Tag Archives: oberlin

Bulletin: Emma Straub OC’02 to read at Oberlin

2 May

The Creative Writing Department recently announced they will be hosting a reading by alum Emma Straub, who is the author of several articles of nonfiction, short stories appearing in numerous literary magazines, and most recently, The Other People We Married, a collection of short stories.  Straub will read from her new collection from 4:45 to roughly 6pm on Thursday, May 5th (my birthday…) in Wilder 101.

Alex Shephard (also an OC alum) interviewed Straub over at full-stop.net, which I should have included in this week’s words of the week!

Happy May!

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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.

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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.

Framing Innocence, Writing Truth

12 Mar

When Lynn Powell was my professor a semester ago, I asked her how to get started in publishing. Her answer was not surprising, but it certainly made me think. Start in your community, build a reputation there, and move up, she advised.

At the time I hadn’t yet read her latest work, Framing Innocence. Now, with the book’s 288 pages securely under my belt, that prior conversation is ringing like a bell, because I now have a clear understanding of why community is so important to Powell.

The book, which was published in late 2010, is a detailed nonfiction account of the highly publicized and controversial prosecution of Oberlin local Cynthia Stewart, a mother and bus driver accused of creating child porn. The evidence? Several shots Stewart took of her eight-year-old daughter Nora in the bathtub. Powell follows the Stewart-family story from the shapshots through the arrest, prosecution, and eventual mixed-emotion resolution. What readers gain is a portrait of a flawed justice system, a family nearly crushed, and the vast power of a community to band together and to overcome.

Powell’s writing offers a straightforward depiction and analysis of both the legal and emotional challenges surrounding the case. Her own closeness to the family and her involvement in “The Politburo”—the name given to the community group fighting for Stewart’s acquittal—might make the reader question the objectiveness of Powell’s account, but the obvious and extensive research behind the book crushes these doubts. In fact, it is this commitment to accuracy and to the truth of writing that I found most engaging in the work.

It seems, to me at least, that Powell’s dogged determination to document the events truthfully is a means of paying homage to the ways in which writing impacted the case itself. For Powell, and for Stewart as well, writing is a means of achieving understanding (between Stewart and the prosecutors; self-understanding achieved through journaling), of pressuring for social change (newspapers and media played a strong role in the case), and of expressing an ultimate truth and goodness. I found myself dumbfounded near the end of the account when Stewart, who had been offered a diversion agreement to avoid a messy trial and potential jail time, spent weeks in negotiation with the prosecution over the exact wording of the document. “How do I explain to [my daughter] that I lied,” Stewart says at one point. “[How do I explain] that I signed my name to something that I did not believe to be true?” For these two women—Powell and Stewart—writing has tangible power and therefore comes with a strong sense of responsibility. Framing Innocence is aware of and delivers on that responsibility, restoring innocence, or at the least context, to a set of accusations that were wildly out of place. Writers, lawyers, parents, all those belonging to a community of values, ought to read and pay attention to this book.