For those of you who don’t know, we’ve been mixing it up this quarter in the CMWR’s Book Club. Rather than read a single book throughout the quarter with our group of multilingual participants, we’ve been reading a different piece of flash fiction each week. Flash fiction, or short short fiction, can be defined in many different ways, but in all cases it’s an extremely short story—usually less than 1,000 words. This switch to flash fiction has been a hit with our many wonderful participants; it’s all the fun of the Book Club without the outside reading! Using flash fiction has also meant that our group can explore fiction from authors and cultures all over the world in the course of a ten week quarter, rather than simply encountering one author.
For one of our recent Book Club meetings, we read “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua) and Lupe Mendez’s (U.S.) spoken word poem “What Should Run in the Mind of Caballeros.” These two pieces, separated by roughly three decades, both appear as a list of instructions for how the youths/young adults of their respective cultures should behave, and they were a wonderful conversation starter. We had great discussions about the pieces, and people were so enthusiastic that afterwards, Jen F. and I put our heads together to find a way to continue this enthusiasm in the next meeting. We had both previously read the Kincaid piece for class and been asked to write our own emulations, so Jen suggested that we ask the Book Club to write an emulation as a group.
Last week, we asked our participants to do just that: collaboratively write an emulation of the two pieces. With everybody in the room representing different cultures, backgrounds, ages, and experiences, but united by the fact that they have become travelers in a second culture, we found it logical to frame the piece around advice for travelling abroad. Personally, I could not be prouder of what the Book Club achieved in our venture into collaborative writing. It was wonderful to see that we could produce a single text out of such a large variety of personal experiences, and I hope that the other members of our group are just as proud as I am.
Here’s the piece that we wrote together, published with the permission of the entire group:
Our Suggestions for Traveling Abroad, by the Book Club
Don’t be panicked when you are lost. Ask for help. Don’t be shy. Don’t accept invitations from strangers because of the movie Taken. Don’t drink tap water. Pretend you’re local people. Keep your cell phone in your pocket. Take pictures and enjoy your trip. Bring cash. But not too much. Try scary foods. But not too scary. Learn some local vocabulary. Be comfortable with what you are facing on your way. Make a fool of yourself. Speak the local language. Or at least try. Challenge yourself with something unique. Don’t stay at hotels all the time. Try to read the local newspaper. Talk with different people from different countries. Meet a French boy. Or a French girl. If you can’t use the language, use other ways to be kind to people. Before you go there, be familiar with the local culture. Smile is universal language. Always say sorry. Always say thank you. Put your bag wherever you can see it. Respect nature and people. Bring mosquito repellent. And sun screen. Don’t be uppity. Bring cheese. Remember that it’s there. Ask what you want to learn in a polite way. You’re going to feel awkward. Sometimes. Awkwardness is universal. Don’t worry about it. Go shopping. Go to museums. Go sight-seeing. Go to restaurants. Bring your own country’s snacks. Bring outlet adapters Buy a postcard to send to your friends. Remember that there will always be someone who wants to hear your story.
Interested in seeing the texts that inspired this collaborative writing experience? Click here to hear author Edwidge Danticat read Kincaid’s “Girl” in the New Yorker’s Fiction Podcast. Unfortunately, “What Should Run in the Mind of Caballeros” is unavailable online, but can be found in Sudden Fiction Latino. For other work by Lupe Mendez, check out his personal website.
The Book Club meets every Friday from 1 to 2:15 PM in Lewis 1719. Feel free to join us any time!