This past weekend, I joined fellow authors Sarah Kozloff, Stephanie Ann Smith, and Robert V. S. Redick, as we read excerpts from our recent works of fiction for the autumn virtual ICFA (International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts).
The VICFA was on Zoom, so naturally, when I read from my my new short story “Anywhere But Here,” Shayna and her cousin dog Maggie made an appearance, too. Well, Maggie’s tail did, and they were both in good voice, barking in the background. (Apparently, the neighbor’s cat was teasing them through the patio glass doors by walking on “their” property.)
In a few weeks, I’ll be attending one of my favorite conferences — World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon — in one of my favorite cities — Chicago. (This iteration of Worldcon is also known as Chicon 8.) The Worldcon annual gathering of science fiction writers, fans, artists, publishers, editors, filmmakers, and costumers is a smorgasbord of intellectual stimulation, great storytelling, fascinating folk, and great fun.
I’m honored to once again be speaking on various Worldcon panels, doing a reading of my fiction, and giving a presentation. But the one big change from my traditional subjects is that I’ll be conducting a workshop called “Mining Our Matriarchs.” The workshop will be my first public appearance connected to the new direction I’m headed in both my writing and my speaking career — specifically, exploring the relevance of the stories of the women in the Hebrew Bible to our lives today.
Here’s my schedule for Chicon 8 (barring last minute changes):
Ask a CoverArtist, a panel that I’m moderating: “What are the elements of a great book or magazine cover? What color trends or styles are related to historical illustration, and how do you make something futuristic? For artists and enthusiasts alike, this is your chance to learn more about the art of cover-making. Which images are iconic from the past, groundbreaking in the present, and will capture our imaginations in the future? Let’s find out together.” Panelists: Alyssa Winans, Dex Greenbright, Eric Wilkerson and Ruth Sanderson. Thursday, September 1, 2022, 4:00 PM CDT.
Work/Life Balance for Artists, a panel on a topic that I struggle with (as I expect every artist does): “It’s easy for artists to overwork themselves when the world constantly reminds them that their work is other people’s leisure. Defining and enforcing boundaries to allow for rest and recuperation are vital for avoiding burnout. It is impossible to get a one-size-fits-all solution to this struggle though. Our panelists will discuss their own practices and others they’ve come across in exploration of the wide-span of ways to address these tensions in order to provide a wide array of practices.” Fellow panelists: Tabitha Lord (moderator), Alyssa Winans, Gideon Marcus, and Lorelei Esther. Friday, September 2, 2022, 10:00 AM CDT.
Grants & Residencies, a presentation based on my experience with applying for and winning a number of grants (I haven’t pursued residencies until recently): “Trying to find the right grants and residencies welcoming your kind of art and writing, and providing room for your desired growth, is a dense and tedious task full of details and red tape. Attend this presentation offered by Sally Wiener Grotta, who will provide you with some expectations and guidance in this complicated landscape.” Friday, September 2, 2022, 1:00 PM CDT.
Mining Our Biblical Matriarchs, a workshop based on my research for my two current works-in-progress: “The women of the Bible (Eve, Esther, Miriam, etc.) have been the West’s most enduring female archetypes. As lush and varied as any mythology, their stories have been reinterpreted by every generation’s artists, clerics, and political leaders, according to how they expected women to be. However, these archetypes have been largely overlooked by modern spec fic authors. In this workshop, we’ll have fun challenging and toppling common preconceptions about various women of the Bible, as we mine this rich mother lode for fresh SF&F story ideas.” Friday, September 2, 2022, 4:00 PM CDT.
Judging the Cover, a panel that I’m moderating: “The saying goes ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover,’ but what if you can? As a reader, what can you tell about the story inside from the cover? How are covers reflective of artistic and marketing trends? Join us as we explore everything that goes into cover art, and how to use cover art to successfully pick your next favorite read.” Panelists: A.L.DeLeon, Maurizio Manzieri, and Pat Robinson. Saturday, September 3, 2022, 1:00 PM CDT.
Readings. I’m sharing the hour with fellow authors LP Kindred and Michael Haynes. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll be reading. Saturday, September 3, 2022, 2:30 PM CDT.
A few weeks ago, when Samuel Delany (“please call me ‘Chip'”) and I were at a gathering of friends at Michael Swanwick‘s and Marianne Porter“s home, he explained why he feels that spelling “black” with a capital “B” is racist. As is always true, Chip’s discourse was fascinating, keeping us spellbound. There and then, I knew I would want to record him on the subject.
So, here he is, helping me launch my new video interview series which shares its name with this blog: “What If? Why Not? How?”
Of course, the conversation went much further that the original, delving into the history of how the word “black” replaced “Negro” and “colored.” Chip also wandered his memories, telling me stories about W.E.B DuBois, the Delany sisters (Chip’s renowned activist aunts), Ursula K. Leguin, and others. And he commented on the public censure and ostracization of Mercedes Lackey when she described Chip as “colored” while on a panel at a SFWA conference. As always, Chip’s perspective is illuminating and his anecdotes fascinating.
About Samuel Delany: Chip is an influential social critic and teacher, as well as an award-winning author, whose books, stories, and articles cover the gamut from science fiction to essays. His website is SamuelDelany.com and you can follow him on Facebook.
About “What If? Why Not? How? The Video Series”: In this new video interview series, Sally Wiener Grotta dives into topics that matter with people whose ideas are intriguing and whose style of inquiry includes seeking open-ended discussions. These will include authors, of course, but also philosophers, scientists, rabbis and ministers, teachers and librarians, and so forth.
The other morning, Shayna and I went for our usual first walk of the day. The air was soft and light, with a slight breeze that was caressing rather than chill. A couple of neighbors said hello, with a smile for Shayna, as they passed us on their way to their day ahead. I was pleased that Shayna is learning to be much calmer around strangers, though sometimes her fears erupt, memories, I suppose, of having been an abused puppy.
Up until the moment that I turned the corner toward Pennsylvania Avenue, I was feeling wide open, ready to embrace the blue-sky day and all that it might offer. But as I reached the intersection of Fairmont and Pennsylvania Avenues, I saw on the opposite corner a person ensconced in a red hoodie, sitting motionless in a wheelchair. His (?) her (?) their (?) head had dropped to his chest. Her arms dangled on either side of the steel wheels.
That intersection is almost always alive with activity. It’s where Philadelphia’s beautifully landscaped Benjamin Franklin Parkway meets Fairmont Park. At the nexus between the parkway and the park is the Acropolis-like Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the Azalea Garden and Boat House Row stretching behind it. Joggers and bikers, busloads of tourists posing with the Rocky Balboa statue at the bottom of the museum steps, parents with baby carriages, children running and playing, lovers of all ages strolling hand-in-hand or arguing, and people like me walking their dogs were mixed in with the usual city morning commuters of adults rushing to work and kids headed for school.
All those people walked past the stranger in the wheelchair. I did too.
Like any city, we have our share of homeless people, and this area’s greenery, park benches, woods, and even a railroad tunnel that provides some shelter from the elements is a magnet for them. It’s wrong that we’ve become accustomed to seeing them in our lives, but I don’t know what I can do to help them that they would want from me. So, I walked past the stranger, hoping he was sleeping and not sick or overdosed or dead.
But when I looked back at her, he had slumped over, head hanging over knees. Read More
I recently spent an evening of wonder and reflection in the company of several Judaic incunabula (printed books in Hebrew from the 15th century) at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library. Each was a personality and story, bound by hand and laden with transmitted memory. My guide through their histories, typography and quirks was Judy Guston, the Rosenbach’s curator and senior director of collections, who also happens to be a fascinating storyteller. I was entranced, and the time went by far too quickly.
When Gutenberg developed the printing press and introduced moveable type to Europe in the mid-15th century, he created the world we live in where the stories and knowledge that books preserve and impart were no longer available to only privileged scholars and the fabulously wealthy, but to all of us. Well, maybe not “all” – at least not immediately. Those first printed books were still pricey and far beyond the reach of the illiterate masses who wouldn’t have known what to do with them…
James Joyce’s Ulysseswas published in 1922, and for its 100th anniversary, Last week, on June 16th, Philadelphia’s Bloomsday celebration returned to 2000 block of Delancey Street after a two year pandemic hiatus. And I was thrilled and honored to be invited to read a portion of Joyce’s masterpiece as part of the celebration.
Why Delancey Street? Because the Rosenbach Museum & Library is there, and part of its incredible collection of rare books and related artifacts is the original Ulysses manuscript. So for more than 20 years, the Rosenbach has closed off the 2200 block of Delancey Street for a day of music, readings from the novel, plus a Beer Garden, free admission to the museum, and general Joycean merriment.
The portion I was asked to read was from Chapter 16, Eumaeus pages 540-541, lines 1770-1806. The program was that specific because aficionados bring their own copies of the book to follow along with the readings. Before my reading, I met a man sitting in front of me in the audience, who had dug out a copy from his college days (which had to have been a couple of decades ago). He said he had struggled with the book then, but never got rid of it. And now, listening to the readings, he was finally understanding its beauty and humor.
It had been quite a few years since I had read James Joyce’s Ulysses, too. But tackling just that one small piece, gave me insights I don’t remember having way back when. But then, it could also be attributed to the years I’ve lived between then and now. When I was a callow youth, I might have respected the exquisite craft of the book, and how innovative it was, but I’d also found it a dense book, that fought my attempts to love it as I had been told I should.
In the weeks leading up to my Bloomsday reading, I discovered not only insights into the characters and story, but also a sense of pure delight that had been missing all those years ago. Mostly, I realized that the rhythms and lilt of Joyce’s language, and especially his dialog, demands to be read aloud. It’s a book that’s more suited for an urban beer garden or an Irish pub than a hushed college library. It’s raucous and rich, like a June day in Dublin.
I plan to read the entire book again before next year’s Bloomsday, hopefully with friends over a series of good hearty meals and a few bottles of wine, definitely aloud.
The Recording below of last week’s Bloomsday celebrations of readings and music is bookmarked to start when I took the stage, but I recommend listening to other portions too.
I haven’t had my furnace cleaned this year. Back in December, just as the Omicron surge hit, I called the man who had installed my new furnace a few years ago and made an appointment for a maintenance cleaning and safety check. He arrived on time, which was a nice surprise. But when I answered the door, he was standing on my stoop, about two feet away from me, and wasn’t wearing a mask. (I was.)
I asked him if he had a mask in his truck. If not, I could give him one. (Back then, I kept a box of surgical masks on hand, in case. Now, I keep some extra KN95s.)
His answer “I don’t wear masks” was said with a good-ole-boy smile that I might have considered charming in other circumstances.
I was dumbfounded and just stared at him.
“Is that a problem?” he asked.
I said, “Yes.”
That brief interaction left me shaking and feeling violated. As the day progressed, I began to feel angry that someone would refuse to wear a mask in my home while a highly infectious virus was filling the hospitals yet again. Hell, this is myhome! My anger eventually turned to righteous indignation.
Back then, the issues were clear. If you respected others and cared about public health, you wore a mask and socially distanced whenever you were outside your established bubble, and you got vaccinated as soon as possible. In contrast, those who refused to follow such basic protocols (which my grandmother would have called common decency) were the kind of people Read More
New Year’s Eve has come and gone once more. For a few hours, the entire world paused to acknowledge the passing of another year. By dawn on January 2nd, nearly all echoes of Happy New Year and Good Riddance to 2021 had faded away, and we resumed our lives. What intrigues me is that pause, or more specifically the nature of a year, which is nothing more than a human construct.
Time is woven into the fabric of the universe, but calendars are something else entirely. Though we imbue calendars with all sorts of metaphysical and poetic meaning, they are merely our attempt to control nature, hoping to impose our will onto the ongoing circling of planets and stars. But where is the beginning and end in a circle?
Calendars were invented to measure and compartmentalize time into hours, days, months and years. They organize society, mark agricultural seasons, and track our responsibilities to the government, to our religion(s), and to each other. In other words, their primary purpose is bureaucratic.
So what is New Year’s Eve? What is January 1st? For that matter, what is June 12th or 5:18 PM? Why do these abstract concepts define our lives? Read More
Every year, I become intrigued by the concept of a “new” year, of a calendar that we as humans have imposed on nature, on the ongoing circling of planets and stars. Where is the beginning and end in a circle?
Questions are the source of just about all my writing. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that that it has become a tradition for me to write a new year’s poem. Here’s this year’s:
A minute, an hour, a day.
What is the measure of time?
A child dances with sunlight
A pas de deux that seems to last forever.
An old woman reaches back to first love, Read More
When I created this image of Daniel and me as Janus (the Roman god of beginnings) for our 2013 New Year’s newsletter, it had been a toss-up whose face I would set to look back on the previous year and who would be looking forward to the future. But now that Daniel has been gone six years, I see an unintended symbolism in having him nestled in the back of my mind, forming an essential part of who I am.
In many ways, the past defines and shapes us, helping to prepare us for whatever awaits us beyond today. I wonder what that means vis-à-vis our future as we move forward into the year 2022, given that the unrelenting rollercoaster of crises that was 2020 and 2021 is at our backs?
That question filled my mind today, when Shayna and I embarked on our afternoon walk along the dirt road on the other side of our stream. It’s a stroll that Daniel and I had shared innumerable times, inevitably with a dog leading the way. At one of the many bends in the road, the image of a rearview mirror came rushing at me, and I couldn’t shake it. Soon it was joined in my mind’s eye by the picture of Daniel and me as Janus. Read More