Jane Austen. Edgar Allan Poe. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Maya Angelou. Ernest Hemingway. To me, they were literary rock stars, who played the written word like Eric Clapton plays his guitar, Billy Joel his piano and Phil Collins the drums.

Each of these authors has influenced what I read, and not surprisingly, what and how I write. They’ve moved and inspired me with their stories, passages and verses.  And each time I “jam” to their work, I learn more about a character or uncover a theme that might have escaped me the first time around.

Probably my first and strongest influence in writing is American writer, commentator, activist, and educator—Nikki Giovanni. Over the years, I’ve swayed to the rhythmic verses of “Ego Tripping,” and felt spiritually and humanly empowered as I read, “Those Who Ride the Night Winds,” a collection of her poems dedicated to “the day trippers and midnight cowboys, … who have shattered the constraints of the status quo to live life as a “marvelous, transitory adventure.”

The author of 27 books, a Grammy nominee, and now a professor of English at Virginia Tech, Ms. Giovanni still moves me. And isn’t it the very nature of a writer’s existence? To move others? To enlighten others?

After all these years, I still want to be like Ms Giovanni–embracing my thoughts and my work without the internal editor or virtual someone looking over my shoulder. I will be forever grateful to Ms. Nikki Giovanni for her masterful command of the written word and her fierce grasp on what makes us think.  She rocks.

Nikki_Giovanni_speaking_at_Emory_University_2008

Who’s your literary rock star?

Write like a rock star …

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Super Bowl fever …did you catch it, yet?

super bowlNot exactly.

I’m not a football fan (gasp …), so I’m going to take the time this weekend to write, and revise. The majority of my family members will be hosting their own Super Bowl party, touting their predictions on Facebook and texting their disdain for the other team. This means my phone will remain silent! Yippee!

I’m not watching the Super Bowl (horrified gasp …). However, I will tune in for some of the commercials. I’m still captivated by the subtle, and oftentimes, in-your-face creativity of the advertisers who come up with slogans and taglines that annoyingly stay in your head until you buy the product.

But I have contracted Super Bowl fever on one level. And should my family call me on Sunday, I’ll offer a bit of historical data about this year’s teams. (Yeah, right. That will go over big.) 🙂

This is probably old news for you football aficionados, but it was all new to me. The origins of the team names have great historical value.

For example, The Baltimore Ravens get their name from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem (a favorite of mine), “The Raven.” It seems as though Baltimore residents chose the name during a poll conducted by the Baltimore Sun. When I read this, I perked up a bit. It’s been said that the Ravens are the most literary NFL team. Yes, Edgar Allen Poe lives on! Evermore!

And The San Francisco 49ers, are historically golden or so their name implies. During the California Gold Rush, the largest gold rush in U.S. history, thousands of people of different cultures and background flocked to Golden State in search of their fortune, and their actions would be the beginning of the city of San Francisco. Although, the rush officially began in 1848, the first wave of prospectors looking to hit the jackpot came in 1849 and were dubbed, “forty-niners.”

I’m impressed. I think I’ll do a little more research about other teams’ names.

On second thought, maybe I’ll just save my research for next year when the Super Bowl comes to New York and New Jersey! At least then, I’ll have something to talk about at a Super Bowl extravaganza. (Hey, it will be the first time the Super Bowl has been to NY/NJ, I must represent!)

In any case, TGIF! Enjoy your weekend. For those of you watching the game or waiting for Beyonce’s wardrobe to malfunction, extra wishes for your Super Bowl weekend.

An epitaph and iambic pentameter: the start of my career

I mentioned previously that my earliest recollection of wanting to be a writer was in high school. My aspirations, which started with poetry, were nurtured by my eleventh grade English teacher and an assignment that would forever change my life.

My English teacher had us analyze 10 poems using iambic pentameter, where we’d recognize the rhythms, as well as stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. In addition, we had to write 10 poems, and also analyze them using iambic pentameter. I absolutely loved that assignment!

While most of my 17-year old classmates groaned and complained that they couldn’t write poetry, I happily took on the challenge. In addition, one of our poems had to be an epitaph that we would like to have carved on our grave.

A morbid ask? No way! (Hey, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare were my favorite writers even at that age.)

So, I wrote my epitaph:

“Remember me always,
How I tried and didn’t try
Remember me always
How I loved life and loved you
Remember me always”

Simplistic and to the point.

From a 17-year, I’d say rather thoughtful and honest. I remember writing that with all the people I loved in mind: my family, and friends. Even back then, I knew there were days when I didn’t do my best, and I acknowledged that. I was taught to be honest, (One of the many things I love about my parents, imparting this wisdom) and if I couldn’t be honest with myself, I was in trouble.

Anyway, my English teacher loved my poetry, particularly my epitaph. I received an “A” for the complete assignment. But most of all, I received the biggest boost in my confidence to pursue a career in writing. After majoring in English in college, I went on to write speeches, newspaper articles and now, novels. I still dabble from time to time in poetry.

Midway through my junior year in high school, shortly after my momentous poetry assignment, they fired my English teacher. My classmates and I were stunned.

I was crushed. My cheerleader was gone.

We never really knew what happened. However, we speculated that she was let go after her sexual preference was discovered. (We were 17, not stupid) After all, it was the 1970’s and people were fighting, as they are now, for their right to exist.

As for my epitaph, it hasn’t changed much. I will probably use it when the time comes. After so many decades, I’m amazed at how introspective I was as a junior in high school.

I owe that to my parents, and to Ms. Craig, my English teacher, for encouraging me to set my thoughts free.