One Week until ShortLived Round 3!

The third round of the ShortLived VII competition is coming up, and with it, my ten-minute play “Maybe This Time”! See it Thursday, June 28th-Saturday, June 30th at PianoFight in San Francisco. It is going to be a great night of short plays, and you, the audience, will get to vote for your favorite to move onto the next round.

ShortLived

Buy your tickets early and I hope to see people there!

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Reading Resolution: “The Hairdresser of Harare” by Tendai Huchu

5. A book written in Africa:
 The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

List Progress: 12/25

I remember when I was a young writer and had a really hard time with endings. I spent a ton of time and care painting the world of the beginning and middle, then essentially lost faith in my own story and slapped together an ending as quickly as possible. I like to think that I have outgrown this habit, but it is still something to be fought against and avoided. It is both reassuring and disappointing to see this tendency in someone else’s work, especially a published novel. But for all the good that is in the first half of the novel, the ending of The Hairdresser of Harare, by Tendai Huchu, retroactively colors the whole and drags down what was a very solid book otherwise.

Published in 2010, this is the first novel I have ever read from Zimbabwe. For this category, I wanted to try a modern novel, and the best point in this book’s favor is how it portrays the mundane chaos of living in Harare in a time of political upheaval. Supply shortages, petrol rationing and huge swings in inflation are described in a matter of fact way and in terms of how they impact the daily life of the main character, Vimbai, a young single mother working as a talented hairdresser in the capital city. There is a sharp-eyed look at the impacts of colonialism on the country, but a resistance to the Western portrayal of a tragically suffering nation of noble misery. Vimbai’s world and backstory feel incredibly lush and detailed. It is her present that the book lets down.

Vimbai is the most talented hairdresser at her salon before her world is shaken up by a dashing young man named Dumi, who has a near-magical way with hair and styling. Vimbai starts out seeing him as a rival, before developing a grudging friendship, and an eventual surprise romance when Dumi brings her as a guest to a wedding and introduces her as his girlfriend.

A young man bringing a female friend to a family event and flaunting her as his girlfriend to his formerly-estranged family. Think about that for a second. What is your first guess as to what is happening?

Your guess is correct, but The Hairdresser of Harare spends perhaps 80% of its page count teasing the reveal, even as it flags it more and more obviously. What should have been a mid-novel pivot is saved for a garish twist ending, and a huge amount of fallout is crammed into the last forty or so pages. For the reveal to stay where it’s at, the book should be at least fifty pages longer, if not more. Complete changes of heart and 180 degree position shifts are completed in the span of a few pages. On a structural level, this entire book needs to be reworked.

There is a lot of good in here and for the most part I enjoy Huchu’s writing style (save a tendency to have the narration call forward to the impact of events that should be allowed to unfold naturally). I’m glad I read it. But with that ending, I really cannot bring myself to recommend it.

Would You Recommend It: Unfortunately no.

Reading Resolution: “On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City” by Alice Goffman

11. A non-fiction book: On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman

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List Progress: 11/25

This is a book review by a young white woman about a book by a young white woman studying the societal impact of over-policing on young black men. I have no lived experience concerning the subject matter of this book, and neither does Alice Goffman really, but she spent six years trying her best to learn as much as she could living in a lower-class, predominantly black neighborhood in Philadelphia. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City was published in 2014 as writer Goffman’s doctoral thesis on the impact of mass incarceration and policing in black neighborhoods. It is a powerful book and thankfully one that reads with the rigour of an academic text but none of the dryness. It is a hard read at times, but never hard to read, and worth putting in the time.

On the Run is about the time that Goffman spends in an anonymous neighborhood given the name Sixth Street in Philadelphia and her time with the 6th Street Boys, young black men who live in the neighborhood and are almost all somehow caught up in the legal system. Violent crimes, drug possession charges, parking violations, and any other myriad thing drags out into months and years of court dates, fines, arrest warrants, imprisonments, parole hearings and probations, which quickly snowball and consume a huge portion of their lives and the lives of those around them. Goffman tracks not only the personal impact on these young men, but the ways the entire neighborhoods around them change and how the culture of these communities comes to revolve around some aspect of law enforcement or another. It is a deeply depressing picture of a social condition that has only gotten worse since 2014.

I do not have much more to say other than that this book is a moving study and very well composed and arranged. Goffman includes a long post-script about her own approach to the work and dealing with her own privilege in the study, which I respect despite it not being as interesting to read as the work itself. It was very eye-opening as a middle class white woman and a book I think should be read by a lot more people. And due to some smooth prose, it is thankfully not a slog to get through.

Would I Recommend It: Yes

Planet Earth Arts presentation at Stanford, including “Sh*t Farming for Fun and Profit”

If anyone is in the Stanford area tomorrow, June 1st, Planet Earth Arts is holding a play-reading of a few pieces, including my own “Sh*t Farming for Fun and Profit”, which was written as part of a collaboration event between PlayGround and Planet Earth Arts!

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Also a reminder: my play “Maybe This Time” will be performed as part of Round 3 of the ShortLived Competition. Buy your tickets early and come to vote for your favorite!

ShortLived

Closing weekend for “Best of PlayGround 22” AND announcing “ShortLived VII”!

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Two great pieces of news today: this upcoming weekend, Thursday May 24th- Sunday May 27th is the closing weekend of Best of PlayGround 22 and the last chance to see my 10-minute play, “Sh*t Farming for Fun and Profit”. The entire Festival of New Works will continue to run until June 17th, but this is your last chance to see these six great plays arranged and performed together in San Francisco.

ShortLived

 

I am also thrilled to announce my newest news: my 10-minute play “Maybe This Time” has been chosen as part of ShortLived VII, a short-play competition in San Francisco where eight rounds of six plays each compete to get to the finals and win the Grand Prize of $5,000. There are a lot of wonderful playwrights and troupes participating, and I hope anyone in the Bay Area will be able to visit and show their support, by attending and voting for their favorite.

“Maybe This Time” will be performed in Round 3, running from Thursday, June 28th-Saturday, June 30th. Buy your tickets here and vote for your favorite show of the night!

Two weeks left to see “Best of PlayGround 22”!

The opening weekend of The Best of PlayGround 22 went amazingly, and I am so thrilled to have had the chance to see my piece, “Sh*t Farming for Fun and Profit” grow over the rehearsal and preview process. There are two weekends left to get tickets, so I encourage any Bay Area folks to check it out and support your local theater-makers.

The entire Festival of New Works runs from May 10th-June 17th.

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