When Kwoya Fagin Maples told me she wanted to become a member of See Jane Write, I was elated — and nervous.
Kwoya is my colleague at the Alabama School of Fine Arts where she teaches in the Creative Writing department, so I’m aware of how talented she is. She has an MFA from the University of Alabama and is a Cave Canem Fellow. In 2010 she published her chapbook Something of Yours through Finishing Line Press and her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies including The African-American Review, PLUCK, Cave Canem Anthology XIII, The Birmingham Poetry Review, Right Hand Pointing and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. As an instructor at ASFA, Kwoya has developed a three-dimensional poetry exhibit which features poetry and visual art including original paintings, photography, installations and film. With that kind of resume, I wondered, what could I offer her?!
But Kwoya was seeking community, courses, and coaching that would help her better market her work and herself as a writer and that would help her reach more of her life and literary goals. She’s done exactly that, which is why she is the See Jane Write member of the month for May.
On Friday, May 12, Kwoya will reach her goal of organizing and hosting this year’s three-dimensional poetry exhibit. The 2017 Three Dimensional Poetry Exhibit, which will be displayed at Space One Eleven in downtown Birmingham, will feature students of ASFA’s Creative Writing Department and will center on the theme of Chimera: Reimagined Memory. (Learn more here.)
An opening reception will be held at Space One Eleven, 2409 2nd Avenue North in Birmingham, at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 12. Before heading to Friday’s opening, get to know the woman behind this wonderful project.
When Birmingham-bred poet Ashley Jones was in graduate school at Florida International University, she made a promise to herself: She promised herself that she would produce a book of poetry by the end of her MFA program. Jones kept her promise and on Friday, December 2 she will host a reading, book signing and early release party for her debut collection Magic City Gospel. The poems in the collection, which officially releases in January, are largely inspired by Jones’ experiences as a black girl and woman in the South. This special early release event will be held at 7 p.m., Friday, December 2 at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in downtown Birmingham.
Jones burst onto the poetry scene last year winning the prestigious Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award (a national literary award only given to six women each year that includes a grant for $30,000). Last year Jones also returned to Birmingham to teach creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) and this year began teaching at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) as well.
But Jones believes poetry should be in the community and not just the classroom. She recently helped produce the 100,000 Poets for Change in Birmingham event to raise money for the Smithfield-Dynamite Hill Community Land Trust, which works to keep the Smithfield Community in the ownership of its residents and fight against gentrification. She’s also coordinator of The Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series. The brainchild of Alabama poets Katherine Webb and Daniel DeVaughn, NGMC seeks to create a unique literary space in Birmingham where people can tell their stories through their art.
In a candid conversation, Jones discusses Magic City Gospel, her writing practice, writing as a form of activism and more.
“After a stressful divorce and an emotionally abusive marriage where I found myself at my highest weight of 337 pounds, alone, without a home, and devastated by grief, I needed something to help me recover,” she says.
That something was writing.
“I found a writing class — Women Writing for a Change,” Salaam says. “This is where I found healing through the power of words and community. Writing to release brought me freedom to declare I am a Poet and that writing is a tool of recovery. I have been with the same class and group of phenomenal writers for over six years.”
Earlier this year Salaam became a member of See Jane Write, too, and she has started a movement of her own through the Literary Healing Arts Foundation, a business idea she has brought to fruition in part through the guidance of Create Birmingham’s CO.STARTERS program.
There was a time when Lauree Ashcom felt she had to hide her love for poetry.
“I always wrote and read poetry secretly,” she says. “When I was in school, teachers seemed to teach that there were only certain types of poetry, that it mainly rhymed, that the only great poets were dead.”
And so Lauree would perhaps sometimes send a poem to a family member or friend, but mostly she kept what she describes as her “real heart words” in journals and on note cards tucked under her bed or in hidden in her closet.
“About ten years ago I began to feel more free and more rebellious,” she says. “Maybe it had something to do with suddenly having an empty nest. I created an alter ego under a pen name and began writing and posting in poetry groups on Facebook and other sites. Not all of these were sites that a proper southern woman should be visiting, but even that helped me break the bonds of the rules that made me live in fear.”
Lauree started entering and becoming a finalist in writing contests. This helped her to eventually land a book deal. “I would have been happy to just have a chapbook printed, but I got a contract for a full length book,” she says.
I’m excited to announce that Lauree Ashcom is the Member of the Month for April, which is also National Poetry Month.
I recently had a chat with Lauree about her writing process and journey.