Event Coverage: VONA Voices Workshop 2010

This post is a little belated because I’ve been busy traveling, but here are some reflections on my experience last month at the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) Workshop 2010, hosted at the University of San Francisco.

The program website pretty much says it all: “The VONA Voices Workshop is dedicated to nurturing developing writers of color [who] come from around the globe to work with renowned writers of color.”  Essentially, VONA is where you go to work with people like Junot Diaz, Chris Abani, and Suheir Hammad.  Where you discover for yourself that there’s a rich and vibrant tradition of writers of color in the United States and that you can situate yourself in that incredible wealth of a heritage.  It’s where you go to learn that you’re not the only one asking the question, “Where am I from, where are my people from, and why does that matter to my writing?”

Basically, VONA is the place where you walk into a workshop, sit down and your instructor says, “So what are your ancestors telling you today?”  You sit awestruck as your classmates go around the room channeling these incredibly powerful, angry voices from our nation(s)’ untold histories, and what you end up with once everyone has spoken is a room of not just eleven poets, but generations of voices echoed through the sensibilities of your peers.

University of San Francisco
Lone Mountain Campus

I attended VONA’s second session, which meant that I was in LA-based poet Ruth Forman’s poetry workshop, along with ten other women from around the country.  Represented in our class was a wide diversity of cultural, and ethnic, and professional backgrounds — including a med student, an African Diaspora Studies Ph.D candidate, an art therapist, and a non-profit consultant… only to mention a few!  Ruth fostered a warm culture of dialogue and collaboration, while advocating fiercely that we stick to June Jordan’s (one of her mentors) Poetry for the People guidelines for discussing poetry.

I learned so much from Ruth, particularly in our one-on-one conference where she shared with me her understanding of what it means to be an African American poet, following in a tradition that — as she sees it — has sought always to speak against injustice, bring hope to the community, and capture the musicality of spoken (and sung) language.  To hear some of Ruth’s work, watch this clip of the VONA faculty reading, where she read several poems from her most recent collection, Prayers Like Shoes (Whit Press, 2009).  You can also hear her on NPR, talking about her children’s book Young Cornrows Callin out the Moon (Children’s Book Press, 2007).

Each of VONA’s two sessions featured a mid-week faculty reading.  Ours was sensational – we heard from Diem Jones with musician Len Wood, Tananarive Due, Ruth Forman, M. Evelina Galang, Chris Abani, Andrew X. Pham, Willie Perdomo, and Elmaz Abinader, each of whom are incredibly accomplished artists and writers.  The auditorium was packed, and because so many in the audience were VONA participants, cries of “Hey, that’s my teacher!” echoed continually throughout the hall.  For many of us, this was the first time we’d heard our instructors read — and the effect was magical.  There they were, our workshop leaders — enacting, performing, embodying all they had been talking about in class.

Tananarive Due reading at the VONA faculty event

On the final evening of the workshop, every VONA participant (about 80 poets and writers in all) shared 300 words of their writing.  Some of it was newly written, read right off of people’s laptops – or Blackberrys.  Some of it was freshly revised after workshop that afternoon.  All of it was raw, real, and bore witness to the tremendous weight of cultural Story represented in the room.  Cave Canem fellow Tara Betts finished the evening off with a powerful, lyrical response to Wallace Stevens’ infamous comment, “Who let the coon in?” when Gwendolyn Brooks arrived at the 1950 Drew-Phalen Awards banquet.

The title of Betts’ poem?  “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Woman.”  Rock on, Tara.

VONA 2010

To Consider…

For a complete list of VONA 2010 faculty, click here.  Read these writers’ books, follow their blogs and, if you can, by all means study with them – or at least hear them read.

Apply to next year’s Voices Workshop!  The application probably won’t be open for another few months, but check the website periodically if this is something you think you may enjoy participating in.

Lastly, the workshop offers limited scholarships to seminar participants, which is made possible only through the generosity of its donors.  If you’d like to help support this initiative, consider donating through the program website.

Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb. 24-28, 2010)

Of note this weekend: Sandra Lim in Chicago, Jason Koo in Cleveland, Marilyn Chin in San Jose, Fay Chiang in NYC.  Also: Hyphen #19 release party in SF.  Please note that this weekend’s roundup only covers through February 28th — as we’ll be transitioning into a new format for our events listings starting on March 1st.  Look out for an announcement at the beginning of next week!

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Friends & Neighbors: “8: A Symposium”

Our friends at The Asian American Literary Review have just passed on some information about an exciting event of theirs that is coming up in April.

8: A Symposium (sponsored by The Asian American Literary Review)

8: A Symposium: Voices from The Asian American Literary Review will feature free public readings, Q&A sessions, and book signings by eight highly accomplished Asian American writers: Karen Tei Yamashita, Sonya Chung, Kyoko Mori, April Naoko Heck, Ed Lin, Srikanth Reddy, Peter Bacho and Ru Freeman.   The symposium will be an all-day affair, and will take place on April 24th, 2010, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Ulrich Recital Hall as part of the University of Maryland, College Park’s, Maryland Day celebration.

For more information, please contact the organizers by email: asianamericanliteraryreview[at]gmail[dot]com.

If you live in the vicinity of Maryland or will be in the area around the time of April 24th, we highly encourage you to check out this event!

Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb 19-24, 2010)

We’re posting slightly later than usual this week, but still in time to let you know about some really interesting events!  Of especial note: two AAWW events (Purvi Shah Workshop and Jason Koo Book Party) and the SULU series in NYC, Flamenco-Inspired Poetry Reading by PAWA Arkipelago in SF, Marilyn Chin in San Jose, Smithsonian Annual Day of Remembrance for Japanese Internment (marking the anniversary of Executive Order 9066) in DC.  Also: don’t forget about the open mic series going on (Family Style in Philly and *SPARKLE* Queer-Friendly Open Mic in DC), and that in many cities, Lunar New Year festivities are not yet over. Check out your city’s newspaper or Chinatown web site to find out if festivities are still going on!

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb. 11-17, 2010)

LOTS of holidays being marked this weekend: Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and, as our Twitter followers have reminded us, the start of Carnival festivities (Mardi Gras for those of us in the States).  Of particular significance to the Asian American community: check out MOCA’s lists of Lunar New Year events in NYC, and in Boston, DC, LA, San Francisco, and Honolulu.  Philadelphia readers can read this helpful article for more info; Seattle residents can look here; Chicago peeps can look here.  Know of Lunar New Year Festivities in a city that we’re missing?  Comment below to tell us about it.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb 4-10, 2010)

Lots going on this week. Especially interesting this week: Kundiman & Verlaine Reading Series in NYC, Vincent Who? Documentary Screening at the AAWW, poet Truong Tran’s “Lost & Found” exhibit opening. Don’t forget to also check out the beginnings of Lunar New Year festivities, which are starting in some cities this week (The New Year itself is on Feb. 14th).  The Museum of Chinese in America has a great list of New Year’s events going on in NYC and in Boston, DC, San Francisco, and Honolulu.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Jan 28-Feb 3, 2010)

A couple of  readings, 2 ASL Open Mic’s, some book release events, a panel, plays — this week’s roundup is really quite a mix.  Of particular interest: poet Michael Leong at Dartmouth, Diane DiPrima’s Inaugural Address as SF Poet Laureate, and the BECOMING AMERICANS Anthology reading in NYC.  And of course, don’t forget to tune in to President Obama’s first State of the Union Address tonight at 9 PM EST.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Jan 21-27, 2010)

Lots of readings going on this week.  Of note: Patrick Rosal at Cornell College; Monica Ferrell and SULU series in support of Haiti (respectively) at Bowery in NYC, Lawson Inada in Oregon, performace poetry workshop at Stanford University’s Listen to the Silence Conference.  Also worth checking out: KSW/Kaya’s SF Thomassons Performance Tour.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Jan. 12-20, 2010)

It’s the first Weekend Events Roundup of the New Year! (And of the decade, we might add). There’s a lot of things going on this weekend in the literary arts world.  Monday (January 18th) is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  We hope that, in addition to considering what arts events you’d like to check out, you’ll also consider attending a celebratory event or participating in service or activism this weekend in honor of his work and legacy.

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Friends & Neighbors: Holiday Events Roundup (Dec. 23, 2009 – Jan. 11, 2010)

Things in the literary scene are winding down for the year, and the LR staff is going to be taking some time off from the blog for the holidays starting tomorrow (December 23), and ending on January 8th.  It’s been a great last few months, and we’ve been bowled over again and again by your support and enthusiasm as this community has begun to take root.  Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be taking time to rest, spend time with friends and family, attend to personal matters, and prepare for LR’s next steps in 2010. In light of the fact that we’ll be taking such a long span of time off, we’ve decided that four our events roundup this week, we will cover a longer time period than usual.  The Holiday Roundup below covers events happening from December 23rd until January 11th, and, since there are several contests and festivals with deadlines coming up in the next month or so, we’ve also included a list of calls for entries.   As always, please let us know of any corrections that need to be made, or if you have an event that you’d like to add.  Happy Holidays!

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