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

3.30.20

It has been about a week since Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a stay-at-home order to all residents as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In these sheltered times, I am reflecting on the moment and finding solace in books of poetry. Although just a few poems in, I am excited to say a few words about How the Water Holds Me by Palestinian American poet and Detroit local Tariq Luthun, which is forthcoming from Bull City Press in April.

In the introductory poems, we learn about Luthun’s background and family with subtle hints about the significance of place. As a reader, I found my curiosity building line by line as I gained snapshots of Tariq’s memories while sharing desires such as:

“I haven’t forgotten that / everyone needs a place on this planet. / And I, / I prefer to live where I can leave / the doors unlocked...”

Midway through this collection, I am beginning to better understand the title of the book as the poems “dive in” (pun intended) to how water plays a role in Luthun’s life and family. His words invite me to consider the distance over water between Detroit and Palestine. Luthun writes:

“Earth, / itself, I realize, is just a body / of waters.”

Luthun’s poems pull readers’ minds in and ask us to consider what displacement, home, ancestry, and identity mean to each of us. I am thinking about how I can connect more with my own family and history. I look forward to my journey through the rest of these poems, and highly recommend reading this collection.

Tariq Luthun, author of How the Water Holds Me (Bull City Press, 2020).
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
3.23.20

Michigan has implemented social distancing for just over a week now, meaning many of us are doing our best to self-isolate. What better to do with this time than blow the dust off of the bookshelf and dive in? For today’s post I’d like to do a quick reflection on a poetry collection by one of my favorite writers, and a past mentor of mine, Aricka Foreman.

Dream With a Glass Chamber is Aricka’s chapbook published by YesYes Books in 2016. Her imagery is prominent and haunting throughout, allowing the reader to grasp dreams, memories, and grief with lines like:

“...find us making promise, find us clutching the static / of a wormhole where we settled into disappointment”

Place and time play a role in these poems moving us from Detroit in the eighties to the month of September in New York and back again, evaluating different losses along the way. Emotional complexities that shift from platonic to romantic flow seamlessly throughout, introducing close and distant characters that carry the collection from beginning to end. One of my favorite lines in the entire book is:

“Numb, I’ve run out of wicks and / your songs pour thick in my ears, love.”

It seems as if every word written is a part of Aricka’s many nuanced ways of grieving while her reality acts as the glass chamber, where both she and the reader watch these concepts unfold. I think this is best captured in her poem “dream in which you survive and in the morning things are back to normal,” a very fitting title for a poem that questions reality after waking from a dream. Throughout the entire collection, we are reminded to continue evaluating the fine line between dream and reality, and how grief exists on each side of that line.

Aricka Foreman, author of Dream With a Glass Chamber.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
3.16.20

Michigan saw its first coronavirus (COVID-19) case early last week. In an effort to be preventative, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency last Tuesday. Organizations across Detroit have closed offices and asked team members to work from home. Detroit Public Schools Community District and surrounding districts have been ordered to close their buildings to students through April 6. Whitmer also ordered an official ban that prohibits gatherings of over 250 people, and recommended gatherings of over 100 people to be canceled or postponed, and reminded the public to wash hands frequently, stay home if sick, and to check in on family and friends.

I find it important to look at each of the ways we are responding to best understand the enormous circumstance that has been placed upon those who don’t have the resources to simply stay home and be safe. Students being out of school doesn’t mean that their parents have the same luxury of staying home, and lack of food security could put many families in crisis. Several literary events have been cancelled thus drying up the main source of income for many full-time artists. These are just a few ways that the coronavirus outbreak puts people at risk beyond just exposure to illness, and it will get worse before it gets better.

With that said, resources are popping up left and right within the community to help get us through the next few weeks. For parents looking to make sure their young ones are able to keep up academically, a Google Doc has been created that lists free educational resources. In addition, Kekere Emergency Childcare Collective is forming mutual aid childcare for families with an online sign-up sheet for those who can help with childcare, transportation, supplies, and food. I am keeping an eye out for resources for artists who are losing funds due to canceled readings or their own canceled event series. Many writers are taking to Twitter for ways to support working artists by buying books, merch, or making other financial contributions. Keep up with my findings on Twitter, @Detroitpworg, and stay safe! 

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

 

3.9.20

This past Friday’s event “A Very Last-Second Poetry Reading” turned out to be a huge success packing the Room Project with eager listeners, book buyers, and writers. Although it was planned in just a few short hours in response to the many canceled events due to health concerns at the AWP conference in San Antonio, things were flawless. It was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with Detroit writers like Nandi Comer and Tommye Blount, as well as out-of-town favs like Rachel McKibbens. We opened the night with an opportunity to mingle and view the “tiny book fair,” which was facilitated by Tariq Luthun and included books by some of the readers, then shifted into readings of poetry and fiction.

This reading was a strong representation of what I was hoping to experience at AWP last week. I saw new and old faces—all of whom were glad to see mine. We shared space, books, and words in a safe environment. I left feeling recharged and acquired a couple new reads. Detroit’s literary community absolutely grew stronger through this event, and its success opens a new world of ways that conferences with a national draw can become active in individual communities. It also broadens the definition of community in each of our very small portions of the country by introducing AWP, books, and writers to audiences who are not engaged on the national level, or have not had the resources or opportunities to attend the AWP conference.

I am impressed with everyone who put energy into this—from the organizers to those who simply showed up to support. None of us could have seen this health crisis coming, but I know that everyone who was at Room Project on Friday will remember at least one good thing about last week.

A Very Last-Second Poetry Reading at Room Project in Detroit. (Credit: Tariq Luthun)
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
3.4.20

It’s been a hard week for many of us who were and are considering attending the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in San Antonio, Texas. Although the AWP Board of Directors announced its decision to move forward with the conference despite concern about the coronavirus in San Antonio, Poets & Writers has made the difficult decision not to attend, and I will also not be attending. Over a hundred panels and events have been canceled leaving many writers across the country seeking alternatives, leaving it up to us writers to find a way to hold community.

In the past couple days, the literary community on Twitter was left hanging in anxious suspense as we awaited a statement from AWP, and word from one another about individual decisions. In that time frame, #AWPVirtualBookFair was created along with a community Google Doc that lists presses and the discounts they are offering for books that were to be sold at the conference—it’s a digital book fair!

In addition, on Tuesday afternoon, I got word from Tariq Luthun that he is working with Christin Lee at Room Project to put on what is being called “A Very Last-Second Poetry Reading and Tiny Book Fair.” We are calling this an “offsite” AWP reading and it will feature Brittany Rogers, Rachel McKibbens, and many more. The event will be held on Friday, March 6 at 7:00 PM at Room Project. If you are in Detroit, come by!

And if you are traveling to AWP, please be safe and take every precaution.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
2.24.20

Tuxedo Project resident fellow Rose Gorman has been working in conjunction with the Center for Detroit Arts and Culture at Marygrove College to help organize this year’s Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series. The series, which began in 1989, invites a nationally-known author to the campus for a lecture and reading that’s free and open to the public. There is also programming surrounding the event throughout the city that introduces Detroiters to the work of the featured author. Last year the series brought Elizabeth Acevado, a Dominican American poet and the author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High, to Detroit. I had the honor of sharing the stage with Acevado at Marygrove for the reading. Witnessing so many people there to hear Acevado’s words after weeks of diving into her work was moving to say the least.

On April 2, Roxane Gay will be featured and at the center of attention for this year’s event. Leading up to the date, numerous literary workshops, readings, and other activities will take place in the city to absorb Gay’s published works. According to Gorman, they are expecting to have programming happening every day of the week for the entire month of March! You will be able to find one-off events as well as weekly workshops encouraging participants to sit with a single text for more than one meeting. These will be hosted at locations such as the Room Project and Tuxedo Project.

Events begin this week and on Sunday, March 1 at ZAB Cultural Collective, a special five-week program will allow participants to enjoy a discussion group for Gay’s memoir, Hunger, that explores the text through the creation of visual art. These sessions will be led by Rose Gorman and artist Amanda Koss. “People can dive into emotions that they feel through color and shape,” says Gorman about the program. “The meaning is unique to the artist.” Read more about this program and register for events here.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
2.17.20

Grover Easterling is a poet, activist, and educator currently living in Detroit. Grover and I were both students in the after-school program Citywide Poets organized by InsideOut Literary Arts, so naturally we became friends and writing partners. After we graduated from the program, we attended classes together at Wayne State University and led a student organization called WayneSLAM (aka Wayne Student Literary Arts Movement). The organization offered a space for artists of different genres to showcase themselves in a monthly open mic. Grover and I led the series from 2013 to 2016. I had an opportunity to catch up with Grover last week and asked him a few questions about his experience with WayneSLAM and the literary scene in Detroit.

What impact did WayneSLAM have on you?
As an artist it gave me the opportunity to help other artists get paid to share their art, to put money on the table for young writers of color. The series also showed me many different styles of poetry and the varying levels of where folks are at in their art.

As a youth, your family settled down in Troy, Michigan. What differences did you notice when you sought out the literary scene in Detroit?
I wanted to invest in Black art and what made me feel seen, and that wasn’t present in Troy. When I visited Detroit, I was exposed to various cultures and their art scenes. In Detroit’s literary scene, people are more willing to be radical in their writing. People are more comfortable with their Blackness here.

How have Detroit’s artists and writers influenced you outside of your writing?
They help me stay innovative. Being around poets has given me tools to sharpen my skills as a political and environmental organizer.

Recently, Grover released a video titled “Change the Climate 2020” featuring newsclips mixed with a reading of his poem “All Be Green” in an effort to bring awareness to environmental issues in Michigan as the 2020 presidential election approaches.

Grover Easterling.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
2.10.20

Last week, I was invited by poet, professor, and event organizer M. L. Liebler to take part in his reading series known as Poets & Pies. As the title suggests, this literary showcase brings together a mix of writers and delicious pie! While the series is held at various locations around Metro Detroit, the February 5 event took place at the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library.

The Main Library is a historical building listed in the National Register of Historic Places that is part of the city’s Cultural Center Historic District in the Midtown area. It is home to various spaces that are open to public use. For Poets & Pies, we found ourselves in the Explorers Room, a basement-level performance space complete with a stage, piano, and private bathrooms.

I shared the stage with Lori Tucker-Sullivan and Ruben Guevara. Lori is a Detroit-based writer whose poems, essays, stories, and reviews have appeared in various magazines and journals. Her essay “Detroit, 2015,” which explores her decision to return to Detroit after the death of her husband, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Midwestern Gothic and received a notable selection in Best American Essays 2015. Ruben is best known as the front man of the 1970s experimental rock band Ruben and the Jets and shared his history with the band and other encounters in the world of rock music. He also read a couple poems.

This event was funded in part by a Poets & Writers mini-grant. We enjoyed poetry, pie, and hilarious reflections on the life of a rocker. I think that Poets & Pies is a perfect example of how to curate a literary event that serves Detroiters of all artistic backgrounds while keeping things fresh and exciting. Their upcoming events will be held at the Hannan Center every month beginning on May 4. Check it out if you’re in town!

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
2.3.20

It’s time to take another look at Detroit’s literary friendly venues. I hope that these recent discoveries of mine are useful to you, and be sure to check out their upcoming events.

ZAB Cultural Collective is a community-driven coworking space on Detroit’s East Side. ZAB is a cozy, artistic space that has hosted writing workshops and performances, and has open mic nights on the first Saturday of every month at 7:00 PM. They offer Wi-Fi, tables, and free coffee and tea for working writers and artists. The space doubles as a retail contemporary art gallery featuring a wide range of local and traveling artists.

Motown Museum in Detroit’s New Center area has been home to Motown Mic: The Spoken Word, a poetry slam series dedicated to the Motown legacy and the next generation of creative artists, for the past four years. The museum recently hosted a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day tribute performance by recent winners of the slam. In addition to the historic building, the museum is undergoing an expansion that will undoubtedly include additional performance space. Keep your eye out for this gem!

Eastern Market Brewing Co. is a craft brewery that opens its doors to an event called First Draughts every third Tuesday of the month, which is organized by Writing Workshops Detroit. The mission of First Draughts is to “bring writers out of the wilderness and into the community.” Writers meet other writers, talk literature, and share work. This is a great low stakes way to get involved with a tight-knit literary community.

If you find yourself at any of these venues, I would love to hear about your experience! You can also help spread good news about venues and literary events by tagging me on Twitter, @Detroitpworg, or listing them on our Literary Events Calendar.

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

 

1.27.20

As a Detroiter who lives in the world of poetry, I see an abundance of poetry workshops, open mics, and other events that come about regularly, and there are even more happening as we approach National Poetry Month in April. As I learn more about the poets in this city, I also learn more about where writers of other creative writing genres thrive. I want to take this opportunity to highlight two spaces—one that makes room specifically for storytellers and another that has been home to a variety of artists.

The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers was founded in 2012 by Satori Shakoor, and the monthly series features one of the oldest literary art forms: the oral tradition of storytelling. I find myself impressed each time I attend an event. From the smooth production to the storytellers that I am introduced to, I always know I will be served up a unique offering of creativity. I highly recommend their events for novice writers and seasoned writers alike. You can see their next event on February 14 at 8:00 PM at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. 

The Scarab Club is neatly tucked between the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Wright Museum in Midtown Detroit. The over one hundred-year-old building is home to visual arts in the form of paintings, tapestries, and mosaics built directly into its walls. You can also enjoy the visual, literary, and performing arts of local artists through their eclectic programming. Recent events have featured poet Naomi Long Madgett, comics artist and journalist Laura Kenins, and author and editor Maya Schenwar. The exhibitions and events of this historic space are always inspiring.

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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