We are so glad to have participated in the Building a POC Writers' community project. This project was made in collaboration with POC United, made possible with funds from the California Arts Council. Our execution of this project manifested as a three-event series working to establish more resources and community for writers of color. If you missed the events, you can learn more below!
"The publishing industry, by accepting only those stories that elevate race-based trauma or tropes about the exotic other, controls the literary imagination of readers and writers. For the writers of color, the burden is heavy, carrying the imagination of the white gaze in their writing and limiting the stories they tell in order to reach equivalent levels of 'success.' POC United and the writing we encourage is meant to subvert these expectations and reimagine the literary and publishing landscape."
— Pallavi Dhawan, POC United
A Workshop: Prepping to Publish with Sonora Jha
In February we kicked off our first event in the series with a two-day intensive workshop geared towards marginalized writers who may lack access to MFA programs, workshops, and conferences. Participants left the course with a formatted manuscript, a critiqued query letter, and a tailored list of editors, journals, and publishing houses that might be a good home for their work.
Two workshop participants, Tom Pyun and Alba Delia Hernández, became readers at our third event!
What our participants had to say:
"This workshop was warm and welcoming. It was productive and useful and Sonora was so supportive and encouraging. The exercises felt useful and there wasn't too much homework. Everyone was so nice and had fascinating projects. I appreciated that we had some time in breakout rooms in addition to the larger group. This is a great workshop if you're done or close to done with a writing project but are struggling with submitting to literary magazines or agents. Since it's specifically target towards writers of color, it was great to be around other writers who understood my project and goals."
~ Celine Aenlle-Rocha, @celineaenlle
"This workshop gave me access to information I didn't have that is essential to know in order to be published... Lack of access to this information is a strategy/weapon that colonizers use to keep people of color out of many circles. I now have the tools to pursue my publication dreams. I know there will be more hurdles, but because of workshops like this one, these hurdles will just be another obstacle to overcome.
This might sound like hyperbole, but I felt like I found gold this past weekend.
I also learned that I do not need to change my story in order to fit the wants of the white gaze publishing world. I learned that saying no to an offer that seeks to invalidate my story is necessary and that other offers will present themselves."
~ Alba Delia Hernández, @albalaescritora
"I did feel seen because I was treated with respect, people listened to what I had to say, and comments were thoughtful and sensitive... I appreciated that the group was only POC, that there were a majority of women, and that people were open and vulnerable about their writing and their lives."
~ Kathya Alexander, www.seattlestoryteller.com
"I think having an Asian instructor familiar with Islam made it easier for me to get feedback on my query. She immediately understood the fundamentals of my story and also its probably limited appeal with Western agents...I was hoping to figure out the extent to which some of the feedback I am getting on my manuscript is due to to Western publishing biases. The workshop helped confirm some of my suspicions."
~ Karina Bahrin
A Panel: Creating Our Own "Table"
Tara Betts, Tongo Eisen-Martin, and Neelanjana Banerjee, in conversation with Pendarvis Harshaw, shared their experiences as writers of color creating their own literary spaces. You can view a recording of the virtual event below to catch the esteemed writers cover topics from their relationships with higher education institutions, to their motivations and personal values, to how they make that money!
This event took place on Wednesday, April 7th.
Neelanjana Banerjee's writing has appeared in Prairie Schooner, PANK Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, World Literature Today and many other places. She is the Managing Editor of Kaya Press, an independent press dedicated to Asian Pacific American and Asian Diasporic literature. She teaches writing and literature classes at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University. She lives in Los Angeles, and is at work on a novel.
Learn more about Kaya Press at www.kaya.com and follow Neelanjana on Instagram and Twitter at @NeelanjanaB.
Tara Betts is the author of the poetry collections Break the Habit, Arc & Hue, and the forthcoming Refuse to Disappear. In addition to her work as a teaching artist and mentor for young poets, she's taught at several universities, including Rutgers University and University of Illinois-Chicago. Recently, she taught poetry workshops at Stateville Prison via Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project. Aside from coediting several anthologies, Tara is Poetry Editor at The Langston Hughes Review and the Lit Editor at Newcity. She is currently working on establishing The Whirlwind Learning Center on Chicago's South Side as a space for arts education, community space, and cultural programming.
Learn more about The Whirlwind Center at www.facebook.com/WhirlwindCenterChicago/ and follow Tara on Instagram at @chitownbetts and on Twitter at @tarabetts.
Originally from San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a movement worker and educator who has organized against mass incarceration and extra-judicial killing of Black people throughout the United States. He has taught in detention centers from New York’s Rikers Island to California county jails. He is launching Black Freighter Press, a platform for building movement culture and supporting Black literary arts, with a specific focus on incarcerated poets, Bay Area poets of color, and Black women.
Learn more about Black Freighter Press at www.blackfreighterpress.com and follow Tongo on Instagram and Twitter at @_tongogara_.
Pendarvis Harshaw is a journalist from Oakland, California. He's a graduate of Howard University's School of Communications and UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He is the director of the documentary film, TDK: The Dream Kontinues and the author of OG Told Me, a coming of age memoir about his upbringing in Oakland. He currently works at KQED, where he writes about arts and culture in Northern California, and hosts a radio show and podcast called Rightnowish (https://www.kqed.org/podcasts/rightnowish).
Follow Pendarvis on Instagram and Twitter at @ogpenn and listen to Rightnowish on Spotify and other platforms.
A Reading: Isolation
Our last event in our three-part collaboration with POC United to build a POC writers' community concluded on May 13th. Since the onset of the global pandemic in 2020, isolation has been, for good or bad, a major feature of life for many people across the world. In this event, writers of color shared works honoring the pain, joy, injustice, comfort, and trauma of isolation.
Devi S. Laskar is the author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues, which won the 7th annual Crook’s Corner Book Prize (2020) for best debut novel set in the South, the 2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; and was a finalist for the 2020 Northern California Book Award, long-listed for the DSC Prize in South Asian Literature and the Golden Poppy Award.
The novel was named by The Washington Post as one of the 50 best books of 2019. Her second novel, CIRCA, will be published in Spring 2022 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., she now lives in California with her family.
Alba Delia Hernández is a writer inspired by Puerto Rico, growing up in Bushwick, and salsa. Her writing was highly commended in the Poetry Project series ‘House Party,’ Like Light (Bright Hill Press), Calabash (A Journal of Caribbean and Arts and Letters), and most recently in Harvard’s Latinx Publication: PALABRITAS.
She received the Bronx Council of the Arts First Chapter Award and Columbia University’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature Writing. She’s read at el Museo del Barrio, Nuyorican Poets Café and La Respuesta in Puerto Rico. Currently, she teaches creative writing to students across New York City public schools with Teachers & Writers Collaborative and other organizations.
Tom Pyun has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Anthology award. He's been awarded fellowships at Vermont Studio Center, VONA, and Tin House. His short fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in The Bold Italic, The Rumpus, and Joyland, and placed in competitions such as The Blue Mesa Review's Summer Story Contest.
Kanika Punwani has an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University-Newark, where she was also a professor of English. An editor and writer, her nonfiction spans the travel, lifestyle, and culture sectors and has appeared in several Indian publications. A VONA alum she is currently working on a debut short story collection that deals with themes of home, identity, and migrations.
Her most recent work has been published in Graffiti, an anthology by POC United, and in The New York Times.
Press and Publicity
We are so honored to have worked with POC United to support this project. POC United are the editors of Graffiti, an anthology of writers of color writing outside the white gaze. It is available as a physical copy and as an eBook on our website.
We also have a wide selection of our other titles available for purchase on our website. Physical copies are searchable by title or type; you can find a full list of our eBooks here:
ABOUT POC UNITED: POC United is a literary safe space of creative play far removed from the white gaze, a place where writers of color can focus on one another in solidarity. To showcase multi-genre works by writers of color, POC United created GRAFFITI, a bestselling anthology, which is a Silver Winner of the 22nd annual Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Anthologies. For more on POC United, please visit pocunited.com.
Aunt Lute Books is an intersectional, feminist press dedicated to publishing literature by those who have been traditionally underrepresented in or excluded by the literary canon. Core to Aunt Lute’s mission is the belief that the written word is critical to understanding and relating to each other as humans.
Through the sharing of stories, we strengthen ties across cultures and experiences, and at the same time honor the hurt, loss, and harm incurred through structural power imbalances, prejudiced and gendered systems, and ancestral trauma. We uplift these voices in order to build a more just future. Aunt Lute titles include the first U.S. collection of Filipina/Filipina American women writers (Babaylan), the first collection of Southeast Asian women writers (Our Feet Walk the Sky), as well as a number of translated texts (most recently Rosa Montero’s Beautiful and Dark). Our bestsellers include Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza and The Cancer Journals: Special Edition, titles used in classrooms throughout the U.S. and around the world. We invite you to browse our titles to learn more about our diverse collection of books. auntlute.com
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