Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

The joys and agonies of bookmaking

Early in 2016, my sister Caroline Kurtz and I took a group of artists to Maji, Ethiopia, the place where she and I spent long, magical days making up and acting out stories–and where I learned to read.

artist car

When we returned to Addis Ababa, we tried our hand at a bookmaking workshop–the first time I truly faced the challenges of actually creating books rather than being the person who writes the words.


Luckily for me, one of the artists from the trip–Troy Zaushny–took the individual pictures children had created after listening to Yacob and Nahosenay read the stories aloud and used digital design to create a digital version of a first book.


My dream was to have playful, appealing, colorful, culturally appropriate and easy-to-read books in local languages. Back in Portland, Caroline and I found ready volunteers to help with writing and illustration…we had to hunt much harder and follow many dead-end paths with translation and design. In the end, under the guidance of East Side Printing here in Portland, we did a lot of the layout ourselves, discovering why book publishers have to hire people to handle design, fonts, copy editing, etc. What an education!

But a year later, WEEMA, an NGO that works in the rural area of Kembata-Tembaro where they have built a public library and started some kindergartens, got a donation for 600 books. Caroline will also carry some books for an Ethiopia Reads school in Oromia when she travels to Ethiopia next month. What an accomplishment of volunteers using their talents to share book love!


Can’t wait to start on the next ten!



Revision…and appetite…and bring on the chickens.

Revision time.

I am in Boston on the edge of my annual writing retreat…it’s shocking to think that this group has been getting together for something like seventeen years.  Our lives, our writing, our despairs, our soaring bits…they are woven together.  Nancy Werlin and I went to Dian Curtis Regan’s wedding in Colorado Springs this summer, for example.  And now we’re together as our writer selves.

We are ready to talk (or I am, anyway) about chickens and how they fit or don’t fit into our scenes.  We are ready (or I am, anyway) to revise.


I used to hate it.

Sometimes I still do.

But sometimes I love the process of cutting and chopping and mixing and tasting and sampling and tossing things out and moving things around.

Adding a shake of a spice here and a little crunch there.

One of my favorite books talks about revision in terms of appetite.  We have some vague understanding of our readers’ appetite for a bit of color here and a change of pace there and some tension or some laughter.  Ingredients.

We sample and taste and say, “Hmmm.  Needs something.”  We try something new.  We sample and taste again.

Sometimes we ask our skilled reader friends to take a taste.

The Vermont College MFA program where I teach understands the power of good readers who will talk about what’s happening to them as they read our words–the movies in their mind, as one writing guru puts it.

And now I get to be student…of my own writing–for at least a week.

It’s exciting.  When kids ask me, “Who’s your favorite author?” I talk about this group of writers.  Generous.  Warm.  Funny.  Tough.

When I was a kid growing up in Ethiopia and going to a small school, I never met any authors.  I never even thought about the authors of the books I loved.  And now I get to learn from authors.


Bring on the despair.  And the joy.  And the chickens.