Monday, August 25, 2014


This book review was originally posted in La Bloga on August 22, 2014.

Review of For All Of Us, One Today

For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey
Richard Blanco

Review by Thelma T. Reyna

When Richard Blanco stepped to the podium on January 21, 2013 at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I rose from my sofa in the living room and stood enthralled as I watched the TV screen. Along with hundreds of thousands of people in the Washington DC mall that day and millions watching this special event around the world, I witnessed history in the making--and this history was made by a poet!

Richard Blanco became the fifth Inaugural Poet in our nation's long history, joining the ranks of such literary greats as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, two prior Inaugural Poets. But Blanco was more historic than even these venerable giants. He was:
• America's first-ever Latino Inaugural Poet.
• The first immigrant.
• The first openly gay poet.
• The youngest ever, at the age of 45.

His memoir, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (Beacon Press, 2013), gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the impact that being brought out of relative literary obscurity (nothing new for poets anywhere in America!) has on an author and how bestowal of a high honor can change a life in the proverbial blink of an eye. But Blanco’s memoir does more than this: it shows us the character and passion of an American rising star against the backdrop of inauspicious beginnings.

Reflection and Introspection

Blanco's memoir captures in a mere 112 pages the roller-coaster ride of being selected by the President to address the nation and the world as a poet, and of his preparation for this momentous honor. We learn of Blanco’s disbelief and joy when he receives a phone call on December 12, 2013, from the Presidential Inaugural Committee notifying him of his selection. To this day, Blanco does not know how or why. The important thing he recalls from that life-changing call is that he has three weeks in which to write and submit three new poems to the Committee, one of which will be chosen by the President to be read at the inauguration.

In the memoir, Blanco details the doubts and false starts he has as he creates his poems. Part of this stems from his lifelong struggle concerning his place in America and what it truly means to "be an American." He refers to it in his memoir as "sorting out my cultural contradictions and yearnings" (p. 25). Conceived in Cuba, his parents' homeland, Blanco was born in Spain as an immigrant. He emigrated to the U.S. as an infant and grew up in Florida. He now lives in Bethel, Maine. Blanco's love of country was never in doubt, but what exactly America represents to the huge diversity of people calling it home is a conundrum he's often dissected, and now he is forced to dig even more deeply within himself to find answers.

"Do I truly love America?" he asks (p. 31). "It was a question I had to answer honestly if I was going to write an honest poem. I began thinking of my relationship with America and how it had evolved through different phases, just as my consciousness of love had evolved....I saw parallels between a loving human relationship and the love we hold for our country."

Blanco's Story of His Cultural Roots

In the memoir, Blanco cycles back and forth between his feelings and reflections in writing the three inaugural poems; and memories of his family life: his childhood, his parents' sacrifices for him and his brother, his experiences growing up in two cultures. Blanco describes how his personal life story sometimes parallels that of President Obama: navigating two worlds on a daily basis as a person of color, and overcoming tremendous odds to be successful. He believes these similarities may have resonated with the President and affected his selection of Blanco.

Blanco’s immigrant parents left their loved ones in Cuba to start a new life with no resources other than their determination and hard work. They purchased a modest home in Florida in a Cuban-American neighborhood after years of labor and thrift. Though Blanco never lived in Cuba, he was surrounded most of his life by neighbors and friends who had, and who blended their new life in America with memories, rituals, foods, and festivities rooted in their native land.

Blanco's image of what it means to be American came from re-runs of popular television shows from his childhood--sitcoms like "Leave It to Beaver," "My Three Sons," "The Brady Bunch"--and the standard history lessons in school about Pilgrims, Washington's cherry tree, and patriotic songs: all packaged, glossy representations. It is not until Blanco is selected as Inaugural Poet that his soul-searching enables him to authentically articulate what America--the only country he has ever known and loved--means to him and to the world.

As the days pass, Blanco decides to weave his personal story only briefly in his new poems because he feels that an autobiographical poem, or a political one, is not appropriate for the occasion. He states: "I came to understand my role--the historical role of the inaugural poet--as visionary, and the poem as a vision of what could be..., reaching for our highest aspirations as a country and a people" (p. 27). The thrust of his message to the world needed to be: "What do I love about America?" (p. 60). "My initial answer was simply the spirit of its people."

Speaking To America About Love Of Country

For three weeks, Blanco reads favorite poets, meditates, writes and rewrites, working long into the night. He carefully reads the Inaugural Poems of his predecessors. He seeks feedback on his three poems from poets he knows personally, including his professor and mentor at Florida International University, Campbell McGrath; Sandra Cisneros; Julia Alvarez; Nikki Moustaki. As he states in his book: "Most writers I know rely on someone they can trust with their work, which essentially implies someone we can also trust with our lives" (p. 57). This, says Blanco, is also how his career as a poet has been: not as an "all artists work alone" (p. 57) phenomenon, but as "teamwork, ...a reflection of unity and togetherness" (p. 58).

It is this spirit of collaboration and unity that expresses itself robustly in the poem ultimately selected by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and by the President, as Blanco’s Inaugural Poem: One Today (pp. 87-91). This poem, says Blanco, was born of his personal life experiences watching people helping one another, in good times and bad, always focused on community. Blanco’s love of country, it turns out, is one that "demands effort, asks us to give and take and forgive and constantly examine promises spoken and unspoken" (p. 32). One Today acknowledges this.

Standing at the podium on that chilly day in January 2013, facing an endless sea of humanity silent and waiting, and with the most powerful leaders of America seated onstage behind him, Richard Blanco feels that what he is about to read is his “ gift to America." The purpose of his Inaugural Poem, he states, is to "transcend politics and envision a new relationship between all Americans....I wanted America to embrace itself and...feel how we are all an essential part of one whole."

He succeeds, as thousands of letters show him in the days and months to come, and people's reactions at his subsequent readings, signings, interviews, and travels demonstrate. His message in One Today resonated across the land.

A New Mission: Poetry As A Force In Society

Blanco realizes after the inauguration that his life will never be the same again. "The days ahead proved to be abruptly life changing," he writes (p. 75), "filled with unexpected experiences and realizations that were...unique parts of my journey as inaugural poet." Always concerned that poetry in America is not "part of our cultural lives and conversations; part of our popular folklore as with film, music, and novels" (p. 101), Blanco fondly recalls children's elation at his poetic readings throughout years of sharing his poetry with them. He must build on this.

Touched deeply by people’s reaction to One Today, Blanco relishes the publicity and nationwide exposure that envelops him, sensing a mandate from the people. He states: "The messages from my country speak clearly to me of the great potential and hope for poetry in America... to keep connecting America with poetry and reshape how we think about explore how I can empower educators to teach contemporary poetry and foster a new generation of poetry readers" (p. 102).

On Blanco’s return trip home, he felt "a responsibility to dare and dream up a new chapter that will rekindle poetry into a continuing American folklore--a folklore that would include the stories of gay America, Latino America, and immigrant America--everyone's America" (p. 108). He envisions a resurgence of poetry as a magnificent vehicle "to continue writing together until we are not just one today, but one every day" (p. 108).

If anyone can do this, Richard Blanco can. With his keen intelligence, egalitarian heart, boundless love for his fellow human beings, and a disciplined, devoted poetic soul—all of which gently suffuse his memoir -- Blanco shows us that he has the gifts to do this. It's not immodesty on his part that has convinced us, but rather his modesty and commitment to digging for truth and authenticity. Let us hope his journey promoting poetry for the sake of enriching our lives is long and successful.

[Blanco’s two other poems submitted for consideration were What We Know of Country and Mother Country. These are both included in his memoir.]

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Happenings Since 2013

As many bloggers know, keeping up with a blog is oftentimes a challenge. Trying to keep up with two blogs is even I've experienced. My other blog, American Latino/a Writers Today, has also been in a "hiatus" (on a leave of absence, so to speak) this past year. But 2014 is a year of catch-up for my readers and me. 

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR RETURNING TO VISIT. If this is your first visit to either of my blogs, THANK YOU, and I hope you'll become a follower.


In June, my fourth book, a full-length collection of poetry was issued by Golden Foothills Press. I had the great fortune of doing the "debut [first] reading" of this book in the gorgeous resort town of Como, Italy, on the shores of Lake Como in June this year. This was my first book reading ever in Europe. 

For a description of how this event happened, and why it was so special to me, please read my articles about Lake Como in the wonderful, famous literary blog, La Bloga. As some folks know, Lake Como is the resort hometown of superstar, George Clooney. Sadly, we never ran across him! But we did see his beautiful villa on the lakeshore.


Finishing Line Press, the publisher of my first chapbook (see below), published my second one, Hearts in Common, in Summer. This book, my third overall, is extra-special in my heart because of its cover: That's my daughter, Professor Christine Reyna, with her daughter, my little angel, Cassandra, who was 7 years old at the time. Christine has impressed the importance of literacy on both of her children since their toddler days. As the cover photo shows, reading to our children is vital! 

This book depicts people from all walks of life, all colors, rich and poor. It tries to show my deep belief that people have hearts in common with one another if we only bother to be open-minded and accepting toward others. The book can be ordered through Finishing Line Press or  Thank you for your supportiveness.

  • Several poems in San Gabriel Valley Poets Quarterly; the Journal of Modern Poetry; and  If & When Literary Journal.
  • Stories in If & When Literary Journal.
  • A story in Acentos Literary Review.
  • Other authors' book reviews.
Looking Ahead in 2014
  • Promotion of my new book, Rising, Falling, All of Us, will take up most of my year, including readings, participation in literary events, and classroom visitations. 
  • My work as a new Poet Laureate in California will also keep me busy, with promoting of regional poets in different literary events I'll design, coordinate, and host. I'm especially excited about meeting new poets and working with them and will be happily collaborating with different poets I know in accomplishing these goals.
  • In my work as an editor and writing consultant with my business, The Writing Pros, I'll be working with different authors in publishing their books. This is also an exciting venture for me, as my greatest joy in my company is helping others accomplish their dreams.


*     *     *     *     *

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I hadn't published a book since 2011, when my poetry chapbook, Breath & Bone, was issued by Kentucky's Finishing Line Press. But I've stayed busy with writing since then and have been totally delighted that various editors and presses have published my work. Even after years of writing, the joy of seeing my work in print--whether in a book, journal, anthology, or blog--never diminishes. I think most writers feel the same way. I'm very thankful for all the kind people who believe in my work and are supportive toward it. You're the best!

Do you have any questions you'd like to ask an author about his/her writing process? Meaning of stories or poems he/she wrote? Where inspiration comes from? 
I love to interact with readers! Please feel free to email me at with your questions or comments. Or visit my Facebook page, "Author Thelma Reyna's Fan Club," with any comments. I'm especially pleased to talk with students, aspiring writers, and published authors. Let's share our thoughts!


My new poetry chapbook, Hearts in Common, will be mailed out by Finishing Line Press soon. Those who pre-ordered it, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. (The press is apologetic about their delay.) To those of you who haven't had a chance to order a copy yet, please feel free to visit or . The book was a national semi-finalist in a poetry chapbook competition. It has received some good reviews thus far, I'm thankful to say.


Short Stories:
  • "Lesbian": If & When Literary Journal, Issue Two, June 2013. [The full text of this story is posted in this blog, below.]
  • "Liar, Liar": The Acentos Review, Fifth Anniversary Issue, May 2013
  • "Widow Bride": Hinchas de Poesia, Issue 9, May 2013
  • "Making It Well Again": PALABRA: A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art, Issue 8, (2012) 
  • "Juana Macho": phati'tude Literary Magazine, Winter 2012
  • "Snap": Soul Vomit: Beating Domestic Violence (Broken Publications, 2012).
  • "The Undivorced": If & When Literary Journal (Issue One, 2013)
  • "I Stopped by Your House Today": Poetry & Cookies Anthology (Spring 2013)
  • "Talismans": Poetry & Cookies Anthology (Spring 2013)
  • "The Mayans Were Wrong": 2013 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Calendar
  • "Old Habits": San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly [SGVPQ], Spring 2013
  • "Oscar the Blade Runner": SGVPQ, Winter 2013
  • "Shades of Blue": SGVPQ, Fall 2012
  • "Coming to Empty": SGVPQ, Summer 2012
  • "Only the Moon Knows My Secrets": Soul Vomit: Beating Domestic Violence (Broken Publications, 2012).
  • "Hammock: Chicago Old Town": Poetry & Cookies: 2012 Anthology of Poems
  • "Rosita's Hands": Poetry & Cookies: 2012 Anthology of Poems
  • "Early Morning": SGVPQ, Spring 2012
  • "Manicure Diva: Hong Hanh, Apricot Blossom": SGVPQ, Winter 2011
  • "Chicago Winter": SGVPQ, Fall 2011
  • "School Bell": SGVPQ, Summer 2011
  • "Brown Arms": SGVPQ, Spring 2011.
  • "Grandmother's Insomnia": Poetry & Cookies: 2011 Anthology of Poems
  • "Annie's Lap": Poetry & Cookies: 2011 Anthology of Poems.
Book Reviews:
  • Melinda Palacio, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting: La Bloga, June 30, 2013, at
  • Melinda Palacio, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting: Hinchas de Poesia, Issue 10, June 2013.
  • Alma Luz Villanueva, The Ultraviolet Sky: Latinopia, May 6, 2013, at
  • Ana Castillo, The Mixquiahuala Letters: Latinopia, March 3, 2013.
  • Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands: Latinopia, December 9, 2012.
  • Pat Mora, Borders: Latinopia, September 30, 2012.
  • Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street: Latinopia, September 3, 2012
  • Cherrie Moraga, Loving in the War Years: Latinopia, July 8, 2012.
  • Lorna Dee Cervantes, Emplumada: Latinopia, May 27, 2012.
  • Lorna Dee Cervantes, Emplumada: Letras Latinas, Review Roundup, June 10, 2012 at
  • Estela Portillo Trambley, Rain of Scorpions and Other Writings: Latinopia, April 30, 2012.
  • Estela Portillo Trambley, Rain of Scorpions and Other Writings: La Bloga, May 14, 2012.
  • Nicholasa Mohr, Nilda: Latinopia, March 26, 2012.
  • Oscar Hijuelos, Beautiful Maria of My Soul: Latinopia, December 19, 2011.

Essays & Mini-Essays:
Thank you for taking a look at these works whenever you have time. Share these sites and writings with others, and let's keep spreading the word about other authors, especially those whose books I reviewed. We all have so much to learn all the time! And it's fun.

[Here is the full text of my latest short story, "Lesbian." See publication information above.]


A Short Story by Thelma T. Reyna
             “I’m not a lesbian,” she tells the woman as she holds the door open.

            The visitor stops inside the doorway. She doesn’t look like a hooker, though Marina knows she is.  She’s been referred.  She looks at Marina’s face, probably to see if she’s joking. Else, why has Marina sent for her?

            “Whatever,” the hooker says, and strolls to the sofa. She drops her fake Gucci bag on the floor near the foyer table and starts making herself at home.  Marina brings her a cup of specialty coffee she prepared just before the hooker’s arrival.  Playing the gracious hostess to this stranger might take the edge off a possibly wasted trip.

            The hooker cradles the cup in soft, plump hands and inhales its curlicues of steam. She takes a sip and sighs, leaning back into pillows Marina purchased just for her, for her visit.  Whoever “her” would be.  The stranger has come highly recommended by the man who lives a floor below Marina, a hip, sexy man with an incongruent beer belly and a George Clooney face. Marina asked him, a month ago, if he knew a nice female prostitute she could invite over, and Mister Sexy hadn’t hesitated.

            “Nora!” he blurted, with a grin. “I’ll get you her number. You’ll like her.”  He winked at Marina and didn’t even ask why she wanted a female hooker. Could he possibly think Marina was....

            “I’m not a lesbian,” she says aloud now and flushes when she realizes she’s talking to herself.  Her visitor sits unflustered. 

            “Yeah, you told me,” Nora replies. “And, dearie, the word is ‘gay.’” Her eyes widen at Marina, and she continues sipping her coffee, scanning the apartment, lounging like a lynx. Maybe she likes earning money this way, like a luncheon guest in a fancy city loft, gazing at soothing art on soft blue walls. Nora kicks off her stiletto heels and sinks more deeply into velvet pillows.    

“Great coffee,” she murmurs.

            Marina sits across from Nora, the mirrored coffee table a continent between the two. Marina has no idea what to say, but her stomach churns, her head feels like pigeons are pelting themselves against her skull, and her mouth twitches in anticipation of whatever miraculous words might wend themselves  in.

            Nora stares at her host. “So, are you bi?” she asks.

The question catches Marina by surprise.  Is she?  Who knows? 

“Are you?” Marina deflects.

Nora laughs. She peers into Marina’s face. “Honey, I don’t have a choice what I am.” Her lipstick is wide, her eyes drilling into this peculiar woman’s face, this woman disappearing into her sofa like she is the goddamned hooker, a trespasser in a pad like this. For all the years Nora has worked streets, or linked up temporarily with sugar dads, she’s seen a panoply of humanity, an exhilarating, suffocating, baffling diorama of good, bad, ugly, and downright hideous. But she isn’t prepared for an outlier like this one.

Nora’s question hangs in the air. Marina has never identified herself based on sexual practice, for, actually, she has none. She blushes, her middle-aged virginity rising like a traitorous heat wave. Silent, knees glued, lips pursed, eyes down, she whips herself. What am I doing? Why did I send for this woman? What in heaven’s name got into me?

 “OK. You’re not bi,” says Nora as she watches Marina’s muddled face. Not lesbian, not bi. But she ain’t no hetero, either,cause she summoned me.

Nora sets her coffee mug on the mirrored table and catches a glimpse of herself. She looks a bit flustered, and she flinches. She pats her bangs, her thickly-padded bra, and tugs on her short skirt. But today it doesn’t matter what she looks like, sex siren that she fancies herself. Today will be a first for Nora. She rises from the sofa and stubs her bare toes on the table legs as she moves toward Marina. She’s in alien territory now, and she sits gingerly beside the older woman.

           “Honey,” Nora coos, “give me your hand.”

Marina averts her face and slides her hand toward the hooker. Nora takes it in hers and strokes it, her large, warm palms cupping Marina’s hand in a protective orb.

Now what do you say to a virgin who summons you, but you realize it’s not for sex. What do you say to this woman paying you good money for absolutely nothing. Nora’s stomach lurches in recognition of an ancient self, a little girl so long ago, it makes her head hurt when she resurrects the ghost, the girl who shouldn’t have been on streets, the girl who defied the odds in reverse, who sank despite things. She glances at the mirrored cocktail table and sees young and old side by side, two flummoxed faces, and she feels that she is both.

“You know, honey,” murmurs Nora, “my daddy was a rich man, a mucky-muck who ran a bank, fancy-pants man, my mommy used to call him. Fancy pants. He went around kissing and hugging everyone, Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky, friendly, friendly man.”

Marina looks up slowly, her hand still in Nora’s. The hooker takes Marina’s other hand, cups both together, and clears her throat.

“But he ran out of hugs before he ever got home.”

Her voice is barely audible. Nora moves closer to Marina and wraps her arm around her. Like her mommy and she used to do, she thinks. This is what we got, all we had. This is what the little ghost girl got. Mr. Fancy Pants left it all in the bank.

“And here I am today,” whispers Nora. Her face quivers.

Marina can’t remember the last time her flesh touched someone else’s flesh. Her work is fancy pants, too, and look at her fancy pants condo. Pricey paintings on the walls, velvet pillows, plenty of style. Marina’s hands glow, encased in a human shell of fingers and skin. Nora reaches over the older woman’s lap for the blue throw draped on the sofa arm. She shakes the silk throw open and spreads it over Marina’s lap. Marina adjusts her hips on the sofa so the throw drapes easily and helps Nora tuck in the edges close to her thighs and legs touched for the first time with the warmth of another.

Nora murmurs things Marina can’t decipher, but it’s OK.  These are soothing sounds, human sounds. Marina squeezes Nora’s hands, feels her arm across her shoulders, sighs and tilts her head back, eyes closed toward her ceiling, her mouth quivering.

“It’s OK, dear,” Nora says again. Her mother’s words. “I know. I understand.”

Marina’s tears fall on Nora’s blouse, but Nora doesn’t notice.  The women settle into the cushions, one woman with moist eyes closed, savoring touch and human presence, the other remembering how unbeholden touch used to be. Encased in a cocoon of silk, both women listen to the clock on the wall near them, daylight from the large bay window slowly turning to dusky swirls on Marina’s oriental rug. The large glass of the bay slowly blackens as city lights twinkle coolly beyond it.

The young hooker and the older woman sit in silence side by side, shoulders touching, hips touching, knees touching, hands touching, each remembering aloneness, and for this particular evening, each transcending it to provide a measure of solace.

#       #       #

Tuesday, May 7, 2013



 Highly sophisticated technology and one of the oldest means of human communication, the written word, continue to be inextricably entwined, expanding side by side like the proverbial odd couple.

 Verbal communication has evolved at light speed, with talking on the spot seemingly dominating how we communicate. After all, we have Skype, face-to-face talks on fancy phones, “Go To Meetings” for job-related face-to-face discussions, Instagram how-to videos, and TED webinars. People are ubiquitously seeing and speaking to one another on screens in real time, whether it’s for high-stakes negotiations, cutting a business deal with someone on the other side of the globe, catching up with friends and family, or simply having a laid-back chat. We have voice recognition and robots, with people at a distance telling drones, space travelers, and other non-humans in algorithmic messages what to do. Also, camera phones’ pictures, as they say, “are worth a thousand words.”

 But just as pundits predicted the end of books we hold in our hands when Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers saturated the market, the written word—written by us individually or collectively, written in complete sentences, paragraphs, and pages—has not fallen into the realm of dodo birds and dinosaurs. If anything, the written word, created and disseminated by human hands (with the aid of technology) has continued to thrive and expand its reach. And, at least with the truncated writing in Twitter and texting, millions of people who might not have composed written communications beyond their school years and job-related documents, are engaging in daily person-to-person writing.

Utilitarian Websites: A Modern Necessity

 The majority of reputable businesses interested in “branding” themselves, in having an “internet presence,” a “profile” in their business domain, establish and maintain a website. Individuals who are themselves “the business”—independent consultants, authors, lecturers, life coaches, private teachers and tutors, for example—also increasingly tout their work on professional websites. Technology and the old-fashioned primo communication tool, writing, are like a pair of gloves. You can’t have one without the other.

 Whether websites are maintained by the owners themselves, or by webmasters, the ability to write clear, attractive, compelling prose, to communicate in a friendly, accessible manner with clients or potential clients, can make the difference between a business that thrives and one that stagnates. Technology has enabled websites to have bells and whistles, photos, music, videos, and interactive gizmos, that a simple written document lacks, but it’s the written words on the page that work their magic and help a business succeed.

 Citizen Journalists: Bloggers with a Cause

 Ever heard of The Huffington Post, or Huff Post? Created in 2005 by famed blogger/commentator Arianna Huffington and three other blogger columnists, the Huff Post has been called the most powerful news source in the world and, in 2012, became the first commercial online newspaper to win a Pultizer Prize, the most prestigious writing award in the U.S. It grew exponentially and has garnered numerous awards, including the #1 rank out of 15 top-ranked political websites in America.

Thousands of bloggers write columns and articles for the site without compensation, just for the opportunity to be published. Also, prominent experts in varied fields regularly contribute blogs and columns. Each month, over a million comments are written by readers and posted to Huff Post. The Huff Post is the poster child for the rise and success of the written word on digital media, as well as the engagement of the international public to write commentary on hot topics the digital newspaper covers.

 Admittedly, the Huff Post is an anomaly, with its astonishing success. But bloggers like you and me have staked out territories in cyberspace and regularly dish on topics ranging from the small and insignificant but personally appealing, to the more momentous issues that well-known blogs cover. Political issues are routinely debated and dissected by “citizen journalists” in their blogs and websites all across America. These “journalists” are writing about topics, issues, and events that were once monopolized by the “mainstream media” (long-established newspapers and broadcast media; also called “MSM”) who, prior to the internet, had sole proprietorship of media information as gatekeepers of what news got reported, when, where, and how. Citizen journalists, in fact, sometimes beat the MSM to the punch in discovering and uncovering vital news events and information and capturing the attention of the nation.

 We no longer just rely on the MSM as our eyes and ears on what’s happening. The people’s eyes and ears collectively, via technology coupled with the people’s writing, have become our conduit to keeping up with the world. The sociopolitical landscape has thus shifted tremendously since websites, blogs, and citizen journalists exploded onto the scene...and throughout the scene.

 Social Media: The Written Word Flourishes

Though they are sometimes minimized in importance, perhaps due to their brevity and greater focus on the personal rather than on gravitas, the “social media”—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, My Space, Tumblr, and the many other venues for expression—have fingers flying and people writing daily, often throughout the day in fits and spurts. Whether it’s a coughed-out phrase, emotional protestations of love, terse political commentary, or invitations to engage, the social media cast their nets wide, and wider, across the globe.

In the 21st century, our communication is like a pair of gloves: technology, with its gee-whiz alacrity and ability to wow; and the old-fashioned written compositions we each hammer together with our fingers and hands and our own brains. Put these two seemingly-mismatched gloves together, and you have human interaction that has something for everyone: the visual, the oral, and the best of both worlds.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

FOR THE HOLIDAY BLOG TOUR: Christmas Carols in Old Town Pasadena & the Children of Newtown

I stand beside a 30-foot tall Christmas tree, a genuine spruce sparkling with large, clear bulbs in the center of One Colorado Plaza in Old Town Pasadena, California. The night is chill, but the hundred or so bundled parents and children filling the square are in high spirits, boosted by the dozens of elementary school children singing Christmas carols for them on the makeshift stage.

It’s an idyllic sight, one symbolically and geographically removed by more than 2,000 miles from the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. While the heart-breaking grieving and burying go on in Newtown, Pasadena is aglow tonight with our local pride, with the family closeness and joy that this annual event embodies. On the stage are fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders from Pasadena Christian School, fresh-faced angels that, in this holiday season more than ever, hold the promise and dreams of all of us standing under colored lights and in the shadow of the mammoth tree.

My granddaughter Lizzie is onstage, first row, far right. She’s a natural, and she smiles and be-bops at the right moments, makes hand and arm movements on cue, eyes glued on the choral director. Her little heart and soul are completely in this, this musical gift to us, the audience, the community that loves and supports these children more than we love ourselves.

I doubt that I’m the only one thinking of how all Sandy Hook parents could have had this type of night tonight, rubbing shoulders with neighbors under holiday garlands, beaming at their little boys and girls, celebrating underneath a velvet sky infinite in its tallness, stars gleaming and dancing above spires and treetops of the village. All Sandy Hook parents should be holding their children in their arms tonight, bundling them home, plying them with hot chocolate or cider before tucking them in bed with fairy tales, prayers, and kisses.

I tilt my head back and look long and hard at the big sky, big blackness. In fifteen minutes, Lizzie will come bounding down the stairs of the makeshift stage and head for me. I’ll hold her coat and ease her slender arms into it, then wrap the snowman scarf around her neck and chest. I’ll slide on her fuzzy gloves, hold tightly onto her hand, and hurry across the plaza into the warmth of Johnny Rockets for a snack and conversation. Little rituals, little pleasantries that are so second-nature to the two of us, we can’t imagine not doing these things, not embracing her or kissing her on the forehead when she reaches me in the audience. We hardly think of these.

But we must. The wrenching lessons from Sandy Hook will reverberate for generations. We as a society have so much to learn in this 21st century, where we’re theoretically so advanced, yet we aren’t. And the clearest lesson is the one embodied here in Old Town Pasadena tonight: Our greatest treasures, the golden legacies of earth, are children—all children. We start with our own and realize how no moment with them deserves to be taken for granted. We remind ourselves that our children need us at our best each day. We consider how nothing is guaranteed in life, how none of us has a lease that is honored. Life is cut short without notice. In two minutes, 20  Sandy Hook children perished. Two minutes! Let’s fill each minute of our children’s lives with love, reassurance, and nurturance.

Ancient sages supposedly predicted our world would end on December 21, 2012. How ironic in a month celebrating the most famous birth of all! The Sandy Hook deaths have very likely stirred a rebirth in our collective consciousness regarding the frailty and majesty of our children. May this Christmas be most memorable for this: That we commit ourselves to putting children first—all children—in our priorities. This would not be the end of the world, but the beginning of a much better one.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

CATCHING UP WITH YOU: Updates on My Writing, and Some Fun Info About the "Holiday Blog Tour"

This year has flown, and I'm noticing how long I've been away from this blog now. For those of you who've stopped by and didn't see anything new, my apologies. I hope you won't give up on me, and please drop by again. For new readers of this blog, thanks for dropping by. I hope to keep you engaged and up-to-date. Let me update you first on what I've been doing since my last posting here a year ago.
  • Three of my short stories have been published in books or literary journals: Pha'titude Literary Magazine; PALABRA Literary Magazine; and the new anthology just issued, Soul Vomit.
  • About 7 new poems have been published in the San Gabriel Valley Poets Quarterly, and the Poetry and Cookies Annual Anthology.
  • I expanded and revised my new book of short stories (as yet unpublished) by adding new stories. The book is tentatively titled Liar, Liar & Other Stories and includes 15 works, which is longer than my first award-winning short story collection, The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories (2009).
  • I've launched a new series of book reviews for the awesome website, , hosted by talented author and filmmaker, Jesus Trevino. The series focuses on iconic Hispanic-American women authors who made history with their award-winning books in the 20th century, from 1972-1996. So far, 7 books have been reviewed, with 5 remaining (about one per month).
  • I've written essays for (hosted by Aurelia Flores) and some of these have been cross-posted in the award-winning blog, (hosted by vaunted authors Daniel Olivas, Michael Sedano, et al.).
  • I am preparing my new poetry chapbook, Hearts in Common--which was deemed a semi-finalist in a national poetry chapbook competition, and which will be published by Kentucky's Finishing Line Press in June 2013--to go to press.
  • I've completed a new nonfiction book that I plan to publish in early 2013. The book is a compilation of excerpts from my writings over the years, commentary and mini-essays on vital issues we all care about and that came to the fore particularly strongly in our presidential campaign season and during the elections in November, and which are still issues challenging us as we speak: education, women's rights, family, equality for all, politics and power...and the things we most care about on individual levels: parenting, love, friendship, death of loved ones, appreciating our world, nature, and beauty. The book is tentatively titled Life & Other Important Things and is illustrated throughout with about 25 full-color oil paintings by California artist and author, Victor Cass.
Whew! I feel less guilty now for having been very remiss in keeping up this blog. I'll keep you updated on all the above, but you can also visit my:
  • Facebook page, Author Thelma Reyna's Fan Club, for the most current information about my writing and publishing.
  • My other blog, 
  • The other blogs noted above,  for which I am a guest blogger (Powerful Latinas and Latinopia) or an occasional guest blogger (La Bloga).
Thanks for your supportiveness of us authors. Now, speaking of other's the best part of today's posting: LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE "HOLIDAY BLOG TOUR" THAT ELEVEN OF MY COLLEAGUES ARE DOING ESPECIALLY FOR THE HOLIDAYS.

The 2012 Holiday Blog Tour...Creativity Galore!

Beginning on December 7, a group of dynamic women authors have been writing special poems, memoirs, stories, or essays about the spirit of Christmas: what it means to them, memorable ones they've had, what they hope for us, etc. These commemorative writings have been posted day by day on each author's own website. The "tour" is thus our daily visiting of each website in turn, until the 2012 tour ends on Christmas Eve.

So far, 12 authors have posted their holiday blogs. These are still up, so stop by their sites to enjoy them:

DEC. 7--Jasmine Clemente,
DEC. 8--Gwendolyn Jerris,
DEC. 9--Natasha Oliver,
DEC. 11--Caridad Pineiro,
DEC. 12--Teresa Carbajal Ravet,
DEC. 13--Natasha Alvarez,
DEC. 14--Stephanie Dorman,
DEC. 15--Karen La Beau,
DEC. 16--Annette Santos,
DEC. 17--Zoraida Cordova,
DEC. 18--Kristy Harding,

The rest of the lineup is as follows. Please join me in keeping up with these very talented, insightful authors!

DEC. 19--Nikki Kallio,
DEC. 20--Sujeiry Gonzalez,
DEC. 21--Samantha Kolber,
DEC. 22--Me, Thelma, right
DEC. 23--Julia Amante,
DEC. 24--Icess Fernandez Rojas (the creator of Holiday Blog Tour),

Looking Forward to 2013...

As we prepare for the new year, let us continue to support one another. Being an author is very hard work done in solitary fashion. For most of us, the monetary rewards are slight or nonexistent. Most of us do not support our families on our earnings from writing. We engage in it because each of our "literary selves" tugs at our hearts and compels us to write. We write because it is as natural an occurrence to us as breathing, eating, or brushing our teeth. It's a daily event, whether we pen emails to friends, or post opinions on online newspapers like the Huffington Post and New York Times, or whether we compose a poem, or write a story, or create a new chapter for our novel-in-progress--or (heavens!) any combination of these. Shakespeare said, "The play's the thing." For the rest of us authors working in obscurity, "Writing's the thing"...the point, the act which is its own reward for being. In short, we write because...we are.

Thanks for dropping by, and please keep coming back. Happy holidays to each of you, and a prosperous, peaceful, healthy New Year.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Christmas Essay on the Power of Many

Holiday Blog Tour

An outstanding group of authors from all over America joined creative forces this month to go on a Holiday Blog Tour. Starting on December 2, with Julia Amante, and ending on December 24 with Icess Fernandez, 23 authors representing diverse genres and publication experience wrote, or will write,  a special Christmas piece on their individual blogs. It can be a poem, story, essay, memoir, or any genre each author selects for himself  or herself. We each read one another's blogs and spread the word to all we know, to keep the traffic flowing from one creative experience to another. This tour has been a wonderful exercise in nurturing a community of authors who inspire and support one another. Clicking on the golden tree ornament photo above will show you a full listing of authors on this blog tour and their dates of posting.

As we head into one of the most beloved holidays in the world, I look forward to the opportunities for reflection that this special time of year affords us. These are extremely hard times for millions of our fellow human beings, but if we still have family who love us, and friends who are there for us, we have much to appreciate: these are among the greatest gifts we can ask for.

My selected piece for this holiday blog tour takes me back many years, to one of the most memorable Christmas seasons I've experienced. I was an English teacher at Pasadena High School (Pasadena, CA); and on this particular occasion, my students taught me the beauty and power of people united in a good deed. Writing this piece enabled me to step back for a moment and reflect on those students and on their collective human strength. Enjoy, and please feel free to leave a comment.

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Sometimes a simple idea catches fire. Sometimes, in our desperation and frustration that we individually can’t do more, we reach out with a simple idea, ... and it catches fire.

The power of one can be the power of one hundred when a spark is lit, if the spark is for the good of others. We know this to be true in recent revolutions: the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street protests, and its cousins across our nation. But the power of many is sometimes not a torrent, just a clear, burbling stream unchecked by boulders in its midst, just a timid, stolid movement forward. Often, in our individual spheres, in our little private corners of the world, this is how the power of many looks: small but stalwart.

One Christmas season long ago, as a young high school teacher, I wanted to light a little spark in my students regarding a family none of us knew. We had been reading and writing about classic themes of the season: charity, generosity, poverty, unity. Having two small children at home, I knew how much Christmas means to children; and my students knew well the sting of poverty in various neighborhoods of our community, including their own. Could we unite behind one family, a struggling family poorer than all the rest of us, and try to make a difference in their lives, even if just for one day, one Christmas?

My students were from all over the city, some of them having to ride buses for half an hour to attend school across town. They were a mix of kids: privileged, middle-class, blue-collar, immigrant. I told them one day, class by class, about a family I’d heard about in my church parish: a family of five, with three children and unemployed parents. I didn’t know their names, and I had never met them, but I had heard about the bleakness of their holidays.

I brought a large, empty cardboard box to my classroom and set it in a corner. It only took a few minutes to describe this unknown family to the students: the eldest girl, age 13; the middle son, age 11; the youngest child, a boy age 8. This I had learned from our priest. The class was quiet at first. Many of my students were not strangers to hardship. Then someone mentioned ideas for gifts for the girl. Someone else thought of things the youngest child might like. The conversation wasn’t really a conversation: just some musings aloud, half-muttered, some inklings of ideas being stirred. A few hands went up: Yes, they’d like to bring in a little gift some day this week. Could they wrap it up first? Yes. Should every gift be new? Yes. The yesses were coming from the students themselves, as they nodded quietly at one another. OK. We had some understandings, so we moved on to the classwork scheduled for that day.

It was not a torrent. It was a small stream that swelled a bit each day, that rolled a little faster at times. But each day, throughout the day, for the entire week, students paused by the large box in the corner of our room. Some placed a small package, light and thin, gingerly in the box. Others carefully placed one, two, three gifts, a tower carefully balanced, in the box. Some students peeked in, hands empty, hands stuffed into jeans pockets, but eyes curious. Some brought in a gift as if carried on a silver platter, face proud, smile wide. Some students dropped an unwrapped toy, or bottle of shaving lotion, or some such toiletry for the parents, into our collection. Some students shyly stuffed their gift under their desks as they did their schoolwork for the day, and only at the end of class, on their way out, unnoticed by most, did they modestly place their offering into the box.

And so the stream flowed. On the last day of the week, some of my girls brought in wrapping paper from their homes. I brought forth scissors and tape. Sipping punch, munching on cookies, students took time to wrap last-minute gifts as they chatted about this “project,” this first-time group charity endeavor for many of them. They looked proudly at their achievement:

Four large cardboard boxes filled to the brim with my students’ generosity, their charity, their kindness toward strangers. Their unity. The power of many in making a difference in the lives of others.

Some students wept quietly. Others beamed. We hugged.

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Featured blogger on December 15:  Sylvia Mendoza. Visit and go to her Author Page for further information.