5 Questions with Roxanne Dubar-Ortiz

indigenousAnother week, another block days of great events at the City Lights Bookstore. This Wednesday, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: advocate for American Indians, activist, scholar, and author/editor of seven books. She’ll be sharing her newest book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Beacon), the first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples.

Our 5 Questions are always the same and our events are free and open to the public.

Event: Wednesday, October 1, 7:00PM, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz discusses her new book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

About the Book: In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the indigenous peoples was genocidal and imperialist—designed to crush the original inhabitants. Spanning more than three hundred years, this classic bottom-up history significantly re-frames how we view our past. Told from the viewpoint of the indigenous, it reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the U.S. empire.

About the Author: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a farmer and half-Indian mother. She has been active in the American Indian Movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. After receiving her PhD in history at UCLA, she taught in the newly established Native American Studies Program at California State University and helped found the departments of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. Her 1977 book, The Great Sioux Nation: Sitting in Judgement on America , was the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indians in the Americas, held at the United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva. She has author and edited seven books in total.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

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Poetry on a Monday: Ted Berrigan/Anne Waldman Reading

Ted Berrigan Blythswood Square Poetry Reading 1973 from CCA: Glasgow on Vimeo.

“This reading of Waldman and Berrigan’s poem “Memorial Day” was performed as part of a reading series at 98 Greene Street Loft curated by the poet Ted Greenwald. The video was shot by Sandy Hirsch on the only video format that existed at the time, 1/2 inch open reel video, often referred to as Portapak, and like any video shot in this format from the late 1960s to early 1970s, it is now a very fragile historical document. Digital preservation of this video allows us to now view it and share it with the public for the first time in decades. The Archives thanks the Berrigan estate, Waldman, and Hirsch for their generous permission to share the video on our YouTube channel.”

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Friday Staff Pick: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes

Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton


—Recommended by Layla and Vanessa, City Lights Books

Through original interviews, conversations, surveys, projects, diagrams and drawings from over six hundred contributors – including Miranda July, Cindy Sherman, Elif Batuman, Mac McClelland, Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Tavi Gevinson, Rachel Kushner, Roxane Gay and Sarah Nicole Prickett – Women in Clothes explores the wide range of motives that inform how women present themselves through clothes, and what style really means.

“It is a riot of opinions from women of all backgrounds; women born as women and those not, women of different religions and none at all…It is about commonality without being common, authentic experience without touching on cliche…As a snapshot of a moment and a portrait of women today, Women in Clothes is a significant sign of the times.”
— The Irish Times

“Old and young women, fat and thin ones, bag ladies and Bergdorf bag ladies, we’re a pack, a pod, a gam, a herd—birds of a feather. And long before feminism made fashion a guilty pleasure, my first experience of the sisterhood among strangers took place in a communal dressing room. I had a version of that experience reading “Women in Clothes,” a communal dressing room in book form conceived and edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton. They gathered the testimony—fashion-related interviews, lists, memories, dreams, poems, secrets, diagrams, fantasies, comic riffs, and, in some cases, accounts of oppression—of more than six hundred women from around the globe, and distilled them to five hundred pages, an Augean labor.”
— The New Yorker

“A collaged, zine-like anthology…Women In Clothes is a welcome life raft in a sea of what can be, for many women, confusion and mixed messages about why to wear what, when and how to wear it—and more importantly, how to intuit and shape your own style.”
— The Rumpus


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Planet News: Banned Books Week

Censoring Terry Southern! (via Paris Review)

“The seven suspended books are The Art of Racing in the Rain; The Working Poor: Invisible in America; Siddhartha; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; An Abundance of Katherines; The Glass Castle: A Memoir; and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.”
Just in time for Banned Books Week, Highland Park (Texas) suspended seven books assigned as required class reading after parents complained about their content.
Dallas Morning News (via NPR)

“Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading,”
Gretchen Knief, the heroic librarian that quietly battled the 1939 Kern County ban of the Grapes of Wrath (via NPR)

And last but not least,watch your favorite writers read from their favorite banned books! John Waters, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sherman Alexie, Daphne Gottlieb, Michelle Tea… so many more!

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Banned Books Week: Howl on Trial, edited by Bill Morgan & Nancy J. Peters

howl on trialIn solidarity with our friends in the book community during Banned Books Week; the librarians, authors, journalists, bookstores, publishers, teachers, and most importantly – readers, the City Lights crew would like to share the infamous history of Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression, a story not merely about defending Allen Ginsberg‘s revolutionary work, Howl and Other Poems, but the greater importance of accessibility and creative freedom in American society.

Published in 2006 and edited by Nancy J. Peters, former publisher of City Lights, and Beat historian Bill Morgan compiled in painstaking detail a collection of courtroom transcripts, letters, timelines, and photographs into a book that outlines the events surrounding the monumental court case directly involving publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights store manager Shigeyoshi Murao. One could say many more were involved including other bookstores, printers, and the numerous witnesses who defended the literary merit of Howl and Other Poems on the stand.

In his introduction to Howl on Trial, Lawrence Ferlinghetti notes that ‘Shig’ Murao, HowlTrial01 “A Nisei [second generation Japanese] whose family had been interned  with thousands of other Japanese-Americans during the war, led me to understand that to be arrested for anything, even if innocent, was in the Japanese community of that time, a family disgrace. To me, he was the real hero of this tale of sound and fury, signifying everything.” Shig was the City Lights bookstore manager who sold the copy of Howl and Other Poems to an undercover customs officer, inevitably leading to his and Ferlinghetti’s arrests for selling a book deemed “obscene”. Famous criminal lawyer Jake Ehrlich and Lawrence Spieser (who was later involved in the case Speiser v. Randall, a case also dealing with freedom of speech) and ACLU Defense Counsel Albert Bendich took on the case pro bono.

Ferlinghetti calls Ehrlich “absolutely brilliant” noting his devastating cross examination with the prosecution’s witness. Ellrich cleverly addresses during trial,

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5 Questions with Roxane Gay

bad feministIt’s been an action-packed week at City Lights Bookstore, with four events in four days. Our last event this week (Thursday, October 25 at 7PM to be precise) stars none other than Roxane Gay, author of the highly praised book of essays, Bad Feminist, and a novel, An Untamed State.

As with all our 5 Questions posts, the questions are the always the same.

Who: Roxane Gay’s writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, West Branch, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Time, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Rumpus, Salon, The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy culture blog, and many others. She is the co-editor of PANK and essays editor for The Rumpus. She teaches writing at Eastern Illinois University. Her novel, An Untamed State, has been published by Grove Atlantic. Bad Feminist appears from HarperCollins.

Event: Thursday, October 25, 7PM in the main room. “An Evening with Roxane Gay” – she will discuss her book of essays, Bad Feminist, and likely read from them.

About the Book: Bad Feminist is a collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

roxannegay“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Roxane Gay: I haven’t been to City Lights in many years, but I remember the eclectic
selection of books. That is always the mark of a great bookstore for me, to see that the booksellers have diverse and interesting literary tastes.

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New From City Lights Publishers: Thousand Times Broken by Henri Michaux

Adobe Photoshop PDFDrugs, fantasy, science, and poetry all merge together in this new translation of Henri Michaux‘s Thousand Times Broken: Three Books. Translated for the first time in English, Thousand Times Broken combines three works of Henri Michaux from translator and noted poet Gillian Conoley, author of seven collections of poetry to date (her newest, Peace, is new from Omnidawn). Written between the years of 1956 and 1959 as the Belgian-born Henri Michaux experimented with mescaline, Thousand times Broken explores the overlapping of visual art and writing in the hopes of limning the human consciousness which, for his whole career, was Michaux’s chief project.

“Communicate?” Michaux once asked the world, the reader, and himself. “Communicate what? You’re not intimate enough with you, poor fool, to have something to communicate.” In Thousand Times Broken, Michaux explores this question again and delves into the vague idea of “total self-knowledge.” As Barry Schwabsky, poet and art critic for The Nation, put it, “Henri Michaux was a poet’s poet and also a poet’s artist, yet he was also… a conscience––the most sensitive substance yet discovered for registering the fluctuating anguish of day-to-day, minute-to-minute living.” In these three books, Michaux attempts to meet ideas and performances of self-awareness, loss of faith, and simply what it means to be alive. Read on for a sample of the translated work from the first book, “Peace in the Breaking”, in which Michaux describes some mescaline-induced ink drawings that by turns take on the forms of “rivulets,” spine-like figures, or even written words cascading down the middle of the page:

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David Meltzer Needs Your Help

By Garrett Caples

davidmPoet, musician, critic, novelist, editor, bookseller, and educator, David Meltzer is nothing less than a national treasure. Beginning as a child radio and TV performer in NYC in the late ’40s, and becoming a member of the circle of artists and writers around Wallace Berman and Semina as a young adult in the mid-’50s in L.A., Meltzer would go on to be the youngest inclusion in Donald Allen seminal anthology The New American Poets: 1945-1960 (Grove, 1960).

Known chiefly as a Beat/SF Renaissance poet—an associate of everyone from Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Allen Ginsberg to Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger, and Michael McClure—Meltzer is also an accomplished musician, host of the legendary Monday night hootenannies at the Coffee Gallery—folk jam sessions attracting visitors like David Crosby as well as locals like the late Jerry Garcia—frontman of the psychedelic folk-rock group Serpent Power, whose eponymous 1967 Vanguard Records LP was named by Rolling Stone as one of the 40 best records of the Summer of Love.

He wrote 10 novels of what he calls “agit-smut” in the late ’60s and edited the kabbalistic poetry magazine Tree in the ’70s, along with numerous anthologies with themes like birth, death, the Beat Generation, and jazz. He was also a founding member of the New College of California poetics program, where he taught for many years. More recently, his selected poems, David’s Copy (2005), appeared from Penguin Books, while his latest collection, When I Was a Poet (2011), was selected by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as #60 in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series. City Lights is also reissuing his poetics manual, Two-Way Mirror, later this season.

cover of The Serpent Power (1967, Vanguard Records)

David has performed so much service for American literary and musical culture but now, at age 77, he needs some help. A few weeks ago, his doctors discovered a cancerous tumor on his liver and he has just undergone an operation to have it removed. The operation went well and he hopes to return from the hospital today. So the prognosis is good, but even with health insurance, this unexpected medical crisis could prove financially catastrophic. As a disabled senior citizen with numerous health issues, surviving on social security with no pension due to the financial mismanagement and collapse of New College in 2008, David has been left essentially impoverished and the co-payments and assorted medical expenses pose a serious threat to his future well-being.

Fortunately, David’s friends have banded together to set up a fundraising drive on his behalf, through the online donation site giveforward.com. See David’s page to donate here. We’ve set a goal of $15,000 to take care of David’s medical expenses in the near- and medium-term. Please consider contributing to this fund-drive for one America’s hardest working and most accomplished poets.

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Poetry on a Sunday

Memories From Childhood
Michael McClure

of Kansas and the laws

that made
them flat and bare

I know when and where
the field mouse died.

I watched the rivers tried
for treason,

then laid straight,
and the cottonwood and opossum

placed upon the grate
of petroleum civilization!
Back in my mind,
To where I came from

Taken from Fragments of Perseus (New Directions) in honor of the People’s Climate March)

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