May 5 2013

Baltimore Triumphs Book Launch at the Evergreen Museum & Library

“Cures for love; not wanted.
Cures for broken-hearts; needed.
Young souls create a major demand
For hearts they want treated
That can’t see the thin line between love and hate.”

This last stanza of “Thin Line” was recited by writer Chyna Brown at a reading Thursday night at the Evergreen Museum & Library. Like other readings in Baltimore, this one showcased a diverse group of writers and writing styles. Some of the pieces were funny; some touched on important social issues. Some did both. But unlike other readings in Baltimore, this event was made up of elementary, middle school, and high school students. Brown is a ninth grader at Baltimore City College High School, and she wrote her poem as a participant in the Writers in Baltimore Schools writing workshops.

The Writers in Baltimore Schools students and mentors.

Writers in Baltimore Schools (WBS) is a non-profit organization that provides students with literary development through in-school, after-school and summer creative writing workshops. The program publishes an anthology of student writing twice a year through its publication division, Baltimore by Hand.

The reading at Evergreen celebrated the launch of the program’s newest anthology, Baltimore Triumphs. The book includes writing from students at Thomas Johnson Elementary School, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School, Baltimore City College High School, Barclay Elementary/Middle School and Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School. Local author Elisabeth Dahl, whose new book, Genie Wishes, is geared toward children the same age as many of the WBS readers, opened the evening by identifying with the students’ efforts. “All of us in this room who like to write are on the same long, winding path to publication,” she said.

Author Elisabeth Dahl

This was the second WBS reading held at Evergreen, and the first to include students younger than middle school age. The atmosphere was charged with energy, and despite the inevitable whispers and fidgeting, the students were respectful and supportive of each other. The audience responded with applause, and sometimes laughter, to the creativity and humor displayed as each student read from his or her work. “Fourth graders are more open with their imaginations, whereas middle-schoolers are starting to get more self-conscious,” said WBS Director Patrice Hutton.

One of the writing prompts the students were given to spark ideas for Baltimore Triumphs was to invent a Baltimore superhero. Ravens were a common theme, along with heroes to clean up pollution, stop smokers, and fight crime. Miles Donovan’s Cracker Jack “makes Orioles games fun,” while the title character in Damien Borck’s Graffiti Man! “becomes a millionaire and buys his way off America’s 10 Most Wanted. Then Graffiti Man donates money to build a better Baltimore City, MD.”

Damon Davies

Some of the super heroes seemed to stem from the more serious side of real life. “Baltimore Heroes” by fourth grader Brooke Madison Taylor begins, “Super Mom is a hero because she helps people who are homeless by giving them clothes, food, water, shoes, and money.” And Nyla Pompey, also a fourth grader, wrote in “My Hero”: “The most heroic person is my grandfather. He saves my uncle’s life.” The story describes an attempted robbery at gunpoint.

Fourth grader Damon Davies drew cheers from the audience with his story, “Superpoe.” It describes the blackout during this year’s Super Bowl, and the imaginary bird who saved the day by turning the lights back on: “He flicked the switch and it didn’t work. He flicked the switch again and it didn’t work. He did it one more time and it worked! Everyone chanted, ‘Superpoe! Superpoe! Superpoe!’ Then he got back into his jersey and cheered the Ravens on to their victory.”

Joshua Diggins

And ninth grader Joshua Diggins received a resounding round of applause when he closed the reading with a moving tribute to his father, “The Captain,” and ended it by asking his father to stand up in the crowd.

Some were confident, others were shy, but all the students triumphed as they bravely spoke their words into the microphone at the front of  packed theater. And as they read from their work it became clear that they are already doing what Dahl recommended in her opening address when she said, “Live with your eyes and ears open. You’re observing life—that’s what writers do.”



Nov 20 2012

Late Night at the BMA

On Saturday, the Baltimore Museum of Art hosted a Late Night party to celebrate the re-opening of the museum’s Contemporary Wing. If I had to choose one word to describe the event, I would say…crowded. But it was also fantastically fun. Fantastic to see so many art lovers in one place. Fun to have drinks while sitting in a glowing chair, listening to White Life in a room bathed in pink light. And pretty awesome that the BMA put on this kind of shindig and invited the public for free.

My friend Samantha in the glowing chair.

The collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, James Rosenquist, Zwelethu Mthethwa, and many others. Sarah Sze used cut paper and everyday objects such as a recycle bin and a duster to create the complex, three dimensional Random Walk Drawing (Eye Chart). Baltimore street artist Gaia created 12 Portraits of Remington Residents specifically for the site. And an installation by Sarah Oppenheimer literally cuts through the museum’s traditional walls to provide visitors with a new perspective.

I like to take my time in a museum, relax as I wander through the exhibits, sit on a bench and soak in the larger works looming over me. Fun as it was, too many people were packed into the renovated Contemporary Wing on Saturday to get that type of experience. I didn’t make it into the new black box gallery, I didn’t try out the BMA mobile app, and I somehow missed the bicycle shower. I definitely plan to go back.


Sep 21 2012


“It is the craving for beauty that is such a vital function of the human soul…”
– Dr. Claribel Cone

It’s amazing how a little beauty injected into your day can lift your mood, calm your mind, and change your perspective. I saw the quote at the beginning of this post on a plaque a few weeks ago at the Baltimore Museum of Art in the space that showcases the Cone Collection. It’s clear from the collecting habits of the Cone sisters–they filled their Baltimore apartments with more than 3,000 pieces of art, including works by Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, and van Gogh–that they gave into their craving for beauty on a regular basis, and I’m grateful they chose to share it with the world. An afternoon spent wandering the exhibits at any city museum is, of course, a great way to infuse your week with beauty, but art can also be found in unexpected places, as I learned today when I visited the Towson Arts Collective.

Within walking distance from my house and just a couple of blocks away from my favorite bagel shop, this little art space offers a gallery for art exhibits, drawing and painting classes, and studio space that can be rented by independent artists. I decided to stop in, and I was in luck, because it was the last day of the exhibit Drawing Today, which showcases drawings from twenty local artists.

Each artist had a different style, a different expression of feeling, and I found myself smiling as I wandered through the space, forgetting the stress of my work week. Whenever I go to a small gallery like this, or to a reading or open mic event, I marvel that there are so many talented people in my community, people who probably all have day jobs doing something entirely ordinary and practical. Yet they still take the time to use their creativity to put some beauty into the world.

Those who do the creating may see it as filling their own needs, and, as a writer, I know how therapeutic the creative process can be. At times, it feels completely self-indulgent. But when the result is put out into the world–even in a small way–it becomes a gift for others to enjoy.

So, while I know large museums are essential to the cultural landscape of any community, I’m also thankful for the smaller arts organizations, like the Towson Arts Collective, that bring beauty a bit closer to home.

The next exhibit at Towson Arts Collective, Things that Glow in the Dark, opens with a reception on October 5 and runs through October 27.

Sep 1 2012

Pursuing Poe in Baltimore

High on the list of things I love about Baltimore: the city’s connection to Edgar Allan Poe.

I developed an affection for Poe’s writing as a teenager, when I competed in the poetry category on my high school’s speech and debate team with a collection of his poems: “Annabel Lee,” “A Dream Within a Dream,” and “The Raven.” I was drawn to the dark themes in his work, and I found the rhythm of his words spellbinding, particularly when read aloud.

Poe lived in Baltimore for a time and is believed to have written several works here. Although he moved to Richmond in 1835, he later returned and died at the Washington University Hospital of Baltimore, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, in 1849. While the Poe-Baltimore connection is most readily seen in the name and mascots of The Ravens, there are other tributes to the writer throughout the city.


The Poe House & Museum

You can have a fun, Poe-themed afternoon by starting with a visit to The Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum, Poe’s home in the early 1830s. This modest brick row home on Amity Street holds artifacts from Poe’s life, newspaper clippings and photographs related to Poe, and a set of framed illustrations of “The Raven” by Gustave Dore. The house has only five rooms, and peering into the tiny attic bedroom, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for a man with such a great imagination to inhabit such a cramped space. Visitors can take a self-guided tour, and the staff asks for a small donation upon entering.

After visiting the house where Poe lived, take a short drive to Westminster Burying Grounds to see Poe’s grave. The large, marble grave marker is just inside the iron gates, and, on the ordinary Saturday was there, I was touched to see it decorated with red roses and coins left by other visitors. The cemetery also has a marker at Poe’s original burial site, so be sure to wander through the tombstones until you find it.

Poe's grave at Westminster Burying Grounds

The perfect ending to this Poe-themed pilgrimage is a trip to Annabel Lee Tavern in the Canton neighborhood. This cozy restaurant and bar is a celebration of Edgar Allan Poe, from the quotes and raven silhouettes on the white brick exterior to the portrait above the fireplace inside.

Inside Annabel Lee Tavern

Rumor has it The Poe House will be undergoing some changes in the near future, so plan your visit soon. And next month, on the anniversary of Poe’s death, October 7, The Poe House and the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore will hold a series of events to commemorate the writer, including a tribute ceremony and eulogies at his grave in Westminster Burying Grounds, the 90th Commemorative Edgar Allan Poe Lecture at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and a performance at Annabel Lee Tavern.

Jun 29 2012

Seltzer Speaksy, Take 1

I’ve written about Baltimore literary events before, and I think this city has an amazing arts community. The 510 Readings focus on fiction, and the H.L. Mencken-inspired New Mercury Readings bring non-fiction to the forefront (this Saturday’s line-up features my travel writing professor from last semester, Sue Eisenfeld, among others – check it!). And now, Baltimore has a new reading series on the scene: Seltzer Speaksy.

Peter Cardamone and Mike Shattuck

Seltzer Speaksy was started by the editors of Seltzer, a new online zine that publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art. (One of my essays was published in the first issue – yep, that’s both some shameless self-promotion and my full disclosure statement.) Last night, the first reading was held at Midtown BBQ & Brew in Mount Vernon, and it was a great mix of talented people.

Featured readers included Steven Leyva, who shared poems about New Orleans and Baltimore from his book Low Parish; Garvi Sheth, who read an excerpt from her young adult novel that combined a one night stand with pancakes; Lauren Flax, who gave a date the writers’ workshop treatment – harsh, honest, and oh-so-hilarious; Shagrila Willy, whose lyrical poems included musings on fireflies; and Dario DiBattista, who shared a memoir piece with a hint of vampires.

Lauren Flax

The open mic portion yielded some great surprises, including an experimental mix of Mick Jagger and Gertrude Stein by Dylan Kinnett.

The night was inspiring, energizing, and fun. Check out the Seltzer Facebook page for updates on the next event.

Shangrila Willy

Jan 25 2012

A Taste of Italy at Home

I know I said I would post more about Rome (and I will!), but last weekend I introduced a friend from out of town to some of the charms of Baltimore, and I was inspired to write about the little gem that is Iggies Pizza.

Baltimore may not be New York or Chicago, but it is possible to find delicious pizza if you know where to look. Located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, Iggies is laid back, with an artsy vibe. The walls are a warm yellow, the ceiling and duct work are painted brick red, and fanciful paintings of Italian greyhounds add to the cheerful atmosphere. Diners can sit at small tables for four or a long communal island. On this recent visit we were seated at the island and had some fun conversations with the people around us.

Iggies is a self-service establishment with no wait staff—you order at the cash register, they call your number, and you pick up your food from the counter. They have a cart where you can grab your own silverware, plates, and glasses. Instead of tipping, diners can donate gratuities to charity if they wish, and Iggies donates to a different local organization each month.

The restaurant is also BYOB (with no corkage fee), and the staff will even provide metal buckets with ice to keep it cold while you eat. Water and soda are available for purchase.

The Menu

The restaurant uses imported flour in the dough and 100% D.O.P San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce. Iggies also boasts house-made mozzarella.

The menu selection includes several unexpected taste combinations, and delightful options for vegetarians as well as omnivores. Purists will enjoy the back-to-basics Margherita: tomato ragu, fresh mozzeralla and fresh basil. Cheese-lovers might try the “Cinque Formaggi” with mozzarella, parmigiana, goat cheese, asiago, fontina, sea salt, and roasted garlic.

The "Selvaggio" and the "Alice" (with sausage added to half for my non-vegetarian friend).

If you’re in the mood for something sweeter, the “Pera Saporita” features pears and gorgonzola with a balsamic reduction. My personal favorite is the “Alice,” with basil pesto, mozzarella, fresh tomato, garlic spinach, goat cheese, and parmigiana. Pizzas are available in small and large sizes and range in price from $8.95 to $16.95.

If you can’t decide, consider the Iggies designated “Pizza of the Month” or “Pizza of the Year.” And, if you’re in a rush, the restaurant offers carry out or a pre-made take and bake option for fresh-from-the-oven pizza at home.

Starters include an antipasto plate ($8.95) or a selection of salads ($5.95-$6.95). And, if you still have room for dessert, Iggies offers gelato, cannoli, and pignola cookies.

Useful Info:

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Noon-9:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, Noon-10:00 p.m.
Sunday, Noon-8 p.m.
Closed on Mondays

Address: 818 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: 410.528.0818


Oct 9 2011

Bookish Baltimore: Charm City Literary Events

The Baltimore Book Festival was a couple of weeks ago and, due to an out-of-town family event, I was only able to attend one day. Torrential rains dampened most of the outdoor activities that afternoon, but it gave me a great excuse to spend some time in the George Peabody Library–the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen. (I also stayed dry exploring the Walters Art Museum, but I’ll save that for a another blog post.)

Curious to learn about other local events similar to the book festival, I did some research, and I’m considering this my sort of “literary to-do list”:

CityLit Festival

This one-day “celebration of literature” is sponsored by Baltimore’s CityLit Project, which promotes the literary arts throughout the area with events, workshops, contests, and youth programs. The event is usually held in April and includes a literary marketplace, writing workshops, art exhibits, and author panels.

When: Every Spring. The 2011 CityLit Festival took place April 16.

Where: Enoch Pratt Free Library
400 Cathedral St., Baltimore, MD 21201

Baltimore Writers’ Conference

This annual conference is co-sponsored by Towson University’s Professional Writing Program and Johns Hopkins University’s M.A. in Writing Program. Participants will attend sessions on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and the business of writing. They will also have the opportunity to meet with agents and publishers. The 2011 conference will feature keynote speaker Steve Almond. (Side note: I saw Steve Almond speak at the Conversations and Connections writing conference in D.C. last spring, and he was a dynamic speaker, both hilarious and insightful. If you’re a writer and have the chance to go, I highly recommend it.)

When: Saturday, November 12th 2011, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Where: Towson University – Liberal Arts Building

8000 York Rd., Towson, MD 21252

 510 Readings

This fiction reading series hosts events every third Saturday of the month at the Minás Gallery in Hampden. Participants get 10-12 minutes to read from their work. The events are hosted by writers Jen Michalski and Michael Kimball.

When: Every 3rd Saturday of the month at 5:00 p.m.

Where: Minás Gallery, 815 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

Lit & Art Events at the Watermark Art Gallery

Since 2007, the Watermark Gallery has brought together literature, music, and visual arts through the Lit & Art series. Experience author readings, live music, and artist performances. Audience members can participate during open mic sessions. These free events include complimentary wine and refreshments.

When: Various times throughout the year; information is posted on the gallery’s website or the Writeful blog.

Where: Watermark Art Gallery, 100 S. Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21201

The New Mercury Readings

Inspired by H.L. Mencken and the magazine he founded, The American Mercury, this monthly non-fiction reading series celebrates “the creativity and the integrity of independent writers and journalists.” The series is sponsored by the CityLit Project and co-curated by independent journalists Deborah Rudacille and John Barry.

When: Monthly

Where: The Windup Space in Baltimore’s North Avenue Arts District, 12 W. North Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201


Aug 23 2011

Hot and Bluesy

Last weekend, I spend most of Saturday at the Hot August Blues & Roots Music Festival at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. I had no idea such a beautiful venue could be found so close to Baltimore. The rolling hills just south of Hunt Valley horse country set the perfect scene for the musicians on stage, and the weather gods smiled on us, providing a sunny day framed by the weekend’s thunderstorms.

I’m pretty sure my days of 12-hour music festivals are behind me, but I devoted a respectable six or seven hours to the event. I didn’t see any of the bands from the B-Side Stage, but on the way there I heard a charming interview with the 10-year-old frontman of Lennon La Ricci and The Leftovers on the festival sponsor radio station, 89.7 WTMD. I had a great seat for the bands I was most excited about, and I was certainly not disappointed. (I do recommend the VIP tickets. You get dinner, free drinks, and plenty of space for your lawn chair.)

After a high-energy set by the 70s-inspired Kings Go Forth, Robert Randolf and the Family Band took it to another level. I’ve seen this band before, at the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival, and it’s clear they’ve evolved since then. Their sound was much tighter, and they were relaxed with the crowd. During the last song of their set, dozens of people in the front rows made their way up to the stage, and Robert Randolph just went with it. “There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of electric church,” he said. And that’s what it felt like–the crowd had become a community.

The finale was Tedeschi Trucks Band. I’ve seen the husband and wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi twice before, when they performed as The Derek Trucks Band featuring Susan Tedeschi, and I must say I’m a fan. Derek Trucks is a guitar virtuoso, and Susan Tedeschi is a talented guitarist in her own right with a soaring, soulful voice. When the two of them perform together it’s magic. I love that they allow the talent of the rest of their band to shine through, as well.

It was hot in the sun, but lovely to spend the day outdoors with great music and great friends. For the first time in a long while I didn’t worry about work or deadlines or grad school assignments. I left the concert renewed and refreshed. As German novelist Berthold Auerbach said, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Indeed, it does.

Aug 7 2011

To Market, To Market

I love the Baltimore Farmers’ Market, especially this time of year. Why? Because it’s TOMATO SEASON! There is absolutely nothing in the world like heirloom tomatoes when they’re in season. I could eat them every day. Dressed with balsamic vinegar, simmered in sauce, roasted…delicious! I have to admit I barely made it home from the market today before I ate one.

A trip to the farmers’ market is something I look forward to every weekend (when I’m in town, that is). Located under the Jones Falls Expressway at Holliday and Saratoga streets, the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar is open 7:00 a.m. to noon every Sunday from April until mid-December and features vendors who sell everything from seasonal produce, eggs, and flowers to honey, maple syrup, and freshly baked bread. Local artists also sell hand-made jewelry, handbags, artwork, and other crafts. You can get breakfast (or brunch, if you sleep in) while you shop, at booths offering ready-to-eat food, such as crepes, mini donuts, burritos, and spring rolls. One stand even sells smoothies you can blend by riding a bike. And the line for Zeke’s Coffee is always long, but it’s worth the wait.

Today, I bought eggplant, cucumbers, and onions from Calvert Farm. I had a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription with them last year, and it was fantastic to get new produce every week. This year I missed the deadline to sign up, but I love their veggies so I continue to buy from them. I bought heirloom tomatoes from another stand, as well as several pounds of plum tomatoes to roast with onions and garlic and then freeze for later. Fresh basil, bell peppers, black beans, and okra rounded out my produce purchases for the day.

I stopped by the Hawks Hill Creamery stand for some delicious Colby raw milk cheese, which pairs perfectly with the black bread with raisins and walnuts I found at one of the bakery stands.

Now, the only question is…what to make for dinner? I think I’ll try out a recipe from The Greens Cookbook for fettuccine with roasted eggplant, peppers, and basil. With a side of heirloom tomatoes.

Jul 28 2011

Beating the Heat in Baltimore

A friend of mine was in town last weekend, and despite the heat I still wanted to show her a bit of the city. So, what did we do?

Friday night we had an early-ish dinner at Pazo, one of my favorite restaurants in Harbor East. We started by sharing a carafe of sangria, which tasted perfectly refreshing after walking through the sweltering haze outside. The restaurant has an extensive menu, and diners can try a variety of dishes by ordering tapas, get a three-course dinner with the prix fixe option, or order starters and main dishes a la carte. I had a summer bruschetta with local zuccini and ricotta, an order of the (fabulous!) wood-grilled mushrooms, and small pizza with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. My friend had a small plate of sea scallops and the seafood paella.

We decided to skip dessert in favor of a treat at our next stop–Landmark Theatre Harbor East to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Just a few blocks from Pazo, the Landmark Theatre has the usual movie snacks, plus unexpected fare such as crab cakes and funnel cake fries. It also has a full bar, comfy seats, and perhaps most importantly that night…air conditioning.

Barnes & Noble at Power Plant

On Saturday, we ventured back downtown to the Inner Harbor. We’re both bibliophiles, so we spent some time (and money) in the Power Plant Barnes and Noble. After wandering in and out of the Harborplace Shops, we discovered the secret to staying cool when we hopped on the Water Taxi. As the breeze blew through my hair and cooled my sweaty skin, I thought the $10 ticket was the best money I’d spent all day. We had a lovely lunch at The Rusty Scupper, then took the taxi back across the harbor just in time to get my friend to the airport.

The view from the water taxi.

Even with the 100 degree temperature, we had a great time. It’s always fun to play tourist for a day, and I was glad I could show my friend a few charms of the city during her brief stay.