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Program & Schedule - Saturday, April 16, 2016

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness invites poets, writers, activists, and dreamers to Washington, DC for four days of poetry, community building, and creative transformation. The festival features readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, parties, activism—opportunities to speak out for justice, build connection and community, and celebrate the many ways poetry can act as an agent for social change.

All venues are wheel chair accessible. 

Click the links below to view each day's program. Also, join us for this very special kick-off event:

Library of Congress Kick-Off Event with Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States. 7pm, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, Coolidge Auditorium, FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Thomas Jefferson Building of Library of Congress, Ground Floor, 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540.
21st Poet Laureate Consultant Juan Felipe Herrera will celebrate the conclusion of his term of his laureateship. Book sales and signing will follow.  Co-sponsored by the Library of Congress Hispanic Division. Further event details are available on the Library of Congress' website.


Saturday, April 16


Human Rights Campaign [Map]

 8:30am - 12pm

Busboys and Poets Pop up Cafe

Busboys and Poets will be selling offee along with other snacks!

Human Rights Campaign, Equality Forum [Map]

10am - 3:30pm

Split This Rock Social Justice BOOK FAIR

Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives, Room 300 [Map]

Split This Rock, in collaboration with the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives, invites you to the Social Change Book Fair, featuring the critical work of socially engaged poets, writers, organizations, progressive presses, literary magazines, and independent newspapers, many of whom are also festival participants.


  • America SCORES
  • American University Department of Literature
  • Baltimore Review
  • Barrelhouse
  • Beltway Poetry Quarterly
  • BrickHouse Books, Inc.
  • DC Writers' Homes
  • District Lit
  • Flying Guillotine Press
  • Kore Press
  • Literary Hill BookFest
  • "On The Ground" radio show
  • Poet Lore
  • Poetry Foundation & POETRY Magazine
  • Poetry Mutual Press
  • Red Salmon Arts
  • RedBone Press
  • Resistencia Books
  • Rose Metal Press
  • Shout Mouse Press
  • Split This Rock
  • The Maryland Writers' Association
  • The Northern Virginia Review
  • The Writer's Center
  • Washington Writers Publishing House
  • Willow Books of Aquarius Press
  • Zozobra Publishing
  • And More!

9:30am _ 11am

Contemporary South African Spoken Word
Stephen Buabeng-Baidoo, Xitha Makgeta, Given “Illustrative” Masilela, Mthunzikazi A. Mbungwana, Mantombi Mbangata, Kgothatso Ngako, Thabiso Ngwena, Modise Sekgothe, Lucas Serei, Xabiso Vili
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 102 [Map]

This reading and conversation features 10 poets from the capital City of Tshwane, South Africa, who were all Finalists in the Speak Out Loud Poetry Competition at the South African State Theatre. As part of a Sister Cities International Agreement, Split This Rock has been working with the City of Tshwane to organize an on-going arts and culture exchange program between Washington, DC and Tshwane, South Africa. Split This Rock is pleased to present our young sister and brother poet-activists of the New South Africa.

In This Skin: A Writing and Performance Workshop
Aimee Suzara
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Gallery [Map]

"Every organ has a consciousness," wrote Akira Kesai. And Sekou Sundiata said, so aptly, "it all depends on the skin we're livin' in." The body is our nexus of joy and pleasure, as well as the nexus for historical trauma, erasure, and exploitation. This writing and performance workshop will allow participants to explore how to begin writing from the body, while addressing attitudes about the body, including perceptions and expressions of beauty, race, gender, sexuality, and ability/disability. Participants will explore and develop gesture and text through guided writing, theater, and movement exercises and create a short piece. Given recent events in which the destruction of Black bodies has been most visible, and the historical trauma experienced by many people of color, those of colonized histories, and women, the workshop has special timeliness and relevance. It is a part of an effort to remember, heal, and transform individually and collectively.

Looking at the Page: Page Considerations for Spoken Word Poets
Elizabeth Acevedo, Regie Cabico, and DC Youth Slam Team alumni Kenya Newsome, Nesha Ruther, and Hannah Smallwood
Human Rights Campaign Room 105 AB [Map]

This workshop will provide spoken word poets and performance poets with tools they can use when revising work in the hopes of publication. Some questions we wil be considering: How do spoken word poets prepare their work for viewing on the page? What special considerations should performance poets make when editing work for publication in literary journals, chapbooks, or online? Poet and head coach of Split This Rock’s DC Youth Slam Team Elizabeth Acevedo guides this workshop with help from former students: Hannah Smallwood, Nesha Ruther, and Kenya Newsome.

Now What? Everyday Experience and Resistance in the Middle East
LynleyShimat “Lynley” Lys, Nomi Stone, Philip Metres, Marcia Lynx Qualey
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room [Map]

This roundtable includes poets and translators of Middle Eastern poetry, focusing on Palestine, Iraq, and US military worlds, and the everyday experience and poetics of the spaces between war and peace, resistance and occupation. The group will present examples of Middle Eastern poetry in its relationship(s) to activism, resistance, and social justice in everyday spaces governed by war, occupation, and post-war considerations. It will provide attendees with background and discussion space to consider concepts of local and everyday resistance in the Middle East and its poetry.

POETRY + PASSION = PURPOSE (A Writing Workshop on Community & Personal Visioning)
Richard Love
Foundry United Methodist Church Davenport Center [Map]

Poetry + Passion = Purpose is a Teens With a Purpose writing workshop in which participants mindfully manifest what they desire to see happen in their community, their neighborhood, and their lives, through creative expression. Poetry and music are fused throughout the experience. Participants will create a group piece that conveys a shared group value capable of reaching a broad audience, including, perhaps, people who do not share their values.

Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace
Sandra Beasley, Jan Beatty, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Martha Collins, Susan Eisenberg, Bonnie Morris, Marianne Szlyk, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, Laura Madeline Wiseman, Carolyne Wright
Beacon Hotel

In January 2009, after President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, his first legislative act after taking office, poet Carolyne Wright wanted to hear from women about their workplace experiences—not just pay and promotion inequity, or workplace harassment and intimidation, but all matters relevant to women and work in an increasingly globalized world, including the ever-widening range of occupations in which women are engaged. Wright and her co-editors set out to edit an anthology of poetry about women in the workplace, knowing that it would be a daunting, yet important task. “Raising Lilly Ledbetter” brings together voices of women poets in the work-spaces they occupy: from cotton rows to corner suites, trawlers to typing pools, nursing stations to space stations, factory floors to faculty offices. These voices bear witness to women’s workplace lives, and act to re-envision and re-figure the world of work for women.

Trauma Narrative: Writing As A Way of Healing
Liz Alexander
Human Rights Campaign, 8th Floor [Map]

This workshop will examine how writing, as a medium, can be used as a coping strategy and self soothing technique for persons who have experienced psychological and emotional trauma. In this context, trauma is a term used to describe experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, overwhelming one’s ability to cope, invoking feelings of powerlessness, and impeding the normal functioning of one’s life. Through the use of exercises, the workshop explores how writing can serve as an outlet of expression, as a meditative practice, can be a space of safety and validation, and is a tool for processing and reinterpreting traumatic experiences. I also highlight several different modalities of writing, i.e music, spoken word, journalism, and memoir. The trauma narrative, or the “act of telling a story,” is an effective therapeutic technique for survivors of trauma and this interactive workshop serves as an overview of that process.

Writing Race: Poets on the Complexity and Contradictions of Race
Martín Espada, Nikky Finney, Richard Michelson, Solmaz Sharif
Human Rights Campaign Equality Forum [Map]

In the "post-racial" Obama era, most nations remain racially polarized, as the tragedy and protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere amply demonstrate. How can a poet write truthfully about the complexity and contradictions of race? How can a poet balance the message in the poem with the demands of poetry? How can a poet speak on behalf of his or her community, and yet empathize with other communities? How can a poet channel anger into art, risking the alienation of the audience for the sake of honesty?

11:30am – 1:00pm

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut: Split This Rock – Reading and Open Mic
Hosted by Amanda Johnston and Mahogany Browne
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 102 [Map]

A community Black Poets Speak Out reading for Split This Rock. Black poets and allies are invited to share poems by black poets in response to police violence. All readers will be recorded for the BPSO online archive that continues to reach an international audience and is sent directly to Congress as part of the BPSO letter-writing campaign. Black Poets Speak Out readings are poetic protest readings that directly address the crisis of police violence in the United States. These readings rally black poets and allies through poems of witness to actively engage the community, the justice system, and their elected officials in the demand for change.

DC Worker Poets Occupy the Mic
Mark Nowak & Worker Poets of DC
Beacon Hotel [Map]

Worker Writers, an Institute founded by Mark Nowak in collaboration with the PEN American Center, organizes and facilitates poetry workshops with global trade unions, workers’ centers, and other progressive labor organizations. These workshops create a space for participants to re-imagine their working lives, nurture new literary voices directly from the global working class, and produce new tactics and imagine new futures for working class social change. Building on our work in NYC with workers centers such as Domestic Workers United, the Taxi Workers Alliance, Street Vendor Project, and Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, these workshops will engage Washington, DC, workers in writing new poems and sharing them together in a public group reading at Split This Rock Poetry Festival. For updates from the workshop, follow us at @WorkerWriters.

Riot Playground: Transforming the Politics of Play and Poetry Pedagogy
Danielle Lea Buchanan, Muriel Leung, Grace Shuyi Liew
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room [Map]

Poetry is serious business. Or so they say. A glance at the history of poetry movements tells us, however, that as serious as poetry can be sometimes, it is actually a poet’s playfulness that has led to innovation and invention in the art. But what does playfulness mean for the poet-teacher invested in a social justice approach to poetry education? How is play relevant to teaching a classroom of second graders newly alert to the powers of metaphor as well as a group of older adult writers who have yet to exhaust the potential of metaphor? What can we do to return play to spaces in which they are no longer welcome as a way of resistance? This interactive workshop will model different lessons and activities that have been successful across different age groups and learning spaces. It will be followed by a dialogue about the connection between artistic practice, teaching, and social justice education.

The Space to Create: Designing Successful Poetry Workshops for Communities
Franny Choi, Phil Kaye, Sarah Kay, Jamila Woods
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Gallery [Map]

Workshops can be the foundation of a thriving poetry community, creating a space for critical dialogue, feedback, and positive growth. But what makes an amazing poetry workshop? How do you create a space that feels safe to explore sensitive issues? How do you build trust among a group of people that may not know each other? How do you put together a workshop that sticks with your participants and gives them tools they can use for years down the road? This workshop will explore best practices for facilitating poetry workshops – and will give you the tools you need to start designing your own. No experience necessary!

Translation Ethics in the Digital World
Katherine E. Young, Patricia Davis, Tanya Paperny
Human Rights Campaign Room 105 C [Map]

Translators speak for those who cannot express themselves in a given language. For practical reasons, previous generations of translators tended to work with politically powerful, wealthy, and literate elites in source language communities. Thanks to the digital revolution, however, translators can now easily access communities beyond those elites; they also now possess the means to publish and disseminate translated work, including materials subject to censorship in the source language community. What is the proper role of the translator in the digital universe? What are our responsibilities to ourselves, to those we translate, and to the larger communities seeking to transmit and receive information across language, social, and political barriers? Translators also increasingly serve as de facto online publishers and gatekeepers: what ethical questions should we consider in making translated materials public? The presenters – all of whom have translated materials that speak for politically oppressed peoples – will offer three specific, diverse models (activist, curator, and cultural interpreter) as a basis for thinking about the ethics of what translators do. This conversation is ongoing in the translation community: the presenters are actively seeking participant input to help better define an ethical translation practice in the digital world.

Write Now: A Teen-Led Poetry Writing Workshop
Members of the DC Youth Slam Team
Human Rights Campaign Room 105 AB [Map]

Teen poets on Split This Rock’s DC Youth Slam Team lead this writing workshop open to all. Interactive, participatory, and discussion-based, this workshop will include games, analysis of poems, writing prompts, time for sharing, and free pens.

Writing for Hmong Freedom Over Three Generations
Chitzia Lyfoung, Pacyinz Lyfoung
Foundry United Methodist Church Davenport Center [Map]

This reading will include materials from three generations, using the word to document the Hmong people's struggle for freedom across countries and continents. Readings will be from original letters by the only Hmong man who recorded in writing the struggle for his people's freedom, which was tied to the greater struggle for democracy in Indochina; a memoir by his son; and poems by his granddaughter.

2:00pm – 3:30pm

Anne Spencer's Legacy: Home, Community, and the Poetry of Resistance
Claire Hermann, Rashida James-Saadiya, Jaki Shelton Green, Shaun Spencer-Hester, kynita stringer-stanback
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Gallery [Map]

This session considers how homes, both physical and embodied in community, shape the poetry and activism of marginalized writers. In 1903 in Lynchburg, VA, black poet, librarian, gardener, and activist Anne Spencer’s husband built her a two-story home featuring scavenged materials. In the tumultuous decades that followed, poets, artists, and activists came to stay, write, and recharge in the house and its gardens and writing cottage. Guests included James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Marian Anderson, Zora Neal Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, the Rev. Martin Luther King, and other luminaries. Spencer's granddaughter will offer an intimate description of her grandmother's home and legacy. Panelists will offer short readings and reflections on the theme of home in poetry and change-making. Attendees will then complete and discuss a triggered writing exploring the following questions: How do we understand and honor the stories of our forebears as they are embodied in journeys, landscapes, and homes? How can these stories strengthen us to face challenges as marginalized writers in this society? What does it mean to invite other writers and change-makers into our very personal realm? And how can we use Anne Spencer's model to foster a new paradigm of creative community building?

Farm to Table to Poem: A Food Justice Poetry Workshop
Craig Santos Perez, Aiko Yamashiro
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room [Map]

This workshop will begin with a brief introduction to the cultures, histories, politics, and poetics of food in Hawaiʻi. The workshop facilitators will also share their own experiences, activism, and poetry related to the Pacific food justice and sovereignty movement. Then, they will guide the attendees through generative food writing prompts, sharing and discussing the poems around the workshop table. Lastly, we will brainstorm creative ways that we can bring food poetry to our own communities.

Fracture: Reading & Discussion by Contemporary Korean American Female Poets
Marci Calabretta, Anna Maria Hong, Arlene Kim, EJ Koh
Human Rights Campaign Room, 8th Floor [Map]

Muriel Rukeyeser asked, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Award-winning poets discuss difficult truths about struggling with the complexities and responsibilities of identifying themselves as Korean American female poets, seeking to answer practical and political issues that arise from living on the hyphen between “Asian” and “American.” Presenters also examine how their work is situated in the fractured identities they claim.

The Golden Shovel: Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks
Reginald Dwayne Betts, E. Ethelbert Miller, Wesley Rothman, Ravi Shankar, Leah Umansky, Jeanann Verlee
Beacon Hotel [Map]

This interactive reading will celebrate the continued influence of Gwendolyn Brooks through the introduction of the "Golden Shovel," a form created by MacArthur genius grant winner Terrance Hayes in which he draws on Brooks's much-anthologized poem, “We Real Cool," encoding the words into his own poem. The poets will share work from the forthcoming Golden Shovel Anthology, which will celebrate the centenary of Ms. Brooks's birth. The session will include the story of the Golden Shovel form and anthology, sharing poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and the participants; recall Brooks's legacy as poet and witness; and implore attendees to listen and speak their provocation and witness through the Golden Shovel form.

Out Shout! Lesbian Poets Praise Arktoi Books
Elizabeth Bradfield, Ching-In Chen, Celeste Gainey, Rita Mae Reese, Verónica Reyes
Human Rights Campaign Room 105 AB [Map]

In 2006, feminist activist and queer poet, Eloise Klein Healy, established Arktoi Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, for the sole purpose of publishing literary works of high quality by lesbians. Arktoi’s mission is to give lesbian writers more access to “the conversation” that having a book in print affords. Over the past 10 years, Arktoi has published eight books, five of them full-length poetry collections by first-time lesbian authors. Empowered by Arktoi, these poets have all gone on to national attention and acclaim, their poetry and singular points of view a part of the provocative global conversation on gender, sexual identity, and queer culture. In celebration of Arktoi’s tenth anniversary, all five poets will read from their Arktoi collections as well as from work published more recently. As well, each poet will speak briefly about the ways in which publication by Arktoi has influenced and supported their choice of personal and artistic identity within the chaos of a burgeoning gender-fluid culture. This reading will be interactive, with time set aside for audience questions and open dialogue.

Unchained Voices: Giving Incarcerated Writers a Voice
Wendy Brown-Baez, Nell Morningstar Ubbelohde
Foundry United Methodist Church Davenport Center [Map]

Incarcerated writers are a forgotten and invisible voice in the literary world, as well as in the public, and yet the goal of most writers is to have readers. The challenges they face include: lack of access to the internet, inability to create journals, restrictions on ability to form writing groups, and few opportunities to have their work read in public. Wendy and Nell are members of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, which offers writing workshops for beginners to experienced writers already publishing. MPWW coordinates readings inside prisons and for the public, publishes an annual in-house literary journal, holds literary forums, and created a mail mentoring program to support writer development. Our panel will share ideas and practical advice from our own experience for teaching artists to become conduits for incarcerated writers to have a voice, followed by Q & A.

Won’t You Come Celebrate: A Meditation on Violence(s) in Poetry
Fatimah Asghar, Franny Choi, Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels, Danez Smith, Jamila Woods
Human Rights Campaign Equality Forum [Map]

Borrowing its name from the iconic Lucille Clifton poem, this panel will bring together poets to discuss how they deal with the portrayal and exploration of violence in their work. Urban violence, sexual violence, genocide, and other forms of traumatic conflict will be explored as source material and inspiration for poetry. The poets will present how these conflicts figure into their work and influence both content and form. As artists, educators, and young poets of color, the members of the Dark Noise Collective will engage with questions of ownership, resistance, healing, and the white gaze.

Youth Open Mic
Hosted by Dominique Christina and Denice Frohman - Open to all poets 20 and under
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 102 [Map]

Young poets and emcees (20 and under) are invited to share their poetry in a lively and supportive atmosphere. The youth open mic will feature teens of the DC Youth Slam Team which took first place at 2014 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, as well as other young poets who sign up to perform. Each artist can perform one piece, 3 minutes or less.


Dominique Christina, Martha Collins, Dawn Lundy Martin, and a former member of the award winning DC Youth Slam Team, Henri Lozano

National Geographic, Grosvenor Auditorium
1145 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036  [Map]
Entrance on M Street
(Books will be available for sale by Upshur Street Books)


Reginald Dwayne Betts, Nikky Finney, Ocean Vuong, and a member of the award winning DC Youth Slam Team, Gaelyn Smith

National Geographic, Grosvenor Auditorium
1145 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036  [Map]
Entrance on M Street
(Books will be available for sale by Upshur Street Books)

11pm - 1am - Party!

Co-hosted by Dark Noise Collective & Busboys and Poets. More details to come!

Busboys and Poets, 14th & V, Langston Room
2021 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 [Map]