The Brothers in Pen Annual Reading took place on November 15. I thought I would wait to post until I had Peter Merts’ beautiful photos of the event. However, those photos were not cleared for publication till this week–hence the delayed post. Otherwise I’m sure I would have been extremely timely.
We had a record turnout, sixty-some people, squeezed into the ARC building on the lower yard. I like having the event on the lower yard rather than the chapel, as visitors get to take a little walk through the prison grounds and get a bit more of a sense of the place. A number of guys on the yard who were walking, exercising, or just enjoying the beautiful weather greeted our large group as we made our way across the yard.
This time, unfortunately, we had no media there to record readings, so I can’t share any audio excerpts. Trust me when I tell you that readings were shared with passion, intensity, and humor. A portrait of Jeff Little (a former class member we’d recently learned had passed away since his parole from prison) presided over the event from behind the podium with a wise smile.
I opened the day with a quote from the foreword Tobias Wolff wrote for one of our anthologies: “We are story-telling animals… It’s how we organize the past, and try to make sense of it—to see the patterns our actions and inactions create, to see how those patterns break or repeat themselves. Stories are the embodiment of those patterns, and in them—even in the stories of others—we can begin to recognize ourselves.” This self-recognition was popping all over the room as the many guests nodded, sighed, and made soft sounds of acknowledgment throughout the afternoon.
Human beings recognizing and appreciating the humanness of other human beings. It’s a good way to spend a day.
Here are links to Peter Merts’ photos:
photo: Peter Merts
Congratulations are due to former Brother in Pen Troy Williams who was released from prison last month after 18 years. Troy was a member of the class for several years and wrote many moving stories. He participated in countless programs, events, classes and workshops and was very involved with San Quentin Media, creating documentaries and newscasts. In fact, just today on KALW’s CrossCurrents radio, there is a story about Troy receiving an “Excellence in Journalism” award, on behalf of San Quentin Prison Report, from the Society of Professional Journalists of Northern California. The SQPR was given the award for Community Journalism (Radio/Audio). You can hear the story here: http://kalw.org/post/troy-williams-speech-spj-northern-california-2014-awards-ceremony
I know good things are in store for Troy in his new life. We’ve missed him in class but it’s exciting to imagine the world opening up for him now. Peace and blessings–
Tomorrow, November 15, is our Ninth Annual Public Reading, where twenty Brothers in Pen will read from their work in front of an outside audience of 60 or more.
I’ll post after that event, but one thing we will be doing tomorrow will be honoring the passing of one of our class members who was present at last year’s reading, Jeff Little.
Jeffrey Little was a writer, a journalist, a paralegal, and a legal clerk typist. Born in 1963, he was raised in Maywood, Illinois and moved during his high school years to San Diego, California, where he spent the majority of his life. It was relatively late in life that Jeff came to know writing as something he could enjoy. He also discovered it to be an excellent way to express his anger, pain and triumphs. Jeff Little paroled last year with the intent to write urban fiction that is “a little more substantial and outside the box” than “the usual urban novel.”
We heard from Jeff as recently as last May, when we invited him to participate in a reading at Alcatraz. He wrote:
I have been so busy that I haven’t had any time to do any writing. I am working at Sonic, and I have also recently purchased a vehicle. A 2009 Chevy HHR. I’m living in a Sober Living Home and I’m involved in N.A. and certain other groups. In regards to the May 18 Reading, I won’t be able to attend. My grandfather died recently and I was given permission to leave California to go to Chicago. I won’t be able to leave the county of San Diego until late July. I’m sorry I won’t be able to participate, I would have loved to.
I didn’t hear from Jeff again. Then, just a few weeks ago, we heard a rumor that he had died. I looked online for any information I could find, and all I found was an obituary from San Diego which said the following:
Little, Jeffrey. May 11, 1963 ~ August 23, 2014
Abbey Cremation Service
We don’t know anything about what happened to Jeff, and it is especially sad that his life ended so soon after his long-awaited release from prison. The photographer Peter Merts took some striking portraits of him last year. One of those was hanging at the Alcatraz exhibit and appears in many of the photos taken that day; Jeff’s gaze feels so alive and present as he appears to be looking through the crowd of people attending that event.
We honor his life and his passing.
Wanda Sabir, radio host and journalist for the Bay View newspaper, among other things, has invited some of the participants in next week’s BAN7 event to be interviewed on her internet radio show, Wanda’s Picks, this Friday. You can listen live and call in to ask questions too! Please join us from 8 a.m to 8:30 a.m. Friday, September 12 to hear Charles Talib Brooks, Henry Montgomery, Jerry Elster, Carl Irons, Ernie Laszlo, and possibly others talk about their experiences in the Prison Arts Program and about their lives.
To listen, go to website www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks. To call in, the number is 347-237-4610.
UPDATE: The interview is now available online if you missed it!
Wanda Sabir is a Bay Area activist, journalist, and creative writer—poetry and fiction. She hosts a bi-weekly radio show, publishes a monthly African Diaspora-centered calendar, and reviews film, theatre, literature and performance art via wandaspicks.com. A columnist in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper where she is Arts Editor, she has covered the arts scene for over 25 years. She is primarily interested in art for social change. She believes artists are the true revolutionaries, their work filled with raw uninhibited passion. She co-founded MAAFASFBayArea.com; it is an on-going healing ritual for people of African Descent. Her daytime gig is teaching composition to community college students.
There are two events coming up for Brothers in Pen. First, the Prison Arts Project has been featured in the BAN7 show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Creative Writing class is participating in the event by having a reading on September 18. Some former members of the class who are now un-incarcerated will be there to read stories of those still inside, followed by time for Q&A. It’s very exciting to be part of this YBCA show, so please come out and listen! You will also be able to take a look at the visual exhibit if you haven’t seen it already.
Time: 6 – 7 p.m.
Location: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., SF (Mission and Third St.)
Second, we now have a date for our Brothers in Pen Annual Public Reading! Please mark your calendars for Saturday, November 15, 11:30 a.m. -3:30 p.m. if you want to have the extraordinary opportunity of coming inside San Quentin to attend a reading of works by the Creative Writing class. Each member of the class will read a 5-minute piece and there will be time for Q&A. If you have ever attended one of these public readings, you know what an engaging, lively and unforgettable event this is. Please contact me at brothersinpen at yahoo dotcom if you want to attend.
And just a reminder that there is a new book in the Brothers in Pen series… collect them all!
For those of you who were at the Annual Public Reading on July 13, 2013, you have heard these already. Now these short 5-minute readings given by the Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class are available in print. We’ve put together a small anthology of these readings with photos of each of the authors.
If you purchase and read one, please be encouraged to comment on this blog or review on the Lulu website where the book is available: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/northblockpress
The book is available in paperback or for immediate pdf download.
The May 18 “Telling Our Stories” event at Alcatraz was lovely. We had a great turnout on a beautiful day. Our four readers, Henry “MC” Montgomery, Ernie Laszlo, Jimmy Carlin, and Rolf Kissman read four stories/excerpts which you can read for yourself: BIP Readings for Alcatraz 5-18-14.
Here’s a slideshow of the day:
thanks to photographer Peter Martin!