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osiris god of the underworldI’m 1200 words away from reaching my 10K-word goal for this month. I was a little worried that this novel, unlike Wish and Ship of Souls, didn’t have any connection to African American history. The Deep feels much more contemporary—it picks up a few months after Ship of Souls ended (in March 2011) and so I’m writing about the tsunami that devastated Japan and the mass shooting in Norway. Yesterday I worked on a scene that takes place at the Central Library here in Brooklyn; Nyla has been chosen to join The League but she resists her guide’s efforts to lead her underground. I was somewhat obsessed with ancient Egypt as a child so I don’t know why it took me so long to make the connection between the deep and the underworld. I’ve decided to name the guide Cyrus/Siris/Osiris, Egyptian god of the afterlife. Far better than Alistair, which is the name of the annoying, yappy dog in my building. My theory of Afro-urban magic requires me to incorporate African spiritual practices into contemporary urban fantasy. There isn’t much room for that in The Deep but maybe I can tweak the plot. That’s the good thing about having a third of the novel still to write—there’s plenty of room for improvement…

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imagesI’m beginning to lose myself in this novel. This morning I woke up with an image of the cover in my mind—black with a picture of Nyla in profile: shaved head, purple tints in her faux hawk, her many facial piercings done with silver foil. I keep a notebook next to my laptop and every few hours I stop to calculate my word count so I know how much progress I’m making. My goal is to write 10K words this month. The Deep is a novella like Ship of Souls, so it won’t be much longer than 30K words. In London I wrote over 2000 words and since the new year began, I’ve written an additional 5000. This past week I’ve fallen asleep on the couch more times than I can count, waking at 4 or 5am not sure what day it is, but with a scrap of dialogue ready to be written down. I love writing and it feels good to pull a chapter together—for more than a year I’ve been taking notes and writing bits and pieces, and now I’m finally filling in the gaps. Unfortunately I’m eating WAY too much sugar—I went two days without cake and in its place ate a bag of caramels purchased for $1 at Target, and then yesterday I woke before dawn and baked cookies. I have a sugar problem. But when I’m in the middle of a writing tear, I’m disinclined to make any drastic changes to my lifestyle. I went to the doctor on Thursday and she gave me a list of foods I need to avoid; half the items on her list aren’t even in my diet but the rest certainly are—no more chocolate! No orange juice, cranberry juice, peppermint, or tomato sauce. Today I’ll go for a run since it’s supposed to be a bit warmer, and my agent has advised me to start each day with 12 men’s pushups. “Don’t worry about how long it takes you,” she said, “just keep going ’till you get to 12.” My friends and I have agreed to try to have healthier food for our weekly Downton Abbey tea—some cakes, some scones, but fruit and sugarless options as well. I can’t afford to add a pound for every thousand words I write this month!

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For me, being alone is a luxury. Being in London for Xmas was wonderful, but the real indulgence was the days I spent indoors, seated next to the window with my laptop warming my legs. If the curtains were open there was a draft, so I sometimes shut the drapes, turned on the lights to fight the winter gloom, and delved into The Deep. I watched a lot of TV while I was over there, though I managed not to get sucked into watching Lord of the Rings again. Instead I watched back to back episodes of (US) Law & Order, and three or four episodes of Time Team. A writer is a kind of digger and so it’s no surprise that I should be fascinated by archaeology. I’ve got a London novel u_48284861_-29 - Copybrewing in my mind. Ever since I found out about Sarah Forbes Bonetta and Walter Dean Myers’ nonfiction book about her, I’ve been interested in fictionalizing her story. My original idea was to focus on the mulatta sugar heiresses who came to London from the Caribbean hoping some desperate second son would overlook race in favor of wealth. Then I learned there was a large black population in Wales and that intrigued me. Now I feel like anything’s possible since black people have lived in England for hundreds if not thousands of years. For now I’m focusing on Nyla and her initiation into the league of “pressers.” I wrote for hours on Xmas, reaching 10K words, and then did some structural work on Boxing Day. The next day I cleared out of the flat and met my friend Mary for a full English breakfast. I’m so grateful to have friends who love literature as much as I do, and Mary’s a scholar of African American women’s fiction so we talked for hours about black authors and their books. On the flight home I thought about our conversation and the way motherhood impacts a woman’s ability to make art. I’ve blogged before about the film Who Does She Think She Is; mothers are unbelievable multi-taskers and parenting doesn’t preclude making art. But it changes things. I watched Miss Potter while I was away imagesand couldn’t help but frown at the way wealth enabled Beatrix Potter to develop her charming characters and highly profitable book series. She was encouraged to sketch and paint as the child of wealthy parents, she was taken on annual holidays that nourished her imagination, and then she had the choice of accepting an aristocratic suitor or remaining unmarried in her parents’ home. She had the time and means to produce art—something a working class woman wouldn’t have had. I love Peter Rabbit and I know it wasn’t easy for even a wealthy white woman to become a published author at the turn of the 20th century. But most women in the world can’t afford the luxury of a room of one’s own—never mind a home full of servants who silently cook your food and wash your clothes. Mary and I discussed my future as an author and she encouraged me to stay in the academy. I became debt-free this year and plan to work hard at staying debt-free for as long as possible. But as someone who doesn’t write commercial fiction and struggles to place each manuscript, the academy is a decent home. What other job would give me five weeks to write over the holidays? This past semester nearly broke me but I’m developing a new course for the spring and hope that finishing The Deep will lift my spirits. I’m working on my end of year slideshow and was surprised to see how productive 2012 was—I fell short of some goals but achieved others and have a long To Do list ready for 2013. Jayne Cortez passed away yesterday and the death of a great woman artist always reminds me to press on. Tomorrow isn’t promised so produce TODAY…

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imagesRoses are still blooming in the garden. I hadn’t been to the botanic garden in over a month but the shooting in Newtown, CT made me long for solitude. Some of the paths were blocked off due to uprooted trees, but despite the devastation I still felt soothed by the leafless trees. A tufted titmouse peeked out at me from the braided wisteria  and I spotted another new breed while running in the park yesterday. I went to see The Hobbit on Sunday and then came home and watched Lord of the Rings. I want out—I want a way out of the nightmare that our society has become. Right now there’s a conversation on the radio about mental illness but I haven’t yet heard anyone say we need to have a conversation about GENDER. Women don’t commit these crimes. Earlier this semester I had an unstable male student and for weeks I worried he might come to class armed. He was suspended in October but I still keep an eye out for him—we have no real security on campus and the officer I filed a report with was sanctioned (I think) just for admitting this male student had a history with campus security. The administration was so anxious to protect HIS privacy, but what about OUR safety? He was suspended years ago and then readmitted, and almost immediately started to have problems in all his classes. When he allegedly attacked a female student in my other class, I filed a report and that finally got him removed. Today I opened my email and found a lewd message from another male student. I suspect his account was hacked, but still—in my mind it’s all part of the same problem. Looking forward to being in London soon…yes, it’s more escapism, but sometimes you have to believe there really is a way out…

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If you didn’t attend the 2012 A Is for Anansi conference at NYU last weekend, you missed a chanced to meet the future president of the United States. Sirah Sow (left) was one of three outstanding teens that wowed the audience on Saturday morning’s “If I Ruled the World” panel. She and her aunt also attended the post-conference brunch where a smaller group of participants shared our impressions and suggestions with the two organizers, Jaira Placide and Rashidah Ismaili. Most of us agreed that our main challenge this year was attendance. The panels were tighter, the speakers were diverse and engaging, but ultimately we were preaching to the choir—and a small choir at that. It’s possible that the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy prevented some local people from attending, though I met one determined attendee who knew she was coming whether or not her power was restored. The US publishing industry is based in NYC, and white editors claim they’re desperate to find more black writers, yet how many of those editors took advantage of this FREE event? Did the storm prevent ALL of the major kidlit journals from covering the conference? This year four legends in the field were honored: Ashley Bryan, Pat Cummings (right, photographed by Sandra Payne), Eloise Greenfield, and William Loren Katz. Will the readers of Horn Book, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly get to read about the honoring of these literary luminaries? They deserve to know about this one-of-a-kind conference yet I didn’t see any press in attendance. When my panel was over, Dr. Meena Khorana approached me and asked for a copy of my paper; Dr. Khorana is the editor of Sankofa: a Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature and they plan to cover the conference—but again, that’s preaching to the choir. How do we engage those who most need to hear our message? The presidential election is over, thank goodness, and the conversation has since turned to the shifting demographics in the US and the obvious anxiety of many members of the dominant group. In class I try to explain to my students that dominance isn’t tied to numbers—under slavery, small groups of whites controlled much larger groups of blacks. So when racial minorities combine to become the statistical majority in this country, it doesn’t automatically follow that whites will lose their dominance. White supremacy is so entrenched in our institutions that it will take decades to root it out. I think what we’re going to see over the next few years is a circling of the wagons—anxious whites fearing the loss of power and privilege will retreat further into their all-white world and do whatever they can to “keep the horde at bay.” Meanwhile, people of color and their allies will have to keep moving forward, holding fast to the belief that “we shall overcome someday.” On this rainy morning I’m not feeling particularly optimistic. But it was definitely energizing to spend the weekend with so many talented writers and scholars and activists (above: Tony Medina, Nnedi Okorafor, Michelle Martin, & me). Ibi Zoboi took this great shot of our fantasy panel, and I’m hoping she will do a write-up of the entire conference on her blog (below: me, Vicky Smith, Nnedi, Stacy Whitman, and Ivan Velez, Jr.).

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…and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I first heard this years ago, back when I was an avid NBA fan. Marc Jackson told a reporter that his father had given him that advice when he was young, and it made absolute sense to me at the time. I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago, however, and I now know that loving what you do doesn’t mean that you don’t work hard—it just means that at the end of a busy day you don’t feel defeated. You DO get tired, and some days you DO dread getting out of bed. But for the most part, having a job you love means you feel the time and energy you spend are an investment in something important. I spent last weekend in Columbia, South Carolina and was impressed over and over by the enthusiasm and dedication of the librarians and educators I met. On Friday I had dinner with three black women academics (Rachelle Washington, Michelle Martin, and Dianne Johnson) and a recent grad just starting her career in communications. It was an interesting moment—Jasmine laid out her plans for work/life/family and we elders talked about the need for self-care. Rachelle runs a “Sistah Doctah retreat” at Clemson University that provides mentoring and support for black women scholars and graduate students. There have been a lot of articles online lately about the specific challenges black women face in the academy. After my mid-week migraine I had to admit that self-care has not been high on my list of priorities this semester (I just had leftover cake for breakfast). I felt guilty lounging in a hotel room last weekend (I did grade midterms for a couple of hours) but I know that if I don’t slow down, eventually I’ll crash. The semester gets going and you try to “hold on” and “push through,” but that’s not healthy. I haven’t gotten any writing done lately, either, and that just makes me mean…

On Saturday I got some books at the Robert Mills Museum and then walked over to the Richland County Public Library to meet Michelle’s graduate students. They had compiled a list of more than *fifty* questions after reading Wish and we had a wide-ranging conversation about the novel, my writing process, and the challenges of getting published. I also got to learn about their literacy projects, which include books clubs, book drives, and puppetry! The library has its own puppet theater and I melted a little when I saw all their puppets hanging on the wall. I immediately recalled the raggedy old monkey puppet my mother saved for me when she retired from teaching. I need to figure out how to be the kind of professor who gets to play with puppets now and then. Or maybe I should’ve become a librarian! The ones I met in Columbia were so energetic—especially when talking to or about their teenage patrons. The best part of my author presentation was the Q&A and the two young women who talked about their own struggles with writing. “Did your parents support your decision to become a writer?” Uh—no! Not at all. They eventually came to tolerate my writing but you can’t expect *your* passion to mean as much to other people. I often say that being around teachers is like being around family, but the difference is that the teachers and librarians I meet *now* truly value my work. Having dinner with RCPL librarians Heather, Sherry, and Jennifer was a lot fun—we talked about Game of Thrones, trauma in picture books, having immigrant parents, and (of course) the election. Sunday was a day of rest and then I spent Monday at Westwood High School—a beautiful, brand new school just north of Columbia. My librarian host, Marti Brown, is also a student of Michelle Martin so she was familiar with my work and planned an amazing visit for me with her co-librarian Cathy. How often do you show up at a public school and find hot biscuits, grits, scrambled eggs, and bacon?! I ate my fill and then gave a short talk to a nice group of teachers—as long as their day is, they still showed up early to hear about my books. Then I gave a presentation to about three hundred students in the school’s state of the art auditorium—complete with cordless mic and remote so that I was able to roam around and still advance my slides (all tech stuff was handled by members of the broadcasting club!). I told the students later that I wished the kids in Brooklyn could see Westwood High—*every* child should be able to attend a school like that. Before leaving for the airport I had a pizza lunch with the book club and heard a powerful poetry performance by Marshay, the Miss Westwood pageant-winner. They sent me off with a portable Redhawk blanket that kept me warm on the chilly flight home…one of my best school visits ever.

It was lovely to be spoiled like that but it was also good to come home. Getting out of NYC wasn’t easy—we’re still recovering from “Superstorm Sandy” and it was hard to hail a cab since most of them were taken and/or were in line waiting for gas. I got gouged by the cabbie (and lectured on why I should have kids) but I made it to the airport on time and even made my connecting flight despite a one-hour delay leaving JFK. I stepped off the plane in Columbia and looked up at a clear, blue sky—there was sunshine and a strong breeze—and I felt a mixture of relief and guilt. Everyone I met asked how I had weathered the storm and I shared how blessed I felt not to have experienced any flooding or power loss. So many New Yorkers are still homeless, still without power and heat—and it’s FREEZING right now. We had a snowstorm yesterday and there are plenty of empty seats in my classroom because my students are struggling to recover from the storms. I woke up on Monday morning and there was no hot water in the hotel; I immediately went on Facebook and typed up a complaint to post on my feed and then had a reality check. This week has been rather overwhelming but I don’t have the additional challenges faced by those who live along the coast. I have heat, power, internet access, and food. I’m busy, but I’m also blessed. Trying to focus on that fact as I do what I can for those in need.

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It’s another rainy day and I’ll be giving my last midterm later this morning but I thought I’d take a moment to list some upcoming events:

On November 3rd I’ll be presenting at the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, SC. Dr. Michelle Martin of USC is teaching Wish so I’ll have a chance to meet with her graduate students, and then I’ll give a public talk with members of the library’s Teen Advisory Board. If you’re in the vicinity, stop by! Before I return to NYC I’ll have a chance to meet students at Westwood HS. Hopefully being in the South will help me finish up Judah’s Tale–I’m nearing 74K words and hope to wrap up at 80. I’ve already made a list of plantations I hope to visit while I’m in the midlands…

On November 9-10th I’ll be attending the second A Is for Anansi conference at NYU. I’m moderating the SFF panel on Saturday morning but am really looking forward to hearing Michelle Martin’s keynote address the night before. If you’re in NYC you definitely don’t want to miss this! I will miss some of the afternoon sessions because I’ve been invited to speak at Girls Write Now, a fantastic nonprofit that’s celebrating its 15th year of pairing teenage girls with professional writer-mentors. I’ll be speaking about historical fiction and can’t wait to meet these amazing young women writers.

On November 17th I’ll be at the Brooklyn Museum Book Fair—one of my favorite kidlit events! Come out with your kids and enjoy an afternoon of books, authors, readings, and fun activities. The next weekend is Thanksgiving and I’ll be heading up to Toronto. If you’re in the city and would like to book a visit, let me know! Though I may be ready for a break by then…

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I hope we’ll see you there! I will be moderating the fantasy panel on Saturday morning.

Institute of African American Affairs

New York University

presents

A Is for Anansi: Literature for Children of African Descent

“Africa, the Future, and the Urban Landscape”

November 9-10th, 2012

Location for all programs: Kimmel Center-NYU,

60 Washington Square South, E&L Auditorium, 4th Floor

“A Is for Anansi: Africa, the Future, and the Urban Landscape,” the second conference hosted by the Institute of African American Affairs, aims to deepen and diversify the cannon, conversation and scholarship of the literature as told by its most influential critics, scholars, teachers and producers. The need for more in-depth analysis and for more information, critical evaluation, and publications on this topic still remains. The conference will look at these and consider other questions and issues as well.

Keynote by Dr. Michelle H. Martin

Panels include Fantasy: The Final Frontier, Urban Landscapes, Africa Imagined

Panelists include: Nancy Tolson, William Loren Katz, Meena Khorana, Varian Johnson, Christine Taylor-Butler, Georgina Falu, Kathleen Horning, Zetta Elliott, Nnedi Okorafor,   Vicky Smith, Stacy Whitman, Ivan Velez, Jr., Tony Medina, Coe Booth, Terry Williams, K.C. Boyd,  Rashidah Ismaili, Elana Denise Anderson, Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, Anika Selhorst, Mohammed Naseehu Ali,  Katharine Capshaw Smith

Anansi Award will be presented to  Ashley Bryan, Pat Cummings, William Loren Katz, and Eloise Greenfield

Free and open to the public. Space is limited.
Please RSVP at (212) 998-IAAA (4222)
For more information please visit:
http://africanastudies.as.nyu.edu/object/IAAA-Anansi-2012.html

Schedule:

Friday, November 9th, 2012 – Opening Reception

6-6:30 pm
● Opening KEYNOTE

6:30-8:00 pm
● Perceptions and Realities:  When Color Blinds and Reveals
Perceptions of how notions of whiteness/blackness, both implicit and implied, are presented and their effects. Borrowing a page from Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, whiteness and blackness in the literary imagination.

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

Registration – 9-9:30 am

9:30 – 11:00 am
● Fantasy: The Final Frontier
The scarcity of fantasy/science-fiction books featuring children of African descent.

11:00 – 12:30 pm
● Children’s panel:   “If I Ruled the World”
As a teacher / publisher / writer / reader how they see themselves in the world and how they are depicted. If they were in control and in power/what would they teach, assign to read, defending it why and why not.

Lunch – 12:30 – 1:30 pm

1:30 – 3:00 pm
● Urban Landscapes: Stories for a Global World, Realism and Dominant Images
The lure of urban life and culture, its offerings and sacrifices. What the urban landscape does to the literature and vice versa. How the black urban experience is interpreted and reimagined. How does dwindling rural development and shifts to urban landscapes fragment and reconstruct lives and cultural retentions?

3:00 – 4:30 pm
● Africa Imagined
“What is Africa to me” remains a fundamental question in all Africana studies. How African culture is identified, constructed in the literature.

4:30 – 5:00 pm
CLOSURE/ROUND UP/SURVEY

5:00 PM
AWARD RECEPTION
● Tribute to Ashley Bryan, Pat Cummings, William Loren Katz, and Eloise Greenfield

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This past summer I had the chance to share my beloved Brooklyn with the amazing educator/blogger/author Ed Spicer. Filming in Prospect Park was a bit of a challenge (we’re in the flight path of 2 major airports) but Ed still managed to make a great short film—take a look!

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After Edi read my SLJ article, she suggested I compile a list of African American speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, time travel, alternate history, dystopia, horror, etc.) books for children. As usual, I enlisted the help of others, and below is the list Edi, Doret, Ari, and I compiled. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment. I did not include speculative fiction titles that might appeal to teens—just those specifically published for young readers (MG/YA).

Speculative Fiction by US-based Authors of African Descent


1. Justice and Her Brothers by Virginia Hamilton (1978)

2. Dustland by Virginia Hamilton (1980)

3. The Gathering by Virginia Hamilton (1981)

4. Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush by Virginia Hamilton (1982)

5. The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl by Virginia Hamilton (1983)

6.  Shadow of the Red Moon by Walter Dean Myers (1995)

7. Trapped between the Lash and the Gun by Arvella Whitmore (2001)

8. The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams (2004)

9. 47 by Walter Mosley (2005)

10. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor (2005)

11. The Hour of the Cobra by Maiya Williams (2006)

12. The Hour of the Outlaw by Maiya Williams (2007)

13. The Marvelous Effect by Troy CLE (2007)

14. The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor (2007)

15. Racing the Dark by Dawn Alaya Johnson (2007)

16. A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott (2008)

17. Night Biters: A Tale of Urban Horror by AJ Harper (2008)

18. M+O 4EVR by Tonya Cherie Hegamin (2008)

19. Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin (2009)

20. The Ancient Lands Warriors Quest by Jason McCammon (2009)

21. Asleep by Wendy Raven McNair (2009)

22. Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers (2009)

23. Explorer-X Alpha by LM Preston (2009)

24. The Goblin King by Dawn Alaya Johnson (2009)

25. Olivion’s Favorites by Troy CLE (2009)

26. Were Wolves: the Mix Tape by AJ Harper (2009)

27. Awake by Wendy Raven McNair (2010)

28. The Clone Codes by Patricia McKissack et al. (2010)

29. Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves (2010)

30. Manifest by Artist Arthur (2010)

31. Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2010)

32. Shadow Walker by LA Banks (2010)

33. Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves (2011)

34. Cyborg by Patricia McKissack et al. (2011)

35. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (2011)

36. Mystify by Artist Arthur (2011)

37. Mutiny by Artist Arthur (2011)

38. Mayhem by Artist Arthur (2011)

39. Modelland by Tyra Banks (2011)

40. Living Violet: The Cambion Chronicles #1 by Jaime Reed (2011)

41. Breaking Free by Alicia McCalla (2012)

42. Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott (2012)

43. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson* (2012; Canadian author, US press)

44. Burning Emerald: The Cambion Chronicles #2 by Jaime Reed (2012)

45. Mesmerize by Artist Arthur (2012)

46. The Diary of B.B. Bright by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams (2012)

47. Fading Amber: The Cambion Chronicles #3 by Jaime Reed (2012)

48. The Clone Codes #3: the Visitor by Patricia C. McKissack, Fredrick McKissack, and Pat McKissack (2012)

49. The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards (2012; UK author, US press)

50. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (2013)

51. Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (2013)

52. Roots: Witchbound Book One by Kelbian Noel (2013; Canadian author)

53. Bending Time: The Adventures of Emery Jones, Boy Science Wonder by Charles & Elisheba Johnson (2013)

54. Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland (2013)

55. The Offenders by Jerry Craft (2013)

56. The Deep by Zetta Elliott (2013)

57. Charis: Journey to Pandora’s Jar by Nicole Y. Walters (2013)

58. Game World by Christopher John Farley (2014)

59. Promise of Shadows by Justine Ireland (2014)

60. Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (2014)

61. The Phoenix on Barkley Street by Zetta Elliott (2014)

62. The Lost Tribes by C. Taylor-Butler (2015)

63. The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (2015)

64. The Mark of Noba by GL Tomas (2015)

65. Dayshaun’s Gift by Zetta Elliott (2015)

66. Black Beauty by Constance Burris (2015)

67. Coal: Book One of the Everleaf Series by Constance Burris (2015)

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