Hey Parents: Free Books for Your Kids!

D.C. is an expensive city, making it a hard place for young families to thrive. Just last week MarketWatch reported that Washington is the most expensive city for a family of four in the entire United States. The city’s free Pre-K-3 is a boon for local families and while a new program from the DC Public Library won’t have the same impact as free child care, it’s a pretty great perk for families making it work in the District.

Launching in February, you can sign up now to receive one free children’s book a month from the DC Public Library. The Books from Birth program is open to all children 4 years and 11 months old or younger, and the offer is per child in your household.

The Books from Birth program is designed to encourage reading among, and to, DC’s youngest residents. Research shows that children that live in households where they are read to on a daily basis show up to Kindergarten with more advanced vocabularies. As described in an article by Tina Rosenberg, a landmark 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that, “Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words.” It’s not entirely clear why the word gap exists, but research has shown that access to books in the home affects the likelihood that parents will read to their children. The Books from Birth program will allow all children in-home access to high-quality, age-appropriate books.

DC’s book donation program may draw inspiration from a related policy initiative in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence Talks was the 2014 winner of Bloomberg Philanthropies $5 million dollar Mayors Challenge, and a recent article summarized, “After decades of failed educational reforms, few policymakers are naïve enough to believe that a single social intervention could fully transform disadvantaged children’s lives. The growing economic inequality in America is too entrenched, too structural. But that’s hardly an argument for doing nothing.”

Kudos are due to Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen for putting this initiative on the agenda, and the Mayor and members of the DC City Council for supporting it.

Over time we’ll see what impact the program has on school readiness and student achievement. In the meantime: hey parents — free books for your kids! Don’t forget to sign up here.

This post was published here on UrbanScrawl.

Impersonation of Minorities by White People: an Abridged Literary Guide

The 2015 edition of the Best American Poetry book series was recently published by Simon and Schuster including the poem, “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” by Yi-Fen Chou.

The poem’s inclusion was the subject of immediate controversy because the author is actually a white man from Indiana named Michael Hudson, and he admits to having selected the Asian pen name to increase his chances for publication.

In an author note published with the poem Hudson explains, “After a poem of mine has been rejected a multitude of times under my real name, I put Yi-Fen’s name on it and send it out again. As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful for me.” Hudson’s actions infuriated many readers who saw his methodology as an insult to Asian authors and an abuse of white privilege.

Pen names have a long and complicated history.

Three decades ago the author Danny Santiago received the Rosenthal Award for literary achievement for his first person account of a Chicano teenager before being revealed as a 70 year old white man.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote, “In 1984 the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters awarded one of its distinguished fiction prizes to a new and presumably young Chicano writer named Danny Santiago, for his first novel,Famous All Over Town. Subsequent to the award it was revealed, with some embarrassment, that the newly discovered Chicano writer was not Chicano at all: ‘Danny Santiago’ turned out to be the pseudonym of seventy-three-year-old Daniel James, author of several previously published books, and better known as a playwright and screenwriter.” Chicano authors were outraged that the book might be included in the pantheon of Chicano fiction.

Manuel Ramos describes, “The Simon & Schuster editor who bought Santiago’s book stated that the author had hidden his identity and masqueraded as a Chicano (using Chicano slang in his letters to the editor)… [and] the awards committee confessed that they might have had second thoughts about giving the novel their prize, had they known its author was ‘Anglo’ and not ‘Chicano.’”

Michael Hudson informed anthology editor Sherman Alexie of his true identity in time for the editor to pull the poem prior to its publication in Best American Poetry 2015 but Alexie decided against doing so, explaining,

“As part of my mission to pay more attention to underrepresented poets and to writers I’d never read, I gave this particular poem a close reading… Do you see what happened? I did exactly what that pseudonym-user feared other editors had done to him in the past: I paid more initial attention to his poem because of my perception and misperception of the poet’s identity. Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American… I was practicing a form of literary justice that can look like injustice from a different angle. If I’d pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I gave the poem special attention because of the poet’s Chinese pseudonym. If I’d pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world.”

Like catching a cab while black, the act of publication tends to be more difficult for minorities. Alexie’s decision to keep the poem in the anthology was a defense of the practice he calls “literary justice.”

An author may hide his or her identity for a variety of reasons, including to access publication and to increase sales. Relatively common changes include rhetorical cross-dressing (a woman adopting a name to appear male) and Anglicization (Joseph Conrad’s birth name was Józef Konrad Korzeniowski.)

After the Danny Santiago controversy Edwin McDowell wrote about the “distinguished literary tradition of women using men’s names”, which extends to this day. Matt Soniak has described how the author of the Harry Potter books became J.K. Rowling because, “Joanne Rowling’s publishers weren’t sure that the intended readers of the Harry Potter books—pre-adolescent boys—would read stories about wizards written by a woman.”

Lorrayne Carroll, author of a historical study of male appropriation of the female voice, Rhetorical Drag: Gender, Impersonation, Captivity, and the Writing of History, commented, “These impersonations create readerly expectations through what Foucault calls ‘the author function’. That is, think about how you read a work by ‘anonymous’ versus your expectation of—and disposition toward—a work by ‘Shakespeare.’”

Pen names affect the public’s perception of the published words through ‘the author function’, in the cases of Joseph Conrad and JK Rowling impacting the chances for commercial success. Washington, D.C.-based poet Regie Cabico – self-described ‘Fairy godmother of spoken word poetry’ – argues that, “impersonation has to be done with love, empathy and extreme care.” Comparing Michael Hudson to an author examined in her book Rhetorical Drag, Lorrayne Carroll agrees, arguing,

“Comparing Cotton Mather writing as a female captive in 1697 to Michael Derrick Hudson writing as Yi-fen Chou in 2015 reduces or elides the wildly different circumstances that conditioned each choice. That said, both Mather and Hudson acknowledge, through their choices, that impersonation gives their writing some kind of advantage. For each man, the advantage results from using a voice associated with situated and embodied experiences that neither apparently have had.

Hudson’s choice to write as Chou should be read within a cultural terrain shaped by identity politics; race, gender, and class inequalities; and restricted access to shrinking publication venues, particularly those with high status and pedigree, such as Best American Poetry. How we evaluate the ethics of authorial impersonation, then, is contingent on where we land in this terrain. For me, the choice to appropriate an identity distinct from one’s own must take into account the power relations within which one publishes…. We might ask whether that choice has had a positive effect for others besides Michael Hudson. This is, finally, a political question about power, individual v. social good, and the growing issue of inequalities across so many dimensions of our lives.”

Is it ok to pretend to be black, or asian, or a man, or a woman? What do you think about the impersonation of minorities by non-minorities?

This post was originally published here on Urban ScrawlDC.

Seven Ideas to Improve DC’s Creative Economy

A recent strategic plan for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities notes that support for artists reinforces other economic sectors. The plan states, “A 2010 study commissioned by the DC Departments of Planning and Economic Partnership quantified that more than 90,000 individuals are employed in the creative sector. Creative employment provides over $5 billion in earnings and accounts for 10% of the District’s jobs base. Beyond direct jobs, creative industries and talent provide competitive advantage to other key DC industries.” Here are a few small investments that could enhance DC’s creative economy.

  1. Increase half price theater ticket sales

Washington DC has the second largest theater community in the nation, behind only New York City. Whereas New York City has a visually prominent and efficient half-price ticket program it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t know that Washington has a similar program. The city should engage the tech community in a competition to increase half price ticket sales, and program results should be monitored closely, quarter by quarter. There is no reason that a tech team, perhaps paired with Theater Washington, Destination DC, or even the Capital Fringe Festival, couldn’t increase half price ticket sales through modest one time support and effective ongoing partnership.

  1. Put DC art in DC public schools

Through the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities the District of Columbia has a wonderful program supporting resident visual artists: DC’s Art Bank. Every year hundreds of DC visual artists apply to have their work purchased at market rate for display in government buildings. A decade into this art acquisition program the government now owns more art than can be displayed in government office buildings. Deaccession of works more than five years in the collection might make sense, and display of the existing collection should be extended into DC Public Schools. A modest capital expenditure to reframe artwork for the public school environment is all that would be necessary to include artwork created by local artists in neighborhood schools.

  1. Make rehearsal space less expensive for local artists

The New York State Council on the Arts’ supports subsidized artist work space through a grant program that encourages those with rehearsal space to provide that space to qualifying artists and productions at a reduced rate. Subsidized rehearsal space makes creation less expensive while increasing rental revenues. At an expected expense under $50,000 per year, it’s a win-win worth trying here in DC.

  1. Make it easier for local artists to make art

When the annual budget for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities was slashed from over $14 million to under $4 million between 2009 and 2012 it was necessary for some granting programs to be eliminated. One such program was the Young Artist granting program that provided grants up to $2500 to artists under 30 years old. Now that the budget for the arts has rebounded — it’s more than $17 million for the coming year – it’s time to consider restoring DC’s Young Artist granting program, which could enliven communities across the District at a total cost of less than $100,000 annually.

  1. Increase support for the largest local arts organizations.

The Federal arts institutions in the District create downward pressure on development of the local arts community, so in 1988 Congress created the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs (NCACA) granting program to support non-Federal DC-based arts organizations. The Arena Stage, Studio Theater, and Shakespeare Theater wouldn’t exist in their current forms without the past support provided by NCACA. The total value of the NCACA fund is split almost evenly annually between the qualifying organizations but in recent years that support has plummeted from $9.5 million (in 2009) down to just $2 million dollars (for the current year.) The largest operating support award offered this year from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is just $100,000. Because of NCACA’s decline, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities should create a new “major organization” operating support category. The largest arts institutions in DC should be able to count on some substantial annual support from the city government, and with that support they’ll be able to broaden their programs for residents and non-residents.

  1. Re-award the Franklin School to the ICE

In the last mayoral administration the historic Franklin School was awarded to a development team, led by Dani Levinas, for use as a contemporary arts center (the Institute for Contemporary Expression.) Then, shortly after taking office, Mayor Bowser rescinded the offer and put the Franklin School back into a new competition for re-development. The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning art critic Philip Kennicott wrote, “[Mayor Bowser’s] first major arts decision, and perhaps the one that will most profoundly affect culture in the District for years to come — is bizarre and unaccountable. It may seem a small thing, especially in a city where new buildings rise every day, but it portends yet another city administration that will prioritize money over quality of life, developers over children, boutique hotels with rooftop restaurants over cultural amenities.” The Bowser administration has said their decision was based on concerns about the financial viability of any local museum that expects to rely on admission fees. With the recent closure of Arlington’sArtisphere, and the challenges facing the Newseum, they may have a point. When the Corcoran Museum closed last year I argued it was partly due to the past stain of censorship while others saw it as a sign of mismanagement, but perhaps the business model for arts museums that charge admission simply doesn’t exist in DC. Still, the ICE is much more than a museum and the Franklin School should be re-awarded for that use.

  1. Increase support for arts education

At the urging of arts education advocates, including the DC Advocates for the Arts, the Gray administration funded a local study of arts education. The study was designed to provide granular detail about which DC students receive what kinds of arts education opportunities. While the data from the study has not yet been released, every child in DC should have access to ongoing and immersive arts education opportunities, and that goal should be a target for investment in supporting DC’s creative economy.

What other ideas should be considered to support the Creative Economy?

This was originally published on Urban Scrawl here.