Friday, May 26, 2017

KRIS HARRINGTON

As a little girl, Kris says she always narrated her life in her head as she was living it, internally describing her actions and motivations to herself. She has always naturally been drawn to stories and writing. Kris earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree both in English Literature and began teaching at the college level when she was in graduate school, and likes to say she has “sort of hung out in classrooms since then.” She also worked as a journalist and a grants-writer/fundraiser for non-profits. Her own writing focuses on creative non-fiction, essays and memoir, although she has “dabbled” in poetry. She serves on the board of directors for Lit Youngstown, and formerly served as a trustee at the Oakland Center for the Arts. A self-described sometimes actor, sometimes runner, sometimes gardener and an avid hiker, Kris lives with her husband, Jim Canacci, and their daughters Miranda and Gillian, and a few rescue pets in Youngstown, where she was born and raised.

Can you tell us a little about The Strand Project, how it came to be?

I love telling this story because The Strand Project’s origin set the stage quite literally for the vibe of the project. The artistic director of Selah Dessert Theater, Mary Ruth Lynn, approached me about finding a way to bring original writing into the space. At the same time, Brian Palumbo, who owns Selah restaurant, sent me a creative piece—a monologue he’d written—to look over. Suddenly, the idea sparked—we could create a full-length production of original dramatic monologues. So, I sent out a call for submissions, and I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot. I thought we’d get maybe 25-30 pieces and use 15-20 of them. Well, about a week later, I checked the email account and found 88 submissions, and that number kept growing. In the end, we read through about 100 submissions from which we chose 22.

We looked for pieces that revealed something about the characters—secrets, fears, joys, quirks. Then we cast 20 actors to perform these pieces. This year we also received more than 100 submissions, and our cast includes 17 actors.

What’s unique about The Strand Project is that the actors don’t merely read or stand in the center of the stage and do what I call, “the Linus,” after the Peanuts Christmas cartoon. We assign actors to groups and they become characters with relationships to others in their groups.

The actors work in a different way than in a typical play. The monologues don’t come with a context, so the actor must create one. We begin by reading together in the actor groups—I call them pods—and these readings include discussions of interpretation. We talk about who these characters might be and what their relationships to each other might look like. Then I ask the cast members to go home and create a back story for their characters. So, the project organically grows from this collaboration of writers, actors, and directors.

On stage, the characters tell their stories to each other as if they are real people interacting in real time.  Because the Selah space is so intimate, the audience feels as if they are eavesdropping. I guess if I had to describe it using literary touchstones, I’d stay The Strand Project is like Spoon River Anthology meets Balm in Gilead. Each production is followed by a talk-back with audience, cast, writers, and production team.

How is the current political situation impacting its direction?

We talked about seeking political pieces this year, but decided against it, and we kept our call for submissions the same as last year. We invited people to share monologues that told stories, and we found a range of pieces that discuss the American experience from different individual perspectives.

For example, this year’s production features three young adult voices in various stages of discontent, from rebellious to outright nihilistic. The production also includes several pieces about work and the characters’ relationships to their jobs. One character, a coroner, discusses what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field. Another character describes being stuck in a minimum wage job and the exploitation of the workers there. A biology teacher describes the reality of teaching sexual education to eighth graders. We hear from a mother of an addicted daughter, a young woman describing the beauty of Mt. Rainier, and a cantankerous curb-picker talking about waste.

The most poignant piece in the production is the story of a woman—a true story written by another actor in our production—about her breast cancer diagnosis and the long medical road to real answers.These pieces each paint the American picture of institutionalized sexism and classism, but there is also hope in these characters’ voices. They are committed, earnest, reflective, and loving people and that all comes through. The production, however, is not without a couple of dog whistles to the resistance.

How does Selah figure in your future? What do you envision for the future?

The Strand Project couldn’t be a stage anywhere other than Selah. The space provides the intimacy that the production needs because what makes this piece work is for the audience to feel they actually could be in the urban park with the characters. We can only accomplish that when the audience is only a few feet from the actors. And because Selah is such a small space without much overhead, we can take these kinds of risks in productions and with casting.

I love being able to offer a new actor the chance to invest in a character and be an equal part of the production with more experienced actors. In a typical theatrical production, the cast has leads, supporting actors, and ensemble. We’ve broken that hierarchy in this project. The Selah production team—Jeff Chann, Brian Palumbo, and Mary Ruth Lynn—are experienced professionals in their crafts, and yet they are so open to the fluid nature of this project. Our plan is to run the production in June every year so we can build a regular audience. The project will naturally evolve and keep current, and it’s that unforced connection to real concerns of the day that truly makes The Strand Project unique among local productions.

                                               Kris Harrington

                                        

Friday, May 19, 2017

ANTHONY MARCHIONDA

Anthony Marchionda received a BFA from Youngstown State University. While studying fiction as an adult, he received honorable mention from The Best of Ohio Writers Short Story Contest. His work has been anthologized in WNWG Presents a Collection of Short Stories and his short story collections are Writer’s Cramp and Other Short Stories, and George W. Bush, Unbound. He lives in Northeast Ohio. His website is http://www.AnthonyMarchionda.com

What genre(s) do you generally write in? What drew you initially to these? 

The genres for my short stories vary depending on what the subject is that inspires me at the time. The novellas however are inspired by pulp fiction, hard-boiled detective stories by authors such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane. My background is in film and theatre, so I was first introduced to the idea of writing hard-edged crime stories through film-noir.

You wrote a series of satirical pieces about George W. Bush II a while back. Are you inspired to do the same about 45?

George W. Bush, Unbound was my first foray into political satire. I saw “W” as a basic ne’er-do-well, a guy who wanted to make something of himself but realized that it took hard work to attain his goal and, not liking hard work, opted to use his father‘s connections instead. I very much enjoyed writing political satire about “W.” Even though he was a bumbler and in league with the dark lord Dick Cheney, I found much to poke fun at during his presidency.

As for our present Huckster-in-Chief and his administration, I find little humor there. I can’t get past the vile comments and hate-filled actions that spew from this man‘s soul. Perhaps in the future, I’ll satirize 45. For now, I am working on two detective novellas. One is set in the late 1940s; the other is set in the 1950s.

What direction would you like to see your writing take at this time? Is that direction influenced in any way by what's been happening in our country politically? Please explain.

I would like to get back to writing screenplays--perhaps a short political piece, 30 to 45 pages, which would translate approximately to a 30-minute film.

There is much to be concerned about in the current political climate. At this time we need statesmen to stand up for this country's democratic values. Unfortunately, all we have are politicians.


                                                        ANTHONY MARCHIONDA


Friday, May 12, 2017

DIANA MAY-WALDMAN

Diana May-Waldman is an award-winning journalist whose poetry and essays have appeared in numerous publications. She is the author of A Woman's Song, a poetry collection that portrays the many challenges of being a woman. She is also co-editor with her partner Mitchell Waldman of the anthology Wounds of War: Poets for Peace, Hip Poetry 2012 (Wind Publications), and is the Poetry Editor for Blue Lake Review.  A strong women's and children's advocate, Diana grew up in Ohio and now lives in Rochester, New York.

We share some things in common, namely an interest in the lives and work of women and the cause of peace. How has the recent administration altered your perception regarding your key interests and focus as a woman and writer?

The new administration—I have not yet addressed them as President and the other titles—has changed my passion into anger at times. He’s blatant and insulting. I don’t want to be angry and come off as an “angry feminist,” yet I am so pissed off. I despise how these men want control over the bodies of women and how they use trickery and lies to get it. The lies they have told about Planned Parenthood are damaging. Only three-percent of what Planned Parenthood offers is abortion and they are NOT federally funded.

What are you working on now? How do you see it as influenced by the political climate?

I’m working on a new poetry book. I’m still, and probably always will be, writing about the challenges for women. The fact that we still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment in all states after all these years disturbs me. The fact that a lot of women don’t even know what that is blows my mind. We are back to educating and fighting for rights that we already fought for.

What do you see as your greatest challenge as a writer moving forward?

It’s the old “two steps forward, one step back.” I saw on a post on social media where a young woman said, “fuck feminism!” I couldn’t help but remind her that she was born with the rights that she has and she should never take that for granted. Why?—because women before her fought for those rights. My generation and generations before me were NOT born with those rights. The greatest challenge right now is to educate younger women—to gather them, educate them, and keep talking to them, especially young women that will come of voting age.



                                                 DIANA MAY-WALDMAN

Friday, May 5, 2017

MICHELLE REALE

Michelle Reale is an Associate Professor at Arcadia University. She holds an MFA in poetry and is the author of five collections of poetry, including The Marie Curie Sequence, just out from Dancing Girl Press, and Confini: Poems of Refugees in Sicily forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press in 2018. She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Please tell us a bit about your writing and what informs it, primarily in terms of your humanitarian concerns.

So much informs my writing, probably all of it being concern for human beings in one way or another.  I write from a place of sadness, although that sounds incredibly cliché to say, but also from a place of what I think is possible. I have often said that I burrow myself into whatever preoccupies me at any given moment, and I write about it. For a very long time now it has been refugees and the beautiful and sometimes confounding nature of all things Italian-American---including family.  I write to figure things out and hope against hope that what I am putting down on the page isn’t so insular, so peculiar to my own experience that others would not find it relatable---or worse, interesting. 

The variety of poetic experiences I find fascinating. It sounds sacrilegious to say, but I am just being honest: the tried and true poets, those we have read over and over and over again (with a few definite exceptions!) do not speak to me as much as the poetry I am reading from poets in the here and now. I love the immediacy; I love that I, too, am experiencing what they are writing about, particularly if it concerns the state of the world or our present (and horrific) administration. Poetry either hits me or it doesn’t and I am inspired by the thoughtful, the well-considered, the intense, and not so much with the clever---God, I hate clever, or the snarky, meant to be hilarious, or the profane. It just isn’t what gets me, personally, going, but everyone to their taste.

Three topics that I have most recently written about are extremely close to my heart and extremely personal and will occupy me for a long time, I think. Last year Aldrich Press published my collection, Birds of Sicily, mainly a contemplation on the inscrutable and rather tragic life of my paternal grandfather who fled Sicily under great fear of Vendetta, and the life he lived in the United States. It is a harrowing story that I could only tell in poetry. Some details were too emotional, too close to the bone. I am not sure how successful or how accessible the book was or is to readers---perhaps I should be more concerned, but those poems needed to be read, needed to be put out in the world. The feedback has been strange. One Sicilian-American reviewer felt that the book is hard to get into.  I can understand that, but it exists in the world and I am happy for that. The poetic form freed me to figure out a man that was as complex as they come. So, I honor that impulse; I go with that feeling, that intensity. Another cliché, but so true:  often, I don’t choose the subject matter, it chooses me. It was certainly true in that case!

Cervena Barva Press will publish my book of refugee poems in 2018, and I am so grateful to the amazing Gloria Mindock, who for years has been such an inspiration to me, especially her book of poems, Blood Soaked Dresses

For the past five years I have done ethnography in Sicily among predominantly African and Syrian refugees. I use poetry as a way to present my data, so all of the poems in the collection were, first, research poems that were published in academic journals with, of course, the attendant explanation of methodology, etcetera, but at their core, they were poems that often used the refugees’ actual words.  I do not speak for the voiceless---refugees have voices. My poems allow them to speak for themselves. I was repulsed when the Italian press quoted then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as describing the refugees and migrants coming to Italy as a “human tsunami.” He stoked the rage and fear of Italians and it was nothing short of criminal. 

I wanted to put names, faces and experiences on those that I met so that others could “see” them.  The work was difficult and working with such a vulnerable population, absolutely riddled with all sorts of ethical pitfalls. I tried to be honorable to the people and to their stories. There are some stories, in poems or otherwise I still cannot tell. They are too painful--maybe some day.

West Philly Press will publish my chapbook of poems All These Things Were Real: Poems of Delirium Tremens. The writing of these poems was very, very emotionally exhausting. They are about my son’s near death suffering through delirium tremens, something I did not know even existed. And I had no idea how horrific and life-threatening this can be.

My son suffered a catastrophic fall down some steps while drunk which resulted in a very, very long operation to rebuild his shoulder, immediately after which he was plunged into a devastating alcohol withdrawal that was truly frightening and heart-wrenching to witness. He spent a month in ICU and I had no idea what would happen to him. I also realized how little I knew about alcoholism as a disease and how so many perceive it as a moral failure or lack of self-control.

Again, the impulse to write the poems was incredibly therapeutic. But poems must be more than therapy for the writer: they must also mean something for the reader. I think these poems will have many entry points for anyone who reads them, and I hope that many people do!

Can you tell us about the role of heritage in your work?

Someone once told me that I was the most Italian-American person he’d ever met.  I am not sure that was an insult or a compliment; either way, it is probably true, and I own it, totally and completely.

My Italian-American heritage is so much a part of who I am that it would be impossible for me to divorce it or my writing from who I am---it just can’t happen. Years ago when I was writing fiction, an editor told me she loved my short fiction pieces but found them too particularly----this was her actual term, “accented” for the regular fiction reading crowd. To this day I have no idea who that “crowd” is, but if she means the 20- and 30- somethings, she is probably right. I didn’t really care. If a writer cannot be true to her own sensibilities, her own passions and preoccupations, then what she or he writes can’t be worth much.

I can’t be dictated to that way. I am Italian-American if you please; I am Italian-American if you don’t please. So who I am will continue to inform my work.  I have so many mentors from afar in the wider Italian-American community, especially my good friend Olivia Kate Cerrone, who is doing some amazing work. I write about my Italian-American life in two ways: in my poetry and in my research on Italian-American life. The work feeds me in so many ways.

Tell us about your recently published work. What do you envision for yourself in the future, creatively speaking?

With pleasure! In a bit of a departure for me, I have written a chapbook of poems based on the life of the Nobel-winning scientist, Madame Marie Curie.

I had read several books that were written about her life and was fascinated by photographs of her, rarely smiling, always intent. She was a wife, a mother and a scientist, and her life was wonderful and complicated. I am not going to say “she had it all.” She didn’t. Life was not easy for her. She died from the effects of her research on radiation---in many ways, making the ultimate sacrifice. Then my son, who is a scientist, gave me an artisan-made Marie Curie doll and I sat it on my writing desk. I was in the last residency for my MFA in poetry and the poems just poured out of me. Dancing Girl Press will publish them. I am so grateful. I love everything that Kristy Bowen does and the press is so supportive of the many and varied ways women’s writing represents all of our variations.

What comes next is that I keep writing. It is something I do constantly. I may not be the best poet, but I think I just might be the most hardworking one, and I am really proud of that!

                                                MICHELLE REALE

Friday, April 28, 2017

SANDRA WORSHAM

Sandra Worsham’s stories have been published in Memphis Magazine, Carolina Quarterly, Western Humanities Review, Ascent, and Chattahoochee Review, among others.  She won First in Fiction in the Red Hen Press competition, and her story “Pinnacle” was published in the 2008 Los Angeles Review. Two of her stories were Finalists at Glimmer Train. After she retired from teaching writing to high school students for 30 years, her book on teaching writing, Essential Ingredients:  Recipes for Teaching Writing, was published by ASCD in 2001. She was Georgia’s 1982 Teacher of the Year and a 1992 Milken Award Winner. In 2000, she was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. In June, 2006, she received her MFA in Fiction from Bennington College. Her new memoir, Going to Wings, is being released this summer from Red Dirt Press. She lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, with her spouse and their two dogs.

You are about to publish a memoir? Is this something that you always wanted to do? Please tell us a little bit about it.

I never thought that I would write a memoir, except maybe a story of my experiences as a high school writing teacher. When I read Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, I thought that perhaps I could write a Teacher Woman book. My MFA degree at Bennington was in fiction, and I have always thought that my book was either a novel or a collection of related stories. I knew that I had a story to tell, and I tried to make my relationship with Mary-Louise Brown become a novel called The Musician. I worked on this idea for years, so that when I later told my Bennington teachers about my memoir, they said, “I recognize this story.” It was only later in my life (I am now 70) that I realized that The Musician was only a small part of my story. 

My memoir, Going to Wings, to be released this summer from Red Dirt Press in Shawnee, Oklahoma, is a story of my journey of accepting myself as a lesbian, yes, but it is also a story of the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and the relationship of a woman who is seeking God. I realized that I could not hide behind fiction, that I had to tell my story as Truth. This story has ridden around on my back, developing and growing bigger for years. It feels wonderful to have now told it, and to know that others will be able to read it.

 How did your work as a teacher and as a caregiver even, inform what you wanted to say?

For a long time I saw myself as a “good teacher” and a “good caregiver,” both for my mother when she had cancer and then for Elizabeth “Teeny” Horne, my friend and mentor, when she had a brain tumor. I couldn’t reconcile my being gay with being “a good person.” I gave my entire focus in my life to teaching and to caregiving. I loved learning ways to succeed with young black males, something that white females in the south often are not able to do. Growing up in a segregated society means that white females and black males learn to fear one another. Bridging that gap was important to me, and I loved bringing wonderful stories out of my students. My philosophy was “Love is the whole point,” but I found that I could not love the gay side of myself. It was only after my teaching and my caregiving had ended that I was able to begin the journey of loving myself and believing that God loves all of me, even the part that my mother couldn’t love.

In what ways do you see yourself as a distinctly southern writer? In what ways do you feel you transcend that label?

I am southern, and I am a writer. I am not a southern writer. I was accused of copying Flannery O’Connor before I had ever read her. I could never intentionally try to “write southern.” But because of where I grew up, in Milledgeville, Georgia, hometown of Flannery O’Connor, I cannot “get the southern out,” nor would I want to. It is part of who I am as a person and, thus, as a writer. The red Georgia clay, the southern accent, the kudzu covering the trees, my mother’s recipes using the pecans that grew around our house and fell into our yard, the way that people talk to one another on the downtown streets and in the doctors’ office, the sense of history and of place are distinctly who I am. The issues that I write about—relationships, sexuality, religion, loss, and love—are not “southern” issues. They are universal issues.


                      SANDRA WORSHAM




Friday, April 21, 2017

JON TRIBBLE

Jon Tribble lives, writes, teaches and edits in Carbondale, Illinois, where he serves as managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and Series Editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.  He is the author of three books of poems, Natural State, published in 2016 by Glass Lyre Press, And There Is Many a Good Thing, published in 2017 from Salmon Poetry, and God of the Kitchen, forthcoming in 2018 from Glass Lyre Press.  He is a 2016 winner in the Nazim Hikmet International Poetry Competition. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, Atticus Review, South Dakota Review, Connotation Review, and in anthologies such as the Jazz Poetry Anthology and Sweet Jesus: Poems About the Ultimate Icon. He has received fellowships and awards from the Illinois Arts Council.  He is the literary partner and husband of Allison Joseph.


You wear many hats. Which of them—teacher, editor, poet—has been most challenging? How have you dealt with some of those challenges?

The hat I always want to wear is that of poet or writer. While that is always challenging, I feel such satisfaction when I am writing that I wouldn't have it any other way. I look at editing and teaching in terms of whether they make writing easier or harder, and there is really no contest. Editing is very difficult and often all-consuming and it definitely changes how and if I am able to write at all. Teaching often generates work when I use prompts to get students writing because I will do the prompts too. I feel I am stealing time when I am writing and I know I have editing work to do. I think every effort I make to write makes me a better teacher of writing, so I don't feel guilty at all.

Reading certain authors to reset my writer's mind has become very important for me to come back from heavy editing tasks like reading our poetry book submissions or working on an issue of Crab Orchard Review. Robert Hayden, Elizabeth Bishop, Jake Adam York, and many other poets remind me of what I'm reaching for as a poet; James Baldwin, Jane Austen, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Gabriel García Márquez are among the writers who refresh me. And music, all kinds of music, is so essential.

What are some of your concerns as a poet? Do you see those as changing, or influenced by the current political climate or threat to our democracy?


The main concern that drives me is to gain an understanding of both my life and the lives of others so that my poems and writing can manage to take readers into experiences where people might engage and develop their sympathetic imaginations and begin to see how the world looks and works for people very different from themselves. Of course, the obstacles and crises that rise out of our current social/political troubles challenge my writing, but I am a student of history as well so I know the times have always been very difficult for so many. I hope if people read about and begin to understand many of the ways these things come about and see them through the eyes of those most harmed by the callous and unfair limits that crush so many then those readers will focus on how justice and opportunity raises us all.

As an editor, I love searching out the details around language—punctuation, etcetera—which not only help to create a more intimate relationship with a text, but are in themselves a kind of art that supplement it. How has being an editor influenced your work as a teacher and poet?

A dear friend, Lynda Hull, told me once, "Editing teaches you what you don't need to write." That has been true in so many ways over the years, and what I have found is that editing has taught me that whenever I begin to write, I have in mind all the ways I have seen writers approach subjects similar to mine and I work as hard as I can to find a fresh way to make the thing I am writing unique, to surprise myself with the direction and details so readers will be surprised. Most of all, I work to make certain that the reader is rewarded as often as possible with images, sounds, elements of story, something to make it worthwhile to read the next line, to make it to the bottom of the page and want to move forward.

                                                               JON TRIBBLE