Willow Launches Weeksville Summer Arts Residency

“The Future of the Arts, with an Eye on the Past.” That’s the motto for Willow’s grand vision for its upcoming decennial (okay, that’s still a strange word to me–i.e., Willow’s 10th anniversary). Watch for announcements on our upcoming multidisciplinary Arts Residencies. Our new era kicks off with the first-ever Weeksville Summer Arts Residency July 27-29. This will be a one-of-a kind experience, with master classes, craft talks, readings, and performances, and a tour of the Hunter Fly Road Houses of Weeksville, a 19th century African American community of founded in 1838 in Brooklyn, New York.hunterfly

After years of putting on events, it started dawning on Randall and me exactly where we’ve been hosting, especially after the LitFest in Chicago’s Bronzeville. Somewhat unconsciously, we’ve been centering our events in locales that have cultural and historical significance. I know it was probably rooted in me in my early years with the Detroit Writers Guild and our first major project, a poetry photo book on Detroit’s Paradise Valley. I’ve been hosting various events in the district ever since, particularly at the Carr Center, and in 2010 we expanded activities into its historic counterpart, Idlewild, where our conference enabled modern-day writers to trace the paths of great writers, thinkers, entertainers, and athletes, including Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, Charles W. Chestnutt, and heavyweight champ Joe Louis. During its golden age, roughly 1915-1960, these two exclusive African American communities produced  a surge of entrepreneurial, intellectual and artistic development. This fall, we will be hosting the Paradise Valley/Idlewild Residency at the Carr Center, featuring Denise Miller. We will also return to Chicago’s Bronzeville.

Next February, we’ll be taking a stroll to some of Duke Ellington’s homes in the U District of Washington, D.C. during AWP. Our list of destinations will grow…grow with us.

The Weeksville application deadline is June 30 via Submittable. Limited scholarships are available.



The E Project: Take Your Pick (But Choose Wisely)

A chat with Kirsten Porter, editor of the upcoming The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller

Choices. Please do not ask me if I want Chinese take-out or pizza. In a crowded movie theater, do not tell me to choose where we will sit. Packing for a trip, I will throw in my suitcase six blouses in different shades of purple and end up wearing only one. I can teach a course on indecisiveness.

But now I must master the art of decision making as editor of a book of collected poems. How do other editors navigate through so many choices? As I mentioned in my previous post, I turn to my own bookshelves for ample research to answer this question. My home office becomes the site of a new building project as I make towers of books—the collected poems of Walt Whitman, Gwendolyn Brooks, C.K. Williams. My floor disappears under a stack of selected works by William Stafford, Maya Angelou, and Dylan Thomas. My Pomeranian narrowly misses knocking over the leaning tower of poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes, and Louise Glück. When I finish building, I begin to research the collections to understand my editorial options.

And then I breathed. For me, the art of decision making for this collected poems project was rooted in the knowledge that there were many choices to make but no set rules for the blueprint of my book. For as many collections as I pored over, no two editors followed the same arrangement. This was a relief—I had freedom to make my own choices. This was a small moment of panic—I had freedom to make my own choices. 

So, I began making decisions, one choice at a time. An epigraph to start off the collection? Sure. How about using two? Quotes by artist Andy Warhol and author André Gide were strong openers for Ethelbert’s Collected Poems. Acknowledgements at the beginning or end? Let’s start the book with gratitude, thanking those who have supported this project and are eagerly awaiting its publication. (Note to self: don’t forget to thank your parents here.) And now for the arrangement of the poems.

I had to take special consideration on many of these choices based on the project at hand. With such a large body of poems spanning over forty years of work, I needed to create some organizational features. The book was demanding sections—fourteen sections, to be exact. The first section would be called the Early Poems; this was work dating back to the 1970s when Ethelbert’s career as writer and literary activist was just beginning. These first poems, many of which few readers have seen before, were pulled from Ethelbert’s personal collections and from his archives at the Gelman Library in Washington, D.C. The next twelve sections would be from already published collections, both hard-copy and online publications. The last section would be called the New Poems. Like the early poems, this final assemblage of new poems would be a gift to those familiar with Ethelbert’s work and new readers alike as most of the poems in this section were not published before.

Choices. Many to make, and these were just a few editorial decisions I needed to sift through, weighing out the pros and cons while holding tight to the vision I had created for this project with Ethelbert. In the end, maybe I’m not as indecisive as I thought.

Okay, let’s do pizza tonight. Deep dish or thin crust? Which toppings? Extra cheese?

Oh, you decide.  

Join me next time for some archive diving. Like Adrienne Rich, we’ll go “diving into the wreck.” Scuba gear optional!

*Coming Spring 2016: The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller

The E Project: The First Challenge—Tackling Self-Doubt before You Can Play the Game

A chat with Kirsten Porter, editor of the upcoming The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller

I’m on the phone with Ethelbert Miller. It’s back in early November, a few weeks after he asked me to edit his book of collected poems. The first day he asked me I was elated. You know that scene in the movie Singing in the Rain when Gene Kelly is so over-the-moon in love that he shrugs off his umbrella and dances through the street in the middle of a downpour? No matter that his smart-looking suit is getting soaked, that he risks catching a cold only a miserable week of tissues and chicken soup would remedy. He is bursting with good news; the consequences of rain are of no concern. Yes, that was me. Downright giddy, (I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe me and probably will never use it again). Really, there was still rain all around me…a stack of never-ending essays to grade, a vet bill for a doggie dental that made my own dental bill look cheap, oh…and an upcoming appointment for a root canal on that left molar I could no longer pretend was just a little toothache. But in that first moment I had just been asked to edit a book of poetry, I was Gene Kelly-Singing-in-the-Rain exuberant. Editing, poetry, my dear friend Ethelbert—this was cause for joy. And then it rained a different kind of storm. Several weeks of rain. Not real rain. Not even the rain of life’s expected bills and unexpected flat tires. This was the kind of rain that falls when you let your self-doubt get the best of you.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? So many of my artist friends—writers, dancers, singers—are so full of self-doubt. We are the first ones to rain on our own parades. As much as I wanted this editing job and appreciated being asked, I let myself only have one moment of song before I sat down in the rain and asked myself, but why would a writer want me for their editor? Surely there were others in Ethelbert’s circle with an eye for what looks good on the page and an ear for what sounds aesthetically pleasing. Certainly he had a colleague who could run circles around me when asked to speak on issues of race, jazz and spiritual music, loneliness and discontent—all of which can be found in Ethelbert’s poetry. But he chose me. What could he have possibly seen in me?

“Because you have something no one else has, a voice and discernment that he is looking for to ensure his work is well-represented,” a Marymount colleague and mentor told me when I finally confessed to her what was bothering me. I was restless, skeptical, downright irritable. My self-doubt had taken up a membership at Gold’s Gym and was building some major biceps. And then she added this, “You just don’t see what Ethelbert sees in you. Maybe that’s the problem. Start seeing yourself the way he sees you. He’s a pretty sharp guy. Trust that he made the right choice by choosing you.”

Which brings me back to that phone call. It had been a few weeks since Ethelbert asked me to edit his book of collected poetry. I had some time to process it all. After weeks of sitting in the rain without an umbrella, telling myself I was the wrong choice, I had stopped for a moment to let the words of my mentor soak in. And then a break in the rain. I stood up, soaked and grinning, maybe I was the right choice. And then I started devising a game plan for the book.

Hello, Ethelbert? I was hoping you had a minute to talk about the book.

I had a vision for his collection, but I wanted to run my ideas past him. No point in developing a game plan for the book if he wanted something completely different. So as the Queen of Multi-Tasking, I held my cell phone in one hand and four dog leashes in the other and walked the stretch of road that extended for a block of quiet houses and well-manicured lawns. While my dogs took their afternoon walk, I told Ethelbert some of my plan.

Poet & Editor, a good match

“Well, what do you think? You’re the editor.”

Ready to hear about my game plan? Join me next month and we’ll start talking about developing the vision for a book of collected poems and breaking down a game plan into manageable tasks.

*Coming Spring 2016: The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller