Monday, June 1, 2020

Meet Sonoma County's First Youth Poet Laureate

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2020 at 2:00 PM

Zoya Ahmed will make her first appearance as Sonoma County Youth Poet Laureate at the California Poets in the Schools Virtual Poetry Symposium, June 26-28.
  • Zoya Ahmed will make her first appearance as Sonoma County Youth Poet Laureate at the California Poets in the Schools Virtual Poetry Symposium, June 26-28.

Zoya Ahmed, an incoming senior at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, has been named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Sonoma County. Nonprofit organization California Poets in Schools and Phyllis Meshulam, current Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, spearheaded the historical selection, and a local panel of poets and literary experts chose Ahmed from an esteemed pool of local student applicants.

Following in the footsteps of other California counties such as Alameda and Los Angeles counties, Sonoma County’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate search began in March and aimed to recognize a local student who “achieved excellence in poetry” and who showed commitment to the arts through writing and engagement in clubs or afterschool activities.

The panel of judges tasked with selecting the youth poet laureate included Meshulam, outgoing Poet Laureate of Sonoma County Maya Khosla and other county poets and teachers.

“Zoya Ahmed is a brilliant performer,” Meshulam said, in a statement. “Empowering a young person with a microphone to reach out and address the many special concerns that others of her age may experience, is a very significant gift to the community.”

Before becoming Sonoma County Youth Poet Laureate, Ahmed was the 2019 winner of Sonoma County’s Poetry Out Loud recitation contest and went on to become a finalist in the California State Poetry Out Loud contest.

Ahmed’s one-year term as Sonoma County’s Youth Poet Laureate begins today, Monday, June 1. As the Youth Poet Laureate, Ahmed will lead or participate in at least five public appearances, including readings and workshops. While those events were originally planned to be in-person and ideally spread out over the county’s supervisorial districts, virtual events are now the likely and encouraged mode of engaging with the community until the Covid-19 pandemic retreats.

Ahmed’s first scheduled virtual appearance will be at the California Poets in the Schools Virtual Poetry Symposium happening June 26–28. Founded in 1964, California Poets in the Schools is one of the nation’s largest school literary programs and boasts over 100 trained, professional poet-teachers leading poetry sessions throughout the state.

Sonoma County schools and community organizations are encouraged to contact Ahmed through the California Poets in the Schools with inquiries about hosting her at a public event.

Along with the public and virtual events, Ahmed will be awarded a $500 prize and given the opportunity to publish a collection of her own poems or lead a similar youth-publication project of her choosing.

In a statement, Ahmed thanked her family and acknowledged poetry as her way of connecting to her heritage and staying resilient in difficult times. Read her full statement below:

“I embrace my diverse background as a first generation South Asian American, having both roots in Pakistan and India. This colorful heritage is my drive. Every day I am empowered to work hard towards achieving my goals, humbled by the opportunities I am given, and inspired to give back to the community.

My biggest motivators are my parents and my family, who encourage me each and every day. They are my muse; they symbolize the meaning of sacrifice in my life. Their stories, especially those of the women in my family, are what give my writing a spark of creativity and perspective.

My dad has really been one of my biggest supporters and has fueled my passion for poetry. Being a poet himself, he taught me Urdu as my first language along with Hindi, and that became the foundation of who I am as a desi American teen. Urdu is such a vibrant and poetic language as it embraces the rich tradition of poetry called shayari.

Having this background in poetry, I knew it was going to have a role in my life and thus I picked up writing a few verses in my free time. I find poetry to be a vehicle to connect with my own experiences and surroundings, a way to voice issues and topics that I want acknowledged. However, I never thought that I would have achieved as much as I have. Now, I am more motivated than ever to be resilient and persevere through my journey as a human being.”
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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Batcave to the Rescue

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2020 at 10:41 AM


Located in the basement of 100 Fourth St. in downtown Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, the Batcave Comics & Toys shop is a haven for comic book and toy collectors and for nostalgic fans of vintage entertainment.

Currently brimming with retro comic-book issues, the shop is doing what it can for the community with a pledge to give 10,000 free comics to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County organizations serving children who are in need of activities during the shelter-in-place order.

The Batcave encourages any charity, hospital, school, group home, foster home or special-needs program or facility to contact them on Facebook or Instagram to arrange curbside pickup or contactless delivery.

Furthermore, the Batcave encourages anyone with an old stash of comics who wants to help the cause—or anyone who wants to donate to the effort in any way—to also get in touch. Read the shop’s full statement on their Facebook page.
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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Virtual Events Spread During North Bay Shelter-in-Place

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2020 at 11:56 AM


Public gatherings continue to be cancelled and postponed with the current Shelter-in-Place orders covering Sonoma, Marin and Napa County. In the face of ongoing social distancing, many venues, artists and organizations are starting to bring their events into your home with online gatherings.

The Alexander Valley Film Society is sheltering in place with movies, and welcomes the public to sit in on a special remote viewing party. First, AV Film Society encourages cinephiles to go to Amazon Prime and watch the 2015 dramedy "The Week," about a washed-up television host who spends seven days boozing and self-reflecting after his wife leaves him on the eve of their 10-year anniversary.

"The Week" was filmed at multiple locations in and throughout Sonoma County, including Cloverdale's historic Owl Cafe and Healdsburg's Passalacqua Winery. It also won the 2015 Sonoma International Film Festival Audience Award.

On Sunday, March 22, AV Film Society Executive Director Kathryn Hecht hosts an online Q&A with Rick Gomez, writer and star of "The Week,"  and Jenny Gomez, who produced the film. Watch the movie first and register for the online discussion here.

In Petaluma, the Rivertown Poets have long held a monthly "A-Muse-ing Mondays" poetry reading and open mic at Aqus Cafe. Now the poetry goes online with Rivertown's first ever Virtual Poetry Reading and Open Mic. Mark your calendars for Monday, March 23rd, at 6:15 pm. Those who wish to read their three-minute-or-less poem can do so over the stream, and others can sit back and enjoy from the comfort of their own home.

Live music venues were one of the first public spaces to close in the wake of coronavirus concerns, and it looks like live concerts won’t be coming back to the North Bay for a couple weeks. For music lovers who need to scratch that live experience itch, longtime Cotati institution Redwood Café, which live streams all of its concerts, is re-broadcasting "The Best of The Redwood Cafe Live" with special streaming events each evening. Visit the venue online to see the shows each night, or simply browse the video archive on Redwood Cafe's Facebook page.

The Museum of Sonoma County is currently closed to support the local efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Yet, the museum boasts an online database of its permanent collection of historical objects and artwork that is searchable by subject and topic. There’s also a lot of YouTube videos on the museum’s website exploring recent exhibits like the “From Suffrage to #MeToo: Groundbreaking Women in Sonoma County.” Finally, the kids (and adults) will enjoy the museum’s “Color Me Sonoma” downloadable coloring book featuring iconic Sonoma County sites and fun local history.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

‘Directions to the Dumpster’ Chronicles Homeless Journey

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2020 at 11:05 AM


Edward Campagnola has a story to tell. Currently living as an unsheltered resident in Sonoma County, he spent the last five years writing his story, and last year he released his debut novel, Directions to the Dumpster.

Now available on, the book traces Campagnola’s journey in homelessness and his attempts to get out of it. It is also a story that aims to dispel preconceptions about homelessness and end the stigma associated with it through a campaign of awareness and compassion.

“I’ve been in a cave really for five years,” Campagnola says. “You’re lucky if you have a phone, you know what day it is. I would lose days if I didn’t have a phone, but having it is a security risk.”

This glimpse into Campagnola’s daily experience is one of the book’s many details that dissolves the reader’s veil of ignorance and exposes them to the reality of what unsheltered residents go through day to day.

The title of the book, Directions to the Dumpster, is a phrase Campagnola uses literally and figuratively. He argues that in a capitalist society, the homeless are seen as worthless, while they also are often given directions to the dumpster when they do reach out and ask for help.

“I originally titled the book Going to California, a la the Zep tune,” Campagnola says.

Originally from New Jersey, Campagnola traveled to New Orleans, Houston and Las Vegas after the death of his wife.

“I was soul-searching at the time,” he says.

At one point in his travels he suffered a violent, random attack on a California-bound Greyhound bus that left him with PTSD. When he arrived in Sonoma County, words began to pour out of him.

“It was unbelievable, and I don’t know if it was from the attack, but phrases just started flowing out of me,” Campagnola says.

Collecting those phrases in notebooks, Campagnola wrote his manuscript on a Sonoma County Library computer. He wrote the novel as a form of therapy, as a way to reconnect with his adult children and to give society a better understanding of homelessness in America.

Campagnola describes his book as a documentary-style narrative, detailing events as they occurred and letting the reader make their own personal connection.

“I did not bother to express what my feelings were,” he says. “Except for the moment when I talk about a handwritten letter from my wife that I lost—I was more distraught than any point in my life.”

Though Campagnola secured a publishing contract, the book is an entirely DIY experience, with Campagnola editing and promoting the book on his own. The road to publishing was a long one, but he’s ready to do it again.

“The book’s a cliffhanger,” Campagnola says. “I’ve already started writing the sequel. I decided the title will be Directions Home.”

‘Directions to the Dumpster’ is available online.
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oct. 12: Kathleen Alcott at Copperfield's Debut Dinners

Posted By on Thu, Oct 11, 2012 at 5:08 PM

Kathleen Alcott's debut novel The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets opens with two babies, crawling around each other on the floor, drawn together like magnets, as their parents look on. At first, the relationship between the two—Jackson and Ida—is unknown. Are they siblings? Cousins? Related by blood at all? As the story unwinds, we find that though unrelated, they share a bond that transcends blood, lasting through the end of the novel, in the midst of death, tragedy, mental illness, cross-country moves and ill-advised relationship maneuvers. "The majority of our lives we were an exhausting display that others looked on, confused and ashamed to be watching," Ida says, after a long passage describing Jackson's traits, all the things she's grown to know so well as she grows up with him. What follows is a fractured love story, a story that falls into lyricism more often that not, and one that flirts constantly with a sense of the tragic.


Alcott is a young writer, but you wouldn't know it from this gripping, beautifully written debut novel. The Petaluma native, who now lives in New York, writes with the confidence of someone who's been fine-tuning her work for a long while. Recently, Alcott told Brad Listi, host of the Other People podcast, that she'd decided to dedicate herself to writing completely after dropping out of college. Within a few years, she'd published on The Rumpus, and in notable literary journals American Short Fiction and Slice Magazine. Soon, she had an agent and set to work finishing a novel that had been relegated to the "unfinished" pile. The result is a dark story, one that the reader may want to look away from at times, about those we love and those we take advantage of and those we just can't live without.

This Copperfield's Debut Dinner with Kathleen Alcott takes place on Friday, October 12 at Risibisi. 154 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma. 6pm. $65 ticket includes dinner and a book. 707.823.8991 ex215

Home made focaccia bread served with dinner

Course One
Choice of Soup of the Day, Caesar Salad or Mixed Organic Greens Salad in
house vinaigrette.

Course Two
Choice of Chicken Piccata, Vegetarian Risotto or Rigatoni Bolognese (Meat

Course Three
Slice of home made Tiramisu or Italian Gelato
One complimentary glass of wine or beverage is included.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Extended Play: An interview with 2012 MacArthur Fellow Junot Diaz

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2012 at 12:33 PM


On Monday, Oct. 1 it was announced that Dominican-American author and Pulitzer Prize Winner Junot Diaz had been given a 2012 MacArthur "genius" award, a $500,000 no-strings attached grant to "talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits."

Diaz has received acclaim lately for his newest short story collection, This is How You Lose Her, released by Riverhead Books in August. His 2007 novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is considered to be one of the best books of the 21st century. It's always at the top of my list of recommended books for a brilliant take on a sci-fi nerd turned wannabe lothario doomed by familial and socio-political history.

Here's our interview with Junot Diaz, part of a Sep. 5 Arts Feature that came out right before Diaz's packed appearance at Copperfield's Books in Montgomery Village. By the way, at that appearance, Diaz was asked the question, "If you could be any other writer, who would you be?" In a fantastic subversion of expectations, Diaz said that he would be Octavia Butler, the African-American science fiction author of such classics as Parable of the Sower and Kindred. It was a beautiful moment in the history of literature.

How does the idea of apocalypse play into your current project and your work in general?

As far as the apocalypse, I grew up in the most apocalyptic area in the world. We can’t think of a place that has endured more apocalypses than the Dominican Republic and the island of Hispaniola, or the island of Haiti has endured everything expect for a nuclear catastrophe. I think these shadows, these historical echoes reached me and they both intrigued and troubled me. And I came up in New Jersey, within slight distance of New York City during the time of the possibility of total nuclear annihilation. I was one of those kids that grew up in a time where you would see, on the news, they’d suddenly flash a map of New York City and they would show a big black ring, of every area, every town, every person within that range would be utterly obliterated, and of course, we were deep in the heart of that ring.

The apocalyptic history of both the Dominican Republic and the United States has resonated with me and continues to shape a lot of the interests in my work.

I grew up in the 1980’s and remember being terrified by movies like “The Day After.”

I mean, that stuff just blows your mind. You’re like, “What the fuck!”

I don’t think it ever leaves you. That feeling of everything could end right now never really goes away.
These are things that, again, you learn in your childhood how to dream. We think that we just get dreaming built into us, that it’s something that comes natural. But, the shape and the content of our dreams is acquired in our childhood and I think it’s no accident that people like me and you have a strand to our dreams that’s apocalyptic. How could you not growing up that way? It’s not only Sarah Connor that dreams of the world exploding. We are all basically Sarah Connor’s children.


She’s the one from The Terminator right?

Yep, that’s how nerdy I am, girl.

(Diaz shows the film in a post-apocalyptic literature class that he teaches at MIT. He also shows “The Day After,” the 1980’s nuclear catastrophe made-for-TV movie. )

In this book that I just wrote, the character’s actually a conversation about The Day After. And in fact, in the story “Miss Lora,” the narrator Yunior dismisses The Day After as nonsense, and talks about how he prefers the more hardcore British movie Threads.

It took you 10 or 11 years to write “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and it seems like it was a fairly grueling process, not writing that writing a novel is ever easy. In comparison, what was the process of writing the stories in “This is How You Lose Her?”

It me took 17 years to write these. You can safely say that this was not an easy tow. I’ve pretty much been living them for a very long time. They’re kind of braided together, in a way, with my last book.

In an interview with Paula Moya for The Boston Review, you said about black women writers, “Why these sisters struck me as he most dangerous of artists was because in the work of, say Morrison, or Octavia Butler, we are shown the awful radiant truth of how profoundly constituted we are of our oppressions.” Do you do this in your own work? I’m thinking specifically of the stories in “This is How You Lose Her.” Are Yunior, Rafa and the narrator of “Otravida, Otravez” profoundly constituted of their own oppressions?

Oh god, that should be up to the reader to say, you know? I’m always very wary of explaining what I write because, I think that’s a great question, but I think that you would be better at answering than I would be. I do think that in the end it’s the reader that has to answer that question and not the writer. I raised the question, so custom dictates that the reader would the one to respond now. I really do understand the value and the merit of the question and as a writer I don’t want to be completely coy. I mean, to direct our attention to the most obvious, look at the way that Yunior’s sexism and his hetero-normative, patriarchal, master-of-the- imaginary leads him to view women as not fully human. Gee whiz, this engages and involves him in every aspect of his life. And it is as much of an oppression that he produces as he produces that produces him.

And traps him in his own misery

Without any question.

But that can make the stories difficult to read in a way too. I was talking to a friend of mine about how I was reading your new collection and she told me that she couldn’t read your books because of the way that women are represented. She said that it’s just too painful for her. The references to “bitches” and “ho’s” made me wince at times.

That’s just strange because that would be like, none of these people have every spent any time in the public sphere of America or listened to hip hop. Or have never listened to a politician, or don’t live in this culture. I think what’s happening here is that we’re far more comfortable living our oppression as long as no one represents it to us in art. In other words, the fact that you guys are not around this shit all the time, and I mean ALL THE TIME. I think the difficulty is that we are so unaccustomed, we live basically in the emperor’s new clothes, where we’re undergoing this oppression, but we all sit around and say, “No, we’re not.” And then what really excruciates us, what shocks the shit out of us is when somebody makes the mistake of pointing out that the emperor has not clothes. Or when somebody makes the mistake of saying, “Hey, this is what’s happening to us.” We’ve gotten super twisted as a society. It's really fascinating. If you think about the 60’s, you didn’t surprise or shock anybody in America, white, black, brown, yellow to say that there was racism in America. White people would have been like, “Yes, there is racism and we want more.” You know? Now, if you say that there’s racism in this country, every single person will try to silence you. Everybody will be like, “No, that’s not true.”

I can’t speak for your friend, I’m sure she just thinks I suck at it and that I’m not just simply representing, that I’m approving of this stuff. I would disagree. I think that people confuse representation with approbation. How can you even be in the conversation if you avoid it? What I’m specifically saying is that, we’ve gotten into a very weird place in our culture where I think most of us are deeply avoidant of the kind of conversation that would be required to, in many ways, alter or improve our situation. Because to alter and improve our situation literally means looking into the abyss.

The hardest thing to do is to live our oppression. It’s not to encounter it in art. It says a lot about how much pain we must be undergoing, that to encounter oppression in art is unbearable.But I know that fear, I know that agony. I think that we’re in a space where there are not many spaces of deliberation; We’re not accustomed to them. We didn’t grow up with these expressions and certainly the culture has done everything possible to bend us away from them.

It’s almost like the classic, you have to be able to hold two opposing ideas at the same time, in reading the stories in “This is How You Lose Her.” This is a representation of something that’s real. This isn’t made up, but that’s not necessarily saying that it’s right.

I think it’s no accident that the people who do the best job of reminding us of our oppression are artists. And that the one area of our education that has been most systematically gutted in this country is arts education. It’s no accident that people confuse representation with approbation. It’s almost like a natural leap for most people. They’re like, “Oh, he says the word ‘n****r’ must mean he completely agrees with it.” I think that there’s a deep connection. There’s something about art that really engages us in questioning our social lives.People’s lack of arts education has taken out a lot of our teeth.

In terms of activism, how do you balance those two? How does your activism feed into your art or are those two things separate?

I look at people like Maxine Hong Kingston. She’s been a long, long-time peace activist and she’s one of the most important writers. I look at Sandra Cisneros. Sandra Cisneros has been a very active member of the Chicana feminist community and she’s been able to do it. It’s the same question as “Can a woman work and have a family?” For me, we’re always being told that these things are mutually exclusive, that you’ve got to choose one or the other. But you know, I’m always being asked to choose between categories where I would never choose one or the other. I would always choose both. Arts and activism for me is a natural. Being of African descent, being from the Caribbean and being Latino. Anytime I’m asked to choose one, I look at the person and say, “I totally fucking reject your request.”

It’s like an inability to understand, at least in the United States, the ability to exist in-between.

Yeah and simultaneous. Often in-between, there’s something skulking a lot of times when I hear the term in-between. I think there’s always this either/or but for me it’s like, how about both?

Final question: Will Yunior ever find decolonial love?

I think the book asks the reader at the end. I think the book makes some very strong claims about his journey, about what he learned. I guess you read the book, and by the end it asks, do you think he’s changed enough where that’s possible? It would be too simple to show Yunior at the end meeting someone on a park bench and going, “Wow, here’s the future.” Instead, I leave Yunior at the cusp of transformation and I ask the reader, “Well, is he a different person than the person who opens the book saying, “I’m not a bad guy?” The book doesn’t end with Yunior saying “I’m not a bad guy.” It’s up to the reader to write that final chapter.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Announcing Our Fall Lit Jive Writing Contest!

"He Was Bad News From the Start."

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 11:04 AM


He was bad news from the start.

You know the type. The kind of of guy you just get a bad feeling from.

For this year's Jive writing contest, we're asking for a 400-words-or-less piece of fiction around the wrong sort of man. He could be a boyfriend, a politician, a supermarket checker, a drifter. Something's off, but something draws you in. Something happens, and it isn't always his fault. We want to read what your sharp fiction-writing minds have to say about this guy. Just make sure that your story at some point contains the phrase, "He was bad news from the start."

Our favorite bad-news entries will be published in our Fall Lit Issue, and we'll have a party and reading with the winners that very night, Oct. 17, at Copperfield's Books in Montgomery Village at 6pm!

Send your entries to

Deadline is Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 5pm.

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