Sunday, May 31, 2009

Q & Chicago State

Quraysh Ali Lansana and I met way, way back, a few lifetimes ago, in a dark little basement cabaret room where he and his buddies, The Funky Wordsmyths, had just turned the whole Chicago performance scene on its head. These days, he's over at the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University -- appropriately enough, since Miss Brooks was a mentor to him -- and holding court at the school's annual writers conference. This year, like every year, he put together a a stellar list and drew hundreds of folks to the fest. Luckily, I got invited to be a part of it too -- a reading, a workshop on a sweet warm day, and at least one big hug from the big guy and a bit of hanging out. Not enough, really but, when it comes Q, it never is in my book.

Thanks, Q!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bryn Mawr & Swarthmore

Surrounded by handsome men in Philly: Lazaro Lima and Luciano Martinez.

A delightfully marvelous time -- that's how it was at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore. Absolutely everything went well, and the company -- two sweet and gorgeous professors, Lazaro Lima and Luciano Martinez -- made the stay great fun. Lazaro and I had only met last year, at a conference in Santa Cruz, but found ourselves talking and sharing as if we'd known each other all our lives.

We started with a translating workshop led by Lazaro's collegue, Karl Kirchwey, chock full of smart and eager students, all translating from different languages (old style French, contemporary Russian, olde English -- wow!). Then we had a reading and Q&A period followed by a reception. The questions were lively and provocative and kept me thinking late into the night.

The next day, Luciano picked me up for a quick breakfast and we went to Swarthmore, where his students grilled me about We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? 

Philly was sunny and breezy, and Luciano and I yakked and yakked all the way to the airport. Simply put, it was too short a visit!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kathie & Kolumbia

When I got home from the first big leg of the tour, I was pretty much dead to the world. Felt like I'd been asked every question on earth, felt like I'd been poked and probed (and in a good way) like never before. So once home and nestled in bed, I wasn't thrilled when I remembered I'd promised my pal Kathie Bergquist that I'd visit her class at Colombia College the very next morning.

I dragged my not so little butt out of bed and headed downtown expecting the usual classroom experience: a roomful of kids of which maybe half had read the book, and questions that had little to do with literature, if any, and lots to do with Cuba tourism.

Well, wow: surprise. What I got was a gallery with not just Kathie's but various classes worth of students, all of whom seemed to have read Ruins thoroughly, questions about the book, about writing and the process of writing, and a public conversation with Kathie that didn't just wake me up but which rocked. 

Oh, and there was a spread -- a sumptious spread -- and a book table and genuinely sweet folks hanging out afterward.

Go Kathie!