Don’t call me brave. Call me chingona

Dear Reader,

I’ve been thinking a lot about bravery recently, what it actually means and what it takes to be brave. This bravery thing seems like a simple thing to figure out but I’m not quite so sure.

I’ve been called brave once. About a year ago. See, I did something that most people wish they could and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do. After working in journalism most of my adult life, I walked away from a career and a stable paycheck and decided to start over. All the way over and do what is in my heart to do. That means not taking opportunities unless they fulfill me in some way.

That is why I was called brave.

But is that bravery? That act of drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Here. I want to stop with this ridiculous merry-go-round here.” Is that brave or is that just being fed up?

Listen, I don’t want you walking away from this post thinking that I left the evil mass media. Yes, I have my opinion about what happens inside America’s newsrooms and they are strong opinions, but it was the best gig for a long time. It was a gig that allowed me to go on assignment in Mexico twice. I knew the news before the rest of the city. It allow me to impact the world in a substainal way and for that I’m grateful. But I want more. I want to write and write well and write books. It was kinda my thing for a long time, something I had to keep hidden at times.

This writing thing, this gave me my voice and empowered me to be a journalist in the first place. See that sentence. That’s an important sentence, reader. The order of it is so telling. WRITING came first, not journalism. For some people it’s the other way around.

Yes, I stepped off the merry-go-round a year ago. Not an easy year but I still wouldn’t call myself brave. I didn’t run into a burning building to save a baby. I didn’t fight in a war. I didn’t put on a uniform and swore an oath to protect. I didn’t stare down the barrel of a gun so others wouldn’t. That’s brave. All of that is so much bravery. No, all I did was demand more for myself and my life.

All I did was try to live the life I always wanted.

Actually, when you see it on the screen like that it reads a bit selfish. Who am I to demand that of the universe? To be happy, to live my waking hours doing something I love and to help humanity in that way? That’s selfish! That’s … audacious.

Yes, that’s what I am. I am audacious. I am a high clearance level chingona who defied textbook definitions of things a long time ago. I am a chingona who is learning her lessons from the university of hard knocks with a major in I do what I want. And yes it comes with bumps, hill sized bumps, headaches and heartaches, but love is like that sometimes – worth the fight and being fulfilled up to the brim.

Please, don’t call me brave. What I am doing isn’t bravery.  I want more for my life than what I settled for originally. I’ve chosen that road Robert Frost talked about. I don’t know if it’s made all the difference because I’m still creating it as I go.

Bravery means there was fear to overcome but I was too busy wanting to live a life (and keep it) to live it in fear.

 

La Chingona,

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4 ways to write through tragedy (w/prompts)

Dear Reader,

The weekend is over and Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Minnesota are probably still on your mind in one way or another.

You want to forget but it’s still gnawing at you enough to sense you’re restless about it. But you don’t know what to do or how to start. You have to write that stuff down.

You have to write that stuff down.

I know what you’re thinking. Not everything is a writing exercise, Icess. True but not everything is about exercise either. Sometimes, writing is about healing and pouring something out of you onto paper so that it’s tangible.

Also, when writing through tragedy it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to publish. Other people don’t have to see it and you don’t have to share it. It’s just for you, to sort your thoughts.

I learned how powerful it was to write about the tragic moments in life when my dad died. I wrote awful, dark poetry, that will never be seen by another human being ever. But when the tears flowed and my heart hurt, that page was my security blanket. It helped me cope with death and what it meant in my life.

Writing

Free write

This is the easiest, low stress, basic way to write about the tragedy. Take a paper and pen and just write what you feel and what you think.

It doesn’t have to make sense.

There is no judgment.

It can be a grocery list if you want.

And you don’t have to do it for long.

Set 10 minutes on the clock and write about the first topic that comes to mind. Don’t stop for anything just keep going. Don’t hold back.

Write a poem

Poetry writing isn’t my forte but I dabble. Something about the poetic form is freeing. You can use figurative language (those similes and metaphors you don’t usually get to use). And…here’s the thing…

It doesn’t have to rhyme.

It doesn’t have a structure.

It could be about something small.

There are lots of different types of poems that could help you focus on your situation. One of my favorites and basic forms is an ode.  This poetry form gives praise (or not if you want to be sarcastic) to an item, a thing, a feeling, or an experience.

This form uses lots of descriptions and imagery to give it heft.  Here are some more tips http://www.powerpoetry.org/resources/writing-ode-poem

Writing prompt: Write an ode to a favorite memory. Be as descriptive as possible. For an added bonus, use the five senses in your description.

Short story

For me, dipping into science fiction or fantasy while writing about trauma has helped. The flexibility is endless with these forms. Science fiction doesn’t have to be the traditional form of spacemen and aliens. Think Doctor Who or Orphan Black or any comic book-based tv show. It can be basic on reality with some one aspect — time travel, cloning, etc — being extraordinary.

I like reading Kurt Vonnegut’s  Harrison Bergeron for many reasons. At its core, I could be called science fiction if we’re looking for a simple genre. The story about how all people are made equal is dystopian, a sub-genre of sci-fi. It’s rooted in some reality but it usually deals with the ending of something, sacrificed for the common good. It brings up complex issues against the backdrop of fiction, allowing the writer to explore difficult topics.

Writing prompt: Write a short story where something human or an aspect of humanity had to be sacrificed to the continued life of the planet. Feel free to use time travel, cloning, a superhero (or two) or a complex equation to aid in your story.

Opinion/Column Writing

This is probably one of my favorites.

I’ve written commentary for Huff Post Latino and the Guardian and it’s been great. It’s also the most direct way of getting out the pain and the hurt while focusing on logic or argument.

Note that this is different than freewriting which has few rules. Opinion writing follows a logical stream of thought and includes examples and facts to back up the argument.

What I love most about opinion writing is that it can take may forms. It could be the basic letter to the editor in your city newspaper to a creative non-fiction form to even a grocery list.

Writing prompt: Write a letter to someone or something that made you angry or treated you unfairly. Don’t forget to include examples add facts to back up your argument.

I hope this helps. I’m actually writing through my pain and have written some new pieces I’m excited to revise and submit to places.

Remember, on the page, no one can tell you what to do.

Enjoy,

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Want to take it a step further? Join my online writing class starting in a couple of weeks.  I’ve got some great things planned and I’d love to see you there!

 

Top 5 links to read this weekend

Dear Reader,

There are lots to read out there after the events of this week. I’ve tweeted a bunch of them out though I’ve been quiet on Facebook. Thought that there should be at least one place to escape.

So the links I have below are a mixture of self-care, business writing, and prompts. All empowering things to help you spring into action.

Because this is when we should be writing, by the way. This is when writing can be both escape and revolutionary. It’s your choice. Remember, it’s about a writing LIFE not just what happens on the page.

I REALLY wish I was going to this but, alas, I will be elsewhere when the class begins. He’s amazing and has written plays that not only entertain but make you think. He’s in Houston for this class and it’s a bargain to get to study and write with him.

  • If you’re not in Houston and need some writing direction in your life? Try this prompt. 

It’s from my other friend, poet Rich Villar, who teaches at the School of Poetic Arts in NYC. He, along with they great folks at Sofrito for Your Soul have partnered for this prompt.

I love this prompt not only for poets but for prose writers as well. One thing that we do well, unfortunately, is that we can grow words about place like weeds. Here’s an exercise that can keep you focused.

I’m not quite at that point in my life yet but it’s nice to have this list of books that can be guiding forces. Look, every writer has the potential to be a creative entrepreneur regardless of how you sell your art. The business part of the writing life can always use a polish.

I’m into self-care this week. I unplugged from social media for long chunks of time. And I was so grateful that I did it.  I also spent time with friends and protected myself from what was happening for awhile. It’s not avoidance because I came back but the break away gave me time to collect my thoughts, reflect, and remember some good life lessons.

This makes things all that much easier for novelists. Researchers have done the work and say all books follow one of these six arcs.

There you go, enjoy!

Oh, and as a reminder, I am teaching  an online writing class in the next couple of weeks and would love to have you guys join us!

Take care and keep going,

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Being a writer in the age of Alton and Philando

Dear Reader,

This is a website about writing. And the writing life. It is about dispelling those myths about what the writing life actually is.

It takes courage to live this life. It takes more courage to live this life as a writer of color. Today is one of those days where writing is my salvation. Reading is my salvation. And reflection is needed.

As a writer of color, I can’t ignore a day like today when we are mourning the murders of two black men at the hands of the people who were sworn to protect.

I’ve personally seen both sides of officers. I live in Texas — guns, God, family and country — is the motto of every die hard Texan. We have an allegiance to those who put their lives on the line, a duty to support them to the ends of the Earth. It’s a blind duty that has hurt more than helped. It has hidden instead of honored.

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My dad

I was about six when a Harris County deputy slammed my father to the ground in the front yard of our house. I was in the car. My mother came out and screamed at the top  of her lungs, “He has a heart condition.” The shrill is still there as I remember this memory. The only other time I heard my mother that way was when we found my dad had passed away.

That day of the bad deputy, I yelled, too. “Get off my daddy!” I wanted to get out but he had closed the door. Dad told me not to get out for any reason. “Get off my daddy! Get off my daddy!” My piercing screams filled our family car. My ears rang, the tears like coals on my checks. I banged on the window

The deputy’s knee was in the middle of his back and dad couldn’t breathe. Then, the deputy looked me. His cowboy hat didn’t hide the angry in his eyes. My pigtails didn’t make my anger any less than his. I hated him, right there, for doing this. Why? Why would he do this to my daddy?

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Because Dad didn’t immediately stop when the deputy put on his lights. But the deputy flashed his lights in front of our house. Dad pulled into the driveway because there was no other room on the street. Did he deserve what happened for that?

The deputy stopped. Picked Dad up. Ticketed him. And left. I never saw him again.

We, at the time, were one of the few families of color in the neighborhood.

Flash forward many years, on vacation to visit family in Central America. Dad stays behind. Mom receives a phone call. There is a shooting. An attempted robbery at the house as Dad was coming home at night. Guns were drawn. Dad shot first. He is alive.

When we arrive home, our driveway is still stained with the bad man’s blood. Dad is still shaken. It was the typical stand your ground case. No charges.

A deputy, different than the one from my childhood, drives by the house to check on us. He asks us if we are okay. When he catches me speeding in the neighborhood a week later, he looks at my face and he sees trauma. A warning. “Call if you need me,” he says. “Anything. That’s why I’m here.”

I don’t see him again after that.

Yes, I’ve seen both sides. But I see one side more than the other. That 6-year-old girl is frightened. She doesn’t want to see anyone else’s daddy on the floor. She doesn’t want anyone’s mommy crying. She doesn’t want her tears to be repeated. And yet they are. So many times.

See, to be a person of color right now is to live in a constant state of fear. Alton and Philando and Trayvon and Sandra and Tamir and everyone else is the reason why. Because I never saw the good deputy again but I see the bad deputy all the time.

Because when I get pulled over in the weeks after Sandra for a taillight being out, my body tenses even though it’s not my fault. Because if I had known the light was out I would have replaced it. Because I place my hands on the steering wheel and hold my breath. Because I am grateful that it’s a busy street down the street from my house. Because my body relaxes when I see the deputy is black. Because he just wanted me to know it was out. Because I tell this to my mom and her eyes grow wide and she realizes that her daughters are in constant danger. Because the country she immigrated to, worked in, and built a life in are hunting her greatest assets and there’s nothing she can do.

I’m tired. For me, the hunting of black bodies didn’t start in the past couple of years. It started when that deputy slammed my dad on the ground of his own home.

I write. Write about this. I share my story. I share that I’ve seen the good and the bad. I share that the bad has cause trauma. I share that I have no solutions. What I have is a magazine, a notebook, and some books to read.

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My self-care today.

So, I immersed myself in self-care today until the words bubbled like grease. I poured them into this blog post. Now, I spread them like dandelion seeds across the universe and watch what grows if anything.

That is what the writing life is today for me. Sometimes, that’s all it can be.

In a state of sorrow and fear and praying for strength,

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Let me help you get your writing on point!

Dear Reader ,

Here’s my big announcement.

I’m offering creative writing classes in a couple of weeks. Online!

Yes, that’s the big announcement. I haven’t taught my online class since 2013 and so I’m opening up and teaching “How to write like a Rock Star.”

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The class is the jump start you need to work on your fiction and your non-fiction. With this class, I’ll teach you the beginning how-to  to get your writing in gear, on point, in process, and on the page.

Here’s more information about the classes. They’re going to be offered soon. The exact date will be determined by the class. Also, it’s SUPER cheap.

Hope to see you in class,

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Big announcement tomorrow!

Dear Reader,

Sorry for the late note. Things are moving lightening fast on my end of the world and I have an opportunity to strike while the iron’s hot!

I have a big announcement tomorrow. Wednesday. July 6.

Yes, this is the announcement to announce the announcement. I actually think it’s more of a heads up.

I’ve had so many people ask me when was I going to teach writing classes again. The answer is soon. Really soon.

More details tomorrow. Like noon-ish.

Until then!

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P.S. Want to go ahead and get on the interested list? Fill the form below. I announce classes to my list first.


Stop apologizing: What independence really means

Dear Reader,

One of the very first things I heard during my VONA experience was this:

“You are allowed to take up space.”

The words weren’t foreign to me but how they were put together were. Space? I nodded thinking that I knew what that phrase meant.

All through my week, I kept hearing that phrase over again like a mantra in yoga class. During our workshops and in conversations with my workshop leader, this phrase was the bad penny of conversation but, like with everything else from that magical week, I took it with me to mull over and consider.

Fast forward to this morning and my scrolling through social media. Forbes posted this gem and the first item on this list was this:

Don’t apologize for taking up space.

But this time, after more than a year, I know what that phrase means. I feel it like one feels cold or warmth. I feel it like how one feels pain. It is instinct now.

For people of color, women of color in particular, we play this inherited game. We walk into it really, the second we accept our first job. We learn to get better at it. We shrink ourselves in ways we’re not conscious of. We learn when it’s best to talk in the meeting even though we had that great idea two weeks ago. We learn to dress professionally, with just enough colors to be seen or even be considered fashionable, but mixed with enough muted colors to blend into walls and cubicles. Our voices are softer and lower, our tones calm, our speech rates slower so that we are understood but don’t come off as “passionate”,  a code word for threatening. We change the texture of our hair — we relax it, we weave it, we place it in buns or ponytails. Our laughter in the workplace is limited least we are thought of as lazy and non-compliant despite working longer hours and working harder.

In short, the goal is to take up enough space to be seen as a professional but not so much that we’re seen as intrusive.

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Writing is like that sometimes. Take up enough space to do your art but don’t demand any more than that. And getting paid for your writing? Well, that’s absurd!  Writing for art? Who do you think you are? Hemingway? Writing the truth of the world around you — well now you’ve gone too far!

How dare we ask to take up the space that is not only due but required to just make sense of the world around us? I, as a writer, a woman of color, the daughter of immigrants, an Afro-Latina, take up this space because, simply, I am human.

So, nah, I ain’t sorry. I am allowed and required to take up all the space I need.

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That is what independence is to me. That freedom of being and creating in my space. Being who I truly am. Not apologizing for it because none is necessary. I am human after all and we need what we need to survive and thrive in whatever way we chose. If that means I take up more space than I’m allotted then so be it. Making myself smaller physically or on the page serves someone else, serves a game that I’m not willing to play anymore.

I am allowed to take up space. I don’t have to apologize for it. I am free.

Happy Independence Day,

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The Writing Life: Halfway mark of the year

Dear Reader,

It has been such a whirlwind the past couple of months so I apologize for not writing and checking in.

In between teaching English at community colleges, writing, submitting, and living something needed to be sacrificed and sleep wasn’t one of them.

So, let’s get this update started. What have I done? What have I created? Am I achieving my goals from my resolution? 

Let’s start with April

Made four submissions (yay!) Got three rejections (womp) and waiting for one more.

 

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The crew of the 20th anniversary of Nuestra Palabra

 

Read a new piece, Confessions of the Child Not Coming, for the Nuestra Palabra 20th anniversary showcase. It was so much fun and it was great to see the old gang again.

Began semi-secret new project, which I don’t want to announce until it is completely finished. Sorry, no update for this.

I’m working on non-fiction pieces! YES!! Flash memoir! Some thoughts from reading Citizen, which is amazing and you should definitely pick up.

Jennie Manning got a couple of raised eyebrows from agents. We’ll see what happens next. She got a deep polish during April which means she’s shining really brightly.

May

 

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Before the revision of “The Defect” my sci-fi piece for Kimbilio

 

Kinda took this month off. Between grading and submitting grades and knowing that I’d have a relatively active summer, thought I’d take some time off. However, I did finish and submit my piece for the Kimibilo Fellowship. It’s a sci-fi piece and I LOVE it.

June

 

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I’m teaching! Here at the summer Creative Writing Camp.

 

So far, I’ve concentrated on teaching creative writing to kids during a two-week camp. That camp just finished. So I’ll be back on the grind and prepping for Kimilibo here in  a few days.

Thoughts about my progress

What do I think of my progress so far this year? It’s okay. I’m always going to push myself for more but I want to increase my number of submissions. However, to do that, I need to concentrate on writing more single, one hit things — flash fiction pieces, poetry, memoir, flash memoir, etc. I’ve written so much on Jennie that I need more stand alone pieces.

My submissions calendar is a bit sparse now. I hadn’t really updated it since taking May off. So I’m going to be adding more due dates and maybe revisiting some of the publications that posted new calls for submissions.

So…here’s the thing with my writing short stories. They all become novels. Seriously, I am having the most trouble with this. Two short stories now have novel heartbeats. So I’m going to retool this resolution to focus more on flash fiction with 1,000 words or less on the page most likely focusing on a single moment. Anything more than that I’ll have another novel project on my hands and NO! that can’t happen again.

Also, I haven’t thought or started translating any of my pieces, which is a goal I had at the beginning of the year. I’m thinking I may lay that aside and concentrate more on making the writing more impactful and deeper. I still want to work in Spanish and in translation but I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

Self care: I’m doing it. I’m listening to my body more and to my thoughts and making sure that I’m not overdoing it and that I am expressing what needs to be expressed. I’m also creating art which helps with the healing.  This is extremely important because if I don’t take care of myself, how am I going to create art?

So that’s it. I give myself about a C+ on my goals which means I’ll need to step it up. I think I have a game plan already. There are two pieces that are boiling in my head at the moment that may be ready soon for submission. We’ll see.

Alright everyone, off I go and return to my writing hole.

Write on,

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The Writing Life: February and March progress

 

Dear Reader,

Yes, I am alive. There’s a reason for the radio silence and it’s a good thing. I’ve been writing and submitting and teaching and grading.

Oh, all those papers.

So many that I have just looked up and realized it’s the end of MARCH! MARCH!?! What happened to February?

Wait, it’s April. Yikes!

For January, I posted an update about my writing life. My goal this year, at least one of them, was to demystify what some people believe the writing life is. I don’t sit in coffee shops all day. (Though I am now.) I don’t sit and think about life and it’s meaning. I work. Hard. I have a day job and my writing. Oh, and a life to live. That’s the most important part.

Let’s talk about the work, the writing, what keeps you motivated, or, at least, me. February is when all the grading started so I slowed down. I ended up doing the following:

March was way slower. In the middle of all the papers, all the living and all the madness. Here’s what I accomplished:

  • FINALLY finished my non-fiction essay.
  • Submitted said non-fiction essay.
  • Learned that my panel that I submitted to a conference in Madrid, Spain in January was accepted!
  • Reading (still) The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani.
  • Listening to The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. (Thanks, Audible!)
  • Started a new personal essay
  • Jennie Manning chapter 4 completed, chapter five rewrites.

Two slow months, but here’s the thing. Now that I see it written down I don’t think these months are slow. I’m surprised I got done what I got done with all the things that I needed to get done. So, I’m cutting myself some slack. I did alright! #givingmyselfcredit #slay

According to my goals for the year (yes, I still consider them from time to time) I’m don’t what I’m supposed to. Here’s the list.

  1. New short stories? I’ve revised old ones which feels like new material
  2. More submissions? Uh, yes. Totally have submitted more this year so far than I have in the past two years. My Submittable account tells me that.
  3. Work more in non-fiction? I just finished an essay that took me many months and many more Kleenex to finish. I’ve already started the next essay and have located others from my past to revise later on in the year or early next. New project? Good Lord, I hope not. Ha!
  4. Continue my Afro-Latina journey? Always.
  5. Jennie Manning? It keeps going. I’ll be writing her own separate update but I’m excited where it’s going. The finish line? What finish line? Kidding. End of the year the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
  6. Translation? This one is the only goal I haven’t started yet. For now, I’ve put this on ice until I have fewer things on my plate.

So there you have it, my months of living this writing life. That’s what it’s like living this writing life. It’s not always glamorous but it’s worth living.

Writing On,

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6 opportunities for writers of color this month

Dear Reader,

I got a fantastic shout out on Facebook a couple of weeks back from George “Urban Jibaro” Torres. I’ve known him for awhile now through Twitter. He was one of the first Latino social media folks I met many moons ago.

He urged writers of colors to follow me because I was listing out opportunities for them. I was so honored and humbled by that. He hit on something that I didn’t know was doing.

In recent months, I’ve noticed an urge to create or to announce opportunities for writers of color. Whether it’s retweeting things I find or putting together a list like this, I find it a great privilege to curate this information to give writers an opportunity to practice their craft.

So, I’ve put together a special edition of writing opportunities geared specifically for writers of color. Let’s get your writing to the next level, folks. Vamonos!

World Wide Network of Artist Residences

I came across this website a couple of weeks ago and I instantly bookmarked it. Wow! A list of residencies to apply to around the world! Does that mean there could be a residency that allows me to go to Paris and work on my book? Yes. That’s exactly what that means.

Although you may not be at that point in your writing where you are ready for a residency (I would argue you are) it’s good to go through the process. Things like CVs and artist statements and project statements take time. So it’s nice to have an opportunity to write something you wouldn’t usually write and have it ready for other opportunities.

So enjoy Germany or Austrailia or wherever you’re going next.

VONA/Voices

I. Can. Not. Say. Enough. Good. Things. About. VONA. When I got ii, it was kinda a blur. An unbelievable excellent blur of awesomeness with Sunday morning pancakes and warm syrup. Around for more than 15 years, this weeklong workshop at the University of Miami, gives writers of color critique and feedback on their writing in a constructive and awesome space.

There’s space here for everyone, literary, genre (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery), poetry, travel writing (YES!), essay, political writing and more. New this year is a young adult writing workshop with Daniel Jose Older, writer of Shadowshapper.  Hurry if you’re doing this one. Applications are due March 15.

Kimbilio Fellowship

This one I am really excited about.  I was accepted to last year’s class but couldn’t attend. They extended an invite for this year and I thankfully accepted.  #Kimbilio16, y’all!

Kimbilio means safe haven in Swahilli.  Here’s a bit of their mission statement.

We are a community of writers and scholars committed to developing, empowering and sustaining fiction writers from the African diaspora and their stories.

Projects include readings, presentations at professional conferences, social media networking, and an annual summer retreat for fiction writers who are members of the Kimbilio community.

What I found really interesting about this residency/fellowship/awesome opp is that its alumni gather to read in different areas of the country in addition to creating a community. And we all know how I feel about writers having a community.

I’ve already just finished reading one of the faculty member’s short story collections and I was blown away. So, this seems like an exciting place to be. (They’re near Taos, NM for a week in the summer.) Applications are due April 15.

National Parks Foundation

National parks. Writing. Dedicated Space. What else can I say about this opportunity?

Listen, so each national park from New Mexico to Hawaii to the Eastern seaboard has its own deadline and stipulations. Some have stipends while others don’t. All are residencies with your own place to sleep and be, but stuff like wifi…I dunno.  Each park is different and offers different experiences. You’ll have to click each park at the link above and see the specific requirements.

Glendaliz’s List

My friend Glendaliz (also a VONA alum. Hint, hint) has been gathering a list of these opportunities longer than I have. She has a list going on her own site with opportunities that seem really fun and interesting.

She also does webinars on how to apply to residencies and covers things like how to write an artist statement. Check her out on her site. She’s a wealth of info and is always applying to these opportunities as well.

Journals featuring writers of color

Meanwhile, there are journals who are looking for work from people of color. Thanks to WritersRelief.com for putting this list together!  Some good stuff here.

Alright then! Seems like we all have some work to do. Residencies. Workshops. Submissions. Writing. Get to it, folks!

Write On,

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