Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Path of an Infidel

Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1969, Ayaan Hirsi Ali followed both a painful and triumphant route across several continents to become a citizen of the United States in 2013. Her path led her from a  devout Muslim upbringing, with its attendant practices of female genital mutilation and forced marriage, to the Netherlands where she sought asylum in 1992. Studying at the University of Leiden, she earned a masters degree and became politically active. As an elected member of the Dutch parliament, she was a proponent of Muslim women's rights and the integration of immigrants into Dutch culture. Notoriety and a death threat attached to her in 2004 when Theo van Gogh was assassinated while filming her short film, Submission, which was her protest against female oppression under Islam. Following a contentious period with the Dutch government, she moved to the United States and founded her organization, the AHA Foundation, to defend women against harmful practices such as honor killings and violence as well as against genital mutilation. She continues to maintain her focus on relations between Islam and the West.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Dog-Approved Poetry

 Cynthia Rylant

Mary Oliver

Both Cynthia Rylant and Mary Oliver grew up under difficult circumstances and sought comfort in nature and their beloved pets. Cynthia Rylant's parents divorced early, and she was estranged from her father. Nonetheless, she spent several happy years living with her grandparents in West Virginia where she came to appreciate country ways as illustrated in her story book When I Was Young in the Mountains. Cynthia has published many beloved children's books including the Henry and Mudge series and Mr. Putter and Tabby books. 

Mary Oliver states that her childhood was not nice and suggests that parental neglect caused her to escape for long walks in the woods outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  On these walks, she carried a notebook and began experimenting with poetry. As an adult, she has maintained this practice over the years and is said to have stowed away pencils in the woods lest she should forget to bring one and not be able to jot down her thoughts. Much of her writer's inspiration as an adult has come from her life in Provincetown, Massachusetts, although she has now moved to southern Florida. Mary has received numerous awards for her poetry, notably the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

Open Doerr, Open Eyes



It is evident from his first short story collection, The Shell Collector, that Anthony Doerr clearly wants us to see (and see clearly) the natural world around us and to reconnect ourselves to it. In a 2010 interview discussing the intersections between the arts and the sciences, Doerr states, "What draws me toward the intersections? Everything! Everything around us right now, the bacteria in our guts, the tiny radio in our cell phones, the combustion engines rumbling out the window. Go look at the nearest, humblest tree and try to really see it: messages radiate between its cells along vast networks of cytoplasm; the leaves are fending off pests and pathogens, rootlets are prowling the soil, photoreceptors are monitoring the amount of daylight, water is coursing up through xylem; sugars and nutrients are dribbling down through phloem—every weed in your yard takes part in a whirling, staggering ballet; it’s making the air we breathe, making food out of photons that have come flying 93 million miles through the crushing, cold vacuum of space—that alone is enough to make a person want to kneel down." 

And how does he bring the reader along with him to that intersection, in this case, where the arts can speak for the sciences, where the writer can use the natural sciences as a subject to engage our imagination and give us a better understanding of human behavior?  In this same interview, Doerr responds that the short story medium is an excellent way to accomplish that goal. "And I believe the magic of a good short story, in particular, comes from the compression of so many days of thought into a space that can be experienced by a reader in an hour or so. So for me it comes from spending a lot of time in the language of whatever subject I’m interested in at the moment, shells or snow or radio or violin making or whatever, and working slowly, backtracking out of lots of dead-ends, toward a concerted and unified vision."

Learn more about this award-winning (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, O. Henry Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction) author on his website: anthonydoerr.com.



Thursday, March 2, 2017

On Loss and Gain


Ann Hood visited Bernardsville Public Library last year for an author interview concerning her latest publication, The Book That Matters Most. In discussing her life, she shared her personal story of grief at the loss of her five-year old daughter to illness in 2002. At the end of the program, a few of our audience members shared their own stories with her as well. This is a photo from one of those encounters. 

Out of her grief, the author came to write such books as The Knitting Circle and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief. But out of this experience she also decided with her husband to adopt a daughter from China, which led to the writing of our book, The Red ThreadOn her webpage, Ann Hood writes, "The Red Thread was inspired my family's decision to adopt our daughter Annabelle from China in 2005. Although the characters on that journey in the novel are all fictional, their desire to create families is universal and true. Like many adoptive parents, I wondered about the brave woman who gave up her daughter. Those imaginings led me to write the stories of six women in China who make that same painful decision. The Chinese belief in the red thread inspired both the title, and the metaphor of the story." 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

He Tells Narrative Nonfiction Like It Was


When discussing the motivation behind his writing career, Daniel James Brown states that "My primary interest as a writer is in bringing compelling historical events to life as vividly and accurately as I can." His publications bare this out. Brown is the author of books on the Donner Party (The Indifferent Stars Above), the 1936 Berlin Olympics (The Boys in the Boat), and our current book group selection, Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. Writing has been his one focus after studying at Diablo Valley College, UC Berkely, and UCLA. Following graduation, he taught the art of writing at San Jose State College and Stanford before moving on to become a technical writer and editor. Here's an author who's directed all his literary skills to the vivid retelling of history in a compelling manner. Visit his website, http://www.danieljamesbrown.com/, to learn more.