Tag Archives: Brick House Books

“Wearing Three Hats” by Clarinda Harriss

Wearing three hats is uncomfortable.  Wearing more than three is unwieldy to the point of picture of Clarinda Harriss and two friendsimmobilizing you, which is probably just as well because you look ridiculous.  The hats I totter under are beret, mortarboard, schoolmarmish cloche, black prison uniform cap, fedora with press pass stuck in the brim, and flapper’s feathered whimsy.

There’s a chronology to this list—the hats represent poet and fiction writer since age 19 (when my first story was published in a magazine); college grad/grad school survivor (1956-62); newspaper columnist (80s through 90s); volunteer with The Writers’ Club at the Maryland House of Correction for Men (80s and 90s again); schoolteacher/professor (1961-2011); and publisher (1974 to present). I claim the flapper feather because the nonprofit literary press I have directed for more than 40 years, BrickHouse Books, Inc., was just named Baltimore’s 2013 Best by Baltimore Magazine, occasioning my feathered attendance at the magazine’s speakeasy-themed celebratory bash.  Over the 50+ years I’ve been piling those hats on, I rapidly doff and don them in varying orders (cf. the great hat-passing scene in Waiting For Godot).

Clarinda HarrissAsked about “transitioning” from, say, teaching and/or writing to publishing, I have to reply that there have been no such seques. Starting almost from the moment I announced to my astonished (and probably rather disheartened) writer/editor/teacher/administrator parents that the things I would never grow up to do were writing, publishing,teaching and administering (oh, by the way, I chaired Towson University’s English Department for a decade), I began doing all those things.

The one activity conducted by both my parents which I did not rule out was parenting, and in retrospect I am convinced that the refuge of ordinariness, even (dare I say) emotional health which I gained by having my two lively, interesting, curious, smart, busy children around most of the time from my late twenties through my fifties is why wearing all those hats worked out pretty well. It made my schedule almost make sense: they were my constant while I was doing some writing either before everybody got up or after everybody went to bed; teaching at “Beltway University” (the Clarinda and Tom at the 2012 Bookfair adjunct thing, driving from, say, UMBC [University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus] to Goucher to Towson University) to teach a couple of courses at each place; driving a carpool; cooking dinner (what sensual pleasure we writers find in cooking!), and so on. I’m sure you all know the drill. My point is that virtually all my poems, stories, and articles came out of those activities more or less directly. It wasn’t exactly that I wrote about those activities. It was that they set off a noise in my brain, a hunger in my gut, providing words and images which hooked together in ways that surprised me.

I think being in a state of constant surprise is one of a writer’s most essential work-tools—that and, of course, obsession. A few years ago there was a PR campaign for some worthy literary enterprise which featured the question, “If you couldn’t write, would you die?”  A writer is supposed to answer yes, of course. For me the question got it backwards: in order to make me not write–not think in words and images, whether or not they ever got down on paper, you would have to kill me.  Knock on wood—Irish style, fist to skull: I’m still alive–and sporting hats.

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An Interview with Doritt Carroll

book cover for GLTTL STP

If you ask her, Doritt Carroll will tell you that she is (unfortunately) a lawyer and (fortunately) the mother of two daughters.  She received her undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown University. Her collection In Caves was published in 2010 by Brickhouse Books.  Her poems have also appeared in a long list of publications, including Coal City Review, Poet Lore, Nimrod, Slipstream, Rattle, The Baltimore Review, and the Journal of Formal Poetry. Her poem “motherlove” appeared in the Fuck Poems anthology by Lavender Ink.  Her book Glttl Stp will be published in September 2013. Ilse Munro write of this latest volume that “Carroll’s control and precision reveal aspects of the human condition that would leave a lesser poet running from the room, screaming.” Lorraine Whittlesey describes Carroll’s voice as “uniquely honest,” a voice that employs “Picasso’s and Miles Davis’s understanding of the importance of the space between objects.”

HUERGO: What moves you to write? picture of Doritt Carroll

CARROLL: I don’t know if I’m exactly answering your question, but when I write, I’m having a conversation.  I want someone to see something I’ve seen, in the way that I’ve seen it.  Often, I’m writing to someone who wouldn’t actually listen if I called them up to describe it.  And, to be fully frank, I’m often imagining that if I write something good enough, people will be proud of me, people who could never be proud of me in real life.

HUERGO: How would you describe your drafting and revision process?

CARROLL: I think i’m different from other poets.  I’m not a good reviser.  If I get myself in a position in which extensive revisions are necessary, I may never finish the poem.  It’s almost as if, by writing it down, I’ve painted myself into a corner.  So when I get an idea, I try NOT to write it down or even say it out loud.  Instead, I arrange it and change it completely in my mind.  I only start writing when I’m pretty sure it’s in the right form, and only minor alterations, such as line breaks or avoiding the repetition of a word, will be needed.

HUERGO: What is the most important theme in your work?  Why?

book cover for In Caves CARROLL: I think I have trouble writing a poem that isn’t about isolation.  It’s the theme of my existence.  I was a late in life child of troubled parents.  If I think about myself as a child, I’m always alone with a book or a doll.  Even in the middle of a crowd, I will often stop to notice how the essential parts of ourselves never meet, never interact.  I think true human contact and understanding between two people is almost a myth.

HUERGO: Was there a teacher or mentor who influenced your writing?

CARROLL: Gerry Connolly was my first real teacher. She taught me that, when I’ve painted myself into a corner, it’s often helpful to read others who have written on the same topic, or in the same way, to see how they solved the problem. In more recent years, I can’t say enough about Clarinda Harriss.  She has been editor, mentor, publisher, and indefatigable reader of emailed drafts.

HUERGO: What advice do you have for writers?                                                      “everything good  is in the things / that we don’t say”

CARROLL: “Throw grenades at your clichés! Your goal in writing should be to make us see an ordinary subject in a completely new way. Make your reader say, “Well, I’m never going to look at that in the same way again.” 

HUERGO: What are you working on next?

CARROLL: Unlike others, who write a book and then find a title, I find a title, and it tells me what book to write.  The book I just finished is called GLTTL STP (glottal stop), a term that refers to choking off sound briefly when singing.  The minute I thought of that title, I knew I would write a book about things withheld, things not said.  The next title, and I have just started working on this, is Sorry You Are Not an Instant Winner.  We’ll see where that title takes me.

Author Contact:

http://brickhousebooks.wordpress.com/tag/doritt-carroll/

 

An Interview with Clarence Brown

clarence brownIf you read the jacket of Clarence Brown’s first novel, Needs, you’ll learn that he is a recovering heroin addict. “Born in Charlottesville, Virginia,” the description continues, “Brown moved to Baltimore at the age of twenty-two and immersed himself in the street life, heroin, and other drugs for twenty-seven years. Like Rip Van Winkle, he woke to find things greatly changed. With new-found vision he began to write poetry, social commentary and this novella. He believes writing to be part of his redemption, focusing on the next generation who were left to their own devices by his own long sleep and that of other addicts. Though this is a work of fiction, it reflects his childhood, addiction and recovery.”

 

book cover Needs

I had the privilege of meeting Clarence at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, where we were both scheduled to do a reading. Afterwards, it struck me how, despite the book jacket’s descriptive power, so much of Clarence’s spirit and talent could only be captured in person, in the passion with which he read from Needs. My recommendation? If you want to hear an extraordinarily authentic voice, buy the book; and if you want to meet an extraordinarily authentic artist, go to his next reading, where ever it happens to be.

 

HUERGO:  What sparks your creativity and the urge to write?

BROWN:  I develop an urge to write when I’ve observed enough. It’s strange to me that I feel
drained when I finish a project, as if there’s nothing left. Seems, when I’m writing, that I tune out everything, and when I’m not writing I open up to everything, feel more.

HUERGO:  How would you describe your drafting and revision process?

BROWN:  I get an idea and I start writing. When I finish, I go back and write more, or less, into the manuscript. I think I draw from my own feelings so heavily that I have to look at the manuscript again before I can begin to feel what others feel, see what others see. I guess that’s when I can complete what I started.

I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1961—a time when well-meaning white people were trying their hands at doing the right thing. I remember my classrooms being divided down the middle, whites on one side and blacks on the other. I didn’t understand why I was seated on the “white side” until later in life, but it made me plenty of enemies among my own people and created lots of resentment among the whites, so I just stayed to myself.

I could be found at the library when I wasn’t home. There was a world there that I could just disappear into, not worry about what I looked like or what someone else thought. I felt that someone was just too kind for creating this world that was so perfect for me. I didn’t have to sound black or white nor appear to have money—just read and devour all this imagination laid out for me.

As I grew older, I thought that I might have something to say. The writers I’d read made me feel as if I could do it, too. Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein, and later, Octavia Butler, created worlds that made sense to me. People were too busy surviving to worry about skin color.

What I’ve found now is that it took me 26 years of dodging life and the hardship of a heroin addiction to give me a story of substance. I was no longer writing poetry to impress the women I met. Now I had a tale to tell. Needs and its sequel are a combination of what I’ve observed and my own life. I am all the characters, male and female, and they say what I did and say what I cannot.

HUERGO:  Have you ever found yourself stuck at some point in your writing? If so, how did you get unstuck?

BROWN:  It feels to me that getting stuck has to do with that running out of observations I mentioned earlier. What I’ve done has been to put whatever I’m working on down. I take the time to replenish my pool of observations. Sometimes that takes more time than I realize.

HUERGO:  Was there a teacher or mentor who influenced your writing or your career as a writer?

BROWN:  An author, Octavia Butler, was my favorite. Her freedom of imagination and the reality, the immediacy of her characters, was a source of delight and envy. The fact that, as a teen-aged black youth, I’d never known of a black, female science-fiction writer was an uplifting and motivating factor. I also know two men, Bob Jones and Neil Hertz. They taught me that it was possible for me to write as I’d dreamed of, to say what I meant to say truthfully, in a way that would be of interest to a hungry reader.

HUERGO:  I’m always curious what writers are working on next. Can you share with us your current project?

BROWN:  Right now, I’m revising the sequel to Needs, my first novel. It’s growing, this community of people who feel what we all feel, and I’m having to look at whether I’m being true to them or trying to sell books. Of course, like any author, I dream of best-seller success, but I need to learn more about myself first. Then I can truly tell our story.

 Author Sites:

BrickHouse Books

http://brickhousebooks.wordpress.com/?s=clarence+brown

Clarence Brown Reading

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOTb-jpPSMA