Archive October 2019

Books About New Orleans

Every place has writers that reflect its culture. Literary place-making, I call it. If you want to know more about a place, you need to hear its stories. There are so many books to choose from, but here are just a few that celebrate New Orleans culture by writers who live, breathe, and love this city.

From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets (Runagate Press, 1998) edited by Kalamu ya Salaam. This anthology captures the diverse voices of New Orleans, celebrating the multi-ethnic tapestry of the city. Established and emerging writers of all ages are included in this extensive collection of poetry.

Monday Nights: Stories From the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans (University of New Orleans Press, 2016) edited by Fredrick Barton and Joanna Leake. The University of New Orleans MFA program in creative writing has produced some fantastic writers. The writers in this anthology took part in a Monday night workshop that has lasted over twenty-five years, where they met to share and discuss their work. Included are stories by graduates of the program, such as Rebecca Antoine, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and Che Yeun, as well as faculty members, such as Fredrick Barton, Amanda Boyden, and M. O. Walsh.

N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature (Lavender Ink, 2013) edited by Nancy Dixon. This book highlights the literature of New Orleans over the past two hundred years including prominent writers like Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams, but also historic writers like the poets of Les Cenelles, French Creoles of color who published the first anthology of African American literature in 1845. The book was made possible by grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans (LSU Press, 2013) by Susan Larson. For years, Susan Larson was the book editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and now hosts WWNO’s public radio program The Reading Life. Susan shares her wealth of knowledge for local bookstores, historic landmarks, current literary festivals, and more.

Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2011) by Freddi Williams Evans. This book explores the history of the Sunday gatherings of enslaved Africans at Congo Square beginning in the eighteenth century. Included are stories and descriptions of the songs, dances, and musical instruments of these gatherings. Congo Square is often considered the birth place of American music and continues to be a prominent venue for music festivals and community gatherings.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Ink Well: The Podcast

This week I want to introduce you to Ink Well, a Houston-based podcast that I cohost which interviews established and emerging writers from across the United States. Presented by Tintero Projects and Inprint, the two organizations collaborate to make suggestions for writers to interview, Inprint provides the recording space and the producer, Tintero Projects founders Jasminne and yours truly cohost and interview guests, and ta-da, you get a podcast series, which is currently in its third year.

With the series, we hope to find ways to showcase international, national, and regional voices talking about the writing landscape. We especially want to feature writers of color and Southern voices from the Gulf Coast to offer them an opportunity to share their work and thoughts on writing.

Our inaugural episode welcomed poet Analicia Sotelo, whose debut poetry collection, Virgin, was selected by Ross Gay as the first winner of the Jake Adam York Prize. Since then guests have included Ching-In Chen, Rigoberto González, Daniel Peña, Samanta Schweblin, and Carmen Giménez Smith.

If you’re looking for something to occupy you on a long commute and want to hear brilliant voices talking about all things literary, give Ink Well a listen. I hope you’ll be introduced to some new inspiring voices.

Ink Well podcast cohosts Jasminne and Lupe Mendez.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Path of a Detroit Poet

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Jassmine Parks, a native Detroit writer and slam poetry champion who found a home in the city’s creative community and has since gone on to perform her work nationally. Her introduction to the literary world came from a beloved venue, Artist Village Detroit.

“My altar call to the lit scene in Detroit occurred at an open mic at Artist Village,” says Jassmine. “At the time I was writing poetry just to heal from generations of trauma and my therapist suggested that I attend and possibly perform at an open mic.”

Artist Village is also the venue where I attended my first writing workshop and fell in love with poetry. My writing was heavily influenced by the poets, musicians, and painters that I met there.

Jassmine spent two years as a member of the Detroit Poetry Slam Team and is now working with youth poets as a mentor for InsideOut’s Citywide Poets program. “I feel rejuvenated and inspired when creating new work,” she says. “The students I teach are resilient and have so much to say.”

Lastly, we spoke about what might be missing from Detroit’s literary world. “I would like to see a literary council in the city, something like a Justice League, a combination of multi-disciplined writers across generations and experiences that comes together to bridge the gap between opportunities and writers,” says Jassmine. “A hub to unify and mobilize the writers within the city of Detroit.”

As Poets & Writers’ first literary outreach coordinator in Detroit, I feel that we are beginning to address these needs. I, along with Lupe Mendez and Kelly Harris, the coordinators in Houston and New Orleans, are spreading the word about the resources P&W has to offer writers, and the Readings & Workshops minigrants that are available. These efforts are all a way to bring writers a bit closer to each other and I am excited to be a part of this new initiative.

Jassmine Parks (Credit: Lebrun Jackson).
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Indie Bookstores in New Orleans

Who says bookstores are losing popularity? In New Orleans, independent bookstores continue to thrive, bringing in local and national writers for literary events and avid readers. Here are some of my favorite places to buy local.

The Community Book Center is, currently, the only Black-owned bookstore in New Orleans. Mama Jen and Mama Vera are the beloved owners. Known as the social hub of the Seventh Ward, be prepared to debate about the latest local and national issues while perusing and buying books. They keep it real here.

Blue Cypress Books is located on happening Oak Street. I always enjoy their window displays because I discover books I previously didn’t know existed. They buy, sell, and trade quality secondhand books, offer a large selection of children’s books, and host monthly book club meetings. It is definitely worth a stop inside.

Octavia Books is located uptown on Octavia Street. If you’re going for an author reading, get there early for a seat. For sure their calendar of events will have a writer you want to hear read. Octavia Books also cosponsors The Reading Life, a locally-produced literary radio show with host Susan Larson on WWNO Public Radio.

The Garden District Book Shop is located around the corner from the famous Commander’s Palace restaurant. Purchase a book and hang out in the beautiful atrium area of the historic “Rink” in the beautiful Garden District, or catch a reading with an author in the shop.

A recent author event at Octavia Books.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Poetry Fest in Houston

Good day mi gente. October has been a busy month for Houston writers. I wanted to take a moment to give a shout-out to the Houston Poetry Fest. The thirty-fourth annual event was held at the University of Houston–Downtown campus over three days, from October 11–13, with readings, panel discussions, and lectures. Featured guest poets included Gayle Bell, Sharon Klander, Alex Lemon, Kevin Prufer, and Michael D. Snediker, who read from their work. Joining them at the readings were “juried poets,” who are selected by judges through a submission process.

In addition to the main event, satellite readings were also held before and after the festival dates in the city, offering writers and attendees more opportunities to participate in the literary festivities. The satellite readings included a “Salute to LGBTQ+ Poets,” a Sylvia Plath tribute, bilingual events, and a youth poetry slam. Although I wasn’t able to attend this year, it is great to see the Houston Poetry Fest expanding and still going strong.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Art, Coffee, and Poetry

All Metro Detroit writers looking for a quiet space to write should be aware of Trinosophes. This spacious gallery and café is conveniently located just outside of the clatter of Downtown Detroit, and has been a haven for me, my friends, and a number of my mentors to write. Tuesday through Saturday the café offers a variety of vegan and gluten-free brunch options and good coffee. The art space has a gallery and an elevated stage equipped with a piano and more than enough space for a small band (or some poets eager to read their work!). Speaking of music, next door there is a record store for those interested in musical nostalgia. And across the street is the historic Eastern Market, which offers immediate access to local vendors, coffee shops, and more.

When it comes to literary events, Trinosophes is home to the Urban Echo Poetry Slam series and the Detroit Youth Poetry Slam series, and hosts book release parties (Franny Choi celebrated the release of her poetry collection Soft Science last April) and readings. On October 12 and 13, Trinosophes hosted the Detroit Art Book Fair, bringing together dozens of independent publishers, artists, writers, and collectors who presented their books, zines, and prints to the public. Whether you’re looking for a place to write, listen to poetry or live music, or get inspired by artwork, Trinosophes is a great place to visit.

The Detroit Art Book Fair at Trinosophes.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Louisiana’s New Poet Laureate

Louisiana has a new poet laureate! John Warner Smith will take on the duties for the next two years, appointed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and governor John Bel Edwards. Smith received an MFA in creative writing at the University of New Orleans, and he and I are both Cave Canem Fellows. Smith has published four collections of poetry and his fifth collection, Our Shut Eyes, is forthcoming this year from MadHat Press. I was happy to reconnect with him and congratulate him on his new appointment.

As a poet who grew up in Louisiana, Smith feels that his writing is grounded in history and personal experience. “I was one of five Black students who integrated my junior high school. I had early work experiences with racism,” says Smith. “As a native son of Louisiana and a product of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, I find inspiration in the struggles of my grandparents and parents.”

For his tenure as the state’s first African American male poet laureate, Smith hopes to do readings and writing workshops in different regions of the state over the next two years. “I especially want to reach youth in the poorer parts of the state,” says Smith. “I want to be very visible and accessible.”

As for advice for writers, Smith says, “Follow the passion. Nurture it. Read and study the works of writers. Attend workshops. Share work with a community of writers.”

Read more about John Warner Smith in his Poets & Writers Directory profile.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Writers for Families Together

This past September, the Writers for Migrant Justice campaign readings focused on raising funds for detained and formerly detained migrants on a national level. Here in Houston, we want to continue this effort on a local level. On October 3 the Houston Writers Coalition organized a second reading, Writers for Families Together. The goal was to raise money for two local organizations—Familias Immigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha (FIEL) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)—which both aid immigrant families facing human rights violations at the Texas–Mexico border.

There were over seventy people in attendance at the reading, which was held at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Museum District. It was a blessed evening as we got to hear from over thirty writers—including poet and teacher Natasha Carrizosa, translator and former Houston poet laureate Robin Davidson, slam poet Loyce Gayo, novelist Daniel Peña, and myself—reading in English and Spanish. It was a truly beautiful night and we hope to continue efforts to support and aid immigrant families in our community.

The flyer for the Writers for Families Together Houston reading.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

NOLA: A Literary Festival Destination

Whether you’re a local writer or visitor to the city of New Orleans, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find more than beads and bands in our city. There are plenty of literary festivals where you can hear amazing writers read from their work, get resources, and build your tribe. Here are a few worth checking out:

Take the hour drive from New Orleans to Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Book Festival. Held at the State Library of Louisiana, the annual festival hosts national and local writers from the state and of course, the South. Attendees can browse the massive bookstore, meet with representatives from literary journals, get books signed, and listen to live music. This year marks the sixteenth year of the festival, which will take place on Saturday, November 2 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Pro tip: purchase a ticket to attend the mix and mingle event the night before.

This year’s theme for the Words and Music festival is “Mapping Change,” and aims at exploring how the arts can serve as vehicles for social justice. The four-day event will take place at the Ace Hotel from November 21–24 and includes keynote presentations by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Shapiro, and a conversation between authors DaMaris Hill and Maurice Carlos Ruffin. Proceeds from the festival benefit One Book One New Orleans, a nonprofit organization dedicated to adult literacy in the Greater New Orleans area.

The thirty-third annual Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival in 2020 will be from March 25–29. The five-day event includes writing workshops by acclaimed writers, panel discussions, a book fair, a Tennessee Williams tribute reading, live music, and of course, the hilarious Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest.

The 2020 New Orleans Poetry Festival and Small Press Fair will be held at the New Orleans Healing Center from April 16–19 and is currently accepting proposals for events through their website.

Attendees at the Louisiana Book Festival.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Readings in Town

Recently I had the chance to attend a couple of readings that blew me away. There is a new Spanish-language reading series presented by Inprint and Tintero Projects called Escritores en la casa. The September event featured Rose Mary Salum, founder and editor of the bilingual magazine Literal, Latin American Voices. The Inprint house was packed and the audience asked thoughtful questions during the discussion that followed the reading.

I was also able to attend a P&W–supported event with poet Ilya Kaminsky reading from his newest collection, Deaf Republic. Sponsored by the University of Houston’s creative writing program, the monthly Gulf Coast reading series invites students from the program to read with a featured visiting writer. Kaminsky held the audience’s attention with a haunting selection of his book, a lyric narrative-in-poems set in a time of war. The event took place at the beautiful Lawndale Art Center, which hosts art shows and is a spectacular space for readings. It was one of the most unique readings I have ever attended.

Hear Kaminsky read from Deaf Republic in Episode 24 of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

Ilya Kaminsky reads at the Gulf Coast reading series in Houston.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Detroit State of Mind

This week I took a moment to speak with Rose Gorman, the inaugural Tuxedo Project resident fellow, about the literary landscape of Detroit compared to her experience in New York, where she received her MA in creative writing at Binghamton University. Gorman has lived in Detroit for two years and quickly become an active organizer of book clubs and fundraising events, and is a coordinator for the Michigan Louder Than a Bomb festival.

Gorman has a ton of experience with event programming and, as the former program manager of the New York Writers Coalition, received funding for the Fort Greene Summer Literary Festival through the Reading & Workshops program. When asked about the differences between the literary events and resources in Detroit versus New York, she found it difficult to put into words. “New York is a larger place, and coming from there, Detroit has a small-town feel,” says Gorman. “It can be easier to collaborate with different kinds of artists here, while in New York everyone is already engrossed in so much of the culture that it’s harder to find time to collaborate. Everyone is hustling.”

I identified with Gorman’s experiences with Detroit feeling like a small city. There is an unspoken effort to connect to a larger group of like-minded creatives here. The beauty of Detroit is in the richness of our creative community. We welcome new writers to the city and it’s important that we continue to share experiences, resources, and knowledge with each other.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

From the Big Easy

I’m Kelly Harris and I’ll be reporting from the Big Easy: New Orleans, Louisiana. I am a poet—see my Poets & Writers Directory profile for more on that—and I work as a freelancer and consultant for many projects around town, including the Words & Music festival. The annual event, upcoming in November, celebrates the literature, music, films, and history of New Orleans and is definitely worth checking out, whether you’re a local or a visitor. If you haven’t already, check out the Literary Events Calendar where you can peruse local events and list more for free. And if you’re on the go, download the Poets & Writers Local app.

As the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans, I have the pleasure of engaging with the local literary community and informing them about the resources and funding opportunities that P&W offers. Several local writers have already been funded by the minigrants from the Readings & Workshops program and I look forward to spreading the word to more writers in Orleans Parish and beyond. Writers at all levels who give readings or conduct writing workshops can submit an application and find out more about the program.

New Orleans is typically known for its food and music, but there is a thriving literary arts scene worth exploring. I’m excited to highlight the many writers and events that make writing in New Orleans magical.

Kelly Harris.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.