The Stories of Parents Lost to AIDS Recollected and Shared

The Recollectors

Storytelling has the power to recall memories, to heal, to preserve history, and to keep the conversation alive.  Whitney Joiner and Alysia Abbott have created a community for those who have lost parents to AIDS and want to share their story called The Recollectors.  While both Joiner and Abbott lost their fathers to AIDS it was under different circumstances, yet they were able to relate to each other’s experiences.

The Recollectors has become a platform for others to join in by sharing their stories in the form of oral histories, essays, interviews, and excerpts.  There are currently 9 recollections that truly express the variations of what it’s like to have a parent with AIDS that go beyond the stigmas associated with the disease and the people that live with it.  There is a vulnerability that comes with the storytellers but it is in a way that encourages openness, healing, and love.

Austin Kleon Draws and Talks About His Book “Show Your Work!” in NYC

Earlier this evening, Austin Kleon gave a book talk about his new book Show Your Work! at Kinokuniya Bookstore in NYC.  As he introduced the book, which is a guide on sharing your creativity, and throughout his 20 minute talk, Kleon drew on a tablet so that the images appeared on a TV screen for his audience to see.  He started off talking about perceptions of a genius, depicting one as a god-like figure (with hair blowing with the wind, a lightning bolt, and everything) and how we often don’t see the process of what it took a genius to produce work.  He then brings in a concept from Brian Eno called scenius, which involved more of a community of talent rather than one individual.

Kleon made a point of not wanting to only talk about his own book and in the spirit of sharing process and things of interest, he presented a few books that he’s really into and recommends:

Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death

Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings by Yoko Ono

Shovel Ready: A Novel

The Freddie Stories

I Like It. What is it?: 30 Detachable Posters

How to Look

In the questions part of the talk someone asked about making a living out of something and Kleon asserted that  no one can be guaranteed to make a living out of writing or art or anything really.  But doing those things equates to making a life rather than making a living.  He then said that showing your work can also mean meeting your wife, your best friends, and important people in your life.  His talk and book provided great advice on sharing creativity and process, whether it be to further a career or make a meaningful life and connections.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a chance to win signed copies of two Austin Kleon books!

Amtrak Offers Residency for Writers with Some Fine Print

Image via Amtrak

After offering two writers a test-run for a residency that was initiated on twitter, Amtrak has opened up its residency for writers program to the public, which includes round-trip train fare on an Amtrak long-distance route and a private sleeper car with a desk, bed, and window.  The application can be found on their blog an is accepted on a rolling basis for residencies from  March 17, 2014 to March 31, 2015.  The comments section in the application form have sparked concern over the Grant of Rights for Amtrak’s official terms, which state:

In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties.

This section of the terms is regarding application materials, which include writing samples.  No clarification has been made regarding these terms despite much confusion and attempts to contact Amtrak by current and prospective applicants.  If you have a writing sample to spare, this could be an opportunity to work in a “fruitful work environment,” as writer and Amtrak residency test-runner Jessica Gross puts it.  Just make sure you also have a Twitter account – it’s required.

The Prison Poetry of Ceschi Ramos


Drawing by Ceschi Ramos

In December 2010, rapper, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ceschi Ramos was arrested when a vehicle carrying 100 pounds of marijuana wrapped up like Christmas presents parked outside of his New Haven home and an informant pinned Ceschi as its intended recipient. Police tackled Ceschi to the snow and drew guns to his head, refused to allow his 98-year-old grandfather to contact a lawyer, threatened to arrest his entire family and seize their home and ultimately coerced Ceschi into signing a confession. Following three years of legal battles, he accepted a plea deal for an 18-month sentence. There was no evidence suggesting he was anything more than a scapegoat aside from the signed confession and by the time his sentence began in September 2013, marijuana was no longer illegal in Connecticut.

To keep the record label he co-founded with his brother David in 2008 afloat, Ceschi and Fake Four, Inc. launched an indiegogo campaign in the fall. Their modest initial goal of $15,000 was met within 24 hours and the final tally sat north of 52 grand. Approximately four months into his sentence, Ceschi was released on parole over the holidays.

“We’re pretty confident that the noise everyone made helped put me on the fast track for release,” says Ceschi. “It was even hard for me to believe but the public nature of my case had every C.O. in prison pointing and talking about me, they seemed utterly annoyed by the amount of mail and books and visits and overall attention I was getting – and that really helped push me out into the program faster.”

One of the many perks offered by Fake Four’s indiegogo campaign included the opportunity to receive original poetry penned by the artist behind bars. My girlfriend, one of the 1,046 individuals who donated to the Free Ceschi campaign, received one of his pieces last week, entitled “Bori, Niantic”, which Artlux is proud to share with you below.

Click each image for a larger version


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Somebody’s Strange Blackout Poetry Story


Photos by Jessie Roth

Read Part I – Blackout Poetry: A Case Study in Artistry, Originality, and Creative Genius

A few days ago, I watched a great Netflix documentary about the National Film Registry called These Amazing Shadows. One of the librarians of Congress quoted in the film said something very simple, and very powerful, that stayed with me: “Stories unite people, theories divide them.” I often struggle to articulate what it is that interests me most, both academically and otherwise, but I think what it all boils down to is stories. You know, the sweeping and unclassifiable compilation of human experiences and the many ways it can be recounted. In other words, I’m fascinated by how and why we tell stories, as well as what can be salvaged, repaired, or gained in the process. Stories are universal and the desire to share them is among the most primitive, archetypal human instincts.

Sophomore (last) year, I concentrated my final project for a photo class around the theme of storytelling, using blackout poetry and photographs. I always wondered: what would happen if a group of people were given the same exact materials – a page of a book and a black sharpie marker – then asked to make a poem? This idea stewed in my brain for years before I finally decided to manifest my curiosity in the creative experiment that came to be called “Somebody’s Strange Blackout Poetry Story.” Over the course of three months, I distributed a randomly-selected spread from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to several people I met on the streets of New York City and asked them to make poems for me, taking pictures of each person as I progressed. What ensued was a simultaneous examination of human perception and expression.

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Blackout Poetry: A Case Study in Artistry, Originality, and Creative Genius


Photo by Jessie Roth

I was a junior in high school when I made my first blackout poem. The piece was taken from “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” a book I’m pretty sure I never actually finished, and the poem was about what my sixteen-year-old self called “insomnia.” Honestly, I just liked staying up really late and assigning a name to the antics of enjoying the early morning. Blackout poetry was trending across the Internet and after finding an example on some user’s deviant art page, I decided to try my hand at it. Of course, at the time, I thought my own painfully mediocre finished product was something of a groundbreaking masterpiece. It wasn’t. I took a black marker to the first page of a short book about teen life and crossed out a few lines, and I was hardly the first person to do it. I knew that. But I was shortsighted and sixteen, so I considered my efforts inspired. What I didn’t know was that a surprisingly long and rather remarkable history lay behind the “hip” medium of blackout poetry, or that my interest in the craft would sustain beyond eleventh grade.

Now I’m a junior in college and I still make blackout poems sometimes. I’ve been doing this for upwards of four years, which is more than I can say about the rest of the long list of activities I’ve “dabbled in” while attempting to “find myself” as a “meandering young adult.” I like it because it’s both fun and fascinating to pull words out of another human’s word bank and reconstitute meaning in my context. I don’t claim to own any of the words on the pages of novels, newspapers, or magazines I have repurposed any more than the initial author can. Language is a communal experience, varied among cultures but always, always belonging to all. These ideas can be traced back to Gertrude Stein’s experimental language-based writing in the 1960s. Language writing seeks to subvert traditional poetic expectations in terms of form, content, and meaning. In a radical literary uprising, Stein and her fellow Language poets tore down a literary patriarchy preaching linearity, coherence, and feeling and replaced the preexisting ideals with nonlinearity, open-ended interpretation, and a heightened appreciation for the nonsensical. In short, Stein carved out an alternative niche for forward-thinking, curious writers so as to reinvigorate the literary tradition and encourage a new kind of creativity.

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