This post ends this iteration of the coloring books project — which was my concerted attempt to read, watch, listen to, and learn about artists and intellectuals of color and post about those artistic efforts and those cultural spaces during the year of 2015.
That concerted attempt will not end, because if I’ve learned anything this past year it is this: there is amazing, brilliant, funny, brave, gorgeous, disturbing, challenging, and thrilling work done by people who do not claim whiteness as their identity.
It’s clearer to me than ever that the default position of most white people in the US — to read, watch, and listen to white artists, and learn about white intellectuals and what they think — is neither an acceptable nor a desirable position. The political problems with this stance are obvious. But the real simple point is: you just miss out on too much if you narrow your vision in this way.
I am ending 2015 and beginning 2016 by cruising through a novel by poet/novelist/teacher Pam Ward. I met Pam at Chevalier’s Books in December and was wowed by her graciousness as an audience member as well as her kick-ass performance of her set of poems read to an enthusiastic audience in a privileged neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Now I’m wowed by her fiction.
Want Some is a novel set in Rodney King’s Los Angeles and it’s bold and badass and raunchy. But it is also sublimely beautiful. Note how Pam Ward uses that world to say something powerfully political about women as well as about that historical moment:
“The other women didn’t know what to say. Joan made them feel small. She was so knowledgeable, so dignified; she looked so damn rich. She didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out but you’d never know it by the elaborate way she dressed. She stared at the other women, flipping her long red wig hair. See, this was the nineties. The sixties were long gone. All that black pride had turned into perms, fades and weaves.” Want Some
Pam Ward is an incredibly gifted and fascinating artist. I’m glad I got to meet her and read her.
I’ve met other incredible people in 2015 like Percival Everett and Los Angeles poet laureate Luis Rodriguez. I’ve had the honor of connecting online with poet/novelist/activist Ryka Aoki and I’ve reconnected in person with poet/publisher Chiwan Choi and Peter Woods of Writ Large Press. They in turn introduced me to poets Jessica Ceballos and F. Douglas Brown. My former students Vickie Vertiz and Angela Peñaredondo are producing fantastic work in the memoir and poetry fields and they have introduced me to other extremely talented young people who are trying to make their way in the literary world. I took a class with Michaelsun Stoneswheat Knapp and then read a life-changing piece his dad, Robertjohn Knapp authored about being a Sun Dancer. Through the encounter with that piece, I became aware of Mud City Journal. I met memoirist Elissa Washuta thanks to the good offices of Samantha Updegrave, and Elissa made me aware of the work of Erika Wurth.
On and on the journey goes. My husband Larry Behrendt and I went to the People’s Republic of China at the end of October, and there had our minds blown by the students, faculty, and writers we met in Chongqing and Taigu. I remember flying back from China to Los Angeles, and finally getting where California, and the Western states actually are in relation to Asia. Really close.
My heartfelt thanks to friends I’ve talked to this past year, who have added a new perspective. Poet/novelist Lloyd David Aquino kindly explained and talked to me about hiphop on facebook poet/publisher Elder Zamora had an interesting conversation with me about Judaism.
“Your writing can’t be more diverse if your life isn’t,” Tannarive suggested in her class at the 2015 Whidbey MFA residency.
Nancy Rawles said something to me that was equally challenging and cool. When she came out to our local radio station, she observed that there was no such thing as unskilled labor.
“Think about what you have to understand in order to sweep a floor,” she told Gwen Samelson at Whidbey Air.
My profound thanks to both of them for getting this thing started.
And thanks to all of you for being here for this process of discovery.
Have a wonderful 2016 and may our horizons all expand way way out.