Publications
Review: Richard Diebenkorn and the Art of Crossing Borders Print E-mail
Criticism

rdiebenkorn(Art Revue Magazine December, 1998)

Richard Diebenkorn has in the five years since his death at 70 risen like a phoenix to become arguably one of America’s and certainly the West Coast’s premiere 20th century painter, both abstract and figurative. That one painter has mastered these seeming oppositions and done so unselfconsciously is remarkable and rare. (The other great border-crossing artist who comes to mind is Kandinsky.) Diebenkorn’s full-career retrospective, first shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997 and now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, confirms what this Californian said he himself wanted to achieve—to paint with "a feeling of strength in reserve—tension beneath calm" no matter what subject matter he embraced.

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A Walk Through the Long Schoolroom Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Law_School_Rooms_-_Old_1(Written August 1998)

How could it be that during the semester I became a full professor of English at the community college where I’ve taught adult learners for eight years, I also realized that I was disillusioned with my teaching, our school and some of our students? How did it happen? While I was garnering a stellar evaluation—fourteen of fifteen check marks landed under exceeds standards, indicating my job performance could rise no higher, to wit, the Dean joked that my next career step was retirement—I had also returned to therapy to explore why teaching was no longer satisfying, why I wanted to work half-time, why my labor had morphed from creative exploration and student-centered joy to a job with both a stultifying sameness and a neurotic unpredictability about it which I couldn’t shake.

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Review: The History of Light by Alvaro Cardona-Hine Print E-mail
Criticism

light(Bloomsbury Review July/August 1998 Volume 18, Issue 4)

A Micro-Memoir

In an age of the overblown life story—the thousand-page literary biography, the five-hundred-page family saga, the three-hundred-page celebrity confession—at last we have something manageable: Alvaro Cardona-Hine’s micro-memoir, The History of Light. In fifty-six half-page or less prose vignettes, he gives us the story of his childhood’s first love, precious in its brevity, precocious in its romance.

Costa Rican-born and raised, Cardona-Hine recalls his infatuation for a blond German girl whom he knew briefly before the Second World War. The unnamed she is everything to his blooming heart—sensitivity trainer, blushing accomplice, wild enticer. Most of all she is muse, the source on which he projects his metaphoric awakening. This German girl, an exotic in the Latin/African mix of Caribbean Costa Rica, beguiles him constantly.

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The Gospel of Basic Writing Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

H475_luke(Written July 1998)

The first class of my new semester begins Monday morning at eleven on the dot. English 51, Basic Writing, one hour three days a week for the next eighteen weeks. Big breath to calm myself, then entering with composure, distinction and, I hope, curiosity, walking the gauntlet between two long rows, a good forty-five students swarmed before me, some slouching, some sitting upright in the little brown desks of this unadorned beige-walled classroom.

I sit on the veneered metal desk, touch a finger to my lips. They hush; this is college. I don’t write my name on the board, but introduce myself and say, "I would like to get a sample of your writing ability, so if you would, please take out paper and pen and we’ll get started writing an essay."

"Man, I knew it! What I tell ya, man," from the back corner. A hand slaps another hand, a head exaggerates its frustration.

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Falling Back to Earth Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

falling back 1(Chicago Reader July 3, 1998)

The summer before ninth grade, I fell in love with fire. On weekends, when my parents were golfing and my two brothers were holed up in their rooms, I would douse one of my few flawed model cars with gasoline, set it afire and drag it behind my bike, creating spectacular curbside wrecks. One day in the garage, I inadver­tently dribbled a bit of gas on the concrete and, when I struck the match to light the model, the flame ran along the floor and set the can on fire. While the flames danced on the can’s silver top, the only thing I heard in my head was my father’s order, “Save the house, boy.” I lifted the can and carried it outside, burning my fingers badly. After my frantic phone call, the hook and ladder came, and a slickered man dusted dead the can in two seconds flat. Later my dad joined a shamed me at the hospital, and we watched white pus poc­kets billow like pup tents on three finger pads where the can’s handle had melted my flesh. Surprise: The hoary little lumps elicited his forgive­ness. He was awed by my boneheaded courage. I felt distin­guished then, a prince of clowns, wearing a white garden glove on my bad hand.

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Honesty, Confession, and Other Dramas of "Creative Writing" Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Klee_Monument(AWP Chronicle March/April 1998)

My "Creative Writing" class begins with the same assignment every semester, an idea I stole from the fiction writer and essayist, Carol Bly. Each student must write a ten-page autobiographical essay about a significant person, place, or phase in his or her life and finish it in one week. Raw is fine. First draft encouraged. I read the essays, meet privately with each student, then suggest revisions. I hope this task focuses students on one personal story, which most will produce anyway, and allow their imaginative pieces to emerge separately. Fact differentiated from fiction. A few years ago, when I began this assignment, I received one of the most brilliant and disturbing first drafts of my teaching career—a paramedic's nightmarish story of his worst shift ever on the job. His piece would change my thinking about the "creative writing" classroom forever.

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Review: When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography by Jill Ker Conway Print E-mail
Criticism

when_memory_speaks(San Diego Union-Tribune March 22, 1998)

A Mostly Male Form

Jill Ker Conway, feminist historian of memoir, knows the form firsthand. Her best-selling The Road From Coorain (1989) captured her indomitable family and hard-knocks girlhood in the Australian outback as well as her self-sufficiency when that family was plagued by loss.

True North (1994) showed her immigrating to the United States to study history at Harvard and later to teach at the University of Toronto, where she specialized in women's issues. Now, with When Memory Speaks, Conway charts the slow, at times ossified, growth of memoir over the last 200 years.

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