Friday, January 23, 2009

Good News and New Books


More American Adults Read Literature According to New NEA Study

Literary reading on the rise for first time in history of Arts Endowment survey

Washington, D.C. -- For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Reading on the Rise documents a definitive increase in rates and numbers of American adults who read literature, with the biggest increases among young adults, ages 18-24. This new growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited previously in NEA reports such as Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read.

"At a time of immense cultural pessimism, the NEA is pleased to announce some important good news. Literary reading has risen in the U.S. for the first time in a quarter century," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "This dramatic turnaround shows that the many programs now focused on reading, including our own Big Read, are working. Cultural decline is not inevitable."

Among the key findings:

Literary reading increases

  • For the first time in the history of the survey - conducted five times since 1982 - the overall rate at which adults read literature (novels and short stories, plays, or poems) rose by seven percent.
  • The absolute number of literary readers has grown significantly. There were 16.6 million more adult readers of literature in 2008. The growth in new readers reflects higher adult reading rates combined with overall population growth.
  • The 2008 increases followed significant declines in reading rates for the two most recent ten-year survey periods (1982-1992 and 1992-2002).

Demographics of literature readers

  • Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18-24 year olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20 percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.
  • Since 2002, reading has increased at the sharpest rate (+20 percent) among Hispanic Americans, Reading rates have increased among African Americans by 15 percent, and among Whites at an eight percent rate of increase.
  • For the first time in the survey's history, literary reading has increased among both men and women. Literary reading rates have grown or held steady for adults of all education levels.

Trends in media and literary preferences

  • Fiction (novels and short stories) accounts for the new growth in adult literary readers.
  • Reading poetry and drama continues to decline, especially poetry-reading among women.
  • Online readers also report reading books. Eighty-four percent of adults who read literature (fiction, poetry, or drama) on or downloaded from the Internet also read books, whether print or online.
  • Nearly 15 percent of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008.

A tale of two Americas

  • The U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups – readers and non-readers.
  • A slight majority of American adults now read literature (113 million) or books (119 million) in any format.
  • Reading is an important indicator of positive individual and social behavior patterns. Previous NEA research has shown that literary readers volunteer, attend arts and sports events, do outdoor activities, and exercise at higher rates than non-readers.

The NEA research brochure Reading on the Rise is based on early results from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). SPPA is a periodic survey that has been conducted five times since 1982 using data obtained in partnership with the United States Census Bureau. Detailed results from the 2008 survey will be available in 2009. The 2008 SPPA survey has a sample size of more than 18,000 adults. The 2008 survey's literary reading questions - which form the focus of Reading on the Rise - were the same as in previous years: "During the last 12 months, did you read any a) novels or short stories; b) poetry; or c) plays?" Since 1992, the survey also has asked about book-reading. In 2008, the survey introduced new questions about reading preferences and reading on the Internet.

Reading on the Rise, along with other NEA research, is available for download at



Free community reception February 18

(DENVER) Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs are pleased to announce the 2008 recipients of the Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. The 2008 honorees are Charles Burrell, Denver Young Artists Orchestra, Su Teatro and The Bloomsbury Review. In addition, the Mayor’s Cultural Legacy Award will be presented to Noël Congdon.

The 2008 Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts reception will be held on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.) at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th St. & Curtis St. Mayor Hickenlooper will present the awards to the honorees at the event. The public is invited to attend this free community celebration. Seating will be first-come, first-served; no RSVP necessary. Performances for the evening will include: Rocky Mountain Children’s Choir, Sweet Edge Dance Company and Purnell Steen & Le Jazz Machine.

Since 1986, the Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts annually recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant and lasting contributions to the arts in the City and County of Denver.

Here's what the announcement says about Su Teatro -

Su Teatro was formed in 1972 in a University of Colorado classroom and quickly became an important artistic arm of the Chicano self-identity and civil rights movement of the time. Su Teatro is the third oldest Chicano theater company still in existence—after Teatro Campesino and Teatro Esperanza—and has been recognized as a significant force in both the Chicano arts aesthetic and American Theater. Su Teatro’s mission is to create, produce and promote theater and other art that celebrates the experiences, history, language and heritage of Latinos in the U.S.and the Americas.

In 1989, Su Teatro emerged as the larger cultural arts center, El Centro Su Teatro. They expanded their offerings to include annual projects such as the XicanIndie FilmFest: Latino World Cinema, Neruda Poetry Festival, which includes the Barrio Slam competition, St. Cajetan’s Reunification Project, Chicano Music Festival and Auction and a multi-tiered arts education program called the Cultural Arts Institute.

The organization is poised to expand once again with the purchase of a new space on Santa Fe Drive in Denver’s historic Westside neighborhood. Though the organization continuously experiments with form and content, Su Teatro remains committed to education, social justice and community enrichment.

You can read more about the award and the recipients at this link to a Denver Post story.


The recent series of short stories about Denver collectively known as A Dozen on Denver and printed in the Rocky Mountain News has been picked up by Fulcrum Publishing. The twelve stories will be published in book form in Fall, 2009, "positioned and priced for the Holiday season" as the announcement says. A Dozen on Denver has been a great project that brought together a varied and terrific group of writers who produced some outstanding stories about Denver through the decades. The project helped celebrate the 150th birthday of Denver and the News in a unique and literary way. I have a story in the collection so I am not completely objective, but I heartily recommend the stories (and the book, of course). Until the book is available, you can read my contribution, Fence Busters, here; and you can get to all twelve stories at this link.


Living The Vida Lola
Misa Ramirez
St. Martin's Minotaur, February 7, 2009

Dolores “Lola” Cruz loves shoes, kung fu, and her job as an underling at Camacho and Associates, a private investigation firm in Sacramento. After a year and a half on the job, her sexy and mysterious boss, Manny Camacho, finally assigns Lola her first big case—a woman’s disappearance. If Lola gets it right, it could mean a big bump up the career ladder. But this is no grocery store stakeout. The woman turns up dead and the same thing could happen to Lola if she doesn’t watch her back.

The Sweet Smell of Home
Leonard F. Chana, Susan Lobo, Barbara Chana
University of Arizona Press, July, 2009

A self-taught artist in several mediums who became known for stippling, Leonard Chana captured the essence of the Tohono O'odham people. He incorporated subtle details of O'odham life into his art, and his images evoke the smells, sounds, textures, and tastes of the Sonoran desert -- all the while depicting the values of his people.

He began his career by creating cards and soon was lending his art to posters and logos for many community-based Native organizations. Winning recognition from these groups, his work was soon actively sought by them. Chana's work also appears on the covers and as interior art in a number of books on southwestern and American Indian topics.

The Sweet Smell of Home is an autobiographical work, written in Chana's own voice that unfolds through oral history interviews with anthropologist Susan Lobo. Chana imparts the story of his upbringing and starting down the path toward a career as an artist. Balancing humor with a keen eye for cultural detail, he tells us about life both on and off the reservation.

Eighty pieces of art -- 26 in color -- grace the text, and Chana explains both the impetus for and the evolution of each piece. Leonard Chana was a people's artist who celebrated the extraordinary heroism of common people's lives. The Sweet Smell of Home now celebrates this unique artist whose words and art illuminate not only his own remarkable life, but also the land and lives of the Tohono O'odham people.

what i'm on
Luis Humberto Valadez
University of Arizona Press, March, 2009

Luis Valadez is a performance poet and his poems shout to be read aloud. It's then that their language dazzles most brightly. It's then that the emotions bottled up on the page explode beyond words. And there is plenty of emotion in these poems. Frankly autobiographical, they recount the experiences of a Mexican American boy growing up in a tough town near Chicago. Just as in life, the feelings in these poems are often jumbled, sometimes spilling out in a tumble, sometimes coolly recollected. Sometimes the words jump and twitch as if they'd been threatened or attacked. Sometimes they just sit there knowingly on the page, weighted down by the stark reality of it all.

José García
put a thirty-five to me
my mother was in the other room
He would have done us both
if not for the lust of my fear

This new Mexican American/Chicano voice is all at once arresting, bracing, shocking, and refreshing. This is not the poetry you learned in school. It owes as much to hip hop as it does to the canon. But Valadez has paid his academic dues, and he certainly knows how to craft a poem. It's just that he does it his way.

i anagram and look and subject to deformation and reconfiguring . . .
it ain't events or blocks that ahm jettisoning through this process
it be layers of meaning, identity, narrative, and ego that gets peeled off
i can only increase my own understanding

Dark Thirty
Santee Frazier
University of Arizona Press, February, 2009

Writing sometimes in dialect, sometimes in gunshot bursts, sometimes in sinuous lines that snake across the page, Santee Frazier crafts poems that are edgy and restless. The poems in Dark Thirty, Frazier's debut collection, address subjects that are not often thought of as "poetic," like poverty, alcoholism, cruelty, and homelessness. Frazier's poems emerge from the darkest corners of experience: "I search the cabinet and icebox -- drink the pickle juice / from the jar. Bologna, / hard at the edges, / browning on the kitchen / table since yesterday. / I search the cabinet and icebox -- the curdling / milk almost smells drinkable."

Dark Thirty takes us on a loosely autobiographical trip through Cherokee country, the backwoods towns and the big cities, giving us clear-eyed portraits of Native people surviving contemporary America. In Frazier's world, there is no romanticizing of Native American life. Here cops knock on the door of a low-rent apartment after a neighbor has been stabbed. Here a poem's narrator recalls firing a .38 pistol -- barrel glowing like oil in a gutter-puddle" --for the first time. Here a young man catches a Greyhound bus to Flagstaff after his ex-girlfriend tells him he has fathered a child. Yet even in the midst of violence and despair there is time for the beauty of the world to shine through: "The Cutlass rattling out / the last fumes of gas, engine stops, / the night dimly lit by the moon / hung over the treetops; / owls calling each other from / hilltop to valley bend."

Like viewing photographs that repel us even as they draw us in, we are pulled into these poems. We're compelled to turn the page and read the next poem. And the next. And each poem rewards us with a world freshly seen and remade for us of sound and image and voice.


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