Way back in the late-aughts when I was teaching workshops to nonprofits and writers on how to promote themselves in the brave new "web 2.0" world, I would explain that the sites with the biggest hits offered cheap snark and porn. You can't beat their numbers, I would say, and you shouldn't try. Your job is to use these new platforms to connect with readers.
Remember those innocent days? By the time 2016 staggered to a close, I felt like I'd been beaten flat as a sheet of newsprint by what social media has become.
Like many other people, I stepped back from social media in 2017. In fact, I stepped back from the internet. I redoubled my commitment to my writing, and I thought hard about what I want to write and why I do it. I was tired of staring at screens and wanted to do more in real life. I wanted make things people could hold in their hands.
The first zine I produced in December is called Protest 101. I started contacting indie bookstores, and soon it was being sold in cities from LA to Chicago to Baltimore (see below for the full list). I proposed a workshop of the same title to Trade School LA, and taught it several times at Book Show and other venues in the leadup to the January 21 Women's March, and several times since.
I stopped thinking tweet-length thoughts and I started thinking in zines. My second zine was How to Recognize Voter Suppression in its Habitat Naturel. The third in what I'm now calling The Democracy Series is a pocket guide to How to Change the World. More are in the works.
Then I responded to an artist call. Protest 101, accompanied by photos of it in action, were selected to be exhibited at the Irvine (CA) Fine Art Gallery as part of their All Media 2017 show. For a limited time, you can buy a copy of the zine at the Gallery.
I'm now the proud owner of a long-arm stapler, and can tell 24 lb. paper from 20 lb. by touch. I'm also spending more time face-to-face with friends. I even leave my phone at home. Sometimes.
And you can buy my zines at all these wonderful indie bookstores:
Photo at the Jan 21 Women's March in Los Angeles by Alan Nakagawa
I'll be hosting a very special GuerrillaReads Lambda LitFest Video Walk on Sunday, March 12 in Silver Lake. Writers at all levels are invited to participate.
We’ll meetup on the corner where A Different Light bookstore once stood. Everyone will bring a short piece of their own writing to read on camera. Together we’ll explore the neighborhood while shooting videos of each participant reading their work.
The video walk is free, and it's open to the first twenty people who register.
Click here to register.
To get a sense of what this event will be like, check out a few of the videos from the first ever GuerrillaReads video walk in Highland Park.
WHEN: Sunday, March 12, 2017 from 11 am to 12:30 pm
WHERE: Meetup on the corner at 4014 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029
To learn more about all the events taking place as part of Lambda LitFest, check out their website: lambdalitfest.org. It promises to be a terrific week.
Register here to join the GuerrillaReads Lambda LitFest Video Walk.
There was a time when I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up. My family usually spent our summer vacations walking sun-dappled trails beneath pin oaks, slippery elm and loblolly pines, cooking over a kerosene-powered Coleman stove, and sleeping in a pop-up camper. For a writer, maybe the next best thing to being a ranger is the national parks' Artist in Residence programs.
I've been selected to be an Artist in Residence - we're called AIRs for short - at Mesa Verde National Park. For two weeks in September I get to live in the park, explore archeological sites and stare up at the stars at night. While I'm there I'll teach a writing workshop combined with a reading of my work, on Friday, September 16 at 7 p.m at the Chapin Mesa Museum. Everyone is invited and you don't have to have any prior writing experience.
America's public lands are an important part of our cultural heritage, and the human history of Ancestral Puebloans in what we now call the Four Corners region is long and deep. I'll spend my time getting to know both through my writing practice, with a particular eye to the impact of climate change.
As a lead-up event to my residency, I held the #ParkLit Hashtag Book Festival on August 20, which as far as I know is the first book festival ever to take place entirely on a hashtag. If you missed it you can catch the proceedings on the festival page or read my writeup on the popular travel blog WeSaidGoTravel.
My reading list for the residency keeps growing, including everyone from Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey to Terry Tempest Williams, Simon Ortiz and Craig Childs. So if you're looking for me, I'll be the one with the notebook, pen and battered paperback, somewhere in the vicinity of this cliff palace.
Last Sunday in Vista Hermosa Natural Park three other local LA writers and I each read original short stories about The End of Water. In their stories we met a weatherman who tells uncomfortable truths, a species of whale that may be extinct (and may always have been), a carwashero seeking justice for his father, and a scientist testing her theory that we can solve the problem by turning wine into water. These stories were originally read by actors as part of the 2015 LitCrawl in LA. The participating authors were Chris Iovenko, Henry Hoke, A.R. Taylor and me, Bronwyn Mauldin.
The End of Water wasn't an ordinary literary event, though. I organized this reading to be part of VisionLA '15 Fest, a climate action festival that brought together artists across Los Angeles to demand our leaders take meaningful action to stop climate change at the UN COP '21 negotiations in Paris.
After the reading the four of us had a chance to talk on video about climate change, what we expect from our leaders and what artists have to offer in this struggle to slow the warming of our planet. That last question is a particularly important one. People tend to think of artists in terms of the final product: a book, painting, dance or play. But what we really have to offer is in the way we think. We have the ability to imagine a world that doesn't exist. We are constantly in a state of combining ideas and materials that don't obviously fit together, thereby reinventing the world. For example, imagine if we replaced our planet-harming industrial-scale infrastructure - especially around transportation and energy - on a human scale? If we can build a network of small farm-to-table food systems, why not a network of small roof-to-laptop electrical grids?
Vista Hermosa Park was a beautiful location for the reading, and holding outdoors turned out to be perfect. The park is almost hidden on the edge of downtown LA. It was designed as a watershed, complete with green roofs, native landscaping and a cistern under the parking lot to capture any runoff. If you've never visited, I highly recommend it, as a break in the middle of the work day or on a lazy weekend afternoon.
Here are a few photos from the reading. Enjoy!
And you are, aren't you?
Allow me to recommend a few books I read this year and loved. These books are anything but boring and predictable, and they're all from terrific independent presses. I reviewed them at The Next Best Book blog - click the links below to read my reviews.
Nigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun
Unnamed Press (2014)
I'll Be a Stranger to You by Cara Diaconoff
Bessarabian Stamps by Oleg Woolf
translated by Boris Dralyuk
Phoneme Media (2015)
New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani
translated by Judith Landry
Melville House (2013)
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
Tin House Books (2014)
Don't forget! You always get bonus points from the literary community when you buy your books at a locally-owned, independent bookstore.
If the reader in your life is secretly (or otherwise) a writer, consider the gift of writing classes. Writers at Work in Los Angeles is a wonderful place to hone your craft and find the support a writer needs to kickstart a new project or see one through to the end. I wouldn't be the writer I am today without Writers at Work. Gift certificates are now available:
Three years of Los Angeles LitCrawls, and I'm still batting a thousand. This year, a story I wrote about a carwashero in search of justice called "Beans and Rice" appeared in the LitCrawl session called Water, Water, Anywhere?, co-sponsored by the New Short Fiction Series and City of LA's local Metropolitan Water District.
Actor Holger Moncada, Jr. read the story and did a great job bringing it to life. Here's a pic of him reading live at Pitfire Pizza during our round of the LitCrawl:
Last year at the LitCrawl I read a poem on the topic of guns, with the LA Word group. Things were a little lighter at the first LitCrawl, where I read a true story about a run-in with a kind-of-creepy Santa Claus.
All the stories in our session this year were on the theme of water and drought, a topic that's top of mind here in LA. The other three stories by Chris Iovenko, Henry Hoke and A.R. Taylor were terrific. We're planning to reprise our session as part of the upcoming VisionLA '15 Climate Arts Action Festival in early December, so stay tuned for more details.
Earlier this month I traveled to Chicago for a couple of book appearances, and discovered a city so literary I couldn't begin to cover it all. I read trivia questions about solar power in a bar where I met a couple of terrific local writers, visited more than half a dozen bookstores, prowled through Printer's Row (the midwest's largest outdoor book festival), visited the Balzekas Museum which is America's only museum for Lithuanian culture and history, and read at one of Chicago's newest bookstores, City Lit Books. I spent one day getting around on the local bike share system, Divvy, which works particularly well because the city is so flat. It made me ever more impatient to get bike share in LA. I also bought way too many books.
While in town I picked up a copy of Newcity, which had a fantastic cover piece on Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago. It's a great overview of who matters in literary Chicago, from bookstores to local indie presses to the literary editor at the Chicago Tribune. Turns out, I'd met one of the city's literati, Eric May, while doing trivia at Sheffield's bar.
It wasn't until I got back home that I found out The Rumpus had listed my reading at City Lit Books on their "Notable in Chicago" events listing for that week. The Rumpus! It pairs nicely with being listed as one of the Top 5 Things to do in Seattle the weekend I read at Elliot Bay Bookstore.
Here are a few pics from my Chicago literary biking adventure. Some of them you might have seen already on Instagram or Twitter.
You don't have to be a poet laureate to appear on GuerrillaReads, but we're always proud to say we knew ya when. Big news today in American poetry is the announcement of Juan Felipe Herrera as the next US poet laureate, the first Latino to hold that position. But you can call him PLOTUS. Way back in 2010 I caught up with Herrera for this fantastic guerrilla reading (along with Michael Medrano and Anita Hernandez) of his poem "Arizona Green (Manifesto #1070)." If you think poetry is old fashioned or boring or irrelevant to your life, you've got to watch this video.
Herrera isn't the first poet laureate we've featured on GuerrillaReads. The City of LA's current poet laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez, also did a terrific guerrilla reading for us.
I launched GuerrillaReads as an online video literary magazine back in 2008 to help writers in all forms and genres take advantage of the opportunities created by online video, while also trying to make both the real world and the internet a bit more literary. Go out and do a reading in a place that's meaningful to your work, a place where people might not expect literature. Video it and share it with us. Think of it as an electronic zine, with a strong DIY ethos.
Over the years we've featured Naomi Hirahara, Peter J. Harris, Terry Wolverton, Reyna Grande, Jen Hofer, Melinda Palacio, Susan Straight and many other writers, poets and more. You don't have to be anybody's laureate to do a guerrilla reading. Just be the best writer you can be and share your work with us. Here's how to submit.
A big GuerrillaReads congratulations to California's own Juan Felipe Herrera!
Tonight's Reading Under the Influence event was a blast. I read with a couple of terrific Chicagoland writers, C.J. Arellano and Courtney Jones. Each of us read something original we'd written (I read the first few pages of Love Songs of the Revolution). Then we all had to come up with trivia questions related in some way to the topic of TOOLS, and read a short piece of someone else's writing that is somehow related.
C.J. decided to define "tool" in the Urban Dictionary sense, and asked questions about T.V. characters who were tools, like Archie Bunker and somebody on the show Angel. Courtney asked about social media tools, and read a lovely excerpt from from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah.
I went with solar power cells as tools, and read a brief segment from Dr. Richard Komp's arresting classic, Practical Photovoltaics. So here's a chance to test your solar energy knowledge! See if you can answer my trivia questions (scroll down for the answers).
Bonus! Here's the tie-breaker question I had in my back pocket but didn't need to ask, because we had a total solar nerd in the audience:
Bonus: 80 percent
I'm delighted to announce I'll be making two appearances in the City of the Big Shoulders next week. On Wed, June 3, I'll be part of Chicago's long-running Reading Under the Influence reading and trivia series at Sheffield's. Trivia theme for the night is TOOLS, and my questions will be related to solar power. If you know your Copernicus from your Galileo, you might just win a free drink at the bar. The festivities start at 7 p.m.
Then on Sat, June 6, I'll be reading from Love Songs of the Revolution at City Lit Books, an indie favorite located in Logan Square. The reading begins at a very civilized 5 p.m., which means you can get your dose of literary goodness and still have time for a night of wild abandon.
In between I'm planning to do an informal Book Bike Tour of indie bookstores in town. If you want to nominate a favorite store that I absolutely shouldn't miss, please let me know! I also hope to stop by Chicago's Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, and the Grand Duke Restaurant that serves Lithuanian food. After all, Chicago has one of the largest communities of Lithuanian descent in the world.
Here are the details on my readings in Chicago. If you can't make it there, please pass on this info to friends in the Windy City, and tell them to stop by and say hello.
Wed, June 3
Reading Under the Influence
3258 N. Sheffield Ave.
Sat, June 6
City Lit Books
2523 North Kedzie Boulevard
Looking for your next book to read? I can recommend all these great indie press books.