Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Today I attended the second day of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers conference. There were several highlights, including watching Miriam Alves perform her poetry in her roda aesthetic. She was so dynamic and beautiful to watch/listen to.

Angie Cruz presented some interesting points on key elements of Caribbean aesthetics, influences and connections between works. A science teacher, Sandra Inniss, gave a beautiful presentation on everyday Caribbean women's oral history.

The conference is going through Saturday, but we'll be heading out to the Dominican Republic for the summer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The postcards for my novel, Erzulie's Skirt, arrived today. They're gorgeous!


The text on the back reads:

Erzulie's Skirt
by Ana-Maurine Lara

Set in the age of urbanization in the Dominican Republic over the course of several lifetimes, Erzulie's Skirt is a tale of how women and their families struggle with love, tragedy and destiny. Told from the perspectives of three women, Erzulie's Skirt takes us from rural villages and sugar cane plantations to the slums of Santo Domingo, and through the journey by yola across the sea between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It is a compelling love story that unearths our deep ancestral connections to land, ritual and memory.

Order through your local independent bookseller, or contact:

RedBone Press
phone/ 202-667-0392
fax/ 301-559-5239

ISBN: 0-9786251-0-2

Cover art by Wura-Natasha Ogunji
Cover design by E.M. Corbin

Go on - order it! It's beautiful.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Here I am, my second to last night in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We made this journey last Tuesday and arrived in time for the National Latino Writers Conference, which was a lot of fun. I felt blessed to be in a workshop with Rudolfo Anaya, brilliant writer of Bless Me, Ultima and many other stories (Tortuga, etc). He was a lot of fun, as were the other workshop participants. Most everyone was a writer/professor and I have to say it's inspiring to see that model in action. People are teaching classes full time and writing. I always ask, thanks to P.H. and her example: do you grade or write, first? Needless to say there was an entire spectrum of responses, all very interesting.

I think some of the highlights for me were: the workshop with Rudolfo Anaya, Levi Romero's reading of his poem Gavilan from the collection In the Gathering of Silence; Monica Brown's reading of her children's book My name is/Me Llamo Celia about la diva Celia Cruz; Denise Chavez's performance of her Taco Stories (which completely resonated with Laurie Carlos' performance "The Cooking Show" earlier this year); Rosa Beltran's platica on the interactions between the reader and the protagonists on the page; talking with Luis Urrea about the love of writing, and man: profound insights into the balance of our spirits; reading and listening to the work of so many brilliant Latino/Chicano writers.

By the way, I started crying at two points this weekend. And that's a big deal. I don't cry easily - only when I'm profoundly moved. The first was because of the poem Gavilan and the second was in talking with Denise Chavez - when she mentioned a piece she's working on about sorting through beans, which was really about how we as women pass on hope (at least it was for me). She'll have to say more on it, but let's just say that art is powerful.

Thanks to the suggestion of one of the participants - also a Lara (thanks M.!), I got to think about the books that move me/inspire me...that I love. So I thought I would produce a short list of authors who I love, and whose work moves me or profoundly affects my thinking about my own writing.

Here we go.

Louise Erdrich (both her fiction and poetry)
Octavia Butler (We miss you, Octavia...the Parables are amazing)
Ursula K LeGuin
James Baldwin
Zora Neale Hurston (of course)
Ben Okri, Ben Okri, Ben Okri
Leslie Marmon Silko (Almanac of the Dead is one of my favorite books of all time)
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Jorge Luis Borges
Rosario Ferre (Vecindarios Excentricos)
Ana Castillo (Watermelon Woman/Opaque Men is currently turning me out...I'm on my third reading of it as I try to unpack all of her references)
Audre Lorde (Zami: A Biomythography as well as her poetry)
Mario Vargas Llosa
Carlos Fuentes
Isabel Allende (Eva Luna is a book I pick up at different points in my life to read as if for the first time)
Gloria Naylor (Mama Day)
Sharon Bridgforth (Love/Conjure Blues)
Umberto Eco (when I'm feeling in the mood for mysteries involving conspiracies)
Orhan Pamuk (My Name is Red, copy of My Name is Red - gifted to me - is slowly losing its pages)
Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima)
Renee Gladman (The Journey, The Activist)
Sherwin Bitsui
Clarice Lispector (The Hour of the Star)

And that's to name a few. Yeah - I would say that these are the people I'm thinking about when I'm writing. The way they use language, images, and structure. Or, just that they tell a good story. I like good stories.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

This was the entrance to the performance space for our piece, Serving Desire, which was performed at the Center for African & African American Studies, May 2006.

This is behind the scenes. We serve 10 courses, so usually, we set up all the "dishes" and performance items up prior to heading out into the dinner space.

Here I am drawing the veve on the table.

And the final table installation around which guests sit.

An installation in the space.

Details of Oshun's Altar.

Our costumes... Wura-Natasha's references Nigerian/Yoruba aesthetics; Ana Lara's (mine) references Dominican voudoun/gaga aesthetics.

This is the dinner table after the performance. Traces of peoples' presence, conversations lingering in the air, finger markings along the edges of the table cloth and placemats.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Austin Project is completely over for this season/semester. We had a training this past weekend and it was fabulous. Though, really, learning how to teach the Jazz Aesthetic is also learning how to live in it; it's interesting to consider living in it for moments throughout life - such as these past few months and then perhaps in the fall.

In addition to the Austin Project crew coming together, Maiana Minahal was here from Califas, gracing us with her BRILLIANCE. Amazing individual. She's an amazing poet and is also leading the Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley. It's a blessing to spend time in her light, as well as in the beauty and light of all the luminous individuals of the Project.

This coming weekend Wura-Natasha and I will be performing our dinner piece, Serving Desire and I am tremendously excited. We have two full nights (each performance is limited to 10 people), and it has been an eye-opening process to get this performance going. For one thing, we have none of our installation pieces with us (they are in New York City), so we are making the installations from scratch. Secondly, because we're in Austin, the piece itself is being informed and developed in a completely different way...
...and that is what is so eye-opening.

This is our fifth performance (SF, LA, NYC, New Mexico) and each time, the piece requires a bit of re-invention. At first, Wura and I thought it had to do with where we were in our lives and changes in our artistic vision. BUT, what I have realized, and what we have discussed, is that this piece is about re-invention, engaging our landscape (emotional, phsyical, social, political), and about the possibilities arising out of that space.

We first performed this piece four years ago at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco as part of a larger show: r(ace) x desire = [eros x ethnicity].

We called it Serving Desire because we wanted to construct a space where desire became an axis around which the language of race/ethnicity/gender/etc was collapsed. So, in the piece, we inserted ten aspects of desire, corresponding to ten forces of nature, and ten separate sensations of sound, sight, taste, smell and touch. Out of this, we also began to ask audiences to engage with cultural and ancestral memory.

Following this performance, the next full run of the dinner was in New Mexico, in Santa Fe as part of the Messenger's House show in March 2003. This time, we titled it Dinner at the Crossroads. We removed the table and had people seated on the floor:

This was not only due to the space of the performance (The Alto Street Art Barn of Santa Fe), but also to the experience we had had with a rectangular table. Having people seated in a circle meant that interactions were different. Also, in calling it Dinner at the Crossroads, and inserting a center pole into the installation, we were moving away from focusing on the desires and more on the individual experience of nature's forces and possibilities. In other words - asking people to contemplate every moment as an opportunity for openness and growth. These were two incredible performances -

Our most "recent" performance, which in fact was not all that recent - it was in July 2004 - was in New York City. We decided that in New York, it would be interesting to explore the idea of performances in peoples' homes. We didn't fully explore that route, but we had one dinner in the home of Margarita Garcia & Daniel Liao. And that was also completely different. Though we maintained the name of Dinner at the Crossroads, we created our own center pole, an entirely new table cloth and installation. Within that performance, we were most interested in the idea that food, desire, and understandings of nature are completely influenced by cultural lenses and ancestral memory. As we described it then:

"Dinner at the Crossroads is an interrogation of place, race, and interaction via the vehicle of performance. In this piece, we are telling stories through visual, performative and written languages that touch upon the nuances of human interaction (sensuality), ancestral and living memory, historical consciousness and spiritual force.

In African cosmologies, the crossroads is a symbol of possibility, the place of facing fears, the moment where embodied spirits and ethereal spirits interact. It is also a place of loss, change, and redefinition. The crossroads is a place of beginnings.

The installation that forms the space of the performance is symbolically placed at the crossroads between this world and the next: around a center pole. Through the symbol of the center pole, taken out of popular religious practices in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, participants in the performance engage in forming both an altar and a table to share with each other. The visual language of the piece consists of ritual objects, everyday items, and a written story embedded in the brightly colored cloth draping that surrounds the center area. The written story is inspired by the sensual aspects of desire and memory.

Conceptually, the piece asks questions that are confronted in the development of American identities: What are the existing socio-political and historical factors affecting our individual and collective understandings of ethnicity and race? How do our ancestral heritages, and the deep knowledge that comes from our ancestors, affect these understandings? What powers do we have to affect changes in our socio-political surroundings and how doe these powers manifest? And, finally, what are the limitations of language in speaking of these concepts and in interacting, and how do we overcome those limitations - as individuals and communities, as nations and as a region? "

And I suppose that is where we find ourselves right now: at a new interrogation of place, language, memory, art...possibilities. We have gone back to calling the piece Serving Desire, because we are interested in asking the audience to consider desire as a manifestation of history and complex emotional possibilities. Because we always get to have a question and answer period after the performance, we'll get to see where this setting, this landscape, this energy takes the piece and us as artists.