Thursday, October 21, 2010
Ether Books is a new publisher of short fiction on mobile phones and handhelds--and I am awfully happy they have taken a few of my stories. Not having an iPhone myself, I haven't seen the story yet--and I'm yet to figure out how to make it work in iTunes! (if you have any tips for me, let me know!)--but I'm sure it's easier than I am imagining.
If you're a reader, do look through Ether's interesting and growing selection of short fiction and non-fiction--which includes writers such as Hilary Mantel, Tania Hershman, Penelope Lively, Hanif Kureishi, and Paul McCartney. If you're a writer, send in your short fiction to them!
Monday, September 27, 2010
Thanks everyone, for the wonderful--and spooky!--ghost stories trickling in to my mailbox! For those who didn't catch this edition of Authorbuzz, send in your own true-life ghost story to add your name to a drawing for one of 5 signed copies of Temporary Lives I'm giving away. (Via email: firstname.lastname@example.org) Contest still open. And here is the Authorbuzz link, with more about the ghost stories in Temporary Lives: http://authorbuzz.com/dearreader/ramola.shtml
Thanks, too, to all the librarians who have sent me stories of ghosts they've seen--some in libraries! To find out more about the contest for librarians--I'm giving away five author-discounted copies of Temporary Lives to the most striking stories of hauntings emailed to me--here is the Authorbuzz link: http://authorbuzz.com/dearreader/Lramola.shtml
And I hope, with your prior permission (I'll email you first), to post the winning stories right here, so stay tuned!
Contests open for a couple weeks from today.
Monday, September 13, 2010
and also at the George Mason Fall for the Book MFA Alumni Reading, Sep 23, at 4:30 pm (Dewberry Hall North, Johnson) http://fallforthebook.org/?page_id=979/
Also looking forward to meeting with high school students at T C Williams High School in Alexandria, in connection with Mason's Fall for the Book Festival, on Wed, Sep 22.
Please drop by if you can!
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The full press release can be found here: http://www.lva.virginia.gov/news/press/13thAnnualLiteraryAwardsFinalists.pdf
And an interesting, most gracious review of Temporary Lives from Charles May, the noted short story scholar: http://may-on-the-short-story.blogspot.com/2010/08/temporary-lives-by-ramola-d.html
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Two falls ago, not happy about the Pledge of Allegiance, and not sanguine about the question demanding the bearing of arms--which most born-here Americans never have to face, and which could only elicit an equivocation--but nevertheless, wanting to vote somewhere, I became a citizen of the US, after waiting--and being disappointed--for years, for India to allow dual citizenship. India apparently wants to designate living-abroad-citizens Persons of Indian Origin--there's a PIO card I'm yet to obtain--who have to renounce their Indian citizenship, but whose Indianness apparently won't be contested. The US wants new citizens to swear they will bear arms (if needed in a war), and I don't think this is merely a throwback to those old times when the right to bear arms was a big deal, it's a deliberate inclusion on that application form for citizenship.
All that being said, I think it's important to speak out when a government of a country one is/or has become a citizen of continues to engage in acts of violence--war is systematized violence, isn't it--against the citizens of other countries. We do not become citizens of governments, we become citizens of countries. (Yes I know the latter warrants an essay on its own...)
And what better time to speak of it than now, the eve of the Fourth--going beyond the fireworks and the picnics and the numbers of flags being sold everywhere...it's very very sad, but we live in a country whose government is waging war in several countries, supporting war in several countries, and often engaging in hostile actions against its own citizens, and if we're not informed, and we don't protest, we remain complicit.
The World Can't Wait is running an ad campaign, seeking funding for a run in Rolling Stone, on war crimes committed by the Obama administration in Afghanistan. Their Crimes are Crimes statement, looking for signatures, can be found here.
Human Rights Watch reports that "France, Germany, and the United Kingdom use foreign intelligence obtained under torture in the fight against terrorism"--the press release, and the posted report can be found here.
CodePink, Women for Peace, runs many campaigns and protests against war and the funding of war, and this one about the incredible killing power and continuous killing of civilians--in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq--by drones, offers chilling statistics about what these constant killer machines are doing, with our tax funds.
Free Gaza, the international human rights group which organized the Freedom Flotilla carrying aid for the Palestinians under siege in Gaza and which was attacked by the Israeli Navy May 31, has released its report on the attack on the ship Mavi Marmara, their press release and report can be found here.
Brave New Foundation has posted its entire documentary Rethink Afghanistan online. If you really believe the US is helping rebuild Afghanistan or save Afghanistan from the Taliban, this documentary is a must-see.
Restrepo, the film chronicling a year's deployment of a US platoon in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, was released by National Geographic on June 25, and is showing at E Street Cinema in DC.
Alternative Methods, a play about torture in Iraq, which "explores indefinite detention, learned helplessness, and the deep involvement of psychologists in torture" written and produced by a former Writer's Center student and friend of mine, Patricia Davis, is running now at the Capital Fringe Festival in DC. The site has all the information about shows, as well as dozens of links to further reading and other advocacy organizations.
Of creating art out of what one sees and lives through, in his speech accepting the 1980 Nobel Prize of Literature, the poet Czeslaw Milosz said: ""To see" means not only to have before one's eyes. It may mean also to preserve in memory. "To see and to describe" may also mean to reconstruct in imagination. A distance achieved, thanks to the mystery of time, must not change events, landscapes, human figures into a tangle of shadows growing paler and paler. On the contrary, it can show them in full light, so that every event, every date becomes expressive and persists as an eternal reminder of human depravity and human greatness. Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever. They can fulfill their duties only by trying to reconstruct precisely things as they were, and by wresting the past from fictions and legends."
Saturday, June 19, 2010
The spring semester ended and the summer semester started too soon. I am back to teaching online--two classes through the Writer's Center, one through GW--back to sneaking time in between grading for my own writing, back to the old craving for time to read. Nevertheless, here is some of what I wanted to say, about AWP, which to me was a marvellous experience, and a first, since I've never been able to afford it before, time or money-wise. (This time it was all-expense-paid, thanks to the Grace Paley prize--for which yes I'm very grateful--they flew me out, put me up, wined me, dined me, all of it, very dizz-inducing.)
It was nice, first of all, to run into Jane Shore at the airport, and then after that Ethelbert Miller, and then later, Nancy Naomi Carlson on the plane, and, since we all shared that ill-fated flight to Denver which was held up by the sneakily-smoking Qatari diplomat who had to choose that particular evening of all the 365 in the year (with all of us trapped in a pressurized cabin thirty thousand feet above sea level, literally rocking above the Rockies) to sass some seriously unsassable flight attendants about lighting bombs on his shoes and thus precipitating a national crisis which held us up from check-in at our hotels for at least 5 hours if not more--a saga I should probably expound on elsewhere!--we definitely had time to catch up.
Stone Lyre: Poems of Rene Char; Jane Shore's A Yes or No Answer: Poems ; Ethelbert Miller's The 5th Inning.
The funny thing was, I had carried with me the Dec 2009 issue of The Chronicle to read the interviews with Colum McCann and Ethelbert Miller on the plane, and then we ran into Ethelbert at the airport, which was marvellous. If you've never met him, not only is he a terrific poet and poet's advocate and literary editor and social commentator and activist, he is just the nicest person, with lots of advice for someone with a new book who is still exploring ways to promote it. Ethelbert runs a blog at http://eethelbertmiller1.blogspot.com/
The whole interview is in The Writer's Chronicle, Volume 42, Number 3/Dec 2009.
And, having run out of playtime, on all things AWP Denver, I'll have to write more later....
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Choosing a story to read at a reading is an interesting exercise--I don't want to keep reading the same story, but it seems like some stories elicit a stronger reaction than others. Balancing the niceties of time constraints with excerpts intending to whet rather than dampen interest in the rest of the work, with being present in the moment and responding to audience reaction while still planning a few things to say, etc. all seems very delicate. Still, The Man... is a story I like, and I learned a few things reading it all the way through aloud like this--one, as one of the audience also advised me later, I don't really need to read every paragraph! to keep a sense of the central narrative alive, and two, each time I rush as I worry about time (in a subterranean attempt to ease the listener) I could actually lose a listener. Lessons to apply to the next reading, I guess.
It was lovely to read with Dan Gutstein though, whom I've shared an office with at GW, and also charmant to run into Mark Wallace, prolific author of poetry and fiction and various other forms, also from (even longer ago) my days of teaching composition and literature at GW. It felt like a GW thing, which was cool, and raised echoes of the last, great reading, in April at GW, with Gina Welch, who read from her very intriguing memoir of living among evangelical Christians in Jerry Falwell country, In the Land of the Believers. (For more on that reading, please see Tess Malone's vibrant blog post in April on the GW English Blog.)
That was a very special reading, for many reasons, not least that I come from as-dedicated and often evangelical Christians in the deep south of India, which seems to bear uncanny resemblance to the deep south here in the US, and read from the one story in Temporary Lives which touches on this (the title story)--not to mention how extraordinary it was reading with Gina, who is amazingly talented and charismatic, and, although it was rather surprising to see the room so packed, it was also nice to end my semester at GW on such a high note. Another book on my list!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I've become awfully interested lately in reading humor, because it brings to mind early obsessions with P. G. Wodehouse and Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde in particular, and I'm especially keen on reading "adult" takes on humor (rather than YA) although I'm still wallowing in children's humor these days, as I read to my daughter, who's five now, particularly Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss. Although it is probably gauche to admit it, I absolutely loved Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary--trust me, it beats the movie hollow, if you haven't read the book yet; and although this one felt less compelling (too much sameness), also The Edge of Reason. This spring, by way of his visit to GW and to my Intro to Creative Writing class, I also discovered Howard Jacobson, another writer whose work is deft with humor, whose books I am lining up to read. As also Tom Mallon's--he's the new Director of Creative Writing where I teach and I chanced to hear him read from one of his many novels, Two Moons, a year ago, a book I'm yet to read, but there you go, another for my list. My first novel (not yet published) has humor in it--and I want to return to that lightness which carries depth in other work.
So to me it feels like a double loss, a woman writer, who writes satirically, with humor and wit and intelligence. I want to read Home Affairs and Nigel Watson, Superhero. I wish there were a more natural, writing-world way I had come to know of these books and their author. I wish Bree O' Mara's work long life and continuity. I wish I could say to Bree, thank you, keep doing what you're doing, you inspire me. All I can say is I am sure when I read her I will learn from her. And I will write again about her books.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
Initially presented as talks for the Rice University Campbell Lecture Series in 2006--see a write-up here --these essays focus essentially on questions of a migrant writer’s sense of identity, how closely tied or not it is to his/her originating country, whether the writer carries a sense of spokesmanship/representation, what part language plays in this sense of identity and the persona the writer adopts—both the mother tongue and the language “of betrayal” the writer chooses to use in the land he/she has migrated to-- what “homeland” comes to mean to the migrant writer, and whether the experience of “homeland” can remain static. Each essay returns overwhelmingly to the conclusion that seems to be at the heart of Ha Jin’s questioning, that ultimately it is only the writer’s ability to transmute his politics and struggle into art that ensures his survival: “His work will be of little value if not realized as art.”
I started reading these essays because, being someone who stepped outside her home country, chose to travel, and eventually found herself continuing to live and write in the United States—yes, a longer subject I will explore one day—I’ve become awfully interested in the experience of other “migrant” writers, and curious, too, about their perceptions and configurations of their experience. I’d recommend this collection to anyone in a similar situation thinking about these things, it’s a thought-provoking set of essays, and offers context, a way to begin or write around some of these questions of identity and intention.
I admire Ha Jin’s work and find his thinking interesting. He is rather extraordinary because he started to write in English only after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989—see Exiled to English; like Nabokov and Conrad, whom he writes about, he chose to write in a language other than his mother tongue. In this month’s Paris Review where he was interviewed by Sarah Fey, he says—in that portion of the interview that The Paris Review allows us to view online: "To be a literary writer does not mean just to write books—you need to look for some space in a language and find your niche in it. That was what intimidated me. Beyond the practical reason of earning a livelihood, there was the desire for a meaningful existence despite the forces that mean to reduce and silence you. In this sense, for me, to write is to suffer, but there is so much meaning in it that I must fight my battles on the page."
Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, Lin Yutang, the exiled Chinese writer whose The Importance of LIving I found fascinating when I first read it at 13, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, V. S. Naipaul, Milan Kundera, the German writer W.G. Sebald, James Joyce—these are the writers he considers at length, writers exiled and expatriated, often writing in a foreign language, and yes, it’s interesting, sobering, to consider their peculiar predicaments and longings: Solzhenitsyn wanted desperately to return to Russia, as Lin Yutang to China; Nabokov saw Russian as a dying language and rejected the totalitarianism of the Russia he withdrew from; Conrad wanted to represent the Polish even as he felt the only way to survive as a writer was to write in English.
I found much in these essays that made me think and want to write more about issues of identity, writing intention, and notions of home or homeland. I found the breadth and depth of Ha Jin’s scholarship impressive. I liked especially his open revelations of his own struggle with notions of identity and writing self, his inclusion of his poem “In New York City” after his reading of Naipaul’s “A Bend in the River,” where he first encountered the notion of “the insignificance of an individual to the tribe.”
I found it troubling though that no women migrant writers or characters were considered in any depth. Apart from brief mentions of (male) immigrant characters in Willa Cather’s My Antonia and Sigrid Nunez’ A Feather from the Breath of God, a textually-anonymous quote on homeland from Belkins Cuza Male—attributed to her only in a footnote, as taken from an anthology, Looking for Home; Women Writing About Exile, a mention of Nadine Gordimer’s views on writers as needing to be political, to embody conscience from The Essential Gesture, mentions of Eileen Chang, Pearl S. Buck—women seemed non-existent in this discussion. To be sure, it is a set of private observations, by a male writer—but it is also a set of public observations, by a male writer. To a woman reader, such an omission does not merely feel peculiar, it feels supremely wanting.
Underneath all the tropes of exile, lay, or perhaps I should say, rowed Odysseus. For eternity, rowing into every masculine paradigm of exile and migration, taken apart, picked over, gazed at, eternally eulogized in this gaze. Odd, when his sojourn into the unknown began with an imperialistic quest (remember that wooden horse in Troy?). And where are all the Greek goddesses of exile and migration and departure and arrival? (Okay, maybe they don’t exist, there’s abduction and marriage instead preceding travel (Persephone, Helen)—but must we for all eternity fixate on Homer, on Odysseus?!)
Must men write only about men? Do male writers believe, accept, and deliberately perpetuate the notion that literature is quintessentially male, and one’s scholarship and diligence and seriousness is inevitably to be proved only by a scholarly focus on past male writers—a practice which tends to further idolize and exalt said past male writers? Sometimes, it seems so—this is what I found most difficult about this book.
I am conscious that Ha Jin is seeking to write “within the tradition,” so to speak—he states early on that exile is his particular interest and as such, Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn and Conrad and the others cannot be overlooked—he also states that the most significant literature of migration is that of exile—can this be true? I also wonder if his choice of subject was not tempered by the occasion of the lecture series prompting the creation of these essays.
Still, in this century, to not strive to be inclusive across the genders feels inexplicable to me. Women writers write frequently of male writers—do male writers write seriously of women writers? Apparently we still exist in a straitjacketed space where a male writer would need to be consciously radical in order to bring up and talk about a female writer—on par with/among male writers—it’s not the looked-for, prized, or awarded thing. Not recognized as normal. Or even plausible.
I have to say I wouldn’t want that to be the last word on Ha Jin’s essays, which I found mostly enlightening. Exile is a powerful subject, and I thought these essays insightful in many ways. I know I’ll want to read them again, when I sit down to write more about migration.
I found it interesting also that in an interview Edward Said too says he has felt a strong affiliation with Conrad—despite the exclusions and bias (which he excuses as emblematic of his time) in The Heart of Darkness—Conrad was a teenage runaway, an exile from very young, a sailor with the British Merchant Navy, a world traveler, who learned English at 20 and became a writer in his forties, who still retained a strong nostalgic connection to the Poland he never could quite return to in his work—and as Ha Jin notes too, an extraordinary writer in English. “He had this strange sort of exilic consciousness; he was always outside any situation he wrote about, and I feel that affinity with him.” (Said/Power, Politics, & Culture/Interview with Eleanor Wachtel, 1996). Evocative, isn't it—from both their readings; makes me want to read more of Conrad now.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Now I just have to worry about the Big Snow, and getting in to DC when the Metro is not running above-ground, and the next big storm headed our way tomorrow and a 5-year-old who's excited about two more snow days! (What do you do after romps in the snow, igloos, snow forts, frozen toes, sledding, did I mention frozen toes? (my mitochondria are not northern European!) raisin bread (that rose and fell and half-rose thereafter), Emma on PBS, nature shows online--hummingbirds, bald eagles, four-winged dinosaurs, putting together Valentine's day packages for all her preschool friends, clean-up, organizing, reading...eating icicles off the front porch railing---I don't know! But Sophie is out sledding again for the second time today with her dad and I am stealing my time now, while I have it!)
And yes, I'll admit I do need to let everyone know, I am still looking for that one special agent who would like to represent my second fiction collection--set in the US and India--and my novel, set in India. I haven't given up on you, world!
So, back to the written word....
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Reading, like writing these past weeks continues in tiny little fragments of time.
I have been reading Ha Jin's collection of essays The Writer as Migrant on the metro as I train in to DC to teach and back, Mark Slouka's The Visible World en route to and in snowy northern Michigan and back, and still, yes, on my nightstand, I flinch to confess, Susan Minot's Evening, which is lovely but so long!
I am still also working on my web site, which almost warrants its own post. I wonder how many writers sit around developing their own web sites--it feels completely odd to me, creating my own little mini-brochure for myself, but there you are. Impoverished teachers and writers everywhere who have worked in web design end up using up all their reading time in this useless fashion, I suspect--I mean, surely I am not the only misguided site-maker on the planet. (Feels better imagining a community of my kind out there, slaving away....)
In the second snow of this week I stay up wanting to write and not able to get past that website!
But I did make rather a pleasant discovery, surfing the Web: a starred review of Temporary Lives at Publisher's Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6716116.html--very nice surprise!
Tomorrow I start my class online for the Writer's Center--Writing the Lyric Personal Essay--reading I can look forward to. That's one thing, teaching keeps me reading for class--poetry today (highlight: Men at Forty, by Donald Justice) lyric essay tomorrow--I get that reading done, one way or the other. And teaching creative writing keeps me thinking continuously about writing, about all those bits of craft we struggle with everyday on the page. The one job I don't want to quit, even when grading absorbs time like a sponge. (And I've been an exemplary job-quitter, all through my varied working life.)
Today after class, the most angelic of my new Intro to Creative Writing students--there's always one student in every class it seems who is just so amazingly ethereal, so innocently charmante she is almost seraphic--came up to me and told me how much she loved this class and looked forward to it, and how she had just been wanting to tell me this. I was charmed! Amazed! Flattered! Grateful! Please, spread that news around, I wanted to say. It is a lovely class, isn't it! To tell the truth, it did make an enormous difference. On the way in to work--when I wasn't reading The Writer as Migrant, that is--I had been thinking darkly about how long it has taken for Temporary Lives to see the light of day, how many years--a subject I am talking about openly in interviews, and thinking more about. I'd actually been feeling a bit invisible myself, as my manuscripts/books have been, for years. It was very gratifying to hear appreciation.
I've been keeping company with that snow tonight. I can see it outside, looming masses weighing down the pine, and hear something: a crinkle of ice on ice, on trees, on the roof, wonder if it's turned to sleet. And I can hear Sophie upstairs, magically sensing my absence in her sleep and snuffling protest -- so finally, bon nuit, mes cheres, and to all, goodnight.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Everything seems to stop at a time like this. It feels like when the tsunami hit, in 2004, or earlier, when the planes hit. Reading suspended. I was able to donate online through Save the Children (pl. follow the PC World link) -- if anyone knows of other organizations taking donations through Paypal online, please let me know, I'll post the link. My heart is with the people of Haiti tonight.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Surrounding the (very very recent) release of Temporary Lives (Dec 2009)—which I hope to highlight on the blog for a bit, by the way, until the web site is up--I’ve been researching blogs, fiction sites, bookstores, and stumbling upon some great sites.
Here are some of the great web sites I’ve discovered recently, all resources for writers and readers.
The Short Review is tailored for short story readers and writers. From the UK, edited by short story writer Tania Hershman and Diane Beck, with a whole staff of reviewers, this site offers reviews of current short story collections, interviews, news, contests, and more—if you are a short story writer, this is a site to check out. They send out a monthly newsletter that you can subscribe to on their web site, and run book giveaways each month.
PEN Grants and Awards Online Database is a great resource, available at a small price ($12, payable online) to writers looking to find fellowships, funding, awards for their work. The site link is sort of hidden away on the main Pen page—the PEN American Center site (which highlights PEN award writers and writings, and international writers in need of support). Supplements the resources you can find at Poets and Writers, whose calendars of course are invaluable.
For listings of literary magazines, there’s of course Poets and Writers and Duotrope’s Digest—an electronic database of magazines accepting fiction and poetry that you can search to pinpoint your preferences re. electronic/print submissions, etc. , and also Lit Mags and New Pages. I’d thought Lit Mags offered just a listing of magazines, mainly because Google tends to point to this list rather than their home page—a great listing, by the way, because it’s organized by type and category of submission and color-coded for ease of use—but I just noticed they also run a list with notes from the magazines added newly to their database on their home page. The best links to lit mags though, I’ve always thought, are the ones you find in the Links sections of the magazines and presses you like, they tend to list/link other magazines you’d like. New Pages also reviews short story collections, along with novels and poetry.
New Pages needs a shout-out on its own though—like Poets and Writers, it is a compendious resource site for writers with listings of numerous kinds—calls for submissions from magazines, guides to indie bookstores, writer conferences, retreats, blogs, interviews, reviews, contests, writing programs, and more.
The Chapters Bookstore in DC, a wonderful literary bookstore and one of DC’s special book places, like Politics and Prose and The Writer’s Center, lists award-winning books on its web site. If you’d like to explore recent Pulitzers, Bookers, National Book Awards, et al, visit the Award Winners page at Chapters.
And for fabulous interviews with “extra-literary” writers, see the Author Interviews page at Dalkey Archive Press. If you took a class with me or have read my interviews, you may know I have a special interest in interviews, have been addicted to reading them for a long time. I am planning to return to my bicultural interview project soon, as soon as that darn web site is done, so I'll be doing some research soon on mags that publish interviews with writers, and hope to write more on the subject--will list what I find.
At some point I’ll organize these links on the blog so they seem less scattered.