Writer James Penha’s work was featured in issue #12 of Newtown Literary. Below, he reflects on the process of completing his piece for the journal. For more of James’ work, check out his website and The New Verse News. You can follow him on Twitter at @JamesPenha.
I learned about Newtown Literary from my friend John Azrak whose poetry appeared in issue #2. After reading one of my favorite novels in recent years, Jazz Moon by Joe Okonkwo, I discovered that Joe was Fiction Editor at Newtown Literary, and I became determined to write something a little Queensy and a little queeny for the journal.
It was, of course, the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks that got me going on the story that became, in Newtown Literary, “Nighthawk.” I had no idea where the setting would take me except, of course, to a diner like the ones I used to frequent in Queens on so many mornings after: Sage in Elmhurst, Airline in East Elmhurst, Hilltop in Fresh Meadows, Neptune and Bel Aire in Astoria. Recollections of my life in the borough brought me back to my years working at St. John’s University where I administered, among other things, an educational program in a state prison. Yes, there was a student-inmate named Lloyd, but, no, I never met him on the outside. The story, like most of my fictions, I constructed like the papier-mâché I loved to make at P.S. 174: bits of facts torn from reality and pasted on an armature and a mask or two.
The poem composed by the character Lloyd in the story I had already written and published (in J Journal from the Department of English of John Jay College of Criminal Justice). Joe Okonkwo’s blending of poetry and prose in Jazz Moon gave me the guts to insert the lyric into “Nighthawk.”
I struggled, as the story developed, to keep my protagonist ethical and professional; I think it was as hard for me as it was for him.