Marilyn Horn’s “Boy in the Van”

 

We love stories with a strong voice. That’s why we were drawn to Marilyn Horn’s “The Boy in the Van,” which follows a young narrator as she fails to befriend a boy Tehran. The lovely Arcadia Conrad performed this piece on April 11 at our Play On Words: New Horizons show.

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Marilyn Horn

Marilyn Horn is a technical editor in Silicon Valley. Her short stories have appeared in publications such as Blotterature, Marathon Review and Waccamaw, and her collection Beyond the Fence was published in 2016 by Thinking Ink Press. 

 

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I’ve had other stories (“Snake,” “April in Paris,” and “Neighbor”) performed by Play on Words. There’s nothing quite like hearing your words being interpreted by those fantastic POW players.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Lately I’ve been inspired by Donna Tartt and Kobayashi Issa. That may change.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? You need to check that out if you haven’t already.

Stay tuned to watch footage from our April 11 show and discover ways to participate in future events.

Valerie Fioravanti’s “Glove”

About last night:

We filled Cafe Stritch with artists, writers, performers, volunteers, and friends, old and new. It feels so good to see our community expanding–blossoming in ways we never expected. In the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing content from Play On Words: New Horizons, and until then, we’d like to feature a few more of the writers whose work we shared onstage last night.

Play On Words exists in part because of something Valerie Fioravanti said to Julia Halprin Jackson way back in 2013. Valerie is the artistic genius behind Sacramento Stories on Stage, an organization which produces short fiction in the heart of our capital city. Julia had driven 100 miles to see work by the writer Alex Russell performed in Sacramento, and remarked that she wished that there was a Stories on Stage in her own neighborhood. Valerie looked at her and said,”You could start one. That’s what I did.”

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Valerie Fioravanti

Five years later, we were delighted to work with Valerie once again. Valerie is the author of the linked story collection Garbage Night at the Opera. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review, Cimarron Review, and LUMINA. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize eight times. Her story Garbage Night at the Opera received special mention in the anthology. A former Fulbright Fellow in creative writing to Italy, she has won the Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award. Valerie had two stories recently published in North American Review. She wrote about social bubbles and her second collection on their blog.

 

We first performed Valerie’s work in 2015, and were thrilled to bring her new piece, “Toilet Paper Glove,” to light last night at Cafe Stritch. We’ll share footage from this in the next several weeks. Until then, Valerie was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

 

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

Have to check on my literary children every once in a while 😉.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

I’m blown away by Karen Bender. She’s a teacher, mom, editor, writer, and committed social activist. I suspect there are five of her. Or I’m a sloth. One of these statements must be true.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Tillie Olsen’s Tell Me A Riddle blew me away as a teenager. It was the first time I read work about working class characters from the female perspective, and those moments of literary recognition are so important for a young writer, even one who hasn’t yet articulated her desire to write.

Thank you to all of the writers, performers, artists and volunteers who joined us last night. Stay tuned to access footage from last night’s show and learn how to participate in upcoming events.

Christina Shon’s “Heart”

How do our bodies reflect our lives? Which happens first: our experiences or our anatomical response? We were delighted to find Christina K. Shon’s “Bleeding Heart” in our submission pile this spring. Her story, which describes the narrator grappling with major surgery while falling in love, combines the perfect mixture of vulnerability, honesty, humor and self-awareness. We worked with Christina in summer 2015 and can’t wait to bring her new work to light tonight at Play On Words: New Horizons.

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Christina Shon

From a very young age, Christina has secretly dreamed of being a writer in the way that young children dream about becoming movie stars or professional baseball players. It always seemed like a profession destined for those who had been groomed for it. Then one day in graduate school, her “Teaching Writing” classmates were sharing sample stories that they had written. One of her classmates said, “You should give up teaching and become a writer.” That first seed of possibility has slowly grown to a sapling passion. Christina hopes to someday record all the stories that her grandmother used to tell her about their life in Korea.  

She doesn’t slow down, either: This year she is participating in the 100 Day Project. Participants commit to doing a creative project every day for 100 days. It started on April 3, 2018, but everyone is welcome to join at any time.

 

Christina answered some questions for us in advance of tonight’s show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I am a huge fan! I really love how Play on Words fosters a community of artists, writers and performers, to interpret, share stories, and support one another’s craft. It’s like art interpreting art and then bringing it to life.

Tell us about this piece.

This story started out as just a recounting of my experience of this particular surgery, which I had always wanted to document, but then it became a story about how people have a hard time letting go of things that hurt us, even when we know it’s hurting us.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri, David Sedaris, and of course, Julia Halprin Jackson.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

As an undergrad, I had an opportunity to hear Amy Tan give a talk about her novel, The Joy Luck Club. One of the stories in that novel is based on Amy Tan’s grandmother, who had been the third wife of a wealthy man. Tan decided, while writing the novel, to write the character as the fourth wife, because the number four in Chinese sounds similar to the word for death in Chinese and it sort of made for a richer story. Tan’s mother revealed later that her grandmother had, in fact, been the fourth wife, but she had been too ashamed to share that truth with her daughter.

When I heard this, I felt to me that Amy Tan had written the novel from her heart and that was more true than the details that she had been given as a child.

Fundamentally, as a writer, I want to write a truthful story. Even if the details are entirely fiction, the story should resonate as truthful. Writing is the most truthful thing anyone can do.

Join us tonight to hear Laurel Brittan perform Christina’s story, “Bleeding Heart,” at Play On Words: New Horizons! Show starts at Cafe Stritch at 7 pm.

Michelle Myers’ “Pence”

The most interesting and surprising work can arise when a writer responds to a prompt. When we read Michelle Suzanne Myers’ short piece, “Pence,” we were amazed by how many reactions we had in just a few paragraphs. Regardless of your politics, sometimes the juxtaposition of empathy and revulsion, curiosity and disgust, can make for the most thought-provoking work. We look forward to performing Michelle’s hilarious piece tomorrow at Play On Words: New Horizons.

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Michelle Myer

Born in San Jose, whilst it was still the Valley of the Heart’s Delight, and once more a current proud resident, Michelle supports her meandering writing journey as a bilingual psychotherapist in private practice. She holds degrees from the University of San Francisco and Santa Clara University. After graduating with a sociology degree from USF, Michelle headed to Dallas, Texas to do legal aide work with refugees as a Jesuit Volunteer. She then escaped the U.S. to Sao Paulo, Brazil for four years where volunteering in support of women and girls. Michelle was fortunate enough to learn about social justice, human rights, and mysticism in her early spiritual formation, and she still has hope for the loving transformation of this world. Like her paternal grandfather, she loves birds and walking the hills. Unlike her grandfather, she loves salsa and Afro-Brazilian music, movement, and dance. Michelle credits the wise, wild women of her Friday morning writing group with giving her the courage to reveal her writing to the public.

Her piece “Communion on the Road” will be published in summer 2018 in Sanctuary, an anthology published by Darkhouse Books of Niles, California.

Michelle shared some of her thoughts with us in advance of tomorrow’s show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

My wonderful writing professor, poet Lita Kurth encouraged me to submit this piece.  Also, I felt compelled to submit it as I believe we all must promote the idea that love indeed overcomes hatred.  

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Barbara Kingsolver, Mary Oliver, theologian Dr. Kristin Heyer, Ph.D, and sociologist Dr. Laura Nichols, Ph.D, Eduardo Galeano, Joyce Rupp, Rainer Maria Rilke, Natalie Goldberg, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teresa of Avila, Rumi, Hafiz, and Anne Lamott.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Women in Praise of the Sacred:  43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, edited by Jane Hirshfield.

Want to see us perform “Pence” live? Join us tomorrow at Cafe Stritch!

Under “Construction” with Jon Ford

The freedom of being in a new place can take a character in many directions. We were compelled by Jon Ford‘s”Construction,” a short story that depicts the liberating and at-times heartbreaking explorations of a young gay man visiting New York City for the first time. We’re looking forward to performing this piece on Wednesday at Play On Words: New Horizons.

 

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Jon Ford

Jon is a writer from New York City, an area which informs much of his work. Formerly an actor in theaters across the country, he studied English and Creative Writing at Hunter College and received a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of California – Davis.  Jon received a number of scholarships and fellowships during his academic period and is currently working on two writing projects, The Tenth Ward, and a shorter detective novel, The Tinker’s Damn, which is set in Manhattan’s Hells Kitchen neighborhood.

His publications, honors and awards include:

  • “The Return” – The Olive Tree Review, Fall 2011, No. 46, Hunter College, New York, NY
  • “Moving Day” – The Olive Tree Review, Fall 2007, No. 40, Hunter College, New York, NY
  • Residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragsdale, and The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow.

Jon answered a few questions for us from his NYC home in advance of this week’s event.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?  

While I’ve often read my work aloud I was intrigued with the prospect of having someone else interpret my work and see the results a different point of view would bring to the piece.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

This sounds a bit corny, but my mother read aloud to me when I was growing up and she inspired my interest in reading, writing, and the arts in general.  Later, she began writing children’s stories and had a number of children’s books, poems, and memoir pieces published. She seemed to write simply because she loved doing it and I try to keep that mindset in my own work.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

It’s hard to pick only one. I live in New York City in the theater district so I am lucky enough to be constantly exposed to new (and old) plays which keep me hungry to write.  Also, my reading interests are spread all across periods and genres. However, I recently saw a new production of Angels in America and the play’s wide scope of social ideas combined with the tight, intense understanding of its characters really fired me up.

Want to hear his work performed aloud? Join us Wednesday at Cafe Stritch

Happy “Birthday” Valerie

Childbirth is a personal and particular experience–one that every mother could describe in a thousand different ways. Valerie Singer’s poem “Birthday” describes the vulnerability, humor, exhaustion and love that one mother experiences giving birth to her third child. We can’t wait to perform this lovely piece on Wednesday at Play On Words: New Horizons.

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Valerie Singer

Valerie is a San Jose native and was raised by literature-loving parents and educated by cool, hippie nuns. A graduate of UC Davis, she earned both a BA in history and a multiple subject teaching credential.  Valerie has performed in local theater since forever, where she has met many wonderful artists, including her husband of 22 years, Matt. She stays up far too late in bed writing on her iPad, but she loves writing too much to stop. She claims that she has no publications, honors or awards, but is quite proud of the “World’s Greatest Mom” coffee mug presented to her by her kids. She will be performing in “Shakespeare’s Most Wanted” with Silicon Valley Shakespeare April 27 – 29. 

Valerie answered a few questions for us in advance of our April 11 show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I know Melinda and some of the past performers through local theater.  I’d watched some performances and love the patchwork beauty of the evening. Each piece is always so distinct but juxtaposes so nicely. It’s exciting to see word-based art in San Jose. Life in Silicon Valley is so insanely fast-paced-go-go-go that it’s a blessing to have a venue where people can sit down, relax, enjoy the exchange of the spoken word and practice active listening.  I’d just written some poems when I saw the POW call for submissions on Facebook and I decided 2018 was the time to get one of my works out of my iPad and into the world. I’m thrilled to have one of my poems performed!

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Oh, so, so many! Toni Morrison, Katherine Anne Porter, Thomas Wolfe, Michele Serros, John Nichols, Steinbeck…there’s a lot more.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Elizabeth Coatsworth’s The Cat Who Went To Heaven. It was the first book that made me cry. I was in the first grade and I burst into tears in my room after reading it. My mom came running upstairs because she thought one of my siblings had hit me. When she realized what had really happened, she turned it into a nice teachable moment about the power of storytelling. I was hooked.  I wrote my first story “A Stranger In The Field” shortly after.

Want more Valerie? Join us Wednesday at Cafe Stritch

Anjela Villarreal Ratliff’s Letter to Spanish

While reading submissions for our New Horizons show, we were delighted to come across the work of poet Anjela Villarreal Ratliff. Anjela’s poems explore a personal relationship with language and tell stories with every line. We’re looking forward to performing her poem “Dear español” April 11 at Cafe Stritch.

 

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Anjela Villareal Ratliff

Anjela is a graduate of San Jose State University. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Texas Poetry Calendar, Australian Latino Press, Chachalaca Review, Boundless, Pilgrimage Magazine, riverSedge: A Journal of Art and Literature; Bearing the Mask: Southwestern Persona Poems; Latinas: Protests and Struggles in the 21st Century USA; and is forthcoming in Southwestern American LiteratureWomen in the Southwest: From the Frontier to the Frontline; and Poems for the Tricentennial – A Poetic Legacy. She is also a creative writing workshop presenter. A native Tejana, Anjela was six months old when her migrant family moved to southern California where she was raised. She has lived in Austin, Texas, since 1990.

Anjela has published several poetry chapbooks, including Jardín de Poesía and Entre Piedra y Sol. Some of her chapbooks have been archived at the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas in Austin, and at Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections. Her poem, “Merged Mundos,” was a winner in the San Antonio Tricentennial Poetry Contest. Her poem, “I Exist,” was animated by Francesca Talenti. Her short story, “In My Classroom,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. Several of her poems were winners of the Poetry With Wheels contest, for the Austin Metro area. Anjela was also editor for the Austin Poetry Society’s MuseLetter. Her artistic photos have been published in Pilgrimage and the San Pedro River Review. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself for us.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I saw the recent call for submissions by Play on Words posted on Facebook; and since I am a former graduate of San Jose State University, it perked my interest right away. I was delighted by the idea that readers and performers from the San Jose area would be reading the selected works.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

I have been very inspired by numerous well-known poets, including Carmen Tafolla, Naomi Shihab Nye, Benjamin Alire Saenz, David Hernandez, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz, to name just a few. I am continually inspired by the poetry of several talented Austin poets I am privileged to know personally: Gloria Amescua, Lydia Armendáriz, Liliana Valenzuela, and Celeste Guzman Mendoza.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

I very much enjoy the performances by the gifted and multitalented, world-renowned poet/writer/performer, Dr. Carmen Tafolla, the 2012-2014 Poet Laureate of San Antonio, and Poet Laureate of Texas for 2015-2016. One of her earlier collections of poetry and prose, Sonnets to Human Beings and Other Selected Works, is one of my all time favorites by the Latina poet. She also performs a one-woman storytelling act, with an array of great characters, including “Tia Maria.” Every time I see her perform her literary works, I come away inspired and deeply moved.

Intrigued? Join us at 7 pm next Wednesday, April 11 at San Jose’s Cafe Stritch to see her work performed aloud.

Charlene’s “Cloak”

Sometimes we are drawn to stories because of their premise or pacing; other times we are compelled by a singular and unique voice, one we hadn’t heard before. When we received “The Fisherman and the Cloak” by Charlene Logan Burnett, we were struck by the story’s tone, tenor and unusual, Aesop’s fable-turned-Nordic-fairy-tale rhythm. We look forward to performing this piece a week from today at our New Horizons show at Cafe Stritch.

 

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Charlene Logan Burnett

Charlene Logan Burnett writes fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness Magazine, Blackbird, Natural Bridge, RHINO, WomensArts Quarterly, and other magazines and journals. She was a writing fellow at the MacDowell Colony and a Pushcart Nominee. She earned an M.F.A. in Playwriting from the University of California, Davis.

She has been a finalist in a number of short fiction contests, including the 2017 Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction, sponsored by Nimrod International Journal, the 2017 Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction, sponsored by Colorado Review, and the 2017 Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize, sponsored by Hunger Mountain.

“The Fisherman and The Cloak,” published in Menacing Hedge, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2013. Charlene graciously shared some insight with us.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I had an English professor who used to read from a women’s fiction anthology to our class. It was a magical hour. Often, stories that move me to tears are spoken. The pace is slower. The space feels more intimate than a page. The words seem to penetrate deeper inside me.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

For this particular piece, I would say Angela Carter. Flannery O’Connor remains one of my favorites.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

I went back to college as an adult with a small child. I had to take a remedial English class to catch up. The teacher used to read aloud to us from the fiction anthology, Women and Fiction: Short Stories By and About Women. It was my first experience listening to the words of women writers like Grace Paley and Margaret Drabble. They wrote about people I knew. It was in that class I decided to write. The paperback book, although falling apart, is still on my shelf.

Want to see Charlene’s work performed aloud? Join us at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 11 at San Jose’s Cafe Stritch. Hope to see you there!

Lyra Dresses for Success

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.

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Lyra Halprin

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.

Publications:

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 StormFamily, 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!