Comfort vs. Enlightenment

“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” —Pablo Picasso

I read an article recently about a California school district that banned several works of classic literature from its curriculum after parents complained that the books made their kids uncomfortable. All the banned books, which included Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, deal in some way with the ugly history of racism in America.

Among parents who filed complaints about the books was an African-American mother whose daughter had been subjected to racially charged taunts by a white student who said he was inspired to do so after reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This is, of course, completely unacceptable as well as a remarkably sad indicator of the backwards belief system that many white people in this country are still holding onto for dear life.

But while I understand this mother’s desire to protect her daughter and other students from further trauma, I would also argue that this incident is solid proof that these books need to be read and discussed.

After the books were banned, PEN America, a nonprofit that works to defend free expression and promote literary culture, released a statement saying, in part, “Blocking engagement with these important books is also avoiding the important role that schools can and should play in providing context for why these books inspire and challenge us still today.”

You don’t need to be an English lit major to know that the point of these books is to make people uncomfortable. They are designed to make us think critically about our past and current beliefs and actions, the state of our society and culture, and what can and should be done to make the country we live in a better place for everyone who lives in it, now and in the future.

If we don’t understand the history of racism in America, we will never be able to have a productive discussion about the racism that exists here and now. Only once we are out our comfort zones are we are truly free to consider new ideas and other people’s points of view, and to examine what our own roles have been in perpetuating poisonous belief systems and ideas.

We as a society have gotten used to having the ability to selectively filter out news and information we don’t agree with, or that we find upsetting in some way. We are quick to vilify and criticize people who say and believe things that conflict with our own ideas. But art and literature can and should be a bridge that spans the raging river that divides us—a safe pathway that can lead to constructive discussion and practical solutions if we are only brave enough cross it.

The white student who made those racial taunts (and likely his parents) is responsible for his own actions. His morally reprehensible behavior was not the fault of the book he was reading. He used Mildred Taylor’s masterpiece as an excuse for behavior he likely would have exhibited anyway.

We need to ask ourselves: Do we want our young people to develop critical thinking skills that will enable them to become good citizens and work toward making our society a better, more tolerant and just place? Or are we OK with future generations of Americans shying away from the difficult tasks that must be tackled in order for us to live up to the ideals that America supposedly stands for?

Art holds a key to the truth. We need more of it, not less.

Summertime

I swapped out my flannel sheets for the regular cotton kind this morning, which means that warm weather is here to stay, at least for a few months. Being a New Englander and avid year-round hiker, I don’t really mind winter or the cold. In fact, I’m not really at my best when the temperature outside gets above 80. This year, though, I’m really looking forward to summer.

I’m sure I don’t need to go into all the ways that 2020 was a complete drag. It was for just about everyone, except maybe for Jeff Bezos. But there were some lowlights: My mom died. My daughter’s college graduation was canceled. The U.S./Canadian border was closed. I was furloughed from my editing job for six months, and I found myself unable to concentrate on just about anything. Even though I had plenty of free time, I didn’t write a word that didn’t have a hard deadline attached to it, including updates for this website.

But summer is on its way. Flowers are blooming. My family and I are fully vaccinated, and I feel hopeful about the future for the first time almost 18 months.

Thanks for hanging on with me. I hope this summer brings you nothing but sunshine and happiness. Stay tuned for more in the near future.

Reading With Kids During Quarantine Promotes Active, Engaged Learning

No matter where you live, you’ve most likely been affected by COVID-19 in some way. Tasked with working remotely while also helping their kids with online school assignments, parents who are quarantined with young children might be in one of the toughest situations. With many U.S. states announcing that schools will be closed for the remainder of the academic year, parents must find activities that will keep their kids entertained and engaged, while also helping them learn. For many, this is proving to be quite a challenge.

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, reading with children interactively on a daily basis can help kids develop important literacy and language skills, while also helping them learn about the world around them. Reading with your kids is also a great way to spend quality time together and create lasting memories.

Several online resources are available to help kids (and parents) get easier access to books during quarantine, including Penguin Random House Audio, LibriVox, Project Gutenberg and International Children’s Digital Library.

For a limited time my middle grade novel, The Blue Bottle, an adventure story for kids age 8 to 13, is available for 50 percent off the cover price.

Stay healthy, and happy reading!

 

“Atlantic Currents” Now Available

Atlantic Currents, a short story collection featuring work by 65 writers linked to Cork, Ireland, and Lowell, Mass., is now available from Loom Press. I’m proud to have my short story “Death and the Modern Girl” included in the book alongside those of so many talented writers.

The book is meant to celebrate the connection between Cork and Lowell as UNESCO Global Network Learning Cities. Learning Cities support the practice of lifelong learning by promoting policy dialogue and peer education.

A book launch event will be held at some point in the (hopefully) near future, when the danger of contracting Covid19 has passed.

Visit Loom Press’ website for ordering information.

Résonance Volume 2

I’m proud to have my short story The Dinner Party included in the second issue of the University of Maine Orono’s literary journal, Résonance, published last week. My work appears alongside that of several notable writers, including Paul Marion, David Vermette, Elizabeth N. Kadetsky and Ernest Hebert. The fiction editor quoted my story twice in her introduction. I can’t think of anything more validating for a writer.
Check the issue out if you have time. There is a lot of great stuff in it.

“Atlantic Currents” Coming in April 2020

I’m proud to have one of my short stories included in the forthcoming anthology “Atlantic Currents” (Loom Press, April 2020). The short story collection features 65 writers linked to Cork, Ireland, and Lowell, Mass. Both cities are part of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. Learning Cities support the practice of lifelong learning by promoting policy dialogue and peer education. Check back soon for Loom Press ordering information.

Get “The Blue Bottle” for $5 Off the Cover Price

Exciting news! For a limited time you can purchase a copy of “The Blue Bottle” on Amazon for $5 off the cover price. Visit this link to purchase. Don’t miss your chance to own a copy of this soon-to-become summer reading classic.

Upcoming Readings

I will be reading from and signing copies of The Blue Bottle on the following dates. I hope to see you there.

Check back soon for additional dates and times.

February 21, 2019, 11 a.m @ Pollard Memorial Library, Lowell, Mass. — I will be reading from The Blue Bottle as part of the library’s February school vacation Kids Week activities.

March 16, 2019, 12 – 4 p.m. @ Mill No. 5’s Pulp and Press Event, Lowell, Mass. — Don’t miss this annual showcase of local authors and their work.

May 4, 2019, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. @ Parker Memorial Library, Dracut, Mass. — I will be reading from The Blue Bottle and signing books as part of the library’s inaugural Local Author Showcase event.

Reading at Pollard Memorial Library on Feb. 21

Hi Everyone,

I will be reading from The Blue Bottle on Feb. 21 @ 11 am at Pollard Memorial Library in Lowell, Massachusetts, as part of their February school vacation Kids Week activities. I will also have books for sale. Come down and see me, and bring the kids.

The Blue Bottle is also now available to borrow from the library.

The Blue Bottle Now Available

I’m happy to announce that “The Blue Bottle” is now available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com as well as on North Country Press’ website. If you have read the book and enjoyed it please consider leaving a review.

Check back soon for live reading dates and times.