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.

4.28.20

Hey, mi gente. I want to get right to the point and keep up the flow of discussion on the publishing houses here in Houston. Throughout the month I’ve written about Arte Público Press, Mutabilis Press, and Bloomsday Literary, so I’ll keep it going today and introduce you to Calypso Editions.

Calypso Editions is the city’s main publishing house focused on translation—getting books written by foreign authors into English. In addition, they publish books of poetry and fiction written in English and are committed to “providing a space for talented, new voices.” One of the main things that has always caught my attention about Calypso Editions is that it is a cooperative! That’s right—it is a nonprofit press that is artist-run, which makes their publishing choices all the more engaging and remarkable.

They are also a community-oriented publishing house. Back in 2017, when PEN America planned out the Writers Resist reading in New York City, Calypso Editions was one of the first organizations that was willing to stand with Houston writers as we planned our own Writers Resist events.

On May 1, Calypso Editions will release The Child Who, a book by Jeanne Benameur, translated from the French by Bill Johnston. This work of poetic prose explores the worlds of a young boy whose mother has disappeared, his father, and the boy’s grandmother. As always, Calypso Editions hopes to introduce yet another wonderful voice to a new audience of English-language readers.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
4.27.20

It has been my pleasure to dive into books from Detroit authors during quarantine days and I’m excited to share another book with you this week. Soft Animal Wounds is the first collection by 2019 Detroit Youth Poet Laureate Mahalia Frost. Since her appointment, Frost has become a prominent figure in the Detroit youth poetry community. I am proud of her growth and her work on this collection! Here, I will give you my reflections on the first half of this book.

Soft Animal Wounds dives deep into Frost’s imaginative mind with complex images that throw the reader curveball after curveball. Themes range from self-reflection to relationships with family and the surrounding world. Even when a question isn’t asked, the reader can find a question to explore between the lines. I found myself on my toes through one of my favorite poems early in the book “Ghazal With a Trace of Something Disappearing” with lines like:

“I run inside the crimson oceans of a song”

Frost’s open honesty is felt through many of the ways she chooses to build imagery. Some may find parts painful or grotesque, but Frost finds a way to make everything tie back to a larger meaning—often with commentary on her own relationships.

“...I remember her calling me wound / when we went to the doctors they said mother’s body / was trying to kill her & I sat there quiet like a good wound”

As I near the midpoint of this collection, I am further impressed by the poetic forms that are being explored by Frost. She seems to take a liking to the ghazal form and even has a poem that requires the reader to turn the book horizontally. Dialogue, footnotes, and other writing techniques truly show the growth and dedication of this young poet.

Soft Animal Wounds by Mahalia Frost.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
4.22.20

To continue celebrating National Poetry Month, here is the second half of my recommended New Orleans book list to read during quarantine. I hope you enjoy and remember to support your local writers, small presses, and bookstores however you can as we all get through this difficult time together.

1. Poems Don’t Have to Be Perfect: 2019 Pizza Poetry Anthology by 826 New Orleans. The poems (some about pizza) from this anthology by young writers ages 6–18 are collected by the nonprofit 826 New Orleans at their annual Pizza Poetry event, which publishes student poems on the boxes of local pizza joints.

2. City Without People: The Katrina Poems (Black Widow Press, 2011) by Niyi Osundare. The Nigerian-born poet connects his roots with the African influences of New Orleans and recalls the people who helped him when he lost his home to Hurricane Katrina.

3. Louisiana Midrash (University of New Orleans Press, 2019) by Marian D. Moore. Moore writes about her African American Jewish experience in this wonderful collection of poetry.

4. Memory Wing (Black Widow Press, 2011) by Bill Lavender. Lavender has written more than ten books of poetry and is the publisher of the popular local press Lavender Ink. This collection reads like a memoir taking us deep into his family life and experiences in Arkansas and New Orleans.

5. Fractal Song (Black Widow Press, 2016) by Jerry Ward. Esteemed professor and scholar, Ward writes poems with imagery that bring the fractures of life together.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
4.21.20

I keep reading about independent bookstores closing due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and I’ve also been thinking about the state of small presses during this time. With this in mind, I am glad to have the opportunity in this blog to present to you more of the publishing houses that make Houston tick.

I started the month by featuring Arte Público Press and Mutabilis Press, so I’ll keep it going and introduce you to the rookie on the block, Bloomsday Literary.

Bloomsday was established just about five years ago, and in that short time they have made a strong mark on the publishing world. Their latest publications include former Houston poet laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton’s Newsworthy and Jabari Asim’s Stop & Frisk: American Poems, both hard-hitting books on contemporary themes that we need in this day and age.

On top of publishing amazing works of literature, Bloomsday hosts and runs F***ing Shakespeare, a podcast series where they talk all things literary with writers from all over the country. The podcast is a refreshing way to advocate for writing, interview authors, and highlight the work of wonderful writers like recent guests Jericho Brown, Edan Lepucki, and Phong Nguyen. I secretly want them to invite me to be a guest!

Coowners Kate Martin Williams and Jessica Cole, along with chief creative officer Phuc Luu run Bloomsday and they are delightful folks. They are always on the literary scene around these parts hunting around for the next writer to make shine bright.

Get your hands on their books and listen to their podcast interviews archived on their website.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
4.20.20

This time last month the state of Michigan was taking the first steps into enforcing social distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic. While we cannot enjoy day-to-day life as we once knew it, some innovative minds have begun to produce virtual events and miniseries to keep the readings, open mics, and literary festivals going online. Here are a few Detroit shout-outs that you will want to catch!

Lyrics & Libations Poetry Series has shifted to a weekly Instagram Live open mic every Wednesday at 7:30 PM EST. You can find host Caesar Torreano on Instagram, @caesartorreano. Just log in to read!

In collaboration with poet and host Joel Fluent Greene, the Detroit Historical Museum is presenting an Instagram miniseries that covers the beauty of poetry in the city and celebrates National Poetry Month. Beginning today, April 20, through April 29 there will be live Instagram events at 7:00 PM EST featuring readings and talks with local writers like Arrie Lane and M. L. Liebler. I will take part in the April 28 program “Pockets of Joy” alongside youth and recent alums I’ve worked with through the InsideOut Literary Arts’ after-school program Citywide Poets. You can find the museum on Instagram, @detroithistorical.

And speaking of Citywide Poets, they are holding a weekly #SaturdayShare Open Mic at 3:00 PM EST every Saturday via Instagram, @citywidepoets. You can find me hosting these live events where we share daily prompts and poems. While the program primarily serves teen writers, we encourage adult writers to join us to continue building community across generations.

The team at InsideOut Literary Arts is also putting on Essential Words: Louder Than a Bomb Youth Poetry Festival Online, which is going fully virtual in order to stay engaged with youth and the community. Beginning on April 30 and ending on May 7, the festival will provide a variety of daily interactions both publicly via Instagram and privately via Google Meet and other online meeting platforms. Writers ages 13-19 as well as adults are encouraged to register in order to take part.

Consider joining these excellent events and I hope to see you soon online!

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
4.15.20

During this pandemic, as many of us are quarantined in our homes, we may be looking for ways to find a silver lining in all of this. Might I suggest more reading? In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a few poetry books written by New Orleans authors to remind us about this beloved city. I hope you’ll enjoy some poems from this list of books (I’ve included links to their listings in the New Orleans Public Library), and maybe it will inspire you to make your own list of poetry books about the cities you love.

1. From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets (Runagate Press, 1998) edited by Kalamu ya Salaam. This classic anthology gives voice to a diverse group of poets, and includes poetry from both established and emerging writers.

2. Hearing Sappho in New Orleans: The Call of Poetry From Congo Square to the Ninth Ward (Louisiana State University Press, 2012) by Ruth Salvaggio. In this book Salvaggio, inspired by a volume of Sappho’s poetry she finds while going through her belongings just after Hurricane Katrina, explores the history of lyric poetry in New Orleans.

3. My Name Is New Orleans: 40 Years of Poetry & Other Jazz (Margaret Media, Inc., 2009) by Arthur Pfister. This collection of poetry captures the sounds and smells and culture of New Orleans from a native who was a fixture of the poetry scene in the city for decades.

4. Geometry of the Heart (Portals Press, 2007) by Valentine Pierce. Ms Valentine, as I affectionately call her, is a veteran to the New Orleans poetry scene. Her work showcases years of knowledge and wisdom.

5. Red Beans and Ricely Yours (Truman State University Press, 2005) by Mona Lisa Saloy. This is a classic book of Southern poetry—and a winner of the PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Award for poetry—from one of our city’s beloved folklorists.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
4.14.20

Last week I started highlighting the publishing houses here in Houston by looking at Arte Público Press. Today I want to write about Mutabilis Press. This nonprofit literary press is all about supporting the poetry world, especially poets in the greater Houston area.

The press was founded in 2003 by poet and artist Carolyn Tourney Florek and is a great source of literary work, including first books from some of the best poets that Houston has to offer. I personally own Why Me? (Mutabilis Press, 2009), the debut collection of poetry by Inprint founder Rich Levy, and it’s a great collection. Mutabilis also publishes poetry anthologies and makes it a point to find ways to gather as many Houston area poets as possible to write on a variety of themes. Their latest anthology, Enchantment of the Ordinary, edited by Galveston poet and dear friend of mine John Gorman, collects poems from Houston area authors with a connection to the state of Texas. I love the idea behind this anthology.

It is a blessing to be able to thumb through the anthologies and poetry collections published by Mutabilis and find the names and words of poets who I call friend. If you have the means to support this wonderful press, please take a look at their catalog and order books from them directly or from your local independent bookstore. Either way your purchase helps keep the lights on for these publishing houses.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
4.13.20

Temperatures are rising in the Midwest in these first weeks of a long-awaited spring as we continue to track whether COVID-19 cases are reducing. Michigan is still under a stay-at-home order, which makes it difficult to enjoy the warm weather but perfect for sitting down and reading some more books by Detroit authors.

For the Love of Boys by Imani Nichele is a collection of poetry written during her term as the 2018 Detroit youth poet laureate. The chapbook opens with a thoughtful preface that helps frame the book for the reader: “When you approach this body of work, I ask that you come knowing this is not heartbreak or about bitterness or a bite back at love gone sour. This within itself is not a cry for a father. It is coming of age. It is my capacity to hold men broadening, within and through different relationships.” She further describes this collection as an examination of how when boys transition into men, they are allowed space to still operate in boyhood. This touches on her thoughts of linear time being meaningless when becoming an adult in these lines:

“All of the clocks are broken here / in a tight room / Only enough space for our bodies to be pendulum”

I love the images associated with the body in this collection as exemplified in these lines:

“I imagine my father is a bloodless boy, with running feet / split-chested & / picking everything broken from inside of him”

Nichele further makes efforts to better understand her body and standing in the world with two poetic definitions of disambiguation that split the collection into thirds. In these, Nichele sees her body as a weapon and “full of answers and opinions and dying things.”

I am so proud of this young voice! Nichele has since sold out of her chapbook, but has announced that her first full-length manuscript, If You Must Know, is coming soon. I look forward to the release of this collection and will share it with you once it is out!

Imani Nichele, author of the chapbook For the Love of Boys.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
4.8.20

As we celebrate National Poetry Month, I wanted to pause for a moment in the blog to talk about how writers in New Orleans are adjusting to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Like in many cities, writers in New Orleans are adapting to stay-at-home orders by hosting readings and other literary events virtually. Whether you were ready to leap into the virtual world and take on technology or not, we have suddenly become each other’s online audience.

Although I miss browsing my local bookstores and bumping into writers while attending events, this online surge of literary events has offered me the opportunity to hear and see more local writers without having to pick and choose what I can attend due to a busy schedule. Quarantine means I am able to experience hearing more from local and national writers from the comfort of my couch.

I have already joined a newly formed New Orleans poetry series Facebook Group, watched a fiction reading, and peeked in on a Zoom workshop of local writers. And I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting to mention.

If you are organizing virtual literary events in New Orleans, reach out me at NOLA@pw.org. The Readings & Workshops program has recently updated its mini-grants to accommodate virtual literary programming and applications are open now. You can also view and list online events on the Literary Events Calendar. Enjoy online and stay safe.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
4.7.20

It gives me great pleasure to highlight the many aspects of the literary world that exist here in the Houston area through this blog. I feel it is important to keep this work going, especially now during this global crisis, to provide a sense of community as well as a little break from the news.

Starting this month, I’ll be writing about some of the publishing houses here in Houston, including Arte Público Press. Founded in 1979 by Nicolas Kanellos, Arte Público Press is the largest and most established publisher of Latino literature in the United States. Housed at the University of Houston, where Kanellos is a professor of Hispanic Studies, the press has helped launch the careers of notable authors like Sandra Cisneros, whose debut novel, The House on Mango Street, was published by the press; Miguel Piñero, who cofounded the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City; and Obie Award–winning playwright Luis Valdez.

The press also launched the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Program to catalog lost Latinx writings from the American colonial period through 1960. They then branched out into bilingual books for children and young adults with their imprint Piñata Books.

Arte Público Press continues their mission to bring Hispanic literature to more audiences through their programs and books. They publish thirty books a year, so if you got the time, take a look at their massive catalog and consider ordering some of these wonderful books (including the recent release of Richard Z. Santos’s debut novel). Trust me, it’ll be worth your while.

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

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