Reading in the Rain

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Lyrics & Dirges at Pegasus Bookstore Downtown Berkeley was the best place to be on a stormy Wednesday evening. A huge thank you to series cofounder and host Sharon Coleman for setting the tone, which is always welcoming and encouraging of the writers and the audience.

Surrounded by books, writers and an appreciative audience was wonderful. Kimi Sugioka, Sara Mumolo, Joseph Lease took us on journeys of the heart and mind. What teachers and students need in public education, motherhood, loving friendship interrupted by death, and the wisdom of lizard in the face of law enforcement were some of the journeys we writers took with audience members.

Libraries and independent bookstores and the books they offer to us have been places of peace for me and I hope that they continue to be for as many of us as possible despite the current landscape of chaos, confusion and change.

I encourage you to visit and purchase used or new books and catch the annual calendar sale (one of my favorites) at Pegasus and attend a Lyrics & Dirges reading. You can find out about the February Lyrics & Dirges here You can find out more about Pegasus bookstores here

Long live Lyrics & Dirges and its cofounders and co-hosts Mk Chavez and Sharon Coleman and long live independent bookstores.

And if you haven’t yet purchased my book How it Happens, hop on over to the Nomadic Press website and do so here

Lyrics & Dirges at Pegasus Bookstore Downtown Berkeley on Wednesday 1/16/19

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My first reading of 2019 in one of my favorite series, Lyrics & Dirges, hosted and co-founded by Supreme Poetess Sharon Coleman. (Co-founder Mk Chavez is stirring up magic elsewhere this week.)

Lyrics&Dirges
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
7:30 pm
Pegasus Books Downtown
2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, California 94704
(510) 649-1320
Pegasus Books Downtown Berkeley

The Writers who will read:

Joyce E. Young
Sara Mumolo
Joseph Lease
Kimi Sugioka
Mia Ruiz

You won’t want to miss us – words, snacks, and books for sale. My poetry book “How it Happens”  will be available for your purchasing pleasure. Or, you can purchase it here

And did I mention there’s a bookstore cat who loves poetry and books? Well then, of course you must come!

 

Thank You – November Readings

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I want to thank those of you who have come out to support me at the Nomadic Press book launch in September and at the readings in October at Pandemonium Press at The Octopus Literary Salon, Literary Speakeasy at Lit Crawl, and the Bay Area Writing Project at Expressions Gallery. And a big, hearty thank you for buying my book How it Happens​ (Nomadic Press, 2018). 

It’s been wonderful to connect with you and to share community through words, laughter, sighs, reflection, and sometimes tears. I thoroughly enjoy continuing the oral tradition of poetry through readings and events.

I will be at two more readings this month, one on this coming Sunday, November 11th at Adobe Books in San Francisco, and the second on Monday evening November 19th in the Poetry Express series, Himalayan Flavors restaurant in Berkeley.

On Sunday, I will read at the Gears Turning reading series hosted by Kim Shuck, Poet Laureate of San Francisco. I will be reading with and meeting Lauren Ito and for the first time – looking forward to it.

I’m dedicating the Sunday reading to my mom who would have turned 93 on Sunday. She supported me and my writing and I am grateful for her in so many ways.

Gears Turning
Adobe Books and Arts Cooperative
3130 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Sunday, November 11, 2018
4-6 pm
Featured Writers: Lauren Ito, Joyce Young

Host: Kim Shuck, Poet Laureate of San Francisco

I will also be reading at the long running Poetry Express series in Berkeley on Monday, November 19, 2018 at 7 pm. I’m dedicating this reading to gratitude for life itself.

Poetry Express
Himalayan Flavors Restaurant
1585 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94703
Monday evening, November 19, 2018
7pm
Featured Writer: Joyce Young
Host: Bruce Bagnell

I hope to see you at one of these events, hope you’re enjoying reading How it Happens, and if you can’t make it, to a reading, be sure to send me good mojo and spread the word about the book.

To purchase How it Happens, click on Nomadic Press

The Octopus Literary Salon Wednesday 10/3/18

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I am on a roll with readings of late. And that’s a good thing because I really enjoy lit events – being featured, reading with other writers and being in the audience.

This week, I’ll be reading at:

Pandemonium Press Presents

Hot! New! Books!

Wednesday October 3, 2018 at 7:00 pm

The Octopus Literary Salon

2101 Webster Street

Oakland, CA

I’ll be featured with Mary Mackey, Kelly Landmine and Cassandra Dallett

I’d love to see you there!

There will be an open mic.

Food and drinks will be available for purchase as the venue is a café. Yum.

WELL-RED Reading Series at Works/San Jose Tuesday August 14th

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I am looking forward to reading my work with poet David Denny on Tuesday August 14th in the WELL-RED reading series, at Works/San Jose. I am honored that Poetry Center San Jose asked me to come “down south” to read.

I will be reading poems from my upcoming chapbook “How it Happens” (September, Nomadic Press) and new work. Can’t wait and hope to see you there.

WELL-RED at Works/San Jose

Tuesday, August 14, 2018, 7:00 pm

A Poetry Center San Jose event

at Works/San José
365 South Market Street
in downtown San José
doors open 6:30pm
$2 admission, no one turned away
Works is on the Market Street edge of the San Jose Convention Center,
just to the right of the parking garage entrance

 

 

 

Elephant on the Sidewalk

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I was recently chatting with a white male neighbor who suddenly launched into talking about a book he had begun to read for his book club. The book focused on race and racial issues in the United States. I had not read the book and was not familiar with it, so I could not speak to it and I told him so. Despite that, my white male neighbor, pressed on with the discussion that he decided he needed to have with me.

He: Have you read this book?

Me: No

He: I think the author tries too hard

Me: Oh?

He: Yes, and in my book club, there seems to be a majority belief that I don’t agree with.

Me: Hmm, but I’m thinking “uh oh” as I sense a rather large elephant standing nearby

He: “Yes, the author really doesn’t provide evidence.”

My neighbor then reads aloud a sentence or two from the book.

The sentence he reads aloud doesn’t help me to understand specifically what he’s referring to, as I haven’t read the book and have told him so, but I sense that there’s an elephant standing beside us, a really big one.

He: “Race has happened all around the world. Many societies had slaves.”

I’m thinking “Here we go again, another white man explaining away slavery in America and its connection to race relations and American society in the 21st century and ignoring the construction of ‘race’ for political and economic purposes, and so much else.”

Me: “Slavery in the U. S. was for economic gain.”

He interrupts me, excitedly.

He: “Yes, it’s about capitalism!”

Me: “Slaves were treated as property, not people, as inhuman, they were objects to be bought and sold.”

He: “Yes! Capitalism and the things that have led to the terrible political things today.”

I’m still feeling the elephant standing on the sidewalk next to us. It’s still quite large.

Me: “Race and racism are two different things.”

My neighbor seems to be using “race” and “racism” interchangeably as he attempts unsuccessfully to make another point about the global historical slave trade. He finally gets to the truth or to what he really wants to say.

Him: “I’m afraid to speak up in my book club. White people need to talk to other white people about this.”

Me: “White people are afraid to talk about race because they are afraid that they will be seen as or called racists. That stops any conversation that could be had and prevents anything from moving forward.”

He looks at me with surprise, as if I have just awakened him from a nap.

Me: “Have you seen the film 13th?”

I’m thinking that because the film so brilliantly and clearly connects the 13th amendment, history of slavery and the prison industrial complex of the present, this might help him to gain some footing on the issues he seems to be floundering in. Plus, guys usually like history. Ava DuVernay made that film with great intention, and it’s perfect for conversations like these and the ones that my neighbor wants to have with other white people.

He: “Yes, we had to view it while reading this book for the book club. It was too heavy; I can’t watch it again.”

Me: “Hmm.” While looking at my phone, I say, “Okay, well I have to get going now.”

He: The mind can overcome this.

Me: “Not without heart.”

He: “Okay, goodbye.”

Me: “Goodbye.”

#52essaysNextWave

Authors, Readers and Books

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The People’s Republic of Berkeley, my current home, is such a hodge-podge and mix-mash of people. I went to the Bay Area Book Festival this weekend and mingled in that hodge-podge and mix mash of people. And I heard authors of different genres, backgrounds, ages, geographical locations talk about their work and about writing in the context of a theme for each session. The sessions I attended were:

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz author of “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment” interviewed by T. J. Stiles – history and statistics on gun culture in America that were not entirely surprising, but still…damn. Here’s one: 1/3 of U. S. households have guns, yet there are 300 million guns owned privately in the country, so most of these households contain multiple guns as the U. S. population is about 300 million. Today a gun owner owns “an average of eight guns” according to Dunbar-Ortiz. This number is up from 112 million in the early 1970’s. Whaaat?

Robert Reich and guests in a panel discussion titled: “Income Inequality: A World Gone Mad, Mean and Immoral.” I won’t report back on that one as many are familiar with Reich’s videos do an excellent job of illustrating the not-normal that exists with the American almighty dollar(s).

Melissa de la Cruz, author of YA fantasy, History and Modern Life (also a former writer of the social lives of celebrity elite in New York for major magazines –glossies) interviewed by Jessica Lee. The woman is a highly imaginative, focused and prolific writer with a great sense of humor. Her output of books is stunning and she is still quite young. I loved it that she began writing one of her series of books because she missed New York. So, she created and wrote books about young society vampires. Isn’t that what you would do? Hmmm….I’m originally from Brooklyn, maybe I ought to think about an angle….(smile) Here is a link to Melissa’s web page: http://melissa-delacruz.com/ Her latest YA novel, a sequel titled “Love and War” continues the story of the love between Eliza and Alexander Hamilton.

Lidia Yuknavitch “On Fearlessness, Truth, and Misfits” was interviewed by Daphne Gottlieb. I loved Lidia’s discussion of connecting with her audience without a need to provide graphic descriptions of violent behavior and instances of sexual connections between characters. She goes for the emotional connection. I understood what she was talking about and I also know how difficult that is to do. I’m looking forward to doing more reading of her work. So far, I’ve only read essays, so I have a lot to choose from with her speculative fiction “The Book of Joan,” memoir “The Chronology of Water,” and novels “The Small Backs of Children” and “Dora: A Headcase.” Her most recent book is “The Misfit’s Manifesto.” I’m most interested in speculative fiction these days, so “The Book of Joan” it will most likely be.

Today’s panel was the most powerful session for me and seemed to touch the rest of the audience in the same way. Authors Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (A Kind of Freedom), Rodrigo Hasbún (Affections) and Madeleine Thien (Do not Say We Have Nothing )  were moderated by reviewer Mal Warwick in a panel titled: “Resist: Unlocking the Political Power of the Novel.” The authors’ answers to Mal’s questions were surprising, nuanced, thoughtful and interesting. By the way, Thien’s Tumblr for her novel is fantastic: http://donotsaywehavenothing.tumblr.com/

Margaret, Rodrigo and Maddie’s answers went deep and made me think about a lot of things personal/political as well as the inherent truth that the personal and the political are radically intertwined and that some of us are more aware of this than others. And at the same time, I think that in America many more have become aware of this truth or this living something. I still don’t know what to call it because it isn’t a thing, I don’t really think the word “fact” captures the reality, but it just is and there really isn’t a separation involved unless one is in extreme denial. And some are.

Added to the festival, I listened to an On Being podcast with Buddhist monk and writer Angel Kyodo Williams with host Krista Tippett yesterday, which I found riveting. Williams talked about being optimistic (herself) because all it would take would be a mass of people to do the inner work that would change individual and collective consciousness and shift inner and thus our outer reality. Here’s a link to the webpage for the podcast series: https://onbeing.org/

After taking all of these discussions in, I began to think about what makes something meaningful. I think that what is meaningful does not bloom and flower and grow with analysis. It just is. What is meaningful just is. And dissection, analysis and all of that stuff aren’t really necessary and is just a mental exercise designed to distract me and Lord knows whom else. And too much of it kills the spirit.

There is so much that is meaningful just because it is. Meaningful like call and response, like singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Anybody Turn Me Around” as loud as I can in the car as I drive to work, James Brown singing “Get on the Good Foot,” that moment when Aretha threw her fur coat off her shoulders while singing Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors for Carole King, The Stylistics singing “Betcha By Golly Wow,” and Sam Cooke singing “A Change is Gonna Come.” And hip shakin’ and singin’ along to (y)our own rhythms with no interference.

Not sure what brought this on, but I think it was listening to writers talk bout the work of writing, the work of living. The work is inextricably connected and all part of the one to many of us who write.

How can I separate myself from my writing, from the act of writing? I can’t, writing is part of my life, part of me and has been for a very long time. I am glad that so many younger writers are as invested in writing as I and those of my generation have been. I’m glad that they feel the urgency to give their voices wings. The work continues, the voices rise, the circle opens and new voices enter the choir. Good. Deep gratitude for this cycle that continues.

 

Conversation

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I am not sure whether I have been having a conversation with life or with death of late. Perhaps it’s the same conversation and it doesn’t matter as the two are so intricately intertwined. We can’t know one without eventually experiencing the other.

I took a walk through a local cemetery a few days ago. This might sound maudlin, but it wasn’t that type of experience for me at all. This particular cemetery is a beautifully laid out park in which many have been laid to rest. There are paved as well as gravel lined paths and wide roads on which to walk. There is also a pond and several live fountains. I also found a veterans memorial sculpture that had been erected and etched within the past decade.  In this green space one can find local history laid out through the names on headstones, section names and the annual tulip show, winter holiday light show and other displays. There are runners, dog walkers, nannies with strollers and in the completely green lawns; one person was stretched out in the sun. On the steps of one of the mausoleums, one person was using his laptop while sitting in partial sunlight.

My mom’s transition was the most recent; my dad died a little over 15 years ago. I felt as if something had been wrenched from my guts when he died. It was an unexpected reaction as we’d struggled and disagreed with each other about many things for years. And yet, there were periods of no struggle at all. As a friend once pointed out, we were two generations apart. My father was 42 when I was born and I was his first child. He had been born in 1911 in Alabama. That statement and the truth it reveals holds much weight. When I was able to hear my friend and look at the disagreements from an inter-generational perspective, it made sense that our ways of seeing the world and especially the roles of women in the world were so different and filled with tension. That didn’t make me stop disagreeing with him, but it did provide me with eventual understanding and a softening toward myself and toward my father. Neither one of us could see things very differently because the world that had shaped our development had changed in some ways while I now think it had stood still in other ways, ways that had to do with race and gender. I wonder what my father would say now about the world, or at least this country that we both have called home. Damn.

What happens to one when one has crossed a threshold with the knowledge that there is no turning back even if the desire arises? I am not the same person I was one year ago or two, or more. And at the same time my values have not changed greatly.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone I want to spend time with. And as a writer who has been in it for the long haul, that is a good thing. I know who I am and I like her lots. I don’t want to turn back.

Today is Easter, April Fool’s Day and the first day of National Poetry Month. What a convergence. Should I write a trick poem? Or invoke the Easter Bunny? Or write about the the Phoenix who burned to death and later rose from her ashes? I’m thinking of trying the poem a day for 30 days challenge this month, just for myself, since poetry unearths deep roots for me. I feel the need to reconnect with deep roots these days. And the quiet within the poetry well welcomes me to those roots.

These are some of the tidbits I’ve been gathering on paper and in my head of late. I’m not planning on tying everything together in an essay form. I’m just going to plant seeds and share some of them. This gives me the freedom to write essays or poems or genre-bending thingies as they arise. Good luck to me (smile).

And thank you very much to author Leslieann Hobayan for the inspiration to break free. Her “Deep Thoughts” have helped me to not hold back with my snippets for this week and to get back into the mix. I’m glad to be back.

 

Publication News

 

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I’m happy to share that my poem “Return” has been published in the current issue of WORDPEACE

Here is the link: https://wordpeace.co/issue-2-2-winter-spring-2018/poetry/joyce-young/

And Nomadic Press is publishing my chapbook “How it Happens” this coming Fall.

Gratitude to WORDPEACE  https://wordpeace.co/

and to Nomadic Press https://www.nomadicpress.org/

Follow me on Twitter @joypoet and Instagram @joypoetry for updates

 

 

The Gauntlet

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I wear a short Afro and have my hair cut several times a year. I love my hair with its thickness and mix of salt and pepper. There is more salt shaking these days but the salt has an orderly plan for framing my face, while the pepper fills most of the sides, back and top of my head. I usually go to see my stylist on Saturday afternoons when my schedule is more relaxed. I like the area the shop is located in – across the street from Peet’s Coffee, down the block from Arizmendi’s and a few blocks from one of the best farmer’s markets. It’s busy with all shades of people, kids in strollers, folks eating, shopping, clutching coffee cups, talking, and being with one another.

The minute I sat down in my stylist’s chair, I landed in the middle of a lively discussion about Jennifer Hudson, her partner and their son. One of the 30 something male stylists seemed to have done a lot of research on Jennifer’s business. According to him, Jennifer was taking legal action against her partner because she wanted custody of their son. Jennifer had been touring and she had been leaving her son behind with her partner, who had been doing the job of raising and caring for him. And now ungrateful Jennifer, who wasn’t carrying her weight as a mother, wanted to use legal means to get custody of the boy.

Since I wasn’t up on this story or the rest of Jennifer’s business, I was intrigued about the scoop and the commentary. My stylist, Sam (not his real name), is a man, too and it seemed as if both men were taking sides. The decision for both of them was that Jennifer was wrong. She was a bad woman and she was (and has been) doing her man and her son wrong.

I have to admit that I don’t know Jennifer Hudson. I am only acquainted with her performance as Effie in the most recent film version of Dream Girls. I really can’t take sides on something or someone I don’t know a good deal about. This does not mean that I have never engaged in such behavior before. Of course I have.

The discussion about Jennifer became even more interesting when it somehow veered toward Black women who say, “there are no good Black men.” I don’t remember whether Sam, a 70-year-old Black man, mimicked the phrase or whether he led into it with “And they say there are no good Black men.” Meaning that Jennifer’s man is good and she of course is bad. No matter, I am old enough to know that at that point in the conversation the gauntlet had been thrown down.

I declined to pick the gauntlet up and continued to listen to the two men talk. What followed was an indignant, “Well, white women are finding them!” and that was followed by a “Yeah.” Again, Sam spoke this. Again, I remained silent and chose not to pick up the gauntlet. I knew I was being baited. Sam was waiting for me to either say that I couldn’t find a good Black man (and was guilty of saying or thinking this) or rail against white women and blame them for my sorry predicament. I did neither of these things because I am neither sorry or in a predicament.

As if on cue, a gorgeous brown woman walked into the shop with a Black man, who she called “honey” as she asked him to take her jacket and she sat down in the stylist’s chair, which was opposite mine. She was tall and curvy, with great cheekbones, and wavy black hair. She might have been Asian, Latinx, Native or Multiracial. After all, we were in Oakland, and everyone lives and loves here; the ethnic possibilities are endless. We smiled at each other when Sam turned my chair in her direction. I wanted to stand up, look Sam in the eye and say “Ha!” but I also wanted a really good haircut, so I restrained myself.

The truth is that, like Jennifer Hudson, in the past I have been cast as a bad woman. I’ve been called bad for telling the truth, and bad for being independent. A friend’s husband once asked me why I didn’t call on him for advice when I bought my first car. The truth was that was confident in my evaluation and negotiation abilities to do what I needed to do to buy the car. I had a mechanic look it over. I negotiated a fair price. I bought the car. That was that. The fact that I didn’t ask him for advice wasn’t personal. However, this man was not implying that I was a bad woman. I had recently moved to California to attend graduate school and I needed to buy my first car. I was from New York City and had only borrowed cars for shopping trips to New Jersey or rented cars when I had needed them for road trips. My friend just wanted to be helpful and make sure that I would get a good deal.

On the other hand, the bad woman shaming I have experienced usually occurs through comparison. One of my ex boyfriends was a master at bad woman shaming. He once stated “Why don’t you cook for me when I visit you? A woman cooks for her man when he visits her.” His reasoning was that I did not cook for him, so I was a bad woman, bad girlfriend. I was not moved to change my ways.

This same ex boyfriend also compared my spending time with him to my watching a sunset by myself. I’d asked him if he’d wanted to come with me to one of my favorite places during a summer evening right before sunset, but he had said no. Later that evening when he saw me, he presented the comparison in the form of a question. Did I like spending time with the setting sun better than spending time with him? I told him that the question was silly. How could one compare the two things? My real answer, unstated, was the sun, definitely the sun.

Bad woman shaming can wear on a person. For the one being shamed it can mean suffocation, doubt, holding back. It can mean being miserable, but it only means these things if she believes what the speaker or the passive aggressive parent, boyfriend or relative says, for these beliefs really belong to the ones who voice them. Once the person they are trying to shame stops believing these things, even for a few minutes, she can breathe again. And that is why my time with the shaming boyfriend lasted only 6 months. Shaming is just not sustainable in a relationship with anyone. I’ve very happily been a “Shamers need not apply for friend, acquaintance or boyfriend status” woman for many years now. And I can breathe.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t personally know Jennifer Hudson, but I do know about the gauntlet that is often thrown when men are discussing gender roles and women are within hearing distance. I could have picked up the gauntlet, but I don’t think that the best time for me to share my thoughts on gender roles and shaming is when a man is cutting my hair. After all, I want to walk out of the salon looking good.