Events

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.”

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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

Theo Pauline Nestor reads from Writing is My Drink, Monday Nov 18!

Author Theo Pauline Nestor reads from her new book

Writing is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and a Guide to How You Can Too) (Simon & Schuster, $15)

http://writingismydrink.com/

Monday, 18 November 2013

6 PM

Seattle Public Library, Ballard Branch
5614 22nd Ave. NW
Seattle 98107

CONTACT: Suzanne Perry, suzanne@secretgardenbooks.com

Interested in writing personal narrative but not sure where to start?

Join local memoirist and teacher Theo Pauline Nestor for this 45-minute workshop in which she will lead participants through writing activities from her new book Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and a Guide to How You Can Too).  No writing experience required.  Bring yourself and paper and a pen (or a laptop, if you prefer).

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over, which was selected by Kirkus Reviews as a ”2008 Top Pick for Reading Groups” and by Target as a “Breakout Book.” Her work has been published in numerous places including New York Times, The Huffington Post, Under the Sun, and Brain, Child magazine. She is a professor of memoir-writing in the University of Washington’s Continuing and Professional Education department and the founder and host of the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat. She lives in Seattle with her family and cat.

This event is free and open to the public.  Books will be available for sale.

Join us for The Writer Next Door, BWC’s 4th annual event!

ballard writers poster 2013

Friday, November 1st Doors open at 6 p.m. Program at 7 p.m.

Sunset Hill Community Club, 3003 NW 66th Street

Author readings. “Ask the Writer” Panel. $15 three-book sampler. Raffle baskets. A
dditional book sales by Secret Garden Books plus Rising Bird Art Store benefit sale

Thirty participating writers, twelve readers and panel featuring Theo Pauline Nestor, Jennifer D. Munro, Ingrid Ricks and Joshua McNichols, moderated by Alison Krupnick.

Free admission.

(Three book sampler available only while supplies last).

 

Shin Yu Pai profiled by Peggy Sturdivant

shin yu paiA place to call home

Shin Yu Pai’s most recent poetry collection was partly inspired by not belonging to a place. She already feels that will not be the case as a Ballard Writer.

Originally from California, Pai’s past moves have been for purposes of study or jobs. While working in Texas she met her future husband; they moved here in 2007 for her intended Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Washington. After two years they moved instead to Arkansas, returning to Seattle in 2012, this time to Ballard, fittingly for her Texas-born Swedish-American husband.

Pai’s vita, which includes teaching, several poetry collections, commissioned works, artist-in-residence at Seattle Art Museum, an MFA from the School of Art Institute of Chicago, curatorial experience and her own visual art and photography, is daunting. Friend and BWC writer and poet Carol Levin puts it simply, “Shin Yu’s brilliant.”

As an example of this I had to have Shin Yu explain the title of her new book to me, “Aux Arcs.” Even though this would be pronounced in French at “o-zarks” I had not made the connection to Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains. She explained the etymology, probably derived from the French term for the region that cartographers drew as the largest bend or arc in the lower Arkansas River and a starting point for exploring the Ozark Mountains. More personally Pai sees her time in Arkansas as its own arc, possibly a detour that put her off uncomfortably off-track.

“I came to this place as a professional. I’d framed my life around work,” she said of her position with a philanthropic organization based near Little Rock. While there Pai traveled almost monthly for work and welcomed the opportunity to be away from Arkansas and how it informed her poetry. As a partner in a bi-racial marriage she experienced race and gender issues that ultimately made her reconsider choosing location as a function of work. Pai and her husband decided to return to Seattle, initially without jobs, making “a leap of faith.”

As they were literally crossing the state lines leaving Arkansas Pai realized how much she longed to belong to a place, as though it became most obvious when Arkansas was in the rear view mirror. Yet she still needed to explore her relation to the place where she had been living. This is a different twist on place-based writing, more akin to the way an artist might use negative space, allowing what’s unfilled to illuminate.  Paul Constant, writing in The Stranger said of this collection, “Cut as they are from sheets of pure red rage, Pai stitches her words into something undeniably beautiful.”

In “Aux Arcs” many of the poems dissect what made Arkansas a place that Pai didn’t belong, concluding with a sense of coming to terms with her relation to that place. In “Ozarks” she writes of the mountains and ends with these lines:

I am one w/the summits

when decamping.

Like so many of us, either by luck of birth or by some instinct, Pai has chosen Ballard as her place to settle. Our meeting was in part an announcement to the Ballard community that she wants to make this place home.

 

Listen to all these recordings of Ballard writers at Egan’s!

more soon!

March 2012

 

May 2012

 

June 2012

 

April 2013