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Readings & Workshops Blog

Caridad De La Luz is considered one of America's leading spoken word poets known as “La Bruja.” She was awarded Comité Noviembre’s Puerto Rican Women Legacy Award in 2014, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for excellence in writing from the Bronx Historical Society in 2013, and honored as a Bronx Living Legend by the Bronx Music Heritage Center. She was presented with a Citation of Merit from the Bronx borough president and named “Top 20 Puerto Rican Women Everyone Should Know.” The New York Times called her "a juggernaut" and she is best known for her captivating performance on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.

On August 19, 2016, I performed as host and master of ceremonies for Bronx Fashion Week for the third time since it began. What was unique about this summer fashion show was that it celebrated young fashionistas, designers, and child models ranging from three years of age to teenagers. The performance on the runway went seamlessly, pun intended, and proud parents sat in the audience beaming with pride. It took place in the center of the Mall at Bay Plaza in the Bronx, allowing shoppers unaware of the event to come and look on from all levels of the mall. They cheered and watched excitedly. It was a lovely sight and for most of the models, it was a first time experience.

I performed a poem I wrote called “The Bronx,” an ode to the borough I love so dearly. Born and raised, I will always reside here. It felt so empowering to share that poem to close the event, leaving the audience with words to ponder and pride to celebrate. The audience walked away knowing that after a lovely event held in our very own community, great events will continue to take place, but what they don’t know is that this event was made possible by Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers has funded performances organized by community producers that I’ve been hired to host. With their openness to fund and support me, I have been able to incorporate elements of poetry and spoken word onto the platform of the runway in the fashion world where poetry is rarely, if ever, heard.

So many literary events have taken place over my twenty-year career with the support of Poets & Writers, helping me to reach my community and expand their awareness of what being a contemporary poet and writer really means. My mission is to inspire people to express themselves more openly and poetically, and thankfully, Poets & Writers has been instrumental in that mission.

Poetry has always been a platform where beautiful things emerge, so now it can be said that poetry is in fashion—even on the runway.

Photos: (top) Caridad De La Luz takes the stage. (bottom) Young models walk the runway. Photo credit: Juan Carlos Guevara Peek-A-Pose Studio.

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. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers' sixth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading took place on June 30, 2016, before a packed house at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Ten writers representing P&W–supported organizations Beyond Baroque, the Los Angeles Poet Society, Mixed Remixed Festival, QueerWise, and the Roots and Wings Project came together to celebrate the diversity of the SoCal literary community and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program. Readings & Workshops (West) program associate Brandi Spaethe blogs about this lively annual event.

Connecting Cultures Readers

This past June, Connecting Cultures marked its sixth year celebrating the Los Angeles literary scene with a diverse group of voices and work. It feels like each year grows in power—with these organizations continuing to cultivate and support writing that’s unique, emerging, and all-around stunning. At the reception before the reading, I witnessed, and gladly participated in, rounds of hugging, handshaking, and wide smiles. We come to these spaces to let ourselves share what makes us human and this reading was no exception.

If only we could replace traffic citations
with love tickets, demanding
that one be more affectionate with their children.
If only there was a love meter you had to feed
every hour, or a
love-station where
the trains are never on time
but nobody cares because they're
all listening to
their love-pods or
updating their status on Lovebook.

Armine Iknadossian, representing literary organization and host for the event, Beyond Baroque, opened the night with the above lines from her poem “United States of Love” from her collection United States of Love and Other Poems. Beyond Baroque serves the Venice and larger West Los Angeles community through a long-standing free workshop series and a generous list of events and readings throughout the year.

The ever-elegant Dorothy Randall Gray brought a walking stick she had rescued and read a poem inspired by it—a kind of found art ekphrastic piece. She represented the Los Angeles Poet Society, an organization a few years old and dedicated to bringing people in the literary community together. The outreach and pure positive energy that project directors Jessica Wilson-Cardenas and Juan Cardenas give to the community is what keeps this organization strong.

Jackson Bliss, first runner-up for the Poets & Writers' 2013 California Writer's Exchange Award in fiction, represented the Mixed Remixed Festival by bowling us over with his moving words: “Siddhartha watched the silent miracle of correspondence unfolding before his eyes and wondered how many countries the postman carried in his hands today, how many miles his envelopes had traveled to inhabit aluminum boxes, where one day they would hibernate forever inside old shoeboxes, spongy minds, and expansive landfills. It seemed like such a waste of language.” The Mixed Remixed Festival is the nation's premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of the Mixed experience, multiracial and multicultural families and individuals, through films, books, and performance.

Laura Davila

There isn’t enough room in a small blog post to give you the power from all the voices in attendance. Like from QueerWise, a group of queer, senior spoken-word performers who brought Randy Gravelle and Jen OConnor to the stage, gifting us with stories of being queer in this world from perspectives reaching far back beyond our time of growing acceptance and celebration of queer lives and identities.

The young writer who closed the night, and who had been at this reading two years earlier representing 826LA, was the Roots and Wings Project’s very own Laura Davila, who delivered a poem responding to the part of the world that sees her blindness as a burden. “How brave you are,” she mimicked the voices she heard around her or “I wonder what it’s like to get up in the morning for you,” as if she was somehow missing something. “People reduce me to some pair of ‘broken eyes’ / as if sight is the only way to experience / the world.” Hardly a dry eye stood in applause with the closing of Davila's poem, which capped a reading where every voice, unique and explorative in its own right, gave us something honest and vulnerable and necessary.

Photo (top): Los Angeles Connecting Cultures group. Front (L-R): Jamie Moore, Patricia Zamorano, Brandi M Spaethe. Back (L-R): Heidi Durrow, Joe Levy, Jackson Bliss, Jesse Bliss, Laura Davila, Jen OConnor, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, Richard Modiano, Dorothy Randall Gray, Norman Molesko, Jessica Wilson Cardenas. Photo credit: Jamie FitzGerald. Photo (bottom): Laura Davila. Photo credit: Brandi M. Spaethe.

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

David Campos is a CantoMundo fellow, the author of Furious Dusk (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), and winner of the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Luna Luna, Prairie Schooner, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and many others. Campos received an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California in Riverside in 2013 and his BA from California State University in Fresno in 2010. Currently, he lives in Fresno and teaches English at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. As a part of Poets & Writers' Rural Libraries Tour project with California Center for the Book, Campos taught workshops at the Kings County Library, Tracy Branch Library, and Voices College-Bound Language Academies in California's Central Valley.

David Campos I drove down Highway 99 and took the 43, a two-lane highway, watching developments turn into vineyards, orchards, and the expansive agricultural land California’s Central Valley is known for. A tourist might be entranced with the plant life, but I couldn’t help but think of the houses, the sheds, the men, women, and children covered in the ninety-degree heat. The town of fifty-three thousand was quiet when I drove in on a Saturday morning where the Kings County Library in Hanford was still closed. They opened early for the workshop I was to give; I entered the space and prepped, greeting each of the twelve attendees trickling in.

And I knew not a lot of writers trickle into a small town’s library to give workshops and readings. In a town that lacks access to writers, poets, and artists in their area that can mentor, shape, or inspire the future in their medium, my presence was appreciated, and I accepted the responsibility of giving everything I could in the short amount of time we had together.

The Hanford Branch library group that had signed up for the workshop brought it. We worked on creating one single poem based on a tangible object that they held dear. A high schooler, accompanied by her mom and another family member, blew me away with her final draft. So much so that I told her if I was an editor, I’d publish it. I suggested she submit to places. Each one of the participants worked through their drafts diligently and with purpose. I felt honored to have worked with them. 

Then up the 99 I went to visit the Tracy Branch Library to give another workshop. While we drafted a poem, we mostly talked about where to write from, the sources we think could be used and those that they hadn’t thought about.

Lastly, the wonderful group of middle schoolers at Voices Academies engaged in bilingual poetry. Their workshop was focused on names—names given, names earned, names of things they’re associated with. They wrote lists, and then on a large piece of butcher paper, they combined their work in both Spanish and English.

I walked away from each of these sacred learning places thinking about the responsibility we have as artists and writers—at least those with the means to travel—to visit those smaller “markets.” It’s too easy to become complacent in our larger cities, and larger markets, to only read at universities or bookstores. I know I’m guilty of this, but I know the poetic spirit doesn't just exist near the meccas of literature. It lives in Hanford. It lives in Tracy. It lives in the young and bright minds at Voices Academies. The literary landscape of the future needs us. Go there. Find the voices eager and ready to change the world.

Photo: David Campos.

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

Virginia Bell is the author of the poetry collection, From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press 2012). She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for both the Lamar York Prize in Creative Nonfiction, sponsored by the Chattahoochee Review, and the Center for Women Writers’ Creative Nonfiction Contest. Her work is forthcoming in Hypertext Magazine and has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Cider Press Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, Cloudbank, CALYX, Poet Lore, Pebble Lake Review, Wicked Alice, and other journals and anthologies. Bell is a senior editor at RHINO Poetry, and an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University. This fall, she is joining the faculty in the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Chicago High School for the Arts. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature and was the recipient of a Ragdale Foundation residency in 2015.

On June 5, 2016 at 1:30 PM, in a meeting room at the Evanston Public Library, poet Nate Marshall asked the thirteen poetry workshop participants to share their favorite words. The answers ranged from the minimalist “tin” to the Portuguese word for tenderness, “ternura,” and the vernacular “thing-a-ma-gig.” Marshall then spoke persuasively about the possibilities of using one’s own vernacular traditions, one’s own “slang,” in the production of a liberating poetic practice.

As the author of Wild Hundreds (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014) and editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015), Marshall described his own fascination with the word “finna,” as in “I’m finna go to the store,” a word that might translate as “fixing to” or “going to,” but that also carries the connotations of planning, intention, and agency. He then read one of his own poems that includes the word “finna.”

In the ensuing discussion, participants explored the difference between avoiding cliché or tired language on the one hand, and the personal and political energy derived from a contextually powerful deployment of vernacular words and phrases. There was also discussion of the idea that all humans, at any given time and place, practice and invent vernacular language, not just so-called “standard” language; in other words, emerging and changing vernacular traditions are a fundamental expression of human poetic creativity.

After this presentation and discussion, Marshall facilitated the peer critique of participants’ poems. Each participant circulated a poem, read it aloud, and then listened to the constructive feedback. Marshall led the group in a spirit of collaboration, with warmth, enthusiasm, and respect for diverse aesthetic practice, and wise suggestions for revision.

Indeed, RHINO has a long tradition of hosting poetry workshops in the spirit of collaboration. Founded in Evanston, Illinois in 1976 as a grassroots poetry workshop, RHINO began to publish an annual journal in 1978 to support the poetry community in Illinois. Since then, RHINO has become a nationally and internationally recognized journal of literature, publishing poems, flash fiction, and translations by new, emerging, and established writers. As an independent, all volunteer organization, RHINO continues to maintain an active local community presence, primarily through two programs: free monthly workshops led by accomplished poets and RHINO Reads!, a monthly reading series.

Other recent workshop leaders include Keith Leonard on “The Contemporary Ode,” Aricka Foreman on “Facing It: Memory, Melancholia and Waking,” and Cecilia Pinto on “Creating the World in Words: Poetry as Genesis.” Workshops are free and open to the public, and held on or near the fourth Sunday of the month, ten months a year.

Funding from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program has made this program a success! All the workshops are well attended and well received. Several adult participants are “regulars” who return month after month, while others may be attending the first poetry workshop of their lives. RHINO welcomes experienced and novice poets alike. In Dean Young’s terms, we like to encourage “the art of recklessness,” but in a supportive and informative environment. To find out about upcoming workshops and readings, how to host a RHINO reading in your area, how to donate to RHINO, and how to submit to the RHINO Poetry, please visit our website!

Photos: (top) Virginia Bell. (bottom) Nate Marshall with workshop participants.  Photo credit: Virginia Bell

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago 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

Estevan Azcona, PhD, is director of MECA Presents, the arts and residency program at Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA) in Houston, Texas. A former curator for the National Performance Network's Performing Americas Program, he has also served on grant panels for organizations including the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture. Azcona is an ethnomusicologist by training and also serves as Music Director for MECA's AfterSchool Arts program. Below, he blogs about a P&W–supported reading that took place on April 7, 2016.

MECA Reading

Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA) is a Latino-based multicultural, multidisciplinary arts organization that has been serving low-income communities in Houston, Texas for almost forty years. Beginning in a local parish church to give "at risk" or "inner city'' neighborhood kids music, dance, and art classes after school and during the summer, MECA has since watched the inner loop of Houston change as gentrification played its part in the Sixth Ward neighborhood where the organization has always been located, as well as throughout the central part of the city, where it is becoming increasingly expensive to live. Instead of coming from down the block, or a mile or so away, families now bring their kids—some of them driving thirty minutes plus one way—to MECA from throughout the metropolitan area.

For some time now, Poets & Writers has been a welcome source of support for writers to come and read their work and give workshops to the kids, the families, and the public. Houston's first poet laureate, Gwendolyn Zepeda, is a MECA alumna from the Sixth Ward and has many times been central to bringing creative writing workshops to our students, with help from P&W, as have other local writers. As a predominantly performance and visual arts organization, this support has been critical in bringing letters into our programming.

In April of this year, we had the opportunity to present three Latina writers, each approaching their craft in different ways: local writer Jasminne Mendez is a powerhouse performance poet; Sarah Rafael García is a talented memoirist and youth writing advocate with her project, Barrio Writers; and Isabel Quintero is a gifted fiction writer who has recently garnered a lot of attention. We were lucky to have writer and poet, Edyka Chilomé, from Dallas, come to Houston to serve as emcee for the public reading.

When the authors came to us to do a project together, we were especially excited as the work of each of the writers eloquently addresses the experience of growing up and/or being Latina. While all youth from marginalized communities are challenged to have the opportunities other groups take for granted, at MECA we are not unaware of the obstacles for young women of color, and here was a great project to open the door for young Latinas to the work of these authors. Though we were concerned with turnout, as we do not often present writers, we had an audience of at least forty ready to hear the words and stories of this group of women, including a dozen or so youth who participated in the joint writing workshop. Virtually everyone stayed after the public reading to speak with the authors, buy books, and chat amongst themselves. And the sign was clear to MECA, do this again!

Photo: Jasminne Mendez. Photo credit: Pin Lim.

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.

Verónica Reyes is the author of Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives (Arktoi Books, 2013). She is a Chicana feminist jota poet from East Los Angeles. She scripts poetry for her communities: la jotería, Chicanas y Mexicanos. She has received grants and fellowships from residencies, such as the Montalvo Arts Center. Her work has appeared in Calyx, Feminist Studies, North American Review, and the Minnesota Review. Currently, Reyes teaches at California State University, Los Angeles.

firme tejana-clifas

“El pueblo unido jamás sera vencido//La jotería unida jamás sera vencida.” Xicana Power! Jota Power! In the air, I felt it. These fourteen mujeres voices needed to be here. To claim space. Establish our existence. In this society, the written text is valued. La palabra sets the boundaries as what gets recognized and what gets excluded. Chicana writing plays a pivotal role in breaking down puertas. Xicana jota literature must fight through many barriers. Our writings are a necessity.

April 2015
At the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair in Minneapolis, the frigid air outside planted the yearning for warmth. So many writers were excited to meet old friends. I saw young writers feel at home. This was their community. But then I felt a knot inside me. I scanned the book fair and the hallways. It slapped me. Most of these writers were white.

I looked for poets/writers who mirrored me: a Mexican American butch dyke. Immediately, I understood Latinas/os were just a smudge of color in this mass. And this pissed me off. I was not going to accept: Brown, queer or straight, authors “absent” at this major writers’ event. So I invited Xicana—dykes and straight—writers and proposed three events.

April 1-2, 2016
El Centro’s morning sol draped the sky, the buildings, and the cracked sidewalks with the yawn of light. On Pico and Venice, I stepped off the bus. Breathed in downtown’s morning: warmth, cars, dust. Strolled up Pico to Figueroa, the clatter of skyscrapers’ noise stammered.   
The Los Angeles Convention Center was booming. Strutted up the walkway and saw an old friend, Wanda, my fellow Chicana dyke, the moderator for the Jota panel. Her face, her embrace, her queerness, her cariño, said it all why our presence was necessary.

All the readings were awesome. “Jotas: A Chicana Lesbian Reading by Barrio-Based Writers” event was amazing. The writers—Wanda Alarcón, Verónica Reyes, Claudia Rodríguez, Griselda Suárez—performed their work to a beautiful audience who dared to attend the first session. Alarcón’s framed the importance of Xicana jota literature and today’s plight. They absorbed their words and gave a beautiful embracing applause. Feminist poetry filled the room about East L.A. tacos dorados via Long Beach, chanting of power in the room, and culminating with the hiss of spray paint from a Compton poet. Everything was blaring pride.

Puentes bridges“¡Chicana! Power! A Firme Tejana-Califas Reading.” These writers— Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Anel Flores, Guadalupe García Montaño, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Emmy Pérez—were mesmerizing. Joy was pulsing in the room. García Montaño introduced each writer and the authors empowered the room with stories set in San Antonio, Río Grande Valley, L.A., and la frontera. The lives of immigrants were honored. Cariño for familia bloomed in the room.

“Puentes=Bridges: A Queer-Straight Mujeres Reading” presented Olga García Echeverría, Estella González, liz gonzález, Melinda Palacio, and Karleen Pendleton Jiménez. The audience mirrored puentes. The event was a beautiful roundabout. Each writer introduced the next one. It honored bridges and the support of each other. The readings explored a hotel Juárez, the Inland Empire in the seventies, an East L.A. memoir for her mama, and shared the road to butch pregnancy. Questions flew in to the writers. The room enveloped the love of literature from laughter, to tears, to pride. It was a beautiful culmination.

Photos: (top) firma tejana-califas readers. (bottom) Puetes=Bridges readers. Photo credit: Michael Senado.
Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Vern Miller has authored many stories and articles. He holds advanced degrees in German Language and Literature, as well as an MBA degree, and has taught at two major universities. Now he is combining his enthusiasm for literature with his interest in business to publish the Fifth Wednesday Journal.

Fifth Wednesday Books, Inc., publishes a nationally recognized print magazine, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and the online literary magazine, FWJ Plus. In addition to the magazines, we organize and participate in literary events in many venues. Our mission is to be a bridge between the creative artist and a diverse and receptive audience, to make good poetry and prose a part of the daily lives of more people. We are an all-volunteer organization with highly qualified, very energetic, and intensely loyal editors and interns, who produce more than four hundred pages of poetry, fiction, essays, black and white photography, book reviews, and interviews each year. We began as a print literary magazine, and have expanded our programs and activities to include presentations in Chicago, New York, and other locations, as an essential part of our pursuit of excellence.

Five years ago we decided to do everything we could to bring even more poetry to people in Chicago through events featuring poets from around the country, music, and book signings and receptions. We needed partners. We asked for support. Support arrived. We are grateful to the Poetry Foundation for the donation of their much sought after space for our programs for the past five years.

We needed more. We asked. Poets & Writers came through like champions. We have received critical support in the form of grants to assist with reading fees, without which we could not offer national writers to our audiences in Chicago. Here are some highlights:

In 2013, Poets & Writers helped us bring Marge Piercy and Ira Wood to our Chicago audience. (More than a hundred people braved a torrent of rain and wind.)

In 2014, Poets & Writers again provided critical support for a very successful program featuring three Illinois poets: Michael Anania, Elise Paschen, and Jeffery Renard Allen. (Almost a hundred people came for readings, music, and reception, despite the typical rainy weather in Chicago.)

In 2015, Poets & Writers came through again when we asked for help in presenting a program of African American poets including Haki Madhubuti, Angela Jackson, Roger Reeves, and others. (More than a hundred people filled the seats, even as I fretted about our lack of sufficient publicity.)

Photos: (top) Ira Wood, Marge Piercy, and Andrea Witzke Slot. (bottom) Haki Madhubuti, Angela Jackson, Calvin Forbes, Roger Reeves, and Kelly Norman Ellis. Photo credit: Fifth Wednesday Books.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago 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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