Giving back to the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House

Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House banner by Jenna Brager
Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House banner by Jenna Brager.

This year I served as the initial judge/reader in poetry for the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House Literary Prize contest. Thank you, Johnna Schmidt, for the opportunity.

Litfest is an annual literary contest and celebration. At the spring ceremony, awards are given out for the top three poems and short stories, honorable mentions, and the Writers’ House seniors graduate and receive certificates. I remember my Litfest fondly.

Four years ago I was graduating from the Writers’ House. And when Johnna announced the winners of that year’s competition, I was so surprised that my poem “An invisible middle” had won first place!

I’m thrilled to pass on some of that excitement to the next Writers’ House generation. It was very special to read almost 100 undergraduate poems as an alumna. Choosing 10 to pass along to the final judge (Ocean Vuong!) was an honor.

It was difficult to decide on the top 10 because many of the poems had great potential, voice, and imagery. I definitely saw a lot of my early writing in some of them.

The results of the 2017 Litfest are being announced this week. And I hope that even if I didn’t choose your poem in the top 10, and even if Ocean Vuong didn’t pick yours for the top winners, you’ll still continue to write. We need emerging poets and short story writers. We need champions of the freedom of expression. I’m getting all sappy because I truly believe in this vital community of writers. The Writers’ House matters — your writing and voice matter. I’m so glad to soon call you my fellow Writers’ House alumni.

This year’s Litfest is Thursday, May 4 at 8 p.m. in St. Mary’s Hall at the University of Maryland. Writers will read from the honorable mentions and top winning poems and stories. And the 2017 Stylus will be unveiled. I’ll see you there.

The power of writers as activists

The incredible Taylor Lewis reflects on the power of writers as activists, her experiences teaching abroad in France, going to grad school in Hawaii, and the current political climate in a recent article in The Writers’ Bloc.

Back in 2011, at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House at the University of Maryland, Taylor had the great idea to start up a literary-arts newspaper on campus — what eventually became The Writers’ Bloc. The University of Maryland had niche newspapers, but nothing like this.

I was grateful to be included in starting the paper, becoming its Editor-in-Chief years later, and am so proud of what it has grown into.

“Since then, it has evolved in ways I could have never imagined,” Taylor writes. “From Writers’ to Writer’s; from a focus solely on arts and writing to music and blogs and activism. The staff has grown exponentially from the few of us who started it, and though I haven’t met many of them, every new generation carries on the legacy, making it bigger and better.”

Taylor is absolutely right when she says, “We do not take kindly to walls.” We as writers, we as creatives, we as thinkers, dreamers, artists, we as immigrants, we as people of color, we as LGBTQ/queer people, we as disabled people, we as indigenous people/Native Americans, we as people.

We don’t take kindly to being walled up, walled off, with borders or bans — everything happening now we are actively fighting and speaking up against. And The Writers’ Bloc has always and seems to continue to offer an important space for these writers and artists.

Taylor leaves us with insight into another language; apt since she is studying second-language acquisition.

Hawaiʻi Loa, kū like kākou
Kū paʻa me ka lōkahi e
Kū kala me ka wiwo ʻole
ʻOnipaʻa kākou, ‘onipaʻa kākou
A lanakila nā kini e
E ola, e ola e ola nā kini e

All Hawaiʻi stands together, it is now and forever
To raise your voices, and hold your banners high
We shall stand as a nation
To guide the destinies of our generations
To sing and praise the glories of our land

Thank you, The Writers’ Bloc staff, for continuing this legacy of sharing your voices. This is so necessary. And thank you, Taylor, for dreaming up that idea all those years ago in the midst of overflowing undergraduate schedules. What a dream — and what a newspaper it has become.

Designing “a decade of scribblers”

photo (14)

This year I was hard at work as the Social Media Manager for the Writers’ House. One of my projects this semester was acting as Design Editor for the Writers’ House tenth anniversary publication, “a decade of scribblers.” I worked with a staff of three to collect submissions from current and former Writers’ House students, copy edit the submissions, and then I designed the publication.

I have a lot of experience as a page designer for newspapers, having designed feature spreads in high school and at The Pendulum. But this was my first book. This publication was truly a literary journal of its own — and I had never designed something so extensive.

While challenging, the experience was very worthwhile and now I can say that I’ve successfully designed and produced a book-length publication. Please read the submissions, (mine is included, a poem titled Scribbled lines), and feel free to comment on the design.

A teller of all stories: Patricia Smith reads poems about Hurricane Katrina

By Marlena Chertock

Published first in The Writers’ Bloc.

Poet Patricia Smith realizes the power language has to transport you from one place to a better place. That is one reason she taught poetry to a sixth grade class in Florida, to students whose parents had died or were dying from AIDS.

That is also why the writer of six books of poetry started writing poems about Hurricane Katrina in her “Blood Dazzler” collection, Smith said during a Writers Here and Now reading on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Smith wanted to make Hurricane Katrina as detailed and accessible to readers as possible.

“The majority of people experienced Katrina as I did, through a computer screen.”

Continue reading A teller of all stories: Patricia Smith reads poems about Hurricane Katrina