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Readings & Workshops Blog

Poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor, blogs about the P&W-supported Calypso Muse Reading Series in New York City.

In  the summer of 1994, I founded the Calypso Muse Reading Series. I wanted to create a place where Caribbean poets could nuture their work and native dialect. First, I called some of my favorite poets to tell them about the series. They were thrilled and jumped at the opportunity to share their work. Next, I contacted P&W to inquire about its Readings/Workshops program. My next call was to my friend Sigrid, who owned a small cafe in SoHo.

We opened that September to a full house! Rodlyn Douglas, Suheir Hammad, and Hal Sirowitz were my first features, along with a stirring open mic. The series boasted a bevy of poets from diverse backgrounds, some of the poets included: Sekou Sundiata, Jewelle Gomez, Elena Georgiou, and Cheryl Clarke.

Poets from Calypso Muse past have parlayed their voices into writing careers! Hal Sirowitz was awarded an NEA, Suheir Hammad won the Audre Lorde Writing Award, and Rodlyn Douglas was the P&W-supported writer at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center's senior writing program.

P&W gave Calypso Muse its first grants of twenty five dollars per reader! The support we received helped to nuture our stories. The series' poets reminded audiences that every voice is authentic and deserves celebration.

Since 1994, I have received P&W funding for a number of programs, including: Trini Girls Take Brooklyn, The Womens Reading Series at McNally Jackson Books, and the Calypso Muse House Reading Series. With P&W support, I've become a force in the literary community!

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylo. Credit: Artis Q. Wright.

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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Playwright Jill Patrick, who runs Working Title Playwrights in Atlanta, Georgia, blogs about the organization's P&W-supported Playwrights &... series.

There is no greater danger than an artist without an outlet, which might be why so many playwrights write in other genres. Launched in 2005, Working Title Playwrights has provided playwrights the opportunity to write in other genres and to present their original work to the public. Held in bookstores and other non-theatrical venues, the readings bring together Atlanta-area playwrights and audiences that may have no interest in live theater. The audience is made up of folks who like to read, poetry enthusiasts, or those who may have just stumbled across the reading.

I was one of the original three Working Title Playwright members to participant in Playwrights &... (along with Pamela Turner and Marian X). I am a decidedly navel-gazing poet, slowly luring adverbs from my belly button. It took the challenge of putting together an hour-long reading of my own work for me to realize that my best writing had variations of the same ingredients: food and family. Eating the Singletaries: Tales from a Tall Redhead was a journey of discovery for me as a writer, and an emotional roller coaster ride for the audience. Not only do I have a lot to say about family, but there is an audience for my work (and not one word of it was meant for the stage). To my surprise and delight, I realized that I am not a playwright who writes poetry, but a poet who writes plays.

Through Playwrights &..., Patricia Henritze (co-author of Anthony+Cleopatra Remix, a re-imagining of Shakespeare's original) presented excerpts from her own memoir, Learning To Talk: My Life Story and Other Fiction. But, the program isn't limited to memoir. Hilary King presented Matthew, Mark, Luke & Potluck: Church Poems. Hank Kimmel paid tribute to the peerless Spalding Gray, The Last Stand of a Stand-Up Comic. Raymond Fast, Karla Jennings,Vynnie Meli, and Topher Payne were also introduced to audiences that may have otherwise been unaware of their diverse, dynamic voices. Playwrights &... will resume this fall with a reading by Lisa Brathwaite, author of True Hotku: 69 haiku celebration of women and our real hotness.

Photo: (left to right) Jill Patrick, Daphne Mintz, Sherry Lee. Credit: Perry Patrick.

Support for the Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

In November, P&W–supported writers Philip Levine and Adam Falkner read at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. P&W’s development and marketing associate, Auzelle Epeneter, writes about attending her first Readings/Workshops (R/W) event.

This fall I decided to really make a go of it—I was going to carve out the time to attend my first P&W–supported event. I joined P&W’s staff over the summer to manage the Friends of Poets & Writers program, but between finding my sea legs in this new role and planning (and executing) a wedding, it took me some time to make the space in my schedule.

Being present at an R/W event was of particular importance to me because the program is supported in part by gifts I help raise through the Friends program. My daily efforts contribute toward sustaining all of Poets & Writers’ programs, including Poets & Writers Magazine and pw.org, but I wanted to see firsthand what an R/W event was all about.

On a rainy night in November, I found space in a packed house at Bowery Poetry Club for Page Meets Stage’s monthly offering—that night, Poet Laureate Philip Levine read with NYC-based spoken-word poet Adam Falkner. Page Meets Stage has been around since 2005, and its website describes the series as one that “pairs more page-oriented, academic poets with poets who come from a more spoken-word or performative background. Both poets are on stage at the same time and read back and forth, poem for poem.”

That night, Levine and Falkner presented their work to a crowd of rapt listeners. The juxtaposition was a real pleasure—Levine quiet, distinguished, and simple in his approach, Falkner bold, thoughtful, and raw.  But each showed genuine interest and delight in hearing his counterpart read, and each allowed their seemingly disparate styles to build upon one other. The dialogue developed throughout the evening and resulted in a resonance that left everyone in the room buzzing.

To attend a reading of well-crafted poems by great writers is, to me, a rare treat. But to experience two people in conversation, discovering together how their connections make up similar but unique pieces of the evolution of American poetry, was something else altogether.

Photo: Philip Levine (left) with Adam Falkner. Photo credit: Lee Weston Taylor.

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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

For the month of February, longtime P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor blogs about her favorite subject: poetry, among other topics. Taylor is the founder of the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which takes place in New York City, and author of the collections Raw Air, Night When Moon Follows and Convincing the Body.

I was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, in the town of Arima, a small town nestled between mountains and red hills. My mother grew up in this town as well, and from her I inherited my love of poetry. When my mom was a child, part of her school curriculum was to read and memorize poetry. She was excellent at this, and at the end of every school year she would win the poetry recitation contest.

When I was a toddler, my mother was getting dressed to go to a local poetry reading. I began begging her to take me along. It was already past my bedtime, so she said, "no," but I put up such a fuss that she told me if I could dress myself, I could go. My mother says that I left the room and when I returned I was fully dressed, including socks and shoes. The only thing she had to do was zip the back of my dress. She was astonished because she didn't know I could dress myself. My mother took me to the reading that night... I like to believe that that was the beginning of my love affair with poetry.

As I grew older, I too enjoyed memorizing and reciting poems. In my grammar school years our country was under British rule and we were forced to study and memorize English poetry. We studied the works of Shelley, Byron, Keats, and Shakespeare. These were beautiful works of art, but I began to lose interest. I wanted poems that I could hold, poems that I could ask questions of and find myself in the answers. I longed to see myself in the poems that I loved. I wanted poems that had mangoes, coconut trees, and star apples, poems with brown girls with shiny cocoa skin, and thick nappy braids contained by huge red and yellow bows, not just girls with milk-white skin and ringlets of golden curls blowing in the wind.

So, when I first heard the political and social musings of Calypso, coupled with the African-Griot rhythms of steel pan and dialect, I began to feel the stirrings of different poems taking root inside me. Calypso is an uptempo rhythm with roots in West Africa. Calypso evolved as a way of spreading news around the island, its lyrics explore issues of skin color, hair texture, family life, and everyday political and personal struggle with humor and story... I was finally hearing stories of my life, and the lives of the people I lived with and loved.

At thirteen, I immigrated to New York City. Right away my dialect set me apart. My peers and teachers laughed at my accent, but something inside said: Love your dialect, it is your birthright, part of a proud heritage. Inspired by that voice, during the summer of 1994, I founded the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which brings poets of all nationalities and languages together.

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylor. Credit: Artis Q. Wright.

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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

San Diego-based poet and presenter of literary events Ilya Kaminsky, awarded an American Academy of Arts and Letters's Metcalf Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Lannan Fellowship, blogs about the wealth of P&W-supported events in San Diego.

Contemporary literature is alive and well in San Diego! This city is home to some of the nation’s best authors and translators, including Jerome Rothenberg, Rae Armontraut, Sandra Alcosser, David and Eleanor Antin, Marilyn Chin, Steve Kowit, Jericho Brown, Steven Paul Martin, Harold Jaffe, David Matlin, Deniz Perin, Joseph Thomas, Lorraine Graham, Mark Wallace, Halina Duraj, Michael Davidson, Christina Rivera Garza, and others—most of whom are P&W-supported poets.

San Diego has the San Diego Writers, Ink, founded by the inimitable Judy Reeves, and at least four major literary arts festivals, all of which are P&W-supported!—City College International Book Festival, Grossmont College Literary Arts Festival, San Diego County Library Book Festival, and Border Voices, a beloved festival that brings together major authors and high school students.

The P&W-supported &Now Festival was held at University of California San Diego (UCSD) in 2011 and showcased some of the most innovative writers. Local colleges and universities also have reading series, such as Living Writers Series at San Diego State University. At the UCSD, acclaimed poet Ben Doller heads the New Writing Series. Award winning writers Jericho Brown and Halina Duraj host the University of San Diego's Cropper Writers Series, which brings Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners to town. At California State University San Marcos, Mark Wallace heads the Community and World Literary Series.

This year, I was able to visit several diverse and exciting community-based reading series, including the Agitprop Reading Series, run by the talented Lorraine Graham at San Diego Museum of Art as well as the warm, community-oriented and P&W-supported Upstart Crow Reading Series run by a veteran of the San Diego literary community, Seretta Martin. There is the Poetry & Art Slam at the Museum of Living Artist, Collective Purpose spoken word performances, Write Out Loud, open readings at Blue Stockings Books, and others.

Writers Ink (also known as Ink Spot) has served the San Diego community for many years, offering a number of workshops and literary happenings. There is the San Diego Poetry Annual anthology and the San Diego Book Awards. If you are in La Jolla, there is a lively reading series at the Jewish Community Center. La Jolla Day School also has an established literary series that brings such P&W-supported poets as Carolyn Forche and Philip Levine. Hosted by the talented poet and teacher Bruce Boston, this series is one of La Jolla’s best kept secrets!

Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.

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

Lisa Bowden is the publisher and co-founder of the P&W-supported Kore Press in Tucson, where P&W has been supporting literary events since 2008. A poet who works with dancers and musicians, she is also an award-winning book designer and currently serves on the advisory board of Girls Write Now. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Bowden has made her home in Tucson for nearly three decades.

What makes your press and its programs unique?
Kore is one of six presses left in the country dedicated to publishing the intellectual and creative work of women writers. The press is also entering its nineteenth year, which is a bit of a coup for a small, nonprofit house.

In addition to publishing, we have educational and literary activism projects that take writing off the page to engage the public in innovative ways. For example, we just completed a Big Read using Emily Dickinson as our focus of inquiry to help heal our city after the 2011 shootings. We collaborated with forty organizations, businesses, and individuals to reinterpret Dickinson's work and find new ways of reading and writing (using dancers, musicians, actors, students, libraries, pastry chefs, the bus system, translators, a videographer, visual artists, etc.). P&W helped fund a writing workshop by visiting poet/art critic Eva Heisler.

What recent projects have you been especially proud of and why?
We adapted the book Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq to the stage. We used the production, “Coming in Hot,” as a tool for civil discourse by touring it in high schools and non-theater venues to get people talking about difficult issues women face in war times.

Kore also runs an after-school writing-as-activism program for teen girls and transgendered youth to help them get their story into public circulation. Most recently, the girls created a short film based on peer interviews exploring issues of sex and identity, which screened in our local independent movie house.

What’s the most moving thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
After watching our play, female veterans who had never been able to talk about their experiences overseas felt a catharsis and liberty to speak. One female veteran, who ended up following us as we toured the play to high schools to answer students's questions, said that seeing the play and working with us saved her life.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I am honored whenever I'm listed as a reader or speaker at someone else's literary program, as I know how hard the work is! After doing so much of the same work myself, it's always nice to be on the other side. It's also heartening, as a writer, to participate and learn from fellow presenters and writers. It's such a rich writing community we have in the United States.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs in your community?
Tucsonans are fortunate to have both the University of Arizona and the Poetry Center in our city, as well as many non-university/institutional literary organizations that do a variety of programming. We are steeped in literature of all kinds. We relate with and through a love of words, understanding, and staying in positive conversation with our crossroads culture and western borderlands.

Photo: Lisa Bowden. Credit: Sam Ace.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

San Diego-based P&W-supported poet and presenter of literary events Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry blogs about San Diego literary journals.

Among the literary presses and journals in San Diego is Sandra and Ben Doller’s 1913 press and  1913: a journal of forms. Founded almost ten years ago, the press and journal publishes some of the most innovative writing around—Eleanor Antin, Jerome Rothenberg, Rae Armantrout, Cole Swensen, John Yau, Claudia Rankine, John Keene, and Sawako Nakayasu, among others. Sandra and Ben Doller, important contemporary poets in their own right, are very generous to donate their time and resources to make this literary feast happen in San Diego.

Another exciting literary journal published in San Diego is the P&W-supported California Journal of Poetics. This beautiful online journal that includes interviews, reviews, literary panels and conversations is presented with a profound desire to expand the literary discussion in new ways. Recent issues include interviews with longtime P&W-supported poet Robert Pinsky and a profile of Tomas Transtromer.

Certainly the oldest literary journal in San Diego, Fiction International, was conceived almost twenty years ago, and is considered one of the country’s leading literary publications. Having published such greats as Clarice Lispector, Allen Ginsberg, Kathy Acker, J.M. Coetzee, and many others, Fiction International promotes honest, musical, literary prose.

One is pleased to see that there are new journals and presses being launched in San Diego, even at this time of deep economic uncertainty. Just last week, I heard about the new national journal for undergraduates with a particular emphasis on literature in translation, Alchemy: Journal of Translation @ UCSD (University of California San Diego). The journal was founded by Amelia Glaser, a talented translator and first-rate scholar of Slavic and Yiddish literature!

Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.

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

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