Archive | April, 2011

Reading is Gilded in the Golden State

29 Apr

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll about the reading habits of Californians found, interestingly enough, that 80% of dwellers in the Golden State read a book in the last month, and that a full quarter of the population reported reading a book a week!

If this is actually the case, then I’m a poor representative of my state.  And I love reading!

I have a strong feeling the poll numbers overrepresent the actual reading habits of Californians, for two simple reasons. 

(1) Californians are BUSY,  despite a stereotype of laid-backness.  Try to drive anywhere in So Cal (aka Southern California, aka the evil empire) and you will know what I’m talking about. 

(2) Californians are trendy people (or at least they think they are!).  In a strange way, reading is trendy.  I might actually believe the poll if it were conducted in wine country, but LA is in a weird kind of competition with New York City and the appearance of being well-read is a rich commodity in that competition.

What would be a more interesting study, I think, is to figure out what kinds of books Californians read, and compare those books to what’s being read in other states.  Do those living on the west coast read more nutrition/healthy living books than those in eastern or northern states?  Is genre romance more popular in certain regions of the country than others?  Are there certain books that are universally read?  I think the feedback from such a study would be surprising, and could make a good sociological paper!


Karen Long, Plain Dealer Books Editor, Talks About Reading and Reviewing

27 Apr

Karen Long, books editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, spoke as a guest in my Rhetoric and Composition class this afternoon.  Long, who has held her position since 2005, talked about her path as a journalist and book critic, the details of her weekly routine, about ethical problems of writing about literature, and about the role of book criticism in the lives of readers.

                In her own words, the soft-spoken Long “stumbled into” her job as books editor.  She had already been working and writing for the Plain Dealer in a number of other capacities, and when the position for books editor opened in 2005, she approached the editor in chief and begged for the position.  His response: “Do you read?” and, “What do you read?”

                Long receives between 350 and 450 books a week, which she files into a special room where she and other reviewers can have their pick of “spec” copies—pre-print copies of books sent to reviewers before the mass publication date.  Of those roughly four-hundred books, Long must cull twelve to fifteen a week to be reviewed in a two page spread.  The challenge is “to make those selections and to make the books in conversation with one another.”  Sometimes, as was the case with a recent issue, books were selected for their timeliness (i.e., the anniversary of the BP oil spill).  Other times, the books are highly anticipated, such as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which debuted in 2010.  Still other instances allow for Long to select books that might not otherwise have been reviewed, to polish the gems from the crass.

                On the flipside of the coin, Long must pair reviewers with appropriate books.  Unlike books editors at larger publications like The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune, Long has the flexibility and the desire to print reviews by new voices—as long as they’re good.  “My bosses don’t like me to run a writing lab,” she said.  “They say if it’s not ready, you shouldn’t be mucking around.”  Still, Long admitted to helping some especially poignant or passionate readers find their critical voices.  The bottom line, however is that, “If it’s B- [work], I don’t want it.”

                In talking about her approach to the job, Long sounded like a broken record: “My motto is readers first,” she said many times and in various ways.  “There’s so many crappy books out there, I don’t feel ashamed to say, ‘read this book, don’t read that book.’…  I see it as a public service… I’m working in an old medium and trying to appeal to everybody.  My goal is to not be the last book editor of the paper.”

Words of the Week:

26 Apr

~five things you must read this week~ 

Op-Ed: Progressive News Organizations Fueled by Unpaid Labor from The Oberlin Review (Monday, April 25th):  Commentary Editor Monica Klein (OC’ 11) writes about the paradox of liberal newspapers and magazines demanding higher wages while simultaneously refusing to pay their interns.

It’s About Fit, Not Data from The New York Times (Friday, April 1, 2011): Oberlin College Dean of Arts and Sciences and chemistry/biochemistry professor Sean Decatur does some number-crunching to determine why the acceptance rate at academically selective institutions like Oberlin is lower than ever, despite an easier-than-before application process.

We Are All Writers Now from The Oberlin Alumni Magazine (Spring 2011 Vol. 106, No.2): Anne Trubek (OC ’88 and associate professor of Rhetoric and Composition) asks how social media is changing what it means to be a writer in this digital age, both for the professional and amateur.

A Match Made in Oberlin: Finding Love on Computer Date Night from The Oberlin Alumni Magazine (Spring 2011 Vol. 106, No.2): Amanda Nagay describes how in 1965, Oberlin freshman Paul Lewis launched what may have been one of the first attempts at an online dating source—and shares some surprising and heartwarming pairings.

Oberlin College graduates awarded fellowship to travel the world and choose a topic to study from The Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sunday April 24, 2011): Karen Farkas writes about two exceptional Obies awarded $25,000 fellowships to study international female distance runners and the lives of those on cargo freighters.

Bulletin: Creative Writing Department Announces Spring Contest Winners!

20 Apr

Congratulations to the 2011 winners of the Creative Writing Department’s annual poetry/fiction awards!  I had an entry for the fiction prizes, and while I’m disappointed I didn’t win, I can truly say the quality of the work by the winners is phenomenal.  I’ve been fortunate to have courses with a few of the students listed below, and their writing has always been top quality.  If I hadn’t devoted my weekend to tennis matches, I’d definitely be at the awards ceremony, which will be be held on Saturday, April 30, 4:30 p.m., in the Rice Hall Faculty Lounge Area.

Emma Howell Memorial Poetry Prize
Winner: Sophia Miles
Honorable Mentions: Alex Tamaki and Adam Chambers

Academy of American Poets
Stuart Friebert Poetry Prize
Winners: Lauren Clark and Jennifer Wong
Honorable Mention: Emily Nichols

Friends & Alumni Fiction/Nonfiction Prize
Winner: Justin Chen (for nonfiction)
Honorable Mention: Sam Krowchenko (for short fiction)

Diane Vreuls Fiction Prize
Winner: Abbey Chung (for short fiction)
Honorable Mention: Patrick Bernhard (for short fiction)

A Quiet Voice–Reading by Layli Long Soldier

18 Apr

Layli Long Soldier captivated obies with her short reading at Slow Train this past Sunday.

          Photo Credit

  This past evening, Sunday April 17th, I had the great pleasure of listening to a poetry reading at Oberlin’s Slow Train Café by Layli Long Soldier as part of the Multicultural Resource Center’s Indigenous Women’s Series.

I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much.  As I’ve said in various other ways on this blog, listening to poetry often makes me feel incredibly stupid.  I guess I wasn’t blessed with the sort of mind that associates words and sounds and images, or that can follow a string of these images and sounds into some other transcendental space.  Then again, I have a feeling any sort of true poet would laugh at that last sentence, because I’ve always been sort of wary of poets—I get the sense that some of them get a great kick out of standing up in front of a group of raptly attentive individuals, spouting off long lists of adjectives that supposedly mean something.  It just always seems like there’s some joke I’m not getting.  Although to circle back, this mentality is probably the child of a severe insecurity my ficton-writerly self has with my failed-poet-writerly self.  And if I am going to keep rambling I might as well just condense all of that into a single sentence, which would be that my real problem with poetry is that I think too much and that I don’t just listen, don’t simply feel.

Long tangent aside—Layli’s reading.  This was both my first reading of the semester, and also my first visit to Slow Train, so I decided to commemorate the occasion by purchasing hot chocolate, an iced coffee (for the boyfriend) and one of every type of baked good Slow Train sells.  Thirteen bucks later, I nestled into the lone empty corner (hidden behind a speaker; I had to poke my head around the corner to watch Layli read, which brings up the interesting topic of why this was necessary—wasn’t I just coming to listen?  But the reading was also a visual experience, and that in itself could be a whole new post.) and allowed Layli’s poetry to carry me away.

Her poetry is striking in the way it deals with words and their meanings, both on paper and in a deeper sense, in the sense that words both define and cannot define things.  Her poetry captures the pains of the body, of motherhood and fatherhood, of a spiritual relationship between the past and present, and of memory, and of definition.  I can say that I was moved by her rhythmic reading and her quietly shaking hands—an unassuming reminder that she was in many ways like me.  Her poetry was not an exclusive joke and did not make me feel stupid, rather it was heartfelt, something she was both excited and nervous to share.


Layli Long Soldier, Oglala Lakota, is a graduate of the creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her family is from northwestern Idaho and the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. She has served as editor-in-chief of the “Native Language Network” and other publications for the Indigenous Language Institute. She is a two-time recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship Award. She is also writer/guitarist for “M=Water” and mother of a five-year old daughter, Chance White.

Check it Out!

9 Apr

Well this is exciting.  I recently had a short nonfiction piece published over at Panoply Press, the online literary supplement to The Oberlin Review.  This might be the first thing I’ve had officially published in my three years of college, so that’s exciting.  I’d also encourage members of the Oberlin community to submit their writing–the editors are really working hard at getting this website running at full gear and I think they’d truly appreciate (and read!) your submissions.

Look this upcoming week for news from the journalism symposium (I’m trying to score an interview with one of the panelists!), an interview with Lynn Powell, and a post of useful links I’m putting together.

Bulletin: April is National Poetry Month

4 Apr

Poetry isn’t exactly my forte or my passion, but when I learned that April is National Poetry Month I thought it was information that ought to be shared.

In some Oberlin-related news, The Academy of American Poets will be celebrating the event through a month of guest-poet tweets via their twitter page.  Kazim Ali, a professor of poetry at Oberlin, is slated to be a guest tweeter on April 28th.

Twitter not your thing?  Try any of’s 30 ways to celebrate, listed here.

In Conversation with Connie Springer

4 Apr

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Positively Ninety author and photographer Connie Springer (OC alum ’70).  Here she talks about her recent work, mixing mediums, and the self-publishing debate.

AL: I’m interested in your recent book, Positively Ninety.  How would you describe the work in your own words?

CS: Other people have described it as an inspiration about how you can keep living actively and being engaged in the world no matter what your age.  The 20 personality traits that I culled from talking to the people show how to lead a productive and active life.

AL: Can you tell me about the process behind the book?  I know that it was inspired by your experiences with your aging mother.

CS: It was—seeing how she deteriorated and how she didn’t do the things on the list.  She isolated and lived in the past rather than the present, didn’t have any goals or surround herself with other people, just all those things that were a bad role model for me.  I wanted to see a different path.

AL: What kinds of efforts went into collecting the interviews and getting in touch with the individuals that you profiled?  What was your process and what was the timeline for putting this together?

CS: At first I interviewed one woman because I was a freelance writer for a local magazine and I wanted to profile a woman I had heard about who was in her nineties and a great gardener and you never would have guessed that she was that age.  So I interviewed her, and after that I got the idea that I could proceed and talk to other people, so then I applied for a grant from the city of Cincinatti, received it.  That was a 2 year time frame starting in 2007.  It was helpful to have someone that I had to answer to, so I knew when the project had to be completed by.

                Most of the people I got through word of mouth.  Once I told people that I was looking for lively 90-year-olds, a lot of them would say “Oh, I know somebody”.  Even my lifeguards where I swim gave me, I think, somebody.  I would say that the majority came from things like that.  One person I read about in the newspaper because he had swum across the Ohio river [laughs].  So I got his name and pursued him.

AL: It seems to reflect a real community effort, which is something that I think comes across in the work.  So I think that’s kind of interesting that it came together in that way.  What’s been the response thus far?

CS: To the work?  Well it started out as an exhibit.  That was what the grant called for—to have a public display of it.  I had exhibited it at six places and I always had a guest book where people could write responses.  People are very buoyed up by it.  People way younger who are even depressed about their ages [laughs]—you know I’m in my sixties and I have friends who are that age and they feel sorry for themselves and then when they read about these ninety year olds they get kind of reinvigorated.  The quotes on the back of the book indicate some of the responses.  My favorite is one woman who talks about how I made old people “look beautiful”, because people tend to not appreciate them enough in this country, this culture.

AL: I think it’s definitely true.  People tend to get marginalized in a sense as they age.  And I’m sort of interested also, in the work itself, in the way this project combines writing and photography.  I guess I’m just wondering how you feel these different mediums interact to create a sense of story and community.  What are some of the challenges of putting these mediums together and is there anything you find particularly compelling about it?

CS: I mean I feel like they go hand in hand really.  I’ve had a lot of responses that my writing makes the reader feel right in the room and really creates a sense of being there.  A lot of people have said that the photography really expresses the essence of the person.  I feel like those are my fortes—to write and to photograph—and I think they go really well together to create a whole picture…  In this project I actually had about three times as much text from the interviews and I had to pare it down for the exhibit and the book.  That was a challenge because I had learned about the beginning of their lives up until now and I had about six to ten pages [for each of them], but I didn’t want the viewer to get impatient or tired reading about each person.  I tried to find the essence of what each of them had said.

AL: I found it very engaging, personally, just in the form that it was in.  But I think that for each individual there were also glimpses into the fact that there was more to their lives than you represented.  For me it kind of inspired a sense of wanting to go and talk to my own grandparents and find out their stories—you know?  Something I wouldn’t really think about doing, otherwise.

CS: I experienced that too when I was younger.  I just didn’t ask enough questions.  I mean, you don’t think to do that, you’re just focused on yourself, but when you get older you want to know these things.  It’s great that it inspired you to want to go and do that—I haven’t heard anyone say that but that’s a great response.

AL: I mean that’s kind of what I’m really interested in right now, just in my own writing—ideas of family and history and things like that, so I found it pretty compelling.

CS: That’s really neat.  I sort of missed the boat; I never talked to my grandparents—they were old when I was born.  But all the things I inquired of [my interviewees] would have been nice things to know about my own family.

AL: I guess I started getting a little bit off track but I was wondering how you got into photography and writing and does it relate to your experience at Oberlin?  I don’t know what you studied here, but how did you build an interest in these two arts?

CS: I wish I had studied it at Oberlin.  I majored in sociology, but when I was back in my junior year at Oberlin I went to Israel and I brought a camera, and that was really my first introduction to photography.  I was nineteen and it was such a beautiful country.  I was taking pictures of my experiences; I worked in a kabutz.  That really inspired me.  And as it turns out my parents were photographers sort of avocationally before I was born, but I never really knew that much about that.  So it might have been sort of a slightly genetic predisposition.  When I left Oberlin I started taking photography classes.  I lived in Chicago and took photography and eventually I used it as a kind of a therapy because I had a tragedy in my life.  The person who was my soulmate was killed in a car accident so I decided to go to Boston and study photography just because I couldn’t think of anything else that would be as therapeutic.  And it really was so.  Just a great thing to be doing artistic endeavors [at that time in my life].  After that in terms of photography, I’ve been a freelance photographer.  I don’t do it full time I guess because—well I don’t know exactly why [laughs].  I mean this is a bad time for photographers anyway, most photographers are having trouble finding work.  And then writing—you always use writing when you’re in school.  I guess I’d forgotten but I’d worked on my school newspaper when I was in high school and did journalistic type stuff.  I’ve had a lot of jobs that involved writing.  I was a publications specialist for one company and did some ads.  About fifteen years ago I started freelancing because I had adopted children and wanted to have more flexibility.  I hooked up with this local magazine and started writing articles.  Over five years I wrote a lot, a lot of feature stories, and took photographs.  I started thinking of myself for the first time as a real writer and photographer.

AL: I wrote an article on my blog this past week talking about self-publishing and responding to the negative energy surrounding it from “higher established”, whatever you want to call it, artistic circles.  My article is a basically a defense of self-publishing, especially in the way that the internet has transformed self-publishing, with blogging being a highly visible form of this transformation.  You went a self-publishing route with Positively Ninety and with a previous work, Our Families, and I’m wondering how you found that experience?

CS: One of the things I think, especially with a photo book where you want things to look the way you want them to, you have so much more control when you self publish.  I was glad for it.

AL: Did you find any negativity as the result of that?

CS: Well the negative thing is the cost.  I have to charge a lot more for the book which hurts its marketability.  [The company] I used also gave me a lot of problems…it took about three months to get things the way I wanted them.  I started to look for a publisher but I wanted to get a book out in time for an opening I had of an exhibit.  I still might look for a publisher.  It would be a lot easier cost-wise to do that.  Plus it kind of legitimizes you.  I had tried to publicize my book in different ways.  Publisher’s weekly has a new thing out for self-publishing.  I sent them my book and some money and they’re going to start publicizing people who self-publish and occasionally they will do a review of someone who has self published. …The next segment is coming out in March and I’m waiting to see what happens.  I’ve just sent my book to a lot of places that might review it.  I guess if you dealt with a publisher they’d have another person doing all that stuff, that would be an advantage.

Connie Springer is an award-winning and widely-published photographer specializing in human interest themes including adoptive families, elderly, children, and intergenerational and multicultural images.  She is also a freelance magazine writer and photographer and an archives consultant, organizing photo and print collections for the workplace.

Connie studied sociology at Oberlin College and photography at the Art Institute of Boston and completed her master’s degree in library science at Simmons College.

In 2002 she self-published a photo datebook on adoption, OUR FAMILIES: A CELEBRATION OF ADOPTION, partially funded by a City of Cincinnati Artist’s Grant. 

Her most recent project, POSITIVELY NINETY, also received a Cincinnati Artist’s Grant. Exhibited in six venues in the Cincinnati area during the past two years, the work explores active nonagenarians in photos and narratives.  Her book based on the exhibit came out at the end of December and can be previewed and ordered at  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book are being donated to The Center for Creative Aging in Washington.