and hospitality only.
$30 Saturday only Includes Saturday sessions only and lunch buffet.

More details and presenter bios can be found at here.

Online registration can be found at creativewriting.brownpapertickets.com.

Keynote Speaker

This year’s keynote speaker is Sam Ligon. He is an associate professor at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington. Ligon is also the editor of Willow Springs and the artistic director of the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. He is the author of two collection of stories, “Wonderland” and “Drift and Swerve,” as well as two novels, “Among the Dead and Dreaming” and “Safe in Heaven Dead.” His stories have appeared in The Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Story Quarterly, New England Review, Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth, Post Road, Keyhole, Sleepingfish, Gulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, Okey-Panky and New Orleans Review. A recipient of a 2005 Artists Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship, Ligon holds an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA from New School University.

MCC Creative Writing Forum

Forum

Friday, Oct. 28

Mule Barn, Building 21

6–7 p.m. Opening reception: heavy hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, soda and water, networking.
7–8 p.m. Reading and Q&A with Sam Ligon.
8:15–10 p.m. Poetry Slam – coordinated by Matt Mason.

Saturday, Oct. 29

Swanson Conference Center, Building 22

8:30–9 a.m. Check in, coffee, networking.
9–10:20 a.m. Breakout session #1 (three sessions)

Young adult reading and Q&A

Lydia Kang, Tonya Kuper, Christie Rushenberg

Writing for local markets

Ryan Syrek, Kevin Coffey, Leo Adam Biga
This panel will feature writers and editors from such publications as The Reader, the Omaha World-Herald and Omaha Magazine.

Telling your (compelling) story

Liz Kay and Brett Mertins
Participants will be led through a series of questions and prompts to help find and focus on their central stories. Applicable for everything from novel pitches to scholarship application letters.

10:30–11:50 a.m. Breakout session #2 (three sessions)

Tell me about your process

Stephen Coyne, Liz Kay, Tim Schaffert
Several area authors will talk about where they get their ideas,
how they do research, what their early drafts look like and all the revisions that happen before going to print.

Slam poetry, process and performance

Sara Lihz Staroska, Stacey Waite, Noni Williams
This will be a panel presentation featuring Slam coaches and poets.

Writing to get paid

Lindsey Anne Baker, Danielle Herzog, Elizabeth Mack
Successful freelance writers will talk about finding and pitching essays and articles.

Noon–12:30 p.m Lunch buffet and networking.
12:30–2 p.m. General session

How to get published

Sam Ligon and Q&A.

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Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis

October 9, 2015 2 comments

By now, anyone familiar with the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest knows that it is the epicurious and somewhat eccentric run off from whatever spills out of the overactive mind of founder-director Timothy Schaffert, who just happens to be one of America’s finest novelists.  His intellect, imagination and interests run deep, as do that of his writer friends, and so every year he concocts a distinclty stimulating event that plays very much like his own personal salon.  His 2015 Lit Fest on October 16-17 at the downtown W. Dale Clark Library features, as always, a diverse collection of national, regional and local authors who will participate in panels moderated by Schaffert himself.  There are also exhibitions and other activities centered around literature. The theme for this fest is Nervosa: Science, Psyche & Body and that’s just both specfic and open-ended enough to give writers and readers alike a fertile field to play in.

Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared iin The Reader (www.thereader.com)

The 2015 downtown Omaha Lit Fest, whose theme is “Nervosa: Science, Psych & Story,” celebrates the reflective power of literature to explore human vulnerability.

Worry over terrorism, the economy, climate change, the singularity, genetic engineering and zombie apocalypse dread is backdrop for the free Oct. 16-17 fest at the W. Dale Clark Library.

The 6:30-9:30 Friday night opening party, Anxiety, features the Poetry Brothel by burntdistrict literary journal, paintings and drawings by Eric and Shari Post and wire and book sculptures by Jay Cochrane.

Starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday founder-director-novelist Timothy Schaffert (The Swan Gondola) moderates panel discussions and interviews with local and visiting authors.

The intimate annual fest plays like Schaffert’s personal salon.

“If you don’t like me you probably won’t like the show,” he quips .”I have the freedom to develop it the way I want and I do so with the support of the Omaha Public Library. They let me invite who I want to invite, they provide the space and they promote the event. It’s exciting to take on a project that isn’t mired in bureaucracy.”

He arrived at this year’s theme by noting what authors in his lit circle were writing about. He feels these times induce a collective high tension literature’s better prepared to reflect than social media.

“Literature is really competing with the social networks for that immediate connection people are seeking with each other and their desire to remain on top of every horrifying incident that occurs in the world. Ultimately there can be this overwhelming sense of everything is treacherous, that there’s terror waiting at every turn.”

He says where online communiques incite anxiety, literature brings analysis and rumination.

“We read books differently than we read most other text. We immerse ourselves in the world of the story. We’re looking for authoritative voice, for unique and useful perspective, and that requires a great deal of attention. A book calls for you to put everything else aside to spend time with it and to let the writer speak. I think that has historically been soothing to readers.”

For the panel “Diagnosis” two Omaha doctor-authors will discuss drawing on medical backgrounds in writing.

Retired transplant surgeon Bud Shaw says, “My essay ‘My Night with Ellen Hutchison’ is about a devastating personal and professional episode in my early career.”

“As I sat down to write about it, I discovered just how stubbornly I still held onto a version of that story that blamed others, that let me off the hook for the death of a patient during a liver transplant. I had to revisit that night over and over again for weeks to reconstruct a view that wasn’t about the cause of the failure so much as it was about the results. It wasn’t easy. I needed a fresh and far more human perspective, and that required a lot of processing I hadn’t done before. Now I don’t seem able to stop.”

His new book is Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon’s Odyssey.

Practicing physician Lydia Kang writes young adult sci-fi novels and scientific thrillers (Catalyst, Control).

“I find myself drawn to particular stories and struggles and often there is a medical-forensic-genetics aspect that happens along the way.”

Researching a congenital breathing disorder led Kang to cast the hero of Control with that condition.

Kang says wanting to “explain the details, whys and hows of things” in prose can result in “too much info-dumping.” “Curating the details for the sake of smooth reading and the storyline must work in concert with doing factual justice to the fictional patient and scenario.” Through her blog she consults writers dealing with health-science matters.

 

 

Schaffert is “fascinated by any effort to make science more readable and accessible.” At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln he teaches a Humanities in Medicine Minor course, “Illness and Health in Literature.”

“We look at everything from science journalism to personal essays.”

Another panel with Neb. writers will consider “Treachery” and outcasts. Novelist Douglas Otis Wesselman, aka radio host Otis Twelve, says, “Treachery is best understood by the old. We’ve had more practice at it – from both sides. We come to know we are betrayed and betrayers by nature. Our human lives seem to revolve around duplicity and it usually comes down to the ultimate deceit – our ability to lie to ourselves.”

In his new novel Tales of the Master a character deals with the anguish of undermining himself and others.

He says writers well fit the outcast bill – “at least if they write the truth.”

Ted Wheeler, author of the chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown and the related novel Kings of Broken Things, says, “So much of interesting literature is about social outcasts. I see that as the central duty of a writer – to tell the stories that shouldn’t be told, to make personal demons public, to dredge up buried history or explore the parts of society that have been pushed out to the margins. The literary writer’s job is to say what can’t be said in polite company.”

Schaffert says the work of Wheeler, Wesselman and fellow panelist Marilyn June Coffey has “a kind of mythology, whether folklore or historical incident or ancient mythology.”

Wheeler explores Will Brown’s 1919 lynching in Omaha.

“My main intention was to give it treatment in a way I hadn’t seen done in any history books. The trick wasn’t really in explaining why this horrible event happened here, but more about resisting the urge to rationalize a mass act of treachery by exploring what it was like to be at a race riot and get caught up it the swerve of violent extremism.

“What’s interesting to me and what’s unspeakable about it in a certain way is this point where mundane life intersects with a notorious crime.”

Coffey revisited Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in an Atlantic Monthly cover article. She broke ground with her 1973 novel Marcella for its exploration of female autoeroticism. Her new book is Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers: The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals that Helped Settle Nebraska.

The panel “Empathy” will examine the psychology of identification.

“Reading literature builds empathy,” Lincoln, Neb. author Joy Castro says. “It asks us to imagine the lives and perspectives of people very different from ourselves, faced with situations we’ve never encountered. Entering into their stories expands our hearts. My new book How Winter Began is a collection of 28 short stories which pivot on the challenge of empathy.”

Arizona-based writer Julie Iromuanya, raised in Neb. by her Igo Nigernian immigrant parents, says, “To write, one has to practice the central feature of empathy – one has to imagine. It’s a complicated business to move beyond one’s subject position in order to inhabit the body of another. To me, beauty is about seeing characters in their most unvarnished form. My way into my characters is through their truth, but it’s a risky endeavor. Veer a little too far left and writing is sterile. Veer a little too far to the right and we’re left with sentimentality. Hit the right spot and there is a backdoor elegance.”

For her debut novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, she says, “One of the ways I leveraged this was through through humor, albeit dark humor, I’m both inside my characters and outside them. They act, they live their lives on the page, but I don’t let them get away with anything.”

Seattle writer Jennie Shortridge’s novel Love Water Memory considers the limits of love, trust and knowing through the prism of amnesia.

Schaffert will ask Canada native and New York City resident Emily St. John Mandel about the human psychology examined in her post-apocalyptic best-seller Station Eleven.

“It occurred to me an interesting way to consider the modern world would be to contemplate its absence,” Mandel says. “I was less interested in writing a narrative of collapse and more interested in writing about what comes next. The question I’ve attempted to address is, What remains? What might we long for and try to recreate if all of the trappings of the modern world were to fall away?”

Visit http://www.omahalitfest.com.

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