Does your literary series suffer from “Mainly White Room” sickness (symptoms include mostly white audiences at poetry events)? If yes, this 15-step program is guaranteed to bring some healthy color to your events or your institutional racism back!
Step 1: Name. Make a list of 50 poets of color in your city and state. If you can’t name 50 poets of color without asking Facebook, you should not be curating a literary series. Spend a year reading us instead of trying to curate us.
Step 2: Attend. There may be a literary series in your area that is organized by poets of color and that does not suffer from “mainly white room” sickness. Attend the series for a year. Pay attention and learn how to respect protocol.
Step 3: Group Line-up Quantum. People of color are more likely to attend group readings because we value community. If you schedule 4 readers, make sure at least 3 of them are poets of color. This quota system will help you resist your unconscious urge to include only white poets in your reading series (it’s not your fault).
Step 4: Time. Give all poets equal time.
Step 5: Order. Do not have poets of color “open” for the “featured” white poet.
Step 6: Intergenerational. Include poets of different generations. Poets of color value our elders and youth. Warning: may induce grandparent/grandchildren poems.
Step 7: Food. I’m not talking about cheese and crackers. Think rice and grilled meat. Vegetables are optional, but if included make sure they are cooked. Warning: if you have an ethnic restaurant cater your event, make sure it does not appear thematic (i.e. if you have a Pacific islander reader, he might be offended if you serve a Hawaiian luau and sliced pineapples).
Step 8: Venue. Ask yourself: will poets of color be pulled over while driving in this neighborhood? Will they be harassed on the street? Will the patrons of this bookstore think they are trying to steal poetry books? If yes, change your venue.
Step 9: Slam. Slam and spoken word poetry are the most popular forms of poetry events for a reason! Make sure you include at least one slam poet of color! Bonus: choose a white slam poet for your one white poet slot (they write the most conscientious poems about race and whiteness)!
Step 10: Boredom. Avoid boring poets, especially the intentionally boring and uncreative poets (you know who I mean).
Step 11: Racism. Avoid racist poets, especially those who claim to be anti-racist but their poems actually replicate racism (you know who I mean).
Step 12: Aesthetics. Do not organize your series towards a specific aesthetics (unless its slam). Poets of color appreciate a diversity of fresh styles.
Step 13: Posters. Design cool posters. If your poster/flyer looks lame, it’s a signal that your reading series is probably lame too.
Step 14: Money. If your series is part of an institution, make sure you offer honorarium. While this won’t make up for past crimes, it’s a start.
Step 15: Introductions. When introducing us, do not comment on our hair or our phenotypes. Do not ask if we have white heritage (if we don’t discuss that in our poems, there’s a reason)! Do not comment upon how “surprising” our work is, or how we “represent” a certain kind of “experience.” Just read the bio we sent you and get out the damn way.
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(N this applies to *any* reading/panel/speakers event…important words to organize by.)