Thursday, October 15, 2009

book review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

When I was in graduate school, I read through my roommate's collection of children's literature. On nights when I wanted to read, but really didn't want anything above a 5th grade level, I had Rohl Dahl and Lemony Snickets to entertain me. It was wonderful. I ventured into the lovely children's section of our college library the other day, seeking young adult (YA) books that are required for an upcoming YA writing workshop. One of them was Sherman Alexie's recent national book award winner The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

I read it in a day.

Told in the insecure, flippant, observant voice of 14 year-old Arnold Spirit, Jr., this book is a perfect combination of funny and deep. When on the first day of school Junior receives a geometry textbook that his mother had used in school, he decides he needs to find a new school, not on the Spokane reservation where he lives, but 22 miles away, at all-white school called Reardon where, he says, the only other Indian is the mascot. His best friend on the rez, and many others, view him as a traitor for trying to get a better life, and at one point Junior comments that people confuse trying to make a better life (which involves being around white people) with trying to become white. He talks about poverty, racism, the high death and alcoholism rates on reservations, and being Indian in America--huge subjects, dealt with deftly and with humor--and often with illustrations. Junior is a cartoonist, and his drawings appear throughout the book to illuminate his life. Junior sees and reports all of this, but his gaze is loving, as when he reports of his parents "they didn't love me perfectly, but they loved me the best they knew how."

I can see why this book was chosen for the National Book Award. I didn't want to put it down.


Monday, October 12, 2009


It's snowing. It's been snowing all day. Steadily. And sticking in some places. We haven't even reached peak foliage yet. Yikes.

I wanted to write a book review today of the fabulous Strength in What Remains, but something about the white stuff coming down prematurely outside (beautiful though it is) makes it hard to focus on the story of a man from Burundi who came to the U.S. seeking asylum. That will be coming soon. Instead, in reference to the way things do tend to, ahem, pile up, let me offer a bit of earned advice: do not make a credit card call from the airport.

I know this. You know this. But we'd just come from Panama, our cell phones were dead, and we'd told the friend who was to pick us up the completely wrong time. The cost of emailing would have been at least $10, and we figured a phone call would be less. Later, when we got the bill for $29.92, we thought perhaps we'd improperly hung up and someone had had a nice long chat with Aunt Marge on our credit afterward. Today, I talked with a very helpful service rep, who told me the bill was correct and broke it down as follows:

3 minute minimum phone charge at $1+/minute: $3.87
operator's fee: $10 and change
airport tax: $3 and change
not-normal-service-provider fee: $6
taxes: $4 (note that the taxes are more than the phone call)
and there was an aditional $2 for something else.
Cost of talking to our friend for 2 minutes: nearly $30. Cell phones look better and better.

So, next time you find yourself in an airport without a cell phone in need of making a call, you'd have better luck asking random strangers if you could borrow their phone. The cleaning woman, for example, later offered me hers without my even asking.

So there you go.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

a taste of philips

Below is the press release for a wonderful artistic event this weekend in Minneapolis. A taste of Philips, organized by the talented pastor-poet Patrick Cabello Hansel. I'm reading as part of it on Friday night.

Imagine a 122-year old congregation, founded by Swedish immigrants, where the halls are filled with art work and photographs by children from Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, as well as several communities in south Minneapolis. Imagine giant puppets that perform in street festivals alongside stained glass windows from the early 20th century. Imagine photographs of youth from the 19th century next to murals painted by youth from the 21st. That’s the incredible diversity of the arts on display at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Phillips the weekend of October 9-10.
“St. Paul’s has a rich history and a mission of engagement with its neighborhood”, says co-pastor Patrick Cabello Hansel. “Art has always been a way for people to express their deepest longings and hopes for change, as well as a way for communities to communicate across divisions of language and culture.”
For the past four years, St. Paul’s has sponsored “Arts and Music on the Corner”, which brings artists from the community together. In addition to hosting local performing artists, and visiting artists from countries such as El Salvador, St. Paul’s has sponsored community arts workshops in pottery, banner making, puppets and drama. During December, St. Paul’s co-produces La Natividad with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater and Mercado
Central, a production which tells the traditional Christmas story from the point of view of a poor family from south Minneapolis seeking shelter.
“We see the arts as a very vital way to help transform our neighborhood, and we work with community artists and organizations to utilize the arts for change”. Pr. Cabello Hansel states. “For example, our ‘Take Back the Alley’ project uses arts and gardening to enliven public spaces that have been places of crime and vandalism. Seeing a garage painted with a beautiful mural can bring a sense of both beauty and empowerment to people”.
The October 9-10 arts festival at St. Paul’s, located at 2742 15th Ave S. in Minneapolis, will include a guide to neighborhood murals done by youth programs from St. Paul’s, Waite House, Youth Farm and Hope Community. Neighborhood artists will display their works in the church building alongside traditional and contemporary religious art. Community visual artists include Greta McLain, Sandy Spieler, Paul Robinson, Bart Buch and Sharon Ulrich.
The weekend kicks off with an artist’s reception and poetry and spoken word reading on Friday, October 9 at 7:00 PM. Poets Emily Bright, Marion Gomez, Patrick Cabello Hansel and Spoken Word Artists Bruce Axelrod and Jeremy Little will read. On Saturday, “A Taste of Phillips” begins with Scandinavian pastries and cafĂ© con leche at 10:00 am, followed by an art scavenger hunt and hands-on arts activities for children and adults. At 1:00 pm, participants will go to one of dozens of ethnic restaurants to sample some of the rich culinary diversity of Phillips. The art will continue on display each day from October 11-14, from 3-6 pm, or by appointment.
All events are free and open to the public. St. Paul’s is located at 2742 15th Ave S. , two blocks north of Lake, and one block east of Bloomington in south Minneapolis. For more information, call Pr. Patrick Cabello Hansel at 612-296-2231.