December 17, 2017

Hope: The Underlying Message of Ben Winter’s Underground Airlines

Ben Winters wrote Underground Airlines (Mullholland Books, 2016) ostensibly to bring attention to the lingering pernicious affects of slavery in America, but his inventive story can also be read to show far we have come from the days when slavery was legal. In Underground Airlines, an escaped slave––whose true name we never learn––has been coerced into serving as a slave catcher for the U.S. Marshall’s Service. Slavery persists in this alternate history as the result of a 19th century constitutional compromise that allowed each state sovereignty over the issue. In the time of the story slavery remains in four states—a situation that has engenered extremely negative consequences for the rest of the country, undermining its economic and moral status and […]
December 2, 2017

Annie Proulx’s Barkskins: Cements Her Status and Tells an important Story

Barkskins by Annie Proulx My rating: 4 of 5 stars A tour de force rendering of the history of the deforestation not only of North America but beyond told through the personal stories of three dozen (at least) characters beginning with the settlement of North America. Barkskins begins with the lives of two indentured servants–characters whose lives we quickly realize are less important to Proulx than what they reveal about the attitudes and actions of the European settlers on the natural environment, including their relations with the native Americans they came in contact with starting at the end of the 17th century to the present. Proulx’s need to have a vehicle to tell the story of the forests lessens the […]
May 11, 2017

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: A Review

Forty plus years after the U.S. abandoned Vietnam to the Communists, Viet Thanh Nguyen captures the duplicity of all sides during the Vietnam war and its aftermath in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer. Reading Nguyen reinforces my belief that I was on the right side in the 1960s when I joined the anti-war movement before it imploded in the 1970s, exhibiting similar excesses to those perpetrated by the North Vietnamese (and Cambodians) on their own people. The American anti-war movement morphed into an anti-American movement with groups like the post-SDS Weather Underground waging war on the American working class for failure to take up arms against the American government. In Vietnam, the victorious Communists subjugated anyone and everyone […]
February 12, 2017

My Report from the 2017 AWP Writers Conference

I attend my first Association of Writers & Writers Programs (AWP) Conference in D.C. for two days this past week. It was eye-opening, not only in terms of the information I gleaned from the five workshops I attended, but based on my observations of the scheduled workshops, the exhibitors, and the people. Despite the projected attendance of 12,000 people (which probably fell short due to travel restrictions in the Northeast), the conference felt like a gathering of friends who know each other. More than once walking through the halls, I’d see people recognize someone and rush to hug an old acquaintance or classmate. That sense also prevailed in the workshops when moderators and speakers alike made references to people and […]
February 7, 2017

How Liberalism Divides America: A Review of Shelby Steele’s Shame

Shelby Steele, Shame, How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, Basic Books, 2015 Don’t be misled by this small book’s subtitle, or even the title for that matter. Neither reflects Shelby Steele’s thesis that post 1960s Liberalism is built on a house of lies that has relegated many blacks and other minorities to positions “of inferiors and dependents.” (179) Shame reveals among other things why eight years after the election of the first African-American president, issues around race still divide our country. Steele also explains why Liberalism seems to be more about absolving whites and government from America’s past than helping minorities overcome that past and why conservative commentators are not taken at face value. To understand Steele’s thesis […]
January 22, 2017

Book and Writers’ Conferences: No Shortage of Opportunities

I’m scheduled for four conferences this spring. That’s a lot, but I go because I always come away with something of value. Writers’ conferences offer speakers touching on subjects of import to me as I seek to perfect my writing and reach more readers. The largest writers conference in the country is sponsored each year by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs(AWP). This year’s conference will be held February 8-11 in Washington, D.C. at the Washington Convention Center. Past events have attracted more than 12,000 participants. This will be my first visit to an AWP conference. The schedule of workshops is overwhelming. I’m sure my head will be spinning. The Maryland Writers Association is holding its first conference in […]