Tag Archives: writing

From the Page to the Stage: Be Heard

I have heard so many times growing up that there is no money in writing. Yeah, you’re good. But where is it going to take you? Reading, writing, and books just aren’t that interesting – and so many other comments about writing and reading, not just novels but poetry too. These sentiments have not stopped as I’ve got older.  Maybe you’re one of those people that agree and haven’t come across a piece of literature that has moved you. You may not have been exposed to writing that is not technical or academic. Maybe you think writing is a talent but not what can give you a fulfilling career. The truth is some of us, especially young people, don’t write for money? Some of us don’t even have an interest in becoming wealthy or famous writers. Some of us were just young and got lucky in our efforts to get free.

In my personal efforts, I came across an organization called TruArtSpeaks. They are an arts based non-profit organization that cultivates literacy, leadership, and social justice through the study and application of spoken word and Hip Hop culture. At sixteen years old I took part in their largest youth program called Be Heard. It is a statewide youth poetry slam series that seeks to identify a cohort of 6 young people between the ages of 13-19 to represent Minnesota in an international poetry slam competition. If you are not familiar with a poetry slam, it’s a competition where people come on stage for 3 minutes and 30 seconds and share their own original work. 5 judges give a score between 1 – 10 (1 being the low and ten being the high) and the highest and lowest score is dropped. Recently, they have decided that instead of going to the festival they offer $500 to the cohort to continue their education along with giving writing and performance workshops the entire summer. By the end of the summer, they create their own manuscript ready for publishing along with support from Graywolf press.

The award for the 6 that end up on the team is amazing. But the real success is what it does for these young people in their personal and professional life. The juice is what this program has helped them discover about themselves. Be Heard has taught many to dig deep into who they are and want to be and demand the change they want to see and live in. It has taught many at a young age that they have peers that care about the same things and adults who want to listen. It has created space for community to prioritize young people and eventually those young people become leaders, movers and shakers in their community. Below is a short documentary TPT did on the Be Heard program in 2018.

https://video.tpt.org/video/Be-Heard-Youth-Poetry-Slam-Series-30289/

“I really hope you stay involved past this,” says Chavah Gabrielle in the video at 2:27. And though she wasn’t speaking to me as I had competed 5 years prior to this, it was the same thing that was said to me 5 years ago and I sure am glad I listened.

I’m a writer – I write stories, poems, and essays (though the essay is more of practice to make creative academic papers and better understand academic papers). I write because what would be considered ‘back talk’ to my parents, was me just trying to communicate how I felt. I write because when I tried to write my first story and shared it with my parents, they both disliked how well I mirrored our life to the page. I write because I’m in control. I write because I’m scared, and it brings me courage. I write for first generation students. I write for Black people. I write for Africans. I write for immigrant parents. I write to make sense of the world. I write when I am wrong and figure out how to get right. I write for a better future. I write, I write, I write because as a young person I needed to empower myself when everything around me was killing me.

Be Heard Slam series at what was formerly Intermedia Arts in South Minneapolis. Photo from TruArtSpeaks

If you came to this blog post from reading my instagram post, you’ll remember I said that there is communal and personal power in sharing our stories. And though this is a small bit of how I learned to share mine, it is the first place I really began to heal.

If you’d like to see more of the powerful work TruArtSpeaks is doing, and the power in being heard and sharing stories, check out the video below!

Want to know more? Head over to www.truartspeaks.org and learn about their weekly open mic, writing workshops, and so much of the other amazing work they do. And if you’re feeling inspired, consider donating! As we all know a lot of non-profit business have been hit hard during the current COVID-19 pandemic. If you were at all moved by what you read or the videos you watched, or know someone able to donate pass along their website and follow the “donate now” link and you’ll be able to donate through their GiveMN page. They also accept checks directed to TruArtSpeaks, address is 275 4th St. E #701. All donations over $50 are tax deductible.

The Sketchbook Project

The Brooklyn Art Library, “a free museum where you can touch the art,” regularly offers a really cool opportunity, called the Sketchbook Project.

On a whim, I decided to participate in vol. 14. The process goes like this: purchase a sketchbook (a modest 5″x7″, my favorite size), and choose whether you would like your sketchbook to be included in the digital library (of course, yes, please). Receive your adorable, simple, blank sketchbook in the mail. Do something. Send it back by the deadline.

You can send your sketchbook back later than the deadline (vol. 14 needed to be postmarked by March 30th), but collections of the latest volume usually go on tour somewhere before arriving at their forever home in Brooklyn. Late arrivals will still be accepted at the Library, but will miss out on the tour portion of the project. Selections from the vol. 14 collection are going to cities around the U.S., including Brooklyn (of course), Boston, Providence, St. Petersburg, Washington D.C., Richmond, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

sbp
Off to the post office! Made it on time.

Part of my motivation for participating in this project was marketing. I’m trying to pursue several blogs and other ideas, and I thought this would be a really interesting way to (potentially) draw some attention to those prospects.

But it ended up being something very different.

It became more a form of therapy than anything. When I opened it, I was faced with blank pages, and the fear of messing up, of people seeing the opposite of what I wanted. I was afraid that my ideas weren’t interesting enough, or that my art wouldn’t be good enough. I was afraid that I was going to end up wasting my time and embarrassing myself.

I didn’t know how to start, but I had to do something with this book while I had it. So I did what I’ve been doing pretty much nonstop for the last four years: I started writing. Now, I hadn’t actually written consistently by hand for a long time. It had been even longer since I had written words in pencil–something smudgy and impermanent and so forgiving. I wrote before I went to sleep, random thoughts floating around in my tired brain.

The first page was unfortunate. It was clogged with anxiety and insecurities. But, as I went along, the pages became more optimistic, more reflective, more abstract. I added color, changed up the style and direction of the text. I sketched.

And then something amazing happened.

 

I completed the first full, inked composition I had done, probably since 2012 (seven years ago!) when I was at the Perpich Arts High School. I wasn’t entirely sure that I still had the know-how–but then it worked. I created another, and another.

I posted pictures of my work to a group on Facebook and got the very unambiguous reply: “do more of this.”

I want to.

Through the process of letting go and allowing myself the time and space to just do art, I rediscovered some of the self-confidence I had lost, and improved my immediate outlook on life. It was a little sad to part with the sketchbook, but I’m excited to see it again in the digital library, and for people to look at it and touch it and think about it in-person, across the country.

Toward the end of the time I had left to work on it, I traced my hand on an open page. I hope that many more people will place their hands in that outline. Maybe the page will yellow with their fingerprints.

I may have to go to New York someday to find out.

If you want to explore your own process, and share something of yourself with the world, vol. 15 is now available. 🙂

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Blog

Photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash

 

Audience: fellow writers, aspiring authors

 

As a writer, I’ve been told that I need to have a platform. For many writers, this means starting a blog. But for those of us writers who just want to write our novel and not get mired in keeping up with social media (which can be a job in and of itself), we feel that we have no options. After all, the first question we anticipate getting from a prospective literary agent is “What’s your platform?”

So I looked for advice on the web.

Why Blog—From the Writer Who Said Goodbye to Blogging covers one writer’s response to this issue. Publisher and author L.L. Barkat began years ago with myspace.com and eventually moved on to blogging to help promote her work. She found that the currency of the realm was “reciprocity” (commenting on other people’s blogs and posts to ensure she received the same). Eventually she became overwhelmed with the amount of time she was devoting to staying current with social media, and in 2012 she pulled the plug altogether. Her advice to writers was to avoid blogging from the get-go. After 6 years, she has returned to blogging, but with the caveat of turning off comments on all her posts. This has allowed her “a peaceful place for me and for my readers. And this is in line with the times.”

As an introvert, I must admit that I was immediately drawn to this concept of getting myself out there with a blog, but circumventing the draining aspects that go along with staying current. On the other hand, L.L. Barkat is an established author with an existing readership already in place, while I have yet to publish my first book. Could this also work for beginning writers?

I wanted to get another viewpoint, so I turned to our reading Social Media is Bullshit by B. J. Mendelson. He argues that social media is essentially an irrelevant waste of time, and that old-fashioned marketing advice is where you should actually begin placing your efforts:

“America is perceived as an every-man-and-woman-for-themselves kind of place, but it’s not. It’s a place where we look out for each other and take care of our own. And part of doing that is by calling out bullshit like ‘social media.’ […] The reason the generic stuff [old-fashioned marketing advice] works is it has all been done, proven, and tested since the time Jesus rode around on a Brontosaurus. On my desk right now is a second edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People. After reading almost every popular marketing book that’s come out since 2001, and this book, originally published in 1936, I can conclude one thing: If Dale Carnegie were alive today, he’d sue all these guys for plagiarism.”

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While I intend to begin a blog on the recommendation of the author community in general, maybe it’s also not the worst idea to reach out to local brick-and-mortar media outlets and become my own publicist (or hire one if I can afford it).

Un-Mankind?

A student at Northern Arizona University lost a point for using mankind in his essay.
While I completely agree that we should never encourage sexism or racism, boycotting words such as ‘mankind’ and ‘man-made’ and punishing college students who use such words in their essays by taking points off their grades is ridiculous and is taking away time and attention from other pressing issues. As a woman who is an advocate for women’s rights and encourages equality for everyone, I just feel like this is too much and distasteful. This is taking gendered language too far. At the time when this word was invented it was probably geared towards a gender-neutral meaning. As a college student we all understand the importance of every point in our assignments, quizzes, and tests. Imagine getting docked for a word, even if that word has MAN in it; instead of “human” or “people”
We cannot expect all students to completely change things they’re used to all of a sudden.  Even if such words are to be banned forever, students need time to get used to the change. “Docking points” is unacceptable.  Sorry Northern Arizona University, that’s not the right way to correct “sexist” language.

Make Time to Cultivate Your Hobbies

writers-block

When I was ten years old—just a nerdy girl in middle school—a substitute teacher came to cover another teacher who was on maternity leave and declared that she’d be teaching a creative writing class for a few weeks. I’d never done any sort of writing before, beyond homework and letters to distant family members, and the thought intrigued me. I jumped into it, fueled by the desire to create stories, and I’ve prided myself on being a writer ever since.

As with everything, mastering writing or any other beloved hobby doesn’t happen overnight. It requires practice and dedication, and a drive to succeed above all cost.

And as a writer, I fall short of that knowledge every day.

Continue reading Make Time to Cultivate Your Hobbies