Introducing Melissa Flores Anderson

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 Flores Anderson

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!

While Tania Martin Was Sleeping

“Humanity’s lease on the planet may soon be up,” writes the narrator of Tania Martin’s “While You Were Sleeping,” who envisions bear attacks, drive-by proselytizing and the inevitable downfall of humankind while her partner lays sleeping. Something in this piece’s macabre yet realistic tone felt very 2019 to us—it is at once self-effacing and full of anxiety, yet conscious of the beauty still left in our world. We’re looking forward to performing Tania’s piece at our Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art on Jan. 12.

Tania is a writer from San Jose. She is currently working on her first novel, which she hopes to complete in 2020. She is co-founder of The Flash Fiction Forum, a literary reading series focusing on short works. She is also an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. Tania enjoys teaching art to middle school students and cycling around the bay area on her road bike. She earned a BS in Geology from UC Davis and loves the outdoors. 

Tania Martin

What are you working on these days?

Flash Fiction Forum will have its next reading series on January 8th at Works Gallery 365 S Market St, San Jose. For more information visit our website.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I’m a big fan of Play On Words. I love the collaborative energy they bring to San Jose’s literary scene. It’s magical to hear your words preformed by such talented actors.

 Which writers or performers inspire you?

I’m a big fan of Louise Erdrich, Jhumpa Lahiri, Annie Proulx, Denis Johnson, and Zadie Smith to name a few; the poetry of Seamus Heaney and Elizabeth Bishop; and re-reading the classics: especially Tolstoy, Austin, and the Bronte sisters. I’m currently reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, which is a gorgeous book about travel and discovery.

 Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

One of my fondest memories is my father reading The Hobbit aloud to me when I was a child. J.R.R. Tolkien’s world building captured my imagination and I looked forward to hearing the next chapter all day. I saw how it was possible to carry entire other worlds around with you in your head. 

Want to see us perform Tania’s work aloud? Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

Arcadia Conrad Stems the Tide

Why is it most high school capers tend to take place in restaurants? The characters in Arcadia Conrad‘s “Stem the Tide” hatch an elaborate plan to scurry away to senior prom, despite disapproving parents, while arguing over tartar sauce. We’re delighted to work with the fabulous Arcadia again at our January 12 Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

Arcadia is a director, educator, intimacy director in training and playwright who has created work for The Dragon Theatre,  Santa Clara Players, and City Lights Theatre Company among others She is currently developing her full length play, Script Doctor, about a Hollywood family coming to terms with its past, and writing a manual for theatre educators based on her blog. Her work as an ID can be seen in the upcoming “The Nether” and “Spring Awakening” at The Dragon Theatre. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2018. 


Arcadia Conrad

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?


I love the people and am inspired by the incredible contributions of those who create and perform for it. 

Which writers or performers inspire you?

There are a lot of things I wish I had written. I take comfort in the existence of  Lisa Tadeo, Miriam Towes, Phoebe Waller Bridge, Anna Deveare Smith. 

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland continues to. 

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


Marilyn Horn’s “Elephant”

Move over, Lloyd Dobler—there’s a new romantic in town, and he’s riding an elephant. The narrator in Marilyn Horn’s “Elephant” reconnects with a high school classmate while wearing pants her ex referred to as her “elephant pants.” We look forward to performing Marilyn’s piece on January 12 at the San Jose Museum of Art, where we will be returning for Play On Words: Beyond Boundaries.

Marilyn is a technical editor in Silicon Valley. Her short stories have appeared in Marathon Review, Blotterature and NonBinary Review, among others, and she also presents at San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum from time to time. A collection of her stories was published in 2016 by Thinking Ink Press.

Marilyn Horn

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

There’s nothing like hearing the PoW cast bring stories to life. Sometimes when I finish a piece, I automatically think, “This would be a good one for Play on Words,” and then I check the PoW submissions page.

Which writers or performers inspire you?
Lately I can’t stop reading Olga Tokarczuk. Weird, funny and dark. What’s not to love?

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Writing brings up a lot of fear for me. Mostly I’m afraid of what I’ll discover the digger I deep. So the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway has helped a lot. As for performances, I’ll have to go with Liz Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Talk about someone who dug deep. Amazing.

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

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!

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.

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.

new online thumbnail 2018

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.


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. 


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.