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.



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.

When the Worlds of Art Collide

A poet’s spontaneous stroll through a gallery in the Philippines has led to a history-making collaboration. Angela Narciso Torres, Poetry Grand Prize Winner of the 2013 Willow Books Literature Awards, will be releasing her prize-winning collection on September 30, Blood Orange. The richly detailed cover of the book is the result of a collaboration between Narciso Torres and acclaimed Filipino artist Hermes Alegre, who was unveiling a brand new painting, “Catalina,” at an exhibition of The Saturday Group of Artists at EDSA Shangri-la Plaza, Manila, Philippines. The next installment of his Aura series, Alegre’s painting immediately caught the eye of Narciso Torres, who happened to be visiting her ancestral home this past summer and heard about Alegre’s exhibition.  photo with Hermes

“The minute I saw the painting, I knew,” Angela said. “I had been searching quite a while for the right image to capture the spirit of this collection. Now, I feel the pieces have fallen into place.”

Part memoir, part love letter to the Philippines of her youth, Blood Orange has received critical acclaim for its ability to be “at once vividly present in the moment and fully attuned to the under-dwelling currents of history.”

The Willow Books Literature Awards recognize literary excellence in prose and poetry by writers from culturally diverse backgrounds. The Grand Prize winners were selected from a field of ten finalists. The prose winner is Angie Chuang and the Editor’s Choice winner is Rich Villar.