Showing posts with label New York City. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York City. Show all posts

Friday, October 10, 2014

#FridayReads: Voyage of Strangers by Elizabeth Zelvin

Taino symbol of a sun
Taino symbol of a sun (Photo: Wikipedia)
The year is 1493, and young Jewish sailor Diego Mendoza has returned from Columbus’s triumphant first voyage with tales of lush landscapes, rivers running with gold, and welcoming locals. But back home in Spain, Diego finds the Inquisition at its terrifying peak, and he must protect his spirited sister, Rachel, from betrayal and death.

Disguising herself as a boy, Rachel sneaks onto Columbus’s second expedition, bound for the new lands they call the Indies. As the Spaniards build their first settlements and search for gold, Diego and Rachel fall in love with the place, people, and customs. Still forced to hide their religious faith and Rachel’s true identity, the brother and sister witness the Spaniards’ devastation of the island in their haste to harvest riches.

This unflinching look at Columbus’s exploration and its terrible cost to the native Taino people introduces two valiant young people who struggle against the inevitable destruction of paradise.

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York City psychotherapist and author of a mystery series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler. Liz is a three-time Agatha Award nominee and a Derringer Award nominee for Best Short Story. 

She is currently working on the sequel to Voyage of Strangers. Liz is also an award-winning poet with two books of poetry and a singer-songwriter whose album of original songs is titled Outrageous Older Woman. After many years in private practice and directing alcohol treatment programs, she now sees clients from all over the world online. Her author website is at 

Visit for Liz’s music and for online therapy. Liz is a veteran blogger, posting weekly for seven years on Poe’s Deadly Daughters and, most recently, on SleuthSayers.

Monday, June 16, 2014

#FridayReads: Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter by Maria Venegas

Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter by Maria Venegas:

The haunting story of a daughter’s struggle to confront her father's turbulent—and often violent—legacy

After a fourteen-year estrangement, Maria Venegas returns to Mexico from the United States to visit her father, who is living in the old hacienda where both he and she were born. While spending the following summers and holidays together, herding cattle and fixing barbed-wire fences, he begins sharing stories with her, tales of a dramatic life filled with both intense love and brutal violence—from the final conversations he had with his own father, to his extradition from the United States for murder, to his mother’s pride after he shot a man for the first time at the age of twelve.

     Written in spare, gripping prose, Bulletproof Vest is Venegas’s reckoning with her father’s difficult legacy. Moving between Mexico and New York, between past and present, Venegas traces her own life and her father’s as, over time, a new closeness and understanding develops between them. Bulletproof Vest opens with a harrowing ambush on Venegas’s father while he’s driving near his home in Mexico. He survives the assault—but years later the federales will find him dead near the very same curve, and his daughter will be left with not only the stories she inherited from him but also a better understanding of the violent undercurrent that shaped her father’s life as well as her own.

Maria Venegas was born in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was four years old. Bulletproof Vest was excerpted in Granta and The Guardian. Venegas’s short stories have appeared in Ploughshares and Huizache. She has taught creative writing at Hunter College and currently works as a mentor at Still Waters in a Storm, a reading and writing sanctuary for children in Brooklyn. She lives in New York City.

Friday, June 06, 2014

#FridayReads: Faces in the Crowd By: Valeria Luiselli

About Faces in the Crowd By: Valeria Luiselli
A multi-layered story told by two narrators: a 21st-century Emily Dickinson living in Mexico City who relates to the world vicariously through her children and a past that both overwhelms and liberates her, and a dying poet living in a run-down apartment in Philadelphia in the 1950s. 
While she tells the story of her past as a young editor in New York City desperately trying to convince a publisher to translate and publish the works of Gilberto Owen-an obscure Mexican poet who lived in Harlem during the 1920s and whose ghostly presence constantly haunts her in the subway-she also relates the slow but inevitable disintegration of her present family life.
Luiselli's novel stands apart from most Latin American fiction. She avoids worn-out narratives about drug wars and violence, and her downbeat supernaturalism feels quite different from the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez. Concerned, above all, with literature's ability to transcend time and space, Faces in the Crowd signals the appearance of an exciting female voice to join a new wave of Latino writers. Via The Guardian

Friday, May 30, 2014

#FridayReads: Til the Well Runs Dry By Lauren Francis-Sharma

"A first novel, yes. But balanced with experiences, imagery, and characters that linger on the flesh. Eyes. In the heart. And as I read the last paragraph and closed the book, I knew that I had experienced an amazing journey of light. Thank you my dear sister for this wonderful book." —Sonia Sanchez, poet and writer

"With an intense voice, Lauren Francis-Sharma draws us into old Trinidad, weaving a classic immigrant's tale, punctuated with the heady scents and rhythms of a bygone time, carrying us to the new world." -- Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of A Tiger in the Kitchen

Lauren Francis-Sharma, a child of Trinidadian immigrants, was born in New York City and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in African-American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and two children. 'Til the Well Runs Dry is her first novel.

 A glorious and moving multi-generational, multicultural saga that begins in the 1940s and sweeps through the 1960’s in Trinidad and the United States

Lauren Francis-Sharma's 'Til the Well Runs Dry opens in a seaside village in the north of Trinidad where young Marcia Garcia, a gifted and smart-mouthed 16-year-old seamstress, lives alone, raising two small boys and guarding a family secret. When she meets Farouk Karam, an ambitious young policeman (so taken with Marcia that he elicits the help of a tea-brewing obeah woman to guarantee her ardor), the risks and rewards in Marcia’s life amplify forever.

On an island rich with laughter, Calypso, Carnival, cricket, beaches and salty air, sweet fruits and spicy stews, the novel follows Marcia and Farouk from their amusing and passionate courtship through personal and historical events that threaten Marcia’s secret, entangle the couple and their children in a scandal, and endanger the future for all of them.

'Til the Well Runs Dry tells the twinned stories of a spirited woman’s love for one man and her bottomless devotion to her children. For readers who cherish the previously untold stories of women’s lives, here is a story of grit and imperfection and love that has not been told before.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Swoon Exhibit: Submerged Motherlands

I've been a fan of Swoon for a while and I'm delighted to share the news of her upcoming show at the Brooklyn Museum opening on Friday. Those of you not familiar will note, she is a Brooklyn-based artist, who celebrates everyday people and explores social and environmental issues with her signature paper portraits and figurative installations. She is best known for her large, intricately-cut prints wheat pasted to industrial buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Show information

Swoon (Photo credit: aur2899)
Swoon - Boy
Swoon - Boy (Photo credit: drbooks)
Swoon (Photo credit: carnagenyc)
Swoon (Photo credit: carnagenyc)
Swoon twin death
Swoon twin death (Photo credit: mercurialn)
Swoon Detail
Swoon Detail (Photo credit: Trois Têtes (TT))
Swoon (Photo credit: C-Monster)

Friday, March 07, 2014

#FridayReads: Handbook for an Unpredictable Life By Rosie Perez

In Handbook for an Unpredictable Life:  How I Survived Sister Renata and My Crazy Mother, and Still Came Out Smiling (with Great Hair), Oscar-nominated actress Rosie Perez’s never-before-told story of surviving a harrowing childhood and of how she found success—both in and out of the Hollywood limelight is revealed.

Rosie Perez first caught our attention with her fierce dance in the title sequence of Do the Right Thing and has since defined herself as a funny and talented actress who broke boundaries for Latinas in the film industry. What most people would be surprised to learn is that the woman with the big, effervescent personality has a secret straight out of a Dickens novel. 

At the age of three, Rosie’s life was turned upside down when her mentally ill mother tore her away from the only family she knew and placed her in a Catholic children’s home in New York’s Westchester County. Thus began her crazily discombobulated childhood of being shuttled between “the Home,” where she and other kids suffered all manners of cruelty from nuns, and various relatives’ apartments in Brooklyn.

Many in her circumstances would have been defined by these harrowing experiences, but with the intense determination that became her trademark, Rosie overcame the odds and made an incredible life for herself. She brings her journey vividly to life on each page of this memoir—from the vibrant streets of Brooklyn to her turbulent years in the Catholic home, and finally to film and TV sets and the LA and New York City hip-hop scenes of the 1980s and ‘90s.  

More than a page-turning read, Handbook for an Unpredictable Life is a story of survival. By turns heartbreaking and funny, it is ultimately the inspirational story of a woman who has found a hard-won place of strength and peace.

ROSIE PEREZ is an Oscar-nominated actress, whose credits include Do the Right Thing, White Men Can't Jump, Fearless, and The Counselor. She is the Artistic Chair of Urban Arts Partnership and sits on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Friday, October 18, 2013

#FridayReads: At Night We Walk in Circles: A Novel by Daniel Alarcon

Out at the end of the month:

At Night We Walk in Circles: A Novel by Daniel Alarcon  is described as a breakout book from a prizewinning young writer: a breathtaking, suspenseful story of one man’s obsessive search to find the truth of another man’s downfall:

Nelson’s life is not turning out the way he hoped. His girlfriend is sleeping with another man, his brother has left their South American country, leaving Nelson to care for their widowed mother, and his acting career can’t seem to get off the ground. That is, until he lands a starring role in a touring revival of The Idiot President, a legendary play by Nelson’s hero, Henry Nunez, leader of the storied guerrilla theater troupe Diciembre. And that’s when the real trouble begins.

The tour takes Nelson out of the shelter of the city and across a landscape he’s never seen, which still bears the scars of the civil war. With each performance, Nelson grows closer to his fellow actors, becoming hopelessly entangled in their complicated lives, until, during one memorable performance, a long-buried betrayal surfaces to force the troupe into chaos.

Nelson’s fate is slowly revealed through the investigation of the narrator, a young man obsessed with Nelson’s story—and perhaps closer to it than he lets on. In sharp, vivid, and beautiful prose, Alarcón delivers a compulsively readable narrative and a provocative meditation on fate, identity, and the large consequences that can result from even our smallest choices.

English: Writer Daniel Alarcón at the Mercanti...
 (Photo: Wikipedia)
Daniel Alarcón is author of the critically-acclaimed story collection War by Candlelight, and the novel Lost City Radio, winner of the 2009 International Literature Prize. His writing has appeared in Granta, n+1, and Harper’s, and he has been named one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40.” Alarcón is Executive Producer of Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language storytelling podcast, and he lives in San Francisco

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Author & Educator, Jose Vilson, on Fatherhood

I recently asked fellow blogger, Jose Vilson (@TheJLV), his thoughts on Machismo, Fatherhood and the how the transition into becoming a "family man" changes you as person.

Here's Jose in his words:

Fatherhood isn't just a badge or something that happens when our children are born. It's a way of life. 

When my child was first born, and he shook the room with his first cries, I knew I was in for an awesome life-long journey. Within the first few days, he already peed on me, vomited on me, and pooped on me, which was a lesson in humility. It's as if a divine spirit said, "The things you thought would normally offend you are a natural part of your baby's growth. Love him anyways." So I did, and then some. Within the first few months, you're inundated with sleepless nights, diaper changes, and multiple places for your baby's sleep, including the couch, your bed, his bed, your leg, your chest, and anywhere else that the baby deems soft.

The Vilson Family (Courtesy of Jose Vilson)
When people say, "Everything changes," and it's absolutely true. I push myself harder to do right in everything I do because I have a child now, and the stakes are higher. Having a child means my schedule revolve around my son now. Gone are the days of spontaneous happy hours and movie premieres. Yet, I'm glad I gave it up for the running around, the laughter, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse viewings. I find myself doing Dora the Explorer impressions because my son thinks it's funny.

The thing I've noticed with my fatherhood is that I didn't have my father growing up too much. I saw him on average once a year. While I've come to peace with his role in my life, I also know I wanted to do better. Being there for my son, even when I have to handle other responsibilities, is priority #1. He doesn't have too many words in his vocabulary, but making sure he knows I love him. He has lots to learn, and I'll be there for those lessons.

He has a great mother, and I appreciate the way she loves and cares for him. What I needed to do is create a new fatherhood, one that I hadn't seen before, and that would match what she was trying to do and then some.  It's a beautiful thing and I'd never turn back the clock on any of this experience.


Jose Vilson is a math educator, writer, and activist in a New York City public school. You can find more of his writing at and his book, This Is Not A Test, will be released in the spring of 2014.

José Vilson writes about race, class, and education through stories from the classroom and researched essays. His rise from rookie math teacher to prominent teacher leader takes a twist when he takes on education reform through his now-blocked eponymous blog, He calls for the reclaiming of the education profession while seeking social justice.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Farm Lit & First World Problems

I remember reading And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road
By Margaret Roach, a couple of years back when I still worked as an online book publicist at Hachette Book Group.

I was enamored instantly at the courage of the author, who left a 15-year career at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, where she reigned as Editorial Director, and moved into her weekend Upstate house to be closer to nature and lead an authentic life.

There is a certain glamour that comes with the fast-pace of New York City albeit the grittiness and rat race feel of it all. The deeper one is entrenched in the every-day monotony, the more you yearn for simplicity, frankness, and an uncharted course.

Of course, this may just be symptomatic of "the grass is always greener" or wanting what you don't have - which is simply human nature. Of course, the girl with curly hair envies the stick-straight locks of a friend or the successful high-wheeling executive wants to ditch it all and go surfing, it all makes perfect sense.

I've had so many conversations with so many friends who just don't want to work any more that I wonder if we've all been hoodwinked into this narrow path of college and making lots of money and moving up the corporate ladder qualifying as success. Perhaps that unfulfilled feeling points directly to something we are missing - that which cannot be satiated with a pair of designer shoes or organic, fair trade coffee beans.

Everywhere you turn, in all forms of art from movies, to books, to graffiti, every one is searching for a respite, an

The Atlantic published a  piece on the trendiness of  "Farm Lit" several weeks ago: "chick lit is dead (or dying, at least). But in its place, we now have a new genre. Call it "farm lit." In farm lit books, our heroines ditch the big cities beloved in chick lit—New York, Chicago, LA—in favor of slower, more rural existences, scrappily learning to raise goats on idyllic Vermont farms or healing their broken hearts by opening cupcake bakeries in their sweet Southern hometowns. Instead of sipping $16 appletinis with the girls, they're mucking out barns and learning to knit. Instead of pining after Mr. Big, they're falling for the hunky farmer next door."

The irony here is from the "first world problems" lens. These are the frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries.

I think back to another favorite, If I Bring You Roses By Marisel Vera, that speaks to another era, a simpler one in rural Puerto Rico and I think about my grandmother or migrant farm and day laborers - about working with your hands and the soil, what would they make of this "trend."

O my brothers, 
I beat my palms, 
still soft, 
against the stubble of my harvesting. 
(You beat your soft palms, too.) 
My pain is sweet. 
Sweeter than the oats or wheat or corn. 
It will not bring me knowledge of my hunger.
-- Jean Toomer, Harvest Song

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In the Mouth of the Whale

I grew up in New York City.

Recently, a partial memory of my early childhood came back to me of a enormous, stone whale, me playing within its gaping mouth and nearby water. I must have been perhaps four years old because I can only remember snippets and the thrill of being in that dark, cavernous creature's mouth while my mom sat nearby in the sun.

For some reason, I associate the memory with Central Park but I know the ins and outs of Central Park and many of the other city parks well, like the back of my hand. I have never been able to locate this place with the whale and the sprinklers/water works.


This weekend sparked by a conversation about the memory, I did some research and then shared my findings with my mother who put it all together for me.

The whale was part of the Central Park Children's Zoo, the old Lehman one that was demolished in 1996, which was a 50th wedding anniversary tribute from the Senator and his wife. It featured  Jonah's Whale or Whaley, Noah's Ark, Hansel and Gretel's cottage and other storybook scenes. 

The interesting thing about this is that the "new" Central Park Zoo, opened in 1997, has been one of my all-time favorite places to go in the city since my college babysitting days and I've been there so many times and never realized this was the same place.

via The Central Park Zoo By Joan Scheier
Whaley (or Whalemina as she came to be called), decomposing, peeling and chipped by then was moved to Rockaway Beach in attempt to recuse her from the trash pit in the mid-1990s but was damaged during the trip - her jaw collapsed and her tail was lopped off. She was patched up and became a beloved beach mascot for another generation but ultimately, she was washed out to sea during Hurricane Sandy, last october and all that was recovered was her reattached tail.
Whalemina, Rockaway Beach
Whalemina, Rockaway Beach (Photo: gsz)

She lives on only in the memory of the brave children who traipsed inside her basin during the 1960s-1980s, and the ones who gazed upon her majestic mosaic in her Queens retreat. 

There is something beautiful, cyclical and constant about her return to Yemaya and the sea, once beached and now set free. 

When I spoke to my mother, she told me that she would often take me to Zoo after her physical therapy sessions at the hospital when she was young and sprite in spite of the devastating hit and run that changed the course of her life. That I loved to play the inside the cottage and peek out at her from the windows and from  the Ark and make friends with the other kids who frolicked in the mouth of the whale.

* Local Rockaway artists have vowed to resurrect Whalemina and rebuild the community, to learn more about the Projects of Peace and donate to help support their efforts click here.

Here's another whale you might also remember from the same era:

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