My Performance Poem in Bullets Into Bells
By Mary Volmer
A performance poem for three actors. 1, 2, and 3 stand in a row, each holding behind her back a small scroll filled with names of people killed by gun violence. Very little movement except in their faces and voices, and in the eventual unfurling of the scrolls. The stage is bare. Red tinged lighting or background with yellow accents to suggest police tape. Experiment with the way the lines overlap and with cadence. Experiment with stage directions. Change the set.
(1) The gun
(3) in act one
(1,2) The gun in act one
(3) The gun in act one
(1,2) must go off.
(1) The shock?
(3, 2) Our surprise.
(2) The crowd gasps aloud
(3 overlaps line above) Hear the crowd
(1) gasp aloud
(1,2,3 crescendo) when the gun in act one
(2) each word a whispered beat) Goes. Off.
(1)Then the dead too soon
(2,3 overlap) Watch the
(1) too soon dead
(1,2,3 speak in a round, last word heard: “saints,” is a hiss) become newsreel saints:
(1 stoic, newsreader face) perfect mothers,
(2 newsreader face) loving fathers;
(1 newsreader face) such promise the sons and daughters
(3 joins the line above after “promise,”) My son! (gasp) My daughter!
(2 Lets scroll fall without comment on the stage; names spill out.)
(2) And the killer?
(3) The killer, crazy, yes. (Lets the scroll fall)
(1 quiet, subdued, puzzled) Still, we never expect (Lets scroll fall)
(2 overlap expect) still never
(1,2,3) we never expect
(3) on this stage
(1,3) we set
(2) that the gun in act one will go off.
(Gunshot on “off,” stage lights out, actors cast their scrolls into the audience. If there is a projector, the names scroll down a lit screen).
Authors Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Nayomi Munaweera in conversation with Mary Volmer about the craft of fiction and the global importance of storytelling
Saturday, April 21st, 3:00 pm
Hagerty Lounge, De La Salle Hall
Saint Mary’s College, 1928 Saint Mary’s Road, Moraga, CA 94575
The Women’s National Book Association, San Francisco Chapter, presents an afternoon conversation with internationally acclaimed authors Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Nayomi Munaweera. Come to hear these two remarkable women discuss the craft of fiction, the global importance of storytelling, and their impressive philanthropic endeavors. Reception to follow.
Sponsored by the Saint Mary’s College of California MFA in Creative Writing. Co-sponsored by the Saint Mary’s English Department, the Intercultural Center, and the Women’s Resource Center.
$15.00 WNBA members, $20.00 non-members (Prepay online, or at the door)
FREE for SMC students with a valid student ID
All proceeds benefit the WNBA-SF and the Saint Mary’s College MFA’s Hedgebrook Scholarship.
To sign up:
In 2010 my first novel, Crown of Dust, was among several books under consideration for a county reads program. It was dismissed after a small, vocal group of parents decided the content inappropriate. Had they read the book? Well, no. But they’d heard it was set in brothel, and the tagline provided by my publisher – “A gender bending story of love, friendship and redemption” – no doubt put them off.
It is true that the main character of the book is young woman who disguises herself as a man. And money is exchanged for sex. But if you’re hoping for a bodice buster, you’re out of luck. Crown of Dust is a coming of age story about identity, redemption, betrayal, and friendship. It features strong women surviving as best they can in a ramshackle settlement of men. Sexuality is part of the story, but not the story. (And really, if those parents wanted to strip the county of sexual references they might have started by repainting the walls of the high school girls locker room.)
Set in California during the Gold Rush, my novel dramatizes the ways in which people on the western frontier established their own conventions of behavior suitable to their circumstances. It reveals that human love has never been restricted by gender and that, for better or worse, sex has always been a commodity, a source of female power and vulnerability. I write about these things because they are true, and not even particularly revelatory. I honor the presence and stories of strong women, gay men, and black men in a place and time from which they had been excised. There are a great many more stories yet to tell.
History is messy and more complex (and entertaining) than the tidy textbook myths we create to contain it. Crown of Dust revels in the mess and complexity, and for that reason suffered a fate far more common than a ban: quiet dismissal by a small minority of people who prefer their history sterilized, processed and vetted to resemble their own biases.
First appeared in Diana Tierney's Creating Herstory : Celebrating Women Who Create History
Join Faith Adiele, Dr. Arlie Russell Hochschild, Shanthi Sekaran, and I at the Festival of Women Authors! Tickets are going fast. Hope to see you there!
Faith is the author of two memoirs, The Nigerian Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems, an audio and e-book about black women and fibroids, and Meeting Faith, an account of becoming the first Black Buddhist nun of Thailand, which won a PEN Open Book Award. She is writer/narrator/subject of the PBS documentary, My Journey Home, about being raised by a Nordic-American single mother and finding her Nigerian father and siblings as an adult, and co-editor of Coming of Age Around the World: A Multicultural Anthology. Her essays on multiracial identity, family, food, travel, spirituality and the writing craft have appeared in such publications as O: The Oprah Magazine, The Huffington Post, Yes!, Essence Magazine, and numerous anthologies. Named as one of Marie Claire Magazine’s “Five Women to Learn From,” Adiele is Associate Professor in Creative Nonfiction at California College of the Arts, and teaches popular workshops at Esalen, Vortex/Hedgebrook, The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and VONA/Voices, where she founded the nation’s first travel writing workshop for people of color. She lives in Oakland, where she runs a community African Book Club. www.adiele.com, @meetingfaith.
Dr. Arlie Russell Hochschild
Dr. Russell Hochschild is one of the most influential sociologists of her generation. Her latest book, Strangers in Their Own Land, was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award. She is the author of several books, including The Second Shift, The Time Bind, The Managed Heart, and The Outsourced Self. Her work appears in sixteen languages. The winner of the Ulysses Medal as well as Guggenheim and Mellon grants, she lives in Berkeley, California.
Shanthi Sekaran is the author of Lucky Boy and The Prayer Room. She teaches creative writing and is a member of the Portuguese Artists’ Colony and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Best New American Voices and Canteen, and online at Zyzzyva and Mutha Magazine. A California native, she lives in Berkeley with her husband and two children.
Mary Volmer is the author of two novels: Crown of Dust (Soho Press, 2010) and Reliance, Illinois (Soho Press, 2016). Her short fiction and essays have appeared in various publications, including Mutha Magazine, Women’s Basketball Magazine, Fiction Writers Review, Historical Novel Society Review, Brevity, and Ploughshares. She has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Hedgebrook and was the spring 2015 Distinguished Visiting Writer in Residence at Saint Mary’s College (CA) where she now teaches. www.maryvolmer.com
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