A week ago we attended two inspiring events at MVS Studios: a reading by Claudette Ortiz Franzoy from her new book and the annual benefit for J. Paul Taylor Academy.
Claudette is a fine writer and we love J. Paul.
Common Ground, is a collection of Claudette's Sun-News columns about life in the Hatch Valley. Claudette is the best columnist I've seen at the paper. The book reminds me why.
It's a very human, personal collection. She makes some perceptive observations, but always in the context of her village, her valley.
The reading was fun. She reads as if she were telling us a story around a table in the Pepper Pot. Flipping to one column she's marked, she exults “Oh, this was a difficult time!” or “Arturo, remember . . .”
Here is an excellent writer who happens to live in a place most of the world has never heard of. In an old-fashioned community, a network of inter-connected families up and down the valley, many earning their livings from the Earth. A true community the like of which most of us will not experience.
She is candid, even where it hurts. Two columns deal with the rape of a middle-aged woman named Claudette. She writes of the rape openly, candidly. Her unique take on the situation had so struck me as I read them that I marked the pages to share. Describing a difficult personal experience, she retained perspective to portray everyone fairly and with empathy.
After reading a short passage, Claudette revealed that other, younger women had been raped, presumably by the same man before he was caught, and that her candor and openness may have helped them deal with the trauma, helped them speak up.
She sees her village as one who is embedded in it by a strong web of family and friends and by the years. But she was also a successful journalist Wyoming. She has the journalist's eye for detail, and the poet's skill in selecting which details will pull more than their weight in a short portrait of a man, a woman, a situation.
I recommend the book highly. The $15 price goes to the Hatch Library, to help educate and inspire future Hatchlings.
Claudette will read again on Saturday morning, May 30 at Coas Books, 10-12.
At last year's JPTA benefit I'd shot photographs of Paul and of the young students in Mexican dress dancing in the street.
This year I arrived early and wandered through the Studio. The silent auction featured marvelous, colorful bowls, made by Russell Mott after Kate has placed on them images drawn by the kids.
What fascinated me were three dozen small framed self-portraits hanging together on one wall.
The 4th and 5th graders varied in their artistic skills, but each portrayed not only a face but the fears and feelings behind it. This boy's head a bit misshapen but with a mischievous and defiant look, that boy jaunty and a bit cool. Girls who supposed themselves women already and pretty; girls who seemed modestly courteous and neat; and girls whose faces seemed to express the terror of being ten, in a confusing world and a clique-ish school.
Undoubtedly I read more in them than was there. But each had captured some essence. I wished I knew the kids and could watch how closely their growth over decades would match that essence.
I think the portraits also spoke to me of the creative spirit, in ways I haven't yet translated into words. I spent more money than I should have, so that they could keep speaking to me from the wall as I write.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 10 May.]