Mairead Brodie’s Changing Places

What does it mean to be an immigrant in the United States? We confront thousands of conflicting messages about the immigrant experience every day–many unflattering, untrue or based on stereotype–which makes it all the more important to truly listen to the narratives of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, family and friends from around the world. At Play On Words, we want to highlight untold stories that provoke thought and conversation–stories that reveal human character and diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. That’s why we were so drawn to Mairead Brodie’s essay, “Back Where They Came From,” which compares her grandparents’ journey from Ireland to the United States to her own path, which has most recently landed her in California. We’re delighted to be reading an excerpt of this essay at our New Terrains show at the San Jose Museum of Art on February 24.

mairead2
Mairead Brodie

Mairead was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself for us.

Tell us about yourself.

I lived in Berlin, Brussels and Edinburgh, working in research communications and technology before moving to the United States in 2012 where I took an enforced child-raising career break due to visa restrictions. Since getting my green card a couple of years ago, I have completed a two-year remote novel writing program at Stanford Continuing Studies, written freelance and kept on with the child-raising, said children now being 7 and 4. I have a masters in international politics and I like to write about the world around me.

What are you working on?

I have a debut novel that I am currently getting ready to send out to agents, a satire about Silicon Valley mores and what happens when they clash in a head-on collision with motherhood.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I love the theme of New Terrains. One of the goals I have in my work is to address social and economic issues through literature and so the theme of immigration and changing places was inspirational to me. And of course the wonderful Julia played her part in convincing me to submit my work–something I don’t do enough of!

Which writers or performers inspire you?

George Saunders, Mohsin Hamid, Edna O’Brien, Flann O’Brien (no relation!), Anne Enright. On the non-fiction side, Barbara Ehrenreich, Alex von Tunzelmann (a UK historian), Ta-nehisi Coates.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

One of my favorite theater performances was a production of Macbeth by a Polish theater company in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, in Scotland. The actors were on stilts, used a lot of fire and torchlight in their performance and quite simply gave me a new insight into a very old play, the most Scottish of plays. Recent books I have read that I have enjoyed mix politics with satire or social commentary. One memorable book that really spoke to me was Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, which addresses the global refugee crisis with a magic realist fairy tale about two lovers separated by war and time, flitting between worlds to find their version of happiness.  

Intrigued? Join us on February 24 at the San Jose Museum of Art to hear Mairead’s work performed aloud.

Anniqua Rana and the Imagination of the Young

What is the relationship between place and character, time and tradition? We were taken by the unique voice in Anniqua Rana’s “The Shrine of Sain Makhianwala,” an excerpt of her forthcoming novel, Wild Boar in the Cane Field, and are excited to perform it on February 24 at the San Jose Museum of Art. This same story will be published in the Noyo River Review in May 2019 and was described by novelist Shanthi Sekaran in this way:

“In ‘The Shrine of Sain Makhianwala,’ we are gifted a world that is vibrant and richly imagined. The narrative voice is tender and patient in its portrayal of how tradition touches modernity, how the ancients sway the imaginations of the young.”

anniqua
Anniqua Rana

Anniqua lives in California with her husband and two sons. When she’s not working as an educator in the community college system, she visits her family in Pakistan and England. The rest of the time, she reads, cooks, travels, and enjoys mystical music and poetry and does whatever it takes to keep her grounded and happy.

Her story “A Frog Underfoot” earned an honorable mention in the Desi Writers Lounge Short Story Competition. Also an excerpt of her novel, it tells the story of a woman in a village community who finds herself conflicted over whether to accept the fate decided for her or break away, as complex characters act in remarkably unpredictable ways around her.

wildboar
Wild Boar in the Cane Field

Anniqua also hosts the WittyBantr podcast, described as “an unstructured weekly podcast about what’s on our minds.” She will be reading “The Shrine of Sain Makhianwala” on Sunday, May 19, at the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

The connection between the written word and the many interpretations through visual and dramatic interpretations fascinates me. Reading to an audience also takes us back to the origin of storytelling.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

  • Elena Ferrante
  • Mohsin Hamid

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

  • The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferante
  • The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Harari

We look forward to performing Anniqua’s work at our New Terrains show on February 24, presented in partnership with the San Jose Museum of Art. RSVP on Facebook to get the details.

Introducing Mike Karpa

Exciting news, Playonwordsians: After reading through a delicious pile of submissions, we have selected 15 amazing pieces for our February 24 performance at the San Jose Museum of Art. The New Terrains show, which is included in SJMUSA’s ongoing exhibit, include original fiction, nonfiction, theater and poetry, with stories highlighting Iran, Ireland, Serbia, South Korea, China, India, Mexico and the United States. We’ll be rolling out our full lineup in the weeks that follow, starting with Mike Karpa.

new online thumbnail 2018
Mike Karpa

Mike is a queer San Francisco writer shifting from deeply felt literary writing to meaningless escapism. Briefly a professor and a DoJ staff translator, his biggest work victory is surviving as a freelancer for over thirty years, which may be why a full-time job, like a literary conference, sets his mind spinning murder-mystery plots.

His memoir and/or short fiction has been published in Tin House, Chaleur, Sixfold, Faultline and other literary magazines. His work has been selected for Memoir Monday, a weekly newsletter co-curated by Narratively, Catapult, Granta, Guernica, The Rumpus, Longreads and Tin House.

Mike is currently readying for launch, by any means necessary, his novel Criminals about drug smugglers in early ’90s Tokyo who blur the line between gay and straight. He answered a few questions for us in preparation for the February 24 show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
Hearing about it from Julia, plus a desire to hear how my story would sound with someone else–a pro!–reading it.

Which writers or performers inspire you?
Lydia Davis, Mark Haddon, Jorge Volpi, Flannery O’Connor, Philip K. Dick, Jody Angel, Michael Nava, Carol Rifka Brunt, gay writers living in the Midwest self-publishing mysteries and romances (you know who you are—love you!).

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.
Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t. I was astounded this style of writing existed, then doubly astounded she had been published so widely. (They let you do that?) She gave me permission to be more myself, which is something writing does for me generally. Thanks, Lydia Davis!

We can’t wait to perform Mike’s story, “Make a Muscle,” on February 24 at the San Jose Museum of Art. Stay tuned, because we will sharing a free ticket link before the performance so POW fans can gain free entrance to the museum.

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.

marilyn
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.”

fioravanti
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.

christina
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.

myers
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.

 

Pic
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.

IMG_0123
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