Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson

This post is the second of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

Sarah Jamila Stevenson

3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Writer & Artist, Author of The Latte Rebellion (Flux, 2011), Co-Author of Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog



Anna:
The Latte Rebellion deals with some sophisticated themes, including racism, bullying and complex adult choices. The main character, Asha, is referred to as a “towel head”. What do you hope your book can offer young readers, multi-racial and otherwise, who might be experiencing similar challenges?

Sarah:
There are rarely easy answers to such challenges, are there? I suppose I hope that my book successfully conveys that while some situations can be tough, and there aren’t many easy answers, it’s still possible to survive and even thrive despite (and even because of) life’s challenges. That you can make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. That being yourself is a complicated endeavor, and every person’s journey is different. That having a sense of humor is an important survival tool. That friendships may change, and plans usually do change, and life goes on. That, even if high school is disheartening, (to borrow some words of wisdom from Dan Savage) it gets better.

Anna:
Your writing and blog focus on Young Adult literature. Why were you drawn to YA literature? What has been your favorite experience with a younger reader?


 
Sarah: 

I’ve always enjoyed coming-of-age stories, and stories in which the characters continue to grow and learn and change, and explore who they are. YA literature seems to specialize in that, for sure. And because of that, I’ve never stopped reading YA books–in fact, the range, depth, and quality of the YA field has only increased since I was a teen reader. It’s a very exciting time to be a YA writer, and some of the most thoughtful, honest, tightly-written, and pretension-free fiction I can think of is being produced by YA writers.

My favorite experience with a younger reader happened this past February, at a visit to Balboa High School in San Francisco. I was invited to speak to their lunchtime book club, which was great because it meant the group of students I spoke to had already read my book! After I gave my reading and answered some questions, one girl came up to me to say how glad she was that there was a book out there for kids of mixed race, that talked about their experiences, and said “thank you for writing this book.” I was thrilled! That one moment confirmed for me beyond a doubt that this endeavor has been worth it. :)
Anna:
You are also an artist. One of my favorite features on the ‘Finding Wonderland’ blog is your “Toon Thursday”, a humorous take on the pitfalls of writing
.

 

The Latte Rebellion features your artwork as well. How do you divide your time between your art and your writing? Do you ‘rotate the crops’ artistically? Does sketching lead to story ideas or vice versa? Can you tell us more about your new printmaking/collage project in the works?

 
Sarah:
I’m so glad you like Toon Thursday! It’s a labor of love, so my primary reward is when people let me know they enjoy it. With respect to my art and writing, it’s definitely a challenge to juggle them both. I’m usually focusing more on one than the other–lately it’s been mostly writing, but the artwork is never far from my mind. I try to take as many opportunities as I can to stay in drawing practice. Fortunately, my husband is a college art professor, and I have a standing invitation to come into his class and draw! That helps a lot.
Sometimes sketching does lead to story ideas, and vice versa, but usually the ideas are separate. I do have a strong interest in graphic novels, though, and would love to write and draw one sometime. Also, the project I currently have in the works combines elements of text and image. The plan is to carve an image into a linoleum block, print it several times, and then collage text and maybe images–different ones–onto each print. I want each print to have the same basic underlying image, but be distinctly different visually and tell a different “story” using found text. This idea got started after I worked on a collaborative print project with 9 other artist friends (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=36097397321). I used various collage techniques on my contributions for the project, and wanted to pursue that line of inquiry further. I’m excited about it, but so far I haven’t had as much time to work on it as I would like.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and asking such great questions!

The Latte Rebellion Manifesto

If you are reading this, you are clearly sympathetic to the cause!
What cause, you ask?
The cause of brown people everywhere—
whether you have espresso-colored hair,
a perfect latte tan, or you’re as light as a mocha bianca!
The world must acknowledge you!
The world will appreciate you!
Our philosophy is simple:
Promote a latte-colored world!
Forget bananas and coconuts!
Go for the seamless blend! You can’t un-latte the latte!
It doesn’t matter if you are only coffee on the inside.
If you’re a latte at heart, you are welcome.
Iced or hot, raise your cup to the cause!
Lattes of the World, Unite!

See Sarah’s very clever website for the book here: http://www.latte-rebellion.com/index.html

You can order your own copy of The Latte Rebellion at: http://www.fluxnow.com/product.php?ean=9780738722788

Synopsis:
When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a “towel head” at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They’ll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.

Seemingly overnight, their “cause” goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it’s starting to ruin hers. Asha’s once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha’s school launches a disciplinary hearing. Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she’s willing to risk for something she truly believes in.

Visit Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog, the excellent writing blog Sarah co-authors: http://writingya.blogspot.com

See Sarah’s website: www.sarahjamilastevenson.com

Lucy’s Dream

I haven’t done any film clips in awhile, so I wanted to include this. It’s my very favorite moment from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), featuring the best character – Lucy Pevensie. I absolutely love the drifting flower petals that coalesce into the figure. It’s a thoroughly magical moment and actually redeemed the rest of the movie for me.

Have you ever experienced an afternoon like that? The sun falls a certain way; the light’s hazy and soft-focus. A breeze lifts the hair from your face and playfully blows it back again. A sense of expectancy hangs in the air – the word for it is not “magic”. Magic is oft an illusion, so what is that breathless moment where all that is impossible seems possible and the very trees would speak your name?

Enjoy.

Witch Wife – Edna St. Vincent Millay

John William Waterhouse, Boreas

She is neither pink nor pale,
   And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
   And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
   In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
   or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
   And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
   And she never will be all mine.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Serendipity

Is there any more happy accident than serendipity?

For once, the dictionary is no help. It describes serendipity as (n) the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. It is a pat description, but little explains that shivery feeling that true serendipity creates. Serendipity is where coincidence and destiny intersect. 

The word was coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92) in a letter to Mann (dated Jan. 28); he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” whose heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” (dictionary.com)

Perhaps I am a Princess of Serendip. My father has always been a strong believer in serendipity. He told me to look for it and be ready when it comes. I have always kept one eye to the happenstance that leads to consequence.



My latest experience with serendipity has been a startling one. This blog is newish and I am continually refining the design, to make it more pleasing to the idea and easy to read. I find big chunks of text without pictures to be exhausting, much like Alice (“What is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations!”).

To that end, I had added an image of this painting to the sidebar:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

I had actually never seen this painting before, in any of my art history classes. I was familiar with the artist, Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840). Below is his most famous work, which is in every art history textbook under Romanticism.

Casper David Friedrich, The Wanderer

I remembered the way this painting had made me feel, its capture of infinite possibilities. I wondered if the artist had other works that featured a woman and that same sense of yearning. So I googled his name and found the window painting and put it up. I was thrilled at how it looked on the page and complemented the wallpaper of the vintage photo of the girl at the window (which incidentally I found at a curiosities shop in Adare, Ireland). So I arranged it and promptly forgot about it…

Until four days later when my mother called and left a mysterious message on my voice mail. She sounded odd. When I called her back, she asked when I had put up the painting on my blog. When I told her, she was silent. Then she said, “I just bought you a book with that painting on the cover. I just saw that painting.”

My mother had just returned from New York City, where she spent the weekend. She and her best girl friend headed off to The Met, as any artistically-minded traveler would do. There, she was attracted by a special exhibition called Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century. One painting in particular caught her eye – she said it reminded her of me – and it was actually the featured painting in the exhibit. She sat there for a long time looking at it, the patinated greens of the dress and the soft brushwork. She loved it so much that she had to buy the exhibition catalog, which featured it on the cover, for my birthday. She knew I would love it too. She almost bought the poster, but the color match wasn’t true enough. I’m sure you’re following along, dear reader. The painting was this:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

 And the exhibit was here: Metropolitan Museum: Rooms With a View, The Open Window in the 19th Century


It was no doubt rather a shock to load up my blog when she got home and see that exact painting pop up. It startled her so much that she left the cryptic message on my phone. Cue shivery feeling.

My mother and I are very compatible in our tastes, so it’s no surprise that we would both love such a dreamy, Romantic painting. What I cannot seem to explain is how, completely independent of each other, we both found a painting that we had never seen before in the same moment.


“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet

Word of the Day – Zaftig

zaf·tig

<a href=”http://dictionary.reference.com/audio.html/lunaWAV/Z00/Z0002200″ target=”_blank”><img src=”http://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/g/d/speaker.gif” border=”0″ alt=”zaftig pronunciation” /></a&gt/ˈzɑftɪk, -tɪg/ Show [zahf-tik, -tig] 

–adjective Slang .
1. (of a woman) having a pleasantly plump figure.
2. full-bodied; well-proportioned. 

zaftig

“alluringly plump, curvaceous, buxom,” 1937

Curvaceousness in art reached its pinnacle with the exuberance of Baroque artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Titian, best known of the Venetian school. 

Venus, Rubens

Flora, Titian

And yet, in the space of fifty years we have gone from this being the ideal of beauty:

To this:

Bring back the zaftig girl, say I!