Episode 29: Candlelight Vigil for Free Speech

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What began as an offsite event for the 2017 AWP conference in Washington D.C. became a rallying point on Saturday, February 11th for over a thousand writers at Lafayette Park, across from the street from The White House. In today’s show you will hear from poets and writers Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Sanaz Fotouhi, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson with minimal edits for time and program continuity.

Prior to the Vigil, Citizen Lit sat down with one of the event organizers, Split This Rock executive director Sarah Browning, to talk about importance and impact of such public gatherings.

Note: transcriptions for each speaker are available on Split This Rock.

 

About the Guests:

Kazim Ali is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and translator. His books include several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward, winner of the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry; The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books' New England/New York Award; The Fortieth DayAll One's Blue; and the cross-genre text Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities. He has also published a translation of Abahn Sabana David by Marguerite Duras, Water's Footfall by Sohrab Sepehri, Oasis of Now: Selected Poems by Sohrab Sepehri, and (with Libby Murphy) L'amour by Marguerite Duras. His novels include Quinn's Passage, named one of "The Best Books of 2005" by Chronogram magazine, and The Disappearance of Seth. His books of essays include Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence and Fasting for Ramadan. In addition to co-editing Jean Valentine: This-World Company, he is a contributing editor for AWP Writers Chronicle and associate editor of the literary magazine FIELD and founding editor of the small press Nightboat Books. He is the series co-editor for both Poets on Poetry and Under Discussion, from the University of Michigan Press.

Ali’s forthcoming titles include: Uncle Sharif's Life in Music, a collection of short stories; The Secret Room: A String Quartet, a novel; and Anais Nin: An Unprofessional Study, a new book of essays.  Ali is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College.

Gabrielle Bellot is a staff writer for Literary Hub. She grew up in the Commonwealth of Dominica. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Guernica, Slate, Tin House, The Normal School, Huffington Post, Electric Literature, Lambda Literary, The Toast, the Caribbean Review of Books, Small Axe, Autostraddle, the blogs of Prairie Schooner and The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2016 Poynter Fellowship from Yale and also holds a Legacy Fellowship from Florida State University. Her writing tends to focus on global literature, LGBTQIA identities, literary history, exile, the Caribbean broadly, and what it might mean--at least for the day you ask her--to navigate the world as a multiracial transgender woman of colour. She is also a self-confessed lover of astronomy, the ocean, Calvin and Hobbes, Hayao Miyazaki's films, Sonic the Hedgehog games, and much, much more. She is working on her first novel.

Sarah Browning is co-founder and Executive Director of Split This Rock. She is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and a featured writer for Other Words. Author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007), and coeditor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2004), she is the recipient of artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, a Creative Communities Initiative grant, and the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. In March, 2014 Browning co-edited a special Split This Rock issue of POETRY Magazine with Don Share. She co-hosts the Sunday Kind of Love poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, now in its ninth year. She previously worked supporting socially engaged women artists with WomenArts and developing creative writing workshops with low-income women and youth with Amherst Writers & Artists. She has been a community organizer in Boston public housing and a grassroots political organizer on a host of social and political issues.

Melissa Febos is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart (St. Martin’s Press 2010) and the forthcoming essay collection, Abandon Me (Bloomsbury 2017). Her work has been widely anthologized and appears in publications including Tin House, Granta, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Glamour, Guernica, Post Road, Salon, The New York Times, Hunger Mountain, Portland Review, Dissent, The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, Bitch Magazine, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, Drunken Boat, and Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York.

She has been featured on NPR’s Fresh Air, CNN, Anderson Cooper Live, and elsewhere. Her essays have twice received special mention from the Best American Essays anthology and have won prizes from Prairie Schooner, Story Quarterly, and The Center for Women Writers. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and The MacDowell Colony.

The recipient of an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, she is currently Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Monmouth University and MFA faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). She serves on the Board of Directors of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, the PEN America Membership Committee, and co-curated the Manhattan reading and music series, Mixer, for nine years. She curates literary events, teaches workshops, and speaks widely. The daughter of a sea captain and a psychotherapist, she was raised on Cape Cod and lives in Brooklyn.

Carolyn Forché's books of poetry include: Blue Hour (HarperCollins, 2004); The Angel of History (HarperCollins, 1994), which received the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Country Between Us (HarperCollins, 1982), which received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award and was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets; and Gathering the Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976), which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets by Stanley Kunitz. She is also the editor of Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (W. W. Norton, 1993) and the coeditor of Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001 (W. W. Norton, 2014).

Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1992, she received the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum.

In 2013, Forché received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, given for distinguished poetic achievement.

She is currently director of the Lannan Center for Poetry and Poetics and holds the Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She lives in Maryland with her husband.

Sanaz Fotouhi was born in Iran and grew up in Japan, America and Hong Kong. She holds a BA and an MPhil from the University of Hong Kong and a PhD in English Literature from the University of New South Wales. She currently lives in Australia.

Ross Gay is the author of three books: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, and it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.  

Ross is the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook "Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens," in addition to being co-author, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., of the chapbook, "River."  He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin'in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press.  Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.  

Luis J. Rodriguez, from 2014-2016, was the official Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. For Luis poetry is soul talk, a prophetic act, a powerful means to enlarge one's presence in the world.

Luis is also a novelist/memoirist/short story/children's book writer as well as a community & urban peace activist, mentor, healer, youth & arts advocate, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. 

He has 15 books in all genres, including the best-selling memoir, Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. His latest memoir is the sequel, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing. His latest poetry book is Borrowed Bones from Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press. Luis is founding editor of Tia Chucha Press, now in its 28th year, and co-founder/president of Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley. And he's co-convener of the Network for Revolutionary Change.

Eric Sasson writes “Ctrl-Alt,” a column on alternative culture for the Wall Street Journal. His short story collection, “Margins of Tolerance,” was the 2011 Tartt First Fiction Award runner-up and was published by Livingston Press in May 2012. His stories have been nominated for the Robert Olen Butler prize, the Pushcart prize, and one is in The Best Gay Stories 2013. Other recent publication credits include pieces in Salon, The New Republic, Independent Ink, Explosion Proof, Connotation Press, BLOOM, Nashville Review, The Puritan, Liquid Imagination, and THE2NDHAND, among othersIn 2012 he was awarded a Tennessee Williams scholarship to the Sewanee Writers Conference as well as residency fellowships to Ragdale and the Hambidge Center. He received his MA in Creative Writing from NYU and has taught fiction writing at the Sackett Street Writers Workshop in Brooklyn, where he was born, bred, and still resides. 

 

Music for today's episode provided by: 

A Human Work | Nihilore | CC 3.0

SK | CC 4.0

Plastic Love | Mise | CC 4.0

 

Special thanks to the following for their co-sponsorship of the vigil: 

Academy of American Poets, Aforementioned Productions/apt, Bat City Review, Black Earth Institute, CantoMundo, Cherry Tree, Community of Literary Magazines & Presses, cream city review, Iota Short Prose Conference, Kansas State University Department of English, Lambda Literary, Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, Leaders are Readers, Letras Latinas at Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies, Network of Spiritual Progressives, Older Queer Voices: The Intimacy of Survival - An Anthology, PEN America, The Rumpus, Shabda Press, Split This Rock, Storyscape, Sundress Publications, Tikkun Magazine, Tin House, University of Colorado-Boulder MFA Program, University of Miami Creative Writing MFA, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, VONA/Voices, Weird Sister, Write Our Democracy, WTAW Press