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Readings & Workshops Blog

Marina Tristán is the assistant director of Arte Público Press at the University of Houston, where she oversees day-to-day operations with a particular emphasis in marketing and promotions for their books, authors, and programs. A native of Texas, she has worked for Arte Público Press for almost thirty years.

MARINA TRISTÁN

It has been gratifying to finally begin to see a shift in attitudes about the value of writings by Latinos (which is not to say that there aren’t any problems in the publication and distribution of books by diverse writers). We now have a U.S. Poet Laureate who is Mexican American! And in Houston—where Arte Público is based—the city’s first Poet Laureate was a Latina. Gwendolyn Zepeda held a two-year term from 2013-2015. Not surprisingly, we published her first collection of short prose almost ten years before, back in 2004.

Like all contemporary authors seeking to build an audience for their work, Gwen has read from and talked about her books at a slew of places around the country and in Houston, her hometown. We have been fortunate to collaborate with local community groups like the Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA), as we did in April to launch Gwen’s second poetry collection, Monsters, Zombies and Addicts (Arte Público Press, 2015).  

This reading was particularly poignant because Gwen grew up at MECA, singing and dancing in theatrical performances, designing sets, and working summer jobs. Her reading was a homecoming of sorts, and friends—old and new—laughed and cried with her. Clever and very funny, Gwen’s poetry reading was deeply personal and included musings on family, childhood remembrances, and societal expectations. One can only wonder what the future holds for Gwen: U.S. Poet Laureate? Pulitzer Prize winner? National Book Award finalist? Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, Arte Público will continue to do what it has done for the past thirty-three years: publish and promote Latino authors so that American culture includes, values, and reflects Hispanic contributions.

Photo: Marina Tristán    Credit: Carmen Peña Abrego

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.

Bill Berry, Jr. founded aaduna, Inc. in 2010 and published the inaugural issue of aaduna in February 2011. Committed to providing a publication platform for people of colorpeople who have been traditionally denied access to publication platforms, and others who seek a different plateau for creative shifts not generally associated with their previous work­—aaduna is currently read in eighty-three countries. Berry publishes aaduna along with Lisa Brennan, visual arts editor; Pam Havens and Rosemarie Blake, fiction editors; Timothy Ogene, poetry editor; and Ketih Leonard, submissions manager. There is info staff and they enjoy anonymity.

Auburn, nestled in rural and agricultural Cayuga County, and listed by NerdWallet as the best small city in New York State and the fourteenth best small city in the United States to live in, has a vibrant cultural identity. While diversity and multiculturalism are generally associated with larger cities and remain an elusive characteristic for Auburnians, aaduna, Inc. is changing that scenario on an annual basis through aaduna, its online literary and visual arts journal. To further its diversity initiative, a yearly literary fundraiser is convened to celebrate the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and the racial, social, and artistic interactions between artists and their diverse supporters­—an integral component of the Renaissance’s vibrant cultural exchange and camaraderie.

With the support of Poets & Writers and the New York State Council on the Arts, the May 28, 2015 affair, “In the Spirit of the Harlem Renaissance… Revisited, 2015,” brought downtown to uptown or more specifically, downstate to upstate. Aaduna contributors Cyd Charisse Fulton, Raymond Nat Turner, Dr. Kevin Jenkins, and Catherine C. Poku, all New York City-based poets and writers, traveled to the Finger Lakes region. They joined Auburn contributors Bobbie Dumas Panek, special guests Howard Nelson and Heidi Nightengale along with Rochester-based spoken word performance artist, poet, novelist and aaduna contributor Tearzs in an evening of readings that exposed an audience of more than eighty people to a wide range of poetic magic and diverse themes. Prior to the evening event, Raymond Nat Turner conducted a poetry workshop at Auburn High School hosted by aaduna, Inc., Harriet Tubman Boosters, and the Booker T. Washington Community Center, and funded by Poets & Writers.

The Thursday evening event (which recognized that “back in that era” Thursdays were the day off for domestics who used the day to socialize and party) was filled with words that articulated stories and explored experiences that extolled James Brown, jazz syncopations through the diaspora, raising chickens, urban reflections, multi-racial upbringing, intimate reflections on life, Sly Stone, and love. Readers delivered their work in two rounds, and welcomed the guests when the doors opened and interacted with them during an extended intermission, a central component of this affair—the ability for the artists and guests to lessen the “divide” that often separates creative people from the public. The intermission was “the party within the party.” With a backdrop of jazz and contemporary tunes, pianist Andy Rudy set the ambiance complemented by a slide show that presented the artists, performances, and multi-racial social scenes generally associated with the Harlem Renaissance.

The event took place at Theater Mack, a sixty-five-seat performance space operating under the auspices of the Cayuga Museum of History and Art. Artists filled open space with colorful artwork that added another layer to the festivities. After two and a half hours, guests and readers left the venue feeling empowered, energized, and eager for 2016.

Photos: Bill Berry, Jr. (top), Catherine C. Poku (middle), Bill Berry, Jr., Raymond Nat Turner, Catherine C. Poku, Tearz, Dr. Kevin Jenkins, Heidi Nightengale, Cyd Charisse Fulton, Bobbie Dumas Panek, Howard Nelson, Lisa A. Brennan (bottom)

Photo Credit: Lisa A. Brennan

Support for Readings & Workshops 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.

This blog features a double interview with international poets Dominic Berry and Barbara Erochina, both recently featured in the 2015 Capturing Fire Queer Spoken Word Summit and Slam. Berry has performed poetry on BBC TV’s Rhyme Rocket and UK Channel 4′s My Daughter the Teenage Nudist. Winner of New York City’s Nuyorican Poetry Cafe Slam and Manchester Literature Festival’s Superheroes of Slam, he is currently touring Britain with the family comedy poetry show When Trolls Try to Eat Your Goldfish. Erochina is a Toronto-based storyteller, facilitator, writer, and performer who examines how untold stories transform our lives and our world. Her experiences as an immigrant queer woman, ex-minister and student of Gestalt psychotherapy focus her work towards feeling, embodiment, identity, and spirituality. She has performed on stages across Canada, and after completing a residency program at the Banff Centre for the Arts, has recently composed her first feature-length show.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Berry: I am a queer, vegan poet from Manchester, U.K. who came to D.C. this summer to perform at a number of poetry readings, including Busboys and Poets, La-Ti-Do, and Regie Cabico's Capturing Fire Queer Spoken Word Summit and Slam. I've been doing this as a self-employed freelancer since 2007 and mostly gig up and down Britain. I've had the occasional mainland Europe booking, but this is only the second time I've been invited to share my stuff in the States (or indeed in any other continent), so I've been hugely excited and happy to have this happen.

 

Erochina: I am most interested in the power of stories to heal. There are so many ways to do this work: Personal anecdotes shared with a public audience, politically charged proclamations made over media channels, or even the private choice to become an active narrator of the stories we tell about our own lives. All of these acts of storytelling are transgressive and healing, and it is this choice for boldness that drives me as an artist and a person. Also, I’m a recreational cat impersonator and a queer lady. That’s important, too.

 

How do you prepare for a reading?
Berry: I prepare for any show by allowing myself to be nervous. I always get nervous, every time, after all these years. Nerves are good! I do not try to deaden them with alcohol. Nerves just mean I want to get it right because it matters to me. Sure, too many nerves can be destructive, but being well prepared and having rehearsed loads keeps nerves to a healthy, helpful level.

Erochina: I adore Dominic’s answer! I am all about welcoming the nervousness and knowing that it is a sign that I care, that I am invested. I also tend to have a fairly intense personality which means in preparation for a big performance, I become hyper-focused and immerse myself in my creative work. Thankfully, I have a wonderful partner who is also a poet, so she understands and supports my process by giving me lots of space and feeding me regular meals. Thanks Tanya!

What are your reading dos?
Berry: Something I personally think is a good thing to do is try to learn your poem. Even if it's not fully in your head and you still need to look at paper or a book, you'll say it so much better for all that practice. Eye contact and experimenting with where you will pause is integral—pauses are everything.

Erochina: My main do is to connect with the audience. In Gestalt psychotherapy which I have studied formally, we call this connection, contact. For me, it is really about opening myself up to my audience, and to all the possibilities of our interaction. I like to ask myself: What is the gift I am offering this audience today?

What’s in the works for you?
Berry: Later this summer I will be performing a full run of my video game poems called Up Your Game: The Downfall of a Noob at Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I have done so for the past two years (with different collections) and it's a fantastic way to spend a month. If you're in Scotland this August, come check me out!

Erochina: Capturing Fire was an amazing and unique opportunity to lead a workshop of my first show, Wrestling God and Girls. The show traces my younger years and tells the story of what happens when evangelical Christianity is met with lesbian sexual awakening. Both hilarity and emotional trauma ensue. I am spending the summer finalizing the rewrites and rehearsing before doing a run of it in the fall in Toronto. The plan is to take it on tour sometime in late winter. I plan to have many dates in the U.S. and hope to bring it back to Washington, D.C. in its final manifestation. Everyone is welcome to check out my Instagram account @barbaraerochina to follow along.

Photo: Dominic Berry. Photo Credit: Ian Wallis Photography

Photo: Barbara Erochina. Photo Credit: Tanya Neumayer

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Washington, D.C. 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.

Poets & Writers' fifth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading took place on June 11, 2015, before a packed house at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Eleven writers representing P&W–supported organizations Alexandria House, Literary Soul Symposium, Los Angeles Poet Society, Red Hen Press, and Wellness Works, Glendale came together to celebrate the diversity of the SoCal literary community and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program. R&W (West) program assistant B Spaethe blogs about this lively annual event.

“As I now watch from the sidelines, and see all of the remarkable women in the military today, I stand here to tell you they deserve a military institution worthy of them. They deserve to be safe.” Cheers erupted as Terre Fallon Lindseth of Wellness Works, Glendale read from her essay, “Be All That You Can Be.” Wellness Works, Glendale is a nonprofit veteran welcome center that aims to facilitate self-healing for veterans and their families and is one of five organizations who shared stories at the event.

Connecting Cultures is a reading series put together by P&W’s Readings & Workshops program in both Los Angeles and New York City in order to showcase a variety of diverse organizations funded by the program. Each year, the blend is unique and this year was no exception.

Alexandria House, a nonprofit transitional residence and house of hospitality for women and children, brought two brilliant readers: Sandy Fredrick, whose story explores the tumultuous world of a girl who gets caught in a drug deal, and Tabia Salimu (QueenMama Tabia) whose story gives a vivacious anthem to the power and allure of the black man. In addition, Director Judy Vaughan spoke about the rise of homelessness in Los Angeles and a need for places like Alexandria House.

GLBT-supporting Literary Soul Symposium unleashed the tenacity of Toni Newman who told her moving story of transitioning from male to female. Newman’s book I Rise: The Transformation of Toni Newman is the first memoir written by a member of the African-American transgender community. Dontá Morrison also read with high emotion about the love of two men falling apart in a hospital room.

Other highlights included the locally-focused Los Angeles Poet Society, introduced by Jessica Wilson Cardenas who brought Alexis Rhone Fancher, her sultry work a highlight of any event. Celeste Gainey read from her book the GAFFER, published by Red Hen Press's imprint Arktoi Books which was established by former Los Angeles poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy. Gainey's energy was infectious as she read about being the first woman gaffer to be admitted to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

Los Angeles Connecting Cultures 2015

A blog post can’t fully capture the power of these voices in one room together or the sound of pens scratching down contact information and cards swapping hands so that there can be further dialogue. At the end of the night, we felt opened up to one another. Jessica Wilson Cardenas said, "I can't wait to work with some of these writers! I've already invited many of them to collaborate with the Los Angeles Poet Society."

See more highlights in these photos and videos from the Los Angeles Connecting Cultures 2015 event.

Photo: (top) Terre Fallon Lindseth. Photo Credit: B Spaethe
Photo: (bottom) 2015 Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Group. Front: (L-R) Jessica Wilson Cardenas, B Spaethe, Jamie FitzGerald, Celeste Gainey, Terre Fallon Lindseth, Leilani Squire, Richard Modiano. Back: (L-R) Juan Cardenas, Dontá Morrison, Toni Newman, Sandy Fredrick, Judy Vaughan,Tabia Salimu, Glenn Schiffman, Ramon Garcia.

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

Adrienne Perry blogs about her P&W-supported writers of color workshop and reading at Writespace in Houston, Texas. Perry earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College and is a PhD student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. She serves as the current Editor of Gulf Coast and is a Kimbilio Fellow. Perry's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tidal Basin Review, Copper Nickel, and Indiana Review. She is at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. 

Adrienne PerrySome of the best advice I’ve heard about writing came from a high school guidance counselor. When seniors grew nervous about writing college essays, she calmed them down by saying their job was simply to: “Tell a story. Tell a story only you can tell. Tell it in your own voice.” In her view, if the college essay met those three criteria, the student had investigated their life and experience enough to say something unique, something that mattered to them and would be more likely to matter to admissions officers combing through hundreds of personal narratives.   

I’ve carried the “tell a story, tell a story only you can tell” advice around for years, even sharing it with my own college counselees, but I had never run it by creative writers. This April, I decided to share it with my writers of color workshop at Writespace in Houston. What happened? It became a mantra seeping into the workshop rhetoric. One of the frustrations I’ve heard from writers of color, in this workshop and elsewhere, is that people so often make unconscious assumptions about the kinds of stories writers of color will tell and the voices those stories will be in.

Telling our own stories in our own voices takes courage and pushes the imaginations of both white and nonwhite readers. Charles Redd shared that our writers of color workshop “created something special in me, [and was] impacted by shared experiences.” Another writer from the workshop, Ima Oduok, wrote in an e-mail: “When I saw Writespace was hosting a workshop for writers of color, I was ecstatic. The literary world is still mostly filled with white men, and that imbalance makes me hold back in other workshops or conferences. There's an unspoken, unsubtle message that literature is not for us. Workshops, such as this one, invite those who would normally be shy about developing.”

On the last day of the workshop, we ended early and held a reading. For a city as racially and ethnically diverse as Houston, this reading and this workshop at Writespace were both, in some ways, a first. And except for one or two of the writers, the reading was a personal first, too. The Writespace studio is small and cozy, so we took the long tables into the hallway and set up tight rows of chairs, wondering who would come to hear us telling stories only we could tell and in our own voices. Turns out, quite a few. By the time the reading started, the room was packed.

The man who made perfectly shaved ice in San Antonio, a waitress who used a Taser on an attacker after a late night shift, a woman unwinding from a night of partying on a balcony in Virginia Beach, the dissolution of a marriage as seen through a favorite TV show—each reading was singular, a reminder that not only should we write the stories only we can tell, but that doing so in a workshop for writers of color can be a powerful part of that process.

Photo: Adrienne Perry. Credit: Lesli Vollrath.

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.

Veronica Santiago Liu is the general coordinator of Word Up Community Bookshop, a collectively managed volunteer-run bookshop and arts space in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Her writing, comics, photography, and silkscreen prints have been published in Broken Pencil, Quick Fiction, We'll Never Have Paris, and other journals and zines.

When Word Up Community Bookshop first opened as a temporary “pop-up” shop in June 2011 in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, the longtime New Yorkers who’d wander into the storefront would take one look at our makeshift space—our donated home furniture only hinting at a retail environment, our scattershot collection of small press books and broadly encompassing events calendar (indeed, the whole ad hoc system created by neighborhood volunteers) —and say, “This feels just like the Lower East Side once did.”

We were frequently compared to a few community art spaces in particular, spaces that made people feel at home while representing a greater artistic community. A Gathering of the Tribes—the longtime gallery/salon and home of Steve Cannon—was one such downtown space. Thus, we were ecstatic to host a crew of esteemed poets from A Gathering of the Tribes on April 25 with support from the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers. Though many have sorely missed Cannon’s magical living room on East Third Street since the eviction by a new owner in 2014, the creative people who gave the place life are still doing their thing all over the city: creating and sharing adventurous, irreverent, intimate poetry and stories.

The presenting poets were excited to reunite; indeed, coorganizer and Washington Heights-based poet Sheila Maldonado marveled that everyone was actually on time for the reading. A mix of uptowners and downtowners representing all the colors of the people of New York City sat in the audience, or peered out from behind bookcases where they shopped, transfixed by the words. Through it all, the evening’s energy was palpable—I mean, really, literally everyone cheered at every welcome and introduction.

The legendary Steve Cannon—who Poonam Srivastava later called a testament of the life of the city—kicked off the night’s tellings, with stories of getting to the event that very evening, and stories about each of the poets present whose work he’d published. Everyone was unsure of when he’d started a poem or had slipped back into a story of now, highly amused all the same.

Reading next was Ron Kolm, poet, bookseller, Unbearables member, and author of Welcome to the Barbecue  (Low-Tech Press, 1990), Rank Cologne (P.O.N. Press, 1991), Divine Comedy (Fly By Night Press, 2013), and Suburban Ambush (Autonomedia, 2014). Sheila Maldonado whose poetry collection one-bedroom solo was published by Fly by Night Press in 2011, read from her book as well as new work.

Poonam Srivastava, whose book is forthcoming this summer from Fly by Night Press, told a not-quite allegory about driving in the city and in the refrain of the evening, asked for just a little more lesbianism, please. After a short intermission, Frank Perez, author of the chapbooks Rhythm of Life and The Short Cut, took the mic, followed by Chavisa Woods, the award-winning author of The Albino Album (Seven Stories Press, 2013) and Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind (Autonomedia, 2012). Mariposa Fernandez, author of Born Bronxeña: Poems on Identity, Love & Survival (Bronxeña Books, 2001), read next and Melanie Maria Goodreaux warmly closed out the evening with a heartfelt reading!

Photos: (top) Steve Cannon. (bottom) Poonam Srivastava. Photo Credit: Veronica Liu

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

Dan Godston teaches and lives in Chicago. His chapbooks include Splice Poems (Argotist Ebooks, 2012) and Sonic Textures Triptych (Linguiscope Books, 2010), and his writings have appeared in RHINO, Chase Park, After Hours, Beard of Bees, Drunken Boat, Horse Less Review, and other publications. Godston also directs the Borderbend Arts Collective.

The Borderbend Arts Collective presents boundary-pushing arts programming by connecting artists with communities to create year-round musical, literary, and multi-arts programs involving new and unique arts practices. A big part of Borderbend’s programming involves community arts and multidisciplinary collaborations—such as the “Armitage Arts: Summer Edition” program that we are presenting during Night Out in the Parks. We are grateful to receive support from Poets & Writers to help present this program at Chicago’s Mozart Park on June 24.

The poets include Elizabeth Marino, Steven Schroeder, Janina Ciezadlo, Charlie Newman and Wayne Allen Jones, and the musicians include Adam Zanolini (flute, saxophone, djembe, electric bass), Angel Elmore (clarinet, piano), Lou Ciccotelli (drums), and Dan Godston (cornet, small instruments). This program is part of an ongoing cultural corridor-building initiative along West Armitage Avenue. Other Armitage Arts programs have included the 2014 Armitage Arts Festival and events at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center and Rosa’s Lounge.

Several years ago Tim Hunt and Allan Johnston performed with Chicago Phonography at the Evanston Art Center, with support from the Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops Program. The audience that evening was treated to sonic combinations of poetry by Hunt and Johnston with CP’s real and imaginary soundscapes, surrounded by the eye-popping CUT paper art installation in the gallery.

Our upcoming program at Mozart Park is another example of Borderbend’s ongoing commitment to fostering multimedia collaborations, and connecting talented local artists with appreciative audiences. I look forward to experiencing the simpatico cross-disciplinary imaginings and juxtapositions that will be sparked during the program. The program is just a few days after the summer solstice, and is a great way to kick off the summer. All are invited to come and join in the fun.

“Armitage Arts: Summer Edition” is presented as part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks with the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Arts programming in neighborhoods across the city advances the goals of the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Cultural Plan.

Photo: (top) Adam Zanolini, Lou Ciccotelli  Photo Credit: Kristen Brown

Photo: (bottom) Janinai Ciezadlo. Photo Credit: Rob Kameczuna.

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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