creative nonfiction

Jack Straw Reading at the University Bookstore

I just returned home from a fantastic reading by four Seattle women writers whose work I feel compelled to share. The reading celebrated their participation in the Jack Straw Writers Program, designed to train writers in the public aspect of their careers (readings, interviews, and general presentation) while introducing these writers and their work to the local community. Their words travelled different paths through the shared territories of love, loss, and the chasm between parent and child. But each writer commands a voice and body of work all her own. Michelle Penaloza - Michelle is a poet whose work I discovered online a few weeks ago and have been looking forward to hearing her read. The curator of this year's Jack Straw Writers, Felicia Gonzalez, introduced Michelle by saying that her poetry was rooted in storytelling, and each poem indeed explored a narrative while reveling in language and image. Her opening poem expanded a moment of connection between herself and an older couple during their layovers at O'Hare, capturing their shared longing for connection in an exchange of words and sentiments that lasted beyond the moment. I loved the image of their crow's feet peering at her over their styrofoam coffee cups. I am already anticipating her chapbook, landscape / heartbreak, a "literary cartography of heartbreak in Seattle," forthcoming from Two Sylvias Press in spring 2015.

Loreen Lilyn Lee - I met Loreen in 2011 during the Artist Trust EDGE Professional Development Program, during which she was working on her memoir. In three years, she has completed the manuscript, now titled The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir, and it was a pleasure to hear new material expanding on and enlivening the themes I heard in previous readings. Loreen's meditation on the Hawaiian staple poi, a paste from taro, was a great introduction to island culture and its role in Loreen's life. One image that remains with me is of Loreen as a child, having covered her hands and arms in the mauve paste, cackling like a witch with her siblings, their young skin immediately wrinkled and aged. An image to which she returned at the end of the chapter, marveling from her perspective as the adult writer at her youthful folly.

Susan Meyers Susan read from her forthcoming book, Failing the Trapeze, a novel about the family circus circuit based on her family's history. The excerpts introduced Dollie Mae Richards, a seemingly fearless trapeze artist, and her daughter Maxine, dramatizing their relationship with the images of young Maxine watching from directly below as her mother ascends the ladder toward the trapeze and of Dollie Mae creating a pile of spent corn husks as she inhales tamales in a fit of madness on the eve of Maxine's birth. I was lucky to purchase the novel four days before its official release next Monday.

Claudia Castro Luna - Claudia is a poet who read from her memoir-in-progress about her escape from the Salvadorean Civil War. The chapter, entitled "The Books" opened with a list of books, read in Spanish, that that had accompanied her family when they escaped to the United States. With her prose, she gently nudged the books open, revealing the role that they and she played in the family's choice to leave their country. Her prose was striking and gorgeous, and I valued the way she embodied both her childhood and adult selves.

What a pleasure to discover such the work of these generous and talented women. I left with more energy (and more books) than when I entered, and I consider that a night well spent.

For future readings and information about these writers and the other eight 2014 participants, visit the Jack Straw Writers Events page.