The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

November 20, 2009

meet the carpetbagger

Filed under: Uncategorized — annebabson @ 3:16 am

When New York Newsday profiled writer Anne Babson in 2003, the paper wrote that her goal was “to stretch the American language to include as many kinds of voices as possible in the literary canon.” Ambitious a goal as that is, she is advancing that agenda successfully through her own writing’s critical acclaim, through her collaborations as a librettist in the classical music and urban gospel idioms, through her teaching, through the launch of a new magazine for international women of letters, and through her leadership in organizations that recognize great literature where it occurs.

Of course, the stretch that Anne wishes to make first and foremost in the American literary canon is the legitimization of literary Christian writing. Anne studied prose writing with two highly-respected secular writers — Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning book Angela’s Ashes, and Southern book prize-winner Allan Gurganus, whose most celebrated novel is The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Anne uses what they taught her to craft prose that lifts up Christ.

Anne grew up raised by militant atheists in California in the heart of the New Age. Many of her friends were conceived on the hills of Golden Gate Park during the so-called “Summer of Love,” and thus they were raised by single mothers whose values were anything but Christian. Several of Anne’s friends did drugs for the first time that were handed to them by their drug-using parents. Anne knew a number of practicing witches, even some active Satanists.

However, the hand of the Lord was on Anne from a young age. She became friends with the only born-again Christian girl evangelist in her high school class. Anne, then a little punk rocker, thought it was daring and interesting that she told everyone that if they did not believe in Jesus, they were going to hell — an act of high school social-life suicide. While Anne never became a Christian back then, the Lord had caught her attention.

After a couple of years of secular education at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where Anne studied not only with prose writers but with celebrated poets Jane Cooper, Tom Lux, and Joan Larkin, Anne moved to Paris — there she was the youngest member of a small expatriate group of English-speaking writers. Anne read at Shakespeare & Company, and the then-elderly French Resistance World War II poet Jean-Pierre Rosnay read love poems publicly to her at his Left Bank Club des Poetes. She danced on stage one night in a go-go cage with Elvis Costello and the Attractions at the Olympia theater. She was invited to parties attended by people like Mick Jagger, Roman Polansky, Prince and supermodel Iman. Her photo was featured one day in Liberation’s articles on night club gossip.

Despite the pull of the world on her, The LORD was tugging on Anne’s heart despite her atheist upbringing, though — so many of her art-world acquaintances became afflicted with AIDS. She lost over a dozen of them to the disease, holding hands of young men with tubes in their arms and their noses as they weakened, ultimately dying young. She knew there had to be something bigger and better than this existence. After so many people died, Anne decided to return to New York .

When she was twenty-three, Anne took a trip to Israel . When she touched the Wailing Wall — a miracle happened. Although she did not know the story of the prodigal son, had no expectation of an encounter with the divine, the person of Jesus greeted her as if she were a prodigal returned. She wept and wept — she had never felt such love! Although she felt as if this supernatural encounter took place over the course of no more than fifteen minutes, in fact, she was standing there for about three hours. She wandered back to her hotel in a daze, cracked open the Bible that was in the room, started to flip through the pages, and she became convicted that it was indeed the person of Christ who had come to her, that He was Lord. She gave her heart to him then and there. The poem she wrote about this appeared in the Christian literary journal The Penwood Review.

When she returned to New York , Anne changed her life. She got baptized. She began writing first for organizations, then for mainstream magazines, and then for literary journals. She became involved with her church and started a literary program called The Holy Trinity Poetry Forum and taught writing as a spiritual exercise for Christians. Her work started to get noticed. She was invited to read on the Boston Divinity School radio program Sparks of Divinity and explain her relationship with God and with the art of writing.

Her first chapbook, Uppity Poems, was called a “must read” by one journal, and The American Dissident called her poems “lasers of passion and commitment.” Another chapbook, Dictation, received favorable reviews in numerous journals. A chapbook of poems about the tension between Arab and United States cultures and the aftermath of September 11th, Counterterrorist Poems, was released by Pudding House Publications on that sad event’s first anniversary, and Anne was invited to read her work for a half hour to all of America on a nationally syndicated radio talk show — The Arnie Arneson Show — exactly one year to the hour from that event. She was the only American poet so honored.

Counterterrorist Poems received favorable reviews from Comstock Review, Wild Violet and Pemmican.

Her other publication credits include works appearing in over seventy respected secular literary journals over the last several years, including Barrow Street, California Quarterly, Poem, The Connecticut Review, The Madison Review, Red Rock Review, English Journal, American Poets and Poetry, Language and Culture, River Oak Review, Poetry Midwest, The Pikeville Review, Oberon, Coal City Review, The Wisconsin Review, Pacific Coast Journal, The Minnesota Review, The Peking Duck, where she was prominently featured in a special three-writer issue with acclaimed poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, Above Water, in which numerous poems of hers were featured and she was interviewed about her work, Clackamas Literary Review and Left Curve.

In recent months, Anne’s work has been featured in international literary journals, including Istanbul Literary Review in Turkey, Poetry Salzburg in Austria, Bravado in New Zealand, and Iota and Current Accounts in Great Britain.

Her work has also appeared in Christian literary journals, including Christianity and Literature, The Penwood Review, The Christian Guide, New Song, Plainsongs, The Bible Advocate, Ancient Paths, Perspectives, and A Time of Singing. She has also written non-fiction prose for Christian publications. Wonderfully, her work on the Old Testament has been accepted by Jewish journals — called, as Talmudic creative studies are called respectfully, “midrash work” — Anne was invited to read at a Jewish women’s organization, and her writing appeared in two literary journals devoted to the Jewish experience — Bridges and Poetica: A Journal of Jewish Thought.

Anne won the 2003 Columbia Journal Prize. She was nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in 2005 for her work in Ilya’s Honey and for a 2001 Pushcart for work in The Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal. She has received awards from the Atlanta Review and The Grasslands Review, as well as other publications. She took both second and third prizes at San Francisco ‘s Dancing Poetry Festival 1999 and was invited to read at The Palace of the Legion of Honor and to appear on local television. She has been invited to give solo readings at Pace University , Ceres Gallery, and other venues.

Anne’s other editorial prizes came from works appearing in The Spoon River Poetry Anthology in 2006, where she took first prize with a Christian poem describing the Second Coming in modern American verse, Artisan Journal in 2003, where she won the editor’s prize for a poem which imagined an immigrant postal clerk in Queens as a literary critic, and The Blue Collar Review, which awarded Anne its Working People’s Poetry prize in 2000 for a poem imagining an encounter with a white executive secretary with the ghost of Nat Turner, slave rebel.

Anne received two residency grants from Vermont Studio Center and one fellowship from the exclusive Yaddo art colony in 2004 for a large Christian work of verse like the secular literary world has never seen before — Anne took every Bible passage that the composer Handel used when writing his faith-inspired Messiah Oratorio — a collection of eighty songs — and Anne wrote modern American verse couched in the American landscape that explains the significance of each of these passages to 21st century Americans. Anne uses this collection as an evangelical tool — she reads from it in places where the gospel in raw form would be unwelcome. Anne even read from this collection and gave an altar call in a transvestite bar — while none of the patrons answered the call, the work itself was appreciated, and Anne was invited back to read again. The collection is called Messiah.

Anne has also read from Messiah to Christians as well, and one night when she was doing so, urban gospel producer Orville Lewinson, a.k.a. Da Ovahflow, heard her. He asked for a copy of the manuscript, and for his upcoming compilation CD The Cornerstone, he has selected three of the poems to be included. Anne recites one of them, and urban gospel performer Michael Lewis raps the other two. This CD was released in March, 2007.

At Yaddo, Anne collaborated with world-famous composer Su Lian Tan on an opera entitled Lotus Lives, which will be performed by The Meridian Arts Ensemble. The Meridian Arts Ensemble performed work from her collaboration with Ms. Tan — a poem woven into the fabric of an internationally acclaimed composition, the irreverently-titled Moo Shu Wrap Rap – on March 9th of 2004 at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City .

Anne is the founding editor of the international women’s literary journal Vernacular. She won the 2005 Award for Literary Vision for her work with this journal in promoting women’s voices in the literary world. Vernacular, as the name suggests, is based on the idea that just as women’s traditional visual arts were not given a forum within the academy for millennia, women are in no way new to the craft of writing and have long been the artists of folk literary forms and other important ex-academia letters that deserve recognition today.

Anne is a voting member of the Literary Committee of the exclusive and venerable National Arts Club, making her one of the arbiters of taste of American literature in a body founded by Mark Twain. She is a member of the Pen section of The Pen and Brush, the oldest women’s arts organization in America .


Anne’s opera, Lotus Lives, will debut in 2010.

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