Phoenix Poetry Series shines light on local Writers of Color

A woman reads poetry at Fillmore Coffee Co. in Phoenix, Ariz., during a Phoenix Poetry Series event featuring local writers from the Writers of Color Workshop. (Sara Edwards/DD)

Phoenix Poetry Series mixed it up as local writers of color shared their stories and experiences in work from slam poetry to fiction.

Third Friday at Fillmore Coffee Co. brought R&B music, smells of coffee brewing and readings of original works for the Phoenix Poetry Series reading event featuring local writers of the Writers of Color Workshop.

“We [didn’t] do poetry tonight so that’s a rare event for PPS,” said Rosemarie Dombrowski, co-founder of PPS and current poet laureate for Phoenix. “We did Writers of Color over the summer but we felt like they didn’t get enough of an audience so we invited them back.”

Thursday, each of the pieces read were a part of Writers of Color, a workshop held over the summer where different writers could work on their writings from slam poetry to short works of fiction. The pieces featured were mostly fiction, with some memoirs and dedication pieces added in.

Phoenix resident Walonda Williams was one of the writers of the evening, reading two original pieces, her first piece being a scene from a play she is currently writing about two slaves escaping in the Underground Railroad.

“If I hear it and get excited about it, it forces me to write the rest of the play,” Williams said.

Along with a fellow actor, Williams performed a scene from her first act where the two slaves are hiding under the floorboards, each telling their stories about the journeys leading up to their escape.

Her second piece was a more recent piece of writing about two mentors who encouraged and inspired her to become a writer. The piece, ‘The Bodhi Man and the Contrary Woman,’ is an elegy to two mentors. One a street poet who fought in Vietnam, was a Buddhist priest diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“He had specific themes in his work so it was always about what was happening in the streets,” Williams said.

Her other mentor taught at the University of Michigan. There, Williams said the mentor “really believed in having a dialogue with her audience, but she kept it within an academic audience so that’s where I contested because the [audiences] in the cities didn’t feel like they had a voice so we felt we were standing in for the voiceless.”

Williams read her poem as a piece of performance, acting out both of her mentors with a piece of clothing that represented their backgrounds. For her first mentor, she preached with open and empowering words while moving about the coffee shop, wearing a brown newspaper hat to represent a street poet. She transitioned into her second mentor by wrapping a colored scarf around her head and changing to a higher level vocabulary and softened her voice to establish talking with her academic audience and ending it with her passion and love for writing.

“I’ve always written because I always felt that I had to,” Williams said. “I feel really thankful that I have creativity. I’m excited to be creative and that’s why I write.”

Williams is new to Phoenix, and hopes to explore and grow closer to the fine arts and literature community downtown.

Another writer who read their work was award-winning author and creator of Writers of Color, Venita Blackburn. For this event, she read two pieces from her newest book “Black Jesus and other Superheroes.”
“On the surface it’s a lot of characters that have superpowers that are not really manageable or more disabling,” Blackburn said. “A lot of these characters have sort of magic, realist, natural kinds of abilities and powers but set in a realistic set of situations.”

The first piece Blackburn read was about a young granddaughter and her nana, telling about the generation differences they have both in religious views and ways of living. Her writing was short and to the point to help portray the granddaughter trying to understand why her nana acts the way she does.
Blackburn’s second piece told the story about a couple discovering their daughter has autism.

This piece of writing exhibited the feelings of each character; the doctor’s words trying to convince the child’s parents that she has a special gift and the mother’s objective side as she disagreed in shock.

“I like to sort of see how these people work with the world as we know it,” Blackburn said. “I write a lot of flash fiction and I feel it’s appropriate for the way we process things.”

The Phoenix Poetry Series focuses on different types of poetry all with the effort to create a bigger community.

“The literary arts are alive and well in Phoenix and they come in many forms,” Dombrowski said after the reading. “We don’t really have a fiction reading series anymore so we feel we have this obligation to have a little slam, spoken word. We want people to come in and see that Phoenix has got a literary art scene and it’s impressive.”

The Phoenix Poetry Series holds events every fourth Friday at Fillmore Coffee Co. from 6-8 p.m.

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