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Striving for recognition, asking not to be invisible

The story of an undocumented citizen

By Marlena Chertock

Vargas writes about being an undocumented immigrant living in America, and the countless others who are as well. Photo courtesy of TIME Magazine.

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist, came out of the closet when he was in high school. But it’s taken him 12 years to come out of the “illegal” closet.

In 2011 Vargas wrote a story about his status as an undocumented Filipino living in America for The New York Times Magazine. Vargas is an accomplished journalist. He’s been published in the Washington Post, The New York Times and The New Yorker. He was also on the Washington Post team that produced Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Virginia tech shooting.

He talked about his path to founding Define American and the struggles of living as undocumented in America in Hoff Theater at the University of Maryland Tuesday night.

In a lot of ways, Vargas’ story is about searching for home. He left the Philippines in 1993 when his mother sent him to America in the hopes that he would have a better life.

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The importance of place

Chimamanda Adichie tells true, personal stories

By Marlena Chertock

Adiche

Chimamanda Adichie explained the importance of place and truth in her writing at the Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series on Tuesday night at CSPAC. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

She tries to tell the Nigerian story, her Nigerian story, through fearless honesty.

Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer known for her realistic fiction and her TED talk about the danger of the single story, explained her inspiration for writing for about an hour Tuesday night as a part of the 2012-13 Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series, offered by the College of Arts and Humanities. The CSPAC Gildenhorn Recital Hall was filled; tickets had sold out last week.

Adichie first read a short excerpt from one of her lesser-known works about her Uncle Mai and his death, which was published in the Financial Times.

She called her uncle “my link to our past.” A past that is connected through family, heritage and place.

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Visible Brush Strokes: Impasto Painting

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By Marlena Chertock

“I feel like I hit a wall,” says junior Hannah Methvin in room 3312 of the Art/Sociology building at the University of Maryland. The 24×36’ canvas she painted in red hues stands before her on an easel. There are lips, the curve of a nose and a brown-red border.

She’s trying to paint a collage she made, the first step in this project on expressive painting — an eye with dark black lashes, flipped on its side, with a woman’s nose, lips, teeth and chin showing through where a pupil would normally be. There are quotation marks around the woman’s lips, like she has said something or is just beginning to speak. The paint is smooth and the reds blend together, forming creases and shadows.

Painting, like many creative endeavors, is more than putting brush to canvas. It’s about risks, taking the artist’s hand out of the creation — the process is very difficult. It’s allowing the painting to become it’s own being, separate from the painter.

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Sandwich serving and salvaging furniture: Two Olney sisters’ restaurant

Sisters’ Sandwiches & Stuff is owned and run by two local sisters. Most of the food is named after their family members or friends. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

By Marlena Chertock

March, 2012

Some people do everything to avoid their siblings. But two Olney sisters who opened a restaurant and restored furniture store two years ago work together to provide homemade food to local patrons.

Kim Carlson and Tammy Prestipino, the sisters who own and manage Sisters’ Sandwiches & Such in Olney, Maryland, talked to their husbands for years about opening a furniture store or restaurant, according to Prestipino.

“They said, ‘Just do it already,’” Prestipino said.

So they did, opening up the store in the historical Higgins Tavern on Georgia Avenue in June 2010.

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Changing careers for the love of poetry

Once a civil engineer, Zein El-Amine made a career switch 5 years ago

Zein El-Amine, a poetry instructor in the Writers’ House, was once a civil engineer for the University of Maryland’s Residential Facilities. He made a career switch five years ago. Photo courtesy of El-Amine’s Facebook page.

By Marlena Chertock

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

Five years ago one poetry professor in the University of Maryland’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House discussed paint colors for a fraternity bathroom for 15 minutes with his Residential Facilities supervisor.

“All I could think was do I want to spend my time doing this?” said Zein El-Amine, who worked in Residential Facilities from 2004 to 2007 and was a project manager and civil engineer for about 20 years. “The culture in Residential Facilities was becoming oppressive or it was always oppressive and I just didn’t notice it.”

He knew then he needed to change his career.

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A teller of all stories: Patricia Smith reads poems about Hurricane Katrina

Patricia Smith talks to Writers' House students during a Q&A before the reading in Tawes Hall. Photo by Codi Gugliuzza.

By Marlena Chertock

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

Poet Patricia Smith realizes the power language has to transport you from one place to a better place. That is one reason she taught poetry to a sixth grade class in Florida, to students whose parents had died or were dying from AIDS.

That is also why the writer of six books of poetry started writing poems about Hurricane Katrina in her “Blood Dazzler” collection, Smith said during a Writers Here and Now reading on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Smith wanted to make Hurricane Katrina as detailed and accessible to readers as possible.

“The majority of people experienced Katrina as I did, through a computer screen.”

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Retaining Your Voice: Gowri Koneswaran Performs at Semester’s Final TerPoets

By Marlena Chertock

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

“This next poem has an attitude problem. I have trouble reeling her in,” said spoken word poet Gowri Koneswaran at the last TerPoets open mic night of the fall semester on Tuesday night.

Koneswaran, who started writing in middle and high school, but only began writing poetry seriously in college, gave a spoken word reading of several poems full of attitude for over an hour.

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‘Come up here, the stage is yours, share your story’

Pages Matam hosts at Hyattsville's Busboys and Poets open mic two nights after performing at TerPoets. Photo by Codi Gugliuzza.

Pages Matam hosts at Hyattsville’s Busboys and Poets open mic two nights after performing at TerPoets. Photo by Codi Gugliuzza.

By Marlena Chertock

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

It was his fourth time hosting the open mic night at the Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, but you would never know. Pages Matam, donned in a red bowtie and black fedora hat, seems like he’s been hosting his whole life.

“I love being on the other side of the mic,” he said. “Performing is tiring. Facilitating others is another release after a long day of working.”

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Undergrad hip hop enthusiasts find a home with Undergrounduates

Undergrounduates has weekly meetings where they freestyle or battle rap in a circle in front of Jimenez Hall from 6-8 p.m. Photo by Andi Hubbell for The Writers' Bloc.

Undergrounduates has weekly meetings where they freestyle or battle rap in a circle in front of Jimenez Hall from 6-8 p.m. Photo by Andi Hubbell for The Writers’ Bloc.

By Marlena Chertock

Published first in The Writers’ Bloc.

The first time sophomore Ari Goldfarb showed up to an Undergrounduates meeting, he was too nervous to rap. At his next meeting, members told him he had to give it a try.

The on-campus hip hop and rapping group is now his family, said Goldfarb, who became president of the group this year.

“The first time I did it, it sucked, but no one booed me,” he said. “They just accepted it and it was a really inclusive environment.”

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Struggling with words: Four poets read about displacement

Daniela Elza, Christi Kramer and Nilofar Shidmehr read Ari Belathar's poem "Mother" together in the border crossing session at the Split this Rock 2012 Poetry Festival on March 23. Photo by Marlena Chertock for The Writers' Bloc.

Daniela Elza, Christi Kramer and Nilofar Shidmehr read Ari Belathar’s poem “Mother” together in the border crossing session at the Split this Rock 2012 Poetry Festival on March 23. Photo by Marlena Chertock for The Writers’ Bloc.

By Marlena Chertock

Published first in The Writers’ Bloc.

Being exiled or facing obstacles that keep you from returning to your country impacts everything you do in life. For four poets, it is a major part of what and why they write.

Four poets, from different parts of the world, performed group poems about displacement, home, identity and crossing borders on Friday at the Split this Rock 2012 poetry festival in Washington, D.C.

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