Archive May 2020

Writer’s Notes From COVID NOLA: Tad Bartlett

Tad Bartlett is a fiction writer, essayist, and recovering poet. He was born in Ankara, Turkey; raised in Selma, Alabama; and married into New Orleans, Louisiana. Bartlett received his BA in theater and creative writing from Spring Hill College and a law degree from Tulane University. He earned his MFA in fiction from the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans, where he was a reader for Bayou Magazine. Bartlett lives in New Orleans, where he practices law and works on various writing projects, including a collaborative novel with fellow Peauxdunquian J.Ed. Marston, a new novel project, and various short stories and essays. He also serves as the managing editor of Peauxdunque Review.

How has this pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
Personally, the pandemic has been, of course, anxiety inducing. It has had potentially devastating financial effect on me and, more guttingly and assuredly, the communities around me here in New Orleans. Friends and colleagues have experienced sickness and death in their families. I have lost a good friend, not directly to the pandemic, but to depression and substance abuse issues that were undoubtedly exacerbated by the pandemic. I am helpless as to so much of that. My family is scattered from Montgomery to Austin, but even my close friends here in New Orleans I have only been able to see through the magic of technology. I want nothing more than to give them long hugs, to share a drink with them, and I know I’m far from alone in that.

Professionally, as a writer and member of writing communities, the pandemic has been oddly galvanizing. We “meet” (through that technological magic) far more often than we did in pre-pandemic times, and with far more deliberativeness. I have more time to write, which still isn’t as much time as I would want, but my writing feels more clearheaded and focused, and in certain ways, more driven and less obligatory. And the journal for which I’m managing editor, Peauxdunque Review, has provided a great opportunity to engage more with other writers and hopefully bring some positivity to them.

What books are you reading while quarantined?
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata, A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash, The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah, Pride of Eden by Taylor Brown, Exile Music by Jennifer Steil, and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon.

If you knew five months ago what you know now, how would you have prepared for this moment?
I don’t know what I would have done differently to better prepare myself for this moment. For example, if I knew even two and a half months ago what I know now, I probably would not have gone to the AWP conference in San Antonio at the beginning of March. As it is, for both personal and professional reasons, I am so glad that I did go, that I had those days of very carefully navigated closeness with old friends and new friends to talk about words and writing and community, even knowing in the back of our heads that this might end up being the last time in a long time for that to happen. There was a sad deliciousness to it that I am glad I experienced.

Have you attended or participated in any virtual readings? Is it here to stay or do you prefer to return to in-person readings?
I have participated in a few virtual readings. They have been invaluable in keeping the various writing communities, of which I am part, together and vital. Though, nothing beats the in-person reading. In my deepest wishes (fantasies?), we can all return to those evenings in a bar or a bookstore or a generous reading space, where we hug and dap and laugh over a cheap cheese plate and crackers and cheaper wine, and then all quiet down in joyful anticipation for the evening’s readers.

I do not fool myself, though. The world will be different coming out of this. I think we will have in-person readings again. But we may be masked. We will certainly be less physically intimate in our greetings and interactions. We will feel sadness in greater portions along with the joy.

What’s your hope for New Orleans during and after this pandemic?
My greatest hope for New Orleans during the pandemic has already been realized—that it will be New Orleans’s writers and artists who will do the good work of expressing our experience with the pandemic to the world. My greatest hope is that our writing and artistic communities will move forward with full respect for how we’ve changed, for how we are still a unique place in America and in the world, and for how we are all tied together.

Tad Bartlett. (Credit: Tad Bartlett)
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Lit in the Age of COVID: Writers in the Schools

This month I’ve been covering the way Houston has been rising to the occasion to support the literary scene during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, I have written about the University of Houston’s CoogSlam, gave some love to Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery, and today I want to focus on what’s going on for youth at Writers in the Schools (WITS).

In a previous post I briefly mentioned what WITS is doing for K–5 grade students, but I wanted to hammer down exactly what this looks like. WITS is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing K–12 grade students an opportunity to work with established writers with the goal of creating their own published works in fiction or poetry. This is done through in-class workshops and writing time with mentors. Up until the pandemic, WITS was leading the way with creative writing workshops led by published writers in over seventy schools across the Houston area. With schools shut down and no announcements as to when students will be back on campus, WITS quickly readjusted how they work and shifted to creating content with virtual learning in mind.

Now kids in Houston, and anywhere in the world online, have access to Quick WITS, fifteen-minute mini-writing sessions recorded and hosted by a variety of Houston-based poets, writers, and filmmakers. The videos offer a lesson and questions for reflection, along with a writing prompt or activity. The mini-workshop videos are free and are just the right amount of time to get kids writing creatively. There are also Spanish-language lessons, and this is major here in Houston where over 55 percent of students in the area come from Spanish-speaking homes.

If you have a student in your house, come let them explore what Writers in the Schools has to offer. Students can also share their writing with WITS via e-mail or on social media using #QuickWITS.

A Spanish-language lesson from the Quick WITS series.
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Let’s Talk: Funding for Detroit Literary Events

As May comes to a close and the temperature continues to rise leading into a long-awaited summer, in Michigan we are waiting to hear if stay-at-home orders will be extended beyond this month. Despite our limitations, literary events continue online and I am happy to announce that this Friday, May 29, we will be holding a panel to discuss funding opportunities from the Readings & Workshops program to help support these events.

I am excited to moderate this panel which will include Readings & Workshops program associate Ricardo Hernandez, and two guest authors, Aubri Adkins and Deonte Osayande, who will be speaking about their experiences securing funds for literary events in Detroit through the Readings & Workshops program.

Adkins is a writer and the founder of the East Side Reading Series, a Detroit literary series featuring original work from writers of all genres. I am interested to hear about her motivations behind establishing the series, and how these readings have made an impact on the literary community of the city.

Osayande is a widely published writer from Detroit, a poet recognized in many slam communities, and currently a professor of English at Wayne County Community College District. I look forward to speaking with him as he offers a variety of perspectives on intersecting literary communities.

I am looking forward to this conversation! I am expecting it to be rich with information not only about Readings & Workshops mini-grants but also about how the Detroit literary community is doing and how we can further connect with other communities.

The panel will be on Friday, May 29 at 5:00 PM EDT. Registration is required and space is limited, so register here. The meeting will also be recorded and made available to the public if you’re not able to make it, but I do hope to see you there!

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

Writer’s Notes From COVID NOLA: Carolyn Hembree

Today I’m continuing my series of interviews during the quarantine with poet Carolyn Hembree. Hembree’s debut poetry collection, Skinny, was published by Kore Press in 2012. In 2016, Trio House Books published her second collection, Rigging a Chevy Into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague, winner of the 2015 Trio Award and the 2015 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. Hembree’s work has appeared in Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, Poetry Daily, West Branch, and other publications. She received a 2016-2017 ATLAS grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents and has also received grants and fellowships from PEN America, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and the Southern Arts Federation. Hembree is an associate professor at the University of New Orleans and serves as poetry editor of Bayou Magazine.

How has this pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
I’m a tenured associate professor, so while migrating brick-and-mortar classes online has been kind of awful, I have a job and health insurance, whereas many of my friends and students rely on our gig economy. An introvert who feels exhausted rather than invigorated by social events, I’m good nesting with my family. My mother is in a retirement facility, and a close friend has Stage 4 cancer: I worry about them.

What books are you reading while quarantined?
With the semester going, I primarily read MFA theses and workshop poems, as well as undergraduate writing in all genres. I’ve been reading Toi Derricotte and Kalamu ya Salaam in preparation for their upcoming visits to our MFA program. I’ve been rereading the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales to think about plagues of the past, what it means to tell (or post) our stories, and what a pilgrimage would look like now. I’m also settling into the newest issue of one of my favorite literary magazines, West Branch.

If you knew five months ago what you know now, how would you have prepared for this moment?
Gone to see my mother before they closed the home to guests.

Have you attended or participated in any virtual readings? Do you think they’re here to stay or do you prefer to return to in-person readings?
Yes, I have attended and participated in virtual readings, thesis defenses, faculty meetings, and workshops. Full disclosure: I’m a Luddite with a flip phone, so virtual anything makes my list of “hateful things,” à la Sei Shōnagon’s list in The Pillow Book. As a vain person and a control freak, I like a filter that peels off ten years, a control panel to diminish or enlarge others, and an “End Meeting” button. I like that I can wear makeup, a fancy blouse, and PJ bottoms. I like being able to mute myself and black out my screen, so no one can see that I walked off during a meeting. In sum, I think it encourages me to be phony—yes, more comfortable, but comfortable comes at a price. It’s too curated. Andy Warhol said, “I want to be a machine.” Me too, but then what: How do we machine together? Will we go back to in-person readings? I think so. People need each other. Will in-person gatherings be “zoomed” or what have you? Sure. Now that we have a taste, folks will want that synchronous, “participatory” experience you don’t get from a recording.

What’s your hope for New Orleans during and after this pandemic?
My hope for New Orleans is the same as before the pandemic: equal access to education for all kids. As a teaching artist in grammar, middle, and high schools and the mother of a ten-year-old, I’ve noticed that funding, class sizes, and quality of education vary significantly from school to school. In general, I see white kids getting better stuff. I believe that doing away with admissions tests and lotteries, and opening enrollment to all students would advance our community.

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

Lit in the Age of COVID: Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery

Last week I started off a series of posts featuring some of the ways the Houston literary world has been rising to the occasion with innovation and community in mind during the pandemic. I covered University of Houston’s CoogSlam, and this week I want to give some love to Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery.

I’ve mentioned Casa Ramirez before which makes them being on this list maybe a little overindulgent but if you are like me, you celebrate your elders when they keep things fresh. Casa Ramirez is doing just that. For the most part, Casa Ramirez is like any staple small business here in Houston, but what makes this space unique is that the couple in charge, Macario Ramirez and Chrissie Dickerson Ramirez, are good luck charms for every Latino in the city.

If you are an artist or writer, fan or hobbyist, Casa Ramirez is like a shrine. If you have a literary event there, having your book in their shop makes it destined for success. I have seen it with my own two eyes. It might be a “folk art” gallery, but don’t let the Ramirezes fool you—they are book lovers and carry an extensive bookstore inside the shop with all the texts to build up an ethnic studies library in Latinx lit.

That said, the stay-at-home orders in Houston have been devastating to businesses and now that Texas has chosen to slowly open up this month, so has Casa Ramirez—but with new safety measures. The shop has created a “retail-to-go” shopping experience: Patrons get to peruse all the art and books with a “curator” by their side to answer questions and make recommendations. Only one person, one couple, or one family is allowed in the shop at a time and you must wear a mask (employees also wear masks). You have access to the whole bookstore and gallery area for thirty to forty minutes, buy what you want and then, boom, you are out the door. The shop has limited hours from noon to 4:00 PM every day.

From what I have heard, they’ve had a line a block long every day. Leave it to Casa Ramirez to lead the way. Check out their Facebook page and their Instagram, @casaramirezfolkartgallery, to see what they have going on.

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

Slam at Home With End Prejudice

On May 9, I had the pleasure of joining End Prejudice, a diverse Metro Detroit collective united by a common dream of a future without prejudice, as the featured poet for their virtual series Slam at Home. This series is hosted by LaShaun Phoenix Moore and features one poet and one musical artist each week.

Prior to Michigan’s stay-at-home order, End Prejudice put on several events such as the Storytellers Slam that took place this past winter. Phoenix told me a bit about how End Prejudice had to shift gears for their 2020 programming due to the pandemic: “Once the pandemic hit, we had a team call in late March to determine what we should do, now that much of our programming would be suspended. H. (the founder) decided that we should follow suit with a lot of other folks in the country and do Instagram Live events.” The group has been hosting virtual events for nearly two months and do their best to get their featured artists paid by offering donations directly to the artists. They’ve supported fourteen Detroit artists so far.

You can follow @endprejudice on Instagram and tune in to their Slam at Home live events at 8:00 PM on Saturdays. End Prejudice also provides more information on their blog about what they do. This collective has a clear, dedicated focus to not only address prejudice, but also support local artists and their community.

End Prejudice’s Slam at Home poster.
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Writer’s Notes From COVID NOLA: Annell López

Today I’m starting an interview series on this blog called: Writer’s Notes From COVID NOLA. This series will highlight how New Orleans writers are coping during the quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Writer Annell López is up first. Annell is a Dominican immigrant fiction writer and an assistant poetry editor for the Night Heron Barks who is working on a collection of short stories. In her free time, she documents her travels to independent bookstores across the country on Instagram, @annellthebookbabe.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
I have struggled to maintain my writing routine. Though I’m not lacking motivation, I find it really hard to focus. There have been some good days where I sit and write with ease, and then there have been days where I am trudging through, forcing myself to put pen to paper.

Isolation has been taxing in many ways. But it has also reminded me of how fortunate I am. I have friends and family checking in on me constantly. I am surrounded (virtually) by kind people who make me feel like things will be all right.

What books are you reading while quarantined?
I’ve read so many! I loved Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz, These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card, We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul, Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata, and poems from Godspine by Terri Muuss and Demolition in the Tropics by Rogan Kelly. These works have become my companions during this isolation.

If you knew five months ago what you know now, how would you have prepared for this moment?
During those afternoon happy hours, I would have listened more attentively to my friends. I would have hugged them a little tighter, loved them a little harder.

Have you attended or participated in any virtual readings? Do you think they’re here to stay or do you prefer in-person readings?
I am so grateful that they exist and I hope they’re here to stay. The Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans and Catahoula zine have hosted some lovely readings on Zoom. Under the Creole Chandelier, a reading series in town, also hosts an open mic every Sunday night on Zoom. I love popping in there and listening to people read their work. It’s helped me cope. Though I prefer in-person readings, virtual readings have made access to creatives from other cities possible, and people from across the country now have access to us as well. Everyone in the country should have access to our literary magic in New Orleans!

What’s your hope for New Orleans during and after this pandemic?
New Orleans is synonymous with resilience, with strength. New Orleanians are some of the most soulful, courageous, and creative people in this country. This will pass, and when it does we will be blown away by the creative outburst that follows.

I am sure New Orleanians will continue to love and support one another just as fiercely as they always have.

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

Lit in the Age of COVID: CoogSlam

First off, I’d like to share some cheer with a belated Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms of the world. You change the world, moms—don’t ever forget it.

As we all continue to adjust to life in the COVID-19 era, I wanted to include in this blog some of the ways Houston has been rising to the occasion to work its literary magic. This month, I will be writing about three different spaces and organizations that have been adapting their programs and events for the virtual world.

Today I’ll focus on the University of Houston’s CoogSlam—the name is a nod to the university mascot, the cougar, and slam poetry. The group is less than three years old and has already garnered national attention with its slam team for the collegiate competition known as CUPSI, the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.

Before the University of Houston made the decision to keep its doors closed for the rest of the spring semester, CoogSlam was hosting writing workshops and a weekly slam and now, they have seamlessly adapted to the virtual world and continued their work. CoogSlam offers writing workshops on Wednesdays and has an open mic on Saturdays, all online. Writers and spectators can join from a link to a Google form available on their Instagram page, @uhcoogslam. The rest is a purely, magical experience. Just this past week, CoogSlam hosted an open mic featuring the talented Ryan McMasters, and from what I have heard it was stupendous. I can’t wait to see who is featured next.

You can also follow CoogSlam on Twitter, @uhcoogslam, for their latest news and events. They are doing big things and representing the city in such a humble and honest way. It is a delight to see what they do.

Participants in a recent online CoogSlam writing workshop.
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Louder Than a Bomb: Essential Words Festival

The Louder Than a Bomb Michigan Youth Poetry Festival has been one of the annual highlights of my work with InsideOut Literary Arts, so I was naturally disappointed when COVID-19 rendered such a gathering unsafe. Behind the scenes I worked with festival coordinator Rose Gorman and our go-to host LaShaun Phoenix Moore, and we made the decision to quickly pivot to an online version of the festival: Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB) Essential Words. This version of the festival turned the two-day in-person festival into a weeklong digital engagement for youth and the adults and artists that support these talented youth writers.

On Thursday, April 30, LTAB opened the festival with virtual workshops and small open mics. On Saturday, May 2, we went live across multiple platforms with DJ Stayce J to offer high school students a digital prom dance party. The week culminated to an event on May 7 that we chose to name “Final Stage,” which featured 2019 Ann Arbor youth poet laureate Na Faaris, T. Miller, Darius Parker, and other stellar readers. The best part was getting festival participants to come together in one digital space to feel the energy from each of our individual spaces. Everything throughout this week of creative, community-based programming brought hope for what events might look like this summer, and what digital spaces will continue to provide after things begin to open up safely as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 7, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer announced an extension of the state’s stay-at-home order until May 28. While we are all eager to get out and hug one another, everyone who made it to LTAB Essential Words will have this week that embraced them. In addition, there is a suite of workshops available now through InsideOut for those who want and need to keep writing.

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

Louisiana Celebrates Poetry Virtually

For ten years the State Library of Louisiana has celebrated poetry during the month of April for National Poetry Month with a myriad of reading events. This year, the library adjusted their plans due to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders and continued with their programming virtually.

On Thursday, April 30, the Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana closed out the month with an online reading as part of their annual “Just Listen to Yourself” event. Louisiana poet laureate John Warner Smith invited six poets from across the state to read their work. Participating poets included Liz Adair, Katie Bickham, David Havird, Brad Richard, Donney Rose, and I was also happy to be asked to join the reading.

The event is typically held at the state’s library in Baton Rogue, but the opportunity to showcase poets from across the state virtually allowed for a wider audience to watch and get to know us.

“The richness of Louisiana poetry can give us solace during these challenging days,” said Louisiana lieutenant governor Billy Nungesser in a press release about the event.

Although Covid-19 poses several challenges for writers, I believe this virtual reading will be an artifact in Louisiana literary history.

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

Five Things to Do Online to Help Catch Your Breath

As we enter into a new month of the coronavirus pandemic, we are in a new phase of transition as some states are reopening businesses and outdoor spaces. In Houston, there are some restaurants open with limited capacity and the Galleria mall even opened with limited hours. All this change can leave us feeling turned around and unsure. But one thing is for sure, the literary community is here for us and there are plenty of things to do online to keep us busy and provide some calm in these times.

Here is my countdown of five Houston-based virtual literary activities for you:

5. Feel like listening to a literary podcast? No sweat. Ink Well: A Tintero Projects & Inprint Podcast just released three new episodes (one with Carolyn Forché), all recorded just before the lockdown.

4. Have kids at home and you want them to get into some writing? Check out Writers In the Schools’ website for Quick WITS, fifteen-minute mini-workshops for K-5 grade students.

3. Want to check out some readings by some of your favorite authors? Head over to Inprint where they keep a full collection of readings from both the Margarett Root Brown and Cool Brains! Inprint Readings for Young People series.

2. Do you want to hear from authors in Spanish? Then check out Literal magazine’s YouTube channel, where they keep a series of interviews with writers from Mexico, Central America, and South America.

1. Lastly, make sure you register for Glass Mountain’s Strikethrough, a four-day virtual writing workshop for emerging writers from May 25 to 28, which is in lieu of their annual Boldface writing conference.

Enjoy and let me know what caught your attention. Hit me up on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

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

Soft Animal Wounds Part Two

This week I am continuing to write about Mahalia Frost’s collection, Soft Animal Wounds. As each poem pulls at my skin with uncomfortable, sometimes bloody, images, I am increasingly impressed with the consistency and continuity of the writing and themes introduced in this book. Frost’s collection is a healthy fifty-eight pages split into four parts titled “Sleep,” “Gleam,” “Thrash,” and “Bite.” Each part is introduced by a thought-provoking illustration. For example, “Sleep” opens with an image of a human head presenting a dissatisfied facial expression on top of the body of what seems to be a serpent—plus angel wings! Each part includes an odd yet fitting variation of this illustration.

What’s more is that these images are the artwork of Frost—helping us readers understand not only the imagery from what’s written in these poems, but also from what she sees when creating. I can’t say enough about the complexity being offered by this young writer. I am especially fond of the first poem titled “Birdheart” in the “Bite” portion of the book. This poem uses an extended metaphor to describe the heart as a bird:

“its feathers clump together with scabs / sticky in your ooze”

“Bite” also gives my absolute favorite ending to a yet another poem that makes me reflect on myself:

“how could it know of anything / beyond the hollow between your ribs? / how could it want?”

If you can’t tell by now, I highly recommend this collection. InsideOut Literary Arts hosted the book release for Soft Animal Wounds in late February, a few short weeks before social distancing and stay-at-home orders were enforced in Michigan. Because of this, distribution of this collection is currently limited. If you’re interested in getting your hands on this book, reach out to me:

InsideOut is also hosting a digital literary festival called Essential Words: InsideOut’s Louder Than a Bomb Youth Poetry Festival. The virtual events began on April 30 and run through May 7. Hosted by poet LaShaun Phoenix Moore, events include discussions, workshops, and more. Check out the website for more, and follow the activity on Instagram, @LTAB_Essential. I can’t wait to report back on our digital experience next week!

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