The Writer’s Desk: Gemini Ink Goes ‘Around the World’ with Jim LaVilla-Havelin

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As a part of the fall calendar of events, Gemini Ink is continuing its monthly reading series Around the World with the Novel, led by the renowned poet and educator Jim LaVilla-Havelin. Two classes remain on the Fall 2016 calendar – Nov. 15 and Dec. 20, from 6:30-8 p.m.

Poet and author Jim Lavilla-Havelin

Courtesy / Jim Lavilla-Havelin

Poet and author Jim LaVilla-Havelin

Not just a literature class but also a lively, cultural investigation, the meetings take place every third Tuesday of the month and stop off in different countries to highlight fascinating but often under-recognized world authors. LaVilla-Havelin provides a lecture/discussion format in which participants learn about the featured author set against his/her cultural backdrop. Attendees are familiarized with global regions through a literature lens and then discuss one sample novel. Classes can be purchased individually for $20 each – participants may think of it as adding destinations to a package tour.

In November, attendees will travel to Zimbabwe to examine We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. One of the New York Times’ Notable Books of the Year in 2013 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this unflinching story charts the resilience of its 10-year-old protagonist Darling, who must negotiate the fragile, violent world she finds herself in to make her way to the United States as a young teen.

December’s class will take participants to Argentina to discuss the sexy, film-tinged Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, a novel written by Manuel Puig, author of the 1976 classic Kiss of the Spider Woman.

To find out more about the rich array of programming that will be available this fall, call Gemini Ink at 210-734-9673 or click here.

Poet, editor, and educator Jim LaVilla-Havelin is an unabashedly avid reader. Coordinator for National Poetry Month San Antonio and poetry editor for the San Antonio Express-News, LaVilla-Havelin’s fifth book of poetry, West, will be published by Wings Press in 2017.

In order to offer a more intimate glimpse into the intellectually dynamic world of this author and to examine how the processes of reading and writing overlap in various ways in the life of this “consumptive bibliophile,” I asked LaVilla-Havelin a few questions on his writing process and, literally, on his writing desk. Read below what he had to say.

Gemini Ink: You are one of the most well-read people I know and also a wonderful poet. Can you offer a few comments on how the habit of reading feeds into or intersects with your own writing life?

Jim LaVilla-Havelin: Thanks. Simply, I read because I write. I write because I read. It is a bit of a Möbius strip. They are so interconnected for me. But I should note that as a poet, I read not just poetry but fiction, prose, non-fiction, criticism, genres – it doesn’t hurt that I am a consumptive bibliophile, a condition I can’t imagine living without.

GI: In a world that is becoming ever more fast-paced and saturated, for good or bad, in social media, how do you make room for extensive reading in your life? Any tricks of the reading trade to share?

JLH: I read all the time – early, late. Since I love cinema and baseball, those two things eat into my time, but I read aloud at breakfast, and it is rather useful that one of our cats gets me up very early. Very early is a good time for reading and writing.

GI: We’ve been thrilled here at Gemini Ink to have you as our in-house literature guru with your year-long Around the World with the Novel class, now in its second year. What inspired you to create this monthly class around world novels – often ones that are less known than they should be? Can reading such authors feed us as readers and writers in any particular way?

JLH: I absolutely love world literature. I don’t travel, so world literature is one way I can get there. I worry sometimes about translations, but I look, especially in poetry, at multiple translations of the same work. In novels, I am sometimes at the mercy of translators, which is why the late Gregory Rabassa (Gabriel García Márquez’s translator), Edith Grossman, and others are so important to me.

I really do believe the richness of the world’s cultures, the variety of the voices. The depth of experiences is to be found in world literature.

Just consider the richness and variety of the voices for November, December, and January – the young Zimbabwean woman – NoViolet Bulawayo, part of the massive influx of young African writers we’re beginning to see published; Manuel Puig’s sexy South American Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, and the brilliant Salman Rushdie’s earliest masterpiece, Midnight’s Children, a kaleidoscopic, obsessive vision of India.

GI: As an experienced poet, what is your favorite piece of writing advice?

JLH: Write. Respond with all your senses. Read. Know that there is nothing too insignificant to be worthy of your attention. Jot. Go to readings by writers. Slowly begin to understand the nuances of your process – and listen to those lessons.

GI: Do you have any special charms, talismans, or souvenirs in your workspace? What and why?

JLH: A room full of books, images, and tchotchkes – just because I love that word. And among the tchotchkes, I have turtles, frogs, stones, squeezable VIA buses, a stuffed Puffy Taco Missions mascot, ceramic and plastic dinosaurs – more turtles than frogs.

GI: When writing or embarking on a new project, is there a routine or ritual you follow to provide a sense of security?

JLH: So much of the work I do is in notes, jottings, journal, fleeting pieces, and in my mind, that when I’m ready to begin, all I need to do is be sure I’m ready for the floodgates to open. This is never a good thing to do with dinner waiting, or the last game of the world series.

GI: Can you name a source you return to for ongoing or periodic creative inspiration?

JLH: William Carlos Williams, Philip Levine, the view of cactus, meadow, far field, live oaks, and the horizon – west, where the sun sets – out my studio window.

GI: What is your current or next project?

JLH: My fifth book of poems, West, will be published by Wings Press in 2017. As you know I coordinate National Poetry Month in San Antonio, so my administrative project life is crazy through April. I’ve edited a collection of poems and visual art about sport(s), for which I’m presently looking for a publisher. And I’m working on Playlist, which is a book-length narrative poem about jazz.

And lots of teaching. 

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