Giving Thanks to Writers by Victoria Waddle

While this weekend is the official beginning of the season of hysterical consumerism, it is also the dawn of the season of thanks. We’ve just crossed the threshold—Thanksgiving—and will continue in our journey of gratitude through the new year, when loved ones and the less fortunate move us to act on our better impulses.

Those of us who are ‘bookies’ have another group to add to our gratitude list. Writers. Ask most avid readers, and they’ll tell you that books have saved their lives. They aren’t speaking metaphorically. Through the power of others’ words, readers learn first to live, and then to tell, their own stories.

This symbiotic relationship between readers and writers has been detailed in several recent young adult and adult bestsellers. The most popular recent novel in which a reader seeks a writer is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. So pervasive are the book and the movie that I probably don’t need a spoiler alert when I say that that journey doesn’t go as planned. And yet what a transformational journey it is. Up and coming author Rainbow Rowell does a brilliant job of taking her protagonist on the journey from reader to copycat writer and finally, to a young woman telling her own story in Fangirl. Ruth Ozeki transcends space and time in A Tale for the Time Being to bring together an adolescent diarist from Japan and an author living on a remote island off of British Columbia when the girl’s journal, housed in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washes up on the author’s shore.

This season, in an act of gratitude for writers who toil on worthy but lesser-known projects, why not make a promise to dig deeper and make a connection to authors unknown to you? As a starter, I’m recommending Out There by Sarah Stark, published this spring by the independent Leaf Storm Press.

Out There is the story of Jefferson Long Soldier, just home from two tours in the Iraq War. Wearing the high-top sneakers he’s beaded and a headband he’s finger crocheted from plastic sandwich bags, he nervously walks on his hands in the Albuquerque International Sunport to engender the courage it will take to cross the “security barrier, to the free world, to Esco and Cousin Nigel and home.” Jefferson senses that there are “snipers in the airport, explosive tumbleweeds on the highway, insurgents in stolen minivans, undercover extremists buying lattes in front of him and single mothers wired for explosives behind.” Yes, his war experience has left him with PTSD, but he has a plan for getting better. He knows that reading One Hundred Years of Solitude throughout his service has saved him. He still has the novel strapped to his chest with an Ace bandage, and many of its words seared into his brain, words that he has recited to fellow soldiers, that he reviewed whenever someone he knew—or had just met—died.

Since One Hundred Years of Solitude has saved Jefferson, he knows that he must find its author, Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez—GGM as Jefferson thinks of him—and ask him the big question, why? He knows GGM will understand all that he has been through because, upon returning from war, the character Colonel Aureliano Buendía is asked where he has been. He replies, “‘Out there,’ an incomprehensible faraway place. As in, you cannot understand where I have been.”

In taking the road trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Mexico City by motorcycle, Jefferson doesn’t know if he will achieve his goal. Garcia Marquez is very sick with cancer and a recluse. Jefferson is not sure where he lives. Yet, as we know, the journey itself is often the destination. The danger, beauty and transcendence of the crossing are illuminated with poetic language. Jefferson experiences both people and events as magically real and otherworldly as GGM himself would have enjoyed. And Jefferson will find what he seeks—that “large, unidentified piece of his spirit” that had gone missing, had remained behind in the war.

Jefferson’s reunification with his deeper being is brought about by his ability to take the language of GGM, which “had been a blanket of comfort ever since the night Ramon from Las Cruces was shot in the throat, two feet from Jefferson,” and transform it. He moves from chanting the novel’s lines as a form of eulogy to altering and rearranging those lines until he has created a paean to life and the living.

While most of us have the good fortune not to have gone to war, we have, in other senses, been ‘out there.’ Writers have brought us back with the right words at the right time—words that we inhabit as they inhabit us, until finally, we speak our own language. That’s worth being grateful for.

For All Those Who Ask, What *is* Inlandia? by Cati Porter

Once again we are approaching that time of year when we give thanks for friends and family, take stock of what we have accomplished, and express appreciation for all those who have made it possible. So, thank you—we are all Inlandia.

A question I get asked regularly is, what is Inlandia? We have now been writing these columns for well over a year, and I don’t think we have ever addressed that directly here. Sure, you can make out who we are by the patchwork of topics covered here; what you see is what Inlandia is and does: many voices, all hailing from Inland Southern California, celebrating the region. But on the heels of what has been a banner week for Inlandia, I thought I would try to explain it in a little more detail.

The Inlandia Institute was established in 2007 as a partnership between the City of Riverside and Heyday, our co-publisher, after the publication of the anthology Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire. The idea was to found a literary and cultural center here in the Inland Empire that focused on the writers and readers of the region. Soon after, Inlandia moved into our own office, incorporating in 2009, and in 2012 Inlandia was granted non-profit status as a 501(c)(3).

Inlandia has five core programs: Children’s Creative Literacy, Adult Literary Professional Development, Publications—both with our co-publisher Heyday as well as a locally-produced independent imprint, Free Public Literary Events, and the Inlandia Literary Laureate. What does this translate to? Just this past year, Inlandia has:

– Served over 2000 children, including at-risk youth through The Women Wonder Writers program of the DA’s office, resulting in a collection of written work and a public reading and discussion; and in programs in Title 1 schools like Fremont Elementary, where we held a book discussion and gave all 200 fifth-graders and sixth-graders a free copy of Gayle Brandeis’ young adult novel, My Life with the Lincolns, thanks to a generous Rotary sponsorship.

– Served over 2400 adults through public outreach events like Celebrate Mount Rubidoux and the Mayor’s Celebration for Arts & Innovation, and by hosting free monthly author events during ArtsWalk at the Riverside Public Library, and writing workshops throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, including a Family Legacy Writing Workshop at the Goeske Senior Center.

– Published: No Easy Way, the story of the integration of Riverside schools, by Arthur L. Littleworth, a chapter integral to Riverside history; Vital Signs by Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, which went on to win an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; and the Orangelandia anthology, which contains the fruit of Riverside’s citrus heritage. And launching this week, a new children’s chapter book, Tia’s Tamale Trouble, by Inlandia author and educator Julianna Maya Cruz.

Inlandia also undertakes special projects from time to time, like “Making Waves in Inlandia,” which chronicles the stories of the women’s environmental movement through oral histories and a very cool interactive component on our website, including a map of all the spaces saved by local environmental activists, and video interviews.

We also have two other interactive features on our website—a map that details the location of every Inland Empire site mentioned in our flagship Inlandia anthology (which, regrettably, is currently out of print—but we are working on a second edition! More about that in a future post). And, just this past week, with the publication of No Easy Way, we launched an interactive timeline, “Time Travel through Riverside’s School Integration History.”

Further, after the first of the year, we will be launching a six-part series of monthly public civic discussion forums featuring esteemed panelists and partner organizations, with the kickoff event at UCR’s Culver Center on January 31, 2015, at 1 pm.

One of the sound bites associated with Inlandia is, “celebrating the region in word, image, and sound.”

Planned projects include a new Adopt-a-School program which will bring literary arts education, taught by professionals in the field, to area schools; a Native American Voices conference at the Dorothy Ramon Center in Banning, featuring and celebrating indigenous peoples; a writing workshop at the Ontario Museum of History and Art celebrating black aviators in February, in honor of Black History Month. Not to mention our usual monthly Arts Walk series at the downtown Riverside Public Library and the free writing workshops held in six different cities throughout the region.

We are supported wholly through the generous donations of our members, supporters, and through grant funding from organizations like the City of Riverside, the Riverside Arts Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and Cal Humanities. But like any arts organization, we are constantly thinking of creative ways we can ensure continued funding while also making it fun for contributors. Last week, we participated in the county-wide Give BIG day of giving, and to all of those who helped us meet our goals, thank you!

We are also currently in the midst of a book fair fundraiser sponsored by Barnes & Noble. If you missed the kickoff event on Saturday November 22, which featured readings by notable locals Larry Eby, Isabel Flores, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Julianna Cruz, and a flurry of contributors to the Orangelandia anthology, know that you can still participate through the end of the week by shopping online or in store (any Barnes & Noble anywhere, as long as you have Inlandia’s code: 11484482), through Black Friday. So if like most people at this time of year you are beginning to think about holiday gifts, give a gift to Inlandia when you shop at Barnes & Noble this Thanksgiving week.

From all of us at Inlandia, we give thanks for you this week, and every week, throughout the year.