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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.


    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

    Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

    She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

    Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

    She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

    “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

    “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

    “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

    The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

    “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

    “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

    The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

    “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

    “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

    Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

    “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

    “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

    “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

    “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

    “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

    “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

    There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

    They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

    “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

    “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

    He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

    “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

    “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

    “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

    Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

    Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

    Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

    Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

    “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

    The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

    “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

    “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

    “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

    “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

    Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

    “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

    “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

    “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

    Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

    Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

    Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

    “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

    All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

    “Here you go, ma’am.”

    Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

    “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

    Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

    “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

    She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

    “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

    “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

    “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

    “Now isn’t that something?”

    She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

    “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

    Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

    Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

    She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

    The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

    “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

    “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

    He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

    Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

    And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

    She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

    “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

    That’s when Floyd said no more.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

    “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

    “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

    And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

    Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

    “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

    That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

    “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

    “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

    And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

    “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

    But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

    “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

    “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

    The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

    “Does she have a cell phone?”

    “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

    They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

    “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

    Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

    By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

    “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

    “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

    He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

    Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

    Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

    “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

    He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

    Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

    “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.


    “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

    “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

    “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

    “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

    “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

    Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

    “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

    “I know that.”

    “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

    Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

    When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

    “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

    Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

    “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

    They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

    “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

    “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

    “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

    “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

    Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

    “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

    “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

    “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

    “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

    “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

    “Can you do it?”

    “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

    “How do you mean?”

    “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

    He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

    “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

    “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

    “Is it important?”

    “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

    “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

    He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.


    voice from the planet

    ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

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Literary Culture Decentralized at LA’s Little Literary Fair


A brand-new book fair premiered in Los Angeles in July. LitLit, the Little Literary Fair was free and open to the public, and featured more than 20 exhibitors ⁠— independent publishers, booksellers and cultural creators from Los Angeles and the rest of the West Coast.

Charles Degelman, author of Gates of Eden and A Bowl Full of Nails, enjoyed the streams of people flowing by Harvard Square Editions’ booth and the “extraordinary variety of the festival participants. LitLit proved to be as diverse as Los Angeles can be! Beautiful space, wonderful interaction between readers, writers, and publishers.”


Left, Susan Rubin, playwright and author of forthcoming novel ROAD NOT TAKEN. Right, Charles Degelman, author of A BOWL FULL OF NAILS, fields a question about Harvard Square Editions’ titles winning awards such as the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35, IPPY and Nautilus prizes.

“We were most excited by the enormous amount of interest in small literary houses on the part of the general public,” said Diane Haithman, journalist and author of the diverse, debut novel Dark Lady of Hollywood.

The fair is meant to highlight the burgeoning small-press scene in L.A., according to Tom Lutz, founder and editor-in-chief of the LA Review of Books.

“The small press world of Los Angeles is exploding,” Lutz said. “At least half the small presses that are in the fair have been born in the last decade. It is part of L.A., which had always been home to great writers, really coming into its own as a literary city.”

“They each have things they do best, and some are the best in the country at what they do,” Lutz said.

Exhibitors included California-based presses Harvard Square Editions, Red Hen, Not a Cult, Unnamed Press, Angel City Press, Rare Bird Books and Kaya Press.

The Los Angeles Public Library, Words Uncaged, and the LARB/USC Publishing Workshop were among other exhibitors at the fair, which featured interviews and panel discussions focusing on “themes such as activism, art, and absurdity,” organizers said.

The new book fair grew out of a partnership between Hauser & Wirth Publishers, a branch of the Zurich-based art gallery, and the Los Angeles Review of Books and took place at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, the arts complex in L.A.’s Downtown Arts District. The arts complex, located in a former flour mill, is the home of Hauser & Wirth gallery, the Artbook bookstore and Kris Tominaga’s restaurant Manuela.

Michaela Unterdörfer, publisher of Hauser & Wirth Publishers, said the fair was inspired “by the vibrant ecosystem of West Coast publishing.”

“Los Angeles has such a rich history of cross-disciplinary cultural production, and for decades there’s been a strong, if under-recognized, tradition of artists and publishers who have shaped Southern California’s literary scene through their dedication to the potential of publications as artistic mediums,” Unterdörfer added.

“Recently, this has been furthered by the significant emergence of collectives, small presses and independent publishers that’s allowing a discursive and highly engaged community to flourish in new and innovative ways.”

Los Angeles Review of Books editor Lutz said, “L.A. has played second fiddle to New York in so many areas of culture for so long, but now the city is recognized as on a par in many of the arts. At the same time, culture is decentralizing and diversifying — this is part of a nationwide and worldwide phenomenon — L.A. is prepared for this shift and is building the new infrastructure for it.”

No photo description available.

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Invictus Fr small

In early June, Harvard Square Editions author, L.L. Holt, read from her new novel, Invictus, at A Novel Idea on Passyunk, one of Philadelphia’s most exciting small bookshops with a bohemian flair. The book launch coincided with a South Philly street fair, and there was music and the scent of delicious ethnic food in the air.

Book launch

Visitors entered the bookshop as Holt shared some surprising information about the tumultuous early years of the composer Beethoven and brought her theatrical training to readings that included a vivid depiction of a family crisis.

“Two of the people Sunday came up to me with tears in their eyes after I read one of the domestic violence episodes from the book,” said Holt. One man said it really hit close to home for him. A woman said that the book reassured her that there is hope for those who escape from domestic violence. “If he could go on and make something of his life, then there’s hope for others, too,” she said.


LLHolt and Diana Antal at book launch Invictusaudience

By presenting Invictus in public readings, Holt has discovered aspects of the book, such as its dramatic retelling of incidents of prejudice and domestic abuse, that have struck a responsive note with the public. “It’s not just a book about a beloved composer,” she said, “but a guidebook for confronting and moving beyond the obstacles that others put in our way.”

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for Anjana

by Rajani Kanth


Where’s redress

For a broken



Not one,

or two,

But Six ? –


‘Tis a




a spirit




There is





No physic

That can




serves –




Nor even



And pure


Of all of




by far

is it the

worst –


to forge

a mind that

ever fawns –


and  a heart

that must

yearn –

or burst


love’s perjuries

are too well



but this –

I swear –

I own


There is no


So condign –


As to  ache,

in  ardor,


[©R.Kanth, 2019]  


Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda, and Expiations, is Trustee of the World Peace Congress

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The Cats of Rhodes

by Carrie Tuhy




The cats of Rhodes are black—and white;
White with a black tail,
One cat of Rhodes.
Poised, paralyzed, possessed,
Eyes fixed on a lizard descending the center wall,
He waits, then pounces and pounces again.
And again.

The cats of Rhodes are tri-colored, and variegated:
Black and white and smoky gray,
Caramel, calico, tangerine.
They sit, they sprawl, spreading out
fc075511-b4db-460d-8248-d56b4771065cOn car tops and stone paths
Heated by the Mediterranean sun,
Even in October winds.

The cats of Rhodes are furry, furtive creatures,
Hiding in shadowy corners, under arches,
Perched on pebbled stoops of shuttered houses,
Asleep among the bustling caverns of merchant kiosks.
They are the tourists who never leave;
The ship-less hordes freed of hurry.
They rule this empire of mythic gods,
This island kingdom born of Aegean waves,
All verdant beauty now.

IMG_0879bThe cats of Rhodes are the Knights of St. John—
Without a crusade.
Lazy, grazing, scavenging.
Feed me, they purr
To food sellers hungry for more human customers.
I am the connoisseur of your kitchen.
Throw me your scraps, and I will feast,
Cries the white cat with the black tail.

The cats of Rhodes recline in sun-kissed splendor,
Tummies turned skyward, mouths agape—
All tiny teeth and curling tongues,
Tails swaying slowly, back and forth.
They rise and stretch–primp and preen for greedy photographers.
Then strut, a parade of kittens in their wake
Until one halts—frozen, eagle-eyed, on guard.
He waits, and waits,
And waits some more
For another elusive lizard.

45153588_1434142383401925_5613475672656707584_nCarrie Tuhy (top row, third cat from right) wrote and performed ‘The Cats of Rhodes’ to saxophone accompaniment during her stay at The Three Seas Writers’ Retreat in Rhodes, Greece, sponsored by Harvard Square Editions, the Three Seas organization and the Municipality of Rhodes.

Carrie TuhyCarrie is a long-time journalist who spent many years at Time Inc. as a magazine editor. Along with her positions at LIFE, Money and InStyle, she was also editor-in-chief of Real Simple where she published many accomplished fiction writers. She has also reviewed both fiction and non-fiction tiles for Publishers Weekly as well as having written author profiles including interviews with Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Gottlieb, the former editor of the New Yorker. She is currently working on a book with the working title Second Lives of Women.

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The Circle, by Brussels expats

THECIRCLE Front10.19

The editor of the new anthology by members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle talks about community, pride and providing an outlet to new writers

Are you the type who would sell your brother out to space aliens? Set out to complete someone else’s bucket list? Deal in priceless stolen goods? Then you’ll find comrades in The Circle, a new anthology of short stories.

Though you’ll find your comrades there in any case: All the stories and poetry that appear in The Circle were written by Brussels expats. Now in bookstores, it is being launched next week at a reading at Waterstones.

The title is a clever reference to Brussels Writers’ Circle (BWC), a community group made up of expats who write in English. It’s the group’s second anthology; the first, A Circle of Words, was published in 2016. Both are published by Harvard Square Editions, based in Hollywood.

“It’s a collection of short stories and poetry by people who at some moment have made Brussels their home. That’s the unifying element,” says Patrick ten Brink, who edited the book. “The second unifying element is that they all link to the Brussels Writers Circle.”

groupSome members of BWC are published authors or journalists, while other are simply enthusiasts, putting pen to paper (so to speak) for their own enjoyment. All of them had the chance to publish in the anthology, which includes 55 pieces by 34 authors.

New voices in fiction

The group is publishing anthologies to find an audience for the works, many of which aren’t published elsewhere. Though they might eventually be; some of the works are first chapters of novels yet to be completed.

“We have a range of writers, some of whom are quite experienced, who have published, who have won some prizes,” says ten Brink. “But others are very much new enthusiasts. So what we thought we’d do is have something to show to the world, to allow new voices to get a little bit of exposure.”


BWC counts about 350 members, and 10 or so usually show up to one of the two weekly meetings. Two or three authors read their work and get direct feedback from the rest – about plot, voice, tension, character development, story arcs and structure – all aspects of the writer’s craft.The anthologies, explains ten Brink (pictured below), “give a sense of completion to the process. We all talk about each other’s work, and then once in a while we get an email saying, ‘I’ve got this published here and published there’, and we thought it would be nice to have something in which we can all collectively be proud.”

He thinks The Circle can also inspire other writers in Brussels to join the group. “Because they can see that the work is actually leading to something.”

Patrick Ten BrinkPatrick

The numerous works are eclectic in both style and content. Some have been published elsewhere, such as Colin Walsh’s beautifully written “The Flare Carves Itself Through the Dark”, winner of Ireland’s Francis MacManus Annual Short Story Competition.

Other standouts in the anthology are Aisling Henrard’s “Lining Their Pockets”, in which an average evening in a new housing development turns into a celestial cock-up, and Martin Jones’ “Shimmer”, which brings the secrets hiding in the wooded outskirts of Moscow startlingly to life.

Many of the authors, however, do not have English as a first language, making the trip to getting published in the anthology a bit more rocky. “The ambition, of course, was to be as inclusive as we could, but we didn’t want to end up with a lack of quality,” explains ten Brink. “So we created guidelines; everyone who submitted a piece for the anthology had to fulfil certain criteria.”

Mauricio-2 That included reading at one of the BWC meetings and taking the comments on board. Then three members of the group read through the submissions and gave another round of comments. Two rounds of edits followed that.

That means a lot more effort than a normal collection of short stories would require, but that’s the point of the BWC after all – to make the writing better. “Some people wrote brilliantly straight off and only had to be tweaked,” says ten Brink, “while with others we had quite a few back-and-forth sessions. So the process was meant to get people included.” In the end, only a few people who submitted stories didn’t make the anthology.

‘Positive and necessary’

While some of the works in The Circle are based on reality – ten Brink’s own intriguing story, “The Half-Apple”, is about a recurring sight on a Brussels pavement down the street from where he used to live – just one is purely non-fiction. And while caving isn’t something I ever thought I’d be interested in, I have to admit that Nicholas Parrott’s description of the cave systems snaking through the Pyrenees had me pretty riveted.

Joost Hiltermann’s “Kawa’s Calvary”, meanwhile, is a riveting account of one Kurdish rebel fighter’s experiences in Northern Iraq. A programme director at the International Crisis Group, Hiltermann is working on fictionalised accounts of witness testimonies to reach a broader audience. Because, he says in his anthology bio, “if we are to be an international community, tragedy must be shared”.

Like most of the book’s contributors, neither Hiltermann nor ten Brink are authors for a living. ten Brink – born in Germany, but raised mostly in Australia and Japan – is the policy director at the European Environmental Bureau. Writing is a hobby, and BWC is, he says, his way of contributing to the local community.

“I think in these times, a group of people getting together across cultures and across languages to actually write in English, with a common purpose, is something that is empowering and positive and necessary,” he says.

When asked why someone might choose this anthology out of a rack of others if they are, say, at the airport and about to board a plane, his response is again compelling. “If you’re getting on the plane from Brussels, and you’re flying away to somewhere else, then you are very similar to many of the authors who have written pieces here. It’s a sense of the community of the international world that has made Brussels their home.”

Authors of The Circle will read from their work at 19.00 on 22 November at Waterstones, Boulevard Adolphe Max 71, Brussels
Written by Lisa Bradshaw, Via The Bulletin

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Finding discipline and inspiration among writers

A colleague shares his experience of the Brussels Writers’ Circle

Interview by Ciprian Begu, CEND, via Commission en Direct



When he is not busy helping Europe’s citizens and businesses navigate Single Market rules in DG GROW’s SOLVIT team, David Ellard writes epic science fiction. A self-described ‘aspirant writer’, David has been an integral part of the Brussels Writers’ Circle, a club he has chaired for years, where both beginners and seasoned pros gather weekly to share their work. Commission en direct talked to David about his experience.

What drew you to writing?

I think it started off with an interest in reading. Then, at a certain point, I began to wonder, well how do they make those words I’m reading on the printed page in the first place? And then the more geeky side of my personality has always been interested in imagined worlds, and wondered, how do I go about interesting other people in the products of my own imagination? So, that drew me inevitably to science fiction and fantasy as genres for writing.

And then I start analysing the world in terms of, how can I transcribe this stuff into a novel? The people I meet, situations I encounter, articles on science and philosophy that I read and so on… I think there’s a sort of ‘aspirant writer’s eye’. Most of us will walk past a beautiful building and think, wow that’s nice! But an architect (or someone who aspires to the part) will look at it and note the symmetry of the columns or the construction of the portico…

What have you written already?

I’m most proud of a short novella I wrote which is dream fiction. It actually came out of a dream (or rather nightmare) that I had one night at about 3:00 in the morning. I woke up and was too scared to go back to sleep, so I noted mentally the main points and then started to write it up as a sort of post-facto rationalisation of what the nightmare was actually about.

I am also working on an epic science fiction novel. I started with the idea of the opening chapter, and the end, and worked my way to the middle from two directions. I set out with the concern that I would not have enough material for even a short novel. And I spawned a monster in the act of writing it! Needless to say, I’d probably write the next one differently.

What is the Brussels Writers’ Circle (BWC) and what role did you play in its development?

I started going to the Circle in about 2001, and took over running the group in 2010 until 2016. I’m very pleased by how things grew from there on. It was a once-a-week group that subsequently expanded to two, and even three sessions a week, for a while. During my time, the BWC blog was launched and the annual retreat became a fixture.

I should stress that there were many other people who were involved in all these new activities, but I like to feel that I acted as a sort of point of encouragement, even when I wasn’t directly involved! We also moved location from the Cercle des Voyageurs to the current venue of the Maison des Crêpes on rue du Midi. Very close to where I live. That may not be a total coincidence, I concede…

How has being part of the Circle helped you develop as a writer?

Partly it’s the discipline provided by, in my case, announcing I am going to read out on a given evening before I have written the damn piece. So my back is against the wall. That’s how I wrote my novel In Search of Y at least. It’s also inspiration. Sometimes seriously good writers come along to the group. That can make me jealous, frankly, but it’s also the best way to learn, by analysing what makes really great writing great.

And then of course it’s also the specific concrete feedback people give. Actually, it’s more than that. Some of the feedback is well intentioned but not very useful. This teaches you to filter advice and that is an amazing advantage if you can do it. Filter too little and you will be blown about by the wind. Filter too much and there’s no point in asking for feedback in the first place. The trick is to find the golden spot in between.

THECIRCLE Front10.19

Are there any upcoming events?

A very exciting event is the upcoming Waterstones soirée to launch the second BWC Writers’ Anthology, The Circle – a collection of writing from a broad range of our members including short stories, prose and poetry. This will be taking place at Waterstones bookshop in Brussels (boulevard Adolphe Max 71-75) from 19:00 on 22 November.

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Brussels Writers Series 1: Inspired by the city’s enigmas


 by Patrick ten Brink, Via Brussels Express

PatrickOn a pavement down the road from my flat in Ixelles, I saw a half-apple, peeled, rounded-side up – not once, but week in, week out. For almost a year now, I’ve been seeing this sculpted apple. In the other direction, on a window sill, I saw a new piece of burnt toast, unbitten, several weeks in a row. Both made me wonder what messages are hiding in these everyday happenings that I’ve too often walked past and missed.

The half-apple inspired a poem, and the poem made people in the Brussels Writers Circle ask what was behind the half-apple, so I wrote a short story. I’d love to know the reality behind this peeled half-apple, but I fear it is probably best that this enigma remain unsolved.

The half apple photo 2

Why did I come to Brussels?

The simple answer is my day job, no, my vocation – I worked in England on trying to improve the environment and was offered an opportunity to come to Brussels. If there is anywhere in the world where being armed with facts and good arguments has a chance of making a difference to policy, it is here, in Brussels, where decisions that affect 500 million lives are made. I knew I’d miss London, my adopted home, but I jumped at the chance. I now work for an international NGO fighting the good fight. The more complex answer as to why I came and stayed, is that I yearned for a truly intercultural home – as a German, who grew up in Australia, Japan and England, and studied in the UK, France and Mexico, I fit in best where everyone is a mix of two or more cultures. That is easy to find in Brussels.

What inspires me in Brussels?

Christmas lighting and installations. On the Rue de la Violette last year, and the year before, colossal square wire and white fabric domes dotted with lights were hoisted between the buildings. Tendrils of light hung beneath and between them – a network of electric jelly-fish hovering above our heads. We walk in no fear under their swaying tendrils.

Musiekpublique near Porte de Namur offers music from across the world to my neighbourhood macrocosmic microcosm – the astonishing Tchavolo Schmitt and Boulou Ferré played here, as two threads of a rich musical tapestry woven over time. Yes, I love gipsy-jazz. If you prefer the outdoors – a Brussels institution of manouche artists often jam near the Mont des Arts, the Grand Place or the Sablon – with an inimitable double-bass player who thwacks the chords of his battered giant instrument, sending the rhythm straight to one’s core. Roam the streets, and you’ll find dozens of first-rate musicians playing in a square near you.

If you prefer indoor jazz, try Sounds Jazz Club, just behind Place Fernand Cocq. And there is always the Couleur Café. There are more museums than days in the month in Brussels. I’ll mention two on opposite ends of Brussels that stand out for me – the MIMA museum on the refurbished Brussels canals with its exhibition of protest posters – GET UP, STAND UP! (on till 30 September) – that remind us of the importance of fighting for a cause. On the edge of the magnificent Bois de la Cambre stands the Boghossian Foundation at the Villa Empain, with its eclectic, inter-cultural exhibits that tackle controversial themes head-on. I remember an exhibition using cut carpets to make a case against war – Heaven and Hell: from Magic Carpets to Drones. Jet fighters were cut out of middle eastern carpets; another work showed shattered carpets, a third arrows piercing a flying magic carpet. Images that remain.

Dissolution 1

The Boghossian Foundation shared more poetic images in its August 2018 exhibition Melancholia, with, for example, the face comprising hundreds of floating ceramic fragments, by the French sculptor Samuel Yal, evoking the impossibility of single representations of us, and of the multiple elements that make us who we are. It felt to me as if the ceramic fragments were each and every one of us in Brussels, affected and inspired by the hundreds of interactions in a rich and complex city.

What makes life in Brussels extra special for me?

Brussels’ multi-culturalism, the opportunities to appreciate its diversity, having a sense of place and belonging, and engaging with like-minded people. Three years ago I stumbled across the Brussels Writers Circle, an informal network of emerging writers. A dozen people from different countries come together on Tuesdays and Thursdays to give constructive feedback, the passion for the written word creating an informal cross-cultural community. I had just finished the first draft of my novel, and they invited me to be one of the readers. Three years later, I have the honour of bringing together the 54 works from our 100+ membership into an anthology – The Circle – which will be launched on the 22nd of November at Waterstones in Brussels.

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The Memory That Keeps Me Going 

by Fidelis O. Mkparu, MD, FASNC to medical fellows

(via asnc.org)

On a summer evening in 1993, four advanced cardiac imaging fellows set out for a walk by the banks of the Charles River in Boston. We were on a quest to discover our new city after a busy day. The allure of a river close to the hospital led us to a pedestrian path on the Boston side. On our mission to nowhere in particular, we followed the path, bantering with each other while admiring the lush greenery and prototypical boat houses. A carefree moment for us, until fatigue set in. Conversation dwindled, and our pace slowed. Giving in to the heat and humidity, we sat down. Our eyes on the ground, it must have appeared we had given up, defeated.

Soon cheers erupted from across the river. Looking up, I saw two rowing teams making extra efforts to compete. Coordinated exertion by dedicated but spent men in the quest to reach their goal. I saw determined teammates ignoring their fatigue and the humidity to persevere. Each was contributing to their success and none of them giving up. We stood and approached the river. Admiring their determination to complete the race, we joined in cheering for them. It felt natural. Our support for perseverance. For never quitting.

En route back to the hospital, we walked faster and occasionally sprinted with sudden, energetic passion. Our disposition was influenced by the determination of the rowing teams.

Never Give Up

At many times in ensuing 25 years, I have shared that experience with medical students, residents, fellows, and attending physicians as I encourage them never to abandon medicine if it is their passion—even if the challenges feel overwhelming. My charge is to muster the courage and determination to tackle the challenges we face, including resolving insurance preauthorization issues, learning electronic medical records software, and working longer hours for less money.

Our goal should be to never give up. We find solutions to problems by focusing on clinical competency to deliver quality care and achieve better outcomes for patients.

Our commitment to persevere has resulted in immense advances in medicine.

Newer pharmaceuticals, interventional techniques, better imaging modalities, improved medical devices, an expanded medical knowledge. All of these are, in general, the results of dedication and a commitment to excellence.

Fellows, make it your goal to practice kindness, embrace lifelong learning, accept the challenges of learning new skills, and commit to providing competent medical care—and to do all of these with fervor. Even with your busy clinical schedules, devote some time to the education of our future healthcare providers.

When challenges emerge in your work or life, avoid solutions that would be harmful to your patients. To avoid doing harm, embrace perseverance. Never forget, your commitment is to provide the best medical care to your patients, no matter what it takes. At all times, your purpose is to provide competent medical care. Quitting is not part of the commitment you have made.

Through perseverance, you will experience the profound joy of knowing that your patients are trusting you with their lives and that you are making every effort to improve the quality of their lives.


Fidelis O. Mkparu, MD, FASNC, is a cardiologist based in Canton, Ohio,
and an associate professor of medicine at NEOMED in Roostown. He is the author of the award-winning novels, 
Love’s Affliction and Tears Before Exaltation.
He penned this challenge to cardiology fellows.

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You Came Out Ahead

Short story via the Indiana Voice Journal

Joe Girodano’s “You Came Out Ahead,” the fun tale from Joe’s old Brooklyn neighborhood, is a recent fiction prize longlist finalist. The piece references to Joe’s birthplace, Unity Hospital, closed amid controversy in 1978…[more]


9781941861080-Perfect (1).indd

Joe Giordano is the author of Appointment with ISIL, An Anthony Provati Thriller (4.8 stars on Amazon)

“A roller-coaster ride to the finish, this book confirms Giordano as a writer to eagerly watch.” – Kirkus Reviews Featured Review

“Appointment with ISIL is a home run by Giordano. PRIMO highly recommends.” – Truby Chiaviello, Editor, PRIMO magazine


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American Indian's perspective


They kill Palestinians,

Do they not?:

Alas: so what?


Do we know

Our History:

Or have we clean



They killed

Native Africans:

Native Asians,



Native Americans,

By thousands,

Native Australians,

not a few


They killed them

all, blithely,

once upon a


all the way

from  Mandalay

to Timbuktu



They slew them,

calmly, then –

And  they do so  still:

The Preachers

Still  Preaching:

Thou Shall not Kill


‘Liberte, egalite!

And Justice for All!’ :

Slogans , inspiring:

How they keep us 

in thrall!


Yes , they kill Palestinians

it is  so sad to say:

O, and hundreds of Others

Every blessed  day –


We can only wonder,

Long as we live


At the Great


At the Great


At the Great



At the Great

Travesty –

At the Oxymoron

Of Western Civ


[© R.Kanth 2018] 
Professor Rajani Kanth is the author of Coda, and Expiations
and trustee of the World Peace Congress

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Fidelis O. Mkparu to Appear in Memphis at B&N’s Urban Fiction Day

Fidelis O. Mkparu will appear on a panel for authors of urban fiction at Barnes and Noble in Memphis’ Wolfchase Galleria to talk about his diverse medical novel, also set in Memphis. Tears Before Exaltation is a National Indie Excellence Awards Gold Medalist 2018.

Saturday, July 21, 2018, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Memphis’ Wolfchase Galleria B&N

The authors will discuss the process of writing urban fiction, their own experiences and their books. Everyone is welcome to participate in the discussion.

9781941861608-Perfect LS NIEA s“In his new novel Tears Before Exaltation, Fidelis O. Mkparu’s literary growth is evident as he delves deeper into matters only touched on in his previous novel, Love’s Affliction. His characters are dealing with realistic issues that you and I can identify with, but with a twist of suspense, curiosity and intrigue. Packed with pathos, the impact of Fidelis O. Mkparu, Tears Before Exaltationwill stay with you long after you put it down. Fidelis O. Mkparu has written yet another worthwhile read.”

—Kayron El-Kildani, Michigan Book Club

When Ben Ava, a struggling medical student facing insurmountable financial worries, receives a scholarship offer for a Medical Center in Memphis, he thinks that his tenuous future is finally secure. But Ben’s past will not leave him alone. His fellow scholarship winner is his old friend Brenda—a young medical student with extraordinary talent whose troubled past has made her self-destructive and dangerous. In Memphis, their lives become increasingly tangled as Ben is pulled into Brenda’s orbit. Soon, he finds himself risking his medical education, his new romance, and his entire future in the hopes of steering himself and Brenda through the tumult of their shared loneliness and trauma.

Tears Before Exaltation is a literary drama about coping with the past, surviving the present, and the blurred lines between courage and insanity, hate and love. Available at Barnes and Noble and bookstores everywhere.


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World Refugee Day: June 20th, 2018


Via Globalgoodspartners.com By – June 06 2018

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Write On Hosts Hummingbird Global Writers’ Circle

via Door County

Write On, Door County hosted an intimate writers’ circle with writer-in-residence Dr. Debotri Dhar in partnership with her international reading series, Hummingbird Global Writers’ Circle. An evening of readings, discussion and new friendships ensued at one of Write On’s many acres of orchards and meadows.

The Hummingbird series aims to bring different communities together in different parts of the world with hopes of creating an exchange of cultural knowledge and understanding between participants. The writers’ circles are themed, the Door County event being “water,” inspired by the Celebrate Water initiative.

The idea behind this event is that writers at different levels and stages of progress will share their work for an audience, paired with a discussion led by Dhar regarding craft, publication, etc.

Dr. Debotri Dhar

Dhar is “woman, writer, traveler.” She is the author of many works, both critical and creative. Her areas of study are far and wide, from gender, race and representation to love to sexual violence. An interest in women and literature globally, as well as gender violence and the state, has continued to be a major focus, she said.

“My work as an academic is transdisciplinary, straddling the humanities and social sciences, with an enduring emphasis on gender issues,” said Dhar, who is on the faculty of the University of Michigan Department of Women’s Studies.

Balancing the critical and creative is very important, she said, especially for critical theorists and literary critics. Creating new ideas and spaces rather than just critiquing them is necessary, she said.

Dhar started writing creatively in Bangla as a young child, and later began to write in other languages including Hindi and English, she said. Creative writing and reading were a way for her to explore the world before she started to actually travel.

Now she’s published two novels as well as short stories, and has several new books on the way. Travel is a major theme in her work – she creates women travelers from India, America and elsewhere as main characters in an effort to counteract the historically male traveler, she said.

“I also like to mix in multiple languages and craft hybrid universes, where latitudes shift, cultures collide, and the world is a rainbow of colors,” Dhar said.

After publishing her first couple books, Dhar began to question what “good writing” means today and whether it’s necessary for books to sell, even as writers have more of an expectation to market their own work, she said. That’s where the idea for her writer’s circle began to form – a need for free spaces where writers could discuss writing and share from their work, improve it and showcase it, she said. A hummingbird felt like a natural name for it, she said.

“The ‘writer as hummingbird’ knows that tiny wings are better than none at all, and flies in search of a few drops of nectar, sunlight, soil and a little bit of sky,” Dhar said.

Dhar hopes the Hummingbird Global Writer’s Circle will travel much farther than Door County, too. She plans to take it outside of the United States next year, “to fly in many, many skies.”

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Heir of the Thunderbird

Heir CS5 File.idmlVictoria is a 16 year old girl, who has been to the hospital with illness more times than she can count. She has a strange disease, which renders her bones incredibly fragile, breaking by the slightest pressure. The doctors are clueless to what is wrong with her. One day, she is summoned to a new meeting in Dresden, with promises of a possible cure. It does in no way go as Victoria had anticipated, although she gets a taste of a mysterious concoction, which makes her strong. Back home in Denmark, Victoria begins investigating her deceased father’s Native American family and soon discovers, that there is more to her family than first realized.

She and her friend Beate decide to travel to Canada, where the father’s family lives, in order to learn more. This begins an adventure, which the two girls will not soon forget. For there are mysterious forces and old superstition at play, and other people are chasing Victoria!

If you like magic, supernatural phenomena and the struggle between good and evil, then this book is heartily recommended.

Heir of the Thunderbird  is exciting and captivating, and even though I did not know much about Native American culture, I learned much on the way and found it all interesting. The story is well written, and the pages almost turn by themselves. There are good descriptions of Canada’s wildlife and the places that Victoria and Beate visits, and you can almost feel the cold winter’s breath against the skin and taste the frosty air in your lungs.

Besides involving magic, wizardry and power struggles, the book also revolves around friendship and budding love, which may prove impossible. Victoria develops notably during the story, and even though it spans only a short period of time, it is a realistic and true to life development. We feel her terror of never finding a cure, and of the doctors in Dresden. We understand her curiosity about her family, and her desire to travel to them. Almost everyone knows how it feels, to be in love for the first time. The writers hit all of these feelings exceedingly well, and it makes the book not superficial, but well-done and thorough.

I give Heir of the Thunderbird my warmest of recommendations – both to the young readers, but certainly to the adults who enjoy good fantasy as well.

Forestilling om Paradis

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Krakow by Sean Akerman

Review by Kelly Zhang via The Manhattan Book Review

Akerman’s latest novel is a story about the end of a story: Krakow documents, with the frankness of two people who believe they are writing things nobody else will read, the slow disintegration of a two-year relationship that everyone around them long saw coming.

Akerman makes an otherwise generic story of how a couple met and fell apart more interesting by presenting it from both sides. The novel begins with the man’s perspective; halfway through, the woman takes over, filling in the gaps in his narrative. Apart from some minutiae, however, they reveal the same fears and regrets, the shared knowledge that what they have will soon end, and the feeling that perhaps it already has.

9781941861578-Perfect2.inddKrakow, in spite of its title, has little to do with Poland. The story unfolds in Brooklyn; both protagonists are Americans with ambiguous American roots. Krakow for them is four days of a magical holiday taken the previous spring, a memory from the days when they were so in love with each other nothing else mattered.

This short novel captures beautifully the twilight of a relationship: the doubts we have about our partners, about ourselves, and our pain at having to leave something so familiar yet wrong.

Rating: 4/5 ★

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Powells’ Staff Pick TITLE 13

Michael A. Ferro SMALL
TITLE 13 is a Powell’s Staff Pick!


Read what Powells’ staff had to say about Michael A. Ferro’s debut novel

Via Powells

Staff Pick

For a book that started out with a lot of breezy and absurdist humor, Title 13 takes a sharp dive straight into heartbreak and sorrow. Heald is an office cog with a fierce sense of humor, slogging away at the census bureau; he’s half in love with a coworker, somewhat inconvenienced due to a recent security breach, and desperately casting about for some meaning in his small life. When there’s an illness in his family, Heald returns to his childhood home, and things begin to seriously fall apart.

9781941861462-Perfect.inddExploring themes of addiction, loneliness, self-protection, and the facade we present to the world, Title 13 packs a much bigger punch than I originally expected.

The best of authors would be hard-pressed to write such a painful account of a life slipping into alcoholism, but Ferro does a beautiful and wholly devastating job.

Heald’s story carries with it an urgent hope of redemption; it’s intense, but Ferro will hold your hand to the end. Do not miss this gorgeous read. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com

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A Conversation with Debotri Dhar


font Maya smallDebotri Dhar is the author of Maya of Michigan, a novel of linked stories, about an Indian woman in Ann Arbor whose story glues together those of others from America, India, and elsewhere, dead or alive, as they live, love, and travel.


June 1, 2018 by Maggie Peterman via Door County’s Write On

Fiction writer Debotri Dhar of Michigan is one of Write On’s residents this month. She is the founder of Hummingbird Global Writer’s Circle, a transnational traveling initiative to foster a love of books and idea, cultural exchange, and global understanding. She will lead a storytelling session on the theme of water on Tuesday, June 12, 5 pm, outside Norb Blei’s Coop on the Write On property. I had the opportunity to speak with Debotri about her work and upcoming residency. 

Maggie Peterman: What was your childhood like?

Debotri Dhar: Well, I was a very serious child! My family – father, mother, and a younger sister – lived in a modest apartment close to New Delhi, in north India. As the older daughter, I saw both my parents working very hard and that, early on, instilled a strong sense of responsibility in me, to make something of myself and to give back to the world. In that sense, I was fairly focused – but there was also enough room for fairy tales, laughter, and whimsy.

MP: What was your favorite class/teacher in school and why?

DD: Oh, many classes/subjects across the humanities and sciences were favorites in school. I liked the languages (both classical and modern), History, Philosophy, Political Theory, and Economics. Gender issues were always of interest. For some reason, I did not like Geography in general, and maps in particular – an irony, considering I now travel around the globe! – and switched to Mathematics instead. I liked a combination of the practical and the esoteric; and those early years would become the foundation for my later interest in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and scholarship.

The teachers I was drawn to and inspired by, then and now, tended not only to be brilliant in their subjects but also kind, hardworking human beings who embodied both courage and compassion on a personal as well as social level. As I grew older, I was particularly inspired by individuals who encouraged us to never grow complacent, and to push our boundaries, challenges ourselves, travel, grow.

MP: What after school activities did you participate in and why?

DD: Creative writing, debating, music, and the arts were interests that endured through school, college, and beyond. (I did my undergraduate studies in Delhi University, before moving to UK (Oxford) for my Masters’ and the US (Rutgers) for my Ph.D.) Writing in particular – and reading – allowed for my first exhilarating forays into worlds beyond my own, where latitudes intersected, cultures collided, and the world became a rainbow…

MP: What is a favorite library memory?

DD: In middle and high school, my favorite library memories are of taking murder mysteries home for my ailing grandfather to read. I came to the US after he died, you know. His love for me was an ocean, endless and all-encompassing. My first book was dedicated to him. As for a favorite memory from later years – that’s got to be the first time I came across one of my own books in a university library and did a little dance! You’re an author now, Debotri, I remember saying to myself!

MP: What author and/or book has most influenced your own writing and why?

MP: The list is long…Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali polymath who was the first Indian (and first non-white) writer to win the Nobel prize in Literature. Edna O’Brien, the Irish writer whose literary craft and lyricism is perhaps unmatched in contemporary writing. Indian-American writers who have exquisitely portrayed the immigrant experience – Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri etc. – through their real and imagined chronicles of being caught between adoptive homes and ancient homelands. That said, I do believe diasporas are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Now each of us is a traveler in some sense or another, learning to be at home in known and strange places.

MP: With a need for more diversity in literature, is there a character and author that made a difference in your life?

DD: Well, we talk about how the literary canon has historically focused on the experiences of white men. Women of color have been receiving their due of late, but I’ve always felt that they get culturally stereotyped as writers and characters. Growing up, I wanted to read about Indian women who travel on their own terms, whose relationships to those of other genders, races, and cultures are of equals rather than of the colonized-colonizer. My collection of short stories, my recent novel The Courtesans of Karim Street, and my new novel forthcoming this year are all about strong female characters like that, who straddle multiple worlds, languages, identities. I write the stories that make a difference in my life.

MP: What project are you currently working on?

DD: So I’ve just completed a novel of linked stories about an Indian woman who falls in love with an American man – that bit is autobiographical, as I just got engaged! Her narrative glues together stories of numerous others from India, America, and elsewhere who live, love, and travel. In a broad sense, it is a reflection on boundaries – geographical, political, emotional, spiritual – and on the idea of home, and love. It’s being published by Harvard Square Editions. I’m also curating and editing The Best Asian Short Stories 2018 for Kitaab, Singapore, a publishing house that is doing good work globally to promote Asian writing in English. I also have a curated and edited collection of scholarly essays on love being published by Speaking Tiger this year in New Delhi. It’s been a busy year!

MP: What is your daily writing discipline?

DD: I have to juggle creative writing with my regular work – teaching and research – as an academic. So the university’s schedule dictates my own, especially from September to April. During those months, I most write late evenings and over weekends. It is only during the summer months of May to August that I’m able to devote myself more fully to literary and creative pursuits, and to exploring new idioms and ideas.

MP: What advice can you give to aspiring Write On writers?

DD: Giving advice can be a dangerous business! Nevertheless, three simple tips: firstly, to have faith in oneself, especially when faced with rejections, which can be quite a staple of the writing life. Second, to never shy away from learning and improving one’s craft. Third, to finish what you start.

Thereafter, every writer’s situation is unique. For instance, those who need to earn a living and support a family face a set of challenges that are very different from those who write from a space of privilege and/or are not the primary breadwinners. A literary culture relying on the free labor of writers ends up further privileging the already privileged. While writers tend not to be the most materialistic of people, and most of us do our best to contribute to the community, I think it is important for writers to also insist on fair compensation for their work.

MP: Is there a need for an organization like Write On in Door County?

DD: Oh yes. An organization like Write On in Door County creates supportive spaces, classes and programs, for writers to develop their craft, learn from mentors, and get inspired through working with peers. The writing residencies are particularly important for artists because, while many of us are quite adept at multi-tasking, we do also need some solitude in order to create. You are making an invaluable contribution to our literary landscape.

MP: What book do you think every elected official should read?

DD: Hmm. I’m thinking of many books…political and moral philosopher John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to remind us of the dangers of totalitarianism as well as of religious and patriarchal excess, for instance. Amartya Sen on the intersection of economics and philosophy, Alice Walker on the intersection of gender and race…I could go on. But, on a less serious note, perhaps some P.G Wodehouse, that brilliant British humorist whose work might remind our elected officials to laugh a little. We really need more humor in public life.

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Jack Clinton talks about CLOVIS on National Public Radio

Extracted from Montana NPR


Jack Clinton talks about his debut LGBT eco-novel Clovis in an interview on Montana Public Radio to air on KUFM this Thursday evening, May 31st, 2018–Listen now!


Jack Clinton, book signing 2“Clinton’s novel is an artful literary response to the unutterable and largely ignored decline of our collective natural wealth. Clinton mixes a sardonic misanthropy of our own current environmental course with jubilation, and the joy of love, the celebration of the human condition, and the intense passion of being immersed in the natural world. Clovis will continue Harvard Square Editions’ tradition of promoting fiction that furthers civil and environmental causes in a market that would rather leave such voices unheard.”      —Eco-Fiction.com


About the Book:

In the opening pages of Clovis, Hanna traverses an ancient glacial moraine at the edge of an American desert, to revisit the obsidian Clovis point (Spear point) that she had found and hidden on a previous archeological survey.  She feels a fundamental attraction to the point, and as she contemplates it she can envision the ancient race that left it for her there on the vast sage steppes at the foot of the Rockies.

Cover CLOVIS final.inddHanna lives briefly out of a hotel while she completes an archeological survey on the multi-state, CanAm gas line.  It is here that Hanna reunites with Tim, Hugh, Dog, Gina, and Paul.  While running in the desert alone, two men attempt to rape her.  She escapes by dousing them with mace and flattens the tires of their truck.

The attempted rape forces her to go to the northern camp where she finds chaos and filth.   The ever-faithful Paul is there and he helps her through the reorganization of the camp.  It is the damaged and angelic Paul whom she dotes over.  It is Paul who tells her the unspoken histories of America.  It is Paul who steals the most controversial artifact in North America.

Although Hanna harbors a deep affection for Paul, she gravitates towards Tim in the field camps, the deserts, and to climb challenging routes in the mountains.  Her liaison with Tim forces her to face the contradictions of her life: She is a vegetarian surrounded by carnivores.  She is a marginalized environmental regulator against a Goliath of a gas industry.  She is a transcendentalist who can’t catch the wave of nothingness.  She is the guardian of Paul, who she loses in the mountains.  And finally, Hanna is a lesbian, but she cannot deny that she also loves Tim.               

After Paul’s death in the mountains, Hanna comes unhinged.  Then CanAm belligerently bulldozes a culturally rich valley, and Dog retaliates by burning two of their vehicles.  Hanna senses the impotence of the act and realizes that all the work they do simply facilitates the power of such companies.  She leaves and she drifts towards the magnetism the mountains where she runs a mountain route that challenges her to the very limits of her endurance. On her rest day, she joins a small party for dinner and is assaulted by a man from a petroleum company and she stabs him.  This sends her head long back to the desert to answer the sirens’ song of the Clovis.  She goes out to desert for lack of any other plan and climbs the distant desert buttes that seem to hold her in their orbit.  It is here, in the vacuum of a high desert night, during a long, nightmarish epiphany that the cicadas sing out their perspective of her tribulations.

About the Author:

Jack Clinton lives in Red Lodge, Montana and works as a Spanish teacher.  Jack spent most of his adult life living in Wyoming, working as kitchen help, laborer, carpenter, and mountain guide. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degree in Spanish at the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, Wyoming.  During these University years, Jack started writing freelance, covering environmental news. His work regularly appeared in the Caspar Star Tribune, and in diverse periodicals such as High Country News, Western Horseman, E-magazine, Rock and Ice, and Climbing. During his years at the University, he also won the Neltje Blanchan award for fiction.

After a long hiatus from writing to engage in raising his daughter, Emma, he has returned to writing and produced a new novel. Clovis, an environmental novel, is a fictional composite of many of the stories and people who filled those Wyoming decades.


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Screencraft Winner Next Gen at Cannes



May 13, 2018, Cannes, France –
Screencraft winner Next Gen was acquired for a reported $30 million at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.

photo by Melanie Meder

The animated film stars the voices of Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, David Cross, Michael Pena and Constance Wu.  Directed by Kevin Adams and Joe Ksander, the film was written by ScreenCraft Fellow Ryan W. Smith, alongside directors Adams & Ksander, with story-by credit going to Wang Nima. 
The animated feature film centers on two friends who form a close bond in a world populated by robots.

This acquisition deal for Ryan’s film Next Gen marks Netflix’s first at Cannes this year. Netflix has been in the news lately after pulling all of its films at the world’s most glamorous film festival after Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, refused to screen any Netflix films in competition due to pressure from French exhibitors.

Ryan W. Smith won the 2017 ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship and attended the 1-week program in Los Angeles, receiving meetings at top Hollywood studios and mentorship with 3 Academy Award-winning screenwriters. Ryan said of his ScreenCraft Fellowship experience:

The ScreenCraft Fellowship experience has been incredible! Each step of the way, John and Cameron have not only met, but far surpassed my expectations. They have opened a whole slew of doors for me, and introduced me to many wonderful, talented people. I would say that I’ve benefited most from the ScreenCraft team sharing their industry knowledge and vast network of relationships.

Give Ryan a warm round of congratulations on Facebook here!

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1st Place Chanticleer Winner: NATURE’S CONFESSION

Dante Ros

Nature’s Confession won 1st Place in Chanticleer’s
Dante Rossetti Awards.

“The novel is epic” –The Guardian

As governments give $5.3 trillion a year to fossil fuel companies, while the media propagates the idea that solar and wind energy are unprofitable (IRL!), comes the epic tale of two teens in a fight to save a warming planet, the universe . . . and their love.9780989596077-Perfect.indd

The Dante Rossetti award honors young adult fiction. Nature’s Confession was also a Readers’ Favorite Award Winner Book Excellence Award Finalist, and a Top 10 Best Science Fiction book.

Nature’s Confession is available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere.


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The Medical Thriller Tears Before Exaltation was launched on Saturday March 31, 2018 at Gervasi Vineyard, a block away from author Fidelis Mkparu’s house, in Canton, Northeast Ohio.


Tears Before Exaltation is a story of the challenges a third-year medical student, Ben, faces in Memphis. It details incessant challenges in his relationships, love life, loneliness, loyalty and survival. Events that are overwhelming at times. It’s a book about perseverance. A testament to the art of not giving up. A psychological thriller about the influence of past events in our lives on our psyche. A journey of self-discovery for the protagonist.


Though it is not Memphis, Tennessee where the novel takes place, Fidelis loves his hometown, Canton, Ohio. There is no equivalent to the Mississippi River in Canton, but he has a small manmade lake on his street. “Go ahead and laugh,” he says. “In place of the Delta Blues, we had Harp music for the book launch. To make up for some of the inadequacies, notable citizens of Northeast Ohio attended, judges, lawyers, real estate developers, bankers, and wonderful regular folks. It was a memorable event for me.”

gervasi-vineyard_f (1)

Tears Before Exaltation is a stunning literary drama that combines key elements such as romance, suspense, and psychological intrigue. The author immediately caught my attention by creating a likable, compassionate hero who rules his life by acting with integrity. He is surrounded by several key players who do not share his ethical standards. The writing is contemporary and compassionate, tackling highly relevant social issues such as mental illness, including alcoholism and depression. The story has an engaging pace that makes it hard to put down with twists and excitement that will leave you wanting more.”

Reader Views


Fidelis, who spoke to a crowd of about seventy people, said, “Words are not adequate to express my gratitude to my friends and supporters. I am also grateful to my publisher Harvard Square Editions. I am grateful to my friend and confidant of twenty-two years, Christine Dickey, the planner of the event. Christine did not ask me who to invite to my book launch since she knew my friends and my predilections. A plus for our close friendship.”




Fidelis O. Mkparu is a Harvard-trained cardiologist who has written medical articles for both scientific and lay audiences. His previous novel, Love’s Affliction, was a 2016 Nautilus Book Awards Silver Winner for Fiction, a Reader Views Literary Award Winner for 2015/2016, and a finalist for the 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Multicultural Fiction. He lives in Canton, Ohio.

Tears Before Exaltation is available at Amazon and retailers everywhere.

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Harriet Levin Millan Splits Rock


Harriet Rocks!small

Earth Day, April 22, 2018 – Author Harriet Levin Millan talked about her upcoming poetry book My Oceanography, and her award-winning debut novel How Fast Can You Run, amidst other Harvard Square Editions titles at Split This Rock 2018, Washington D.C., for and about socially engaged literati:


“There was interest in books about climate change. Some complained that Split This Rock had very little addressing climate change so they were happy to see our Harvard Square Editions booth!”



The Split This Rock social justice fair features the critically important work of socially engaged poets, writers, organizations, progressive presses, literary magazines, and independent newspapers, at annually, for free. Some of the fair’s events were held at Busboys and Poets⎯a friendly coffee house in a multicultural neighborhood. Unlike in medieval times, poetry in recent years has drawn smaller crowds than other forms of literature, but with activism growing in popularity, the number of attendees swelled to over 500. All manner of progressive causes were represented. Participants included writers of all ages, with a heavy concentration among 18- to 40-year-olds.


For Harriet, it was a great chance to catch up with some of her fellow writers, including poetry hero E. Ethelbert Miller, Editor of Poet Lore

9781941861202-PerfectMEDAL.inddHarriet’s migrant novel How Fast Can You Run is an IPPY medalist; a Living Now Book Award medalistINDIEFAB Finalist; and #1 Amazon bestseller in biographical fiction. It was included in Reader’s Digest’s Best Books That Inspire You to Travel and featured in Drexel Magazine.

Harriet Levin Millan is a prize winning poet and writer. Her poetry collection, The Christmas Show, (Beacon Press) was selected for the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and The Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She received a MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop and has written for The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, PEN America, The Smart Set, among other publications. She and her family founded the Reunion Project and along with the participation of Philadelphia-area high school and college students, raised money to reunite several Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan with their mothers living abroad. She teaches creative writing in the English Department at Drexel University and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing. She lives with her husband outside Philadelphia.

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The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man

Gurshaan Kaur comments on the one remaining copy that wasn’t stolen of The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man by Dimitris Politis at the New Delhi World Book fair.

Snapshot 33

“The thing I really like is, the guy is suffering from everything…he just wants to fight for himself. That is what made me interested in this book.”


The contentious yet universal issues of intolerance and understanding, discrimination and acceptance, violence, terrorism and forgiveness come to life. Dimitris Politis plunges boldly into the Irish reality but always in equilibrium with his Greek consciousness. The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man explores the area between Greece and Ireland, where the glittering Aegean waves are crowned by the rainbows of the Atlantic and the west coast of Ireland.

The reader is drawn to the story through its exciting twists and turns, interlinked through a fast cinematographic pace: the book is an excellent contemorary example of “black” fiction with a subtle and delicate deepening of sentiments, feelings and beliefs linked to the human nature. It voices a loud protest against social and historical stereotypes and is a stern warning of how intolerance and ignorance can lead to disaster. In today’s world where many countries are mired in a financial crisis, where make people tend to forget the importance of tolerance and acceptance of their fellow human begins, the author cleverly reminds us that difference and diversity are universally present: they indeed shape our world, they are the rule rather than the exception. He prompts us to remember that we are all born different and grow up differently, making each of us very special in our own unique way whatever the circumstances.

Snapshot 32Dimitris Politis was born in Athens, Greece on 16 March 1960. He studied Economics in Greece and Classics and Literature in Ireland. He has lived in Greece, Ireland, UK, Luxembourg and Belgium. He has published articles and reviews on Working Conditions and Occupational Health and Safety and short stories in literary magazines and websites. His first novel “The stolen life of a cheerful man” was published in Greek in 2012. His second novel in Greek “The next stop” is nearing completion. He currently lives in Brussels. He works as a Webmaster and Editor for the EUROPA site of the European Union.

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Mother and son writing team win accolades

By Mary Thurman Yuhas


From the time Charles Todd was a boy, he and his mother, Caroline Todd, loved mysteries. “She read Sherlock Holmes to me,” he says. After Charles grew up, he moved away and became a successful businessman. The summer of 1993 after a family visit to Kings Mountain Military Park in Blacksburg, SC, Caroline suggested they write a mystery together, and the two started writing.

Thinking their completed first book needed some professional input, they sent it to Ruth Cavin, an acquaintance and editor at St. Martin’s Press to see how they could improve it. Three months later, they received “the call” that every author dreams of receiving.  Not only was she interested in their first book, A TEST OF WILLS, she wanted a sequel and within days, she requested two more in the series.

Test of WillsA TEST OF WILLS went on to win the Barry Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for the Dilys Award and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. (more…)

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How Sci-Fi Can Help Fight Climate Change


Bill McKibben (photo by Nancie Battaglia)

Via Wired

Environmental activist Bill McKibben is known for writing grim volumes like The End of Nature, widely regarded as the first book about climate change. But his latest outing, Radio Free Vermont, is a major departure, a humorous novel about a fugitive radio host who agitates for Vermont to secede from the United States…[more]

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Tweets From Bill McKibben

billmckibben 3 hours agoA well-deserved award--thanks for your leadership! https://t.co/3AHwLtQJ4M

Erika Raskin

  • No items found in feed URL: http://erikaraskin.net/feed/. You requested 1 items.
    • Traits

    • The head’s
      with Reasons
      Too multifarious
      To know

      The heart only
      Two Seasons:
      The high and the

      No neutral
      It takes

      But all that
      it feels:
      Cleaves –
      Or forsakes

      O the head
      is so
      The heart,

      But O what
      A difference
      That dissimilitude
      Makes !

      [© R.Kanth 2018] 
      Professor Rajani Kanth is the author of Coda, and Expiations
      and trustee of the World Peace Congress

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    • Song for Ahed

    • By Rajani Kanth


      Ahed Tamimi

      Stood , Fearless,

      up to Power –


      A mere


      become Heroine

      Of the Hour


      Yes, she was



      Her mettle,

      Sore tested –


      Sure, Defiance,

      Was bought at

      High Cost


      But that should

      Not faze us –


      Rather, amaze



      At   Sixteen,

      She ,  the

      One War –

      Zion Has Lost

      [©R.Kanth 2018] 

      Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda, and Expiations
      Trustee; World Peace Congress

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    • Meet the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35

    • s-li

      Excerpted from the LA Times, September 29, 2016

      The National Book Foundation, which presents the National Book Awards, launched its 5 Under 35 program in 2006 to highlight the work of young literary talents; this year each writer gets a $1,000 cash prize and will be invited to participate in public readings.

      Many past 5 Under 35 honorees have gone on to further acclaim. Nam Le’s short story collection “The Boat” won the international Dylan Thomas Prize; Tea Obreht’s novel “The Tiger’s Wife” took the Orange Prize for fiction; and two honorees, Dinaw Mengestu and Karen Russell, were each later awarded MacArthur Fellowships….9781941861301-JacketGray.indd

      One of those writers this year is S. Li, who took up creative writing as a hobby when he was in medical school. The 31-year-old neurologist’s debut novel, “Transoceanic Lights,” was published by Harvard Square Editions, a small independent press.

      “I had sent the book to the National Book Foundation for consideration for the National Book Awards, fully knowing that my chances were zero,” Li said from his home in Burlington, Mass. When he received the email informing him he’d been chosen as an honoree, “I thought it was a scam. And then I realized it wasn’t. I had no idea this was even in the cards.”

      Li’s novel, about a Chinese immigrant family, is based on his own childhood. He was 5 years old when his family moved from Guangzhou, China, to Boston.

      img-41“I was sort of teaching myself the craft of writing,” Li said of his years writing fiction while also learning medicine. “And so it just made natural sense to go with material that comes easiest to you, and that’s your childhood.”

      Li is one of two immigrants honored in this year’s program. Yaa Gyasi, author of the critically acclaimed novel “Homegoing,” was born in Ghana and moved with her family to the United States when she was 2. [more]



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    • What are the best eco books for children and teens?

    • @EmilyDrabs, excerpted from The Guardian,


      Authors including David Almond, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Katherine Rundell plus teen site members share the books that made them think more deeply about climate change and environmental themes. Now share yours!

      This week we’re celebrating the positive power of stories, all kinds of stories, to bring home what we risk losing on our beautiful planet – and what we can do about it. Here authors and children’s books site members share the books that made them think. We’ll be feeding this blog with more recommendations all week, so please share yours – and keep checking back.

      Frank Cottrell Boyce (whose latest book is the remarkably green The Astounding Broccoli Boy)

      First book of Saints

      The book that made me realise that I was part of the environment was The Ladybird Book of Saints. On the cover was this brilliant image of St Francis releasing the caged birds he had he had bought in the market. For ages afterwards I would go into pet shops and zoos and itch to unlock the doors. In fact there are “freeing the animals” scenes in at least two of my books. There are so many environmental messages about how horrible humans are wrecking the planet – that’s obviously true in a way but this image made me feel that I belonged in the World too and that I could cherish and love it.

      David Almond, author of Skellig

      The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin. It’s beautifully written, beautifully illustrated picture book. It shows a troubled darkened world being recreated by the human need for greenery, life and colour.

      Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours

      Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction novel that is very much concerned with the damage humans are inflicting upon the environment and the possible catastrophic results that could have. Written in 2003, many plot points now seem eerily prescient and it makes for a disturbing, powerful read. Highly recommended for older teenagers.

      Site member, Patrick

      Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot is true to its name in that it’s a supremely funny YA novel, and one that tends to be overlooked. There’s a real environmental streak running through all of Hiaasen’s works and Hoot is no exception, it deals with a Florida teen who bands together with a couple of new friends to stop the destruction of a burrowing owl colony. It’s a lot of fun with a solid conservationist message at its core and an abundance of charm to boot.”

      Candy Gourlay, author of Shine

      Long ago I wrote a short story called How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle for Under the Weather, the climate change anthology edited by Tony Bradman. About a white sand beach losing its sand because the sea is heating up … the same hot oceans that later whipped up the murderous monster that was Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

      Perhaps the all too real climate change disaster in the Philippines has made me partial to flood stories. My favorite is Not the End of the World, the lyrical resetting of Noah’s Ark as a Tsunami survival story by Geraldine McCaughrean.

      Lottie Longshanks, site member

      The wild series by Piers Torday. So far I have read The Last Wild and The Dark Wild. Kester has the unusual gift of communicating with animals and it is his mission to save the animals from red eye the disease that is slowly killing them. It is a really exciting story and you soon guess who the villains are Selwyn Stone and his lackeys who want to dictate the way that everyone lives. The amazing rubbish dump in the second book in the series really makes you think about the damage that we are doing to our planet. I can’t wait to read the third book in the series,The Wild Beyond.

      White Dolphin by Gill Lewis Set in the south West of England the exciting story tells of children who take on the might of a powerful fishing business to stop dredging in the harbour because of the damage it does to marine life. I also love Moon Bear by Gill Lewis. This incredibly moving story shows how deforestation leads to misery for the animals whose habitat was the forest. And finally here is a recommendation for small children I read it to my cousin who lives in Oman when he comes to visit us. Dear Greenpeace by Simon James. Emily writes to Greenpeace to find out how to care for the whale that she thinks she has seen in her pond. Emily’s letters and the lovely replies she receives from Greenpeace will give little children a lot of information about whales. (Also see Lottie Longshank’s poem Our Precious world)

      SF Said, author of Varjak Paw

      I recommend Exodus by Julie Bertagna: a brilliantly prescient YA novel about climate change, set in a drowned future world. It’s full of unforgettable visions and characters, and it will stay with you forever!

      ItWasLovelyReadingYou, site member

      My book would be Breathe by Sarah Crossan. It made me think about how we take so many things for granted, such as oxygen. You can’t see it, we use it every day, without it we would not survive; yet many people do not really sit down and feel a sense of gratitude for these types of things, becuase we assume we deserve them, we see them as something that will never go away, we just accept it without question. Breathe really made me feel a sense of ‘imagine if we didn’t have oxygen, or we had limited supplies of it-”, it made me question my unconscious detachment from what keeps us alive, and really feel privelidged to have all of these necessities.

      Katherine Rundell, author of Rooftoppers

      Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Cosmic is a book that makes the world look like something worth protecting. It’s hilariously funny, and also wise – it makes its readers want desperately to go into space, but also to take care of the world while we’re on it. The Earth is, as one of the astronauts says, “some kind of lovely.” The Last Wild series by Piers Torday – these three spectacular books are about a world decimated by humans, and the possibility of that loss feels very real and urgent and frightening – and they’re also fantastic adventure stories, about bravery and animals and human capacity to do huge good as well as harm. And there’s a bossy talking cockroach.

      Site Brahmachari, author of Kite Spirit and Artichoke Hearts

      For me it has to be The Ring of Bright Water Trilogy by Gavin Maxwell. I fell in love with these books as a child because they are set on the West coast of Scotland – a place I love – where wildlife and nature are the biggest characters. It;s a humbling landscape. If you have a love of the outdoors and really want to study the nature of beautiful, playful otters… and can stand to have your heart broken …. you should read these stories. Although they were written 50 years ago they are as timeless as the shingle beaches they are set on. The author lived and breathed the paradise he went to live in… and so will you when you read these books… and afterwards you can watch the film (tissues at the ready!)

      OrliTheBookWorm, site member

      Breathe by Sarah Crossan is probably the book that’s impacted me the most in terms of the environment – it’s a dystopian novel, with people living in domes due to a lack of oxygen – the raw descriptions and harsh realities were wonderfully done and uttery thought provoking, and made me take a step away from my laptop and have a look outside my window…. It’s a brilliant book, which I guarantee will change your perspective on the environment around us.

      Piers Torday, author of The Dark Wild trilogy

      The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann – the original classic tale of a group of British animals seeking refuge when their precious Farthing Wood is threatened by human development. They overcome incredible obstacles and danger to make it to a wildlife sanctuary. But reading it today there is an extra poignancy – some of the animals in the story, like the red-backed shrike, are now extinct, and others – like the adder, hare and voles – are all under threat.

      BritishBiblioholic, site member

      Watership Down by Richard Adams – When the rabbits in Watership Down are forced to leave their home, it is due to its impending destruction by humans. This potentially can be seen as an allegory for the ongoing destruction for the environment in general – and unlike the rabbits, if we don’t save our environment, we won’t be able to find somewhere else to live.


      Mary, curator, eco-fiction.com

      Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta: The novel takes place in the future after climate change has ravished economies and ecologies, and made fresh water scarce. The main character, Noria, is a young woman learning the traditional, sacred tea master art from her father. Yet, water is rationed and scarce in her future world. Her family has a secret spring of water, and, as tea masters, she and her father act as the water’s guards, even though what they are doing is a crime according to their future world’s government, a crime strongly disciplined by the military.


      9780989596077-PerfectNCupload7.inddNature’s Confession by JL Morin: The eco-novel is wonderful and reminds me of classic science fiction I watched or read as a kid. It was a genre that fascinated me then, and this book has joined that memory. The novel is epic in that it doesn’t just tell a story (which it does do too), but it puts our very survival into question while romping through the universe or discovering new quantum physics that are both scientific and spiritual in nature. In the meantime, universal symbols are unearthed, codes are investigated, fat corporations are dominating, a romance is blossoming, computers come alive, and native tribes and Nature on another planet bring our own treasured past into the future.


      Tito intiro Chavaropana by Jessica Groenendijk: Tito intiro Chavaropana means ‘Tito and the Giant Otter’ in Matsigenka. The author, a biologist who has studied giant otters, is now working on a sequel, in which Tito sets off into the forest to hunt a spider monkey and meets a harpy eagle on the way. They become friends but not without a misunderstanding or two!
      61cwBitpcAL._AA160_Spirit Bear by Jennifer Harrington: Spirit Bear celebrates a rare and iconic black bear that is born with a recessive gene that makes its coat creamy or white. Also called the Kermode bear, the spirit bear lives in the delicate, rich, and threatened ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Jennifer’s story is about the journey of a spirit bear cub that gets lost from his mother and has to find his way back.

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    • Publisher Guidelines

    • Publisher Harvard Square Editions is looking for literary fiction of environmental or social significance.

      Its mission is to publish fiction that transcends national boundaries, especially manuscripts that are international, political, literary, sci-fi, fantasy, utopia and distopia. Send submissions of aesthetic value and constructive social or political content, especially manuscripts related to climate change, deforestation, and conservation.

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    • For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

    • This article first appeared in the New York Times

      Say you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel.

      That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.


      Photo: Casey Kelbaugh
      Emanuele Castano, left, and David Comer Kidd, researchers in the New School for Social Research’s psychology department.


      “This is why I love science,” Louise Erdrich, whose novel “The Round House” was used in one of the experiments, wrote in an e-mail. The researchers, she said, “found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction.”

      “Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries,” she added.

      The 5-Minute Empathy Workout

      Curious to see how you do on a test of emotional perception?

      The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.

      The researchers, social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City, recruited their subjects through that über-purveyor of reading material, Amazon.com. To find a broader pool of participants than the usual college students, they used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where people sign up to earn money for completing small jobs.

      People ranging in age from 18 to 75 were recruited for each of five experiments. They were paid $2 or $3 each to read for a few minutes. Some were given excerpts from award-winning literary fiction (Don DeLillo, Wendell Berry). Others were given best sellers like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” a Rosamunde Pilcher romance or a Robert Heinlein science fiction tale…[more]

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    • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

    • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

      aao cover

      My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

      Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

      The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

      Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

      There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

      An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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    • A Moral Atmosphere: Hypocrisy redefined for the age of warming

    • By Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

      This article first appeared in Orion Magazine.


      THE LIST OF REASONS for not acting on climate change is long and ever-shifting. First it was “there’s no problem”; then it was “the problem’s so large there’s no hope.” There’s “China burns stuff too,” and “it would hurt the economy,” and, of course, “it would hurt the economy.” The excuses are getting tired, though. Post Sandy (which hurt the economy to the tune of $100 billion) and the drought ($150 billion), 74 percent of Americans have decided they’re very concerned about climate change and want something to happen… (more)
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    • Cambridge divest from fossil fuel

    • We call on the City of Cambridge Retirement System to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuelcompanies, and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years (more)

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    Around Harvard

    Brain Pickings

    by Ben Mattlin (HC ’84)

      Like all romantic entanglements, the reasons for their tensions—tensions, which eventually led the invisible rubber band between them to snap—weren't quite clear.  Or maybe they were entirely too clear.  Telling me about it, Shane struggled for the right words, but his meaning rang with the clarity of breaking glass. "For a while, she was planning on moving up here to be with me, to be able to help out with all my [...]

    by Teresa Hsiao (HC ’07)

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  • Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) – Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen


    TylerJamesComicTyler James
    All of a sudden, though, you start stacking ComixTribe, Image, Boom, Action Lab, Valiant, etc... books against Big Two books...
    51 months ago
    we smell like coffee and old libraries filled with new books waiting to be read
    51 months ago
    aidanr1022Aidan Ryan
    When Dad has to hit the books in the middle of the day so he can support the fam @emrson11webster http://t.co/igjSlYR8cB
    51 months ago
    forgot my books ?
    51 months ago