When Carmen T. Bernier-Grand signed a book for Sophie at the Wordstock Festival, it was just the beginning of the relationship. For one week in March, Bernier-Grand became a writer in residence for Sophie’s 3rd grade class at Harney Elementary School.Bernier-Grand led Sophie and her fellow students through a series of activities writing the first draft of a book. The guidance she provided in her week of residency will result in a bound book that each student will take home at the end of the year.
Bernier-Grand also hosted a Family Write Night at Harney. Over 100 students and parents participated in the activities. She runs her workshops in English and in Spanish, and she encourages her students to write in whatever language feels most comfortable to them.
Teachers say that her bilingual workshops, and personable demeanor that draws in children and parents equally, have created an open atmosphere for families who do not speak English at home. These parents have become more involved in their children’s academic lives as a direct result of her presence in the school.
You can meet Bernier-Grand, and hear her read from her children’s books, April 15th at the upcoming Reading Fair at the University of Portland. She will read her books in the Wordstock Reading Corner in the big red chair. Catch her there, because she soon returns to the classroom for more Family Write Nights and a classroom residency with Harney first graders.
Click here to learn more about Wordstock’s Classroom Residency programs, Family Write Nights, and more programs for students and their families.
We’ve wiped the sweat off our brow and boxed up our festival supplies. We’ve had a moment to take a breath and reflect on this year’s festival, and all we can say is “Wow.”
We are amazed at how many people came out to the convention center over the course of the weekend, more than any other year.
We are overwhelmed with the energy and ideas that our authors and vendors brought to the weekend, and from the feedback we’ve gotten so far, the feeling is mutual.
We are awed by the dedication and hard work of the more than two hundred and fifty volunteers who showed up and made the festival possible.
The only thing left to say now is thank you. Thank you to each and every person who participated and made the festival wonderful. We can’t wait to see you all next year!
Guest post by: George Estreich
Author of The Shape of the Eye, George Estreich appears at the Wordstock Festival on Sunday, October 9 at 5pm on the Wieden+Kennedy Stage and will be leading the workshop Imagination and Diagnosis: A Workshop on Writing and Medicine on Sunday, October 9 at 1:30pm.
About ten years ago, I gave up writing poetry. I was thirty-six years old then, and since college, and then my M.F.A., I’d basically organized my life around writing poems. I had poems in little journals, a completed manuscript that had come painfully close in contests, and drafts in progress. But after my daughter Laura was born, then diagnosed with Down syndrome, I stopped altogether.
I write I stopped, using the active voice. In fact, it seemed less a decision than something already decided. Though Laura is a healthy, happy fifth grader now, and her extra chromosome is more asterisk than black hole, her early days were difficult for us. We could not imagine the fact of Down syndrome, or the subsidiary facts of heart surgery or intellectual disability, and with these things on my mind the world of line-breaks seemed distant at best. The old life, it seemed, was a hub, not a destination. I felt if I’d fallen asleep on the tarmac, and awoken to find the plane already in the air.
When we touched down again, when Laura’s medical problems had faded and the shock had worn off and we had begun the long, happy, difficult work of helping a disabled child succeed–her abilities increasing, our minds slowly changing, opening to the true problem, which is not Laura, per se, but the riven contradictions with which the world greets the disabled–I found I was writing prose, a memoir about raising Laura. At some point that memoir became The Shape of the Eye, and this spring it was finally published, by SMU Press.
Writing that book, I soon came to see that giving up poetry was neither as decisive nor complete a change as it had seemed. Apart from the lines being right-justified, the memoir is a lot more like my book of poems than unlike: the voice is the same, concerned with family and inheritance, reliant on metaphor, devoted to questions more than answers. Much is different, of course: narrative, research, larger structures. But writing, word by word, felt much the same.
In time, I came to see that the abrupt-seeming break between writing poems and prose actually disguised a continuity. Poetry, as I write in the memoir, furnished the tools for prose. It is as if I had been a cabinetmaker, and had moved on to building houses. I had to scale up. That realization about writing paralleled a realization about Laura: that despite her chromosome count, she was not radically different from our older daughter Ellie, and so what we had learned with parents with Ellie did in fact apply to Laura. We had thought we were starting over, and we weren’t. What wisdom we had was both available to us and relevant. Our experience, our story, still counted, and Laura was a part of that story.
Writing that story was at once a way for me to imagine Down syndrome, and to help others imagine it too. The happiness of people with Down syndrome depends on their being accurately imagined, and telling Laura’s story was a way both to illuminate her individuality and bear witness to her value. It also offered room to critique the mistaken stories, the tragedies and saccharine feel-good stories and lists of woe, by which people with Down syndrome are too often misunderstood.
Can these goals be accomplished in poetry? Of course. But for me, and because I came to see my book as a work of both advocacy and imagination, a memoir was the way forward. It may not be right, but prose is normative in our culture, and people who wouldn’t touch a book of poems will at least think about reading a memoir. My goal was and is to reach the diverse audiences vested in the issues my book brings up–doctors, parents, specialists, people interested in our genetic future–and prose offers me the best chance of doing so.
Now that the book actually exists in print, a tangible, two-hundred-and-eighty-four-page physical object, I find myself with a larger challenge than switching genres from poetry to prose: I’m trying to publicize a book when the future of physical books is up in the air. We are crossing the border now, between what books were and what they will be. But that, as they say, is another story.
More information about George Estreich and his writings can be found at www.georgeestreich.com
Guest post by: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Author of A Tiger in the Kitchen, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan appears at the Wordstock Festival on Saturday, October 8 at 4pm on the Oregon Cultural Trust Stage, is part of the conversation Read My Lips: Telling Stories Through Food on Saturday, October 8 at 3pm on the Oregon Cultural Trust Stage, and is leading the workshop Digging Up Skeletons: How to Mine your Family History for Stories on Sunday, October 9 at 10:30am.
Standing on a rocky precipice, a mist of water enveloping my cheeks, I peered at my first Oregon waterfall and thought: “How did I get here?”
The year was 1995 and I had rather recently decided to leave the only real home I had ever known — faraway tropical Singapore — to travel across the Pacific and pursue my dream of becoming a writer.
Leaving Singapore was no small decision. I was female and had led a relatively sheltered life, sticking close to my parents and the tight-knit family we had in Singapore. And yet when I first confessed the desire to cross the ocean for university, to study journalism and writing and not business or medicine as my family would have much preferred (and respected), my father never dissuaded me. He had raised me in this modern yet still somewhat patriarchal country in Southeast Asia to believe that I, his firstborn child, could be and do anything. And he wasn’t going to waver.
And so it was that I eventually found myself at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and then traveling the country, living and working in places as different from Singapore as I could find. I spent a summer marveling at the vast fields of sunflowers in Kansas, watching lightning storms streak across its inky evening skies. A collection of 70-year-old Italian-American men in Chicago adopted me as their “Chinese granddaughter” when I started dropping by the clubhouse where they had been gathering for decades to play cards and cook against a backdrop of faded Playboy pinup posters from the 1960s.
In Portland, where I spent a spring semester interning at the Oregonian, I discovered my dormant love for the outdoors. Having grown up in a tiny country about ¼ the size of Rhode Island, with much of that land densely packed with tall buildings, I had never been hiking, much less seen a waterfall. Standing at Multnomah Falls that early spring afternoon, I realized how much I had missed — and would have missed had I not had the courage to leave the familiar.
Writing requires such fearlessness — the audacity to venture into the unknown, to trust in your uncertain footsteps to take the lead. The terror of possible failure, of perhaps, not being able to turn back, will often heighten your senses, open your eyes wider.
Many years later, after a journalism career that had led me through the newsrooms of the Baltimore Sun, In Style magazine and the Wall Street Journal, the undiscovered once again called to me. This time, however, it took me to a place that I recognized, but, I realized, only superficially. It took me home to Singapore.
After more than 15 years of living in the United States, the culture of my Singaporean girlhood started drawing me back. More specifically, the food of my girlhood — dishes I had grown up eating and loving but had no idea how to make — began beckoning. As a rebellious girl who had been determined to make my mark as a writer and not a good wife who knew her way around a kitchen, I had rejected the lessons the women in my family had wanted to teach me. Years later, however, in my American kitchen, I was suddenly gripped with a sense of yearning for my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts, my aunties’ braised ducks, my mother’s green bean soup.
It was time, I decided, to go home. And over one lunar calendar year, I traveled to Singapore, entering a domain I had always shunned — the kitchen. At the woks of the women in my family, I finally learned how to cook. Painstakingly, we churned out mooncakes, dumplings, Singaporean coconut jams and more. But above all that, they told me stories of poverty, illegal gambling dens, multiple wives and opium addictions that pockmarked my family’s history — tales I never would have heard had I not decided to take that leap, to slow my life down and finally listen.
My quest is detailed in “A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family,” a story I look forward to sharing on Saturday afternoon (at 3 p.m. and at 4 p.m.) with you.
Whenever I’ve shared the story of my quest to rediscover my culture and Singaporean girlhood through cooking, I’ve often wondered what my Singaporean grandmothers would think. The telling of their story, I realize, would probably be immaterial to them. It’s the courage that led to it that would have made them proud.
If you would like to join me for a Southeast Asian lunch on Sunday, Oct. 9, I will be at Pok Pok (3226 Southeast Division Street) at 1:30 p.m. with the Asian American Journalists Association. Books will be for sale at the lunch and a signing will follow. Admission is $5, and the regular lunch menu will be available. Proceeds of the event will benefit the Asian American Journalists Association-Portland chapter’s stipend fund for Oregon-based interns. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.
Guest post by: Diana Abu-Jaber
Author of Birds of Paradise, Diana Abu-Jaber appears at the Wordstock Festival on Saturday, October 8 at noon on the National Endowments for the Arts Stage and part of the conversation Read My Lips: Telling Stories Through Food on Saturday, October 8 at 3pm on the Oregon Cultural Trust Stage.
It was Wednesday, another book tour stop, and we were in a little barbeque joint in Memphis talking about Troy Davis.
My friend told me this place had the best barbeque in town. The owner welcomed us to the modest seating area: she wore an all-white suit, a sweet smile, and a gun in a black holster slung on one hip.
After we ordered, they brought us ribs, barbequed chicken, beans, coleslaw, white bread for the sauce, and iced tea. We ate and talked about whether it was too late, whether anything could be done.
When we’d finished, a young man with a sweet smile appeared and cleared away our dishes. He was in the 9th grade, he said. He attended a nearby high school where they’d recently switched from 4 lunch sessions to only 3. “We barely get time to eat,” he mused. “Sometimes you just sit down and they tell you to get on to your next class. So I just don’t eat.”
“That’s terrible,” I said. “How can you learn anything that way?”
“I know!” His smile was tremendous. “I’m very concerned with food too, because I’m a growing boy and I got a stomach!”
He stacked our dishes and complimented us on how hungrily and thoroughly we’d “cleaned up” our plates. He hung around with us for a few minutes, told us he followed his school’s football team and said they were on a winning streak. Then he had to hustle back to work.
That evening, my friend took me on a brief tour of Memphis. We slowed down to peer at the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King had been shot—and the nearby glass front door where his assassin had climbed the stairs to lay in wait. For a moment, the two places seemed to shimmer with a dim, uncanny light, as if history had cleared, revealing this sorrowful, moonlit tableau, utterly unchanged.
We went on to Beale Street, famous, my friend said, as one of the reputed birthplaces of the blues. The street glittered with colorful diamonds of lights, shining over mobs of wandering tourists.
That night, Troy Davis was executed.
After I turned off the news, I found myself thinking about the young man who’d cleared away our dishes earlier that day. I thought about the reports on how dangerous it is to be a young black man in this country, about the swirl of guns, violence, prejudice, and economic hardship that surrounds their lives. That night at my elegant hotel, the room service waiter, a young black man, hesitated and explicitly asked permission to enter my room, even after I’d swung the door open for him. I’d said, “Of course, please do come in,” but even as he did he’d kept his eyes lowered.
I think of the glitter over Beale Street, how the blues has been transmuted from a rich, full tone to sparkling attraction. My friend, a blues aficionado, says he never goes to Beale Street: “The vibe isn’t right any more.” But the music, the blues, he says, that’s still the same. “Some things never change.”
Tonight, he’ll be driving to Birmingham, Alabama, it’s another day, the next stop on my book tour. I’m going to ask my friend if we can listen to the blues.
More information about Diana Abu-Jaber and her books can be found at www.dianaabujaber.com