Welcome to the Center for Literary Arts blog page! This blog is aimed to further the CLA mission to spread the influence of, and interest in, literature throughout the South Bay and to facilitate cross-cultural understanding in the region’s ethnically diverse population through the appreciation of works of literature.
The CLA blog will feature reviews, local events, think pieces, and promote outstanding literary achievement in our community. We look forward to fostering a welcoming environment with the public and hope to share beautiful moments with our CLA community.
The first edition of this blog features the winners of the CLA Winter Wunder Challenge. CLA’s Instagram hosted a fourteen-day writing contest and voted on winners in three categories: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Out of many submissions, the following are the elected winning entries. We hope you enjoy! ☺
Best in Fiction
By Lisa Rose
The frost on the window makes me rifle through the clutter, doing my best to ignore too many boxes with your name on them.
Ignoring the glass arches and sharp fingers on the edge of the windowsill, I pull the bulk over my shoulders, yank the zipper up, and step out the door.
Outside, my boots drag dirty, wet footprints in the slush.
The inadequate snowman on the edge of Horace’s lawn has a lopsided smile made of cereal.
When Sarah and I still believed in Santa, you put socks on our pink hands, and the snow would glaze over them and melt into blue-numb fingertips.
When I was twelve, Josh broke his arm sledding, and Grandma took Sarah and I Christmas shopping. I scoured the glittering department stores for the gaudiest, noisiest thing I could find. I wanted to see if you’d love it no matter what. And you did.
Two years ago. That last year, that last winter, that last Christmas, when they told us, when after all that, when it came back, and you hung up the phone—
I thought you would scream.
I guess I wanted you to.
On my loop back, Horace’s wife— I forget her name— clutches her steaming cup and waves at me from across the street.
And it had been only one year now that she dropped off her too-salty-but-well-intentioned mac ‘n’ cheese and saw your busted treasure in the windowsill. She offered to buy me another one at the time, more for your sake than mine I think.
Some kids I don’t know bellow “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer” as they sweep past. A dumpy woman with a purple puff vest and a silver bun scream after them. I watch her dog pee on the snowman.
I forgot my hat on the dresser, and the drift is making my ears wet.
Home again, I kick off my shoes and let the grime scatter with white crystals on the carpet, imagining what you would say.
I glance at the bones of the thing again, catching sunlight in the glass, waiting there in the windowsill beside the cards. The reindeer remain intact except for a chipped antler. Rudolph’s nose is scuffed but not broken. The worst— Santa lost his head. But he’s still identifiable, surrounded by jagged icy turrets.
When I pick it up, it plays an eerie garble vaguely resembling Jingle Bells.
Just so you know, I put a tree up, but Sarah had first dibs and got all the ornaments. She always was your favorite.
It’s too warm in here, and Jay will be back soon with the kids.
Before I take my coat off, I reach into my pocket and feel the crunch of the glass in my palm and a warm trickle to remind me of you.
Best in Non-Fiction
“IN LVMINE TVO VIDEBIMVS LVMEN?”
The old lady seemed confused as she asked my owner, “What does that mean mijo?”
He replied, “In Thy light we shall see light. It’s the motto for Columbia University gran’ma. The school I was supposed to go to this fall before the pandemic. But you know we don’t come from money.”
She replied with a smile and said “That’s good mijo. I don’t know much about that school. We have a Bandleader in the family from Texas, but besides that, I don’t know much about college. Eh, if it makes you happy.”
My owner “mijo” replied, “Well, Gran’ma, it’s where Obama went. Would you like to see it? We can tour the school on the computer?”
“On the computer? Oh, you know I don’t know much about those things. Ok, but first can you bring your grandfather's Guadalupe from his room. I want to have it out this Christmas. I haven’t celebrated Christmas since he’s been gone. 5 years now, I think. Please mijo, thank you.”
“Mijo” rested me on the computer workstation in the family living room then went off to grab his grandfather’s “Guadalupe”. When he returned, gran’ma was sitting next to me and asked mijo if he could set the “Guadalupe” directly across from where I was placed. According to mijo, he had put me in the same place where his dad used to set up the family Christmas tree, right at the center of the living room window that peered out into the cold streets of east side San Jose. As he set “Guadalupe” aside, he spent some time talking about that space. He said that as a kid he would look out of the window and watch as the neighborhood kids gathered with their parents across the street at “Cassel elementary,” one of the many schools of the poorest district in the area. Then he went on to talk about “Christmas” as they “watched the computer” for the next hour. I sat below that window seal and listened as they spoke; this is what they said.
Mijo: Grandpa used to like that our Christmas was always about family. Not a large family. But a close knit small simple family. I remember him saying that all the time. And It was one of the only times I ever heard him grito in his own home. You know that, right? I used to think it was in celebration for the time he got to spend with you, after those long school years that demanded so much but never gave much in return. How long did you work at the school again gran’ma?
Gran’ma: 30 something years. I was yard duty and a school aide. You remember (she smiled) when your grandfather would leave for the week and drive the truck. It was for produce, after the service.
Mijo: (laughing) gran’ma I don’t think I was born yet. He wasn’t driving anymore when I was a kid. He couldn’t, remember?
Gran’ma: Oh . . . oh yeah. I forgot. Your dad, that was your dad. You know, the kids. They were fun. I would walk home from across the street and they would shout “bye gran’ma”. He would hear them and ask me, who are those kids? What are you not telling me? And we would laugh and laugh. But the parents and the kids, they knew me [She smiled], and they helped me and supported me and sent me Christmas cards during Christmas all those years. And then dad, I mean your grandfather, would say that if I wanted to leave work and go to school, he would help me. You know not many women’s husbands would pay for their school. But your grandfather said that if I wanted to, he would help me. I think it was because he didn’t go to school after the third grade. You know, he had to work and take care of his family before he went to the service.
Mijo: I miss him. You wanted his Guadalupe portrait next to his Korean War memorial picture, right? On the wall next to the TV? I remember how much the kids at the school loved you. Before even going there, I would see them from the window. They would talk and walk with you and their parents, after you crossed the street to work. I always wanted to follow your path, you inspired me gran’ma and I always talked highly of your experience. But I don’t think I ever will, I was never considered to fit in to school. They rejected me from the start. And I think they would never accept me, even after 30 years.
Look Gran’ma, New York snow! They call this "Let There Be Light" at Columbia. I wish I was there this Christmas! That’s Butler library. It’s been in so many movies. I’ll show you after our tour.
Gran’ma: But didn’t you go to Stanford? What do you mean they don’t accept you?
Mijo: I don’t know if you’d understand me, but you remember the ‘90’s. I mean you’ve been in school since the 1970’s. You know Latino dreams and education, at least its history. I mean you know underachievement. Yeah, you two inspired me to do something more. You gave me a home to call home, and I would come home and study music for hours and then, yes, I made it to Stanford. But do you know how many people I pissed off by making it to Stanford at 13? I was the overachiever when I wasn’t supposed to be. When the schools said that Latino’s like me were underachiever’s, there was a book that came out at that time that scholars would always reference. I learned about it in college. It was written by a professor from Texas named Angela Valenzuela. If you guys were the achievers gran’ma, then I was supposed to be the underachiever in the school’s eyes, funding wise.
Hey look that’s the Morning Side Heights Gates! You know what that reminds me of? Wait, I’ll show you… Look! Look! Sather Gate at Berkeley! Freaking Antman. Freaking Paul Rudd!
Gran’ma: No you’re wrong mijo. How could they say that? You were so good at playing, they would have wanted you to go to college for music. It took us a long time to achieve. We both worked the Texas fields. Who is Paul Rudd? Is that one of your Professors?
Mijo: Paul Rudd, LOL. I’ll show you after our tour, we can watch Antman and make enchiladas for your 90th birthday, since you weren’t home that day. You’re right Gran’ma, I guess the best way to reflect on on those times and today is that “acceptance is not always approval.”
Hey! Looks like we’ve finished the tour. I guess once we end up back at the Alma Mater statue, that’s it.
Gran’ma: huh I’m confused. Acceptance? Approval?
Mijo: It’s a quote from a book about a Professor from Harvard named Anthony Jack.
[Gran’ma: I know Harvard]
[Mijo: smile] Yeah, he wrote about being accepted to Harvard from a poor area. His experience inspired him to write about students who followed a similar path, so he wrote about prep school students from poor areas who make it to Harvard, and their experiences of being left out within the school, he summed it up by saying, “acceptance is not always approval.”
Gran’ma: Oh, I see mijo. But are you going to go back to Columbia?
Mijo: I don’t know gran’ma. I don’t know how I would pay for it. I don’t know how anyone from the east side ever does or how students who write about coming from poor backgrounds do. I wonder if Anthony ever covered that, I never read the book. There were talks in the fall about students demanding the school use endowments for students like me. While that may be nice, I doubt that day will ever come. For me, the closest I’ll get to finishing at Columbia is watching that Alma Mater statue online. Anyway, we should set up for Christmas before we watch Antman. Maybe put that tree back where it always goes and just remember those gritos, because you know, I won’t even try [he laughed].
Gran’ma: watch what?
Mijo: you’ll see.
Before my owner grabbed me, I became so crushed over his words. I was excited to be in his home, in the very spot where they celebrated special times all those years. And in the end, I hoped he would not stuff me away somewhere. He walked me down the hallway next to the living room which looked more like a tribute room. I had never seen so many military pictures everywhere. He made his way to a young man who fairly resembled him, the picture seemed faded and aged with a vintage expression. He folded me up and tucked me into it, into the darkness and said…
I miss you grandpa
Then made a weird chicken sound.
Best in Poetry
I am a stocking
By Stephen Rocha
I am a stocking
They fill me with so much cheer
I will be strangled