Tonight’s the night! We are thrilled to be performing 10 original pieces inspired by activism to San Jose’s Cafe Stritch. We will be performing work in chronological order, starting with “Dressed for Success,” an excerpt of a memoir-in-progress by writer Lyra Halprin. We first performed Lyra’s work in July 2015, when her piece “Drive, She Said,” introduced us to the California highway in the late 1960s. We were drawn to the way she shares implicit messages about humanity by showing what it means to demonstrate at any age. For Lyra, to write about one’s family is in itself a political act. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself, her process and “Dressed for Success,” which will be included in Activate, our forthcoming chapbook.
Tell us about your writing.
I’m a former reporter and UC public information person now trying to harness my holy writing gears and transform essays and journal entries into a book about a girl growing up a feminist in California in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. My manuscript feels more urgent in the wake of the frightening political reality of the last year and the birth of my first granddaughter. I am reminded that members of my family perished in the Holocaust and family and friends were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era but I grew up in a vibrant activist household filled with hope and optimism. I want to share that with my daughter, son, granddaughter and other young people and show them that art, music and progressive action can thrive during chaotic political times. I believe the secret to staying happy in this crazy world is having a big humor gene, people you love and a soft dog.
My commentaries have aired on NPR, Capital Public Radio, and KQED San Francisco, and appeared in newspapers, magazines and online venues.
A story about my dad and his art professor Chiura Obata was featured in the literary journal California Northern in Memoir: The Sequoia in the Storm: Family, memory, and Chiura Obata’s art of resilience. Other stories have appeared in the Sacramento News and Review, and the Santa Monica Daily Press, including one in which I described growing up as Jewish child during a time when released-time religious education trailers were parked outside elementary schools and Nativity scenes were displayed in public parks. My commentary on NPR’s Day to Day described wearing my daughter’s insulin pump for a day.
What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
I was thrilled to hear the focus of this show and chapbook was Activism, something near and dear to my heart. I want to share my enthusiasm and joy in the arts and how they can both thrive and produce change during times of oppression.
Which writers or performers inspire you?
Doris Haddock, aka Granny D, whose walk across the country at the age of 88-90 to champion campaign finance reform inspires me daily. I was lucky enough to hear her speak about her journey and treasure her memoir, Granny D: You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell, in which she describes the beautiful landscape of our country as she tells the story of her life and the importance of citizen activism.
Gloria Steinem and her dogged pursuit of equality and social justice mixed with stories about life as a woman and how we help each other survive.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose book Between The World And Me reminded me of the honor and importance of writing to inspire our children.
Alexandra Fuller, whose memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight showed me another way to put a story together.
Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.
I listened to the audiobook recording of The Book Thief and was floored again how art can move and inspire me. I hope the Flash Fiction/POW chapbook on activism does the same!
Join us at 7 pm at Cafe Stritch tonight to see Arcadia Conrad perform Lyra’s work live. Hope to see you there!