Archive March 2020

Party Time: Zine Fest Houston

Now that we are being asked to stay at home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and adjusting to this new terrain, most literary events have been canceled or postponed. Knowing this, I thought maybe I shouldn’t be writing about literary festivals and conferences, but I wanted to add a little hope for the future and highlight some great events we can look forward to that take place in Houston. It has also been wonderful to see some events and conferences, like TeenBookCon, adjusting to the current state of things and finding ways to have virtual events via social media platforms. To wrap up this series of posts, I want to tell you all about Zine Fest Houston.

Zine Fest Houston has been around since 1993, first as a small gathering in a local park in Houston where zine creators came together to share their latest issues. Since then, they have grown each year but the annual festival has always been about DIY creations. This is a space for brilliant creators to showcase and share self-published works or small print runs of literary works. Everything presented, shared, and worked on is unique and unconventional and that is the main draw to the festival. According to their website, the event promotes “zines, mini-comics, and other forms of small press, alternative, underground, DIY media and art.” The registration is free and the event is for all ages. There are tables and tables of artists and zines, panels and talks, and even zine-making workshops.

I actually sighed in relief after thinking this would be another festival that had to be canceled and seeing that, as of their announcement on Twitter in early March, the event scheduled for November 7 is still a go! This year’s theme celebrates all things transit-related and the ways transportation has influenced Houston’s culture.

Zine Fest Houston has also just organized a “Cyber Mall: Texas Zinesters & Comic Creators Directory” as a community Google sheet to support those who have lost income and opportunities to sell at festivals and events. Keep up with their news on Twitter, @ZineFestHouston.

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

How the Water Holds Me

It has been about a week since Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a stay-at-home order to all residents as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In these sheltered times, I am reflecting on the moment and finding solace in books of poetry. Although just a few poems in, I am excited to say a few words about How the Water Holds Me by Palestinian American poet and Detroit local Tariq Luthun, which is forthcoming from Bull City Press in April.

In the introductory poems, we learn about Luthun’s background and family with subtle hints about the significance of place. As a reader, I found my curiosity building line by line as I gained snapshots of Tariq’s memories while sharing desires such as:

“I haven’t forgotten that / everyone needs a place on this planet. / And I, / I prefer to live where I can leave / the doors unlocked...”

Midway through this collection, I am beginning to better understand the title of the book as the poems “dive in” (pun intended) to how water plays a role in Luthun’s life and family. His words invite me to consider the distance over water between Detroit and Palestine. Luthun writes:

“Earth, / itself, I realize, is just a body / of waters.”

Luthun’s poems pull readers’ minds in and ask us to consider what displacement, home, ancestry, and identity mean to each of us. I am thinking about how I can connect more with my own family and history. I look forward to my journey through the rest of these poems, and highly recommend reading this collection.

Tariq Luthun, author of How the Water Holds Me (Bull City Press, 2020).
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Poetry Buffet: A Q&A With Gina Ferrara

This week I’m continuing to highlight New Orleans women writers to celebrate Women’s History Month. Gina Ferrara was born and raised in New Orleans and is the author of the poetry collection, The Weight of the Ripened, out this week from Dos Madres Press. Ferrara teaches English and writing at Delgado Community College as an associate professor. Since 2007, she has curated the Poetry Buffet, a monthly reading series sponsored by the New Orleans Public Library, and she gave me my first opportunity to be a featured poet for one of their readings. I was able to sit down with Ferrara to talk about her work with the reading series and her new book.

You have worked at building an inclusive poetry community with the Poetry Buffet series for many years. Why is this so important to you?
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I was in a group called the Women’s Poetry Conspiracy. The group formed in 2002 or 2003. Latter Library was one of our venues for reading events. The group dissolved after Katrina, but the head librarian Missy Abbott saw a need to bring poetry to the library again and invited me to start a new series.

I think of the Poetry Buffet series as something distinctively New Orleans, as we read on St. Charles Avenue, surrounded by canopies of live oaks and crape myrtles, and the streetcar passes on the tracks with its bell while poets share their work in a historic mansion, which is now a library. It’s my honor to curate this series.

Who has Delgado Community College recently invited to their growing reading series?
Our English department has a bevy of writers that drive our reading series. We bring in readers who are able to connect with our students. We recently featured Malaika Favorite, an African American visual artist and poet. Another writer we invited was J. Bruce Fuller, who actually began his academic career as a Delgado student and went on to become a Stegner Fellow.

What inspired your new book, Weight of the Ripened?
Like its title indicates, the poems are dense and distinctive with a lyrical specificity. The poems span from 2013 until early 2019, and although I didn’t set out with the purpose of writing poems about women, in retrospect, quite a few of the poems are investigations about them.

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

Party Time: TeenBookCon

Hey mi gente, I hope everyone is hanging in during this time of worry and self-isolation. Though we may not be able to gather at the moment, I wanted to continue to highlight some of the literary festivals and conferences we can look forward to that take place in Houston. Previously I wrote about Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival, Comicpalooza, and Fade to Black. Today I’m writing about TeenBookCon, a wonderful festival that connects young readers with authors.

TeenBookCon is a volunteer committee of librarians, teachers, and fans of young adult literature who come together and plan a one-day book convention with keynote speakers, author panels, book signings, and activities for teens. This year’s event was scheduled for April 4 in Houston but has now had to cancel due to the public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Although this news is sad, the annual event really is special and the organizers are already planning for 2021.

Their mission is super simple: provide the time and space to get teen readers in touch with their favorite YA authors. There are author signing booths and TeenBookCon partners with local indie bookstore Blue Willow Bookshop, where attendees can purchase books to get signed. There are also local food trucks with plenty of food to keep everybody fully fueled. I think the best part of this convention is the energy behind it. The organizers have always zeroed in on the mission. They have amazing sponsors and don’t even charge for registration. I was sold on it the moment I read that.

And even now, they are still trying to find ways to get signed books into hands and possibly connect authors to readers virtually. They won’t let up. This is that important. This alone makes me want to support their efforts for this year and next year. Look out for updates on their Twitter feed, @TeenBookCon, for virtual event announcements.

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

Dream With a Glass Chamber

Michigan has implemented social distancing for just over a week now, meaning many of us are doing our best to self-isolate. What better to do with this time than blow the dust off of the bookshelf and dive in? For today’s post I’d like to do a quick reflection on a poetry collection by one of my favorite writers, and a past mentor of mine, Aricka Foreman.

Dream With a Glass Chamber is Aricka’s chapbook published by YesYes Books in 2016. Her imagery is prominent and haunting throughout, allowing the reader to grasp dreams, memories, and grief with lines like:

“...find us making promise, find us clutching the static / of a wormhole where we settled into disappointment”

Place and time play a role in these poems moving us from Detroit in the eighties to the month of September in New York and back again, evaluating different losses along the way. Emotional complexities that shift from platonic to romantic flow seamlessly throughout, introducing close and distant characters that carry the collection from beginning to end. One of my favorite lines in the entire book is:

“Numb, I’ve run out of wicks and / your songs pour thick in my ears, love.”

It seems as if every word written is a part of Aricka’s many nuanced ways of grieving while her reality acts as the glass chamber, where both she and the reader watch these concepts unfold. I think this is best captured in her poem “dream in which you survive and in the morning things are back to normal,” a very fitting title for a poem that questions reality after waking from a dream. Throughout the entire collection, we are reminded to continue evaluating the fine line between dream and reality, and how grief exists on each side of that line.

Aricka Foreman, author of Dream With a Glass Chamber.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

What’s Changing in New Orleans

As I type these words the case count of residents in Louisiana who have tested positive for coronavirus is 196. The total number of cases in Orleans Parish in New Orleans is 136.

On Sunday, New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell announced that the city enforced a ban on large gatherings and the Tennessee Williams Festival, the New Orleans Book Festival, and the New Orleans Poetry Festival have been canceled.

I will do my best to share resources and ways to support local authors and bookstores through my Twitter feed, @NOLApworg.

The coronavirus will be a blow to our city in many ways. New Orleans is a city that heavily depends on tourism. We are a port city and a large event destination city. We are the city of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. Many local writers have had readings canceled or postponed. Local bookstores are impacted, too. While I’m sure this narrative is nationwide, the uncertainty and rising deaths in our state underscore the trauma experienced from a lack of federal response during Hurricane Katrina fifteen years ago.

In some ways we are prepared and know how to hunker down. We know how to find small moments of joy. So to everyone near and far, I say to you, we will get through this because one of the things New Orleans has taught the world is how to survive.

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

Party Time: Fade to Black

As I mentioned last week, many of us were not able to attend the AWP conference earlier this month, but it did create some special moments, not only in San Antonio but in other cities and online. Although we are in a time when many events are being canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to continue to highlight some great literary festivals and conferences we can look forward to that take place in Houston. So far, I have already covered Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival and Comicpalooza, and today I want to feature Fade to Black.

Fade to Black is Houston’s first national play festival to showcase the new works of African American playwrights. It’s a brilliant lineup of national, regional, and local playwrights displaying their craft. The summer festival is jam-pack with play readings and performances read and produced by African American writers and actors, many of which are from here in Houston.

This past year’s festival celebrated their seventh season and was held last June at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH). Festival goers come in from all over the state of Texas and the country. The plays of ten finalists from a national competition are produced and performed, and there are writing workshops and playwright panels that are all part of the three-day festival. If you are a writer thinking about how to step out from behind the desk or want to engage in something performative, then this is just the ticket. In addition, the organizers have added in a Fade to Black reading series with live readings of even more plays. There is so much inspiration from this playwriting community!

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

How Detroit Is Coping

Michigan saw its first coronavirus (COVID-19) case early last week. In an effort to be preventative, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency last Tuesday. Organizations across Detroit have closed offices and asked team members to work from home. Detroit Public Schools Community District and surrounding districts have been ordered to close their buildings to students through April 6. Whitmer also ordered an official ban that prohibits gatherings of over 250 people, and recommended gatherings of over 100 people to be canceled or postponed, and reminded the public to wash hands frequently, stay home if sick, and to check in on family and friends.

I find it important to look at each of the ways we are responding to best understand the enormous circumstance that has been placed upon those who don’t have the resources to simply stay home and be safe. Students being out of school doesn’t mean that their parents have the same luxury of staying home, and lack of food security could put many families in crisis. Several literary events have been cancelled thus drying up the main source of income for many full-time artists. These are just a few ways that the coronavirus outbreak puts people at risk beyond just exposure to illness, and it will get worse before it gets better.

With that said, resources are popping up left and right within the community to help get us through the next few weeks. For parents looking to make sure their young ones are able to keep up academically, a Google Doc has been created that lists free educational resources. In addition, Kekere Emergency Childcare Collective is forming mutual aid childcare for families with an online sign-up sheet for those who can help with childcare, transportation, supplies, and food. I am keeping an eye out for resources for artists who are losing funds due to canceled readings or their own canceled event series. Many writers are taking to Twitter for ways to support working artists by buying books, merch, or making other financial contributions. Keep up with my findings on Twitter, @Detroitpworg, and stay safe! 

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

 

Ten Women to Follow

It’s Women’s History Month and I wanted to take a moment to shout-out ten women writers living in New Orleans that you should know about and can follow on Twitter. These are just a few of many amazing women who live in this thriving literary city doing phenomenal work.

Bernice L. McFadden
@queenazsa
McFadden is the author of the novel The Book of Harlan (Akashic Books, 2016), winner of the 2017 American Book Award. Her latest novel, Praise Song for the Butterflies (Akashic Books, 2018), was longlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Cate Root
@cateroot
Root is a poet who helps run a monthly literary salon called Dogfish, which invites the public to a free poetry reading set in a living room. She also has a very active Twitter feed and you can subscribe to her love letters.

Andy Young
@andimuse
Young is a poet and teaches in the creative writing department at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy
@redbeansista

Dr. Saloy is a scholar, author, and active member of the Louisiana Folklore Society. Her latest book, Second Line Home: New Orleans Poems (Truman State University Press, 2014), is a collection of poems that celebrates the language and people of New Orleans.

Stephanie Grace
@stephgracela
Grace is a political columnist for the New Orleans Advocate, our local newspaper.

Fatima Shaik
@FShaik1
Shaik is a native of New Orleans and the author of adult and children’s books, including What Went Missing and What Got Found (Xavier Review Press, 2015), a short story collection depicting life before and after Hurricane Katrina.

Megan Burns
@bloodjetpoetry
Burns is a poet, publisher of Trembling Pillow Press, and cofounder of the New Orleans Poetry Festival.

M. M. Kaufman
@mm_kaufman
Kaufman is a writer and alumni of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans, and the publicist for the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival.

Kristina Kay Robinson
@_Kristina_Kay
Robinson is a writer and New Orleans editor at large at Burnaway, a nonprofit magazine about contemporary art from Atlanta and the American South.

Jami Attenberg
@jamiattenberg
Attenberg is the author of seven books of fiction including her latest novel, All This Could Be Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). You can read more about her writing process in her installment of Poets & Writers’ Ten Questions.

What women writers influence your work? Tell us by using #WomenWritersTaughtMe and tagging @nolapworg on Twitter.

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

Reflections on #AWP20

Although Poets & Writers was not able to attend the AWP conference in San Antonio last week and the literary outreach coordinators could not have our panel discussion, it was good to see Instagram photos, tweets, and videos online of many writers I admire enjoying the conference. Thanks to those Houston writers, poets, playwrights, and publishers that made their way after the AWP Board of Directors announced that the conference would continue despite concern about the coronavirus. I was happy to see Houston gente representing at AWP—shout-out to Bloomsday Literary, Defunkt Magazine, Glass Mountain, and Writespace, as well as writers Daniel Peña, Reyes Ramirez, and Icess Fernandez Rojas!

From all the posts and messages I came across, I know three things:

1. AWP 2020 was all about engagement. There might have been fewer people and fewer panels, but all the readings and events were packed.

2. This was the birth of the #AWPVirtualBookFair—publishing houses and literary magazines that were not able to attend AWP engaged online through a community Google Doc and on Twitter and it paid off. Folks supported writers and works from publishers big and small.

3. Texas-based writers came out in full force, especially Latinx writers. I saw posts from every corner of the state in ways I hadn’t seen before at any other AWP conference. And it was glorious.

I hope this momentum continues next year for #AWP21 in Kansas City, Missouri!

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

A Tiny Book Fair for the People

This past Friday’s event “A Very Last-Second Poetry Reading” turned out to be a huge success packing the Room Project with eager listeners, book buyers, and writers. Although it was planned in just a few short hours in response to the many canceled events due to health concerns at the AWP conference in San Antonio, things were flawless. It was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with Detroit writers like Nandi Comer and Tommye Blount, as well as out-of-town favs like Rachel McKibbens. We opened the night with an opportunity to mingle and view the “tiny book fair,” which was facilitated by Tariq Luthun and included books by some of the readers, then shifted into readings of poetry and fiction.

This reading was a strong representation of what I was hoping to experience at AWP last week. I saw new and old faces—all of whom were glad to see mine. We shared space, books, and words in a safe environment. I left feeling recharged and acquired a couple new reads. Detroit’s literary community absolutely grew stronger through this event, and its success opens a new world of ways that conferences with a national draw can become active in individual communities. It also broadens the definition of community in each of our very small portions of the country by introducing AWP, books, and writers to audiences who are not engaged on the national level, or have not had the resources or opportunities to attend the AWP conference.

I am impressed with everyone who put energy into this—from the organizers to those who simply showed up to support. None of us could have seen this health crisis coming, but I know that everyone who was at Room Project on Friday will remember at least one good thing about last week.

A Very Last-Second Poetry Reading at Room Project in Detroit. (Credit: Tariq Luthun)
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

To AWP or Not?

I was looking forward to meeting up with the literary outreach coordinators, Justin Rogers from Detroit and Lupe Mendez from Houston, and staff members from Poets & Writers at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in San Antonio, Texas this week, but safety first. Due to the concern about the coronavirus in San Antonio, we decided not to attend and sadly had to cancel the wonderful panel planned on Saturday to discuss our respective literary communities in New Orleans, Detroit, and Houston.

Nevertheless, people in New Orleans are taking all the news in stride. Some local writers who were planning to attend the AWP conference stayed in New Orleans, others went ahead to San Antonio.

The good thing is, we still have lots of great literary events to look forward to in New Orleans:

The New Orleans Book Festival at Tulane University is March 19­–21.

The Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival is March 25–29.

The New Orleans Poetry Festival will be in April during National Poetry Month.

Join us in New Orleans!

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