Posted by: wordrunner | February 2, 2021

February 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

“The Hill We Climb”
Amanda GormanAmanda Gorman’s stellar recital of “The Hill We Climb” brought poetry front and center to the inauguration ceremonies in Washington and to the political drama on the national scene. The nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate will also be making an appearance at the Super Bowl on February 7.

Like many listening, I was thrilled to hear this poet, whose use of voice, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and metaphor illuminated what these times call us to do. But most of all, it was moving to see a young black woman holding the nation to attention with the power of her words.

The Press Democrat featured poets laureate Phyllis Meshulam’s and Maya Khosla’s responses to Gorman’s poem, which you can find at this link:

The inclusion of poetry at the Presidential inauguration is relatively recent. Only four presidents—John F. Kennedy in 1961, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013, and Joe Biden in 2021—have had poets read at their inaugurations. You might want to check out this article on, which includes the history of inaugural poems and a video sampler:

Amanda Gorman was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Harvard University in 2020. She is the author of the poetry collection The Hill We Climb (Viking, September 2021) and The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (Penmanship Books, 2015). In 2017 Gorman was named the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. She previously served as the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles, and she is the founder and executive director of One Pen One Page, an organization providing free creative writing programs for underserved youth. Gorman was selected by President Biden to read an original poem for his Inauguration on January 20, 2021, making her the youngest poet to have served in this role.  


Remembering Gina Berriault
Gina Berriault on some short stories being akin to poetryOn January 17, the Sitting Room posted a short article about Gina Berriault in a new online feature called “Sunday Surprise.” Many of you may be on the Sitting Room’s mailing list, and so have already seen this. But reading this reminded me that Barriault’s great talent was not known as widely as she deserved, and so I thought this article merited reproducing here in the Sonoma County Literary Update.

Women in Their Beds by Gina BerriaultI was introduced to Gina Berriault’s work when I was teaching at SF State through my colleague Molly Giles. I was also teaching at SRJC and serving on the Arts and Lectures Committee, and had the honor and pleasure of hosting Berriault as a guest writer at the JC following the publication of her collection Women in their Beds: New and Selected Stories (1996), which won the PEN/Faulkner Aeard, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award.

Berriault wrote across a wide range of genres: short stories, novels, and screenplays. Her short story ”The Stone Boy,” which she adapted for the screen, was made into the 1984 film starring Robert Duvall and Glenn Close. At the time of her death, she had recently completed a fable, ”The Great Petrowski.” It’s my hope that some of you will be inspired to order one or more of Berriault’s books.

GINA BERRIAULT (1926-1999), lived in the Bay Area, and never got the attention her brilliant short stories deserved. Oh, she got awards but was usually relegated to that unvisited corner of being “a writer’s writer”.  The Sitting Room is glad to have two of her collections of stories but the SURPRISE here is a uncategorizable little book titled “The Great Petrowski”.
The Great Petrowski by Gina BerriaultHere is how the so unlikely book came about and here is how it came to  the Sitting Room. Again it is a local story. Guy Biederman, publisher of “Bust Out”, who was teaching  workshops at The Sitting Room, noticed our Berriault books.

“Oh, I must bring The Sitting Room a gift of a book of hers for which I was the first publisher at Thumbprint Press. Gina and I were neighbors and she entrusted me with bringing this unique book into the world. It happened that she was in the hospital when the galley proofs were ready for review and so I took them to her there.  Of course, she saw several changes that were needed and made them there from what turned out to be her death bed,”

Illustrated by Gina also, it is an eco-fable which manages to make plausible a parrot learning to sing opera and somehow saving the world.  If you don’t want to wait until The Sitting Room opens again, it can be ordered on line or better at local bookstores.  Get a few extras, as you will want to give it to friends.

What a gift it was for The Sitting Room long long ago — Thanks, Guy, and thanks also to Gina Berriault!

Political Writers Featured this Month
In an era when our experience of reality is so easily manipulated, and the perception of history so easily distorted, as the country transitions to a new administration and prepares for the second impeachment trial of Trump, these online events are particularly intriguing.

The first is on Tuesday, February 2 at 2 PM: Book Passage presents an eclectic lineup of contributors, Steve Kettmann, Mary C. Curtis, and Anthony Scaramucci, from the collection Now What? Now What?: The Voters Have Spoken—Essays on Life After Trump. For more details and to register for this free virtual event:

The second is on Tuesday, February 9 at 7 PM: Copperfields Books presents Edward Snowden in conversation with Cory Doctorow. Featured book: Permanent Record: How One Man Exposed the Truth about Government Spying and Digital Security. Details and registration:

Though not specifically political, Catherine Grace Katz will present a 90 minute online writing workshop called “Five Things I’ve Learned about Writing the History We Think We Know.” Katz will present what she has learned about uncovering the forgotten voices and experiences that make us reconsider the people and events that we assume we know inside and out. This is on Sunday, February 28, 4:00 p.m., presented by Book Passages Details and ticket ($40):

Ricardo Pau-Llosa and José Luis Gutiérrez
On Sunday, February 28, at 3 PM, Sixteen Rivers presents Ricardo Pau-Llosa and José Luis Gutiérrez in an online reading.

Ricardo Pau-LlosaPau-Llosa was born into a working-class family in Havana. In 1960 he fled Cuba with his parents, older sister, and maternal grandmother — all of whom emerge in his autobiographical poems of exile and remembrance. Pau-Llosa has published the last six of his eight collections of poetry with Carnegie Mellon University Pressw. His three latest books are The Turning (2018), Man (2014) and Parable Hunter (2009).

José Luis GutiérrezJosé Luis Gutiérrez was born in Miami and grew up in Panama. His first poetry collection, A World Less Away, was published in 2016. His second collection, The Motel Entropy & Other Sorrows, came out in 2019. He’s also a screen writer and film maker.

You can use this link to join us for this free online event:


Poem for February


Assétou XangoBy Assétou Xango

some hear the song
& ask me of my children:
what’s it like to be the mother of sirens?
            they curl their lips
            & snarl around the syllables
they mean to say,
what is it like to raise sluts
who draw men off their sacred path?
what’s like to be the minor character
in every story?
it is not my job to protect weak-willed men
who long to be seduced
but curse the ones who’ve master the art
Sirens are the call of emergency
Call to darkness.
the warning in any myth.
Sirens may save your life
or end it
you will not know which
until the morning comes
they want to know what It’s like
to have birthed such dangerous creatures
did it ever occur to you
that my children
flee their home
convene in isolation,
shield themselves with bladed rocks
because you are the dangerous ones?
Assétou Xango is a poet and community activist. She was the poet laureate of Aurora, Colorado, from 2017-2019.

Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update


%d bloggers like this: