Shake Down the Stars


Oakland based author Renee Swindle discusses her new novel, Shake Down the Stars. Renee is the author of Please, Please, Please an Essence Magazine best seller. Shake Down the Stars is set in Oakland and follows the life of Piper a feisty woman burying her grief in alcohol and one night stands. This interview first aired on KPFA’s Women’s Magazine.

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Women and Publishing

Click to see VIDA's count of women published in leading literary journals

Click to see VIDA’s count of women published in leading literary journals

Author Joy Castro is in conversation with Brooke Warner a publisher at She Writes Press about how the publishing industry largely silences female voices. Castro teaches creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the author of several books including Island of Bones. Warner was the former Executive Editor at Seal Press. This interview first aired on KPFA’s Women’s Magazine.

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Kunan Poshpora Mass Rape Investigation in Kashmir


UC Berkeley lecturer, Huma Dar, discusses the recent court decision that is forcing the police in Kashmir to reinvestigate the 22-year-old gang rape case that took place in Kunan Poshpora in the Kupwara district of Indian administered Kashmir. There have been no convictions to date—after 22 years the victims have again taken their plea back to the court which is requiring further investigation. This edition of Kashmir Speaks aired on KPFA’s La Onda Bajita. The segment features Rasheed Jahangir’s song, Mayi Chani Rawam Raat Doh.

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the Voices of Our Nation


Voices of Our Nation, or VONA, is the nation’s only multi-genre conference for writers of color. VONA faculty Evelina Galang and Mat Johnson break down why they teach at VONA and discuss their journey as writers of color. VONA alumni, Melissa Rae Sipin and Vanessa Martir share their stories in first-time interviews.

Listen to Evelina and Melissa below. Music is by Ayesha Fukushima. This interview first aired on APEX Express

Listen to Mat and Vanessa below. This interview first aired on the Project Censored show

The Overnight Bag

Vanessa Martir

I left your father over seven years ago when you were just a year and a half. But I knew it was over when I was pregnant. Truth is I know now that relationship happened so I could have you. You who have saved me from myself so many times.

One day last fall, you woke up in a foul mood. You cried when I sang, “Wake up time.” You pouted while you went about your morning routine. Stomped around the house, sucked your teeth when I asked you what you wanted for breakfast. This is so not you. You’re usually so kind and patient and compassionate. I should have known something was off. Instead, I lost my patience and yelled. That’s when the tears came. Buckets of tears. I tried to hold you but you pushed me away. I bit my lip to keep from letting you see how much that stings. Your rejection cuts deeper into me than any machete made by any man.

We were about to walk out the door when I told you to grab your overnight bag. “I don’t wanna take it. I hate that bag.” This bag was a symbol for being different. You don’t have a father who lives at home. This is the bag you’ve taken with you every other Friday for the past seven years. To the baby sitter, day care, Head Start, to school for kindergarten, first and second grade, even summer camp. More tears by the bucket. “Why can’t we have a real family like everybody else?” My insides caved. You stayed home with me that day. A mommy-daughter day. We both needed it.

* * *

When your father first got married when you were four, I felt a change in you. You were quieter. One day you asked, “Why can’t you and Papi be together? Why can’t we be a family?” I’ve never lied to you, and I don’t speak badly about your dad in front of you.

“Well, you know when you have a friend and they stop being nice to you, do you still want to be their friend?”

“No, Mommy.” You shook your head. “We don’t like mean people.”

“No we don’t. Well, Mama, your dad wasn’t nice to me so I didn’t want to be his friend anymore.” I couldn’t tell you about how abusive he was. The terrible things he said when he was angry–“That’s why Millie died. Because she was a fucking lesbian.” How I had to wear a long sleeve to your first birthday though it was 90 degrees because I had bruises on my arms from where he’d grabbed me and shook me.

You stared at me, your eyes telling me you understood. Sometimes I think you really do.

A few months ago, you told me your dad was talking badly about me. You didn’t say what he said, but you did tell me, “I told him, Papi I don’t like it when you talk bad about my mom. That’s not nice and I don’t like it.” You say he’s never done it since.

* * *

Your dad and his wife had a baby two years ago. You call him my little brother with fierce pride and protection. You told me you wanted to see your dad more. “Is that okay, Mom?” You cupped my face in your hands. “I love you Mommy.” You were so worried that would hurt me.

I reached out to your dad. I told him you said you wanted to spend more time with him. I was willing to make it work for him. Maybe once a week on a day that fit his schedule. “I have too many responsibilities,” he said. I never told you that, Nena. I knew it would crush you. I did tell him that when you got old enough to ask where he was when you needed him, I was going to send you to him to answer that question. He didn’t say anything.

* * *

When you asked me a few months ago, “Why can’t we have a normal family?” I thought that I was failing you. And then I watch you. I watch you reading on the bus, dancing on a stage, making hysterical videos with your best friend, Po, laughing with your friends, holding the door open for people, telling me stories about your trip to the botanical gardens and how you saw a frog the size of your hand in the marsh. It’s then that you remind me that you are my daughter, a piece of me, and I think maybe, just maybe, I’m doing a decent job of raising you.

The bag isn’t an issue anymore. I bought you a book about single parent households and we read it together and talked about it. And I held you through it. Through your wanting to fit in. Through your ache for something “normal.”

You smoothed your hand on my cheek when I put you to bed one night and said, “Thank you for choosing me to be your daughter.” I laughed and said, “I think you chose me to be your mom, Nena.” You giggled. “Yes, I did. I made the right choice.”

Vanessa Martir is a NYC based writer and teaching artist. She is currently completing her first memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings, and chronicles the journey in her blog: Vanessa is a mom, a five time VONA fellow, and a lover of all things art, community and personal narrative.


Lisa Factora-Borches

It was a hot September night when my son turned nine months old, when the guilt completed its transformation from emotion to somatic. The stress of breastfeeding, the isolation of parenting in a nuclear family in a quiet Midwestern street, to the unexpected realization I did not want to be a full time stay at home parent; like a magnetic calling for its ingredients, my body harbored some kind of experimental fusion of a new entity. It has no name.

I stand in the doorway and watch him. My tot lay in his crib, noisily dreaming with his round rump in the air. My feet shuffle a few steps over a thick hallway rug and I pause at a different threshold. I watched my partner blow thin puffs of air between his slightly parted lips, a sign, I knew after almost a decade of loving him, that designed exhalation meant he was in deep sleep. Assured they are safe from my dark thoughts, I walk the house.

A dead whisper, clamoring for life, wafts into my ear “What kind of mother are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was a judgment that hammered the space between my fingers since Isaiah was born so they felt numb when I tried to type, write, scribble, or even jot.

Rewriting the ending of stories I read, saving cards, reading poetry aloud to a mirror in the bathroom, I knew I was a writer when I was seven years old. But motherhood I didn’t decide until the advent of my 30s. There was little warning that the two would clash so magnificently, in such a horror comic show of blunder and anxiety. The collision of biology and art was a daily bruiser. I preferred to work on my writing more than anything in the world. Sometimes even mothering. I kept that secret deep within, afraid of what others would think. Afraid what it revealed about me as a mother. Terrified what kind of monster that made me.

I walk the house, stealing brief glances at the two sleepers in their beds. Tired of walking into nothing but endless questions and dim corners, I finally lay down to close my eyes and join them.

Out of nowhere – or maybe It was there all the time and I just realized It – It began. It was physical.

The tingling begins on the left side of my body and my heart began rhythmic drumming as I was running for my life. The walls turned into flat vacuums, sucking the air out of the room, leaving nothing for me. I couldn’t breathe.

I’m dying. I’m dying.

He turns over in the bed and sees my hand reaching for him. I muster plainly, “Something is wrong.”

What kind of mother are you.

It wasn’t a question.

The fear of my son being outloved by words, metaphor, meaning, and craft. The broken bleeding nipples, the tilted uterus, the rash outbreaks from the hospital gowns, my refusal for pain medication, messy IV, itchy skin. My heart races with fuel to outrun the memory bank of my body.

The tingling spread and Nick’s face covered mine and he is talking. I can feel your heartbeat and I’m barely touching you. You need help. We need help.

I open my eyes and see strangers in my bedroom, working on my body, taking my blood pressure, asking me questions about my health.

I’m dying. I’m dying.

The paramedics assure me that my heart was fine. I ask if they are sure.

Have you ever had a panic attack? one paramedic asks.

I laugh.

No. I don’t have anxiety in my family.

You had a panic attack.

I laugh again. He didn’t.

It’s three in the morning, he points out.

And? I challenge, suddenly feeling naked to have these strangers in my bedroom.

You’re a new mom? He’s not aggressive, just imploring.
But it was like scratching your finger against a bulldozer.

He sees my eyes flash, dark marbles of wild emotion.

Hey, he says, this is your body taking care of you. Whatever this is, whatever’s going on in your head is too much for your body. Your adrenaline is pumped in waves in reaction to your thoughts. You think you’re dying because it feels like a stroke, but it’s your body responding.

I look down. My disheveled tank top, my scrunched pajama shorts. The embarrassment sweats down my chest.

What kind of mother are you.

He sees my shifting eyes and goes on. When your body doesn’t get enough oxygen from hyperventilating, you begin to pass out. It’s your body’s way of saying Woah, I need to take over here so I can stabilize and get what I need because I’m not getting it.

He nods, appreciating his own analogy.

My son is sleeping through it all. Sound asleep.

They begin packing their equipment and I am standing now, apologizing.

What the hell am I apologizing for?

Just take care of yourself, he says.

What kind of—

I am a mother. And writer.

Lisa Factora-Borchers is a writer and editor of the forthcoming anthology, Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Assault (January 2014, AK Press). Her work can be found on and offline, and it focuses on spirituality, liberation, and feminism. Lisa lives with her partner, Nick, and their son Isaiah.

Syeda Begum

Syeda shows pictures of her dead son.

Syeda shows pictures of her dead son.

I met Seyda at her house in Srinagar. We interviewed her in the courtyard then moved into her one room dwelling for the recording. She spoke Kashmiri and I could understand very few of her words. I heard her story in translation and interviewed her with the help of Syed Asma, Umar Beigh and Parvaiz Bukhari. What I understood deeply were her tears, a sorrow too deep to look at straight on. Below is my interpretation of her story. If I do not capture her words as she said them, at the very least, I hope to reflect a bit of her emotion.

The door is still broken from twenty years ago when they killed my eldest son, Nazir Ahmed. I heard the noise outside and shouted for him to come in. The paramilitaries did not let me out. They came in and broke doors and windows. At that time I did not know he was dead. I went all over the city searching for his body. Finally I found him—prepared for burial.

I keep staring at the door, waiting for it to open, but no one comes. I imagine my sons walking through. My neighbors don’t use the door. They call in from the side. They care for me, bringing me enough food to eat. Oh what would I do without my neighbors? My stomach aches with sickness. My neighbors say I can wake them even in the dead of night if I need help. They have a car and can bring me to the hospital. They are helping me now that my sons and three brothers are all dead.

Even before I was born, my brother was shot through his head in a protest. That bullet followed us one by one. Now I am alone. In three years, three of my sons died, one after another, each year. In these times one could be killed for anything. My youngest son, Tariq, was down by the river, Jhelum. The paramilitaries chased him along the riverbanks. There was nowhere for him to go. So, he jumped in and he drowned. Two days later his body was fished out of the river along with a couple of others. He was 18 years old.

After Tariq and Nazir died, my son Ishtiyaq started keeping the company of militants. I don’t know if he was a gunman, but he was with militants. He watched his brothers be killed for nothing, just for being alive. This is how it is. You can be killed for anything. I did not see my son much. He would only come to visit every once in a while. The military would come to our house looking for him. Ishtiyaq was killed in a gun battle between the army and militants. He was hit with a burst of fire across his chest, the copy of a pocket Quaran he was carrying on him was torn by bullets his chest received. I found him dead and identified the body at the police station. I brought the body home and buried the body. I felt the light in my eyes fading. Darkness.

Nisar, my last son left living, lost his mind. He would wake up screaming in the middle of the night so often that the neighbors would complain. It got so bad that he would just go outside naked and screaming. I had no idea what to do. Finally, I brought Nisar to the psychiatric hospital. They put him on medicines, but nothing helped him. Then one day he disappeared. He left home naked and never returned. I never heard or saw from him again. If he were alive, he would have definitely come back to me. He is disappeared.

Some seven years ago, I went to see some distant relatives at the hospital who had twins—a boy and a girl. They are poor and asked me to take the baby boy with me for company. I raised Moshin as my own. He will perhaps go back to his own parents when I die. What else can he do? He tells me that he will stay with the neighbors after I die. They bring us food enough for the both of us.

I spin yarn sometimes. But I never ask anyone for anything. Nothing will ever change here because whatever people do, it is India that always wins.

All four of my sons and my husband are gone. All my brothers have died. Whenever I hear noise, I just go in my house, close it up and sit alone in the dark. I sit and stare at the door and no one comes.

Yasin Malik Arrested before Hunger Strike

Maqbool Bhat's mother, holding a picture of her dead son at a protest on May 3 in Delhi.

Yasin Malik, the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, called for a hunger strike in New Delhi to draw attention to the thousands of disappeared people in Kashmir. Yasin Malik was taken into “preventative custody” by the Delhi police hours after this interview, explaining the demands of the hunger strike was recorded. According to the Kashmir Reader, Malik suffered from a cervical fracture after being manhandled by Delhi police. Yasin Malik was then forced to take a plane back to Kashmir. 150 mothers, children and other supporters of Kashmir’s disappeared marched on May 3 in Delhi. They were met by a fierce, oppressive police presence.

Yasin Malik was the commander-and-chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and spent over ten years in prison. He was instrumental in calling for the cease-fire and building the strong nonviolent resistance in Kashmir. This interview first aired on KPFA’s La Onda Bajita.

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the After Birth


After giving birth, I bled. I’d been so focused on opening and releasing that after my babies came, I just stayed wide open. Prepared to give until my life slipped away. I didn’t feel the shot of Pitocin to my thigh. The IV pricked cold into my wrist. It felt so good to put my head back on my futon, as if I could sleep forever. But my midwife put her head squarely in front of mine—“Keep your eyes open.” I battled her, reminding her that I’d not slept for two nights—but in the end she won and so did I, I stayed with them.

I’ve been thinking about birth a lot. Maybe it is because my sister, Zarine, just had a baby. Or maybe because my daughters are turning six. Babyhood is very much over.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I faced after the homebirth of my twin daughters. Ixchel was transferred to the hospital. Her breathing was unstable. I lost so much blood that I could not bend over without almost passing out. I’d never been so physically unable. Unable to prepare food. Unable to pick up a sock on the floor. Unable to wash my dishes. And I was full of needs—so hungry, wanting steak. Needing help even to shower. It was two days before I showered.

I had two infants. This is what no one tells you—that when you are a mom you still have to get through the hard times, but now you have to guide your children, even when you are knocked to the ground.

Kali was in my arms, eating from me, requiring more than I’d ever given. And Ixchel was separated from me. The news kept getting worse—her blood was too thick. They had her in an isolation unit with a tube in her throat. Morphine. Salination. Too many decisions. I was not there.

Her father and the midwives went to the hospital with her that first night.

And then she was alone.

My baby was in the hospital. I was too weak to go. I could not let myself feel the pain. I just knew she’d be OK. I’ve never known something with such ferocity. She was born a warrior. I don’t think I cried. Every part of me had to hold steady. There was no room for panic or fear.

My sister, Sarai, saved me. Without me asking her. We had planned for her to photograph the birth. But in the end she stayed. She called her boss and took two weeks off of work. She slept on the lumpy, blue folded futon in the living room. Birth, death, and sickness provide this pinpoint clarity. How in one moment you can make a decision to pack your life up and arrive to hold someone up.

My mother, aunt, sister, father, friends, son, and kids’ dad were all stepping in and up and helping. It took everyone and then some. But I remember Sarai most during this time. Every day Sarai went to the hospital. When there was a medical decision to make about my daughter, she called. When they pulled out formula to feed my baby, she went to the freezer and grabbed my breast milk. When they tried to give Ixchel morphine, she gave her Reiki and got Ixchel to be still and calm. She made me breakfast in the morning and changed Kali’s diaper at night.

She cooked up my placenta for me. Really. I don’t know whose idea it was, but I ate it with basil on toast. The rest she cured, pulverized, and freeze dried, so I could use it as medicine. I still do.

It was humbling. Needing so much.

Sarai was the glue that held me together. She protected my daughter when I could not. She held her hand. And she held mine. That first time I went to the hospital, I came in a wheelchair and she pushed me there.

When I held Ixchel in my arms, everything was wet: my cheeks, my shirt. I was covered in milk and tears.

My daughters are six now and don’t remember their Auntie Sarai. At first I was angry. Then I was scared and then like so many things it just hurt too much. So I accepted that she was lost to me. She called me a few months back. It’s hard to pick-up the pieces of a relationship after so many years. I didn’t say, “Thank you for keeping me sane when my girls were born.”

I did say that I understood why she left. I told her that I love her. At least that is what I remember saying.

Protest Music on the Execution of Afzal Guru


Afzal Guru was executed by the Indian government on February 9 in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
Executions are extremely rare in India. Afzal Guru was charged and convicted of the 2001 parliament attack in Delhi. Afzal Guru was hung after his final plea for clemency was rejected. Since his execution there have been massive protests. In March the Kashimr Walla reported 4 deaths and 350 civilian injuries resulting from protests against his execution. The protests around Azfal Guru’s execution are taking many forms, including protest songs. On Kashmir Speaks, Mumbai-based hip hop artist Ashwini Mishra discusses his song “True Lies: Tales of Afzal Guru.” This segment aired on KPFA’s La Onda Bajita.

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