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 New Orleans

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.
10.9.19

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.
10.2.19

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.