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.

9.24.19

¿Que dice mi gente? In my last report, I talked about what I experienced this summer since taking on the role of literary outreach coordinator in Houston.

In July, I got a healthy dose of poetry from the Public Poetry reading series. Public Poetry is a program run by local poet and founding director Fran Sanders. Their programs and projects aim to bring poetry to audiences all across this brilliant city.

Presented in partnership with the City of Houston and the Houston Public Library, Public Poetry readings happen the first Saturday of every month at 2:00PM at four libraries a year, three consecutive months at each library. On July 6, I attended a beautiful reading featuring poets Calvin King, Autumn Hayes, Katherine Hoerth, and Melissa Studdard at the Bracewell Neighborhood Library on the south side of town.

In August, I got to take up some table space reppin’ Poets & Writers at the magazine launch for Defunkt Magazine. It was an honor and a pleasure to be on hand to catch the literary work and art at the launch for their first issue.

Defunkt describes itself as “a magazine which showcases compelling, accessible, and culturally relevant work—anything the mainstream is ignoring or marginalizing.” So far, I think they are living up to the name. They have rolling submissions and are currently accepting poetry and prose for their next issue. If you’re looking for more journals to submit to, check out the vetted and extensive Literary Magazines database.

Okay mi gente, check in next week and for all things September!

Lupe Mendez with Joshua Nguyen at the Defunkt Magazine launch event.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
9.23.19

I have been speaking to numerous venue owners in Detroit about what it means to host a series in the city. Open mics allow for a variety of artists to take the stage while I have seen other shows and reading series offer a workshop afterwards. These are the shows that introduced me to the world of poetry. It’s been enlightening to explore all the different literary series offered in Detroit and to see how they impact audiences.

Recently I had a conversation with Dan Wickett, a local poet and event organizer, about hosting the Brain Candy series. The series showcases one poet, one prose writer, a musician, and a visual artist performing together at the local comic bookstore Green Brain Comics. When asked about how he chooses the artists and curates events, Wickett says that his hope is for audiences to find something unexpected to enjoy. “I’m exposing different art forms to those that show up to see a painter or a musician,” he says. “I’m also hoping to develop a community of artists that helps each other, supports each other’s events, and that finds hints of their own work in those around them.”

Brain Candy is presented by Green Brain Comics and the Emerging Writers Network, and has shows every third Monday of the month. For more information on events in your area, and to post your own, visit the Literary Events Calendar.

A reading for the Green Book Comics Brain Candy series.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
9.17.19

¿Que dice mi gente? I’m really excited to fill you in on what went on here in Houston this summer. We do a lot. Seriously.

I celebrated with the nonprofit organization Inprint as they formally announced the readers for the 2019/2020 season of their Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. This is one of the city’s dopest reading series—always a treat—and they do it up. This year to unveil their line-up they hosted a happy hour mixer for the public at the Night Heron, a slick little spot in town.

The season runs from September 16, 2019 through April 27, 2020 and features ten renowned authors, including Colson Whitehead, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Natalie Diaz. I plan to be in attendance and will bring you more on the series.

I also traveled back to my hometown of Galveston for Speak Up, Speak Out 2019, an annual regional youth poetry slam hosted by Iconoclast Artists. The daytime event kicked off the summer nicely. Al puro cien. I was invited to serve as a judge and witnessed a lively slam. Several teams from different parts of the state were on hand for the competition (shout-out to the slam team at César E. Chavez High School!). It is so refreshing to get a chance to see youth take the stage and show their poetic “teeth” in the literary world. This community is vibrant and I look forward to sharing more from Houston.

The 2019/2020 Margarett Root Brown Reading Series poster.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
9.16.19

Last week I helped organize InsideOut’s annual Citywide Poets orientation, which preps the writing mentors who will lead after-school sessions in local high schools and community centers in Detroit from October through May. This year the program is bringing together eighteen writers to participate as mentors, including Nadine Marshall, Jassmine Parks, Brittany Rogers, and Devin Samuels.

In addition to our growing numbers, what made this year’s orientation awesome was the place where we gathered, a new community arts center in the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood called ArtBlock. This space offers an outstanding first impression with its colorful mural on the north wall of the building. Inside the building, there are three separate mural-covered rooms fit for anything from readings to workshops to parties. ArtBlock is available for community groups and local nonprofits to use free of charge, which was a great help to InsideOut. I look forward to this year’s Citywide Poets programming and to seeing future events at ArtBlock.

ArtBlock mural by artist Fel3000ft. (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.
9.10.19

Hola mi gente, my name is Lupe Mendez and I am an educator, writer, and activist originally from Galveston, Texas. I am the founder and current director of Tintero Projects, a grassroots organization that helps provide opportunities for Latinx writers and other writers of color along the Texas Gulf Coast. I received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso and have been a part of the Houston literary scene for more than twenty years. You can check out my Poets & Writers Directory profile for more about my writing.

As the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston, I am excited to provide information to local literary organizations and writers about the resources P&W offers—from applications for minigrants through the Readings & Workshops program to free online resources such as the Literary Events Calendar.

I also have the opportunity to speak about the brilliant writing scene represented in the fourth largest city in the United States. Houston is a powerhouse with exciting open mic events (Notsouh, the First Friday reading series), an active slam scene (Houston VIP, Write About Now), and excellent literary organizations and writing programs (Inprint, Nuestra Palabra, University of Houston).

I look forward to reporting on what’s happening out in Houston. Nos vemos pronto.

Lupe Mendez.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
9.9.19

LaShaun “Phoenix” Kotaran is a longtime figure in the slam community and has recently been chosen to host a new poetry slam series in Detroit. It is exciting to see poetry back in a venue that hasn’t had a poetry event in over ten years—Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This immaculate building offers a dynamic recital hall known as the Cube for performances.

I had a chance to speak to Phoenix about adding this new gig to her extensive hosting career. While Phoenix is excited about the opportunity, she feels that the literary offerings in the city have shrunken, especially since the city’s bankruptcy. “It’s been tough to partner with venues in downtown Detroit and Cass Corridor,” Phoenix says. However, the new slam series at the Cube brings hope of fresh growth. “Detroit Symphony Orchestra is very Detroit, very white and blue collar. It is Detroit grit. This is the perfect space to cultivate culture,” she says.

The first Cube Poetry Slam went down last month and featured incredible local poets and an acoustic set by singer and songwriter Peter Collins who made his Detroit debut. This fall, the series continues with an all-female lineup. I will be watching this series very closely and reporting about it in the near future!

LaShaun “Phoenix” Kotaran and poets read at the Cube. (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.
9.2.19

I recently had the pleasure of attending a new poetry series hosted by Detroit poet Caesar Torreano. Lyrics & Libations is held at Detroit Vineyards, a new venue and winery featuring Michigan-grown wine. This unique venue offers an elegant, spacious feel complete with a bar and one-of-a-kind floating tables. The staff are welcoming and friendly, and the unique wine options keep everyone smiling and warm as they listen to local poets—many of which are established in the community—share their work.

The space offered me the opportunity to chat with artists and organizers who I haven’t crossed paths with in a number of years. Caesar managed to offer the same inspiring allure I recalled from the first time I walked into one of his events over seven years ago.

I highly recommend checking out Lyrics & Libations, which happens every Wednesday starting at 7:00 PM at Detroit Vineyards. There are exciting featured poets to listen to and meet, fine wine, and an open mic for anyone who wants to share and join in. I’ll be back to participate again soon!

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
8.26.19

A large part of the work that I do for the literary community in Detroit is with the nonprofit organization InsideOut Literary Arts. InsideOut is Detroit’s largest and oldest literary arts nonprofit, placing writers in schools across the city and offering an award-winning after-school program known as Citywide Poets. As the coordinator for Citywide Poets, I have the honor of organizing the after-school activities for the program. We offer weekly writing workshops, a visiting writer series, and my favorite event, First Draft Open Mic.

First Draft began by demand from our students who wanted a space to share their in-progress work. The series has continued to flourish and is now closing its second season. The last event held on August 16 featured poetry and music, and a special performance by the 2019 Detroit Youth Poetry Slam team. It is obvious how the youth of the program have taken full ownership of this event series, from hosting to performing. Events like this, along with the work I do for InsideOut and Poets & Writers, all lines up in a way that reminds me that writing is thriving among new, young artists as well as veteran artists. At First Draft Open Mic, there is more that happens than just sharing first drafts, everyone in the space shares a moment of vulnerability and a community is instantly built.

Detroit Youth Poetry Slam team.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
8.19.19

In just under two weeks I will be holding the first of what I hope to be an ongoing event series, the Detroit Writers Circle. On August 30, I am inviting Detroit writers, reading series hosts, and literary event planners to join me at the Tuxedo Project (7124 Tuxedo Street) from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM to write, share, and discuss the minigrants offered by the Readings & Workshops program. Our writing workshop will focus on poetry, and an open mic will follow. We will close the evening by offering a step-by-step tutorial of the application process for the minigrants. This will be a great time to ask questions and gain clarity about the guidelines.

We will also open the floor for suggestions on events in the Detroit area, including future workshop leaders, potential featured performers, and available venues. I am hoping to see a number of literary entities on August 30! Can’t wait to build community with you. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at Detroit@pw.org.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
8.12.19

Exploring events in Detroit has been exciting this summer. There are a number of lesser-known venues in the city that have recently started hosting literary events. For those looking for a space to write or build community, the Room Project in the North End has been a go-to location for me. A membership includes use of the workspace, library, and podcast equipment. They also have an event space that hosts artist talks, readings, and writing workshops.

For a change of scenery and an interactive experience, Signal-Return in Eastern Market has hands-on workshops in their letterpress print shop as well as a range of public programming including exhibitions, book release parties, and the Motor Signal Reading Series cohosted by Literary Detroit. The series pairs a local writer with a traveling writer in a double-feature reading that includes an intermission activity with the audience.

Visiting these locations has been a pleasant learning opportunity on how to help build up the literary community across the city. Shout-out to other spots I’ve visited that I encourage all to check out: Artist Village Detroit, Book Suey, the Commons on Mack Avenue, and the Corner Ballpark.

Search the Literary Places and Reading Venues databases for spots to visit near you!

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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