Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lannan Literary Symposium

The Lannan Literary Symposium and Festival

Literacy • Literature • Democracy

Georgetown University 6 and 7 April 2010

Georgetown’s 2010 Lannan Literary Symposium and Festival will explore the most vital and purposeful connections across the themes in its title, Literacy, Literature and Democracy; the Symposium welcomes a rich selection of writers, journalists and activists to the Georgetown campus over the two days following Easter break, Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 April, to discuss and to demonstrate how universal access to literacy, critical attention to the urgency of the creative imagination and to the power of the written word, and care for the fragility of authentic democracy must all equally concern citizens working for justice in our contemporary world. Guests to Georgetown include noted writers Dave Eggers, Chris Abani, and Uwem Akpan, SJ, journalist, writer and Mother Jones founder Adam Hochschild, social justice activist Mekonnodji Nadingam, poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, and recent Georgetown alums Happy Johnson (COL ’07) and Allison Correll (English MA ’09). Topics across two days of readings, roundtables and performances will include local and national literacy projects like Mr. Eggers’ 826 Valencia and 826 DC, literary, cultural and practical responses to historic challenges like the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina, and the ongoing global refugee crisis, with special focus on vulnerable populations in central Africa; the Symposium concludes with a special tribute to the poet Lucille Clifton by former Maryland poet laureate Michael S. Glaser and readings in her honor by Mr. Ellis and Mr. Abani. Participants from the Georgetown Community will include Professors Deborah Tannen, Maureen Corrigan, and Michael Eric Dyson, as well as Professor Carolyn Forché, the Director of Georgetown’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. For more information please contact Professor Ricardo Ortíz at

Preliminary Schedule:

Tu 6 April/7:30PM/Gaston Hall

A Public Reading and Talk Featuring

Dave Eggers

In Conversation with

Maureen Corrigan and Deborah Tannen
Reception to Follow, 2nd Floor Healy

Wednesday 7 April 2010

9:30 to 11am Riggs Library

“Writing Beyond Catastrophe: Literatures and Cultures of National Revival in Post-Katrina America”

A Discussion featuring
Michael Eric Dyson, Dave Eggers, Happy Johnson (’07)

Refreshments Served and Books Available in the Presidents’ Room

Copley Formal Lounge

“Writing (and Working) Beyond Genocide: Literary, Cultural and Social Activisms in a Changing Africa”

Session 1 • 1 to 3pm

Readings by
Uwem Akpan, SJ and Adam Hochschild

Session 2 • 3 to 5PM

A Roundtable Featuring
Mekonndji Nadingam
Allison Correll (MA ’09)
Chris Abani • Uwem Akpan
Adam Hochschild

Books Available and Light Refreshments Served

Photo of the Week: Esther Iverem

This feature highlights a different photo each week from the 2 Split This Rock Festivals. For more photos from the last festival, check out Split This Rock's Flickr.

Esther Iverem reads at the 2008 Festival during the DC Poets Against the War panel.

Photo Credit: Jill Brazel

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Photo of the Week: Carolyn Forché

This feature highlights a different photo each week from the 2 Split This Rock Festivals. For more photos from the last festival, check out Split This Rock's Flickr.

Featured Poet Carolyn Forché reads at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

Photo Credit: Jill Brazel

Post-Festival Thank You Reception Tomorrow

Split This Rock
Post-Festival Thank You Reception

Thursday March 25, 2010
Split This Rock Headquarters
Institute for Policy Studies
1112 16th St. NW
6th Floor
Washington, DC 20036

(Metro: Farragut North on the Red Line or Farragut West on the Blue/Orange Line)

Split This Rock invites you to our Post-Festival Thank You Reception. We'd like to express our appreciation for your significant contribution in making the 2010 Split This Rock Poetry Festival a success. Stop by for some snacks and drinks! This is also a great opportunity to collect your festival t-shirt if you have not already.

Please RSVP by contacting Program Associate Abdul Ali at ali at splitthisrock dot org or calling 202-787-5210.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week: Andrea Gibson

This is for the possibility that guides us

and for the possibilities still waiting to sing

and spread their wings inside us,

‘cause tonight Saturn is on his knees

proposing with all of his ten thousand rings

that whatever song we’ve been singing we sing even more.

The world needs us right now more than it ever has before.

Pull all your strings.

Play every chord.

If you’re writing letters to the prisoners

start tearing down the bars.

If you’re handing out flashlights in the dark

start handing out stars.

-Andrea Gibson

Excerpt from “Say Yes” from Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns (Write Bloody Publishing 2008). Used by permission.

Andrea Gibson, a powerful live performer, was the winner of the 2008 Women of The World Poetry Slam (Detroit), and has placed 3rd in the world for the last three years by the iWPS. She won a DIY Poetry Book of the Year and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her first book, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns. She has been showcased on Free Speech TV, the documentary Slam Planet, NPR, Air America, and Independent Radio Stations nationwide. She has recorded four full-length albums of poetry, the most recently, Yellowbird, in which her poetry is accompanied by piano, global drums, dobro, violin, and music by Kim Taylor, Chris Pureka, and Devotchka. The Denver Westword has said, “If slamming were professional boxing, Andrea Gibson would be the light weight you don’t think much of until she’s knocked you flat on your ass.”

Gibson was featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010 in Washington, DC. The festival presented readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, and activism—four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information: Be on the lookout for dates for the next festival in 2012!

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Music is Still the Weapon

A thousand Nigerian soldiers surrounded the Kalakuta Republic and burned it to the ground on February 18, 1977.

As republics go, Kalakuta wasn't very large. Only 100 or so people lived there. But the immensely popular musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had created this compound, in the Nigerian capital of Lagos, as a joyful and democratic space in an otherwise corrupt and dictatorial country. The sovereignty of Fela's republic was always under threat. And even though the invaders threw his mother from the second floor on that day in 1977, and even though the soldiers cracked his skull, and even though the government jailed him for trying to defend himself, Fela continued to fight back. He used his Afrobeat music and biting lyrics as his weapon.

"Too much sweets will give you rotten teeth," Fela declares in the new musical that recreates Kalakuta on Broadway. "Too much Nigeria will give you broken heads, burned houses, dead students." Fela had about as much of Nigeria as any one person can handle, yet he remained powerfully attracted to the country that his mother had devoted so much of her life to liberating from colonial rule. He put out more than 70 records, toured the world, and shared the stage with other famous musicians. But he always came back to Nigeria, where he hoped one day to become president.

The Broadway show, which is a powerful cocktail of music and dance and politics, doesn't provide much detail about the rotten state of Nigeria. It is, after all, a musical. And Fela's songs, though sharp and critical, tend toward general, even allegorical, indictments. The song "Zombie," for instance, doesn't mention Nigerian soldiers by name but rather critiques their well-known reputation to follow whatever orders they are given. Fela's protests are multi-barbed, and can be easily applied at home and abroad. At one point in the Broadway show, during the song "International Thief Thief," dancers hold up signs accusing not only villains of the Nigerian drama like Shell, but also more universal targets like Halliburton and the International Monetary Fund.

Given the squalor of Nigeria, it's hard to believe that the country is now the world's eighth-largest exporter of oil. "Nigeria earned more than $400 billion from oil in recent decades," writes Peter Maass in his new book Crude World, "yet nine out of 10 citizens live on less than $2 a day and one out of five children dies before his fifth birthday. Its per-capita GDP is one-fifth of South Africa's." This comparison is particularly painful, and explains Fela's comment in the excellent documentary Fela: Music Is the Weapon that even then, during the apartheid era, "the situation here is worse than in South Africa.

"There were actually two Kalakuta Republics. Fela got the name for his little Monaco of music from the time he spent in prison, when he discovered that the prisoners nicknamed his jail the "Kalakuta Republic." In Swahili, "kalakuta" means "rascal." As Fela explains, "If rascality is going to get us what we want, we will use it; because we are dealing with corrupt people, we have to be 'rascally' with them."

The Nigerian poet Chris Abani also uses music as a weapon: the music of poetry. His collection of poems, entitled Kalakuta Republic - named for the prison where he too spent so many days - includes the powerful "Ode to Joy," about a young boy of 14 whom the police torture to death when he refuses to finger an innocent man.

The poem concludes:

an act insignificant
in the face of this child's courage
we sang:

Oje wai wai,
Moje oje wai, wai.

they went
on a killing rampage


even canisters of tear-gas,
fired close up or
directly into mouths, will
take the back
your head off
and many men
died singing,
that night.

Notes caught,

as blows bloodied mouths
clotting into silence.

Chris Abani headlined Split This Rock poetry festival last week here in Washington, DC. It was a mighty gathering of word-warriors from around the world. The festival began during the dreary days of the Bush administration, a group of the most tone-deaf, word-challenged, and brute politicians as we've ever had to endure in this country. We live in more enlightened times, perhaps, when the "Black President" that Fela sang about has come to occupy the White House. But we continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. We continue to enrich the Pentagon beyond its most extravagant dreams. And we continue to freeze all other government endeavors because of our deficit (of imagination).

For a few days, however, the poets of Split This Rock created their own Kalakuta Republic here in Washington: a refuge for those who believe that art can transform our world. It is, for the moment at least, a republic as small as Fela's was. The United States "continues to turn up individuals making works of art," writes essayist Lewis Lapham in TomDispatch, "but they traffic in a medium of exchange on which the society doesn't place a high priority." Still, the sounds and the words produced in Fela's Kalakuta continue to resonate in our own republic of letters - on Broadway, in Chris Abani's poetry, and in political music from Springsteen to M.I.A.

- John Feffer, Co-Director, Foreign Policy in Focus, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Festival Participants are Saying About Split This Rock 2010

Doug Carter at the BitLit blog of the Rose O'Neill Literary House[Photo Credit: Jill Brazel]:
The children of American, Vietnamese, or Chinese soldiers, these six rising poetic stars showed us how war extends itself into the domestic sphere of life. The poems demonstrated the curiosity of children who understand “war” is not a dinner-table subject, and the spiritual strength of adults who have the power to imagine the truth. These writers owe not only their creative impetus, but also their lives, to the war. Without the war, Cathy Linh Che said, many of us would not have been poets, we would not have lived in the U.S., and we would not have been born. As one panelist recited poems about her childhood experiences with her father, she came to the line “I don’t like you very much today,” then thanked our crowd and invited the next panelist up to read. She sat in front of me. During the remainder of the reading, I watched the panelist cry. I guess another really awesome thing about festivals like this is how they make you want to write. I foresee a poem in a word document, one about a girl reading a poem. Maybe her mouth will be an almond blossom. Maybe her words will be petals, and her tears, pearls of silk.

From Dan Wilcox, Split This Rock Panelist [Photo Credit: Jill Brazel]:
Time for dinner & a drink & then back to the Bell Multicultural High School for the evening's reading. Mark Nowak gave a reading with slides, touching on the Sago mine disaster & mining accidents in China, in what is being called documentary poetry. Lillian Allen, who lives in Canada, performed her poems in the tradition of "Dub poetry," reggae rhythms & the early roots of hip-hop. She took on the lingo & dance rhythms of the islands, mixing in sound patterns with the words, in such poems as "Limbo Dancer," poems about women in prison, in housing projects & giving birth, even a love poem ("would love to make a revolution with you").

Francisco Aragon's poem were mostly short, evoked the spirit of Garcia Lorca & Ernesto Cardenal. His poems to us "To Madrid," & Rome ("The Tailor"), & a strange slant translation of Rilke, "Torso." Nancy Morejon is from Cuba (& the Cuban ambassador was in the house). She read her poems in Spanish, then in translations done by others, often touching on the Afro-Cuban themes of slavery & oppression, but in the rich, colorful images often found in poetry from the Caribbean.

Patricia Spears Jones, another 2010 Panelist, shared the following thoughts [Photo Credit: Jill Brazel]:
I want to thank Patricia Monoghan and Michael McDermott, the co-founders of Black Earth Institute for inviting me to join this year's panel. Along with Patricia, Annie Finch, Judith Roche and Richard Cambridge, I spoke a panel, Speaking for the Silenc(e)d and of course, being the gentle contrarian that I am I spoke about listening--that we who speak are often speaking to indifferent, hostile or simply deeply ignorant audiences and that we have to start thinking of new ways to open ears. The panel was rich in information and deep connection to a rnage of communities from Annie's talk on collaboration in her Wolf Song project; Judith's work with incarcerated girls; and Richard's discussion of the media's mindset vis a vis our un-neighborly relationship with Cuba. Our audience was terrific--I got to meet Tracy Chiles McGhee and all the way from NYC, Marie Elizabeth Mali and Victoria Sammartino--teachers, arts group organizers, librarians, poets all. Patrica M. opened up the room for discussion and poetry and Victoria read an amazing piece about the incarcerated girls that she has worked with. It was deeply moving.

Poets Tell the Stories of Their Countries on NPR

From NPR:
Poets can play a unique role in a country's politics, culture and social movements. They act as innovators, visionaries and truth tellers.

Three poets from different cultures — Iraq, Puerto Rico and New York — talk about the role of poets and poetry in different places. The three are part of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, DC.


Quincy Troupe, poet and author, most recently of The Architecture of Language

Sinan Antoon, poet and assistant professor at New York University

Naomi Ayala, poet and writer

Audio and transcript at source

Photos from Thursday Evening Reading

Many thanks to Jill Brazel for the amazing photographs here.

Francisco Aragόn reads.

Lillian Allen, dub poet

Mark Nowak

Nancy Morejόn

Lillian Allen and Nancy Morejόn sign books for festival goers.

Co-Director Melissa Tuckey and Program Associate Abdul Ali

All Photo Credits: Jill Brazel

Andy Shallal's Tribute to Howard Zinn

The following is a tribute to Howard Zinn written by Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal for the Split This Rock Memorials.
Most historians report history – Howard Zinn made history through the history he reported. When asked about being objective about writing history – he replied with his signature saying – you can’t be neutral on a moving train. It is also the name of his autobiography and a film about his life.

He understood that writing about history it is not what you say that matters but what you leave out.

So he wrote about what has historically been left out in history books – he wrote about the steel mill workers and the robber barrons. He wrote about the disaffected and disenfranchised. His books went beyond heroes and holidays and into the lives of ordinary people – people like you and me – people who believe that peace and justice is not just something to dream about but an attainable goal.

The people he wrote about did not wear a cape or leap tall buildings in a single bound – they were people who organized and fought back when the odds were clearly stacked against them.

Howard had a major influence on so many people around the world and many of you in this room. Through Howard, I learned about Eugene Debs who formed the Socialist party in America and was arrested for sedition because he spoke out against WWI. I learned about John Brown – the abolitionist who was hung after trying to free slaves at Harper’s Ferry

I learned about people like Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Jack London and Upton Sinclair were wonderful writers who joined the movement against war and injustice, against capitalism and corporate power.

I also learned about movements – the Civil Rights Movement – the sit ins – SNCC – the Pentagon Papers –

A People’s History of the United States became my go to book – it was everything you always wanted to know about history but were afraid to ask – I can honestly say that it was the most important book I ever read.

Howard understood the power of history – he said “I suggest that if you know history, then you might not be so easily fooled by the government when it tells you you must go to war for this or that reason -that history is a protective armor against being misled.

Howard had so many fans…

One woman wrote on his fan page:

Rest in peace, Howard, I thank you for teaching me to look at history through a different lens than was presented to me in school, that government can be as dangerous to a nation as it is useful, and that we all have a responsibility to be informed and aware.

But he was not without doubt… he wrote: “I'm worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel - let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they're doing. I'm concerned that students not become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that's handed down to them from the White House, the media, textbooks, teachers and preachers."

Early on in his career, while working on his book The Politics of History – Howard Zinn went back to revisit the cities that he bombed during the time when he became a bombardier during WWII - he learned that his raids would have killed at least 1000 people – people he could not see from thousands of miles above the ground – he interviewed some of the survivors and heard about the horrors of his actions.

This became the turning point for Howard’s life – he said that he received his orders by people who were more interested in career advancement than saving humanity or ending fascism.

He said … “I suggest that the history of bombing—and no one has bombed more than this nation—is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like 'accident,' 'military target,' and 'collateral damage.'"

He was a radical through and through; he embodied the idea of speaking truth to power. Zinn’s classes at Boston University were large, often hundreds of students in one class. His classes were popular for his teaching style and growing reputation. He was funny and eloquent and engaging - but he also had a reputation as an easy grader.

He was neither a Democrat nor a Republican and did not adhere to any specific party affiliation… and understood that politics can be deceptive and self serving; instead he believed in the people's power.

He wrote…
“I think some progressives have forgotten the history of the Democratic Party, to which people have turned again and again in desperate search for saviors, later to be disappointed. Our political history shows us that only great popular movements, carrying out bold actions that awakened the nation and threatened the Establishment, as in the Thirties and the Sixties, have been able to shake that pyramid of corporate and military power and at least temporarily changed course.”

He was also one of the most patriotic people I have ever met. He once said that "Men who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.”

One of the proudest moments of his career came when he was able to finish his most ambitious project, making of the film… “The People Speak” - the film was based on his people’s history and people’s voices – the film is now on DVD and was shown on the History Channel a few months ago – Imagine, Howard Zinn on the History Channel – now millions of people will be witness his incredible body of work – over 20 books and thousands of articles in newspapers and magazines – and just recently People’s History made the NY Times best seller list for non – fiction.

He loved his wife Roz – an incredible artist and fierce critic of his work – without her, he would often say, he would not have written People’s History of the United States… They were the most incredible and elegant couple and both of them made you feel like you were the most important person in the world.

Of course anyone who knew Howard knew that he was the quintessential optimist… about optimists he wrote…

"An optimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something..."

"If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

Photo Credit: Robin Holland

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Photos from Split This Rock 2010

The following pictures are courtesy of the amazing Jill Brazel, who has been documenting our festival. If you or someone you know is in a photo but not identified, please comment below!

Abdul Ali, Split This Rock Program Associate, at WPFW

Martha Collins, Split This Rock 2010 Featured Poet, at WPFW

Regie Cabico!

Split This Rock Co-Director, Melissa Tuckey

Diamante Dorsey in the Teaching for Change Bookstore

One of the wonderful Split This Rock Panels

Fred Joiner at a Split This Rock Panel

Jericho Brown and E. Ethelbert Miller


All photo credits to Jill Brazel

Social Change Book Fair Today!

In addition to readings, panels, workshops, and opportunities to build community across barriers this year, we also want to showcase the significant role of publishers and those who bring us the kinds of writing Split This Rock celebrates: impassioned, visionary, and truth-telling. And we want to bring the critically important work of social change groups to poets, activists, and the public.

With this in mind, we're introducing a Social Change Book Fair to Split This Rock 2010. The book fair will be an opportunity to further our mission of getting the critical work of socially engaged poets, writers, organizations, progressive presses, literary magazines, and independent newspapers to our festival participants.

The Social Change Book Fair will take place on Saturday, March 13, from 9:30 am to 4 pm at the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage (the old 12th Street Y) at 1816 12th Street NW, Washington, DC.

Diamante Dorsey, DC Youth SlamTeam Member, in the Washington City Paper

The following is an excerpt from the Washington City Paper's article, "At Split This Rock, a Local High-Schooler Channels Buddha, Tupac, and Leonard Cohen." For the full article, click here. At left, Diamante reads at Split This Rock's opening night. Photo Credit: Jill Brazel

Allah is drinking coffee. Jesus is switching lines at L’Enfant. Me and Buddha ride.

Throaty voice, Mohawked braids, her right hand conducting an invisible orchestra: Diamante Dorsey has the stage.

The audience claps at every pause and shouts her lines right back. They like their gods on U Street, paired with sex, cozying up in the Langston Hughes room.

“I kind of use that shock thing to my advantage, but it’s also my downfall,” she said after performing at Busboys and Poets on Wednesday.

A high school senior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Dorsey is a contender at Saturday’s D.C. Youth Poetry Slam, part of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

The event, presented by the poet Jeffrey McDaniel at Bell Multicultural High School, determines which of D.C.’s young poets will fly to Los Angeles this summer for the national Brave New Voices competition.

The DC Youth Poetry Slam Finals take place today at Bell Multicultural High School from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Saturday's Schedule

The final day of the Festival is tomorrow. It will be yet another amazing day. Join us for the Social Change Book Fair from 9:30 - 4:00 tomorrow in the Thurgood Marshall Center Gym.

Also check out the following panels and workshops tomorrow:
-Black LGBTQ Writing as Agents of Change
-Don’t You Hear This Hammer Ring: Origins, Mission, and Future of Split This Rock, Your National Organization of Socially Engaged Poets
-Write from the Source: Breath, Gesture, Word
-Birth and the Politics of Motherhood in Poetry
-The Poet as Historian in the 21st Century: A Rare Opportunity in Difficult Times
-Fatty Girls, Imaginary Cocks, and Vaginas Built Like Bookstores: A Workshop on Writing the Activist Body
-Poesia Para la Gente: Writing to Save Lives
-Radical Diversity: The Presentation of Poetry as an Agent of Radical Change
-Fire and Ink: A Social Action Writing Anthology, and the Rewards of Teaching Activist Writing

From 12:30-1:30 at Bell Multicultural High School, there will be a Teen Open Mic featuring Jeffrey McDaniel.



Between 2 and 3:30, check out the following performances:
-Willow Books Reading
-We are All Iran: A Group Reading by Iranian-American Poets
-AQUI ESTAMOS: A Sampling of Poetry From the Inaugural Acentos Poetry Festival

Featured Readings will again take place at Bell Multicultural High School. From 5-7, Featured Poets Richard McCann, Allison Hedge Coke, Lenelle Moïse, and Fady Joudah will read. There will be a break, during which sandwich combos can be purchased for $5.00. Following the break, Featured Poets Toni Asante Lightfoot, Martha Collins, Sinan Antoon, and Chris Abani will read with the winners of the 2010 and 2009 Adult Poetry Contests Simki Ghebremichael, Marie-Elizabeth Mali, and Teresa Scollon from 8 to 10. (For more information about the context winners, click here.)

Richard McCann is the author, most recently, of Mother of Sorrows, an award-winning collection of linked stories that Michael Cunningham has described as "almost unbearably beautiful." He is also the author of Ghost Letters, a collection of poems, and editor (with Michael Klein) of Things Shaped in Passing: More 'Poets for Life' Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. His work has appeared in such magazines as The Atlantic, Ms., Esquire, and Tin House, and in numerous anthologies, including The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007 and Best American Essays 2000. For his work, he has received awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. A professor in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at American University, McCann serves on the Board of Directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and is a Member of the Corporation of Yaddo. [Photo credit: Joanne Jacobson]

Allison Hedge Coke holds the Distinguished Paul W. Reynolds and Clarice Kingston Reynolds Endowed Chair of Poetry and Writing at the University of Nebraska, Kearney, and directs the Reynolds Reading Series & Honoring the Sandhill Crane Migration Literary Tribute Retreat. Her five authored books include: the American Book Award winning volume Dog Road Woman and the Wordcraft Writer of the Year for Poetry volume Off-Season City Pipe, both from Coffee House Press; Rock Ghost, Willow, Deer, an AIROS Book-of-the-Month memoir from the University of Nebraska Press; and Wordcraft's Writer of the Year for Poetry in 2007, Blood Run, a verse-play from Salt Publications. Hedge Coke has edited seven additional collections. She came of age cropping tobacco and working fields, waters, and working in factories.

Lenelle Moïse, hailed “a masterful performer” by, is an award-winning "culturally hyphenated pomosexual" poet, playwright and performance artist. She creates jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized texts about Haitian-American identity and the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality and resistance. In addition to featured performances in venues as diverse as the Louisiana Superdome, the United Nations General Assembly Hall and a number of theatres, bookstores, cafes and activist conferences, Lenelle regularly performs her acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show WOMB-WORDS, THIRSTING at colleges across the United States. Curve Magazine calls her debut spoken-word CD Madivinez "piercing...covering territory both intimate and political...vivid and powerful." She shares a bed in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Fady Joudah's The Earth in the Attic won the Yale Series for Younger Poets in 2007. Contest judge Louise Glück describes the poet in her foreword as, “that strange animal, the lyric poet in whom circumstance and profession ... have compelled obsession with large social contexts and grave national dilemmas.” He won the 2008 Saif Ghobash – Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of poetry by Mahmoud Darwish collected in The Butterfly’s Burden, published in a bilingual edition by Bloodaxe Books in the UK and by Copper Canyon Press in the US. The US edition was short-listed for PEN America’s poetry in translation award in 2009. He was a field member of Doctors Without Borders in 2002 and 2005. His new translation of Darwish's work is titled If I Were Another: Poems by Mahmoud Darwish (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009).

Toni Asante Lightfoot is a poet, teacher, performer, and activist. Born and raised in Washington, DC, she started hosting poetry readings in 1993 at Soul Brothers Pizza and moved to It's Your Mug in early 1994, where it hosted Saul Williams, Willie Perdomo, Miguel Algarin, The Darkroom Collective from Boston, Rhoma Spencer of Trinidad & Tobago and some of the best poets in DC. She is living in exile in Chicago, Illinois. She first left DC in 2000 to be artistic director of The Haven, an artistic retreat and bed & breakfast in Trinidad & Tobago. From there she joined the Blackout Arts Collective of Boston and became their artistic director in 2002. After realizing Boston what not her cup of tea, she packed up a truck and headed west to the Third Coast. Chicago has been a home sometimes cold, sometimes hot, but full of opportunism. Lightfoot is now the Director of TEACH Program at Young Chicago Authors. Her life is filled with a new understanding of language since being married to Setondji from The Republic of Benin and becoming a mother to the lovely Leontyn.

Martha Collins is the author of the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006), which focuses on a lynching her father witnessed when he was a child; it won an Anisfield-Wolf Award and was chosen as one of “25 Books to Remember from 2006” by the New York Public Library. Collins has also published four collections of poems, two collections of co-translations of Vietnamese poetry, and two chapbooks of poems. Other awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. Collins founded the Creative Writing Program at UMass-Boston, and for ten years was Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College. She is currently editor-at-large for FIELD magazine and one of the editors of the Oberlin College Press.

Sinan Antoon was born in Iraq and moved to the US after the 1991 Gulf War. His poems, essays and translations have been widely published in Arabic and English (The Nation, Ploughshares, Bomb, World Literature Today, Banipal). His novel I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody (City Lights) has been translated to five languages. The Baghdad Blues (poems) was published by Harbor Mountain Press. His translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s In the Presence of Absence is forthcoming from Archipelago Books in 2010. Antoon returned to Iraq in 2003 to co-direct the documentary film "About Baghdad," about the lives of Iraqis in a post-Saddam occupied Iraq. He served as senior editor of the Arab Studies Journal and currently serves as contributing editor for Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature and as a member of the editorial committee of the Middle East Report. He is assistant professor at New York University.

Chris Abani's poetry collections are Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon, 2006), Dog Woman (Red Hen, 2004), Daphne's Lot (Red Hen, 2003), and Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001). His prose includes Song For Night (Akashic, 2007), The Virgin of Flames (Penguin, 2007), Becoming Abigail (Akashic, 2006), GraceLand (FSG, 2004), and Masters of the Board (Delta, 1985). He is a Professor at the University of California, Riverside, and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the PEN Hemingway Book Prize, and a Guggenheim Award. Library Journal says of Hands Washing Water, “Abani enters the wound with a boldness that avoids nothing. Highly recommended.”