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Debka Colson lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts but enjoys packing her bags whenever she can. She writes fiction, essays, creative nonfiction and poetry and is working on her first novel set in an unnamed Latin American country. Debka received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. With three kids to support and the ever-increasing cost of travel, she continues her day (and sometimes night) job with the American Friends Service Committee in New England.

Free Writing Workshop on Memoir

 

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I will be teaching a free writing workshop for adults at the Cary Memorial Library, 1874 Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington, Massachusetts between 1 and 3 PM on Thursday, June 1st. Participants will be introduced to some of the key elements of writing memoir. Using a visualization exercise, each participant will write the first draft of a scene that explores a vivid moment in his or her life. We will also discuss the importance of personal desire, obstacles and story arc in memoir. The workshop will offer in-class and take home writing prompts, examples from published memoirs, and opportunities for questions, sharing and discussion.

Space in the workshop is limited. If you are interested, please contact Matt Schuman at the Cary Memorial Library: 781-862-6288 extension 84452, or sign up through this link: http://www.libraryinsight.com/eventdetails.asp?jx=gxp&lmx=%C7%60o%2C%AC%A9&v=3

 

Review of Chapter & Verse Reading Series Honoring The Writers’ Room of Boston

Chapter & Verse, a reading series sponsored by The Jamaica Pond Poets, is held each month during the academic year at the historic Loring Greenough HouseLoring-Greenough House in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. The co-organizers of the series, Dorothy Derifield and Sandee Storey, invited members of The Writers’ Room of Boston, both poets and prose writers, to read at their December 9th, 2016 event.

Founded in 1988, The Writers’ Room of Boston (WROB) is a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the creation of new literature by providing a secure, affordable work space and an engaged community to established writers in downtown Boston. In addition to sharing a writing space, the members also choose to gather for readings, community gatherings and literary events.

WROB Members submitted samples of their work for the Chapter & Verse event to a Board of Directors Selection Committee. I was honored to be chosen as one of seven participants. Bios (in alphabetical order) of the readers follow:

Ari Belathar is a Mexican poet and playwright in exile. After being kidnapped and tortured by the Mexican National Army in 2001 due to her work as a student activist and independent journalist, she escaped to Canada as a political refugee. Her poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies around the world. Ari has been awarded residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts, The Arctic Circle, and Blue Mountain Center. She relocated to the U.S. in 2014 and is the current Writers’ Room of Boston Poetry Fellow.

Liz Breen writes television commercials for clients like Progressive Insurance and the National Association of Realtors. At night, she focuses on short stories and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in the Columbia Journal, CHEAP POP and Cleaver Magazine, among others. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Debka Colson writes fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in North American Review, Slab, Folio, Roar, and The Rumpus, among others, and in two anthologies. Debka completed her MFA at Lesley University and is the Program Director for the Writers’ Room of Boston, where she was awarded the Ivan Gold Fellowship in 2013. In her home base of Jamaica Plain, she serves as the Flash Fiction Contest Coordinator for JP Reads.

Eric Hyett is a poet, linguist and translator from Cambridge. His poetry, as well as his co-translations of contemporary Japanese poet Kiriu Minashita, appear frequently in major literary journals including, most recently, the Cincinnati Review, The Hudson Review, Barrow Street, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and Antioch Review. Eric is presently finishing two poetry manuscripts and a memoir. He is the first “legacy” member of The Writers’ Room of Boston (his mother, Barbara Helfgott Hyett was a founder) and serves on the Board.

Aaron Krol has received poetry fellowships from the Massachusetts Culutral Council and the Saint Botolph Club Foundation, and has been published in 32 Poems, Mississippi Review, KROnline, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. He grew up in Baltimore, and now lives in Watertown with his wife Shannon Wagner, a fellow alum of the MFA creative writing program at Emerson College.

Ellin Sarot is a poet and editor. She was the inaugural 2014 Gish Jen Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston and now serves on the Board. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Paterson Literary Review, String Poet, Main Street Rag, and Deronda Review, among others, and in anthologies, including Veils, Halos, and Shackles; International Poetry on the Abuse and Oppression of Women; and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. Ellin grew up in NYC but now lives in Cambridge where street trees are everywhere and, lately, also wild turkeys.

Brent Whelan retired recently after many years of teaching high school English at Commonwealth School in Boston in order to devote himself to writing fiction. He joined the WROB in the fall of 2015, and has completed a very rough draft of a novel there, along with a number of short stories. He is married with three grown children. He also writes blogs on various political and cultural matters.

 

 

 

Feedback on Essay in The Rumpus

Painting by Rivka Simmons
Painting by Rivka Simmons

Thank you to everyone who responded to my essay “Baking Projects: Needing, Rising, and Letting Go.” I have been moved by the stories others have shared with me from coping with the shame associated with a birth defect, to life-long struggles moving from judgment and self-criticism to becoming “enough.”

I’ve included a small sampling below and though some comments were made publicly, I have decided not to list names as I understand the desire to maintain privacy.

“I appreciate your meaningful story and the courage to share it. I lost a nipple during a breast reduction, so the breast is in some ways “deformed” looking, yet I love my breasts more than I did before, when their weight and appearance wore me down. I go around topless a lot now (at home, haha), which is something I really wouldn’t have felt doing before. I am enough.”

“Amazing essay! Such range, courage, and depth. I’ll be carrying this one around in my head for some time. Thanks for sharing it.”

“Thank you so much for sharing your stories woven together so beautifully! I will share it with my daughter, who also experienced a congenital abnormality to her left breast, and dealt with it in some similar ways as a young woman with insensitive classmates; and overcame her body consciousness, did not have surgery, and just celebrated 10 years of marriage!”

“What a startlingly honest and beautifully written piece. I was profoundly moved reading it, it resonated with me in a personal way and stayed with me well after I finished.”

“Thank you for sharing this intimate story. Shame, feeling bad for who we are, guilt, feeling bad for what we do. Thank goodness every moment is a chance to start over. Make cinnamon buns. I look forward to reading more of your work. Love and peace.”

“A brave and powerful piece. The metaphor of the dissatisfaction with the baking process and not quite perfect (outcome) added another layer to the piece, especially with regard to your awareness and love being passed down to your daughter. And I loved the mantra of being ‘enough.’ Yes. So important.”

“As a woman, a baker, a writer and one who has long had issues with not being “enough”, I have to say that this is the most magnificent piece of writing I have ever had the joy of reading on the subject. Thank you for sharing this lovely, intimate piece.”

 

Personal Essay in the August 30, 2016 Edition of The Rumpus

Ironically, I was baking a pan of pastitsio, a Greek dish my daughter Mikayla introduced me to, when my personal essay titled “Baking Projects: Needing, Rising, and Letting Go” suddenly appeared in the acclaimed online journal The Rumpus. (See: therumpus.net/…/baking-lessons-needing-rising-and-letting-go/) The essay opens with a description of Mikayla’s effort to bake her second batch of croissants from scratch. The rest of the essay is summed up in the kind words that appeared in my dear friend Camille DeAngelis’ (@cometparty) Twitter feed: “Beautiful essay by @debkacolson about body image, shame, and living (and baking) her way towards self-love.”

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Art by Rivka Simmons

Tracy Strauss, my editor at The Rumpus, believed in the work and helped allay my fears about revealing my long history coping with Poland Syndrome. I am grateful to her and to my long-time writing partner Susi Lovell for her ongoing encouragement as I have grappled with the larger project of a memoir told through essays, vignettes, poetry and photographs. The manuscript for the memoir is complete and is currently out in the world seeking a home.

Last but not least, I would also like to mention another dear friend and remarkable artist, Rivka Simmons, who agreed to let me use her colorful collage-paintings of female figures for the essay. Her artwork, including the piece on this page, can be found here: rivkasimmonsart.com.

“Flotsam & Jetsam” in SLAB

My poem “Flotsam & Jetsam” appeared in Issue 11 of SLAB (Sound and Literary Art Book), distributed this spring (2016). The magazine is produced by undergraduates at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. According to their website, SLAB publishes “on-the-cusp poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and text-based graphic art. Students who are involved in SLAB have the opportunity to develop themselves as leaders, gain valuable experience in editing, attend national conferences and in some instances, to work with famous authors.”

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The Association of Writers and Writing Programs awards two National Program Directors’ Prizes for undergraduate literary magazines each year to outstanding journals– one for content and one for design. SLAB received the award for content in 2012, which included a $1,000 cash prize, announcements in the Writer’s Chronicle and other national media, and acknowledgement during AWP’s Annual Conference and Bookfair.

My micro-fiction “A Distant Landscape” also appeared in SLAB, Issue 9, distributed in the spring of 2014.

See: awpwriter.org/contests/national_program_directors_prize_previous_winners for more info on the National Program Director’s Prize for Undergraduate Literary Magazines by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

For more information on SLAB, go to: slablitmag.org 

 

ArtWeek Boston: Writers at Work

ArtWeek Boston

Presented by Highland Street Foundation and produced by Citi Performing Arts Center, ArtWeek is an award-winning bi-annual creative festival featuring more than 100 unique, unexpected, and creative experiences that are participatory, interactive, or offer behind-the-scenes access to artists or the creative process. Born in Boston, ArtWeek has grown so rapidly since its 2013 launch that it now serves communities throughout all of Eastern Massachusetts.

On May 5, 2016 between 4 and 8 PM, Boston area residents are encouraged to visit Writers at Work in the professional workspace of The Writers’ Room of Boston located on the 5th Floor of 111 State Street in the Financial District. Themed booths throughout the writing space will allow visitors to Ask a Poet or Novelist or Memoirist, among other genres, their own questions—both practical and creative—about life in the literary arts. Our own writers’ work will be displayed and read aloud. Visitors will be invited to craft and share their own creative responses to fun writing prompts and can display their own work alongside ours. Stop by and say hello—you can find me in the Short Story booth. 

“A Brush with the Past” in GAMBAZine’s 4th Issue: The Awakening

GAMBAZine published my short creative nonfiction “A Brush with the Past,” a story that turns from a chance encounter with a woman on a subway platform in Boston to reflections on a conversation with a rickshaw driver in Kathmandu. “The Awakening” was the theme for this fourth issue of GAMBAZine. Editor Melissa Hunter Gurney calls it the “awakening of new perspectives. Moments when one observes their environment and makes a different impact because of this observation. Moments when an individual goes from no sensory input to being flooded with it.”

To read the fourth issue, including “A Brush with the Past,” visit: issuu.com/gambazine/docs/gambazine_awake

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Lifetime Arts Creative Aging Roster

In the winter of 2013, I was honored to teach a free creative writing workshop to a vibrant group of older adults through the South End Branch Library of Boston. The workshop included poetry and flash fiction and was funded by a grant from Lifetime Arts.

Founded in 2008, Lifetime Arts is a nonprofit organization that serves to inspire and engage America’s growing population of older adults. Their mission, as stated on their website (lifetimearts.org/about/) is “to encourage creative aging by promoting the inclusion of professional arts programs in organizations that serve older adults; to prepare artists to develop the creative capacity of older adult learners; and to foster lifelong learning in and through the arts by increasing opportunities for participation in community based programming. Our approach releases provider and participant from outdated stereotypes that define older people as needy, incapable or frail. While we partner with and advocate for creative aging initiatives that serve all people within this range, we focus on serving independent adults interested in exploring creative expression in a social group setting.”

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Lifetime Arts has included me on their “Creative Aging Roster” of teaching artists who are “trained to create and deliver meaningful programming for and with older adults in a variety of settings.” The organization recently contacted me with a request to update my profile  as they prepare to launch their “new look” later this month. The new Roster will appear on June 21, 2015. I am thrilled to be included with a network of talented teaching artists from across the country.  To see the Roster, please go to: lifetimearts.org/roster/

 

“One Coffee to Go” in GAMBAZine’s Issue on “Memory”

IMG_0287I love the community that editors Melissa Hunter Gurney and Chris Carr are building around GAMBAZine and am honored that my story “One Coffee to Go” was included in Issue 3 published in February 2015.

Here is the editors’ philosophy for the Zine:

“GAMBA is a provocative new publication inspired by the goal to challenge set truths through the generation of authentic, momentary, boundless, art. Hunter Gurney, an independent writer, set out to display raw thought without the pressures and restrictions that come with the publication process on the larger more media-driven scale. The idea spurred from extensive conversations about accessibility of independent and international artists who avidly practice their craft but may not be recognized in the public eye. GAMBA is a place where people can find literary and visual art rooted in passion and thoughtfulness without the politics of publication.”

The Memory issue is now available online through this link: issuu.com/gambazine/docs/gamba_memory_3