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Readings & Workshops Blog

Former wildland firefighter Ruth Nolan was born in San Bernardino, California and has lived in the neighboring Mojave Desert and Coachella Valley for most of her life since. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at College of the Desert and is a prolific poet and writer whose work has appeared, and is forthcoming, in the Rattling Wall, Riverside Press Enterprise-Inlandia Literary Journeys, Tin Cannon, and New California Writing (Heyday Books, 2011). She is editor of the critically-acclaimed anthology, No Place for a Puritan: The Literature of California's Deserts (Heyday Books, 2009) and the winner of the Mojave River Review Magazine nonfiction chapbook contest for California Drive. An avid California desert advocate, lecturer, conservationist, and literary scholar, she has taught writing workshops for the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park, the California State University Desert Studies Center, the University of California, Riverside Extension, and the (In) Visible Memoir Project. Nolan earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts in the University of California, Riverside Low Residency Program and her MA in English/Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University. She lives in Palm Desert, where she teaches, and writes, and often sneaks away into the desert to hike. She is the proud mother of daughter, Tarah, and overjoyed by new baby grandson, Simon.

Ruth Nolan

What are your reading do’s?
My reading do’s are: Read from the heart and try to remain humble. For me, a reading is a form of ceremony, one that involves audience participation and allows for a sense of group and individual transformation. When I read, I’m sharing stories of places, people, and deep emotions that run as powerfully inside of me as the underground Mojave River in the desert. It’s my responsibility to the audience to evoke that as best I can. If not, I would honestly rather be out hiking in the desert than reading stuff I don’t believe in or wasting my audience’s precious time. I find it imperative to honor my audience, and fellow readers, and to do all that I can during my reading to hold and express the greatest respect for those who have taken the time to come hear me read.

…and your reading don’ts?
My No. 1 rule is don’t be an asshole. Never, ever, ever go more than the time limit you are asked to observe. If anything, less is more. Don’t abuse the audience. Don’t waste their time, or yours.

What’s the strangest comment you’ve received from an audience member?
Being told many times my writing is highly sexy and sexual. After one reading, a man approached me and smarmily told me that he was turned on by me, because when I’d read a certain poem, I’d moved my hips suggestively in perfect, sexy synchronicity with the contents of the sexy poem I was reading.  Ever since then, I’ve always tried to stand behind a podium when I read, and when I can’t, I am self-conscious about my hips, as silly as that sounds. I’ve had other people, men and women, tell me that my writing is very sexy. It’s always a shock to me to hear this because I don’t feel sexy or sexual at all when I’m reading. I feel like the nerdy, glasses-wearing thirteen-year-old I once was in junior high school. In retrospect, I do see that my writing is full of many sexual escapades, in one way or another. It’s just that I don’t personally relate to these experiences. I just write about them, and read about them, and get surprised and embarrassed when someone points it out to me after a reading. To this day, I’m not sure why that is, except that I’m functioning from some kind of writer disconnect. Maybe this disconnect is the reason I write: to connect that indiscernible and slippery gap between consciousness, identity, and experience.

What’s the craziest (or funniest, or most moving, or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been part of?
Every event is memorable to me, and life-nurturing. However, there have been several funny, memorable, bizarre, and cosmic things that have happened at some of these readings and events over the years that particularly stand out. One moving and memorable experience was the time a homeless man walked into the Inlandia Writing Workshop at the downtown Riverside Library (which I cofounded and taught for five years from 2008-2012) saying he’d just gotten off the city bus and saw a sign for my workshop on the library window. He joined us for that workshop and wrote several amazing poems about his life.

Another memorable time was at the Poetry at the Peaks reading I helped coordinate and host, as part of the International United Nations/NYC Poets for Peace readings series. It was a late winter afternoon and attendance was high. We were in a window-filled room overlooking the San Jacinto Forest, and right as the reading started, snow started to fall outside, filtering beautifully through the mountain cloud-lit canopy, gracing our reading with hope and beauty.

I also recall the Poetry for Peace reading the following year in 2002 at Moorten’s Desert Botanical Gardens in Palm Springs, just as the United States controversially was about to begin bombing Iraq, and vitriolic, patriotic emotions were running high nationwide. I was interviewed by the Palm Springs news media, who goaded me with inflammatory questions about the purpose of our event, obviously trying to depict our event as a disrespectful, unpatriotic event. Our readers blew that out of the water with a powerful, transformational reading that celebrated the magic of healing words and verse.

And, of course, I’ve been lucky to have been part of some amazing readings and workshops that I’ve helped coordinate across the California deserts. In the balm of palm trees at Anza Borrego State Park one January, far out in the Mojave Desert at Death Valley, and bringing a small group of women writers together at Furnace Creek to write and hike on a warm October weekend. Then, there’s the unforgettable memory of Sal y Muerte, the fantastic writing workshop Poets & Writers sponsored on Dia de los Muertos in 2013 at the Salton Sea North Shore State Park. I’ll always be inspired by the fireside poetry reading and performance we held on the shore of the Salton Sea, which included some of my local College of the Desert students, and poets and writers from throughout Southern California and beyond.

How does giving a reading inform your writing and vice versa?
I can feel if I’m hitting the mark in my writing or if I’m full of shit and maybe would be better off hanging up that particular poem or part of a piece and going out for a hike in the Mojave, and then returning to make revisions. If I see or feel the audience shifting in their seats, I know it’s time to roll up my sleeves again. If I see or feel the audience leaning on the edges of their seats, if the room is completely silent, if I feel completely in the zone (as I did when I played my best games during my competitive tennis playing years), then I know I must be doing something right. Giving readings, both for myself at home and in public, is, for me, crucial to hearing my voice. I feel the energy of what I’ve written, feel the connection or disconnection in what I’m trying to do, and feel more connected to my own writing, and to the effect that it is having on any given audience. I feel it’s important to spare the audience. If they’re bored, I don’t feel it’s fair for me to waste their time listening just to be polite. I have an obligation to put on a show, to make their investment in hearing my writing matter to them. It’s vital to respect my audience and communicate with them in this sense.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
The value of literary programs for my community, the California deserts, which encompass twenty-five percent of the state of California geographically, is immeasurable. These programs connect the people in my ‘hood with an essential and much valued community building toolkit, across hundreds of mostly desolate but story rich miles of open spaces and crossroads of present and historical times. Here, literary programs bring people together to share their stories and offer the chance to articulate their experiences and insights with the literary community at large. They help us fill in our arid desert landscapes with the blessing of rain showers of words, bringing us together from far and wide to rejoice and celebrate.

Photo: Ruth Nolan   Credit: Pablo Aguila Photography

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

Bryn Chancellor was selected as the 2014 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for fiction. Her story collection When Are You Coming Home? won the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize and will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2015. Her short fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Phoebe, and elsewhere, and her current projects include two novels. She has received a Literary Arts Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, a fellowship and a project grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Conference and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. A graduate of Vanderbilt University’s MFA program in fiction, she lives in Montevallo, Alabama, where she is an assistant professor at the University of Montevallo. A native of California who was raised in Arizona, Chancellor is married to artist Timothy Winkler.

The official WEX award letter from Poets & Writers arrived two weeks before I could tell anyone. For two weeks, I carried the letter, folded in quarters, in an inner zipped pocket of my purse, safe from rogue paper shredders or spontaneous toaster fires. I would take it out from the pocket in the mornings, as the Alabama sun snuck through the blinds, and I’d run my fingers over the words to make myself believe that it wasn’t some feverish insomniac dream. Then I folded the paper and tucked it away, as the world around me grew brighter.

Like most writers, I’m more familiar with another kind of letter, those with words such as: however, unfortunately, we’re sorry to inform you, please try us again. This letter, with its astonishing words—congratulations!, all-expenses-paid trip to New York City, a public reading, an honorarium, and a one-month residency at Jentel Artist Residency—well, no wonder I had to keep it close. Who could believe it? Not me. Certainly not my inner critic, who has all the charm of a paper cut: Oh, they must have made a mistake. It couldn’t be you; weird, frizzy-haired, middle-aged woman tapping out those stories. Puh-leese.

Believe it or not, I indeed went to New York City. I went with my carefully packed bag full of sales-rack clothes and one nice pair of shoes, my stomach tied in knots over a mostly finished novel that I wasn’t sure how to talk about, and terrified that everyone would take one look at me and voice my deepest writer fears: You? Ha! Hahahahahahaha!

Instead, I found kindness and generosity as luminous as the starry Grand Central ceiling. I found honest-to-God readers (many of whom are also writers or editors), toiling long hours and fighting the good fight, taking the time to talk with me about my work and the publishing world and the writing life. I crisscrossed the city by subway, by cab, and by foot, trying not to be gauche and gawp at the skyscrapers, at the everything. I shared great meals and coffee with great people, and I filled two tote bags with great books. I gave a reading at McNally Jackson, and I didn’t pass out at all. I found friendship and kinship with the wonderful poet Harry Moore, my fellow winner. I shared the stories with my husband at the end of day, up in my lovely hotel room, because once I said it aloud I could maybe make myself believe it. Then I folded those stories up and tucked them away into all of the weird, frizzy-haired, middle-aged pockets of mine.

No wonder I’m bursting at the seams with gratitude. To those instrumental in my WEX award—especially Maureen Egen, Victor LaValle, Elliot Figman, Lynne Connor, and the wondrous Bonnie Rose Marcus—and to all of those who offered up their time, words, wit, and wisdom, along with my ever-supportive family and friends: Thank you to the tip tops of the Alabama pines.

So much of the writing life centers on belief: making readers believe the magic on the page, making the publishing world believe in the work, and, perhaps the hardest, first believing in ourselves. Alas, my magic WEX experience can’t wave a wand and—poof!—solve such struggles, yet I know that I will always carry this award close. I will fold it away in the secret pocket of my writer’s heart, where I can pull it out when I need to remember: This is real. Someone once believed in you. Now it’s your turn.

Photo: (top) Bryn Chancellor. Photo Credit: Christy Whitney.

Photo (bottom) Bryn Chancellor. Photo Credit: Timothy Winkler.

This award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors, and retired Deputy Chairman and Publisher of Hachette Book Group, USA.

R. Erica Doyle is the Brooklyn-based author of proxy (belladonna*, 2013), which won the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry. She is a Cave Canem Fellow who has facilitated other Poets & Writers-sponsored workshops for queer women and transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color and for youth in public housing.

Please, let today not be the day, I muttered under my breath, as I ran around my office, jury-rigging a dummy copy to make into our workshop chapbook. I copied, cut and pasted, printed and folded and cut again, sweating since my office, like most old public school buildings, has a radiator several degrees hotter than the ninth circle of hell. Please, please, not today.

I finally checked: No indictment, read the texts. No indictment, cried the statuses, the New York Times. No indictment. The hope I’d held that we would be different, somehow, that today would not be the day, not that day, broke into shards.

I sat at my desk for a few moments as tears ran down my cheeks. Then, I got up and finished the chapbook.

That night, the students of my poetry workshop Into the Chaos: Poetry Conversations, were reading their work, created over two and half months of meetings at the Cave Canem conference space. Cave Canem had created these workshops for emerging poets of color, with the support of Poets & Writers, to give diverse writers a space to explore their craft within a supportive and safe environment.

My inspiration for the workshop was grounded in a 1980 interview by Audre Lorde where she states:

We must first examine our feelings for questions, because all the rest has been programmed. We have been taught how to understand, and in terms that will insure not creativity, but the status quo. If we are looking for something which is new, and something which is vital, we must look first into the chaos within ourselves.

In “Notes for an Oppositional Poetics,” Erica Hunt explains how our attempts to resist may lead us to replicate the oppressive structures and tired tropes we are trying to write against. Claudia Rankine has recently called on us to recognize the power of the imaginary, in our writing and the world, and to emancipate our imaginations. I hoped for Into the Chaos to be a place to challenge our imaginations in a space where we shared multiple languages, histories, sexual identities, and gender expressions.

Through exercises and readings, small group and whole class readings, free writes and interpretive poetry performances utilizing sound and movement, I supported my students in thinking about their practice, their decisions, and encouraged them to push beyond their own programming. They shared the chaos that night with choral readings, humor, and depth in community with brothers, lovers, and friends.

That third of December, I cried over losing hope for a peaceful existence in my lifetime. That day, my student said she knew our reading was the safest place for her brothers, young black men, to be that night. We looked at the empty seats and knew that some of our friends who would have been here were out there, crying our outrage and pain to the world. That day, we would join them later, and day after day after that. That day, I realized there was no place I would rather be held, and held up right then, in a reticulum of voices gesturing ever towards. That here, we were part of that day, too and we, like this movement, would not be deferred.

Photo: R. Erica Doyle  Photo Credit: L. Rubin


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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Leilani Squire's poetry and short shorts have been published in magazines including the Sun, Eclipse, and Gentle Strength Quarterly. She has been a featured poet with the Valley Contemporary Poets, Alex Frankel’s Second Sunday Series, and at Beyond Baroque, and is at work on her first novel. Squire facilitates creative writing workshops for veterans at the Greater Los Angeles Veteran’s Hospital, Wellness Works in Glendale, California, and online for bookscover2cover. She is the senior editor of Returning Soldiers Speak: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry by Soldiers and Veterans (Bettie Youngs Books, 2013) and is the founder and director of the annual event Returning Soldiers Speak: An Evening of Prose and Poetry, a venue for veterans and soldiers from different wars and conflicts to read their poetry and prose to the community. 

Returning Soldiers Speak 2014

I began working with veterans four-and-a-half years ago, with the goal of helping them write about their experiences so that they can heal from the wounds of war; and for those who haven’t been on the battlefield, to begin the process of integrating back into society after their military experience. I facilitate creative writing workshops and work with veterans from the Korean War through Operation Enduring Freedom.

On November 8th, the fifth annual Returning Soldiers Speak: An Evening of Prose and Poetry reading was held at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California. People from all sectors of society and from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside counties, came to hear the veterans read. Veterans from Arkansas, Oceanside, the Mojave Desert, and Los Angeles read their prose and poetry.

The reading began with a letter written during the Korean War by a Navy Seaman deployed on an aircraft carrier telling about the birth of his daughter. Then, stories of the Vietnam War were told: how photos were not taken out of respect for the dead, how a corpsman was embedded with the Marines doing humanitarian work in Vietnamese villages, the gritty reality check of a soldier humping through treacherous Ashau Valley, and of another soldier loading bombs into an airplane. As I listened to the Vietnam veterans read, I sensed I was witnessing something extraordinary. I was in the presence of combat soldiers, who lived in and through war. And their stories touched something primordial within. It was an honor.

The audience was grateful for the breadth of humor that followed, with stories about how to survive in the jungle, the benefits of boot camp, and the lighter, satirical side of being a woman in the military. Others spoke about more recent events. Two combat veterans read about their experiences during the Gulf War. A woman veteran read an excerpt from her memoir about how her superior officer repeatedly raped her and how she kept silent for fear of being dishonorably discharged. The Operation Iraqi Freedom generation read about the challenges of posttraumatic stress disorder, suicide, and what it means to come home and integrate back into society.

One of our favorite readers from Returning Soldiers Speak, James Mathers, passed away this summer. A conscientious objector during the Vietnam War read a short piece called “Poet Time” written by Mathers. The last sentence goes: “If we’ve got any poets out there, now’s the time to step up.” These words were an inspiration and validated the evening’s event by giving the veterans and the audience, permission to write and tell their stories. It was a perfect way to end the reading.

For the first time, because of the generosity of Poets & Writers, Returning Soldiers Speak was able to give the veteran-writers a stipend for reading. We gathered on the staircase in Beyond Baroque’s foyer. I announced their names like roll call and distributed their checks. They were so grateful and proud. And so was I.

Photo: Leilani Squire (at left) with P&W–supported readers from Returning Soldiers Speak. Credit: Chuck Smallwood.

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

Rose Mary Salum (Mexico) is the founder and director of the award-winning bilingual magazine Literal, Latin American Voices. She is the author of Delta de las arenas, cuentos arabes, cuentos judíos (Literal Publishing, 2013), Spaces in Between (Literal Publishing, 2006), a book of short stories, and co-author of Vitrales (Edamex/Mexico, 1994). Her poems and short stories have been included in anthologies in the United States, Argentina, Mexico, India, Australia, and Spain. She has published fiction and essays in many periodicals. Salum has received international awards for her literary and editorial work including the 2014 International Latino Book Award, the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) Best New Journal for 2006, and four Lone Star Awards, among others.

Rose Mary Salum

What makes your press and its programs unique?
Well, for some reason the word unique feels a bit ambitious. However, what we have tried to accomplish all these years at Literal is to try and bring the most established authors from Latin America into the consciousness of American readers.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
I’m happy about a few of them. We recently invited David Miklos, a very well-established writer in Mexico, for an event. People fell in love with him because he unveiled very intimate family situations that engaged the audience. These powerful themes run through much of his work. Another excellent author and thinker who has joined us is Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez. People wrote us afterwards asking for more writers like him. The thing is that when we bring these authors to Houston, Texas, we create not only awareness, but also a liaison that connects people to their roots.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
When David Miklos was speaking about both his adoptive mother and his biological mother, the latter was there in the audience, not understanding what he was talking about. She didn’t know him well (this was the second time she saw him after more than forty years) and yet, her eyes were sparkling with joy. It was touching, but at the same time mind-blowing. Did she feel regret? Was she happy that he became such a successful person? All these questions were on everyone’s minds, and yet, the audience received her presence with such welcoming warmth.

How do you cultivate an audience?
With the magazine, the books we produce, the cultural events, social media… with everything that we can think of!!!  In a world that is bombarded with so much information, invitations, activities, reminders, and so on, it’s hard to cultivate a faithful audience, but we try.

How has running a press impacted your own writing and/or life?
I’ve learned so many things on so many levels that it would take me weeks to explain. In fact, I’m tempted to write a memoir only related to what I’ve learned, who I have met, and the funny stories that accompany the kind of work I do.

What do you consider to be the value of small presses in your community?
In my opinion, they are the ones that bring the jewels of the world of literature to readers. The larger publishing houses are more concentrated on what they will sell to pay every month’s commitments. Sometimes the quality they offer is not as great as what the small presses bring to the public. Small presses are the ones that take more risks to open spaces for new and talented authors.

Photo: Rose Mary Salum

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.

Brian Castner is the author of The Long Walk (Doubleday, 2012), an Amazon Best Book of 2012 and Chautauqua Literary & Scientific Circle selection for 2013. His writing has appeared in Wired, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Outsideand on National Public Radio. Castner is the co-founder of Buffalo, Books & Beer, a new literary series in his hometown of Buffalo, New York.

We’re all still learning how to come home from a war. Veterans struggle to readjust, civilians and family wonder how to welcome back their changed loved ones. We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves; Odysseus had trouble, too.

This truism of history still applies: Every veteran saw their own war, had their own individual experience, were exposed to their own proportion of terror and transcendence, and deal with their own mix of pride and regret. It follows, then, that no single national program or strategy will best welcome home all these men and women.

For some veterans, though, writing helps. Trauma therapy for some, but for most, just a human need to share an experience with others. The same could be said for the country at large, of course; narrative helps all of us make sense of our lives.

Inclusivity. This is what spurs Words After War, a literary nonprofit based in New York City, to organize workshops and events around the country. Rather than focusing on writing for a small circle of military peers, Words After War instead creates opportunities for veterans and civilians to speak to each other. It’s an effort to bridge the civilian-military divide, one story at a time.

This past semester, with support from Poets & Writers, I led a Words After War workshop on the campus of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. On Tuesday evenings, war was a lens through which to read and write and think about the same topics that have always preoccupied writers. Many traditional workshops use this lens model, we simply considered violence and its aftermath instead of environmentalism or realism or faith or any other typical construct. 

There is no good writing without good reading, so we started each session with Whitman or Hemingway or Vonnegut or Klay (who visited our class just weeks before he won the National Book Award). We studied classics, but also new work from Siobhan Fallon, Brian Turner, and Hassan Blasim, and two post-Vietnam books, Qais Akbar Omar’s A Fort of Nine Towers and Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story. What better way to start than to put great sentences—moving sentences, jarring sentences, and imperfect sentences—in everyone’s ears? An ice-breaker, for the workshopping that followed.

I’d like to think that the strength of our program is to be found in the stories we wrote and the precision and quality of the feedback we provided each other. To judge our success in bridging the civilian-military divide, we could parse the demographics of our group (five veterans/six civilians, four women/seven men, three graduates of creative writing programs, three retirees, a lawyer, a photographer, a poet, an anthropology professor, a magazine editor, an author of four books, one that had not written in decades), but I’d rather examine the work we produced.

Some stories you would expect from a veteran writing group—a nighttime raid in Afghanistan, a day on the gunnery range in basic training—but most may surprise. A dying grandmother who keeps a secret to the end of her life. A son with nightmares while his father fights in Iraq. Travels in Korea. A meditation in a snow-filled graveyard. We workshopped prose poems and flash fiction, chapters from novels, and a Civil War biography told through letters. Some stories had a military connection, but plenty did not; grief and love are grief and love, after all.  

In short, a veteran writing workshop looks a lot like any other serious literary class. Because at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to produce good writing; Hemmingway’s one true sentence.

Photo (top): Don Bond, Brian Castner at a teaching workshop. Photo (center): Brittany Gray. Photo (bottom): Marilyn Rochester. Photo Credit: Words After War

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers. 

Amber Atiya is the author of the chapbook The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014). Her poems have been published most recently in Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of ColorBoston ReviewBlack Renaissance NoireAtlas Review, and Apogee Journal. A proud native Brooklynite, she is a member of a women's writing group that will be celebrating thirteen years next spring.

Question: Where does a word-rich, money-poor poet from Flatbush inevitably end up?

Answer: At the food stamp office.

Office of clients in faux furs and bubble coats, of institutional green walls like the abortion clinic I accompanied a friend to. Land of city workers, collecting mugshots and electronic fingerprints, "to cut down on fraud," as one supervisor claimed, through a mouth full of jelly beans. The chaos of the food stamp office—aka the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—has been great fodder for writing practice. Security guards escorting irate clients from the waiting area; the man who kept yelling at case workers to “check the schematics,” told me all he wanted was to cook a nice meal for his fifty-third birthday; the stranger who chatted me up during my train ride to the SNAP center, teaching me a spell to make a man fall hard (hint: it involves Haitian rum and drilling a hole into an apple), and pulling out his Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to show me a picture of himself, femmed up, in a bobbed wig.

These are moments I live for as a writer, scribbling notes in the margins of a SNAP booklet ("What You Should Know About Your Rights & Responsibilities") or on the back of a voter registration form I’ll never use. Occasionally, these moments become poems, a couple of which appear in my chapbook, The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop, recently published by Argos Books. (Shout out to my nephew J----, who checked my ego by constantly asking, “Ams, what’s the name of your book again?” Only to walk off, chuckling, before I could answer.)

My mentor, musician and writer Norman Riley (the “Great Sage of Hell’s Kitchen”), once advised me to say, “yes” to any creative opportunity that felt right, that allowed me to sleep at night. I’ve performed at over ten events so far this year, which for a poet making chump change, has been financially challenging.

Two of these amazing shows were funded, fully or in part, by Poets & Writers. “Celebrating a Sacred Space for Women’s Voices” was curated by JP Howard, poet and creator of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (love to my co-features: Keisha-Gaye Anderson, Charleen McClure, and Cheryl Boyce-Taylor). And a reading at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City was organized by poet Cathy Linh Che (dap to my co-readers: Wo Chan, Cathy Linh Che, Paul Tran, and Javier Zamora).

Real talk: It feels good to be compensated for my writerly endeavors, to not be entirely stressed about how much money’s left—or ain’t left—for my subway fare after a gig. (And I can testify that travel reimbursement goes a long way, all you reading series curators out there. Ten events times $5.00 is…) It feels good to have pocket change for everyday living expenses, to support other poets’ events, a little something-something in my purse for the $8 cover or two-drink minimum plus tip. Thank you for allowing me that, Poets & Writers.

It’s still a struggle from one day to the next, don’t get it twisted. Call me a stubborn Capricorn with Virgo rising. Call me a woman about her business: A chapbook welcomed into the world with the best launch ever (I see you, Krystal Languell, Cynthia Manick, and Betsy Fagin!); an upcoming Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon workshop that I’m facilitating, co-sponsored by Poets & Writers; and a couple of events scheduled for 2015, dates pending. 

Call me a New York poet knee-deep in blessings.

Photo (top): Amber Atiya reading at Poets House. Photo Credit: Arnold Adler

Photo (bottom): Akinfe Fatou, Amber Atiya, and JP Howard at the chapbook launch for The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop. Photo Credit: Ed Toney

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers. 

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