Wednesday, January 30, 2008

AWP 2008 Begins

I sidled up to the AWP registration desk in the Hilton at 11:35 am and was told folks couldn't give out any passes till noon. People milled in the ever-filling lobby, hearing the same line from AWP's workers.

After nabbing my badge, I headed into the book fair to find Fringe's table. The bookfair is HUGE this year, with three separate floors of booths. Fringe is on the 3rd floor, in Hall of the Americas II at table 429. The exhibition hall was empty, lonely. I can't wait to see what it will look like tomorrow when hordes of writers descend.

Can't wait to see you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Karibu Books Shuts Its Doors

This Friday marks the beginning of Black History Month, but by mid-February 15-year-old Karibu Books—one of the leading African American bookstores in the country and one of the few remaining bookstores aimed at black readers—will shut its doors.

It’s unfortunately not an uncommon event in recent years; many specialty book retailers, including women’s and LGBT bookstores, have felt the brunt of big-box stores and have been competitively edged out of the market by online bookselling giants like Amazon. “Independent stores function as literary laboratories, and publishers rely on them to champion new and controversial work,” claims Alex Beckstead, the producer and director of Paperback Dreams, a documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of independent bookstores.

We know these stores; we love theses stores. So, I ask, “What’s your favorite independent bookstore . . . and, when’s the last time you’ve been?”

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Babes for Breastfeeding

I learned about Babes for Breastfeeding (BfB) in my latest eagerly awaited Fit Pregnancy magazine. The basic premise of the non-profit is to bring together "celebrities, corporations, foundations, fashion and advertising to create a cultural acceptance and celebration of breastfeeding" to help new moms feel less guilty and embarrassed about breastfeeding. They also offer advice about how to be successful, prepared, and informed.

All of this sounds great, but in spite of myself, I became enraged when reading Kim Acosta's In the Spotlight article about the organization in Fit Pregnancy. Acosta says (citing the co-founder of BfB Bettina Forbes) "Lack of visible, positive role models and conflicting advice are two reasons many women don't success at breastfeeding." This comes right after the accusation that only 11% of women who gave birth in 2004 succeeded in breastfeeding exclusively until their infants were 6 months of age. "Women don't need more pressure and guilt," says co-founder of BfB Danielle Rigg, "they need to see people like themselves who incorporate nursing into their lives."

In my opinion, the issues surrounding overall breastfeeding success have much less to do with the lack of glamorous breastfeeding role models than they do with socio-economic factors, like whether or not the mother has to return to work full-time after her maternity leave. Or for that matter, whether she gets a maternity leave at all (there's still no nationally-mandated paid maternity leave in the U.S.). Perhaps she has to work two jobs. In cases like those, how can a mother exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months of her baby's life?

Feminism is about having the power to choose. It is widely known that babies benefit from breastfeeding, but its just not an option for some families. I resent the guilt and pressure moms feel to breastfeed. I have seen many of my own friends relentlessly berate themselves because they cannot sustain breastfeeding.

Here's an idea: organizations like BfB should fight for longer, mandatory paid maternity leaves rather than spending their time recruiting celebrity nursers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Countdown to AWP

We've got our fliers printed, our mystery freebie in hand, and of course, our Fringe T-shirts pressed and ironed. We're ready for AWP 2008.

This year the writing conference is at the New York City Hilton, with 7,000 passes sold, according to the conference website.

Can't make it? Bummed that it was sold out? Never fear -- Fringe's staff of crack writers will be live blogging the conference for your reading pleasure.

Alternately, you might try to make it to these off-site events. On Saturday, the book fair is free and open to the general public.

Read Fringe? Come by our table in the book fair and pick up colorful samples of Fringe work, submission guidelines, and shot glasses($5), or just shoot the breeze with a few of our editors. We may even extend the 25 Books deadline to allow passers-by to vote in our poll.

Anything is possible -- it's AWP. We hope to see you there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Building my children's book library

As you all must know by now, I'm pregnant. My little boy is due at the end of April, and I find myself feeling both excited and scared about the prospect of being a mom. I spend the wee hours of the night tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position, and obsessing about how I am going to teach this child my values.

Well, the other night, I spent a good two hours (between 3 and 5 a.m.) thinking about the books my parents used to read me when I was little, and I decided to make a list of the ones I remembered the best. They were books that taught me about sharing, forgiveness, perseverance, humor and love. So here's my short list. (I didn't want to overwhelm you with all 2 hours of brainstorming)
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (sharing, nature)
  • Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton (patience and perseverance)
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (love)
  • Stone Soup by Marcia Brown (positive attitude)
  • Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola (honesty and consequences)
  • The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord (community and problem-solving)
  • Wacky Wednesday by Dr Seuss (humor)
And now I am asking you to help me out. Which books contributed to your childhood memories? Why did you like them? I need some inspiration for my books-only baby registry.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Once: Best Musical Ever?

Matt's Movie Minutes for the Month of January

These minutes be a one-time thing, but it's award season, so here's my go at making ridiculous comments on films I've seen lately.
  • Once: for fans of Irish indie band The Frames, this is your music music music answer to the talk talk talk of Before Sunrise. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Maybe the best musical ever? (No votes for Dancer in the Dark, please.)
  • No Country for Old Men: the obvious literary pick for best film of the year. Cormac and the Coens--a new band name? This is one two-hour long bad-ass chase scene. Best movie since last year's Children of Men.
  • I am Legend: Butterflies? What? How did that woman drive in and out of Manhattan when the bridges had all been blown up? Nonsense.
  • Enchanted: I said I would never see this one, but sometimes you have to listen to your woman. Good when it's making fun of itself. Bad when it's not. That's two musicals in the last month. I must be going soft. The ending here unravels what could have been a much better movie.
  • American Gangster: Would have been better if they let Russell Crowe be more Gladiator, but Denzel pretty much makes up for it. It's like the charisma show. And who's got more of it than Denzel Washington?
  • Me and You and Everyone We Know: the Miranda July film. Quirky, and just the right amount of talk about poop. Or maybe there should have been more? But I'm getting tired of the ensemble/see-how-all-the-characters-are-connected movies, even when this well-written. I'd rather read her fiction.
  • Reign over Me: Why did I see this one? All it made me want to do was buy a motorized scooter. And see a better movie next time.
Seeing all these movies (and more actually, but I'm tired of typing now) is what happens when I'm in Korea with Cathreen and she works until 11 at night. Props to Laura van den Berg, winner of the Dzanc Prize and author of the forthcoming What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us.

Free Documentaries: While the writers strike

In my unending quest to avoid TV, I've discovered a new diversion beyond clips and shows from and -- a friend hipped me to

The site believes that documentaries can effect real world change, and hosts a bajillion excellent movies from the more famous (Born into Brothels, Supersize Me) to the obscure (We -- Arundhati Roy's Come September speech set to archival footage and electronic music).

The streaming video quality is pretty good, and scalable to your whole screen. Bored tonight? Give it a shot.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A cheer for Small Beer

Small Beer is a teeny tiny press out of Easthampton, MA, founded by Gavin Grant and author of the highly acclaimed story collection Magic for Beginners Kelly Link. They publish like 2 books a year. We love small indie presses, especially when they do wonderful, unconventional books.

Small Beer is the publisher of Elizabeth Hand's novel Generation Loss. The title refers to what happens to a picture when you copy a copy, not a generation of adrift people. Except of course it does: Hand's narrator, photographer Cass "Scary" Neary, is a burnt-up relic of punk's quick arc. She goes to Maine and meets people who are worse psychological wrecks than herself. She solves horrific crimes that have been perpetuated and tolerated for decades.

I've never read a book quite like this before. Hand absolutely nails down characters, each of whose world has dissolved without them, and mythbusting the romance surrounding each world: East Village punk; the rural hippie commune; coastal Maine minus New Jersey's summer cash; even sings a little death knell for film photography. Then weaves a fantastic, horrifying mystery out of these lost souls. And never veers into camp, because these characters are so finely drawn. Realistic? Yes, in hell. It's totally entertaining. You'll read it in 2 hours, I swear.

The 25 Books polls have closed, otherwise I'd advise you to stuff the write-in box. Thanks to everyone who voted.

A Tale of Two New Yorks

It is a truly Dickensian tale.

This fall, I spent the semester negotiating both cities. Most mornings, I'd wake up on the well-to-do Upper West Side, grab a coffee on the corner, walk past the Gap and Banana Republic to the train.

A half hour later I'd emerge in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, where 45 percent of residents live below the poverty line (which is $13,167 per year for a family of 2), and 97 percent or residents are black or hispanic, according to the New York City Department of City Planning, roll up my sleeves, and start reporting for my classes.

I'm a student at the Columbia School of Journalism, where students are assigned a neighborhood in New York City that they report on all semester.

I wrote stories on hunger, crime, welfare, community health, the schools, and many other subjects, and what I found shocked me, not because I hadn't read about communities like Mott Haven, but because seeing and reading are two different things.

A few telling facts that I ferreted out:

  • The principal of IS-162, Maryann Manzolillo, budgets money for graph paper, because there's no where to buy it in the community. She also opens the school library to parents, because there are few, if any bookstores in the community (I never saw one).

  • Asthma rates are among the highest in the city and have been connected to the intense pollution and poverty of the area. As a result, the neighborhood's rate of asthma hospitalization -- meaning a person's asthma is so out of control that they might die -- is more than three times the rate for all of New York City, with 123.6 hospitalizations per 10,000 people. In contrast, New York City as a whole has only 35 hospitalizations per 10,000 people.

  • I met a man, Anthony Ormas, who lived in a dilapidated apartment. In his bathroom, there is no light, and there hasn’t been for several years. “We live by candlelight,” Ormas said. Water drips continuously from a pipe in the wall where a bathtub faucet should be. The floor is rotted in places where steam from the pipes that feed the rusty old radiators has leaked out and risen up from beneath the floorboards. Many of the windows do not close at all, close poorly, or fit to the window frame a kilter, leaving gaps for cold air to come inside. Drug addicts and prostitutes gather on the stairwell inside his apartment, and on the roof.

  • Sometimes, food stamps are not enough. The junior warden of Saint Ann's explained that $135.50 per week in food stamps goes fast for a family of four with growing children, and that parents often make choices between nutrition and quantity – unhealthy food like soda and white bread is cheaper than fresh produce. Ironically, one in four Mott Haven residents are obese, compared to one in five in New York City as a whole, and 17 percent have diabetes, compared to 9 percent of New York City residents, according to 2006 New York City Department of Health statistics, and 36 percent receive food stamps.

  • On Labor Day, 2005, Naiesha Pearson, 10, was playing outside at a Labor Day picnic for children, when she got caught by a gunshot and bled to death in her mother's arms. During the murderer's trial, her mother said, "I ran to her and I called out, all she did was say mommy and stumbled to me. She stumbled to me and said mommy and fell into my arms." As bled to death, someone stole her new bike.

There is some light in the neighborhood -- there are numerous community groups, including churches, that are working toward positive change.

In reporting, the scope of the area's problems surprised me -- the area's issues are complex and interlocking, so that poverty, for example, often means that residents can't afford healthy food, which ups rates of obesity and type II diabetes, which can't be treated well because residents can't afford blood testing strips...

This is America at its most hideous.

We can afford to build new stadiums for the Yankees, but not to give families of four more than $135/week in food stamps, which is, of course, a gross-oversimplification of the situation.

So I'll say it -- shame on America for ignoring communities like this. It's inhumane, it's real, and it needs to change.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The People Spoke...and We Listened

Last night, I was lucky enough to be part of the audience for a taping of a segment for "The People Speak," a new production based on historian and social activist Howard Zinn's classic A People's History of the United States. An impressive cast of actors, writers, and musicians are involved with the project, which takes various speeches, poems, songs, and articles written by ordinary people and historic figures, and gives them new life. The miniseries will be split into four parts, according to the themes of class, gender, war, and race.

The War portion of the series featured Josh Brolin reading from Dalton Trumbo's 1939 book Johnny Got His Gun, David Strathairn as Henry David Thoreau, the poet Staceyann Chin as a Hiroshima survivor, Viggo Mortenson singing a stirring a capella version of Bob Dylan's "Master's of War," and Danny Glover reading a Martin Luther King Jr. speech denouncing Vietnam. And those were just a part of the evening. Marisa Tomei gave one of the best performances, as a convincing and heartbreaking Cindy Sheehan, railing against her son's death in Iraq.

The night not only shed light on a less familiar side of historic icons (who knew Mark Twain was an outspoken opponent of war?), but spotlighted the entertainers on stage as something more than the roles they are best known for. Mike O'Malley, best known to my generation as the host of Nickelodeon's test of adolescent endurance GUTS, gave a rousing rendition of a speech Abbie Hoffman gave at UMass in 1986; Darryl McDaniels (he puts the DMC in Run DMC) enacted a Danny Glover diatribe against the war in Iraq; and Josh Brolin dispelled his image as the older brother in The Goonies by giving some of the most passionate readings I've ever seen live on stage. The night even included a performance of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin On" by piano virtuoso John Legend.

Perhaps even more stirring than the performers' renderings of the pieces was the eerie commonalities that ran through history's greatest wars all the way to our current administration and war. It's chilling just how little the culture and policies of this country have changed, from the time of Columbus enslaving the Native Americans to Abu Gharib.

Though the project hasn't been officially picked up by any major network, the producer (Chris Moore, best known for his collaboration with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on Project Greenlight) is optimistic that it will be broadcast in time for the election in November.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Here I am, cartoon style

This isn't one of those posts that will change your life, but I just found this little site online and I couldn't resist making an animated me. Have some time to kill? Go to and make your own!

Meez 3D avatar avatars games