Friday, January 27, 2012

My Mother, Music, and Literature

My Mom is here for a visit. She travelled from the Midwest to come and chat. I am treating her to East Tennessee State University's "Powell Piano Series" tonight.

Here is the concert information by the compliments of the Department of Music:
"Russian-born Israeli pianist and composer Yoni Levyatov, winner of the 2011 International Russian Music Competition, will make his ETSU debut in the Powell Piano Series.

Described by the New York Times as playing with "an appealing electricity," Levyatov is also the recipient of the Harold Bauer Award, Dorothy McKenzie Artist Recognition Award, Silver Medal at the International Bosendorfer Piano Competition, as well as Clairmont PRize in Tel Aviv. Recent appearances have included performances at Steinway Hall in New York; Menora Hall in Manchester, England; Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia; Spiegelsaal in Rheinsberg, Germany; Auditorium de Cajacanarias in Tenerife, Spain; Jerusalem Music Center and the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts."

Also, I am sending my copy of the memoir Circling My Mother home with Mother. It has taken me some time to decide to depart with it. I wouldn't have found this memoir if my mentor Professor Tekulve hadn't recommended it. Further, I wouldn't have studied under the tutelage of Professor Tekulve and Wakefield if it hadn't been for the low-residency MFA writing program at Converse College.

Great programs, teachers, and mothers are priceless.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Dear Friends,

I am back from the quietly glittered wedding of my brother.

On the day of the wedding, after eating a steak and farm fresh eggs for breakfast (compliments to my Mom), I reflected on how my family tree had zealously grown into its own woods of pine, oaks, maple, and fruit trees.

Yes, in the words of Robert Frost, my family had become "lovely, dark, and deep."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bell, Light, Organ, and Action

Graduating as a Graduate: How to put it in words?

There is something distinctly different about graduating at Converse College. Yet, something even more distinct about graduating with a class of creative writing students. Not just any students, the first graduating class of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree at Converse College.

If my memory serves me right, there was the ringing bell in Wilson Hall...the warm South Carolina sun at 10:00 AM in the morning. The nervous and excited chatter between the students (especially our MFAers). I didn't ask for permission ahead of time to write about the ones that were present, so I won't mention their names. But, I mention their personas kindly. Also, I don't want to shun the ones that weren't present in body, because this is a low-residency program. Some students travel far to attend this MFA program. They were present in our minds--even the ones that are graduating generations to come in the low-residency MFA program. I hope your moment is yours.

Back to my memory, inside Twichell Auditorium, family and friends sat while an organ played. It had an old-world feel to it. (I recall the sound fondly). So, the combination of bell, light, and organ put me in the state of mind of arrival. As a sidenote, it was a pleasure to sit in between the two other nonfiction ladies.

When it was my turn to walk the stage, I looked out at the crowd--taking in the moment. It was my moment of action and arrival, of beginning and ending. (I paused for photos.)

I shook the President of the college's hand and took my turn being hooded. I left the stage a Converse College graduate that would "make things happen."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Big Black Book

It's official, I have my bound MFA Creative Thesis in hand. (Well, not actually in my hands at this moment, because I am typing.) But true, so true. I am an official graduate of a Master's program with a completed thesis. Boy, does it feel good--knowing that I wrote all of those words, created sentences, and followed through with organization. Yes, I am having a moment. I birthed a book!

To celebrate such an accomplishment, how about some inspiration from Mark Twain? I know I can't get enough of his spunk.

"The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart and not to be mentioned with commoner things...king by grace of God over all the fruits of the earth...It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took...we know because she repented." -from Puddn'head Wilson

In reflection of being a steamboat pilot Twain wrote, "In that brief, sharp schooling I got personally and familiarly acquainted with all the different types of human nature that are to be found in fiction, biography, or history. When I find a well drawn character in fiction or biography, I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before--met him on the river." - from Life on the Mississippi

My favorite quote by Twain I found taped to the outside of a professor's door. It read, "Cauliflower is just cabbage with a degree."

What a great perspective! I may be cauliflower, but in the garden of life I still am a cabbage--bound creative thesis and all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bacon and an MFA Residency

Well, my dear blog followers, my graduating residency happened within a splatter of bacon grease. It was a literary feast. Poets and prose writers visited and read from their works. The graduating class presented strong lectures on topics such as gender, race, spirituality, and the very essence of writing. Each student's creative thesis reading brought the audience closer...

Beyond the literary feast, there was the actual food at the residency. Every morning fresh fruit and a varied warm option such as freshly baked biscuits were eagerly welcomed by my growling stomach. Dessert did not disappoint either. I enjoyed the delicious strawberry rhubarb and sweet pecan pie. Also, my favorite sandwich from the residency was a toasted grilled cheese with crispy bacon and a fresh slice of tomato. Yes, it tasted as good as it sounds.

So what now? What happens after the residency?

Today...within an hour I heard "Sweet Home Alabama" on my car's radio twice. This led my memory to the last night of my graduating residency at Converse College for the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program. I remember being in a circle with fellow students and faculty dancing to this song: "Sweet Home Alabama" It brought us, southern, northern, western, midwestern born Americans together. Throughout the program we shared writing. Sometimes, we shared dance. The last night we shared "Sweet Home Alabama."


All I know is that I am fond of my American writers. My late night fountain dipping, wine sipping, and honest writing friends.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Splendor at the Garden

It must be the season of spring that pulls me to the outside, beyond the limits of my writing office and my computer with my creative thesis on it. I will blame it on the beautiful weather that entices me to garden, planting rows of Margold, Better Boy, and Roma tomatoes. Not to mention, the Yukon Gold potatoes, Bush beans, green peppers, and carrots.

In the garden, I push my gloved hand into the soil, making space for the vegetable plants. Then, after placing each plant in the soil, I scoot the topsoil over to cover the block of black soil with little white balls attached to the roots. Its alive! I say to myself as I watch my plant stand in the soil. It is surrounded by the other plants. That garden is my creative thesis.

Will the garden stand the elements?

I tap my finger on the soil. I fertilized and tilled this soil. It is mine. I wrote and edited the essays. They are mine.

The garden has been given all the care it could possibly need to flourish. Yes, my creative thesis the subjective time capsule that it is, has also been cared for throughout these two years of the low-residency MFA Creative Writing program at Converse College.

In the presence of the garden plants, I remember my Grandpa's garden that thrived every year. I recall the way the sweet corn grew high and how the green beans brought a bountiful crop. I smile to myself, knowing that given the right conditions anything can and will flourish.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Interview: A Director's Take on the 6th Annual Macon Film Festival

I am always interested in what is going on in film. When I heard a fellow student in the Converse College low-residency MFA program directed independent films, I was instantly curious and decided to inquire for an interview.

Introduction to Interviewee:

Kasey Ray-Stokes is the Director of Development for JamesWorks Entertainment. According to the company's website, they produce "socially-conscious films." I interviewed Kasey about her attendance and involvement with the 6th Annual Macon Film Festival (February 17-20, 2011).


1. What is the Macon Film Festival?
The Macon Film Festival is an international festival in its sixth year, and despite its young age, it is really getting a lot of buzz in the industry. They show over 100 films in four days in several locations around Macon, GA. We, at JamesWorks Entertainment, have attended the festival three years in a row, and this year we had three films accepted into the festival (a personal record for us and for that festival). 

2. Describe your personal experience with the festival:
I serve as JamesWorks Entertainment's Director of Development, and make up 1/3 of the company, along with my business partners James Kicklighter and Mark Ezra Stokes. The three of us go to festivals primarily to give our films an audience and hopefully snag a distribution deal, but -- just as importantly -- we go to connect with other filmmakers, as well as other people in the industry, to make connections and look for future collaborations on upcoming projects.  

3. What is your favorite facet of the festival?
It's hard to say, but I suppose my favorite facet of the Macon Film Festival is the fact that we feel so at home there. We recently shot a short film, Followed (a socially-conscious zombie movie), in Macon this past December, and it felt really good to go there and reconnect with our Macon friends and business partners. We couldn't go to lunch without about 10 people walking by and pulling up a chair to talk, or walk down the street without recognizing a ton of people. Also, the film commission board have to be the nicest bunch of people I have ever met. They hooked us up with a ton of press, and we really feel supported by them. It's a love-love relationship.

4. What do you think about the genre of independent film?  Recently, has it changed?
It's clear that independent filmmaking is booming right now. I believe the reason is because the cost of decent film equipment is dropping, and more people can now go out and shoot a movie without a huge budget. We saw one film at this festival that cost $10 to make. That's amazing. If you've got a compelling story and a crew that knows what they are doing, you can make a quality movie without a Hollywood studio, and have a bat's chance of making money on it, too. 

5. What are the pros and cons of directing such films?
The pros of choosing to be an independent filmmaker are really endless. You have complete creative control of your story, you can work with whomever you choose, you can promote it in new and innovative ways, and you can tell your story, your way. The only real con to this method, I suppose, would be money. You have to really hustle in this industry to raise the funds for your project, and you don't get paid the salary that you would on a Hollywood production. However, for me at least, I will be a fan and champion of the independent film industry for as long as I can swing it.

6. Any advice for script writers and/or independent film producers interested in this genre?
My advice for script writers would be to attend and promote film festivals in your area, or those that you can get to so that you can make the connections you need to get someone to look at your script. Most production companies, like mine, do not accept unsolicited scripts (for legal reasons), so it's best you make face-to-face contact with filmmakers. My advice for people looking to be an independent film producer would be to check out our website! We would love to talk to you about producing our next film! There are some great tax incentives happening in Georgia right now, so now's the time to get your feet wet. Funding independent film is truly rewarding, and what other investment promises a guarantee of 30%? None.

If you would like to write to Kasey, you can reach her through her blog No More Hydrangeas.