A Writer’s Joy: A 2015 DC Metro Scholastic Writing Awards Reflection

scholastic_awards_logo_rgb_DS
In March, I was honored to be invited back to recite poems by one of the American Voice nominees, Emily Zhang, at this year’s DC Metro Scholastic Writing Awards. Sponsored by Writopia Lab and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Scholastic Writing Awards recognize DC Metro Area middle and high school students whose writing has earned Gold Key, Silver Key, Honorable Mention Awards, American Voice nominations, the Busboys & Poets Senior Portfolio Scholarship and the Edward P. Jones Young Writer Award.

You could not help but be affected by the positivity and creative energy in the room. Being amongst so many talented young writers was a joy. I saw myself all over again. Seeing and hearing how much literature, language and writing has inspired these young men and women truly touched me. When you are blessed with the gift of writing, it unites you with such a vast community. A community where we feel deeply connected and happily at home.

Writing gives you the freedom to explore worlds. To change minds. To explore feelings–both familiar and unfamiliar. To get inside the lives of characters and their experiences. To dispel myths. To reflect on social, political, cultural and historical events and the impact they’ve had on generations past and present. Writing gives us the opportunity to make the unknown known. To tell our truth. To cast away our fears and simply live. Writing is everything and more.

The approach, style and genres in which we write may vary. But it’s our love of writing, our foresight, insight, perspective, curiosity…and desire for understanding, respect and freedom for all that brings us together.

Lessons Learned from Publishing – New Article on 2025 Solutions Site

Dollarphotoclub_65368024-700x454

I’d like to thank 2025 Solutions, LLC for publishing my article, “The Path to Publishing: 7 Lessons Learned.” In it I share some valuable tips that I think will be helpful to writers with dreams of publishing their works.

Publishing my first book was by no means an easy feat. But what fun would it be if it was easy? Challenges and all, I’m happy that my journey led me here. And I’m thankful for the support I’ve had along the way. There’s great hope for the future and all it has in store!

No matter what your dreams are, if it’s what you truly want–go after it. Don’t let anything hold you back. It’s your time. Make it happen!

Next Event: Baltimore African American Book Festival – October 11, 2014

c festival final

Okay artists, writers, poets/spoken words artists, and book lovers: If you didn’t know, the Baltimore African American Book Festival (BAABF) is this Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 10AM-5PM at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Presented by the National Literary Network Organization and the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the BAABF will feature Trice Hickman (Best-Selling Author), Sheri Booker (NAACP Image Award Winning Author), Troy Johnson (AALBC.com Founder), Nikki Woods (Tom Joyner Morning Show Producer, Nikki Woods Media Founder, and Author), and Ella Curry (EDC Creations Founder). Other events include panels/workshops, kids activities, and live spoken word. The event is free and open to public.

I’ll have a table (#10) selling copies of Prevail and Exotic Shifter and will perform during the Spoken Word Hour from 1PM-2PM. My blogger buddy Marc Polite (Author, Blogger, and Founder and Editor in Chief of Polite On Society) and will be one of several authors appearing at the event as well.

So if you’re looking for a FREE event full of great edutainment, come check out the BAABF this Saturday in Baltimore, MD!

Peace, Love, and Many Blessings!

~ BuddahDesmond

Wise Words from Craig Stokes

1378569_565939760122588_1700232327_n
Image courtesy of Craig Stokes’ Facebook page.

I was recently introduced to Craig Stokes through his #ImABrand webinar, sponsored by iBlack, the leading lifestyle portal for Black professionals in the DC area. Stokes is a phenomenal, multi-talented TV host/personality (“Style Minute” and “Craig Stokes Presents: The Show”), lifestylist, and motivational speaker. Throughout his presentation, Stokes shared several bits of motivational wisdom in the form of #StokesNotes. After doing some additional research, I came across several #StokesNotes that left a great impression on me (especially the one shown above).

When we talk about our self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence, the focus is often on the external factors (such as family, friends, our community, our environment, our culture, and the media) that have negatively influenced how we feel about ourselves. Too little focus, I believe, is given to the part we play in these beliefs.

As humans, we have the tendency to get in our own way. We thwart our own progress by not looking within…by not first believing in ourselves. How can we expect to achieve our dreams if we don’t think we’re worthy of them? It’s time to take back our power. Our dreams have value. They matter. We have value. We matter.

For more #StokesNotes, go to Craig Stokes’ Instagram and Facebook pages.

The Blogger Week Unconference 2014: An Engaging, Informative, Highly Valuable Event

bloggerweek-logofly2

I had the pleasure of attending the Blogger Week Unconference in May, and I must say that it was one of the best professional events I’ve attended in some time. Hosted by Black Bloggers Connect, the Unconference was part of Blogger Week 2014, a multicultural festival of bloggers, journalists, and social media mavens. Blogger Week 2014 featured both digital and in-person events such as Google Hangouts, Twitter parties, panels, workshops, and networking events.

The Unconference featured 13 engaging discussion panels and breakout sessions led by industry notables. Topics included: digital monetizing, social media strategies, the business of beauty blogging, personal and executive branding, PR, blogging in the Pan African world, using your blog to affect politics and cause change, and the power of blogger collaboration (to name a few). There truly was something of great value for bloggers, journalists, and social media mavens at all levels at the Unconference.

After blogging for 9 years and being on social media for at least 5 years, I’m far from an expert. I’m always looking for ways to learn more, improve, streamline, and enhance. So I welcome and am grateful for events like these. I honestly believe I got more value out of this one-day, $25 (early bird) event than I would have if I’d gone to one of the high-priced multi-day events.

One of the other elements that made this event so commendable were the people. There was a warm, inclusive, welcoming community vibe at the Unconference. Almost immediately, I felt comfortable and at home. It was like I was with my best friends and family. I connected with some really cool, intelligent, and talented people doing wonderful things. I would be remiss if I didn’t give some shout outs: Taiye Oladipo,MPH, Marc Polite, L. Laura Burge, Marquita Goodluck, Ananda Leeke, Caribbean Soultrekkers, Ni’cola Mitchell, and Vino Noire.

The Blogger Week Unconference is highly recommended! Thank you Jessica Ann Mitchell and Black Bloggers Connect for organizing such a FAB event. I look forward to attending many other Black Bloggers Connect events in the future.

Blogger Week Unconference Takeaways:

  1. Quantity is not important. It’s about the connection or relationship you have with your followers.
  2. Be authentic. Use your personality. Your voice is key. If you have passion, brands will come to you.
  3. Don’t lose sight of why you’re doing this, as it will keep you focused, motivated, and moving forward.
  4. Make yourself your brand. Know your key differentiators (what makes your brand unique) and use them to your advantage.
  5. Try to keep your brand consistent across platforms. Make contact information present. Be accessible. Responsive.
  6. Honor your word/commitments. If you can’t do it, be honest about it.
  7. Don’t be afraid of your potential. Own it. It’s going to take work.
  8. Be your own hustleman. Create a social calendar for yourself and get yourself out there.
  9. Make sure your message is simple but encompasses all aspects of yourself/your brand.
  10. Give the people what they want.
  11. Partnerships (meaningful, long-lasting, mutually beneficial) can help you solidify your brand. But be sure you’re partnering with organizations that represent your brand.
  12. Don’t pitch people your problems, pitch them your solutions.

Takeaways from the 2014 Conversations and Connections Conference

This past weekend, I had the chance to attend the Conversations and Connections Conference in Washington, DC.  Organized by Barrelhouse magazine and sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Master of Arts in Writing program, this was not the typical conference. Conversations and Connections is designed to help writers better their craft by providing practical advice on writing and publishing in “a comfortable, congenial environment where you can meet other writers, editors and publishers” (Conversations and Connections).

Panel sessions were varied in topics that were universal and genre-specific. Panelists/presenters typically had an informal and candid style which was most engaging. The keynote speaker was award-winning and New York Times best-selling author Marisa de los Santos (Love Walked In, Belong to Me, and Falling Together), whose charismatic, humorous, and insightful talk was a major hit with attendees.

One of the other highlights of the conference was the Speed Dating with Editors session.  During this session, writers had the chance to get feedback on their work, find out about valuable writing resources, and learn about where they should consider sending their work.

For $70, the Conversations and Connections conference is a great value for any writer committed to enhancing their craft, getting published, and connecting with other writers, editors, and publishers.

Here are some takeaways from the sessions I attended:

Get Off Your Ass and Write: Stop Making Excuses and Start Being Productive (Rosalia Scalia)

  1. Always have a notebook and pen handy, as inspiration can hit at any moment.
  2. Discipline is about practicing good habits. It’s not about forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do.
  3. Make time to write each day.
  4. Know your craft. Study it. Research it. Practice it.
  5. Read widely and without prejudice. This is what feeds the well.
  6. Characters drive the plot. You need to know your characters well. Know what choices they will make to move the story along.
  7. Taking a different point of view may help you tackle problems you encounter with your writing.
  8. Learn how to use the tools to become the writer you want to be.
  9. Create a relationship with yourself. Make a commitment to your work in order to achieve your goals.
  10. The ultimate goal with writing is raising it to the universal level.

The chemistry of the poetic line: Line Breaks and Poetry (Jim Warner)

  1. Line breaks affect how you read/hear poetry.
  2. Originally, the form of a poem was determined by line lengths.
  3. There are typically two ways to interpret line length: the way the head sees the line and the way the line is spoken.
  4. The goal of poetry: to channel the original energy of the source of inspiration for the poem.
  5. Make a break that is not obvious. Go against the breath.
  6. The chemistry of the line comes in revision.
  7. Know why (and be able to explain) the choices you make in your writing.

Keynote Speaker: Marisa de los Santos

  1. Poetry foregrounds the quality [of music] in language.
  2. Listen to your characters (this is your primary job).
  3. Set out a time to write that works well with your schedule.
  4. Be present in whatever you’re doing (be in the moment).
  5. Everything feeds everything else.
  6. Every book makes its own rules.
  7. If you’re having trouble with a story, you may be having trouble with the characters.
  8. You walk with faith that your story is going to lead the way.
  9. Find your way and do it.
  10. There’s no one right way to write.

Is Fiction Dead?: The Rise of Creative Nonfiction (Cathy Alter, Jenny Sullivan, and Tim Wendel)

Scenes

  1. Good scenes get readers involved immediately.
  2. To write a good scene, think of how you would put it in an email to a dear friend or family member.
  3. You can never go wrong with descriptions. Descriptions put the reader there with you.
  4. Create a sense of space that people can relate to.
  5. Interview others about events/experiences that you’re writing about to make them come to life, to make them real.
  6. Precise details can make a scene pop.
  7. Use attribution.
  8. Research.

Character

  1. Well drawn characters are three-dimensional.
  2. First person narration, if it’s necessary, lends credibility to what you’re writing. It creates authenticity.
  3. The goal: to tell the story without the need to be in it.
  4. Be flexible.
  5. Think about writing in third person. It’s more interesting to write from someone else’s point of view.
  6. Action = character. What they do on the page creates who they are.
  7. If the action is not building, the story won’t go anywhere.

Dialogue

  1. Dialogue builds characters beyond what descriptions can do.
  2. Can tell you a lot.
  3. Let the character’s voice come through so you don’t pass judgment.

Revision

  1. Be ruthless with your work and think about what is truly useful to your story. If it makes it harder for the reader to follow along, take it out.
  2. Read your work aloud.
  3. Scrub, scrub, scrub. If it sounds like (or is) a cliché, take it out.
  4. Take a break away from your work. You’ll see things you did not see before that you can improve upon.
  5. Don’t wear your writer and editor hats at the same time. It can damage your voice.

brenda.trinidad@gmail.com

I’ll Be Reading at the DC Metro Scholastic Writing Awards – 3/11/2014

writopialab_logo_1scholastic_awards_lockup_90_rgb

It’s with great happiness that I announce I’ve been selected to read a few works by this year’s American Voice Nominees at the 2014 DC Metro Scholastic Writing Awards!  Performing, giving back, and highlighting some of the Greater Washington Area’s up-and-coming writers—does it get any better than that?

Each year, students in grades 7-12 are encouraged to participate in the The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.  Almost 200,000 students enter their art and writing “for review by panels of art and writing professionals, and compete for recognition, scholarships, and publication opportunities” (Writopia Lab | Scholastic Writing Awards).  2.5 million students have been awarded over $25 million in cash awards and scholarships since 1923.  Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards Alumni include Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates, and Zac Posen.

Writopia Lab was selected by the Alliance of Young Artists and Writers to serve as the Scholastic Writing Awards Regional Affiliate in the Greater Washington Area.  The Scholastic Writing Awards serve as not only a celebration, but also a platform for students to creatively express themselves with their budding talents.

The Scholastic Writing Awards will be held: March 11, 2014 | 6:30PM to 8:30PM | Artisphere’s Spectrum Theater | 1611 N. Kent Street Arlington, VA 22209.  The event is open to the public.  If you’re in the area, please come celebrate the brilliant talents of some of the DC-Area’s most promising teen writers.

Congrats to all of the nominees and winners!

Until next time… Peace, Love, and Many Blessings, BuddahDesmond

Thank You, Langston Hughes!

hughes1Image courtesy of Travalanche.

Today is not only the first day of Black History Month, but it’s also the birthday of poet, novelist, playwright, and activist Langston Hughes (1902-1967).  Hughes is one of the reasons why I write poetry today.

Growing up, I spent countless hours in the library losing myself in Hughes’ masterful poetry.  His poetry was jazz.  It was blues.  It was filled with so much spirit and life.  He captured the richness of our culture and history so eloquently.

Even given the social ills of the day, his work was evidence of his hope for a world where unity and equality trumped racism, inequality, and injustice.  Though the times may be (somewhat) different, the relevance of his writing remains strong.  The same can be said for the influence and inspiration of his artistry.

Thank you Langston Hughes for not dimming your light.  We honor you for your greatness and the blessings of your many contributions.  Here’s to you!

I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes

I, too sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Learning to Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan

Image courtesy of USA Today.

Too many of us are hung up on what we don’t have, can’t have, or won’t ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy – if not less of it – doing, or at least trying to do, some of the things we really want to do. ~ Terry McMillan, Disappearing Acts (1989)
On April 20, 2013, my partner and I attended “Learning To Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan.”  The event, presented in partnership with the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, was part of the PEN/Faulkner 2012/2013 Reading Series.  Moderated by writer, professor, and PEN/Faulkner board member Lisa Page, this event offered readers the chance to exchange in conversation with one of the most creative, thought-provoking, and inspiring literary minds of time.  

“Learning To Breathe” was divided into three partsreading, interview, and Q&A.  During the reading, McMillan read a selection from her upcoming novel Who Asked You?  With an anticipated release date some time in fall 2013, the novel will be told from the perspective of 15 characters in first-person.  Who Asked You? is full of wit, realism, and social commentarytold in McMillan’s signature style.

One of the key aspects of McMillan’s work has been admitting or getting to a truth.  She has a knack for using self-realization, self-discovery, and humor to help her characters get to their truth.  The common belief is that we have to go through something or be down-and-out in order to get to our truth.  McMillan dissuaded this notion saying, “You don’t always have to be depressed to admit a truth.”  

McMillan has said, “Writing is a form of praying on paper.”  It provides us with a way to really understand who we are, what makes us tick, and what we care about.  She shared that she wants us all to be happy and “sickening in love… be assets and not liabilities… be happy about who we are…[be] forgiving…”  Her critically acclaimed and award-winning novels like Mama, Disappearing Acts, Waiting to Exhale, and A Day Late And A Dollar Short are evident of this.  In addition, McMillan’s writing has afforded her (and her readers) greater empathy, compassion, and a better understanding of people she might not have in real life.

When asked about how she develops her characters, McMillan said you not only have to listen to how people talk but you also have to get outside of yourself in order to authentically tell someone else’s story.  “You have to get lost in someone else’s skin,” she says.  “Because otherwise it’s phony.”  For every story she’s written, she knows every single detail about her characters.  Even if the details don’t make it into the book, it illustrates the point about knowing who (and what) you’re writing about.  This, I’m sure, is how and why the characters always speak to you when in the midst of writing projects (as McMillan and so many other writers have noted).

As far as her process, McMillan never writes more than one chapter a day.  A work day for her can vary from two hours to eight or more hours.  But she admits that she’s quite spent when she’s finished writing for the day.  For chapters that are emotionally taxing, she may take a break and continue writing them the next day.  McMillan emphasized that no matter what you do, you must “find your own rhythm.”

McMillan also imparted her insights on the ever-changing publishing industry and provided some advice to aspiring authors.  She said the industry is racist and sexist, to some extent.  And that it is particularly harder for new authors to get contracts, especially for African American authors.  When McMillan’s best-selling book Waiting To Exhale was released in 1992, the publishing world was turned upside down by the mere fact that so many black people were reading and buying books (in droves).  If you looked at the press, you would think a new renaissance had started (when really it was nothing new).  I was only 10 years old at the time, and like McMillan, I too was insulted because the implication was that black people did not read (let alone write) and that we didn’t buy books.  The reality is that the publishing industry had ignored some of their largest book buying demographics.  To take advantage reap the benefits of this, the industry started beefing up promotion and doling out large advances to several black writers at the time.  Many of these writers were pummeled with accolades and kudos that were well beyond anyone’s expectations.  And sadly, you don’t hear about many of them today.

Fast-forward years later to the impact of a fledgling economy, and the infiltration of Corporate America into every facet of our lives, and we understand why it’s so hard for writers to get contracts.  And if you do get a contract, forget about book tours.  The chances of your publishing company setting up book tours are slim-to-none.  McMillan said she is quite fortunate to be able to live off of the royalties from her book sales, but she acknowledges that she, too, could be standing in the welfare line at any moment.  Her advice to aspiring writers: do not get discouraged and do not quit your day job. 

The next time McMillan is in town, I highly advise checking her out.  You won’t regret it.  

To learn more about Terry McMillan, go to her official website: http://www.terrymcmillan.com/.

Bibliography:
Mama (1987)
Disappearing Acts (1989)
Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary American Fiction (1990)
Waiting To Exhale (1992)
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996)
A Day Late And A Dollar Short (2001)
The Interruption of Everything (2005)
It’s Okay If You’re Clueless: And 23 More Tips For The College Bound (2006)
Getting To Happy (2010)

A Tribute to Our Beloved Writers

 
Performance artist, poet, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange. Image courtesy of Tumblr.
Your words have moved us
Warmed us in ways only the gods could.
Yours were the voices of nations
     speaking for others who had been silenced,
     or for those who hadn’t quite found their voice yet.
Your stories evoked emotions
     some we never imagined anyone could tap so literally within us.
But you’re the catalysts,
     the messengers,
     transparent vehicles for lessons of a higher kind.
And we—the recipients of your gifts
     continue to stand in awe, honor, and praise,
     for the art of your words dutifully expresses our humanity.
© 2012 BuddahDesmond