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Poets Prado Gomez, Julian née Sara Mithra, and Salon founder Ali Cannon also reading at the event

New independent publishing house Raven & Wren Press, which released its first poetry title earlier this month, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms, by Florence Miller, is happy to announce that the author will kick off an evening of poetry at  Hope in the Face of Despair, a Literary Salon for Our Timeson Saturday April 27, 2019, from 7-9 PM, at Loka Yoga, 2701 MacArthur Boulevard, in Oakland. 

Raven & Wren poet Florence Miller reads from After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms
at the book launch held on April 7. Her son David Miller holds the microphone.

The Literary Salon is the brainchild of activist, community organizer and educator Ali Cannon, who said that the April 27threading is the first in an ongoing series featuring poets, writers, artists and others dedicated to inclusion and equity. “The times we are living in can overwhelm a person, but despair is not an option,” said Cannon. “The Literary Salon will provide us a place where we can gather to build community and raise our consciousness through discussion of literary responses to the world around us.” 

A recognized leader in the transgender community, Cannon is one of the four featured poets on the evening’s line-up. His poetry appears in  From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond, and his illumination of Jewish and transgender themes can be seen in the film, It’s A Boy: Journeys from Female to Male, and in the co-authored essay (with TJ Michels), Whose Side Are You On: Transgender at the Western Wall

Poet Miller will begin the evening by reading from her new collection, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms (Raven & Wren Press, 2019), published at the age of 96. 

Miller is a founding member of Shakespeare’s Sisters, co-author (with Alexis Rotella) of a widely respected renga trilogy, and co-edited the anthology State of Peace: The Women Speak.  She is a retired creative writing and English teacher from Oakland’s McClymonds High school. The 1972 Emmy-winning film by Allen Willis, Can You Hear Me? Young Black Poets from the Ghetto is based on her students and their work.

Joining Miller and Cannon are Prado Gomez, a Bay Area singer and writer born and raised in the San Francisco Mission District, whose writing reflects on family, race, gender, gentrification, and sexuality from his perspective as a Mestizo-American man of trans experience; and Oakland poet Julian née Sara Mithra,  whose first book, If the Color Is Fugitive(Nomadic Press, 2018) follows vagrants around the collapsing frontier during a queer elsewhen. Mithra’s book is a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and their work has appeared in Versal 12, Milvia Street, Storm Cellar, Sharkpack Annual, Anxy, Name and None, and inside bags of Nomadic Coffee.

Loka Yoga is a scent-free environment and everyone is requested to please remove shoes. Suggested donation for the event is $10.        

Raven & Wren Press is proud to announce the release of poet Florence Miller’s second full-length collection of poetry, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms.To celebrate, the press is hosting a book launch on Sunday, April 7, 2019, from 4 to 6 PM, at Mission Coffee Roasting Company, located at 151 Washington Blvd, in Fremont. 

Poet Florence Miller and artist Barbara Lyon, March 2016. Lyon’s  watercolor is the cover art for Miller’s new book, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms.
Photo courtesy of Denny Stein.

Florence Miller, who lives in Fremont, was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1922. Her family moved to West Orange soon after. She loved the natural beauty and freedom she experienced as a child, climbing every tree in every park. One summer, when Florence was in sixth grade, she and her friends learned that Eleanor Roosevelt would be visiting her godparents in the gated neighborhood Llewellyn Park. The girls decided to pay the First Lady a visit. A headline in the Newark Evening News read: Six West Orange Girls Crash the Gate.  This cherished experience is captured in one of Florence’s poems, as is the  pain and confusion she experienced when her father lost his drugstore and the family their home during the Great Depression. Florence’s family pulled up stakes and eventually settled into a two-and-a-half family home in Newark where the schools were a year behind in instruction. Of the book, poet Sara Mithra wrote:

“Autobiographical images gleaned from the Great Depression accrue a mythic thickness under Miller’s spare line…A naive girl knocking her head on a table grows up, dreaming a timeless raven. One cycles through unpredictable loss and recovery, as in a mist. A wedding ring tossed into the water later resurfaces as a bone ring. The attendant reemergence of mortality from the maw of nature is delineated as gracefully as a birch.” 

Florence remembers how her mother, Jeannette Shank, recited Milton to her and her siblings when they were small children. “My mother loved poetry,” she said, and attended the same high school as Allen Ginsburg’s father Louis. “He was our class poet,” my mother said, her voice filled with admiration for him. 

One of Florence’s earliest memories of poem-making happened when she was a three-year-old child twirling around the house, singing out, “Spinach and Fish! Spinach and Fish! Mixed in a dish!” 

That’s a poem,” her mother cried. “Let me get a pencil and write it down.” Poetry is in Florence’s DNA.

Florence, her husband Don Miller, a sociology professor, and their young son David moved to Berkeley “just in time for the sixties”—as Florence likes to say.  Don taught at Laney College and Florence taught English and creative writing at McClymonds High School, in Oakland, where she infused her students with the same love of language she possesses. Miller’s students are the subject of the Emmy Award winning 1972 film by Allen Willis, Can you Hear Me? Young Black Poets from the Ghetto. (In her book, Florence has a poem, “My Student, Beaten to Death on the Street,” for Robbie Bowie, whose death she learned about from his mother while paying a visit to his home to let her student know one of his poems would soon be published.)  

Florence also became a founding member of the writing collective, Shakespeare’s Sisters, co-authored with Alexis Rotella a renga trilogy during the 1970s, and published her work in numerous magazines and anthologies.

Widowed in 1985, Florence eventually married the east coast writer Edward Wahl. She and Wahl enjoyed six years of marriage, until his death in 2006. After his death, Florence moved to Fremont to be closer to her son David Miller, a (retired) teacher at American High School. 

Since returning to the west coast, Florence has co-authored (with bay area poets Elaine Starkman, Joseph Chailkin, Dave Holt, S. Solomon, and Mark Hofstadter) the poetry collection, My Dreaming Waking Life (Dog Ear Publishing, 2009) and her previous full length collection, Upriver (Shakespeare’s Sisters Press, 2012).  

Of her latest collection, Florence sums it up simply: “ This book is the culmination of a lifetime of work.”

Florence astounds the reader with how deftly she captures a quicksilver glimpse of beauty while simultaneously bearing witness to loss. 

“Florence’s poetry is magical,” says poet Joan Alexander. “The direct imagery hits me somewhere just below consciousness with a profound and simple beauty.”

Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event.