On Wednesday, May 10th, Westwind hosted it’s annual spring reading in Powell Library Rotunda featuring Aimee Bender, Libby Flores, and Jessica Vidal.
Aimee Bender was our featured reader. She is the author of five books—her most recent novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, was a New York Times bestseller. Currently, Bender teaches creative writing at USC.
Libby Flores is a 2008 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow and her short fiction has been featured in multiple publications, including Post Road Magazine, Paper Darts, and the LA Review of Books (LARB). You can find more work at her website.
Jessica Vidal, is finishing up her fourth-year as an English major with a Creative Writing concentration at UCLA. Her honors thesis was a novella of vignettes titled The Migratory Patterns of Marisol. They follow the various relationships of a young Mexican-American woman.
To write with the purpose of creating something artful that communicates the human experience is in and of itself a daunting and challenging task. To write with the purpose of representing, documenting, and relating traumatic historical events is that much more difficult — especially if one wants to maintain accuracy and not run the risk of sensationalizing, trivializing, or further dividing the involved groups. However, these discussions and considerations are certainly warranted, if not mandatory, as those of us who want to write about and preserve the past must do so in a way that can harness growth and benefit the communities involved, making sure to pave the path for a collective memory which can lead to progressive healing and not regressive hate and division.
Although I’ve always been heavily concerned with the “collective” human past and my own family history, considerations of how I could potentially represent such pasts did not cross my mind until I participated in a few poetry workshops while simultaneously undertaking the academic study of histories that encapsulated the course of my own ancestors. Specifically, I took courses in which I studied the Armenian Genocide and Stalinist repression in the Soviet Union, events which, in the past century, have caused significant impact on families such as my own. As a great-grandchild of genocide survivors and as the descendant of individuals that were forced to immigrate throughout the Middle East and the Soviet Union, I have grown up with stories upon stories that not only illustrate atrocious trauma, but also depict the human capacity to adapt, survive, and persevere. Thus, just as many others who have grown up with the collective memory of such historical traumas as myself, including histories of war, genocide, exile, slavery, and oppression, I have a desire, if not an inner duty, to somehow preserve and present the lives of my ancestors through art.
However, there are several important aspects of writing about such historical trauma that must be considered when attempting to undertake such an ambitious task. Throughout my discussions with writing instructors, professors, peers, and historians, I’ve received varied advice. Whereas some promote the idea that caution shouldn’t be taken when writing about such things, because art is art and thus any discussion of such memory is valid, others are more hesitant. One concern is sensationalizing the trauma, which can occur through the over-usage of melodramatic words and horrific imagery intended to create shock-value to the point where it almost becomes disrespectful and distracting from the memory at hand. Another concern is trivializing the trauma by grossly reducing it to mere metaphor or allegory in a way that serves to promote the aims of the writer, exploiting the horrors of the past and demoting the histories of our ancestors to a gimmick.
Lastly, and this is a huge concern for me personally, is further dividing already tense ethnic groups, especially regarding traumas which involve perpetrators and victims. For example, although the Armenian Genocide was orchestrated by nationalist Young Turks and victimized over a million innocent Armenian civilians, I’m still wary to craft the image of the “barbaric” Turk or the “evil” gendarme, as such language only serves to promote more hatred and division and does not adequately address the traumas of the past in a fruitful manner. Yes, the facts must be accurately presented, and yes, the injustices of the past must be mourned, but in my opinion, language that serves to further divide neighboring ethnic groups and promotes stereotypes serves no one, especially in literature that is self-aware of the problems stemming from intolerance.
Of course, these concerns rely heavily on personal preference, and many may not find fault with writers or artists who do engage in such sensationalist, trivializing, or divisive manners. For example, poet and writer Peter Balakian is considered to be one of the leading artists who has depicted the trauma of the Armenian Genocide in his works, having won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry (2016) and having received much praise for his Black Dog of Fate and The Burning Tigris. However, although many acclaim Balakian for his literary prowess, others would argue that he sensationalizes the past sufferings of genocide victims. Ultimately, the receptiveness of art is always subjective, but I would suggest, in my preliminary judgements on such topics, that the best way to present historical trauma is to simply present the facts and let the chips fall where they may. For example, Sergei Loznitsa, a Ukrainian filmmaker that presents the collective memory of the Holocaust in his works (Austerlitz, The Old Jewish Cemetery), simply utilizes footage from museums and concentration camps-turned-tourist sites, without any distinct sensationalist plot or dialogue — essentially, he merely presents the facts of the trauma and the memory, and allows the art to grow from there.
Clearly, there is much to be said (and written) about writing on collective memory and historical trauma, and there is no uniform way to approach such a task. However, as always, consideration of how such art can be received, and any discourse aiming to gain a better understanding of potential approaches, is important and necessary. I’m not sure exactly how I’ll go about documenting, presenting, and crafting the trauma endured by my ancestors and the histories preserved by their memories, but by continuing to be mindful of such aforementioned concerns, and by analyzing the successes and failures of others who write about historical trauma, I hope to gain a better overall understanding.
On Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti named the new LA poet laureate: Robin Coste Lewis.
We meet—sometimes—between the dry hours,
Between clefts in the involuntary plan,
Refusing to think of rent or food—how
Civic the slick to satisfied from man.
And Democratic. A Lucky Strike each, we
Sponge each other off, while what’s greyed
In and grey slinks ashamed down the drain.
No need to articulate great restraint,
No need to see each other’s mouth lip
The obvious. Giddy. Fingers garnished
With fumes of onions and garlic, I slip
Back into my shift, then watch her hands—wordless—
Reattach her stockings to the martyred
Rubber moons wavering at her garter.
post by Rachel Sweetnam
In honor of the March for Science last weekend, here’s a list of books—both fiction and nonfiction—related to the field.
1) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Though originally published in 1985, Atwood’s dystopian novel feels especially relevant thanks to an upcoming Hulu adaptation and the current administration.
2) Hidden Figures: The American Dream And The Untold Story Of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Speaking of adaptations, the story of Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan finally received recognition in one of the best movies of the year. Read the book that preceded the film!
3) I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us And A Grander View Of Life by Ed Yong
Educational, poetic, and funny. Did you catch the Whitman quote in the title?
4) Dark Matter: A Novel by Blake Crouch
This thriller meets science fiction novel made NPR’s “Best Books of 2016.”
5) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Written in Powell Library and the namesake of Cafe 451! No Bruin can leave this one off the list.
On Wednesday, April 12th, Westwind hosted its spring poetry reading with undergraduate student Randy James, graduate student Alana de Hinojosa, and Professor Brian Kim Stefans at UCLA’s Fowler Museum.
UCLA undergraduate student, Randy James, reads his poem, “A Second Witness.”
Alana de Hinojosa, a UCLA graduate student, reads her poem, “Unsettling Comforts.”
Professor Brian Kim Stefans reads, “To a Korean American Poet,” based off of his experiences with a Brazilian poet who accused him of not being a “real” Korean.
post by Erika Salazar
It’s the start of a new quarter which means that you are probably looking for some new book readings to attend. Don’t trip, chocolate chip! We’ve got you covered.
1.Westwind’s Spring Poetry Reading
If you are not fond of leaving campus and want to attend a reading before your classes get to hectic, this is the reading for you! UCLA’s own Professor Brian Kim Stefans will be reading some of his most recent poems right here on campus. Other readers include Alana de Hinojosa and Randy James, UCLA graduate and undergraduate students.
Where: Fowler Museum
When: April 12, 7:00 PM
2. CALARTS presents NextWords
Interested in up-and-coming authors? CALARTS will be hosting their annual reading series featuring their graduating Creative Writing MFA students. Stop by to hear the new literary voices of Erik Alessandro Mondrian, Leann Lo, Jesse Garrett VanDenKooy, and Chelsea Dright.
Where: Skylight Books
When: April 15, 5:00 PM
3. L.A. Times Festival of Books
Although this event takes place at USC, the two-day event features an impressive line-up, including Joyce Carol Oates and Roxane Gay. Interspersed with the readings are “conversations” on a variety of topics and performances.
Where: USC Campus
When: April 22-23
Price: Free Admission
4. The Last Book Review
Featuring Ever Mainard as the host, this event contains more than your average book reading. Multiple comedians, authors, and musicians are present to share their experiences. Recommended by LA Weekly, Divulge Magazine, and Yay!LA Magazine, this event is sure to fill up quick so make sure to RSVP.
Where: The Last Bookstore
When: April 28, 8:00 PM
5. The Light We Lost Book Reading
Have a penchant for sappy love stories? You’ll love this reading. Jill Santopolo will be discussing her debut novel about the struggles of first loves and fate.
Where: Book Soup
When: May 10, 7:00 PM
post by Rachel Sweetnam
In addition to being National Celery Month and National Frozen Food Month, March is also National Reading Month. In honor of thirty-one days celebrating reading, here are some of our favorite reading spots―UCLA and beyond:
Enjoy free admission and plentiful outside seating at UCLA’sHammer Museum, including Thomas Heatherwick’s “Spun” chairs. Take your time to explore the exhibits, store, and cafe before or after a good book.
10899 Wilshire Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden
You have not had the college brochure experience until you have read some poetry in UCLA’s sculpture garden. Recline on a grassy knoll or tucked-away benches, and you can people-watch, sculpture watch, and read away.
Charles E Young Dr E,
Los Angeles, CA 90095
This little coffee shop offers indoor and outdoor seating, perfect for readers. While there is free WiFi, there are no outlets, making for a less crowded atmosphere. Read, caffeinate, and repeat.
1129 Glendon Ave,
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Stories Books and Café
Where better to read than a bookstore? Browse the new and used books and then settle into the cafe for light fare and heavy reading. Stories Books and Cafe also holds events such as comedy shows and readings if you are looking for local literary activity.
1716 Sunset Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Burton W. Chace Park
The Marina’s scenic park has many a bench or picnic table for the outdoorsy reader. You can even take dollar rides on the water bus when your mind wanders to the water.
13650 Mindanao Way,
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
Santa Monica State Beach
LA has no shortage of landscapes for the beach reader and Santa Monica State Beach is one of them. When you tire of the hubbub on the pier, you can curl up in the sand with your novel and take advantage of the sunshine.
Pacific Coast Hwy,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Happy National Reading Month!
Ever wish you could attend a holiday and a literary event… AT THE SAME TIME?
If so, you might enjoy these holiday and literary-themed events in the LA area:
Dickens Holiday Celebration
When: December 10 – 11, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: International Printing Museum
If you read A Christmas Carol every holiday season, the International Printing Museum’s Dickens Holiday Celebration may be the event for you. You can enjoy vintage holiday music, meet characters from Dickens novels, print your own Victorian cards on antique presses from the 1850s, and even listen to “Mr. Charles Dickens himself” conduct an interactive reading of A Christmas Carol. Admission is $25 for the day, but comes with a free historically accurate lunch. BYOVC (bring your own Victorian costume).
Hanukkah Family Festival
When: December 18, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Skirball Cultural Center
If you’re celebrating Hanukkah, you might enjoy the Hanukkah Family Festival at the Skirball Cultural Center. The festival features musical performances from bands like Mostly Kosher, printmaking workshops where you can contribute to a community art installation, and special exhibitions like Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, a life-sized, interactive replica of the ark. Literary visitors may especially enjoy the storytellers Nina Silver and Julia Garcia Combs as they bring the story of Hanukkah to life. To top it all off, Zeidler’s Café will be serving up traditional Hanukkah dishes like latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). General admission is $12, but full-time students get in for $9!
Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball
When: December 9, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Where: Barnes & Noble at The Grove
If all you want this holiday season is to dress up like a wizard, the Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball will be bloody brilliant. Arrive in your Harry Potter costume or other holiday attire for music, dancing, themed crafts and activities. It’s possible that no actual reading will happen at this event, but hey, after seven books (and this post) you’ve already put in your reading time!
Bonus: Though not technically part of the event, the escalators inside Barnes & Noble sort of look like the moving staircases in Hogwarts.
*Note: If you’ve ever tried to track down a Kwanzaa event in LA, you may have found that the selection is narrow. Still, here are two places you can look:
The California African American Museum usually holds Kwanzaa events around the holiday, though dates appear to be TBD.
The Kwanzaa Heritage Foundation puts on an annual Kwanzaa celebration in Leimert Park Village—hopefully details for this year’s festival are coming soon.
post by Tatianna Giron
Los Angeles is a cultural melting pot, representing an array of perspectives from diverse backgrounds. This cultural mishmash is reflected in the various poetic voices heard in the community, so put down your copies of T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Emily Dickinson, and remember to check out the amazing LA poets at your fingertips.
1. Luis J. Rodriguez
In addition to being the official Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, Luis J. Rodriguez is a journalist, critic, community and urban peace activist, and youth and arts advocate. Rodriguez is recognized as a major contemporary figure in Chicano literature. He runs Tia Chucha’s Press, which promotes the works of upcoming and socially active poets. His work in various genres recounts his experience growing up with gang violence and drug addiction in Watts and East Los Angeles, like his poem, “The Concrete River.”
2. Amy Uyematsu
Raised in Southern California by parents interned in American camps during World War II, Amy Uyematsu’s poems are influenced by the identity struggle of preserving her Japanese heritage amidst American culture. She won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize in 1992 for her first book of poetry, Thirty Miles from J-Town. Her poems showcase the intersection of politics, mathematics, spirituality, and nature, as seen in her poem, “The Weight of Nothing.”
A poet and essayist, Melissa Broder imbues her work with her experience with depression and anxiety. As one may deduce from her wryly titled collections of poems such as, So Sad Today, and When You Say One Thing and Mean Your Mother, Border talks about love, sex, mental illness, and childhood trauma with startling candidness and vulnerability. Her poem, “Rotten Sound,” from her recent collection, The Last Sext, won a Pushcart Prize. Read her poem, “Lunar Shatters,” to get a sense of Broder’s fantastical descriptions of lust and lost love.
4.Yasmin Monet Watkins
Yasmin Monet Watkins is an internationally touring spoken word poet and actress. She has competed in the National Poetry Slam in Cambridge, MA, representing the LA Damn Slam Poetry Team, and has taught LGBTQ+ youth in poetry workshops at the Models of Pride Conference. Her poems depict the intersection of race, sexuality, and religion. Her collection of poems, Love Without Limits: The Bylaws of Love, combines poetry and photography to convey the trials and tribulations of the queer community. One of her spoken word poems, “A Lesson in this Queer African-American Woman’s History,” can be found here.
As a poet and performer, Douglas Kearney experiments with a unique layout to his work—which he coins as “performative typography.” Kearney bridges the gap between themes such as politics, African-American culture, contemporary music, and fatherhood. He embraces the idea of one’s existence being defined by multiple identities, and depicts the contradictions between each as formative to one’s self. He has received a Whiting Writers Award and a Pushcart nomination. In 2007, he was named a Notable New American Poet by the Poetry Society of America. You can view his poem, “Áfrofuturism (Blanche says, ‘Meh’)” here.