The Life of a Writer of Color

Writers of color are making quite an impact on the lit scene these days, and it’s been a long time coming. We are pleased to share that one of our own authors, Angie Chuang, received a great review in The Rumpus for her Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, The Four Words for Home.  What sets this review apart from other reviews she has received is this key point:

. . . I pose this as the most crucial: Angie Chuang’s The Four Words for Home is precisely the sort of book the literary community is referring to when diversity of voices comes into question. This isn’t a book written about the immigrant experience, or about the female condition in post-Taliban Afghanistan, but an empathetic and lived experience of a writer situated uniquely at an intersection of one and another, of here and there, of insider and outsider. There are too few books like it.

–Molly Beer, The

Angie will host a workshop in Ann Arbor this September to discuss her book, but more importantly, she will discuss her own writing process for bringing her diverse voice to the fore. When she spoke at Busboys & Poets this past spring, I was most struck by her dedication to advancing the cause for WOCs and was moved by her conviction that Willow Books plays an integral role. We’ll keep doing our best to honor that conviction.

Lit Awards Judges Revealed

Ruth Ellen Kocher

Ruth Ellen Kocher

Andrew Pham

Andrew X. Pham

We are pleased to announce that the judges for our 2014-2015 Willow Books Literature Awards season are Ruth Ellen Kocher for poetry and Andrew X. Pham for prose. Ruth Ellen Kocher is the author of Ending in Planes (Noemi Press, 2014), Goodbye Lyric: The Gigans and Lovely Gun (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014), domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press, 2013), Dorset Prize winner and nominated for the 2014 PEN/Open Book Award, One Girl Babylon (New Issues Press, 2003) Green Rose Prize winner, When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press, 2002), and Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press 1999), winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Prize. Her poems have appeared in various anthologies including, Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poets, Black Nature, From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, An Anthology for Creative Writers: The Garden of Forking Paths, IOU: New Writing On Money, New Bones: Contemporary Black Writing in America. She has been awarded fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, and Yaddo. She is a Contributing Editor at Poets & Writers Magazine and has taught poetry writing for the University of Missouri, Southern Illinois University, the New England College Low Residency MFA program, the Indiana Summer Writer’s Workshop, and Washington University’s Summer Writing program. She is Associate Chair and Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Colorado where she teaches Poetry, Poetics, and Literature.

Glad and honored to be a part of the good effort!”–Andrew X. Pham

Andrew X. Pham is the award-winning author of Catfish and Mandala and The Eaves of Heaven. He is also the translator of Last Night I Dreamed of Peace. He is a Whiting Writer and a Guggenheim Fellow. Winner of the Kiriyama Prize, Andrew is also a NBCC Award Finalist. His books have been on eight Top Ten Books of the Year lists. He is an independent writer, journalist, culinary professional, aerospace engineer, and the founder of Spoonwiz, an online publishing platform created by writers for writers.  

The Willow Books Literature Awards recognize literary excellence in prose and poetry by writers from culturally diverse backgrounds. The 2014 Grand Prize winners are David Garvin and Rachelle Linda Escamilla.

The submission deadline for entries is Monday, December 1, 2014. Visit our Submittable pages for full guidelines.

The Poetry of Black Music Month

We would like to close out this year’s Black Music Month with a tribute to Stevie Wonder from WONDERKIND, which celebrates his musical genius. The collection was recently released by one of our founding authors, Curtis L. Crisler, Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne.

 “Stevie’s music is the soundtrack for our lives,” said Crisler. “It’s always scary for a writer to create something, then give it to the world, but I always make that choice. Stevie makes that choice as a musician. He is all about giving to the world, and I wanted to acknowledge that fact in this collection. Stevie’s songs are about love–he comes at you heart-first, his heart on his sleeve. However, Stevie’s also an activist–one of the poems, ‘Stevie Boycotts Florida, 2013′, reveals a part of him that we don’t always see, the tough-love Stevie, but it’s just yet another facet of his love.”


Stevie boycotts Florida, 2013

Mister Mister, let me be

Let my Hohner clavinet speak me up and bend sound circular

Let my voice jump bombastic from R&B to Rock&Roll to galactic

Let my Grammys, my Lifetimes, my No.1s gather dust

if I can’t ripple the water


Mister Mister, let me be

Let the ten fingers of Lula Mae’s baby play this Hohner clavinet sideways

Let Syreeta and Springsteen and Elton and Chaka hold me conscious

Let the UK, the U.S., the D.R., and the new South Africa reverberate

in the spasms of chords I lay down  for baby justice


Mister…let me be

Let my chromatic harp hum the effervescent hum snapping the spine of AIDS

Let MLK’s birthday, “That’s What Friends Are For” and Trayvon Martin stop moaning

Let me be the father blowing his breath into the instrument of life,

else, kill Lula Mae’s boy, now


Sir…I’m “this” close

You don’t understand, I got speared in the forehead, and beat death down to raw

I swear on Lula Mae and my children and Mandela and the word “movement”

If you don’t want to throw down with a blind brother from the past, present, and future,

one you can never see coming,

just throw your hands up,

please…throw your hands up


Dreaming the Future of YA Literature, Part 3

IreadYA! Week, sponsored by Scholastic

IreadYA! Week, sponsored by Scholastic

As we close this out “I read YA” week, guest blogger Curtis L. Crisler explains why there’s still a great disparity when it comes to YA books for young black male readers. Crisler’s bestselling Dreamist: a mixed genre novel, is geared towards today’s youth, a unique genre-bending narrative of the life of one remarkable young man, Charles Malik Jacobs.

While the popularity of YA lit is at an all-time high, the number of books featuring protagonists of color remains extremely low. YALSA’s “Best Fiction for Young Adults 2014” shows that only 3% of characters in the books on their list were categorized as “Black.” Walter Dean Myers’ recent New York Times op-ed cites stats revealing that less than 3% of children’s books were about black people. The industry perception is that young black males are not reading, so fewer resources are put into publishing books for them. One could wonder as they browse any YA section and never see a young black male face on the cover if that has anything to do with it. Add to that the lack of subject matter that speaks to their experiences as young men of color in America. Through my work, I hope to continue to converse with young black male readers to reverse this trend. Dreamist is a universal coming-of-age narrative, but I believe it provides a rare glimpse into the mind of a young person of color, something I feel is lacking in today’s mainstream YA lit. In the words of my protagonist, Malik as he learns to overcome his fears about leaving his old life behind and creating a new life for himself:

“There is nothing fading away in my life. Everything is becoming better, newer. I see beyond the fear. I accept my responsibilities. For change is change.”

I believe that readers of color should see themselves living and breathing in the books that they read, and not just as wise or wily character sketches, but as fully developed protagonists and main characters. The future of YA lit is promising, indeed, but there’s a greater promise yet to be fulfilled.

Curtis L. Crisler is the author of Tough Boy Sonatas (winner of the Eric Hoffer Award) and two other books, Pulling Scabs and WONDERKINDa poetry collection on the musical genius of Stevie Wonder. A Cave Canem Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee, Crisler is an assistant professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. He will be featured this fall as the “Future of African American Poetry” during Furious Flower’s decennial celebration at James Madison University.

Dreaming the Future of YA Literature, Part 2

IreadYA! Week, sponsored by Scholastic

IreadYA! Week, Sponsored by Scholastic

During “I read YA” week, notable YA authors are being asked about their favorite books. Today, our guest blogger, Curtis L. Crisler, discusses which book inspired him the most as a young adult, and how that experience informs his own writing to this day. His bestselling Dreamist: a mixed genre novel, is geared towards today’s youth, a unique genre-bending narrative of the life of one remarkable young man, Charles Malik Jacobs.

My Favorite YA Book:  

I would probably have to say that To Kill a Mockingbird inspired me the most. I love how Harper Lee responded to the question, “Why have you never written another book?” Lee reportedly “said all she had to say” in that book, according to the Selma Times-Journal:

The novel is many stories on many different levels: The tale of a 6-year-old girl as she tried to keep up with her brother and recover from her mother’s death; the tale of an attorney who puts his belief in equality under the law to work in a courtroom filled with bias and hatred for his black client; a tale of a small town that could have been anywhere in the South prior to the civil rights struggle; and a story about all of us and our growing up with values given us by our parents.

I am always learning more about this book as time goes by. Each time I go back to it, I wish I could write a book like this. I feel there is so much to voice for the voiceless. I am still connecting and writing for them, as well as for myself.

Curtis L. Crisler is the author of Tough Boy Sonatas (winner of the Eric Hoffer Award) and two other books, Pulling Scabs and WONDERKIND, a poetry collection on the musical genius of Stevie Wonder. A Cave Canem Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee, Crisler is an assistant professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne.