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!

Tarn Wilson’s Father Refuses

One exciting trend emerged while we were reading submissions for our Activists Unite show: We noticed writers responding to similar themes regardless of era. Among our chapbook submissions we were excited to stumble across an excerpt of Tarn Wilson’s memoir, which included a 1968 letter that her father had written to his university administration. Keenan Flagg will be reading this letter, as well as her interpretation of it, tomorrow night at Cafe Stritch.

Tarn Wilson is the author of the memoir The Slow Farm (Ovenbird Books: Judith Kitchen Select, 2014) about her childhood with her hippy parents in the Canadian wilderness. Her essays appear in Brevity, Defunct, Gulf Stream, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, J Journal, River Teeth, Ruminate, South Loop Review, and The Sun, among others. She is a graduate of the Rainier Writing Workshop and a co-founder of Creator Schools, which offers writing courses for innovative Bay Area teens and adults. She is currently at work on a new memoir, How to Become the Second Most Popular Girl in the Sixth Grade.

She also directs and teaches at the Creator School. She shared some insight into this piece with us.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
It has been so inspiring poking around your website. What a fantastic gift you have given writers and the community! (And I’ve loved your performances I’ve seen.)  Thanks for all your efforts.

What inspired you to write “My Father Refuses to Attend his Commencement, May 1968”?
“My Father Refuses” is a letter I found after in some files after my father’s death. I love it because is so perfectly encapsulates the earnest, sometimes naive activism of ’60s. I find it both charming and maddening. I included it in my memoir the Slow Farm, about what it was like living with hippie parents in the wilds of British Columbia.

I am a local high school creative writing teacher.

tarn wilson

We hope you can join us tomorrow at Cafe Stritch to see her work performed–and to preorder our chapbook, Activate!