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Here's hoping that all of you dear readers had lovely holidays and a felicitous, peaceful, and smooth entry into the beginnings of 2012. During this time of year, I often hear from students who have either graduated recently or long ago and who I now call friends.  Two friends who I mention here are former students from our English Department at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln:  Lenna Pierce is a gifted musician and singer and Emily Danforth is a gifted writer whose first novel comes out in February.  

I had coffee with Lenna Pierce last week. She had just returned from her cross-country one-woman concert tour:  from Lincoln, Nebraska to New York.  It was intriguing listening to her road stories.  She recounted experiences in bars, dives, and very nice concert venues.  Most interesting to me were her descriptions of the music she heard along the way, the musicians she met--alternative, experimental.  Lenna is in a world far and away from popular culture.  The kind of music she creates with her cello, voice and words, transcends anything that is on the radio or I-Pods right now.  I find it literary, creatively multi-layered, so complex in its lightness. Before Lenna went solo, she performed with Rachel West (who accompanied Lenna's cello with an accordian) and they called their duo, "Das Hoboerotica."  They played various venues here in Lincoln, Nebraska until Rachel decided to pursue other interests.  Now Lenna has broadened her concert card to a number of states between here and New York (inclusive of NY). You don't meet many alternative cello playing singers.  Lenna says the cello, "just feels so right.  You know, it's big and warm but it's dark too.  It's not a simple instrument, but it is a beautiful one." Lenna's music reminds me of the Argentine singer, Juana Molina.  Juana sings in what I call "Rioplatense Spanish transcendency." Rioplatense is the regional Spanish she chooses to use in the writing of her songs.  Listen to her here: (CLICK) and also here: (CLICK). She is in a kind of trance, repeating words, verses, shifting chords that shift the listener, move us into another space. Sometimes I imagine Lenna Pierce playing with Juana Molina. What a collaboration that would be!

If you're in Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow (Friday, January 6th) you can hear Lenna Pierce at Meadowlark Coffee House at 8p.m. (1624 South Street).  

Emily Danforth received her PhD in creative writing just last May 2011 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  She is now an Assistant Professor at Rhode Island College in Providence.  
Her soon-to-be-published book, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming of age novel and it is riveting, told in gorgeous descriptive prose. 

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When I read Emily's words, I am literally there lying on the Montana fields watching those slow moving clouds above me.  She carries you from there to heartbreaking and bittersweet first love, loss, and maturity. The book is already a "starred review" from Kirkus Reviews:  "Rich with detail and emotion, a sophisticated read for teens and adults alike."  Booklist also starred it:  "[An] ambitious literary novel, a multidimensional coming-of-age."  It will be released February 7th.  You can also pre-order from your local bookstore!  

Lately, book publishers have been marketing their books with youtube mini-films.  It's brilliant.  Emily's publisher, Balzer and Bray have come 
out with a sweet, lovely "trailer" so to speak, to whet your appetite.  Here it is: CLICK HERE.

I always wish for our students to find what makes their hearts leap, to pursue a passion-- not to pursue what someone else thinks they should be doing. I hope for students to dig deep inside themselves and find their true gifts to develop. Lenna and Emily are passionate about their work.  It shows.  It delights.  We are lucky to have them share their gifts with us.  

And on that note, today I read a wonderful article in the New York Times regarding professors who are taking their lectures "to the bar" or to concert hall venues, or main stages of clubs-- giving lectures for free-- trying out their ideas in public.  This is wonderful.  Here's the article about it entitled:  "Continuing Education, at the Bar."  These are people who wish to reach a different audience from the 8a.m. class.  It's a way to spread the love of learning.  



My Fabulous Students!

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It's that time -- the end of the semester when I am thinking so much about my students and our time in class. Here are some of the books we've read together---

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We've had such a jam-packed semester reading and discussing plays, attending plays, reading/discussing memoirs, novels, watching films, having a myriad of guests, laughing and learning together.  

This is English 212--Lesbian and Gay Literature and the students in this class are strong and powerful individuals who are unafraid to read a wide variety of amazing literature. My thoughts keep going to one of our early readings this semester:  Tony Kushner's play, Angels in America.  In an interview, Kushner discussed his play saying, "The question I am trying to ask is how broad is a community's embrace?  How wide does it reach?" Kushner is speaking of personal as well as political bonds.  In Angels in America, it is only after these personal and political bonds are tested, deconstructed, destroyed, that then community is regenerated/recreated to include connections never before imagined.  I think of our group knitted together within the fabric of literary analysis.  And yet, within that fabric, our analytical discussions unravel our own preconceived notions or break open toward other avenues of inquiry.  The authors we read have created works that problematize what it means to be human or what it means to be an individual within a constructed normative society.  

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Sometimes I wish this could be a year course.  There is so much more to read, so many more films to consider with these works of literature.  I always hope that my students will not stop but continue and many of them do.  Today when one of my students gave me her final paper, she exuberantly told me how she had come across more books in her research and that she will be reading them over the winter break.  Her effusive manner was contagious.  I kept smiling the rest of the afternoon. 

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The Power of PFLAG

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"In 1972, Jeanne Manford started an international movement when she marched with her son Mortie in New York's Gay Pride Parade.  Enraged that her son had been beaten at a gay rights protest two months before while police did nothing, she carried a sign at the Pride march: 'Parents of Gays:  Unite in Support of Our Children'. 30 years later, PFLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is 500 chapters strong with over 250,000 members, supporters, and affiliates worldwide." (PFLAG History)

Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, the PFLAG chapter is going strong.  Last night PFLAG held its biggest fundraiser of the year:  Jack Saltzman's Chocolate Party.  Jack hosts an amazing gathering in celebration of diversity.  His home is a lovely tour of beautiful antiques, a myriad of Christmas trees and lovely chocolate delights.  

All money raised goes directly to offering support, education and advocacy for our LGBTQ young people.  LGBTQ teens are three times as likely to attempt suicide (Soulforce).  "Of all hate crimes reported in 2007, the proportion committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals rose 16.6 percent, also the highest level in five years" (civilrights.org).  It is so important to advocate for our LGBTQ young people. 

I wish for a society that recognizes the gifts that each individual can bring to a community--that every one of us has unique gifts to offer. As soon as someone is left out, as soon as someone is disrespected or violated, we are all left out, we are all disrespected, we are all violated.  

Thanks to you Jack and to all those who attended last night's fundraiser.  If you weren't there but would like to contribute to PFLAG's efforts, here is their website:  PFLAG Lincoln.  Check out the pictures below of our lovely evening:  

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Jack Saltzman and Amelia:  Jack Saltzman's lovely holiday
decorations behind us.  

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John Raible, Amelia Montes, and Randy Messman after tasting the lovely 
chocolate hor d'oeuvres

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Lois Hansen and Pat Tetreault.  Lois and Pat are longtime 
supporters of PFLAG.  Yay for Lois and Pat!!  And below are
the lovely chocolates!

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Last Day of LGBT History Month!

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) English Department
table at the LGBT Banquet.  Left to right: Wendy Oleson,
Emily Danforth, Sonam Singh, Dave Madden, Claire Harlan-Orsi, 
Ariana Vigil, and Joy Ritchie, Chair of the English Dept.

On the last day of LGBT month I am posting a celebratory nod for what was accomplished this month--namely the passing of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. I am also posting what still needs to be done. Since 1991, over 100,000 LGB hate crimes in the U.S. have been reported and documented and thousands more have gone unreported.  After 11 years trying to get this hate crime legislation passed, the Democrats attached it to a $680 billion defense bill they knew would pass and it did, 
68-29.  

What does this mean?  It means that the 1969 U.S. federal hate-crime law has been expanded to include sexual orientation, gender, disability.  The Justice Department can become involved if local/state legislators are unable/unwilling to investigate a hate crime based on sexual orientation.  It also requires the FBI to track statistics on transgender hate crimes (LGB victims are already tracked).  

I think of transgender individuals who were brutally murdered like Gwen Araujo & Larry Fobes King (both from California); Angie Zapata (Colorado);  Imani Williams & Emonie Kiera Spaulding (both from Wash. D.C.); Sanesha Stewart (New York). The list is long.  

There is much more work to be done especially in education.  LGBTQ individuals do not have the same rights as others.  Far from it.  They cannot share health benefits, they cannot be sure that if her/his partner falls ill and must be taken to the hospital that she/he will have access to her/his partner's medical care, even to her/his hospital room. If a partner dies, the other must pay an exhorbitant tax fee to buy back half or all of the house (because she/he is not recognized as a spouse and therefore not a lawful homeowner). Then there is the complexity of children and parental rights.  In Nebraska, LGBTQ individuals are not recognized in a court of law--as if we do not exist.  

When people say, "That's fine that you're gay. It's no business of mine. It's a private matter."  It is not a private matter.  Our lives are public because our lives are constantly scrutinized,  monitered, policed. 

The above picture shows a room full of people.  And it was full! The LGBTQ Banquet at UNL has grown from a small room in the union years ago to a huge banquet hall at The Cornhusker Hotel this year. May it continue!


 

 

 
 
 
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