Brian Turner is best known for his award-winning poetry collections and memoir about the Iraq War, but with his new project he has pushed into an entirely new dimension of creative expression.
The Spoken Word Club of Laguna Woods is a place for writers, poets, playwrights, monologuists, and storytellers to read their work and develop new material. In our monthly meetings, members have an opportunity to read and hear others. There is a featured reader every month. Guests are welcomed to listen or read ($2 charge for guests per meeting). Light refreshments at the Redwoods Room in the Community Center on El Toro on the 4th Tuesday of the month at 1pm-3pm.
Readings & Workshops (West) director Jamie Asaye FitzGerald writes about Poets & Writers’ eighth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading held at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center.
For the past eight years in California, Poets & Writers has held the Connecting Cultures Reading at Beyond Baroque Literary Art Center in Venice. The event brings together organizations that serve diverse populations and have received support via our Readings & Workshops program.
For this year’s event, which took place on June 28, we invited five organizations: 826LA, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students ages six to eighteen with their creative and expository writing skills; Beyond Baroque, dedicated to expanding the public’s knowledge of poetry, literature, and art; QueerWise, a LGBTQ writing collective and spoken word performance group; Returning Soldiers Speak, a venue for soldiers and veterans to tell their stories; and Uptown Word & Arts, which facilitates free public and private creative writing workshops and other events.
All of the groups involved do important work. Sometimes they’ve heard of each other already, sometimes they discover one another at the reading event itself. It’s wonderful to see them getting to know each other, and the net of support that manifests as they feel buoyed in what they do by witnessing others who have a similar mission.
Each organization chooses two writers to represent them at the event. The diversity of voices at the reading is always astonishing and a testament to the importance of having as many stories as possible heard. This is always true but perhaps even more urgent in our current social and political climate.
The value of a story is best understood in listening and witnessing together—something we don’t often get to do. Events like this provide the opportunity to listen and witness. It’s much different than the canned stuff we’re exposed to in our daily lives—political rhetoric, spin, and words with weird agendas behind them. This is the stuff of the personal, still often political, but stories that come from the people at the most fundamental and profound level.
Robert Rosenstone from Beyond Baroque read “Brisket for Ramadan,” a witty prose piece recounting the cross-cultural experience of being a Jewish man married to a Muslim woman. Poet RD Armstrong reminded us that “a poem can be everything and nothing.” Alejandra Castillo from 826LA read a powerful poem inspired by her mother’s stories of crossing the border:
Y pasábamos corriendo por el cerro like our feet were on fire,
como Cuauhtémoc. Como dos horas corriendo with blisters popping
here and there like bubble wrap. And if you didn’t run, te dejaban.
We left three behind in the purgatory between México y el otro lado.
Y ahí se quedaban.
The cracks on this desert
swallow bodies whole. Ni de gringos ni de indios. No man’s land.
Teen writer Ashla Chavez Razzano, participating on behalf of 826LA for her second time at this event, read a musical poem of “sweat soft as water.” Michael Kearns from QueerWise chilled us with the motif of children kept in cages, while Dave Trudell warmed us back up with memories of going to the drive-in where he worshipped femme fatale screen actresses like Ava Gardner and Lee Grant. Leilani Squire from Returning Soldiers Speak brought to the event reflections on her work with veterans, and Les Probst read about his own memories of being drafted for the “forgotten” Korean War. Uptown Word & Arts poet Aurelio Alba compared the process of editing to changing diapers and Cynthia Duran, in her first public reading ever, closed the night out with a laugh-out-loud story about being held up at gunpoint while working at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store.
While Poets & Writers works with and knows well each of the organizations we invite to curate this event, we are not always familiar with the writers they invite. Each year holds a wonderful surprise for us, and for the rest of the audience. We never know quite how all the stories will fit together, but they always do.
Thank you to Beyond Baroque for hosting this event, and to all of the presenting organizations and readers for making this another memorable reading.
Support for this event was provided, in part, by Poets & Writers thanks to a gift from Diana Raab. Additional support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and by the Friends of Poets & Writers.Photo: 2018 Los Angeles Connecting Cultures readers and curators (Credit: Brandi Spaethe).
Readings & Workshops (East) director Bonnie Rose Marcus writes about Poets & Writers’ Connecting Generations seventeenth annual Intergenerational Reading held at Barnes & Noble at Union Square in New York City.
On Saturday, June 23, Poets & Writers held its seventeenth annual Intergenerational Reading at Barnes & Noble at Union Square, where we’ve held the reading for the past seven years. As I listened to the thirty-six writers from the ages of eleven to eighty-six, I thought back to the beginnings of this celebratory reading, when we were given a grant in 2001 from the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation to conduct writing workshops at senior and teen community centers. Visiting the programs, I was moved by the diversity of voices, and the similarities and differences in the generations. I thought it would be inspiring to bring these generations together. The first Intergenerational Reading was held in a community room at the Goddard Riverside Community Center’s NORC Program, with about six readers and an audience of about twenty.
This year’s writers were from six programs funded by our Readings & Workshops program: senior writers from the Goddard Riverside Community Center, Grand Street Settlement, the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College in collaboration with Siloam Presbyterian Church, Kew Gardens Community Center, and the Stanley Isaacs and Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. The teen and young adult writers were from Kamit Preparatory Institute, the National Domestic Writers Alliance, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Newtown Literary Alliance, Concourse House, and Office Hours Poetry Workshop.
Hosting our event was veteran host Regie Cabico, a recipient of a Poets & Writers’ Writers for Writers Award in 2006. A pioneer of spoken word, and the first openly queer and Asian slam poet to take top prizes, Regie continues to perform his unique blend of poetry, stand-up comedy, and theater, and teaches writing workshops throughout North America and the United Kingdom.
Regie’s enthusiasm was contagious. It was evident that each reader felt honored and respected, and was cheered on by Regie and the audience, a full house of about seventy-five people. The writers shared work about loss, abuse, and love: a Tibetan woman read a poem about the suffering in her country, another writer shared a prose poem featuring Noah (and his ark) and Donald Trump, and there were many moving pieces about the challenges and celebrations on life’s journey.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the flavor and value of this reading is to hear from some of the writers themselves:
“It is an extraordinary event for so many reasons. It is an opportunity to hear young and old from so many different vantage points. Many of us may never have that chance of hearing stories from the LGBTQ community, the senior community, or inner-city youth, most of whom are passionate, wistful, angry, and gifted. To see that many participants, some who are facing an audience for the first time, pour out their most intimate feelings with pride and receive kudos for their efforts, is a humbling and inspiring experience.”
—Joyce Berger, Kew Gardens Community Center
“This year, I finally shed a lifelong struggle with stage fright and enjoyed myself at the reading! I also relished everyone’s spoken words, especially those of the younger poets who infuse me with creative energy.”
—Suzanne Pavel, Goddard Riverside Community Center
“I have always felt that one never stops learning. Young folks can learn from seniors and vice versa. This year I had the chance to let young folks know about the real situation in Tibet, because they are our future. Afterwards some of the young folks hugged me and commented on the power of my poem. I also think my poem was timely because of the current situation at our southern borders. What struck me most were the young people who spoke so honestly and showed that poetry is an outlet for all of us.”
—Chukie Wangdu, Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center
“Young talents lyrically reported their passions from today’s frontlines while older writers arranged those puzzle pieces left on youth’s table. The reading reminded me that poetry is an instrument played to remember, berate, reveal, coax, question, love, revolt, heal, and most significantly, to witness and connect. Thank you for creating space for all of us!”
—Marty Correia, Office Hours Poetry Workshop
Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.Photos: (top) Dena Igusti, Aaliyah Daniels, Solomon Mussings, and Shakeva Griswould from Urban Word NYC (Credit: Christian Rodriguez). (bottom) Participants of the 2018 Intergenerational Reading (Credit: Christian Rodriguez).
McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops fellow Sreshtha Sen writes about Poets & Writers’ ninth annual Connecting Cultures Reading held at the Center for Book Arts in New York City.
Now in its ninth year, the Connecting Cultures Reading, sponsored and organized by Poets & Writers, celebrates the diversity of our literary community by bringing together several groups who’ve been funded by the Readings & Workshops program. This year’s reading took place at the Center for Book Arts, and featured writers representing National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Newtown Literary Alliance, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Voices From War, and the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective.
Each group was represented by two readers who were introduced by the organizer or workshop facilitator they’d worked with. During their introductions, the organizers and facilitators all spoke about the motives behind their reading or workshop series and the shared themes that begin to emerge when writers find the community they’re craving. Claudia Prado, the facilitator for a workshop series with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, spoke about the powerful lessons that emerged out of their workshop theme: Things I have learned. “To have a workshop in Spanish,” she added, “is a great opportunity for us immigrants living in New York City to have a space to write, and hear about the process of writing and others’ voices in the languages of our native country.” Timothy DuWhite, the workshop facilitator from the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective elaborated on the solidarity, success, and safety that new and returning workshop participants felt as their program was supported and able to continue running.
As a nonprofit dedicated to both the contemporary and traditional practices of book making, the Center for Book Arts seemed a perfect fit for a cross-cultural reading that tackled struggles and victories from the past and the present. In a room surrounded by historically significant chapbooks, presses, and modern exhibits, the ten readers covered a range of themes from loss, violence, and power or the absence of it, to happiness as resistance, shared histories and love—familial or otherwise. Jack York, a writer representing the Queer Resistance Workshop at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, observed this when noting the range of each group and that having two readers from each group ensured that one story is not representative of everyone from a community or group, a struggle felt by almost everyone in the room.
The reading and the reception that followed allowed all the writers involved to connect and create new communities of their own. Nina Semczuk, the workshop facilitator for Voices From War, commented on how the opportunity to speak with other writers added to their workshop experience: “One of our readers left the evening newly inspired by how different readers expressed themselves. He had never encountered a reading like that and told me that he couldn’t wait to get to work on his writing and go deeper than he had allowed himself before.”
These five groups and their diverse, generous stories showcased the richness of artistic endeavors present throughout this city and served as a strong reminder of the reasons I applied to be a fellow for the Readings & Workshops program; it gave me a chance to see how programs like ours foster conversations amongst writers occupying different spaces, amplify voices we haven’t had a chance to hear yet, and work on making literature and art accessible to anyone who chooses to look for it. I’m grateful to all the featured readers and organizations, and the Center for Book Arts, especially Alex, Paul, and Emilie, for generously donating their space and time.
Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.Photos: (top) Silvina Reyes (Credit: Margarita Corporan). (bottom) Participants of the ninth annual Connecting Cultures reading (Credit: Margarita Corporan).