Ellery Washington, Faculty Reading, Emerging Writers' Retreat

Ellery Washington, Faculty Reading, Emerging Writers' Retreat



so very honored to be able to read with Ellen and also just to be here I mean it's such a wonderful opportunity and when I was thinking about reading today I remind that I was some years ago I guess it's been maybe fifteen years and I was working on a film project with a producer in London and near the end of the project he pulled out a video cassette to give me as a gift and he didn't tell me it was on the cassette and when I got home at the time I was still living in Paris I put it in and it was James all four really interviewed by the BBC in the late 60s and the thing I ever again wouldn't forgive me Nicola because I'm gonna attempt like a very brutal British accent otherworldly offensive but the thing that that struck me the end wild it to this particular point was the interviewer said to all the night that move immediately sort of between the docile position but of course not walls when he said Mr Burrowes when you were born black you wore a thanks you are Superman ask yourself how can I become a writer it's worth first up almost more sternly he said to the contrary I thought I'd hit the jackpot whether I realized it or not at the time I feel like a lot of my writing has had to do with this notion of insider/outsider nests and these ideas of other but yet somehow being apart and so I mean like Nicholas said I don't I don't know that I really never knew how to not include Who I am and what I write and so there seems to be no other possibility and I sort of imagined that I would somehow find the publication somewhere someplace and maybe just read in cafes to my friend or something but in the end that's not the case I've been I would say fortunate and I think that that sort of steadfastness and being who we are and not shying away from that and looking at it as hitting the jackpot that we have been all the tools to write about the experience the experiences that go beyond just the superficial or the been one of those things that we see so what I was asked by HarperCollins echo pressed to write the New Mexico portion of this anthology state-by-state that was sort of being grounded by Jonathan friends and rubella Harry all these people that I read and then Meyer and had no idea that the editors there were even reading my emissions from overseas that I was sending here I was really flattered and they asked me to write about New Mexico but of course as a personal aspects about me you know they say write about an apple when you write about me the Apple but it's in that sense and I was once again very fortunate like Nicholas said to actually even in this lineup of really strong writers get a couple of personal nods even from the times and I'm even more unfortunate to have my hometown paper hate me because I think once again I knew Mexicans the conservative Mexicans weren't so happy to be represented by this sort of queer browner than standard Brown New Mexican guy instead of someone that maybe could look like they fit in there so my piece and the being I think in many ways about the layers of being other the bulk of the piece actually takes place in a road trip when I'm with my partner at the time it was from France and they're driving through southern New Mexico which was his desire clearly because I was terrified of the idea it was during the Iraq war and of course her been a spike in hate crimes and of course he was French so yeah that started it before taking to well however I think that portion of the arc of it is a little bit long for reading tonight and I would just like to read from the sort of leading up to that before I establish just my notion of this state and my role in this state New Mexico shortly after my 10th birthday I was nearly struck by lightning it was mid May 1975 and then I was watching my two older brothers and their teenaged friends attend to Vega impersonations of art Williams and Kareem abdul-jabbar on the tarp paved basketball courts behind the st. Bernadette's church in Albuquerque the afternoon had been warm and dry the temperature around 75 degrees typical central New Mexican weather by a quarter past five when my brothers and I have finished with our after school chores and regrouped with the others at the courts the once bright blue sky was shaded with darker rushed image cues in Albuquerque violent flash floods and sudden lightning storms were calling the whites in the spring our parents warned this never to play the law with luck brother Leroy O's and always to keep an eye out for second changes in the sky that afternoon however my attention was affixed to my brother's game that had ignored the rapidly growing Thunder crowds even if I'd notice them I would never have returned home alone I was much too infatuated with my brothers to ever leave an event where they actually tolerated my presence besides until that moment the mortal danger posed by flash floods and lightning storms was entirely we even walked half a mile through an unpaved Arroyo on our way to play ball that day then suddenly the head the hair my head stiffened I was momentarily blinded by intense flash a blue-white light and the thundering crackle filled the entire court I was stunned awed senseless when my sight returned I looked up towards the clouds they weren't drifting directly overhead as I'd expected them to be but instead had settled in two white columns that reached down to the base of the Sandia Mountains some five miles away off in the distance ranks of electromagnetic bolts played a beautifully menacing game of flashes and Stripes exchanging frequent charges between the distant extensors masses of humanity the fact that a single charge had broken with the others to strike the ground less than ten feet from me only reinforced its significance there was no mistaking it the strike had been an act of God my eldest brother was the first to speak man he shouted that was so bad then all at once everyone started talking how did you stay so cool little man maybe little man's not so little after all wonder what the others will say when they hear about this my brothers and their friends had mistaken my paralytic shock for a stolid strength holiday they never as existed beneath by its admitted a and always been in awkward too skinny overly polite bookish ly shy to make matters worse I was one of only three black kids and collect our elementary my family the only blind family in our upper middle class largely white and Hispanic neighborhood as a first generation black New Mexicans we played no part in the state celebrated by cultural heritage Spanish Indian and angular and while in urban centers across the country African Americans were joining hands taking to the streets my mother was at home sewing her own dashikis and teaching us the black history lessons we weren't being taught in school I felt completely outside isolated until that fortuitous strike and then it makes it cut my childhood blaster statues of the Virgin Mary cried actual tears blood pits and dying mining towns he'll be afflicted in the face of Jesus appeared on a flag white flour tortilla each miracle inspiring Pashtun pilgrimages to places like Chimayo Lake Arthur and various villages throughout the state such stories were frequently featured on the evening news lending them media bolstered credibility simply because of the stirrer they caused in a local population moreover and many rural communities centuries of cultural mixing between New Mexico's highly dramatic form of Hispanic Catholicism and Navajo Hopi Utah and akima religious rights had created an almost South American sense of mystical realism and life even in Albuquerque in a scientific family I was susceptible to the tails a wrathful Christian God and vengeful Indian ghost to here the neighborhood teenagers tell it our entire block had been built over a desecrated burial site putting our families at risk of being talked to pieces by dead Apache warriors every night the frequency of lightning storms but most kids I knew already had a lightning story but unlike mine their stories were usually apocryphal or at best secondhand cousin Steve or Carlos who was nearly struck coming out of the post office with his mother or an uncle Diego or Mike who was struck through a keyhole at his machine shop a friend of a friend whose vicious but had survived three successive lulls before he finally rolled over and died now at sleepovers before moving on to frightful tales of the LA you know and of ghost sightings I was invited to tell my lightning story kids I didn't even know right up to me on the playground to inquire about the life-threatening boat I was suddenly in the only thing that could have made me more popular would have been to survive a direct strike when they're moved to Albuquerque from Chicago and nine 1865 the year I was born after my father was recruited for an engineering post at Sandia laboratories founded in 1949 Sandia opened six years after Los Alamos research center Sandhya's original emphasis was on coordinates engineering during the nuclear physics package is created by Los Alamos and Lawrence live alarm Livermore National Laboratories and two deployable weapons we were in the middle of the Cold War and my father like many of my friends fathers was employed as a high security level engineer at the labs the specific tasks you perform the classified top-secret as I passed from childhood and adolescence and learned more about New Mexico's recent history the superstitions that had plagued and animated my childhood were replaced by some foreboding related to my father's work and the secrecy that surrounded it my teenage years then were filled with rumors of hidden missile silos in the mountains behind their house rumors that my father played some role in stalking them rumors that these missiles put US and insignificant Albuquerque on the front line of a nuclear strike and no longer looked out for lightning instead I looked up and wondered what a barrage of nuclear warheads down on us fortunately I had friends like Greta whose father also worked at the labs we did our best to diffuse our doomsday apprehensions by making light of the situation we became an avid Cold War spy movie fans imagined our pocket protector wearing parents like glamorous roles and intricate thoughts to prevent the Soviets from destroying the free world we took pleasure in believing that our phones were attacked we weren't enough that our privacy invaded by the federal government at school we shared humorous stories and of the convoluted explanations our fathers offered to describe them all the while trying to cover up exactly what they did at work a typical dinnertime conversation between Greg and his father reported the following day at lunch went something like this Greg's father well I guess you could say I designed their specific electromagnetic mechanisms that measure the existence of well the levels of actually certain way to have to polish the particles in the atmosphere well not dwelling in the atmosphere there were particles that can get into the atmosphere by which I mean to say into the air or possibly the water yes they can get into the water too under well under certain circumstances and additions as they don't naturally exist these radioactive particles I mean either in the air or in the water but certain conditions that might suddenly be present under extraordinary circumstances or rather a second an unpredictable circumstance created by human interference Greg do you mean like if the Russians dropped a nuclear bomb on us Greg's father have you finished your homework yet still as much as Greg and I delighted in our fathers farming to avoid revealing secrets they were legally forbidden to tell under threat of committing treason LS there were moments when we couldn't escape the weight of our scientific legacy the day my 10th grade history teacher gave me a lecture at terrorism erosion about for example ease I wondered if she realized the guilt and anguish she removed to many of us children of parents who worked on mysterious government projects that we were convinced by one day perpetuate similar devastation years later in the spring of 2003 my father and I had breakfasts at the original Piraeus on Juan Tabo my father's choice we were what we often ate when I was in town I was living in France with my boyfriend fantasies but had flown back to New York for several weeks having arranged my work on a film project there to overlap with a large-scale protest against the war in Iraq I added a New Mexico leg to the drain is parents now the wars Korea prided itself on its green chile sauce which in New Mexico is simply called green chile and boasted some of the hottest in the city as an extra bonus the morning waitress had a good memory and knew what we wanted even before we ordered two huevos rancheros my father was extra my father's was extra green chile and mine was the milder red chile on the side when she run with our plates I poured a few core siree drops of red on my eggs and then scraped half of the black beans away from my tortilla my father granted this but said nothing at 62 his still a vibrant man his gentle air good nature if paradoxical mix of intensity and lightness he scooped up a form full of tortilla beans and the egg was dripping with green chili and ain't that towards his mouth so how long are you in town for he asked only a few days I said reaching for a glass of water from ceases meeting me here tomorrow well stay at Mom's place over the night then we're off to visit the caverns my father looked up from his plate a lightly mailed cringe ticked across his face that he quickly changed the subject knowing the extent to which he disapproved of my being gay it was difficult for me to talk about parentheses and I completely avoided mentioning my strong feelings about the war since 9/11 my father had become increasingly conservative an avid supporter the military strikes that I oppose so we talked about food namely the fact that many of the small restaurants like Piraeus had recently closed making it harder to find really hot chili we talked about my father's latest fishing trip in the Amos Melton's he always preferred New Mexico's heavily behind the mountain ranges to its arid plains and I watched as he became light again describing the trout he'd caught at Fenton Lake all the while I could barely touch my plate the huevos were much too spicy even watered down and I realized I've been away from a New Mexico too long and forgotten how to feign indifference and confronted by such a vast array of topics [Applause]

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