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.

We’re Still Here by Joan Koerper and Marja Anderson

“We’re still here,” announced Paakuma Tawinat, member of the San Manuel Mission Indian Band of the Serrano Nation, to the standing-room-only crowd at the Wrightwood Historical Museum on November 6, 2015. Accompanied only by his gourd rattle, Tawinat opened his presentation in Serrano tradition, singing a melodic song honoring the Big Horn Sheep, sacred to his tribe.

In an entertaining, informative, and interactive demonstration, Tawinat shared the history, culture, and current status of the Serrano Nation whose territory once covered 10,156 square miles of the San Bernardino Mountains, the Banning Pass, and the Cajon Pass. Now, Serrano territory is reduced to 1.5 square miles: the San Manuel Indian Reservation.

When the Spanish arrived in Southern California, 30,000 Serrano called their territory home and spoke the language. Only 200 closely related Serrano remain. Tawinat’s distinguished elder cousin, Ernest Siva, is one of only two remaining Serrano speakers. Determined efforts are being made to recapture the language and teach it to new generations. Classes in the Serrano language are even being offered at Cal State San Bernardino.

Tawinat’s ancestors survived forced conversion, slavery, disease, loss of identity, the “War of Extermination” declared by California’s first Governor, and deployment of Serrano children to Indian Schools dedicated to the motto, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” His godmother was one of the last Serrano to attend the Indian School at St. Boniface in Banning.

The Serrano once flourished on over 300 local abundant foods: plants and animals of the mountains and valleys in large territories they shared with neighboring tribes, such as the Cahuilla. Under Spanish and American rule they died of starvation.

Traditionally, the Serrano made full use of their environmental resources building round dwellings from flexible wood poles, palm fronds, and willows, which they left behind to be absorbed back into the land. Clothing was made from yucca and plant fibers. Established trade routes were used to both augment and sell goods with other nations.

Musical instruments were formed from natural elements. Flutes were carved from hollowed-out wood and reeds, while acorn seeds filled gourd and deer hoof rattles. Drums were not part of the Serrano repertoire. Traditionally, the Serrano also excelled in basket making. The audience was invited to peruse sandals, baskets, musical instruments, and other Serrano wares on display.

Tawinat highlighted how knowledge of the changing seasons was critical to his ancestor’s survival. These lessons were passed along, in part, through Bird Songs, Big Horn Sheep stories, and Flood Stories.

The Serrano had, and have, a rich social and spiritual life believing in a higher power, shamanistic healing, an afterlife, coming of age rituals, and death rituals. Music, gambling, and stories are enjoyed by all ages.

Strict rules covering marriage are in place thus, in the past, most were arranged. Tawinat’s grandmother, Martha Manuel Chacon, was the last Serrano woman to enter into an arranged marriage.

“It is done,” Tawinat concluded in his native language, the traditional closing of a Serrano gathering.

The meeting may have concluded, but the Serrano Nation is, as Tawinat announced, “still here,” succeeding. Serrano ancestors live on in their descendants and in the land itself. Purposefully overturned grinding stones lie under oak trees anticipating the return of the people who used them. Artifacts mark the sites of villages, and clumps of Datura plants still wait for the shamans who once harvested them. And if you listen carefully you can hear the voices of the People, intoning sacred Big Horn Sheep Songs, riding the winds up the Cajon Pass to a strong and healthy future.


Postscript for this post: Marja Anderson joined me in penning this article. Marja has a Masters in Anthropology from UCR and has conducted fieldwork in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

This article was first published in the Mountaineer Progress newspaper on November 12, 2015. Unfortunately, due to editorial oversight, the hardcopy version published that day contained innumerable errors and repetitions. The newspaper admitted to the mistakes in the following weekly edition and made the necessary corrections for the online version of the paper.

She Cultivates Ancient Wisdom by Joan Koerper

She cultivates ancient wisdom: Inland author’s work points to agriculture in natural harmony.

When author and archaeologist Anabel Ford traveled the world with her family, retreating to their Wrightwood cabin beginning in 1960, she could only dream that her fascination with Meso-American and Maya prehistory would lead to great discoveries. It did.

In 1983, Ford and her team uncovered the ancient Maya city of El Pilar, which had lain dormant for more than 1,000 years.

Ford’s book, The Maya Forest Garden: Eight Millennia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands,” co-authored with Ronald Nigh, a professor at the Centro Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Chiapas, Mexico, published in June, is the result of 44 years of excavation and research into El Pilar’s domestic architecture, gardens and traditional forest crops.

“I set out to answer fundamental questions,” Ford said. “How did the Maya successfully establish a flourishing civilization in the Mesoamerican tropics? Would their strategies for survival be an alternative for us today?”

The findings counter the longheld assumption that the collapse of the Maya civilization was due to overpopulation and deforestation.

“There was no extensive deforestation in the past,” the authors contend. The forest gardens have been productive for 8,000 years. When crisis stuck, the Maya left their cities and took refuge in their life-giving forest gardens.

Simply put, a forest garden is an unplowed, tree-dominated agricultural field sustaining biodiversity and animal habitats and producing a wide range of plants that meet human needs: shelter, food, and medicine.

The forest garden is part of the traditional Maya land management system known as the Milpa Cycle. Cultivated year-round, up to 90 percent of plants in the Maya forest garden are useful.

Gardeners maintain it with local resources such as organic material, household compost and manure, which enrich the soil and productivity.

Intercropping, or cultivating two or more regional vegetables at the same time, is core to the Milpa system. The Maya annually rotate small plots of vegetable crops and plant short-term perennial shrubs and trees in stages.

Present-day Maya farmers practice slash and burn, a tradition the Serrano and Cahuilla Indians of the San Bernardino Mountains once included in their land management efforts.

Ford’s research reveals a carefully human-orchestrated, complex, dynamic, symbiotic, and integral relationship with the tropical woodlands that has consistently nurtured the Maya.

This led Ford, director of UC Santa Barbara’s Meso-American Research Center, to champion sustainable cultivation, indigenous ecology and farming methods used in the Maya forest garden. It also shaped her vision for the future of El Pilar, which straddles Belize and Guatemala.

She helped form the Maya Forest Garden Network, connecting forest gardeners whose knowledge and approach to gardening can be traced to ancient times.

Ford, who earned her doctorate at UC Santa Barbara in 1981, also built an international interdisciplinary team including local villagers, scientists, university students and government administrators who are working to rescue the rain forest, curtail looting, and recover the cultural heritage of the Maya forest region. Ford transformed El Pilar into a living museum and research center: the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna. Several thousand tourists a year step back in time under the forest canopy and observe the gardens and wildlife of El Pilar. Ford continues her hands-on work at El Pilar and travels worldwide to promote the wisdom of indigenous conservation and the living future of the Maya forest. Still, somehow, she finds time to spend at the family home in Wrightwood, continually inspired by the forest she first explored as a child.


The Maya Forest Garden: Eight Millennia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands

By Anabel Ford and Ronald Nigh. Left Coast Press, 2015.

Learn more about El Pilar.

This article was published in the Press-Enterprise, Jan 3, 2016; Section: Life; Page Z2

Gratefully Yours: Remembering the Veterans in My Family by Joan Koerper

I was told he never heard it coming. The bomb careening through the sky over the fields of France, the morning of September 18, 1944 killing William Edward Asman. The man we all affectionately called Big Eddie was Hollywood-handsome, tall, slim, and graceful with a smile that lit up a room. He courted my mother for four years, saving every penny to buy them a home. He would not ask for her hand in marriage until he could carry her over the threshold. They married August 23, 1941. Big Eddie knew his son, Edward Gordon Asman, my half-brother, only fourteen months before he was shipped overseas.

Big Eddie’s photo stood as one of three men in uniform on his mother’s side table. Granny Jenny Bell Asman’s other two sons made it home.

The story that Big Eddie never knew what hit him, and that it was a direct hit, made it palatable to my young ears as Mother and I shared his photos and letters, not yet curled up at the edges, and her stories. The knock on the door. The telegram. How I cried for their loss.

My father, William George Koerper, also served in WWII. A child prodigy and educated performance musician, he was with the USO providing desperately needed R&R, and entertainment, for the troops.

Many men and women in my family have served in the military. More than I can recount here. Their stories came alive in songs, over card tables, in whispers, and flamboyant parties.

We never glorified war, pain, or suffering. Rather, we honored duty and sacrifice.

My father and his siblings vividly remembered the photo of their maternal grandfather, Michael McLaughlin, hanging on the wall of the family home. In it, he stands in a garden, U.S. flag flying behind him, holding the rifle he carried, and decorated with the medals he earned in 1865, fighting in the Illinois Cavalry during the Civil War. He received land in return for his service, and later returned to County Kerry, Ireland, to rest in peace.

Full size portraits of my mother’s only sibling, Gordon Burrell, and his wife, Mary Patricia, a WW II WAC, both in Navy dress uniforms, proudly hung over their living room sofa. They hold the same place of honor today in their daughter’s living room. Their only son, Thomas Burrell, a genius eligible for Mensa, was drafted during the Vietnam War. He returned so emotionally and physically crippled he was lucky to make a living driving a taxi until he succumbed to throat cancer in his forties.

In my brother’s home two photos sit on a marble topped table in the living room. One proudly displays my brother in his Army uniform. Beside it, Big Eddie’s grandson, Navy Captain Leo Edward Asman, an Annapolis graduate and pilot, is pictured beside his grandfather’s grave in France, sixty years later. The honoring continues.

As I grew up I learned, of course, that Big Eddie heard the bomb that killed him. And his death was probably not instantaneous. I’m deeply grateful to my parents and elders for making his story one of swift heroism to my then-innocent ears rather than the terror it really was. Truth is unveiled soon enough.

I still cry for all that was lost, and those memories of all who served silently carried with them.

Blessings and gratitude to you all.

Veterans Day, 2015