Report on the 2017 Tucson Festival of Books

Thanks to JJ Wilson for sharing his thoughts on this year’s Tucson Festival of Books!


Another year, another blockbuster. Once again I missed out on a couple of big names – Colson Whitehead and Michael McGarrity – but there was plenty of consolation in seeing some lesser-known, bright young (and not-so-young) things.

Adrienne Celt

Adrienne Celt

I was really looking forward to seeing Adrienne Celt as she’ll be appearing later this year at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word. Adrienne, a novelist/cartoonist, starred on an excellent panel with Reed Karaim and Karen Brennan. She was funny and humble and talked lots of good sense.

Karaim is a journalist as well as a novelist, and he had interesting things to say about how his journalistic writing habits affect his fiction. Journalists “don’t have much time for writer’s block,” he says, and they’ve learned to take themselves out of the story.

Karen Brennan was just hilarious – she reminded me of an old-time actress who’s seen it all and condensed it into a thousand one-liners.

Tim Z. Hernandez

Tim Z. Hernandez

I also had the pleasure of attending a session with Tim Z. Hernandez, author of All They Will Call You, a novel I cannot wait to read. Tim, along with Dan Chacón, interviewed me on Words on a Wire (here), and his new book is getting superb reviews. He’s one of those artist/performer/writers who grab your attention through humor, charm, and integrity.

Tim appeared alongside another writer/artist, Maceo Montoya, who spoke so eloquently about Chicanismo. Montoya mentioned that his Chicano students have been through High School and barely know a thing about their heritage.

With a combination of humor and gravity, these old friends riffed away, and it was a joy.

Talking of riffers, Juan Felipe Herrera, the Poet Laureate of the United States, joined Alberto Rios on stage for a beautiful hour of poetry, philosophy and laughter. Rios told great stories about the border at Nogales: how it was first erected from landing strips and how the Mexicans on the other side simply pushed them down so the strips would form a bridge over a creek. The message was … life goes on.

One of these two also quoted Ana Castillo’s admonition to writers: “Write what is tearing at our hearts,” a line I won’t forget.

Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale

The highlight for me was a kids’ session. That sometimes happens when you have an 8-year-old in tow. Nathan Hale is a cartoonist and storyteller with a difference. His difference is that he does both simultaneously, using software that allows him to project his drawings, live, to the audience as he’s telling the story. He does all the voices – in this case, Thomas Jefferson, Sacagawea, a French explorer called Charbonneau, and even a talking dog. It was history as we didn’t know it, and it was an amusing and inspiring hour.

Thanks, as always, to the organizers and sponsors. You do a remarkable job.

-JJ Wilson

Search Begins for Silver City Area’s Third Poet Laureate

Nominations are now being sought for the Silver City area’s third Poet Laureate, following Bonnie Buckley Maldonado’s tenure as the first and Elise Stuart’s as the second.

This honorary position is awarded to a person who has established a presence in the world of poetry, has demonstrated a commitment to the literary art form, and who embraces the opportunity to engage in civil discourse.

Candidates for the post may be either self-nominated or nominated by another person, and must be over the age of 21. Candidates must be residents of Grant County and must have exhibited demonstrable ties to the community. The person selected for the post will serve a two-year term based on the calendar year, with the option – granted in consultation with the Selection Committee – of extending the term to three years.

The main duty of the Poet Laureate is to promote poetry in the community. An additional duty may be to present an original commemorative poem at one or two public events as determined by the Southwest Festival of the Written Word and/or the Silver City Town Council.

To apply, please send a 1-2 page statement describing your qualifications, including publications and teaching experience; an outline of your plans for the role and how you will make a difference in the community; and 3-5 of your poems (which may be in English and/or Spanish). The process may also involve a short interview with the Selection Committee. All applications must be sent by April 17, 2017 to JJ Amaworo Wilson at or 4229 N. Swan St, Silver City, NM 88061. Please contact JJ if you would like more information.

Elise Stuart

Elise Stuart, second Poet Laureate

Bonnie Buckley Maldonado

Bonnie Buckley Maldonado

Short Story Contest for the SC Quarterly Review

The Silver City Quarterly Review, a literary showcase of local authors, is holding a short story writing contest for its spring issue 2017. Submissions must be fiction, can be any topic and must be limited to 1500 words. There is a $10 fee per entry. Each author can submit more than one entry. The deadline is 9pm March 15th, 2017. An editorial panel will select the first and second prize winners. First prize will win 75% of the collected purse and be featured in the spring issue of the Quarterly Review (published April 1st, 2017). Second prize will win 25% and also be published in the spring issue. The Review asks that entrants email all submissions to before the deadline. Instructions for payment of the entry fee will be sent when submissions are received. For more information, see the contest post on or email with any questions.

Aldo Leopold Writing Contest for Grades 6-12

Aldo Leopold examining tamarack, presumably at his Sauk County, Wisconsin retreatNew Mexico students in grades 6 through 12 are invited to enter the Aldo Leopold Writing Contest to celebrate Leopold’s land ethic and win a cash prize. The deadline is 11:59pm on Thursday, February 7, and the awards ceremony will be at the first annual Leopold Lecture on Sunday, April 23 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. As stated on the program website, the goal of the contest is “to engage the next generation of citizen leaders in an urgent conversation about how to address the changing realities brought about by climate disruption, biodiversity loss, growing freshwater demands, and other pressing global conservation issues.” A downloadable entry form and additional information about other related initiatives can be found at

Borrow e-books for Free

Voracious readers, take note: you don’t have to buy everything you download for your e-reader. Instead, you can borrow e-books from your public library! Most public libraries in the United States now offer e-books in addition to physical items. The Silver City Public Library collaborates with many other small libraries in New Mexico to put together a large collection of e-books and downloadable audiobooks for our community members to borrow. The collaborative collection is called New Mexico Library To-Go.

To access this service, you will need an up-to-date library card. If you have not used your Silver City Public Library card for a couple years, you will probably need to stop by the library to update your account. You will use your library card number and account information to log in (ask a library staff member for details). Once your card is ready, the next step is to visit on a personal computer or download the OverDrive library e-books app–a free app available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices. The app will help your device to manage the items you borrow. If you belong to more than one library that lends e-books, you can add all your libraries to the same OverDrive app to borrow items. E-books and downloadable audiobooks from New Mexico Library To-Go can be checked out for two weeks at a time. When an item expires, your device will inform you the next time you open New Mexico Library To-Go. The expired item will be erased automatically.

silver city public library logoIf you need any assistance or have any questions about borrowing e-books and downloadable audiobooks, contact Silver City Public Library staff at 575-538-3672 or

As time goes on, your local library is becoming so much more than the books, audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, magazines, newspapers, and other physical items available in our building. Communities can now benefit 24/7 from their libraries’ online services, too!

-Lillian Galloway, Festival public library liaison

Congratulations to Award-winning Silver City Authors

JJ Wilson (left) and Sharman Apt Russell hold their award-winning books

JJ Wilson (left) and Sharman Apt Russell hold their award-winning books. Photo courtesy Jay Hemphill, WNMU.

Sharman Apt Russell’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door and JJ Amaworo Wilson’s Damnificados won New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards in, respectively, the Science Fiction and the Fiction categories. Two other Silver City authors were also finalists – Ron Hamm, for Ross Calvin, Interpreter of the American Southwest, and Catalina Claussen, for Diamonds at Dusk – so it was a great year for our literary community. The full list of winners can be found here: This article about the awards and winners may also be of interest:

River Trip Poetry Group

rivertrippoetrygroupBoth seasoned and emerging poets are invited to participate in the newly-launched River Trip Poetry Group, an ongoing experiential poetry group meeting on 2nd Tuesdays, 10 to 11:30 am at Yankie Creek Coffee House (Yankie Street at Texas Street in Silver City, NM).

This poetry group, sponsored by the River Chapter of New Mexico State Poetry Society, is open to all who enjoy a supportive and engaging environment in which to make connections, hone skills and share their literary art. The focus of these sessions is on both writing and reading. Writing exercises are offered by rotating facilitators selected within the group. All poetry forms are welcome.

Organizers of this group are Elise Stuart (the Poet Laureate of Silver City) and Stewart S. Warren (author and drifter).

The next poetry session will be on December 13th at 10am.

An Evening with the Maestro – Reflection by JJ Wilson

JJ Wilson shares his thoughts on Juan Felipe Herrera’s visit:

The 21st Poet Laureate of the Unites States came to little Silver City this week. The place will never be the same. Herrera was a hurricane of ideas, poetry, stories, music and love.

In front of a packed house, he talked (and sang) about his childhood, about his days tending farm animals, about his father’s experiences jumping trains to get from Chihuahua to Colorado, and about a Buddhist cinema that inspired a poem. He spoke about the power of community to heal wounds in troubled times, and he marveled at our little community, which is full of poets and artists and musicians.

Juan Felipe Herrera and JJ Wilson read together at Light Hall, WNMU

Photo by Stewart Hale for Silver City Daily Press and Independent

There’s no other word for it: Herrera was sensational. With a gesture of his hand he conjured honey pouring from the heart; with just a few licks on his harmonica he magicked up happy times; with a fold of a tiny piece of paper he showed how a poem becomes a bird. Hell, the dude even let me do a duet with him – I read in English, he in Spanish.

Besides being a great poet, Herrera is just a tremendously inspiring man. He’s never forgotten his humble roots and I don’t think he’ll ever tire of encouraging people to express themselves and to go forward with love and curiosity. Bravo, maestro. You filled our hearts with love and life!


Review of “Notes on the Assemblage”

Juan Felipe Herrera photoNotes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera
Review by JJ Wilson originally posted here.

Juan Felipe Herrera is a protean figure, a one-man dynamo: an actor, activist, professor, musician, author of thirty books, and now the first Latino Poet Laureate of the United States.

His personal story is extraordinary. His parents were migrant workers, constantly on the move across California. He found an alternative path when he won a scholarship to UCLA, and the harsh realities of the migrant workers’ life were replaced by books and ideas. He went on to receive a Masters degree from Stanford and then an MFA from Iowa, something of a badge of belonging for any up-and-coming poet.

But he has never forgotten where he came from, and across most of his work we see life’s hardships silhouetted against the sun-kissed landscapes of California. If his is a story of personal reinvention, then this finds echoes in his writing. Besides his eclectic poetry and film scripts, there are dazzling books for children and young adults, several of which have garnered big prizes.  Notes on the Assemblage is yet another fabulous work.

Here, as always, Herrera defies categorization. At one moment he writes about social issues – the 43 murdered Mexican students, Syria, police killings of African Americans. Then you turn the page and Herrera has become the heir of Wallace Stevens – a trickster, a master of language that dances in the mind. There are also the joyful echoes of Ginsberg and the Beats, ee cummings, and Burciaga.

Notes on the Assemblage coverThis collection consists of eight sections, each named for one of the poems therein. The first section, “Ayotzinapa,” is arguably the strongest. “Ayotzinapa” and “And if the man with the choke-hold” are powerful works of social protest. Punctuation-free, they come across as artful streams of consciousness, wails, laments too deeply felt to take a breath.  The other great protest poem in this collection, “We Are Remarkably Loud Not Masked,” is narrated by a marcher recalling the names of the murdered – Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray and others – and mixing past (the lost lives) and present (“we march touch hands lean back leap forth”).

Herrera’s social conscience underpins the book but does not overwhelm it. Poems such as “En la media medianoche”/”In the mid of midnight” are paeans to imagery (rumba and chocolate!) and language, and they defy meaning. His command of form across the whole collection includes modernist experimentation, dialogic poems flowing in Spanish and English, odes to the recently deceased, and ekphrastic poetry inspired by the art of Lazo, Albizu and others.

Notes on the Assemblage consolidates Herrera’s reputation as a fearless innovator and a great poet. Bravo, maestro. Ha hecho de nuevo!


Reading and Book Signing with Catalina Claussen

Catalina Claussen reads from Diamonds At DuskCatalina Claussen will appear at Miller Library on the WNMU campus for a reading and book signing at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 20.  Claussen is the author of Diamonds at Dusk, a young adult novel set in southwestern New Mexico, released in March by Progressive Rising Phoenix Press.

The book has been selected as a finalist in the 2016 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. Winners will be announced Nov. 18.

Claussen, a founding English teacher at Aldo Leopold Charter High School in Silver City, is a graduate of Reed College, Prescott College and Western New Mexico University. She wrote Diamonds at Dusk in part to fill a need–she saw a dearth of books for youth that portray rural life. Here is a synopsis of the story:

It’s hard to miss Cascade Rose Jennings. She’s the one in cowgirl boots who up until this morning wasn’t interested in boys. But, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday something inside her knocks loose.

DiamondsAtDuskHis name is Chadwick Dean Holbrook, a college prep school boy from Albuquerque and Cassie’s long-time “fair weather” friend. Every year, at summer’s end he disappears from her Grandpa Norm’s high desert ranch in southwestern New Mexico. This time, he promises to stay for Cassie’s birthday. Just when Cassie thinks she can count on him, Chad breaks his promise. He leaves behind an endearing, flirtatious treasure hunt. Cassie, filled with renewed hope, stifles a pang of jealousy when she discovers, her best friend, Ahzi Toadlena, is in on it. To make things worse, Cassie meets Maverick Britton, a charming misfit who threatens to steal her heart and the gold her Grandpa has kept quiet about all these years. Maverick has a dark secret that unwittingly draws Cassie and Ahzi into his perilous world. Chad, protective of his childhood friends, knows Maverick’s kind. He returns in time to rescue Ahzi and help Cassie win back the gold. In the end, Cassie realizes that her friendships, her family, and deep connection to the land mean more to her than any romance.

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