This summer, PEN/Faulkner had the privilege of being joined by three amazing interns: Jess Karan, Anna Hotard, and Olivia Guerrero. Before they left us, they each wrote essays inspired by their time in the organization. It’s our honor to share them with you.
QUEERING YOUR READING LIST by Jess Karan
Queerness is an often invisible identity: one that can’t be known just by looking at someone. It’s also one of many identities that’s been heavily excluded from the literary sphere, even though its present in every culture, generation, religion and ethnicity. When it has been celebrated in both history and literature, furthermore, the voices of white, wealthy, educated, male, and cisgender queer writers have been given the most attention. Many queer writers with different identities have flown under the radar and died without recognition.
In 2019 it’s not only crucial, but necessary to read diversely. Knowing how identity informs literature means seeking out writers whose identities might not match our own. Below are three writers, activists, and educators who deserve infinitely more credit than they were given while alive. It is my hope that by sharing them, I can help make sure that their names are repeated and remembered.
Nancy Cárdenas was born in the town of Parras, in the Mexican state of Coahuila, in 1934. She described the town as having “one million trees, 20,000 people, and only one access road.” She studied at the Autonomous University of Mexico before moving to Yale University, where she studied staging, film, and theater. At twenty, she became a radio announcer and later became a stage actress. It was only in the 1960s that she began to write, publishing her first one-act play El cántaro seco (The Empty Pitcher) and working later as a journalist. She is considered to be the first publicly out lesbian in Mexico, upon revealing her sexuality at age thrity-nine on the TV show 24 horas, hosted by James Zabludovsky, during an interview. Her collection of poetry, Cuaderno de amor y desamor (Book of Love and Hate) deals with lesbian love and eroticism. She died of breast cancer in 1994 at the age of 59.
Carole LaFavor was an Ojibwe novelist, activist, and nurse born in Minnesota in 1948. She was a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 1995-1997; was a founding member of Positively Native, an organization supporting indigenous people with HIV/AIDS; and was the author of two detective novels: Along the Journey River and Evil Dead Center. Amid large-scale protests about missing and murdered indigenous women, LaFavor spoke publicly about her sexual assault at the hands of two white men in the Minneapolis proceedings of the Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. She identified as both lesbian and two-spirit, an indigenous gender identity, and her novel Along the Journey River is, according to Kansas State University Professor Lisa Tatonetti, “arguably the first novel with an indigenous lesbian protagonist.”
Ifti Nasim was born in Pakistan in 1946 and emigrated to the US to escape persecution for his sexuality in 1971. He was the fifth of seven children and describes himself as “the invisible child.” Upon moving to the US, he became a columnist, radio show host, and even a luxury car salesman—notably, he sold a Mercedes to Oprah Winfrey. However, he is known best for his poetry. His post-prolific collection, Narman (the Persian word for “hermaphrodite”) was published in Urdu in 1994 and was thought to be the first-ever expression of homosexual desire in the Urdu language. The book — along with his co-founding of Sangat/Chicago, a South Asian LGBT organization — awarded Nasim an induction into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 1996.
PUNCTUATED by Anna Hotard
There are three types of communication: verbal, nonverbal, and written.
Verbal communication is straightforward, as it focuses on the meaning of the words spoken. Nonverbal communication refers to gestures, eye contact, tone of voice, and body language to relay intent and emotions. When those two types of communication meet on paper, it is easy for the latter to become lost in the mix. An author has to explicitly state the intent or meaning of a sentence or actively describe its nonverbal elements.
Or it is up to the fourteen official punctuation marks to carry the weight of interpretation? (Especially the three end-points.) Question marks and exclamation points have their assigned purposes, which leaves the majority of the work to the multifunctional period. Other techniques like bolding and capitalization are often used for emphasis. Similarly, italics have the added use of representing inner dialogue. Ellipses denote silence or a trailing off in dialogue, and dashes are used for more abrupt terminations of dialogue.
On paper — to indicate irony, certitude, sarcasm, doubt, adoration, rhetorical questions, and similar sentiments — an author has to specify tone through the use of verbs or adverbs. If it’s left up to interpretation, the reader could misinterpret the meaning of a statement, a scene, or even an entire novel. But what if punctuation could fill those voids and salvage the author’s intent in fewer words?
Henry Denham, a English printer in the 1580s, created the “percontation point” to designate rhetorical questions with a reverse question mark ( ؟). It made appearances in predominantly hand-scribed works, since new type was expensive until the 17th century.
The call for a punctuation mark for irony has its roots starting in 1668 with John Wilkes, an English vicar and philosopher, who wrote a book calling for an increase in the taxonomy of letters and symbols for all notions of discourse. He proposed the inverted exclamation point (¡); however, Alcanter de Braham, a French poet whose real name was Marcel Bernhardt, proposed a whip-like glyph (pictured here) that resembled an extended reverse question mark that took off in 1899 and was used irregularly until 1960.
In the early 1920s, British politician Thomas Driberg proposed a new typeface called “the ironics,” with text slanted the opposite direction of italics. American journalist H.L. Mencken brought it to the US in the 1940s, and it appeared sporadically in newsprint until the 1980s. In 1966, Hervé Bavin, a well-known French author, created his own pointe d’ironie in 1966. It resembles the Greek Psi with an additional dot underneath. He also proposed five other punctuation marks in his book, Plumons l’oiseau: divertissement. A love point, a point of conviction, an authority point, a point of acclimation, and a point of doubt.
In a similar vein, as recently as 2007, the Collective Promotion for the Dutch Book or CPDB designed the ironieteken. The ironieteken was made available in a number of fonts. Its fall into disuse is attributed to someone pointing out that two ironietekens in a row slightly resembles the infamous Nazi SS insignia. More irony point propositions have appeared from 2001 to 2010, likely in an attempt to accommodate the ironic tone of digital age, but none have entered wide use.
Like the search for an irony punctuation mark, the hunt for a way to denote sarcasm also has a long and rocky history. In 1887, critic Ambrose Bierce presented a “snigger point” or “note of cachinnation” in his essay “For Brevity and Clarity.” This point resembled a grin and could be inserted in the middle of sentences.
In September of 1999, the Ethiopian sarcasm mark, called Temherte Slaq, was a topic of debate at the International Unicode Conference in San Jose, California. This mark, which appears as an inverted exclamation point at the end of a sentence (¡) has been used in editorial cartoons, children’s literature, and poetry for years. In 2001, American blogger Tara Liloia proposed using the underused tilde (~) to denote sarcasm as it would not require a new typeface to be created. It would also replace the winking face emoticon that was originally used [ ; ) ]. The tilde would be revitalized in 2006 when typographer Choz Cunningham would launch his website TheSnark.org and propose the tilde be merged with the period(.~).
In 2008, the search for sarcasm punctuation would enter infamy as American engineer Paul Sak and his son, Douglas J. Sak, would launch the SarcMark, which they would file for a trademark in 2010. You’ll have to look up the symbol yourself as it costs $1.99 to use for non-commercial purposes. Due to this, the SarcMark has been heavily blacklisted by several critics, both in print and online. In 2011, Mencken’s reverse italics took on a new meaning with the launch of Sartalics.com, which took to Twitter and Reddit in an attempt to popularize its refurbished font for sarcasm.
Despite the long-term struggles of punctuation past, the invention of new marks has found triumph in its star child: the interrobang. In 1962, Martin K. Speckter, editor of Type Talks, grew frustrated with the choppy use of a question mark and exclamation mark for rhetorical questions, so he combined the two. His creation was called the exclamaquest or the interrobang, and he invited readers to submit their potential designs for this necessary addition. The original design was rendered by art director Jack Lipton, but it didn’t take off until 1967, when graphic designer Richard Isbell included it in his typeface, Americana (‽).
The new punctuation point became a subject in the July 1967 edition of Time magazine. In the autumn of 1968, it was included in the Remington Rand Model 25 Electric typewriter. The interrobang fell out of disuse in the 1970s with the rise of the Linotype machine that supported only the traditional punctuation marks and symbols. However, it did not fade into obscurity, and thanks to a resurgence of its use on social media, it was included in the 10th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. In 2011, it was used in a legal ruling by Frank Easterbrook, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and has since made steady appearances.
New words are entered into the dictionary every year, so why can’t we have new punctuation؟ Next time you sit down to write your next text message, term paper, social media status update, or novel, consider giving the period the break it deserves.
For more in-depth background on your favorite punctuation mark, check out Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston or the Cecilia Watson’s Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark.
LITERARY EARWORMS by Olivia Guerrero
For Christmas last year, my father gave me a copy of the collected works of Emily Dickinson. As I was reading it on my commute to the PEN/Faulkner offices last week, and looking at the little black bird silhouettes that ink the top of each page, I suddenly recalled the first poem I ever had to memorize. And, somehow, I still remember every word.
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops — at all—
It was sixth grade when I memorized that poem for class. We all chose poems and recited them, and my eleven-year-old literary research skills brought me to one of Dickinson’s most well-known poems. It’s only due to chance (and cadence) that I still remember it. But I started thinking— what else do I have tucked away, memorized by obsessive accident?
I think the two fragments of literature that come back to me most often are from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and an e.e. cummings poem, respectively. The first:
For the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges, and absorbs the impact.
i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands.
These both pop into my head from time to time, when I am overwhelmed with some feeling, an unexpected pang or a sudden rush, loud joy or quiet love. They comfort me, they give me a way of capturing feeling when my own words fail me. I never intended to remember these lines; they just stuck, and keep sticking.
I asked around, to see if my family, friends, and coworkers had little bits of literature that resurface in their memories from time to time. (I am glad to say that not everyone is as sappy as me when it comes to unconscious memorization.) My mother, who walks the dog daily in the New Hampshire forests, responded to my question with Frost’s “Whose woods are these, I think I know…” and “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.” A friend sent me these simple lines about words: “how very useless / they are not,” from Craig Arnold’s “Bird-Understander.” Others recalled the quotes included below, and I hope you will appreciate, as much as I do, that
these are the things that we think to ourselves at times when our own means of expression don’t quite cut it:
A light here required a shadow there.
— Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
but tonight, Motown crackling in the hot twilight… my parents dance without ever touching…
but the story goes that my father would not open a stick of gum without saving half for my mother
the story goes my mother saved all those halves in a jar.”
— Safia Elhillo, “Alien Suite”
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
— D.H. Lawrence, “Self-Pity”
The art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
— Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”
Heart to heart was never known,
mind with mind did never meet;
we are columns left alone
of a temple, once complete
— Christopher Pearse Cranch, “Enosis”
When you swear you still love me, the lights flicker.
— Megan Falley, “The Honest House”
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness
— Charles Bukowski, “The Laughing Heart”
I’ll never get to Constantinople like this.
— Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after… It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
— Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
It is more sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky
— e.e. cummings, “[love is more thicker than forget]”
On me your voice falls as they say love should,
like an enormous yes.
— Philip Larkin, “For Sidney Bechet”
Reader, I married him.
— Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”