You Are Invited! Finding Your Bones: Speaking the Truth with Prose, Poetry, and Spoken Word

405September 30th, 7pm at Loft Literary Center, 1011 S Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN

Celebrate the publication of House of Fire: A Story of Love, Courage, and Transformation, a touching and provocative memoir from author, educator, and incest survivor Elizabeth di Grazia. Elizabeth will be joined by award-winning writers Christine Stark, R. Vincent Muniz Jr., and Keno Evol for a powerful evening of stories of survival, transformational poetry, and bare bones honesty. A wine and appetizer book signing reception will follow the readings.

Participant Bios

Elizabeth di Grazia is the author of House of Fire: A Story of Love, Courage, and Transformation, a memoir about her triumph over neglect, incest, and childhood trauma. Recipient of a Jerome Travel and Study Grant and participant in the Minnesota Loft Mentor Series, she is a founder of WordSisters, a shared blog (wordsisters.wordpress.com). Her work has been anthologized in Illness and Grace/Terror and Transformation and Families: Front Line of Pluralism. She has published prose in Adoptive Families Magazine, Minnesota Parent, Adagio Verse Quarterly, Edge Life, and elsewhere.

Christine Stark

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, Chris is currently completing her second novel and conducting research for a non-fiction book.

Keno Evol

Keno Evol is a blogger for Revolution News, an international group of independent journalists, photographers, artists, translators, and activists reporting on international news with a focus on human rights. Poet, essayist, spoken word performer, and educator, Keno is the board chair of the Youth Advisory Board for TruArtSpeaks ,a nonprofit dedicated to cultivating literacy, leadership and social justice through Hip Hop. His work has been published in Poetry Behind the Walls, Gazillion Voices Magazine, Black Girl In Om, and elsewhere.

Vincent Moniz Jr

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. Reigning champion for the Two River Memorial Indigenous Spoken Word SLAM World competition, he has performed spoken word at Equilibrium: Spoken Word at the Loft, Intermedia Arts, Pangea World Theater, and elsewhere. An enrolled citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes located within North Dakota on Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation, he was raised in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis.

I HOPE YOU CAN JOIN US!

Other events coming up are Barnes and Noble, Maple Grove book signing on August 13th, 1-3pm, and with Su Smallen at Hamline University, Kay Fredericks Ballroom, October 21, 7pm.

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Recipient of a Jerome Travel and Study Grant

Jerome_foundation newJody met me at the end of the driveway. In her hand she held a yellow envelope addressed to me.

Notifications on two prior occasions from the Jerome Foundation came by email: We’re sorry to inform you….

This was an envelope. A large envelope. I opened it slowly and carefully which isn’t my nature. Rejections don’t come in such packaging. This could only mean one thing.

As I pulled out the contents I realized that I’ve been a beneficiary of much goodness: wonderful teachers, mentors, my writing group, peers, friends, and family.

In November of 2012, participating in Mary Carroll Moore’s weekend workshop, “How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book,” at the Loft Literary Center, I understood for the first time what my book was about: A Woman’s Search to Be Seen. Using her W-shaped Storyboard and Three-Act Structure, I left her workshop with an outline and edited structure for my near completed manuscript. That weekend, I revised several chapters and was able to reach a new depth in my writing.

More importantly, I was excited about my writing and my book, HOUSE OF FIRE. I had been working for ten years on finding the right structure to tell my story.

guatemala-map[1]After applying and receiving a Next Step Grant funded by the McKnight Foundation, I attended a one-week writing retreat with Mary Carroll Moore at the Madeline Island School of Arts, September 2013 and participated in two twelve-week online classes – “Your Book Starts Here: Part 3.

Since winning the Loft mentorship, I have been working closely with mentor, Mark Anthony Rolo.

Under his tutelage, I enhanced the structure of my book to weave in my present story with back story. For example, on our flight to adopt Antonio and Crystel the sun is setting when the plane descends into the airspace above Guatemala City. Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon and I ruminate how both me and the Guatemalans were literally running from fire in 1974 when I was 15-years old.

And now, receiving a Jerome Travel and Study Grant allows me to travel to Guatemala to research indigenous Mayans and Mayan heritage to inform my memoir. I’m truly blessed. This trip is critical to finishing my book.

The trip is detailed field research on the traditions and history of Antonio’s and Crystel’s homeland. Besides the powerful emotional content intended for the last chapters, my visit will also provide insights that will enrich the whole manuscript.

Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya Volcano

Following Antonio and Crystel visit with their birthmothers we will travel by van to Panajachel and board a lancha to take us to Santa Cruz la Laguna, a small pueblo located on the northern coast of Lake Atitlan in Solola, Guatemala.

Situated half a mile above the shore on the mountainside it is home to indigenous Mayans.

Accessible only by rocky footpaths and lanchas, Santa Cruz is a virtual island on the mountainside.

Because of its isolated nature and small size, Santa Cruz is a great home base for our stay. We will be employing indigenous Mayan guides to explore small, traditional Mayan villages around the lake. The guides will be much more than guides as Antonio and Crystel will daily be seeing their own rich café au lait skin.

Santa Cruz la Laguna

Santa Cruz la Laguna

During our travel I will create a record of the voices, landscapes, and villages of the indigenous Mayans. Following my return home I will be able to create prose that truly draws its inspiration from the specific natural setting.

I’m lucky and grateful to have won a Next Step, Loft Mentorship, and Jerome Travel and Study Grant. Receiving these grants will help me complete HOUSE OF FIRE.

Antonio and Crystel, of course, understood the nuances of winning the Jerome Travel and Study Grant but it was Jody and I who were doing the HAPPY THANKFUL DANCE in the driveway.

“Whose belly did I come out of?”

dsc00095[1]July, 2013. My cell phone rang. I stepped out of the dining hall at Tomahawk Scout Reservation, in Northwestern Wisconsin, wove through dozens of 10-year old Cub Scouts to reach the flagpole. “Hold on, hold on,” I said to the caller. I looked up to the sky hoping that a satellite would keep us connected. Jerod Santek from the Loft Literary Center was on the other end saying that I had won the 2013-2014 Loft Mentor Series for Nonfiction. “Can you hear me?” he said. I could. But after submitting to the competition for over ten years and being a finalist four times, I didn’t know what to say.

Friday, April 18th, at 7 p.m. I will read an excerpt from my memoir, HEALING FIRES.

“Whose belly did I come out of?” five-year old Crystel asks. “Yours or Mama Joey’s?” Milk spills from her spoon into her cereal bowl.

Thirty years of breaking free from the cycle of violence and discovering my true self prepare me to start my adoptive family. The challenge of creating a home of love, safety, and joy is tested by dysfunctional ghosts and dark memories from the Wisconsin farm where I was raised.

It’s the culmination of my work with mentors Mark Anthony Rolo as well as my work with Loft Literary Center instructor Mary Carroll Moore.

Also reading is Jerald Walker and my fellow mentee Pamela Schmid.imagesGECE7253

Mark Anthony is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. His memoir MY MOTHER IS NOW EARTH won the 2012 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award and was nominated for a 2012 Minnesota Book Award.

When I opened Mark Anthony’s book and read his first lines, “My mother wants to be buried in fire. She races into a burning farmhouse, letting serpent flames twist around her legs,”my mouth fell open. I had submitted a writing sample that started with these words, “I’m on fire. I scream. I run. Flames chase me. I fall to the grass, slapping at my shoulders, my back, my side. Digging my shoulders into the ground, I pitch back and forth, back and forth. The fire follows.”

Under Mark Anthony’s tutelage, I have restructured my memoir to merge my past and present story just as spring water runoff flows to creeks and further downstream joins the river and finally the ocean that embodies us all.

Jerald Walker’s STREET SHADOWS: A MEMOIR OF RACE, REBELLION, AND REDEMPTION was also very influential. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Jerald is a recipient of the 2011 PEN New England/L.L.Winship Award for Nonfiction and his book was named a Best Memoir of the Year by Kirkus Reviews.

When I read Jerald Walker’s memoir, I finally understood how I could meld past and present together in my memoir. I studied his structure, counting the number of pages he used for his present story and then his past. I attempted to locate where he brought them both together. All the while, I resonated with his efforts to rise above the circumstances that he was born into.

7ac30fe0b702dd387b1f0ab4fcd06c36[1]Pamela is the creative nonfiction editor for Sleet magazine. Before receiving her M.F.A. degree from Hamline University, she spent more than a decade reporting and editing for the Star Tribune and the Associated Press.

Pamela says this about her memoir, “In MY BIG BOOK OF YEARNING, I chronicle my son’s arduous journey to speech and reflect on the way words empower and ensnare. I also try to untangle the threads of silence that took root in my family generations earlier, before giving rise to this little boy who desperately wanted to speak but could not.

”Pamela will be reading an excerpt that explores Eli’s fascination with music, and the way music can bridge the gap to speech. “When I sang, I became somebody else, someone more certain and sure. When it was just Eli and I and the songs, I felt the scales of a dragon on my back.”

Please mark your calendars for April 18th at 7 p.m.

Join Jerald, Pamela, and me as we read to you from our memoirs.

Loft Literary Center

1011 Washington Ave. S

Minneapolis, MN 55415

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Being A Role Model

13355524[1]Recently, while Mark Anthony Rolo was visiting the Twin Cities he stayed at our house. Mark Anthony Rolo is the nonfiction mentor for the Loft Mentor Series and offered to devote a Saturday working with the nonfiction winners. Since he travels from northern Wisconsin, I extended an invitation to him and his dog. Our house would also serve as a meeting place the next day.

I’m sure that I told Antonio and Crystel that Mark is one of the Loft Mentors who’s working with me, but Crystel didn’t really understand until I said, “He wrote a book. It’s in the living room. The one with a picture of him and his dog Rock on the back cover.”

She got the book. At that very moment, Mark was sitting by a fire we had built in the backyard.

“That’s him? And that’s Rock?”

“Yes.”

6815689230_1497703279[1]Crystel loves books. Finally, it clicked that she had an actual living author right in her backyard. That was almost too much for her eleven-year-old brain to grasp.

I was hoping, as any mother might, that this also elevated me in her eyes.

Antonio and Crystel spent a lot of time playing with Rock, tugging and pulling and throwing. And, even though they could have left during the adult chatter around the fire, they didn’t disappear. I hoped that it was because they found us interesting, but truth be told, their electronics were banned for the weekend. So what else is a kid to do?

Later that evening, Crystel couldn’t contain herself any longer and told me, in the presence of Mark, that she was going to write a better book than me.

Mark making his mother's bread.

Mark making his mother’s bread.

Around noon the next day, she pulled me to the side in the dining room and said, “Are those people in there famous?” She motioned to our living room.

I thought of the four of us, all mentorship winners, all wanting to publish a book.

“Yes, they are,” I said. “They’re authors. They’re going to publish their books.”

That evening, long after everyone had gone, Crystel asked if she could read Mark’s book. “You’ll have to ask Mama Jody. I think she’s reading it.”

“Sorry, I’m reading it, Crystel,” I heard from the other room.

On Monday when she came home from school, she asked if she could take Mark’s book to school the next day. She had told people that a famous person had stayed at her house and she had the book to prove it.

Lately, Crystel has begun to ask, “Can I work on my book now?” And then she brings her computer over to where I’m writing and she writes with me.

This Saturday, she’ll meet another famous person, Ellen Shriner, my WordSister partner.

9780985981822_p0_v2_s600[1]Ellen is reading at SubText Bookstore. Contributors will read from Holy Cow Press’s anthology The Heart of All That is: Reflections on Home.

You’re all invited to the reading — 7p.m. on Saturday.

I love being surrounded by famous people and that my daughter wants to be one too.

Afraid of the Writing Workshop. Did It Anyway. Glad That I Did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMadeline Island Writing Workshop, “How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book: Taking You Book to Publication” Mary Carroll Moore.

I had first met Mary Carroll Moore in November of 2012 for a 1 1/2 day writing workshop at the Loft Literary Center. A classroom full of writers of all genres explored their books and put together storyboards in pictures and writing. A storyboard is a graphic organizer displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing your manuscript.

After attending the 2012 workshop, I signed up for Mary’s week-long writing retreat on Madeline Island, September 2013.

What sold me were the unexpected breakthroughs in how I viewed my book. I rearranged chapters, saw reoccurring images, and for the first time, realized what my manuscript wanted to say.

Madeline Island School of Arts

Madeline Island School of Arts

I’m not an easy student. I approach learning in the classroom tentatively and cynically. I’m reluctant to try different styles, and at the same time, I’m also open to new ideas and feedback. Yes, competing principles. Drives me crazy, too, and I have to sit there and make myself focus on what is being taught.

I was even opposed to attending Mary’s November 2012 workshop, but a writing friend said “No, it wouldn’t be right for you. You probably wouldn’t get anything out of the workshop. If she was me, she wouldn’t go.” So, I signed up. Don’t tell me that I can’t do something.

Taking the road less traveled on the Island

Taking the road less traveled on the Island

A hunch, a notion, a feeling.  That becomes my next step or goal. The Universe speaks to me through repeated musings and I pay attention. I sent in my deposit to Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA) for Mary’s September workshop without knowing how it was going to come about.

Winning The Next Step Grant generated the funds, and a new job spawned the vacation week.

When it came time to go Jody planned a family weekend for us at Edgewater Hotel in Duluth for my sendoff. Saturday the “What am I getting myself into?” thoughts started making an entrance. On Sunday, I admitted them to Jody.

I was scared. I didn’t know Mary that well. I didn’t know if my writing would be as good as others. And, it would be dark at night.

MISA

MISA

Even so, Jody and I drove in opposite directions on Sunday.

My classmates on Madeline Island consisted of six other writers. The first evening we introduced ourselves and our manuscripts. I hate this part. My book has to come out of the closet, and state what it’s about.

Classroom learning started the next day. I sat next to my nemesis. I learned that word in Tae Kwon Do because I have a few of them there, too. I always seem to find one no matter where I go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis guy had an answer for everything. Since I sat next to him, I could literally feel his restraint as he stopped himself from monopolizing the discussion. I didn’t think he would get anything out of Mary’s class but it only took him a day or two to come around to Mary’s way of thinking. That was impressive, I thought, and it added cred to Mary’s teaching. If he found her teaching meaningful …. Good thing for him because he flew in from New Hampshire to take her class. Maybe it was because he was from tiny New Hampshire that he didn’t like all the space I took.

Think of it, 9, 350 sq miles compared to 86, 943 sq miles. Move over Big Boy. Us Minnesotans need SPACE.

In-between sparring with my rival, I did a lot of learning. The aha moments came fast and often. I worked to make them stick so I’d be able to recall them after I returned home.

When Mary teaches, material makes sense, concepts fizz with possibility.

Her balance of classroom time to personal writing time is excellent. Having a solid week to work with a storyboard that constantly changes is refreshing.

Writing Prompts

Writing Prompts

It could have been the ferry ride, the remoteness, or the magic of Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA), that allowed my manuscript to become my essence for one week.

And when darkness came, as it did every night, I picked up the phone and called home.

At weeks end, before I even drove my car on the ferry, I began to imagine my return in 2014 and taking my seat next to know-it-all guy, and fashioning a border with my writing prompts.