Thursday, January 14, 2010

Writing in Flight + More on Haiti + Congrats to Jeffery Renard Allen

I'm beginning this blog post with a little test: using's service, I'm connecting to the Net while on my flight. I learned about this from tech guru @karsh (many thanks!), and signed up as soon as I could. From what I can tell, it's available only on certain airlines and certain flights. The American Airlines one I'm on had "Wi-fi on board" signs running along the length of the overheard storage area, alerting me that it was available, but most of the ones I've been on have not had Wi-fi service. It's not cheap, so I probably won't be using it that often, but I wanted to try it out. Given the costs of flights these days, Wi-fi should be free. But that's another matter.


Speaking of Twitter, I have incorporated tweeting into one of my undergraduate classes, and so the brilliant seniors in the required "Situation of Writing" class now have a wonderful feed going at @GetItWrite392 . They are tweeting on various aspects of the writing world and life, publishing, literary culture, and so forth, and have so far linked to some great material, including a witty piece by Colson Whitehead and an article on MFA programs. If you're at all interested or amenable, please follow their tweets, and if you have suggestions for articles, let them know by tweeting to @GetItWrite392 . We're landing soon, so I'll post more later.


Rays of good news amid the ongoing tragedy in Haiti: Chelsey Kivland, the sister (and in-law) of friends of mine, had not been heard from since the earthquake had leveled most of Port-au-Prince. Chelsey is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago, and has been studying and living in Haiti for several years now. Her family in suburban Chicago was terribly worried about her. According to the Consular Section of the US Embassy, she has contacted her family to say that she's alive and okay. I know they are hoping to see her at home very soon. Another friend, Philippe, wrote to say that his grandmother in Jacmel, which was also hit by the earthquake, has been located and alive, and our neighbors, who have an extensive family network in Haiti, have also said that their family members have been reached and are okay.

Philippe also sent this link to Tracy Kidder's very thoughtful New York Times Op-Ed piece on Haiti, "Country Without a Net," which focuses on supporting organizations in Haiti run by Haitians.

In the Daily Beast, Tunku Varadarajan drops some serious science on France's particularly brutal and venal history involving Ayiti/Haiti. A pretty picture it ain't.

Back in 2008 in the New York Review of Books, Madison Smartt Bell offered an overview of Haiti and Haitian culture via its literature, one of its great gifts to the world.

Foreign Policy offers this rundown of Haitian history, from the French colonial period to today. (Note, FP's slant is right of center, but it's still informative).

We shouldn't ever forget that part of that history includes 750 Haitian troops under French General Lafayette helping the American revolutionary forces to defeat the British at the Siege of Savannah, in 1779.


The most recent news from Haiti, however, is still extremely dire. Estimates of the dead there range from 50,000 to 200,000, with many hundreds of thousands more injured, which would make this one of the most destructive natural disasters ever to have occurred, and one of the worst in the Western Hemisphere as well. Nevertheless, Haitians themselves, along with the search and rescue teams, have continued to pull people from the rubble and debris that now covers Port-au-Prince. Some of these rescues verge on the miraculous, and the more people and equipment that are in place the more possible they are. Another immediate necessity is getting water and food, medical care, clothing, and various forms of mobile shelter, to the living, and according to the reports I've read, this is occurring, though slowly.

In addition to short term medical, financial, rescue, logistical, administrative, resource, and other kinds of aid, the country will need longer-term assistance to help rebuild its infrastructure, its economy, and its civil society, all of which were already severely stressed. It has been very encouraging to see the commitment that other countries, and millions of people in the US and across the globe, have made to help the people of Haiti out, and I hope that the funds and resources reach the people instead of flowing into the pockets of middlemen, crooks and others. If you are unsure about where or whom to donate to, pick one of the traditional organizations, like the Nobel Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders/Médicins sans frontières, who have a proven track record of excellent work. Every little bit counts!


To end on a better note, let me congratulate a friend, Jeffery Renard Allen, whose collection of stories, Holding Pattern, was awarded the 2010 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence! Allen, a Chicago native, sets these sometimes impressionistic, vernacularly grounded stories in play through his poet's ear for language and eye for place, giving them a linguistic texture and richness that's unlike a great deal of what constitutes contemporary American short story writing. (This collection and others of Jeffery's have been among the J's Theater monthly Book picks.) It's wonderful to see that this collection and Jeffery, who teaches at Queens College-CUNY and New School University, being honored in this way, and in the name of one of the important living 20th century African-American fiction writers, whose best known works might be the 1971 novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and the 1993 National Book Critics Circle winner A Lesson Before Dying. Congratulations to Jeff, who will be honored in Baton Rouge on January 28, 2010, and do pick up this volume and his other work when you can!

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