An article of mine titled "'Talking through Letters': Collaborative Writing in Early Lithuanian Immigrant Life" has been accepted for publication in the journal Written Communication. Another article, "Lithuanian and English Language Use among Early Twentieth Century Lithuanian Immigrants in Chicago" will appear in the book Ethnolinguistic Chicago to be published next year by Lawrence Erlbaum. A reference book entitled For Writers will include several of my suggestions for teaching creative nonfiction writing. I'm currently finishing a class on online learning that I'm taking through MVCR (Making the Virtual Classroom a Reality) with funding from a TEDE grant. Although I've been working hard this first year at EIU, true accomplishment has eluded me: I have yet to win the Guess the Author contest sponsored by the Writing Center Newsletter.
Whetstone, a journal out of Barrington, Illinois, will publish a poem of mine entitled The Kamikaze Remembers in the April issue.
This past semester I was awarded a 700 dollar Finalist Award in Poetry by the Illinois Arts Council. I was thrilled and surprised to win anything, as I had never applied before and had heard stories of "only Chicago artists win anyway." I am glad to report that those stories are false. Apply often, folks. It's well worth the time and effort.
"Bottle Tree" and "Brothers" are two poems that accompanied my application.
Recently I placed two poems, "At 40 She Begins to Write Poems" and "Climbing Down from the Wind," at The Drought: A Literary Review, published out of Beloit College.
I also placed my poem sequence "My Mother Talks of the Slave Labor Camps" at http://www.dp-camp-wildflecken.de/ At that site my poems are to be found under "Photos." Finally, I was pleased to hear that my chapbook, Language of Mules, is being used in a course on "The Literature of Oppression" at The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
It is hard to believe that the Comparative History of Ideas (CHID) program here in Cape Town has been running for over a month now. Almost every moment has seemed chock-full. But I have carved out a chunk of time this morning at the Centre of African Studies to write one of my dispatches and to touch base with you at least once during my sojourn in South Africa.
The CHID program itself is a much bigger enterprise than any overseas study experience I have ever participated in before. Our numbers for one thing are high, there are nearly sixty of us total, 4 faculty, 4 support staff, 45 students. One student brought his wife and three kids along, as has the director. Plus we have had numerous "camp followers": parents, girlfriends, fiances, best friends, former CHID students, colleagues from the states and elsewhere have swelled our numbers at different points, so we are quite a formidable presence in an area of Cape Town called Observatory (better known as Obz) in which we are based. We are leasing five houses: three nicely appointed hostels for the students, a house for the director and his family, a cottagey affair for the three single women on the faculty and staff (Aisling McCormick (pronounced Ash-ling) from Dublin who is also teaching; Sabrina, our cross between Picabo Street an Counsellor Troi; and myself). The other instructor, Doug Merrill has an apartment in Mowbray, just down the road from us.
With so many of us in such a compact location, Obz feels like a village, (and sometimes a panopticon). One can scarcely go out the door without running into someone connected with the program and/or our ever-widening circle of Cape Town acquaintances. Observatory reminds me of a miniature Seattle U-district or Fremont with a shot of Camden town thrown in. It is a bit seedy but some gentrification is going on. It's primarily residential but the street called "Lower main Road" has a surprising number of good restaurants (i.e. great food, beautifully prepared at amazingly cheap prices for Americans, but very reasonable even if one is South African). Consequently, the most ambitious thing I've managed to cook here has been toastOK, and some fruit salad. When meals are this great and this cheap it just doesn't make sense to eat in (especially when one's kitchen lacks almost everything and the fridge doesn't run particularly cold).
In keeping with the numbers and set up, as well as the rubric of the program"Memory, Identity, Conflict and Dialogue"the academic side of things is rather larger in scope than the previous program I was involved with, two years ago. A history professor from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Zuleiga Adams, has been giving an incredible set of lectures on the topic of "Space and Identity in South African Society," focussing on the material consequences of geography and settlement patterns, as well as apartheid policies such as forced removals and the group areas acts, in shaping South African Identities (racial/political etc). She has accompanied her lectures with a number of riveting video documentaries on events like the first forced removal of blacks from Cape Town to the location called Ndabeni in the early 1900s; and on the even more famous forced evacuation and obliteration of the integrated area in Cape Town called District 6. This area, though primarily occupied by those designated as Coloured, that is mixed race, also included Indians, South East Asians, Whites and Blacks, until it was declared a whites only area and its residents moved to Coloured townships such as Mitchell's Plain, Manenberg, Bontehewel, and Lavender Hill. Significantly, the politically liberal whites of Cape Town refused to move into District 6, so it has remained a vacant barren eyesore at the base of Table Mountain to this day, though the ANC now have plans to make reparations to the former residents of this area.
In addition to the lectures, there have been guest speakers and field trips to such places as the District 6 museum, a monument to the vibrant community and an amazing example of urban archaeolgy being used to uncover a past that the National Party government literally sought to pave over. Doug and Aisling and I run two-hour seminars twice a week that provide the students an opportunity to work through readings such as Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom"; Richard Rive's "Buckingham Palace"; Zoe Wicomb's "David's Story"; Mark Behr's "Smell of Apples"; Coetzee's "Disgrace" and Sindiwe Magona's "Mother to Mother"; plus a bunch of critical essays.
Another aspect of my work here has been helping students set up internships, or what we are calling engaged comunity learning with local NGOs. Because our program is so big we have come to the attention of the US consulate here and Jim Clowes and I have been invited to a number of their soirees. I find this kind of schmoozing on behalf of the students lots of fun and have been fortunate in making some great connections that hopefully will benefit EIU if we get a program going here as well.
Though quite busy there has been some time for some R&R. I have signed up for Pilates' classes and have also joined a local gym. Given its location at the base of Table Mountain, Cape Town has lots of wonderful hiking trails through places such as Newlands Forest, around the Rhodes Memorial and on a number of peaks like Lion's Head, Signal Hill, and up to the Table itself. An area called Sea Point has a promenade on the Atlantic coast that runs for several miles, perfect for running, brisk walks and leisurely strolls. Of course, there are lots of gorgeous beaches but the arctic chill of the water usually precludes more that a quick dip and some wild splashing in the sea.
Because Cape Town is so urbanized one's contact with the wild is fairly limited. But I have managed one exotic encounter thus far. On the weekend prior to the program's start, the faculty went on a retreat to Boulders Beach, one of SA's three penguin colonies. After two days of intensive discussion, planning, "bonding" etc, we ended our last evening there with a swim in the cove just below our hotel. During the day there are at least as many tourists as there are penguins (or so it seems) but at eleven pm the beach was deserted except for ourselves. A number of us decided to go swimming and plunged in the cool but not freezing (because sheltered) waters. I must say, the idea of swimming with penguins gave me as much pleasure as the actual experience, but it is an amazing rush to feel the penguins, so comic on land, glide effortlessly and so speedily by one in the dark of the moonless night. And the strange raw braying and humphing sound they emit made the experience all the more unearthly.
Cape Town is a city of high contrasts geographically dominated by the huge mass of Table Mountain and surrounded by the turquoise blue of the sea. The economic and social contrasts are even more striking and compelling and seem to inflect every action with moral significance, which makes being here incredibly challenging so much of the time, especially with a band of impressionable youths in tow. But it is also very exciting and interesting to be in a transitional society, to be learning and gaining much even as one is being stretched.