Happy Monday. How Was Your Week?: An Ode To The Ascension Of Rats And Why I’m Thankful For The Rhode Island Writers Colony

21 Aug

From the hate in Charlottesville illuminated by tiki torches, to Heather Heyers becoming today’s Viola Liuzzo, to a peaceful protest of upwards of 40,000 people countering the “free-speech” rally of about 100 haters in Boston, to a co-worker posting memes on Facebook indirectly, but directly, showing his support of things that I’m sure unbeknownst to him, made me, a Jewish woman, feel his gaze on me as someone less than human. I think we’ve all felt either overwhelmed with anger, grief, and some even, with disbelief, with the disbelief coming primarily from white folks, who haven’t been listening for the past however many decades, centuries, really, when Black people were trying to tell us what life has been like for them, and we were kind of like, yeah, uh-huh–yes, I get it, slavery, Jim Crow, housing discrimination..yup, I’m listening..they brought drugs to your neighborhood–crack–and then just let your community implode, and took all your sons and dads and uncles and put them in jail for a long time…I see…and the cops aren’t there to help you, you say…and on and on…and then: Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, and Tamir Rice and that Walter Scott video, and Philando Castile..and, we’re finally, like OHHHHHH, now I get it. Only some still don’t. And here we are. Some of us rising up and resisting. Some of us scared as we play out in our minds a what if of the downfall of the Presidency, and the resurgence of tiki torch racists rising up from the gutters to reclaim their country and make it great again. And him, he’d tweet: I’m not going. You can’t make me leave. The people support me and think I’m great, except for the alt-left. Sad. 

This week I wrote two of my Facebook poems from my friends’ status updates. The poems were written on the two days following the Charlottesville neo-Nazi march, and, as always, reflected the feelings of those around me–this time capturing the anguish, and the strong will to resist and fight hate. I attended a community meeting run by Rhode Island Jobs for Justice of over two hundred people where we all pledged our solidarity to fight racism and facism in our city and state.  I printed t-shirts, posters and tote bags at the local art organization, AS220’s Free Community Printshop event. Tees and posters that said: You Are Standing On Stolen Land; Look At Yourself To Reject White Supremacy!; Black Lives Matter; and the posters I delivered to friends’ houses: F*ck White Supremacy. Only they didn’t use the asterik, which I use most of the time because I still feel like my Mom is looking over my shoulder telling me not to write it out, even though in reality, if she was still alive, she’d probably say, oh, just write the word, Wendy, and ask me to  print a tee for her.

Instead of going to the rally in Boston, I stayed local and went to the RI Writers Colony reading at AS220. I heard about this summer residency for writers of color in Warren, Rhode Island from my writer friend, Susan.  Two summers ago, she and I met the brothers, John and Brook Stephenson, at a literary event in downtown Providence. The two founded the non-profit organization, now in its fourth year of residencies.  John and Brook were both so down to earth and yet you could sense their passion both for writing, and, especially, for the space they were creating for their writers. Sadly, Brook passed away unexpectedly shortly after we met him, at the age of 41. John is keeping his legacy alive with the continuation of the Writers Colony, and working to posthumously publish a novel of Brook’s.

As my friends, Susan, Ellen and I settled in for the reading, John read part of the introduction of the book, which he learned was Brook’s favorite, The Best Short Stories By Negro Writers, by poet, Langston Hughes. In the book, Hughes talks about the great importance for writers of color to have the space of creative leisure not often afforded them, who might find it difficult to be inspired to write in the early morning hours before work, or late at night afterward. John shared that rereading this passage from Hughes’ book, reinforced in him the knowledge that what he and Brook created with the RI Writers Colony was necessary, and of great value–a space to create new works, and time to complete works, in community with other writers of color, who may not always feel welcome or nurtured in white European-centered academic and community spaces.

The writers for this year’s residency were Madhuri Pavamani, Té V. Smith, CP Patrick, Johnalynn Holland, and Elizabeth Acevedo. Introducing the writers, and reading his new work, a novel in progress, was Jason Reynolds, the Colony’s Artistic Director, and author of All American Boys, and Marvel’s the new Miles Morales Spider Man. As Jason said hello to the crowd, he both invited us and challenged us to humanly engage after hearing our lackluster response to his greeting. He told us that this was not a passive experience–listening to writers read. It was human connection. It demanded a give and take. I was immediately drawn into Jason’s reading of his novel, and each successive author’s work. I traveled through time and space and beauty and pain in their words.  Sat on the edge of my seat in the classroom with Tinka tapping her fingernails on her desk in Jonalynn Holland’s story, nodded in recognition at Mahur Pavamani’s knowing when a simple sigh marked the before and after of the admittance of a failing marriage, left longing for the African diaspora inspired historical fantasy fiction CP Patrick is working on, and hoped against all odds that the boy in Té V. Smith’s novel-in-progress would see his father succeed in his teetering substance-induced attempt at fried frozen chicken.

I listened intently to Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel in verse, and her two poems that had a way of punching you in the gut, knowing they deserved that response. One poem was about a rat, and was inspired by a college professor who, asking students to choose an animal as a poetry prompt, told the New York City, Harlem raised poet, that the rat wasn’t a noble enough creature to warrant a poem. Her epic, scathing ode and elevation of the rat to a place deserving of the work’s final line, that you and I are worthy of every poem, showed that professor up. Acevedo’s poem, and the rat as a prominent New York City animal, reminded me of the time my older daughter who was born there called to me to come see the pigeon in our new backyard in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we lived for a few years after leaving the city. She was four at the time. When I looked out the window, it was a cardinal. But it didn’t matter to my Leni. The crowd of pigeons she walked through in Tompkins Square Park on her way to the swings, that most city dwellers shooed away, were right on par with the rare sighting of what’s considered to be one of the prettiest and most regal of birds.

While fixated and transported by all of these writers’ works, at times I noticed my mind still not completely able to shut out the outside world. I wondered how the rally in Boston was going, and how I consciously chose to be here to support the art of these writers, to take in beauty for the day, my form of protest against the week of ugliness. As quickly as my mind drifted, though, like a meditation, I brought my focus back to being there in that room with these writers, whose stories slowed down time to where we all became, as Jason clued us into, human beings engaged in experiencing life in literary form by writers of color, about lives of people of color. We ascended, despite Jason asking a college professor some years back the reason why there weren’t more writers of color in the literary canon, and getting the response something to the effect that they weren’t worthy of such note. We ascended, from the gutters of hate speech and death in Charlottesville, to art reflecting back its time, and place, and truth.

Back on the sidewalk after the reading, still processing all the depth of these works, one thing was immediately apparent to me. I said to my former writing group mates, Ellen and Susan, “wow, I really need to kick my writing up a notch—more like ten notches!”

Susan responded, “That’s what good writing is supposed to do.”

The start of a new week, post-eclipse bright, I am now grateful for the moment when that co-worker’s words made this eternal Jew see herself as less than, because after attending the reading, I am now able to recognize the kinship with the bottom-feeding rat who rose up in Acevedo’s ode.

How was your week?

Below are the two collective Facebook poems made from my friends’ status updates, in response to the events of Charlottesville:




peace is a verb


dear america,


there was, and is,

no equivalency

between hatred

of evil, and

hatred of entire

races of people

simply for the

color of their skin

sure is a

different approach

than what they

took at peaceful,

unarmed, standing rock.

and why no tanks and

militia like

in ferguson?

I’ll tell you what,

if you’re sitting here

justifying what

happened this weekend,

you need to post

your high school government

or history teacher’s name

right here! because

obviously they didn’t

take time to

teach you that

free speech doesn’t

grant you the right to

kill someone with

your car

those white supremacists,

nazi-supporting, kkk-membership

having, racist, ignorant,

trump-worshipping, violent

hateful mofos who were

gathered in va

this weekend

are wrong

rest in peace to

this sister, who

was murdered

while standing up

to an inbred who

called himself a

white supremacist.

his ass is getting

the death penalty.

she was the wrong

complexion for

him to walk.

white women are

dying now like

black men and women

always have. if you

are going to look

at the images…

see the

white “nazi” females in

the crowd too.

see them.

remember last summer though?

pay attention.

they are reckless,

insecure, tortured.

your responsibility?

find out how it is

so many obvious aggressors

are there. who bused them in?

who rented them vehicles?

who sold out of tiki torches?

who helped catalyze

this action.

peace is a verb.

call them out.

and now I’m going

to take my side

to make space for

alternative ways

of thinking and

shaping our communities,

our cities, our nation,

informed by the

holistic and cultural work

of both our predecessors

and the young people who

are the fire of

future visioning, ways to

stop hate crimes, disparity,

inequity, and exploitation.

ways to stop the

systemic violence upon

people of color. ways to

mobilize collectives and

push for changes in

policy and legislation,

the work toward

positive change

cannot stop

we can be heroes

today, do something.


Thanks to: Tory Bullock, Angel Rosa, Johanna De Los Santos, Christina Hayes, Kelly Quinn, Travis Hunter, Adrienne A Wallace, Shey Riv, Mike Araujo, Robert Goodrich,







just heard trump’s

disgusting remarks

full of false

equivalency on charlottesville

the president thinks

some nazis are

“fine people”

now trump wants to

blame the “alt-left”

(what’s that?)

for the violence

as well as

the “alt-right”

(you mean, neo-nazis)

“you’re changing history.

you’re changing culture”

david duke, noted conservative,

white supremacist nazi,

thanks trump for

today’s remarks which

duke summarizes as

blm are terrorists and

charlottesville is the

fault of

leftist terrorists

love is now being

reclassified as

a hate group

under new federal guidelines,

for its continued exclusion,

derisiveness, and

many sided approach to

violence among

its supporters

a story so tactile and

feverishly surreal it

feels like a sort of

reverse haunting

I am beginning to

believe the theory

of this being

a planned race war

where does it end? he asked

robert e lee today. george

washington and thomas

jefferson tomorrow?

well, now that

you mention it…


Thanks to: Brenda Be Be, Kelly Quinn, Andrew Posner, Angel Rosa, Joey Chia, Grove Atlantic, Christopher Johnson, Michael J. Dumas






photo credit: www.barenforum.org


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