Leah Griesmann’s “Standpoint of Water”

What does a hurricane feel like from the perspective of water? Is it a crashing, a reunion, a departure, a homecoming? Leah Griesmann’s “Florence, Katrina, Maria: The Standpoint of Water” offers three stories of hurricanes, as reflected by the water itself. We’re delighted to welcome Leah back to Play On Words on January 12 at our Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art, where we will be performing this great piece. Leah was one of our featured writers from our POW premiere way back in October 2013, so we are excited to welcome her back to San Jose!

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Hilton Head, South Carolina, from the perspective of water. Photo courtesy of Leah Griesmann.

Leah has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, the Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference, The Key West Writers Workshops, The Writers in Paradise Conference, as well as a Steinbeck Fellowship in Fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in The Weekly Rumpus, PEN Center’s The Rattling Wall, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, and This Side of the Divide: Stories of the American West, among other publicationsShe will be a writer in residence at the Studios of Key West in summer 2020.

She agreed to answer a few questions in advance of the show.

 

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I’ve long been a fan of reading series in which actors perform pieces of literature. California is home to several great reading series that I’ve been thrilled to participate in, including Sacramento Stories on Stage, the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood, and of course San Jose’s own Play on Words. I also participated in a reading at the Shanghai American Center, when I was on a writing residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Two of my Las Vegas-based stories were performed by actors, and I took questions from the local audience afterwards, including, “Why does your country have so many guns?” I much prefer to see my work performed on stage by talented artists than read it myself!

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Recently I visited Chicago for the first time, where I got to see the improvisational comedy troupe The Second City. Particularly in dark times, good comedy has a way of calling BS and shining a light on truth while making people laugh. But more than that, I was struck by how humanizing good comedy can be. There was one piece—totally improvised—which was a sort of “This is Your Life.” A random audience member, in this case a teacher from New Jersey, answered a few questions about a typical day, and then the cast improvised a scene with her sitting on stage. Not only was the scene hilarious, with Second City cast members playing her colleagues, family, and friends, it was also incredibly humanizing in that it made this “ordinary” teacher the ass-kicking hero of an otherwise (hilariously) dysfunctional day.

Come see us perform Leah’s work! Tickets are free but going fastreserve yours now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

Anshu Johri

What if you could rent wings? Where would you go, and how high would you fly? We were charmed by Anshu Johri’s imaginative “Wings,” a lovely prose piece that explores flight. We first became familiar with Anshu’s work in 2017, when we partnered with San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum to create our chapbook, Activate. We were amazed by her October performance of Anniqua Rana’s “Birth Canal” and can’t wait to perform “Wings” on January 12 at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Anshu Johri at our Live in San Francisco show on October 19, 2019. Photo by Branden Frederick.

Anshu authors poems, short stories, and plays in Hindi and English. She has a master’s of science in electrical engineering from San Jose State University. Her work in English has appeared in SAGE, Caesura, Calliope, “Dukool”, “Vine Leaves Literary Journal”, “Creation and Criticism” and “Storizen.” Her published work in Hindi includes publications of three poetry collections (Tumse Jude BinaWithout Being With You, Boond ka Dwandwa— Dilemma of a Raindrop, and Khule Prishtha—Bare Pages) and two short story collections (Adrishya Kinara Invisible Shores, Shesh Phir…— More Later…), also available at Audible and iTunes. She’s an active theatre artist who loves to act and direct and dabbles poems on canvas.  She received the 2017 Glorious India Award for contributions to literature.

“Play On Words has two of my favorite passions: play and words—and some incredible people to work with and work for,” says Anshu.

Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art to see Anshu’s work performed. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

 

 

Because of Course: Mike Karpa

Mike Karpa’s hilarious “Because Of Course: An Award-Winning Story” opens with an audacious promise: “I am going to win a prize.” How? By writing the story of a “prosperous, middle-aged male protagonist who is white.” The piece’s biting parody attracted our eye—not only for its love of hyperbole, but for the fast clip at which the narrator takes on the literary world. We look forward to performing Mike’s piece on January 12 at our Play On Words: Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Mike is still a queer San Francisco writer, but now focused on churning out new work. To hell with revising! Hit it and quit it. He has used up his oddly unrelatable, peripatetic past (eight years in Asia, refugee dad, Texican mom) as subject matter and now writes exclusively about the here-and-now, despite not understanding it, which does turn out to be relatable. His memoir and short fiction has been published in Tahoma Literary Review, Tin House (selected for #MemoirMonday), Chaleur, Sixfold, Faultline and other literary magazines. He recently attended Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Mike was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the January show.

What are you currently working on?

A longer version (including more footnotes!) of “Because of Course” was published in this summer’s Tahoma Literary Review (available for purchase) and is in the process of becoming a novel (first draft finished in NaNoWriMo 2019).

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

Having participated once before, I was drawn back by the desire to hear others’ work performed. The older I get, the more I enjoy participating in writing events with other people, being with writers and readers as we together open up to new stuff. Being in the audience feels like (is!) a creative act.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Recently, John Boyne. Especially The Heart’s Invisible Furies. What a great storyteller and clean writer! Matthew Lansburgh’s Outside Is The Ocean felt like it had been written for me. I devoured it. And Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t is always inspiring, as she is generally. Also Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. I got to hear him read this summer and re-reading his work now brings back his very specific voice. That book really cleans out my mind.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Brice Matthieussent’s Revenge of the Translator (translated by Emma Ramadan) feels like a kindred spirit and would have inspired “Because of Course” had I read it first.

Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art to see Mike’s work performed. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

 

Mairead Brodie’s Love for Rain

‘Tis the season for rain. How does one’s relationship to rain change in a new environment? Irish writer Mairead Brodie writes that it took her 20 years to miss rain in her piece, “Rain: In Spite of Everything, I Still Love You.” We are excited to perform this piece on Jan. 12 at our Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

Mairead lived in Berlin, Brussels and Edinburgh, working in research communications and technology before moving to the United States in 2012. Since moving here, she has completed a two-year online novel writing program at Stanford Continuing Studies, worked in a nonprofit, written freelance and raised two children who are now 8 and 5. She is currently completing a masters in education at Stanford and teaching economics and government at a high school.

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Mairead Brodie

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I had a piece performed with Play on Words at the San Jose Museum of Art last year and it was a wonderful experience!

Which writers or performers inspire you?

On the fiction side, mostly George Saunders, Mohsin Hamid, Edna O’Brien, Flann O’Brien (no relation!), Anne Enright. Recently, I have also enjoyed reading Colson Whitehead and Bay Area writer, Lydia Kiesling.

Join us Jan. 12 at the San Jose Museum of Art to see Mairead’s work performed. Tickets are free but going fast—reserve yours now.

Ann Hillesland’s “Lost Hills”

“No one puts this part of California on postcards,” writes the narrator in Ann Hillesland’s “Lost Hills,” a 14-year-old girl moving cross country with her father. Anything can happen in a Motel 6—and in her case, anything will. Join us on January 12 when we perform this great piece at the Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

Ann Hillesland’s work has been published in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Sou’wester, Bayou, The Laurel Review, Corium, and SmokeLong Quarterly. It has been selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and presented onstage by Stories On Stage in Denver and Davis. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Queen’s University of Charlotte. 

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Ann Hillesland

Honors and awards include:

  • “About My Mother” chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions
  • “Pique Assiette” nominated for a Pushcart Prize
  • “Lost Hills,” winner of the Prime Number flash fiction contest
  • “Pale Rider” won the grand prize for prose in Spark contest 8

Recent publications include:

What are you currently working on?

Recently I have been writing a blog, The Hat Project, in which I tell about my life through my large collection of hats, most of which are vintage, and many of which I’ve never worn. It’s an autobiography told through clothing. I’ve been at it almost a year, posting a hat or two a week. It will end when I run out of hats, so I’ll only be at it a few more months, unless I go crazy and buy a bunch more hats. If you’d like to check out the hats and the short essays that accompany them, visit my website.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

Play on Words did a piece of mine a while back, and it was so much fun I thought I’d try again 😊.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Alice Munro, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Rick Bass, Lydia Davis.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

I recently saw the Aretha Franklin movie Amazing Grace, and was so moved. The love she showed in her singing was astounding. To put so much of yourself into your work, to sing with such purpose. I was crying. We should all sing with such purpose, whatever our art, our aim, our song. 

 Tickets are now available for our Jan. 12 at the San Jose Museum of Art–but they will sell out! Reserve yours now.

 

E.D. Southard’s Precious Moments

What makes a moment “precious?” If a porcelain figurine holding a teddy bear doesn’t do it for you, what will? The protagonist in E.D. Southard’s “Precious Moments” gets stuck in a chapel full of cringe-worthy dolls with her grandparents, leaving her grandmother smoking haughtily outside. We’re pumped to read E.D.’s hilarious piece at our Beyond Boundaries show on Jan. 12 at the San Jose Museum of Art.

erinheadshotjan16.png E.D. Southard is a Bay Area native, active in both theatre and education. She started writing stories and poems about her friends when she was in middle school, and after attending Foothill Theatre Conservatory, continued her passion for writing at Biola University (B.A. English and Literature, emphasis in Writing). She primarily writes short stories and sketch comedies, and is currently working on her first full-length play. She received the Audience Choice Award for the Silicon Valley Shakespeare 48-hour Play Festival for her piece, “The Riddle of Love.” She will be a returning to write for this year’s  48-Hour Play Festival on January 5.

E.D. answered a few questions for us in advance of our January show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

Play On Words and I have a close connection from when I was working on one of my passion projects a couple years ago, theMini Lights Emerging Artist Program. We had a close partnership, especially because of our wonderful director for boom! I’ve had many friends participate as actors over the years (and have participated before myself!).

 Which writers or performers inspire you?

Ivette Deltoro. I know she’s my best friend, but I think that just inspires me more. She is very detailed and dedicated to her work. I also really like Carrie Hope Fletcher, author and actress, because of her continued work for charity and body positivity.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Deaf West’s Spring Awakening was one of those shows that completely rocked me. I had seen the show before, and was rather unimpressed by the show’s writing. When the perspective changed by including the Deaf Culture, it made me leave the theatre bawling like I had never experienced before. It was one of those moments that ignites a passion for telling stories from those who are normally silenced.

Come see us perform E.D.’s work! Tickets are free but going fastreserve yours now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art. Entrance includes free admission to the museum. 

 

The Pandillero of Gerardo Pacheco Matus

Who do you see when you look in the mirror? The narrator in Gerardo Pacheco Matus’ “Pandillero Without a Gang” says that he resembles his “indio father and indio-mulatto mother,” the features of “millions of other Mayan men.” We were struck by Gerardo’s prose and look forward to performing his piece on January 12 at our Beyond Borders show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Gerardo Pacheco Matus

Gerardo Pacheco Matus is a Mayan Native and recipient of fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, CantoMundo, The Frost Place, and Macondo. Pacheco was awarded the Joseph Henry Jackson Award. His poems, essays, and short fiction have appeared and are forthcoming from the Grantmakers in the Arts, Apricity Press, Amistad Howard-University, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The Packinghouse Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, West Branch Wired, Four Way Review, The Cortland Review, Nashville Review, Pilgrimage Magazine, Memorious Magazine, Rivard Report, Tin House Magazine.

 

AWARDS: 

  • San Francisco Foundation Joseph Henry Jackson Award for his poetry project, The Child of the Grasses.
  • Miami Writers Institute.
  • Redwood City Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program.
  • “Faces of Our Community 2.0.”
  • Frost Place’s the Conference on Poetry Scholar.
  • Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Work-Study Scholarship in Poetry.
  • Pushcart Prize Nominee, “Everything is a Dream.”
  • “The Pintura:Palabra National Ekphrastic Workshops, in tandem with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Travelling Exhibit, “Our America: The Latino Presence in America Art.”

PUBLICATIONS

Gerardo answered a few questions for us in advance of the show.

What are you working on now?

I am working on my debut poetry collection, Child of the Grasses. An excerpt from Child of the Grasseswas awarded the distinguished Joseph Henry Jackson Award administered by The San Francisco Foundation. The award-winning poet and juror Lorna Dee Cervantes writes, “Child of the Grasses presents us with the Native’s view of The Americas: spare, rich, glistening with truths of the ‘natural world’ and bristling with insights into the human condition within that true world…Here is the meaty voice of the immigrant, the worker, the watcher, the Elder’s wisdom.” Child of the Grasses is my lifelong project and I hope to find a nice home for my collection of poetry soon. 

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

One of my great mentors and friends, Anniqua Rana, was featured in Play on Words. Anniqua told me about how great she felt about having her piece performed in Play on Words since then I have been intrigued by Play on Words. Thus, I decided to send a “Pandillero without a Gang.” In addition, I have been writing Pandillero without a Gang for a long time, and I hope that by participating in Play on Words, I will be able to see sparks of what is next in this collection of short stories. 

Which writers or performers inspire you?

I love Jimmy Santiago Baca. His poetry moves mountains. I found myself reading his poetry collection Martin and Meditations on the South Valley to get inspired to write new work. 

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Reading Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo changed the way I understand my role as a writer. As a Mayan Native, Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo opened a new realm of possibility to understand where I come from and the traditions that have influenced me since I was a young man.

Come see us perform Gerardo’s work! Tickets are free but going fastreserve yours now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

Marching Through Jody Ulate’s “Morning Training”

How does a young girl’s life prepare her for becoming a solider? The narrator in Jody Ulate‘s “Morning Training” marches in the four a.m. cold at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, considering the motivational power of hunger and her family’s poverty. We look forward to performing this excerpt of Jody’s memoir on Sunday, January 12, when we return to the San Jose Museum of Art for Play On Words: Beyond Boundaries.

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Jody Ulate. Photo by David Schmitz.

Originally from Upstate New York, Jody Ulate moved to California in 2000 by way of Washington, D.C. She writes and edits essays, profiles and feature articles as San Jose State University’s chief storyteller and editor of the award-winning alumni magazine, Washington Square. For more than 13 years, she has found inspiration in uncovering student, alumni and faculty stories of resilience at San Jose State, where she has also given lectures on profile writing and storytelling that drives philanthropy. A U.S. Army veteran, Jody has written a memoir about survival and reinvention—and how becoming a soldier helped reshape the narrative of her life. She is the recipient of The Writer’s Hotel 2019 Sara Patton Nonfiction Stipend.

She was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words? 

Having someone else creatively interpret and perform live something I’ve written in quiet solitude feels like an adventure. 

Which writers or performers inspire you? 

Arundhati Roy, Maya Angelou, Amy Hempel, Mary Karr, Cynthia Ozick, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, David Guterson, Denice Frohman. 

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you. 

Book: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Short story: Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

Can’t wait to see Jody’s work performed aloud? Tickets are free but going fastreserve yours now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

 

 

Julia Halprin Jackson reads “Road Trip” by Becky Kling

What, exactly, does the open road bring? Becky Kling‘s hilarious “Road Trip” rounded out our evening of stories at Play On Words: Live in San Francisco on Oct. 19. In case you missed it, watch Julia Halprin Jackson perform her story:

Big thanks to Becky for trusting us with your story, to Branden Frederick for taking photos and Cleveland Motley for filming.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be gearing up for our January 12 return to the San Jose Museum of Art. Stay tuned to learn all about our amazing writers and readers.