REVIEW: The Four Winds

Set in the 1930s and telling the story of a family who fled Dust Bowl-ravaged Texas for California, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is not a comfortable book to read. That said, however, its descriptive prose and well-developed characters has the potential to draw readers in, and certainly kept me turning to the next page. Furthermore, despite the immense pain contained in the book’s pages, there is also an undercurrent of hope and survival, making it a worthwhile read in the current times. At over four hundred pages long, it is an excellent book for summer reading.

Elsa Martinelli, the main character of the book, is a woman who does not know her strength. As a young girl, a heart condition kept her from participating in many activities. Her family treated her as weak and as an outsider, and the resulting feelings of inadequacy haunted Elsa in a failing marriage and into middle age. However, she rises from these ashes to find family in her children and mother- and father-in-law, whom she fights fiercely for. This fierce love leads her to make one of the toughest decisions of all – to leave the Texas farm that is her family’s livelihood, but where everything is dying as a result of the dust storms, in search of a better future for her children.

However, life is not automatically better in California. Although the Martinellis escape the dust and its associated health consequences, work is hard to come by. Migrants fleeing the dust storms, referred to by California locals by derogatory terms such as “Okies” or “your kind,” were forced to live in inhumane tent camps, scraping together money to afford the most necessities. Though the story takes place nearly a century ago, it is hard to read it and not draw comparisons to the treatment of twenty-first century immigrants and refugees. So much progress has been made in so many areas since then, and yet we still tolerate, and even perpetrate, the same gross violations of human rights and dignity:

“Elsa couldn’t believe people lived this way in California. In America. These folks weren’t bindle stiffs or vagabonds or hobos. These tents and shacks and jalopies housed families. Children. Women. Babies. People who had come here to start over, people looking for work.”

However, fortunately, the human spirit also remains today as it did in the 1930s. In the Author’s Note, Kristin Hannah observes that strength can be drawn from others’ persistence in past hardships and applied to current struggles like the pandemic: “We’ve gone through bad times before and survived, even thrived. History has shown us the strength and durability of the human spirit. In the end, it is our idealism and our courage and our commitment to one another – what we have in common – that will save us.”

Even when things kept getting worse for the Martinelli’s when it seemed as though it was already as bad as it could get, they held onto one another, to friends, and to hope for better days. That is a message well worth four hundred pages.

 

REVIEW – Please Stand By: The 2021 Stamps School Senior Exhibition

Please Stand By: The 2021 Stamps School Senior Exhibition is a virtual showcase that highlights the work created by the graduating students of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. As a featured artist myself, I can personally claim that the creative process has been immensely complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, evidenced by the impressive display, the unprecedented conditions we’ve experienced together this past year have not prevented our collective perseverance and the creation of astonishing projects! Even though it is saddening that most senior studios went unused, I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow classmates for advancing their practice and fostering immense creative and professional development through their studies. Congratulations! 

That being said, if you haven’t checked out the exhibition, you should definitely give it a look! Here is the webpage: https://www.stampsgrads.org/classof2021/senior-exhibition/. Ironically, even though everything is digital, we have amassed a lengthy selection of books. In Between: este lado y el otro lado by Olivia Prado, a multidisciplinary artist, is a book that resists preconceptions of Mexican-American identity through the juxtaposition of poetry, drawing and painting, photography, and text messages with family members. Prado intentionally creates a multi-faceted narrative that contends with expectations for artists of color to reduce personal experiences to simplified concepts for white viewership and consumption. By offering a variety of rich and formative experiences, Prado opens a space for people to better understand, yet not entirely, the complexities of personhood as it relates to the communities we are a part of.

Additionally, because the website format allows for each artist to upload up to ten documentation photographs, the display configurations of more sculptural works are highly mutable. This is applicable to the Parasitic Vessels: Forms of Disuse series created by recent-graduate Ellie Levy. Levy is particularly interested in the introduction of invasive protrusions and modifications to bowls as a question and critique to the utilitarian nature of ceramic design. Although, with this mutation comes a supplemental and beneficial quality to the human interaction with an object. How do we perceive the bowls differently? As the material body of the bowls are mutated, a fused identity is created through a balance that allows for new existence. The parasite becomes a catalyst for the imaginative.

These are two of the many amazing and captivating works in the exhibition, which will remain permanently in the digital space. I encourage you all to explore what we have created!

 

Artist Information:

Olivia Prado – Website: https://odprado.wixsite.com/oliviapradoart

Ellie Levy – Website: https://ellielevyceramics.com; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erlceramics/

REVIEW: Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

Despite being familiar with Brandi Carlile’s music, her new book Broken Horses took me by surprise. Generally, I would expect memoirs by artists to be enjoyable, perhaps gratuitous, for fans, but Broken Horses is, I daresay, of a different breed. It is impressive in its wisdom and authenticity, and a book that I would recommend regardless of whether the reader has listened to Carlile’s music.

The book chronicles Carlile’s life and development as an artist through present-day, and is punctuated by song lyrics (Carlile’s, as well as other songs and artists mentioned in the prose, including the Indigo Girls, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and others) and annotated photos. It is part narrative and part introspection, and it is self-deprecating, humorous, and raw.  The cast of characters is extensive, anchored in the center by Carlile’s musical “family,” including her bandmembers Phil and Tim, her wife, Catherine, and two daughters.  It is a vivid portrait of a human being who also happens to be a GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter.

Broken Horses also traverses a wide range of themes in its three hundred pages: family, friendship, sexuality, religion, forgiveness, and many others. Carlile offers her thoughts and experience of each, without pretending to have all the answers. One of my favorite passages in the entire book is in relation to the genesis of the 2018 album By the Way, I Forgive You. In addition to its insight (even in its admission of lack of insight), it also, in my opinion, captures the essence of Broken Horses as a whole:

“Before I start sounding too earnest, understand that I wasn’t “teaching” forgiveness. I was and still am learning it. I’m not evolved. I’m as much a part of the problem as every other person in the world. This isn’t wisdom or insight, it’s a work in progress and it never did come from me. It came from our parents and grandparents. Our flawed heroes and our favorite TV shows. We were just playing dress-up and trying forgiveness on like a costume. We intend to learn these lessons over and over again the hard way for as long as we’re human. If you want the real thing 100 percent pure, the Everclear …you should talk to Lazarus.”

-Brandi Carlile, Broken Horses (2021), Chapter 17: By The Way

Quite fittingly, I would describe Broken Horses as a song above anything else (which makes sense, considering the author). It is a song of the human experience, and one that is not to be missed.

PREVIEW: Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

If you are a fan of the music of GRAMMY Award-winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, you won’t want to miss out on her new memoir, Broken Horses. Released in April 2021, the book recounts the events that have shaped her life thus far, as well as her path to becoming the musician that she is today.

Hardcover copies of Broken Horses can be purchased from your local bookstore (such as Literati if you’re in Ann Arbor) or checked out from your local library.

REVIEW: ¡ACTIVISTA! An International Women’s Day Concert

In honor of International Women’s Day, I attended the live stream of HotHouse’s “¡ACTIVISTA! An International Women’s Day Celebration.” A virtual concert comprised of musical performances, spoken word and poetry, and a bit of Q&A with some of the artists, ¡ACTIVISTA! was a wonderful arts experience. Live streams are one way to mindfully engage with the arts during the pandemic, and this one was a masterfully curated experience, hosted by Chicago-based organization HotHouse and publisher Haymarket Books.

Natu Camara

The artists featured in the performance came from all around the globe, and covered a wide range of topics from refugee rights to environmental justice to anti-colonialism. I truly enjoyed the blending of music and poetry performances during this event. Culture and vision wove through each piece of the performance, beginning with Farah Siraj’s haunting song honoring refugee women, written in Arabic, and ending with Kyung-Hwa Yu, a South Korean artist reviving the Korean stringed instrument cheolhyeongeum in contemporary music.

Angel Bat Dawid

A truly intercultural collection of pieces, there were a variety of languages represented in the art. There were poems in Spanish and Zapotec, songs in Sousous and Arabic. A painful song written about child marriage performed by the lovely Natu Camara and her band from Guinea. COLLECTIVA, a group of women who formed recently online during the pandemic to share their passion for music virtually and across oceans. One of my favorite moments from the concert was a thoroughly enchanting improvised bass clarinet solo by Angel Bat Dawid. Lyla June of the First Nations, with the gripping words, “they say that history is written by the victors, but how can there be a victor when the war isn’t over?”

Janel Pineda

It was a beautiful experience to watch these powerful women and their art shared together in a common space, in celebration and solidarity. I am reminded through these pieces that art can be expressive and lovely while also being a firm call for change. While extremely personal and masterful, these pieces also contain the seed of movement. They contain past, present, and future.

Available online to watch at: https://youtu.be/d4Cn6eCvSX8. Consider a donation, if you are able, so that HotHouse can continue to provide virtual concerts free of charge to viewers all over the world.

PREVIEW: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Newly released this year, Kristin Hannah’s novel The Four Winds has already garnered critical acclaim and a place on bestseller lists. It is a story of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and of America and difficult choices. I am particularly excited to read this new book because I enjoy a good historical fiction novel.

Check out The Four Winds from your local library, or if you would like to purchase a copy, visit your local book store. In Ann Arbor, The Four Winds can be found at Literati Bookstore (where it recently earned the distinction of Staff Pick).

Happy reading!