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Catching Up with Arisa White
As the Rose O’Neill Literary House says goodbye to the fourth Cave Canem Fellow, Jamaal May, we caught up with our first Cave Canem Fellow Arisa White, who spent a month on campus in the summer of 2011, and has been very busy since.
1) How is life?
Life is crazy busy right now but all in good ways. I got married in January to Samantha Florio and we are planning a honeymoon to Costa Rica—we so very much need it. (This horse year has been a true horse year for me.) In the fall I started working at Goddard in their lo-res BFA Creative Writing Program and I’m happy with the position. I just came back from the Juniper Writing Institute, where I was the poet in residence. I gave a reading with Paul Lisicky and Sabina Murray and facilitated a craft workshop, using mindfulness and somatic-awareness exercises to generate writing—it all went well and felt personally successful. And I just finished curating an essay series for Zora Magazine, called Anger Portraits: A Digital Salon, which I think is going to help move the conversation about black women and anger into a deeper direction.
Thank you! We reached and exceeded our goal by $1300! It was my first time running a Kickstarter campaign, so I’m glad we did so well. This project is an adaptation of the poetry collection, Post Pardon, which was inspired by the death of poet Reetika Vazirani. I used the poems to contemplate why a mother would kill her child, then herself. I received a grant from the City of Oakland to write the libretto and create the musical score. For this project I am collaborating with tenor-saxophonist and pianist Jessica Jones, who’s based in Brooklyn, NY. We’ve created something that is experimental, jazzy, and a sound of it’s own. As a part of the grant, we will present our first public concert of songs on July 13. We have six vocalists and three musicians on board who have been so very much dedicated to the project—it’s truly amazing to see an idea become live before you.
I’ve been working on a series of epistolary poems, addressed to my estranged father. I started this two years ago when my mother asked me if I wanted to write my father, who I haven’t seen since I was three years old. I wrote poems instead. He lives in Guyana now, and with a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, I will take a trip to Guyana to give him a copy of the poems. Prior to my trip to South America in early 2015, I will self-publish the epistolary poems, 100 in total, and give away 95 copies in exchange for letters written to one’s estranged father. Later this summer, I will put out a call for letters on my website.
For the month of August I will be in residence at Headlands Center for the Arts and there I will work on imagining A Penny Saved as a dance-theater performance in collaboration with choreographer Sonia Dawkins and director Charlotte Tiencken. I’m looking forward to that time to allow my mind to create. Also, this is the first time that I am collaborating in this manner. I haven’t worked with Sonia before and I’m looking forward to learning her movement language, how she approaches emotional nuances with her body. I was an intern at Jacob’s Pillow when I met Charlotte. We held my interview for the internship while I was studying abroad in Ghana. It was an effort to coordinate the time we would speak … I enjoyed Charlotte’s energy and demeanor, and her creative visions were on point. So Charlotte, Sonia, and I are coming together to imagine what can come of a selected batch of poems from A Penny Saved, and I find that this project presents a wonderful tension: bringing movement to a story about a woman held captive in her home.
Yes. You Good Thing, by Dara Wier, Proxy by R. Erica Doyle, Jamaal May’s Hum, and Allegiance by Francine J. Harris, and Ayiti by Roxane Gay. I have a tower of books in my office that I need more time to sit and read … one day soon.