United States of Writing Blog

United States of Writing is an initiative to expand our core programs to better serve writers coast to coast. This year, we’re piloting United States of Writing in Detroit, Houston, and New Orleans with plans to expand in the coming years.

Follow our literary outreach coordinators—Justin Rogers in Detroit, Lupe Mendez in Houston, and Kelly Harris in New Orleans—as they report on the literary life in three storied American cities.

United States of Writing is supported with a generous grant from the Hearst Foundations and additional support from Amazon Literary Partnership.

7.8.20

Hey mi gente, wishing you the best in this crazy time we’re living in. Here in Texas, smaller rural spaces and larger metro spaces are in heated battles as to what is appropriate for a “restart” as cities begin to open their businesses back up. Every day is an interesting day here in Houston. Despite the difficulties of this pandemic life, the literary world has been doing brilliant work and touching base with writers in ways it hasn’t done so before. So with this in mind, I wanted to continue conversations with writers here in the city and ask how they have been spending their time during stay-at-home orders. For this series, I reached out to writers and posed one simple question:

What have you been doing since the pandemic started?

This series started off with Katherine Hoerth and this week, we continue with Daniel Peña. A Pushcart Prize–winning writer, Peña is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Houston–Downtown and the author of the novel, Bang (ArtePublico Press, 2018).

Here is what Daniel had to say:

“I’ve been teaching a lot. Transitioning all of my classes online has been time-consuming but I’ve been grateful for the distraction. I record podcasts for all of my classes (Mexican-American Literature, Creative Writing, and Literary Magazine Production) so my students can get to the lessons asynchronously (meaning on their own time).

So many of my students are on the front line of this pandemic: delivery drivers, grocery store workers, EMS medics working twelve-hour shifts. I read them poems, stories, essays and talk about those readings with them, almost like a radio show or something. They can listen to it when they’re driving on their way to work or in those splices of moments between moments. Hit pause, hit play, hit pause again. I try to make each lesson a kind of artifact: heavily produced with bumper music, a monologue, a volta, some trivia, sometimes a rant. I try to mimic class more or less. And mostly, I’m just trying to keep them in the game, correspond with them when they’re free. And that’ll take up about two months of time if you get carried away with it (and I do).

I go to my home office in the morning, I record my lessons, I read the readings for the next class in the evenings, I write out the podcast longhand, and then I record that lesson the next day. I try to stay about two weeks ahead in case I get sick.

I get a little writing done when I can. I can’t wait to get back into my own writing this summer.”

Check back next week for the next writer!

Photo: Daniel Peña. (Credit: Paula N. Luu)
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
7.1.20

Michigan is just past the three-month mark since entering a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order due to COVID-19 cases rising in our area. It’s been a long and very different spring for everyone, however, as of June 1 our stay-at-home order was finally lifted allowing businesses to slowly open up in phases.

We are still under a state of emergency through July, however, and indoor businesses are ordered to operate at only 50 percent, which means literary events are still primarily occurring virtually or not at all. By now, we are all familiar with Zoom meetings and other live-streaming platforms. Only a handful of Detroit-based literary workshops, open mics, and showcases have shifted to these virtual platforms, but this sudden shift to a mostly digitized world of meetings has created opportunities that may not have been possible otherwise.

When thinking about the best virtual literary events I have attended since March, readings by Mahogany Jones, Aricka Foreman, Nandi Comer, and Tariq Luthun come to the top of the list. In another time, these writers may not have had an opportunity to read together because of physical distance, but in this digital space it was a privilege to hear these writers share their work.

Our Poets & Writers roundtable event held virtually for Detroit was also successful in bringing together event planners from in and around the city. This was a great way to build community among people looking for similar opportunities in our immediate area. A meeting of this nature is not something that occurs often because of complications with schedules, location, and other barriers, but offering this panel to discuss Readings & Workshops mini-funds and shared experiences online made it more accessible.

Over the last month, Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others encouraged thousands to brave the looming threat of COVID-19 in order to make important statements about the mistreatment of Black people by police forces. In Detroit, these protests included organized outdoor open mics that became the first stage many writers and performers have touched since March. This reminded me of how writers, along with others in our community, continue to fight to share our voices and contribute to positive change, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Through these lenses, there is a silver lining to highlight from the last three months: Writers are resilient and will continue to find a way to write, share, organize, and build community no matter the challenge.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
6.24.20

Benjamin Morris is the author of Coronary (Fitzgerald Letterpress, 2011), Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A History of the Hub City (History Press, 2014), and Ecotone (Antenna/Press Street Press, 2017), and the editor or coeditor of four volumes of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. His work has received academic and creative fellowships from Tulane University and a residency from A Studio in the Woods in New Orleans. You’ll always find him somewhere in New Orleans supporting the literary community.

How has this pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
In a word: multiply. During lockdown I’ve been grateful to stay healthy, but even having avoided the virus thus far, it’s hard to avoid that gnawing feeling of anxiety over so many everyday activities: It seems like everything we do now is laced with tension. That’s the strangest thing; because the virus could be anywhere, it’s everywhere. Every public move you make is a risk calculation. That said, like many folks here and across the country, I’ve taken a punch to the fiscal gut. Early on in the outbreak my hours at my day job were cut in half, and every gig, reading, and appearance I had planned since February has been canceled. Last month, I was supposed to give a lecture on trends in contemporary Mississippi poetry to the Mississippi Poetry Society, which has now been rescheduled for 2023. It’s not been easy.

What books are you reading while quarantined?
I’ve just finished The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith, which came out in March (so go buy it!). The novel is set in Rome, Italy, over four different time periods, following a structure not unlike David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Not only is it a gorgeous book in its own right, but mentally traveling through time and space has been an ideal antidote for the malaise of quarantine. Next up is poetry—I’ve got a stack of books from past presenters at the New Orleans Poetry Festival, such as Henk Rossouw’s Xamissa and Lee Ann Brown’s Polyverse. And just before Mardi Gras, a friend gave me a first edition of C. D. Wright’s Rooms Rented by a Single Woman published by Lost Roads Press—what a gift!

If you knew five months ago what you know now, how would you have prepared for this moment?
More exercise equipment! I’ve long held that the gym is like church for the body, and outside of church it remains the single best place to boost mental health. I was underprepared with gear when the outbreak broke out (apologies for the chiasmus), and have had to cobble together different implements since. Believe it or not, you can do more cardio with a rake than you think.

Have you attended or participated in any virtual readings? Is it here to stay or do you prefer to return to in person readings?
When we voted to cancel the 2020 New Orleans Poetry Festival, it was one of the most difficult decisions our board had ever faced. A small salve for the wound was our attempt over the original festival weekend to curate a virtual fest, soliciting videos of readings, panels, tributes, and odes to the kitchen sink—my own submission features a guest appearance from my cat. They’re all up on the festival’s website and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who made it happen. But no, to my mind, virtual readings versus in-person events are like how Wynton Marsalis once compared listening to a CD versus going to a live performance: like looking at a picture of a steak.

What’s your hope for New Orleans during and after this pandemic?
One thing that has moved me these last few months is the outpouring of simple kindness from our citizenship. Like many have said—most recently Maurice Ruffin in the New York Times—in some ways this is like Katrina all over again. I well remember from those years the shared recognition that just about everyone you encounter on a given day—friend, family, stranger—is suffering from untold depths of stress, and a little extra patience, tolerance, and consideration can be the difference between a day they survive and a day they don’t. It’s like that all over again. My hope for the city is that we recognize the fragility of all our relationships, even transitory ones, and allow such gentleness and tenderness to reenter civic life for good.

Benjamin Morris. (Credit: David G. Spielman)
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
6.17.20

Hey mi gente, glad you could stop in for a little post about what’s been happening here in Houston. Summer is here and I wanted to take a moment to talk to some writers in my city and see how they have been spending their time during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For this series of posts, I posed one simple question to these writers:

What have you been doing since the pandemic started?

So first off, we begin with Katherine Hoerth. The author of several poetry collections, including Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots, which won the Helen C. Smith Prize for the best book of poetry in Texas in 2015, Hoerth is an assistant professor of English at Lamar University and serves as editor-in-chief of Lamar University Literary Press. This fall, her collaborative poetry collection Borderland Mujeres will be published by SFA Press. The book is a bilingual collection of feminist poetry and art created with poet Julieta Corpus and artist Corinne McCormack-Whittemore.

Here is Hoerth’s response:

“When the pandemic started, I was just getting off for my spring break; I never would have imagined what would unfold in the coming weeks and months, and that I would never see many of my graduating students again. Alas, I have been hunkered down at home with my cats but in good health and spirits, and I've been writing new poetry, Zooming with students, workshopping online, and participating in virtual poetry readings such as Houston’s Public Poetry reading series to share my latest poems. For National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo), I participated in the 30/30 challenge to write a poem a day on my blog, and I felt compelled to write about the pandemic just as a means of recording the experience. Two of my pandemic poems have found homes in TEJASCOVIDO, a blog curated by Angelo State University English professor Laurence Musgrove. Thankfully, I am still able to work remotely for Lamar University Literary Press, and my coeditor Daniel Valdez and I will be spending much of the summer putting together a new anthology of eco-poetry from the Texas Gulf Coast titled Odes and Elegies. What I miss most dearly is attending poetry readings in person—I long for the camaraderie of my fellow Southeast Texas poets, and I look forward to the day when we can share a mic once again.”

Katherine Hoerth with her cats. (Credit: Katherine Hoerth)
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
6.10.20

As of June 1, the stay-at-home order has been lifted in Michigan, however many of us are still taking extreme caution against the coronavirus. One silver lining to this extended time staying inside our home has been having plenty of time to spend with my wife Brittany Rogers who is also an active poet. She always stays three steps ahead of me with new books, so I thought that this would be a great time to share both of our thoughts on a new collection by someone we have both received mentorship from: Aricka Foreman.

I recently wrote about Foreman’s chapbook, Dream With a Glass Chamber published by YesYes Books in 2016. Now, I am excited to write about Foreman’s first full-length collection, Salt Body Shimmer, which will be released in August by YesYes Books.

When I asked Brittany how she would describe Foreman as a writer, she said, “Tender. Intentional. Interrogative. Complex.” These were all words we both agreed embody the writing across Foreman’s work.

After reading Salt Body Shimmer, Brittany said, “In these poems I feel very seen. They felt like an indication for me as a Black woman to tend to my mental health. Foreman teaches me consistently about nuance—about turning a vulnerable eye to things you wish not to feel.”

The four poems in particular that embodied these feelings best, and connected most closely to Brittany as a reader and writer were: “When the Therapist Asks You to Recount, You Have to Say It,” “Intake Interview,” “Consent Is a Labyrinth of Yes,” and “Before I Fire Her, The Therapist Asks What Is it Like to Be a Black Woman Here: A Monologue.”

For me, as I read this collection, I was brought back to something Foreman said to me during her time as my mentor, “Poetry is a documentation of history.” Just like that literary (and life) advice, Salt Body Shimmer captures moments at a pivotal time in Foreman’s history during a pivotal time in world history. The intersections are layered and far beyond the bounds of my conversation with Brittany. As I mentioned before, Brittany stays a few steps ahead of me, so I am still snapping my fingers at the first twenty pages. I can’t wait to dive deep into the other poems in the collection and learn another layer of lessons from one of my favorite mentors.

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

 

6.3.20

Tracy Cunningham is the managing director of the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival and co-director of the New Orleans Writing Marathon. A fiction writer, her writing has appeared in Louisiana Literature and in various anthologies.

How has this pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
Personally, I’ve been truly lucky, in that no one in my family or my immediate close circle of friends has been ill from the virus. I’ve been able to continue working with ease, as I already have a dedicated writing studio at home, so I’ve just made room for my festival work in my creative space. Professionally, this has been quite a challenge. Our year of preparing for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and Saints+Sinners LGBTQ literary festival was all for naught, as we had to cancel just twelve days before our opening event. Since then, we’ve scrambled to adapt to the online world, and we’ve done a few online events with more planned for the coming months. A festival is inherently a social activity, and to move portions of that to an online format is daunting, but we’re eager to connect with our writers and patrons.

What books are you reading while quarantined?
I’m finally finding time to read some of the books by authors who were part of our 2020 festival programming. I’ve recently enjoyed Jac Jem’s False Bingo, Saeed Jones’s How We Fight for Our Lives and Jamie Attenberg’s All This Could Be Yours. Now I’m diving into Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow, and I can already see why it’s getting so much praise. Katy Simpson Smith’s newest book, The Everlasting, is next in my pile.

If you knew five months ago what you know now, how would you have prepared for this moment?
Professionally, knowing that far in advance that our festivals would be canceled would have made that process so much easier. Cancelling just twelve days before kickoff was extremely stressful, especially since we were among the earlier events that had to shut down, so there was no real model to follow.

Luckily, our small team works well together and we were able to get the word out to our people and handle refunds quickly. Personally, I would have enjoyed the city more, had more cocktails and dinners with friends, and appreciated everything NOLA has to offer just a bit more.

Have you attended or participated in any virtual readings? Are they here to stay or do you prefer in-person readings?
I have attended some and I like it just fine, although it’s a bit awkward with everyone smiling and nodding silently. I like how unexpected fun can erupt, though, like at the end of Leigh Camacho Rourks’s reading and interview for her book Moon Trees and Other Orphans. We were all fawning over her two cats, and suddenly all of us grabbed our pets to show them off onscreen. It was a hilariously sweet moment.

In-person readings are ultimately better though for connecting readers and writers, getting books signed, and feeling more in tune to the literary community. But for now, this is what we have and I’m happy to see how many opportunities we have to connect. Our independent bookstores, like Garden District Book Shop, have hosted some great online events, and we partnered with them and Beauregard-Keyes House to host an upcoming Sunday Salon Series. And we partnered with Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop to feature some of our Saints+Sinners Festival speakers.

What’s your hope for New Orleans during and after this pandemic?
My husband works at Galatoire’s, so we’re eager to see the numbers drop low enough for restaurants to re-open (with careful measures to keep patrons safe, of course). I hope we’re able to gather again and enjoy the beauty and history and culture that is so uniquely New Orleans.

Tracy Cunningham. (Credit: Tracy Cunningham)
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
5.27.20

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 NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
5.26.20

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 Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
5.25.20

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 Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
5.20.20

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 NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

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