Maya Angelou: The Passing of a Legend

maya-angelou1Photo courtesy of The 1 Minute Blogger, via G. Paul Bishop, Jr.

The Zharmae Publishing Press was saddened to hear about the death of Maya Angelou, revered author and poet, at 86 years of age. She had been in declining health for some time, and passed away in her North Carolina home on the morning of May 28, 2014. The cause of death is not immediately known.

Angelou is perhaps best known for her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and for reciting her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming only the second poet to read at an American president’s inauguration.

Angelou, nicknamed Maya by her brother, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. As a child, she moved between St. Louis and segregated Stamps, Arkansas. At the age of seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who was subsequently tried and jailed for only a day. Following his release, he was killed, and she refused to speak for the next five years, believing the power of her voice was what killed him.

After having moved to the Bay Area and shortly after high school, Angelou gave birth to a son, and she shuffled through various occupations to raise her child as a single mother. In 1951, despite the stigma of interracial marriages, she married Tosh Angelos, from whom she derived the latter portion of her pen name. Their marriage ended in 1954, and, for the next ten years, Angelou toured Europe as a singer and dancer, and later traveled to Cairo and Accra, Ghana, where she worked as a freelance writer.

Angelou befriended Malcom X during his trips to Ghana in the 1960’s, and in 1965, shortly before his assassination, he invited her to return to the United States and help him create a new civil rights organization. Angelou was lost and adrift until early 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—also shortly before his assassination, on her fortieth birthday—asked her to organize a civil rights march.

Later that year, Angelou was challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis to write an autobiography that could be considered a piece of literature. She released I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969 to international acclaim. In it, Angelou flagrantly depicts growing up in the Jim Crow South and is chiefly concerned with overcoming long-lasting, pervasive trauma and resisting racial oppression. In 1971 she published her first book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, which was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Angelou became an able screenplay writer, composer, and writer of short stories, essays, poetry, TV documentaries, and numerous autobiographies. She was also a notable actor, appearing in both plays and television, and as visiting professor at various universities, including the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2010.

Angelou leaves behind a legacy of unapologetic, nonvindictive growth out of turmoil. She managed to find her voice through the personal pain of her childhood and the imperative struggle for African American civil rights. Angelou’s voice, never limited to the page, is a resounding testimony to the raising of the self over the figurative, though very real, cage of oppression.

She is survived by her son, Guy Johnson.

Announcing: Jeff Dondero


Shannon & Elm is pleased to announce the signing of Jeff Dondero.

The Energy Wise Home: Practical Tips for Sustainable Energy—Shannon & Elm’s first nonfiction work—is a timely look at the myriad ways we can conserve energy and live a greener life in and around our own homes. With its wells of well-dispensed information, The Energy Wise Home is a valuable resource for anyone looking to make a difference by living more sustainably—even one small difference at a time.

Jeff Dondero is a long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay area in California. He attended college in San Francisco, where he studied a customized major consisting of journalism, communications, broadcast arts, and English. One of his first gigs was as a stringer for the San Francisco Examiner, and he worked as a reporter for various suburban newspapers before becoming the entertainment editor for the Marin Independent Journal. He has written and edited many newspapers and magazines, and contributed to a local television station. After a stint with a publisher of trade magazines, he and his partner formed a company that furnishes editorial content and publishes a website for sustainable industries. When he is not writing, he enjoys sailing on the San Francisco Bay.

What else should we know about Mr. Dondero?

Why do you write?

Money would be a good answer, but I once told someone that although ditch digging was a lot like writing, the main difference was that ditch diggers made more money, and get better benefits and more recognition. Truth is I’m a masochist that feels compelled, and I can’t really do anything else, and I’m too chicken to write (according to Elmore Leonard) what can really bring in the big bucks—ransom or “this is a stick up” notes.

What do you have the most fun with during the creative process?

I love to do research, but sometimes it can be frustrating. The most fun is when you kind of upchuck all over several pages and you write some good stuff almost by accident—although it really isn’t.

What is a profound memory from the writing process for The Energy Wise Home?

What I learned about the process and the subject, and the monstrous amount of work it took. But I would not call it profound as in traumatic or an epiphany. Enjoyably exhausting, like after good sex.

You can read the rest of Dondero’s interview on his author page—and then check out some of Shannon & Elm’s other great authors!

Keep your eyes peeled for the cover reveal—coming soon—and then mark your calendars for The Energy Wise Home, coming this August from Shannon & Elm.

First Lines, Part One: The Concept

Sometimes a line of literature sticks with you for years. You’ll be going about your life, and a thought will pop into your head that reminds you of a time in your past, and on the heels of that memory a quote that impacted you pops back into the forefront of your mind: one line that so perfectly casts light on the world and humanity and yourself.

And when one such line is the very first sentence of a book, it sets the ground for the entire book to stick with a reader.

Here are a few of our favorite first sentences, and probably some of yours, too:

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
—Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”
—Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
—Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
—C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.”
—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
—Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

And finally, from [our sister imprint] Shannon & Elm’s own novel:

“Masturbation turned me into a New Yorker.”
—Neal Starkman, Dervishes

So…how does one create a first line that sticks?

  1. The weather is not an acceptable opener. Boycott anything to do with the setting, unless the setting is really important to the story, and the opener is really damn good.
  2. Use small words and short fragments. The first line is the ultimate hook; you have milliseconds to draw the reader in.
  3. It should be short. At least the memorable part of it—see Joyce and the obscenely verbose Dickens above. The sentence can ramble on afterwards, but that first physical line on the page should be all it takes to make the top of your reader’s head come off. (We stole that from Emily Dickinson.) After all, how many people can quote the Dickens line past “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”?
  4. Something about it should be mildly confusing. Something that will make the reader seek an answer in the second line and the rest of the novel. (See the Márquez quote above.)
  5. It should give voice to a universal truth, but not a cliché. Give that truth a personal twist.

A first line without these components can be perfectly acceptable. But will it be remarkable?

Announcing: Dante Zúñiga-West


Shannon & Elm is thrilled to announce the signing of Dante Zúñiga-West.

Zúñiga-West’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals, both online and in print; his journalism, in alternative newspapers and adventure magazines. He has worked as a high school English teacher, a librarian, a kitchen cook, a graduate teaching assistant, a childcare specialist, a counselor for the developmentally disabled, a bouncer, a Muay Thai kickboxing instructor, a bartender, a cab driver, a writing instructor to homeless youth, a landscaper, a video game salesman, a copy-shop attendant, an SAT tutor, a freelance journalist, a newspaper editor, a private security guard, an at-risk-youth counselor, and a touring musician. He lives off the grid in the coastal mountain range of Oregon.

His first book for Shannon & Elm will be Rumble Young Man Rumble, a modern coming-of-age tale about love, loss, and prizefighting. By turns gritty and heart-warming, Zúñiga-West’s unique voice and marvelous storytelling transform a tale into a page-turner.

What else should we know about the one-and-only Dante Zúñiga-West?

How do you write?

Like a man held at gunpoint.

What do you write?

Stories that have stories inside them. Straightforward fiction that reflects gritty subculture, damaged people, and marginalized behavior.

Who are your influences?

Many of the people who influence my writing are not writers; they are kids from the homeless shelter where I taught, 100-year-old Benedictine monks I lived around, people who rode in the taxicab I was driving, men I fought in the ring, or musicians whose music was playing in the background of a dark bar. Those are the influences for my stories more so than anything else.

Why this story?

Rumble Young Man Rumble is a modern coming of age story. I wrote it because as a young man I did not identify with any of the iconic coming of age stories people gave me. I don’t think any of my peers did, either.

On a more personal note, I wanted Rumble to be a story about love, loss, and prizefighting, all things I find to be infinitely fascinating and quite similar to each other.


You can read the rest of Mr. Zúñiga-West’s fantastic interview on his author page. Afterwards, check out some of our other great authors.

Then mark your calendar for Rumble Young Man Rumble, coming this November from Shannon & Elm.

Invite Us to Come Give Local Book Talks!

Did you know that The Zharmae Publishing Press can come to you to present a talk or panel?

Shannon St. Hillaire composed this write-up after a recent talk for a writing group in Spokane…

A while back, some fellow editors, the publisher, and I had the opportunity to talk with the Inland Northwest Writer’s Guild at their monthly meeting at Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane. We presented our company, along with its new imprints, to a plethora of writers. We were thrilled with the turnout and met some great writers, some of whom we hope to publish!


After working from a virtual office all day, it was great to get out and meet the wonderful talent in person. The other editors and I left with a healthy handful of submissions and the glow of having met the kind, earnest, and talented writing community here in Spokane. That is what Zharmae is about: finding talented writers who write for the pure joy of it, without the expectation of being discovered…until we discover them!


The group had plenty of questions to ask: about marketing, payment, distribution, different forms of publication, and more. If you have any such questions, let the Q&A continue via internet!

Many thanks to Linda Bond, coordinator of the Guild, for welcoming us into the group. We are thrilled to be a part of this wonderful community.


If you have a writing or book club, we would love to join up with you and your members. Check in with us—we have editors in various cities along the West Coast and dotted across the US who would be happy to make a presentation to your group.

It is a fantastic experience for everyone to meet in person and exchange the energy between writing and business that is essential for this industry. We hope to hear from you!