Parents Who Write: Lita Kurth

I first met Lita Kurth in 2014 at Flash Fiction Forum, a monthly submission-based literary series in San Jose that she co-founded and curates with fellow writer Tania Martin. Lita is a Renaissance woman: writer, teacher, community organizer, activist, parent. Her work has been published in Fjords ReviewBrain,ChildMain Street RagTikkunNewVerseNewsBlast Furnaceellipsis…literature and artComposeReduxRaven ChroniclesTattoo HighwayComposite ArtsVerbatim Poetry, the Santa Clara ReviewGyroscope ReviewVermont Literary Review, DNA, and othersShe contributes to Tikkun.org/tikkundaily, TheReviewReview.net, and classism.org.

Anyone who knows her knows how successful she is at bringing people together. It is thanks to her and Tania that Play On Words got to perform at Anne and Mark's Art Party last year--a wonderful event. When I knew I wanted to start interviewing writers with children, she was an obvious choice. A million thanks to her for taking time out of her busy day to answer some questions!

Lita Kurth

Lita Kurth

How many children do you have? How old are they?
I have one daughter, Lilyanne, who is eighteen and a freshman in college, away from home, this year.

How many hats do you wear in your household? I.e. how many gigs do you have?
Cleaner, cooker, shopper, maker and planner of holidays, gardener, sender of cards and packages, noticer of things that need repair, clutterer, cat entertainer—and designated political activist. I actually spend a ton of time on political stuff: meetings, writing, info sharing and belong to several organizations dedicated to issues like housing, wage theft, progressive candidates, etc. Any leftover time is spent co-running Flash Fiction Forum, teaching writing workshops in my house and online (I also teach part-time at De Anza College), encouraging other writers and trying to attend as many local literary events as possible. And reading! When something has to give, it’s usually sleep and then my sanity.

How long have you been a writer?
Maybe since my haiku in fourth grade, but definitely since winning fourth prize (and $15 and a plaque!) in an essay contest sponsored by the Rex Rod and Gun Club on the weighty topic: who needs conservation? My brilliant idea was to write it as a poem. Luckily, I only remember one line: “Have you ever seen a forest God has made in all His grace?” I can only imagine what the other entries were like.

Tell me about your relationship to writing before you had children.
I worked full-time and more than full-time as a community college writing teacher before having my daughter. I wrote my first (unpublished) novel in 15-minute increments before running off to teach the first of four daily classes at two or three institutions. Summers I was usually unemployed, but having the entire day was also not good for me as a writer.

When I had my daughter, I actually was able to cut down to part-time work and be a part-time mom. That worked well for me on the whole although middle-class parenthood has metastasized into way more than a full-time job.

How did you expect parenthood to impact your writing? Did it? 
I assumed I’d get virtually nothing written the first year; I wanted to commit myself to motherhood. I was an old mother, however, so I already had a career I liked (even if I had too much of it) and I had a backlog of old writing to work on when I had time. Plus, I enjoyed very much writing about my daughter and motherhood. I published a few things including an essay called “Momnipotence” in Brain Child.

Have you shared your writing with your children? If not, do you plan to someday?
Quite a bit of it. I often ask my daughter and husband to listen to any flash fiction or other work I’m going to perform. They are both excellent editors. I haven’t shared writing about my lowest lows or majorly adult content, however. But I sometimes wonder if my daughter will at all be interested in having my journals one day (assuming the Library of Congress does not contact me about acquiring them).

Is there a poem, short story, novel or play that you return to when you are stuck in your writing?
I wish there were! I read psycho-spiritual books regularly which helps sometimes. I read essays by other writers which helps a lot. I recommend John Steinbeck’s two journals, one he wrote while writingThe Grapes of Wrath and the other while writing East of Eden. I took over responsibility for a Facebook group (not that there’s anything to manage, really) I enjoyed called Paper Our Walls With Rejection Slips II where we faithfully report our failures and rejections in an atmosphere of encouragement and sometimes outrage.

How has your approach to the artistic process changed since becoming a parent? (If it has?)
Parenthood enhanced my community connections and those connections with fellow parents grew into the core of my writing community! Those people and a few others from other segments of my life grew into a web that is both personal and artistic-- and vital to my sense of being part of the South Bay writers’ and artists’ community, a community I am so proud of.

What piece of culture are you obsessed with right now?
Recently, I’ve been obsessed with the way political trauma has expressed itself in the arts (and also the way much of it is not yet finding expression). At this very moment, I’ve been writing a series of extremely unorthodox Lenten reflections and I’m obsessed with the role of women in the Easter story; I’m also obsessed with the deplorable sinking of employee rights and rise of income inequality, the way so many communities are left to struggle, suffer, meet impossible demands, and then get punished. Those thorny human problems concern me greatly and often make their way into my work.


Do you have any projects or publications you’d like to tell me about? Or goals for future projects/publications?
I’m trying to send out my finished but not published novel, The Rosa Luxemburg Exotic Dance Collective. I so deeply hate the process of approaching agents and writing query letters that sometimes I can’t make myself do it though I feel my novel is exactly right for this political moment. I’ve begun yet another novel that’s more personal and deals with the interpersonal struggles that arise in spiritual and political communities as well as the end of a marriage. And I always have a million small projects cooking!

Thanks, Julia, for connecting our communities through your blog.
Thank you, Lita!
 

Are you a writer who is also a parent? I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me and I'll follow up with some interview questions. 

Parents Who Write: Allison Landa

I am a writer and mother to a 10-month-old girl.
Sometimes I feel like these two identities are in conflict. Other times, they are one and the same. Who are we without our words, without our family? I write every day for work: profiles, interviews, emails, ad copy. And yet, since having my daughter, when I write, my heart is lying awake in the next room. My heart is a bird that flies above her head, an invisible kite that she has tied to her hand. In a recent conversation with my boss, who is also a writer, I realized that I am indeed missing something: my voice. Where did it go?

While I grapple with that question, I decided to turn to a community of writers I know who have children and ask them how they feel. I want to know if becoming a parent impacts the way people write--if it rewires the way we think. The first of my friends to respond is Allison Landa, a wonderful Bay Area writer who I first met in early 2016, when Play On Words performed an excerpt of Not the Madonna. A piece which, interestingly enough, described how she discovered that she was pregnant with her son Baz. 

Allison Landa with her husband Adam and son Baz.

Allison Landa with her husband Adam and son Baz.

How many children do you have? How old are they?
One – Baz Franklin Sandler (AKA Poppy, Bazzy-Ola, D.J. B. Frank). 18 months in age. Eternal in personality. Fleeting in being shorter than me.

How many hats do you wear in your household? I.e. how many gigs do you have?
Oh, my. I range from sports cap to fedora. I’m the bad dishwasher, the reluctant diaper-changer, the dog-wrangler, the husband-lover. Mostly I’m the couch warmer.

How long have you been a writer?
Forever and a day, my friend. Always.

Tell me about your relationship to writing before you had children.
Oh, we were tight. Not necessarily monogamous since I also enjoyed the company of sushi, but writing was always my main man. My bottom bitch. I would rather write than just about anything else. Always.

How did you expect parenthood to impact your writing? Did it? 
Oh yes. Fantastically. For the better than best. I am smarter and sharper in words, more economical with my time, somewhat more disciplined. Honestly, it really has only improved things.

Have you shared your writing with your children? If not, do you plan to someday?
Yes and oh my yes. I’m putting this kid to work. He’s going to be a beta reader if I have to sit on his head to do it. In all seriousness, I want to involve him. I want to hand him a page and say: “Bazzy, what do you think of this?” I don’t want to close off my creativity to him. I want him to be part of it, to understand what Mom does for love and money and questionable morality. And I truly believe he is and will continue to be that part.

Is there a poem, short story, novel or play that you return to when you are stuck in your writing?
 I like quotes. One of my favorites is from E.L. Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Another is Miles Davis: “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” Another still is Yogi Berra: “I never said most of the things I said.” Or maybe that was Yogi Bear. I forget.

How has your approach to the artistic process changed since becoming a parent? (If it has?)
I’m better able to slow down and take in the meaning of a moment. I’m more confident in remaining in that moment and pulling out its significance, rather than rushing through. I’m also (at least a little) more comfortable with being critiqued, criticized, pulled apart, unjustly disparaged…yeah, I’m still sensitive. Duh.

What piece of culture are you obsessed with right now?
I’m loving Dave Eggers’ Heroes of the Frontier–-it’s SO worth checking out. It’s a gorgeous meditation on so many things, including parenthood, Alaska, and the futility of driving an RV. I want to be this book.

Do you have any projects or publications you’d like to tell me about? Or goals for future projects/publications?
Right now I’m struggling with the revise of BEARDED LADY, a memoir-turned-Young Adult novel that has gone through what feels like every possible incarnation over the last decade. Wait. It hasn’t yet been sci-fi. Or anime. Those are both good ideas.

Thank you Allison for sharing your wisdom.
Are you a writer who is also a parent? I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me and I'll follow up with some interview questions. 

 

Election Eve, 2016

It is the night before the presidential election, 2016.

Secretary of State and former First Lady Hillary Clinton is running against reality tv star, real estate mogul and alleged child molester Donald Trump.

These two individuals are supposed to represent party equivalents. After nearly two years of campaigning I still can’t believe that. I am 32 years old. I’ve voted in every election since 2002; my first presidential vote was for John Kerry in 2004. I still remember the day after George W. Bush was reelected. I was a sophomore at UCSB and an avid runner. When I heard the news I was filled with such apathy and disappointment that I vowed to run until I felt better. I went to the campus track and ran 36 consecutive laps; 9 miles. In the end exhaustion won out. A few months later I left the country for five months.

2008 was a different journey altogether. I was 24 and living in San Francisco, eking out a life as an international student advisor at a local English school. I had finally landed a full-time job after a series of unpaid internships. The cost of my health insurance, which, embarrassingly, my parents paid for, was eclipsed only by my rent. I followed the election religiously and was inspired by Shepard Fairey’s depictions of hope and change that were screen-printed all over my neighborhood. That October I was in Denver for my cousin’s wedding only a few weeks after the Democratic National Convention. I remember running through downtown Denver, admiring the blue graffiti.

The night Obama was elected I was at a friend’s house in the Mission, a bunch of us progressives huddled around a television. After eight years of GW, I was unaccustomed to trusting our political system. And then, live on television, we witnessed history happen. We were all holding pots and pans and wooden spoons, and as soon as the final count came in, we stood up as one, rattling our cookware and laughing. That night I skipped the bus and walked all the way up Mission to Bernal Hill, shouting “O - BAM - A” and slapping high fives with everyone on the street. The city reverberated with a new, tingling energy. That night remains one of the best nights of my life, because few feelings light you up the way real change can. Finally we had a leader who represented our interests, our needs, our contributions, our future.

In January 2009 I bought a ticket to DC to attend the inauguration. I had no invite; there was no formal plan. I just knew I needed to be there, that we were experiencing a generational shift that I needed to witness firsthand. I stayed with some friends in the city and walked through an audience of thousands on the National Mall. It was freezing. I wore a snowboarding jacket and brought hand-warmers. My friends and I could barely make out the line of politicians on the dais, but we could hear the echo of our president’s voice vibrate through the crowd. I will never regret that trip.

I remember only one thing about the 2012 election: Mitt Romney’s “binder full of women.” By then I was 28, a recent master’s graduate, living in San Jose with my then-boyfriend, working a proper nine-to-five. As we watched the votes pour in, I told Ryan that if the country “re-upped four years” with Obama, I, too, would re-up four years with him. A month after Obama was reelected, we got engaged.

Four years is both a substantial passage of time and a drop in the bucket. Gay marriage is now legal. We have more women on the Supreme Court. While we continue to make strides toward creating a fairer, safer world, we still face real threats at home and abroad. Our fellow humans in Syria are suffering. The movement of refugees and migrants across Europe has created yet another humanitarian crisis that we as Americans must address. Though we have made great progress for our LGTBQ communities, we still have a long way to go in supporting our transgender allies. Gun violence is real. Violence against people of color, often at the hands of law enforcement, is documented at an uncanny pace, and yet justice still awaits the victims and their families. Whoever becomes president has their job cut out for them.

While 2016 has been a particularly turbulent year around the world, it has been a year of milestones for my family. Ryan and I had our first child, a girl, in May. We did not know her gender throughout my pregnancy; a conscious choice, because we (okay, I) did not want to burden our child with undue expectations before entering the world. I was actually quite certain that I was carrying a boy. When I first saw her, late at night after an exciting and adrenaline-filled labor, I was too surprised to absorb this new love. Ten seconds into life and she had already subverted my expectations. She was small but powerful, with a voice that echoed down the halls of the hospital. Her entire being lit me up. Here she was, this new human. She didn’t know what it meant to be a woman. All she could do was fill her lungs with air and release her energy to the world. And when she cried, I felt it in my body: she is inheriting a new world.

A world where a woman could be the president of the United States.

It is the night before the election and she is asleep in her crib. I am restless. The radio is always on. I keep refreshing New York Times. I have to believe we will win. I have to know that my girl will be born in an era when the first African-American president turns over the White House to the first woman in the Oval Office. I have to believe this, because if we succeed in choosing love over hate, in embracing diversity over fear, then my daughter has so much more to believe in as a young woman. With a woman in a position of political power, she can grow up focusing on her skills and talents, and not her gender. Her experience, knowledge and compassion will be valued as highly as (if not higher than) her appearance.

 

Tonight, as with all other election eves, I went on a run. This time I took my daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silicon Valley Artist Sample

I am applying for the SV Creates Artist Laureate award in the off-stage category. I am attaching my writing sample here. All of these pieces have been previously published, and in the case of "Soloist," performed.

As proof of my literary contributions to Silicon Valley, I'd love to direct reviewers to the Play On Words YouTube channel, where you can watch recordings of past performances.

To anyone else who might find this: I hope you enjoy my work.

Our northern light

The biggest story in my life is my newborn daughter, Aurora. I have been slowly hatching a piece about her, this beautiful girl that we named after the Aurora Borealis. I am grateful to have had a healthy pregnancy and birth, and beyond overjoyed to have welcomed such a bright, charming, smart human to the world. 

While I am still dedicated to my fiction projects, this year is the year of Rory. The year our universe shifts. And I'm very happy with that.

The Saralee Recordings

Happy New Year! I'm excited to share that my essay, "The Saralee Recordings", will be published in Oracle Fine Arts Review in spring 2016. I'm honored to be included in this publication for the second year in a row.

Other big news: our first Play On Words show of 2016 was a great success! Many thanks to our amazing writers and performers for helping us fill Cafe Stritch. Volunteer photographers Andrew Christian and Leo Alvarez took some great photos, which you can see on the POW Facebook page. South Bay Pulse provided amazing video content of the show, which you can view as Part One and Part Two. We hope to produce more shows later this year.

 

 

#FFF's Literary Pub Crawl: November 22

I'm delighted to be reading a few of my 100-word stories this Sunday, November 22, at San Jose's first-ever Literary Pub Crawl, hosted by the masterminds behind the Flash Fiction Forum

There are four main stages of the event, all located in San Jose’s SOFA district:

Hope to see you there!

Pushcart Nomination

I am very pleased to announce that my piece, "Red Tide," has been nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize for fiction by the Oracle Fine Arts Review, published by the University of South Alabama.

Congratulations to all the nominees this year, and many thanks to the editors for including me in this lineup. You can read this piece, which is a narrative composed of five interlocking 100-word stories, by clicking here and scrolling to page 141. I am grateful for this opportunity to share my work.