Event Recap: Festival of the Word

Last March, the Sunday Best Reading Series hosted a day-long Festival of the Word at Hudson View Gardens in Northern Manhattan.  The program kicked off at 2PM with a children’s theater workshop focusing on social justice and stories about living in Washington Heights presented by Mino Lora and Veronica Liu for the People’s Theatre Project.  Proceeds from the gate admission for Festival of the Word went to the Voices program of the People’s Theatre Project, an after-school project for local teens aged 13 through 16.

Mino Lora, Director of the People’s Theatre Project.

Following the workshop, audience members gathered in The Lounge to hear readings by three literary artists who received 2012 NoMAA Individual Artist Grants to support their work.

Poet Lola Koundakjian, curator and producer of the Armenian Poetry Project.

Lola Koundakjian read poems from her newly published collection The Accidental Observer and also shared new work with audience members.  Lola received a 2011 NoMAA grant to help fund The Accidental Observer and received her second consecutive NoMAA grant this year. As curator and producer of the Armenian Poetry Project, Lola is not only busy with her own work but also dedicates herself to promoting the work of Armenian poets and exposing it to new and eager readers.

Veronica Liu, founder of Word Up Community Bookshop.

Veronica Liu, a local legend for her stewardship of both Washington Heights Free Radio and Word Up Community Bookshop,  talked to audience members about the literary journal for which she received funding from NoMAA this year. She shared her hopes the journal will become a community document for Northern Manhattan. She also revealed that the idea for  Word Up emerged at last year’s NoMAA grantee reading during the after-reception as she chatted with NoMAA director Sandra Garcia Betancourt.  The piece Veronica read was an ironic self-history that was at once a postmodern detective story and a reflection on the narcissism of youth; using a variety of texts and online archives to reconstruct the past, the narrator, on the verge of turning thirty, tried to figure out exactly what she did on her birthdays during her twenties.

Spanish writer Paquita Suarez-Coalla writes stories in her native language Asturian as well as in English. Her stories in Asturian reflect the interests and experiences of the Asturian people, who comprise one of Spain’s rich cultural and linguistic minorities.  Paquita read one of her stories which has been translated from her native Asturian into English as well as a story in Spanish about discrimination her sister experienced in school in the 1970s.

Spanish/Asturian writer Paquita Suarez-Coalla.

As always, the audio for this event has been archived at the Sunday Best Reading Series program page on the WHFR website for those who were unable to attend the event or who simply want to listen to it again in its entirety. Additional photos from this event are available on the Sunday Best Reading Series Flickr page.

Remember the Sunday Best Reading Series returns on Sunday, September 9 with readings by poets published by the celebrated Irish press, Salman Poetry.

Event Announcement: Festival of the Word in Northern Manhattan, Sunday, March 4

On Sunday, March 4, please join the Sunday Best Reading Series at Hudson View Gardens for a special double-header event, Festival of the Word in Northern Manhattan. The afternoon’s festivities will start with a theater workshop for teens with Mino Lora of the People’s Theatre Project and Veronica Liu of Seven Stories Institute.  The workshop will be followed by a reading featuring three writers who received literary arts grants from the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) for 2012.

The theater workshop, Cake Mix: Instant Theatre, will take place in The Lounge at Hudson View Gardens from 1:30PM to 3:30PM.  The theme of this workshop, which is appropriate for kids aged twelve and up, is “My Neighborhood.”

The showcase of readings by NoMAA literary grantees will begin in The Lounge at 4PM. Readers will include Lola Koundakjian and Paquita Soares Coalla, as well as Veronica Liu, who will be participating in both part of the afternoon’s “double-header.”

The suggested contribution of $7 for adults will cover admission to both events, as well as drinks and snacks at the reception which will take place immediately after the event. Children (under 18) will be admitted without charge. Proceeds will benefit Voces/Voices, a theater and writing program for teens co-developed by People’s Theatre Project and Seven Stories Institute.

Please read on for more information about the artists who will be making this special literary festival possible.


Poet Lola Koundakjian

Lola Koundakjian is an Armenian poet who has lived in New York City since 1979. She is the author of The Accidental Observer, a book of poems in three languages—Armenian, Spanish, and English. Her poetry has appeared online in alpialdelapalabra (Argentina), Armenian Poetry Project (New York City), The Literary Groong (University of Southern California), Mediterranean.nu (Sweden) and UniVerse (Chicago). Poems have also appeared in the Anthology Memoria del XX Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellin (Colombia), Armenian Weekly (Boston) and Pakin (Beirut, Lebanon).  Lola has read her work in Los Angeles, Rhode Island and New York City’s Cornelia Street Café, Bowery Poetry Club, UN Correspondents Association, the Northern Manhattan’s Art Alliance’s 2010 Art Stroll, and the Above The Bridge series on Bennett Avenue. Her work was translated into Spanish for the 20th International Poetry Festival in Medellín, Colombia where she read in 2010. For the past 20 years, Lola has organized evenings dedicated to the Dead Armenian Poets’ Society, and since 2006 has produced and edited text and audio for the multi-lingual Armenian Poetry Project.

Mino Lora, co-executive & artistic director of The People's Theatre Project

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Mino Lora has been living and working as an actor, director, teaching artist and arts administrator in NYC since 2000. During her tenure with People’s Theatre Project, which she co-founded, the organization has won the prestigious Union Square Arts Award and Lora has received The Creative Power of Women Award from State Senator Bill Perkins for her “Outstanding work as a woman in the Arts”. She has been featured in newspaper and magazine publications in New York City and the Dominican Republic and has been invited to speak on various panels throughout New York City to share her experience as a Latina artist working to build community through theatre. Mino received her BA in English Literature and Theatre from Manhattanville College and her MA in Peace Studies and Conflict Transformation from the Graduate Institute. She also holds a certification as a peace mediator from the Washington Heights-Inwood Coalition. Mino and the People’s Theatre Project “firmly believe in theatre as a means for social change and are committed to creating a more just and peaceful world through powerful art.”

Writer Veronica Liu

Veronica Liu’s writing, comics, photography, and silkscreen prints have been published in Broken Pencil, Quick Fiction, Get Ahead, and Pax Americana. Her short films have been screened at LadyFest East and the Arlene Grocery Picture Show, and her radio show Far Too Canadian was featured in the Village Voice Best of New York 2001. An audio collage piece that Veronica created in 2008 in St. Petersburg and Moscow will be released on Palanquin Records in the near future. Locally, she has presented her work at KGB Bar, South Street Seaport’s Melville Gallery, Bowery Poetry Club, Cornelia Street Café, Pete’s Candy Store, Happy Ending, and La Pregunta.  She has received grants from Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, Manhattan Community Arts Fund, New Yorkers for Better Neighborhoods/Citizens Committee of New York City, and the Goodman Fund, and she has been a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction and Family Matters awards. Veronica is cofounder of Fractious Press, Word Up community bookshop, and Washington Heights Free Radio (WHFR.org). She has been on the organizing committee for the New York State Council on the Arts’s literature division convenings since 2007, and director of the non-profit Seven Stories Institute since 2010. By day, she works as an editor at Seven Stories Press.

Writer Paquita Suarez Coalla

Paquita Suárez Coalla is a Spanish writer and a professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College (City University of New York). She is co-founder of Latino Artists Round Table (LART), a cultural group that organizes readings and conferences of Hispanic writers from all the different regions of Latin America, the United States and Spain. She has published two books of short stories in Asturian, her native language. Pa nun escaeceme has been translated into Spanish–Para que no se me olvide–and English–So I Won’t Forget. El día que nos llevaron al cine has been translated into Spanish–La mio vida ye una novela. It is based on testimonies depicting the life of rural women from Asturias. Paquita is also the editor of the anthology Aquí me tocó escribir, an anthology of New York Latino writers; her work has been included in the anthology Dos orillas: Voces en la narrativa lésbica / Two Shores: Voices in Lesbian Narrative. As a literary critic she published in 1994, in México, the book La literatura fantástica en la obra de Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Event Recap: 9/11 Memoir Festival

The Sunday Best Reading Series is gearing up for next month’s event, a program of fiction featuring Jonathan Baumbach, Janice Eidus, and Douglas Light. In the meantime, we offer you this recap (with photographs) of Writing from Life, the program of memoir that Sunday Best hosted on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. For those of you who missed the event, audio of the readings is available on the Sunday Best Reading Series program page on the WHFR (Washington Heights Free Radio) web site.

Risa Ehrlich, memoirist and visual artist.

The program opened with readings by local memoirists Risa Hirsch Ehrlich and Bonnie Walker. Risa Ehrlich, who is a visual artist as well as a memoirist, read a piece about teenaged yearnings for glamor and the hunt for the perfect prom dress.  Bonnie Walker, the official photographer for the Sunday Best Reading Series, read a short excerpt from her memoir-in-progress and a personal essay about a woman who took her own life in a New York City subway station.

Riss Hirsch Ehrlich (left) and Bonnie Walker

Next up was Dean Kostos, author of several books of poetry, including the forthcomiing Rivering (2012), who read an excerpt from his memoir provisionally titled The Boy Who Listened to Paintings. Dean’s reading dealt with his experiences as a teenager committed to a mental institution.

Dean Kostos, poet and memoirist

Novelist and memoirist Phyllis Raphael closed the afternoon’s program with a series of readings both humorous and poignant. Phyllis started off with a story of a first-date misadventure, an accidental locking of her car keys in her car. Fortunately, her date, a psychoanalyst, turned out to be the kind of guy who always carries a duplicate key set (and she ended up marrying him).  Her other readings touched on Buddhist monks in Scotland and competitive sadism in academia.

Phyllis Raphael, novelist and memoirist.

The event was followed, as usual, by a reception during which audience members mingled with the writers. All present agreed that the event represented the Sunday Best Reading Series at its finest. Special thanks to Veronica Liu, who filled in for Sig and Theo Rosen as sound tech for this event, and to Peter Martin, who fulfilled treasurer and bartending duties.

Veronica Liu, WHFR

Please see the Sunday Best Flickr stream, accessible in the blog sidebar, for additional photographs from this event. Stay tuned for a recap of our event Openings to Light, which was held on December 4, 2011, as we gear up for our next reading set to take place in The Lounge at Hudson View Gardens on February 5. Thanks again to all who attended and all who support the series.

Writers and audeince members mingle at the after-reception.

Community Happenings: Word Up Opening Postponed to Friday, June 17!

Please help us spread the word.  Due to unfortunate and uncontrollable circumstances, the opening of the community pop-up bookshop Word Up has been postponed from tonight, Tuesday, June 14, to Friday, June 17.   Outside of this change in opening date, shop dates and hours remain as previously announced.  Word Up will open at 4PM on Friday, June 17, with opening night “festivities” beginning at 6PM.  Veronica Liu apologizes for any inconvenience.  If you have questions or concerns about the schedule change or are interested in selling your books or holding an event or workshop at the shop, please contact Veronica at fartoocanadian@gmail.com.

Community Happenings: Word Up: A Bookstore “Pops Up” In Northern Manhattan

June is here, and that means it is time for the annual Uptown Arts Stroll.  This year, the multi-talented Veronica Liu is making sure we remember that the “Arts” include the literary, as well as the visual and performing, arts. Veronica is the mastermind behind “Word Up,” a pop-up bookstore where uptown writers and artists will sell their books and other work on consignment and give performances and workshops open to the community.

Word Up will be open for one month, beginning Tuesday, June 14, at 4157 Broadway (at 175th Street).  Shop hours will be 4PM to 9PM on weekdays and noon to 4PM on weekends, with some scheduling variations to accommodate special events. To get information on selling your books, zines, and other goodies through consignment or on hosting a performance, event, or workshop, contact Veronica at fartoocanadian@gmail.com or info@fractiouspress.com.

Word Up is sponsored by NoMAA and Vantage Residential and coordinated by Fractious Press and Seven Stories Institute. Veronica is publisher of Fractious Press and Managing Editor of Seven Stories Press, which is affiliated with Seven Stories Institute.  She is also one of the creative forces behind Washington Heights Free Radio, which broadcasts the audio from events held by the Sunday Best Reading Series.  Read more about Veronica and Word Up at Karen the Small Press Librarian and Shelf Awareness.

The industrious and illustrious Veronica Liu (Word Up). Photo by Susan Sermoneta.

Radio Broadcast: TONIGHT:Washington Heights Free Radio Broadcasts “The Persistence of Dreams”

If you missed the  Sunday Best event “The Persistence of Dreams” this past Sunday, May 1–or if you simply want to hear it again, then tune in to Washington Heights Free Radio (WHFR) tonight, Wednesday, May 4, at 8PM.   Thanks to Veronica Liu of WHFR and intrepid Sunday Best sound technicians Sig Rosen and Theo Rosen, Sunday Best events are now being recorded for posterity! WHFR live streams the audio of each event, usually from 8PM to 9PM on the Wednesday evening immediately following the event.  An mp3 file of the audio is then posted to Sunday Best’s program page on WHFR’s site, so that you can listen to the show if you are away from your computer during the Wednesday evening live-stream or simply want to catch it again.

The audio of the Sunday Best NoMAA benefit held on March 6 and Words and Music Once Again held on April 3 are already available on the Sunday Best program page.  Tune in tonight to hear the great performances that Elisabeth Frost, Elaine Terranova, and Carol Wallace delivered last Sunday for “The Persistence of Dreams.”

Sig Rosen and Theo Rosen, sound technicians for the Sunday Best Reading Series

Event Recap: NoMAA Benefit: Sunday Best Supports the Arts in Northern Manhattan

An important part of the mission of the Sunday Best Reading Series entails supporting talented emerging literary artists by providing a forum through which they can share their work with the larger community.  This aspect of Sunday Best’s charge came to the fore on March 6th when the series hosted a benefit for the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA).  NoMAA, ably helmed by executive director Sandra Garcia-Betancourt with the assistance of program director Diana Caba, is a non-profit arts service organization that cultivates, supports, and promotes the works of artists and arts organizations who live in Manhattan north of 155th Street.

Among the programs and services that NoMAA provides to the Northern Manhattan arts community is a Regrant Program funded by JPMorgan Chase Foundation and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation. NoMAA grants are awarded to artists and arts organizations in Washington Heights and Inwood who submit proposals for specific individual or collaborative projects.  On March 6th, Sunday Best proudly featured performances by three local literary artists who received individual NoMAA grants for 2011: Will MacAdams, Christine Toy Johnson, and Lola Koundakjian.

From left to right: Patrizia Eakins (Sunday Best curator); Christine Toy Johnson (NoMAA grantee); Sandra Garcia-Betancourt (Executive Director, NoMAA); Will MacAdams (NoMAA grantee); Lola Koundakjian (NoMAA grantee); Diana Caba (Program Director, NoMAA). Photograph by Susan Sermoneta.

A portion of the contributions taken at the door went to benefit NoMAA and its efforts to strengthen Northern Manhattan’s arts community. Sunday Best sees itself as a vital and supportive participant in and beneficiary of that community.  This event served as an emphatic reminder of the importance of interconnectedness and community to artistic endeavor.

The first of the afternoon’s readers was Will MacAdams, whose writing springs from the intersection of theater and everyday life. MacAdams read excerpts from his performance poem Water and Stone, which was created as part of a four-play cycle based on interviews with residents of Warwick, New York, an arts and farming community located 55 miles north of New York City.  Drawn to a farming community for reasons related to “finding roots,” MacAdams  spent a year volunteering at a farmer’s market in Warwick and began work on Water and Stone at the end of that year.

Will MacAdams. Photograph by Susan Sermoneta.

Warwick was originally settled at the turn of the twentieth century by Polish immigrants who found it boasted some of the most fertile soil in North America.  In the years following World War II, waves of farm workers emigrated to the area, first from Puerto Rico and Jamaica and, more recently, from Mexico.  Water and Stone explores the stories that emerge from the experiences of those who came to Warwick during these two waves of emigration and from the land that connects them.  Through MacAdams’ honest, open voice, Sunday Best audience members heard the stories of an amazingly varied cast of characters from the farming community, including Beverly, a school teacher originally from Philadelphia, who marvels as a long line of cows, taking its time crossing the road, brings traffic to a complete standstill; Cheryl, a farmer and descendant of Polish immigrants who recounts her struggle against tomato blight; Everett, who recalls his parents’ sale of topsoil in the late 1950s which resulted in the stripping of 15 to 20 acres of his family’s land; and the lettuce worker who finds connection between Warwick and his land of origin when he realizes that both he and his family back home can look up and see the same stars in the night sky.

Dealing with cultural connections of a different sort, Christine Toy Johnson read a short theatrical piece that touched upon the role of food  and tradition in defining and practicing cultural identity.  Four of Toy Johnson’s full-length plays, as well as a documentary that she created with her husband about the first person of color to be drafted into the precursor organization to the NBA, were recently inducted into the Asian Pacific American Performing Arts Collection of the Library of Congress.  At the same time, the Library of Congress requested that Toy Johnson write a short theatrical piece on  the theme of “Confronting My Ancestor,” to be performed at the first Asian American Playwriting Conference which will take place later this year in Washington, D.C.

The result is Do These Jeans Make Me Look Fat?, an entertaining dialogue between the narrator and Linda, a neighborhood fixture and proprietor of the No. 1 Chinese restaurant on 181st Street in Washington Heights.  In an effort to avoid an obligatory visit to her mother’s house for Chinese New Year and the irresistible gustatory overload that such a visit entails, the narrator seeks comfort in her favorite local Chinese take-out place.  Inevitably,  however, she finds herself reminiscing with Linda about her ancestors, her childhood at the dinner table, and her family’s reliance on food to preserve their Chinese roots even as they strove to assimilate into American culture. Anyone who has ever stopped in at No.1 for a late-night order of pork lo mein will immediately recognize the character of Linda, and anyone who has ever straddled an uncomfortable cultural divide will sympathize with the narrator’s ambivalence.

Christine Toy Johnson. Photograph by Susan Sermoneta.

The program closed with the poetry of Lola Koundakjian. Koundakjian’s first collection of poems includes works written in both Armenian and English and translated into Spanish.  This afternoon, she read poems full of sensuous joy that touched upon themes relating to love, sex, music, and food.  However, Koundakjian noted that she had recently discovered a “political side” to herself; in that vein, she read two more somber “political” poems, one about her travels through Hiroshima and another about the friendship between a Palestinian girl and an Israeli boy who meet in the hospital ward where they are treated for wounds sustained as a result of the ongoing violence in the Middle East.  Koundakjian noted that much of her work is autobiographical but added, with a touch of humor, that “poets like to elaborate.”

Lola Koundakjian. Photograph by Susan Sermoneta.

Danielle Lazarin, another NoMAA grantee who was scheduled to read, could not attend because she went into early labor. (She later gave birth to a healthy baby girl.).  Sunday Best hopes that she will read at a future event. In the meantime, you can find some of Lazarin’s work online, including her story Dinosaurs at Five Chapters, her story Gone at Boston Review, and her interview with novelist Dan Chaon at Fiction Writers Review.

Veronica Liu, Washington Heights Free Radio. Photograph by Susan Sermoneta.

Thanks to the efforts of Veronica Liu of  Washington Heights Free Radio (WHFR), the technical wizardry of Sunday Best sound technician Theo Rosen, and equipment provided by Sig Rosen through the Renaissance Chorus Association, this event was recorded and aired on WHFR during its Wednesday night broadcast on March 9. If you missed any part of this event or attended but would like to hear it again, you can download and listen to the audio file on Sunday Best’s program page on the WHFR website.

Theo Rosen, sound technician (left), and Sig Rosen of The Renaissance Chorus Association (right). Photograph by Susan Sermoneta.

A big thank you to Susan Sermoneta who filled in as Sunday Best photographer for this event.  You can see more of Susan’s photography on her website and her Flickr photostream.  Susan’s photos of this event have been uploaded to Sunday Best’s Flickr account, which you can access here and on the sidebar of this blog.

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