Sightings and Writings

This blog is devoted to concerns related to Ms. Aligned.

February 13, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 7.42.23 AMThanks to Ms. Aligned editor Connie Pan and contributor Lillian Howan, Eastwind Books is having a reading on Saturday, March 10, at its Berkeley store. Copies of Ms. Aligned will be available for purchase.

To find out more about this event, see the bookstore’s Eventbrite page. Best wishes to Connie, Lillian, and guest reader Allison Landa for a wonderful reading.

February 10, 2018

In the latest issue of Jane Friedman’s newsletter, The Hot Sheet, she mentions an offer for a first-page critique. Here is text from the webpage on the offer:

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 8.30.37 AMFor a limited time, Peter Selgin, award-winning author of Your First Page, offers this first-page critique opportunity due to the great success he’s had at workshops and conferences with what at first seemed a brave experiment: to see how much useful critical commentary and helpful feedback could be extracted from just a single page—the first page—of a work-in-progress.

So many things happen on the first page of a book. There, within a paragraph or two, and sometimes even within the first sentence, a bond is formed between reader and writer, one that will endure—hopefully—for as many pages as the work is long.

Unless the reader is being paid to write a review, or the book is an assignment for a literature or creative writing class, the only thing compelling readers to keep reading is what’s there on the page. And what’s there on the first page is all that compels them to read the second page, and so on. Of hundreds of stories Peter reads every year from my students, for every one whose first sentence appeals to him with a human voice, others assail him with mannerisms, pretensions, shock tactics—i.e., with the voice of an overeager writer writing.

But many other things can go wrong on that first page, errors resulting in confusion, frustration, or a blurry, imprecise experience for the reader. Those countless manuscripts that editors reject daily? They’re all being rejected for the same reason: for having failed—somehow, at some level—to successfully bond with their readers.

If you would like to be considered a first-page critique from Peter for a fee of $75, please complete the following form with your first page—and only your first page.

February 5, 2018

KEEP ON UP
A painting dedicated to the founders of Black History Month, the Black United Students at Kent State University, by Ernie Pryor.

Black History Month, says Wikipedia, “is also known as African-American History Month in America [and] is an annual observance in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and in the Netherlands[,] where it is known as Black Achievement Month. It began as a way for remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in the United States and Canada in February, as well as in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in October.”


“Familiar Fruit,” an excerpt from a longer work by Cassandra Lane Rich, appeared in the first edition of Ms. Aligned. Here are the beginning paragraphs of the essay:

My family ended up in Louisiana in the early 1900s, after fleeing the lynching trees of Mississippi. Shortly after my great-grandfather, Burt Bridges, was lynched in Holmesville, Mississppi (now a ghost town), his widow, Mary, gave birth to the baby who would become my mother’s father. Mary married a sharecropper, John Buckley. She did not love him, but marriage was the proper state for a young woman with child.

When I was coming up in the 1970s and 1980s, my mother, siblings, and I lived with my grandparents—Houston and Avis (Papa and Grandmama, I called them)—in DeRidder, an old sawmill town that had evolved into a military town by the time I was born.

As Cassandra movingly explains in her work, understanding the Black present requires understanding the Black history.

February 3, 2018

The following information is from AWP’s submittable page.

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Each year, AWP offers three annual scholarships to emerging writers who wish to attend a writers’ conference, center, festival, retreat, or residency. The scholarships are applied to the event or workshop fees of the winners’ chosen program. Winners and six finalists also receive a one-year individual membership in AWP. Visit our website [for] more information and a list of past winners.

January 31, 2018 / February 1, 2018


One of the most important things the Ms. Aligned series explores is self-image, especially the one formed by gender beliefs and experiences that our society transmits to us. In previous generations, self-image was formed by exposure to culture. Now it is largely formed by exposure to entertainment: television shows, videos, games, and Facebook posts and images, to name some of the most popular.

In the foreword to the second edition, Jill McCabe Johnson writes

[H]umanity is not divided simply between men and women, as in the purely masculine and the purely feminine. instead, we exist on a spectrum, and, regardless of a physically defined gender or number of x chromosomes, we all share essentially the same hormones—androgens and estrogens, for example—in varying combinations. And those combinations express themselves in myriad ways.

We know this, and yet, whether out of convenience or culture or the mind’s tendency to categorize, we often speak in binary terms of men or women. In fact, our artwork, media, icons, and legends often depict hypersexualized versions that become archetypal, even mythological. Unfortunately, those exaggerated portrayals create two potential problems. One is the risk that those who identify as male or female will feel a sense of inadequacy in comparison to the archetypes. The other is the risk of judging others based on preconceived notions and expectations for their appearance, behavior, capabilities, and character traits. As noted author and physician Dean Ornish writes, “Names and beliefs and preconceptions can bring a sense of order to the world, but often at the expense of being able to experience life fully.”

As Jill suggests, our urge to name and classify things prevents us from discovering each other fully and underscores the importance of reading works that pay close attention to more nuanced portrayals of gender. This is part of what the Ms. Aligned series tries to address.

The movie Jumanji focuses in part on gender stereotypes, turning them on their heads in more ways than one. Here is part of the plot summary from imdb.com:

[H]igh school student Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) is sent to detention for helping his former best friend, Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), with his homework by writing Fridge’s essays for him. They are joined by Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), a beautiful girl who was caught talking on her phone during a quiz, and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner), a socially awkward girl who objected to being made to participate in gym class. For detention, they are charged by Principal Bentley (Marc Evan Jackson) with removing the staples from discarded magazines in an old storage area, but Spencer discovers the console containing the Jumanji game and convinces the others to play it with him. They are unable to access one of the five-player options, a pilot, but once all four others have been selected, the game draws them all inside it.

Finding themselves in a jungle, all four are shaken to realize that they have become the avatars they chose for the game. Spencer finds himself turned into Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a muscular archaeologist. Fridge arrives into the game as Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart), an expert zoologist, but Fridge is upset that his avatar is a foot shorter than he normally is. Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), “killer of men”. Bethany is now Dr. Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), a cartographer that Bethany mistook for a woman because the description read “curvy genius” (and she becomes horrified upon seeing her reflection).

What makes the film worth seeing for those of us interested in the ways individual potential can break the bounds of stereotypes is how it challenges prevailing ideas about masculinity, femininity, sex appeal, and intelligence—and the physical forms these traits should take. From time to time, we see the characters’ residual traits—fear of being rejected, for example—dominate or handicap their new selves. When the characters confront each other’s weaknesses and urge each other to rise above them, we see that sincere communication and real empathy take courage—a courage necessary to the group’s existence.

As in the video above, the flow of communication over socially imposed or self-imposed barriers is liberating. The Ms. Aligned series attempts to be part of that liberating effort.

January 29, 2018

The C. D. Wright Women Writers Conference invites proposals for presentations at the 2018 annual conference, to be held November 9 to 10 at the University of Central Arkansas. Proposals will be accepted until April 15.

Inspired by C. D. Wright’s legacy, the organizers say their mission is to recognize, promote, and encourage a diverse range of women writers, including any writer who identifies as female. The organizers encourage group proposal submissions but will also consider individual submissions; individual proposals that are accepted will be grouped into panels by the organizers. Only one proposal submission is allowed per person; participants can present only once during the conference.

Possible topics include the following:

  • Navigating the publishing industry as a woman
  • Identifying challenges faced by women writers, particularly in the South
  • Balancing writing with work, family, and social groups
  • Developing best practices in one’s craft
  • Collaborating with and mentoring other women writers
  • Responsibly engaging diverse voices and perspectives
  • Historicizing women writers and movements
  • Writing about identity and marginalized experiences
  • Writing in the disciplines: arts, humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, etc.
  • Writing for mass media: journalism, blogging, podcasts, radio, etc.
  • Strategies for teaching and researching writing
  • Engaging and sustaining a writing life

Proposals can be submitted via the submission form on the conference website.

January 25, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 8.12.47 AMToday is Virginia Woolf’s 136th birthday. In celebration of her as a woman and writer, Google has created a doodle and Marie Claire has published “the best Virginia Woolf quotes.” Among the quotes is this one:

Who shall measure the heat and violence of a poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?

Ms. Aligned has published many good poets. In the first edition were Gerda Govine Ituarte, Naomi Long Eagleson, Astha Gupta, Adele Ne Jame, Hope Wabuke, and Judith Roche. In the second were Ituarte, Ne Jame, Connie Pan, Angela Nishimoto, Emily A. Benton, and Shelly Rodrigue.

Phyllis Gray Young once shared the following with Pat Matsueda. The excerpt is “part of a long argument woven into A Room of One’s Own about women writers and women and men writing, about people having a female and a male part of their brain. In chapter six she writes about seeing a man and woman get into a cab together.”

But the sight of the two people getting into the taxi and the satisfaction it gave me made me also ask whether there were two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness. And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female…The normal and comfortable state of being is when the two live in harmony together, spiritually cooperating. If one is a man, still the woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilised and uses all its faculties.

January 24, 2018

In her January 23 article “That Obscure Subject of Desire,”  actress Natalie Portman writes

Considering what someone else desires isn’t a bad thing. Actually, it’s a form of empathy. The consideration just needs to be reciprocal, and not at the expense of one’s own desire.

Works exploring desire in the second edition include “Death of Blossom Girl” by Mary Archer, “Patron Saint of Exits” by Connie Pan, “Sex Education: A Tragicomedy of Seven Years” by Angela Nishimoto, “Sasquatch in Love” by Emily A. Benton, “Day of Venus” by Cassandra Lane Rich, and“Metal Man” by Sion Dayson. In the first edition, we had “Hyperthymesia” by Eman Quotah and “Joaquim” by Phyllis Gray Young. In these works, male and female desires clash and then illuminate the roles of individuality and sexuality in forging relationships.