After a year of hibernation, Play On Words is finally emerging from the fog of the pandemic to share stories of our community. On June 17, we’ll return virtually to the San Jose Museum of Art for Our Stories, Ourselves, an evening of stories and poems inspired by individual and collective immigrant heritage. In the weeks to come, we’ll be offering a peek inside contributors’ brains to learn what their heritage means to them and what has kept them going this year.
We are delighted to start with Melissa Flores Anderson, a native Californian, award-winning journalist, former speechwriter and a current communications professional in Silicon Valley. She has had news articles and features published in the Gilroy Dispatch, the Hollister Free Lance, BenitoLink and the California Health Report, and was the city editor of the Weekend Pinnacle for seven years. She has a bachelor’s in psychology and media studies from Pitzer College, and a master’s in print journalism from the University of Southern California. Her story “Redemption Songs” is forthcoming in The Ice Colony.
Melissa’s story, “Not a Gardener,” follows Teresa, who doesn’t think she inherited a green thumb even though her grandfather maintained a thriving garden beyond his duplex for most of her life. When she moves into a new house with her husband and young son, Teresa discovers an affinity for it and a connection to her heritage.
There will be two opportunities to hear Melissa’s great story. On Thursday, May 13, Melinda Marks will perform this piece as part of City Lights Theatre Company’s Next Stage program, which will also feature a brief Q&A with POW co-founders and City Lights Marketing Director Rebecca Wallace. Register for this free event on the City Lights website.
Melissa agreed to answer a few questions in advance of our May 13 show.
How did you hear about Play On Words?
My friend Julia Halprin Jackson is one of the founders so I’ve heard her talking about Play On Words for years, and know some people who have had pieces featured in shows before. I’d been working on a story inspired by my grandfather when I learned the theme for the virtual show was immigrant heritage, and decided to submit for the first time.
How has your creative practice changed during the pandemic?
In a weird way the pandemic gave me space to be creative. I used to write stories and poems back in high school and college, but haven’t had the energy to write in the last decade or so. Then when I had insomnia over the summer because of the pandemic and the wildfires, I returned to some of my half-written stories in the middle of the night. A story I started maybe 15 years ago turned into the first draft of a novel. I worked on some other old stories and then started to be inspired with new ideas.
I’m back to sleeping at night, but I do some writing on my lunch break, in the evenings or on weekends.]
What does “immigrant heritage” mean to you?
Three of my grandparents moved to the United States as young children, two from Mexico and one from Italy. They came between 1910-1920 at a time when most people left behind their language and culture so there were only scraps of their heritage left for my sister and I by the time we came along. The one thing I do have is the family recipes—or impressions of flavors might be more accurate. My father’s mother never wrote down her tamale recipe and my mother’s sisters don’t have one for the gnocchi they make, but we have moments in the kitchen together when we make these dishes that tie us back to places we have never seen
What else should we know about you?
As I started to write again, I also started reading for leisure for the first time since having my son nearly four years ago. I’ve read plenty of board books and early readers in recent years, but in January I started making my way through a stack of books on my nightstand that followed me unread through two moves in three years. My favorites include Love by Roddy Doyle, Normal People by Sally Rooney and a short story collection curated by David Sedaris called Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules.
join us june 17 for our stories, ourselves
Play On Words is going virtual with the San Jose Museum of Art at 7. p.m. on Thursday, June 17. Tickets are free but registration is required. Sign up to save your space!