(l to r: VONA writers Buki Papillon and Camille Acker)

Is there anything else out there like the AWP writers’ conference? Where else can you hear — under one roof — readings by Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Tretheway, Major Jackson, Mat Johnson, Kevin Young, Carleen Brice, Cornelius Eady and Sundays @ The Sackett alum Samantha Thornhilll?

But it is a conference, which has a certain formality. Luckily, one of the more enervating events of the conference took place off-site, blocks away from Boston’s massive and sterile convention center and thankfully a day after winter storm Saturn.

For two hours last Saturday night, VONA alums shared the spotlight with authors from Las Dos Brujas Writing Community as they read powerful fiction, poetry and memoir to a packed and adoring crowd at the cooperative workspace Make Shift.

What’s VONA/Voices you ask? It is the only multi-genre workshop for writers of color in the nation.

GailDottin3.9.13Hosted by co-founder Elmaz Abinader, the night’s readings were meant to promote VONA’s forthcoming anthology, Dismantle, but the event was really about celebrating a tight-knit community of writers and those who love them. After each reading, folks whooped and yelled and cheered, sometimes calling out “VONA! VONA!” amidst effusive applause. Think writers as rock stars.

Indeed, the writers’ work was across the board stellar, from Buki Papillon’s searing tale of a young Nigerian woman newly arrived in America naively bumping up against western mores and bracing for the worse; to Camille Acker’s pitch-perfect story taking us into the mind of a DC teen intimidating her way into self-worth; to Dionne Irving Bremyer’s cautionary tale warning a black Barbie of her woeful fate; to the riveting verse of Gail Dottin (above) who captured the tyrannical voice of self doubt living inside every writer’s head.

Throughout the night, writers noted that VONA workshops had been both validating and life-changing. If you’d like a validating, life-changing experience, VONA’s next workshops are June 23-29 @ University of California at Berkeley. Summer faculty include Junot Diaz (fiction), Staceyann Chin (memoir), Mat Johnson (graphic novel) and Ruth Forman (poetry). Deadline for applications is April 8.


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