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Readings & Workshops Blog

P&W-supported poets Modesto “Flako” Jimenez and Annie Bacon will perform in Alphabet Arts’ Puppets & Poets festival December 6 through December 8 at New York’s Bushwick Starr theater. The organization’s volunteer, Nora Brooks, blogs about the festival.


The Folk OperaA puppet car with no driver cruises the Brooklyn streets while the rhythmic baritone of poet Modesto “Flako” Jimenez booms out spoken word images of life in the drug trade. This is not your typical poetry reading or puppet show, and that is what makes Alphabet Arts’ annual Puppets & Poets festival such a bright light for New York City audiences, particularly those with little access to poetry. Dominican-born poet and actor Jimenez, one of two poets awarded a P&W grant to perform in the upcoming festival, gives a lot of credit to the melding of the two art forms: “The puppetry will connect that visual to your writing, and it’ll dance in their brain like no other. It gives them that bridge.”

The festival is directed by poet Amber West, who co-founded the nonprofit multi-genre artist collective Alphabet Arts in 2009. That summer a group of artists came together to build and perform The Simpsons writer Mike Reiss’ children’s book, City of Hamburgers, as a puppet play on her front porch for a neighborhood block party. In 2011, they launched Puppets & Poets to “create and cultivate collaborative hybrid art,” the Alphabet Arts' website explains.

Last year the festival expanded by partnering with the Bushwick Starr, a theater that TimeOut recently named Best Off-Off Broadway Venue. The Starr is an incubator for experimental work, including hybrids like Puppets & Poets that build roads connecting distant corners of the artistic universe.

“We’re introducing the rich variety and complexity of two of the world’s oldest art forms to diverse audiences,” West said.

Perhaps physical imagery improvised from lyrical storytelling builds a roadmap through the poetry, or maybe the puppetry introduces a lightness that facilitates access to more difficult material.

“The festival last year had some amazing dark poetry, and the only way the audience was able to take it was through puppetry,” Jimenez said. It’s that magic combination of the literary and the popular that gives audiences a new way into the work.

This year’s festival includes artists from New York, Austin, and Philadelphia and features free, interactive family matinees as well as free field trips and “puppet poem” workshops for students at PS 123, a Title 1 elementary school near the theater.

“With P&W’s support, we’re bringing in San Francisco poet and musician Annie Bacon, who wrote a verse musical on a ukulele called The Folk Opera,” West said. “Alphabet Arts is adapting it to the puppet stage, and Annie and her band will perform alongside our puppeteers.”

SpacetansmananagasmAlso featured is Austin performer Zeb L. West’s one-man show, Spacetansmananagasm, blends David Bowie’s verse with an ancient Japanese puppetry form called kugutsu. The festival is supported in part by the Citizens Committee For NYC and the Brooklyn Arts Council. Funding for the artists and the free programs for low-income children and families is also supported by the community through an Indiegogo campaign.

The third annual Puppets & Poets festival includes ticketed evening cabarets for mature audiences and free family-friendly matinees. For more information, visit alphabetarts.org.

Photos: Top: The Folk Opera (credit: Kirsten Kammermeyer). Lower: Spacetansmananagasm (credit: Jeff Moreaux)
Support for Readings/Workshops events in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-funded Kamilah Aisha Moon currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books). A recipient of fellowships to the Prague Summer Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center, Moon's work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including the Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou’wester, Oxford American, Lumina, Callaloo, Villanelles, Gathering Ground, and the Ringing Ear. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Medgar Evers College-CUNY, Drew University, and Adelphi University. Moon holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.

Kamilah Aisha Moon author photoWe arrive here as ourselves; any mother will tell you this is true. Before words, before autonomy, before this world has any real focus in our infant eyes, we make ourselves known. It’s a miracle we spend our whole lives celebrating, losing and recovering, lamenting, rejecting, and embracing.

Before the hazings on playgrounds, high school dramas souped up on hormones, and before the lenses of race, class, sex, and orientation can trap us into lesser versions of ourselves, we seek, experiment, and feel our way along in the safety of good homes, if we are fortunate.

I certainly was. Poet Stephen Dunn has a line in his poem “Tiger Face” that reads “Good parents are blessings/ whoever they are.” Mine paid such close attention to me, and now tell stories from those early years. One of their favorites is about when I was two years old, getting into things and exploring around the house. I was finally tall enough to open the door to a narrow hallway closet, a utility closet that stored various tools and household supplies. On the back wall hung a huge papier-mâché African mask that my father made.

My parents watched as I stared up at this fierce, imposing mask, and then I screamed and ran down the hallway. They proceeded to watch as I—again and again—opened the same closet door, screamed, and ran down the hallway every day that week. Each day, I would stare a little longer before I screamed and ran. Until the final day, instead of screaming or running, I walked in and touched the mask.

So much of one’s character and spirit can be revealed in the smallest of gestures, gleaned from our choices. This scenario has played out in my life again and again, a hallmark of the way I’ve moved through experience after experience thus far. The decisions to move from city to city, building from the ground up in strange towns and new jobs, with someone and alone. The willingness to try and often fail at new things and travel solo abroad. The decision to put my writing first and leave a good career to move to New York for graduate school, despite considerable odds.

I just turned forty in September. The year leading up to it was filled with angst and anxiety as I reflected on the challenges and losses of the last five years in particular. I experienced existential ruminations and real fatigue that threatened to paralyze everything just as some goals I've worked toward for many years were beginning to come to fruition. Then a voice of reason deep inside of me asked, "Where is that fluid girl who let fear propel rather than imprison her?"

I forced myself to remember what has been exceptional and good in my life. I turned to the practices that have always seen me through the tough times: reading and writing. As a line in Sharon Olds' poem “Material Ode” advises, I had to choose “to love only where loved!” and leave institutions, relationships, and spaces where this love wasn't happening. I had to recall, for myself, what I wrote in an email to a younger friend who was in a confusing, whirlwind moment in her life: You'll rarely feel sure or completely comfortable with most endeavors. If you do, interrogate why because that's how growth feels—off-kilter and magic, all at once. Losing your breath and getting it back, over and over again.

This world has so many ways of assaulting the body, mind, and spirit. Indignities that make it easy to forget the unique force you are and the love you come from, leaving you unrecognizable to yourself. Ask your loved ones—your beloved mirrors—to remind you regularly of your highest, most resourceful, intuitive self. Do the same for them in return. And yes, bravely write it all down the best way you possibly can.

Success in writing and life is as much about what you let go of as it is about what you gain. Let go of others' false verdicts of who you are and who you are meant to be. Let go of doubts and negative projections. Let go of past mistakes. Face those fears that loom large, and touch them (perhaps screaming through tears, and with small, shaking hands) to take away their power.

Photo: Kamilah Aisha Moon. Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-sponsored writer Chiwan Choi is the author of Abductions and The Flood, among other works, and the founder of Writ Large Press. In October, he performed at Riverside Community College in Riverside, California. We asked him to blog about his visit.

Chiwan ChoiI've been fortunate to read my work at great venues in numerous places over the years, from Los Angeles to New York. I was able to meet wonderful and inspiring people like Caitlin Myer and her Portuguese Artists Colony in San Francisco, the amazing and selfless Mike Geffner and his Inspired Word events all over New York, and everybody whom I've ever met in Seattle.

But I have to say, the two places that have been my favorites so far have been two city colleges that are overshadowed by their more famous UC counterparts. One was the writing class at Berkeley City College that used to be taught by a fantastic young writer and teacher named Alexandra Kostoulas. The other, my absolute favorite, is Riverside City College and a group that calls itself The Stay Classy Creative Writing Club, a student club at RCC, with Jo Scott-Coe, one of the best essayists writing today, as advisor. The group has invited me out three times now, most recently on October 2 of this year.

It was a great crowd. Around fifty to sixty people, I think. They were completely engaged. They were completely generous.

"I won't be reading tonight," I announced. "Let's talk." They didn't mind. Which was great because it gave us more time to talk and get to know each other.

It was a beautiful experience. The asked me questions about writing, about publishing, about my love life, about race, about The Walking Dead. About everything. I tried to answer every question as honestly as possible.

Visiting Riverside Community College.The event was emceed by Michael H. Winn. I was greeted in the parking lot by Tina Holden Burroughs. All wonderful people who were kind to me just because they liked what I do. I first got to know The Stay Classy Creative Writing Club through Jazzy Bird and Brennan Gonering. A young writer named Samuel James Finch gave me two of his fantastic chapbooks, The Pepper Tree Conspectus, which featured a little opening story called "Monkey Brains," about a guy who liked to whip out his testicles, and The Pain Body. A student named Amanda Graves blew me away with her writing. I even launched my next book project.

The fact is that for a writer like me, a community like The Stay Classy Creative Writing Club is imperative for my creative survival. They take care of me with love and financial support--much more than famous and established bookstores. Without support from the ground level, it is difficult for any writer to continue.

I came home happy, humbled, and wanting to contact each person there that night through Facebook (or something) and go out for drinks. I wanted to thank them for reminding me that art is about personal connections, and that art is about engaging in a long-term relationships that work both ways.

Photos: Top: Chiwan Choi (credit: Chiwan Choi). Bottom: Visiting Riverside Community College (credit: Jo Scott-Coe).
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-funded Kamilah Aisha Moon currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books). A recipient of fellowships to the Prague Summer Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center, Moon's work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including the Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou’wester, Oxford American, Lumina, Callaloo, Villanelles, Gathering Ground, and the Ringing Ear. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Medgar Evers College-CUNY, Drew University, and Adelphi University. Moon holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.

Kamilah Aisha Moon author photoA book launch can feel much like the beloved jazz classic, “Night in Tunisia,” written by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli. In the song, seemingly disparate notes fall into a stunning syncopation, creating a thrilling groove and refrain that gains momentum each time it's played—with each part shining in turn, as well as building together, into crescendos of emotion. This style of improvisation married with exquisite skill and rhythms energizes the heartbeats underneath the beats that are melded with the lush harmonies of the performers and the audience—it pulses love, love, love.

Who knew that a book launch party could feel and be like this?! I didn't, especially before 7 PM on Friday, November 8. The day began with a medley of mishaps and logistical mix-ups—chief among them being that my sisters, flying in from Chicago for the program, were stuck in the airport and kept getting delayed. Unexpected obligations and last-minute details caused stress and anxiety. I've been told these things are inevitable, and that there's a reason we have the adage regarding “the best laid plans of mice and men.”

Fortunately, the outcome wasn't a disaster; in fact, quite the opposite was true. Friends stepped up to lend their hands, their knowledge, and their resources. Beautiful surprises and generous gestures gave us what we needed: The chairs and tables were set up, the food was spread out, and the wine was poured. Beautiful faces flowed in from childhood friends, colleagues, mentors, founders and directors of writing organizations, curators, publishers, poets, artists of all disciplines, former and current students, family members, and friends of friends I met for the first time. Everyone was a distinguished guest.

The night was cool and clear, and the New York City skyline—with two of its majestic bridges visible—glistened beyond the enormous windows of Rachel Eliza Griffiths' new studio, Dumbo Sky. You couldn't ask for a more gracious host. Writer and performer Samantha Thornhill elegantly guided us through the program. It began with the gorgeous voice and brilliance of Karma Mayet Johnson who sang “Little Sparrow,” leading the audience in song above the churning river. What a treat to hear Tina Chang movingly interpret two of my poems and welcome me to our press, Four Way Books. Paul Lisicky responded to a line in one of my poems with his usual grounded grace that reaches into the heart, and Joan Larkin shared vivid, thought-provoking word portraits for us all to consider. Tyehimba Jess brought his unforgettable brand of witnessing, including a poem about Blind Tom, an autistic piano virtuoso during the slavery era. Ross Gay's wonder and revelations charged the room too—including a humorous moment when the doorbell rang at the precise moment he mentioned cathedral chimes in the middle of a deeply poignant poem. Aracelis Girmay spoke from the heart in the beautiful language she is becoming legendary for, and shattered me in the best way with a poem written for the occasion. Then, after viewing the two exquisite book shorts she created for this book projected onto the wall, Rachel Eliza Griffiths introduced me like no one else has—our friendship the greatest gift from my graduate school experience at Sarah Lawrence College.

To say I was overcome is a vast understatement. I was humbled and honored that so many people from most of the communities and institutions I've known were all in one room. To look out into the sea of faces and see years of experiences and joy embodied in the flesh just blew me away. So did the dancing, signing, well-wishes and endless hugs that followed. When writers gather for an occasion, it is golden. I say this also thinking of the beautiful tributes just a few months earlier at a filled-to-capacity Poets House, remembering and celebrating poet Kurt Brown, now on the other side of the sun.

Oh, these moments where we twirl and shine together! Thanks to all who came—I wish I could list every name here. I'll never forget, and I look forward to attending the next reading, the next event, the next beautifully shared moment. How fortunate we all are to have this way of engaging with life as writers and artists, and to have each other. Like the ultimate jazz song, everyone has solos within the grand melody, everyone is backed by the others, everyone makes the song complete.

Photo: Kamilah Aisha Moon. Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Amy Cheney is a librarian and advocate who has served preschoolers, middle schoolers, adults in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users, and people of color for over twenty-five years. Cheney has brought numerous writers—including Jerry McGill, Deborah Jiang Stein, Jesse De La Cruz, Luis J. Rodriguez, Cesar A. Cruz, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Ron Glodoski—to conduct readings, writing workshops, and talks with the youth she serves at California's Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall. P&W has been supporting these programs for over a decade.

Cheney's six-word memoir is: "Navigator of insanity, instigator of enlightenment." Her theme songs are "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" by Cake and "I Can See Clearly Now" by Jimmy Cliff. For more information, follow her blog, Reaching Reluctant Readers.

Amy Cheney and visiting writersWhat makes your organization and its programs unique?
The Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall is a partnership between the public library, the county schools, and the Juvenile Justice Center to serve incarcerated youth.

When we first began the program, 81 percent of the youth said they had never heard a published author speak or read their work.

After authors visited the facility, 60 to 90 percent of the youth wanted to read their book or learn more. Sixty-three percent say they learn something new from author visits.

What’s the most moving or memorable thing that’s happened as a result of an event you’ve organized?
Seeing students, who haven’t had positive reading experiences in the past, wanting to read and reaching for the book (as well as having enough of the books to give them) is consistently memorable and moving.

How do you find and invite writers?
It's a process of intention, reading, research, networking, and luck. There were several artists that P&W helped us fund, who were little known at the time.

Walking home one evening, Jerry McGill was shot and paralyzed when he was thirteen years old. The shooter was never found. Jerry wrote a moving book called Dear Marcus, A Letter to the Man Who Shot Me. We were able to touch upon many issues that are often unspoken, but very real for the youth: getting shot, feelings of revenge, and forgiveness. Disability and life after severe trauma is an extremely important topic for our youth, but not often brought to light.

Deborah Jiang Stein was born in prison addicted to heroin. Her journey was fascinating to our girls.

Ron Glodoski does such an incredible program about physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. It is profound and life-changing for many of our youth to read, write, and explore these topics.

Youth are amazed that Jesse De La Cruz made it out of prison and is doing so well after more than forty-three years behind bars.

It’s also terrific to have well-known authors such as Luis J. Rodriguez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and others grace us with their presence.

How has literary presenting informed your life?
When I was a rage-filled teen, I was forced—at least that’s how I remember it—to hear Maya Angelou speak in a church basement. I was pissed off I was there, but as the program went on I felt my defenses crack and something that had never been available to me opened up inside. This experience was so powerful, I’ve worked for thirteen years to provide the opportunity for others.

I've also learned a tremendous amount about integrity. Writing a book that reflects the truth is one thing, and living it is another!

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for the community you serve?
I am not even sure how to answer the question adequately. They are invaluable in terms of hope, inspiration, contemplation, freedom, and provocation. Quotes from the students themselves, after meeting Jerry McGill, might help illustrate the value of these programs:

"It was really a very emotional experience. I feel like there should be more people sharing their experience of being victims to people who make crimes; kind of like seeing the other side of the coin. Keep doing the things you're doing in spreading your life story." —S

"I too have been shot and never found out who did it so I can understand that. I know you said that you forgave whoever did shoot you and that makes me think about if I ever knew who did it I would forgive them. I'm going to read your book when I get a chance." —D

"Your story made me want to write more, and to make my own book." —C

"I learned the best thing from you, forgiveness. I'm willing to learn more and hear more from you." —A

Photo: (Left to right) Writer Dream Jordan, librarian Amy Cheney, writer Jeff Rivera, and writer Coe Booth. Credit: David Shankman.

Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-funded Kamilah Aisha Moon currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books). A recipient of fellowships to the Prague Summer Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center, Moon's work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou’wester, Oxford American, Lumina, Callaloo, Villanelles, Gathering Ground, and The Ringing Ear. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Medgar Evers College-CUNY, Drew University, and Adelphi University. Moon holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.

Kamilah Aisha Moon author photoWriting poetry is a solitary endeavor. We carve out (and possibly steal) moments in order to get “the best words in their best order,” as Coleridge wrote. And once the poem is on a website, printed in a journal or book, each reader encounters and interprets those words uniquely, alone.

I'm so grateful for public readings and to participate in the literary community this way—freed from society's silos, if only briefly, to acknowledge what we as people mean to each other.

I love writing in part because of a high school teacher who shared with us his passion and expertise. But it wasn't until I went on a promotional tour in college and read my poetry in front of strangers across the Midwest that I was truly claimed by the craft. To read a line that lands emotionally, to convey images that soothe or startle, to see heads nod and the glimmer of recognition in someone's eyes, and to hear the sighs that someone might emit after tasting a good meal, is so gratifying.

For example, I was moved by a farmer from central Illinois who heard me read “Me and My Friends Circa 1981,” a poem in which I recall what it was like to grow up in an inner city neighborhood. After the reading he walked to the front of the room and thanked me for taking him back to his own childhood: the tire swing on the tree, the pond he used to splash in, the big porch where he ate homemade ice cream. As he heard about my chain-link swings, roller skates on pavement, and sidewalk chalk galleries, he connected with the universal joy of children enjoying summer regardless of geography. He readily saw himself, a farmer of the Silent generation with a grade-school education in an all-white rural town, in my black female coed words.

While compliments feel good, compelling comments are equally powerful. I appreciate the moments when someone says "I never thought of things this way, until your poem" or "Hey, you really pissed me off" or "I forgot about and stopped caring about this, but now I'll always remember." It is a complete honor when people brave the elements, perhaps pay a door fee, or forgo a cozy night on the couch to sit in a room and hear what a poet like me has to say. When poet Lucille Clifton was still with us on this planet, I loved how she would make me giggle from mirth or cry from devastation and find the redeemable in terrible things. She is famous for saying, “Poetry comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Despite being maligned and marginalized by some, poetry's power and longevity are undeniable and vital to society.

I think of the rich, red velvet curtains and slightly beat up music stand at the intimate Perfect Sense Reading Series at Cornelia Street Cafe, hosted by Alissa Heyman. I love the fun and beautiful fervor of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe when Mahogany L. Browne helms the night. I have been nurtured for many years by the wide arms of Bar 13 and LouderArts, equally committed to newcomers and masters, the page and the stage. There's the literary garden cultivated by J.P. Howard, Women Writers In Bloom, and the audacious spectrum across time and aesthetics established by Jason Koo through Brooklyn Poets—from Walt Whitman to Notorious B.I.G.

I want to praise and recognize all of the people who organize such diverse, necessary spaces for readers and writers to gather. Often with little fanfare or compensation commensurate with their level of effort and talent, they make sure we meet regularly to share in this literary ritual that takes place all over the world in amphitheaters, galleries, tiny cafes, and living rooms. Thanks to Poets & Writers for their support of poets and literary venues, and thanks to the organizers and visionaries who conduct these events that celebrate verse and the human spirit, knowing that people will come and be better for it.

Photo: Kamilah Aisha Moon. Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Andrea (Andy) Young blogs about her readings—supported by P&W grants—in New Orleans. Her third chapbook, The People Is Singular, was published in 2012. Her poems, essays, and translations have been featured internationally and in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Callaloo, Guernica, and the Norton Anthology of Language for a New Century. Since 2012, she has been dividing her time between New Orleans, where she works for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Egypt, where she works for the American University in Cairo.

The P&W-supported readings I’ve done in New Orleans, like most of my writing from the last couple of years, were inextricably linked to revolution and the uprisings in the Arab “world.” These grants have catalyzed readings that likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The readings took place at the Antenna Gallery, a dynamic gallery space which features writers as all as visual artists, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Loyola University, and, at the invitation of the Tulane Arabic Club, at a restaurant which no longer exists called Little Morocco.

Most of the poems I read on these occasions were from a chapbook called The People Is Singular, a collaborative response to the Egyptian revolution featuring my poems and the photography of Salwa Rashad, an Egyptian photographer. All of these readings featured words that try to find a home somewhere between observation and engagement, between Arabic and English, between two cultures. As the spouse of an Egyptian poet, and the mother of two, I am part of a family that constantly seeks to find a point of balance between these things.

Poetry helps me to find that place, and these readings created opportunities to share it. Since January 2011, I have often been asked by American friends and family to help them understand what’s going on in Egypt: to direct people to reliable news sources or to give further context to the headlines. Poetry, of course, is about more than the facts, but I have found that it has served these last couple of years, among other things, to flesh out experiences that may feel distant, other.

Each of these readings also provided opportunities to explore different ways of presenting work. At the Antenna Gallery, I conducted a multimedia presentation with projections of Rashad’s work, soundscapes, and different reading styles. At Loyola University, I hung a small exhibit of Rashad’s work to accompany the poems. At the New Orleans Museum of Art, the reading was in a small gallery space filled with artwork providing a different context.

At Little Morocco restaurant, my husband, Khaled Hegazzi, and I read all the work bilingually, accompanied by the oud and guitar. The restaurant was packed, and the aromas of lamb, cardamom, carrots, and mint tea floated around our voices. It was January 2011, a frightening and exciting time at the beginning of what would come to be known as the “Arab Spring.” My chapbook was yet to be published, but the poems I chose (many in translation from Arabic) were in the spirit of the times. In the question and answer session after the reading, one person asked, “What would you call what is happening in Egypt now?” And I responded, “I’d call it a revolution.” Little did I know how big it was or how long the struggle would be. I continue to seek words that make the narrative(s) of these times tangible and human, though there are times I am hopelessly mute. These opportunities to read and share my attempts to voice my thoughts have helped me to feel that they matter to others and the world.

Photo: Andy Young. Photo Credit: Khaled Hegazzi

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

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