Beach Reads, Good News, Another Deadline

I'm back from two weeks out west, where I reveled in freedom from my laptop and read blissfully. I thoroughly enjoyed Anne Tyler's delicate exploration of life between cultures in Digging To America, but would love to hear from Iranian-Americans about how the author depicts their community. Two YA reads that I devoured were E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List and Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby. While some of the racier bits made the parent in me squirm, both authors treat their teen protagonists with immense respect and employ a fresh humor that was inspirational.

Finally, I read Scott Westerfeld's Uglies and Pretties ... interesting page-turners, but I found myself wondering how a teen with "squinty eyes" (Asian? This is how Westerfeld describes his protagonist when she is an "ugly") and/or "frizzy hair" (African-American?) would respond to the author's descriptions of the mesmerizing "pretties," with their big, wide eyes and straight hair. In his futuristic world, there's a "certain kind of beauty, a prettiness that everyone could see. Big eyes and full lips like a kid's; smooth, clear skin; symmetrical features; and a thousand other little clues." What do others think about this?

On the writing front, I came back to the delightful news that Charlesbridge made an offer on The Bamboo People, my novel about a teen soldier and a refugee boy who meet along the Thai-Burma border. Now I have to write like crazy, as the first draft of First Daughter Book No. 2 is due to Dutton by Sept. 1. I'm off to Peet's Coffee for three empty latte cups or 5000 words, whichever comes first.

Back on the Fire Escape 7/31

Farewell, my fire escape friends! I'm going on holiday and leaving my laptop and cyberspace behind for two weeks. I'll be de-toxing in the company of family, enjoying sun, sand, and surf, and carrying the combo that always restores my creative energy: good books, a journal, and a fine-tipped Uniball roller pen. Enjoy the rest of July, and feel free to browse the archives if you're a first-time visitor.

2006 Short Fiction Winners!

(trumpets blowing, cymbals clashing)... And here are the winners for the Fire Escape's 2006 Short Fiction Contest. As Mike Chen, who won second prize, so aptly puts it, the best thing about life between cultures is "being able to identify with two different worlds. Therefore, my mind is more open to other cultures because I am a person of two." Enjoy, and please pass the word on about the 2007 Contests.

2006 Poetry Contest Winners!

The Fire Escape is proud to announce the winners of the 2006 Teen Poetry Contest. First prize winner Amelia described life between cultures beautifully:
The hardest part about being an immigrant or first-generation American is finding words to truly express the tightrope that is always there. I think translation is a myth. If you say the same word in three different languages, you are going to get three very different pictures in your mind. Language is tangled up in the colors and textures and smells of an entire culture. It is so much more than words in a dictionary. That is why, if you are in the position of being caught between two cultures, you have to find your own vocabulary and sets of images to describe your unique position in the world. Once you do that, it gets a little easier. I, also, think it is important to find a thread that links your two cultures and hold fast to it, so you don't end up feeling like you have a split personality. For me, that thread is ballet. It is my linking language. And after all, the best thing about being caught between cultures is having such a rich treasure chest brimming with words and experiences. They can be very powerful if you learn to tap into them and trust them.
Enjoy reading the winning poems, and stay tuned for the results of the short story contest, as I'm waiting to hear back from the winners ...

Independence Day: The Oyate Perspective

I'm an immigrant living the dream, overflowing with gratitude for my opportunities in this amazing country. But I can't help wondering how America's celebration of Independence Day affects descendants of the original inhabitants who used to populate this place from sea to shining sea.

Imagine, for a minute, the "Americanization" of my native India. Picture brown-skinned descendants of indigenous peoples relegated to small, impoverished corners of the land, struggling to keep their languages alive. What would it be like for those of us with roots in India's ancient civilizations to watch white descendants of colonists celebrating a relatively recent anniversary of "independence" from Great Britain?

Still with me? Then head over to Oyate, which calls itself "a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know our stories belong to us." Especially of interest on the Fire Escape is Oyate's list of worst children's books about Native people. The anti-bias evaluations make you think twice about any story depicting marginalized peoples. Finally, here's a shout out to Loriene Roy, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who will serve in 2007-2008 as president of the American Library Association.