Charles Baudelaire

Dr. Jessie Fields has selected a poem that will take us back to France in the 1850’s:

“The Swan”

This poem by the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) is about Paris in 1857 which is governed by Louis Napoleon III, the nephew of Napolean I, his rule followed the bloody and unsuccessful insurrection of 1848.  In 1857 the old Paris is being destroyed, great boulevards are built to permit military movement and to prevent further insurrections. The poem is dedicated to Victor Hugo who like thousands of others left Paris in protest against the regime. Andromache is the widow of Hector of the vanquished city of Troy. The “negress” in the poem is a Black woman brought to Paris as a slave, sick with a disease of Europe, Tuberculosis, “trudging” in chains longing for her native Africa.

For me the poem stretches backward and forward and reflects the power of resistance and remembering though in the face of grief and repression.  The portrait of Charles Baudelaire was painted by Gustave Corbet in 1849.

 

Portrait of Charles Baudelaire - Gustave Courbet
Charles Baudelaire by Gustave Courbet

 

The Swan

To Victor Hugo

I

Andromache, I think of you! — That little stream,
That mirror, poor and sad, which glittered long ago
With the vast majesty of your widow’s grieving,
That false Simois swollen by your tears,

Suddenly made fruitful my teeming memory,
As I walked across the new Carrousel.
— Old Paris is no more (the form of a city
Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart);

I see only in memory that camp of stalls,
Those piles of shafts, of rough hewn cornices, the grass,
The huge stone blocks stained green in puddles of water,
And in the windows shine the jumbled bric-a-brac.

Once a menagerie was set up there;
There, one morning, at the hour when Labor awakens,
Beneath the clear, cold sky when the dismal hubbub
Of street-cleaners and scavengers breaks the silence,

I saw a swan that had escaped from his cage,
That stroked the dry pavement with his webbed feet
And dragged his white plumage over the uneven ground.
Beside a dry gutter the bird opened his beak,

Restlessly bathed his wings in the dust
And cried, homesick for his fair native lake:
“Rain, when will you fall? Thunder, when will you roll?”
I see that hapless bird, that strange and fatal myth,

Toward the sky at times, like the man in Ovid,
Toward the ironic, cruelly blue sky,
Stretch his avid head upon his quivering neck,
As if he were reproaching God!

II

Paris changes! but naught in my melancholy
Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone,
Old quarters, all become for me an allegory,
And my dear memories are heavier than rocks.

So, before the Louvre, an image oppresses me:
I think of my great swan with his crazy motions,
Ridiculous, sublime, like a man in exile,
Relentlessly gnawed by longing! and then of you,

Andromache, base chattel, fallen from the embrace
Of a mighty husband into the hands of proud Pyrrhus,
Standing bowed in rapture before an empty tomb,
Widow of Hector, alas! and wife of Helenus!

I think of the negress, wasted and consumptive,
Trudging through muddy streets, seeking with a fixed gaze
The absent coco-palms of splendid Africa
Behind the immense wall of mist;

Of whoever has lost that which is never found
Again! Never! Of those who deeply drink of tears
And suckle Pain as they would suck the good she-wolf!
Of the puny orphans withering like flowers!

Thus in the dim forest to which my soul withdraws,
An ancient memory sounds loud the hunting horn!
I think of the sailors forgotten on some isle,
— Of the captives, of the vanquished!…of many others too!

Bertolt Brecht

Harry Kresky’s first selection is 2 poems by Bertolt Brecht:

Bertolt Brecht was the pre-eminent writer associated with the German communist movement, considered the strongest of the “workers movements” until, of course, Hitler and the fascists came to power.  These poems from the 1930’s give a sense of the politics of that movement, both the militancy and, in my view, the naiveté.

Brecht is best known for his plays, but I like his poetry better.

After the fascists took over, Brecht moved to the U.S.  He never found his voice here and, many believe, disgraced himself when he testified before the House un-American Activities Committee in 1947.  Other progressive artists refused to testify and were found in contempt of Congress.  Brecht returned to Europe in October, 1947.

 

 

United Front Song

And because a man is human
He’ll want to eat, and thanks a lot
But talk can’t take the place of meat
or fill an empty pot.

So left, two, three!
So left, two, three!
Comrade, there’s a place for you.
Take your stand in the workers united front
For you are a worker too.

And because a man is human
he won’t care for a kick in the face.
He doesn’t want slaves under him
Or above him a ruling class.

So left, two, three!
So left, two, three!
Comrade, there’s a place for you.
Take your stand in the workers united front
For you are a worker too.

And because a worker’s a worker
No one else will bring him liberty.
It’s nobody’s work but the worker’ own
To set the worker free.

So left, two, three!
So left, two, three!
Comrade, there’s a place for you.
Take your stand in the workers united front
For you are a worker too.

Bertolt Brecht

 

Solidarity Song

Peoples of the world, together
Join to serve the common cause!
So it feeds us all for ever
See to it that it’s now yours.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

Black or white or brown or yellow
Leave your old disputes behind.
Once start talking with your fellow
Men, you’ll soon be of one mind.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

If we want to make this certain
We’ll need you and your support.
It’s yourselves you’ll be deserting
if you rat your own sort.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

All the gang of those who rule us
Hope our quarrels never stop
Helping them to split and fool us
So they can remain on top.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

Workers of the world, uniting
Thats the way to lose your chains.
Mighty regiments now are fighting
That no tyrrany remains!

Forward, without forgetting
Till the concrete question is hurled
When starving or when eating:
Whose tomorrow is tomorrow?
And whose world is the world?

Bertolt Brecht

 

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month.  To celebrate here at Politics for the People, I have asked Dr. Jessie Fields and Harry Kresky to curate a selection of some of their favorite political poems. Both are avid poetry readers, independent political leaders, and Jessie is also a poet.  I am looking forward to savoring the poems they select for us.

To kick us off, I wanted to share a personal favorite, Apolitical Intellectuals by Otto Rene Castillo.  I was introduced to this poem when I met the Castillo Theater in the mid 80’s.  NYC’s premier postmodern political theater was named after the Guatemalan revolutionary and poet who was killed in 1967.

I am including a wonderful video of volunteers from the Castillo theater performing Apolitical Intellectuals.  Enjoy.

Otto Rene Castillo

 

 

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.

–Otto Rene Castillo

 

 

 

Alex Myers: 10 Favorite Women in Historical Fiction

Thanks to Alex Myers for joining the Politics for the People conference call last evening.  We spent a lively hour together exploring the life and times of Deborah Sampson, gender roles, the role of language, the Revolutionary war and much more.  Thanks to everyone for creating a wonderful conversation.

Below is Alex’s Huffington Post  piece on his 10 favorite works of historical fiction that feature women in main roles.  Some of my favorites are here and some women I look forward to meeting in the pages….

 

Alex Myers Headshot

10 Absolutely Incredible Women in Historical Fiction

Posted: 04/10/2014 3:08 pm EDT Updated: 04/10/2014 3:59 pm EDT
Too often, even in the twenty-first century, history’s all about the men. That’s just one reason why I love to read and write historical fiction: It provides the opportunity to explore or create or re-energize the roles of women across the ages. As I wrote Revolutionary, I kept wondering which women from history Deborah Sampson would have known. In 1782 Massachusetts, she probably read chapbooks that told the stories of Joan of Arc, or Mary Rowlandson (who survived being captured by Native Americans) or Hannah Snell (who disguised herself as a man and served in the British Navy). I have no doubt that these stories inspired Deborah to set off on her own adventures, disguising herself as a man, enlisting in the army, and fighting for a year and a half in the Revolutionary War.

How fortunate are we, then, to live in an era so abundant with texts that champion the role of women throughout history. Here are my 10 favorite works of historical fiction that feature women in the main roles. These women come from all sorts of time periods and class backgrounds, but every one of them has to fight and has to believe in herself, no matter what society tells her. Whatever the era, whatever the setting, these are the universal challenges that brave women face.

1. Orleanna Price in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: Each of the women in this novel — Orleanna, Leah, Rachel, Adah, and Ruth Price — are powerhouses. Whether you want to see how a fashion-conscious teen adapts to African village life, or how a disabled twin negotiates her relationship to self & sister, this novel showcases strong and vivid American women adjusting to life in the 1950s Congo.
2. Sethe in Beloved by Toni Morrison: The female protagonists of Morrison’s novel, Sethe and her daughter Denver, must battle enemies both past and present as they search for a way not just to escape the history of slavery but to redefine themselves as women. What does it mean to be empowered as a mother or a daughter or a former slave? Morrison’s haunting (and haunted) novel is written along a sharp edge.
3. Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: The high school students I’ve taught might disagree, but I find Hester Prynne to be a wonderful exemplar of a woman who strives to overcome her situation, even when society deals her an impossible hand. While the men in this novel cower or conspire, Hester embraces the truth, transcending the shameful role the Puritans have bestowed on her.
4. Anna Frith in Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: Like The Scarlet Letter, this novel tells the tale of a woman on the margins of society, yet whom society cannot deny. Young Anna must dodge both the plague and the conventions of 17th century English village life. Brooks considers the matters that still vex women today — from gossip to social status to love — while being true to the setting and time.
5. Orlando in Orlando by Virginia Woolf:Gender-bending and time-bending, the novel’s protagonist, Orlando, begins the story as a young man and ends as a middle-aged woman. The novel’s plot spans three centuries and as Orlando negotiates all the transformations entailed, s/he elucidates what it means to be a man, or a woman, or, perhaps, simply human.
6. Villanelle in The Passion by Jeanette Winterson: Webbed toes don’t stop Winterson’s protagonist, Villanelle. Set on being a gondolier, work which she believes is her destiny, but others view as a man’s job, Villanelle works within the labyrinthine world of Napoleonic Venice. In addition to fighting for her position as a gondolier, Villanelle must negotiate passions that society refuses to accept.
7. Mary Sutter in My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira: Talk about a fearless woman: Mary Sutter is determined to be a doctor, even if it means leaving home and going to Washington, DC in the midst of the Civil War. Not only does she have to confront her family’s reluctance to let her go, but she must also convince the medical professionals of the time that she is capable and qualified. With gripping scenes on the battlefield as well as the hospital, this novel is fast-paced and captivating.
8. Joan in Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross:All the way back in the 8th century, the heroine of this novel fought to be educated. Because nothing she did would earn the respect of her father, she runs away and pursues her education while disguised as a monk. This disguise, while allowing her some freedoms, prevents her from being open with those she loves. In a series of events that are remarkable yet believable, the young woman becomes the head of Catholic Church.
9. Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu in Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu are four slave-women who are brought by their masters each summer to a resort in Ohio. The novel negotiates the question of what it means to be a woman in relationship with a man who owns you and explores how these women interact with each other as opposed to the white men who control them. The setting brings these four women up against the possibility of freedom and at what price it might be gained.
10. Dinah in The Red Tent by Anita Diamant:Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, narrates this novel, explaining how the women of her family had their own religious practices that ran counter to the beliefs the men upheld. Through Dinah’s voice, this novel imagines the women’s stories that the Bible doesn’t tell. To call it provocative and rebellious is an understatement; it pushes against patriarchy and suggests an ancient and empowering role for women and women’s sexuality.

Book Club Call Tonight at 7 pm EST

Reminder—tonight at 7 pm EST we will be discussing Revolutionary with author Alex Myers.

AlexMyers

The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  Please join the conversation, share you thoughts, ask Alex a question or just listen in to our conversation.

RevolutionaryAlexMyersBookCover

 

 

 

 

Radio Boston Interview with Alex Myers

This Sunday, we will have the opportunity to talk with Alex Myers from 7-8 pm EST on our next Politics for the People Book Club conference call.  I know that many of us have questions we are eager to ask Alex.  The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  

Anthony Brooks from Radio Boston did a great interview with Alex in January, a nice prelude to our conversation.  Hope you will put Revolutionary down for a moment and give a listen:

America’s First Female Soldier

                                                                   Deborah Sampson (Credit: Wikipedia)
“Alex Myers‘ new novel, Revolutionary, tells the story of 22 year-old weaver who yearns for something more. She feels trapped in 18th Century Massachusetts, and tells her closest friend, “There is a world out there, beyond weaving, beyond housework.” So she cuts her hair, disguises herself as a man, and fights heroically in the Continental Army. The gripping novel is based on the true story of Deborah Sampson  – recognized as a true hero in America’s war for independence. In 1983, the Massachusetts legislature named her the official state heroine and declared May 23rd Deborah Sampson Day. That her story inspired author Alex Myers is understandable. Myers is a female-to-male transgender person, was the first openly transgender student at Harvard, and over the years, has campaigned for transgender rights. His unique perspective reminds us that conversations around gender identity are hardly modern….”

Deborah and Jennie, In History and Fiction

Dr. Jessie Fields wrote the following note to us this morning about Deborah and Jennie.  I know we will want to talk with Alex about the issues Jessie raises on our call this Sunday.  The call is at 7 pm. The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  

Here is Jessie’s note—-

“I watched the video of Alex Myers speaking about Revolutionary at the Harvard Bookstore and noted his mention that it was actually a black slave “Jennie” who provided Deborah with “young Master Leonard’s” clothes. I was intrigued to find out more about Jennie the slave and the relationship between her as a slave and Deborah, an indentured servant. I would have asked him about this if I had been in the audience at the bookstore and I look forward to talking with Alex about this on the call this Sunday.

By the time of the American Revolution the legal and social division between Blacks as slaves and poor whites as indentured servants was under way. When I read Revolutionary I hoped for but did not find any representation of the presence of African Americans during the Revolutionary War period.

Below are a few historical facts I found online, and an article,  The Revolution’s Black Soldiers by Robert A. Selig, Ph.D that the Politics for the People readers may be interested in.

I also wrote Dr. Omar Ali if he could shed some light on the “real” Jennie and the relationship between white and black indentured servants and slaves.  His lovely note back to me is also included below.

“In 1781 the state of New York offered slaveholders a financial incentive to assign their slaves to the military, with the promise of freedom at war’s end for the slaves. In 1783, black men made up one-quarter of the rebel militia in White Plains, who were to march to Yorktown, Virginia for the last engagements.”

“African Americans fought on both sides in the American Revolution. Many slaves chose to fight for the British, as they were promised freedom by General Carleton in exchange for their service. After the British occupied New York City in 1776, slaves escaped to their lines for freedom. The black population in New York grew to 10,000 by 1780, and the city became a center of free blacks in North America. The fugitives included Deborah Squash and her husband Harvey, slaves of George Washington, who escaped from his plantation in Virginia and reached freedom in New York.”

 

FROM DR. OMAR ALI

Dear Jessie,

Thanks for your question.  Alfred Young mentions Jennie in his book Masqueradewhich I refer to in my review. Jennie was the daughter of one of Judge Oliver’s two black slaves named Phillip. She later became a servant in the home of Captain Benjamin Leonard and his wife, where Deborah Sampson did weaving. If you want to see the specific sources, go to page 76 of Young’s book and also see his footnotes on that page. Basically, the little we know about Jennie comes through a combination of church records, family oral history, and a mid-nineteenth century editor named Pratt–largely in connection with Sampson, who Jennie had apparently both worked and shared quarters with, as well as abetted in her scheme … They must have been close.

The social, political, and emotional relationship between “Black Jennie” and Sampson is something that would have been so interesting, in my mind, for Myers to explore … Maybe, to my heart’s desire, it’ll appear in one of your poems or maybe a play we write? You could envision, play out, and help us all see and feel who they might have been and meant to each other as working women and revolutionaries …

If this is something you’d like to pursue, I would suggest Young’s book as well as an article by Judith Hiltner which appears in the Spring edition of the journal American Studies, pages 93-113.

Another helpful book to begin looking at the relationship between black and white indentured servants is Paula Giddings’ Where and When I Enter and the work of the historian Eleanor Flexner, who notes instance of  how black and white women shared much of the same labor in a society that made little distinction between the duties of indentured servants, an artisan’s wife, and the “gently born” mistress. Although situations varied, black and white women in colonial America and the (very) Early Republic were often in very close proximity, working and living their lives together … It’s not just the narrative of the distant white mistress and enslaved black woman on the plantation, as you know. In fact, during the early stages of colonial American society black servants actually had a higher legal status than white indentured servants, as the former were protected under international law. The racial codification of slavery would transform this.

—Omar

The Pagoda: a recommendation from a reader

Displaying White_4398-480x600px.jpgAndreani Rustandi is an intern at the NYC Independence Party and IndependentVoting.org’ s headquarters in NYC. Originally from Indonesia, Andreani is studying economics and mathematics at NYU, where she is Junior.  In reading Revolutionary and several reviews of the book, Andreani was reminded of  The Pagoda that she read earlier this year.  I asked her to write us about the book—another historical novel I have added it to my list to read!  Thanks Andreani.

 

“The Pagoda by Patricia Powell (1998) tells a story of a Chinese woman, Lau A-Yin, who flees from China to Jamaica to escape poverty and arranged marriage. A-Yin disguises herself as a man and embarks on a ship, which transports Asian workers to the Caribbean. Nevertheless, Cecil, the captain of the ship, discovers A-Yin’s disguise, rapes and impregnates A-Yin. In order for A-Yin to take better care of his daughter, Cecil builds a store for A-Yin to tend to in Jamaica. The Pagoda tells the story of A-Yin’s life in Jamaica, but it also delineates Jamaica’s social condition in 1893. Jamaica under the British Empire abolished slavery in 1834; hence, Jamaica commenced to bring Asian workers, called indentures. A-Yin and the other characters illustrate how Asian indentures were often treated as a lower class than slaves, received low salaries, and faced racial discrimination from the white and black population in Jamaica. One example is when A-Yin’s store is burnt down unexpectedly, which A-Yin thinks is done because of spite. This incident shows the prominent hegemony of the white and black people towards the minority in Jamaica. The other Asian indentures also do not have the freedom to speak about their cultures and their backgrounds. Thus, The Pagoda is not merely a fiction novel, but it also portrays the historical racial tensions, social strata, and the struggle of Asian indentures in Jamaica.

Displaying the pagoda.jpg

Besides the delineation of historical phenomena, The Pagoda continuously deconstructs the common ideology of one’s sex, gender, and identity. While in Revolutionary Deborah ventures into the war as a man, A-Yin has to marry a woman and raise her daughter as a father. The Pagoda does not only critically analyze of what constitutes an individual’s identity through A-Yin character, but also through the ambiguous sexual orientation of A-Yin’s wife. It raises the question of the humans’ need to classify, label, and eventually establish the notion of what it means to be “normal”. The Pagoda speaks to the consistent issue in society, which is the limitation caused by the classification of races, genders, sexes, and the expected “normal” behaviors followed from one’s particular genders and sex. Even though society gives impressions of the complete freedom granted for each individual by emphasizing on freedom in some countries’ constitutions and establishing the notion of humans’ rights, the systems and ideologies in society, which ironically are humans’ constructions, restrict the amount of freedom an individual can have. These limitations in one’s freedom prevent an individual in exercising one’s own agency, defining one’s identity, and choosing one’s way to discover what it means to be a being, which are supposed to be humans’ personal right. Furthermore, A-Yin desire, which is to build a pagoda where Asian indentures can meet and share their experiences, illustrates that a person cannot escape his/her past. The Pagoda points out that instead of ideologies, an individual’s past plays a more significant role in shaping one’s being.

The Revolutionary also delineates the civil war historical phenomena and brings the issue of genders’ role. As such,  Revolutionary and The Pagoda both depict the historical phenomena, portrays the difficulties that A-Yin in The Pagoda and Deborah in Revolutionary face in living as a male, and explore the profound issues that people often struggle with, which are the question of freedom, choice, and identity.”

 

REMINDER:  Our conference call with Revolutionary’s author, Alex Myers is this Sunday at 7 pm EST.  The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.   

 

Late Night Library Talks with Alex Myers

I came across this quirky and fun interview Late Night Library did with Alex Myers in January.  I think you will enjoy it–be sure to scroll down to the Q and A.  A week from today, on Sunday, April 13th at 7 pm EST, Politics for the People will be discussing Revolutionary with Alex.

The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.   

Have a great week, hope you will be spending some of it in the pages of Revolutionary with Deborah/Robert in the final days of the Revolutionary war.  Please keep sending in your comments and thoughts as we start to think of questions to pursue with Alex.

ROOKIE REPORT: ALEX MYERS

Alex Myers Banner

When my copy of Revolutionary arrived, the first thing I thought was, man, this is a beautiful book. I ran my hand over the book jacket—covered in reds, whites, and blues—and felt the soft grooves in the paper. I’ve always been drawn to books with strong, female protagonists, and Deborah Samson, a woman who dresses up as a man and joins the war, is just that. Deborah’s life as a weaver is dreary. She has no master, but the men around her continually remind Deborah of her place. When she dons men’s clothing and becomes Robert Shurtliff, her world suddenly changes. It’s full of danger, thrill, adventure, and freedom. At each fork in the road, Deborah—as Robert—is finally able to choose her own path. As I read, I found myself questioning what it is that makes a man, a role that Deborah seems to embrace, and I find this fitting, because Alex Myers is a revolutionary himself, who makes all of us rethink our notions of gender identity.

__________

In another half mile Deborah came upon a cart lodged in the muck. The carter berated his horse, but the beast couldn’t make the stuck wheel budge. Deborah pulled her hat low and made to sidle by.

But the farmer called out, “Hey, boy? Lend a hand?”

She could scarcely refuse a request for help. Tossing her bundle in the back of the cart, she and the farmer put their shoulders to the wheel. “One and two and heave . . .” the man said. With a mighty sucking sound, the cart lurched forward. Deborah fell to her knee, and the farmer grabbed her arm, pulling her up.

“There’s a lad,” he said. “Want to ride a piece?”

She nodded, numb and muddy, and stepped to the side of the cart. For a moment, she waited for the farmer to offer a hand at her waist and push her up.

But he just said, “Well, come on,” as he clambered in.

She grasped the cart, stepped onto the wheel, and swung herself aboard. It was hard to keep from grinning. The farmer’s simple assumption of her competence—lend a hand, get yourself up—buoyed her spirits tremendously.

-Excerpt from Revolutionary

__________

JacketLate Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.

Alex Myers: Attempt 1 = a sentence: Thwarted and confined, Deborah becomes Robert, fights for country/self. (The / might be cheating.  Sorry.) Attempt 2 = ten words, hold the grammar: Woman disguised as man.  Revolutionary War. Love. Identity. Discovery. Self.

LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?

AM: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy and Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady. (I say this with the caveat that, had they been contemporaries, I doubt Cooper and Cather would have tolerated being in the same room as each other, let alone allow their prose to procreate.)

LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?

AM: Daily walks and daily writing…patience with revision…and lots of reading across a range of genres and time periods.

LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.

AM: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.

AM: The questions I wish people would ask about writing don’t have answers (at least that I can give). They have conversations. And to that end, the question I wish people asked (and then discussed with me): Is there a difference between writing and thinking? (Framed another way: What is the connection between writing and thinking?) I’d love to explore with that inquirer how it feels to move ideas into words—are concepts words in the brain? Do we understand our world through language? How accurately do the words we write on the page describe the feelings in our mind…and so on.

Get a copy of Revolutionary from Bookish

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHAlex Myers was born and raised in western Maine. Since high school, Alex has campaigned for transgender rights. As a female-to-male transgender person, Alex began his transition at Phillips Exeter Academy (returning his senior year as a man after attending for three years as a woman) and was the first transgender student in that academy’s history. Alex was also the first openly transgender student at Harvard, and worked to change the university’s nondiscrimination clause to include gender identity. After earning a master’s in religion from Brown University, Alex began a career as a high school English teacher. Along the way, he earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He currently lives in DC with his wife and two cats.

An Epistolary Review from Bonnie Jeanne

I enjoyed Revolutionary very much, partly because I am a New Englander and lived, ate and breathed the War of Independence growing up, partly because I have been writing to Alex’s wife, Ilona, since Jan 2009, when I sent her a Carmen Miranda paperdoll via a long dead site called postcardx, and partly because I also have a distant ancestor with a famous past (Ann Putnam, Salem in 17th century), but mostly because it is such an enjoyable, engaging read.

The letter box Deborah pulls out to write to her dear Jennie so captured my imagination. I actually wrote to Ilona and asked if she has such a letter box. She doesn’t, but if ever I find one, I will buy it because the idea of containing ones letter writing supplies in a box small enough to travel in 16th century wartime makes me all fuzzy and warm. My writing supplies fill a big backpack and weigh so much I can’t imagine anyone but the similarly mail enthused carry such a pack EVERY single day.

The part of the book I most want to talk to Alex about is the part I’m sure everyone wants to talk about …  the point where pronoun and name switch back and forth between she/he and Deborah/Robert. It is such a jarring, confusing point and until I was well past it, that part bothered me. I couldn’t figure out why the back and forth was so messy, until I did figure it out. At least, figured it out for me as the reader. It was messy for me because I have always thought in terms of he or she … well, not in all things, but probably always in my reading of fiction. Alex managed to, without coercion or force, get me to think not in gendered pronouns or names, but in terms of the person. I don’t know that I’ve put that eloquently, but it is something I would love to talk about so that I can be eloquent, and considerate, and honest.

I do lots of postcard exchanging and recently one of the people in a postcard group I belong to requested that the he/she pronoun not be used in reference to anything sent/received by that person and replaced with them/they. My first reaction was “How the hell am I supposed to remember that for this one person!?” And then I thought, “How many times have I adjusted my thoughts to use female or male pronouns (upon request) for those whose names are gender neutral?” It is so easy to just brush off simple requests because they seem too picky.

Thank you very much for selecting Revolutionary for the book discussion group. I am really looking forward to the telephone conference! I’ve not done anything like it before.

Postally Yours,
Bonnie Jeanne AKA PostMuse

P.S.  I wanted to send a photo of the postcard I used as a bookmark when reading Revolutionary. Notice the postage. That card arrived in Nov 2013 but I didn’t reply to it until I was reading the book in January. The postcard became a bookmark, as many postcards do, but I didn’t realize the significance of the Women in Military postage until later. But, is my noticing that a signal that I still can’t let go of gender identification? I don’t know and not sure it is even acceptable to bring it up.

 

Bonnie Jeanne's Postal Bookmark
Bonnie Jeanne’s Postal Bookmark
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