Week Two

It’s week two of National Poetry Month and wow, it’s already been a great time of reading and listening to great poetry. I had the extreme pleasure of attending the book launch for Voices from the Block:  A Legacy of African-American Literature last weekend and enjoyed two entertaining spoken word poets. I also had a super time at the Writer’s Reception, sponsored by the Texas Writers Journal. I read poems, met new authors, and learned more about the Texas Writers Journal’s updated and expanded literary journal.  And the fun continues in a few days when I attend Poetry Out Loud at Lucky Dog Books in Dallas (Oak Cliff). I am eagerly awaiting that event, but until that date arrives, I am content to get my poetry fix from reading (in some cases, re-reading) presidential inauguration poems.

If you watched or listened to the United States presidential inaugurations for President Barack Obama (2009 and 2013), you know that a poet participated in the swearing-in ceremonies. Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco are the two poets who stood at the podium before the nation sharing their words of hope, history and unity. They joined a short list of poets who either wrote a poem specific to the occasion and/or recited a previously written work to honor the incoming president. Other poets on the list include Robert Frost, who was the first to kick off the tradition in 1961 (John F. Kennedy), Maya Angelou (William Clinton), James Dickey (Jimmy Carter), and Miller Williams (Clinton).

Many of the presidential inauguration poems have been published (or re-published) as a solo piece in a gift book edition which includes beautiful leather binding and specially crafted paper. In honor of National Poetry Month, I encourage you to scour your local bookstore or resale shop for these editions. They make for special reading and are a nice collector’s item. The titles to look for are:

The Gift Outright – Frost

The Strength of Fields – Dickey

On the Pulse of Morning – Angelou

Of History and Hope – Williams

Praise Song for the Day, Praise Song for Struggle – Alexander

One Today – Blanco

Until next week, happy poetry reading and writing!

Happy National Poetry Month

I’m a little behind in sharing my well wishes for an extraordinary and exciting poetry month. There are many events and programs planned throughout the month of April which will highlight the gift of poetry and its importance to humanity. I, too, am planning to shine the light on poetry through my weekly blog posts. In my posts, I’ll focus on the poet laureate position, presidential inauguration poems, poems as songs, and poetry giants. So without further ado, my first nod to National Poetry Month…

When I first heard the title Poet Laureate I was intrigued. I had just learned that Gwendolyn Brooks, a Black woman, like me, had been appointed poet laureate for the United States. I was so proud but also ignorant. What the heck is a poet laureate? I wondered. What do they do? I don’t remember what life event was going on at the time that prevented me from researching answers to my questions, but here it is years later and I now have the answers.

First, poet laureate is an appointed position. The Librarian of Congress selects a status poet to the position. A status poet is one who has published a collection(s) of poems, has achieved some level of recognition for their work, has probably won awards for their writings, and is involved in promoting the art of poetry, and more.

Second, the position’s length of term is one year but some terms have been extended at the pleasure of the librarian such as with the current poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey. While in the position, the poet laureate is responsible for pushing the agenda of poetry. It is up to the poet laureate to determine how this is achieved but most conduct readings, lecture, host literary events, conduct radio and TV interviews and programs, compose poems for the nation, etc.

Third, there is not only a poet laureate for the United States but also for each state. Well, for many of the states; a few states do not have a poet laureate position. Responsibilities and requirements at the state level may differ from the national role.

NTrethewey

Trethewey, our current United States Poet Laureate claims Mississippi as her home state. She is the author of four books, one of which Native Guard won the Pulitzer Prize. Her work tends to focus on history, tragedy and mixed race issues; all subjects that have touched and therefore shaped her life. Below is a list of her other titles:

Domestic Work

Beyond Katrina

Bellocq’s Ophelia

Thrall

This April during National Poetry Month, I encourage you to take some time to check out one of her books. Her words will move you beyond belief.

Until next week, happy reading and writing of poetry.

(Photo copyright Jon Rou)

Alas, The End

Today, another Women’s History Month comes to a close. It’s been a fun month of spotlighting many fine women who also happen to be talented writers. Prepare to meet the last of the seven soul-deep, inspiring women writers who I chose to feature this month. These women writers pooled their talents to make “Voices from the Block: A Legacy of African-American Literature” a five-star anthology; a must read!

Meet

Ingrid Lawton & Breggett Rideau

Both Ingrid and Breggett have rock’em, sock’em poems in “Voices,” and Ingrid also has a short story that will leave you gasping in surprise.

Ingrid Lawton
Ingrid is a native Texan, who writes poetry and short stories. She has also completed a screenplay for young adults. The short story “Cornbread and Buttermilk” and the poem “Schizophrenia” which appear in “Voices from the Block” are her first published works. She enjoys reading and spending time with friends and family.

Breggett Rideau
Breggett was born in New Orleans and is a graduate of Louisiana State University, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science. After college graduation, she worked as a food microbiologist for years until it gave way to her passion—being a jazz singer. Her interest in jazz started when she was three years old, as her father, a jazz purist, had Nancy Wilson and Carmen McRae records playing day and night.

After her first CD, The Opportune Time dropped, Breggett garnered critical acclaim not only from local publications, but also from international institutions. By the invitations of Dr. Gene Cho, Ph.D., Regents Professor, University of North Texas and the Hang Zhou Conservatory, Breggett performed and lectured at Shanghai Conservatory, Shanghai, China in the spring of 2005. She was the first woman of color and jazz artist from the United States to perform and lecture at the conservatory. Currently, she travels extensively singing and sharing her love of jazz.

Featuring Women Writers for Women’s History Month

In previous weeks, I introduced several women writers who are featured in the recently released anthology Voices from the Block: A Legacy of African-American Literature . This week I am pleased to introduce yet another–Toyette Dowdell. I met Toyette years ago and know her to be a highly skilled writer. I consider it an honor for my work to appear with hers in Voices. I can’t wait for you to learn more about this gifted writer through her interview below, and if you’re interested in meeting Toyette in person, she and many of the other contributors to Voices will be at Absinthe Lounge at Southside on Lamar, Dallas, Texas, Saturday, April 5, 7:00 pm.

When did you know you wanted to write?
Toyette: I was an insatiable reader as a child and wrote lots of short stories and plays when I was young, but I decided I wanted to pursue it more seriously after watching the movie Purple Rain by Prince. I said to myself, “Prince wrote a movie so I know I can do that!”

What was your first written work?
Toyette: My first written work was a youth mystery patterned after the Encyclopedia Brown series. My first published piece was a play I wrote that was performed on stage when I was a freshman in high school.

What is your inspiration for writing? Or, where do you get your ideas for your stories, poems, etc.
Toyette: My inspiration for writing is to make other people feel the way I do when I read a really good book which is to be totally immersed in the story. My writing is all about entertaining and engaging my readers. I want them to be caught up in what’s happening and if there is a little bit of thought provocation then all the better.

What are you currently working on?
Toyette: I am currently working on a mystery thriller based in Texas about a female Texas Ranger.

And the Women Keep Coming

Today reflects the third installment of highlighting women writers during Women’s History Month (March).

Today I introduce you to one of the most diverse women writers I know…Sharron Pete. Sharron is not only a great short story writer but also an accomplished article writer and novelist. In essence, she writes well in either long or short form.

Sharron, along with six other talented women writers, is one of the featured contributors in the recently released Voices from the Block:  A Legacy of African-American Literature, a compilation book of poems, essays and short stories written by some of the most prolific members of the Writer’s Block.

Read on to meet this talented young lady…

Sharron Pete

When did you know you wanted to write? 

Since I was a child, I have always written stories and poems. I’ve always loved to read and I enjoy the aspect of developing characters that others can enjoy. I began to write more seriously (i.e., entering contests, submitting articles) as an adult when I was searching for a way to explore my creative side.

What was your first written work?

The first thing I ever wrote for public consumption was a short piece about my travels overseas and how it deepened my relationship (and dependence) on God. I wrote it in response to a weekly challenge contest sponsored by Faithwriters.com.

What is your inspiration for writing? Or, where do you get your ideas for your stories, poems, etc. 

I see myself as a writer whose main objective is to help spread the word of God to others. Not through a preachy, hit-you-over-the-head message but instead through flawed characters and everyday life experiences (big and small) that we can all relate to.

What are you currently working on? 

Currently I am revamping my blog. I have a passion for helping others see how God works in their everyday lives and my blog (still very much under construction) aims to do this. I’m also exploring the world of freelance in small bite-sized pieces as I manage my typical day-to-day obligations.

Women’s History Month Presents…

I opened Women’s History Month last week by stating my plan to present and honor several amazing women who I have had the pleasure of working with recently and who I am sure are planting historical footprints. Last week, I featured Faith Simone (www.faithsimone.com), a poet, short story writer, novelist and blogger. This week, I am happy to present Bennye Johnson, an essayist and poet. Both Faith and Bennye, as well as the women to follow in the coming weeks, are contributors to an anthology which will be released this month. It is titled, Voices from the Block: A Legacy of African-American Literatureand it features poems, short stories, essays, original works by seven talented African-American women. Without further delay…

Bennye Johnson 

Bennye Photo

When did you know you wanted to write?

Bennye:  I knew I wanted to write when I was in the second grade. I mentioned to my second grade teacher that I wanted to write because I loved reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. My teacher, who was my neighbor as well, encouraged me to write short stories. I wrote short stories for her, and she praised me and encouraged me to be a writer.

What was your first written work?

Bennye:  As stated earlier, the short stories I wrote for my teacher/neighbor were my first written works but Marriage, Money and Mistakes in Voices is my first published work. Like most writers, I have also kept a journal on and off since my teen years.

What is your inspiration for writing? Or, where do you get your ideas for your stories, poems, etc. 

Bennye:  I am inspired by life in my writings. Because I understand the power of words, I enjoy having the opportunity to pen my thoughts. This is an avenue of expression for me and hopefully encouragement or heartwarming for others.

What are you currently working on?

Bennye:  I am currently working on the expanded version of Marriage, Money, and Mistakes, a creative nonfiction work that examines the mistakes (money and otherwise) we make in marriage and how to avoid them. Look for it later this year.

March Brings Women, Women, Women!

March not only ushers in spring, the Lenten season and March Madness, it also heralds the opportunity to learn more about women and our contributions to the world as we celebrate Women’s History Month. This Women’s History Month, I want to take a slightly different position. I still plan to honor women in my posts this month, but my focus will be on six amazing women who I have had the pleasure of working with recently and who I am sure are creating history of their own. These women, along with yours truly, are contributors to an anthology which will be released this month. It is titled, “Voices from the Block: A Legacy of African-American Literature,” and it features poems, essays and short fiction, original works by these talented women. I will showcase one or two of these great writers weekly, and I hope the introductions will inspire you to seek more of their written work. I know I am inspired by them. They truly are women of history.

Prepare to meet:  Toyette Dowdell, Bennye Johnson, Ingrid Lawton, Sharron Pete, Breggett Rideau, and Faith Simone.

First up:  Faith Simone

Jamie Gross

When did you know you wanted to write?

Faith:  I knew I wanted to be a writer as a young girl of about 9 or 10 years old. I was always writing in my journal, as well as penning short stories and poems. I knew I wanted to be an author when I grew up, but I let fear of not having a steady career cause me to relegate writing to ‘just a hobby.’ Now, I’m heading full steam ahead in pursuit of a stellar writing career!

What was your first written work?

Faith: My first written work was a fourth grade English assignment. I wrote a novella involving a young girl dealing with her mother’s abandonment and her father’s subsequent re-entry into the world of dating. It was pretty deep subject matter for a nine year old. I still have the original!

The anthology “Voices from the Block: A Legacy of African-American Literature” is my first published work. I am proud to have contributed several poems and short stories focused primarily on women’s issues and relationships.

What is your inspiration for writing? Or, where do you get your ideas for your stories, poems, etc.

Faith: Love is my inspiration for writing. The love God has for us, the love we have for ourselves, the love between a man and a woman, a mother and child, siblings and friends, etc. Love is a beautiful thing! It’s complicated and rich. It’s multi-layered and inexplicable.  I get ideas for my short stories, poems and novels from everyday life. Inspiration can come to me while watching the news, overhearing a conversation, watching a movie, reading my Facebook newsfeed or staring at a cloud. Many times I get great ideas just by sitting quietly with my own thoughts.

What are you currently working on?

Faith: Currently, I’m working on getting my first full length women’s fiction book published. It’s a contemporary inspirational novel about a woman struggling to move forward after being hurt in a past relationship. Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting, and the question is will the main character be able to let go of her anger and walk into all that God has for her? I’m also writing my next novel and blogging away about publishing and other shenanigans on my blog, faithsimone.com.