Keenan Flagg Chimes for America

What does the American dream mean in 2019? In his epistle to America, writer and actor Keenan Flagg writes that “though your voice is rasped, and your eyes are heavy, I still love you.” We were intrigued by the way the narrator in this prose poem both loves and loathes this complicated country, indicating yet another take on “new terrains.” We’re looking forward to performing his piece, “Chimes,” this upcoming Sunday, February 24, at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Keenan is a local writer, actor, and activist who believes strongly in the power of words. “Chimes” among other new work attempts to use this power to highlight the disassociation some feel living in this current time of political gridlock and how that feeling can bleed into action.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

When I think of words like migration and movement, I think first of the act of moving, of picking up and leaving, and what that means to a person. Second to that is the act of settling. You moved, you took a leap, you left your home, your comfort zone, etc. but now you have to carve out in unfamiliar terrain a new life for yourself, a new series of patterns. Migration isn’t just leaving for something new, it’s a hard restart and it takes a lot of courage and determination and faith.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

I’ve been reading Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. Recently, I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from sci-fi writers which is kind of odd for poetry, but the depth of language and shear imagination of concepts resonates with me.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Ohio, by Stephen Markley. Amazing piece of historical fiction that really peels back the layers of small-town middle America and examines, in probably a little too much detail, the collapse of the industrial middle class. Also, George Saunders beautiful work Lincoln in the Bardo, this novel is incredible, and everyone should read it. It’s an intense and intimate study of grief and love.

Want to learn more about Keenan? Join us at our New Terrains show on Feb 24. Click here to reserve your tickets, which include free admission to the San Jose Museum of Art! RSVP on Facebook for more details.

 

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.

 

 

Laurel Brittan reads Valerie Castro Singer’s “Birthday”

What is going through a mother’s head when she is in labor? We loved Valerie Castro Singer‘s poignant, funny and lovely poem “Birthday,” performed wonderfully by Laurel Brittan at Cafe Stritch on April 11:

Thanks again to Valerie for sharing her words–and to Laurel for loaning us her voice.

Missing POW? We’re gearing up for our August 27 performance at Redwood City’s Dragon Theatre–stay tuned to learn more about the special show we have planned.

Ivette Deltoro reads “Dear español” by Anjela Villarreal Ratliff

The last few months we at Play On Words have been busy behind the scenes, getting ready for some amazing new shows we will be producing later this year. Busy–but not too busy to continue uploading content from our April 11 show at Cafe Stritch! Over the next few weeks you’ll get a chance to enjoy performances by our stellar cast, as recorded by POW social media manager Ryan Alpers.

Today we’re thrilled to share Ivette Deltoro’s performance of “Dear espanol,” a beautiful poem by SJSU alumna, the Texan poet Anjela Villarreal Ratliff:

We’re grateful to the amazing writers, performers and volunteers who make our shows happen. Stay tuned for more videos–and for news of our next big project, coming to a theater near you in late August!

 

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.

April Reclaims America

We are excited to promote the work of writers whose art intersects with activism. Children’s book writer and poet April Halprin Wayland is one such unicorn. April is the author of seven books, including More Than Enough—a Passover Story (Dial) which has been praised by the New York Times, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly; the gold medal-winning picture book, New Year at the Pier—a Rosh Hashanah Story (Dial), and the award-winning novel in poems, Girl Coming in for a Landing (Knopf). She was named UCLA Extension Writers’ Program Outstanding Instructor of the Year, where she has been teaching since 1999. When she is not writing, April plays the fiddle, hikes with her dog, and helps people vote. She blogs at TeachingAuthors.com and is the co-founder of www.AIforC.org, a progressive PAC of 1200 published children’s authors and illustrators.

We can’t wait to perform two of her poems. “My Arms Are Tired,” and “So This is How You Felt” at our Activists Unite show next Wednesday at San Jose’s Cafe Stritch. Her poem “My Arms Are Tired” will appear in Activate, the chapbook we are producing in conjunction with San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum.

Recent publications, honors or awards:

UCLA Extension Writers’ Program’s Outstanding Instructor in Creative Writing

For the book New Year at the Pier (Dial):
The Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for Younger Readers (best Jewish picture book of the year)
starred review in Publishers Weekly 
Tablet Magazine’s Best Book of the Year

For the book Girl Coming in for a Landing, a novel in poems (Dial):

  • The Myra Cohn Livingston Award for poetry given by the Children’s Literature  Council of Southern California.  
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor Book for Children’s Poetry, presented by the College of Education and the University Libraries at Penn State University and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.   
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection.
  • Nominated for a Best Book of the Year for Young Adults by the American Library Association (ALA)
  • Nominated for the ALA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers

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Six-time winner of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Magazine Merit Award for Poetry
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April’s album, IT’S NOT MY TURN TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA AND OTHER STORIES (which includes five stories, seventeen poems and a fiddle tune) won the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Medal for Storytelling.
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April Halprin Wayland

April’s upcoming projects:

Reclaiming our country.  

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
The dynamite energy of Play on Words and the topic.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

singer/song writer:
Joni Mitchell ~ the poetry of her lyrics changed my life

performance:
Hamilton ~ for it’s audacity and raw energy and crazy-wonderful word choices

books:
Recent: Train I Ride by Paul Mosier, a beautifully crafted, highly original middle grade novel.

My all-time favorite picture book: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, which at its core is about being resourceful. This book gave me permission to draw my own world and then step inside it.

As the writer Nikos Kazantzakis said, “You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go.

 

Want to see April’s work performed live? Join us on Wednesday, January 17, for Activists Unite at Cafe Stritch.

Christine Stoddard

Part of our goal in creating Activate, our new chapbook, was to share the sometimes-underrepresented stories of fellow writers and activists. We were moved by Christine Stoddard’s “Thirty Pounds in Three Months,” which details one character’s physical reaction to the 2016 election. We look forward to performing her work at Activists Uniteour January 17 show at San Jose’s Cafe Stritch.

Stoddard is a former Annmarie Sculpture Garden artist-in-residence and an M.F.A. DIAP candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY). Her work has appeared in special programs at the New York Transit Museum, the Queens Museum, the Poe Museum, and beyond. She is the author of Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing) and the founder of Quail Bell Magazine. Born in Virginia to a Salvadoran mother and American father, Stoddard lives in Brooklyn. 

Christine Stoddard Headshot CroppedHer publications, honors and awards include:

  • Folio Magazine’s top 20 media visionaries in their 20s for founding Quail Bell Magazine.
  • Laberinto Projects Summer 2017 Visiting Artist, Coatepeque, El Salvador
  • 2012 Puffin Foundation National Emerging Artist Grant

Her upcoming projects include:

On February 2, her film & video show “Lady Pandora” will be at the FiveMyles Gallery in Brooklyn.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I’ve really been eager to have my work performed again. This seemed like the place!

Which writers or performers inspire you?

bell hooks, David Sedaris, Ada Limón, Joan Didion

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Want to hear Christine’s work read aloud? Join us January 17 at Cafe Stritch!

Play on Words Podcast: The POWer Half Hour

POWartPODBy interviewing artists, writers, and performers from past shows, to learn more about their artistic and creative process, to speak on San Jose, and to shed light on our passions, we endeavor to produce this podcast. Ryan Alpers is the creator, producer, and host of the “Play on Words POWer Half Hour” and will, in the first season, pair recorded segments with the writers, performers, and creators of previous Play on Words shows. Guests include Gary Singh, Melinda Marks, and more!

Andrew Christian
Andrew Christian

In the first episode, we talk with Andrew Christian about how he approached writing his poem “Scars,” performed at Cafe Stritch in San Jose, teaching high school English, and how he uses creative writing to empower emerging voices in his classroom. We’re really excited for this, and the upcoming episodes, so stay tuned and tell your friends!

We chose to host our content primarily on Sound Cloud, so take a listen to the POWer Half Hour Podcast. We can’t wait to tell you more, so be sure to follow us on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest #POWPOD updates. Hooray podcasts! Hooray!