48-hour whirlwind East Coast weekend: the Boston Book Festival and the Boston Filipino-American Book Club

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 – Robert Frost, American poet, from “The Road Not Taken”

Waiting for my red-eye flight to Boston at Oakland International Airport.

In mid-September, Grace Talusan, Fulbright Scholar, English professor at Tufts University in Boston, and winner of the 2017 New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction by Restless Books, contacted me to let me know that the Boston Filipino-American Club (BFAB) was going to be reading my novel, A Village in the Fields, for the month of October. Grace, whose memoir, The Body Papers, will be published in the Fall of 2018, asked if I would be willing to Skype with the members at their October 29th meeting following their traditional brunch. Absolutely, I let her and book club founder and artist Bren Bataclan know.

At some point in October, my husband, David, suggested that I use up points and fly to Boston the weekend of the book club meeting. At first, I dismissed the idea. I’m not spontaneous, I pointed out, echoing a famous line of mine from my college days. But as the days went by, I started to warm up to the idea. However, I didn’t want to burden anyone with my visit. When I finally reached out to Grace and Bren, they were enthusiastic and welcoming of the visit. So I booked my flight and was looking forward to the trip. My job has been very stressful these past few months and I pulled two near-all-nighters the week before my planned visit. In fact, that Thursday evening, I worked until the early morning. I wasn’t sure then if it was a good idea to be going away. But David noted that I needed to get out, that being around book lovers would be a welcome change and just the community that I needed to be in the midst of.
So I took the red-eye from Oakland to JFK in New York and caught the next leg to Boston. (An aside: It turned out that the woman sitting across the aisle from me was headed for the Boston Book Festival. Her publishing company, New York-based Other Press, was hosting a tent, which is where she brought up recognizing me on her flight. She noticed that I was reading Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.) Grace and a good friend of hers picked me up at the airport, and we had a nice breakfast at the Eastern Standard, an elegant French-period appointed restaurant on Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Kenmore Square, which is on the other side of the highway from Fenway Park. Afterwards, Grace dropped me off at Copley Square, site of the Boston Book Festival, a one-day event of talks and panels, tents filled with myriad publishers, and book signings! I was in heaven and the weather was perfect – fall chill in the air, changing colors of the trees. There were multiple sessions that overlapped, so I had to make some difficult decisions.

Fall at the entrance of the Eastern Standard restaurant.

Of course, I had to get a picture of me near Fenway Park (courtesy of Grace Talusan).

Rapping with Shakespeare.

My introduction to the festival was listening to The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy. During 2016-2017, Shakespeare to Hiphop (literary performers and TEDx Boston alumni Regie Gibson and Marlon Carey) partnered with the Boston Public Library to celebrate the great bard. The result is The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy: “an all-new presentation combining American jazz-funk-country-pop and hip-hop with poetry, song, storytelling, rap, and Shakespeare’s own words.” Their performance was entertaining and crowd-pleasing.

Checking out the different tents and publishers.

Food truck at Copley Square.

I walked around the tents, checking out the various local presses, and then I walked over to the Church of the Covenant to hear the fiction keynote featuring Claire Messud and Jacqueline Woodson discuss their recently released coming-of-age novels, The Burning Girl, and Another Brooklyn, respectively. Both read excerpts from their novels. According to the book festival program: “The mutability of memory, the swift passage of time, the use of stories to make sense of experience, the treacherous landscape of female adolescence, and the simultaneous vitality and volatility of teenage girls’ friendships – these are common threads that run through these narratives, as both writers draw perceptive, unsentimental portraits of young women growing up and growing apart.”

Church of the Covenant.

What a thrill to hear Claire Messud and Jacqueline Woodson read from their new works, and in such a beautiful setting as this old church.

I couldn’t stay for any book signings afterwards. I would have had to stand in a long line, considering how packed the church was for their keynote. I dashed back to Trinity Forum to catch the “Voices of American: The Immigrant Experience Through a Writer’s Eyes” session, which featured Ha Jin, Marjan Kamali, and Grace. I have read Ha Jin’s books, including Waiting, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 1999. I picked up Marjan’s novel, Together Tea, which is about the matchmaking exploits of an Iranian woman’s parents. And I look forward to Grace’s memoir to come out next year. Grace read an excerpt about her father’s childhood in the Philippines that was gripping, heartbreaking, and beautifully written. My heart was literally in my throat as she read, which is how I define meaningful storytelling – the kind that stays with you, that you turn over and over in your head at night and for days. The three panelists talked about being immigrant writers, and while Marjan wished to be thought of as a writer and not “labeled” as an Iranian-American writer, I applauded Grace’s response: There are few Asian-American writers; she is more than happy to take on that mantle to draw more attention to the stories of Asian Americans, of Filipino Americans.

A very packed room for Ha Jin, Marjan Kamali, and Grace Talusan.

Marjan Kamali signing books after the session. I forgot to take Ha Jin’s up-close photo!

Once I briefly met Ha Jin and Marjan, I dashed to the Boston Public Library. I wasn’t able to catch the session “Fiction: Missed Connections,” with Eshkol Novo, Celeste Ng, and Lily Tuck, but I decided that getting their books signed was more important. I ended up reading a good chunk of Celeste’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, on my long plane ride back home the following evening. It’s a beautiful novel, both in character revelation and insight and in her writing. I wasn’t familiar with Lily Tuck, but I picked up her latest novel, the slim Sisters, which I read in one sitting that night. I appreciated the structure of what I consider a novella, and I learned a lot about crafting intense short scenes/chapters. Another writer to read more of her previous works!

The front of the Boston Public Library.

Courtyard in the Boston Public Library – a building we didn’t go into when my family and I vacationed in Boston in 2010.

Lily Tuck signing her slim novel, Sisters, for me.

Celeste Ng signing her new novel, Little Fires Everywhere, for me.

I completely missed “Freeman’s: The Future of New Writing.” John Freeman, literary critic, poet, and former Granta editor, is a childhood classmate of one of my favorite local proprietors, Jen Komaromi of Jenny K. I wished I could have attended, but it was time for me to head on over to Bren’s place in Cambridge. I caught a Lyft and met my gracious hosts, Bren and Bob, in their beautiful turn-of-the-century flat. The trees had already changed colors and it was cold. Perfect fall weather. Bren grew up in the Bay Area and is now a successful painter and muralist. He and Brian share the distinction of being one of the first couples to be married in Massachusetts when same-sex marriage was legal. While they had a dance performance to attend that evening, I was perfectly happy to cozy up on the couch and read Sisters in one sitting. And then cat-nap and catch the World Series.

Thinking of my daughter, Isabella, as I took a picture of the hare statue in Copley Square minus the tortoise.

Old South Church across from the Boston Public Library.

In the morning, after my error of telling Bren and Bob that the weekend before Halloween was Daylight Savings time was discovered, we had enough time to right the ship, get ready, and head on over to hosts Rory and Jane’s home to enjoy a Sunday brunch and discuss my novel. I was in awe of all the great food that was on the table. What a wonderful tradition of a having a potluck brunch with Filipino food such as puto and a rice dish that was supposed to feature Spam (Anna, who brought the dish apologized for not being able to find the tin of Spam in her kitchen). I met some wonderful people and new friends. I felt so welcomed. Rather than drain me, my short whirlwind weekend energized me. I was surrounded by books, book lovers, writers, my Filipino American community, warm hospitality. What more could a writer ask for? Maraming salamat, dear new friends!

Meeting host Rory Dela Paz and Anna (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Enjoying Filipino food and conversation (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

New and long-standing members of the Boston Filipino American Book Club (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Talking about my book (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Members of the Boston Filipino-American Book Club and their tasty spread hosted by Jane and Rory Dela Paz.

Saying goodbye to this artistic couple, photographer Alonso Nichols and memoirist and fiction writer Grace Talusan (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Riding in the El Cerrito Centennial parade

It’s been my belief that learning how to do something in your hometown is the most important thing.
– Pete Seeger, American folk singer and social activist

My town of El Cerrito, Calif., where I’ve lived since 1996, is celebrating its centennial this year. One of the major events for the celebration was the Showcase Parade, which featured 59 groups or distinguished individuals. I was invited to participate as a local award-winning writer. But the biggest honor was sharing the red convertible with Gail Tsukiyama, award-winning writer of eight novels and resident of El Cerrito.

Pictures say it all, so I will let them do the talking.

Everyone is getting ready for the start of the parade at the staging grounds. Lots of convertibles and jeeps.

Ruth, our driver and owner of the red convertible, took a picture of Gail and me before the parade started.

And we’re off! That’s Nathan the Magician behind us, who unicycled and juggled all the way to the end of the parade – and wearing a dress shirt and tie! Nathan is an El Cerrito High School grad who, after college, became a full-time magician.

The parade in front of us. We turned right onto Richmond Street, which is a major street in El Cerrito. The ECHS marching band was in front of us, too.

We’ve got our signs up!

Looking behind us. Keeping Nathan honest.

My sad attempt at a selfie with Gail as we enjoy the 70s music that the El Cerrito High School dance group was dancing to.

The energetic ECHS dance troupe entertaining us all.

Residents waved from their picture windows of their homes on residential Richmond Street, and many pulled up their chairs and waved from the curbside.

I recognized a number of families from our schools, and was pleasantly surprised to see our long-time friends Yoko and Bruce at one of the street corners.

Coming up Moeser Street and getting closer to Cerrito Vista Park, our destination.

More crowd shots.

We have an active El Cerrito Arts and Culture Committee, thanks to parent and San Francisco State professor Chris Sterba. Marching in the parade is Maw Shein Win, El Cerrito’s Poet Laureate, in the red with the hat.

David, my husband, was near the park entrance and took this picture of Gail and me. And that’s Chris Sterba on the left, handing out leaflets on the Arts and Culture Committee.

A close-up as we drove by.

And I had to include this photo of Ernie Broglio, who is an ECHS alum who also pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Best known as the player who was traded to the Cubs from the Cardinals in exchange for Lou Brock. Yep, you know which team made out big. But the other big thing is that our house is Ernie’s childhood home. His family was the first owners of our current house. We are the second owners. After the parade, David went up to tell him we own his house. What a pleasant surprise that was for him!

The end of the road for us, while more townspeople gather at Cerrito Vista Park. What a great event.

El Cerrito Centennial Parade

This coming Saturday, September 16th, I’ll be in the El Cerrito Centennial parade, riding in a convertible – red, no less – with former El Cerrito resident and author Gail Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk, The Samurai’s Garden, Night of Many Dreams, The Language of Threads, Dreaming Water, and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms). I’m honored and thrilled to be riding with her in celebration of my hometown and her former hometown’s 100th anniversary of its founding. The route starts at the Safeway on San Pablo Avenue near Del Norte BART station at 8:30am and ends at Cerrito Vista Park at noon. See you there!

Talking about the Filipino American experience at UC Davis

Ethnic studies may be effective because it is an unusually intensive and at-scale social-psychological intervention.
– Thomas S. Dee, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, director at the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, and co-author of the report The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum, a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper

The University of California at Davis is my alma mater, and while I was an English major, I was one class shy of having a minor in Asian American Studies. So I was very excited to have the opportunity to do a talk for Professor Robyn Magalit Rodriguez’s Asian American Studies class 150: the Filipino American Experience this past Thursday, April 27th.

The quad at UC Davis, where I spent many a sunny afternoon reading and having lunch with friends and classmates.

Another view of the quad. Lots of political signs up. I remember listening to Desmond Tutu speaking to a capacity crowd on the quad. Those were the days.

My older sister Heidi is also an Aggie alum. Here we are posing with some Aggie swag.

Professor Rodriguez showed Marissa Aroy’s documentary, The Delano Manongs: the Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement. Then I read an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields. Afterwards, we did a Q&A session, which included my talking about the importance of Asian American Studies in my life – personally and with my writing. Professor Rodriguez and I both stressed the importance of recording the stories of our families, and emphasizing the value to our parents and grandparents of their stories. They need validation of the importance of their stories.

Reading an excerpt from the novel.

Talking about the process of writing A Village in the Fields.

Talking about the importance of Asian American Studies in my life.

I had the opportunity to talk with a number of students after the class. I am uplifted every time I spent time with college students, especially those in Asian American Studies. I was energized by their passion and commitment to AAS and the history of Filipino Americans.

Getting to know one of the AAS students who is majoring in history.

I really enjoy talking with students after events. Here, Rebecca is an English major who is minoring in AAS.

Who doesn’t enjoy signing books?

Thank you, Professor Rodriguez, for a great, enlightening evening!

Celebrating Cesar Chavez Day, University of CA, Office of the President

On Wednesday, March 29th, I was the guest speaker at a lunchtime event sponsored by the Latino Staff Association/Asian Pacific Islander Association affinity groups at the University of California, Office of the President (UCOP). The event, entitled, “When Mexicans and Filipinos Join Together: The Farmworker Movement and Unity in the Making,” was in celebration of Cesar Chavez Day. After reading an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields, I sat down with Belinda Vea, Policy and Program Analyst in Student Affairs for UCOP who did her graduate work on Filipino literature, in an “in conversation” question-and-answer session. Belinda is also co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Association.

Among other topics, Belinda asked me about the research process and my family’s story within the novel. The floor was opened up to questions from the audience, which numbered between 45 and 50, which was really nice to see. It was gratifying not only to respond to such thoughtful questions, but to see the interest in people’s faces. In addition to UCOP employees, the event was also advertised to employees from Kaiser Permanente, whose building was across the street in downtown Oakland.

I’m posting photos taken of the event, with gratitude to the photographers, Juliann Martinez, Employee Relations Specialist and chair of the Latino Staff Association, who kindly extended the invitation to speak, Alina Tejera, Pamela Palpallatoc, and Ben Tsai, co-chair with Belinda of the APIA.

The flyer advertising the event.

A wonderful poster welcoming the audience.

A nice spread of Filipino and Mexican cuisine.

A very nice slide show of Filipino and Mexican farm workers was shown before the event.

Reading an excerpt from my novel.

A close-up of my reading.

Belinda Vea “in conversation” with me after my reading.

Belinda at the ready with her questions.

One of the things I talked about was the value taking Asian American Studies classes at UC Davis both in my personal life and in my writing.

An animated me answering a questions while the audience leans in.

A beautiful basket of vegetables and two of my books were raffle prizes at the end of the event.

Me with Pamela Palpallatoc, who works for UCOP and is a UC Davis alumna.

Talking beyond the lunch hour about Filipino American history.

My hosts – Belinda Vea, Ben Tsai, and Juliann Martinez.

Patricia Beckmann Wells: a ‘fan of poetry told through moving images’

I think animation is a very truthful way to express your thoughts, because the process is very direct . . . You go from the idea to execution, straight from your brain. It’s like when you hear someone playing an instrument, and you feel the direct connection between the instrument and his brain, because the instrument becomes an extension of his arms and fingers. It’s like a scanner of the brain and thought process that you can watch, or hear.
 – Michel Gondry, French indie director, screenwriter, and producer

Patricia and her son, PT, in the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art's rain room, site of the Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival.

Patricia and her son, PT, in the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art’s rain room, site of the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival.

Before Patricia Beckmann Wells’s “Family Tale” premiered at the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival in December 2015, she posted on the Adoptive Families Facebook page about the animated short film’s subject of building a transracial family: “It documents the story of a young family who lost their own biological children, but found love by getting on the roller coaster of adoption. This journey led them to embrace open adoption, which in turn led to its own wonderful and unexpected results. It exists as our son’s story, so he can have record of what led him to join us.” “Family Tale” was also an official selection of this year’s LUNAFEST film festival, which premiered this past September.

She recognized that animation was the best media to tell her story and to personalize her story of adoption. “The audience did not judge me as a face with bias, but were presented with my interior,” she explained. “It was easier for them to identify with the pictures as symbolism than with a human face they may not have liked.”

Still from the short film, "Family Tale."

Still from the short film, “Family Tale.”

Indeed, Patricia shared how her film gave her insight into a larger story. “Somehow that film melted the cold exterior off of strangers,” she said. “I met many, many people with similar stories, and made many friends. It is remarkable how many people have suffered alone with a pain that was taboo to discuss. Usually a quarter of my audience identifies. I have chatted for hours with folks after the film. And have a new world view now.”

Still from "Family Tale."

Still from “Family Tale.”

Animator, professor, author
Patricia earned her Master of Fine Arts in Cinema and her EdD. in Educational Psychology and Leadership from the University of Southern California (USC). As a tenured professor, she teaches animation, game/toy design, virtual reality production and emerging technologies at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, Calif. She has also authored several publications on emerging technologies and art.

Patricia with her animated class and her animations!

Patricia with her animated class and her animations!

Being an animator, professor, and author have all shaped her as filmmaker. Animation suits her preference for being able to work alone and at her own fast pace, and for the way her creativity evolves. “There is creative power in daydreaming and low-stress experimentation,” she pointed out. “A line can lead to a doodle, leading to a truth that only comes from looking sideways at an upside-down thought.” In the college classroom, Patricia has gotten to know a diverse group of students. “This gives me stories,” she said. “All three [animator, professor, author] are just who I am – a sincere fan of the poetry told by moving image,” she said, simply.

Still from "Family Tale."

Still from “Family Tale.”

Navigating the animation industry
Patricia had previously worked on several movies as an animator for Warner Brothers Digital and other film companies. While she was Manager of Shorts Development at Film Roman, three of her entries won the Playboy Animation Festival in 2000. Soon after, she was tapped to develop content for Oxygen Media, the Romp, and Playboy. Later, she was in charge of training as an executive at Walt Disney Animation studios, and as Head of Training assisted Dreamworks SKG in building production studios in India, but it came at a price. “I got distracted by taking on a managerial role in the big animation studios, and lost the time required to develop new ideas,” she said.

Patricia Beckmann Wells, at home.

Patricia Beckmann Wells, at home.

Since becoming a professor, Patricia is able to work on her own ideas, but can only dedicate five months a year for a creative project because of her teaching schedule. “Ideas are mulling all the time, but they pop into production when all of the inspirations and tools present themselves,” she said. “I don’t take on commercial work anymore because there are much more talented artists than me out there who deserve the work, and I want to be free to be creative.”

The animation industry has seen an explosion of talent, but while it has evolved, centralized power and gender disparity still exist. Techtopus, recent lawsuits in which the animation industry tries to control and blacklist talent, is still affecting animation, and few women hold creative leadership, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. “I work alone. I doodle, think, and keep on. My animation heroes are all indie,” she affirmed. “The story is the thing, not the method (which currently happens to be animation), and I am so happy there are many more outlets for media than there were 20 years ago.” With the indie movement firmly entrenched in the industry, she declared, “We do not need to join studios any more.  As a professor, I am in a perfect position to keep making my stories while encouraging new voices to speak as well.  Emerging media is creating new outlets for creativity daily.”

Still from the film, "Don't Cry."

Still from the film, “Don’t Cry.”

Having faith in indies
Patricia is currently in production for “Don’t Cry,” with soundtrack by Boston-based ska punk band Big D and the Kids Table. The film, which is expected to be released in summer 2017, explores a mother’s unconditional love for her adopted son and how she will influence his own family. Patricia is also developing a comedy series “motivated by subtly educating people about the science of global warming,” a science-fiction film about the outsider and education, virtual reality experiments, and educational shorts created for her son.

She hopes that audiences who see her films “leave with faith in the little guy.” “Independent film has an authentic voice and usually just one writer,” Patricia said. “I hope I get better and better and eventually can tell a story that wraps people up in a peaceful blanket of my heart, smothers them with kisses, and leads them back into the world drunk with love.”

Note: You can see Patricia’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.