Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

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Retro Review: The Poetry of Dorothy Parker

Dorothy-Parker_1504166c 

“I was just a little Jewish girl trying to be cute.”—Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was probably one of the sharpest, wittiest women of the 20th century. She wrote everything from screenplays to short stories to literary criticism for Enough Ropepublications like Vanity Fair, Vogue, Life, and the New Yorker.  But as April draws to a close, I want to concentrate on Dorothy Parker’s poetry.

Parker sold her first poem to Vanity Fair in 1914. Even after she honed her writing talents on other projects, she never stopped writing poems. She published several tomes of her poetry, and I was fortunate to find a couple books featuring her poems at my local library, Enough Rope and The Collected Poetry of Dorothy Parker. Even though most of these poems were written nearly a century ago, they still hold up today and are relatable to modern audiences. Collected poetry DP

Like so many ladies, Parker was often bewildered when it came to romance and relationships. And she summed up this bewilderment in this brief and perfectly stated poem:

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying—
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Only a few short lines, but says so much. Unfortunate Coincidence is both timeless and timely. In fact, while reading Parker’s poetry I couldn’t help think how well she would have done on social media, using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to post her poems to a global audience.

Among her other love-based poetry, I also love the following pieces of perfectly posed pithy poems:

General Review of the Sex Situation

Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman’s moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?

Pictures in the Smoke
Oh, gallant was the first love, and glittering and fine;
The second love was water, in a clear white cup;
The love was his, and the fourth was mine;
And after that, I always get them mixed up.

Men

They hail you as their morning star
Because you are the way you are.
If you return the sentiment,
They’ll try to make your different;
And once they have you, safe and sound,
They’ll want to change you all around.
Your moods and woods they put a cure on;
They’d make of you another person.
They cannot let you go your gait;
They influence and educate.
They’d alter all that they admired.
They make me sick, they make me tired.

And the following poem reminds me of past suitors who always treated my writing as a “cute little hobby.” Somehow my feelings are more artfully stated in Parker’s poem Fighting Words than a profane response like, “Fuck you.”

Fighting Words
Say my love is easy had
Say I’m bitten raw with pride,
Say I’m too often sad—
Still behold me at your side.

Say I’m neither brave nor young,
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue,—
Still you have my heart to wear.

But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!

And then there are a lady’s platonic relationships, and she had a poem aimed at “frenemies” long before Carrie Bradshaw and Co. came up with the concept.

The Leal

The friends I made have slipped and strayed,
And who’s the one that cares?
A trifling lot and best forgot—
And that’s my tale and, and theirs.

Then if my friendships break and bend,
There’s little need to cry T
he while I know that every foe
Is faithful till I die.

And what about America’s preoccupation with self-reflection and self-help? Why, yes. Parker wrote a poem those things, too.

Inventory
Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and foe.

Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

But eventually the concepts of love, friendship, the power of written verses, and a maddening fixation with oneself grows tiresome. What else is there? Why, fashion, of course! And Parker knew the charms fabulous frock.

The Satin Dress

Needle, needle, dip and dart,
Thrusting up and down,
Where’s the man could ease a heart
Like a satin gown?

See the stitches curve and crawl
Round the cunning seams—
Patterns thin and sweet and small
As a lady’s dreams.

Wantons go in bright brocade;
Brides in organdie;
Gingham’s for the plighted maid;
Satin’s for the free!

Wool’s to line a miser’s chest;
Crepe’s to calm the old;
Velvet hides an empty breast
Satin’s for the bold!

Lawn is for a bishop’s yoke;
Linen’s for a nun;
Satin is for wiser folk—
Would the dress were done!

Satin glows in candlelight—
Satin’s for the proud!
They will say who watch at night,
“What a fine shroud!”

Sadly, Parker’s finely-honed wit and vast writing talent thinly veiled her struggles with depression, drinking, divorce, not to mention career woes and a lack of self-esteem, which made her very dismissive of both her talents and accomplishments. Yet, somehow she was able to find a humor in the gallows, and commented suicidal thoughts in one of her most notable poems, Résumé.

Résumé
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker died nearly forgotten in 1967, but became legendary and an icon to anybody who appreciates salty good humor with mad writing skills. She is a true icon and inspiration to ladies of letters, including this one. Of Parker’s work The Nation described it as “caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity”. Dorothy Parker, you were so much more than a “little Jewish girl trying to be cute.” You are a heroine to every girl and women who bravely picked up pen and paper and put thoughts into words.


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