Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Author Wrote About Her Bronx Neighborhood

The following article appeared in today's Herald-Sun of Durham, North Carolina where I am the Caroling Circuit Writers' Artist-in-Residence. At the end of the article is a shedule of events -- including public readings and writing workshop -- that I will be a part of during my stay. If you're in the Triangle Area, please spread the word and come see me!

Author wrote novel about her Bronx neighborhood
The Herald-Sun
February 27, 2007 12:01 am
DURHAM -- As a child in a working-class Puerto Rican-Dominican family in the Bronx, Sofia Quintero loved to read. But something was missing from all those stories and that something encouraged her to be a writer.

"I didn't see myself reflected in what I read. I wanted to tell the same stories with people like me in it. I wrote my first novel at age 12 called 'The Greatest Block' about people on my block," Quintero said in a telephone interview from her home in the Bronx.
As an adult, Quintero has published four novels. She's also a screen writer, a stand-up comedienne and activist. She arrives in Durham today for a four-week residency that includes creative writing workshops for teenagers and adults as well as public readings of her work.
Her residency, with two weeks beginning today and continuing through March 11 and the two more weeks March 18 through April 1, is a program of Carolina Circuit Writers, an organization begun in 2003 by Durham resident Kirsten Mullen as a way to build community using literature as a bridge.

"Our whole thrust is to celebrate literature and writers of color and encourage the community to participate in the arts," Mullen said in a recent interview.

Planners, including representatives from 23 community partners, have met for a year to plan the residency in which Quintero will also visit Durham Academy, Lakeview Public School, Durham Literacy Center, Duke University, North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The writer made two weeklong visits here last year in October and April, to meet with planners and make public appearances in preparation for her residency.

"I'm really excited about it -- the diversity of people, the hospitality I've encountered, the opportunity to really learn about the community," Quintero said. "I feel like I'm getting as good as I give."

Yanina Chicas, 17, who lives with her family in Carrboro, has signed up to participate in Quintero's writing workshops for teens.

"I'm looking forward to learning what she has to tell us about her experiences, the way she writes, her culture," Chicas said.

The teen-ager said she found a lot to relate to in Quintero's work. Chicas has been reading the Latino anthology, "Friday Night Chicas," the first "chick-lit" anthology by and about Latinas, that includes Quintero's novella, "The More Things Change."

"She's really into real life. She tells what is happening out there," Chicas said.

The fact the Quintero speaks English as well as Spanish will make other Latino youth, who may not feel so confident about their English, feel more comfortable about sharing their ideas in the workshops, Chicas added.

Chicas and her family are from El Salvador and have been in the United States for six years, she added.

The teen also sees Quintero as a role model for herself and other Latinos, she said. Quintero said she feels a responsibility to be a role model for young people so they will know they have the opportunity to overcome barriers and achieve what they want to do.
She has first-hand experience.

"My brother and I are the only two in my immediate family to go to college," Quintero said.

She earned an undergraduate degree in history and sociology from Columbia University in 1990 and a graduate degree from the university's School of International and Public Affairs in 1992. But after years of working on a range of policy issues from multicultural education to HIV/AIDS, she decided to heed the muse and pursue a career in the arts.

Her novel, "Divas Don't Yield," began as the screenplay "Interstates," twice a finalist for the Sundance Institute's screenwriters' lab and won the 2001 San Francisco Black Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

In New York, she has taught young people in classes on "Screenwriting for Personal Growth" and "Social Change and Comedy with a Conscience." In 2001, she co-founded Chica Luna Productions to identify, develop and support other women of color seeking to make socially conscious entertainment.

Under the pen name Black Artemis she also writes hip-hop fiction because she wanted to write novels that were "edgy but substantive" -- stylish but at the same time raise social and political questions, Quintero said in the interview.

So far, she's written three: "Explicit Content," "Picture Me Rollin' " and "BURN." She has gotten positive response from a wide range of readers that span generations, race and socio-economic backgrounds, she added. These novels are also being used in college classrooms to teach urban studies, sociology, and women's studies, she said.

Durham resident Malcolm Goff, visual arts teacher at E.K. Powe Elementary School, said he and his 14-year-old daughter had read and enjoyed "Explicit Content."
"She just has a way of bringing elements of culture into focus -- criticizing things going on in society and is extremely creative in doing it," Goff said of Quintero's writing. In that particular novel, Quintero explores women's roles in the music industry and how they are marginalized, Goff added.

"In the book, she shows characters rising above that," Goff said.
Goff said he initially became involved in the residency project because of Carolina Circuit Writers founder Mullen. "I really like working with Kirsten. She has lots of great ideas and is very visionary," said Goff, who helped with the visual arts aspect of Quintero's workshop with young people last October.

Both he and his daughter would like to take Quintero's writing workshops, Goff added.
Quintero plans to bring excerpts from a work-in-progress -- a young adult novel, one of two she's under contract with Knopt to write, she said.

Unlike most of her fiction in which women are the protagonists, these novels will feature young men, age 15 or 16, and will be translated into Spanish, she added. She also plans to share what she's learned about writing including the importance of describing in detail the world you know.

"Be authentic. Tell it the way it is. It will resonate with a broader community," Quintero said. "I think everybody should write, sing and dance for themselves. It keeps us connected to our humanity and to each other."
Sofia Quintero's Residency Schedule
Public programs
-- March 19 - 7 p.m. reading at Lakewood Baptist Church, 2100 Chapel Hill Road, Durham.

-- March 28 - 7 p.m. reading at B. N. Duke Auditorium, N.C. Central University, 1801 Fayetteville St., Durham.

-- March 29 - 7 p.m. roundtable discussion with the adult writing workshop group at the Commons Meeting Area, Durham Academy Lower School, 3501 Ridge Road, Durham.

-- April 1 - 3 p.m. celebration with the teen writing workshop group at Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Fayetteville St., Durham.

All events are free.
Writing workshops
Writing workshops for teens take place: Feb. 27, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Durham County Library, East Regional Branch; March 3, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at El Centro Hispano; March 6, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Durham County Library, East Regional Branch; March 10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at El Centro Hispano; March 20, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Durham County Library, North Regional Branch; March 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hayti Heritage Center; March 27, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Durham County Library, North Regional Branch; March 31, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hayti Heritage Center.
Writing workshops for adults take place: March 1, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Durham County Library, East Regional Branch; March 8, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Durham County Library, East Regional Branch; March 22, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Durham Academy Upper School; March 26, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Durham Academy Upper School.
All writing workshops are free but registration is required. For more information about the workshops or other residency programs, contact Carolina Circuit Writers program coordinator Emily Chavez at emily.ccwriters@gmail.com or call (919) 403-8792.
URL for this article: http://www.heraldsun.com/features/54-823680.cfm© Copyright 2007.
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Sunday, February 18, 2007

"A Good Novel. . ."

"A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author." G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Power Shuffle

I have yet to see the film Freedom Writers, but if I do, it will probably be because of the Power Shuffle.

When I saw the trailer for Freedom Writers, my immediate thought was, "Jeezus, not another White savior flick!" It mattered little to me that the film was based on a true story. Indeed, it's very existence irk me.

How many films do we need about an idealistic White teacher succeeding with her "at-risk" students (read: low-income youth of color in Da Ghet-to?) What are the messags these films seek to drum into our heads, and what are their impact? (For one answer, read great editorial by Bronx high school teacher Tom Moore in which he breaks down the problematic messages that such films convey about the teaching as a profession.) Why is that we rarely see films about the many educators of color who are also successful unless they are paramilitaristic conservatives whose approach to education is long on discipline and short on pedagogy? Where are the movies about progressive educators of color who are successful not simply because of the innovative (even radical) strategies they use in the classroom but also because they are working with (and not against) parents in organizing campaigns that seek to challege structural barriers to the efficacy of public education.

When will we see the films about the freedom schools established by activists in the 60s or their current descendants in cities across the United States? About the creation of the historically black colleges and universitiesand their success in producing the majority of this nation's African American professionals? Why did it take years for documentarian Lillian Jimenez years to produce Abriendo Camino, her film about visionary educator Antonia Pantoja who founded ASPIRA which won a landmark decision against the NYC Board of Education that translated into major victory for bilingual education nationwide?

Still I try to withhold judgment on a film until I have seen it for myself or heard the opinion someone's whose political sensibilities I share. That means if none of my closests friends or trusted colleagues venture toward the theatre, I am unlikely to do so as well. But Elisha recently learned something about Freedom Writers that just might entice me to take the risk.
"She uses the Power Shuffle," she told me over the telephone last week.

"Really?" Not only have Elisha and I both used the Power Shuffle in our workshops, I wrote a critical scene in Divas Don't Yield in which Irena and Lourdes participate in the Power Shuffle at the women's conference they attend in San Francisco. (Pages 289-294 to be exact.)
"Yeah, but I don't know if she credits it." Elisha was blessed to be trained at the TODOS Institute, a ground-breaking organization based in Oakland, CA that was renown for its innovative curricula in unlearning "isms." The Power Shuffle is an exercise pioneered by the founders of TODOS to lead participants in an exploration of their various identities (e.g. race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) the power differentials assigned to these social constructs, and the impact it has on how they see themselves and interact with others of similar and different identities. Although I learned about the Power Shuffle before I met Elisha, it's through her that I discover its origins.

"Probably not," I scoff with unchecked cynicism. "They'll say that's just because it's superflous information that doesn't move the story forward, but leaving it out also serves to make her seem more heroic. People are going to think that she [teacher Erin Gruwell played by Hilary Swank in the film] invented it, and that's not right." I also suspected that because the Power Shuffle is a very thorough tool that leaves very few identity constructs unexplored, and, therefore, takes quite a while to execute, the makers of Freedom Writers probably truncated the exercise for the sake of limited screen time.
But then again, I haven't seen the film. And truth be told, since I didn't know who created the Power Shuffle before I wrote Divas Don't Yield, I did not credit them either or spell out the complete exercise due to space limitations. One of my hopes for including it in the novel, however, was to inspire others to learn more about it and use it in their own classrooms, workshops and other learning environments. Maybe its appearance in Freedom Writers will do the same.

So here it is, again, folks. The great thing about the Power Shuffle is that it works wonderfully as originally conceived or modified to suit your needs. And according to readers of Divas Don't Yield, it carries an emotional impact even when one is following a fictional character through it.
Imagine what it would be like to actually experience it.