Friday, March 12, 2010

International Women’s Day Celebration at the Library: A Revelation of Women’s Talent

Writers Nina Serrano, Michelle Tea, Diane di Prima, Priscilla Lee and Janice Mirikitani

Current San Francisco Poet Laureate Diane di Prima said that she was surprised and pleased that all of the women writers that she invited as hostess for "A Celebration of International Women's Day" at the San Francisco Main Library on March 9 agreed to participate. The Library’s Joan Jasper was the initial greeter, and she welcomed the readers and the audience.

Di Prima’s recent inauguration on Feb. 2 as San Francisco Poet Laureate had packed the Koret Auditorium and a nearby overflow room — an indication of the affection for di Prima and for poetry. She is the author of nearly four dozen books, and she was one of the few published woman authors of the Beat and Hippie eras. Di Prima is also a prose writer, playwright, social activist, teacher, and the mother of five.

Di Prima gave a short history of International Women's Day around the world then spoke about continuing disgraceful gender inequality. She spoke about a United Nations study that stated when housework is included, women do two thirds of the work and receive 5 percent of the pay they are due, and that they are only receiving 77 cents of a dollar that men receive for the same or similar work. She had not planned to perform her work, but an audience member insisted, and the crowd was pleased when she emoted her poetry.

Published poet Priscilla Lee read about how wearing jockey shorts changed the power balance with her husband, and about the tribulations of the Sunset neighborhood, where “Chinese families go after doing time in Chinatown.” Lee said that her family considered her a freak because she preferred to revere Boy George instead of Mick Jagger like other local youth. She spoke about her experiences in the Sunset to be all about the gritty odors of fish and crab, tequila shots and shark fin soup dumplings, and the fog and stucco, which drew nervous, knowing laughter.

devorah major and Janice Mirikitani

devorah major, a past Poet Laureate of San Francisco, was late for the forum since she was teaching a science fiction writing class. She is a supporter of poetry as an art form that can please and empower, and writes about how to deal with the creative challenges of city life. She read about a heroic Black woman in the 19th century and stated that the Taliban’s biggest nightmare is to be defeated by armed aggressive women in combat units. major read from her poetry about uncompromising, outspoken women and how they can get what they want and deserve.

Poet Janice Mirikitani, San Francisco’s second Poet Laureate, is a visionary and community activist, a novelist and an essayist. She has served at Glide Church for 40-plus years as a founding president of the Glide Foundation, funding a health clinic and housing for low-income citizens. She spoke about women rising above addiction for reclaimed lives. She recounted the landmark case of Inez García, a woman jailed for two years for killing a rapist in self-defense in 1974. Mirikitani and her husband Rev. Cecil Williams welcomed García to Glide Church and provided for her defense fund. The trial of Inez García was a rallying point for Bay Area feminists and her subsequent exoneration was an important legal milestone. Another victimized woman mentioned by Mirikitani was "Tokyo Rose" Iva Toguri, an American citizen who was induced to speak on Japanese propaganda radio broadcasts after being trapped in Japan at the outbreak of World War II and later wrongly convicted of treason in San Francisco in 1948.

Nina Serrano, Michelle Tea (seated), and Diane di Prima

Author Nina Serrano is well known as a poetry workshop teacher at Oakland’s La Peña Cultural Center and as a KPFA 94.1 FM radio host who reads stories in schools and who has received awards for her films. She has published books of her poetry and her work appears in several anthologies. Serrano is also co-founder of San Francisco’s Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. She remarked that she had expected a packed auditorium, and quoted this journalist, who spoke to her earlier about San Franciscans, who unlike residents of Seattle and Portland, stay home when there is a threat of rain. She then spoke in a syncopated voice that women hold up half the sky, and while some people see praying hands in the design of Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light, she sees a vagina.

The last reader was Michelle Tea, author of four memoirs and a novel, a masterful arts event organizer, and the center of the traveling, rapturously creative women's cultural group Sister Spit. Her Radar Reader Series at the San Francisco Main Public Library and other venues feature diverse and exciting authors, and the Q&A is lively because participants receive homemade cookies. Her compelling work covers feminist, queer, prostitution, race, class, and other themes. Her reading revealed that she has an unusual take on needy queer youth and older gays, considering what has occurred in the Castro and the Haight neighborhoods — she thinks that older gays want to help the youth on sight.

The event was an entertaining adventure and consciousness-raising phenomenon that was only possible because of the stupendous talent on the stage.

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