United States of Writing

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.

Reports From Detroit

12.9.19

There are so many writers in Detroit that I am discovering. This week I want to share a conversation I recently had with local poet and editor Jeni De La O.

Jeni founded Relato:Detroit, a bilingual community storytelling series, and Poems in the Park, an acoustic poetry reading series in historic Lafayette Park. A first-generation Cuban American who grew up in Miami, Jeni came to writing from humble beginnings. “My mom grabbed some scraps of fabric from a dress she’d made me, cut up a cereal box and went at it with her hot glue gun to make me a journal,” she says about what drove her to write as a youngster.

Jeni moved from Miami to Detroit about ten years ago. “When I got to Detroit, the people felt like home, and that feeling of home lets you breathe,” says Jeni. “This city puts life and movement and connection into your writing in a way I haven’t felt or seen elsewhere.” Some of her favorite venues and events in Detroit include the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, the Brain Candy series held at Green Brain Comics, and the East Side Reading Series

I asked Jeni if she could put out a call to action to Detroit writers, what would it be? In chorus with many of the local writers I have spoken with, Jeni suggested a large gathering of literary artists or a citywide poetry festival. I truly think that there are already writers beginning to lay the groundwork for something of that magnitude in years to come. I am glad to have a voice and to highlight voices in this growing conversation.

Jeni De La O.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
12.2.19

Lia Greenwell is a poet and essayist currently living in Detroit. We work together at InsideOut where Lia is the operations coordinator. Recently I was able to speak with Lia, who offered fresh insight on how Southeast Michigan has influenced her writing.

Originally from Adrian, Michigan, Lia first discovered the magic of writing in The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which she describes as full of “colorful, lyrical prose.” Although the novel was assigned for school, it felt different from the other books she had been reading. “I had never seen language used like that before, especially in something that I was reading for school. Cisneros’s prose took away the idea that books all had to look and feel the same.”

Although Lia began writing as a poet, she says, “poetry felt like I had to fit my writing into too small of a format—it felt strict. Prose allowed my writing to be weird.” I personally found this very relatable as someone who started out writing (very bad) fan fiction, and thought my path in writing would be confined to novels. Much like Lia, the discovery of a new genre (for me it was poetry) allowed me to go in new directions.

Lia is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and worked with youth writers through the Girls Write Now program in New York City. When asked about how leaving and returning to Michigan has affected her as a writer, Lia says, “I had to leave and come back to see what the landscape meant to me.” Lia has lived in Detroit for over three years, but still feels like a newcomer and enjoys discovering local venues and writers. “I think of places like Room Project. I feel like there is always something new being revealed there.”

I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Lia and discuss the long-term transitions that a writer goes through to find their niche and community. It was encouraging and made me think of how writers often feel isolated on the journey to find their place in the literary world. In Detroit, there is a home for writers.

Lia Greenwell. (Credit: Tyler Klifman)
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
11.25.19

I love having an opportunity at the end of each week to reflect on the connections I have been able to make as a literary outreach coordinator. I want to take this opportunity to highlight venues in the city that have been getting more involved in the literary community through events, workshops, and books.

Spread Deli in Detroit’s Midtown area (formerly known as Cass Corridor) has a mission to “spread good vibes and great sandwiches.” On December 17, they will be opening their doors to host an open mic starting at 5:00 PM. This small but inviting space is also a fantastic choice for any writer who needs a place to write during the day.

Detroit Sip has been a supportive space for community activists and writers, and home to numerous workshops sponsored by Riverwise. Detroit Sip shares a building complex with Neighborhood HomeBase, a new community space that hosted this year’s Write-A-Thon Detroit. Located in the city’s University District, this is another small and welcoming space that remains rooted in its surrounding neighborhood.

Norwest Gallery of Art is a growing gallery in Detroit’s Rosedale community along the developing Grand River Creative Corridor, an art corridor and neighborhood revitalization project. The gallery is dedicated to contemporary arts with a curatorial focus on African and African American artists, and is open for rent to literary artists seeking event space. In fact, Riverwise writing workshops have been hosted here as well.

Norwest Gallery is directly next door to Pages Bookshop, which often hosts readings with authors of new books. Pages will be offering 10 percent off for teachers on Black Friday, and is an annual participant in Small Business Saturday. Another community-based bookstore to support is KAN Books (Know Allegiance Nation Books), which is dedicated to authors and artists of color in Michigan and beyond. Located in Detroit’s North End, the bookstore and co-op space hosts writing and self-publishing workshops and aims to bring communities together by inspiring the next generation of writers.

I hope that this list of Detroit venues encourages everyone to visit a new space and strengthen our literary community.

Readers at a KAN Books event.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
11.18.19

In 2016, Detroit became part of the National Youth Poet Laureate program, a joint initiative of Urban Word NYC and the InsideOut Literary Arts, Penmanship Books, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, and Cave Canem. With over forty cities participating, the program now honors one youth poet laureate to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate. Each poet must submit writing and a community engagement idea for an opportunity to be chosen by a panel of esteemed judges, which has included former U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo.

For the 2018 term, Detroit named Imani Nichele as our city’s youth poet laureate. Since spring of 2018, Imani has led workshops, written two books, and read and performed her work on many stages. I took a moment to speak with Imani about her development as a writer.

“My biggest writing influence has been my internal competition,” said Imani about what inspires her to keep writing. When we spoke about what her community can do to offer writers more support, Imani said, “I want the literary community to help by offering more spaces to meetup. I want to know who I can reach out to and how to find them.”

This reminded me of the work that numerous artistic organizers and I are aiming to do in order to build a more connected literary community in Detroit. It’s been motivating to begin making these connections in response to an ask for such community. Sharing information about our Readings & Workshops mini-grants and offering the Detroit Writers Circle workshops are just a couple ways we are aiming to address this need.

When I asked Imani what she thought her work would look like in twenty years, she wisely responded, “It’s impossible for me to know what my art will look like in twenty years—I don’t know who that woman is yet.”

I am excited about the seeds being planted that will blossom in the near and distant future. Imani has recently passed the torch to the 2019 Detroit Youth Poet Laureate, Mahalia Hill, who is continuing to forge this path for young Detroiters. 

Imani Nichele, the 2018 Detroit Youth Poet Laureate.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
11.11.19

This past weekend I had the privilege of coleading a session for Write-A-Thon Detroit. The Write-A-Thon was a daylong event designed to offer time and space to workshop, build community, and tackle writing projects. This event was held at Neighborhood HomeBase, a new community and office space in northwest Detroit’s Fitzgerald neighborhood. Pledges raised funds to support the Tuxedo Project Literary Center.

Event organizer Rose Gorman and I offered a session where writers and organizers shared thoughts about what events they frequent, the series that have ended and are missed, and what gaps need to be filled for the literary community to thrive.

When asked what literary happenings are missing, a lively discussion produced ideas such as readings with more physical activity, more collaborative efforts between literary organizations, and events curated with input from residents located by the venues. When asked about what stops writers from making it to events, the top barriers were time, transportation, and finances. These conversations, in addition to the opportunity to share our favorite events, offered insight on how the local writing community is responding to the literary events in Detroit.

Dialogue such as this is a huge key to planning events not only in Detroit, but in every city. I was excited to receive such strong feedback from writers of a variety of backgrounds and hope that this conversation expands and continues.

A Write-A-Thon Detroit collage made by local writer Carol Ellsberry.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
11.4.19

On October 25, the Slam at the Cube series invited twelve women poets from the city to fill the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This was the second installment of this new poetry slam series. LaShaun “Phoenix” Kotaran, the event curator and host, took special care to ensure that each poet brought a different style to the stage, making for a dynamic show. After three rounds of poetry—covering topics such as police brutality, motherhood, and mental health—Brittany Rogers came out as the winner.

Brittany is a native Detroiter, public school teacher, and poet. Her work has been published widely and she is a poetry reader for Muzzle magazine. It just so happens that she is also my wife!

I asked Brittany what she feels is most worthwhile about participating in poetry slams. “I feel like the satisfaction of sharing something that is meaningful to me, in a space that is designed for me to be listened to, is most important,” she says. “I find that same satisfaction in publishing—any platform to elevate the work.”

I am excited about the ongoing growth of this series. Keep an eye on our Literary Events Calendar, or download the Poets & Writers Local app, to follow this series and more.

Slam at the Cube at Detroit Symphony Orchestra. (Credit: Justin Rogers)
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
10.28.19

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Jassmine Parks, a native Detroit writer and slam poetry champion who found a home in the city’s creative community and has since gone on to perform her work nationally. Her introduction to the literary world came from a beloved venue, Artist Village Detroit.

“My altar call to the lit scene in Detroit occurred at an open mic at Artist Village,” says Jassmine. “At the time I was writing poetry just to heal from generations of trauma and my therapist suggested that I attend and possibly perform at an open mic.”

Artist Village is also the venue where I attended my first writing workshop and fell in love with poetry. My writing was heavily influenced by the poets, musicians, and painters that I met there.

Jassmine spent two years as a member of the Detroit Poetry Slam Team and is now working with youth poets as a mentor for InsideOut’s Citywide Poets program. “I feel rejuvenated and inspired when creating new work,” she says. “The students I teach are resilient and have so much to say.”

Lastly, we spoke about what might be missing from Detroit’s literary world. “I would like to see a literary council in the city, something like a Justice League, a combination of multi-disciplined writers across generations and experiences that comes together to bridge the gap between opportunities and writers,” says Jassmine. “A hub to unify and mobilize the writers within the city of Detroit.”

As Poets & Writers’ first literary outreach coordinator in Detroit, I feel that we are beginning to address these needs. I, along with Lupe Mendez and Kelly Harris, the coordinators in Houston and New Orleans, are spreading the word about the resources P&W has to offer writers, and the Readings & Workshops mini-grants that are available. These efforts are all a way to bring writers a bit closer to each other and I am excited to be a part of this new initiative.

Jassmine Parks (Credit: Lebrun Jackson).
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
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.
10.7.19

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.
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.

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