Monday, October 31, 2005

Picture Book Bohemia

Hopefully, I will be able to post some pictures to complement this entry.
Last Saturday, I took a tour of Greenwich Village called Picture Book Bohemia. Our tour guide was none other than the amazingly knowledgeable Leonard Marcus, who has done so much research on picture book history. Had him sign his bio on Margaret Wise Brown, Awakened by the Moon.
I mentioned to Leonard that I was the girl who had spotted him in the subway and had yelled at him, “Are you Leonard Marcus?” He said he remembered that incident, and that it would make a neat story. The kind of thing you can tell friends: “So I was in the subway…”
Anyway, during the tour I discovered some delicious things: Charlotte Zolotow used to be Ursula Nordstrom’s secretary; the picture book world has not been intrigue-free; Robert McCloskey bought 16 ducklings and brought them to his apartment, in order to finish his book Make Way for Ducklings; Margaret Wise Brown was a kook (she had two houses in New York, and of course The Only House in Maine, and she would move from house to house to suit her mood, “of which she had many,” Leonard said wryly”).
What I found most exciting about the tour was the revelation of how certain people rallied to make radical picture books in the late 30s to the early 50s. Today, M.W. Brown’s The Noisy Book might strike us as cliché, but because it was a book with no story, because it was more of a catalog of city noises (a very poetic catalog, though), it gave children an alternative to the “Once upon a time” stories that dominated the market. And of course I found myself wanting to be affected by some revolutionary idea on education and children’s literature, (or more ambitiously, create such ideas), in order to create some small tremor in the world of publishing.
It’s not necessarily about being published, either. It’s about understanding what children want, or what children respond too. It’s about changing the way adults view books for children, so we may produce more radical literature for everyone. Of course, here I am again, rattling on with idealistic zeal. Making this ardor come to life that will probably consume me. Or the more nightmarish scenario: I would never get around making my abstract rants concrete.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

it sucks to be me, yeah!

In this picture, taken outside the Golden Theater, Pablo is the one who is not like the others. He's a regular Trekkie Monster.

Finally was able to watch Avenue Q, and now I want to become a puppeteer again. It was my dream to become a Muppeteer, and I obsessed over the Jim Henson Hour (of which only a few episodes were produced, and IBC-13 kept on playing repeats). I was devastated when Henson died.

I had a huge crush on Steve Whitmire because he was the hand, er, arm/voice behind Bean Bunny, my favorite JHH character. Other loves: Jacquesroach and dreadlocked Leon. Kermit, whom I considered the nerdy god of Muppets, was too huge to be just a favorite.

Avenue Q was a trip. It's just plain wicked to see puppets saying "Shit" and flipping the bird. Of course, the play is about more than that. It's cleverness is in expressing (and mocking) adult anxieties through the comfort of a Sesame Street-like atmosphere.

If you ever wanted to go back to (or stay in) college, watch this play.

Friday, July 29, 2005

That Story

From "Cinderella" by Anne Sexton:

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers and dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story.

Many of us easily criticize, as Sexton does, the fairy tale for its cliches: the rags-to-riches rise of heroes and heroines, the misshapen villain, the cloying romance, the impossibly happy ending.
But if we consider folk tales, before they were fashioned into literary fairy tales by people like Perrault and the Grimms, we see what Warner calls the tales' "optative" mood: "(they announce) what might be."

So folk and fairy tales are tales of faith.

Sure, many of us often equate faith with delusion. But I often find myself admiring people who live by faith. I chucked religion out the window at 14, when I looked up the word "atheist" in the dictionary and suddenly found my calling in godlessness. But those who chose to live by something that is not tangible, to live by the nectar of stories of gods and prophets. Those folks, I can't help but admire.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hail Hail Benjamin Zephaniah

BZ is my idol. Check out his website: Intense. Despite the anger that swells inside him, he can speak the language of children. And it's amazing how he is able to communicate that anger, and to speak politics, to children. This is a dude who respects their intelligence.

Written by Zephaniah, from the Guardian:

'Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought'

(An invitation to the palace to accept a New Year honour... you must be joking. Benjamin Zephaniah won't be going. Here he explains whyBenjamin ZephaniahThursday November 27, 2003 Guardian)

I woke up on the morning of November 13 wondering how the government could be overthrown and what could replace it, and then I noticed a letter from the prime minister's office. It said: "The prime minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that he has in mind, on the occasion of the forthcoming list of New Year's honours to submit your name to the Queen with a recommendation that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire."
Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word "empire"; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised. It is because of this concept of empire that my British education led me to believe that the history of black people started with slavery and that we were born slaves, and should therefore be grateful that we were given freedom by our caring white masters. It is because of this idea of empire that black people like myself don't even know our true names or our true historical culture. I am not one of those who are obsessed with their roots, and I'm certainly not suffering from a crisis of identity; my obsession is about the future and the political rights of all people. Benjamin Zephaniah OBE - no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.
There's something very strange about receiving a letter from Tony Blair's office asking me if I want to accept this award. In the past couple of months I've been on Blair's doorstep a few times. I have begged him to come out and meet me; I have been longing for a conversation with him, but he won't come out, and now here he is asking me to meet him at the palace! I was there with a million people on February 15, and the last time I was there was just a couple of weeks ago. My cousin, Michael Powell, was arrested and taken to Thornhill Road police station in Birmingham where he died. Now, I know how he died. The whole of Birmingham knows how he died, but in order to get this article published and to be politically (or journalistically) correct, I have to say that he died in suspicious circumstances. The police will not give us any answers. We have not seen or heard anything of all the reports and investigations we were told were going to take place. Now, all that my family can do is join with all the other families who have lost members while in custody because no one in power is listening to us. Come on Mr Blair, I'll meet you anytime. Let's talk about your Home Office, let's talk about being tough on crime.
This OBE thing is supposed to be for my services to literature, but there are a whole lot of writers who are better than me, and they're not involved in the things that I'm involved in. All they do is write; I spend most of my time doing other things. If they want to give me one of these empire things, why can't they give me one for my work in animal rights? Why can't they give me one for my struggle against racism? What about giving me one for all the letters I write to innocent people in prisons who have been framed? I may just consider accepting some kind of award for my services on behalf of the millions of people who have stood up against the war in Iraq. It's such hard work - much harder than writing poems.
And hey, if Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to lay all that empire stuff on me, why can't she write to me herself. Let's cut out the middleman - she knows me. The last time we met, it was at a concert I was hosting. She came backstage to meet me. That didn't bother me; lots of people visit my dressing room after performances. Me and the South African performers I was working with that night thought it rather funny that we had a royal groupie. She's a bit stiff but she's a nice old lady. Let me make it clear: I have nothing against her or the royal family. It is the institution of the monarchy that I loathe so very much, the monarchy that still refuses to apologise for sanctioning slavery.
There is a part of me that hopes that after writing this article I shall never be considered as a Poet Laureate or an OBE sucker again. Let this put an end to it. This may lose me some of my writing friends; some people may never want to work with me again, but the truth is I think OBEs compromise writers and poets, and laureates suddenly go soft - in the past I've even written a poem, Bought and Sold, saying that.
There are many black writers who love OBEs, it makes them feel like they have made it. When it suits them, they embrace the struggle against the ruling class and the oppression they visit upon us, but then they join the oppressors' club. They are so easily seduced into the great house of Babylon known as the palace. For them, a wonderful time is meeting the Queen and bowing before her presence.
I was shocked to see how many of my fellow writers jumped at the opportunity to go to Buckingham Palace when the Queen had her "meet the writers day" on July 9 2002, and I laughed at the pathetic excuses writers gave for going. "I did it for my mum"; "I did it for my kids"; "I did it for the school"; "I did it for the people", etc. I have even heard black writers who have collected OBEs saying that it is "symbolic of how far we have come". Oh yes, I say, we've struggled so hard just to get a minute with the Queen and we are so very grateful - not.
I've never heard of a holder of the OBE openly criticising the monarchy. They are officially friends, and that's what this cool Britannia project is about. It gives OBEs to cool rock stars, successful businesswomen and blacks who would be militant in order to give the impression that it is inclusive. Then these rock stars, successful women, and ex-militants write to me with the OBE after their name as if I should be impressed. I'm not. Quite the opposite - you've been had.
Writers and artists who see themselves as working outside the establishment are constantly being accused of selling out as soon as they have any kind of success. I've been called a sell-out for selling too many books, for writing books for children, for performing at the Royal Albert Hall, for going on Desert Island Discs, and for appearing on the Parkinson show. But I want to reach as many people as possible without compromising the content of my work.
What continues to be my biggest deal with the establishment must be my work with the British Council, of which, ironically, the Queen is patron. I have no problem with this. It has never told me what to say, or what not to say. I have always been free to criticise the government and even the council itself. This is what being a poet is about. Most importantly, through my work with the council I am able to show the world what Britain is really about in terms of our arts, and I am able to partake in the type of political and cultural intercourse which is not possible in the mainstream political arena. I have no problem representing the reality of our multiculturalism, which may sometimes mean speaking about the way my cousin Michael died in a police station. But then, I am also at ease letting people know that our music scene is more than what they hear in the charts, and that British poetry is more than Wordsworth, or even Motion. I have no problem with all of this because this is about us and what we do. It is about what happens on the streets of our country and not in the palace or at No 10.
Me, OBE? Whoever is behind this offer can never have read any of my work. Why don't they just give me some of those great African works of art that were taken in the name of the empire and let me return them to their rightful place? You can't fool me, Mr Blair. You want to privatise us all; you want to send us to war. You stay silent when we need you to speak for us, preferring to be the voice of the US. You have lied to us, and you continue to lie to us, and you have poured the working-class dream of a fair, compassionate, caring society down the dirty drain of empire. Stick it, Mr Blair - and Mrs Queen, stop going on about the empire. Let's do something else.

Monday, July 18, 2005


I decided to post again.

I'm fricking pissed that my Harry Potter book hasn't arrived yet. Half the world is ready to crow about the ending while I have no idea where my copy (lovingly pre-ordered) is at the moment.

I just reread the New Yorker article on Roald Dahl ("The Candy Man" by Margaret Talbot), and I'm wondering whether subversive impulses such as Dahl's will ever find its way into Philippine children's literature.

More on that later. I need some shut-eye at the momentzzzzzzzzzzzz

Monday, January 31, 2005

New York Stories

The New York Public Library, along with other library systems in the New York City area, released a brochure that lists books for children set in the Big Apple. New York City natives are just bursting with pride about their city, and their making certain that they pass on this attitude to their children. I wonder if Manileños celebrate Manila. I never did, even though I was born and bred in the metro. I took the place for granted, and I was never much of an activist, never lifting a finger against the threats of pollution, overcrowding, crime.

(Guilty sigh.)

May this abbreviated list of “I Heart New York” books inspire Manileños to write about Manila (“…hinahanap-hanap kita, Manila...”), though I can already sense publishers hesitating (“But it won’t sell in the provinces!”). Heard from Ani Almario once that Barumbadong Bus was difficult to market in rural public schools.

Anyway, the list:

Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-ups by Kay Thompson
Black Cat by Christopher Myers
The Adventures of Taxi Dog by Debra Barracca
Scooter by Vera B. Williams
Down in the Subway by Miriam Cohen
The Gingerbread Boy by Richard Egielski
I Hate English by Ellen Levine
The Old Pirate of Central Park by Robert Priest
Madlenka by Peter Sis
Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift
The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Waber
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg
Stuart Little by EB White
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Brothers of the Knight by Debbie Allen
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Sector 7 by David Wiesner
Abuela by Arthur Dorros

Happy reading!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Because I Have Nothing to Say Today

I have no idea at all what to write about today. For the past week and a half that I’ve been keeping this blog, I always have something to write about. Now, I’ll probably be just blabbing nonsense.

Or maybe I can use this time to focus on my assignment. Believe it or not, I finally am reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (yeah, yeah, I’m that dreadful English major who breezed through college without reading “important” texts). The first few pages of the novel kept collapsing on me, and the only thing that propelled me to read further was imagining Apocalypse Now playing in my head. I had to visualize Brando as Kurtz (the horror, the horror, indeed). But I’m still trying to figure out on which character Robert Duvall’s crazy napalm-sniffing soldier was based.

But now that I’m in the middle of Conrad’s text, I find myself devouring it, loathing it, hypnotized by it. It shocks me the same way many conquest stories appall me, but the text’s flavor captivates me, too. I imagine it to be similar to Wells’s Time Machine, Burrough’s Tarzan, or Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There’s a pulp fiction quality to it, though Heart of Darkness somehow is (or wants to be) a more serious, sophisticated adventure book, analyses and monologue-as-criticisms eclipsing the action. Marlow is an odd character. A man dies by his feet, the victim’s blood soaks his shoes. Yet he stares at the dead man with an amazing detachment. He observes the world, functioning beyond fear and anger, as if he is a perfect being tut-tut-ing the failures and foibles of other men.

But he is also a storyteller, relating an event that has taken place in the past. Maybe it is time, having passed, that allows him his coolness, his detachment. The story is in the past, the adventurer tells it to us; despite the quality of excitement that Conrad delivers, we breathe easy, knowing Marlow is alive, sitting on a boat floating on the River Thames. We know then he has survived the harrowing journey.

Physically, at least. His cranium still needs measuring.

Stew on This:

There is only one rule in this house: no growing up.

Grandma Wendy
Hook (dir. Steven Spielberg)