The Book That Needed to be Written

Elizabeth di Grazia

Elizabeth di Grazia

House of Fire,is a book that needed to be written. I was the one to write it. I didn’t ask for sexual abuse to happen to me. I didn’t ask to get pregnant from brothers. But, I did. Who else could write this book but me? Who else to tell the story of how I came out of the hell that I lived as a teenager? Who else to tell the story of how I created a loving family? Who else to say to others who have gone through similar hells that they, too, can survive and have a good life? Who else to tell them that trauma doesn’t need to define them, that they are bigger than their stories?

The fact is many of us could have written this book. The next time you see a group of children, consider this: 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are a victim of sexual abuse. When a child is raped, 46 percent of the time, the perpetrator is a family member, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. Those statistics suggest many stories. I hope to open a dialogue to change those statistics – and innocent lives – for the better.

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr.

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr.

House of Fire took me over twenty years to write. It took a lot longer than that for ink to meet paper. But, it did. I tried many forms to tell this story: poetry, fiction, and essays. I kept coming back to nonfiction. This story did happen. This story happened to me.

Healing takes time and work. When the day arrived that House of Fire was to be published, I was ready to stand at the podium as a statement that people can and do survive trauma and their dreams can come true. When you look at me, you won’t see the sexual abuse, the pregnancies, or the trauma. I don’t wear my past as a tattoo. You’ll see me in my allness. My smile, my kindness, my gentleness, and my happiness. You’ll see the peace that I have found.

House of Fire is not a tale of woe. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but most of all you will be left with hopefulness.

I invite you join me on September 30th for a powerful night of stories and to celebrate the publication of House of Fire. Sharing the platform with me is a range of successful artists. When I first talked with Sherrie Fernandez-Williams, program director, of the Loft Literary Center she suggested I curate an event to celebrate my publication. I chose the title, Finding Your Bones. Sometimes the only thing of substance left after trauma is you, the bones of who you are. The artists who will be with me have in their own right found their bones and their stories. Wine and appetizers will follow the event.

Keno Evol

Keno Evol

Below are the artists’ bios:

An active force in the Twin Cities artistic community, R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. has received numerous literary awards and fellowships for his writing and live performances. The current and reigning IWPS Indigenous SLAM champion, he has performed spoken word all over the country, and parts unknown. A Nu’Eta enrolled citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes located on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Vincent was raised in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis in the long long ago in the before time.

Poet, essayist and activist Keno Evol is a six year educator having taught at nineteen institutions across the state of Minnesota. He has served as the chair of the Youth Advisory Board for TruArtSpeaks. A nonprofit in St Paul, dedicating to cultivating literacy, leadership and social justice through Hip Hop.

Evol has received numerous grants and competed nationally as a spoken word artist. Evol has been published in Poetry Behind The Walls and on platforms such as Gazillion Voices Magazine , Black Girl In Om, and TC Organizer.

Christine Stark

Christine Stark

Evol has performed, taught workshops and led professional development in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Washington DC, Arkansas, Minnesota and New York. He has gone on to teach Spoken Word poetry in high schools such as Washburn High, Brooklyn Center High, MNIC High, PYC, Paladin Academy, Creative Arts and John Glenn Middle School.

He has appeared on TPT and Urban Perspectives. He navigates noting Patricia Hill Collins as she has stated “My work has always been bigger than my job.”

Writer, visual artist, and organizer, Christine Stark’s first novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her writing has appeared in periodicals and books, including Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prize-Winning Essays; When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience; The Florida Review, and many others. A Loft Mentor Series winner, Stark is currently completing her second novel and conducting research for a nonfiction book.

I hope you’ll join us for an evening of powerful truth-telling.

September 30, 2016 at the Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Ave. S, Minneapolis

I Never Used To Be A Quitter

But in the last two months I’ve fired three of the books I was reading: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, and The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison.

I LOVE to read and I consume several books every month—mostly novels, memoirs, and essay collections. It stands to reason that occasionally I’ll pick up a dud. But three in a row? What’s going on?

Why I Set Aside Those Books

IMG_0385Each book was favorably reviewed and the subject matter sounded interesting. I expected to like the books and looked forward to reading them.

At first, I read with enthusiasm, but I stopped enjoying myself about 80 percent of the way through The Signature of All Things. I made it through only 60 percent of The Invention of Wings and about 20 percent of The Empathy Exams.

Reading historical fiction and learning about unfamiliar cultures usually appeals to me. For a while, I enjoyed those aspects in all three books. Soon, however, the level of detail each author incorporated stopped being fascinating and turned tedious. I just don’t want to know that much about moss (Gilbert), the infighting among abolitionists (Monk Kidd), or peculiar subcultures (Jamison).

I enjoy character-driven stories. Each of the book’s main character (and the narrator in the memoir-based essays in The Empathy Exams) is unusual and had the potential to be interesting. While I was curious about the main characters, each had a quality that was fundamentally off-putting. I stopped wanting to spend time with those people.

Is It Me? Is It Them? Does It Matter?

1. Life is too short. I’m not going to waste time on books I don’t enjoy. There are too many good, satisfying books I could be reading instead.

2. I no longer care why a book doesn’t meet my expectations—it’s still fired. I used to assume that if a book was disappointing, that the failing was probably mine instead of the author’s—perhaps I wasn’t intellectual or sophisticated enough.

However, in the last decade I’ve read too many mediocre books, so I no longer blame myself. Too often I’ve thought, “Wow! How did that get published?” The publishing industry has been changing rapidly in the last decade, and publishers are risk-averse. If one book is successful they try to clone it (e.g., vampire novels). Other times publishers invest in concept books in which the premise is interesting but the writing isn’t strong (e.g., The Hunger Games). Plenty of good books are still being published, but finding them has gotten harder, especially when only a handful are featured in reviews and blogs.

3. I need to rely on reviewers less. Or I need to find reviewers whose taste is more similar to mine. I read reviews of the three books mentioned earlier, and yet, I was disappointed.

I’ve learned to dig into Amazon and Goodreads’ reviews, but I disregard their suggested reading lists. Just because I read XYZ, doesn’t mean I want to read another book with the exact same subject matter.

I take the reviews in the New York Times Review of Books and Washington Post with a grain of salt (or a whole box?) Their critics are often captivated by the literary experiments some authors engage in. The book may be a clever exercise but if it fails at telling a good story, I’m disappointed.

Reading is too important to give up, but I do wish I had a better way to choose books. How do you discover the gems? Do you ever fire the books you’re reading books? Why?