Congratulations to our Editor-In-Chief, Meher Manda, for being selected by the Poetry Society of New York for their micro-residency project at The Strand Bookstore.
On the first warm Friday of the year, a crowd gathered at the former home of the legendary poet Langston Hughes for the third in a series of readings for the MFA program in creative writing at CNR. Free and open to the public, the series features distinguished writers whose work reflects the program’s mission of civic engagement.
Mercy Tullis-Bukari, MFA student and Pushcart Prize nominee, introduced the poets to a packed parlor.
Multi-award-winning poet Nicole Sealey stepped up to the mic and read her first poem, the first person who will live to be one hundred and fifty years old has already been bornfrom her latest collection Ordinary Beasts. The soft blue light of dusk haloed her as her musical voice filled the parlor. She recited several more poems including, Candelabra with Heads, which utilizes a poetic form of her own creation called an Obverse. The enthusiastic crowd contemplated every line as it lingered in the air.
Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet and author Gregory Pardlo was next to captivate the audience. He opened with readings from his poetry collections Totem and Digest. His final reading was from his new memoir entitled Air Traffic. Gregory had fun with the interactive audience, who on several occasions were thrown into raucous laughter.
During the Q&A after the reading, Sealey asked Pardlo several questions, including one about the difference between writing memoir and writing poetry. The crowd of aspiring writers leaned in. Pardlo responded, “I’m easing away from the idea that there is a difference.” Sealey stated that much of his memoir does in fact read like poetry. In his reply, Pardlo stated with a smile that “it was just a matter of taking out the line breaks.”
Pardlo was a font of inspirational and thoughtful insights about poetry and storytelling. One quote that resonated with the audience came after a question pertaining to his memoir Air Traffic. He said, “We don’t go to poems to find out what happened in the latest event…at the foundation, the poem is the event.”
MFA student Sharmaine Ong appreciated the interaction between the poets and the audience.
“It felt as if we were also in conversation with the authors,” Ong said. “It felt like we were all peers, learning from each other’s experiences.”
Both poets stayed after to sign books and continue the conversation with students.
The Langston Hughes House in Harlem is home to I, Too Arts Collective where the public can enjoy an array of literary and creative events throughout the year. The CNR MFA program has partnered with I, Too Arts Collective to help bring literary greatness to the forefront in this historic location.
Renée Watson, author of Piecing Me Together and founder of I, Too Arts Collective, headlines the next reading on May 8, at 7pm. The event will take place at The Langston Hughes House located at 20 E. 127th St. in Harlem.
Article contributed by MFA Student Liz Kelso, '18
by Tana Mfuni
When novelist Angela Flournoy steps up to the microphone in the art-lined gallery of La Maison d'Art, anticipation fills the air. You can hear the audience lean in to listen to her.
The National Book Award finalist read selections from her breakout novel, The Turner House, on November 8 as part of the reading series for CNR’s MFA program in creative writing. During the event, Flournoy not only shared her work, but also gave candid advice to the program’s emerging writers.
“One thing I wish I could tell all of my MFA students, especially the ones here in New York, is that if you are doing anything else more than you are writing—you’re [messing] up,” said Flournoy. The writer, who has taught at some of the nation’s most elite writing programs, observed that the time-thieving flashy lights of city life could be a young writer’s kryptonite.
“They’re squeezing in their writing last, and they’re doing all these other things first,” said Flournoy. “You just have to write first,” the author said, bluntly throwing down the gauntlet to CNR students. “Unless you don’t want a career in writing.”
Flournoy knows of what she speaks. As a young writer, she spent more than four years hunkered down, tucked away in places like Iowa, cobbling together The Turner House on her apartment floor. The sacrifice was well worth it. Flournoy’s novel, telling the transgenerational story of the Detroit-based Turner family during the 2008 housing crash, debuted to a chorus of applauding critics, many of whom were on their feet.
Awards showered soon after, catapulting Flournoy into literary stardom complete with jet setting to conferences in Brisbane, New York Magazine photo shoots, and calls from HBO and Issa Rae to help develop a new series. However, more than Flournoy’s new rockstar status, students valued hearing the author’s hard-won kernels about crafting realistic plotlines and three-dimensional characters.
Flournoy spoke about her decision to resist a happily-ever-after ending to The Turner House, something that has drawn both praise and ire from her fans and critics.
“There were certain things that I knew would not be resolved in the pages of the book. Some people have had beef with me because of that,” said Flournoy. The writer encouraged students to employ their writer’s slight-of-hand to play with shifting plot objectives even if their audience is resistant.
For second-year MFA student Anila Zaidi, Flournoy’s advice was a revelation.
Congratulations to CNR MFA student, Mercy L. Tullis Bukhari, for her Pushcart Prize Nomination!
Mercy L. Tullis Bukhari is a wife, mom of two and writer of fiction and poetry. She finds inspiration
from being Bronx-bred, from The Bronx and a feisty woman. She has featured at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe and The Bronx Book Fair among many venues. A tenured high school English Language Arts teacher and adjunct professor of American Literature and at the College of New Rochelle. Mercy is the author of SMOKE, her first poetry collection published by Blind Beggar Press. When Mercy is not tending to her family or teaching, she’s writing her first novel.
by Tana Mfuni
More than 60 people poured into a Harlem brownstone gallery on October 6, where for nearly two hours, they sat elbow to elbow, rapt in the words of poets Natalie Diaz and Safiya Sinclair.
The authors kicked off the fall reading series for CNR’s MFA program in creative writing. Free and open to the public, the series features distinguished writers whose work reflects the program’s mission of civic engagement.
Both Diaz and Sinclair’s performances were as poignant as they were provocative, as brassy as they were lyrical.
“My brothers break and dance for their bullet/the jerk, the stanky leg./They pop, lock and drop for their bullet/a move that has them writhing on the ground/the worm, my brothers call it,” said Diaz. The Mojave-American author of When My Brother Was an Aztec performed new work like “Catching Copper,” highlighting the disproportionate numbers of Native American men shot by police.
Diaz and Sinclair’s selections spanned a gamut of topics from basketball, to sex, to racist neighbors’ Christmas decor.
“I long to set fire to all of it. The glimmering/reindeer, fat snowman inflating his invisible lung/…the bright harassment of Santas,” Sinclair said. The Jamaican-born poet shared poems from her book Cannibal, exploring US culture through immigrant eyes, with hilarious and tragic results. Audience members, including MFA students studying Diaz and Sinclair’s work, had an opportunity to ask the poets about their creative process in a Q&A following the reading.
"The audience was eager to ask questions, and when they did, they were thoughtful, even challenging. They were the kind of audience one hopes for," said novelist and MFA faculty member Mitchell Jackson who moderated the discussion. The work of writers like Diaz and Sinclair is at the core of the MFA program’s mission to highlight overlooked human experiences.
“The powerful, necessary poems of Natalie Diaz and Safiya Sinclair give voice to the forsaken,” said program director Steven Hobbs. “This is the kind of work we want to emphasize in our reading series and in our classrooms.”
Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House, headlines the next reading on November 8, at 7pm. The event will take place at La Maison d’Art located at 259 W. 132nd Street in Harlem.
Congratulations to our poetry editor, Crystal Yeung, for receiving the 2017 Poets & Writers Amy Award.
Crystal Yeung is an MFA in Creative Writing student at the College of New Rochelle, a Brooklyn native, and an almost-poet. She is a recipient of the 2017 Poets & Writers Amy Award and her poetry has been published in Rabbit Catastrophe Review and Poets & Writers. Crystal is also currently serving as a committee chairwoman and poetry judge for the annual PEN Prison Writing Contest and also Poetry Reader for Apogee Journal.
Read poems by the 2017 Amy Award Winners here.