Food For The Soul

Overview

"This collection of essays, poems and stories from 25 talented participants in a soup kitchen writers' workshop lives up to its title. The selections are funny, gritty and brutally honest, writing that attests to a raw spirituality formed and informed by life on the street. When these writers are given prompts like "It Was the Best Day," "So I Lied," "September Eleven," "My Best Mistake" or "In My Other Life," they hold nothing back. Peter Nkruma writes about the "delicious fun" he had at the library writing on his Web log a parody of the
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Food for the Soul: Selections from the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Writers' Workshop

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Overview

"This collection of essays, poems and stories from 25 talented participants in a soup kitchen writers' workshop lives up to its title. The selections are funny, gritty and brutally honest, writing that attests to a raw spirituality formed and informed by life on the street. When these writers are given prompts like "It Was the Best Day," "So I Lied," "September Eleven," "My Best Mistake" or "In My Other Life," they hold nothing back. Peter Nkruma writes about the "delicious fun" he had at the library writing on his Web log a parody of the evangelical Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction, playing God and "rapturing" to the heavens a boozy magazine editor he liked while leaving behind one who ignored articles by African-Americans. Donald Mackey's moving essay on "Working for My Welfare" describes scrounging for a dirty pair of gloves at a cleaning job he needed to keep his food stamps. In his piece on "Recovering," Mackey reflects on how the writers' workshop has changed his life, he is now a licensed minister completing a book and a one-act play. Sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter, this collection is a nutritious "slice of life" from a writers' workshop that's truly in the soul-food business." Publisher's Weekly
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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics

"This collection of essays, poems and stories from 25 talented participants in a soup kitchen writers' workshop lives up to its title. The selections are funny, gritty and brutally honest, writing that attests to a raw spirituality formed and informed by life on the street. When these writers are given prompts like "It Was the Best Day," "So I Lied," "September Eleven," "My Best Mistake" or "In My Other Life," they hold nothing back. Peter Nkruma writes about the "delicious fun" he had at the library writing on his Web log a parody of the evangelical Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction, playing God and "rapturing" to the heavens a boozy magazine editor he liked while leaving behind one who ignored articles by African-Americans. Donald Mackey's moving essay on "Working for My Welfare" describes scrounging for a dirty pair of gloves at a cleaning job he needed to keep his food stamps. In his piece on "Recovering," Mackey reflects on how the writers' workshop has changed his life, he is now a licensed minister completing a book and a one-act play. Sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter, this collection is a nutritious "slice of life" from a writers' workshop that's truly in the soul-food business." Publisher's Weekly

Publishers Weekly
This collection of essays, poems and stories from 25 talented participants in a soup kitchen writers' workshop lives up to its title. The selections are funny, gritty and brutally honest-writing that attests to a raw spirituality formed and informed by life on the street. When these writers are given prompts like "It Was the Best Day," "So I Lied," "September Eleven," "My Best Mistake" or "In My Other Life," they hold nothing back. Peter Nkruma writes about the "delicious fun" he had at the library writing on his Web log a parody of the evangelical Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction, playing God and "rapturing" to the heavens a boozy magazine editor he liked while leaving behind one who ignored articles by African-Americans. Donald Mackey's moving essay on "Working for My Welfare" describes scrounging for a dirty pair of gloves at a cleaning job he needed to keep his food stamps. In his piece on "Recovering," Mackey reflects on how the writers' workshop has changed his life-he is now a licensed minister completing a book and a one-act play. Sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter, this collection is a nutritious "slice of life" from a writers' workshop that's truly in the soul-food business. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596270015
  • Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Food for the Soul

Selections from the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Writers' Workshop


By Elizabeth Maxwell, Susan Shapiro

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2004 Elizabeth Maxwell and Susan Shapiro
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59627-001-5



CHAPTER 1

Who, Where, How?


Where I'm From

Carol West March 31, 2004

I was the only fat one in my Virginia family. It's the fault of my grandmother Eck's great southern cooking. I still wear her mashed potatoes and hand-beaten biscuits. I have hourglass hips and a pear-shaped ass. People notice.

Trying to find clothes to fit that bundle of love area is a challenge. Due to my short stature, I take into consideration first length, then width. Then the eye judges the style, the fabric, the color and design. The final question mentally asked before entering the dressing room is WILL IT FIT?

If it fits or might fit, do I look decent? If I look okay, the next concern is will I be able to find a seamstress or tailor who does good work at a cheap price to alter the item? If it fairly fits and looks okay, I buy it.

This season a pair of sexy silk-like, black Vietnamese pajama pants has served me well. For the afternoon, I add a business jacket. Perhaps a glittery top for an evening soiree. My outfit, in the winter, is black jeans or a pair of navy blue cords. Summer brings me khaki shorts. I have no shame. A bad day for a garment worker who makes mistakes can be a wonderfully fitting day for me.

Grandma Eck, you cooked too well.


Where I Am From

Peter Nkruma March 26, 2003

I am from Uganda, the eye of the skull-shaped African continent. And from the eye I am. The lush, hot African landscape receded and a Canadian one took its place in my life. Cold, long winters and free roaming wolf-dog hybrids as numerous as snowflakes were my morning. Then in the afternoon, the Canadian canvas was replaced with an American one. Washington serenaded me with star-spangled anthems as I ate hot apple pie at the ballgame. But as the twilight fell, the ghosts of all the dead Indians roamed in the growing darkness, like the wolf dogs of Canada, and the lions of Africa. The ghosts of the Indians found their way onto this page.


Where I'm From

Norman Clayton March 10, 2004

Love, rage, fear: all come to me this dawn. But let me start with love, which circles around me like the electronic ticker tapes here in Times Square.

Love. It too advances and retreats, turns corners, tells of victory and defeat. Love was never mentioned in my family; love was almost taboo. I never saw my mother and father hug and kiss. When my mother got pregnant with my older brother, a deal was made. My father would work, she would cook, clean, and take care of the kids. That was it, that was the marriage. "That's it," was Pop's letter signoff. I remember his handwriting. He slashed the T's of "That's it" vertically and horizontally like the sunlight on the ground in New York City. I am mentally ill, so it is sometimes nice to be on the ground and in sunlight.

Rage. When I was twelve, my cousin and I were walking down the hill near Trevose, Pennsylvania, when we saw a woman evangelist with a table full of palm- sized, shiny black books. They were copies of the New Testament. She said that if we took Christ as our savior, we could each have a Bible. My cousin wanted one. I didn't, but I went along with him and pledged Christ as my savior. It was the first time I saw my cousin, who was one year older, interested in anything but football and sex. My Bible was soon lost, but I remember its words of sin with their fiery glow. It was a sunny morning, the pages were tissue thin and almost translucent. Christ was in black type but Satan almost jumped off the page. I thought if my cousin wanted it, it must be sex. Christ didn't seem to be getting any, but Satan sure as hell was.

Fear. At home, though we were not holy rollers, my father was a devout follower of our small-town Elks Club. My mother, when I was in my mid-teens, chaired a Presbyterian women's organization. She asked me to get confirmed, so I did. She never said, "I'm proud of you." But thirty years later she finally started ending our telephone conversations with "Love and miss."


Where I'm From

Donald Mackey February 1, 1995

1942 Born in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

1944 I remember my father throwing a piece of paper sprayed with quinine into my crib for the purpose of stopping my paper-eating habit. It worked. I started pulling wallpaper from the wall to chew on.

1945 I stood at a window in my house watching the rain flow down the street where I lived. It looked like a ferocious river carrying debris of tree limbs and other scary things. I cried for hours because I imagined that my mother might have been caught in the flood. She had gone to work.

1946 First day of Sunday school.

1949 First day at school. I still remember what I wore.

1955 Began high school.

1958 Moved to New Jersey.

1963 Married.

1966 My father died.

1966 First child born.

1966 Entered college.

1967 First professional employment.

1968 Reentered college.

1978 Purchased a home.

1989 Filed for bankruptcy.

1990 Drug rehab program.

1993 Became homeless.

1993 Wrote book manuscript.

1993 Became gainfully employed.

1994 Job closed.

1994 Became homeless again.

1995 Still homeless, looking for housing.


Where I'm From

Nelson Blackman March 7, 2001

My mother, Lillie, was from Alabama. She had caramel skin, a round, pretty face and long dark hair, a southern belle. My father Harry was from New Orleans. He had mixed blood, part Cajun, part African American, part Cherokee. He was six feet four inches, one inch taller than me. He was married before meeting my mother and had three sons. They were already grown when I was born. I liked having three older brothers to look up to. We're close to this day. My parents had two daughters before me, so I was the baby.

I grew up in a tenement house on a quiet block on 128th Street in Harlem. My father was strict and made me go to Catholic school. He worked as a merchant seaman, so he traveled a lot. We missed him. Later he took a job with the phone company, which was better because he was home more. I loved trains when I was a kid. When he took me on the subway, I was mesmerized with the way it came out of the ground.

My father died in September of 1986. I visited his grave in New Jersey once with my brother. My mother died in April of 2001. She's buried in Calverton Cemetery in Long Island. I was closer to her. I went to her grave and talked to her, thanking her for taking such good care of me. For the last ten years of their marriage, my parents went their separate ways, which is why they are not buried together.


Where I'm From

Janice English March 28, 2001

I come from a very dysfunctional family. There were six children. My father was physically abusive. He was emotionally and mentally abusive to my mother, and she was abusive to us as well.

This is where fear starts and you become scared all the time; scared if you did something wrong, scared if you didn't do anything wrong. You never know in this type of situation what kind of mood your parents are in that would incite them to beat you. So you lived in fear and were afraid all the time. Being scared becomes a way of life. Because society makes you think that you have no rights until you are eighteen, you sometimes buy into this crap.

My father started heavily abusing me when I was twelve, and it lasted for six years. I went into junior high school weighing 112 pounds. By the time I finished the ninth grade I was 160 pounds. I came out in the twelfth grade weighing 180 pounds. During these years, he abused me for no reason. He didn't want me talking to boys. He used to accuse me of everything under the sun, though it was all in his head. I was scared all the time. I had no protection, no one I could talk to. So I used to eat and run away from home all the time.

When I turned eighteen, my mother got the courage to separate from my father. He used to come to where we lived and break the door down or climb through the window and terrorize us. At eighteen I felt like an adult and didn't want to take this anymore. So one day when he broke into the house and hit me, I hit him back. I even broke my high school graduation picture over his head. We had a knockdown, drag-out fight. We broke the bed and some furniture and to be honest with you I never had any trouble out of him since that day. He never laid a hand on me again.

If I hadn't been so scared all those years, I would have avoided a lot of pain. But I grew up in a time where we had respect for our mothers and fathers. You did not question their authority. Today I find most people live in fear and are afraid all the time. I try not to deal with those types of people. Yet I have compassion for them because I was scared in the past. But guess what? I'm not scared anymore.


Where I Come From

Walter Schubert March 26. 2003

Since I'm always on my way, going someplace, a better question is "Where are you coming from?"

T. S. Eliot started out by saying, "In my end is my beginning." There is much work that I still have to do before I accept my end. I would work to make myself a useful citizen of this country. I have much to offer, and much of what I have to offer is in what I have to say.

It is not that I am full of myself. Yet I believe that many of the problems that America is facing are not unlike the personal problems I have. America might do well to lend me her ear to see how I have succeeded where I find her to be faltering.

It is not as though what I have to say has already been said by others. I am different from the people around me. Social workers try to deal with me by looking up the answer in the back of the book. They do not understand that their book is the wrong book. The right book has not yet been written.

Yes, I was born in New York City, on December 17, 1942. It was ten days after Enrico Fermi's achievement of controlled fission. It was Beethoven's birthday. It was the middle of the World War. Music, science, and history are in my blood. Their fundamental precepts are the context in which I stand in this instant of time's momentum. They are the horizon that surrounds me in everything I hope to do.

On the seashore I see what I can reach for: a land of acceptance and welcome. A journey that began when my parents left Europe is finding its place in America, just as America is finding her place in the world. My role is to add significance to what she does. We hear overtones, for music is an international language.

In the end, we two have much left to say.


My Name and How I how I Got It

Norman B. Clayton March 8, 2000

No, my birth certificate does not say Normie. Norm and Normie, except for family members, is a no-no. My birth certificate says May 23, 1939, Norman Boyd Clayton was born.

That's the important part. My mother named me—that's an important part too. She thought Norman was a regal name. She thought me regal too. I have run away from Norman the name and Norman the person. I went with "Clay" for a while, short for my last name. That started in the army where everyone has their last name on their uniform.

I was even a halfway hippie for a while as "Clay," not that I was trying to get away from mom's good wishes. Regal? Norman seemed effeminate, and I wanted no part of that. It took me several visits to mental institutions to get away from "Clay" and from Norman.

But that's another story. You can call me Norman, especially if you're buying me lunch.


Where I Got My Name From

Thyatira English March 21, 2001

Everybody always asks where my name is from. I really don't like to tell people where it's from, but I'll tell you today.

I'm named after one of the seven churches in the Bible. See, I love my name so much that I tell people the wrong way to say it, because I don't want them to know the right way. My name is that special.

My first name means daughter. My middle name, Sayyida, means happiness. They mean such great things that I don't want anyone else to have them or know.


My Name and How I Got It

Damita Boston March 3, 2004

The name is Dee. Not Dee exactly, but much easier to pronounce than Damita. Not many people are familiar with the name except for a few Solid Gold fans. You see, Solid Gold was this old dance show that came on television like a disco Soul Train. The main female "Solid Golder" was this chick named Damita Jo, consequently stirring some type of familiarity with the name in people of my mother's age group, old timers, coke bangers, boxed wine drinkers, and pimps. Ha!

Nevertheless, this scantily clad rump shaker of the '70s show Solid Gold was not the lucky woman for whom I was named. Much like everything about me, my name in itself is also very weird. Damita is actually accompanied by a small appendage—Asa Damita. Asa means "nubile lady of the morning," a derivative of the old Spaniard language. The latter is none other than Japanese. Now I'm done showing off my knowledge of unimportant words in other languages.


My Name and How I Got It

Carol West April 19, 2000

My parents decided that if I had been a boy my mother would name me. I was a girl, so my father named me: Carol Ann. I hated the name from earliest memory. Carol Annnnnn, a two-syllable southern moniker that spoke on forever. When talked about I became "little" Carol Ann.

I wanted to be Caroline after my grandmother Caroline, but my Aunt Mary joined a religious order and became Sister Caroline. There would not be three Carolines in my family.

I wanted to be a Caroline. My life would have been better. I would have been happier. I would have been taller, slimmer, and prettier. I could have been snotty Caroline, uppity Caroline, even smart-assed Caroline. I just wanted to be a Caroline with a different numerology, a different vibration, maybe creating a different attitude.

I tried with my confirmation name, but Sister Edwina wasn't going for Carol Ann Caroline, so I became Carol Ann Mary ... sigh.

Carol Ann was just a name screamed at me, repeated regretfully by my elders or spoken with disappointment. Tack on to Carol Ann my Swiss family name Roesle from the German-speaking canton near Bern, and you have a mouthful. Roesle means "little rose," and no one ever pronounced or wrote Roesle right. Carol Ann "little rose." Oh please.

Sometimes I think I married Mr. West just for his name. Now I'm Carol West. It's generic, it's simple, it's easy to remember, and it's just me.


How I Got My Name

Jeff Rubin March 21, 2001

It's funny you should ask that question. I am an Ashkenazi Jew. We of the Ashkenazi name after the dead, whereas the Sephardic name after the living. Both are equal and have their own strengths. My Jewish name is Yisrael Yedah or Jeffrey J. I was named after my Zaddi's (grandfather in Yiddish) brother, who was lost in the Holocaust. I think it is a brilliant tradition to name a child after the dead. You get a sense of immortality—like the deceased donor giving his organs to the living.

You have to remember that you are never really dead until you are forgotten. By naming after the dead, you are always remembered. I remember talking to my Bubbi (grandmother in Yiddish). She was telling a story of how her firstborn son, Borichel, was killed as a three-year-old back in the old country of Galicia, which exists no more. A horse and wagon ran over him when he was running across the street to meet my grandparents. He was my mother's brother. He would have been my uncle. He would have been in his eighties with grandchildren of his own possibly. Alas, he remains a three-year-old for all of eternity.

I wanted to name my first son after him. My grandmother said no. Why? She said, "It didn't bring him luck, so what makes you think it will bring your son any?" So Borichel would remain dead, or so I thought.

I had dinner at an Orthodox Jewish home this past Purim. Going to shul, I overheard the mother of the home turn to her husband and say, "We have to find Borichel. We can't leave without him." My ears could not believe what they had just heard. I said, "What? What did you say? About Borichel?"

She said he was her son, and that they could not leave without him. I smiled, and she looked at me strangely. "Why?" the woman asked.

I said it was a long story and that I would tell her on the way over to the shul I thought, "Thank God, Borichel has a name. He would no longer be a three-year-old. He would grow up to be a husband and father with grandchildren of his own." Borichel lives!


My Name and How I Got It

Mitch Wiater March 8, 2000

My father has my first name, my father's father had my name also, and maybe my grandfather's father had the same name, but I'm not sure. My father, who is eighty-two years old, does not remember. My oldest son got my name, and maybe his first son will get the name too.

It means time in the past, present, and the future. It means continuing traditions.

When I came to America from Poland, my first name MIECZYSLAW was too difficult for people to say. They called me MIECZ, MICHELL, and MICHAEL. So I changed it to Mitch. I still have a problem with my last name Wiater, which very often is written and pronounced "Waiter."
(Continues...)


Excerpted from Food for the Soul by Elizabeth Maxwell, Susan Shapiro. Copyright © 2004 Elizabeth Maxwell and Susan Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword By Elizabeth Maxwell          

Introduction By Ian Frazier, founder, Writers' Workshop          

Reflections: Learning from My Students By Susan Shapiro, Writing teacher          

Ten Years Later By Bob Blaisdell, Writing teacher          

Part 1: Who, Where, How?          

Part 2: Stories, Secrets, and Dreams          

Part 3: The Worst of Times          

Part 4: Keeping Hope Alive          

Part 5: Photographs of Contributors by Nelson Blackman          


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