We are thrilled to announce that the Read in Color diverse books initiative has arrived in Detroit! Working in partnership with Brilliant Detroit we are bringing 14 new Little Free Library book-sharing boxes and roughly 2,500 diverse books to high-impact neighborhoods to help promote understanding, equity, and inclusion. The first Read in Color Little Free…Detroit Launches ‘Read in Color’ Initiative to Share Diverse Books in Little Free Libraries — Little Free Library
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Full disclosure, Oscar Hijuelos was one (1) of my creative writing professors in college, and I only took one (1) class with him but it had a lot of impact on my life. He gave me a copy of his first book and told me sort of in his friendly upfront and blithe way — that I was not going to be a journalist. At first shook me a bit, but turned out he was right.
Hijuelos taught at our university for only a short time. Was an adjunct professor in writing he got through another professor/writer he knew, Julie Markus — she helped him get the gig so he could pay off some debts including an IRS tax bill from when he lived abroad in Italy. Did not know about anything of that backstory though, until years later I read his memoir. Teaching at our school he gave us one line, that I will paraphrase basically saying: he liked us “kids” most were from hard working/working class families either first or 2nd generations going to college, and not wasting time and money.
And I recall he also bummed a lot of cigarettes, not from me because I never smoked, but again post-memoir reading took away how much he struggled with trying to quit cigarette smoking for a very long time.
Should be noted, Hijuelos said to us (his students), that he would never write a memoir or a sequel — but he did both, although Beautiful Maria of My Soul, isn’t exactly a sequel but a retelling of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love from the point of view of Maria — a female character and Hijuelos left some of the third person narrated scenes completely the same/or used some of the same chunks of narrative in the 2nd book — which I thought was pretty cool that universally some narrative was the same despite different points of view. Strong point of action for a writer to take.
When he won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for Mambo Kings, all bets were off, I’d registered for another writing class for the following semester, but the university administration had to get someone else to cover them — another excellent writer Vince Passaro — so I was pretty lucky. In the pre-internet days it was difficult to stay in touch, I had a phone number that soon no longer worked and no way to look up an address. Once I visited him at reading in Boston University after he read, excited to tell him I was sending out short stories and finally got a tiny nibble, but he did not seem to remember me, I think he wanted to speak longer but the BU handlers wanted him to shake hands and move along. For years, I went to a few other readings when was in Boston/or that I knew about it, but never tried to approach or speak again.
About a year or so before he passed away, I was ordering the memoir and the Maria book via a book gift certificate and read from his posted bio that he was teaching at a university in North Carolina. So I got his email from the university’s website and wrote a short note, expecting a form letter back from an intern, but instead got an email from Hijuelos saying that he did remember me. Perhaps not…but he was pretty gracious to personally answer after 20 years, a cold call email, etc.
The book: Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise, I’m sad to say that I bought it from a book/clearance warehouse that — I buy a lot of kids’ books from and other gifts and some times they do have titles that sound interesting so I order them with mixed results. When I saw this I ordered it immediately.
To note, there is a hard backed first edition so I will keep it with my collection of Hijuelos’s books until I can find one — I’ve kept all his books in hard back, that I’ve had now for several decades. There is an afterward by *Lori Marie Carlson-Hijuelos his wife, about how the book came about from Hijuelos love for many things including different historical subjects, including the explorer Henry Stanley — a subject that fascinated him and he collected many books about Stanley. After reading a small section in one biography citing the friendship between Twain and Stanley he set out to research it and filled in the blanks from his own imagination. The book is truly historical fiction as she explains Hijuelos wrote all the letters and journal entries in the book which makes it epistolary in its composition and structure. He also left a manuscript of over 900 pages that had to be condensed and edited down after his passing.
Overall I enjoyed this book it was like getting a gift from a long lost friend.
*I believe Lori Marie Carlson substituted for Hijuelos in our writing class when he was away on a British promotion tour for Mambo Kings. Remember a female writer/novelist came in and substituted for a couple of weeks, over the years I could not recall her name nor find it in any papers or journals that I kept. But she was lovely and myself and a few others appreciated her support and encouragement and also her frankness with the clique we had in the class; that considered themselves so much above us.
From Jasna: “The fifth annual JASNA Southwest Young Filmmakers Contest is well under way, and a stellar panel of judges will be scoring the 5-minute-and-under entries from amateur filmmakers.”
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July 4th has now become my least favorite holiday. People gather on the beach and think nothing of climbing on our seawall both old and new — which are not part of the beach. Last night my mom chased down a couple that pretended to not know what she said and then they came back […]Post July 4, 2021–Celebrating with illegal fireworks and drinking. — Things I find on the beach