Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Writer's Festival at Whittier College

I have been attending the writer's festival at Whittier College for the past two days. On Monday, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz read from his prize-winning play "Anna in the Tropics." He also read from his upcoming new play called "Interpreter of Desires." The latter is about an American man who is living in Cuba at the brink of the revolution and who hires an actress to play the part of a woman he loves but who has gone missing. Nilo talked about his life, things that inspire him, ideas on how to write plays and how he does not really think that there is such a thing as a writer's block. It was quite an evening.
Yesterday, I found myself yet again in Shannon Center at Whittier College listening to two extraordinary women of Persian and Palestinian descent talking about their lives, and afterward reading aloud their poetry. Sholeh Wolpe read a few poems from three different books "Rooftops of Tehran," "Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad," and "The Scar Saloon." Her poems are simple, honest, yet powerful and will shake you to your core. She makes you think about the politics of a nation through what the individual has suffered. Some of the poems she read were quite serious, heavy and laden with beautiful imagery and metaphor. She also read a couple that were more on the light-hearted side.
Nathalie Handal having been raised in Latin America, having lived in France and now New York is a treasure-trove of languages and cultures. This really comes across in her writing and in her reading style. The gesture of her fingers would remind me of an Arabic woman's gesture, while the sway of her hips and the intensity of her delivery made me think of someone from the Caribbean or Latin America.
I could identify parts of my life with both of these women. They are both first generation Americans, both of them poets, both of them have written extensively about political strife in their native lands, and both can bring this about through the human element. I am thankful to my friend Tony Barnstone who invited me to these readings and who himself happens to be an excellent poet.

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