Tag Archives: literary

Rejoicing in the Church of Poetry



I’m coming off a high after graduation last month. I finished the Stonecoast M.F.A. Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine, a two-year journey I started for time to write and complete another manuscript to shop around.

It allowed me to expand my network, see Maine (a place I otherwise would not have visited), and to work with National Book Award Finalist Tim Seibles. While he was the hook, Stonecoast introduced me to other faculty members with invaluable insights: Marilyn Nelson, Joy Harjo, Scott WolvenAnnie Finch, David Anthony Durham, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Suzanne Strempek Shea, and Cait Johnson.

That high, in part, resulted from my last residency experience—where I spoke on a panel about third semester projects, introduced Tim Seibles before his reading and Q&A, conducted an hour-long seminar on collaborations, and got an amazing intro from Tim at the Graduating Student Reading. My wife, parents, and sister flew in, met the faculty, and fellow Stonecoasters.

I rode that high back to D.C., determined that nothing would kill it—not even Alexandra Petri’s Washington Post column “Is Poetry Dead?,” which dumped Poetry in a hospice. “Can a poem still change anything?” she wrote. “I think the medium might not be loud enough any longer.” That most people I encounter share Petri’s sentiment doesn’t surprise me. In fact, the anti-poetry comments bombard me: from my dad constantly asking how writers feed themselves, to “good for you” responses after people hear I’m a published poet, to the forced smile my wife’s sorority sister gave me when she found out what an M.F.A. (Masters of Fine Arts) was and what I studied.

I shook my head after a poetry buddy told me about an unsuccessful spoken word artist who recently said, “I don’t do that poetry shit anymore.” When the anti-poets spew their rhetoric, I’m grateful for this excerpt of Donald Hall’s 1989 essay, “Death to the Death of Poetry”:

After college many English majors stop reading contemporary poetry. Why not? They become involved in journalism or scholarship, essay writing or editing, brokerage or social work; they backslide from the undergraduate Church of Poetry. Years later, glancing belatedly at the poetic scene, they tell us that poetry is dead. They left poetry; therefore they blame poetry for leaving them. Really, they lament their own aging. Don’t we all? But some of us do not blame the current poets.

The Church of Poetry ain’t short on hallelujahs—not when poetry’s still read at weddings and funerals, not when people turn to poets or attempt to write their own verse on Valentine’s Day or anytime they declare their love for someone special. Could it be what Cait Johnson once said, that “poetry is a shortcut to empathy,” and that “poetry gets at the soul faster”?

My soul sambaed the evening I watched a couple wait for a table at the 14th and V streets Busboys and Poets in D.C. Attempting to woo his wife, the husband pulled a random poetry book off the shelf, an action prompted by his wife’s question some time before: “Why don’t you read me poetry?”

After reading a few poems aloud, he said, “This is really good.” He bought the book, then, hearing the author was present, asked the poet to pose with him for a photo. When the host called their name, the husband shook the poet’s hand and said that book will help their marriage.


(PHOTO: DC Creative Writing Student sharing their work at the annual hArtworks reading.

The gospel doesn’t stop there. I’d love to take Alexandra Petri to Hart Middle School in D.C.’s most neglected community (the Congress Heights neighborhood in the city’s southeast quadrant). Every week, she’d see kids, who thought they didn’t like poetry, laughing as they scribbled their raps.

She’d see a 7th grader sweat each line of his poem about going to visit his dad’s grave that day after school. She’d see an 8th grader writing about her dual heritages (a Jamaican dad and Panamanian mom).

If after all that, Petri said, “That’s nice, but shouldn’t they be doing something more practical,” I’d turn her attention to a 2007 interview, where Bill Moyers asked poet Martín Espada the same thing. “Well, for me, poetry is practical,” Espada said. “Poetry will help them survive to the extent that poetry helps them maintain their dignity, helps them maintain their sense of self respect. They will be better suited to defend themselves in the world. And so I think it– poetry makes that practical contribution.”

I’d love to take Petri to Duke Ellington School of the Arts on the well-to-do side of town, where she’d see  a 10th grader using poetry to deal with her mother’s passing last year. I wonder how she’d feel about her thesis after watching a classroom of students fired up after reading a poem about the ill-treatment of a hit and run victim.

I wish she could hear those 10th graders calling America on her hypocrisies before writing their own poems in the hit and run victim’s voice—addressing the drivers who honked their horns, the detectives who swapped jokes above her, or the shaken witness who stole the crime scene spotlight. I’d turn to Petri and–imitating Espada’s voice–say, “You just saw poetry make ‘…the abstract concrete…the general specific and particular.'”

(PHOTO: Stock Image)

I’d recommend the Post columnist shadow poet Patricia Smith on one of her school visits through Chicago. I’d like to see Petri’s reaction when Nicole asks Smith to help her remember her mother she lost to drug addiction.

I’d send Petri to Durham, NC, where Dr. Randall Horton brings poetry to a halfway house where he was once a resident. I could imagine Petri speechless, watching those men and women count haiku syllables on their fingers. She might even yell “Damn!” when a guy’s poem reminisces about a fine woman’s sundress that was “ghetto dandelion yellow.”

It’s obvious Alexandra Petri’s out of the loop. “The problem with her column is simple. It’s breathtakingly uninformed,” DC poet Joseph Ross wrote in a blog post, which listed a literary institution and contemporary local poets. Ross even offered to show Petri other places where Poetry lives in D.C. “Alexandra, let me take you to a poetry reading,” he wrote. “Let me introduce you to the poetry world in Washington, D.C., that I know. Maybe I’ll even give you a poetry book.”

And that’s nice, considering what every poet wanted to give Petri. Her column wasn’t just “breathtakingly uninformed”; it was offensive. The poets expressed this through the cyber beat down they gave Petri. I’m talking about angry comments posted to her column, an open letter with a reading list, and “irate tweets calling me ‘pretty [expletiving] stupid,’” Petri recalled in a follow-up column, retracting her initial thesis.

But a few thrown stones don’t stop the Church of Poetry from rejoicing, which brings me back to my high and my M.F.A. degree. I could go into what poetry did for me, but I’ve done that enough (plus, it’s on my “About” page). For those who don’t know, this Poetry Church is so funky the gospel wafts like cannabis clouds in a hotboxed car. We welcome nonbelievers to catch contact highs. There’s always room in the cipher.


Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Essay


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Fundraiser for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop

(PHOTO: DC Creative Writing Workshop)

Those who can’t make this event, or who live out of the area, can support our work by visiting our donations page here.

Join us Sept. 20 at the 5th and K streets Busboys and Poets for a fundraiser benefit to support the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop.

For 12 years, the Workshop’s used arts education to transform the lives of kids living in D.C.’s Congress Heights neighborhood, an often forgotten part of the city.

With a fundraising goal of $50,000, we need everyone’s help. Please spread the word!

Come out and support the work of the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop that’s resulted in thousands of students attending readings, plays and other literary events, winning dozens of writing awards, and enjoying a wealth of new experiences not otherwise available to young people in Ward 8.

Many of the Workshop’s graduates have gone on to study at New York University, George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, to name a few. One former student went to Harvard. Another, who graduated from George Mason University and continued his studies at Loyola University Law School, earned a paid summer internship at a Minneapolis law firm. Several former writing club members have graduate degrees or are working on them.

(Visit our website for additional information. Read why 2012 was the best year ever for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop. You can also keep up with what’s going on with the Workshop by visiting our Facebook page or reading our blog.)

(PHOTO: DC Creative Writing Club)

Come out Sept. 20 and meet the staff while enjoying delicious finger foods, a reading by our students, and a screening of one of our films. There’s no cover. Come ready to give! If we reach our fundraising goal, all staff members will shave their heads!

Donation amounts and giveaways are as follows:

$50+ will receive an issue of hArtworks!, the nation’s only inner-city public middle school literary magazine. It is written and edited by students in the after-school writing club at Charles Hart Middle School.

$100+ get the latest issue of hArtworks! and a free journal

$250+ get a DVD of one of our movies, the latest issue of hArtworks! and a free journal

$500+ get all three DVDs of our movies, three issues of hArtworks! and a free journal

Reminders will go out as the date gets closer. Tell a friend! Let’s pack the 5th and K streets Busboys and Poet’s Cullen Room Thursday, Sept. 20.

See you there!


Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Residency and Immersion

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Jaed Coffin grew up in Maine and has worked as a boxer and lobsterman before becoming a writer and Stonecoast MFA faculty member.

Jaed Coffin’s goal is to aim for the big idea when he’s working on a writing project, often immersing himself in his subjects’ worlds. And he didn’t expect anything less from his students, who he urged yesterday to do their subjects’ stories justice by giving readers the big picture.

There was a lot to take away from Coffin’s presentation YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS SH*T UP!: An Introduction to Immersion/Literary/Longform Journalism. Yesterday was also the second day of the Stonecoast MFA summer residency, which started with a tour of the Stone House for first semester students by journalist and author Sam Smith, who spent his childhood summers living in the Casco Bay waterfront estate.

I came back this year as a fourth semester student, who for the last six months worked on my third semester project (a creative collaboration with a comic strip artist that produced a comic book) while starting a new job and promoting my debut poetry collection in addition to getting married.

And I’m still charged from Friday’s Flash Faculty Reading, where Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of the novel WENCH, peeled our wigs back with a short story she hadn’t published yet. The award-winning writer, who’s also a former University of California postdoctoral fellow and graduate of Harvard, is guest faculty at this residency. I enjoyed talking to Perkins-Valdez about married life (she’s going on nine years) and appreciated her insights on parenting.

Just as priceless was my first day in the cross genre workshop Explorations in Masculinity, co-facilitated by David Anthony Durham and Jaed Coffin. What’s interesting is there are only two guys in this workshop of seven students. Yesterday, we started our workshop in a room at the Stone House, where we have all our workshops and presentations.

This grand estate is striking with its multiple stone porches and fireplaces. The beautiful stained glass, wood, and tile work are as breathtaking as the ocean view from each room. On the extensive grounds of the Stone House are rocky pathways to harbor vistas, nationally renowned heather gardens, and historically organic farmland.

I was glad that Durham and Coffin took the workshop to the deck behind the house, where our conversations flowed from different male archetypes presented in Twilight and Harry Potter, to the dominant-submissive theme in contemporary literature. We also talked about so-called traditional male types that over-populated action flicks. Coffin asked us if those guys even existed.

(PHOTO: Selectism) Gay Talese, author and pioneer of literary journalism.

That question about the truth was a great lead  up to Coffin’s presentation on literary journalism, or what he called narrative nonfiction. “To me, it’s the least pretentious term,” he said. It’s also a form of long journalism pioneered by writer Gay Talese, who wrote the most memorable profile of Frank Sinatra for Esquire more than four decades ago.

As the story goes, Talese came to  Los Angeles to profile Sinatra. “The legendary singer was approaching fifty, under the weather, out of sorts, and unwilling to be interviewed,” according to Esquire’s editorial note. “So Talese remained in L.A., hoping Sinatra might recover and reconsider, and he began talking to many of the people around Sinatra—his friends, his associates, his family, his countless hangers-on—and observing the man himself whenever he could.” This resulted in the 11,000-word article “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” that Esquire published April 1966.

Coffin used the profile as a great example of  the three-part zoom functions used by literary journalists. At 1X (wide frame): the writer captures the subject’s environment, atmosphere, regionalism, culture, subculture, race, identity, and class. The writer zooms in to 2X (narrow focus), where they capture the subject’s home, community, family, past, genealogy, origins and lore. Then, at 3X (narrower focus), the writer zooms directly on the subject. At this focal point, the writer  captures the subject’s eyes, ears, speech, charms, patterns of behavior, clothing, and so on.

Talese does that throughout his profile of Sinatra. That long-form of journalism is defined by an Esquire editor as “a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.”

That struck a chord with Coffin, who at 18, knew he wanted to be a writer. At first, he tried his hand at fiction. “The first novel I tried to write [then] I got 25 pages into it and lost myself,” said the Stonecoast instructor, whose passion followed him from undergrad at New England’s Middlebury College through graduation, when he moved back home with his mom and took a job as a lobsterman while he worked on his writing. “I kept using reality as an amplified spring-board,” he said, to do the type of writing he wanted.

(PHOTO: Courtesy) A 21-year-old Jaed Coffin spent a summer in a Buddhist monastery.

Then the literary inertia pulled him to nonfiction when writing the truth became beneficial. “Most of the time truth is better than fiction,” Coffin said. “The social aspect of nonfiction is why I’m in the game. Nonfiction has this beautiful social element. You get to be out in the world.”

Coffin’s explorations took him from Brunswick, Maine, to his mother’s native village in Thailand, where he became a Buddhist monk after his junior year at Middlebury College.

He captured that experience in his memoir A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants (Da Capo/Perseus), which is a tale of displacement, ethnic identity, and cultural belonging. According to the book jacket, it’s also a record of Coffin’s “time at the temple that rain season–receiving alms in the streets in saffron robes; bathing in the canals; learning to meditate in a mountaintop hut; and falling in love with Lek, a beautiful Thai woman who comes to represent the life he can have if he stays.”

The other benefits of writing nonfiction are just as alluring. “You make a lot of money and get to hang out with people,” Coffin said. “You also get to use every skill that fiction writers and poets use.” He’s currently working those skills in Roughhouse Friday (Riverhead/Penguin), his forthcoming book about the year he fought as the middleweight champion of a barroom boxing show in Juneau, Alaska.

Though he loves the adventure, Coffin advised it’s not a prerequisite to writing narrative nonfiction. “Do not feel like, because you have a domestic life, you cannot do literary journalism,” he said. “Reality, on its own terms, is strange and full of conflict. You just have to be patient enough to dig up the conflict.”


Posted by on July 8, 2012 in Article, Feature


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Get Ready For Split This Rock!

(PHOTO: Nancy Bratton Design)

I don’t know about the other attendees, but I’m still swooning from Jan Beatty’s reading at Split This Rock 2010.

That year marked the second time for the biennial literary festival that Sarah Browning started as a way of providing a “permanent home for progressive poets.”

Since it started in 2008, Split This Rock has attracted high-profile participants such as Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, Dennis Brutus, Mark Doty, Carolyn Forche, and Sharon Olds. The inaugural festival even got Washington Post reporter David Montgomery to pay attention.

“The poets are in town. Dozens — no, hundreds. Hundreds of poets. Can you imagine?” Montgomery wrote in his article Averse To War: “They are everywhere.

“In long, disheveled columns, they are prowling Langston Hughes’s old neighborhood around U Street NW. They are eating catfish at Busboys and Poets (where else?) and quoting Hughes, Shelley and Whitman back and forth — ‘Through me many long dumb voices’ — over the hummus and merlot.

“They are signing fans’ battered paperbacks and shiny new ones bought on credit (autographs!). They are squinting from the stage into the cathedral depths of a filled high school auditorium, amazed at the turnout. They are sharing with preschoolers the miracle of closely observed turtles and infinity in a drop of water.”

(PHOTO: Jill Brazel Photography) The late-poet Dennis Brutus reading at the inaugural festival.

The poets at the 2010 festival–which included Chris Abani, Cornelius Eady, and Martin Espada–came at time when the U.S. was in two wars, dealing with struggling economic recovery, and a host of other social and environmental ills. Despite those issues, the artists are still optimistic.

And Sarah Browning’s shining the bat signal again this year for all “poets, writers, artists, activists, dreamers and all concerned world citizens” to meet in DC March 22-25 and demand social justice, “imagine a way forward and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change,”  according to Split This Rock’s website.

Among those poets and dreamers at the 2010 conference was Jan Beatty, who gave a hell of a reading from her third collection Red Sugar. I didn’t see her coming like a southpaw’s punches. Other poets who brought down the house included Patricia Smith, Jeffrey McDaniel, and Toni Asante Lightfoot.

They’ll join for four days of readings, open mics, Poetry in the Streets, and a book fair. The theme for this year’s conference is “Poetry by and for the 99%!”–a shout out to the nationwide occupiers protesting from their tent towns.

“As people’s movements ignite here at home and throughout the world in response to economic inequality, political repression, and environmental degradation, the festival will consider the relationship of poets and poetry to power and to the challenges to power,” according to the web site.

(PHOTO: Lynda Koolish) June Jordan

This year’s festival, marking the 10th anniversary of June Jordan‘s death, will honor the life and work of the late-poet, essayist, teacher and activist.

For more information or to register now, go to

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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Announcements, Review


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The Journey Home

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Ray Gonzalez

Poet and essayist Ray Gonzalez  once wrote that “home is…the place where an inner being begins and ends.” That’s probably the best definition of the theme woven through Linda Buckmaster’s presentation The Return: Writers Consider Homeplace, which seemed symbolic since there’s one-day left of the Stonecoast MFA summer residency.

I spent eight days hanging with poets, aspiring novelist and creative nonfiction writers. I gained a wealth of knowledge from my peers and instructors in both the workshops and presentations. I got to hang with Tim “the man” Seibles, Patricia “you don’t want it” Smith, and the great Scott Wolven.

I saw Smith and Joy Harjo bring the house down with their performances at Space Gallery in downtown Portland, Maine. My homey Melody Fuller (watch out for her memoir coming soon) hosted an elegant dinner party for me and other members of the newly formed Black Student Union (of which Woven’s an honorary member) at the bed and breakfast she stayed in Freeport.

I’ve enjoyed everything (even the party tonight that Smith’s Djing), but my feelings echo Gonzalez’s other definition for the theme of Linda Buckmaster’s graduating student presentation. He wrote, “Home is the generator of longing.” I miss my fiancée and my bed. Waiting for me an hour-flight away are the sounds of gallon bucket drummers, sticks rapping on cowbells and hands smacking out conga rhythms—all of which make up DC’s soundtrack.

(PHOTO: Mattijn Franssen)

My longing for home echoes those of the six writers in Buckmaster’s presentation. Borrowing from Gonzalez’s definition of home as “the place where our inner being begins and ends,” the grad student described homeplace as a physical place where a significant event shapes the writer. “It is the act of them going back to that place that helps them see that shift inside themselves,” she said.

During her presentation, Buckmaster focused on the “Then (provincial) and Now (sophisticated),” which essayist and critic Sven Birkerts defined in his essay “The Time of Our Lives” from his collection The Art of Time in Memoir. He wrote that the past deepens and gives “authority to the present, and the present (just by virtue of being invoked)” creates “the necessary depth of field for the persuasive idea of the past.”

Of the six writers, Gonzalez was interesting. In his essay “The Border is Open” from his collection The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape, Gonzalez wrote about his journey back to his childhood home in the desert surrounding El Paso. Gone for 25 years, he returns as both native and tourist.

Gonzalez alluded to Buckmaster’s point of how time away and the return home help writers see their inner shift. “I have produced a large body of work that could not have been written if I had stayed in west Texas,” he wrote. “I had to leave my home two decades ago to be a writer…with a more objective view of how a childhood of isolation influenced the way I respond to the world.”

(COVER ART: Courtesy)

I couldn’t imagine leaving behind everyone I love to spend 25 years trying to be a writer. Ten days away at an MFA low-residency is long enough.

In this morning’s poetry workshop, Joy Harjo unknowingly added context to Gonzalez’s journey while speaking about the spiritual energy of poems.”If there’s a disturbance of home…it’s…on so many levels,” she said. “The person goes out into the world still dealing with that disturbance.”

Gonzalez was dealing with racism in his high school, his parents’ divorce, and his dreams of succeeding in careers that never materialized at home. Coming back after 25 years, the poet’s dealing with another type of disturbance. “Much of the desert where I wandered as a boy is gone, replaced by strip malls and new housing that cover the trails I used to explore alone,” he wrote. “I find more houses in El Paso with iron bars on the windows…with the exception of my mother’s house.” Gonzalez added, “These stark but complex images are the first I see each time I visit.”

Since he left home in 1979, the poet noted the difficulty of creating a sense of home in other cities where he has lived. His home is in his memories. “The memory of the desert creates an invisible nest of roots that allows a native to wander far before finding a way back.”


Posted by on July 16, 2011 in Article


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The Residency II

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Jaed Coffin

Jaed Coffin drew a diagonal line on an easel pad and called it the spine. That’s the idea of identity, he told a room of writers at a presentation Friday. Coffin drew a wavy line that curved along the diagonal one, and called it the narrative.

Then he shaded in dots where the lines intersected. “Every time your narrative crosses the spine is a moment your reader is committed to your story,” Coffin said during his presentation The Indecent Proposal: How to Sell a Book in Fifty Pages.

His session was among the 18 of 22 Faculty Presentations that have already occurred since the Stonecoast MFA summer residency started. I’m seven days into it.

Earlier that day, we had our second poetry workshop with Joy Harjo, who’s among the faculty for this half of the residency.

The first day was amazing. Harjo gave us an in-class writing assignment to either talk to or riff off our obsessions, the thing that comes up a lot in our poems. My obsession was the city. When I read my list of things I’m drawn to in urban settings, Harjo noted that everything I listed were sounds.

On our second day with her, each person brought in a poem from a poet we considered to be our poetry ancestor. I brought in Sonia Sanchez’s poem “Ballad”. We went around the table, invoking the voices of our ancestors.

Harjo’s fascinated by dreams and what they tell us. “The dreams have been my teachers since before I was born,” she told us. “There’s a lot of material in them.” She suggested that, if we really wanted to get intense with our dreams, then we should wake ourselves up around 3 a.m. to record them.

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Joy Harjo

“A poem is an energetic system,” she said. “It’s very important, when we’re working on a poem, to pay attention to our dreams…that’s our library in a sense.”

That’s how we start every workshop session, which results in Harjo’s wise words echoing in my head throughout the day. When a workshop member asked what if you don’t dream, Harjo suggested taking a natural supplement. “If you’re not having dreams,” the instructor said, “vitamin B will trigger them.”

And that’s how it’s been these seven days—writers having deep discussions before the dew dries on the grass. So you can see how there’s so much to take in. Add both the faculty and graduating student presentations, and I’m convinced I need a second head to hold everything I’ve learned this residency.

After staring at the schedule, I settled on Jaed Coffin’s presentation on preparing an effective book proposal that delivers and sells the idea, that shows an agent/editor the writer understands his/her story, and gets them paid. According to Coffin, a pitch should have three parts: an A, B and C.

The “A” is the writer’s basic story. “In memoir, I think of this as your most raw experience,” Coffin said. On what writer’s should consider, he said, “It’s the elemental experience you triumphed [or] overcame.”

The “B” is your story’s story, which puts the situation/experience in context. “Often times, this larger story that deals with your experience deals with place, setting, era, epoch, region and issue,” Coffin said.

Then there’s “C”, the transcendental story. According to the instructor, it’s the synthetic effect of both “A” and “B”. “This,” he said, “is where the conflict and tension emerges.”

(COVER ART: De Capo Press)

Using his own autobiographic books—A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants and Roughhouse Friday—Coffin filled in the template with his experiences.

With A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants, the “A” (basic story) was the biracial American kid becomes a monk. “A simple, fundamental experience,” the instructor said. “We all have narratives with which we tell our lives.” On what writers should consider, Coffin added, “What story am I trying to tell about my character, that fundamental nugget.”

The “B” (context of situation/experience) is that his story happens in his mom’s Thai village. “There’s that one thing that tweaks the story to where they’ll be conflict,” the instructor said.

Then there’s “C” (transcendental story): the “fact I was a monk in my mom’s village complicates our idea of what it means to be American,” Coffin said.

The process was the same for Roughhouse Friday. The “A”: there’s a bar in Juneau where guys fight. “There’s something kind of charismatic about bar fights,” the instructor said. “No one looks away from a bar fight.”

The “B”: most of the guys in the bar are of Tlingit and Haida ethnicity. “Suddenly,” Coffin said, “the fight begs the question, Why?

The “C” answers that question: the guys fight because of their ethnic identity and their cultural history. This also adds to the discussion on what it means to be American. “Somehow the merging of my experience and identity come to this larger thing,” Coffin said. Without that “larger thing,” the instructor noted, the book doesn’t have staying power. “If you just want to talk about your experience, that’s fine,” Coffin said. “But I don’t think your book will last.”

Another thing that guarantees staying power is what’s called “the spine,” which Coffin defined with an excerpt from an email his editor sent him. “It’s the thing that you keep coming back to,” writes Rebecca Saletan, of Riverhead Books. “Make a lot of digressions as long as you keep coming back to the spine.”

(COVER ART: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Coffin elaborated. “No narrative is a straight line. Good books tend to meander,” he said. “Good writers always have a good sense of the spine. That’s what keeps the reader engaged.”

Among Coffin’s examples of text with “a good sense of the spine” is Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which is chronicles the struggles of the Lees, a Hmong family from Sainyabuli Province, Laos, and the misunderstandings that arise between their culture and the health care system in Merced, California.

What makes books like The Spirit Catches You successful is the “take away,” what Coffin noted makes the reader pass or recommend a book to someone else. The instructor added that most writers don’t know what the “take away” of their books are yet. “The take away is something you have to earn,” Coffin said. “I can sell a ‘C’”—the thing that’s constructed in the mind beforehand—“but I can’t sell a take away.”

When submitting a proposal to agents, the instructor noted, writers will need three things: an overview, chapter summary, and writing sample—a framework that goes against conventional wisdom, which required a longer list of items included in the proposal.

Coffin recounted a story about the mistake he made earlier in his writing career. He submitted a 140-page proposal that resembled a press kit, which included a market analysis. He advised both nonfiction and fiction writers against this. (While his presentation was for nonfiction students and the rules for other genres are slightly different, he noted that his framework also applies to fiction students.)

On bypassing conventional wisdom, Coffin said, “If you can hook an agent in five pages, to hell with a market analysis.” Chapter summaries should be no more than 15-page chapters, he noted. “Every chapter summary should have an event,” Coffin said. “A physical action should occur.”

And for nonfiction, he noted, a writing sample should be 25-65 pages. Coffin said, “No one wants to buy a 1,000-page manuscript from a no-name author.”

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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Article


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Courttia Newland’s “A Book of Blues”

(IMAGE: Flambard Press)

Fresh off a flight from London, Palermo hits the beach in Lamu. He sets out to enjoy an island he read about in an in-flight magazine while traveling to do a poetry show in Italy.

Meeting and falling for the gorgeous Salini, who’s on break from her studies and her overbearing mother, might not have been in the plans. But it’s a welcomed surprise until the ensuing drama sends him on an adventure that his travel magazine hadn’t prepared him for.

And that’s just the first story in Courttia Newland’s new collection A Book of Blues (Flambard Press, 2011). Here, disappointments stick out like loose fence wire to snag any unsuspecting passersby, strolling through the worlds of a range of characters.

“Beach Boy” is a look at love amidst ethnic tensions. Palermo, whose of Chinese and Jamaican ancestry, falls for Salini, who’s Kenyan-born and Canadian-raised. This is where the trouble starts between Palermo and the beach boys of Kenya’s Lamu Island.

Reading “Beach Boy”, I thought about the tensions between Africans on the continent and those in the Diaspora. That tension is a result of misinformation and stereotypes of each other by both groups.

I can imagine how jarring the confrontation must have been for the Afro-centric Palermo when a beach boy yells, “Ay asshole.” It gets worse when the ringleader, referring to Salini, says, “That one is mine, you know! You stay away.”

The sting comes when Palermo’s called mzungu, a Swahili term first used to describe early European explorers.

Newland brings the reader inside Palermo’s head with these details: “He wanted to shout it at them, that they were wrong and had misjudged him, that he wasn’t mzungu but one of them, a prodigal brother  returned with arms opened wide.”

Palermo’s treatment is no different from that of African Americans who make the journey to the motherland, expecting a warm reception from their distant brothers and sisters who, instead, greet them as foreigners.

(PHOTO: Lamu is Kenya’s oldest inhabited town, a place like no other, its “old town” is largely unchanged and it dates back to the 14th century.

“Beach Boy” is a look at a host of contradictions. Take the beach boys, who make their living showing foreign women a good time while becoming possessive when a foreign man falls for a woman from that island.

And what about the behaviors of the crew when an actual mzungu walks by? “The gathered beach boys raised their hands palms upwards, muttering Habari and Jambo”—Swahili greetings—“wearing smiles.”

The beach boys’ reactions speak to a higher view of European people present in the psyches of many Africans. As the situation escalates, the beach boys’ humanities get tested.

Then there’s Stone in the “Fresh for ‘88”. The aspiring emcee is anything but what his name implies. Over the summer break, he and his DJ, Reka, prepare for a rap battle/open mic competition at Scrubbs Park.

When they get there, Reka and his crew are star-struck by Westwood, a celebrity in the London hip hop scene. He’s got the outfit to match his ’88 swag: “a purple Kangol and dark shades with his trademark black bomber jacket and black 501s, a kind of punk-meets-hip-hop look.”

Courttia Newland does a wonderful job bringing the reader into the moment. I could feel my chest vibrating from “the bass echoing over the grass” when Westwood plays Rock Creek Park. I smelled the reefer-laced breeze. I saw the “pretty girl in a pink rah-rah skirt and fishnet tights, topped off with a skin-tight red T shirt.”

The slang is hip and authentic. Instead of “spitting game” to the pretty girl, Stone would have “chirped her” if he wasn’t nervous. It’s ’88, the year London goes hip hop crazy. The guys call sexy women “fit gullies”, and sneakers are “trainers”.

The poetic details in “Fresh for ‘88” are one reason I agree with Time Out Magazine calling Newland “a truly gifted storyteller.” I also agree with one writer saying, “You can almost feel the heat radiate from the page.”

Here’s a description of Scrubbs Park on the day of the rap battle: “You could see the haze of heat rise across the shorn expanse of corn-yellow grass, making hundreds of bodies shimmer like trees in a wildlife programme.”

(PHOTO: William Cooper-Mitchell)

Equally as entertaining are the events that lead up to the rap battle. As mentioned before, Stone is anything but what his name implies. He’s got bullies—P. Nutt and Sy Rocc, two well-respected and highly sought after emcees.

They catch Stone outside his boy’s house, enjoying a smoke.

P. Nutt and Sy Rocc hang him upside down and shake change from his pockets. Newland’s poetic details bring the reader inside Stone’s head at that moment. “I could hear my loose change hit the ground as though a money storm had broken somewhere above.”

What happens when Stone makes it to Reason’s room is hilarious. His boy, Reason, is chilling with the rest of the crew—Reka, MCP (“a tall dark-skinned rapper”) and Calalloo (“a stocky mixed-race MC). What sparks the banter between Stone and MCP is when Stone asks around for rolling papers:

“Why you always beggin, man? You got weed? Or d’you want us to roll it too?” MCP sneered. “Fuck you, man…” I stretched out my hand. Reason paused his game and dug in his jeans until he found a pack of blues. “Don’t try it, y’know, Stone; man’ll cuss yuh raas….” “Cuss me den! Go on, cuss me!” “Bwoy…” MCP lay back on the bed. “I don’t feel like it now…” “That’s cos you was up all night. Park bench hard innit, P?” Howls of laughter from Reason and Cal. Reka noticed the look on my face and lifted one headphone, a smile on his face. MCP’s expression stiffened. “Don’t try it, Stone…” “Tell the truth, blud; you ain’t even got a house have you? No gyal’s yard where you can lay yuh head… You grind against grass every night, innit?” Everyone laughed. Even MCP was smiling, though he was trying to hold his face rigid. Reka reached over the decks to touch me. Cal and Reason slapped palms with me, quite too hard. MCP jumped up to stop them, but he was only messing.

(PHOTO: Julia West) In 1997, Courttia Newland published his first novel, The Scholar. Further critically acclaimed work followed, including Society Within (1999) and Snakeskin (2002).

Those lines are another example of Newland’s gift of recreating a moment for the reader to experience.

“Fresh for ‘88” is a coming-of-age tale about brotherhood and heartache. It’s a love letter to that hip hop era in London.

Over there, 1988 marked “the rise of the bedroom producer…house parties…and rap battles on misty London Streets.”

In “Spider Man”, Darren and his lady seem perfect for each other. They both move through artsy circles and share a love of indie films, literature and visual art. He’s the first guy she’s liked in a long time. She’s the prettiest woman he’s ever dated.

So what goes wrong?

That’s what Darren tries to figure out when he revisits the ruined relationship like forensic scientists at a crime scene. Every bit of evidence sparks a memory. And, with each memory, Darren gets closer to the answer.

Newland’s a bad, bad man in his command of different voices that give his readers no choice but to empathize for the wounded souls in these 265 pages.

In the other 10 stories are more adventures and setbacks, both of which are part of the growing pains. After reading A Book of Blues, it becomes clear that love is as troubling as it is gratifying. But nothing in life worth having comes easy.

For more info on Courttia Newland, click here. Or click here to purchase his book.

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Posted by on May 1, 2011 in Review


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Making a Difference in Congress Heights

(PHOTO: Courtesy) James Tindle, an award-winning writer and high school senior at Booker T. Washington Charter School, is a writing club veteran.

Full disclosure: I’m the senior program director for the DC Creative Writing Workshop. The article below features the story of one of our high school students who takes part in the writing club. I thought his story was worth sharing here.

Thinking of where he would’ve ended up without the DC Creative Writing Workshop’s after-school writing club, James Tindle shook his head.

The 18-year-old’s been a part of the program since 2004, when he was a 7th grader at Charles Hart Middle School, where the Workshop operates. Considering what’s happened in his life since joining the writing club, Tindle shook his head again, thinking of the direction his life headed seven years ago.

“I don’t know, but it didn’t look good,” he said. “I was a delinquent before writing club.” He fought a lot with his peers if he attended classes at all; other times, he skipped school altogether to run the streets with his friends.

Tindle ended up in writing club when a school counselor referred him to the DC Creative Writing Workshop after he got into a fight with another kid with whom he later became friends. Through the Workshop’s unique and creative programming, Tindle learned to take his aggression to the page instead of taking it out on his classmates.

Taking it to the page, the award-winning writer excelled at Hart before enrolling into Booker T. Washington Charter School. As a result of the Workshop, the high school senior’s got a bright future ahead of him as he decides on one of the four colleges that accepted him.

Tindle’s story is just one of many students making their mark in a literary renaissance going on in DC’s Congress Heights neighborhood, an often ignored part of the city.

That renaissance—which is uniting parents, teachers and students—started when Executive Director Nancy Schwalb founded the DC Creative Writing Workshop in 1995. Since then, the Workshop’s expanded from Hart to two neighboring schools, Simon Elementary and Ballou Senior High, making creative writing instruction available to nearly 600 new students in fourth through twelfth grade.

(PHOTO: DCCWW) After a group interpretation of a poem written by a famous poet, Michael Johnson hard at work on his own poem.

From September through early June, the DC Creative Writing Workshop conducts 500 classroom sessions and 120 after-school club meetings each year.

The Workshop’s writers-in-residence work with English teachers at Hart and Ballou to give intensive literary instruction to students in all grades, while Simon’s fourth and fifth graders also enjoy creative writing classes.

Sequan Wilson’s been with the writing club since he was in 8th grade. He and Tindle are among the seven young writers-in-residence the Workshop hired through its youth employment program, helping students resist the lure of the streets.

As young writers-in-residence, Wilson and Tindle assist the writers-in-residence as extra supports for classroom management and help with other administrative duties. Aware that the award-winning status makes him, Tindle and the other young writers-in-residence role models to the younger writers, Wilson’s careful not to let it go to his head.

“Truthfully, I appreciate that they look up to us,” said Wilson, 17. “But if they explore themselves, they’ll see they have just as much to offer as we do.”

Each student keeps a personal literary portfolio to document his or her progress throughout the year. As a result of the program’s expansion, club activities are open to students ages 9-19 throughout the Congress Heights neighborhood.

As a writing club member, James Tindle and Wilson worked with their friends on a variety of projects throughout the year, which included creating an original adaptation of a classical play.

This includes them reading the text of the play and rewriting it line by line before the Workshop brings in a professional director to help them rehearse and perform their work for the community.

The drama club’s updated plays by Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, and Euripides, virtually exhausting the supply of suitable plays from ancient Greece.

(PHOTO: DCCWW) Drama club members on the set of "R Town".

In 2010, the Workshop hired Tom Mallan, theater director and educator, to direct our students’ original adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” and together they created a masterpiece. “R Town,” written by and starring 40 students from our drama program, is the first feature film produced through the DC Creative Writing Workshop’s collaboration with Mallan’s Educational Theater Company.

The movie had a Hollywood-style red carpet première at the UPO/Petey Greene Center on Martin Luther King Avenue SE and a crowd of more than 100 formally attired students and their friends, parents and siblings, teachers and administrators.

The crowd overflowed the screening room as community members watched in amazement before erupting into applause as the closing credits rolled. The Washington Post covered the event. (Our home page at has links to the Post article and both the movie trailer and the entire movie.)

Since the Workshop’s expansion, students from the three schools have attended readings, plays and other literary events, won dozens of writing awards, and enjoyed a wealth of new experiences not otherwise available to young people in Ward 8.

Many writing club graduates go on to study at New York University, George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, to name a few.

One former student went to Harvard. Another, who graduated from George Mason University and just finished his first year at Loyola University Law School, earned a paid summer internship at a Minneapolis law firm. Several former writing club members have graduate degrees or are working on them.

In James Tindle’s case, he got accepted into SUNY Purchase, the American Musical Dramatic Academy (AMDA), Barry University and Virginia Union University—choices he might not have otherwise had without the DC Creative Writing Workshop that’s kept itself afloat while other nonprofits folded.

(PHOTO: DCCWW) Sequan Wilson, an award-winning writer and senior at Ballou High School, enjoys a good book after writing club.

In these hard economic times, it’s the youths who suffer when budget cuts affect funding for arts programs. The DC Creative Writing Workshop’s long history makes it the only thing constant in their lives.

It was for Tindle, who attributed his change in direction to the Workshop. “It’s all accumulated experiences—I got a chance to do poetry, act and sing,” he said. “This is where I thrive—being in this community, being around other artists.”

And while he hasn’t yet made up his mind on where he’ll go next year, Tindle’s sure about one thing: “No matter what college I go to, I want to study English, Literature and Theater.”

Interested in donating to the DC Creative Writing Workshop? Visit them online here, then click on the “Donate Now Through Network for Good” button to get involved.

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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Article


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Derrick Weston Brown’s “Wisdom Teeth”

(PHOTO: Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas) Derrick Weston Brown holds an MFA in creative writing, from American University. He is a graduate of the Cave Canem summer workshop for black poets and the VONA summer workshop.

Snagglepuss is bitter. He airs his frustrations with the Pink Panther on E! True Hollywood Story, after their short-lived love affair:

“When the big money came calling
Ol’ Pinky packed his bags and gave
me some song and dance about how
I’d never have to work again […]” (from “Snagglepuss Spills his Guts on E! True Hollywood Story”).

Then there’s Bonita Applebum. She’s not just a classic hip hop song anymore. In fact, she’s a grown woman “with a mortgage/ and two degrees under her belt” (from “Remembering Bonita Applebum”).

These are just a few of the characters that populate Derrick Weston Brown’s debut poetry collection, Wisdom Teeth. It’s an apt title for a book in which the speaker cuts his teeth on issues ranging from slavery and gentrification to love and hip hop.

I fell in love with DC all over again after reading “Missed Train”, though that poem could be a testament on dating in DC:

I smelled you at the Metro stop
Tasted you on the Yellow
Glimpsed you on the Green
Caught you on the Orange
Loved you on the Red
Lost you on the Blue

Now I need a transfer
or at least exit fare.

The elusive woman in “Missed Train” could be a metaphor for unmet expectations either on a date or in a relationship that takes us “for every dime” after investing our time in other people with no returns.

In Wisdom Teeth, the speaker’s searching for stability in every aspect of his life. It’s a journey that takes him through 110 pages and five sections—Hourglass Flow, The Sweet Home Men Series, The Unscene, Wisdom Teeth and Ajar.

(IMAGE: Courtesy of Busboys and Poets/PM Press)

And if you’re new to the city, the speaker lets you know what to expect in “What It’s Like to Date in D.C. for Those Who Haven’t”: “It’s like having a mouthful of prayers/ when all you looking for is that one/ Amen.”

Reading Wisdom Teeth, I felt like a passenger invited along for the ride, especially with the poem “Building”. The speaker’s details brought me with him into the coffee shop, where I noticed the “syrup of sunlight” like a second glaze on the wooden tabletops.

I heard the “trash talk and chuckles” of black men playing dominoes. I dug the music in “the snap crack/ of dotted flat backs” and the “dry bones/ glossy bones”.

It would have been easy to take that moment as a commentary on brotherhood and bonding, and not realize the game of bones is just a vehicle the speaker uses to drive his point home with the reader. The true commentary’s in the “steady trash talk” after “Fingers drum the table”: “I’m on my third house./ Where you at?! Jati?/ HUD is officially/ in the building!

Watching “the bones…/ like unhinged teeth”, I thought of the deteriorating houses in DC’s rundown neighborhoods. Watching as “Jati resets the fracture/ smiling as houses change ownership”, I thought of so-called neighborhood revitalization projects that displaced former residents.

And Jati’s response to his friend’s trash talking? “Eminent domain Fred!/ You getting gentrified!

I loved the speaker’s clever use of brothers bonding over a game as commentary on the changing demographics in America’s major cities. The speaker’s playful tone in “Building” reminded me how some of us use humor to help swallow those bitter truths.

What also helps those truths go down easy is the fellowship of black men  who “finish/ each other’s sentences” and chase red beans and rice “with/ rum that/ warms the gullet/ makes gut chuckles flow easy” in the poem “Kitchen Gods”.

(PHOTO: Mignonette E. Dooley) l-r: Brandon D. Johnson, Brian Gilmore, Joel Dias-Porter, Patrick Washington, Ernesto Mercer, Alan King, Fred Joiner, Derrick Weston Brown.

The men in this poem could be my dad, uncles and grandfather. These are men who “dust off/ old stories like records that hadn’t seen a turntable/ in some time.” And, contrary to masculine myths and stereotypes, these ordinary men “resuscitate the/ ghost of old lovers/ angry indifferent or otherwise.”

That resuscitation is really these guys assessing their life choices—where they’ve been and where they are now. These are hardworking men who support their families, men who’ve grown as a result of their experiences.

The physical details in “Kitchen Gods” are striking. I could see these guys mapping “[…] out/ a woman’s dimensions”, molding “hips out of thin air/ recreating/ her walk and/ arching calves.” I also saw the men dapping up each other and bumping fist “so hard/ rings skip sparks”.

I could hear the conversations punctuated with “g’dams” and “g’lords”. I even smiled at the memory of being shooed “out of the kitchen/ with gentle hands” when I was too young for the adult talk. Now that I’m old enough, I can appreciate the times I’ve been a part of “a small kitchen crew”.

One reason I love Wisdom Teeth is the poem “Gust”:

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

The sky snarled.

We heard God swallow cumulus,

stratus, and anvil headed nimbus

before the hush.

We ventured outside

Peered up into the calm.

The sky      a frosted snow globe

swirl of stars.

The moon

a glossy clear polished

fingernail sliver



(PHOTO: Courtesy)

The wind so strong

I could lean into it

arms out and not fall.

I was Pisa.

What did I know

of nature’s way

of teaching lessons?

That there is

an eye of the storm.

Watch me smile.

My back to the rifle

sight of lassoed menace

clueless to the coming stretch

and yawn of ruin.

In “Gust”, the speaker revisits Charlotte, North Carolina, ravaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I love this poem for other reasons.

(PHOTO: Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas)

If storms are metaphors for troubling times in our lives, then “Gust” speaks to the current political climate: the US military in Libya, rising militias and hate groups, politicians cutting funds for social programs as a solution to the budget deficit.

The “cumulus,/ stratus, and anvil headed nimbus” were the delusions of politicians and some finance experts who convinced everyone else that the markets were economically sound when history has shown us otherwise. “What did I know/ of nature’s way/ of teaching lessons?” Just replace “history” with “nature” and I’m sure that line says what we all were thinking.

God swallowing those delusions was reality setting in. That an alarming amount of people lost their homes to foreclosures makes Hurricane Hugo a metaphor for the current economic crisis, its “rifle/ sight of lassoed menace”.

That corporate CEOs, whose businesses stayed afloat with bailout money from the federal government, went on with business as usual is the sign of lessons not learned.  “Gust”, in its own way, warns against that kind of ignorance that keeps us “clueless to the coming stretch/ and yawn of ruin.”

Wisdom Teeth is right on time. In this collection, as one writer puts it, “Truth cuts its way beneath the unspoken like new teeth on their way to light.” I couldn’t agree more, grateful for their arrival.

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in Review


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15 Most Famous Cafes in the Literary World (reposted article)

(PHOTO: Courtesy of

Editor’s note: At the request of Carol Brown, with, this article was reposted here. Article source:

Some of the most famous novels and literary moments of all time were written and inspired by cafes in Europe. From the American ex-pat writers in Paris to Henrik Ibsen’s continental travels, cafes were a place to work while socializing, building stories, and of course, eating and drinking. If you’ve turned to coffee shops and restaurants to study instead of your room or the library, you’ll appreciate the literary significance of these 15 famous cafes.

1. La Rotonde: One of the most famous Parisian cafes during the great American literary ex-pat era is Cafe La Rotonde, which was actually written about in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, although Hemingway’s Jake Barnes seems to lament its overwhelming popularity: “No matter what cafe in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde,” Hemingway wrote. Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot were also patrons there.

2. Le Dome Cafe: The very next line in Hemingway’s quote above is, “Ten years from now it will probably be the Dome.” Le Dome Cafe in Montparnasse in Paris was actually the first major cafe in that area to attract ex-pats and intellectuals. La Rotonde, Le Select and La Coupole were its competitors, but the Dome is now a more established seafood restaurant, no longer catering to up-and-coming artists and writers.

3. The Literary Cafe: St. Petersburg’s Literary Cafe supposedly entertained many top Russian writers, including Chernyshevsky and Dostoevsky, and is said to be the last cafe that poet Alexander Pushkin visited before dying in a duel.

4. Les Deux Magots: Now a popular tourist spot, Les Deux Magots is known as Hemingway’s favorite spot in Paris. But the St. Germain-des-Pres cafe also served many other legendary writers and artists, including Rimbaud, Simone de Beauvoir, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Jean Paul Sartre, and even Picasso. It’s one of the oldest cafes in Paris, and pays tribute to its old but polished heritage in its current design and character (though is most likely more expensive than it was in Hemingway’s day).

5. Cafe Braunerhof: Like Paris, Vienna is a city dotted with cafes, many of which were home to famous writers, artists and intellectuals. The Cafe Braunerhof located near the Habsburg city palace is said to be lauded writer Thomas Bernhard’s favorite spot, and where we worked on some of the most important works in the German-speaking world after WWII.

6. Cafe de Flore: Now a popular hang-out among the fashion set and other glamorous types, Cafe de Flore — principal rival to Les Deux Magots — was another office for Hemingway and his contemporaries. In 1994, Cafe de Flore began handing out its own annual literary prize — the Prix de Flore — to promising young authors of French-language literature. Besides a cash prize, the winner gets to drink a glass of the white wine Pouilly-Fume at the cafe every day for a year.

7. Dingo Bar: Now the restaurant Auberge de Venise, the Dingo Bar was another Montparnasse staple that opened in 1923 and catered to English and American ex-pats in Paris, like writer Djuna Barnes and publishing house owner Nancy Cunard. It’s also the spot where Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald met for the first time.

8. Cafe Montmartre: This cafe is actually located in Prague and was sometimes called by its nickname, Montik, or The Monty. Some of the most important writers from Germany and Czechoslovakia — like Franz Kafka, Eduard Bass and Max Brod — all came here.

9. Pedrocchi Cafe: Padua’s Pedrocchi Cafe is one of the biggest cafes in the world and was known as a favorite hang-out for Lord Byron and French writer Stendhal.

10. Harry’s New York Bar: Actually located in Paris, Harry’s New York Bar was named for its early manager, a Scotsman. It opened in 1911, and Harry was supposedly responsible for making it a legitimate ex-pat cafe during the next decade, attracting Sinclair Lewis, Humphrey Bogart, Hemingway, and others. Side tip: Harry’s New York Bar is also where the Bloody Mary was first concocted.

11. Antico Caffe Greco: Situated near the Spanish Steps in a very posh area of Rome, the Antico Caffe Greco — founded in 1760 — is also the city’s most famous. Over the past centuries, writers like Lord Byron, John Keats, Henrik Ibsen and Hans Christian Andersen became patrons.

12. La Coupole: La Coupole is another historical Montparnasse cafe, which opened in 1927, soon after Le Select, and aimed to compete against Le Dome for the expat intellectual clientele. The massive cafe could seat 600 people, including famous guests like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre. La Coupole is now an official historic monument.

13. La Closerie des Lilas: Also situated in Paris’ Montparnasse is La Closerie, which opened in 1847 and attracted everyone from Henry James to Leon Trotsky to Gertrude Stein and Hemingway, who references nearby statues and descriptions in The Sun Also Rises.

14. Caffe Giubbe Rosse: One of Florence’s most famous cafes is Caffe Giubbe Rosse, named for Garibaldi’s Red Shirts, and also inspiration for the waiters’ uniforms. Celebrated for its role in producing the Futurist movement, Caffe Giubbe Rosse was also a favored spot for many notable Italian poets.

15. Grand Cafe: The Grand Hotel in Oslo is home to the Grand Cafe, a famous restaurant and meet-up. It’s where the Nobel Peace Prize banquet is held each year, and is said to be the daily lunch spot of Henrik Ibsen. Roald Dahl also stayed at the hotel during his youth.

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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Picked Up


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