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Readings & Workshops Blog

Gulf Coast literary journal recently presented three P&W–sponsored writers, Laurie Clements Lambeth, Justin Sirois, and Andrew Porter, at the Houston Indie Book Festival. Festival co-organizer Ryan Call describes the event.

In April, an assortment of writers and readers gathered on the lawn of The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, to participate in the third annual Houston Indie Book Festival. The festival features a variety of exhibitors, from nationally distributed literary journals to small presses, as well as local booksellers, literary organizations, and writers. In addition to hosting exhibitors, the festival also had a children’s area, a couple publishing panels, and several Readings/Workshops–sponsored writers who read for the audience throughout the day.

As one of the festival co-organizers, I had the opportunity to invite a few authors to visit the festival, and I tried to present authors who seemed to support the mission of the festival: to celebrate small press literature.

This year we had Laurie Clements Lambeth, Justin Sirois, and Andrew Porter read, and I was so pleased with both their readings and the audience attendance. Lambeth, a Houston-area poet, read from her poetry collection Veil and Burn and also from a batch of new poems from her next collection, titled Bright Pane. Justin Sirois, who traveled all the way to Houston from Baltimore as part of his latest book tour, read from his new novel, Falcons on the Floor, a book about the Iraq war. And Andrew Porter ended the day’s readings with a preview of his forthcoming novel—which is set in Houston—as well as a short Q&A about his writing and publishing.

All of these authors in some way, I believe, contribute to the idea that small press publishing, reading, and writing can and do thrive when given the chance, when a community of readers is present, and when organizations such as Poets & Writers, Inprint, and The Menil Collection collaborate to support such writers and their efforts.

Photo: Festival-goers watch Andrew Porter read. Credit: Ryan Call.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Houston 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.

Robert Francis Flor, co-founder and director of the P&W–supported Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts, blogs about  planning readings.

Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (PWEKA) is in the process of planning readings for the rest of year. Curating a reading requires a lot. First, we identify writers—checking their availability and contract requirements. Then we coordinate with co-sponsors, like P&W, for support— obtaining funds, securing volunteers, producing promotional materials, confirming the location, etc. Finally, we create and implement an administration and evaluation strategy.

So far, we’ve come up with three events we’d like to host in the late summer or early fall. The first would be a Filipino/Latino young adult reading and workshop. We have approached Los Nortenos, a Latino literary organization based in Seattle, about the idea, and ideally we would work with both public and private school educators and community groups to provide comparisons of cultures that were influenced by the Spanish. Los Nortenos has been very receptive, and we are currently in the process of finalizing the details.

PWEKA has recently became aware of Hedgebrook, a writers retreat for women on Whidbey Island. We would love to co-host a reading with them highlighting local Filipina writers. Both Marivi Soliven Blanco, author of The Hunt for the Hippocampus and Philippine Fright: 13 Scary Stories, and Lolan Buhain Sevilla, author of Walang Hiya, will be attending Hedgebrook this summer. Both expressed an interest in giving a reading! PWEKA is considering featuring Marivi and Lolan with Maritess Zurbano, author of the memoir Rites of Enchantment, and young adult novelist Lisa Castillano, author of Balancing Light and Tilted.

Finally, I would love to have a stage reading with the Filipino American Young Turks of a play I completed at ACT Theatre last November. This might be the most cumbersome as PWEKA will have to identify locations, cast actors, and produce publicity materials, etc. Such is the work of planning readings.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Marea Gordett, owner of Big Mind Learning, an educational firm serving students in the Capital region of New York, and author of the poetry book, Freeze Tag, issued by Wesleyan University Press, blogs about her P&W supported writing workshops at the Marillac Family Shelter in Albany.

When I moved from Boston to Albany,New York in the 1990’s, I was awake to the possibilities of a literary community provided by the New York State Writers’ Institute, but rather bereft at losing the teaching connections that I had in a large metropolitan area. Since a friend recommended that I apply to the Readings/Workshops Program at Poets & Writers for funding, I have been thrilled to find this network again in community centers, libraries, and senior centers throughout Albany County and at the beautiful Arkell Museum and Canajoharie Library in Montgomery County.

In these workshops, I am aware not only of what I receive from and give to the writers, but also of a third entity that the group itself becomes— a cacophonous, generous, uplifted community. When there is a space for freely writing about one’s joy, pain and longing, and others willing to listen to these long-withheld emotions-- amazing changes can happen. No matter what the age of the participants, we write from a deep, secret place and then we share, sometimes reluctantly, but always from a growing peace and diminishing loneliness.

This was especially evident to me this winter when I conducted a workshop at the Marillac Family Shelter in Albany. Part of St. Catherine’s Center for Children, this emergency housing program for homeless families meets the initial need for shelter and assists families in empowerment and education. I found a warm welcome when I proposed a writing workshop for teens and mothers called “You are Unlimited.” In this pilot program, held once a week for five weeks, a core of eight people and a constantly-changing extended group gathered in a well-maintained recreation/computer room and wrote, shared, and performed their poems and life stories. As I entered the room every Thursday, mothers with babies and young children would clear the space and shut the door. The dedicated teens, with their mothers usually sitting in couches a few feet away, would sit hushed and ready to write, even after a full day of school.

Participants wrote long Delight Chants in response to Nikki Giovanni’s poem, Ego Tripping, and celebratory litanies after hearing Nazim Hikmet’s poem, Things I Didn’t Know I Loved. After overcoming their initial resistance and with support from staff members, the writers eagerly embraced the free-form poems and wrote lines such as the following:

My real name is J.H.

I want it to mean beautiful. I am a tornado.

I am a spinner. I am a very big swirl.

The enthusiastic staff members wrote with the students and mothers, gently encouraging them. When one of the mothers shared her work, the others jumped in, and eventually everyone lined up to have their work videotaped, accompanied by the applause and shouts of an appreciative audience. When one staff member read her words, everyone nodded in agreement: “I didn’t know I loved the table/until I missed the love that surrounded it./I didn’t know I loved rice/until we had to do without it./I didn’t know I loved the tides/until they washed away my impatience.

This spirit of warmth and camaraderie vanquished pessimism and sadness, if only for an afternoon. I’m tremendously grateful to the support of Poets & Writers for letting my teaching come to life again, and helping me bring to various corners of my region workshops that help restore trust. Especially during this time of resignation and contraction, Poets & Writers gives solace and hope.

Photo:          Credit:

Support for Readings/Workshops in NewYork is provided, in part, by public funds from the NewYork State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W–supported poet and playwright Robert Francis Flor, graduate of the the Artist Trust EDGE Writers Development Program and former board member of ArtsWest Theater, blogs about making connections with other writers.

My favorite part of a reading is the Q&A. At a reading I recently attended, a young man raised his hand and posed a question to Rick Barot, one of the poetry panelists. He asked what a career as a poet was like, as he was interested in pursuing the writing life. Rick is a highly respected poet and has authored two collections, The Darker Fall and Want. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and a teacher at both Warren Wilson College and Pacific Lutheran University, I knew Rick's answer would be meaningful. As it turned out, he had so much to share he conversed with this young man after the program.

This month, Voices of the Asian American Experience from the University of Santa Cruz included twelve poems about my Alaska cannery experiences, and The Thymos Book Project out of Portland, Oregon, will include three of my poems. In addition, Pinoy Heroes, a vignette about my father and uncles, will soon be published. On April 18, I read the vignette for first time at Seattle University. I hope that if I am asked about writing careers, I’ll be able to offer the same level of sage advice to students as Rick.

Advances in technology makes it easier than ever to make connections with other writers. Through these bridges, I hope to help foster a new generation of poets and writers... something I’ve always thought was incredibly important.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Jean Grau, author of the poetry collection Riverbend, is a storyteller in poetry and prose. A native of New Orleans, P&W has co-sponsored her readings at local nursing homes and public libraries since 2008. We asked her a few questions about her work with seniors.

Why have you chosen to work with seniors?
My parents respected life in all its stages. I do, too. Seniors are special to me because of their experience, strength, and courage.

What are your reading dos and don’ts?
Wear bright, happy clothes. Make sure those with hearing problems are in the front. Move. Enjoy the poetry, along with the audience. Never forget readings are command performances for very special people. I avoid depressing subjects, except for the adventurous group at The Shepherd Center, whose motto is: "Bring it on. We can handle it."

How do you and your audience benefit from the live reading experience?
I benefit by feeling useful and helpful. They receive mental and emotional stimulation. Even the very sick enjoy the rhythm and soothing properties of poetry.

What are some of the most memorable moments in your work with seniors?
My second book is based on exhibits traveling to the New Orleans Museum of Art, including one that featured Fabergé eggs. On a beautiful spring day at the nursing home St. Anna's Residence, a small group had assembled in the front yard to hear me read these poems. As the activity director began to pass around foot-high color photos of the Fabergé eggs, loud “oohs” and “ahs” began. Attendants who had chosen not to attend the reading came running out, pushing their charges. There was such a commotion. Some workmen "discovered" they had to walk slowly by.

At another event, there was a paralyzed gentleman in intensive care. His head was in a brace, but his eyes were bright and alert as he listened intently. At the end of my presentation, he said in a clear, gallant voice: "Thank you for a great, an animated, flawless performance." He made me feel as though I were on the stage at Lincoln Center taking my bows.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Everyone needs beauty. So many people tell me that in grade school they enjoyed poetry, but in high school they stopped. Readings reintroduce people to the intellectual stimulation, the emotional comfort, and the rhythm and music of poetry.

Photo: Jean Grau. Credit: Patricia Senentz.

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.

Longtime P&W–supported poet and playwright Bob Flor blogs about attending readings.

Many of the P&W–supported Pinoy Works Expressed readings have led to the discovery of local Filipino writers, such as Toni Bajado, Oliver de la Paz, Rick Barot, Michelle Penaloza, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Geronimo Tagatac, Donna Miscolta, and Peter Bacho. Much of the Filipino communities in Seattle and around Puget Sound were unaware of the literary richness of their city. Readings at the Pagdiriwang Festival, Seattle University, and the University of Washington has led these Filipino writers to receive invitations to read at Washington Poets Association-Burning Word!, Elliott Bay Bookstore, Open Books: A Poem Emporium, and Richard Hugo House, among other venues.

I became interested in playwriting around 2005 but quickly realized I didn’t know what I was doing. At a P&W–supported reading, I learned that Toni Bajado, a writer I’ve worked with before, wrote plays as well as poetry. Her play Fish won the Diversity Scholarship From Freehold. A major benefit of attending readings is the ability to share work, information, and resources with other writers. Readings also provide the chance to share and gather commentary about scenes.

Though I’ve also taken a few at Freehold Theatre, I’m currently taking a course at ACT Theatre. There are usually fewer than twelve participants, and the writing exercises include table readings and work revisions. My most recent play The FAYTS–Filipino American Young Turks incorporates balagtasan, a popular form of poetic debate in the Philippines. I learned about the form during a P&W–supported reading I attended, then created one as part of a scene for my course.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Presenter of literary events Robert Francis Flor, who is also the co-founder and director of Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts, writes about his forthcoming P&W–supported event.

A while ago I met with Reni Roxas, the editor and publisher of Hanggang sa Muli–Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul, and Seattle University’s United Filipino Club/Filipino Alumni Association to curate a P&W–supported April reading, something we’ve been doing since 2008. This year contributing writers include several local poets and memoir writers, but the event's success is largely due to the work of our college student cohosts. Responsibilities were parsed out so students had an opportunity to organize and manage the event. They scheduled the conference room, planned and implemented the marketing, arranged for book sales, and even set up and secured refreshments.

  • The April 18 poetry, memoir, and short story program included a welcome from UFC cohosts Michael Cu and Rosalie Cabison, remarks by Silliman University Filipino Alumni Association member Mary Galvez, remarks from Reni Roxas, an introduction to selected readings by Maria Batayola and readings by Eddie Jose (son of F. Sionil Jose), Greg Castilla, Toni Bajado, Jeff Rice, Dorothy Cordova, and myself.

The students are great because they bring curiosity, enthusiasm, and innovation to everything they do. Several have expressed interest in becoming writers, and it’s a pleasure for me to help make their aspirations reality. Few things are better than getting to interact with the next generation of passionate writers.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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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