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.

10.22.19

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

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

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
10.21.19

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

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

The Detroit Art Book Fair at Trinosophes.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
10.16.19

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
10.15.19

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

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

Flyer for Writers for Families Together Houston reading.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
10.9.19

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

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

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

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

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

Attendees at the Louisiana Book Festival.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
10.8.19

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

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

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

Ilya Kaminsky reads at the Gulf Coast reading series in Houston.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
10.7.19

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

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

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

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
10.2.19

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

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

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

Kelly Harris.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
10.1.19

¿Que dice la buena vida, mi gente? On September 4, I joined the Houston Writers Coalition—a newly formed group of activist writers, professors, and creators—for an event supporting the Writers for Migrant Justice campaign. Organized by poets Christopher Soto, Jan-Henry Gray, Anni Liu, and Javier Zamora, the campaign brought writers together in more than forty cities across the United States to protest the government’s immigration policies and raise funds for the Immigrant Families Together Project, an organization that provides legal aid to undocumented families.

Here in Houston we participated by hosting a marathon reading—simply put, a reading with no introductions, prefaces, book signings, or discussions, just our words. Over forty writers gathered at the Holocaust Museum Houston, each of us reading an original piece or a piece from a notable writer on the topic of immigration. We raised a good deal of money for the campaign and auctioned off two mini-libraries, which each included a set of books signed and donated by local authors.

There are a few moments when a writer can say that they can make a direct impact outside of the written word, and that day, as we held simultaneous readings in multiple cities, writers stepped up to the plate and stood up for a just cause.

It was breathtaking.

Farnoosh Moshiri reads at the Writers for Migrant Justice event in Houston. (Credit: Lupe Mendez)
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
9.30.19

As a writer, I know how quickly our own writing seems to age. It often feels difficult to generate new work. Communing with fellow creatives is sometimes the best way to put pen to paper. With that in mind, I want to highlight a couple spaces for writers that I have found in the area.

Riverwise is a community-based magazine focused on highlighting local activism and personal Detroit stories. Alexis Draper has been organizing the Riverwise Writing Workshop series, which are held all over the city allowing for more accessibility to folks seeking out classes. The workshops range from general creative writing techniques to focusing on discussions about social issues in our community. A recent workshop called “Uncomfortable Spaces” was offered for free at the Artists Inn and was led by local poets Kahn Santori Davidson and Natasha T. Miller.

The Detroit Writing Room is an up-and-coming venue that opened in June offering coworking and event space in downtown Detroit. They have writing coaches that anyone can schedule an appointment with for feedback and editing on business materials or literary work. Many of the writing coaches are local creatives and professionals, including Anna Clark and Ashley Calhoun, both of whom I highly recommend! 

There are so many organizations and spaces that I could mention, but here are just a few more: Bottom Line Coffee House is home to a number of workshops led by local writers and visual artists, and they have great coffee and pastries. The Room Project is a work space for women and nonbinary writers and artists, and this October and November they will be offering creative nonfiction workshops. InsideOut’s after-school program, Citywide Poets begins this October for any teens looking to develop their writing. 

I hope these are resources that you can use and share with fellow writers! 

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

Pages