Ksenia Lakovic and the Power of Language

How do different generations grapple with social change? For the narrator in Ksenia Lakovic’s “The New Disease,” it means clearing trash on her middle school courtyard in 1986 Belgrade while her stalwart teacher lectured her on the perils of fascism. We were taken by the language and style of Lakovic’s prose, which expresses its own exploration of “new terrains,” and are thrilled to perform it on February 24 at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Ksenia Lakovic

Ksenia lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, with her husband and son, and revisits her native Serbia every summer. She holds a PhD from UCLA and a BS from University of Belgrade, and is an alumna of Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Napa Valley Writers Conference. Her work won the UCLA Kurnitz Creative Writing Award and was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award and Tillie Olsen Short Story Award. She has written for The Globe and Mail, The Millions, and several other publications.

Ksenia is currently finalizing her first novel, both in English and Serbian language. The novel, set between 1992 and 2012, is based on her memories of the Yugoslav wars and their aftermath. Read an excerpt and more of her work at www.klakovic.com. She agreed to answer a few questions for us in preparation for our show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I like the idea of bringing together writers and performers, and contributing to our creative local community. Play on Words has also been recommended by Valerie Fioravanti, whose writing I admire.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Dubravka Ugrešić has been a huge inspiration to me for over two decades, because of her distinct writing style and her sharp perspective on my home region and the world.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro and Black Lamb and Gray Falcon by Rebecca West.

Intrigued? Join us on February 24 at the San Jose Museum of Art for Play On Words: New Terrains to see Ksenia’s work performed aloud.

Tony Press and the Power of Postcards

Sometimes what is unsaid is as powerful as what we say aloud. How do you communicate loneliness, hope or love on the back of a postcard? We were taken by Tony Press’ “Postcards from the Underground,” which tells the story of a military spouse and her pacifist son, and look forward to performing it on February 24 at our New Terrains show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Tony Press

Tony Press writes fiction when he has questions and poetry when he thinks he has answers; thus, mostly fiction. His story collection Crossing the Lines was published by Big Table in 2016. Equinox and Solstice, an e-chapbook of his poems is online, available via Right Hand Pointing. He claims two Pushcart nominations, 25 criminal trials, 12 years in the same high school classroom, and not one website. He loves Oaxaca, Mexico; Bristol, England; and especially Brisbane, California. He answered a few questions for us in advance of the show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
Other writers have told me how wonderful it is to hear talented performers read their words–I wanted a taste for myself.

Which writers or performers inspire you?
Marilynne Robinson and Luis Alberto Urrea.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. A few days after I finished it, I hitched from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The next summer (when I was 17) I hitched across the country.

Want to learn more about Tony? Join us at Play On Words: New Terrains on Sunday, February 24, from 2 – 4 pm at the San Jose Museum of Art.

Becky Kling’s Dream Sequence

It can be hard to capture the dream state that is early parenthood. Not only is a new parent trying to understand a life they are responsible for introducing to the world, he or she is trying to juggle competing identities, often on very little sleep. Talk about new terrains! We fell in love with Becky Kling’s “Postpartum Dream Sequence,” a series of shorts that perfectly capture the seeming absurdity, joy, and incongruity of parenthood. We look forward to performing this original work on February 24 at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Becky Kling

Becky is finishing her PhD in English at UC Davis, where she studies writing and composition as well as nineteenth-century literature. When she is not dissertating or teaching, she loves to write creatively, do yoga, cook, hike, and hang out with her family. She contributes to “Bitching the Pot,” a blog about all things Victorian coauthored with Leilani Serafin, PhD. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for us in advance of this month’s show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I have been following Play on Words San Jose on social media and I love the concept of staging literary performances. When I saw the theme of “New Terrains,” it seemed like a great fit with some of my recent writing. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my work through Play on Words!

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Toni Morrison, Ada Limón, David Whyte, Mary Oliver, David Sedaris, Junot Diaz, Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Brontë, and so many more!

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

I got to see David Sedaris perform in Santa Cruz last May. I love his complete unabashed joy in being himself, both in his writing and on the stage. I think of writing as a window to the soul, and sharing that with the world is exhilarating, but it can also be terrifying! His comfort in his own skin is inspiring and contagious.

Join us on February 24 to see Becky’s work performed at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

New Terrains Show: February 24

Happy New Year, Playonwordsians!

We received a record number of amazing submissions for our New Terrains show at the San Jose Museum of Art this winter. This is a quick note to let you know that we had to reschedule our show to Sunday, February 24, from 3-5 pm. Originally advertised for Saturday, February 9, all work that was submitted for this date will be considered for February 24.

As a volunteer organization we do our best to juggle multiple artistic needs, so we appreciate your understanding as we work to put together the best show we possibly can. Stay tuned!

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Call for Submissions: New Terrains

This week marks five years since our first Play On Words show at San Jose’s Blackbird Tavern. With every season, we’ve tried something new–performed at festivals, partnered with Flash Fiction Forum on a chapbook, staged live readings of television shows. This fall, we’re delighted to partner with the San Jose Museum of Art on its upcoming “New Terrains: Migration and Mobility” cross-disciplinary exhibit. We’ve got our first 2019 date on the calendar–Sunday, February 24, from 3-5 pm–which means that we need you, faithful writers and artists, to share your work with us!

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What Does New Terrains Mean to You?

For our February show, we are seeking work that responds to the theme of New Terrains: Migration and Mobility. What does that mean to you? Does new terrain denote geography, movement, space? Could it be a crossing of emotional territory? Or a literal reflection on what it means to move your body, your family, your city?

Send Us Your:

  • fiction (short stories, flash fiction, stand-alone novel excerpts
  • nonfiction (memoir, short essays, meditations and reflections)
  • poetry
  • theatre (one-act plays, sketches, comedy, satire, drama)

For prose pieces, we ask you to cap submissions at 1500 words. Depending on the work of theatre, you can submit something longer if it reads quickly.

Email us your submissions to playonwordssj@gmail.com by December 15 to be considered for our February show.

Join Us for the Exhibition Kick-off: November 15

We’ve been invited to present at the museum’s November 15 partner kickoff, which will feature many of the organizations contributing to the New Terrains exhibit. Mosaic Silicon Valley will offer a number of special performances during the evening. The international creative collective known as RadioEE will roll up to the party with Autopiloto, a marathon radio transmission that will be broadcast while on-the-move in a semi-autonomous vehicle traversing the Bay Area, examining how emerging autopilot/AI technologies are transforming the world. RadioEE will be live streaming their interactions with partner organizations and visitors while at SJMA, as part of their project commissioned by the Lucas Artist Residency Program at Montalvo Art Center.

Play On Words will be reading a few show selections at the event. We’ll be there to promote our call for submissions and enjoy an evening of performance, artistry and excitement. We hope to see you there!

Tickets are available on the San Jose Museum of Art website: $5 after 5 pm, free for museum members.