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Don Kentop: Brooklyn to Ballard

Don Kentop has been reading his work in progress at the It’s About Time Writers’ Reading Series at the Ballard Library for the last few years. It’s a stunning work, highlighting an infamous chapter in American labor history.

 

Kentop

Brooklyn to Ballard by Peggy Sturdivant

from Ballard News-Tribune. February 12, 2014

While many in Seattle were focused on what would become a historic moment first in a New York stadium on New Jersey soil and then in downtown Seattle there was another historic moment taking place. Janet Yellen was sworn in as the first woman to be Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. This interested me as a woman, as the daughter of an economist, but it actually came closest to home for me sitting across from Donald Kentop.

Like Yellen, Don Kentop was born and raised in Brooklyn. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson H.S. in 1952; Yellen graduated Valedictorian from Fort Hood H.S. in 1963. They were both educated in public high schools in Brooklyn, New York; neither of them at the legendary magnet Stuyvesant High School. Yellen couldn’t attend Stuyvesant because she was female.

Even before Yellen’s high school years Kentop was studying history at New York University. One day he happened to read a plaque on an academic building in Washington Square. That’s how he learned that NYU’s campus included the building formerly known as the Asch Building, the site of what was the deadliest fire in American labor history: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.

Although the fire that led to the death of 147 workers, almost all young immigrant workers, mostly female, had been a scandal and a rallying cause for unions and worker safety in the early 1900s, it had been mostly forgotten by the late 50s, eclipsed by the sinking of the Titanic, the Stock Market Crash, and two World Wars. There were just three plaques. But with the 50th anniversary, just when Kentop had been recalled to the Army Reserves during the 1961 Berlin Crisis, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire regained its role in labor history, even as it continues to serve as grim counterpoint to ongoing conditions in factories overseas.

Kentop went on to live a full life, one that eventually brought his family to Seattle, and to Ballard. However the memory of that relatively inconspicuous plaque stayed with Kentop, from his years writing song lyrics for a friend’s music in Brooklyn, through the teaching degree he never used, the time in the Army, his marriage to a Canadian nurse he met at Columbia, years in sales for 3M and then a second act after traveling with his family in a VW Camper Van through Europe for a year in the 70s. An adventure that proved to him, “There were choices in life.”

After retirement as a Drug & Alcohol counselor at Ballard Hospital and later Ballard Swedish, Kentop returned to writing, which had mostly been a youthful pursuit. He was interested in poetry, at first thinking that it looked easy, so he could do it too. As he became more interested in the craft, completing a poetry program through the UW’s certificate program, he became less and less confident. “It’s very hard,” he realized.

For the last 10-12 years he has been involved in poetry groups and coordinated poetry readings in Fremont. He’s had a chapbook published through Rose Alley Press and used mostly free verse to explore social issues. Perhaps unconsciously triggered by a return to student days the subject of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire drew his attention. He began reading the newspaper accounts, oral histories from survivors recorded in their later years, trial transcripts, obituary notices.

The result is a book length collection of poems, “Frozen by Fire” that is in its final writing stages, and will be accompanied by archival photographs from Cornell University’s collection. Kentop has been reading selections at various literary events, including the monthly “It’s About Time Writers’ Reading” series at the Ballard Library. Once published Kentop hopes to be able to present his work at schools and organizations. Although there are excellent books and studies on the subject Kentop doesn’t know of any other poetry collections that are dedicated to the subject of the fire.

From the time that I first heard Kentop read from “Frozen by Fire” to when we sat down for an interview I was struck by how I would never have taken the tall, deep-voiced man with Brooklyn still in his voice for a poet. A stalwart attendee at the second Thursday of the month library event, but a self-described introvert, Kentop credits his wife Carol for getting him to interact as much with the world as he does.

Kentop always knew that facts and lives of that infamous day could not be reduced to a plaque on a building. The conditions that included so many immigrants, locked doors, underage workers and inhumane labor practices must not be forgotten, and they still exist. In less than half an hour the lives surrounding those of 500 people working on the upper floors of the Asch Building were tragically altered; 147 victims, and not a survivor, witness or victim’s family left unscarred. Over half of the fatalities were teenagers for whom education was not even a choice.

This collection has become the life work that Kentop is meant to share. First indicted but later acquitted the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory owners ultimately had to pay out just $75 for each life lost. Fifty years later a girl in Brooklyn still couldn’t attend the best high school. But now, 113 years later there can perhaps be some reckoning in history, as far from Brooklyn Kentop gives voice to the lives of young women who jumped rather than be burned alive, and a girl from Brooklyn becomes Chair of the Federal Reserve.

March 16, 2014 Book Launch at Elliott Bay Bookstore

Ann Hedreen, Esther Altshul Helfgott, and Collin Tong will do a reading from Tong’s new book, Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s, on Sunday, 3:00 pm, March 16, at Elliott Bay Book Company.  A book signing will follow.

This is an anthology of stories by twenty-three writers, journalists, educators, and health practitioners from across the U.S.  many of the contributing authors are from the Northwest (e.g. Rita Bresnahan, Anthony Robinson, Connie Thompson).

Other contributors include CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen (“CBS Sunday Morning”).  The book’s website is www.collintong.com.  Please join us for this special event.

Potluck Social on January 22, 2014

Launch BWC 2014 with a potluck social. Bring books to swap. Food or beverage to share. Meet new and seasoned members. Seattle Creative Arts Center. 2601 NW Market Street. 7-9 p.m.

Sheila Kelly on Collin Tong

Collin TongOne Journalist’s Journey

I walked into a Sunset Hill coffee shop in north Ballard one crisp autumn Saturday morning and went directly to the counter to order my double short latte (it was early and it was cold and I was about to interview someone I had never met but had read about).  A man from a group at a nearby table stepped forward and said, “Are you looking for Collin?  He’s over there” and pointed me to a man sitting alone with his tablet at a sunlit table in the northeast corner.  I took my latte and joined him and learned that Collin Tong visits the cafe most every morning and joins the group of friends he had been meeting with for years.  He was clearly at home in the space, this piece of the Ballard neighborhood where he has lived for twenty-six years.

Collin knows about roots in a place. He was born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  His grandfather and father, both immigrants from China, arrived there in 1920 and started a Chinese candy and grocery store, the Wing Hop Company.  Collin’s mother was a seamstress. Their family life revolved around friends in the Chinatown community, “especially our Tong Family Association and church.”

As a youth, Collin didn’t really think about being a writer, but he took note when two of his English teachers at Lowell High School “both recognized and encouraged my writing”.  At his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Redlands, still asserting that “journalism was never my chosen profession”, he wrote for the college weekly.  He admits that at some level he thought about being a journalist, but “wasn’t sure I could make a living at it.” He majored in history and then taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand following graduation.

In the summer of 1976, after doctoral studies in East Asian history at University of California, Berkeley and a brief stint teaching at Lone Mountain College in San Francisco, Collin was a Michele Clark Fellow at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.  Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large was also a graduate of the same program, which trained promising minority journalists for full-time reporting positions at daily newspapers.  But Collin says he was “not ready for journalism” at the time because he hadn’t yet developed the requisite “fire in the belly.”

In 1971, his heart found a home even more satisfying than being a college lecturer.  He met Linda Young. Three weeks after their first date, he proposed. They married Sept 19, 1971. He was 25, she 24.  They moved to Seattle in 1977 and settled in Ballard in 1987. Collin worked a variety of jobs including public affairs director for the Alliance for Education, and senior director of communications for Washington State University.

In 2005, Linda was diagnosed with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s at age 57.   Two years later Collin took early retirement to care for her.  He knew little about caretaking but he knew how to research.  He learned that few books were available at that time.  To describe his state of mind, he used the words of Dante “In the midway of my life, I woke to find myself in a wood so dark that straight and honest ways were gone, and light was lost.”  He joined a caregiver support group and kept his own journal.   After Linda died in 2011, his friend Jerry Large encouraged him to write about what it was like to be a caregiver.

Collin took on the assignment as a new kind of journalistic challenge because it touched deeply into his own life. The project resulted in a book, Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s (January 2014), an anthology of stories told in the first person by twenty-three caregivers, Collin among them.  Finding caregivers willing to write down their experiences took almost four years.  He coached his contributors so they tell authentic stories that are not airbrushed. He believes that “stories are powerful — they help us navigate some of life’s complex problems and provide self-understanding.”

Collin chose the title Into the Storm because “it describes being swept into the maelstrom, where life is upended, and the bottom pulled out from under you.”  His hope for the book is to connect caregivers because he knows “you cannot get through the Alzheimer’s caregiving journey alone.” He is committed to doing outreach to foster greater public awareness of Alzheimer’s as a major health challenge.

After his wife’s health required him to take early retirement, Collin left behind his roles as communications director and began doing freelance writing.  As he describes it, he “drifted back into journalism.”  Glancing over his cumulative output of articles and features, he is no longer drifting but firmly anchored in journalism. He is a contributing writer for Crosscut News and University Outlook magazine.  At Crosscut, he writes prolifically on community and global health, education, environment, politics, diversity, and travel.  His writing weaves together his life and his work.  Completing his book, Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s, honors the memory of his wife and it has helped in his own healing.

Despite the protestations and disclaimers of his early years, the reluctant journalist revels in his work.  As we say goodbye in the still sunlit cafe, Collin underlines that truth, “I am now living my dream.”

Check out our Facebook Page for Upcoming Events

Visit the Ballard Writers Collective Facebook Page for information on our many upcoming events. Click on Like if you would like our posts about upcoming events to appear in your Facebook newsfeed.

Ingrid Ricks: “Hippie Boy” Re-Launch Reading

Thursday, January 9, 2014 , Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park, Seattle), 7 p.m., 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park

Friday, January 10, 2014, Secret Garden Books (Seattle), 7 p.m., 2214 NW Market St

Monday, January 13, 2014, University Bookstore (Seattle), 7 p.m., 4326 University Way NE

November 2012 Events

Saturday, 11/24/12, 1:00-10:00 p.m.

Ballard Writers Collective presents The Big Event

An opportunity to shop local and meet local writers and vendors. Book & Craft sales throughout. Afternoon presentation by authors, readings, panels and demonstrations. 
7 p.m. Live event featuring new works from 20 local writers, written especially for the Big Event 
 
Book sale by Secret Garden’s and launch of their giving tree for teachers and librarians  
Preview of forthcoming book by Q13 personality M.J. McDermott
Waffles with Joshua McNichols from Urban Farm Handbook
Special events for every hour 
Wine and beer available by suggested donation for evening event 
 
Sunset Hill Community Association 
3003 NW 66th Street
 
Sponsored by Sunset Hill Community Association with special sponsors
 
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SATURDAY, 11/17/12,11:00AM AT UNIVERSITY BOOKSTORE, MILL CREEK:
 
“Teen Author Brunch” featuring Helen Landalf, author of “Flyaway,” and other NW Young Adult authors.
 
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Thursday 11/8/12 at 6:00pm “It’s About Time” Writers Reading Series:

Readers: Rita Weinstein, Jonathon Moore, Katy E. Ellis & Sharon Cumberland on the Writer’s Craft. This event, now in its 22nd year in Seattle, is held the Second Thursday of every month at the Ballard Branch Library (5614 NW 22nd Street). Each event  begins with a Writer’s Craft presentation and also features three readers. Three minute open mic opportunities. More information on past and upcoming readings is available at www.itsaboutimewriters.homestead.com or on Facebook. Time: 6 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. Upcoming 2012 Dates: December 13

 

October 2012 Events

SUNDAY, 10/28/12 at 12 Noon, Wendy Hinman at EAGLE HARBOR BOOK COMPANY:

Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey” Come hear about Wendy Hinman’s zany adventures aboard a 31-foot sailboat at Eagle Harbor Book Company. 
 

Friday, 10/26/12 at 6:30pm, Queen Anne Books
Thursday, 10/11/12, 7:00pm, University Bookstore
Friday, 10/5/12, 7:00pm, Secret Garden Books
Jennifer Worick’sThings I Want to Punch in the Face book signing and punch parties:

Worick and local writers rock the figurative open mic as they share our own Things I Want to Punch in the Face. Bring your own gripes to read; the more malcontents, the merrier. They’ll have punch (duh!) and a fun interactive contest.

 

Thursday 10/11/12 at 6:00pm “It’s About Time” Writers Reading Series:

Readers: African American Writer’s Alliance & Pamela Hobart Carter on the Writer’s Craft. This event, now in its 22nd year in Seattle, is held the Second Thursday of every month at the Ballard Branch Library (5614 NW 22nd Street). Each event  begins with a Writer’s Craft presentation and also features three readers. Three minute open mic opportunities. More information on past and upcoming readings is available at www.itsaboutimewriters.homestead.com or on Facebook. Time: 6 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. Upcoming 2012 Dates: November 8, December 13
 
 

TUESDAY, 10/16/12 AT 3:30PM, AT BURIEN LIBRARY
FRIDAY, 10/19/12 AT 4:00PM, AT SILVERDALE BARNES AND NOBLE:

Helen Landalf, author of “Flyaway,” and other NW Young Adult authors.
 

THURSDAY, 10/18/12 AT 6:30PM, OLYMPIA BARNES AND NOBLE:

Helen Landalf, author of “Flyaway,” as part of an educator reception.

September 2012 Events

SATURDAY, 9/29/12 at 5:55 PM, SHIN YU PAI at HUGO HOUSE:

“100 Thousand Poets For Change” -  Richard Hugo House and SPLAB team up to present the Seattle micro-event from 2-7 p.m. of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a global event with nearly 700 events planned in 115 countries bringing poets together to call for environmental, social and political change. The reading is free, and Hugo House’s bar will be open serving beer, wine and spirits throughout the day. Following the readings, an after party will be held at  Vermillion, an art gallery/wine bar.
 

SATURDAY, 9/22/12 at 12 Noon, Wendy Hinman at the EDMONDS BOOKSHOP:

Come hear “Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey” author Wendy Hinman talk about her zany adventures aboard a 31-foot sailboat at Edmonds Bookshop (111 5th Ave South, Edmonds, WA 98020).

 

**TO BE RESCHEDULED** Tuesday 9/25/12 at 7:00pm, Ballard Writers Jam: Words that Stick:

 

at Egan’s Ballard Jam House, 1707 NW Market Street, 98107. Join us for our fourth installment of live storytelling (no notes, unpublished works). Storytellers to be announced. Check out podcasts of our past storytellers here.

 

Thursday 9/13/12 at 6:00pm “It’s About Time” Writers Reading Series:

Readers: Bethany Reid, Iraj Mohebalian, Leigh Clifton Goodwin, and Jack Remick on the Writer’s Craft. This event, now in its 22nd year in Seattle, is held the Second Thursday of every month at the Ballard Branch Library (5614 NW 22nd Street). Each event  begins with a Writer’s Craft presentation and also features three readers. Three minute open mic opportunities. More information on past and upcoming readings is available at www.itsaboutimewriters.homestead.com or on Facebook. Time: 6 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. Upcoming 2012 Dates: October 11, November 8

August 2012 Events

THURSDAY, 8/30/12 at 7:00PM, ZINE RELEASE PARTY, COUTH BUZZARD BOOKS:

“You Have Been Eaten By A Hamburger”! Please join Bria Sullivan, Jon Hendrich, Luke Anderson, Nicole Scott (a Ballard Writers Collective member), Regan Luke & Yasmin ElBaradie to celebrate their recently self published work of art, fiction and poetry. Pick up a copy of the 44-page zine & listen to them read their writings on antisocial love, family, and the church. At Couth Buzzard Books (8310 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle). 

 

SUNDAY, 8/26/12 10AM-3PM, “THE PROPHETIC JOURNEY” Book Launch at the Ballard Sunday Market on Ballard Ave NW:

Ballard Author Marjorie Young celebrates the book launch for the second installment of her award-winning fantasy/adventure series, The Boy with Golden Eyes, which appeals to readers of all ages. Joining her will be her thirteen-year-old great nephew Sam, the inspiration for the hero ‘Rupert,’ as well as the ‘cover-boy.’ They’ll be signing/selling the new book as well as first book. You can find them located right next to the Pizza sellers.

 

Tuesday, 8/21/12 at 8:00pm, A Guide To Visitors: Stories on Stage Presents “DO-GOODERS” with Alison Krupnick:

Theatre Off Jackson, 409 7th Ave S, Seattle, 98104. Doors open at 7:00pm, 21+, Tickets $9 advance, $10 at the door. There’s a stunning lineup of true stories for the show, including Alison Krupnick, author of the blog Slice of Mid-Life and the forthcoming book Ruminations from the Minivan: Musings from a World Grown Large, then Small. Alison will tell the  tale of trying to save a life in India.
 

Monday, 8/13/12 at 7:00PM, YA Author Panel, Everett:

Downtown Everett Public Library, 2702 Hoyt Avenue  Everett, WA 98201. Several YA authors, including Ballard Writer Helen Landalf, will discuss their latest books for teens.
 

Thursday 8/9/12 at 6:00pm “It’s About Time” Writers Reading Series:

Readers: Steve Hersch, Mitsu Beni Akiyama Sundvall, Helen Landalf, and Donna Miscolta on the Writer’s Craft. This event, now in its 22nd year in Seattle, is held the Second Thursday of every month at the Ballard Branch Library (5614 NW 22nd Street). Each event  begins with a Writer’s Craft presentation and also features three readers. Three minute open mic opportunities. More information on past and upcoming readings is available at www.itsaboutimewriters.homestead.com or on Facebook. Time: 6 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. Upcoming 2012 Dates: September 13, October 11