Saturday, April 8, 2017

Behind-the-Scenes Look at Quotidian Theatre Company's Production of "Doubt: A Parable"

Quotidian Theatre Company will present Doubt: A Parable, the Pulitzer Prize-winning mystery drama by John Patrick Shanley, at The Writer’s Center from April 7 through May 7. In the interview below, director Stevie Zimmerman shares her unique approach to shaping the play, and also what makes it distinct among Quotidian performances.

Stevie received a Master’s of Arts Degree in Directing from the University of Leeds in England. In the Washington, DC area, she has directed performances for 1st Stage Theatre, Peterson’s Alley Theatre Productions, and Mclean Drama Company. Stevie is also a former Professor of Theater at The Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut.

TWC: How did Quotidian select Doubt: A Parable?

S: Well, I didn’t choose it myself. Quotidian chose it. I think the impetus behind that was in part because it is a great play. The play is Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley. It has four main characters. The principle one is Sister Aloysius, who is a nun who runs a school for boys and girls in The Bronx. She has a pretty strict view of her role in the upbringing of these children and the importance of being the moral authority for them. Under her direction is a younger nun, called Sister James, who is a much more innocent, touchy-feely kind of nun who thinks the children should like her.  One of the rectory priests, Father Flynn, is also a teacher. Sister James comes to suspect that he is doing inappropriate things a boy, the only African American child in the school.

TWC: What are the central themes of the play?

S: I believe that there is no one message. That’s one of the reasons the play is called doubt. John Patrick Shanley actually said that he thinks there is a second act to the play—the play is presented in one act with no breaks. He believes that “Act Two” is what happens when you get in your car, go home, and as the questions: Who did what? Who knew what? What did they know and when did they know it? The production that I’m trying to end up with is one where there is no clarity. Undoubtedly, people will have very strong ideas one way or the other, but there is no clarity offered within the play. At the end of the play, we do not know for sure whether the nun is right in her suspicions, or the father is right in his protest of innocence. In terms of a message, I guess that it’s about the importance of being open to the possibility of doubt, being open to investigation, not being as clear-cut and decided as we tend to be.  You can apply that to what’s going on in politics; you’re either with me or against me.

Scene from Doubt: A Parable Rehearsal 

TWC: What is the most remarkable aspect of this piece?

S: I think the play is beautifully written. It’s really elegant. It’s not action-packed by any means, but each scene exposes a bit more about the story and each of the characters. What you learn is that everyone has a history. Everyone has their reasons for doing things. We all make choices in what we believe, what we don’t believe—the actions we take based on that. Most things come with a price. It kind of really makes you reflect on your our circumstances, even if they don’t seem to be directly related. It’s very easy to think,
“This is a play about two nuns and a priest in 1964. What could that possibly have to say about anything in my life?” I really think it does.

TWC: How is this play different from past Quotidian Theatre Company productions?

S: This is my first time working with Quotidian, but I’ve been to several of the shows, and I know they have a very loyal audience. I think Doubt fits in the company’s interest in strong writing within a realistic vein. There are four distinct stories within the characters in the play. Where it may differ is the fact that it doesn’t have clarity of ending.

Doubt: A Parable will run from April 7 through May 7, 2017. Members of The Writer's Center can purchase tickets at a special $15 dollar rate. Tickets can be purchased here. You won’t want to miss it!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Spotlight on Literary Events: April 2017

April 1-April 30

National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.

Saturday, April 1, 2017, 2 p.m.
Anacostia Library
1800 Good Hope Road SE, Washington,  D.C.  20020

The DC Poet Project is a poetry open mic and reading series featuring top local authors. At each event the featured poets will select a winning open mic reader for a $100 cash prize and the chance to compete for a book contract. 

Sunday, April 2, 2:00 pm-4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815

We welcome Debra Nystrom and Lisa Russ Spaar, poets who teach at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Nystrom’s new collection, Night Sky Frequencies, was published by Sheep Meadow Press. Lisa Russ Spaar will read from Orexia (Persea). The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing.

Monday, April 3, 7:00 pm
Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540

The Library of Congress will honor Marilynne Robinson, the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction winner, with a special event titled “Fiction, Faith and the Imagination." The panel discussion will include Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Geraldine Brooks and Paul Harding, and physicist and best-selling novelist Alan Lightman, discussing the ways faith informs their work.  The conversation will be moderated by Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University.

Friday, April 8, 7:30 pm
Folger Theater
201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003

Laila Lalami, in Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Luis Urrea, in Into the Beautiful North, and Shobha Rao, in An Unrestored Woman, speak to lives that are never stationary and to communities that have been uprooted. They’ll come together on-stage to read from their work, and discuss what it means to be a citizen in our volatile world with moderator Sarah Stillman, New Yorker staff writer and director of the Global Migration Program at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Sunday, April 9, 2:00 pm-4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Visiting poet Teresa Mei Chuc was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. shortly after the Vietnam war ended. Her most recent collection of poems is Keeper of the Winds. She will be joined by Karren LaLonde. Alenier, whose recent collection, The Anima of Paul Bowles, draws inspiration from the lives of Paul and Jane Bowles. The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing.

Thursday, April 20, 6:30-8:00 pm
East City Bookshop
645 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003

Meet Kristen Radtke, author of the genre-smashing graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This. Discussion will be followed by a book signing.

Friday, April 21-Sunday, April 23

The 18th annual Bethesda Literary Festival will host an array of local and national authors, journalists and poets, as well as writing contests and poetry contests. All of the events are free and are held throughout downtown Bethesda.

Friday, April 21, 7:00 pm-8:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Join New York Times bestselling authors Kate Alcott as she discusses her latest novel, The Hollywood Daughter. The reading will be followed by a book signing.
Friday, April 21, 8:00 pm-9:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815

John A. Farrell, prize-winning biographer, discusses former president Richard Nixon in his newest acclaimed biography.

Saturday, April 22, 8:00 pm
Politics & Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave NW   
Washington, DC 20008

How many rings were forged by Sauron in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth? Excluding monuments, what is the tallest building in D.C.? Sign-up starts at 7 p.m. in The Den.

    Open House
Sunday, April 23, 11:00 am-1:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Make your Bethesda Literary Festival experience complete--attend the open house at The Writer's Center. Meet new Executive Director Ed Spitzberg, learn about writing workshops, readings, outreach programs and tour our nostalgic building. Stick around for treats and a round of Literary Trivia.

Sunday, April 23, 2:00 pm-4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Come share your writing at open mic! Sign-up for readers starts at 1:30 and the reading starts at 2:00.

Sunday, April 23, 2:00 pm-4:00 pm
Halcyon House
3400 Prospect Street NW, Washington, DC 20007

Waters will be in conversation with Septime Webre, Halcyon House's Artistic Director and former Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet.This event is part of the Halcyon Stage Book Party with Politics and Prose series, inviting celebrated authors to discuss their work in an intimate social setting.

Friday, April 28-Saturday, April 29
College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center
3501 University Blvd E, Hyattsville, MD 20783

Join the DC literary community and successful authors, agents, and publishers from around the country for the 5th Annual Washington Writers Conference at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in Hyattsville, MD. See why this inspiring and instructive two-day conference has quickly become a leading literary event in the DC area.

Saturday, April 29
University of Baltimore
William H. Thumel Sr. Business Center 
(#9 on Campus Map: 11 W. Mt. Royal Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201)
John and Frances Angelos Law Center 

(Adichie main/free session only--#7 on Campus Map: 1401 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21201)

This year, the CityLit Festival welcomes MacArthur Fellow Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah) to headline this year's event. 

Saturday, April 29

Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April. 

Participating stores in the Washington D.C. metro area include:

Sunday, April 30, 6:30 pm
Busboys and Poets
2021 14th St, NW, Washington, DC 20007

Politics and Prose at Busboys and Poets 14th & V welcomes Abubukar Adam Ibrahim to present his new book Season of Crimson Blossoms and Sarah Ladipo Manyika to present her book Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun.

Ibrahim and Manyika will be in conversation with Tope Folarin, a writer based in Washington D.C. This event is supported by the Young African Professionals (YAP) D.C. Network.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Don’t Give Up On This: A TWC Success Story

By Christina Kovac

I was a television news girl. It was a great career, and during that time I wrote and thought like a journalist. When I wanted to try my hand at fiction, I had to change how I thought. I turned to The Writer’s Center for instruction and took a workshop called “How to Create a Page Turner” with Jim Mathews. I had read and loved Jim’s collection of short stories, Last Known Position. On that first night, he talked about the craft. He wrote exactly the way I wanted to write.

Later, Jim read my submission, which became the first three chapters of my debut novel, The Cutaway. “Don’t give up on this,” he said. Those five words of encouragement kept me going through years of writing and rewriting until I no longer had an idea if the manuscript was good. I was too close. Another workshop leader, Hildie Block, said my confusion meant I was ready to search for an agent.

I was terrified.

Hildie helped me go through a list of literary agents, picking out the best for me, and I sent out (maybe fifty) queries the way I do everything, which is all at once: sink or swim. Half of the agents responded, all with different requests: five pages or chapters or full manuscripts, some wanted C.V.s and outlines, others wanted half manuscripts printed out and overnighted. 

It was chaos.

Amidst the confusion, I got an email reply from Dan Conaway at Writer’s House. Hey, send some chapters. Thanks
So chill. I liked him. Immediately.

When he offered to represent me, he explained that his hand moved to the phone when he read only the first two lines, but he stopped and read on. After the second chapter, he knew. There’s a music he hears with writers he wants to represent, he said.

Music, he said. He’d heard me. That’s when I knew he was the agent for me.
Together we worked on finishing touches to sell the manuscript. Dan had a heavy editor hand—all brilliant ideas. He’s incredibly talented. Everything he suggested I did, sometimes pushing farther, which delighted him. It was the beginning of a great partnership. He became more than an agent, editor, or mentor. He became my friend.
We sold The Cutaway in a two-book deal to Dawn Davis at Atria Books. I nearly passed out when Dan told me. After all, Dawn Davis had been Edward P. Jones’s editor for The Known World, one of my all-time favorite books. Dawn is as amazing as you’d imagine. Dan went on to sell the TV rights to my book to Howard Gordon, creator of Homeland, for 20th Century Fox.

Last week, The Cutaway was published It’s the dream I had all those years ago, sitting in Jim 
Mathew’s workshop. Hope I never wake up.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Poetry is What Haunts, What Shocks, What Invokes: Fourth of Six Interviews with Poet Lore Pushcart Prize Nominees

Interview with Rasaq Malik, Poet Lore Pushcart Prize Nominee. Interview conducted by Ellie Tipton, managing editor of Poet Lore. This is the fourth interview with our six nominees.

Rasaq Malik

If we wake up tomorrow, he says,
we will pray to Allah until our knees
bleed, until our foreheads darken,
until the only words that linger
in our mouths are Allahu Akbar.
If we wake up tomorrow without
having to search for our beloveds
at the scenes of bomb blasts, in the wreckage
of burnt cars, in the ruins of buildings,
in the fields of graves, we will recite
the Qur’an until our voices reach the heart
of God, until our eyes spill tears.
If we wake up tomorrow without hearing
bullets, without smelling corpses, without
enduring the news of war from Gaza, without
reading the list of the dead in Rafah,
Jabalia, Khan Younis, Maghazi,
North Gaza, we will shout Allahu Akbar
until our throats slacken, until our chests
quake, until the only thing we remember
is how to love God. If we wake up
tomorrow, he says, we will go to the streets
to help the wounded, the dying,
the young learning how to remember
their country, the orphans saying Help us,
we’re hungry
, the old in clothes filled with dirt,
the sick gasping for breath in hospitals.
If we wake up tomorrow, he says,
we will learn how to survive another night.

ET: Can you tell our readers where you are from?

RM: I am from Nigeria. I was born and bred in Iseyin, Oyo state.

ET: I am gripped by this poem’s force and forward momentum. The repetition built within the poem and the syntactical structure of the stanza drive the movement forward. I feel so within the space of the poem that I must remind myself it is a constructed space. Can you talk a little about your process? Did the poem rush out of you onto the page or did you accumulate your father’s phrases and slowly stitch them into the poem? Or, is there something in between these processes that is more reflective of how you composed it?

RM: This poem struck my mind the moment I read some articles about the Israelites’ “continuous attacks” on Gaza. Many Palestinians died; mostly children. I pondered on many tragic happenings in the world. Children are always at the risk of being massacred.

In Nigeria, the boko harams ravage the Northern part of the country. They throw bombs and destroy houses. Many northerners are exiles in their homeland. Recently, there was a bomb blast by Nigerian air force, which was said to be “accidental” at an IDP camp in Borno.

I mean there is this universality of war that haunts me. The world experiences annihilation.

In Gaza, in Syria, in Aleppo, etc, there is no peace. People wake every dawn to realize there is war lurking in the air. They wake to the sound of bullets, and safety seems to be a dystopian dream.

In addition, I would love to say that this poem, apart from being inspired by the violence around us, it also captures the struggle we encounter when inhabiting a troubled place. It talks about the parental fear, and the use of “father” connotes the inherent care showered on the children by their parents. Every mother wants her children to be safe, from war, from blasts, from carnage, from missiles, etc.

Writing the poem did not take me months. I spent some weeks and revisited it. My ritual is: a poem needs to speak to the soul. It should be able to paint events through the careful handling of language. Since it carries every language, it should speak to humanity.

ET: What do you feel that this poem can teach Americans?

RM: This poem is dedicated to everybody because the irrefutable fact is that we lose parts of ourselves when we pursue the mundane things. The only solace is narrating our stories to the world, to people. This poem should teach us how, as humans, we should be compassionate and peaceful to others. There is no peace in war, and no matter how we try to escape, there will always be testaments of ruins created by man’s inhumanity to man, man’s unrestrained act of unleashing terror and torture to his other man.

America and the world should realize that it takes time to heal, if there is a sure healing at all for the victims of war. Being human transcends bearing a name. It transcends our physical features. Being human means kindness and love for other humans. Being human means embracing others and allowing them into your life. 

ET: Along those lines, it appears to me from reading your poetry that poetry is a lifeline for you. But I’m curious to hear in your own words: what does poetry mean to you?

RM: Poetry is what leads me to my desk to write even when my body aches. It is the eternal silence of a departed soul. It is the scarred face of a war-victim. It is the grief of children abandoned during war. It is what haunts, what shocks, what invokes, what breathes, what rises, and what glows.

It is the documentation of world’s diverse experiences. It operates as an archive, a library for unborn generations to learn about their antecedents.

Poetry is sitting in a room to paint the thoughts of people walking the streets, the dreams of people sweating under the sun, and the cravings of people living as aliens in their homelands.

To me, poetry is a perfect photographer. It depicts and portrays every man’s countless dreams through the deployment of verses that seek a deep soul to comprehend.

Poetry survives death because it immortalizes life. It recreates and reincarnates people through words.

Like a character named Style in “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” by Athol Fugard, poetry is a perfect photographer. It saves the memories of important events in our lives. It electrifies and magnetizes our souls. It brings us together to narrate our collective struggles. It binds and unchains us. It is an unrestrained freedom.

ET: Wow. Thank you for that impassioned response. I’m very curious to learn more about your perspective as a Nigerian poet. From your experience, how do Nigerians view poetry? How do they celebrate it?

RM: According to Edgar Allen Poe, “With me poetry has not been a purpose, but a passion.” To my culture, poetry is passion. It is what we do with immeasurable joy in our hearts. It is what strengthens and uplifts us. It is what humanizes us and demeans stereotypes. It fosters unity.

A typical example of this unity is the moment when poetry performers at festivals entertain the audience and praise dignitaries. Poetry performances are always included at different festivals. It is also a means of teaching morals and propagating the values of our cultures and traditions.

However, beyond this cultural demarcation lies the bigger picture of what poetry entails in my country. Over the years, Nigeria has produced brilliant and inspiring poets. Nigeria has witnessed the high influx of writers using social media to reach a wider audience. These poets have been able to connect with the outside world, to the world afar, to the world that embraces writing and applauds commitment and devotion. We also have budding writers wowing us with their groundbreaking and insightful literary pieces. In their bid to explore and document their experiences and those of others, these writers have been able to read and reflect some of the societal happenings, and they have been able to proffer solutions to some of these debacles.

ET: Who are your influences?

RM: Jumoke Verissimo, Laura Kaminski, Danusha Lameris, Tarfia Faizulla. These poets explore the world in their poems and invite the reader to relish its beauty and cruelty. These poets tell important stories. Their poems are reflections of life’s manifold encounters and struggles.

ET: Are there Nigerian poets or poets from other cultures that you feel more Americans should be reading?

RM: In Nigeria, the young poets have started a literary revolution. These poets have invaded social media platforms to aid the propagation of their poems. Some of them are transcending boundaries by being published in international journals.

They include Wale Owoade, recently accepted by Guernica, the brainchild behind the Expound Journal; Okwudili Nebeolisa, recently accepted by Beloit Journal; David Ishaya Osu, a poet and an editor of Panorama: the journal of intelligent travel; D.M Aderibigbe, an MFA graduate of Boston University, a two-time finalist in Sillerman Poetry Prize, and a poet widely published in international journals; Gbenga Adesina, a joint-winner, Brunel Poetry Prize (2016) and a finalist in the Sillerman Poetry Prize (2017); Saddiq Dzukogi, a published poet, whose books have been shortlisted for major awards in Nigeria. 

These poets have been able to react to the problems happening in their society. They have been able to project their aches through their writings. Americans should look out for these poets. They are unforgettable through the images they paint.

Purchase the issue where Rasaq’s poem appears here.

Subscribe to Poet Lore here

Monday, March 13, 2017

Doing it Backwards: From Performing to Writing

By Noa Baum

On Tuesday, March 14, meet author and storyteller Noa Baum as she opens this year’s Washington Jewish Literary Festival. Baum combines performance and text from her recent memoir A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace in an unforgettable experience. Click here for more info and a 20% discount on the event.

Between December of 2014 and December of 2015, I dove into a whole new world. I always knew that writing was different from storytelling but I never imagined it would be so different. When I write, it’s for speaking engagements, and the written words are just the sketch—a scaffold upon which the story is created as I tell it.

When I tell stories about my mother, I don’t need many words to describe her. I use my voice infused with her intonation, pitch, and volume; my facial expressions, gestures and body language. And then the words she says and her personality come alive. But when I sat down to write about my mother, I suddenly had to find words for everything. How does one even begin to describe a voice so central to her entire personality!?

This was just one of the challenges during my most fascinating journey of writing. It also included delving into old journals I haven’t opened since high-school; resurrecting old conversation transcripts with my Palestinian friend; and daring to have a conversation with my brother that I never had before.

In my Author’s Note that opens the book, I write:

This book is my attempt to shed light on how people experience and remember history. Not all people, just me and one Palestinian woman I met in America and our families. It is the story of our friendship and of my becoming a storyteller and using the art of storytelling as a peace-building tool.

In an attempt to explore the elusiveness of peace, I have gathered clues from memory’s secret hideouts to create stories. I try to give shape to the subtle and mysterious shifts in perception on my journey, from the secure black-and-white narratives of my childhood to the uneasy place of complexity where multiple narratives, ambiguities, and contradictions reside.

I also try to reconstruct my creative process as a storytelling artist to reveal the transformative power of my art form.

My hope is that this exploration will encourage you to deepen and expand your listening to “the other.” I hope it will inspire you to look at your own quest for peace and seek out more stories and encounters with those you see as most different from you or even as enemies.

I’m eager to share the fruits of this journey with you all—whether you’ve seen the performance of A Land Twice Promised or not—this book will enrich your experience. It will add more background and details about the lives of Israelis and Palestinians in this entrenched conflict, as well as invite you behind the scenes into the creative process.
Apr 5 @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
MEET THE AUTHOR: NOA BAUM Book Discussion: “A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest For Peace” Wednesday April 5th, 2017 Temple Isaiah, 12200 Scaggsville Rd. Fulton, MD 6:30-7:15: Israeli style Dinner (*Advanced Payment Required) 7:15-8:30: Book Discussion/Q and A