Filed under: Nonfiction, Opinion, Post by: Paula B, Reviews, Uncategorized
It’s now been almost 72 hours since Seattle’s own Sherman Alexie closed the annual national celebration of all things writerly known as AWP. But writers everywhere, and this writer in particular, remain jetlagged and not just because of the 12-hour trips each way for those of us in the east coast.
(Ahem, if you don’t know anything about AWP check out Peter Mountford’s Guide to AWP for People Who Don’t Know What AWP Is. His Useful Stereotypes are especially on-point: example 1. Earnest Poet, example 2. Mid Level Writer You’ve Never Heard Of. )
This was my second year attending AWP and I have to say I was a little less dazed and confused but just as googly-eyed as the first time.
There was running into my undergraduate prof., Allen Gee, at the top of the fourth floor escalator on registration day, then later in a rather intense panel on Writing Fictional Characters of Another Race led by the phenomenal Randa Jarrar and Mat Johnson among others. (I chased them both after the panel and hope to feature them on StS soon!)
While womanning the StS table at the bookfair along with StS Asst. Poetry Editor, Alicia P, I saw and invited (manhandled-fawned) over the Great Joy Harjo whom we featured back in November, and yes there were pictures and yes this is us bragging.
There was the joy in Joy Castro‘s packed panel on Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family which offered touching and surprisingly humorous tales of the logistical and emotional negotiations endured when writing about everything from incest and sex addition to adoption and parenting and autism. StS will work tirelessly to bring Joy to you in the near future.
Dorothy Allison was greatly missed at Lambda’s 25 for 25, but at least I was able to see Butterfly Boy’s Rigoberto Gonzalez in action. Then, there was the pleasure of a first-time reading with Chang-Rae Lee and the discovery of the lazy charm of Chris Abani. (You had to be there! Were you? Tell us about it in the comments! But rest assured Abani would approve of my qualifier.)
Finding and sitting next to former StS Blog Editor, Sheila McMullin, at The (She) Devil Inside: Unlikeable Women in Fiction, where Samantha Chang and others referred to Edith Wharton and Claire Messud’s work to illustrate how Likeable = Respectable in literature and in life, was a special treat. And an impromptu reunion with StS featured poet Javier Huerta in the convention lobby and later at a ConTinta/CantoMundo offsite reading moved me so, it’ll have to be its own post.
So l’ll stop here and not bore you with any more of my literary stalking, or with what could very well have been three George Saunders sightings –Asst. Fiction Editor, Julie D. is my witness–except we couldn’t be sure. We were too tired and either non or under-inebriated to approach him, though he was, we swear, no more than 5 feet away all three times.
Will continue AWP-detoxing for weeks to come. Bear with us.
Filed under: Announcements, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Politics, Post by: Sheila M, Uncategorized
Former So to Speak Poetry and Blog Editor Sheila McMullin on the history of the StS blog and using online platforms to advocate for social change:
On March 8, 2011 I launched So to Speak’s blog with a simple one line post. No in-depth journal and provocative claim, just a quick message with the beginning word “Celebrating.” With this word began So to Speak’s interaction as an online open forum for discussing feminist issues as they pertain to art and artist communities. In those early days our editorial circle saw the blog as a supplement to the print journal, providing a space for our contributors to speak in broader terms on their creative process and artistic and feminist intentions in relation to their printed pieces. The blog was an opportunity for the community at large to engage with our activist-driven organization and find in us a community of peers who understand the importance of celebrating feminist dialogue, a safe space to explore identity relations, questions, and build new relations. It was a space for those curious to learn. A place for those skeptical to debate. It is no secret that women and those who don’t identify as cisgender are unproportionally harassed and denigrated on the internet. In launching a blog dedicated to feminism in the arts, I with Blog Co-editor Alyse Knorr were fulfilling a lack we saw in So to Speak’s organizational structure, and stepping up to fight against the notion that women aren’t allowed to play. Of course feminists and budding feminists waiting for a call to action were on the internet. And So to Speak needed to find them and bring them together. We believed that to meet the needs of our feminist allies we had a firm obligation to participate in the online community.
Today StS is still all these things under the care of the current editorial circle, and better, more expansive, more in-depth, more provocative. I am eternally grateful to Blog Editor Sheryl Rivett and her Assistant Blog Editor Paula Beltran for continuing and fostering StS’s online presence. One thing many people don’t really yet understand about encouraging online communities through dedicated and consistent blogging is that it takes a whole lot of energy and a s**t-ton of time. With open minds embracing online opportunities So to Speak has been able to be more of an engaged feminist advocacy group expanding its reach to promote gender parity in the arts and in our communities at large.
That beginning celebratory word on StS’s fresh blog, jumpstarted my personal endeavors of becoming more involved in utilizing web presences for social causes within organizations dedicated to advancing gender parity. I want to celebrate creative bravery. These days many of us engage in online communities through various social media sites that encourage surface level and sensationalist interactions. With sites like Facebook the tendency becomes to showcase only the most thrilling, titillating side of ourselves. These kinds of interactions can at times be a reprieve or fun, but if taken too seriously can interrupt crucial opportunities for empathetic human interaction. Similarly to how hyper-sexualized advertisements and media affect our collective conscious on definitions of “natural” and “beauty,” our most popular social media sites can actually make us feel more lonely, more isolated. Through these sites we have been trained to compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel, a well-worn yet accurate phrase. I don’t deny that sites like Facebook and Twitter play huge roles in providing low-budget socially-conscious groups opportunities to advertise, promote, and connect. These are often the hubs individuals go to see what’s the latest and check updates on news and events. But sites like these can also encourage an ego that denies the validity of another’s identity because of the lack of an ultimate goal of interacting in offline spheres. We forget the avatar on our screens represents a beating human heart, with just as many complex emotions and needs as we have.
I like using the internet very much. It is fun, serves a knowledge-based purpose, and connects me to like-minded folks and family and friends all over the globe. And while the internet allows me to stay in touch with people I love and explore the world without necessarily leaving home, it is still incredibly important to remember that the surface level of interaction while on the internet is through an inanimate object.
As I have become more involved in online communities I understand more the complete necessity for my online presence to directly influence my offline actions. The internet is a tool to make my material and physical life more fulfilling, more understanding, more substantial. So, for AWP 2014 I wanted to bring together creative literary thinkers who actively engage online in platforms they either built themselves because they saw a lack and wanted to fill that space with positive community-focused interaction or significantly monitor and update a unique platform with a socially conscious action-orientated mission for creative thinkers who want to learn to engage online in meaningful, nourishing ways and to talk about how to do so in productively.
On Saturday, March 1, the panelists and I will discuss building unique online platforms, or participating in already existing platforms to shape a cyber presence that provokes actual social change and propagates dissemination of educational materials in the physical world. We’ll discuss and explore opportunities for using our online platforms to evolve typical trite conversations, to change language, to vocalize inclusivity, reform out-of-date sexist traditions, and push out of comfort zones to empower individuals. Through our conversation, I hope we can come together to celebrate our unique visions and encourage users to create an internet that moves away from trolling, harassment, anxiety-provoking sites and moves toward representing the diverse cultures we participate in and the diverse human beings we are.
For you, in the cybersphere, who are ready to start using your online platform to advocate for social change consider what it means to blog with integrity, and focus on opportunities for offline activism by providing links at the end of your posts to others’ organizations or groups who argue for similar productivity you do and could benefit from a charitable donation or some type of volunteer action.
Now go write and share!
Headed to AWP? Be sure to check out the panel that Sheila is moderating!
So You Want to Build a Platform: But What is It & Why Do You Need One? Women Writers & Editors Speak Out (Sheila McMullin, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Molly Gaudry, Sheryl Rivett, Arisa White)
Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6
Saturday, March 1, 2014
10:30 am to 11:45 am
While women’s voices are underrepresented in print publishing, online activism can balance the scales. Cultivating an online presence is not as easy as DIY and shameless self-promotion tales make it look. Creative thinkers, to highlight minority and emerging voices, develop unique online resources to build ever-expanding communities and celebrate accomplishments. Panelists explore empowerment, utility of web-based writing, maintaining professionalism, and ways to keep viewers returning and sharing.
Filed under: Announcements, Nonfiction, Opinion, Post by: Sheryl R, Starring Local Feminists
We’re pleased to share the line up put together by poet Sheila McMullin, past So to Speak editor and current VIDA web assistant. Check out her fantastic list of exactly which AWP panels next week in Seattle fall under the feminism umbrella!
“For your feminist appetite I have complied a savory dish of 2014 AWP Seattle feminist panels. How, you ask, do I know these are feminist panels, when few of them self-identify as feminist? Well, identify, rather, identity is going to be the key term here.”
Looking forward to seeing some of you at the events. Don’t forget to stop by the So to Speak table for custom buttons and to say hi!
Filed under: Christina C, Fiction, Nonfiction, Opinion, Uncategorized
By Christina Elaine Collins
The mute woman found in myths and folklore embodies issues of marginalization, subjection, and self-determination. She is an intriguing figure because she invokes both empathy and irritation, embodying both women’s experiences with silence and women’s resentment of that silence. Folk narratives offer a particularly compelling context for exploring silence as a feminist issue. Folk narratives exhibit patterns in character roles and gendered themes, and female silence is easily identifiable as one such pattern. It can be detected as early as 8 AD, when the Roman poet Ovid retold the Greek myth of Philomela in Book VI of the Metamorphoses, a fifteen-volume narrative poem.
In lines 401-674 of Book VI, Ovid explains how Philomela is raped by her sister’s husband, king Tereus of Thrace. When Philomela threatens to tell the world of his rape, Tereus violently cuts off her tongue, rapes her again, and locks her in a cabin in the woods. Thinking her absolutely silenced, he tells his wife, Procne, that her sister is dead. Philomela, undeterred, passes a year in the cabin weaving “purple signs” onto a tapestry that “tells the story of her wrongs” (Ovid 329). She gives this tapestry to her attendant, who delivers it to Procne. The enraged queen releases her sister and brings her back to her palace, where she seeks revenge on her husband by killing their son and serving the body to him as a meal. While eating, Tereus asks to see his son, and the sisters delight in their triumph; Procne informs him that his son is in his stomach, and Philomela bursts onto the scene with his son’s head. As Tereus attempts to kill the sisters, all three are transformed into birds. According to Ovid, Tereus becomes a hoopoe, Procne a swallow, and Philomela, most significantly, a nightingale (329-335). The nightingale’s song is particularly plaintive and mournful, and this transformation gives Philomela a voice to mourn her real voice and the violation that its loss represents.
Philomela is unmistakably a forerunner for the mute protagonists of folk and fairy tales that we see from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Philomela’s voice, like that of the sister in the “The Six Swans” and the mermaid in “The Little Mermaid,” is something valuable that has been taken from her. The very power of her voice threatens Tereus, when she tells him, “I myself will cast shame aside and proclaim what you have done. If I should have the chance, I would go where people throng and tell it” (Ovid 327). This threat is what prompts Tereus to remove her tongue, her organ of speech, so that her “speechless lips can give no token of her wrongs” (329). The removal is violent, forceful, and clearly unwanted. “But he seized her tongue with pincers, as it protested against the outrage, calling ever on the name of her father and struggling to speak, and cut it off with his merciless blade” (327). The tongue itself, the physical manifestation of Philomela’s voice, becomes the subject of the narrative as it clings in vain to speech, “calling” and “struggling to speak.” The very fact that it “protested” indicates Philomela’s dissent and proves that her muteness is forced upon her completely against her will.
This tale not only describes a woman’s enforced silence, but also presents her perseverance in spite of losing her physical voice, as we will see in European folk and fairy tales of mute women. In fact, the myth of Philomela presents the prototype for stories of women who devise other ways of speaking when they cannot speak physically. Without a physical voice, Philomela resorts to storytelling through weaving; she writes her story because she cannot speak it. Elissa Marder argues that “[t]his text invites a feminist reading […] because it establishes a relationship between the experience of the violation and access to language” (160). According to Marder, Philomela “writes out of necessity and in response to violation”; that is, she discovers a secondary way to manifest her voice in the absence of the conventional means. Karen E. Rowe similarly points out that “Philomela’s trick reflects the ‘trickiness’ of weaving, its uncanny ability to make meaning out of inarticulate matter, to make silent material speak” (56). Rowe thus emphasizes the importance of voice as well as silence in Philomela’s story, viewing the myth as a paradigm for understanding the female voice in folklore and fairy tale. By weaving tales and singing songs, Philomela not only embodies the later archetype of the female storyteller, but also “breaks her enforced silence by speaking in another mode—through a craft presumed to be harmlessly domestic, as fairy tales would also be regarded in later centuries” (57).
Rowe’s concept of “enforced silence” is the key link between the tale of Philomela and later European tales like “The Six Swans” and “The Little Mermaid.” In those tales, silence is also imposed on the protagonist. The major difference is that Philomela is brutally robbed of her voice by another character, whereas “The Six Swans” and “The Little Mermaid” concern women who appear to give up their voices voluntarily. This difference is trivial in light of the shared theme of female silence, which always involves some degree of coercion, raising the overarching questions of voice and autonomy, questions that remain pertinent to feminists today. We must not forget Philomela.
Marder, Elissa. “Disarticulated Voices: Feminism and Philomela.” Language and Liberation: Feminism, Philosophy, and Language. Eds. Christina Hendricks and Kelly Oliver. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. 149-169.
Ovid. Metamorphoses: Books I-VIII. Trans. Frank Justus Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: Heinemann, 1977.
Rowe, Karen E. “To Spin a Yarn: The Female Voice in Folklore and Fairy Tale.” In Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm. Ed. Ruth B. Bottigheimer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986. 53-74.
Christina Elaine Collins is a Pushcart Prize-nominated fiction writer, an MFA candidate and English instructor at George Mason University, and So to Speak’s assistant editor. Her fiction can be found in various literary journals such as Jabberwock Review, Poiesis Review, Weave Magazine, and Rose Red Review. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts as well as the Art Commune program in Armenia. You can find her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CElaineCollins.
Filed under: Art, Interview, Nonfiction, Opinion, Politics, Post by: Sheryl R, Uncategorized
I first discovered Lili Almog’s work at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, where her stunning images illuminated an intimate stillness in women’s faces and poses, each emotionally naked before the camera. When confronted by the images, I knew I had been invited into a conversation, a conversation about gender, about societal roles, about faith and culture. An energy pulsed from the stark, stripped view she captured through her lens.
Born in Israel, Lili Almog worked as a photojournalist before attending the School of Visual Arts, graduating in 1992. Her vision as an artist has taken her into people’s bedrooms; villages in Western China; Carmelite monasteries in Israel, Palestine, and the USA; and beyond. Increasingly, she stretches the boundaries of her photographic training to include drawing, sculpture, and video in her art. She has exhibited her work in galleries around the globe; published two monographs, Perfect Intimacy and The Other Half of the Sky; contributed to four books; and won awards. One curator says of Almog, “In times when the tides of aggression seem high on the horizon, an intimate seeking for the feminine without gender characterizes Lili Almog’s work.”
We invite you to share in this intimate conversation with Israeli artist, Lili Almog:
Sheryl: How would you define your role in the artist-subject-viewer relationship?
Lili: My intention as an artist is to enter an extremely private space without disrupting the delicate essence of communication between subject, their experience and the viewer. I wish to move beyond documentation, to preserve the private moment by transcending limits imposed by preconceived ideas, cultural stereotype and prejudice so that people may speak their stories to me.
Sheryl: You grew up in Israel and studied art at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. How did your childhood affect your art vision, which developed in art school?
Lili: My upbringing Israel was a creation of the powerful dynamic between women. I grew up surrounded by my mother, grandmother and sister; men left no permanent trace on our lives. Was this a kind of feminism? Perhaps in Israel it was, since the greater society surrounding us was very traditional male-centric values. Living in a home created by, and for, women, and we were always aware of the tensions between our family’s modern feminine values and the traditional Israeli society around us. My art reflects the female bonds that were so vividly present in my childhood, and the compelling and dynamic clash of traditionalism and modernism in the culture around me.
Sheryl: Who are some of your feminist influences?
Lili: I will have to start with my mom; my mother was a model of the modern feminist woman, with all the difficult choices she had to make in order to give me a foundation to be an independent and free thinker. But I admire so many women in so many areas of life: I respect and am influenced by Simone de Beauvoir’s theories of the “other gender.” Sarah Schenirer, an early orthodox Jewish pioneer of education for young women is someone I admire greatly because of the changes she made in religious Jewish society.
Sheryl: What personal factors do you feel inform your art?
Lili: My art focuses on creating representations of the feminine body and psyche. I try to capture the cultural and spiritual identity of women set in their private spaces. My images combine elements of history, social class, and personal experience in surroundings that have timely significance.
My subjects are often from remote cultures not experienced with mass media exposure. I utilize a variety of photographic means — portraiture, landscape, and video camera —as testimonial recorders, to emphasize the individuality of my subjects, their enduring dignity, their sense of self worth and their traditional values.
Sheryl: Many of your photos are poetic, stories onto themselves, and they invite interpretation. If there were one piece of which you’d like to tell the story, which one would it be? What is that story?
Lili: Here is a story about a nun who I photographed during my “Perfect Intimacy” project.
On the way to the monastery in Bethlehem we stopped for lunch. I observed a nun fixing her habit, with a fairly large cross made of brass sticking out of a little pocket in the center of her chest, under her scapula. I asked her if her cross had a special meaning and she told me that each sister has her own personal crucifix that she receives on the day of her Profession of Vows. Each nun receives her Profession Crucifix from the Prioress and always carries it next to her heart. This nun held her cross very gently and lovingly as she showed it to me. I was deeply moved by this and Somehow for me it became a symbol of their relationship with God From that point on, when I would photograph a sister I would ask her to show me her personal Cross.
Sheryl: You’ve travelled around the world and captured women in many different environments. Is there one culture that has affected you most?
Lili: In my project, “The Other Half of the Sky”, I created portraits of minority women in the countryside, small cities and villages in China with an emphasis on Muslim women in China. The Mosuo women are one minority that I encountered in my visits to China. They are one of the last matriarchal societies existing in our world. Geographical isolation enabled the Mosuo society to preserve their matriarchal way of life until the 1970s, when a road built into the mountainous area opened up the Mosuo culture to the outside world. In recent years, the traditions of the Mosuo society have been severely challenged by modernization, which has brought an invasion of tourists — and tourist dollars to the Mosuo region. Traditional practices are being abandoned for more financially lucrative opportunities, for example, farmers are leaving their fields for tour-guide jobs and women are charging money for dressing up tourists in traditional clothing. Some male tourists come to the region for sex. In the Lake Lugu red-light district, prostitutes from other parts of China dress up as Mosuo women and offer their services. The younger generation is starting to abandon tradition for all things modern; older Mosuo wonder how much longer their unique culture will survive. My work documented the Mosuo struggle to hold on to their unique matriarchal practices despite the erosion of their culture by modern society.
Sheryl: What are you working on currently?
Lili: My focus has shifted from the private space to more global space. Currently I am exploring the broad spectrum of changes in culture via landscape. I have been working on a project, “Beyond Presence and Absence”, which documents topographical change in a kibbutz in Israel due to a natural catastrophe. Although I live in New York, I personally identify with the intimate kibbutz community and the way it deals with change so differently than we do here. I am also documenting massive change in the American post-industrial landscape from a local topographical perspective. The visual questions I am exploring are boundless . . . and intrigue me.
Lili Almog is an Israeli-born artist based in New York whose work in photography and video investigates female identity. Her exhibition and book, The Other Half of the Sky, portray women in rural China. Beginning in 2006, Almog traveled to remote Chinese provinces to document women of diverse backgrounds and societal functions such as members of the Muslim minority, tile factory workers and farmers. She produced portraits in six distinct geographic sections: mountain, lake, factory, street, backyard and land. Recent solo exhibitions of her work include The Art Museum of Lexington, KY; the Emmanuel Valderdorff Galerie in Köln, Germany; and Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York.