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.

Using parallax to discuss college athletic spending

Athletic Spending in ACC and Big Ten

For my final CNS project, I wanted to learn parallax. Parallax is the difference between positions of an object viewed at different depths. It is from the Greek word parallaxis, which means alteration.

Parallax in web design has become huge. Web designers are using parallax scrolling to create the effect that images or text are moving at different speeds. As the user scrolls, different images and text come into view. It is a sort of animation — without needing something like Flash. View great examples of parallax scrolling in web design.

I based the graphic’s design on this demo. I also used a jQuery plugin called stellar.js for this project. Stellar.js makes coding parallax scrolling easier. You add data attributes to the html markup and then run $.stellar().

For this graphic, I compiled data from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. I compared athletic and academic spending at schools in the ACC and Big Ten conferences. And for an added focus, this graphic provides a look at athletic finances as the University of Maryland switches conferences from the ACC to the Big Ten.

I am excited to create more projects using parallax and stellar.js.

My poems are published!

I’m now a published poet! Two of my poems were published in this year’s issue of Stylus and one won First Place in the Jiménez-Porter Literary Prize. There are still copies of Stylus available throughout the University of Maryland campus. Pick them up while you can!

I have three poems in this year’s issue of Stylus!

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.

The importance of place

Chimamanda Adichie tells true, personal stories

By Marlena Chertock

Chimamanda Adichie explained the importance of place and truth in her writing at the Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series on Tuesday night at CSPAC. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

She tries to tell the Nigerian story, her Nigerian story, through fearless honesty.

Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer known for her realistic fiction and her TED talk about the danger of the single story, explained her inspiration for writing for about an hour Tuesday night as a part of the 2012-13 Worldwise Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series, offered by the College of Arts and Humanities. The CSPAC Gildenhorn Recital Hall was filled; tickets had sold out last week.

Adichie first read a short excerpt from one of her lesser-known works about her Uncle Mai and his death, which was published in the Financial Times.

She called her uncle “my link to our past.” A past that is connected through family, heritage and place.

Continue reading The importance of place

Changing careers for the love of poetry

Once a civil engineer, Zein El-Amine made a career switch 5 years ago

By Marlena Chertock

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

Image result for zein el-amine
Zein El-Amine started a poetry career after working as a civil engineer for 20 years.

Five years ago one poetry professor in the University of Maryland’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House discussed paint colors for a fraternity bathroom for 15 minutes with his Residential Facilities supervisor.

“All I could think was do I want to spend my time doing this?” said Zein El-Amine, who worked in Residential Facilities from 2004 to 2007 and was a project manager and civil engineer for about 20 years. “The culture in Residential Facilities was becoming oppressive or it was always oppressive and I just didn’t notice it.”

He knew then he needed to change his career.

Continue reading Changing careers for the love of poetry

Writers’ House preparing for 10-year anniversary

By Marlena Chertock, Online Editor of The Writers’ Bloc

You may have seen it posted in Dorchester hallways. Or on the door to the kitchen.  The Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program has a special birthday this year, its 10th anniversary.

To celebrate a decade of the Writers’ House program, the staff is planning a daylong event and a publication. Director Johnna Schmidt said they hope to have a high quality, small publication that highlights Writers’ House student work and celebrates the House in general.

The anniversary project will celebrate how much the Writers’ House has functioned as an engine of literary innovation, according to Schmidt.

“We have 50 undergraduates every year who get involved and come up with new ideas,” she said. “Some of the programs that have been added since inception in 2002 have been TerPoets in 2006, Postcards from My Country in 2006, the winter term program in Chile in 2007, the summer term program in Ireland in 2011 and the Student Initiatives program in 2010.”

Other programs, including Stylus, the Lannan Fellows program, the curricular aspect of workshops, Litfest and the Jimenéz-Porter Literary Contest have been a part of the program from its first year.

Submissions of poetry and prose for the 10th anniversary publication should be sent to with a 25-word bio. The deadline for submissions is May 15.

Possible submissions include odes to dorm rooms, campus places, and capturing a generation marked by social media, according to the poster.

“The aim is to raise our profile and ultimately to take over the world,” Schmidt said. It also offers a publication outlet for Writers’ House students.

The publication will be released at the daylong event on October 20 to commemorate the anniversary.

“We’re intentionally scheduling it on the same day as homecoming because we hope lots of alumni will return and visit,” Schmidt said.

In the morning, there will be roundtables on career advancement, graduate school, publishing and jobs for creative writers for current students and alumni.

Creative writing workshops will be held in the afternoon and an open mic in the evening, with a reception and party.

“This is the kind of event that should go on way too long and have some person who no one knows falling asleep in the corner on top of a pile of coats,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt requested more student input on topics for the roundtables, what kind of workshops would be fun and food. She wants students to get involved with the publication and project in general. Any suggestions are welcome, she said.

Undergrounduates MC wins at Circles13

By Marlena Chertock

Published first in The Writers’ Bloc.

A crowd of about 100 sat in bleachers, circled around three male students with microphones at James Madison University Saturday. They insulted each other through rhymes for 30-seconds each.

After two rounds of 30-seconds with a background beat, Fresco Sounds, Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs and Killer Cam battled a capella.

The crowd chanted, “Fresco Sounds, Fresco Sounds,” the judges nodded their heads and Fresco Sounds won $300 for the MC battle at Circles13, a break dance, hip hop and rap competition that brought several colleges together for a day at JMU.

Continue reading Undergrounduates MC wins at Circles13