Monday, December 2, 2013

A Different Sun – A must read!

Elaine Neil Orr’s debut novel, A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa, is a grand achievement, indeed.

I first encountered Orr’s fiction in early 2009 when I reviewed the Winter 2008 issue of Shenandoah, in which her story “Tennis Lessons” appeared. I found this story to be penetrating, nuanced, and richly detailed. A few months later, I had the good fortune to meet Ms. Orr when she joined the faculty of Spalding University’s MFA in Writing program, where I was then working on earning my MFA. Let me assure you that the fact that I got to know and admire her has no influence upon my impressions of her novel.

Other readers have noted that A Different Sun is adventuresome and gripping, with life and death stakes – they are correct, this novel is one that you will find impossible to put down. The story concerns a young, Southern girl, Emma, who we first encounter in 1840, in Antebellum Georgia. Emma falls in love with marries Henry, a missionary twenty years her senior, and travels with him to Nigeria, to help him with his missionary work – introducing Christ to the Africans.

The novel brilliantly illustrates the challenges that arise from the vast differences in culture and climate between the American South and the completely different landscape of Africa and its people. And while this exploration is compelling and fascinating, the heart of the novel is as moving and trenchant an exploration of the institution of marriage I’ve encountered in modern literature. The soaring highs and the deeply painful lows that accompany many (if not all) marriages are rendered in exquisite detail and depth in Orr’s prose.

I couldn’t put this book down and I am eager to read it again, after taking a little time to linger in its glow.

Get this book. Read it. You won’t regret it.


Brian Russell  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Where is the adult leadership?

Chicagoans – and most specifically, parents and students in the Chicago Public School (CPS) system – have been shocked in recent days by the announcement that CPS intends to close 54 underperforming schools. The announced closures seem to be concentrated in some of the majority African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods of Chicago and this fact rightly has many people asking important questions about what the role of race and/or racism might have been in the compilation of this closure list. I get that. Makes sense to at least ask these difficult questions. And yet – and yet, I must clearly express my outrage at Karen Lewis, the President of the Chicago Teachers Union, for several of her childish and silly statements at a rally yesterday that will clarify the title of this blog.

As reported by WBEZ’s education reporter, Linda Lutton, Karen Lewis said the following to the assembled protesters yesterday: "So lemme tell you what you’re gonna do. On the first day of school, you show up at your real school! You show up at your real school! Don’t let these people take your schools!" This union “leader” is calling on elementary students to show up at their “real” schools? Really? These are children we are talking about. Where is the adult leadership here? Flanking Ms. Lewis was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, signaling his apparent support of her outrageously irresponsible call to action.

The closure of 54 out of roughly 600 schools is certainly a significant development and understandably one that can be expected to engender emotional responses and passionate questioning, but asking children to go to their “real schools” after they’ve been closed strikes me as deeply irresponsible and childish, at best.

These schools are going to close, Ms. Lewis.

The mayor has made that clear, as has CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

As a leader of the Teachers Union, you should be working on solutions, not suggesting that children – children! – be relied upon for acts of civil disobedience.

Let me be clear. This is not an anti-Union screed. I am not only a big fan of unions, I am a member of more than one.

This is a call for adult leadership and adult behavior.

Chicago’s students and taxpayers deserve more from our leaders.



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Random thoughts in early 2013

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog. Since September 12th last year, to be precise. Since then, the President has been reelected, the fiscal cliff has been avoided (in an ugly and completely incomplete way) and we have turned the page on a New Year.

The Mayans were apparently mistaken (or simply ran out of room on the tablet on which they were creating their calendar – that’s my guess).

So far this year I have drafted what I intend to be a Letter to the Editor regarding what I think our legislators should do about Social Security reforms (short form: raise the cap on wages that are subject to FICA taxes) and I’ve drafted a letter to my father that I plan to send via the good ole’ US Mail tomorrow. That letter is an attempt to explain some things that appeared in a published piece last summer that upset him and an attempt to reset our relationship. We’ll see if it works.

It seems as if things in Washington are (predictably) a mess, and so there’s not really all that much to say about that, although I do applaud President Obama for nominating former Senator Chuck Hagel for the Secretary of Defense. I think he’s a good man, and as a former soldier, someone who understands what it means to send young men and women to war.

John Kerry is a shoe-in for Secretary of State, and I think that is a good thing as well. I think he’s well prepared for the job, and if both nominees are confirmed it will be the first time that we will have Vietnam vets serving as Secretaries of State and Defense, which I think would be great!

On the home front, Gloria has returned to work at the Steve Harvey show. I spent some time today negotiating about a re-edit that we need to do for a corporate client’s video that we did late last year. And I am continuing to look for work. And continuing to write. Or, at least draft.

It is early in 2013, too early to surmise what this year might bring. Today I received a very nice, very empathetic rejection from a University to whom I had applied for a job teaching Creative Non-Fiction Writing. I’d prefer not to have been rejected, of course, but it was a nice rejection email.

Earlier this year, just a couple of days ago, I received the print copy of the inaugural edition of Penumbra Magazine, in which my essay, Ramon, appears, and if that’s not a nice happy start to a New Year, I don’t know what is. So that’s good.

Whatever it is you are pursuing, my wish for you is this: Pursue your dreams with passion, commitment, and drive. Never give up. Never say no. Never say, “I can’t do this anymore.” Yes, you can. You can.

I write those words as much (perhaps more) for myself as I do for you.