Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering Ayofemi, Remember Why

Ayofemi Folayan passed away recently.  She was my first writing teacher, and I owe her a tremendous amount of gratitude.  In the early 1990's, I was a few years out of acting school, and not acting.  Creativity had always been a strong tool in dealing with the world, and I needed to be creative.  As any actor will you, you're never acting enough and you're usually waiting for someone's permission to act. 

I started her writing workshop, a space she had for LGBT people of color.  She wanted space for young writers to say whatever they wanted to say.  She encouraged writing exploring issues of being a double minority.  I had been in creative spaces before--I had a degree in Theatre.  However, her class was different.  She asked us to travel deeply within ourselves, uncork our thoughts on truly difficult themes: racism, homophobia, immigration.  She helped me become a person who could comfortably speak my mind--with tact and generosity.  She helped developed my Voice. 

One day, she said she was selling her computer for a newer one.  I bought it.  And still have it.  I typed out stories on this old clunker.  I dug it out to look at it and remember my joy of writing in the first place. 

It's been twenty years, and I may have become a little jaded.  I'm being asked to consider "the market" when I write.  Can I sell whatever story I'm writing.  I must confess I had been having some frustration with my current novel.  I feel like my Voice had been muddled.  I'd been choking on what to say.

With Ayofemi's passing, I'm reminded as to why I started writing.  I wanted to do something honest and true.  I wanted to put something out in the world that was valuable.  I wanted to be the kind of writer Ayofemi would have been proud of.  And I still do.


Thank you, Ayofemi, for your service.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

"LGBT Writers Who Inspire Us" on June 6th!

Skylight Books has been kind enough to allow me to curate this series.  It's been in existence for three years, and falls on the eve of Gay Pride in Los Angeles.  On June 6, the work of James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Lidia Yuknavitch, Eloise Klein Healy, and Jerome Steuart will be explored by some of today's finest writers.  Naomi Hirahara, Ali Liebegott, Wendy Ortiz, and Jervey Tervalon will light up the night!
June 6
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles  CA  90027

Naomi Hirahara is an Edgar Award Winning writer.  Her debut mystery Summer of the Big Bachi received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.   It has been included in the trade magazine's list of best books of 2004, as well as the best mystery list of the Chicago Tribune. Gasa-Gasa Girl, the second Mas Arai mystery, received a starred review from Booklist and was on the Southern California Booksellers' Association bestseller list for two weeks in 2005. Most recently Snakeskin Shamisen, the third in the series, was released in May 2006. In April 2007 it won an Edgar Allan Poe award in the category of Best Paperback Original.

Ali Liebegott is the author of the award-winning books The Beautifully Worthless and The IHOP Papers. In 2010 she took a train trip across America interviewing female poets for a project titled, The Heart Has Many Doors; excerpts from these interviews are posted monthly on The Believer Logger.

Wendy C. Ortiz is a Los Angeles native. Her first book, Excavation: A Memoir, will be published by Future Tense Books in summer 2014. Her second book, Hollywood Notebook, is forthcoming from Writ Large Press in 2014. She currently writes the monthly column "On the Trail of Mary Jane" about medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. 

Jervey Tervalon is the author of All the Trouble You Need, Understand This, and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Dead Above Ground. An award-winning poet, screenwriter, and dramatist, Jervey was born in New Orleans, raised in Los Angeles, and now lives in Altadena, California, with his wife and two daughters.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I'm Happy Rose Won X-Factor Israel!

Rose Fostanes, the Filipino Caregiver (kind work for the "help") won X-Factor Israel.  I stumbled onto her presence via You-Tube, while I was watching other Filipinos singing in competitions all over the world--from American Idol to the British version of the Voice to Australia's Got Talent. 

Why?  Yes, I enjoy seeing other Filipinos express their talent on the world stage; yes, I love a good song by a great voice; yes, I love seeing people go for their dreams.  Especially underdogs like Paul Potts, the opera singer on Britain's Got Talent.

In the 1980s, when I was a college student, I spent a summer in the Philippines.  Like many young people, I spent a lot of time in bars and inhaled an obscene amount of San Miguel beer.  In those bars, there was a lot of live music.  With all of that music, there were a slew of singers who blew the roofs away.  I heard singer after singer who sounded just as good, if not better, than the singers I heard in the United States. 

I still get emotional when I hear the song "Honky Tonk Woman," remembering a large Filipina in a Manila bar rock the joint like I'd never seen a joint get rocked before.  I had a blast.  In the back of my mind though, I thought it a pity that these amazing voices would never be known outside of the Philippines. 

Rose Fostanes is such a voice.  So was Arnel Pineda or Charice--singers who were discovered because of the wonders of You-Tube (helped along with Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah highlighting them on their shows). 

I enjoyed that Summer in college where I visited the Philippines, where I was born.  I thought of all of those grand voices who would never be heard, and I know it colored my world view, my creative endeavors. 

I logged onto You-Tube occasionally to see how Rose was doing on X-Factor Israel.  I thought she was the best voice on the show, but the best doesn't always win (think of Adam Lambert or Jessica Sanchez on American Idol).  She was a foreigner in Israel.  At 47, she was singing against people half her age.  At 4'11'' she was the shortest person on stage (and looked miniscule standing next to host and supermodel Bar Rafaeli).  She was not svelte.  She was the only singer who didn't sing at least one song in Hebrew.  Later, she came out as a lesbian.  In another setting, Rose may have been the maid to any one of the judges or contestants on the show.  (There are roughly 20,000 - 30,000 Filipinos working as domestics in Israel--and a lot more working in the Middle East)

With all of these things going for her (or against her), I thought she would do well, but not win.  After all, Rose was competing against home grown talent: a charming boy band, a cute young guy who sang Hebrew ballads, and a lovely pop singer with a dazzling smile. 

Then my facebook newsfeed went afire with the announcement of her win.  I checked at least two news outlets to make sure this was true.  I was happy for her, truly happy.  I know the Philippines, a country that has been suffering from a spate of bad news (a devastating typhoon, pork barrel scams by local politicians, a brewing altercation with China) made her win a win for many Filipinos struggling to get by. 

Her unknown voice became heard.    The Underdog won.  Who can't appreciate that?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books

I was thrilled to be asked to write a review for Los Angeles Review of Books.  It can be exciting and scary writing a review.  I'm asked to bring my best critical thinking skills--which is good!  However, sometimes a book can be a real stinker--which is bad.  Fortunately, that was not the experience reviewing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

From the review:

Fortunately, Levithan did not write a mere “It Gets Better” novel. Thank Gawd! “It Gets Better,” a ubiquitous phrase to discourage gay youth from committing suicide, was uttered by every LGBT ally, including President Obama. It was a pat message telling young queers to hold-on-and-things-will-look-up. What was missing in the messaging was this: it only gets better if we make it so. This kiss in Levithan’s novel is a defiant act, one that has actual strength.

The Power of a (Gay) Kiss
The full review can be found here.