Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Werkstatt

About ten years ago I had a transformative experience at the Hurston/Wright writer's conference in Washington, DC. At the time I was on the fence about the whole writing thing, although I was encouraged by novelist Alexs Pate, who I met at the University of Minnesota. I knew that there were writers of color out there working, but I just didn't know any of them. Alexs was teaching a fiction workshop at Hurston-Wright and told me that I needed to come through. Boy was he right. (BTW: he's got a new book, In the Heart of the Beat: The Poetry of Rap. It's dope. Review forthcoming)

Portrait of the Misstra as a young Knowitall, w/Alexs Pate
In DC I found a vibrant community of writers who were talented and serious about their work. I ended up meeting some incredible people who I still keep up with to this day (I even got to work with a couple of them when I was at Indiana Review). More importantly, I finally found an audience that I felt could critique my work without critiquing my cultural context. In my previous experiences it was hard for me to figure out whether the feedback I received in workshops, whether positive or negative, was because of the merits of my work or because people were unfamiliar with the type of story I was trying to tell, or why I was trying to tell it. The experience was a revelation.

VONA gots Fyre!
I had a similar experience last week at the VONA writer's conference in San Francisco. The conference is one of the oldest and largest venues for writer's of color from all across the country to get together and work on their craft. Diem Jones, the former Parliament Funkadelic cover photographer, (who was featured in the Indiana Review Funk issue) runs the show, so you know things are funky. The workshops are taught by heavies like Junot Diaz, Chris Abani, Ruth Forman, Willie Perdomo, Evelina Galang, and Tayari Jones, but the best thing about the experience was the amazing community of writers who keep coming back. There's nothing like being able to sit around and just talk about writing with people who share your experience. The feedback I got from Evelina Galang was quite helpful and my workshop mates gave me a lot of great energy to keep me writing. If you haven't attended, you need to start making next year's plans now.


My new favorite coffee shop all-time: Coffee for the People
All writers, regardless of color, have to take the time to invest in their art. We display our values by the way we employ our resources. Time and money are our greatest resources, so if we don't spend either on our writing, how can we credibly say we care about our art?

My new favorite bus bench all-time: Haight and Ashbury

Which leads me to my next pitch...

On July 25th, yours truly will be teaching a writing workshop at the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. The class I'm teaching, called "Publish Before You Perish" is going to be informative, fun, and of course, funky. Check it.

Oh, and here's Ruth Forman and Willie Perdomo reading at this year's faculty reading. Do yourself a favor and watch both.