Tag Archives: lit

Spoken Word at Enigma – 9/26/14

Come see me at Enigma Bookstore in Astoria, NY on Friday, September 26! It’s one of their last in-store events, so it’s a bittersweet occasion, but I couldn’t be happier to be reading in their beautiful space. Readings start at 8pm, and it looks like I’ll be in some pretty great company. Don’t miss it! EnigmaReading

 

Dani Writes Reviews: ASTONISHED, by Beverly Donofrio

When I was a student in Wilkes University’s Creative Writing MFA program, I had the great pleasure of working with Beverly Donofrio (Riding in Cars with Boys, Looking for Mary). As a mentor and a person, Bev is smart, insightful, unwaveringly honest, and spiritually generous. As a writer, she tends to exhibit these same qualities–and they have never been more apparent than in her latest work, the memoir Astonished: A Story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace (Viking Penguin, 2013).Astonished: A Story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace

Astonished begins with Beverly’s own rape, at the age of fifty-five, as a serial rapist holds a knife to her face. She is living in Mexico at the time, a successful writer, a first-time homeowner, and grandmother to a beautiful baby boy. In the months leading up to the rape, however, she has been feeling a troubling lack of spirituality in her life. A practicing Catholic and a woman who cherishes her faith, Bev had already decided to take steps to reignite her relationship with God. In fact, she had been researching monasteries to visit just hours before the rapist crawled through her window and into her bed:

“…I, along with the entire town, felt like evil had come for a visit and it was not personal; and even though this little round–faced pervert with a big–billed baseball cap woke me in the middle of the night in the middle of a deep sleep in my own bed with a knife inches from my face, I was absolutely shocked that he chose me. This was not supposed to happen; I was supposed to have escaped: I had hot flashes and liver spots and was finally in the final stretch. I’d survived all these decades without experiencing this thing I dreaded as much as death—and had just been looking for a monastery to join, for Christ’s sake.”
– Beverly Donofrio, Astonished

What follows is not the story of a victim. Rather, it is a remarkably open, forthcoming exploration of a woman’s developing faith in both God and humanity. It is a story of living.  “I want to be different,” Beverly writes at the beginning of her journey, “to peel off masks, my make-believes, lipstick, to stop making things bigger, more and better, telling white lies improving on, giving an impression.” It is with this attitude that she lays out her experience, leaving it bare for the reader to examine and dissect as we follow her to monasteries, chapels, cabins in the woods, and the sometimes-hard-to-navigate intersection where spirituality meets the secular world.

It is difficult to read this memoir without finding yourself, along with the author, pondering the complexities of faith, considering good and evil and what they each entail. Bev’s candid descriptions of her growing connection with God offer a rare, raw glimpse into the process of personal growth. And she offers it graciously, without judging others, in the matter-of-fact style that is characteristic of her writing. With its blunt discussion of evil, rape, religion, God, and self-discovery, this is a thought-provoking book–and, in light of current events, a timely opportunity for dialogue about topics often considered taboo. 

Astonished is a memoir that resonates, and Beverly Donofrio’s story is an inspiration. It will stay with you long after the final page.

“It’s the space station,” or…On AWP and Why Writers Geek Out Over It

I just returned yesterday from Boston, where the annual writer geek-out (also known as AWP, also known as the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference) was held. It was my first time attending, so I’m sure I was even more wide-eyed and full of wonder than usual than most of my counterparts. Still, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that these few days in Beantown were impactful for me, important in some way much greater than my singular experience.

AWP swag…I will always be excited about a good tote!

Of course, this AWP was marked by an enormous pile of snow that insisted on blowing through the northeast last week, thereby trapping masses of writers within the confines of our hotels and the tunnels connecting them to the Hynes Convention Center (I literally did not breathe outdoor air for three days…) My hotel roomie, the inimitable Kait Burrier, described the other-worldly nature of this situation best, I think, when she said “It’s the space station!” She was referring to Prudential Center architecture at the time, but I find that the metaphor holds up for all other aspects of the conference, too.

Because writers are weird. We’re weird, and we know we’re weird. We couldn’t possibly deny it. Most of us go about our daily lives feeling the weight of our own oddity, noticing the awkward pauses as our conversations with non-writers shift away from whatever point we were trying to make and onto something more ordinary. Sure, we can get some solace from general book talk (“Hey, did you read A Visit from the Goon Squad? It’s awesome, right? Yeah, those characters are really something.” And this is surely a lovely discussion…Goon Squad is incredible, after all, and you tell your non-writer pals so), but there’s something about the life talk, the unnameable chemistry that occurs when speaking with someone who “gets” you, that simply isn’t there. Our friends and family love us, enjoy us, appreciate us–to some extent, they may even understand us–but, for the majority of writers, it is only the rarest of interactions that makes us stop and think, Yeah, they really get it.

Imagine, then, a place in which 12,000 such people have congregated, all aching for conversation, literature, and frivolity. All feeling buoyed by the presence of each other’s oddities–embracing them, reveling in them. Together.

In short, it’s amazing. I mean, mindblowingly and heartwrenchingly amazing. Indeed, what masks itself as a conference is really a return to the writers’ proverbial home planet. A trip to our own bizarre space station.

So forgive us, please, for the onslaught of post-AWP lovefest blog posts, tweets, and Facebook statuses. Take it easy on us when you ask how our time away from home or the office has been, and we are only capable of responding with a glazed look, a breathy adjective, and perhaps some small, insufficient anecdote. We do realize how annoying we are. It’s just that…this was really something special. Like, really incredible. We’re going to need a few days to come back down to Earth.