INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Remembering ‘A Room of Her Own’

o6x6km-b88706664z.120160509101238000gp7gdvvv.10The book was going to be an easy undertaking: two months to revise, update and reformat a work I published in 1995 about “A Room of Her Own,” essentially a bookstore within The Frugal Frigate, a Children’s Bookstore in Redlands.

Instead, my undertaking launched a new adventure.

In July 1987, I lived only a mile from The Frugal Frigate in the restored historic district of Redlands, when educator and businesswoman Katherine Thomerson opened its doors. Soon, Katherine enticed Ann Schmidt to assist her.

Nestled to the right of the front entrance, Katherine maintained a steady presence of four shelves of books by, about and for women. “The Women’s Corner,” as it became known, met a deep and growing need in the community.

By January 1991, a separate space was created within the store for books by, about and for women. It was called “A Room of Her Own.” Ann was the primary keeper of the room.

Within four years, it evolved into the largest collection of books by, for and about women north of San Diego, east of Los Angeles and south of the San Francisco Bay Area. It became a center of intellectual, literary and creative activity for women in the Inland Empire.

In early 1995, Katherine gave me permission to conduct an ethnographic, or descriptive, study on the evolution of “A Room of Her Own” as part of my doctoral work. I tracked its growth and activities from March 1991 to August 1995, and included a photo essay.

It became clear that the room was a magical place.

There were thousands of books, mostly single copies, in 49 topically defined sections. Ann introduced readers to more than 124 books in her column in the monthly newsletter. The Monthly Book Group devoured and discussed 51 books, and a Spiritual Journey Group provided women a safe space for dialogue.

Finally, numerous scholars and authors including Susan Straight, Laura Kalpakian, and Patricia McFall gave presentations for 56 events in the outstanding Speaker/Discussion Series, held monthly, on the stage of The Frugal Frigate, free to the public.

I was a reader for three celebrations in the series, and my one-woman play, “Mother of the Mystic Garden: The Life and Times of Hildegard von Bingen,” debuted at one those events. In 1996, I also organized and presented “A Celebration of Sacred Songstorysound.”

In 1995, when Larry Burgess, then the director of the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, requested a copy of my study for inclusion in the library’s Local History Archives, I had only a partial understanding of how appropriate that decision was.

Ten years later, after 16 years of service, The Frugal Frigate, housing “A Room of Her Own” within, was sold. The 2,200-square-foot “A Room of Her Own” was dismantled.

In 2009, The Frugal Frigate sold again. The current owner, Gay Kolodzik, purchased the store in 2010.

Last spring, I decided to republish the study as a book accessible to a much larger audience. The story of “A Room of her Own” chronicles a unique, vital piece of women’s history in Redlands and California, on many fronts. It provided an exciting, vibrant literary scene, was a woman-owned business, supported the visual arts, scholarship, debate, education, self-discovery and community, to name a few.

I contacted Katherine Thomerson and Ann Schmidt, re-interviewed them, and received their blessing to revive the study. Ann was invaluable providing both archival and updated information. Amazingly, I learned, the Book Group has been meeting continuously since April 1991.

As word about the project spread, people voiced interest in contributing to it. A chapter on recollections was birthed.

I put forth queries, conducted interviews, and contributors generously submitted reflections. Artist Christine Curry Coates writes of how the murals Katherine commissioned to grace “A Room of Her Own,” launched her successful career as an artist. Laura Kalpakian, Gayle Brandeis and many others penned their memories.

It has been a time of community: of rekindling and reconnecting, laughter and tears.

The anticipated two months to publication has turned into a year of unfolding processes now nearing completion. I’m grateful for, and humbled by, the results. The project took on its own energy, once again sweeping me away on a frigate to A Room of Her Own, providing gifts far beyond what I ever imagined.


Inland author Joan Koerper has published everything from poetry to scholarly research. She earned her Ph.D. in Writing and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco.

INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Neglected titles have volume of life

o6x6fj-b88698409z.120160509100902000gn0g7dlp.10Gardening and reading are often pictured together as delights practiced into the afterlife, probably because people can’t imagine ever giving them up.

While everyone knows that gardeners have to weed their plots to get rid of plants that would choke out the beauty of the whole, book lovers rarely consider that good libraries must be weeded as well if they hope to avoid the fate of becoming frozen in time – dusty, unused and overseen by a Miss Havisham of a librarian.

The removal of books – seen as artifacts – has often caused much drama for small local and school libraries that attempt to stay current.

As a school librarian working on a campus that several years ago celebrated its centennial, I am one of a long series of teacher librarians who have never had the time to properly cull the collection. So much remains on the shelves that should have left the building decades ago; these books become time capsules, and the weeding is a romp through pop history and culture.

It’s difficult not to have deep affection for outdated books in the same way one might for a ride that is torn out of Disneyland because its time has passed.

As a form of amusement, the book itself, the information it contains, or its author, might have been a part of our childhood or, in a library as old as mine, our parents’ or grandparents’ childhoods.

I recently promised myself to remove the library’s never-used books from the shelves. Some were easy to pull, such as the science books that stated that one day people would land on the moon.

With others, I fought an undercurrent of affection, the source of which was puzzling. The checkout history of “A First Electrical Book for Boys,” published in 1936, was lost; however, the book was never added to the circulation system when it was automated in the late 1980s.

I imagine innocent, inquisitive kids pouring over it. I like to picture smart, sneaky girls taking the book home with the compliance of their librarian.

“The Story of X-ray” from General Electric is a pamphlet that appears to have been printed in 1949 and was checked out nine times from 1951 to 1959. It pictures a technician without any protective garments taking X-rays in a hospital room with a mobile unit. X-ray technology itself is described as something of a creepy Big Brother: “There is practically no region of the body that is not subject to its searching eye.”

Shelved nearby, “The Walt Disney Story of Our Friend the Atom,” published in 1956 and acquired in 1958, enjoyed numerous checkouts ending in 1981. Despite being fabulously dated, it does appear to be a friendly book, with its full-color illustrations and cartoon images.

I move to find books that are either “head scratchers“ or “heartbreakers.”

“Cheese Varieties and Descriptions” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Agricultural handbook No. 54), first issued in 1953 and costing $1.75, was never checked out. Even back in the day, it seems teens were focused on something other than their future wine-and-cheese parties.

More curious yet is “How to Know the Eastern Land Snails: Pictured-keys for determining the land snails of the United States occurring east of the Rocky Mountain Divide.” Published in 1962 and acquired in 1967, it was checked out once, in 1970. That’s once more than I would have put money on.

The “heartbreakers” include “National Geographic’s Song and Garden Birds of North America.” This volume is beyond beautiful, its heavy glossy sheets thick with full-color images of every imaginable bird. It’s an early interactive book, complete with a booklet of bird songs on several flimsy 45-rpm vinyl records.

INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Persuasion and pitfalls in political poems

o5n5zl-b88689179z.120160414135006000gt9g06if.10This is the year it could happen. Maybe you’re stuck in a stop-and-go rubberneck on the 91 freeway, the radio a dull drone through your morning migraine as the partisan station of your choice recaps the political news of the day.

Maybe it’s already happened. Maybe you’ve already begun thinking of words that rhyme with candidate names.

Wherever it happens, you might have the sudden urge to write a political poem sometime during the next eight months. To help you get ready, I’ve prepared this simple guide to help you handle the situation with aplomb.

First of all: Don’t panic. Pull to the side of the road somewhere safe, or wait for the nearest exit, then find an empty parking lot or an exceptionally long drive-through line. Poems sometimes write themselves, but they can’t write themselves while you’re driving. Only poem in park.

Don’t feel guilty. A poem is just a special way to talk about special things. We all have an innate desire to say the un-sayable, to articulate all that lies just beyond the reach of articulation. Poetry can happen to anyone, anywhere, so remember: It’s not your fault.

Find a recording device. Use your smartphone, if you have one, to record your poem as a voice memo, text it to a friend, email it to yourself, or tap it out using a standard writing application.

If not, many of the world’s greatest poems have been written on ancient, crusty glovebox napkins. It’s true. If all else fails, there’s still memorization, a pneumonic device, which historically has been the point of poetry more often than not. Whatever tool you use, just don’t lose it.

Now that you have your poem saved, the real trouble begins. Sure, you’ve written something “felt in the blood and felt along the heart,” as Wordsworth put it, but what next? Does your political poem have any cultural value? Should you share it with close friends, or perhaps even the public?

On this question, poets themselves have long been split. In “A Defense of Poetry,” Percy Shelley famously wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and others have been trying to pat themselves on the back equally firmly ever since.

William Carlos Williams says, “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” Your political poem could be a matter of life and death! More recently, Meena Alexander writes that, “We have poetry/ So we do not die of history,” a statement I particularly love.

Not everyone agrees, though. In a 1965 lecture to students at Berkeley, Jack Spicer said, “I don’t know of any political poems which have worked,” and suggested instead of writing poems that they write letters to their congressmen. Both would be equally effective, he reasoned.

I once asked National Book Award winner Troy Jollimore why he finds political poems difficult to write, and he worried about preaching to the converted: “The people who know those are good values are already on my side; the people that don’t think they’re good values aren’t going to be convinced by my siding up with good values.”

He has a point, too. A poem isn’t an argument. A poem’s purpose isn’t to persuade — persuasion is for op-eds and campaign ads.

So keeping that in mind, re-read your political poem. Is it cheerleading, or is it trail-blazing? Does it reach deeper into the abyss to haul up some new creature?

Just last week, an Orange County poet named David Miller wrote in a political poem, an elegy for the personified American Dream: “I ran when I heard you crying/ like a phone, no one told me how alone you are.” Now that’s what Shelley meant when he said that poetry “purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being.”

Be honest, does your political poem really purge the film of familiarity, or is it just more mosquito guts on the windshield? If it’s the former, then by all means share it widely! This is the year for purging.


Wrightwood author Timothy Green is editor of Rattle magazine

INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Writing helped family pursue justice

o5hej0-b88676034z.120160411110922000gh0fr950.10A mother’s worst nightmare became my reality. The midnight phone call from a sheriff’s deputy waking me with horrible news: My son, Mark, had been “in a collision and he did not survive.”

The rest is a huge blur. My adult son was the victim of a hit-and-run crime, and he was unable to defend himself. His voice was silenced. It became our family responsibility to ensure that Mark’s voice would be heard.

During the criminal trial, we were offered the opportunity to address the judge by writing a victim impact statement. It allowed us to tell the court about the effects, the impacts of Mark’s death and the damage the offender had caused.

We read our statements out loud during the sentencing hearing.

I held a large photo of Mark to put a real face on a judicial case number. Like Joan Didion in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” I wanted to scream, but I remained calm. Mark’s voice resonated through me, through his father, his son, his brother and his aunt. We spoke for him.

Victims are seldom called to testify in court, and if they do testify, they must respond to narrow, specific questions.

But the California Constitution allows victims to present written and oral statements. These statements are often the victims’ only opportunity to participate in the criminal justice process, or to confront the offenders who have harmed them.

These are testimonials about how a crime has affected them. They generally are included in the presentencing report presented to the judge and are allowed during the sentencing process.

When a victim is deceased, as in our Mark’s case, the relatives have the right to be heard. A judge may use information from these statements to help determine an offender’s sentence.

I welcomed the opportunity to articulate to the judge how my son’s death was a horrible loss to our family. And I was able to list prior offenses committed by the offender that had been stricken by the judge during a pretrial hearing.

I also helped Mark’s 12-year old son, Paul, write a statement about how the loss of his father affected him. His Uncle Leonard read Paul’s statement at the trial.

There are benefits to writing an effective statement. Fairness and justice for your loved one is the main goal. It could be your best shot at persuading the judge. Like writing in a journal, the reflection process and the act of writing down your thoughts about the crime’s impacts help with emotional healing.

Indeed, it improved my satisfaction with the criminal justice system, especially when the jury ruled in favor of the people of California, as they did in our case.

The Riverside Main Library has stacks of volumes in the 800-section that may help those unsure of how to write a statement. For example, Beth Kephart’s “Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir” and Brandon Royal’s “The Little Red Writing Book” are full of advice and recommendations.

When your case goes to trial, be prepared for the bad memories to be relived all over again. Attend all court hearings, especially the trial. It demonstrates that the victim is loved and supported. Keep notes of the proceedings and visit the Superior Court website frequently to review the minutes and other documents regarding the case.


Inlandia Institute president Frances J. Vasquez writes about the importance of victim statements

INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Bountiful bloom despite drought

By Ruth Nolan

o4ynt0-b88675956z.120160401081556000gjhfnkvc.10Stories of the rare “superbloom” in Death Valley National Park, exploding colorfully across one of the world’s hottest, driest and lowest regions, have traveled far and wide as late winter transitioned into early spring this year.

Inland residents have the special privilege of living within easy driving distance of Death Valley, and legend has it that this year’s bloom is especially beautiful, following a historic monsoon rainfall in the northern Mojave Desert in October.

Many well-known desert personalities and authors have eloquently publicized the aesthetic influence of desert wildflowers.

The late Coachella Valley artist John Hilton penned a humorous and memorable essay for the old Desert Rat newsletter (circa 1930s-1950s) about the intoxicating power of seeing and walking through the swaths of deep pink sand verbena that carpet fields and sand dunes throughout the Coachella Valley in the spring, their abundance depending on rainfall levels in winter months. In fact, many of Hilton’s most treasured Coachella Valley landscape paintings have sprinkles of sand verbena in them.

Yes, desert wildflowers are beautiful – and especially given that they don’t bloom abundantly every season, and that when they do, their stunning appearance is so short-lived. Soon, the lengthening days of spring and the early summer onset in Death Valley, where temperatures soar high above 100 degrees day after day for months, will burn the yellow and purple wildflowers away and they will be just a faint memory on the raw, scorched landscape. Beyond appreciating the sensory and fleeting beauty of the flowers, which in itself is quite a thing to behold, why should we care about the deeper importance of desert wildflowers?

Native Americans living in our deserts have long relied on plants as critical components of survival, especially as food. Many of the wildflowers you’ll see blooming, not only in Death Valley, but in Joshua Tree National Park, in the Coachella Valley and in the higher-elevation chaparral transition zones of areas such as the Santa Rosa Mountains, have long been important food sources for the Cahuilla, Serrano, Chemehuevi, Timbisha Shoshone and other desert tribes.

I recently observed part of an ongoing yucca harvest workshop involving native desert participants at the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center in Banning. The day I visited, mothers, daughters and other women were busy preparing beautiful, cream-colored yucca blossoms – tinted with green and magenta hues – for a delicious yucca blossom salad, which resembles macaroni shell pasta salad, but tastes much richer and a bit sweeter. This is just one of many ways yucca flowers have been used for centuries in traditional foods, while many everyday items such as sandals and soap have been made from other parts of the plant.

Most people associate the ominous presence of barrel cactus with danger: The sharp, curved barbs can indeed inflict a lot of damage to human skin and body parts. However, the barrel cactus, which grows throughout California’s deserts, produces abundant blossoms – both yellow and bright pink – that have been used by desert Indian people as a food source, like yucca blossoms.

In her memoir, the late Cahuilla historian and culture bearer Katherine Siva Sauvel wrote of her childhood memories of harvesting barrel cactus flowers, a nutritious and sweet snack, from Devil’s Garden, an area near Palm Springs.

Desert wildflowers matter. They mattered in the survival of our desert’s Indian people for centuries, and they matter now.

They are a measure of adequate rainfall that’s crucial for replenishing desert aquifers for human consumption and for the rare riparian areas that provide drinking water for desert animals and sustenance for the many plants that provide life in a land that can be unforgivingly harsh.

This year’s superbloom in Death Valley and the rest of our deserts has given those of us in the Inland region a bit of an uplift in a long, nervous time of ongoing severe drought, which has been only minimally eased this winter by an El Niño that never really showed up with the downpours we had expected.

With the flourishing of wildflowers this spring, we’re blessed with an extra dose of natural beauty that lifts the human spirit and gives us the hope of replenishment, both natural and aesthetic, all from one of the world’s most unlikely places, which we are fortunate to call part of our desert backyard.