Charlotte Lit and Pedestal Magazine Partner on New Poetry Reading Series

Poetry readings connect us to the oral roots of expressive language, a lineage as old as the human story itself. I imagine that as soon as humans developed the capacity for utterance, they began to use it – rhythmically, musically, eventually reflectively and aesthetically – to voice or attempt to voice the essential nature of being: what it meant, in any given moment, to be alive.

As editor of Pedestal Magazine, I’m excited to launch the Pedestal Magazine Reading Series and to partner with Charlotte Lit. The mission of Charlotte Lit (“to celebrate the literary arts by educating and engaging writers and readers through classes, conversations, and community”) is ideally aligned with Pedestals mission (“to support established and burgeoning writers … to promote artistic diversity and celebrate the voice of the individual”). For more than four years, Charlotte Lit has hosted and sponsored energized readings, workshops, and discussions. In addition, their facility on Central Avenue is a stimulating hub, a locale that naturally fosters enthusiasm, engagement, and curiosity. I’ve always wanted Pedestal Magazine to be a hub of sorts as well, one primarily engaged in the process of publishing, but one also complementarily involved with other related ventures, including workshops, mentoring/outreach opportunities, and a reading series.

Our first gathering will be held at Charlotte Lit on Wednesday, October 16 at 6:30 p.m., and feature current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and Heart of Pamlico Poet Laureate for eastern NC Malaika King Albrecht. Throughout her work, Jaki offers relatable narratives and potent imagery, offering wise insights into human nature and historical patterns. Malaika’s work merges confessional tones with surrealistic imagery, also commenting on the culture at large. Both poets adeptly integrate the emotional and the intellectual, forging a unity of music and meaning. I encourage anyone who is interested in current poetry to familiarize themselves with the work of these vital poets. (Also, Jaki will be teaching a master class at Charlotte Lit on Thursday, October 17, The Poet Witnesses: The Poet as Documentarian, Historian, and Agitator.

Life these days feels precarious, replete with injustices, displacements, and environmental crises, including the extinction or impending extinction of numerous species and the degradation of natural resources in many parts of the world. Furthermore we seem to be witnessing a deterioration of ethical standards and a devaluation of communication skills. It’s easy, given these complex and pressing problems, to question whether poetry has a place in a world such as ours. How can we be concerned with the poetic process during a time that seems so urgently pivotal?

I’d suggest that we need eloquent poetry more than ever. We can be moved by the honesty inherent to skillfully rendered poems. We can be elevated by that particular blend of the personal and universal that well-crafted verse can strike. We can be clear that the discipline, vision, and expansiveness required to bring the creative impulse to fruition is indeed highly relevant; the very practice, perhaps, that is egregiously missing or at least depreciated in our current world. We need to be and remain inspired, to celebrate our perennial inquiry into what it means to feel, think, live, and face the inevitability of death. Please join us on October 16 for what will be, I’m certain, an evening to remember.


John Amen is the author of several collections of poetry, including “strange theater” (New York Quarterly Books, 2015), a finalist for the 2016 Brockman-Campbell Award. He is co-author, with Daniel Y. Harris, of “The New Arcana.” His latest collection, “Illusion of an Overwhelm,” work from which was chosen as a finalist for the Dana Award, was released by New York Quarterly Books in 2017. His poetry, fiction, reviews, and essays have appeared in journals nationally and internationally, and his poetry has been translated into Spanish, French, Hungarian, Korean, and Hebrew. He is a Staff Reviewer for the longstanding music publication No Depression.

Commemorate 9/11 at Wednesdays@Lit Staged Reading

America Bound CoverThe events of September 11, 2001 changed our nation––and the world––forever. This year, in commemoration of the day, Charlotte Lit will host the first-ever dramatic reading of David Radavich’s “America Bound: An Epic for Our Time,” a poetry collection that explores the physical and emotional impacts of our nation’s history since World War II.

Radavich’s book is set in the eponymous town of Troy, USA, and features 24 monologues by a diverse group of everyday Americans who try to build meaningful lives in the midst of a world that seems constantly at war. Over the course of three generations, these Troy citizens get along, sometimes by changing and sometimes by staying the same, as the nation undergoes one dramatic transformation after another, from the post-World War II boom through the Iraq War and beyond. Multiple voices offer intimate, sometimes searing perspectives on American culture over the past sixty years.

– – – – –

David Radavich is a socially committed author and scholar. His latest narrative collection is “America Abroad: An Epic of Discovery” (2019), companion volume to “America Bound: An Epic for Our Time” (2007). Other recent poetry collections are Middle-East Mezze (2011) and The Countries We Live In (2014). His plays have been performed across the U.S., including six off-Off-Broadway, and in Europe.  He has served as president of the Thomas Wolfe Society, Charlotte Writers’ Club, and North Carolina Poetry Society and currently oversees the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.

This performance is part of our monthly Wednesdays@Lit series. Admission is free and open to the public. Light refreshments available.

6:30 pm, Wednesday, September 11
Charlotte Lit
Midwood International & Cultural Center
1817 Central Avenue, Studio Two (Room 208)

September 4X4CLT Featured Poet: Jennifer Chang

Charlotte Lit’s programming year kicks off with the release of the September edition of 4X4CLT poetry + art poster series on Friday September 6. We’re celebrating at The Light Factory from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. This series features poems from Jennifer Chang paired with paintings from Tom Thoune and photography from Cordelia Williams. At this event, which is free and open to the public, Chang will read her poetry and Williams will speak about her art.

Jennifer Chang, the featured poet for September 4X4CLT, is the author of two books of poetry, The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark. Lovers of poetry may have seen her work in The New Yorker, The New York Times, American Poetry Review, and other national publications. She co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, an organization that works to nurture Asian American literature. She teaches at George Washington University and the low-residency MFA writing program at Bennington College.

I can’t say for sure which of her poems I first encountered, but two that fully captured my attention might be called a pastoral and an anti-pastoral. The first, actually titled “Pastoral,” comes from Chang’s debut, The History of Anonymity. The collection is full of fairytale and describes a place where nature is beguiling and unknowable. In “Pastoral,” the speaker observes a field she perceives to be full of mysterious activity that she does her best to describe: “Something in the field is / working away. Root-noise. / Twig-noise. Plant / of weak chlorophyll, no / name for it.” But whatever is “working away” feints from focus and sure definition: “Has it roar and bloom? / Has it road and follow?” Yes, there is a field, fences, and meadow flowers, but this pastoral is no shepherd’s idyll. What it is and what it’s doing, exactly, remains in question.

“Dorothy Wordsworth,” from Chang’s 2017 collection Some Say the Lark, keeps the trappings of a traditional ode to springtime but splices it with a rage-induced rant. Of daffodils, the speaker says: “I’m tired of their crowds, yellow rantings / about the spastic sun that shines and shines / and shines. How are they any different / from me? I, too, have a big messy head / on a fragile stalk. I spin with the wind. / I flower and don’t apologize.” The spring season is now “the dark plot / of future growing things” where the usual tropes are upended. The poem dispatches the flowers’ “boring beauty” and ex-boyfriends with equal disdain. Of this collection of poems, Natasha Trethewey says “Some Say the Lark is a piercing meditation, rooted in loss and longing, and manifest in dazzling leaps of the imagination—the familiar world rendered strange.” Chang’s poems tend toward the lyrical with swerves and dashes of narrative.

On Saturday September 7 from 9:30 am to noon, Chang teaches a master class at Charlotte Lit, “On Fragments.” Participants will look at how “brokenness, irresolution, brevity, and rupture are integral to meaning” and how fragments operate as poetic form. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Jennifer Chang to Charlotte and look for her gorgeous, lyrical poems on the 4X4CLT posters all over Charlotte in the next few months.


Lisa Zerkle is an award-winning poet and the curator of Charlotte Lit’s 4X4CLT.

It’s School O’Clock—Time to Commit to Your Craft

Yellow buses are making rounds through residential streets and stores are stocked with blank notebooks waiting for their first words and fresh boxes of pencils. Here at Lit, we’ve been busy gathering together classes, workshops, and events with your favorite writers to help you commit to your craft, no matter your genre. You can find full class listings now in our new online catalog and coming soon in the gorgeous print version. In the meantime, here are a few highlights.

4X4CLT Poster Release Party and Master Class

Our first event of the new season is the next release of our 4X4CLT poetry + art posters. The September edition features poems by Jennifer Chang, whose Some Say the Lark won the Poetry Society of America’s 2018 William Carlos Williams Award. Her poems are paired with art by Tom Thoune and photography by Cordelia Williams. Please join us for the free release celebration at The Light Factory on Friday September 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Chang teaches a master class — “On Fragments” — Saturday September 7 beginning at 9:30 am at Charlotte Lit, and registration is open now.

Wednesdays@Lit

Next up is the first of our free monthly Wednesdays@Lit gatherings. On September 11 at 6:30 pm, David Radavich brings together a group of friends for a staged reading of his collection America Bound: An Epic for Our Time. We’ll gather in Charlotte Lit’s beautiful new Studio Two, home to plants, books, and lots of comfortable seating. For the October 16 Wednesdays@Lit we’re pleased to welcome NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, in partnership with Pedestal Magazine. (She teaches a master class the following day.)

New Classes—and a Fall Mountain Retreat

Are you interested in starting or deepening your journal practice? Writing a children’s book? Exploring the path to publishing? We’ve got classes just for you. Looking ahead, you’ll find more special events in October, including a mountain retreat with Mississippi Poet Laureate Beth Ann Fennelly.

Get Immersed

If you already have a dedicated writing practice and you’re ready for the next level, consider our MFA-style group workshopping in poetry with Dannye Romine Powell and our six-week immersions: novel immersion with Paula Martinac, and memoir immersion with Gilda Morina Syverson.

Our mission is to celebrate the literary arts by educating and engaging writers and readers through classes, conversations, and community. We hope you’ll peruse our new season and see what engages you. Sharpen your pencils!

North Carolina Writers Conference Focuses on Community

Anyone strolling the sidewalks of South Main Street in Lexington, NC, the last Saturday in July must have felt a certain rhythm of community calling from inside the Edward C. Smith Civic Center, where more than 100 writers had gathered that day and the previous evening for the annual North Carolina Writers Conference.

What began in 1950 as a pilgrimage to Manteo to attend The Lost Colony and support writer Paul Green has become an annual event open to all who love the written and recited words of kindred spirits. That spirit was beating like a drum circle this year as Barbara Presnell and her leadership team of Terri Kirby Erickson and June Guralnick served up a program to honor not only the state’s literary traditions but also the innovative movement toward change.

The Conference opened Friday night with a tribute to Richard Walser, a Lexington-born (1908-1988) educator and North Carolina’s foremost chronicler of the state’s literary heritage. The homage to Walser included a showing of the film Their Native Earthmoderated by Jim Clark.

Saturday morning Barbara Presnell welcomed participants by thanking everyone for their help (no one said no, she claims, which speaks to the spirit of North Carolina’s writing kinship). After honoring those authors and poets recently deceased and enticing us to make a visit to the old timey hardware store and candy shop on Main Street, Barbara had the room buzzing with energy. First, two lively and thought-provoking panels.

“Growing into Words: How Our Writing Changes as We Age” with writers Pat Riviere-Seel, Larry Earley, Joe Mills and David Radavich, plus Lynden Harris, a community collaborator who encourages those without a voice—immigrants, death row prisoners—to tell their stories. And what advice did the panelists leave us as we age? Trust the process, serve humanity in our writing, support new writers, take the work more seriously than we take ourselves.

“Writing for Change” (some would call them political poems) with Antionette Kerr, nonprofit leader and media correspondent, as moderator; Diya Abdo, a Jordan native, Guilford professor, and director of Every Campus a Refugee; Joseph Bathanti, Appalachian State professor and writer in residence, recent NC Poet Laureate, and writing liaison to prisoners and Viet Nam veterans; and myself, a writing facilitator with folks without homes and rabble-rouser for racial and environmental justice. All these writers are using their craft to amplify the stories of the marginalized in our midst, or in the words of Tracy K. Smith, to use writing as a means “to unsettle something, to trouble the reader.”

Entertainment at lunch was a brilliant recognition of the Charlotte Writers’ Club and the Charlotte Writers’ Club North, researched and written by talented poet Dede Wilson and presented by David Radavich.

After lunch, there would be no time to sleep off the turkey sandwiches and chocolate desserts. Who could sleep anyway through the next segment of the day’s program: a documentary film by screenwriter and filmmaker Palmer Holton, produced for ESPN Films and entitled When the King Held Court. Picture Elvis Presley’s obsession with racket ball (who knew?) told by those who could report it first hand, interspersed with graphic novel animation and music selected by Amy Winehouse’s drummer. That drum beat was moving us into the future for sure.

The next presentation, “Outside the Box,” was an electric hour with four spoken-word performance poets who had us on the edges of our seats while they recited without falter their creations. Kudos to Jo DeLosSantos, Dasan Ahanu, Ashley Lumpkin, Josephus III and Shane Manier for turning the conference into one that could now be described as 69 years young rather than old.

Dannye Romine Powell Honored

Beginning in 1977 the NC Writers Conference’s final act has been a banquet honoring a writer of high esteem like Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, John Ehle, Shelby Stephenson, James Applewhite, Tony Abbott, Ruth Moose, Robert Morgan, Kathryn Stripling Byer and others.

This year’s honoree was Charlotte’s own Dannye Romine Powell, author of four books of award-winning poetry, book editor of the Charlotte Observer from 1975-1992, returning in 2013 to the book page after twenty years as the Observer ’s local front columnist. In her book, Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers, she explores the creative process with those she had the privilege of interviewing: James Dickey, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Lee Smith, and William Styron, among others.

The banquet decor had Dannye written all over it: freshly-ironed white linens on round tables with grass green runners, Mason jars filled with black-eyed Susans, descendants of those originating in poet Susan Laughter Meyers’ garden in Summerville. Four fellow-writers, Kim Church, Bob Anthony, Angela Davis Gardner and Joseph Bathanti serenaded Dannye with accolades: Generous in her book reviews. Passionate for books and their authors. Kind, warm, supportive to fellow writers. Fierce in her poetry, and musical. Funny as hell. Too many to repeat them all here. Bathanti tells it like this: When he was a new graduate and wannabe writer, he barged into Dannye’s office one day to suggest he might help her write reviews. Instead of showing him the door, she showed him a treasure trove of books and hired him on the spot to be one of her readers. That selfless spirit and belief in talent yet untapped is a gift Dannye brings to all North Carolina writers (and wannabes ) who are lucky to have been graced by her presence.


Barbara Conrad is the author of three poetry collections: The Gravity of Color, Wild Plums, and her most recent, There Is a Field (2018). She is also editor of Waiting for Soup, an anthology from her writing group at a center for homeless neighbors. Her poems have appeared in Tar River Poetry, Atlanta Review, Nine Mile, NC Literary Review, Broad River and several anthologies, such as Kakalak and Southern Poetry Anthology. Her poetry ranges from ironic takes on life to hard truths about social injustice.

Celebrating Love & Animals with Poets Nickole Brown & Jessica Jacobs

Charlotte Lit is thrilled to welcome back Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs as featured poets for our May 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series.

Back in 2016, when 4X4CLT was newly launched, Nickole and Jessica graciously agreed to read and teach at this virtually unknown new Charlotte nonprofit for writers. On the afternoon of the release party, we learned the venue we’d arranged for the reading could no longer host us. So Jessica and Nickole read instead to a packed room (truly packed—over 50 people jammed into the original Charlotte Lit studio) gracefully rolling with the chaos. Now that Charlotte Lit and 4X4CLT are more established, and even have a bit of grant funding to our name, we thought it was only right to invite them back to celebrate. They’ll share their poetry at the spacious and welcoming Free Range Brewing on Friday May 17 from 7 to 9 pm as we celebrate the latest edition of the poster series featuring their writing.

Their appearance is one stop on their “Love & Animals” book tour in honor of Jacob’s latest collection, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, and Brown’s Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner, To Those Who Were Our First Gods.

Jacob’s collection—the “Love” part of the the tour—centers on her relationship with Brown, her wife. She writes of her childhood in Florida, missed connections, a cancer scare, long-distance runs, and the joy of finally finding true love. Gabrielle Calvocoressi (previously featured in a 4X4CLT poster release) says the collection “tells of love and everyday life in a way everyone deserves to hear about but many of us never do.” Jacobs is also the author of Pelvis with Distance, a biography in poems of Georgia O’Keefe, and the chapbook In Whatever Light Left To Us, which was the precursor to her new collection.

Brown’s award-winning chapbook is also a precursor. She’s at work on what she calls “a bestiary of sorts” that references animals “in a queer, Southern-trash-talking kind of way.” Many of the poems from To Those Who Were Our First Gods—the “Animal” part of the book tour—will make their way into a future collection. Brown is also the author of a biography-in-poems called Fanny Says, and a novel-in-poems, Sister.

On Saturday May 18, Brown and Jacobs will team teach “Writing through Conflict,” a master class in poetry, at Charlotte Lit. Both exceptional editors and instructors, they’ll lead a discussion of ways to approach those moments or events that sometimes feel too difficult to fully think about let alone put on the page. A multi-part writing prompt will follow to help class participants build a foundation of facts before feelings, from which they will then be guided to consider multiple perspectives—enabling them to write through conflict with both nuance and power, as well as empathy and compassion for themselves and others.

The May 4X4CLT release party and master class round out Charlotte Lit’s programming until fall. Brown and Jacob’s inspired poetry and instruction will hold you through the summer.

Carolyn Forché and the “Poetry of Witness”

By Alexia Paul and Lisa Rubenson

As part of CPCC’s 2019 Sensoria Festival (April 5-12), the public will have two opportunities to hear acclaimed poet and memoirist Carolyn Forché discuss her work and her recent memoir, What You Have Heard is True. Forché is Sensoria’s 2019 Irene Blair Honeycutt Distinguished Lecturer. Both events are free and will take place on CPCC’s main campus, Tuesday, April 9 at 8 pm in Tate Hall and Wednesday, April 10 at 10:30 am in Halton Theatre.

We’re grateful to Ms. Forché for taking time to answer these questions shared by Charlotte Lit members and Sensoria volunteers, Alexia Paul and Lisa Rubenson.

Q: Why did you choose the written word as your path to storytelling over other means of self-expression?

A: I have always written poetry and stories, since I was nine years old, so there was never a question about my mode of expression.

Q: What role does poetry play in today’s social discourse?

A: Poetry has been called “the natural prayer of the human soul.” It is the oldest of the arts, related to ritual and song, and so it remains a powerful force in the human community, although stronger in some cultures than in others. In today’s social discourse in the United States, poetry is almost invisible, but it is culturally vibrant and ascendant, particularly in those communities who have been silenced or subject to repression. In times of crisis, poets are called upon to speak, even in the United States. This has been especially true in the first two decades of this century.

Q: Please tell us about the first time you discovered the power of words to change people’s understanding of the world around them.

A: My first experience of this would have been in childhood, reading and listening to stories and poems at home and at school, and the discovery of the power of words would have happened again and again. But as I grew up, I perceived that not everyone felt this way. Not everyone understood the power of language. But I have seen its power at work throughout my life. It is not only experience that changes human understanding. It is the articulation of that experience.

Q: Does empathy drive you? Hold you back? Is empathy rooted more in hope or despair?

A: Empathy is a gift, and it is one that can be nurtured and expanded. It is absolutely essential for writers to cultivate the empathetic imagination. This is the portal into the larger world of human experience beyond the self. I don’t think empathy is rooted either in hope or despair. Empathy gives us the capacity to touch others, to move beyond the bounds of ourselves. I would say that the capacity for empathy is the foundation of everything else in our spiritual, artistic, and social lives. There is no art without it. If hope is based on clear awareness, then empathy provides it.

Q: Tell us about your writing practice. When do you know it’s time to shift from experiencing/observing/asking and start writing? Or is there a dividing line at all?

A: I keep notebooks, small notebooks that capture my scribbles, that preserve moments I would otherwise forget. When I write, I must be alone if possible, and for a stretch of time uninterrupted. That is all that writing requires: time, solitude, paper, and pen. The poem begins always with a blank page, in a state of not really knowing anything. One discovers the poem as one writes. For prose, especially prose about a certain subject, place, or time, we must sometimes do research, or otherwise prepare ourselves, but there comes a point when such preparation must be set aside. The writer is again one with the paper.

Q: How was the experience of writing a memoir different from writing poems?  Is it a different muscle?

A: For me, the experience was very different. I am a slow writer, and I write many versions of something before I find the right one. That is true of both poetry and prose. But one must hold the whole work in the mind at once. That is a more difficult task with poems, which tend to be shorter, than with long-form prose. One must stay inside the work, live in the world, and this requires a greater commitment of time: days, weeks, months, and years of time. I wrote my prose memoir over a period of fifteen years. In the first phase, I narrowed my subject down to one particular part of my life. In the second, I wrote many hundreds of pages. In the final phase, I found the shape and structure. And I discovered the story that was trying to be told.


After beginning her career at The William Morris Agency, Alexia Paul honed her writing and editorial skills at the Joy Harris Literary Agency in New York, where she sold books to publishers such as Random House and Little Brown. Since the launch of Alexia Paul Editorial here in Charlotte in 2005, she has helped over one hundred clients create or perfect their work. Alexia lives in Plaza Midwood with her husband and two children. Learn more: alexiapaul.com.

Lisa Rubenson is a writer, editor, arts appreciator and Charlotte Lit member. Read more of her work here.

CPCC’s Sensoria Festival 2019 – April 5-12

Editor’s Note: Please join Charlotte Lit and CPCC on Monday April 8 to celebrate Judy Goldman, Sensoria’s 2019 winner of the Irene Blair Honeycutt Lifetime Achievement Award in Literary Arts. A reception in Tate Lobby at 6 pm is followed at 7 pm by the Award Presentation and a reading by and conversation with Goldman. Charlotte Lit is honored to partner with CPCC to present this award.


The writer’s role as truth-teller

By Alexia Paul and Lisa Rubenson

A thriving literary community demands diverse voices. So its a point of pride in Charlotte that Sensoria – CPCCs annual literary arts festival attracts a wide spectrum of writers.

Last year, U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith left Sensoria-goers beautifully awed. Her searing take on our countrys forever us-and-them struggle hit close to home for a city seeking healing in the wake of civic unrest and protests over racial injustice. The year before, Sensoria welcomed George Saunders, who received the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

Sensoria now continues its 26-year tradition of showcasing a range of literary talent. Poet-turned-memoirist Carolyn Forché has spent her career chronicling the painful intersection of the individual and the larger forces of war, violence, and protest in Latin America. Her term, poetry of witnessreflects a life spent giving voice to those unable to share their own in times of turmoil and persecution.

Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib is himself a poet of witness, using his kinetic wit to tap into the often devastating reality of growing up black in America. Music is a through line in his work, welcoming us in to his worldview and giving us a beat by which we can stay connected to his story.

Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché’s haunting new memoir begins in 1978 when Leonel, a mere acquaintance, requests that she travel to El Salvador to bear witness to a civil war in which 75,000 civilians would die at the hands of a repressive regime. At the time, Forché was a 27-year-old American poet. Doubtful of her purpose on this mission, she continually asks, why me? Why not a journalist or historian? Does her role as a poet augment or diminish her credibility?

As we read, we are witnesses to her witnessing this historic atrocity unfold. The book is almost painfully intimate and demands we not look away, just as Forché chose to not look away. What You Have Heard is True asks the questions: what is the responsibility of storytellers to record and reflect the world around us? What role do poetry and prose have in pursuing and achieving social justice? As she weighs the decision to go to El Salvador, Forché accepts the weight of responsibility: I knew that if I didnt accept his invitation, I could never live as if I would have been willing to do something, should an opportunity have presented itself. I could never say to myself: If only Id had the chance.

What You Have Heard is True is a testament to the power of the written word to remember even the most horrific circumstances. In a 2017 interview, Forché said:

 [Leonel] believed that poetry would affect the world. And it would affect the world not only in our time but in the times to come, because in Latin America, and in many other countries, and in our own country, I would argue, poetry does survive the age. Were still reading Walt Whitmans poems about nursing soldiers wounded in the Civil War. Were still reading. [Source]

Were still reading. Were still writing. And, it matters. – AP

Hanif Abdurraqib 

Photo by Andrew Cenci

As poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib tells us on the cover of his new book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Questhe has written a love letter to a group, a sound, and an era.The memoir is part homage to the rap group whose music foregrounded the authors experience growing up black in the 1990s in Columbus, Ohio, part autobiography, and part primer on the black communitys contribution to music-making through time.

Abdurraqib seamlessly intertwines the rise, fall and reimagining of A Tribe Called Quest with his own coming-of-age story. His writing moves in and out of the personal and universal, the cultural and historical, amplifying the impact of artists in a community and a shared cultural experience on the journey of a people.

Large lessons emerge from Go Ahead in the Rain. For one, we needn’t have grown up listening to hip-hop or rap to understand their importance and feel their legacy reverberate across a generation. Abdurraqib shows us that music can anchor us in time, place and visceral emotion, before setting us free to imbue it with our own meaning.

And, we dont have to have experienced anothers pain in order to bear witness to it. One way we do this is through art, by allowing ourselves to be moved to the edge of our senses by the lyricism of an image or feeling, turned to prose. Meditating on the idea of mercy as a momentary suspension of fear, Abdurraqib writes:

All of this is about mercy. Im talking about what it is to be from a place that promises to love you while holding a gun to your neck. Im talking about what it feels like to have the gun lowered, briefly, by the hands of some unseen grace. Sometimes, it is a protest that stretches long into a night, or sometimes, it is a reading where a room hears familiar words and cries along with you as you read them out loud. But sometimes, it is a perfect album that arrives just in time to build a small community around you. To briefly hold a hand over your eyes and make a new and welcoming darkness of the world outside, even when it is on fire. (p. 186)

More than a love letter to a group, sound and era, Go Ahead in the Rainis also a love letter sent straight to the heart of every reader. LR


Carolyn Forché has two appearances at CPCC’s main campus on Tuesday April 9 and Wednesday April 10. Hanif Abdurraqib speaks at CPCC’s main campus on Thursday April 11 and again later that evening at Goodyear Arts. See the Sensoria website for full details about the weeklong lineup of events. Note: in some cases, an event might be associated with more than one time and location.


After beginning her career at The William Morris Agency, Alexia honed her writing and editorial skills at the Joy Harris Literary Agency in New York, where she sold books to publishers such as Random House and Little Brown. Since the launch of Alexia Paul Editorial here in Charlotte in 2005, she has helped over one hundred clients create or perfect their work. Alexia lives in Plaza Midwood with her husband and two children. Learn more: alexiapaul.com.

Lisa Rubenson is a writer, editor, arts appreciator and Charlotte Lit member. Read more of her work here.

Center City Literary Festival Offers Time and Space to Contemplate Artful Language

We’re busy. Monumentally busy. Our technology-fueled world, with its manic glut of information, steals our sleep, seizes us by the scruff. We spend hours trapped in cars and cubicles and comment sections, our eyes lost in screens, our ears tuned to beeps and clicks, our thumbs typing tiny screeds.

That is precisely why, though it seems counterintuitive, I offer you one more thing to do: the 2019 Center City Literary Festival.

After two decades of attending and planning literary events, I am more than ever convinced of their power, of how they let us express our shared humanity—our joys, our sorrows—and show us how writing and art can sustain us, especially in times of change and upheaval.

But they also force us to slow down, to redirect our attention to the contemplative space of artful language. Even more than reading, listening to a poem or story engages the mind and body; we listen with our ears, eyes, and hearts. Such attention allows our poor inundated senses to recharge, electrified by words and voice. Further, like theater, we immerse into this space as an audience—individual and collective.

Heck, at the very least, we get to sit down. Rest. Drink a (free!) beverage and nosh a (free!) snack. Gaze slack-jawed at the luminescent Charlotte skyline from inside UNC Charlotte Center City building, that translucent green, off-kilter stack in the heart of the city.

The free public festival runs in two parts. During the day, we feature children’s storytelling such as dancers and puppetry along with fun kids’ activities such as creation stations (coloring, crafting, and character-building) and scavenger hunts.

In the evening, we welcome award-winning authors for a reception, readings, book signings, and socializing. We are committed to inviting a diverse lineup of renowned and emerging writers, including those from UNCC and the Charlotte area. In the past two years, we have hosted Nikky Finney, Jill McCorkle, Eduardo C. Corral, Gary Jackson, Dustin M. Hoffman, Paula Martinac, and Siobhán Campbell.

The 2019 festival on Saturday, March 30 2019, will bring you Tony Earley, acclaimed writer of five books and North Carolina native; Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams, poet and prose writer and winner of a Whiting Award; Patrice Gopo, a Charlotte-area creative nonfiction writer and 2018 NC Arts Council fellow; and Allison Hutchcraft, a poet and creative writing instructor at UNCC.

Please, come and take a load off for a couple of hours. Revel in language. Remind yourself of the best of who we are.


2019 Center City Literary Festival

Saturday, March 30, 2018

UNC Charlotte Center City campus
320 E. 9th Street, Charlotte 28202

(Adjacent to First Ward Park and a quick stroll from the 7th Street Market and light rail station)


Bryn Chancellor’s first novel Sycamore (Harper, 2017) has been hailed as a “hypnotic debut” (O: The Oprah Magazine) and “a transporting vision of community, connection and forgiveness” (Publishers Weekly). Her story collection When Are You Coming Home? won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. Honors include the Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. A graduate of Vanderbilt University’s MFA program, she is an assistant professor at UNC Charlotte.

4X4CLT in 2019: Love, Animals, Larks and Lola!

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to this year’s 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series, with February’s release featuring poems from Terrance Hayes and art from Susan Brenner and J. Stacy Utley. We’re excited to announce the rest of the 2019 4X4CLT lineup coming in May, September, and December. Read on to learn how you can help bring this series to your part of town and earn your own personal set of 4X4CLT posters.

May 2019 4X4CLT: Nickole Brown & Jessica Jacobs — as part of their Love and Animals Tour
Friday and Saturday May 17 & 18

Asheville poets and former Authors’ Lab coaches Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs are back for a return engagement as 4X4CLT poets. Their poems were featured in the first year of the series and we’re grateful to share their work with our expanded audience.

Nickole Brown is the author of Sister(2007), with a new edition by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2018. She is the editor of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and teaches at the Sewanee School of Letters MFA program, the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA, and the Hindman Settlement School. Her chapbook, To Those Who Were Our First Gods,won the 2018 Chapbook Prize. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, in Asheville.

Jessica Jacobs is the author of three books of poetry. Her second full-length collection, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, has just been released from Four Way Books. She is on the faculty of the Brandeis Collegiate Institute and serves as Associate Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal. Jessica lives in Asheville with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.

May 4X4CLT Release Party at Free Range Brewing: Nickole and Jessica will be with us for a reading at Free Range Brewing in NoDa on Friday May 17 from 7 to 9 pm. Free and open to the public.

May 4X4CLT Master Class at Charlotte Lit: They will team teach the master class “Writing Through Conflict” at Charlotte Lit on Saturday May 18 from 10 am to 1 pm. In this workshop, after a discussion of ways to approach those moments or events that sometimes feel too difficult to fully think about let alone put on the page, a multi-part writing prompt will help you build a foundation of facts before feelings, from which you will then be guided to consider multiple perspectives—enabling you to write through conflict with both nuance and power, as well as empathy and compassion for yourself and others. Register


September 2019 4X4CLT: Jennifer Chang
Friday and Saturday September 6 & 7

Poet Jennifer Chang is the author of two books of poetry, The History of Anonymity Some Say the Lark. She teaches at George Washington University and co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a non-profit that supports Asian-American literature.


December 2019 4X4CLT: Lola Haskins
Friday and Saturday December 6 & 7

Lola Haskins is the author of many collections of poetry, including Asylum, to be released in June 2019 by Pitt. She’s also published a variety of other writings including her excellent book of advice for poets, Not Feathers Yet, and essays about the natural world regarding her home state of Florida. Haskins has collaborated widely with musicians, dancers, and visual artists.


Love 4X4CLT? Want to serve as an ambassador?

4X4CLT is growing! Thanks to the hospitality of many local businesses, our poetry and art poster series is now on display at upwards of 90 locations across the greater Charlotte area. These hosts invite their patrons to have chance encounters with poetry and art. We’re grateful for their support.

The task of spreading the 4X4CLT love across town has become more than one or two people can handle. We’re looking for a few volunteers to adopt a part of town and make deliveries to these friendly locations. The number of locations varies in each part of town, but is usually between four and ten. 4X4CLT posters are released quarterly and the deliveries are made within the two weeks of the release party. Areas of greatest need are Steele Creek, Beatties Ford Road corridor, and Davidson. We’d like to expand our reach in the University area and Pineville/Matthews if anyone has contacts with local businesses in these areas. As a thank you, ambassadors will receive their own personal set of posters each quarter. Interested in helping out? Contact Lisa Zerkle at lisaz@charlottelit.org for more details on adoptable neighborhoods.