One fun night!
October 19, 2016: Michael Cunningham, Kita Shantiris, Karen Heuler, & Leland Cheuk
Michael read "Poisoned," from his collection of reimagined fairytales, A Wild Swan. In it, a single scene, we meet Prince Charming and Snow White in some future after he found her, after his first, magical kiss. After he saved her from a sleep like death, long after she'd bitten into that poisoned apple.
Michael read both parts, capturing the push and pull between two people who might be any couple on any one of their history of evenings together. Aside from a few references to apple jokes, dwarves, and death-sleep, there's the familiar (perhaps distasteful) request, the waffling, the bickering, the armchair psychology, the inevitable acquiescence.
Though the characters are a prince and an unsurpassed beauty, they are yet every-couple, who, after years of repetition, of no surprises, of the everyday and the ordinary, may harbor a guilty fantasy: to capture the way it was once upon a time, to go back to the excitement, the pure perfection, of unknowing.
Other Places is Karen's seventh book and third short story collection. In it, women must confront all sorts of aliens. Karen's literary cocktail, Portal, was designed to go with her reading of "Which Side Is the Other Side?" A riff on a margarita with an herbaceous twist (fresh thyme!), the drink might take you to new places, just as the portal in the hedges does in Karen's story.
As many on one side of a border or the other may, the story's protagonist resents the "creatures" who come through this greenery doorway. She puts up yellow tape and warnings; she attacks with a punch, a foul-smelling spritz, a golf club; she misleads, mistreats, even murders unwanted visitors. Though told with humor, the story may remind us of more serious issues. Where else are border-crossers referred to as dirty and unsavory? As thieves and criminals? When else have we heard that one visitor is indistinguishable from the next? Or that they are stupid creatures who deserve no respect? . . . All too familiar.
Leland got a kick out of his literary cocktail, Extinction by Fire, a spicy treat designed to go along with his collection, Letters from Dinosaurs. Perhaps it was the list of three types of hot pepper listed in the ingredients. Maybe that's what happened to the dinosaurs . . .
In his stories and his novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, human struggle and everyday angst are often cloaked in humor; his novel has in fact been called a black comedy. The same humor finds its way at times into Leland's quite serious essay about his writing, trying to be published, and his fight against a deadly disease. The piece brings emotion and humanity to the fore, presents hope amidst anguish. We learned, as Leland did, to appreciate what we have. To consider: do we love enough? Laugh enough? To admit that when something good happens (like getting published) it matters. It may change you and fulfill you. We were thrilled to see Leland at this exciting point in his career—writing all the time, and all the time living the life he's chosen.
As CEO of a mental health organization, Kita knows a lot about psychology, but there's nothing clinical in her approach to the human psyche in her poetry. In her poems we find the struggle for connection, the raw beauty and pain of a lost sibling, a passion that endures age, the tension between a child and a parent, and what happens when their roles are reversed by time. Her writing is lyrical, though grounded in reality, metaphorical, yet accessible. And always, her heart and mind are apparent in her words.
And what about her literary cocktail, Serpent's Nectar? Kita gave us a lesson on coupes (they're shaped like breasts) when she described it—a drink with booze, and a whole lotta shakin', muddling, slapping, and grinding going on!