When I found out that Starhawk, famed Earth Activist, spiritual feminist, Witch and permaculturist, had written a children's book, I bought it before I knew I was ever going to be pregnant. The pictures, done by artist Lindy Kehoe, are beautiful paintings. The story centers on an herbalist (or witch), and introduces children to a woman healer making healing decoctions with herbs, emphasizing how important it is to keep wilderness, healthy plants, and wild spirits within alive, as well as being appreciative of the women (and men) who take care of the natural world. The herbalist witch in the book knows the natural world intimately, and knows how to respectfully and ethically use plants to make strong teas, brews and "soups." She not only uses the natural world, she is part of it, intertwined seamlessly in its tree branches, helping give health to it just as it gives it back to her.
As a Portland native and book lover, I've spent my whole life obsessed with Beverly Cleary. I wore the spines out of all of her books, my mom took us to Grant Park when they unveiled the Beverly Cleary statue garden (and Madame Cleary herself was there!), my cousin works at Beverly Cleary Middle School, I watched the crap out of my taped-from-TV copies of that late '80s Ramona series, etc. If you've found as much to love about her and her work as I have (and I bet many of you have), join me in celebrating her 96th birthday today!
I've always felt poetry to be above me, something I could not connect with or fully understand. Or that poetry by women was always sappy (I've since realized that learning about poetry through a white male canonic lens brainwashed me into thinking that way). After hearing my friend Lisa Wells read from her new chapbook Beast I knew there was something incredibly deep and moving to be gained from not only reading more poetry but actually being able to listen to it. In honor of National Poetry Month I asked Lisa to compile a list of her top five recommended poetry collections for me (with a special tribute added for Adrienne Rich), and asked if I could record her reading some of the work so I could listen more closely. Here's what she had to say.
The Vanishers is four-time novelist and Believer founding editor Heidi Julavits's new work, and it has a really, really bright cover. It's a good book, for the most part, and an interesting book, and I promise I'll talk about it in an interesting way for the rest of this post, but first I have to talk about the cover. Remember folks, never judge a book by its cover! Except I feel like this one, with its masses of blinding and hyperdetailed flowers crowding the dust jacket and threatening to take over the text of the title itself, captures pretty well what's going on between those pieces of cardboard, which is: a LOT.
Although she has some great comebacks for street harassers, our hero Aya is otherwise as problematic as your typical Disney heroine. Luckily, the graphic novel "Aya of Yopougon" is really about Aya's lying, fighting, partying friends: Bintou and Adjoua. They're not role models; they're just teens in the Cote d'Ivoire, where virginity is paramount, but so is being "saved" by a man. A beautifully illustrated, happily skeptical story.
The House on Mango Street is all about voice. It's about being heard. It's about inventing new languages when the old ones don't work. In the author's words, it's about "the ugliest subjects I could find. The most unpoetic."
In real life, The House on Mango Street may not have been much to look at, but its story won the American Book Award and has become a required reading classic.
The freedom of being a librarian in the west during this time was unparalleled: women were trained to be respected and valued members of the community, trusted with the task of educating and exposing their neighbors to the literary lifestyle, and they had the option of seeking new work in a huge variety of locations. These "cultural crusaders" pioneered a profession that gave other women a chance to join in academic and educational pursuits as well as create a literary community wherever they went.
"Even Adorno, the great belittler of popular pleasures, can be aghast at the ease with which intellectuals shit on people who hold on to a dream" writes Lauren Berlant, who is not shitting on you or your dream. Her latest book, Cruel Optimism, is less brutal analysis than a dark, lush still-life of American fantasies and our Quixotic lunges toward them. An affective portrait of the 99%.