Readings & Workshops Blog

A Community Reading Series: Rockland Poets

Bryan Roessel is a poet, event organizer, and science teacher in New York State’s Lower Hudson Valley and started the Rockland Poets reading series with a couple of friends in order to bring poetry events to Suffern, New York. Roessel believes strongly in the power of art to expose new perspectives and ideas, and writes about science, relationships, and depression.

Rockland Poets, formerly known as Suffern Poetry, has been hosting monthly poetry open mics and slams in the Lower Hudson Valley’s Rockland County since 2011. We’re a pretty small organization, currently run by seven volunteers, all of whom are residents of Rockland County or northern New Jersey. We run our events because art and community are vital. Poetry is an accessible art form in that you don’t need any special training or tools to create poems or to appreciate them. In the spirit of that accessibility, all of our events are open to the public and almost all incorporate open mics, where anyone can sign up to share their work. The grants we’ve received through Poets & Writers over the years have been of great importance to keep these events open and running.

The funding has allowed us to keep admission costs low for attendees, and to bring in diverse poets from all over North America to read. Typically, a featured reader will do a half-hour set before the open mic portion of the event, and we’ve invited established poets such as Billy Tuggle from Chicago and Chris August from Baltimore. To help emerging poets grow as writers, we welcome them to discuss their craft and influences at the end of their sets. In addition to these events, we’ve hosted outstanding creative writing workshops, such as a generative workshop led by Salt Lake City poet RJ Walker, and a performance and choreography workshop led by New York City poet Anthony McPherson.

The community response has been positive and supportive. We’ve started using a computer-based sign-in system at the door to track attendance, and over one hundred and fifty people have attended our events in the past year. Almost half have returned at least once, which signals to me that we’re doing something right. A few of our teen audience members have told us that they find our series really valuable and are grateful it exists. The feedback we’ve received emphasize the “warm environment” and “accepting atmosphere,” as well as the “great writers” that share their work at our events, which helps fuel us as we plan for future events.

This October, we’re hosting the sixth annual Empire State Poetry Slam, a statewide team-based slam tournament held in a different city in New York each fall. We are also considering a collaboration with other local literary organizations to create and host an annual literary or poetry festival. The future of Rockland Poets lies in continuing to gather community support for our organization and events, and to adapt to the needs of our local community and the writers we support. We hope to continue that work for many years to come.

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

Photo: Bryan Roessel (Credit: Button Poetry).

Recovering Poetry at New Choices

Judith Prest is a poet, photographer, mixed media artist, and creativity coach. Her poems have been published in Mad Poets Review, Chronogram, Akros Review, The Muse: An International Journal of Poetry, Earth’s Daughters, Up the River, Upstream, Writers Resist, and in six anthologies. Prest spent twenty-six years as a school social worker and prevention trainer before retiring in 2009. She currently works part-time facilitating recovery writing and expressive art groups with adults in day treatment for addiction. She lives in Duanesburg, New York with her husband and three cats.

Anyone who has survived more than a decade or two on this planet has stories to tell. Often, however, people who struggle with addiction have not had the opportunity to sit down and write their stories, not even for themselves. For the clients I have worked with in recovery, any available energy they have is directed at surviving challenging life circumstances. Some have been incarcerated, and when the prison doors open, they land in a halfway house or in day treatment for addiction. Then suddenly, there is time and room to reflect on experiences, to tell the stories that need to be told.

I wrote poetry through my college years, then I got derailed by life. I started writing again about twenty years ago and have had my work published in literary journals and anthologies. Soon after my return to writing, I began to incorporate poetry and expressive arts into my social work practice. I now work as a creativity coach and workshop leader, along with my part-time work at New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady, New York.

I believe that writing, particularly poetry, is a powerful tool for healing and growth. Creative writing can be a great recovery strategy. Getting our experiences, questions, and feelings onto the page, allows us to see what’s there, and work with it.

At New Choices, I have been leading recovery writing groups for over ten years. When we can, we like to bring in someone new who can offer a fresh approach. This is where John Fox, director of the Institute for Poetic Medicine (IPM) in Palo Alto, California comes in. John travels widely around the world and across the United States to bring “poetic medicine” to hospitals, retreat centers, community programs and, in this case, to New Choices Recovery Center.

John facilitates two ninety-minute group sessions with New Choices clients. Using poetry, he invites participants to access their creative side and respond with their own poems. This program adds to the poetry and creative writing already experienced at New Choices. We have had poetry open mic events, published four books of writing by our clients (two books were published with help from IPM), and some clients participate regularly in recovery writing groups.

This special poetic medicine program allows all clients at or in the program to experience one of John’s poetry immersion workshops. Even clients who do not read or write have been able to create poetry in John’s sessions, with me as their scribe. He has a way of helping poetry “sneak up” on people. Often, folks who never imagined writing anything will write a poem and find the courage to read it out loud to the group.

John and I are dedicated to bringing the healing power of poetry to folks who have struggled with other aspects of life. We want to continue to help people experience the elation of creating and sharing poetry. Thank you to Poets & Writers for making it possible for John to work his “poetic medicine magic” at New Choices again this summer!

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

Photo: Judith Prest (Credit: Leiah Bowden).

Poets & Writers’ Eighth Annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading

Readings & Workshops (West) director Jamie Asaye FitzGerald writes about Poets & Writers’ eighth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading held at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center.

For the past eight years in California, Poets & Writers has held the Connecting Cultures Reading at Beyond Baroque Literary Art Center in Venice. The event brings together organizations that serve diverse populations and have received support via our Readings & Workshops program.

For this year’s event, which took place on June 28, we invited five organizations: 826LA, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students ages six to eighteen with their creative and expository writing skills; Beyond Baroque, dedicated to expanding the public’s knowledge of poetry, literature, and art; QueerWise, a LGBTQ writing collective and spoken word performance group; Returning Soldiers Speak, a venue for soldiers and veterans to tell their stories; and Uptown Word & Arts, which facilitates free public and private creative writing workshops and other events.

All of the groups involved do important work. Sometimes they’ve heard of each other already, sometimes they discover one another at the reading event itself. It’s wonderful to see them getting to know each other, and the net of support that manifests as they feel buoyed in what they do by witnessing others who have a similar mission.

Each organization chooses two writers to represent them at the event. The diversity of voices at the reading is always astonishing and a testament to the importance of having as many stories as possible heard. This is always true but perhaps even more urgent in our current social and political climate.

The value of a story is best understood in listening and witnessing together—something we don’t often get to do. Events like this provide the opportunity to listen and witness. It’s much different than the canned stuff we’re exposed to in our daily lives—political rhetoric, spin, and words with weird agendas behind them. This is the stuff of the personal, still often political, but stories that come from the people at the most fundamental and profound level.

Robert Rosenstone from Beyond Baroque read “Brisket for Ramadan,” a witty prose piece recounting the cross-cultural experience of being a Jewish man married to a Muslim woman. Poet RD Armstrong reminded us that “a poem can be everything and nothing.” Alejandra Castillo from 826LA read a powerful poem inspired by her mother’s stories of crossing the border:

Y pasábamos corriendo por el cerro like our feet were on fire,
como Cuauhtémoc. Como dos horas corriendo with blisters popping
here and there like bubble wrap. And if you didn’t run, te dejaban.
We left three behind in the purgatory between México y el otro lado.
Y ahí se quedaban.
The cracks on this desert
swallow bodies whole. Ni de gringos ni de indios. No man’s land.

Teen writer Ashla Chavez Razzano, participating on behalf of 826LA for her second time at this event, read a musical poem of “sweat soft as water.” Michael Kearns from QueerWise chilled us with the motif of children kept in cages, while Dave Trudell warmed us back up with memories of going to the drive-in where he worshipped femme fatale screen actresses like Ava Gardner and Lee Grant. Leilani Squire from Returning Soldiers Speak brought to the event reflections on her work with veterans, and Les Probst read about his own memories of being drafted for the “forgotten” Korean War. Uptown Word & Arts poet Aurelio Alba compared the process of editing to changing diapers and Cynthia Duran, in her first public reading ever, closed the night out with a laugh-out-loud story about being held up at gunpoint while working at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store.

While Poets & Writers works with and knows well each of the organizations we invite to curate this event, we are not always familiar with the writers they invite. Each year holds a wonderful surprise for us, and for the rest of the audience. We never know quite how all the stories will fit together, but they always do.

Thank you to Beyond Baroque for hosting this event, and to all of the presenting organizations and readers for making this another memorable reading.

Support for this event was provided, in part, by Poets & Writers thanks to a gift from Diana Raab. Additional support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and by the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: 2018 Los Angeles Connecting Cultures readers and curators (Credit: Brandi Spaethe).

WEIRDD Reading Series: Power to the Strange

Peter Longofono and Katie Longofono are siblings and poets living and working in Brooklyn. Together and separately, they have curated, produced, and hosted a number of salons, magazines, festivals, and reading series, including Coldfront magazine, Washington Square Review, the AmpLit Fest, the SLC Poetry Festival, the Dead Rabbits reading series, the Graduate Poets Series at Cornelia Street Café, and WEIRDD, their latest and greatest endeavor to date.

When we set out to build WEIRDD, our monthly poetry reading series held at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, we had a few apophatic rules of thumb. No flimsy introductions. No parched mouths. No inhospitable (and inexplicable) non-hosting. No regurgitated blurbs. We knew exactly what we wanted to avoid, having been through that wringer, and though our first season hasn’t been without its bumps, on the whole we feel the series has found its early footing in a well-ordered sensibility.

Perhaps most critically, we are against the poet’s empty pocket. From the beginning, we’ve committed to remuneration, modest as it might be, from our own pockets if necessary—as was the case with our first readers. And given the state of poetry literacy, we’d have been wrong to charge for admission (and turned away from most venues, at that). So we sought with humility for sponsorship, and we’re grateful in turn to acknowledge Poets & Writers for stepping in to do the right thing. Poems are work—great and necessary work—and to support the art (without purchasing it!), pay is a necessary gesture.

What sort of poetry are we supporting, then? Who do we read closely, and who are we able to invite? Again, we can invoke negation to learn the field:

  • Don’t stick to one language. Troubling English is worthwhile.
  • Don’t always look at just a poet. Look at what the poet looks at (use a screen).
  • Don’t listen only for what you’re already thinking.
  • Don’t “speak,” speak.
  • Don’t let imagination stand in for justice, compassion, commiseration, care, or duty.
  • Don’t under any circumstances forgo imagination, either.

With these guidelines holding space, we’ve learned so much from so many: Jenny Xie’s gnomic scrying, Ricardo Maldonado’s elfin sonatas, Marwa Helal’s recognitive cataracts, Yanyi Luo’s arch scrutiny, Rio Cortez’s yawning infinity, Jayson P. Smith’s quenching jewels, Paul C. Stone’s mastery of the leap, Jen Hyde’s affinity for apertures, Sahar Muradi’s sense of strata, Valerie Hsuing’s sentient microphones, Chase Berggrun’s climbable wordscapes, Wren Hanks’s unflinching apparatus, Amy Meng’s history of rue, Julia Guez’s kaleidoscopic array, Jen Levitt’s droll orbitals, Jerome Murphy’s painterly ambulation, and Joey De Jesus’s omnivolent manticore.

We’ve understood these contrapuntally with brief lectures on everything from the socio-emotional matrix of Final Fantasy VI (Hubert Vigilla) to the life and times of nineteenth-century black politicians (Jordan C. Vaughn) to a working sketch on neuroplasticity and bioprecarity (Lynne DeSilva-Johnson). And that’s just thus far.

WEIRDD celebrates our devastatingly talented writers and underrepresented voices with real, rigorous, resourced attention. We surprise them with exacting, sonically attuned presentations of their work, simultaneously equipping the audience with an articulate inroad to the work and explicitly disavowing the glazed eye, smirking head-pat, or greasy backslap. This, at last, we can define with a YES: to real community, loving reverence, and untamable empathy.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Katie Longofono and Peter Longofono (Credit: Katie Longofono). (bottom) Sahar Muradi reading at Books Are Magic (Credit: Katie Longofono).

Poets & Writers’ Connecting Generations Seventeenth Annual Intergenerational Reading

Readings & Workshops (East) director Bonnie Rose Marcus writes about Poets & Writers’ Connecting Generations seventeenth annual Intergenerational Reading held at Barnes & Noble at Union Square in New York City.

On Saturday, June 23, Poets & Writers held its seventeenth annual Intergenerational Reading at Barnes & Noble at Union Square, where we’ve held the reading for the past seven years. As I listened to the thirty-six writers from the ages of eleven to eighty-six, I thought back to the beginnings of this celebratory reading, when we were given a grant in 2001 from the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation to conduct writing workshops at senior and teen community centers. Visiting the programs, I was moved by the diversity of voices, and the similarities and differences in the generations. I thought it would be inspiring to bring these generations together. The first Intergenerational Reading was held in a community room at the Goddard Riverside Community Center’s NORC Program, with about six readers and an audience of about twenty.

This year’s writers were from six programs funded by our Readings & Workshops program: senior writers from the Goddard Riverside Community Center, Grand Street Settlement, the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College in collaboration with Siloam Presbyterian Church, Kew Gardens Community Center, and the Stanley Isaacs and Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. The teen and young adult writers were from Kamit Preparatory Institute, the National Domestic Writers Alliance, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Newtown Literary Alliance, Concourse House, and Office Hours Poetry Workshop.

Hosting our event was veteran host Regie Cabico, a recipient of a Poets & Writers’ Writers for Writers Award in 2006. A pioneer of spoken word, and the first openly queer and Asian slam poet to take top prizes, Regie continues to perform his unique blend of poetry, stand-up comedy, and theater, and teaches writing workshops throughout North America and the United Kingdom.

Regie’s enthusiasm was contagious. It was evident that each reader felt honored and respected, and was cheered on by Regie and the audience, a full house of about seventy-five people. The writers shared work about loss, abuse, and love: a Tibetan woman read a poem about the suffering in her country, another writer shared a prose poem featuring Noah (and his ark) and Donald Trump, and there were many moving pieces about the challenges and celebrations on life’s journey.

Perhaps the best way to sum up the flavor and value of this reading is to hear from some of the writers themselves:

“It is an extraordinary event for so many reasons. It is an opportunity to hear young and old from so many different vantage points. Many of us may never have that chance of hearing stories from the LGBTQ community, the senior community, or inner-city youth, most of whom are passionate, wistful, angry, and gifted. To see that many participants, some who are facing an audience for the first time, pour out their most intimate feelings with pride and receive kudos for their efforts, is a humbling and inspiring experience.”
—Joyce Berger, Kew Gardens Community Center

“This year, I finally shed a lifelong struggle with stage fright and enjoyed myself at the reading! I also relished everyone’s spoken words, especially those of the younger poets who infuse me with creative energy.”
—Suzanne Pavel, Goddard Riverside Community Center

“I have always felt that one never stops learning. Young folks can learn from seniors and vice versa. This year I had the chance to let young folks know about the real situation in Tibet, because they are our future. Afterwards some of the young folks hugged me and commented on the power of my poem. I also think my poem was timely because of the current situation at our southern borders. What struck me most were the young people who spoke so honestly and showed that poetry is an outlet for all of us.”
—Chukie Wangdu, Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center

“Young talents lyrically reported their passions from today’s frontlines while older writers arranged those puzzle pieces left on youth’s table. The reading reminded me that poetry is an instrument played to remember, berate, reveal, coax, question, love, revolt, heal, and most significantly, to witness and connect. Thank you for creating space for all of us!”
—Marty Correia, Office Hours Poetry Workshop

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Dena Igusti, Aaliyah Daniels, Solomon Mussings, and Shakeva Griswould from Urban Word NYC (Credit: Christian Rodriguez). (bottom) Participants of the 2018 Intergenerational Reading (Credit: Christian Rodriguez).

Becoming Cascadian: The Intersection of Bioregionalism and Poetics

Paul E. Nelson serves as founding director of Seattle Poetics LAB (SPLAB) and the Cascadia Poetry Festival. He is the author of American Sentences (Apprentice House, 2015), A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, 2010), and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (Lumme Editions, 2013), and coeditor of the anthologies Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia (Leaf Press, 2015) and 56 Days of August: Poetry Postcards (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Nelson has been engaged in a twenty-year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia.

Becoming Cascadian was a retreat in Seattle’s diverse Rainier Beach neighborhood—an outgrowth of Seattle Poetics LAB’s Cascadia Poetry Festival. While the festivals are exciting, it takes a great deal of resources to present such an event. The SPLAB Board decided that while we look for funding to continue the festival, it would be good to work on a more intimate level. Becoming Cascadian allowed participants to go deeper into their own writing practices and experiences of place.

There were free public events: a Zen Meditation session at the Seattle University Ecosangha; “The Practice of Outside,” a presentation with P&W–supported writer Andrew Schelling; a tour of Kubota Garden with Seattle University philosophy professor Jason Wirth; and a closing reading at Seattle’s all-poetry bookstore Open Books. In between the public events were breakout sessions offered by participants.

One session was on cultural appropriation. It’s a hot topic in Canada now, as Cascadia includes all of British Columbia west of the Continental Divide. The treatment of First Nations people, as they are called in Canada, is reprehensible, and there’s a lot of anger regarding writers monetizing indigenous culture. Adelia MacWilliam from Cumberland, B.C. led this session.

The Kubota Garden tour, led by Wirth, explored the historic spiritual nature of the garden, the life of Fujitaro Kubota, and the Japanese American history in the neighborhood, including the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II, an event with eerie similarities to current American xenophobia.

Mark Gonnerman’s session was “Living in Place With Peter Berg and Gary Snyder in Mind.” Snyder has written that, “real people stay put,” which in North America is “a new thing!” Snyder recommends making five hundred year plans and not the ethos of the old bumper sticker that said: “Earth First: Then We Log the Other Planets.” Gonnerman put things into perspective saying we humans are the first species in history “that can prevent their own extinction.”

Schelling’s keynote talk was for “poets and bioregional visionaries,” suggesting we go outdoors and learn something of our bioregion. He contrasted his Southern Rocky Mountain bioregion and Cascadia, noting the difference between the wet, logged, maritime Puget Sound region, and his dry high country. He discussed respective medicine powers the bioregions share, and noted how the Douglas Firs in the high country are puny compared to those in Cascadia. He ended with a story. What may not be well-known about Schelling is that, perhaps through his multi-decade study of Jaime de Angulo, he’s become a master storyteller. After the festival he said:

“To redefine our lives and the places we live by bioregion, rather than by political boundaries, is not the work of a single morning. It will require small cadres of committed people who become nature literate, write instructive poems and essays, and gradually make sense to their neighbors. This program, Becoming Cascadia, was one node in a larger effort that has been developing…. Concluding with poetry gave ceremonial fragrance.”

Support for Readings & Workshops 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.

Photos: (top) Paul E. Nelson (Credit: Bhakti Watts). (middle) Andrew Schelling with Jared Lesing (Credit: Paul Nelson). (bottom) At the Kubota Garden with participants (Credit: Paul Nelson).

At Home in Our Own Language: A Q&A With Claudia Prado

Claudia Prado is an Argentinean poet and documentary filmmaker. She is the author of three poetry collections: El interior de la ballena (Nusud, 2000), which won the third Fondo Nacional de las Artes Poetry Prize in 1999, Aprendemos de los padres (Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, 2002), and Viajar de Noche (Limón, 2007). She has codirected the documentaries Oro Nestas Piedras, about the poet Jorge Leonidas Escudero, and El Jardin Secreto, about Diana Bellessi. Prado is the recipient of grants from the Fondo Nacional de las Artes in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the Queens Council on the Arts in New York, as well as a participant at the NYFA 2018 Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program for Social Practice. She facilitates creative writing workshops in Spanish in New York and New Jersey, some with the support of Poets & Writers.

How did your work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance begin? What drew you there?
I’ve been running writing workshops for fifteen years. When I lived in Argentina, as part of an organization called Yo no fui, I ran a writing workshop in a women’s prison where I learned that, in very difficult situations, writing can be an especially valuable and meaningful practice. After arriving in this country, I kept organizing workshops independently, always in Spanish. I wanted to offer workshops that would be accessible to the entire Spanish-speaking community, most of all to those who felt an urgency to express themselves and to share their experience but who couldn’t afford to pay for a workshop. I believe that the opportunity to write in our own language and revisit the possibilities and beauty of it makes us feel at home.

I began organizing free workshops at Word Up Community Bookshop, a beautiful bookshop run by a collective of volunteers. It was through Word Up that I learned about Poets & Writers’ Reading & Workshops program supporting workshops like the one I was running. At the same time, an artist friend of mine, Sol Aramendi, contacted me about the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). I worked with them for the first time in 2016. It was a very good experience, which we decided to repeat in the years that followed. This year, we’d like to print a bilingual anthology of the writing produced throughout the last three years of the workshop.

Are there any techniques or exercises you use to encourage shy or reluctant writers to open up?
I choose the readings for my workshops very carefully. I try to bring texts that I myself enjoy very much, and that can speak to a wide range of people, including those who aren’t in the habit of reading literature. During the workshop session itself, I dedicate whatever time is needed to the reading and discussion of the texts. For example, if we read a poem, we tend to do so several times. This way of reading tends to bring us to a shared place, separate somehow from everyday life. I also spend time thinking about prompts that invite writing about what is closest to us: what one did that morning, one’s own childhood, one’s language. Often, in the first few sessions, I think of exercises separated into parts: first, simply note your perceptions, memories, possible interlocutors, etc., and second, create a text from those notes.

We talk about how the ability to create with words isn’t something alien to us—something that belongs only to those who had the privilege of studying and spending time reading—but rather something that we all do when we speak to each other in everyday life. We also talk about how writing is generated starting with a draft and then through multiple rewritings, not in one shot and then set in stone. These conversations also help us get writing.

In addition to working with NDWA, you’ve recently begun working with the Hour Children/Hour Working Women Reentry Program. How did that collaboration begin? Have there been differences between programs?
Ever since I moved to New York, I’ve thought about the possibility of continuing to work with women who are in prison or have recently been released. This year I was able to do this work thanks to the collaboration with HC/HWWRP and the support of Poets & Writers. The women I worked with were dedicated readers and had writing experience. One particularity of this group was that, even though Spanish was the language they spoke as children and with their families, currently they live their lives primarily in English. As a result, they experienced the workshop as a return to something familiar and very personal, which they had set aside. On the other hand, the moment when a woman is released from prison and is trying to rebuild her life is extremely difficult. These circumstances also made for a different working dynamic and meant that the texts created and shared in this group would be unique to their experiences.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher and as an artist?
One of the happiest moments I have experienced is seeing how a person discovers that she enjoys reading and writing, how she begins to see it as something of her own and to dedicate time to it. Seeing how her expressive possibilities grow and how the texts become a way for her to think about herself and to relate to others—it’s very moving. When the workshop becomes a space that allows for such writing that can only come from a particular reality and a particular experience, we can all feel and see how it is so valuable.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Claudia Prado (Credit: Eduardo Piovano). (middle) NDWA reading (Credit: Neshi Galindo). (bottom) NDWA workshop members (Credit: Adriana Mora).

Sankofa Sisterhood Writers: A Journey Into the Woods

Alicia Anabel Santos is author of the memoir, Finding Your Force: A Journey to Love, which was listed in the Advocate’s “21 LGBT Biographies and Memoirs You Should Read Right Now.” Most recently she is the recipient of the 2018 Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) Award in fiction for her novel in progress. Santos is the founder and curator of the NYC Latina Writers Group, which has met monthly since 2006 offering writing workshops, events, and readings across genres. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines, and online publications. When not organizing and facilitating writing workshops, she is a writing coach, aka The Writing Midwife, a filmmaker, playwright, teaching artist, and priestess. She has spent the last ten years working on the documentary Afrolatinos: The Untaught Story, which screened at the United Nations in 2017.

For almost twelve years, the NYC Latina Writers Group (NYCLWG) has been meeting monthly for writing workshops and literary events. Our writers have gone on to have successful writing careers, developing one-woman shows, and writing plays. They have published and self-published memoirs and chapbooks and have started their own blogs. While many of us are publishing, some of our writers have lost hope. This was when our director of programs Wendy Angulo and I decided to look at the needs of the writers within our collective. What we discovered was that most of us needed more time to write and more workshops that would help us hone our craft.

During a conversation one evening with my partner, educator and poet Yoseli Castillo Fuertes, we talked about the lack of representation of Latinx writers in literature, as well as the absence of writing opportunities for Latinx/WWOC writers. That evening the Sankofa Sisterhood Writers Retreat was born. Now in our fourth year we realized that in order to have some of our favorite authors and writers facilitate workshops we needed funding. This is where the generous support of Poets & Writers comes in. We are so grateful that this year, the NYC Latina Writers Group and the Sankofa Sisterhood have received funding for our writing workshops.

This past Memorial Day weekend, sixteen writers of color met at a cabin in the woods for a weekend of writing workshops and an open mic, where each writer got to share their work. As many writers know, writing can be isolating and lonely. Oftentimes, we crave an audience to help bounce ideas off of, or inspire new ones. One of the challenges many writers are faced with is carving out time for writing, and this is particularly challenging for women of color writers. Working with writers over the years, I have witnessed and heard countless stories about how hard it is to come to the page. This is why creating a safe space for writers of color is important to me. We lift one another. We remind each other that we are capable. We encourage one another to submit despite the fear of rejection.

This year’s theme at Sankofa was “Strengthening the Writer’s Core.” Our workshops were centered on writing the story from the inside out. Each facilitator took the writers through prompts and activities to help get inside the stories we are writing and to feel everything that must be felt in order to find and show the truth in the story, poem, or essay.

With the sponsorship of Poets & Writers, we were able to receive grants for two of our workshop facilitators, Vanessa Mártir and Mariposa Fernandez, for which we are so grateful. In the “Writing and the Body” workshop, Vanessa took us through a series of writing activities and prompts designed to help us explore the story behind the story, dig for the truth, and not fear what wants to rise. She showed us how we can access these stories in our bodies. Mariposa facilitated the workshops “Feeling & Healing” and “Sense & Sound,” as well as a performance workshop. In Mariposa’ s “Feeling & Healing” workshop, she used reiki to help us connect to the writing, which allowed for an opening of our creativity.

There is often guilt around taking time to write, for fear of being seen as selfish. And this is precisely what the Sankofa Sisterhood is all about: It is a weekend designed for writers to be selfish and get the writing done. We understand that in order for the writing to happen, we need to create the space to make it happen.

During our closing Sankofa ceremony, every writer sat in a circle and each one shared what they would take from the weekend and all that they gained from the four workshops and keynote speech. One of the writers shared that for the past three years Sankofa has been her new year, where she is able to reboot, recharge, and set intentions for what she wants to create during the year. This is why the Sankofa Sisterhood was created and what is the very heartbeat of the NYC Latina Writers Group. We have become a place of refuge, a place where writers of color can find their voice and know that in “this place” our stories matter, we matter.

NYCLWG workshops are open to all Latinx women and women of color, women identified and nonbinary. We have workshops coming in June at the Bronx Academy of Art and Dance (BAAD), the NYCLWG Writers Conference, and we will be celebrating our twelth anniversary of the NYCLWG this October. For more information, find us on Facebook or e-mail us.

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

Photos: (top) Alicia Anabel Santos ( Credit: Alicia Anabel Santos). (bottom) (front, left to right) Yoseli Castillo Fuertes, Liza Morales, Alicia Anabel Santos, Mariposa Fernandez (back, left to right) Azúcar Simone, Nichole Perry, Rebeca Lois, Danielle Stelluto, Maribelle, Vanessa Mártir, Ysanet Batista, Fanny Castillo, Nia Ita Sanchez (Credit: Sarahi Almonte).

Poets & Writers’ Ninth Annual Connecting Cultures Reading in New York City

McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops fellow Sreshtha Sen writes about Poets & Writers’ ninth annual Connecting Cultures Reading held at the Center for Book Arts in New York City.

Now in its ninth year, the Connecting Cultures Reading, sponsored and organized by Poets & Writers, celebrates the diversity of our literary community by bringing together several groups who’ve been funded by the Readings & Workshops program. This year’s reading took place at the Center for Book Arts, and featured writers representing National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Newtown Literary Alliance, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Voices From War, and the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective.

Each group was represented by two readers who were introduced by the organizer or workshop facilitator they’d worked with. During their introductions, the organizers and facilitators all spoke about the motives behind their reading or workshop series and the shared themes that begin to emerge when writers find the community they’re craving. Claudia Prado, the facilitator for a workshop series with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, spoke about the powerful lessons that emerged out of their workshop theme: Things I have learned. “To have a workshop in Spanish,” she added, “is a great opportunity for us immigrants living in New York City to have a space to write, and hear about the process of writing and others’ voices in the languages of our native country.” Timothy DuWhite, the workshop facilitator from the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective elaborated on the solidarity, success, and safety that new and returning workshop participants felt as their program was supported and able to continue running.

As a nonprofit dedicated to both the contemporary and traditional practices of book making, the Center for Book Arts seemed a perfect fit for a cross-cultural reading that tackled struggles and victories from the past and the present. In a room surrounded by historically significant chapbooks, presses, and modern exhibits, the ten readers covered a range of themes from loss, violence, and power or the absence of it, to happiness as resistance, shared histories and love—familial or otherwise. Jack York, a writer representing the Queer Resistance Workshop at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, observed this when noting the range of each group and that having two readers from each group ensured that one story is not representative of everyone from a community or group, a struggle felt by almost everyone in the room.

The reading and the reception that followed allowed all the writers involved to connect and create new communities of their own. Nina Semczuk, the workshop facilitator for Voices From War, commented on how the opportunity to speak with other writers added to their workshop experience: “One of our readers left the evening newly inspired by how different readers expressed themselves. He had never encountered a reading like that and told me that he couldn’t wait to get to work on his writing and go deeper than he had allowed himself before.”

These five groups and their diverse, generous stories showcased the richness of artistic endeavors present throughout this city and served as a strong reminder of the reasons I applied to be a fellow for the Readings & Workshops program; it gave me a chance to see how programs like ours foster conversations amongst writers occupying different spaces, amplify voices we haven’t had a chance to hear yet, and work on making literature and art accessible to anyone who chooses to look for it. I’m grateful to all the featured readers and organizations, and the Center for Book Arts, especially Alex, Paul, and Emilie, for generously donating their space and time.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Silvina Reyes (Credit: Margarita Corporan). (bottom) Participants of the ninth annual Connecting Cultures reading (Credit: Margarita Corporan).

Mental Health Awareness Through the Literary Arts

Cristiana Baik is the director of Development at Richmond Area Multi-Services, Inc., a community-based mental health agency in San Francisco. She is committed to her work and in helping to create healthier communities and a more equitable society. Baik received a BA in Gender Studies/Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. Her poems and reviews have been published in various journals, including the Boston Review, American Letters & Commentary, Drunken Boat, and Conjunctions. Her chapbook, The Stars Went Out and So Did the Moon, was published by Finishing Line Press in the fall of 2017.

There are various facts we know related to mental health and stigma within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Asian Americans tend to be disproportionately impacted by mental health issues, but are less inclined to seek help for a multitude of reasons: in order to “save face”; because language barriers and the lack of culturally and linguistically responsive services effectively deny services to many first-generation AAPI residents; and due to ongoing social and cultural stigmas surrounding accessing mental health supports. Because of this, many young Asian Americans choose to keep their mental health issues within their family and/or seek religious advice, rather than professional help.

To explore the complex terrain of mental health issues impacting our diverse AAPI community, Richmond Area Multi-Services, Inc. (RAMS), a Bay Area mental health agency committed to providing community-based, culturally and linguistically responsive services, held an event called “Open in Emergency: A Discussion on Mental Health Issues in Our Communities” on March 31, 2018. The event, which took place at San Francisco’s Arc Gallery & Studios, was a collaborative endeavor with the Kearny Street Workshop and the Asian American Literary Review (AALR).

“Open in Emergency,” curated as a dynamic and interactive night market, integrated readings by P&W–supported poet Brandon Som and scholar Simi Kang, and interactive tables, which included tarot card readings using AALR’s beautiful Asian American Tarot deck and “Corner of Heart-to-Hearts” conversations catalyzed by cards created by Chad Shomura and illustrated by Yumi Sakugawa. This open space allowed the audience and contributors to interact in a way that was more relational and conversational. Audience members listened to the readings, but were also able to walk around the gallery and interact with the different stations.

RAMS is grateful for the support from Poets & Writers, which provided funding for Brandon—who was also a contributor to the “Open In Emergency” issue released by AALR in January. For the evening, Brandon read a moving prose piece he created for “The Shopkeeper” profile card in the Asian American Tarot deck. The prose was loosely based on his own experience of growing up in a corner store and working there with his father and grandparents. He also read a poem called “Raspadas.” Of the event, Brandon said, “I was excited to contribute to the project, because I think it is important to underscore the mental health issues that arise due to experiencing and processing racism and racial trauma.”

RAMS hopes to continue this event each year, in order to raise awareness of mental health stigmas, provide resources and referrals, and bring together different communities, including clinicians, mental health workers, scholars, poets, artists, and a broader audience-at-large.

Support for this event and Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Cristiana Baik (Credit: Crystal Baik). (bottom) Brandon Som (Credit: Andrew Taw).

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