Keeping Home Alive

One of the many things I do for the love of it is serve as the co-editor of the VONA Voices Newsletter. What is VONA and why is it necessary? Read on!

Keeping Home Alive
By Co-Editor Vanessa Mártir

It started as a conversation in a kitchen between Elmaz Abinader, Junot Diaz, Victor Diaz and Diem Jones. Fourteen years later, VONA is still going strong.Since 1999, VONA, the only multi-genre workshop for writers of color in U.S., has provided hundreds of writers with community, a safe space to write, to learn from and support one another. But why was a safe space necessary? Junot says: “I remembered my experience in a traditional creative writing program, how besieged and misunderstood and poorly served I was by these workshops.  One professor even asked me when I was going to write ‘about real people!’”

If you’ve taken a writing class in a “traditional” setting (euphemism? Yes.), you know what it can be like. Maybe you were asked why you write about race and ethnicity. Maybe you were told your characters are “too ethnic.” Maybe someone said no one wants to read another story about “the hood” or growing up poor and black. How many times have you had to defend your writing? Or maybe, like me, you had to piece yourself back together after a professor told you, “This isn’t writing.” And he didn’t even have the decency (or cojones?) to look at you when he said it.

That’s why VONA is necessary. Because at VONA you don’t have to explain or defend why you write what you write. At VONA you are safe to write your heart without worry that it will be questioned and battered. At VONA you can fall apart and come back together, more whole, and your community will be there to hold you through it. Where else can you get that?

At VONA you get to study with geniuses like Chris Abani and Elmaz Abinader and Junot Diaz and Chitra Divakaruni and M. Evelina Galang and Suheir Hammad and Mat Johnson and Terry McMillan and Walter Mosely and David Mura and ZZ Packer and Willie Perdomo and Patricia Smith and Quincy Troupe and… Yes, there are so many. Writers of colors who are established in the literary world. Who know that no matter where you are in your career, the blank page is never any less threatening. Writers who guide you and push you and put a mirror in front of you so you can see the beauty that reflects back.

Elmaz confesses, “My favorite VONA moments are the ones that inspire a writer to change her perception about who she is and what she can do. When you have a community that supports your work, takes it seriously, illuminates your worth and the worth of your words, it’s transforming.”

We need these transformations to keep happening. We need VONA to keep providing “developing writers a place where they can explore their craft in an atmosphere of support and understanding, where they can exchange with great writers ideas and inspirations, where they can gain empowerment to move from VONA to a writer’s life with authority and confidence.” (Junot)

We need to support VONA because as David Mura wrote, “VONA is a national literary treasure that has changed the lives of so many writers of color and has brought our presence and our work to the national conversation and literally changed the faces of America literature.”

Today, VONA needs your help. As Diem, our fearless leader aka Executive Director, said, “Every year the evolution of VONA continues and I remain on the lookout for ways to expand the safe haven we have created. Pursuit of the vision remains an ongoing journey and the force continues to grow.” To continue this journey and grow the force, VONA needs you.

We have just a few days to raise $21,000. What for?
  • To provide more scholarship opportunities, giving access to writers who would never get to attend a writing workshop.
  • To support us in our important mission by grounding VONA’s administrative team.
  • To allow us to continue to establish regional VONA/Voices workshops similar to the workshops at the University of Miami—giving access to more writers of color!
  • To help us complete our journey and become an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3)
Let’s help VONA continue to offer the kind of magic that makes writers pen VONA-kus about what the workshop means to them:Praise for the community and safety VONA gifts:
  • A place where writing meets home. (Melissa Rae Sipin-Gabon)
  • La tierra en donde crecen palabras. (Melissa Rivero)
  • Sharing my spirit with kindred spirits. (Danielle D. Colin Charlestin)
  • Revolution in writing, my community rising. (Tara Dorabji)
  • A home of multi-hued chorus. (Derrick Weston Brown)
  • seeking same. discovering different. finding me. (Teri Elam)
  • I am not alone in this. (Sheree L. Greer)
  • cheering my peers, muses upon ears. (William Copeland)
  • collective soul-serenade with great people! (Odilia Galván Rodríguez)
  • A place I can be me. (Juanita Mantz)
  • A parallel reality, seeing myself reflected. (Jennifer Liu)
Tributes to the peel-the-masks-off-in-layers work that VONA demands: Getting to work, cutting the bullshit. (Kenji Liu) Torn through, this skin, inhabiting voices. (Andrea “Philly” Walls) Where nearly everything that’s elusive, found. (Lisa Factora-Borchers) safe space, real talk, push harder. (Reema Rajbanshi)And Mona Washington’s comedic truth: Better than commitment to an asylum.“Here’s the truth, when I read the evaluations at the end of the session each year, I cry–I cannot believe how needed VONA is, how deeply it touches and how much we provide. It was a conversation in Victor Diaz’s kitchen in 1999 and now it’s an institution, or at least an anti-institution. It’s home.” (Elmaz)

Let’s keep that home alive, mi gente. Support VONA today! Donate. Spread the word. Share the love.

The Indiegogo VONA Fundraising Campaign

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