(Laurie Jean Cannady, Yona Harvey, Darlene Taylor, A. Van Jordan, Dereck Rodriguez) Before articles decrying the limited opportunities for writers of color in publishing, there was Hurston/Wright, discovering, mentoring, and honoring African American writers. For more than a quarter of a century, Hurston/Wright has fostered a rigorous, nurturing space for writers at varying stages. This celebratory panel includes Hurston/Wright award winners, former workshop participants and faculty, and the current board chair, as they honor the legacy of this essential DC organization.

Published Date: August 23, 2017


Speaker 1 (00:00:03):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2017 A W P conference in Washington dc. The recording features Laurie Jean Kennedy, Darlene Taylor, Yona, Harvey Avan Jordan, and Dur Rodriguez. You'll now hear Laura Jean Kennedy provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:36):

Good evening everyone. How are you? Isn't this a beautiful day? We didn't get any of that snow that was supposed to be coming in. And we are here to celebrate a beautiful organization, one that has really touched me, and in every point in my literary career, I have always bounced back to the morals and the gifts that Hearst and Wright gave me when I first began. You all don't know who I am. My name is Lori Jean Kennedy. I had my first book come out actually in November, and I started drafting that book at Hurston Wright. And I remember being a new faculty member at Lockhaven University in central Pennsylvania. And if you need to get an idea of what central Pennsylvania is like they say you have Philadelphia on one side, Pittsburgh and the other, and Alabama in the middle. And it is very, very true.

Speaker 2 (00:01:29):

And I remember just being a new faculty member at a predominantly white institution with predominantly white faculty and not really being able to share my work with anyone. I was teaching five classes, four that were writing intensive and one that was intro to lit and I could not find space for my writing life, but I knew I had a story in me and I knew it needed to get out and I knew if I were able to get it out that it would help others. And I went searching and my search led me to Hurston Wright the retreat, and I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know who would be there. I knew there were all of these authors that I admired that I had seen and read their work and really been touched by it, but I didn't imagine what type of impact.

Speaker 2 (00:02:15):

I just knew I needed to get there. And so I applied and I was so excited to have been accepted to that retreat. And it really changed my life. It changed my writing life, it changed my career. I was one of the faculty members who got promoted first and hers Wright was a part of that because I was able to include that beautiful certificate you all gave me, showing that I was being active in the literary community. It changed my son who was supposed to be here today, my oldest son, his name is Derek Rodriguez, and he is actually a student at Howard University. He's a grad student there now. And he's teaching. Yes, he is. He went to Howard because of my experience at Hurston Wright. I told him about the campus. I told him about the people, the school, and he said, I'm going to get there the best way I can. And he couldn't be here today because he just got a brand new teaching job full time. So mama's not

Speaker 2 (00:03:17):

Complaining about that because he could pay his own student loans now. But he's teaching in DC and I really did want him to be here because he heard so much about Herson Wright and how it impacted me. And I just want to give you all just a little visual of what it felt like to be a young lady walking on campus around 15 years ago, not knowing whether or not I would have a place and finding writing partners that I still keep in touch with today. People who have read my work, people who I trust, people who value what I have to say. And that is what Hurston Wright has offered to so many African-American writers. And if you have had an opportunity to be a part of this program or to give to this program, you should consider yourself very lucky because the world that we live in today, we need it more now than ever.

Speaker 2 (00:04:11):

So I want to thank you, Marita. I want to thank Clive. I want to thank you both for not really seeing maybe the impact that you could have, but sticking to it and working to fill the needs of others. I'm really appreciative and I'm so happy to moderate this panel. I do. A little later, I'll show you the Amistad Journal that my son by himself, because you know how it's in grad school when you edit a magazine, edited this magazine, and there is a Hurston Wright section on it as well, because of course, Howard University always celebrates what you all do. We're going to start with Darlene, who is a board member of Hurston Wright, and she's going to give us some information on the wonderful things that they're doing and what moves them every day. Thank you, Darlene.

Speaker 3 (00:05:06):

Thank you. Thank you, Laurie, for organizing this panel and for your appreciation of your experience at the Hurston Wright Foundation that led to this discussion today. Thank you Van and thank you Janna for your experiences that you'll be sharing as well. This is my first a w P conference and I now get what everyone says when they say it's big. Truly there's a lot to attend, to celebrate and participate in. I'm excited about being here, and this panel is a chance to celebrate literature, the literary community, and to hear writers present their works as well as talk about what's on their minds. This is a very mindful time for us, and so it's a wonderful time to gather and to be gathering in Washington. I wanted to share a little bit about my journey with Hurston Wright. It starts with, in 2012, I went to a workshop led by Dolan Perkins Valdez.

Speaker 3 (00:06:05):

She had written winch and I wanted to hear her thoughts about craft her journey, the questions that led her to that work. I was, and I do explore in my own work, little known characters from historical moments, and I just felt like I need to talk to this woman. I need to find out about my story, my journey and feel part of a community of writers. And Hurston Wright was that for me. I sat around a table with 10 other writers who were like me, like me in terms of searching, in terms of trying to build community writing stories and wanting a place where we could be together, have our work privileged, not questioned, and feel that community and family. As a board member, I am incredibly honored that Clyde and Marita invited me and the other members, and actually we have three board members who have joined us here today, and I'll introduce you all in just a second for supporting this mission. And that is creating a space for black writers.

Speaker 3 (00:07:16):

Hurston Wright creates a place of openness, a place where work from our culture is valued, where writers understand there are many stories, many voices from the world of black writers. The organization now is 27 years old, and I want to share with you a little bit of, and I'm going to take it from, there are many places I can go to for our background, and you can always go to our website and learn more. That's hurston wright.org. But I want to share this book with you. I hope you all can see this gumbo. And in this Marita makes a note about the starting of the foundation. I want to start with the, okay, two powerful quotes. Richard Wright. Our mission is to tell the truth. At whatever cost. Zuno Hurston, I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking beyond my eyes.

Speaker 3 (00:08:19):

I do not mind it at all. Marita writes in her note in Gumbo, Zo, no Hurston, Richard Wright foundation was started with $750 and a dream. The money was maritas. The dream belonged to every writer everywhere, and it was the desire for recognition, support, and community. The American writer has of necessity been visionary and witness a channel for an individual sense of story, even while recognizing that for black people in America, writing is fighting the most important and crucial lesson that Marita notes that she learned from other writers was about the lonely, difficult, rewarding, beyond measure, dangerous, amazing, misunderstood endeavor we undertake. And that is the lesson of courage. Courage not only in the face of a society and a world that often seeks to silence the complexity and beauty of the experience of African people, but courage in the face of the fear and narrow-mindedness and orthodoxy that be devils our own community. Writing, she says, again, is fighting, but it's also building and loving and confirming and creating. It's a job, a lifestyle, an honorable and even secret way of living in the world. The Hurston Wright Foundation was started in 1990 by novelist, Marita, golden Biblio, Clyde, excuse me, McElveen, both dedicated cultural activists and lovers of black literature. Thank you Marita and Clyde for all that you have done. And actually there's beautiful pictures over there so you can see them through those of you from the back. And can we all please just applaud?

Speaker 4 (00:10:13):


Speaker 3 (00:10:24):

That work is continued by, we've got three board members here with us today. I'm sorry, actually I'm looking at Deb and I'm calling her board member because she was a board member, but she stepped down to serve as the executive director. So Audrey Kin and Melanie Hatter, would you please stand so we can recognize you as well for your work.

Speaker 3 (00:10:46):

And Deborah Hurd, who's the executive director who say hello to say hello to She Gets Things Done. The foundation has our programming, our summer workshop for writers master classes. We've honored a team program having high school students from the Washington area come in and learn from accomplished writers. Last year, Marita joined us at Ballou High School, working with young writers there, helping them tell their story and using a story of former Mayor Marion Barry to help students find the story within them. And to tell that story and share it. This organization has meant a lot to me and to many of you in the room, I'd like right now, forgive me just one more. Second more. Everyone who's ever participated in a Hurston Wright workshop or attended the Legacy Awards, would you please stand? I want to see how many are for. Wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The Hurston Wright Foundation started with the College Writers Award, and actually we have, and forgive me if I'm missing anybody, but I see two former college award winners here in the room, Ravi Howard and David Anthony, Jerome, thank you all for being here. Did I miss anybody?

Speaker 3 (00:12:14):

So that's our story, that's our legacy. I hope you're part of it with us. Every year in October is the Legacy Awards, and that is a celebration of the best in literature that's written by black writers. It's hosted here in Washington. The recent competition just ended. The judges have now received their copies of the books, and we just also completed, or we're beginning the journey now with the College Writer Award. So one of the things I'd love for each of you all to do, and especially if you're with a university, you have students, please make sure that Deb has your email address because our job is to make sure that those young writers out there have a chance to be recognized and be heard and be a part of the Hurston Wright family. But we can only do that if you help us with your engagement with the foundation. So please share your information with Deb, and if you, Mr. Her, Deb, please stand again. And I also see a former board member. Rochelle, would you please stand? Rochelle Spencer, thank you for being here today.

Speaker 4 (00:13:26):


Speaker 3 (00:13:27):

Alright, thank you all very much.

Speaker 4 (00:13:30):

Thank you so much.

Speaker 2 (00:13:36):

And now we have the incomparable Yona Harvey. I met Yona at the Hurston Wright Legacy Award. So see, this is running all up and through here. And I just remember in reading her book, her Beautiful Poetry, when I met her, I just was dumbfounded and you're in for treat. So just get ready. Yona Harvey.

Speaker 5 (00:14:04):

Thank you, Laurie. I love her. That's kind of what my talk is. It's very brief. I love black people. I love books. So black people writing books, it's just all good. I mean, okay, so I feel a little bit fraudulent about being up here because my book wasn't really a Hurston Wright winner. It was a nominee, but I love that Lori totally forgot that when she asked me. No, it was a finalist. It was a finalist. So that's a winner that qualifies. Okay, all right. I know

Speaker 4 (00:14:40):

My stuff. Wow,

Speaker 5 (00:14:42):

Okay. You're a winner

Speaker 4 (00:14:43):


Speaker 5 (00:14:45):

Okay. Okay. See, it's all good spirits, right? So my hu Classmate Ahma, Jamal Johnson was the winner in poetry, which was awesome. So I remember when I came to the Hurston Wright ceremony in 2014, there really wasn't a big emphasis on winners or nominees or finalists, at least in my mind. I didn't get that vibe at all. It was like this really great, I don't know, it felt like a reunion book festival celebration of black writing and literature. To me, that was the overall kind of spirit of the ceremony. And I remember too that it took place at a really difficult time in my life. I mean, it was just like a hellish year. It was a terrible year. So the timing of it was really just perfect, like nourishing and healing. And I know Nikki Giovanni was there that year too, presenting. I can't, was she getting an award?

Speaker 5 (00:15:52):

She was honored. She was honored with the North Star Award, so that was a big deal. So I had my parents who live in Cincinnati meet me there because black people from Cincinnati and Nikki Giovanni like this. So they came, I packed my kids up in the car and I also really needed to see my parents at that time in my life too. So I mean, it was just all working together. And I can remember too, my mom saw Nikki Giovanni in the hotel where the Hurston Wright folks had kind of stationed us, and it was all good. I was like, my mother hadn't even read my book. And I mean, she was like, okay, great, you are good. She Giovanni. Yes, right. Everything in that moment became legit, right? So then just coming back to the ceremony the next night, I just felt like my spirit's just getting lifted over the course of the evening.

Speaker 5 (00:16:58):

So I met all these writers who I had kind of heard of before but never interacted with. So Mitchell Jackson was there and no, violet and Chino, Reka Bingham who introduced us. And she kept saying, you got to meet this woman named Laurie. And I was like, okay, okay, great. And Lori was Lori, right? My parents met Ahad. It was just all this good stuff happening. And I also met Dana Williams who was the chair of the English department at Howard, and she brought about four or five of her students and we got to talk. They were so cute. So it was really just this kind of continuous loop of reciprocal affirmation all night, very, very much needed. But beneath all, that was a very real thing, which were these incredible books that people had written and the legacy, which pretty much made it possible for us to write these books.

Speaker 5 (00:18:04):

So when I left, I had, of course I felt better, but I had these really good texts that I could take back. I live in Pittsburgh and I had this other kind of language, I guess, that I feel like I got this language that I had been separated from for a lot of reasons that that's a whole other panel. But I think it's connected to what Lori said before about being in Lockhaven. Pittsburgh is not quite lockhaven, but it has moments like that. So I was dealing with that. And then over the next several months, and really into the next year, I read the Residue years, we need new names, Darktown Follies, that was Amma, Jamal Johnson's book that was more of a rereading. And then Craig, Steven Wilder's, Ebony and Ivy, that was a really big one. That non-fiction book that was incredibly important to me that year.

Speaker 5 (00:19:06):

I mean, you're nodding your head, so you must know this book, the whole Ivy League institution, the slavery that made those institutions possible. That was just right on time. All of these texts that I got that night were just vital. And then I also reconnected with Dolan Perkins Valdez. I hadn't seen her in 15 years, something crazy. So I got her book that night and I got to, it was like being in touch with her again through the page over the next year. That book was Winch, which I think you talked about, right? Okay. So then in the year after that, I stayed in touch with Lori, who later invited me to Lockhaven. And then Lori's book came out. And then in reading that nonfiction book Crave, I felt like I was having this conversation with Lori that I didn't even know was on the table.

Speaker 5 (00:20:00):

To me, her book is very much like a book of poems. Even the subheadings and the chapter headings, they're really like little vignettes and they just sing to you. It's like she's got from scratch the Reasons Nowhere man, black Oak, blind Spot, there's a lot of 'em, little mini sections. And the most important one though is this one where she is describing the difference that a writer feels at a young age, maybe this kind of feeling that makes us a little bit different from our family, the way that we see things and perceive things. So she has a part where she opens up and she says, living in one's head is a lonely existence. And then there's a long meditation about how she's in this very busy space. There's a lot of siblings and cousins and people, but she can't engage. She doesn't really want to engage.

Speaker 5 (00:20:56):

She can hear them on the other side of the wall, but there's something about her that's more like solitary. She loves what she hears, but there's this distance. And to me, I see that or read that as something that's very unique to writers. I mean, I could be imposing that on her. I don't mean to impose that on her book, but that was just very important for me. I felt like she understood at a really deep level. I don't know, that kind of writerly feeling anyway. And I remember being struck by that because I was like, okay, we're literary sisters, but Lori, she's a really good storyteller and she seems like an extrovert, but there was this very private moment in that passage and it happens elsewhere in the book. And I just really love the surprise of that. And that also stayed with me over the course of the year.

Speaker 5 (00:22:00):

And so this is why really she's at the heart of this. I feel so indebted to you all for the Hurston Wright organization. I just feel like there aren't that many spaces, certainly not ceremonies where you can go and there's a kind of ease to it. There's not a lot of pretension. It was just so easy to be there. And I don't know, I kind of came with not much expectation. I just didn't know what to expect. So it was so good to be in this kind of reaffirming space that friendships came out of. And books, really great books. There's a lot of muscle behind the selections in all of those books that were there. Those books were for sale. And I just really appreciate the thought and the thinking and the care that was behind all that. And I think just much gratitude, much love. And I'll just end it there. Thank you so much.

Speaker 2 (00:23:08):

And I'll just add, hemming the Water is one of the most beautiful poetry books you could ever read. And what Yona didn't say is I actually ran up to her at the Hurston Wright event and I hugged her mama too. And I know they were like, who is this lady? And I crashed Hurston Wright. Well, Ramika invited me, but I just felt so honored to be in that space and I didn't see a Van Jordan there that time, but I actually also have a connection with him from Hurston Wright because my retreat that I was at, he was teaching there and it was so wonderful. He wasn't my teacher. Patrice Gaines was actually my teacher and she was amazing, but I met him there. The students and the faculty, they just coexisted. They talked, they shared there was a love there, no hierarchies. And I remember Van visiting my M F A program, Vermont College of Fine Arts, and you know how it is, all the ladies just surround him.

Speaker 2 (00:24:02):

And so he was completely surrounded by young women. And after that kind of died off, it didn't die off for long, but after that died off a little bit, I said, Hey, remember I was at rehearsal? He said, yeah, I remember you. And he said, you should have come over here and said hi. I'm like, nah, you had too many girls there. But he said, if you were there, then we're always family no matter where we are. So next time you better come and say something to me. And again, that is part of the heart of this place. He has way too many books to even name. So I'm going to bring him up here so he can actually share with you all.

Speaker 6 (00:24:46):

Laurie, thank you. Thank you. I'm so glad my wife's not here today. I feel like I'm in a time machine here. I don't know how Yona feels about this, but we are both from Ohio and I always felt like DC was my second hometown. I kind of felt like I grew up as a writer here and being in this room and seeing so many old faces who still look young, you guys aren't Asian any. It is just great. And it actually did snow where I was coming from. I was coming from Newark, and we got almost a foot of snow. And so I sent my comments ahead of time to you guys because I didn't think I was going to make it. And I just literally just got off the training and came in here.

Speaker 6 (00:25:35):

I'm just going to read what I have and get to it. I've had a long varied history with the Hurston Wright Foundation. I've had the pleasure of being a workshop participant of serving as a workshop faculty, and I just remembered hearing y that I also was a finalist for the poetry award and of serving on the jury for the Hurston Wright warden poetry. In this way, I've had a gift of a 360 degree view of the foundation. In the mid nineties, I started attending the workshops first in fiction, later in poetry, and it became one of the few spaces for me to explore the subjects I was attempting to render on the page. I was working here in Washington DC as an environmental journalist for what's now called Bloomberg b n a. During those years, I felt like I spent my workday tamping down any sign of imagination that emerged, and I spent the night conjuring it back up.

Speaker 6 (00:26:31):

Whenever I had a Hurston Wright workshop to prepare for, it lit a path to me through those nights. I credit my preparation for graduate school to Hurston Wright. Indeed, I can't imagine my being able to gain admission to any M F A program had I not spent summers in Richmond, Virginia, where the Herston Wright Foundation workshops were held back then, I think it was at Virginia V C u Virginia Commonwealth. After finishing an M F A in Warren Wilson College's low residency program, I started getting published. One would think that once you've published that you're in a safe space with your work. By that I mean you come to realize that you have people who read your work and support it. So what more could you want as a writer? The answer to that is the reason we're all here today. I'm not comfortable in crowds of people, even crowds of people I know, but I love writers and I love Hurston Wright, and I love black people too.

Speaker 6 (00:27:29):

And that's the only reason I'm here. I know that I need community. Even now after getting published, even after getting published a few times, even after winning a few awards or a fellowship here and there, I still seek out safe spaces to be a black writer. And unfortunately, I still find myself in spaces that are not safe to be a black writer. I grew up in a solid African-American working class community in Akron, Ohio, and I had many friends growing up, and although my family had the dysfunction of many other families, it was and continues to be supportive and loving. I say all that to say that even with that love and support, I don't think I would've become a writer had I not had the community I was surrounded by in Washington DC during those formative years. Part of that experience was the reason why I ended up at a bookstore in DuPont Circle, which isn't there anymore.

Speaker 6 (00:28:24):

To hear Marita read from migrations of the heart and to ask her as she common concerns, common concerns, migrations of the heart, and to ask her as she signed my book, where do you teach? Had I not heard her read, I wouldn't have known about Hurston Wright. I wouldn't have had those workshops. I'm sure I wouldn't have had the safety to explore writing poems, something that was so foreign to me experience to my experience growing up in my hometown. You need, or at least I needed a community to assure the safety, to express yourself in this way. To write literature like other art forms, is an act of cultural preservation. Some enter the world feeling entitled to preserve their culture, and others of us enter the world find to prove we have one. I think because of where I grew up and the family in which I was raised, I don't always feel as if writing a poem is having any effect on the world around me during those times when those feelings creep up in me, and they still do.

Speaker 6 (00:29:26):

I think of how few black writers I grew up reading, I think of how many I never saw. It chills me to think of how easy it is to forget who you are if you allow yourself to be open to it. When I see what the foundation has grown into, I'm encouraged. I think some people take it for granted that a Hurston Wright Foundation is available to us today. Some young writers, those who they continue to encourage with their college writers program and teen writers program don't know a well without it. I remember how excited I was when I heard that it was coming, and the excitement I had when I took the train from DC down to Richmond the first time. I had that same excitement the first time I was called by Clyde McElveen to come to teach a workshop. I've had the pleasure of teaching a few workshops for the foundation now, and the excitement of serving never wears off.

Speaker 6 (00:30:18):

In fact, I get excited each year when I see how much more they're doing year after year, I realize that I still need the Hurston Wright Foundation. It's not only a workshop, but it's also a community. We need it more now than ever, and we need the safe space it provides to fire our voices in the kiln. If you don't think these voices are important, you merely need to hear the voices calling for our own to be silenced. As long as Hurston Wright is in the world, the voices that preserve the culture will continue to rise.

Speaker 4 (00:30:50):


Speaker 2 (00:30:56):

Thank you so much. And I just want to reiterate what everyone here has said. Hurston Wright has a team competition, the college competition, the legacy awards, the retreat where you could either be working at a university or a person, a citizen in the community. Hurston Wright has fed at so many levels, so many people, and I think of the amount of books, the words that are out in the world because of the contributions that Hurston Wright has made. And so again, we honor you. We thank you. We are so grateful for all that you have given in that $750 that you started with. And if we have any questions, we'll take those now. And just thank you all for being here. And please again, yes.

Speaker 3 (00:31:42):

Oh, I just wanted to just share some of those highlights of that impact, if I can, before we jump into questions. Okay. Okay. Alright. So more than 250 books have been honored at the Legacy Awards nomination since it was started in 2002. More than 80 college students have won Hurst and Wright College Awards since the competition began in 1991, and it was the foundation's first program. More than 25 of those recipients have gone on to publish books. More than a thousand writers have participated in Hurston Wright workshops since the first one. In 1996, thousands of readers have attended Hurston Wright's public readings and programs that are held in libraries and bookstores with 27 years under their belt. This organization has impacted a lot of lives, a lot of readers

Speaker 2 (00:32:38):

That deserves a ovation.

Speaker 4 (00:32:43):

Y'all better stand up. No.

Speaker 2 (00:32:51):

Yes. Any questions? Oh, I'm sorry. I don't have any now, but any questions? Please? Yes.

Speaker 7 (00:33:07):

I forgot his name. Mentioned a safe space for writers.

Speaker 6 (00:33:13):

So one of the things that happens, I think all over the country is that you might find yourself in a community in which there are no other writers who look like you. And so what I was saying earlier was that I realized that had I stayed in my hometown, and although I was thriving there, I probably wouldn't be a writer. And the fact that I came to DC where there was a real vibrant literary scene and folks who looked like me, it made it possible. Now, the thing that I learned though going to these workshops is that there were folks all over the country who felt the same way who needed that space. And there are places I would go. I felt like I was fortunate enough to have access to different workshops and places I could go to bring my work. But in going there, people would fixate, maybe on the cultural reference in the poem, people would not get certain things or they'd have a different political events they were trying to impose on the work. And whenever I went to the Herson Wright workshop, it was just a space in which I could just talk about the craft. And that other aspect of it was never questioned.

Speaker 6 (00:34:45):

And then you could have a different level of discourse with the work. And for me, that provided the safety to be able to talk openly about ideas I had and things I wanted to do with the work without it being discounted for other reasons that had nothing to do with the writing of a poem.

Speaker 7 (00:35:11):


Speaker 2 (00:35:14):

As a retreat participant, one of the things that I was most appreciative of was the varying levels of ability in the program. You had some people who had just started writing, but they had these beautiful voices, and then you had some people who'd finished degrees, and we were all equal in that space. There wasn't a lot of ego. We weren't, were cheering each other on. And I think sometimes if you go to bookstores or if you look at the books that are reviewed and we see all the hashtags, we need more diverse books. You would think that we don't exist. But when you go to Hurston Wright, when you go to the retreat, when you go to the Legacy Awards, you see not only do we exist, but we are singing so beautifully and we are cheering each other on. And so that to me was a very safe space where I could freely create.

Speaker 2 (00:36:08):

And the people that I interacted with, with Patrice, Patrice actually worked with me one-to-one on my book after I left Hurst and Wright. There are young women today that because it was an all woman crew where I was, but that we actually exchanged work with each other and workshopped together after Hurst and Wright. I don't think you can get a safer place than that where you feel freed not only to share within that setting, but outside of that setting as well. And I think they did it because they wanted to be nurturing, but they also wanted it to be rigorous. And it definitely was. And I think if they continue that, we're going to see a whole generation of young people coming out, changing the world with their work. And we need it now more than ever. So donate to Hurston Wright as well.

Speaker 3 (00:36:59):

Hurston wright.org. Donate now there's a button.

Speaker 7 (00:37:05):

That's right. I had we're good team.

Speaker 2 (00:37:09):


Speaker 3 (00:37:09):

Other? And if you haven't met Deb,

Speaker 7 (00:37:17):

Any other questions? Yes, Deb, question. I run a, well,

Speaker 3 (00:37:29):

I'll start, but actually I'm going to invite Marita to finish the answer because she's the one who's been there for the 25 years and Oh sure, come on. But yes, we apply for grant, individual donations,

Speaker 3 (00:37:52):

Our programming events. It supports the organization as well. We host a number of public events, particularly around Zuno, Hurston's birthday, and Richard Wright's birthday public readings in the city. And I remember the first one that we did, it was exciting. It was what, 15 degrees outside? And we were at the Martin Luther King Library, and there were over a hundred people who came out that chilly chilly night. So the support is there. I think it's a mission that people believe in. And for me, not just being a workshop participant, but also being chair of the board, to hear these stories here and to hear the excitement, it's that individual connection with the mission that ultimately keeps it going.

Speaker 8 (00:38:40):

Where were that? Well, the $750 was my own money, and it was the first cash prize for the very first college award. And at that time, it was limited to African-American college writers in the district, Maryland, Virginia. I was teaching at George Mason and George Mason was very helpful in forming the organization. What we found was that when I left George Mason, for example, and went to Virginia Commonwealth University, this issue of diversity every 10 years, it has a different name. Okay? Same conversation, different name. So by the time I left G M U to go to V C U, the Hurston Wright Award for college writers was established and we'd begun making a little noise. So by the time I went to V C U Clyde and I had a meeting with the president of Virginia Commonwealth University where because they recognized how important the award was in its artistic reach and in terms of bringing legitimacy to their writing program, the president committed to give us office space, a graduate student to assist us.

Speaker 8 (00:39:58):

They made a commitment to underwrite the award for college writers, and they gave us a break on housing for the summer workshop. So what we found was that finding an institution that was stronger than us administratively that we aligned with was enormously helpful. Also here in Washington DC at that time, we worked closely with the Penn Faulkner organization, and many of the writers in that organization gave salons in their homes, donated very generously. Clyde used to always say that the typical donation to Clyde, to Hurston Wright is a 15 or $25 donation. And that's very true, that once you get a cadre of ordinary people who will write those checks, that's enormously important. The atmosphere for supportive writers back then was very different than it is now. When as we sit here, we don't know if there's going to even be an N e a, but of course we went to the national end doubt for the arts, the DC Commission.

Speaker 8 (00:41:00):

But you never forget that. It's those ordinary people, the $25 check, the people who come to your reading, to people who may not ever attend a workshop, but just who love what you're doing. And you ask everybody, you never stop talking about your organization. And also, Clyde, we had to figure out how to do this. We got the call and we figured out how to do this thing. So I think that once you have a great idea, the idea brings to itself the sustaining people, the sustaining energy. And before I sit down, I know you want to bring Clauder in, but I want to tell a funny story about the power of the workshops When they first started. There's a brilliant young writer that some of you may know and have read his work, Geronimo Johnson, he wrote a book called Welcome to Brags, which came out last year to a lot of praise. Well, about a decade ago, Geronimo sent in an application to attend the Hurst and Wright Writers Week, week, but he didn't just send one application, he applied as Geronimo Johnson for the fiction. He applied as Anne Smith for the screenplay. He applied as Van Jordan for the third one. So he was, except he was so determined to get into the workshop that he used fake names as well as to apply, because you could only apply to one. He got into all three.

Speaker 8 (00:42:41):

So Clyde's calling these people who don't know that their name has been used. Ultimately, we straightened it out. And I went home. I said to my husband, Joe, do you know what this guy did and how do we deal with this? He said, Marita, calm down. Anybody who's got that much an imagination and that much dedication, you better hold onto him. He's going to be on television one day and he's going to bring praise to the Herson Wright Foundation. And he did. I saw him on TAVI smiling about eight months ago. So that goes back to the kind of excitement that the Hurst and Wright Summer workshop generated and continues to generate. And I just want to say that it's very important to me that we prepare for the next generation of leadership. So that I feel very, very grateful that Darlene and the new team that's holding this dream, holding the space is so committed. People don't have to do this. Okay, people, not people have other things to do, but when you get called sometimes you answer and they've answered. That's all I want to say. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (00:44:12):

Thank you, marina. But lemme, I just want to wrap up one more thing on that, though. The challenge is still there, like your nonprofit nonprofits across the country, we're all in a bind. I mean, these incredible missions by these incredible visionaries that have continued for these years, we can't let them die. 27 years is a long time, and there have been incredible highs and there have been lows. When the economy went down 2008, this organization struggled. Like many others, we have come out of that and we feel wonderful. There is still much more to be done. The other challenge too is in this new world of technology that we live in, really looking at how do we use that vehicle to tap in, to connect, to keep the community alive on a digital platform, but also let that support continue into the bricks and mortar, although we don't have bricks and mortar, but into the mission that's been there to keep it stable, to support that foundation. And also, as one of my co-panelists said, don't take for granted that it's going to be here. All of these organizations, we are vulnerable right now. And as Marita said, organizations like this one do receive grants from the N E a. And if there is no N eea, what happens to that support?

Speaker 3 (00:45:51):

We're hoping that the inspiration is still there in every individual and individual support is needed more than ever. So that's my mission. That's my soapbox.

Speaker 7 (00:46:04):

Do we have any other questions? Thank you. She's been trying to, oh, okay. I'm sorry.

Speaker 9 (00:46:11):

As a writer and a teacher who's new to the area, I wonder if there are any volunteer opportunities with the Hearst Grant Foundation?

Speaker 3 (00:46:20):

Did you meet Deborah? Thank you so much for asking that question. Because this is a volunteer organization. We give a lot of time because we believe that it belongs here. Debra probably makes 50 cents an hour, and she's quite an accomplished journalist herself. But she, after leaving the Washington Post as having been a style editor for a number of years, looking for something to do, she met me and I said, Deb, and she came and she volunteered and quickly moved into another role with the organization. So it's volunteer in it's heart, and we need you. Thank you.

Speaker 7 (00:47:13):

Any other questions? Yes, advice. Can we go down starting with Van and then we'll come down this way. Okay. I think one of the things that people

Speaker 6 (00:47:30):

Would always say to me when I was starting out was just read more and all that stuff, but years later, I read, and it took me just kind of lived with it for about six months, Vladimir the Bools lectures on literature. And in there he basically kind of annotates, I think like five or six books. And they're like books that you most people have read, like Greg Expectations, pride and Prejudice, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde. But I mean, he tears them apart. And in the introduction, what he talks about is how you don't have to have read everything to write a book, but you need to really know a handful of books deeply. And also the program, I went to Warren Wilson College, the process of annotating works and thinking about what I'm reading, not in the way that people read who are just reading for pleasure, but reading like a writer.

Speaker 6 (00:48:41):

And I have a sister-in-law, much, much better read than I am. She reads a book every other day. I think she reads literally two books a week. But when we start talking about the mitochondria of the book, you really get into the weeds of it all. It's a completely different conversation. And so I would just say to read with an annotating mind. Find books that speak to you, find books that you want to imitate, and really think about how are they moving through time in this piece? How are they moving? If it's fiction, how are they moving characters from one time and place to another? How are they dealing with the interiority of a figure? And how does that interior relate to the exterior? And just think about very specific things as you're reading and read over and over again with a different lens on every time. And so for me, that was the thing that helped. But it's not just something that helped me as a emerging writer, it's something I still practice and do. Now.

Speaker 3 (00:49:54):

For me, the advice that I would give, and I believe this is not just my affiliation with Hurston Wright, but I came looking for community. And I think that there's a lot that you learn from community, and you can find that there, wherever you live, even if you live in a remote area, and if you've got the internet, you can Google. But there are groups on Facebook and in other platforms, folks are connecting and sharing stories. There's a group that encourages women to submit. I think one thing that you can do is walk through the exhibit hall here and talk to some of the journals there and the folks at the tables and ask them about their programs and what's happening within their organizations that may be open for someone like you. And I think participating in retreats with other writers, building friends from there. I have friends from my Hurston Wright workshop that continue to today and other workshops as well. But I think it's building that community, building those connections and staying in touch with people, being open to someone else's story and being open to share your own.

Speaker 2 (00:51:24):

I'll piggyback a little bit off of what Van said. If you're going to read on the one hand, write on the other, just write, write, write, write, write, write as if no one is ever going to see it. Write everything down that comes to you because you never know when you're going to use it. And the other thing that I've found has always filled me, and I think it maybe is in the same vein that Hurston Wright began, is if there's something that I'm lacking in my life, something that I need and want, I try to be that for someone else. And so if you're in a situation where you don't feel like you have anyone to read your work, someone that you trust, someone that you want to workshop with, then do that for someone else. And then you might find that you're getting exactly what it is you need. I'd imagine when Marita and Clyde started Hurston Wright, they were wanting something too. The same type of community we're talking about that we got here. And look at what they've been able to get from that and to give from that. And so I live my life in that way. If I need it, somebody else does. Let me give it to them. And I find myself being filled.

Speaker 5 (00:52:35):

Yeah, I totally agree with that. I was going to say community. When I was your age, I was super spoiled. I went to Howard. I didn't have to try very hard in the places where I lived to find like-minded people. But then when I became a parent and I lived in Pennsylvania, I was much more isolated. So I was like, oh, I have to be the host. I have to open up my space to the three other black women I know around here. And that's what we would do. We would block out a little bit of time, and it would be not a whole lot of socializing. There'd be a little bit of food ready, but you bring your own notebook or whatever, and then it's quiet. We write together whatever we're working on. And then there's not really any super workshopping at the end, but we kind of commit to that time together. So that was a really big thing for me, like, oh, okay. Just offering up the space and having, making that little small community. I think that's very important. And then in terms of long distance, I have a poet friend, and sometimes we just make up exercises and we flip 'em across through email. And that helps too. Just like low stakes. Are you in fiction? Did you say what? Okay, great. So yeah, little exercises, little games, just to keep it flowing.

Speaker 7 (00:54:09):


Speaker 5 (00:54:09):

Said you're in California, so maybe Hurston Wright will have an online retreat soon.

Speaker 3 (00:54:17):

Well, you can definitely apply for the summer workshop. Yeah, I think they do that. Hey David,

Speaker 7 (00:54:24):

What's next?

Speaker 3 (00:54:25):

What's next?

Speaker 7 (00:54:28):

Okay, west Coast branch.

Speaker 3 (00:54:31):

Alright, well actually it's interesting you say that. Hurston Wright, very early on in its legacy did have a West Coast program. It went out. Marita, you want to get the details on that?

Speaker 10 (00:54:54):

Good afternoon. Before I get the details on that, I want to tell another bad story. Somebody asked a question a minute ago about what to do. I dunno who it was, but whenever we did a workshop, I would always ask the participants to do one thing, take five minutes and write down what you want to get from this workshop. You are to keep it. You don't have to show it to anybody. But here was my promise, and I still think it holds true for the hurts and right foundation period. You might not get what you wrote on that piece of paper, but I promise you you'll get what you need if you participate in the Herson Wright Foundation. So that was our commitment. What was it? 1992. We went to Moraga. When we went out to,

Speaker 7 (00:55:50):


Speaker 3 (00:55:50):

Was the St. Mary's

Speaker 10 (00:55:50):

College. St. Mary's College, 1998. 98, 98. Time. Time, fine.

Speaker 10 (00:55:59):

We had a workshop doing, we did what we called a bicoastal workshop. We had a workshop in Richmond, and a week later we had a workshop in California. One of our board members, I was teaching at St. Mary's that St. Mary

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