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Maya Washington sits in Gingko Coffeehouse for the first
time in years. She’s returned to the Twin Cities to teach an Arts Residency at
the Sheridan Arts Magnet School in Uptown Minneapolis. But there’s more to the
story than that: her short film, White
Space, was featured in the “Minnesota Made” category at the
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Film Festival on April 26. The White
Space Poetry Project, which was founded alongside the film, has recently
been granted an Arts Residency by the Minnesota State Arts Board.Maya’s
journey away from and back to the Twin Cities began in 2010 with an idea that
came from nowhere.“I was in this dark place,” she said. “Mornings where it
used to be that I had to peel myself out of bed and give myself a pep talk on the
freeway to get through my morning class. What I needed was to be a part of an
ensemble: to act, to write. So I
made a little prayer to the universe to fulfill myself. To fire on all
cylinders. To finish that manuscript.“I carried around a notebook, and it came to me in the
middle of the night. ‘Deaf Poet. Walking down the street, going to a Poetry
Slam.’ And there it was. I knew it was a film and that it would be a short
wasn’t a hard transition for Washington, with a background in both theater and
poetry, from written word to visual storytelling.“I’m
as surprised as anyone that it came as a film,” she continued. “It transcended
anything I could deliberately seek to do as a writer. It just showed up. It
became so visual because (being a Cave Canem Fellow), it was rooted in
something that was very real to me. Performance poetry is a visual art form.“It was the first time I didn’t have an agenda as an artist.
Every choice I made was to serve the story.”
The response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive,
Washington said, “We raised
$10,000 less that six months after the idea even came to me. We created
the White Space Poetry Project,
knowing that my vision was going to be more than just a film. “The vision was
film festivals, public screenings, and residencies. And here we are a year
later with the film festival, the White
Space Poetry Anthology, and artist residencies in schools.”Maya
Washington has had a long journey to get back to the Gingko Coffeehouse, where
she eats a brownie and looks out onto the Midway streets that she still knows,
living proof that fortune favors the brave, the bold, and the generous artist
who continually gives of herself.
Story by CWP Communications Assistant Benjamin Kowalsky
Spring 2012Alumni Corner
Story by CWP Communications Assistant Benjamin KowalskyJohn Medeiros’ unassuming and affable manner puts one
immediately at ease. On a recent Sunday morning as we met for this interview,
he took off his jacket to reveal his Patriot’s 2007 t-shirt and left little
doubt over his plans to watch football that evening. He sipped his coffee
softly and munched a breakfast sandwich. It was going to be a busy day.
John Medeiros often has busy days. He had Law School work to
get done, and he’s a writer. John
has won numerous awards for his writing and been published at an average of
5-10 times per year since 2005. Going through his CV is like walking through a
trophy case. Most recently, Medeiros is having his poetry manuscript, Couplets for a Shrinking World,
published by North Star Press.
He began by talking about his process, and the way he
creates his award-winning and headline-grabbing prose:
The way that I approach nonfiction
is that I start, almost always, with the poem. And I do that because I try to
let the lyric be a part of the narrative.
If I start with a poem, I develop the lyricism, and then I take that and
enhance it with more narrative.
That’s why when I first did this they were coming out as poems. And I
thought: ‘My poems are too narrative.’
I first started writing in junior
high and school, and it was all poetry. My poetry always was highly narrative,
so for me it wasn’t accomplishing what poetry should accomplish. What I
realized through my MFA program—and when I went initially I went for poetry—was
that I could be successful with nonfiction. I took a CNF course with Barrie
Jean Borich and in that course we were exposed to essays and memoir that were
And I thought, ‘This is really what
I have been trying to do.’ The emphasis for me had always been on the
narrative. What the lyric does is that it creates the intimacy for the reader.
It invites the reader into this space and makes sure the reader does not feel
threatened by things that may normally make him or her feel uncomfortable. Then, once you’ve created that space
with the lyric, you introduce the narrative. And the narrative is what people
walk away with.
After looking at Medeiros’ website, I thought it might be
hard for those beginning their MFA not to be intimidated by his list of
accomplishments. Of course, he said, that’s just what he puts up on the
website. He’s not going to put up the rejection letters, which he receives just
as much as anyone else. And he offered a hearty chuckle when I asked him if he
has the ‘Midas Touch.’
My memoir is set up in such a way
that the chapters can stand-alone as individual pieces, and those individual
pieces have won awards both local and national. Those individual pieces have
been published, but as a whole the book has not been picked up. I think it’s
just a matter of time, though.
One of the things I said to myself
when I graduated from the MFA program was ‘I will always have something out for
consideration for publication, always.’ Anything: A poem, a book, an essay,
several poems, several essays . . . always have something. And I’ve been true
to that. When I first started sending
work out, I put it in a chart in a word processing program and as it developed
I thought ‘maybe I should make this into a spreadsheet.’ But I never did.
Because what I really want is to make it into a database. Believe it or not,
that’s a literary goal. So I’ll know where to go and where not to go.
I definitely (still) have more
things rejected than published. I think that’s pretty common. Even with the
pressures of law school, I’ve still been able to send out things. I’ve stayed
true to my goal. And I do get
things published. I just had a book of poetry accepted in April, and it will be
coming out in June of this year. I’m kind of excited about it.
The other thing that goes through
my mind is that while it’s nice to have a book of poetry published, I still
don’t think of myself as primarily a poet. Poetry is just half of it. The other
half is this memoir. This book may
open the door to more publication opportunities in the future. It’s there, it’s
waiting, it’s happening.
Does Medeiros, as a poet and a popular reader, have a
preference between reading poetry to a live audience, or publishing written
work? Which feeling does he follow? After confessing “Everyone likes being read
to” he went on to say this:
I co-curate a GLBT reading series
called ‘Queer Voices.’ It’s a series where people of that community can engage
in a kind of dialogue without pressure or discrimination or judgment. That’s
been going on since 2005. What’s nice
about that is that I co-curate it with Andrew Jenkins (another MFA student) so
we get a captive audience and can perform our own stuff as well as to showcase
artists with important voices.
There’s something more permanent
about a book of poetry, but I do love reading to people. When we do the Queer
Voices readings—the next one is March 27th (the 4th
Tuesday in March), and one of our readers is a law professor—here at Hamline,
the benefit is you don’t just have an audience. The literature you’re reading
becomes a tool to unify community. Now you’ve got more than an audience in
front of you, you’ve got this new community you’ve created. People respond to
that. People respond to each other.
After a conversation with Medeiros, you understand that his
success is no accident: it’s a combination of dedication to his goals and
patient training in his craft, rather than some sort of magic. In the future,
Minnesota writers might refer to a good run of success in publishing and awards
as the “Medeiros Touch,” but time will tell on that legend.
More about John Medeiros' work and readings can be found at http://www.jmedeiros.net
More about the "Queer Voices" reading series, future dates, readers, etc. at the Intermedia Arts website
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Alumni at Work
Read about what alums Cynthia French, MFA '03, and Geoff Herbach, MFA '06, are up to.
Visual art by MALS alumna featured at the Smithsonian
Loretta Bebeau MALS '98 was one of fifty-five artists chosen to exhibit her work in “Revealing Culture,” a juried exhibition at the Smithsonian’s International Gallery at the S. Dillon Ripley Center from June 9 through August 29, 2010. “Revealing Culture,” touted by critics as a “groundbreaking exhibit on disability,” featured more than 130 works of art in a wide range of media. The four works chosen for the exhibit visually document how hearing loss affects communication.
Bebeau is a full-time artist who has been creating art for twenty years. In fall 2010, she showed work at the Bloomington Art Center (1800 W Shakopee Rd. Bloomington, MN 55431) as part of the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota (WARM) Mentor/Protégé exhibit.
A reflection by Loretta Bebeau MALS '98
During the past ten years I have used the English alphabet to represent conversation, memory, or emotion in conceptual drawings and collages. This evolved into nine-part grids with graphite-stenciled letters on sheet rock. Not much attention was given to them, and no gallery wanted to show them, but the works were addictive; I was working under compulsion.
When a call for entry arrived for the "Revealing Culture" exhibit, I realized that this could be the perfect opportunity to test the strength of my concepts. I sent off the required written materials and the four images, then forgot about it. Ten months later I received notice that all four works would be included. I was absolutely shocked, but thrilled. There's a lot of work to making boxes and shipping art. It's behind the scene, unseen. I'm a small artist with a small budget, so it was my job to invent the safe carton for fragile material, then build and ship.
But almost immediately I began to think about the implications of graphite on sheet rock. I wanted to make notable new works that showed depth.
The works in "Revealing Culture" addressed hearing loss. Communication is a game of chance, and searching for words is part of that game. Vowels are the most easily heard, but consonants form structure and meaning. Walls function in the hearing process by bouncing sound waves. The graphite letters represent human presence and sink into the piece, but the addition of paint brings us back to the present moment and sits on the surface. The viewer is simultaneously in and out, held in suspension.
I have deliberately chosen mundane sheet rock, a marginal material. The choice allows me to examine marginality rather than individual emotion. Marginality is a social construct. Mixing mundane material with fine-art material (and the formal grid) changes the work to high-art, an art category concerned with social values. My works transcend emotional expression to become social statement.
The curators at the Smithsonian understand the social implications of art, and I was lucky to be ready with art that fulfilled their search. Having one's art selected for an exhibit that three curators intend to "break ground" is a beginning, not the finish line. I will use the opportunity to curate exhibits, speak about art in our society, and of course create new works of art.
Welcome to the first GLAAS Alumni Corner!
With the support of the university and the efforts of alumni volunteers, we are pleased to announce that GLAAS is the new alumni organization of Hamline's Graduate School of Liberal Studies. We've been busy for the last year, hosting events such as the Green Light Send-Off for graduates in the spring and a potluck "Thank You" dinner for faculty this past fall. We've reached out to alumni via email and surveys, and we're working to make communication even more effective. In recent months, we've met to plan and consider upcoming social events and professional opportunities. We are underway, and there is room for you. We invite all interested alumni to attend upcoming GLAAS planning meetings and events.
Submissions: In each issue of The Exchange, Alumni Corner will be devoted to GLAAS and will feature a piece written by an alum. Though not a venue for creative work, we seek submissions of short essays, articles, and book reviews on topics of interest. Please send submissions to Annette Schiebout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Connecting: This Place & These Peopleby Beth Mayer MFA ‘07
I remember the first night of my Core class in the MFA program at Hamline University. Deborah Keenan, who already had me enthralled, leaned in and said, “I’m going to tell you the truth. I don’t know what you will give up in order to make graduate school work, but you will need to give up something. For instance, some television.” I remember being alarmed. As a mother with two young children, my life was already full. I was lucky to have gotten to class on time. Lucky to have a pen in my hand. What would I give up? Deborah Keenan was right, of course, but I still didn’t get it. I had every intention of compartmentalizing my life in an effort to heed my professor’s advice.
A confession: It’s laughable now as I’ve been proven so irrevocably wrong, but initially, I decided that it would be best not to make any real friends in graduate school. I’d be polite, of course. (I have manners and want people to like me.) But I already had enough friends. (See full-life.) And I was a serious student—about writing; publishing; observing my gifted professors at their craft; learning from them in every possible way; getting a position teaching college upon graduation. Serious, serious.
Thankfully, the very nature of Hamline’s Graduate School of Liberal Studies conspires against such didactic thinking. This graduate work is not about compartmentalization; it is about connections. Everything needed to shift, yes, but it was to make room in me (my waking and even my dreaming self) so that I could fully participate in that extraordinary, but limited, season of my life. And it didn’t take long for me to recognize my classmates for who they were: these lovers of words (and ideas and language and questions and humor) were my people. Lucky for me, they took me in.
Oh, and along the way? All my serious, serious professional goals are coming to fruition. And I thank my time at Hamline for this. At Hamline, I was compelled to realign, to engage as a full participant, and to become genuinely connected not only to my work and the work of others, but to the people I now have the honor of knowing and the place that has changed my life.
So, now what?
We’re all busy. (See your own full-life.) But GLAAS is getting busy, too. If you aren’t finished with Hamline yet, if you want to remain connected to these people and this place, if you are interested in events and activities and professional work where the pleasure of ideas and language intersect—join us.
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