Hey, I am Ash, and I am an artist, not really much of a writer but for anyone who knows me knows I’ll try anything once…. Or twice.
I am originally from New York, raised in New Jersey, and had the pleasure of the great state of PA housing my gross ass teenage, and awkward college body. I am a tristate queen. I travel, and take pictures, of mostly nature and a few bands, I love music, I am always playing something. I also paint, and recently I’ve been back on that gym grind. I run about 30 miles a week. Catch me if you can.
Why did I choose art as my primary focus? That's pretty damn easy, as a kid I was terrified of making mistakes, ( I still am I guess....) I had an amazing art teacher in 7th grade that I model most of my art classes to this day. Her philosophy is that you should split class time in 2 different segments: an art history lesson, and then class time to work on a related project. She also told me there are no mistakes in art, unless you wanna get technical, and a bomb ass lesson in color theory. That really stuck with me as a kid, and I really took to art
My art mostly stems from abstract artists, and I love DADA as well as Surrealism art movements. My inspiration really depends on the day. Currently its been a weird combination of Salvador Dali, Cold War Propaganda, and Squirrels. I am addicted to tea, and chocolate bars that save elephant shrews.
I am fluent in 5 languages, and I currently attend Drexel University for grad school. I am studying Art Therapy, something that has helped me immensely with my own mental health issues.When I am not doing school, or shooting some abandoned buildings in Philly, I can be found at the Abington Art Center, running their day school, and adult night studio classes. I also Teach, I feel like you never stop teaching, and I have plans to pick back up bartending in the summer time. I do not trust anyone with one job, let alone a 9 to 5er. Get on that grind, and lets have a good time.
We cannot stress the importance enough of the relationship between the artist and the critic (often, the line between the two is very thin), moreover, the relationship of a performer and an audience. Satisfying readers, viewers, listeners is a huge part of what we do, possibly neck-and-neck with catharsis as the biggest priority that many of us have. Our goal with everything we do is to make fans of art happy. After all, we're fans, too. When someone goes above and beyond to review or recommend an artist we work with, it's just about the highest compliment, especially when the praise is as awesome as Ash's for Lexi Spino. We believe the artists we publish deserve the praise; that's why we publish them. It's awesome to see people share the enthusiasm that we have for Lexi's work. It's a bit strange of a publishing house to publish a review of a book that very publishing house released but we're not a traditional publisher. Ash's write-up we're sharing below is that good. We really appreciate it and are glad that she agreed for us to feature it on our site. So, thank you to Ash, and as always, thank you to Lexi for getting us in contact with her. Links to Ash's instagram and Lexi's book are below. Please do yourself a favor and check both out. If you're interested in reviewing The Electra Complex, please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The first time I met Lexi Spino, was at a Philly basement show in Manayunk, Pa in the Fall of 2018. I knew maybe like 6 people there that night, and I walked away with a weird misfits family who I still talk to this day, meet for most holidays, and stalk my Instagram stories religiously. I guess that makes us digital pals? Who knew something so rad could come swinging out of a Philly basement, and from York no less.
Lexi, was opener of the show that night, and in my opinion she should have been the headliner, I actually enjoyed her unapologetic performance, almost if not more than the band I was going to see originally at the time. Not many people can poetically pull off the word cunt in poetry, but Lexi did, and has been pulling it off ever since.
Her use of words to paint an imagery of things all women deal with rape, abuse, bad dates, body dysmorphia. My personal favorite, and something that most women can relate to my age the chronicles of romantic conquests and the whirlwind shit storm that is the post mortum of a precarious abusive relationship. I mean for fuck sakes, like being a chick isn’t hard enough. Lexi spills her guts, her words, and drags her lady balls into telling a journey for mental health advocacy. Its refreshing to say the very least. Especially with an over saturation of male performers. Lexi has, and always will stand out to me as a constantly great artist, and act. She is a force to be reckoned with and has a wicked way with words.
On Sunday March 16, 2020 , almost 2 years later, I snagged a copy of her book, The Electra Complex, My first post Covid-19 Virus show, at the Wooden Shoe, off of South Street Philadelphia. It's prob one of my favorite bookstores, and anyone who knows me, knows I can’t say no to another book, and I got probably the weirdest fucking shit on my bookshelves ranging from the reptilian conspiracy works of David Updike, to the closest thing I will go to a romance novel- some gargantuan Russian piece of litature, that is still on my nightstand, a just in case of emergency kinda book. I bought a book about the concept how working is obsolete, devoured that fucker in one night. Shit could never read more true. We basically could have worked home all this time and still have the gall to complain about our shortcomings.
I recommend reading it, “Instead of Work, written by Bob Black.
Lexi’s kick off for her book tour couldn’t have been in a more perfect spot! I, and about 12 others were blessed to check our problems at the door for about 2hrs, and simply just be in the moment. It was everything we needed, and more to break up this shitty time. We even had our own hand sanitizer, and Lysol wipes, and everyone of the performers washed their hands before sharing instruments, and such. Talk about the supporting arts! The finest Philly tap water was had, and enjoyed by all, we were all very hydrated, and high off of Lexi’s candid words that she seemed to spout off her tongue, a huge shout out to the support chair who aided everyone in these trying times. Therapeutic furniture should really be more of a thing. York, I see you, ya got some dope ass musicians, and poets. It just shows you the human resilience cannot be over shadowed, especially now. I have always said that heartache, tough times, and high levels of stress make for the best art!
Now more than ever is the time to support your local, and fellow artists during this pretty fucked up time. I mean I hate fucking working too guys but you know what I hate more? Uneducated people. Read a fucking book. Wash your damn hands with soap. Stop selling your half used Bath and Body works hand sanitizers from the early 90’s for 7.99 on Amazon.
I like the fact that as creatives, when it comes to getting consistent content without a face to face interaction, something I have truthfully struggled with. If you ever run into me at a local show in Philly, and I got mad RBF, I swear I just get crazy tunnel vision, and best be sure I am checking out your guitar and gear, It’s also the lack of health insurance has deterred me from going into mosh pits lately for the past few years. Poetry readings, author signings, and art galleries have been a huge saving grace to many. Like most fellow creatives, sometimes you got to get crafty.
The surge of artists taking to Instagram TV, Twitch Live, and other Streaming services to preform concerts broadcasted to people around the worlds, really says something about the worlds artist community. When you boil down to it we are here to entertain. It doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, and artist, a comedian, or a sick ass poet like Lexi we have a message and an agenda.
And, just a moment, ( I guess in my case about 2 hrs at an anarchists bookstore in Philly) made all the difference. Worth the fear that has been sweeping the media. I mean did anyone see that rave in Italy that was held off someones balcony? I don’t know about you, but I am ready to see some live streaming concerts in the comfort of my home ,and on computer for the next 1000 years.
Buy Lexi's book, buy a t shirt or two because you’re gonna wanna look punk as fuck during this post apocalyptic world, ya know while you’re typing on your MacBook Air, and drinking your take out latte from Starbucks. Shop locally, and if anyone still has My Chemical Romance Tickets for September 16th, Ill trade you a U-Haul full of Charm-in 2ply for one ticket. Until then support your local restaurants, and fellow artists.
Follow Ash on Instagram at:
Buy a copy of The Electra Complex by Lexi Spino on Amazon:
Maureen and I started Long Shot Books to make authors craziest dream projects come true. We wanted to be the people who would say yes to the things other publishing houses think are too crazy. We never wanted to be run-of-the-mill or worst of all, boring. Here's the catch, we're not perfect people. We have little professional experience in the publishing world. (Looking at the “professional” publishing world, I say thank God for that.) We're doing this on the fly, faking it until we make it. We know what we're doing—kind of—but we're far from experts. So, when I say that this project has been something we never imagined our company doing, what I'm saying is that it's exactly what we imagined our publishing house doing. You never hear about publishers challenging themselves. It's all about the authors (as it should be, in many cases) but I'm a complete narcissist, so you're going to listen to me. We're negotiating clothing prices, learning graphic design, having daily phone meetings on my lunch breaks (because we also work forty-plus hours a week on top of this hustle), and finding ourselves in countless positions we never foresaw two years ago when we started this company. It's a lot but it's exactly what we signed up for. (I should also clarify that none of these frustrations are on Lexi's behalf. She's simply pitched good ideas for how to properly release this book. I'm only referring to technical complications with different websites and distributors.)
It's another night of staying up all night working on prepping this book. I was supposed to be done a week ago a week ago. I've had some spats with Amazon KDP before but they were quick to resolve. Not this one. This one has been a battle to end all wars. I finally got it right, order what I'm calling the “First Editions” of the book, and Amazon somehow converts the image to black and white and then darkens the image. (I tested it and found this to be true. I ran it through Gimp and the contrast would have to be altered in order to get it as dark as Amazon was putting it through, despite the preview images all looking distinguishable and having, you know, colors.) I'm going to have to file a complaint with Amazon but for right now, my priority is making sure the book is in top shape for the official release and that all future copies will be A++. In the meantime, I'm going to be decorating my walls with head-shaped holes. My vocabulary has become something like a cross between Paulie Walnuts and the boys in an early season of South Park. What was supposed to be a quick, ten minute update to the back cover tonight turned into a two hour project. I'm done, so, I wanted to talk about this book release (February 8, 2020).
I put everything into my projects. I worked on a movie and fell into a depression for two years because I was unsatisfied with how it turned out. I was so disgusted with myself, I felt like I should be executed for crimes against art. I put all of my self-worth into my books. It's unhealthy. Taking on the responsibility of helping deliver Lexi's book into the world, the pressure is squared. I can't speak for the quality of my own work; I know The Electra Complex is a good book, an amazing book. I had a moment today, sitting in my car before work, where I felt so hopeless, like such a fraud, who would only help authors find disappointment, and asked myself why I put myself through this ringer every day. The answer was obvious. I do it because I want to; I have to, even. These stressful nights leading up to The Electra Complex's release are worth it and more if we can deliver a product that Lexi is proud of. (I already know it's something readers will cherish.) We are stressed. Sometimes, we're at our wits' end. We do this because we believe in Lexi Spino and we care so much about her upcoming book. She deserves a release party with a crowd to rival Beatlemania and she's sure to deliver an unforgettable performance. She's going on a tour for this book and I can't even fathom how that's possible. It's incredible. I'm lucky to be sweating this release. Other publishers won't know what they're missing out on until The Electra Complex hits shelves. Then, they'll think, “How did those losers get their hands on this?” Sometimes, I look forward to wrapping up Atomic Flyswatter Volume 1 and get back to my own books, shit, I drool over getting back to playing The Shadow of the Tomb Raider and marathoning The Wonder Years, and I'm sure Maureen has a life she'll be getting back to. For now, though, there's nothing else we'd rather be doing. The Electra Complex means everything to us. Getting to release this book has been an a privilege and an honor, one we don't intend to take for granted. This book deserves the world and we're going to do everything in our power to make it happen. Whatever “it” might entail. It's what we do.
Stranger Company Collective is an inclusive group that has been taking root in the Pittsburgh area in early 2019. The collective is dedicated to community, resource sharing, mutual support, collaboration, and anti-loneliness with a centered on creative events.
So far the Collective has a number of events running including:
Monthly Drink & Draws – artists spend time in each others company working on projects over beverages of choice. Projects can be personal in nature or an experience to learn together. This event is open to artists of all skill levels and mediums.
Bi-weekly Craft & Chats – members meet up to plan upcoming events and stick around to work on art projects. Meetings are usually the first Thursday and third Sunday of the month.
Birthday Benefits – folks celebrate an well known artist's music/poetry with a fundraiser for a charity of choice. September's benefit showcased Leonard Coen's work and fundraiser for Combatants for Peace. November's benefit focused on Kimya Dawson's music and fundraiser for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.
Monthly Meditation 4 Mental Health – members come together for a mediation and support group centered on learning and discussing self-care strategies.
Check out Stranger Company's Facebook page for current event location and time information.
Here's some Q& A with Jared Blumer, a founding member of Stranger Company:
What led you to wanting to put the collective together?
Two of my favorite bands, of Montreal and Neutral Milk Hotel, were part of a collective back in the early 90's called The Elephant 6 Recording Company and for years I've wanted to be a part of something like that. I was inspired by how members of that collective would play on each others' records and tour together, so I reached out to some friends to see if they would be interested in forming a collective to collaborate and organize shows together. I wanted the collective to be as democratic as possible and do my best to assure that everyone's wants and needs were being met, so I collected feedback from the interested parties and we together formed our mission statement: "The creation of an inclusive artist collective dedicated to community, mutual support, resource sharing, collaboration, and anti-loneliness with a focus on creative events." We have members ranging from visual artists, to musicians, to poets and writers, and encourage artists of all types and skill level to join.
What do you hope Stranger Company can contribute to the community? What need(s) are you looking to fill?
On one level we want to put on fun shows and regularly raise funds for causes we support (so far we've raised money for PAAR and Combatants for Peace), but we also hope to give artists a regular space to meet new friends and feel less alone. Artists have a tendency to self-isolate and struggle with their mental health so our Bi-Weekly meetings give people an opportunity to spend time creating art with other artists and our monthly Meditation 4 Mental Health event aims to provide artists and other community members with resources and skills on coping with mental health struggles and also providing a space to share about their lives in a supportive space and relate to others working to grow in their lives.
How can folks join?
Anyone interested in joining can attend one of our Bi-Weekly Chat & Craft events. (Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/413664192861195/) Members are asked to try to attend one meeting a month, but life gets busy and we encourage self-care over attendance so members attend when they can.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Being a member of the collective could mean attending events on occasion, chatting, and making art, or it could mean being a lead organizer in an event you're inspired to take on. We encourage people of any interest level to attend.
Top Image - Heidi Unkefer "Slime Mountain"
Bottom Image - Andy Warhol
You have people in your life. Family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors. You also probably don't realize you're taking advantage of them. It's easy for us to take those in our lives for granted and not recognize them for all they are. I think we tend to cram people into typecast people into roles based on their relationship to ourselves. We frame them within the context of our own narratives. The thing is, your boss goes home at night and has a life wholly separate from your own. Your friends have interests you probably have no idea about (not just ones secured by incognito windows). You've probably felt underappreciated in some of your own endeavors. The point here is that people are infinitely more complex and interesting than we tend to give them credit for.
I live with four other people (and three cats). One roommate posted on Facebook a few months back that tickets were available for a musical they were going to be performing in. Wut. I had no idea about this at all. I was sleeping under the same roof as this person and had no idea that every night they were going out to rehearse for this performance. So, I go to see it and the show is incredible. It was huge, long, and complex full of singing, speaking, dancing, and all kinds of other things that would take ten lifetimes to get down right. My roommate played a huge role in the production and I felt like the biggest loser for not knowing anything about this. Just recently, one of my favorite coworkers sent out an email that he, too, was in a musical. This is a monotonous guy who has a very dry sense of humor. Of course, I go to his performance, and it's the coolest thing. He's onstage, singing and doing cartwheels, dancing with a rose between his teeth, and beaming the entire time. How was I so close to these people and fail to recognize their talents? Am I just an idiot? (Most likely.) Or do we live in a collective obliviousness to those around us?
The moral of this nonstory is to take an interest in those around you, pay attention to who they are, and support them when you have the chance. I think anybody reading this page knows how isolating it is to have an unrecognized hobby. We've all been locked in a room alone with a word processor. Whether it's a book, an album, or a petting zoo in my basement made out of stuffed roadkill, it's worthwhile to take an interest in the interests of your peers. Not only does it encourage them but it enriches your relationship with those around you.
When I pitched the idea of rebranding articles on this site, Book 'Em was one of the first subjects that came to mind. We want to use this section of the site not only to provide perspectives on the trendiest goings-on in literature but to also help put the spotlight on those in the community doing their best to help others. One of the only tenets of ours that I believe truly affects how we run this company is that each every moment is a new opportunity for growth and that you shouldn't judge one for past mistakes, that we should use our time together not only to learn from each other but to accept that we are all always growing. I can't think of a better example of this than Book 'Em. Not only am I proud to feature them on our page but I feel unworthy to write about them.
In short, Book 'Em is a program which provides books for prisoners. (Think about the feels you got when Andy Dufresne improved the library in Shawshank Redemption.) They are based in Pittsburgh and meet from 4-6 at the Thomas Merton Center the first two (sometimes three) Sundays of the month. It was founded by Etta Cetera nearly twenty years ago(!) in 2000. They are sponsored by The Big Idea bookstore. If this all sounds like I'm just paraphrasing their About Me section, that's because I am, so do yourself a favor and check out the real deal for yourselves: http://bookempa.org/what-we-do It's an all volunteer organization, so do the world a favor and help out.
I reached out to Book 'Em by email and Jodi was kind enough to answer a few questions (and a misunderstanding) I had about their organization.
Update: There was a misunderstanding on my part about a book ban that threatened the way Book 'Em Operates that lead into this part of our exchange. This was an error on my behalf.
How has not being able to donate books to individual prisoners changed your program?
There might be a bit of confusion here. We are still able to donate books to individual prisoners! They still write to us directly with their requests and we hand select books that would be appropriate for them. The only difference is that before being delivered directly the the prisoner, they are sent to the "Security Processing Center" in Bellefonte PA where they are inspected for drugs and contraband. After that, they go to the specific prison and prisoner they are intended for. This has made it take an extra week or two for people to get their packages after we send them, and there were some hiccups at first with people getting the correct books and their book invoices, but that is improving. One of the main differences with the new policies is that we can't send loose paper with the books. This includes our resources guides, materials we might print out from the website, answers to questions about our organization, etc. Instead any non-bound paper we want to send except for the invoices, get sent to Smart Communications, a private company in Florida, where the paper is scanned, sent to the prisoner, reprinted and given to the prisoners. This makes the packing sessions a bit more complicated as it's an extra step for our volunteers to learn and additional postage to mail to FL, but we've gotten used to it.
One big change is that because all of the packages go to one location in central PA now (except for packages sent to Federal Correctional Institutions), we are able to send them together in a large box, vs individually mail them. This has been saving us quite a bit of money of postage as well as time in processing the packages to be mailed.
How has the experience been in Pittsburgh? How has The Big Idea helped as a sponsor?
Pittsburgh is such a fantastic city to be based in! People in the city are extremely supportive. We receive probably hundreds of donated books each week not only from community members who know about our programs but book stores and publishers. We have incredible volunteers and so many groups and organizations get involved with sponsored packing sessions. Plus, we wouldn't be able to operate without the financial support of our monthly donors to cover the cost of our shipping. People in the city also rallied around us when the book ban happened in 2018 helping with call ins to the governor and DOC officials and general push back. Plus we have a great relationship with many of the other criminal justice advocacy groups in the city and are proud to be a part of that network.
The Big Idea Book Store has hosted their Brunch Fundraiser for us, does a great job of promoting events and issues around prison education issues like highlighting books censored by prisons during banned book week. Plus people at the book store can purchase dictionaries and other books for our program while they check out! Additionally, the PA DOC and many other prisons across the country restrict who can send books to prisons to "original sources." Because we are a part of the Big Idea Book Store, we are able to qualify as an original source and send books directly. If we weren't a part of The Big Idea we wouldn't be able to operate! We are also sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a fantastic organization that is a long standing Peace and Social Justice Advocacy nonprofit in Pittsburgh.
As I've been in an on again off again relationship with a the book I've been writing for the past seven years, I'm ashamed to admit I've only recently started thinking about this. I've been asking myself: why am I still doing this? Who is this for? In true Long Shot Books fashion, I don't have any answers to these questions, but I have plenty of thoughts that lead to more unanswered questions.
While I've been thinking about this, I've come across a lot of articles on the 'net that preach writing for yourself, and others that tell you to do the opposite. Then there's a shit ton of articles that talk about it like it's some scale that needs to be balanced, where the answer is somewhere in between.
What team should you play for? Hell if I know. That's a question I can't answer. As with anything, with the good comes the bad:
Write for yourself (screw everybody else):
-I've had the experience of seeing some folks who fall into that mindset where their work is great no matter what. They're geniuses. Any criticism furthers their perception that the're a misunderstood artists. They are Squidwards.
-I've been warned that if you don't try to relate to your readers, they won't be able to connect to your work. You might be perceived as being a bit out of touch, and your work may not resonate the same way it "should."
-I guess you get to honor your vision without letting those fears of how other people will take it stop you?
-It's touted as being a more"honest" work because it's more "you"? (Though you could argue that most people consider themselves the heroes of their own lives and portray themselves as such.)
Write for others (it's not always "selling out"):
-You sell out and write that obligatory holiday book that ends up on a Top 10 (or Top 100) list somewhere.
-You risk coming off as inauthentic if what you're writing isn't "you." (one aspect of impostor syndrome).
-You get so preoccupied with what other people think and get so worried about offending anyone that your art takes a it for it.
-You get readers?
Where am I going with this? Add that to the list of unanswered questions.
My fifth ex-boyfriend once told me I talk in cliches, and maybe he's right, but all I truly know is what I feel. I'm not qualified to dispense life advice. I don't speak from any position of authority, even as the Queen of LSB (for real, that is my job title--according to the bank at least). I'm not particularly profound. I'm just a writer working at a company for other writers. I'm not going to suggest you balance challenging yourself as an artist while delivering a story your readers want to hear--because sometimes the story that needs to be told isn't one that people want to hear (no, I'm not talking about the dystopian genre, even though that's a story I don't want to hear for a different reason). Sometimes it's not always this purpose-driven, intention-filled thing right away. Sometimes you want to enjoy that infatuation you have for that story, that poem, or whatever is consuming you at that moment. Enjoy it. Be in love for a while. Sometimes you just want to speak to be heard, even if you're just reading your poem back to yourself in the solitude of your drafty studio apartment--and the very act of writing these things into existence helps you make sense of whatever you're going through. (Maybe one day that poem or story or thing will make its way into the hands of someone who needs it, too. Writing can be a gift--for who, it doesn't matter. It can keep on giving to anybody you'd like.) Sometimes it doesn't always have to matter who it's for right away.
Or maybe that's another question that doesn't get answered at all.
When someone says, “Everything's been done before,” I puke in my mouth. What a sad statement. What a nihilistic philosophy of art. I'd even go so far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like I'd say that it's a cowardly approach to art. I feel bad for people who feel this way. What value do they place on creativity? What room does that leave in life for innovation? I most often see this empty platitude used to excuse plagiarism or flat-out mediocrity. It's a dismissive way of saying, “Please don't criticize what I like.” To me, it reads more like it's dismissing the accomplishments men and women have made. I would argue that it's a harmful statement. If it's all been done before, why do anything at all
Sure, in a manner of speaking, “those people” are right. Virtually everything has been said and done before, in some manner. I don't prescribe to Christopher Booker's theory about there being seven essential stories we tell and retell, but I also haven't read his doorstopper on the subject, let alone having written my own. There are two types of people. Those who love Tarantino's mixtape approach to filmmaking and those who despise it; I'm both. Yes, I will concede that every work of art is a collage of influences. I don't think that is the same as excusing a pale imitation of one singular other work. I think the more diverse the inspiration, the richer the story. Look at George Lucas' muses: Flash Gordon, Kurosawa movies, Shakespeare plays, Joseph Campbell, World War II iconography. He brought all that together and made something unmistakably his (for further evidence of that, watch the attempts other filmmaker have made to recapture his spark, even under the Star Wars official banner). David Bowie was a chameleon of influences but you can hear his voice on every record (well, literally, yes, in that way, too). Can you name a film like Eraserhead before Eraserhead? There might be parallels but nothing quite like it.
What I want you to take from this article is that even if your story reflects those told before, it doesn't mean that you should shy away from telling it in your own voice. It's hard to be a trailblazer. Some artists make it look so easy to create something successful that there can be temptation to imitate rather than innovate. Just because someone before you has fallen in love doesn't make your love any less worthwhile. Your DNA is yours alone; stamp your art with it. The redundancy of so many tales should give you drive to create something even more radically you. The world doesn't need your best Anne Rice impersonation. It needs the best you, and you owe it to yourself to be as much yourself as you can. Exploring uncharted territory can be frightening. The possibility of opening up so wide only to be rejected is one of the greatest pressures of writing, or any act of creation. The best way to prove those thoughts wrong is by accepting yourself and allowing yourself be unabashedly you.
I saw an article the other day, saying that Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has been taken off reading lists and how this is a deathblow to anti-censorship across the country, again. So, I crack the fucker open (the article, not the book) and come to a realization: Are we supposed to truly care about this? I've suspected for years, now, that the whole Read a Banned Book trend has been a front us artists use to pretend like we give a d*mn about free speech. If I was resourceful, reliable, or professional, I'd cite the article that inspired this one. Unfortunately, I lost it. There are dozens out there, and they're all the same. I'll include some at the end of this tirade.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, possibly in my top ten. I also think the movie adaptation is a masterpiece of American cinema. Heck, I even enjoyed Go Set a Watchman. It's no proper sequel to TKAM, but for a rough draft by a first time author, I think it's beyond impressive. The original novel has shaped my morality on a daily level and I often find myself asking, “What would Atticus do?” I think it's the perfect combination of a nostalgic lookback of a childhood summer while framing Scout's coming of age within a larger societal context with the tragic trial of Tom Robinson (not to mention, as both a horror fan and a social outcast, Boo Radley). Do I think that everyone should read this book? Yes, I do. Do I think people should listen to what some bum on the internet tells them to do? Never. Literature's been around a lot longer than the Finches and it's come a long way since they've made their mark. I don't think the book is dated, but I do think it's more mature than most high school classrooms (at least those I've been in). It was assigned reading for my tenth grade class and it honestly didn't leave much of a mark on me, not until I reread it one summer between semesters at college. I completely sympathize with teachers who might be reading passages from a book with racial slurs or themes like false rape accusations. Yes, it is the teacher's job to contextualize these things in order to enrich a classroom historically and culturally, but I'm also not opposed to classroom copies of the book that censor the really nasty words. I think the blunt vulgarity is more effective and is necessary to show the harsh reality of racism. I also fear that this censorship could be a slippery slope. I don't know how to feel about it, honestly, and I see why many would rather just retire the book to a comfy slot in a library shelf. Look, I think some of the books in the image below (Top 10 Challenged Books of 2017) are pure shit. I'd rather nobody read them but I wouldn't take away their choice to do so. I also would never make some of them required reading.
(Perhaps, this is more a debate for teachers to have among each other than it is for me to have with myself as a writer. The one piece of advice you can take from me is to never listen to what I say. Truly, I don't have faith in artists today as flag-wavers of anti-censorship. We might stand up for those armored with canonical status. Do I see us standing up for our contemporaries? I think many of us are more likely to eliminate the competition through any means necessary. I hope that I'm wrong. We live in a confused time where Barnes & Noble can sell Mein Kampf without criticism. If I want to wank to videos of Hitler giving speeches, I could have done so for a lot longer than I could have found an official Alex Jones video. When it comes to censorship, it seems to me as though the dead are safe in their crypts. Now, political debates are waters my silly publishing house doesn't dip its toes into (If you're one of those people going, "This article is a political statement in and of itself, you hypocrite." You're probably an insufferable twat, but you did catch me by my slimy tail.), but what can be said for all these authors who have their books canceled due to Twitter controversies? (Admittedly, many have pulled out of the deals themselves, but it begs me to wonder, how much were they strong-armed into backing-out?) Long Shot Books was created as a safe space for dangerous art. With all this said, what constitutes a work of literature being so important that it is required reading in the educational system? The answer to that one is far out of my reach. I don't have the answers, any of them, but I've got a fuckton of questions. It seems to me that articles such as this one are written to make sure the controversy remains stirred until the next potential threat to Lee's masterpiece comes around. Personally, I think the Finches will be safe for some time; it's us living writers I fear for.
Thinkpiece on NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/why-are-we-still-teaching-kill-mockingbird-schools-ncna812281
TheStar, “Why It's Time to Move on From To Kill a Mockingbird in Schools: https://www.thestar.com/life/opinion/2018/11/07/why-its-time-to-move-on-from-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html
WLHSnow: “Why 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Should be Taught”: https://wlhsnow.com/top-stories/2018/05/09/why-to-kill-a-mockingbird-should-be-taught/
Washington Post, "Do We Still Really Need Banned Books Week?": https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/do-we-really-still-need-banned-books-week/2018/09/26/80e924be-c0fd-11e8-90c9-23f963eea204_story.html
New Yorker, “In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture?” https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/in-ya-where-is-the-line-between-criticism-and-cancel-culture
Vulture, “The Latest YA Twitter Pile On Forces a Rising Star to Self-Cancel”: https://www.vulture.com/2019/01/ya-twitter-forces-rising-star-author-to-self-cancel.html
USA Today, “Author accused of shaming black Metro employee for eating on train; book deal halted”: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2019/05/11/natasha-tynes-book-deal-halted-amid-metro-shaming-backlash/1176291001/
If you live in the Pittsburgh area and weren't already following City of Asylum, here's even more reason to keep track of their events. They recently announced on Facebook that four National Book Award finalists have performed at their venue. Let this be a reminder to what fertile ground the Pittsburgh area is for talent and, of course, a reminder of all the great work City of Asylum is doing for writers both in the community and around the world. Actually, it's not just a reminder of the great talents from the area but also that Pittsburgh is a place that people travel to read at. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to COA for providing them with such a beautiful venue in our area. Below is their respective information. (All this information is taken from the sites attributed, so please do not mistake any of it for my penmanship. It isn't.)
“Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, former Soviet Union in 1977, and arrived to the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government.
Ilya is the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press) and Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press). He has also co-edited and co-translated many other books, including Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins) and Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (Alice James Books). His awards include the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Writer's Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Metcalf Award, Lannan Foundation's Fellowship and the NEA Fellowship. His poems regularly appear in Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. He has also been awarded Poetry magazine's Levinson Prize. Dancing In Odessa was named the Best Book of the Year by Foreword magazine. Recently, he was on the short-list for Neustadt International Literature Prize. His poems have been translated over twenty languages, and his books have been published in many countries including Turkey, Holland, Russia, France, Mexico, Macedonia, Romania, Spain and China, where his poetry was awarded the Yinchuan International Poetry Prize.
Kaminsky has worked as a law clerk for San Francisco Legal Aid and the National Immigration Law Center. More recently, he worked pro-bono as the Court Appointed Special Advocate for Orphaned Children in Southern California. Currently, he holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Georgia Institute of Technology and lives in Atlanta.”
-from his website
Follow Ilya Kaminsky at:
"Toi Derricotte is an American poet and a professor of writing at University of Pittsburgh. She won a 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. With Cornelius Eady, she co-founded Cave Canem Foundation, a summer workshop for African-American poets."
-from her Facebook
Follow Toi Derricotte at:
Her Website: https://toiderricotte.com/
"Akwaeke Emezi is a writer and video artist based in liminal spaces and a 2018 National Book Foundation '5 Under 35' honoree. Currently longlisted for a National Book Award, their debut YA novel PET (Make Me a World/Random House Children's Books) is also an Indie Next selection and debuted with five starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Bookpage, and Bulletin. Emezi was recently featured in Kirkus Reviews and profiled in The New York Times.
Emezi's debut autobiographical novel FRESHWATER (Grove Atlantic) is in early development as a TV series at FX, with Emezi writing and executive producing with Tamara P. Carter. Translated into ten languages, FRESHWATER was a New York Times Notable Book as well as a finalist for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award, the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, and a Lambda Literary Award. It was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal of Excellence, the Women's Prize for Fiction, the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize, The Wellcome Prize, the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and named a Best Book of the Year by the New Yorker, NPR, the Chicago Public Library, and Buzzfeed. FRESHWATER debuted as an Indies Introduce Title, receiving rave reviews from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, the Guardian, and the LA Times, among others. Their sophomore adult novel, THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books, and their short story 'Who Is Like God' won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. Emezi was photographed by Annie Leibovitz and profiled in the February 2018 issue of Vogue Magazine (Modern Families With A Cause), and their video art series THE UNBLINDING premiered at Gavin Brown's enterprise in Harlem.
Born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria, Emezi was awarded a Global Arts Fund grant in 2017 for the video art in their project The Unblinding, and a Sozopol Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction. Their writing has been published by T Magazine, Dazed Magazine, The Cut, Buzzfeed, Granta Online, Vogue.com, and Commonwealth Writers, among others. Their memoir work was included in The Fader's 'Best Culture Writing of 2015' ('Who Will Claim You?') and their experimental short UDUDEAGU won the Audience Award for Best Short Experimental at the 2014 BlackStar Film Festival.
Emezi is currently making video art and working on their fifth novel. For their upcoming events, click here."
-from their website
Follow Akwaeke Emezi at:
Their Website: https://www.akwaeke.com/
Their public Facebook does not appear to be currently available and didn't want to share a dead link. I can update if anyone notices any changes on that front.
"Jericho Brown is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and he is the winner of the Whiting Writer's Award. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. His third collection is The Tradition (Copper Canyon 2019). His poems have appeared in The Bennington Review, Buzzfeed, Fence, jubilat, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TIME magazine, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry. He is an associate professor and the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University."
-from his website
His Website: https://www.jerichobrown.com/
City of Asylum
"City of Asylum creates a thriving community for writers, readers, and neighbors. We provide sanctuary to endangered literary writers, so that they can continue to write and their voices are not silenced. We offer a broad range of literary programs in a variety of community settings to encourage cross-cultural exchange. We anchor neighborhood economic development by transforming blighted properties into homes for these programs and energizing public spaces through public art with text-based components."
-from their website
Follow them at:
Their Website: https://cityofasylum.org/