You’re All Invited!

Free-For-All Friday: You’re All Invited!

Okay, I know I said I would do a review of the second Sherlock Holmes movie, and I will try to do that on Monday, but I wanted to spread the news about something I’m a part of.

Here at University of Houston, we, the graduate students of the Literature program, are trying to build a larger community for sharing our work and learning about the work of others.  To do this, several UH Literature students started a new student-run academic journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature, and also decided to a host a conference: The University of Houston Graduate Student Literature Conference.

“Reviving and Revisioning Work: Examining Class in Literature and Language”

Second Annual Graduate Literature Conference

With Keynote Speaker Dr. Rosemary Hennessy

from Rice University’s Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality

Saturday 31 March 2012
Open to the Public

“Class in society is determined by voice” — Marshall McLuhan

Between the recession, partisan rhetoric about class war, and the current Occupy movement, class has moved to the forefront of American political consciousness. Class is also something we can’t avoid in the academy–whether we’re talking about the relative place of men and women (Schell); WPAs, professors, and TAs (Bousquet, Scott); literature and composition (Miller); the university and the community (Mathieu); undergraduate students; or the literary canon and authors that we study. This is a kairotic moment to reexamine our assumptions about class and look more deeply at the class implications in our literature, our languages, our classrooms, and our communities.

We invite presenters to consider topics that include classroom experiences and literary research, but as this is Houston, we also invite you to consider and focus on issues of class in the Houston area. Our city is brimming with local writing– fiction, nonfiction, poetry, music — populating coffeehouses and bars alike. How is class represented in local literature as well as global and “canonized?”

As you may be able to tell, this is the second annual conference. Last year was the inaugural conference, and it went very well, if I do say so myself.  I presented a paper, and enjoyed listening to the work of my fellow UH graduate students, as well as several graduate students from other universities (including one who came all the way from New Mexico).  And then the first volume of Plaza was published, featuring the papers that were presented at the conference.  This year we are really hoping to spread the news, and gain a wider audience and a wider group of conference presenters.

To that end, I would like to extend this invitation to all of my blog followers.  Even though it’s called the “Graduate Student Literature Conference” (that’s only because we’re the ones running it), this conference is open to all undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines.  We are looking for presentations that fit this year’s theme of class.  In other words, we are looking for student-written critical research and creative non-fiction works that examine the role of socio-economic class structures in such things as literature, rhetoric, composition studies, folklore and ethnography, language and cultural studies, linguistic studies, technical writing, and gender studies (among others).  However, there are always a couple panels open for non-theme-related presentations as well, so please submit an abstract proposal even if you don’t think it fits the theme.

Some Things To Know:

1)     Abstract Proposals should be approximately 250 words in length.

2)     Abstract Proposals are due by January 30th, 2012.

3)     You will be informed of acceptance by February 15th, 2012.

4)     Individual Presentations should be 15-18 minutes in length in order to allow time for questions.

5)     For more information, include contact information, presentation guidelines, and submission procedures please see the UH Graduate Student Conference Website.

So, that’s what I’ve got, folks.  I know at least some of you are undergraduate and graduate students.  And I know some of you don’t live all that far away either, so travelling to Houston for a weekend wouldn’t be that difficult.  I urge you all to dig through all those papers you’ve written in the semesters and see if you can find one that would fit the theme (or even one that doesn’t), that you could dust off, clean up, and present.  Or, perhaps there’s a half-started research project that you’ve been meaning to work on?  Here’s the opportune moment!

I and others would really love to see this conference become a big deal someday, and it all starts with getting some presenters from outside the UH school system to come and present and spread the word themselves.

I hope we hear from you!

Have a good weekend, and see you on Monday!

My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Bookworm Wednesday: My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Update: Please note that the agents discussed in the article by Brown and Smith have offered a rebuttal.  I have included the link to a Publishers Weekly post which contains both the rebuttal and a counter-rebuttal from the authors.  Please keep in mind that while there may be some question as to the validity of the authors specific claims, the overall discrimination issue remains entirely real.

On Monday a blog posted by Publishers Weekly began making the rounds on social media sites, especially Twitter.  The article, written by YA authors Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith and titled “Say Yes to Gay YA,” told a sobering story about how these two well-known authors attempted to find an agent for a post-apocalyptic YA novel they wrote together.  However, none of the agents they contacted were interested, though several said they would be if changes were made, and one agent stated point-blank that he would be interested only if the authors removed a gay pov character, or made him straight.

It is implied that this is a marketing concern rather than a personal problem with homosexuality (though one can never be sure).  The generally consensus seems to be that YA scifi/fantasy novels (or another kind of YA novel, no doubt) with gay characters (or other minorities ethnic, religious, disabled, etc) simply cannot sell books.  The authors refused to make their gay character straight or remove him, and have yet to find an agent for their novel.  But this is not the end of the story.

The authors are asking for everyone to get involved in changing this trend that implies that LGBT and minority characters in YA, and by extension LGBT and minority young adults, are at best not interesting enough to sell books, and at worst a social evil that is (and should be) subject to erasure.  Readers, writers, editors, and agents all need to bring this problem to the public’s attention.  And they need to show other agents, editors, and publishers that having a gay or minority character in a YA novel (scifi/fantasy or otherwise) will not prevent people from buying/reading it.  That, in fact, many readers specifically want more YA fiction featuring LGBT and other minority characters.  We went YA fiction that truthfully and fairly represents the lives of all young adults.  Not just white, heterosexual, middle-class, Christian Americans.

In one small effort to do my part, I am taking a moment here to mention a few of the YA novels I have read personally that featured gay or lesbian main characters.  I tend to read more adult scifi/fantasy featuring LGBT characters, so I don’t have a lot of YA titles to share.  Of course, part of the reason for that is that there simply isn’t much choice in YA fiction.  I’ve also noticed that while gay YA lit remains an overall minority, within that grouping it is far more common to find YA titles with male gay characters than it is to find novels about bi or lesbian young adult girls.  However, the few titles that I own all have female main characters, with one exception, simply because I’m a girl, so that’s what I tend to gravitate toward.  Also, only one of these is a YA scifi/fantasy.  The others are more mainstream coming-of-age.  Again, more because that’s what’s available than out of any particular intention on my part.

My LGBT YA Bookshelf:

Annie On My Mind (1982) by Nancy Garden: This was the first lesbian novel I ever read.  I bought it for a friend of mine when she’d told me she was bisexual our Freshman year of high school, and then read it myself as well.  It is a classic about two teenage girls who fall in love and have to learn how to live their lives when no one around them can understand except for two teachers who happen to know exactly how they feel.  Eventually, the  girls’ secret is revealed to their parents and the rest of the school and the fall-out is enormous.  It is a touching and believable story that all questioning girls should read.

Please Don’t Kill the Freshman(2003) by Zoe Trope:  This book actually began as a chapbook memoir written by a girl under the pseudonym Zoe Trope.  All the characters have names based on a characteristic like “Linux Shoe” and “Plum Sweater,” but all of these characters are painfully, shockingly real.  This diary-esque memoir follows tortured, sharp-tongued Zoe through high school as she deals with the growing apathy of the world, her disdain for everything around her, and the her complicated transgendered relationship with her first girlfriend who becomes her first boyfriend.  This book is profanity-laced, stream-of-consciousness in style, gut-wrenchingly raw, and painfully familiar to anyone who want through high school in the late 90s-early 2000s.

Empress of the World (2001) by Sara Ryan:  This is the story of Nicola Lancaster who goes to a Summer Program for Gifted Youth, a camp filled with intelligent, artistic, and intense highschoolers all living like college students for 8 weeks.  Nicola has never really had friends, and she’s never been in a relationship.  Then she meets Battle Davies, a beautiful, passionate girl who claims Nicola’s heart despite the fact that Nicola always thought she liked boys.  This one is short, smart, and intense, with a bittersweet ending that leaves you wanting more.

The Rules for Hearts(2007) by Sara Ryan: Thankfully, where Empress of the World leave you wanting, Rules for Hearts at least begins to answer.  This one follows Battle in her first year of college, when she moves in with her older brother in his Bohemian apartment building filled with strange characters who all work at a local theatre, including Meryl.  But while much of the focus of this book is obviously on the complicated intertwined relationships of the theatre crew, and how Battle gets swept up into it with Meryl, it also deals heavily with Battle’s relationship with her brother, who had run away without a word years before.

Keeping You A Secret (2003) by Julie Anne Peters: This one is another classic.  Julie Anne Peters has written a number of YA novels with LGBT themes, including one called Luna, about a transgendered boy and one called Between Mom and Jo, which is about a teenage boy raised by his lesbian mothers (neither of which I’ve read yet).  Keeping You A Secret is one of my favorites because it deals with a high school girl with the perfect boyfriend, who suddenly finds herself absolutely fascinated with the new girl: who happens to be an out lesbian.  The romance of this one moves quickly but believably, and the real tension and some terrifying moments (for me at least) come when she has to face her mother.

Far From Xanadu (2005) by Julie Anne Peters: Another one by Julie Anne Peters, this one is about a girl who goes by “Mike” and lives in a small Midwest farming town.  She is the classic tomboy: dressed like a boy, prefers sports and working as a farmhand, and lifts weights.  Her life is already complicated by her father’s suicide and the competition she’s put herself in against her older brother.  Things get even more complicated when she falls in love with the new girl, Xanadu: gorgeous, exotic, rebellious, contrary… and straight.  I think I like this one because it doesn’t have an exactly happy ending.  (Julie Anne Peters newest book, Rage: A Love Story, came out in 2009.  I haven’t read it yet, but I just bought it, so you might be hearing about that one eventually.)

Hero (2007) by Perry Moore:  Last, but not least, my only LGBT YA novel about a gay male, and my only one that is also a scifi/fantasy. Hero is about Thom, son of Hal Creed, who was the greatest of all superheroes until a horrible event left him disfigured and disgraced.  This event also led to the disappearance of Thom’s mother.  Hal wants to keep his son out of the superhero game.  But Thom’s father doesn’t know two things about his son: one, he has special healing abilities; and two, he’s starting realize he may be gay.  Thom isn’t sure which fact is going to disappoint his father more, and he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure he never has to find out.  I love this one because I love it when authors try to find ways to make superheroes fit into the framework of a more realistic worldview.

So, there’s my LGBT YA bookshelf.

If you’d like to share any you’ve read, I’d love to hear about them.  I’m always in need of my book suggestions!  If you’ve written one, that’s even better!  If you have questions about any of these, I’m more than happy to elaborate as well.  Please feel free to chime in!

Also, again, make sure you read the original article written by Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith.  You can find it: here.

And for another reaction to the “Say Yes to Gay YA” article, please read Kait Nolan’s “Don’t Kill Diversity.”

For a rebuttal from the agents discussed in the Brown and Smith article please go here.  It is important to look at all sides of this issue.

What Was I Thinking?

Free-For-All Friday: What Was I Thinking?

stressed like this

This week has been crazy.  Frantic, stressful, exhausting, and amazing.  As some of you know personally (and others know from reading my ‘About’ page), I began my PhD in Literature this week, after being out of school for a little over a year.  I was more than a little worried that after all that time off I would not be able to switch back into “school-mode” early mornings, heavy work loads, enormous stress, etc.  And the first week of class did not make it easier, that’s for damn sure.

I do not have classes on Monday, but I began the week on campus in order to fill out paperwork, take care of some logistics, finalize my syllabus (because I also teach Freshman Composition as a Teaching Fellow), and so forth.  I was greeted with ridiculously hot and humid weather (even for Houston), long lines, downed computers, and a screw-up that meant I would not be able to access the office I share with several other Teaching Fellows until NEXT Monday.  Not an auspicious beginning for the semester, to say the least.

Tuesday was my first day of actual classes.  For those of you who are curious, my classes are: French for Non-Majors (which I need to fulfill my foreign language requirement) on Tues and Thurs, teaching one Freshman Composition course on Tues and Thurs, Intro to Doctoral Studies on Tues, and Sociolinguistics on Wed.  By Wednesday night, having been to all of my classes once, I was already exhausted, stressed, and laden with homework assignments.  I already have to read two entire books and give a group presentation by Tuesday.

I guess my professors don’t want to give us any illusions about how easy the PhD is going to be.  “Welcome to the first day of your PhD. Now get to work!”  Part of me keeps screaming in the back of my head: WHAT WAS I THINKING???

One thing I can say is that my Sociolinguistics course, while extremely difficult, is going to be absolutely awesome!  The subject matter is simply so fascinating to me, and the professor seems understanding, friendly, egalitarian in her treatment of graduate students, and more than a little funny.  And seriously, I get to talk about language all day!  How could that be anything but a good thing?

I also think my students this semester are going to be wonderful.  After only two class periods the first of which was merely getting all that introductory stuff out of the way they seem to be mostly attentive and at least somewhat interested in the class.  Granted, these are all college freshmen in a composition class, and few of them (if any) really enjoy writing research papers.  But at least they were all willing to enter into discussions in class.  That is always a good sign.

All in all, I suspect this is going to be a very long semester.  I think (I hope) I can manage it, but it’s not going to be easy.  You may hear some exhausted whining on this blog, though I will try to keep it to a minimum.  I just thought I should give you all some fair warning.

surprised a little like this

However, what really made this week particularly insane, was being featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed page.  I’m not sure you can imagine my shock and glee when I was told on Tuesday morning by the lovely Piper Bayard on Twitter that she had seen me on the front page of WordPress.  I never saw it coming!

It was an absolutely wonderful feeling to check my email in between classes on Tuesday and see how many people had commented, liked, and subscribed to my blog.  Of course, I was far too overwhelmed by the sheer number of comments to do much more than sit back and stare at my computer screen in awe.  But it was (and continues to be) an absolutely astounding sensation.  Once again, I cannot thank you all enough for your interest and support.

I am currently trying to go through all the comments.  I read every single one of them, but unfortunately there is simply no way I can respond to all of them.  I am trying to respond to as many as I can, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I fail to respond to your comment.

I also hope you’ll forgive me if this particular post is a little too personal and boring to keep the interest of all my new readers.  But I wanted to get this out there.  I promise that next week’s blog posts are all written, ready to go, and far more interesting than this one.  So I hope you’ll bear with me and come back on Monday.

yeah, kinda like that

In the meantime, I need to read Professing Literature: An Institutional History by Gerald Graff.  And possibly put my head through a wall.  So I’ll be going.

Have a wonderful wonderful weekend everyone! Thank you again! And I’ll see you next week!

A Permanent Relationship With Words: Literary Tattoos

This is the first official post for the newly-instated “Free-For-All Fridays.”

It’s a funny coincidence.  On Tuesday Clay talked about being “Tatted Up” on his blog EduClaytion.  Of course, his story is about receiving a few temporary tattoos from his niece, but still.  Tattoos.  Major coincidence, because I’ve planning to write a blog about tattoos all week.

Let me begin by saying I don’t have any tattoos, but I am endlessly fascinated by them.  I really want one, but haven’t worked up the guts to get one.  Here’s the thing: my mother is one THOSE people.  You know the kind.  One of those people who honestly believes that anyone with a tattoo must automatically be a punk and quite probably a criminal.

When I was fourteen or fifteen years old my mother told me in no uncertain terms that, besides from the obvious things like drugs and alcohol, there were four things I was never allowed to do: die my hair an outrageous color, get body piercings (for her meaning anything besides a single ear-piercing), get a tattoo, or date a guy who owned a motorcycle.  (You can see what kind of mentality my mother has pretty easily from this list.)  And, purely by accident since I’d never said anything, these were almost all things I was interested in.  I’d thought about dying my hair purple on a number of occasions (though I have since decided that I like my hair just the way it is, thanks), I’d thought about getting an ear-cartilage piercing, I wanted a tattoo, and I loved motorcycles (though I’d rather own one myself rather than date someone who owned one).

I am twenty-six years old now.  I have never done anything of these things.  And for the most part, I’m okay with that.  But after all this time, my fascination with tattoos as remained.  As long as they are carefully planned and done by a professional, they are beautiful, expressive, and a wonderful portrayal of a person’s tastes, beliefs, etc.  But more than any other kind of tattoo, I have recently discovered a trend that I love above all others: literary tattoos.

As is true for most of the people who read this blog, words are my life.  Period.  I read, write, dream them.  I breathe them in.  Words stay with me forever.  Books that are important to me, leave an indelible mark on my thoughts, beliefs, and life.  It seems to me that have a tattoo at all gives you a permanent connection to art.  Having a literary tattoo gives you a permanent and explicit relationship with the words that have touched you, marked you.  How can could I say no to that?  So when it first occurred to me that one could get a tattoo based on a book, poem, etc., I was hooked.

I have been going through a few blogs devotedly specifically to literary tattoos, admiring and also scheming.  The two best blogs are Contrariwise and The Word Made FleshContrariwise, unfortunately, hasn’t been updated since May 2010, so I’m assuming it’s essentially been abandoned, but there are still plenty of pictures to go through and admire.  The Word Made Flesh updates with new pictures of tattoos a couple times a week.  I find myself checking back every day to see if there’s a new one yet.  The Word Made Flesh is also a book (and the creators are apparently working on a second one), that I really really want but haven’t shelled out the cash for yet.

Some of my favorites from The Word Made Flesh are (each image links back to the original post on The Word Made Flesh):

After years and years of being fascinated by tattoos, I’ve finally decided that this isn’t some passing fancy that will go away.  And I think it’s about time I finally said ‘screw it’ and get a tattoo.  So my plan is for my birthday next May, I’m going to get one.

I like to plan everything very carefully, so before I go through with anything, I want to make sure I know exactly what I want, and where I went to go to get it.  There are quite a few tattoo parlors in Houston, and I have no idea how to go about picking one.

In the mean time, I have a few ideas for tattoos I want to get.  The first, and I think strongest, choice is the words “Still Rowing” from Anne Sexton’s poem, “Rowing” in white ink.  White ink is a fairly new trend, and it looks really cool.  Here’s a couple examples (also from The Word Made Flesh):

Another idea I’m really leaning toward is a tattoo based on Watership Down by Richard Adams.  I’d love to do something with El-ahrairah and The Black Rabbit of Inle in a circle, possibly with Frith in the center, and the quote “All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you” encircling them.  I’ll have to find someone who can design it for me though.  And those of you who haven’t read Watership Down are completely lost right now, but that’s okay (and if you haven’t read it, you need to.  Hmm… I think I know what book I need to blog about next now…).

There are at least a dozen other books and poems I’ve considered doing a tattoo for, but I think the two above or the most promising right now.

Okay, tattoo enthusiasts, chime in!  How many do you have?  What are they for?  What inspired them?  Etc.  And those of you who don’t have any tattoos, have you ever considered getting one, or are they just not your thing?  And if you have considered it, what kind do you want, and why haven’t you done it yet?

(Again, all images are from The Word Made Flesh, clicking on the image will take you to the original post.)

Thoughts on The Narrow Road

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write a blog about for a couple days now.  The Daily Post suggestions are all well and good, but for some reason none of them were really working for me this week.  One of them asked something about what important thing you did in 2010.  Well, I got my Master’s.  End of story (sort of).  Not much to write about there that doesn’t devolve into whining about the fact that I didn’t make it into a PhD program this past year.

book cover from

So, instead I’m going to talk a little about some reading I’ve been doing this week.  I started re-reading Kimiko Hahn’s The Narrow Road to the Interior, a book of poetry in the form of a zuihitsu, which was the main inspiration for the name of this blog.  The first time I read it, I borrowed it from the library.  The second time I read parts of it while writing a paper (and again borrowed it from the library.)  This time around I finally got around to buying both The Narrow Road to the Interior and another of her books Mosquito and Ant.  I also already owned her most recent poetry collection, Toxic Flora.  However, I went one step further and also bought two of the books that are the biggest inspirations for Kimiko Hahn in many of her collections, but most especially in The Narrow Road.  Those two books are The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (arguably the first zuihitsu, written sometime during the Heian Period of Japan) and the original The Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho (the famous Zen haiku poet).

book cover from

As I read through Basho’s The Narrow Road I am struck not only by the beauty of his particular mix of prose and haiku but also by the extraordinary tranquility and peace he portrays.  The Narrow Road recounts, in prose interspersed with haiku, Basho’s journey through Northern Japan.  As such, the book deals in part with the hardships and dangers of traveling by foot in Japan during a time when bandits and the like were still a very real threat.  Despite this, however, the most tangible sensation the book embodies is peacefulness, as well as a kind of aloneness that is not only accepted but possibly desirable.  I read haiku like:

To have blue irises

blooming on one’s feet:

walking-sandal straps

or, the commonly quoted opening lines:

The moon and sun are eternal travelers.  Even the years wander on.  A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home…

and I am find myself envious of the kind of peace and surety Basho seemed to possess.  The comfort he took in nature, the confidence he had that he was on the right path, going in the right direction, and for the right reasons, the balance he had found between the demands of everyday life and the spiritual demands of his soul.

I suspect Kimiko Hahn might have been a little envious of him as well.  She titled her book The Narrow Road to the Interior, and quotes Basho on a number of occasions, so that no one, least of all herself, can forget the legacy behind her – the mastery that Basho possessed not only over words but also over his own person.  And I think Hahn recognizes this and calls upon it but does not reach that level of peace and surety and balance herself.  For all that the title of the book calls to mind the tranquility of Basho’s haiku, Hahn’s poems are anything but tranquil.  They are riotous, sometimes angry, sometimes sorrowful, sometimes confused, sometimes joyous.  Often all of these things at once.  But peaceful, they are not.  On the other hand, however, while she appreciates the kind of peace Basho reached, Hahn seems more interested in the experience of life, in the honest, unvarnished experience of life – with all the chaos, pain, and mess that entails.  She may wish she could have peace, but I suspect she would not be willing to give up the experience of living in order to attain it.

(I would like to offer an example of Hahn’s poetry from The Narrow Road; however, they are too long to type up here and there are surprisingly few of her poems available online.  So I will have to simply suggest you go buy or borrow her books.)

Some links on these topics:

Going to Utah in October

A few days ago I submitted a paper abstract for a literature conference taking place at Brigham Young University in October.  The conference is called “Literature and the Sacred,” and, as may be obvious, focuses on the various intersections between Literature, Religion, and Philosophy.  As some of my friends know, that is an area I’m extremely interested in, and so this conference seemed right up my alley.  In fact, I already had a paper that I wrote last semester that I thought might make a good presentation for this conference.  So, with a little help from my good friend Clay, I wrote an abstract, sent it in, and was accepted.  Yeah!

So, from October 14-16, I will be in Provo, Utah, at Brigham Young University.  At my very first academic conference ever.  The only concern is how expensive it’s going to be for the flight, hotel, food, and taxi (from Salt Lake City to Provo, since Provo doesn’t have an airport).  Joy.  Oh well, it’ll be worth it to finally get a little exposure, experience, and something good to put on my C.V.

For anyone who might be curious, here’s the abstract I sent in:

“The Scent of a Pine Tree”: Reconciling Spirituality and Postmodernism in D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel

In certain areas of postmodernism, religion is often dismissed as yet another modernist narrative that forecloses difference and attempts to master the world through an authoritative and oppressive conception of Ultimate Truth.  However, to completely dismiss or vilify religion is simply to deny one more possibility for mystery, for anything beyond the physical, as well as denying an integral part of many cultures – precisely what postmodernism usually wishes to avoid.  Instead of considering institutionalized religion, which is often problematic from a postmodern viewpoint, I propose considering a spirituality that, though often expressed through more traditional aspects of religion, is ultimately outside doctrine, and opens up the possibility for difference and mystery.  It is this kind of spirituality that D.M. Thomas explores and advocates in The White Hotel, by employing a wide variety of religious images in new and surprising ways.

I demonstrate, first, how Thomas removes authority from Freudian rationalism and shifts his attention to Jung’s more mystical spiritual symbolism.  I then systematically explore Thomas’s use of Jungian, mystical, and Christian symbols.  These symbols offer multiple meanings that Thomas keeps in play throughout the novel, combining opposites and creating a space that exists outside representation and rationality. The kind of spirituality that Thomas demonstrates in this novel is not a modernist narrative that erases difference, denies mystery, or forecloses subjectivity.  Instead, the novel as a whole becomes a place that is open to play, multiplicity, mystery, and faith.