May 5, 2015

My Feminist Handbook

By mikestanky in LRR, Uncategorized

downloadI was introduced to Bell Hooks’ Feminism Is For Everybody as a required reading for an introductory Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class. Bell Hooks is the pen name of author, feminist, and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins. Now, I haven’t had the best luck with required readings, especially in entry-level coursework. Whether that makes me a finicky reader or just someone with a short attention span is irrelevant. For every three or so mandatory books I’ve fallen asleep while reading, there’s one that keeps me up at night thinking. In my first ten minutes spent with Feminism Is For Everybody, I knew I’d not be reselling it at semester’s end. In the two years I’ve had the book, I’ve used it as a reference material countless times in conversation with friends new to feminist theory. Early in the prologue, Hooks identifies one of the largest problems with feminism:

Today in academic circles much of the most celebrated feminist theory is written back in a sophisticated jargon that only the well-educated can read.

Her writing is clear, relatable, and to the point. In my own classes I’ve observed that the voices or the attentions most needed in feminist discussion are those who are most likely to distance themselves from conversations of feminism. Where so many other “introductory” texts fail, Hooks’ succeeds. In a later chapter, she identifies so well another one of the problems preventing feminism from reaching a larger audience. What I find brilliant is that this book was published 15 years ago, yet it’s observations are even more poignant today:

The rise in religious fundamentalism threatens progressive spirituality. Fundamentalism not only encourages folks to believe that inequality is “natural,” it perpetuates the notion that control of the female body is necessary.

Perhaps most importantly, this book has functioned as my compass in constructing and redefining my own brand of masculinity. Not surprisingly, my favorite chapter is titled “Feminist Masculinity.” The strongest message from this chapter reads:

A feminist vision which embraces feminist masculinity, which loves boys and men and demands on their behalf every right that we desire for girls and women, can renew the American male.

Why these lines are so important to me has a lot to do with timing. Feminism Is For Everybody came to me at a stage when I needed it most. I was in my third year of college, my parents had lost their jobs within months of one another, and I made sudden the decision to cross state lines and transfer to a university near home. I was struggling to find the answers to a number of questions. Why had my mother been paid less than an unqualified male counterpart in her previous job? How could I make sense of all this violence in communities not far from my own? Even today, why is it that a boys club of adult men at my father’s workplace continue to threaten and intimidate him? How are they getting away with it? It should be said that the answers to these questions didn’t exactly accompany my study into feminism. I was, however, provided with the tools to better understand their root causes. After months of frustration and burying myself in school and work, my spirit had been revitalized in a way I couldn’t have predicted. My resulting masculinity comes from a place of self-love, embracing of femininity, and a rejection of the violence that is so present in contemporary forms of masculinity. Among other damaging behaviors, Hooks calls into question the push back against feminism:

Tragically, we are witnessing a resurgence of harmful misogynist assumptions that mothers cannot raise healthy sons, that boys “benefit” from patriarchal militaristic notions of masculinity which emphasize discipline and obedience to authority. Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love. And a wise and loving feminist politics can provide the only foundation to save the lives of male children.

Recently, I spoke to a few classes at my former high school about the world of magazine editing and creative writing. I inadvertently ended up doing a plug for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Feminism Is For Everybody is just that—for everybody. I can speak forever about what it’s done for me, but the true test is to go out and secure a copy of your own.


May 5, 2015

“Bukowski for Beginners” Book Review

By Nikki Barnhart in LRR

As the book states on the first page, Charles Bukowski was a “controversial writer”, beloved by a certain but large audience, but dismissed by academics and scholars. “Bukowski for Beginners” by Carlos Polimeni, illustrated by Miguel Rep, gives one of my favorite writers some fair representation.

“For Beginners” may be a misleading title, bringing to mind an elementary school textbook but rather, they describes their mission on their website as “a graphic nonfiction series that deconstructs complex ideas and makes them accessible to the everyday reader. Every book in the series serves one purpose: to present the works of great thinkers and subjects alike in a straightforward, accessible manner.”

This mission is certainly achieved as the book is constructed in a comic- book like style, filled with cartoons and speech bubbles and differing fonts, that’s readable and visually interesting. Bukowski’s own quotes and poems are interspersed throughout, as if to give him a presence. The style is especially suitable for Bukowski’s larger than life personality and work. I appreciate that For Beginners recognizes that Bukowski is in fact complex enough to be worthy of being broken down, so to speak.

The book gives quite a thorough history of the writer – from his childhood, to his first story publication, to his work as a postman, to his death and legacy. Even a Bukowski fanatic such as myself could learn a thing or two in “Bukowski for Beginners.”


May 5, 2015

Artist Spotlight: Ana Cracion

By mikestanky in Interviews, LRR, Uncategorized

Ana Cracion isn’t the typical artist covered by our Artist Spotlight series this semester. She’s a second year MFA student with the University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts Program. I caught up with Ana at the Puppet Lab, UConn’s very own puppet facility on Depot Campus, only a short drive from main campus. 

A classroom in the puppet lab.

A classroom in the puppet lab.

M: Where are you from? How did you end up doing puppetry?

A: I’m from Romania. And I did, I think I have a photo when me and my sister, we had bunk beds. So I have a photo. I was maybe four or five. And I have a marionette on strings that I made myself. I didn’t make it, like make it. But do you know those babies, that you know, girls used to have? I had a clown. So I put the clown on strings. And I was like four or five. I can show you that picture. And my path was probably kind of set. Then I was doing a lot of craft when I was a child. I was sculpting in clay and just like getting dirt with my grandmothers farm. And just making from simple not even clay, the clay that pottery makers use, but like dirt because I wasn’t very exposed to an environment that I got to be creative. I think if I would have had, in my hometown, which was like a provincial town. If we had puppet theater more maybe that was, but I think it turned out okay.

Workshop in the puppet lab.

Workshop in the puppet lab.

M: Do you think people are afraid of the word puppetry?

A: I think they weren’t accustomed with it. I think the tradition—we had puppetry tradition before the communism but when the communism came they made the puppet theater only for children. That’s when they said this was only going to be educational maybe. Because the mentality overall, it was this oppression. They were arresting poets, writers. and Romania in between the wars, it was an extraordinary place. It was like Paris. But then it changed. Everything went into gray and that mentality of scared, and it’s a long story of what was going on there. And you can still feel that mentality. People are saying “no” a lot. They cannot see, they don’t dream. So that’s how I ended up here because I was dreaming. And I was upset that a lot of people are telling no to me and they cannot see what I see.



This horse marionette is the latest addition to Ana's puppet creations. While the face took two hours to construct, the finished puppet took two weeks from conception to completion.

This horse marionette is the latest addition to Ana’s puppet creations. While the face took two hours to construct, the finished puppet took two weeks from conception to completion.

M: How long does it take, on average, to make a puppet?

A: Well, it depends. If you’re going to make a small figurine for the toy theater, it’s going to take one hour. If you’re going to make a marionette, it can from one week to several weeks, depending on how complex it is. It’s all about just getting out the idea and then putting it, deciding on what materials you’re going to use, how it’s going to move, how you’re going to paint it. It takes as time as the puppet wants to come out.

M: What’s your next project? 

A: I’m ready for a new one. This new story found me through a dress. I was wearing a dress one time just doing a project with Sarah. And I looked at the label. And I wanted to buy a similar dress because it’s like a vintage one. And it said “union workers.” And I looked it up on the Internet and I arrived by information to the international ladies garment union. And I found out about a fire that took place in 1911 in New York. Where like 123 women died and they were all seamstresses. And something just made me look forward, look deeper into that and I found out there was a girl from Romania that came with her family in 1907 and she lost her life in that fire. And that made it, I knew that was kind of my story when I started reading about it. But when I saw that there was somebody that was from my country made it more personal. And I want to tell the story of her coming here and just having the same dream as so many other women, just having a normal life or a decent life and getting mixed up in all this union and businessman and the garment industry of the time and ending up in that stupid fire. So this is my project right now.

M: What do you want people to walk away with after a performance of yours?

A: I think just an open mind. And just, you know, the idea that objects are around us and they’ve been around us for a long time and we interact with them and communicate with them. And puppets are objects and puppets or dolls have been with us since we were in caves. That’s how we were telling stories. So moving away from this environment and considering that that’s just something for children. For me, I think people taking a bit, are pushing away a part of their soul. So open their soul back to this land, this world of storytelling. Puppets are our representations in the inanimate world. We explain to ourselves, we explain the world around us through these objects. Puppeteer says yes to each other and the world. This is the message of this place, that they say “Yeah, go ahead, do it, experience it, try it.” even though it might not work, but you tried it. You learned something from it.


April 29, 2015

A Review of the Gerson Irish Reading with Claire Kilroy

By Marissa Stanton in LRR

On Tuesday, March 31, acclaimed author, Gerson Irish Reader Claire Kilroy, gave a reading to a full house at the UConn Alumni Center. Dubliner Claire Kilroy is one of Ireland’s most prominent contemporary writers. She is the author of four novels with Faber and Faber: All Summer (2003), Tenderwire (2006), All Names Have Been Changed (2009), and The Devil I Know (2012), a carnivalesque fable of Ireland’s recent property bubble that resurrects a character from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. She was awarded the 2004 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and has been short-listed for the Kerry Group Novel of the Year Award three times. Kilroy was the Gerson Irish Reader six years ago, and we are delighted to see her return.

Kilroy has been interested in writing fiction since the short horror story about ghosts in chains and white sheets, written at age 7. Since then, she’s found inspiration in the vivid sentences of Vladmir Nabokov and the Irish novel Athena by John Banville.

In a review of her most recent novel, The Devil I Know, critic Stevie Davies talks about the poignancy of the novel, focusing a scene in which live lobsters escape the pot and scramble across the floor: “…its feeling for the rape of nature, both landscape and animals, is powerful and poignant. The scene of lobsters being barbecued is one I shall flinchingly remember… The savage indignation of such a scene taps into the darkness of the finest Irish satire.”

 Kilroy began reading from her novel, Devil I Know. Before she began, she explained that if her previous book was written out of anger, this one was out of sadness. The main characters, Hickey and Tristram, are old classmates; Tristram suffers from a drinking problem, and she read from a section of the book that intimately investigates the inner workings of Tristram’s addiction as he sits at a pub with Hickey and a few others. The sharp, anxious way in which Kilroy captures his deadly love affair with the dark pint of beer is poignant and honest.

Next, Kilroy read from a later section in the book, which describes Tristram and Hickey’s drive in the truck in the dusk. The dialogue is quick and natural, keeping with it that sense of anxiousness and expectation. Hickey starts talking about the feeling of the Devil in the backseat, and Kilroy dances around the dark imaginations of both characters without ever admitting or denying that presence.

Once the room was opened to questions, the audience learned a little more about how Kilroy develops ideas and describes characters. One audience member asked about the intense feelings of her characters—must the author put herself there? Kilroy responded, “The author must realize that the people in your book are more real than the people in your life,” and that “Pretty much every action I describe has been carried out by me.” Additionally, she says, trouble can arise when the characters become too similar to the author herself. To deal with that creeping “policing” that she noticed, Kilroy switched the gender of her main characters and has felt more freedom since. Another audience member asked Kilroy about the vividness of her descriptions of addiction, especially in relation to the character of Tristram. Kilroy talked for a bit about her experience in New York City years ago, in which she attended various Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She saw horrifying stories that were “way outside [her] frame of reference; it was a sort of ‘involuntary research.’”


Claire_Kilroy_author_photo_2009devil i know devil i know2


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