Barnes Update! Top 20

#LetsConnectPhilly #Art #PhillyArtDepot

Update! Recently  I wrote about the Let’s Connect! art show at Philadelphia’s famed Barnes Collection. My hipster postman mixed-media painting, “Mind, Heart, Soul” placed among the top 20 artworks out of over 310 paintings at the show. I was especially happy to see my friend Tim Barton also make the cut with his stellar wooden folk box. As a result, this coming year the other artists and I have been asked to work with the Barnes on a series of talks and lectures geared toward the public and fellow artists. It’s a very special piece to me, and I hope it will find a good home with you. (You can read more in this former post that includes my Artist Statement., which talks about how Van Gogh’s work served as inspiration.)

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“Mind, Heart, Soul: After Vincent’s The Postman” by Kelly McQuain, 2018

On this blog I’ve mostly posted about my work as a writer, but it’s true I also do a lot of artwork, which I’m hoping to post more about in the future. Below is my current Artist’s Bio, in case you are curious. My artwork ranges from comics and cartoons to watercolors, acrylic and the occasional oil painting. I often mix media and like to embed details and back-stories within my visual work, things that a viewer has to look twice to discover and that leave a person wanting to know more. For instance, if you look close you can tell Mr. Postman is a major Eagles fan, but perhaps not the most attentive deliveryman. I take the occasional commission and book cover project, but most works start from a strong visual idea and spool out from there, with hopes they find a buyer in the future.

About the Artist

Kelly McQuain is an artist and poet who combines words and pictures in poems, essays, book covers, comics, and large-scale canvases. His collection, Velvet Rodeo, won the Bloom Poetry Prize, and his work appears in numerous journals. He has twice held Fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Recent projects include a series of Poetry Portraits that have appeared on the cover of Fjords Review. The painting series was inspired by Barnes artist Charles Demuth, whose watercolor poster portraits of famous contemporaries included the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and William Carlos Williams. When he’s not painting, McQuain teaches creative writing, literature, and film studies at Community College of Philadelphia.

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Skate Rats & Deadly Cheesesteaks

#MurderMystery #NakedCheesesteak cropped-photo-8.jpgIt’s been awhile since I’ve published fiction alongside poems, but the fine folks at Philadelphia Stories approached me last spring with a sweet project: collaborate with twelve other Philly writers on a comical murder mystery called NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK. My new chapter is out this week. Read the chapter  online here at the link and find out ‪#‎whodunnit‬ and who gets whacked.

Shelter In Place

#ShelterInPlace #GunViolence #CampusShooting
Earlier during the fall 2015 term, my students and I were in lockdown at the college where I teach due to a suspected gunman. The multiple mass shootings endured by the country recently have me revisiting what it felt like that day. This essay originally appeared in Think Tank at Philly.com (Oct. 15, 2015) and later in The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday paper.

Think Tank: At CCP, students and teacher endure lockdown

“Shelter in place,” came the texts and the robocalls on Oct. 6 when I was teaching my morning English class. Someone with a gun had been reported on campus.

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Our inadvertent class mascot. He (she?) seems to be doing okay.

I didn’t know that at first. The guard who first stopped by my door to tell me to keep my students in place seemed subdued. He made no mention of a gun, and from his demeanor I imagined whatever was happening might just as easily be a medical emergency. I’ve had students have seizures in class; I know it’s important to keep people out of the way when help is needed.

Our class had about a half-hour left. I wanted to keep rolling. Run-ons and comma splices don’t teach themselves.

I called on a young woman in back by the window, a student whose attention I usually have to reel in. “I can’t concentrate,” she told me. “There’s all these helicopters outside!” I glanced out our second-floor window but couldn’t see for the trees.

That’s when text messages started arriving on my students’ phones via our campus alert system. A few also received messages from concerned family members who were watching what was happening on TV. It was through these outside sources that we learned of a possible gunman. I felt out of the loop.

Luckily, I teach in a smart classroom. I logged on to a local news station and we watched the drama live-stream via computer projector. My students were getting anxious, and I wanted them quiet and focused. I shuttered the blinds. I turned off the lights. I told them they could stand by the wall where they couldn’t be seen from the door. Most did. At some point two SWAT officers with rifles came by and did a head check but told us nothing.

Our lockdown came a day after the FBI and ATF warned of a threat at “an unspecified university near Philadelphia.” That threat was posted on 4chan, an anonymous Internet board also used for lesser malfeasances — like uploading celebrity nude photos. More dire was the recent news of shootings in Oregon at Umpqua Community College, which left nine people and the gunman dead — and there would be two more shootings later that week, at Northern Arizona University and Texas Southern University.

For many of my students, guns are a regular part of their lives. I’ve read countless personal narratives of how gun violence affects them: the drive-by casualties, the friends jailed. A beloved cousin who was shot on the sidewalk as a former student watched helplessly from her front steps.

“Can’t you lock the door?” asked the young woman who sits in back. She was in a tight cluster of her peers now.

“The door doesn’t lock,” I told her, feeling helpless.

“Can’t we barricade it?”

I’d already checked. “The door opens into the hall,” I said. “We can’t barricade it from inside.”

In my head I was wryly thinking #ThingsTheyNeverTaughtYouInGradSchool.

I urged my students again to be quiet, to stay away from the door and windows. But crowd-controlling anxious freshmen is like herding cats. I finally received official word about the emergency via a campus robocall to my cellphone a few minutes before 11 a.m.

We waited in our classroom roughly an hour and a half more. I spent that time talking to my students and fielding email messages. One student in my afternoon class wrote: “Is today’s class canceled because of the gunman? I just want to be sure before I don’t show up.” On our projector, my students and I watched a handcuffed suspect being led out of another building. Finally, amid complaints of bursting bladders, I watched my students go.

The class I teach on Tuesdays combines composition with reading across academic disciplines. It’s also a course in acquiring college survival skills. Students are trained in comprehension and learning strategies. We talk about theories of metacognition and how the brain processes and stores data, all in hopes my students apply more effective practices to their studies.

In an age when our very thoughts are increasingly winnowed into hashtags and tweets, I struggle to get my students to become deep thinkers capable of focused, sustained inquiry. I try to keep their attention off cellphones and onto the task at hand. But clearly social media has its place in classroom safety.

Later I learned colleagues in other classrooms had begun text-message chains, comparing notes about what was going on. In conversations since, some instructors say they’d like to see metal detectors at every door. Others groan at the thought of reminding our students there’s one less place they can feel secure.

On Thursday, when my students and I next met, we discussed what happened. We’d read that no gun had been found, that charges had been dropped. The scare seemed to have bonded them.

Our college’s new president held open forums the day after the incident to discuss security. I followed suit, asking my students what they would like to see happen. Already the college is beefing up security, which includes checking IDs at building entryways all day as opposed to after 5 p.m. and on Saturdays, which was the previous standard.

“We need guards with actual guns,” one young man suggested.

Temple and Penn have armed police, I told him, but in all my years at the college I couldn’t recall seeing an armed security guard. “Hiring better security costs money,” I said. “A third of our budget is supposed to come from the city, another third from the state — but that hasn’t been the case. Tuition has to make up the rest. How do we pay for it?”

The young man shrugged. Someone again suggested metal detectors, but others said that would only bottleneck entryways. A couple suggested searching bags and backpacks. It became clear to me that what millennials are willing to concede is different than what I am as a Generation Xer.

To be clear, I am not an institutional spokesperson. I’ll look to the wisdom of my college’s administration about how best to revise policies as threats change in the 21st century. But as a taxpayer and citizen, I want my students to feel secure. One way to help offset budget deficiencies from the city and state might be to dedicate local or state police to cover college security.

Eventually another commotion outside the window caught my students’ attention. Great, I thought. Another interruption.

But it was only a hyperactive squirrel, busy building its winter nest. For a moment, I wondered whether I should call physical plant to see if they could knock the distraction away.

Or should I let the squirrel shelter in place?

Winter’s coming. I hope it stays.

 

The Community College of Philadelphia was on lockdown on Oct. 6 after a report of a man entering a building with a gun. Philadelphia police later said a suspect was taken into custody but no gun was recovered.

Kelly McQuain is a poet who teaches English and communication arts at Community College of Philadelphia.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/thinktank/At-CCP-students-and-teacher-endure-lockdown.html#DUJkGVUDVQf4zcde.99

Cheesesteak Murders in Philly?

#NakedCheesesteak    The first few chapters of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK are live at Philadelphia Stories here.   

NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories magazine. While the novel is designed to be a fun romp, poking fun at the sacrilege of such things as vegan cheesesteaks, it also touches on  more serious themes. These include the exploitation of adjunct instructors that college towns like Philly use to staff various campuses.  NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a wry portrait of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, cuisines, educational institutions and legal systems, all wrapped up in greasy wax paper and shiny aluminum foil.

The idea was cooked up last winter by a handful of writers meeting over wine and chili in a Society Hill townhouse. The story NCTC.bookcover_WEBcenters on an intrepid Philadelphia detective trying to solve the puzzle of who is poisoning college students at campuses across the city. The novel features a huge cast of flamboyant Philadelphians:  an African-American police detective named Chelsea Simon; her bad boy restaurateur husband, Arturo; a crusty, trench coat-wearing news blogger named Ben Travers; the Nicholettis, a sprawling South Philly family with ties throughout the city; and a host of college skate boarders and scullers who get caught up in the malfeasance of the unknown serial killer.

It’s also a portrait of Philadelphia neighborhoods and college campuses. The action takes place in locales as varied as Strawberry Mansion, Allegheny Avenue, Boathouse Row, the Italian Market, Passyunk Avenue and Rittenhouse Square. Murder, mayhem and mystery-solving also takes place at Kelly Writers House at Penn, the Temple University Bell Tower, the Drexel Dragon and more.
The 13-chapter serial novel was written by Philadelphia area writers Diane Ayres, Randall Brown, Mary Anna Evans, Gregory Frost, Shaun Haurin, Victoria Janssen, Merry Jones, Tony Knighton, Don Lafferty, Warren Longmire, Kelly McQuain, Nathaniel Popkin and Kelly Simmons. Edited by Mitch Sommers and Tori Bond.

The novel will be published by the magazine’s books division, PS Books.

Learn more here.

Murder Mystery on South Street!

Who is poisoning people on local college campuses? On Sunday The Philadelphia Inquirer published the first chapter of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK, a serial murder mystery I co-wrote with 12 other #PhillyWriters. Read it here. Kelly Simmons offers the first rollicking chapter… but don’t get too attached to her characters. This novel comes with a high body count.
Join us for the launch party Thursday night of this week at Tattooed Mom. 5th and South Street, 21+.
My chapter debuts online during week 6 of this fun project from Philadelphia Stories‘ book dNCTC.bookcover_WEBivision.   Each week, a new chapter will drop at the link!

Naked Came the Cheesesteak…

cheesesteak

That next bite is MURDER! Philly friends, join me and a host of other Philly writers for the kick-off of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK, a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories. The novel will be serialized at their website starting in November. It’s definitely the freakiest fiction project I’ve ever been a part of.

Thursday, November 5 from 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Tattooed Mom, 530 South St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147

Join us at the launch party for “Naked Came the Cheesesteak,” a 13-chapter serial novel written by Philadelphia area writers

NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories magazine. The idea was cooked up last winter by a handful of writers meeting over wine and chili in a Society Hill townhouse. The story centers on an intrepid Philadelphia detective trying to solve the puzzle of who is poisoning college students at campuses across the city. The novel features a huge cast of flamboyant Philadelphians:  an African-American police detective named Chelsea Simon; her bad boy restaurateur husband, Arturo; a crusty, trench coat-wearing news blogger named Ben Travers; the Nicholettis, a sprawling South Philly family with ties throughout the city; and a host of college skate boarders and scullers who get caught up in the malfeasance of the unknown serial killer.  The 13-chapter serial novel was written by Philadelphia area writers Diane Ayres, Randall Brown, Mary Anna Evans, Gregory Frost, Shaun Haurin, Victoria Janssen, Merry Jones, Tony Knighton, Don Lafferty, Warren Longmire, Kelly McQuain, Nathaniel Popkin and Kelly Simmons!

The novel will be published by the magazine’s books division, PS Books.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1658738927715339/

 

After the Wreck of Amtrak 188

“How good this week to be reminded how beautiful and alive Philadelphia becomes this time of year.”

Yesterday, driving home from Jersey, John and I stopped by the neighborhood where the Amtrak wreck happened here in Philadelphia. Naturally the cops wouldn’t let us close, but we could see a huge crane arriving on the rail line to move away the damaged cars. Such a sad, neglected area of the city that is. Everyone in the media calls it Port Richmond, but John tells me that little neighborhood is really Harrowgate, centered on the church there, St. Joan of Arc, now closed (that’s how Catholics measure boundaries in this city–by its churches). Harrowgate’s cut off on its own by the El and the NE corridor, sort of like Devil’s Pocket in South Philly. (See the pic below; Harrowgate is circled in yellow). Harrowgate isn’t just weeds and cracked sidewalks, it’s also roofs falling down, houses boarded up–more than the usual grit and grim. But it’s about community, too. Poor blacks and whites and hispanics talking on stoops, their kids playing in streets still roped off by yellow Do Not Enter tape. I understand many of the people in Harrowgate helped the victims right after the wreck. National media didn’t report this, but local media did. The city should use this moment to do something good for that little neighborhood. I think the people deserve it. If you read the Inquirer story, below, you’ll find their lives are in stark contrast to the more-monied people on the train.

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This afternoon John and I went two blocks over to the Italian Market to buy food for dinner. That didn’t quite happen. The Italian Market Festival was going on. Every year there’s a Procession of the Saints and the streets fill up with Italians welcoming home relatives, as well as big crowds of the Mexicans and Asians who have arrived here more recently. Black folks, too. And Indians, and foreign tourists. Friendly hipsters with lumbersexual beards and serious neck tattoos. Lesbian couples groovin’ to the DJ playing The Electric Slide. Where else but the Italian Market Festival can you get an old-fashioned sausage and peppers alongside new culinary mashup like a chicken tikka quesadilla? Or rum drinks sipped from real pineapples? Or artisanal honey flavored with chocolate and habaneros?

The Festival is huge this year, larger than I think I’ve ever seen it, stretching up to Fitzwater and down to Federal, with dancing areas and music stages at the intersection of each block. I’d expected to see political candidates glad-handing the crowd in advance of Tuesday’s primaries, but no. Started in ’71, the Festival predates Rocky Balboa and ties in with First Holy Communion at St. Mary Magdalen De Pazzi, where the Procession of the Saints begins after church on Sunday. There’s no longer il palo della cuccagna, the climbing of the greased pole, which once stood 25 feet and was topped with prizes of money and slabs of meat. Yet still the festival is about food, food, food. And music. And laughter. And drinking with friends.

As the rain held off, everything seemed an extra delight. Who cared about the oppressive humidity in the air? In Molly’s Books & Records I watched a family of French audiophiles delight in snapping up a hundred bucks of vintage American vinyl. In the bar John and I sometimes frequent for Bloody-Mary-and-eggs-Benedict brunches, I talked to a young Bucks county blonde about which Philly neighborhood she should move into now that she’s considering her first big city apartment. Down past Washington Avenue, where cheese shops and fruit stands give way to taquerias, John and I dodged cellphone marketers and wobbling beer drinkers. A Mexican woman mixing tequila drinks in the heat shot me a drowsy smile when our eyes caught.

John made me laugh and he made me dance. How good this week to be reminded how beautiful and alive Philadelphia becomes this time of year. I love this city even when it breaks my heart.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/The_wreck_of_Train_No_188.html

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