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meet Tracy Dimond and Melanie Henderson – June Wilde Readings guests

The hosts of Wilde Readings – Laura Shovan, Linda Joy Burke, Faye McCray, and Ann Bracken – are happy to host the final reading of the 2021-2022 season with two dynamite authors, Tracy Dimond and Melanie Henderson! The event is at 7 pm on Tuesday, June 14th at the Columbia Art Center and on Zoom. Register here for the Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/…/reg…/WN_vBEdi7IkSiKoSYzVb1XbTg

All are welcome to the Wilde Readings to hear Melanie and Tracy and to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center (410-730-0075), or when you arrive. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Now, meet Melanie and Tracy with our favorite six questions for writers!

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Melanie: My great great grandfather

Tracy: There isn’t one person, all my poems are haunted by things I’ve overheard.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Melanie: In bed on my laptop

Tracy: For the past few years, I’ve gone to Cacapon State Park. I love going to the cabins in the winter, outside of the busy season, and writing without Wi-Fi. I’ve also started running to Cacapon Mountain Overlook when I’m there—it’s a magical view of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania that you experience after ascending almost 2,000 feet in 5 miles.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Melanie: No

Tracy: I am notoriously sporadic in my writing practice. If I’m running and going to the gym, that’s usually a sign my brain is spinning ideas. I need movement and I need observation. As long as I have an idea and my headphones, I can draft something.

Who always gets a first read?

Melanie: My longtime writing family, Truth Thomas

Tracy: I have good friends in my writing group, and I’ll often send them the pieces where my first question is “is this a diary entry or writing?” I feel safe giving them writing that still feels very raw. Honestly, I also thrive on an audience as first readers—I want to see how different lines land with an audience.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Melanie: American Journal by Robert Hayden

Tracy: I’ll stick to poetry—I have read Dorothea Lasky’s Black Life over and over. She will shift from hilarious to devastating within one poem. That book has been instrumental in my own writing for almost a decade.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Melanie: That’s a pretty tough question. However, I’d have to say I was most moved by a reading given by the illustrious poet, Reuben Jackson, at the American Poetry Museum when it was located on Good Hope Road in SE, DC about 15 years ago.

Tracy: This is such a difficult question—I’ve had the privilege and joy of attending so many incredible readings as an events organizer and community member! This question will probably always change for me, depending on my mood. Today, I’ll say the spirit of the Artichoke Haircut series really grabbed me when I first moved to Baltimore. Local and national writers would be paired, then the hosts would transition to an open mic. It was held at Dionysus in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, and is one of the reasons I applied to the University of Baltimore (the series hosts went there).

Tracy Dimond is a 2016 Baker Artist Award finalist. She is the author of four chapbooks, most recently: TO TRACY LIKE / TO LIKE / LIKE from akinoga press. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. Find her online at poetsthatsweat.com.

Melanie Henderson was born, raised and lives in Washington, DC. Prior to earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, she studied poetry at Howard University and the Voices Summer Writing Workshops (VONA). Her debut collection of poems, Elegies for New York Avenue, won the 2011 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. She is the Managing Editor of Tidal Basin Review and Poetry Editor for Cherry Castle Publishing.

See through Poems Reading Celebrates Old Ellicott City

Reading on June 12th at Museum of Howard County History, 3 p.m.

Celebrate Ellicott City’s 250th anniversary with a poetry stroll along Main Street from April 1 through June. Created by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), the project features twenty-five poems displayed in the windows of Ellicott City stores. QR codes at the bottom of the posters, accessed through your camera phone, explain how the poetry connects to Ellicott City’s commerce, history, and landscape. (Click here to read more about the See through Poems project.)

Join us Sunday, June 12, starting at 3 p.m., at the Museum of Howard County History for a reading of the poems. Local poets, community members, and special guests will read selections from the collection, with a reception afterwards.

Register and let us know you will be there:

On Reading the Poems of Molly McCully Brown: I Hope You’re Uncomfortable

Sama Bellomo

by Sama Bellomo

For me, good poetry hurts. A successful poem reignites my anger because candlelight vigils don’t. 

For her poetry collection Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, Molly McCully Brown read, with tremendous empathy, through piles of misguided clinical notes and was compelled to relay to the current generation what horrific prescriptions and outcomes were thought of as successful containments or even rehabilitations. She turned those dehumanized clinical notes back into people, people who were forced, aggrieved, and lost to history. 

Usually, when being made aware of dark histories, it may seem that the right thing to do is to condemn past tortures that took place as a reality of our past and say a kind word about hard-won basic human rights that are fought for by unknown collectives of grassroots activists inspired by the late Dorothea Dix. But in the perfect medium of poetry, Brown says this is not a museum: her poetry says, this is present. Her poems have us looking back as if looking down the barrel of a gun, looking until we too empathize, until we understand that this could have been any of us, and that there is much left to be done.

With Susannah Nevison, Brown wrote In The Field Between Us, poems that read like a series of letters between two people living with disability in the contemporary world. They illuminate and explore dissociative trauma; difficulties in relating to the world, in connecting with others beyond the safe exchange they’ve created for one another. They include ruminations on being anywhere else than here; attitudes of self, and so many more deep, powerful feelings that enrich and sustain the human psyche, especially anyone enduring life with a disability. 

The book begins with aftermath and carries through to pre-op, beginning sort of in medias res, where details become apparent only in hindsight. The abstractions rise as the dialogue carries on, exchanging communications of experiences in an increasingly romantic tone as everything seems to fall apart.

People with disabilities, the providers who treat them, and the general public are the same in how upset we become when faced with human fragility. We see fragility first, then we become frantic and look for stability. People with disabilities are often accustomed to advocating in the opposite direction, beginning with the strengths that will keep a listener grounded. Brown and Nevinson commit to that order by running the chronology in reverse.

The poems employ plenty of concrete and metaphorical imagery to bring the reader closer, whether they can picture the situation or not. In the aftermath of a catastrophic medical event, numbness is described as “a quiet fire.” In an early poem, we hear of a “pain, as familiar as a fist I know,” reminding me of the certain interruptions to order when pain arises and must be reckoned while the rest of life waits, in purgatory. The next letter replies: “when we sleep, of course / we become unraveled: it’s only fair”. Of course we do. Parts of ourselves get lost, suspended, denied.

Brown’s work gives resounding voice to people whose voices and stories were otherwise lost, often in the guise of merciful and humane treatment. I hope you’re as uncomfortable as I am because it’s appropriate to be uncomfortable, to be moved towards just action and a better world for every body. 


Sama Bellomo has worked with agencies and individuals with disabilities as a patient navigator and advocate with Patient Providers (www.ptprov.com).  

Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown

In The Field Between Us by Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison

Six Questions with Faye McCray and Laura Shovan – April Wilde Readings

Happy National Poetry Month! The Wilde Readings team is excited to invite you to an in person event at the Columbia Arts Center on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 at 7 pm. For the first time, Wilde Readings will feature its wonderfully dedicated hosts Ann BrackenLinda Joy BurkeFaye McCray, and Laura Shovan. All are welcome! We encourage you to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center (410-730-0075), or when you arrive. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Read what Faye and Laura had to say about our Six Questions!

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Faye: A combination of people I grew up with in New York. I grew up in the southeast section of Queens and spent so much of my formative years on buses and subways and playing in the neighborhood. The voices, the dialect, the sights and smells are still so vivid to me. Whether I’m remembering the owners of the corner store, or my elderly neighbors foam rollers – someone always shows up in my fiction.

Laura: In my writing for adults, the person who shows up most often is my husband. We met when we were teenagers. I didn’t write about him, or us, for many years, but after we’d been married for about 25 years, the poems started to come — exploring what it means to be in a long marriage.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Faye: A quiet café, tucked away in the corner while sipping on something hot and nibbling on something sweet.

Laura: A sunny spot with two napping beagles. This winter, I tried poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s “Jabberwalking” method, taking a notebook with me on neighborhood walks, filling it with doodles and scraps of observations.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Faye: I usually need some time for reflection. A long walk, a slow meal – something that allows me to dream a bit before I write.

Laura: I have a large stack of index cards with quotes about writing and the creative life. When I’m working on a novel, I pull a bunch of the cards that feel like good advice for that particular story. Then I incorporate a “Quote of the Day,” into my draft. As I’m writing this, today’s quote is from the artist Modigliani: “It is your duty in life to save your dream.”

Who always gets a first read?

Faye: My spouse – he always gives me just the right combination of encouragement and critique.

Laura: It depends on the genre I’m writing. I don’t have a consistent reader for poetry, but I’m part of a critique group for children’s fiction.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Faye: The Color Purple

Laura: When it comes to rereads, I turn to fantasy. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, I’ve read and listened to more times than I can count.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Faye: I saw Toni Morrison in Baltimore. I honestly can’t even remember what she read – I was just in awe of her presence. She filled the whole room.

Laura: I attended the first Dodge Poetry Festival when I was in high school. I had never been to an in-person poetry reading before. Galway Kinnell read first thing in the morning in a light-filled little church. Sonia Sanchez is the other poet I remember. She had so much style — her poetry, her performance, and her cape. I got myself a black cape and wore it all through senior year of high school.

About the authors:

Faye McCray is an author, playwright, and essayist whose work has been featured in the HuffPost, Parade Magazine, Little Patuxent Review, AARP Magazine, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, and other popular publications. She is the author of I am Loved!, Dani’s Belts, and Boyfriend. Faye is also a proud board member of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Find Faye at www.fayemccray.com, on Twitter and Facebook @fayewrites, and on IG @heyfayemccray.

Laura Shovan is an author, educator, and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the Harriss Poetry Prize. Her work appears in journals and anthologies for children and adults. Laura’s award-winning children’s novels include The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Takedown, and the Sydney Taylor Notable A Place at the Table, written with Saadia Faruqi. She teaches for Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program.

Poetry for Every Body with Molly McCully Brown

Molly McCully Brown Headlines HoCoPoLitSo’s Fourteenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival

Molly McCully Brown
Photo: Marco Giugliarelli 

Molly McCully Brown headlines the Blackbird Poetry Festival to be held in person on April 28, 2022, at Howard Community College (HCC). The festival is a day devoted to verse, with a student workshop, readings, and HCC Poetry Ambassadors. The afternoon Sunbird Reading features Brown, Hayes Davis, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students. This free daytime event starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Rouse Community Foundation Building room 400 (RCF 400). The Nightbird program, in the Horowitz Center’s Monteabaro Hall, begins at 7:30 p.m. Presented live, the evening features an introduction by Hayes Davis, a reading by Molly McCully Brown, and a reception and book signing.

Nightbird tickets, $15 (HCC students free), are available on-line at https://bit.ly/nightbird2022. If you need help with your order, the Horowitz Center Box Office (443.518.1500) has limited phone hours to answer your questions. Additional information can be found at https://hocopolitso.org/blackbird-poetry-festival/. At this time, masks are required for all guests on campus. Up-to-date requirements for campus visitors are available at: https://www.howardcc.edu/coronavirus

Brown’s newest book, Places I’ve Taken My Body (Persea Books, 2020), is an essay collection that Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2020) described as “Heartfelt and wrenching, a significant addition to the literature of disability, explores living within and beyond the limits of your body.” Brown writes that she “came into the world blue and tiny and sparring for my place in it. Two pounds, with my fists up.” The only surviving premature identical twin, Brown was born with cerebral palsy. Brown is a poet and essayist who teaches at Old Dominion University, where she is an assistant professor of English and creative nonfiction, and a member of the MFA Core Faculty. In The Field Between Us (Persea Books, 2020), poems written in the form of letters between coauthors Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison, consider disability and the possibility of belonging in the aftermath of lifelong medical intervention. Poet Ilya Kaminsky wrote “This is a beautiful, urgent book.” Brown is also the author of the poetry collection, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017. Critic Dwight Garner called the book, “part history lesson, part séance, part ode to dread. It arrives as if clutching a spray of dead flowers.”

Hayes Davis
Photo: Brandon D. Johnson

Hayes Davis is the author of Let Our Eyes Linger (2012), poetry examining his life as son, grandson, father, husband, artist, and schoolteacher while exploring racial identity and the plight of black men. Poet Toi Derricote wrote that “Davis’ poems invite comparisons with Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems of 20th century family life.” He teaches at the English and serves as the assistant director of Institutional Equity, Access, and Belonging at Sandy Spring Friends School .

six questions with writer Meg Eden

Meg Eden

Writer Meg Eden joined the Wilde Readings open mic event via Zoom on March 8, 2022.

Meg is a writer and creative writing instructor. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland College Park, and has taught at a range of places, including Anne Arundel Community College, Southern New Hampshire University online, University of Maryland College Park, Eckleburg Workshops, and The Writer’s Center in Bethesda since 2013. Meg is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel Post-High School Reality Quest (2017), the poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (2020), and the forthcoming middle grade novel in verse Selah’s Guide to Normal (2023) with Scholastic.

HoCoPoLitSo: Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

ME: Oof, I’m not sure! Pieces of my parents and childhood friends definitely show up in my writing, but the most common I guess–for any writer really–is the self: my vulnerabilities, painful moments, things I wish I could do differently, etc.

HoCoPoLitSo: Where is your favorite place to write?

ME: This changes depending on the season. In winter I’ve really liked writing at home under my heated blanket, but in warmer months I love going to the trail or gym then writing in a Panera or Chick Fil A with a giant glass of tea.

HoCoPoLitSo: Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

ME: Some timed element of browsing or reading. I prefer writing when I have a reaction to something, a strong emotion I have to get out. But if I don’t have time for that, I always have soundtracks for my writing, so the first song conditions me to get into the world of the story.

HoCoPoLitSo: Who always gets a first read?

ME: This really depends. My critique group is usually the first emailed to see if anyone wants to read. But sometimes my husband gets an early read, other times friends that aren’t writers but have been with me a long time. It really depends on the project, how I feel about the project, and what I need. Sometimes I need positivity passes at first to gain confidence, while other times I feel confident and just need the feedback.

HoCoPoLitSo: What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

ME: I don’t tend to read books more than once, to be honest. I’m not sure I’ve ever read any more than twice besides the Bible–which I know is such a cop-out, Sunday school sounding answer but it’s true. It’s the most versatile book and always has something new to teach me. That said, I predict I’ll read Corey Ann Haydu’s One Jar of Magic (as well as her most recent Lawless Spaces) and Sarah Crossan’s Toffee more than twice in my life time. Now shows/movies are a different story. I have to annually watch Avatar the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, as well as BBC’s Bleak House. I find that I learn a lot narratively from other storytelling devices than books sometimes.

HoCoPoLitSo: What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

ME: Probably an Inner Loop reading. I love Inner Loop (a local DC series) because you really feel the fellowship and community. I always meet new people and connect with old friends.

Join Wilde Readings Open Mic in April (National Poetry Month!) and meet other writers! You can keep up with Wilde Readings events here.

six questions with Mary Brandenburg and Hananah Zaheer

Mary Brandenburg (left) and Hananah Zaheer (right) for February Wilde Readings

Mary Brandenburg and Hananah Zaheer are the feature writers at February Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Mary and Hananah as well as other open mic readers for a free reading on Zoom (and Facebook Live) on Tuesday, February 8 at 7 p.m. Click HERE to register for the free event. Click here for more details about the event.

We asked Mary and Hananah our favorite six questions about their reading and writing, and here’s what they had to say.

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Mary: Honestly, I don’t have an answer for this question! I don’t tend to write about people, rather I focus on nature, my relationship to the numinous, the divine.

Hananah: A compilation mother, not mine exactly, but mother figures based on so many.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Mary: I don’t have a ‘favorite’ place to write, that is, a place where I settle down. I have a space in my home, my study, where most of my current poems are written. However, I have had the opportunity to spend several vacations on the coast of Maine, and that is always a place where I can write, once I have arrived, my mind has settled, and I have shaken of the echoes of ‘home’. That can take a few days!

Hananah: In bed, or wherever I can find complete isolation.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Mary: No, I really don’t! I find I have to sit quietly and empty myself so my muse(s) can find me. Yet sometimes lines will come to me while walking or driving, especially if I am alone and driving a long way and my mind is empty.

Hananah: Usually a combination of worry, coffee, social media, coffee, pep talk.

Who always gets a first read?

Mary: Sometimes it’s my husband, who sees the world very differently than I do! And often a close friend will listen to something I want to share.

Hananah: Mostly my friend writer K.K. Fox, but I have a couple of other writer friends who are my first readers, too. These days my younger son, Yezen, is honing his editing skills and likes to give me feedback on beginnings.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Mary: I love Mark Nepo’s The Way Under the Way, Rilke’s Book of Hours, Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, as well as David Whyte’s House of Belonging.

Hananah: To name a few–Revenge-Yoko Ogawa; We, the animals–Justin Torres; Department of Speculation–Jenny Offil; I hold a wolf by the ears–Laura van den Berg; This is how you lose her–Juno Diaz; A house on Mango Street–Sandra Cisneros; A lesson Before Dying–Ernest Gaines

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Mary: I’ve not attended very many poetry readings. However, in early 2019 I visited a poet friend, whom I had never met face to face, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. She took me to a local poetry reading and there I discovered how many, many forms a poem can take! Each reader was entirely different! Each poem was so unique! That gave me a sense of freedom and license – permission to just be me and have my own voice. And it’s ok!

Hananah: Grace Paley at the F. Scott Fitzgerald conference in 2005. I was new to teaching, a fresh MFA and she was all grace and magic.

REGISTER FOR WILDE READINGS HERE to hear more from Mary and Hananah!

Mary Brandenburg began keeping a journal at age 13. She discovered that writing, whether in journal form or in poems, holds the power to heal. She has self-published two books of poetry: The Intelligence of Leaves and Limitless Belonging. In the early 1980’s Mary became a practitioner of acupuncture, for her the discovery of the intersection of spirituality and wellness. Her poems are a reflection of her time in the treatment room, as well as time spent roaming around the natural world, hanging out with animals, trees, moonlight…and each other. She lives with her husband, John, and their amazing miniature Australian Shepherd ‘Tooey’.

Hananah Zaheer is the author of Lovebirds (Bull City Press, 2021). Other work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Best Small Fictions 2021, Waxwing, AGNI, Smokelong, Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Alaska Quarterly Review (with a Notable Story mention in Best American Short Stories 2019) and Michigan Quarterly Review, where she won the Lawrence Foundation Prize for Fiction. She is a fiction editor for Los Angeles Review.

Poetry Slam Workshops with Lady Brion

black and white headshot of Lady B on a yellow background
Lady Brion

Starting in February, the Howard County Library System is producing a series of four Poetry Slam workshops with social justice poet Lady Brion. HoCoPoLitSo is a supporting partner of this event.

Brion uses her poetry—focused on the black struggle, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and religious themes—to merge the space between art and activism.

Each session will focus on social justice, celebration in the midst of oppression, history, and then on March 23, the library will host an open mic. Register for each session separately.

The Anthem – February 16. Participants will explore writing celebratory unapologetic anthems about themselves, especially in the midst of an oppressive society that rarely gives space for anyone to express their fullest and truest identity. REGISTER.

Picketed – March 9. Participants will discuss the history of social movements and the way that radical demonstrations and protests can lead to change. This context will be used to have students create their own picket signs and craft a poem from it.  REGISTER.

If these streets could talk – March 16. Participants will explore a social justice issue that is important to them by personifying a space, place, or object connected to their chosen social ill. REGISTER.

Open Mic – March 23. Participants will be encouraged to share poems created in one of the previous workshops or any other work that they have created. Host Lady Brion will feature sharing some of her social justice related works. REGISTER.

Lady Brion is an international spoken word artist, poetry coach, activist, organizer, and educator.  Brion uses her poetry—focused on the black struggle, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and religious themes—to merge the space between art and activism. She has performed across the world including London, Ghana, Zanzibar and many of the American states. Her educational career includes teaching creative writing at the middle and elementary school level, coaching poetry teams in more than 10 institutions for the Louder Than a Bomb poetry program and residencies in more than 15 K-12 institutions. Brion is a board member for Dew More Baltimore, an art-centered nonprofit using spoken word as a tool to foster community and civic engagement. 

six questions with Emily Rich and Leona Sevick

Emily Rich and Leona Sevick are the feature writers at January Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Emily and Leona as well as other open mic readers for a free reading on Zoom (and Facebook Live) on Tuesday, January 11 at 7 p.m. Click here to register for the free event. Click here for more details about the event.

We asked Emily and Leona our favorite six questions about their reading and writing, and here’s what they had to say.

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Emily: My parents.

Leona: While I have written about all of my family members, I suppose my mother shows up most often in my work. She was a South Korean immigrant and a complex person, and I write about her challenges with language and with the small town American culture she raised my brother and me in. I’ve also written about her struggle with illness, though I seldom name her in those poems. My mother died suddenly in late summer, and I have had some difficulty writing since then. I am working through my grief, and I’m confident the writing will come again.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Emily: I think I’m sort of antsy when I write. I have a desk that I’ll sit at for awhile, then move to a comfy chair and use a lap desk. The most important thing is to have quiet. I’m not someone who can write in a coffee shop, for instance.

Leona: My busy kitchen—at a rustic wooden island on a backless stool that keeps me alert.

Who always gets the first read?

Emily: Ideally other writers whose opinions I trust. I was most productive when I met with a regular writing group, but that’s not been possible recently. Sharing critiques with writers on line (the Writers Center in Bethesda has several on-line groups) is a pretty good substitute.

Leona: I have a close friend who is a novelist, and he is an excellent first reader. He is highly attentive to language and helps me make my words more surprising, more active. He is also painfully honest in his observations.

Do you have any consistent re-writing rituals?

Emily: The best thing I can do to get in the mindset to write is to read. I write nonfiction, so I have several essay collections, as well as lit mag subscriptions that I turn to.

Leona: Before I write I like to read a poem or two that I admire. I generally identify them days before and then revisit them for inspiration.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Emily: William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

Leona: As a teacher, I’m always rereading works in preparation for classes. One book that I choose to teach again and again and enjoy rereading is Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of stories, Unaccustomed Earth. Her ability to sensitively describe the lives of first generation immigrants and the struggles of their children is deeply moving to me.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Emily: Several years ago I attended the Tin House Writers Workshop where I got to listen to fabulous readings by the likes of Maggie Nelson, Cheryl Strayed, and Anthony Doerr. What struck me was the honest way each of these very accomplished authors talked about self doubt and about how difficult the writing process can be sometimes. Beyond that, I hosted a reading for the Bay to Ocean Journal, the lit mag I manage, just a month ago. I was thrilled to have a community of writers come together, share their words, and get to know each other. We’d all come out of a long period of quarantine (which it looks like we’ll be reentering, unfortunately), and the event was joyful and full of hope.

Leona: When I was at Bread Loaf years ago, I had the honor of hearing Philip Levine read. As someone who writes also about the working class, I found his words and reading style—filled with humility and good sense—inspiring.

About Our Guests:

Emily Rich is managing editor of the Bay to Ocean Journal, published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She has taught memoir writing at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and through the Lighthouse Guild at Salisbury University. Her work has been published in The Pinch, Cutbank, Hippocampus, Delmarva Review, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. She’s twice been listed as a notable in Best American Essays. She lives in Trappe, MD with her husband and three hyper Labradors.

Leona Sevick is the 2017 Press 53 Poetry Award Winner for her first full-length book of poems, Lion Brothers. Her recent work appears in Orion, Birmingham Poetry Review, Water~Stone Review, The Pinch, and Blackbird. Sevick was named a 2019 Walter E. Dakin Fellow for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and she serves as advisory board member of the Furious Flower Black Poetry Center. She is professor of English at Bridgewater College in Virginia, where she teaches Asian American literature.

six questions with Kenneth Carroll and Marlena Chertock

Kenneth Carroll and Marlena Chertock are the feature writers at the December Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Kenneth and Marlena as well as other open mic readers for a free reading on Zoom (and Facebook Live) on Tuesday, December 14 at 7 p.m. Click here to register for the free event. Click here for more details about the event.

We asked Kenneth and Marlena our favorite six questions about their reading and writing, and here’s what they had to say.

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Kenneth: My mother.

Marlena: I often write autobiographical poetry, so I guess I show up most in those pieces. My short stories focus on science fiction about climate change. I’m drawn to writing about astronauts, especially unlikely ones — the astronauts I’ve written about are disabled, mentally ill, young, or stuck on Earth due to too much space trash.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Kenneth: Any place where I’m supposed to doing something else.

Marlena: I tend to write on my computer because I have terrible handwriting and am a fast typist. But if I’m spending time outside on a nice day, I sometimes remember to bring a journal. Writing under trees is especially inspiring and calming.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Kenneth: Review my notes.

Marlena: Not really. I tend to write when the inspiration strikes, which is always at random times. Often when I should be sleeping.

Who always gets a first read?

Kenneth: The ancestors.

Marlena: I share pretty much every single poem and shitty first draft with my friend Codi, who was in the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House with me at the University of Maryland. It’s nice to stay in the habit of sharing writing, which can be so isolated. But I’ve been grateful to have found such a welcoming writing community in the Washington, D.C. area.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Kenneth: August Wilson, Two Trains Running

Marlena: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Kenneth: Lucille Clifton at St. Mary’s College.

Marlena: I was so lucky that Patricia Smith visited my class at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House when I was a junior. She was such a gracious visitor, taking all our questions and reading some of our baby poems. When she took the stage for her reading that night, her whole presence shifted. Her voice, her cadence, her power — it was palpable!

Kenneth Carroll is a native Washingtonian whose poetry has appeared in Icarus, In Search of Color Everywhere, Potomac Review, Worcester Review, Obsidian, Words & Images Journal, Indiana Review, American Poetry: The Next Generation, Beyond the Frontier, Gargoyle, Spirit & Flame, and Penguin Academics Anthology of African American Poetry. His book of poetry is entitled So What: for the White Dude Who Said This Ain’t Poetry, published by Grace Cavalieri. He is former director of DC WritersCorps and the African American Writers Guild and a former Pushcart nominee. He is married and the proud father of a daughter and two sons.

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized: Poems (Unnamed Press) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press). She uses her skeletal dysplasia as a bridge to scientific poetry. She is queer, disabled, and a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee. Marlena serves as Co-Chair of OutWrite, Washington, D.C.’s annual LGBTQ literary festival, and on the Board of Split This Rock, a nonprofit that cultivates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. Her poetry and prose has appeared in AWP’s The Writer’s Notebook, Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, Lambda Literary Review, Little Patuxent Review, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Paper Darts, Paranoid Tree, Plants & Poetry, Washington Independent Review of Books, WMN Zine, Wordgathering, and more. Find her at marlenachertock.com and @mchertock.

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