FPP Interview: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

FPP spoke with photographer, poet and painter Rachel Eliza Griffiths about the “‘We’ as a great village of living and dead family”, how Harlem is a “powerful orchestra” and how she took Toni Morrison’s advice to heart in her own art practice.  See Griffiths read from her new book of poems Lighting the Shadow at Shrine on Tuesday, Nov. 10th at 7pm!

IMG_7928We see many women of color in your photographs—including many beautiful portraits of you, Rachel Eliza. Would you tell us about what drives you to engage your chosen imagery?

Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” When I burrow inside of Kahlo’s words and think of my own work, I both agree and differ. I feel alone and yet I do not feel alone when I photograph myself and other women of color. It feels political and powerful to me to challenge my own agency in my images, most especially when I’m photographing myself. I’m compelled to photograph women of color. I’m constantly pushing both known and unknown languages and imagery.

There’s a tension, defiant and complicated, in my own personal perception of beauty. It’s an uneasy one, especially when it comes to bodies of color. I don’t really know why I’ve chosen certain types of imagery – except that it’s instinct and something much older than me – that drives me to photograph black women and myself always in white clothing or why I photographed black and brown women in trees.  Years ago I saw it and kept seeing it, had always seen it psychically, and so then I set out to make it ‘real’. But it must have been real somewhere in a place or dimension that is often overlooked when it comes to black bodies. You know Toni Morrison speaks about writing the books she wanted to read and I often feel I apply a similar notion to my imagery.  IMG_1127

When did you first pick up a camera?  What did you want to shoot?  How has this changed?

I first picked up a camera when I moved to New York although I recently found a photograph of myself as a very young child holding a camera quite intensely. So maybe it was already deeply happening back then and only now am I finding the evidence.

I’m also a painter but when I arrived in New York I lived in a woman’s residence on the Upper West Side. My room had a single window that was thin as the width of a matchbox. It faced an elevator shaft. No natural light & certainly no room for easels or even a desk. So I began to walk around the city, endlessly and blissfully walking, and I started to take a camera with me. It helped me train my eye and my art, how to see and to remember textures, people, rhythms, dreams. The anonymity was a refuge. The camera became a witness and a mirror. I photographed anything I found evocative, anything that drew me both out of myself and simultaneously, drew me more deeply into the fluid private space of who I was becoming.

As far as change goes, these days I’m more likely to work inwardly or more conceptually. I’m more likely to spend hours in my studio alone or with models I work with. I work frequently out in natural landscapes. I don’t do as much street photography unless I’m traveling. I still make portraits of writers but less frequently because this current body of work requires so much energy. I’ve also been exploring video as a medium so I’ll set up shoots or record footage as needed. Then I head back to my studio where I edit for hours, cursing at Final Cut Pro.

Truly, I’m excited about some forthcoming collaborative projects with several writers and musicians. These days I experiment in ways I wouldn’t have imagined when I first started shooting. I’ve got some solo stuff that I’m putting together. And actually I’m painting a lot now and beginning to organize my photography archive, which contains thousands of images.

When do you feel most “we”?  When do you feel most “I”?

Since my mother’s death last year I use “we” frequently in my thoughts. From time to time, I’ll even say it aloud. I’ll say ‘we’ and get funny looks. I don’t care. I know it seems crazy to other people but not to me. When I speak and act from ‘we’ there’s a heightened sense of strength and accountability though, in truth, physically there’s just me. The ‘We’ helps me resist giving up when the “I” is too fearful, overwhelmed, weighted, or narrow. For me, I like how ‘We’ acknowledges a great village of living and dead family. When I use ‘We’ I am peopled. The ‘we’ absorbs my ‘I’ and that feels organic to me right now. It could change.

‘We’ also helps me acknowledge the different spaces in which I create. I love how LaToya Ruby Frazier speaks about this and I think, looking back now, there’s a similar notion of my own relationship with my mother and many women of color where I feel there is one, non-monolithic entity and within that single ‘body’ there is boundless nuance, imagination, and action for my collaborative process.

Do you feel called to use the first person plural voice?  Does it trouble you?

Like anything interesting or worthwhile, the use of the ‘We’ and ‘Us’ has some tension in it. The plural voice can be troubling in certain contexts. For me, it’s about intention. You know, when I hear ‘We’ used in this country by some people I am deeply troubled because usually ‘We’ is employed as a tool of oppression, division, or power.  Some people will say ‘We’ and ‘We’ and ‘We’ and you know (and they let you know by what they aren’t saying) that they certainly do not include and have never included ‘You’. The first person plural voice is a fundamental and complicated device in American rhetoric.

Would you share a cherished memory of light? 

The last time my mother called me by my nickname.

What is the first darkness you remember?

It isn’t linear for me.

Where do you feel your feet sink most sweetly into the earth? 

Any body of water. Being near or submerged in water is important for my creative process. Some specific spiritual places on this earth: Mexico, Brooklyn, Paris, Provincetown, Northern California, Santa Fe, and the Mississippi Delta.

Do you feel there are places, landscapes that hold you, while others repel?

Certainly, there are landscapes that seem better suited to my moods and imagination than others. There are landscapes that have become, over years, spiritual foundations for me. Travel is critical to my identity and imagination. There are many places I’d like to visit and to explore.

I feel repelled by overly commercialized places when you can feel that a place has been hyper-harvested. I feel overwhelmed in those places. Parts of Brooklyn, where I live, are going through this too. Thankfully, there are sub-radar kingdoms of New York where remarkable streets and half-hidden blocks remain untouched or continue to be perceived, thankfully, by developers, as to be of no value.

What is Harlem to you?

Harlem is chosen family, chosen music, chosen freedom.

What was your first knowledge of Harlem?

I used to take the metro north train at 125th up to Sarah Lawrence College when I was in graduate school. I’d walk around trying not to miss anything. It was impossible. Harlem is a profound orchestra. I’d have a notebook and would try to scribble the rhythm down but it’s beyond paper. The narrative gets made and unmade in every moment. Improvisations, collages, and so much style you can’t even take it except you do because it’s abundant and it leaves you smiling and full, like a meal. I used to go to Harlem often to get my hair braided. And I’d go to the Schomburg or Hue-man Bookstore to take myself out on creative ‘dates’. I’d walk around, buzzing, with all my channels open. I’d think about all of the lineage and pride. What’s so incredible is that you hear the now, the past, & the future all at once. Harlem is sublime.  Citizenship in Harlem means imagination, justice, & community, indivisibly. It’s ever a full-bodied song in Harlem. And it’s always so effortlessly cool.

One of my most memorable afternoons, as a young photographer, was working with the late, luminous Walter Dean Myers at Morningside Park. It was one of my very first magazine covers, I think, for Mosaic Magazine. I remember leaving the park, holding my camera and feeling so grateful and so alive. Having been in his presence, even briefly, continues to resonate in me. For several years I used go up to the Harlem Arts Book Fair with my camera and spend the entire day walking around, celebrating the community, the creativity, and all of the wonderful books, art, and food. It would be so hot! But the streets would just be like a village. It was incredible. Another bright moment for me was the very first time I went to the Harlem Arts Salon at Quincy and Margaret Troupe’s home.

Last spring, Laura Pegram, founder of Kweli Journal, sponsored a Kweli event at the Schomburg that featured my photography and also gathered a number of women in conversation about imagery and language in terms of identity and black womanhood. Nikky Finney, Parneshia Jones, and myself, moderated by Saretta Morgan, waded into one of the most provocative and dynamic discussions I’ve ever experienced. But I knew that we went into ourselves so deeply because we were in Harlem.  Our audience asked such necessary and powerful questions. There was a sense of grace, of safety, and trust that we could all share our thoughts, hopes, and truths about our shared experiences in the space of community. We could have been there all night!



FPP Interview: Emily Raboteau

FPP spoke with writer and world traveler Emily Raboteau about the “school-to-prison” pipeline, brudermensch, and freedom from context.  Emily reads with us this Tuesday, November 10th, 7pm, at Shrine in Harlem.

In Searching for Zion, the Quest for Home in the African Diaspora, you track the experience of displacement handed down over hundreds of years to the descendants of African slaves.  It’s a tremendous cultural, philosophical, and literary undertaking.  It was also a personal quest, though, to address your own sense of unease in American culture, which routinely denies full humanity to many of its residents.  Does the personal conclusion at the end of the book—that Zion is located within—hold for you today? Or has your central, driving question changed?

EmCubaThanks for calling the book a tremendous undertaking. (One might also call it a fool’s errand that I went looking for a geographical Zion.) Though I have to point out as one of my interview subjects did when I used the term “African slaves,” that we should really say, “enslaved Africans.” Let’s recall that this was not their identity, but a condition forced upon them. And I’d say I was, and am, motivated by disgust with U.S. government policy that systematically denies full humanity to a great deal of its citizens. I do still feel that the ultimate Zion lies within. As an outgrowth of that understanding, my driving question has changed. It’s no longer Where do I belong given that so much about this nation sucks ass? but What can I do to make this a less sucky place?

Where do you see the most urgent domestic (US) experiences of displacement today, perhaps even in your neighborhood?  Those who are not at home where they live? 

I live in Washington Heights, where gentrification is an issue that makes visible the city’s segregated school system. A couple years ago there was talk of de-zoning our district in an effort to equalize access to good schools, but it was put to bed by privileged and entitled parents who were scared their kids would lose their leg up. I see long-term residents in the hood being physically displaced through escalating rents and the greed of real estate developers. An even more urgent displacement is the school-to-prison pipeline trend wherein poor children, many of whom have learning disabilities or histories of abuse and would benefit from additional education and counseling services are instead isolated, punished, and funneled out of public school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems via “zero-tolerance” policies that criminalize minor infractions of school rules and inordinately discriminate against kids of color.

Do you hope that your own children, growing up in Washington Heights, develop an attachment to New York as home, or would you rather bequeath to them your productive distance, so that they might locate Zion “within,” as you do for yourself at the end of the book?

Both. I want them to find something unwavering within themselves, even as they live on shaky ground. Some people might call that “faith.” Others would call it a “moral compass.” Lately, I prefer the term, brudermensch, which I learned from Bernard Malamud’s perfect short story, “The German Refugee.”  But whatever you call it, the point of that quality is not distance. It’s social engagement. I know it’s a platitude, but we need to care for our neighbors. I also hope that as New Yorkers, my kids will know they’re citizens of the world. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to here my son declare, “I got eyes like ackee stone in my sheyne punim,” at the age of three.

Ta-Nehisi Coates said in a recent interview that moving to Paris allowed him a temporary break from daily burdens of race in America.  When he experiences racist exchanges in Paris, he doesn’t feel the same sting because it isn’t his context.  In your experience traveling the world, moving toward danger and complexity instead of away, did you experience freedom from context?  If so, how, ultimately, have you come to feel about such freedom?

I did experience freedom from context through extended travel (even though my destinations were in the “third world”) and I felt very privileged because international travel is a luxury most people can’t afford. I also came to see that every country is unjust in its own particular, perverted way. Ta-Nehisi witnessed the same thing in Paris, just as Baldwin did before him, and Chester Himes, and Richard Wright—just because these black men didn’t feel the same sting abroad didn’t mean some other group wasn’t getting kicked in the teeth. William Gardner Smith, a lesser-known author than these cats, put it bluntly in his novel, The Stone Face: “The Algerians are the niggers of France.” That’s just it. Every nation has its “niggers.” In Jamaica, the niggers are the gays. The players might change but the struggle is more or less the same for people who don’t enjoy full freedom. Every nation-state is a work in progress. That was actually a liberating, if distressful, discovery. Sort of like the moment in therapy where you accept your abusive parent is flawed and start working on yourself so the family you’re building (and I mean “family” in the broadest human sense) is less fucked up than the one you grew up in.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on now?  And in what ways this new work might be a continuation, refutation, or revision of your first two books?

Yes, I’m working on my second novel. It’s called Endurance and it’s about the Dominican superintendent of a gentrifying building in Washington Heights who must raise his autistic son to be a competent adult. It’s not as autobiographical as the first two works but does share many of the same themes—inequality, citizenship, and the question of belonging or not belonging to a community.

FPP Interview: Victor LaValle

FPP spoke with writer and Washington Heights local Victor LaValle about our brains as “virtual reality machines,” walking the streets of New York City to find peace, and his forthcoming novella The Ballad of Black Tom. Victor reads with us this Tuesday, November 10th, 7pm, at Shrine in Harlem.

Victor LaValle author photo1

At the beginning of your most recent work, the novella The Ballad of Black Tom, you write: “People who move to New York always make the same mistake. They can’t see the place.” What does it mean to you to “see” the place you live in?

I mean that a person has to try and understand what they’re expecting, what they’re hoping for, what they fear about any new locale. These personal concerns tend to create the reality we then encounter. All of us are living in a personal virtual reality machine, the brain. Obviously we can’t discard the damn thing (and who would want to?) but it behooves each of us to realize how much we are shaping what we see. This plays into that novella in a vital way. Where one person might see a monster, another will see a human being. And both might be true. Click here to continue reading…

Upcoming First Person Plural, Harlem Reading: November 10!

Come out on November 10th, 7pm at Shrine in Harlem for an astoundingly great lineup!  We will welcome poet and visual artist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Pulitzer Prize winning author Margo Jefferson, and fiction writers Victor LaValle and Emily Raboteau. This reading is not to be missed! Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  Admission is $5; bar is cash only.

IMG_5195Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. She is the author of Miracle ArrhythmiaThe Requited Distance, and Mule & Pear, which was selected for the 2012 Inaugural Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Griffiths’ most recent book, Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books), was published in 2015. The recipient of numerous fellowships, Griffiths’ literary and visual work has appeared widely including The New York Times, Writer’s Chronicle, American Poetry Review, American Poet, Transition, Callaloo, Guernica, and many others. She recently completed her first extensive video project, P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), an intimate series of micro-interviews, which gathers over 100 contemporary poets in conversation, and is featured online at the Academy of American Poets. Currently, Griffiths teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and the Institute of American Indian Arts. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Margo Jefferson Headshot_Credit Michael LionstarThe winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, Margo Jefferson was for years a theater and book critic for Newsweek and The New York Times. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, VogueNew York magazine, and The New Republic. She is the author of On Michael Jackson and, most recently, Negroland (Pantheon 2015).  She is a professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts.

Victor LaValle author photo1Victor LaValle is the author of one story collection and three novels. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Book Award, and the Key to Southeast Queens. He teaches creative writing in Columbia University’s MFA program.



ER 2-2Emily Raboteau is the author of a novel, The Professor’s Daughter (Henry Holt) and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion (Grove/Atlantic), winner of a 2014 American Book Award.  Her fiction and essays have been widely published and anthologized in Best American Short StoriesThe New York Times, Tin House, McSweeney’s, The Guardian, Guernica, VQR, The Believer, and elsewhere.  Honors include a Pushcart Prize, The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony.  An avid world traveler, Raboteau resides in Washington Heights with her husband, Victor LaValle, and their two children.
Join us and these incredible readers November 10th, 7pm, at Shrine!

FPP Season 5 Kickoff: September 15, 7pm!

Oh, it’s going to be a good one!  On September 15th, 7pm at Shrine in Harlem, we will gather for an electric night of literature and collaboration.  Come out to hear writer and musician J. Mae Barizo, poets Morgan Parker and Greg Pardlo, and essayist Kent Russell.  Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  As always, admission is free.   Bar is cash only.

bwmaewallJ. Mae Barizo is the author of The Cumulus Effect (Four Way Books, 2015).  A prize-winning poet, critic and performer, recent work appears in AGNI, Bookforum, Boston Review and Los Angeles Review of Books.  She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Jerome Foundation, Poets House and Bennington College. She is the founding co-editor of Fields Press, a micropress specializing in limited edition, hand-bound chapbooks. A classically-trained musician and an advocate of cross-genre collaboration, she lives in New York City.

GregoryPardloGregory Pardlo‘s ​collection​ Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Digest​ was also shortlisted for the​ 2015 NAACP Image Award and is a current finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His other honors​ include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. Pardlo’s poems appear in​ The Nation, Ploughshares, ​Tin House, T​he Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. Pardlo lives with his family in Brooklyn.

morganparkerMorgan Parker is the author of Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015), selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize. Morgan received her Bachelors in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Columbia University and her MFA in Poetry from NYU. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in numerous publications, as well as anthologized in Why I Am Not A Painter  and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. She has done editorial work for Apogee Journal, No, Dear Magazine, and The Atlas Review.  Winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize and a Cave Canem graduate fellow, Morgan works as an Editor for Amazon Publishing’s imprint Little A, and moonlights as poetry editor of The Offing. She also teaches Creative Writing at Columbia University and co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series with Tommy Pico.

Kent Russell_MICHAEL LIONSTARKent Russell is a writer from Miami, Florida, whose essays and reportage have appeared in Harper’s, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, n+1, Tin House, Grantland, and other publications. His first book, I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised a Timid Son, is available now.





Join us 7pm Tuesday night, September 15th, at Shrine!

We Had a Fabulous Time at the March 31st FPP Finale!

We were lucky to have had Rivka Galchen, Mya Green, Patrick Rosal, and Khalik Allah join us for the Apogee Journal co-sponsored final reading of our fourth season.  They reminded us why we try to get the writers and artists we love under the same room for some electric language and images.

photo 1-35Rivka Galchen gave us a hilarious new take on the first person plural by reading the first few pages of Moby Dick, substituting “we” and “us” for “I” and “me” (during which time she was joined by her self-possessed young daughter, another plural).  She then read from her essay about a Elmhurst Hospital Center in Elmhurst, Queens, “the most diverse neighborhood in New York City and maybe in the world.”  Galchen completed part of her medical training at the hospital, which offers translation services in 153 languages, and could attest that to treat patients there one had to know the afflictions of the world, not just your corner of it.  The “we” was everywhere in evidence!

IMG_0348Mya Green then took the stage with the strong, round sounds of her poetry (“carry the one, conquer, divide by none”).  Often about the fault lines between the natural world and the social, the racial and the elemental, her poems slide along, pulling place into people and turning people back out again into places.  “Sweet with wilted cherry skins/dirt under my nails, rattle.” Her last poems were part of a “Tornado Series,” inspired by the tornado that devastated her hometown, Tuscaloosa, AL.  In “Damage Path,” she writes, “Tornado, I am your witness and your face.”


photo 3-27And then Patrick Rosal danced onto the stage with his liquid lines that nonetheless punch, punch, punched, mixing in his Filipino roots, his b-boy and dj past, and his ability to adapt as an outsider to culture after new culture.  One poem was about a dj who was “half black and half Filipino and passing as Latino…some might say that’s what being Filipino is.”  He writes of of carving out a presence in the city, on the streets– “Sometimes the only way to lay out a punk who ducks you is to trick him into singing.” A line from one poem might capture an aspect to Rosal’s poetic ventures: “Two tunes left to play at the same time will sync up…pick ax and wax wing…” He, too, responded to natural disaster with a poem about a teacher’s brutal will for her students to survive the tsunami of 2009.  As they watched friends and relations wash away, she lashed them to telephone and electricity poles lining the street, “building an orchard of them.”

photo 4-30We ended the night with Khalik Allah‘s stirring, exploratory documentary Antonyms of Beauty.  Allah spoke briefly about the work before he screened it, explaining that when he began filming and photographing in the streets of Harlem he thought he was seeking out the ugliest, rawest images he could find.  But he ended up finding beauty, finding his “superheroes.”  The film follows and interviews “Frenchie,” a Haitian immigrant who lives on the streets, watching him in his social context, absorbing the constant motion and sound of the streets, and listening carefully while he answers questions about the philosophies that guide his life, about god, and about the people who might look at him and see only loss.

Thank you to our readers/artists and thanks to our audience for a rich night! We’ll be back in September with more great line ups!

Reading in Private: An Interview with Rivka Galchen


Originally published on March 29, 20195 in Perigree, the blog for Apogee Journal.

Rivka Galchen is the author of American Innovations, a collection of short stories speaking in conversation with “classic” short stories from a female perspective, and Atmospheric Disturbances, a novel. Staff writer Joseph Ponce corresponded with Rivka via email about the dangers of “familiar” language, intentionally de-railing plots, and misconstrued emotion and characters. She will be reading as part of the First Person Plural Reading Series, along with Mya Green, Patrick Rosal, and a screening of the Field Niggas and Antonyms of Beauty, a film by Khalik Allah, on Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00pm, at the Shrine World Music Venue in Harlem, NY.

Joe Ponce [JP]: American Innovations at times seems to be a commentary on the restrictive and even oppressive nature of language. Do you feel like the language you use in American Innovations is, in a way, a rebellion against old fashioned or constrictive language (the lazy language of idiom)?

Rivka Galchen [RG]: I do think my characters, on the spectrum, find phrases particularly magnetic, even talismanic. They’ll try on a phrase as a way to feel, they feel obliged to try and feel the way that language suggests they ought to. It doesn’t quite work, of course. Like, I suspect, the popularity of “that’s amazing” a few years back made us feel more compelled to find things amazing, even as the world may not have been any more (or less!) amazing. And sometimes the poor tailoring of language is just minor comedy and a popped button, and sometimes it’s tragedy, and usually it’s both? See that question mark, that’s the first emoticon doing its all-thumbs work at trying to nudge the sentence toward accuracy.

Continue reading

Announcing the Tuesday, March 31st Lineup at the Shrine in Harlem!

We– FPP Harlem Collective and Apogee Journal— are thrilled to present the line up for the First Person Plural Harlem Reading Series on Tuesday, March 31st: writer Rivka Galchen, poets Mya Green, and Patrick Rosal, and a screening of Field Niggas and Antonyms of Beauty by filmmaker Khalik Allah. Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  As always, admission is free.   Bar is cash only.

rivka galchenRivka Galchen is the author of the novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, a finalist for numerous prizes including The Canadian Writer’s Trust’s Fiction Prize and the Governor’s General Award.  She is also the author of the short story collection, American Innovations, and has published essays and stories in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, The Believer, and Harper’s Magazine, for which she is a contributing editor. She teaches in the Writing Program at Columbia University and has received a Ronna Jaffe Writer’s Foundation award and a fellowship from The American Academy in Berlin.  In 2010 Galchen was chosen by The New Yorker as one of its “20 Under 40”.

mya greenMya Green is the author of the poetry collection, Selvidge and the winner of the Poet Lore Contest.  She graduated with an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and has poetry published in journals such as Apogee Journal. She served as poetry contest director and editor for LUMINA Journal Volume XI and acted as a liaison for Sarah Lawrence’s 9th Annual Poetry Festival, where she also opened for 2012 National Book Award winner, Nikky Finney.

patrick rosalPatrick Rosal is the author of four full-length poetry collections. His most recent, Boneshepherds (2011), was named a small press highlight by the National Book Critics Circle and a notable book by the Academy of American Poets. He is also the author of My American Kundiman (2006), and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive (2003).  He has published work in journals such as Apogee Journal, and his newest book, Brooklyn Antediluvian, is forthcoming in 2016.  His collections have been honored with the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, Global Filipino Literary Award and the Asian American Writers Workshop Members’ Choice Award. In 2009, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines. He is co-founding editor of Some Call It Ballin’, a literary sports quarterly.

khalik allahKhalik Allah is a documentary filmmaker and photographer recently named “Harlem’s ‘Official’ Street Photographer” in a Time Magazine feature.  His work has been screened at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn and he has presented work at venues such as Bard College, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the TRUE/FALSE Film Festival, and Strictly NY2: a Photographic Exhibit.

FPP is pleased to be partnering with Apogee Journal for this event.  Apogee is a literary journal specializing in art and literature that engage with issues of identity politics: race, gender, sexuality, class, and hyphenated identities. They currently produce a biannual issue featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art. Their goal is to publish exciting work that interrogates the status quo, and provides a platform for unheard voices, including emerging writers of color. We love the work they do and are happy to collaborate in any way possible!

Announcing the Tuesday, February 3rd Lineup at Shrine Harlem!

With great happiness and anticipation we present the Tuesday, Feb. 3 lineup for the First Person Plural Reading Series: poets Jason Koo, Marc McKee, and Montana Ray; prose artist Melody Nixon, and short film Semiotics of Islam by filmmaker Fouzia Najar.  We’ll wrap up the night with a special set by DJ Lady DM.  Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  As always, admission is free.   Bar is cash only.

Koo-Tang Jason Koo is the author of two collections of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem (C&R Press, 2014) and Man on Extremely Small Island (C&R Press, 2009), winner of the De Novo Poetry Prize and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award for the best Asian American book of 2009. He has published his poetry and prose in numerous journals, including the Yale Review, North American Review and Missouri Review, and won fellowships for his work from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center and New York State Writers Institute. He is an assistant professor of English at Quinnipiac University and the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets.

unnamed-1Marc McKee received an MFA from the University of Houston and a PhD from the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he lives with his wife, Camellia Cosgray. His work has appeared in several journals, among them Barn Owl Review, Boston Review, Cimarron Review, Conduit, Crazyhorse, DIAGRAM, Forklift, Ohio, LIT, and Pleiades. He is the author of the chapbook What Apocalypse?, which won the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM 2008 Chapbook Contest, and two full-length collections, Fuse (Black Lawrence Press, 2011) and Bewilderness (Black Lawrence Press, 2014).

NAJAR-Semiotics2Fouzia Najar is a Kashmiri-American filmmaker and multimedia storyteller from Buffalo, NY. She recently earned an M.F.A. in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College and before that studied history and media at Carleton College. She has worked for award-winning production companies Kartemquin Films and Jigsaw Productions, and has works broadcasted on major networks, including The Weather Channel, ABC News and CNN. Fouzia most recently examined the death penalty in America for a nonfiction television series and is currently developing a documentary on post traumatic stress disorder in South Asia.

On Semiotics of Islam: Inspired by Martha Rosler’s second-wave feminist film “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” this experimental nonfiction short reveals the politics of (mis)representation in today’s media.

MelodyNixon_MAIN_400x386-1Melody Nixon is a New Zealand-born writer living in Harlem. Her essays, fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in ConjunctionsCura Magazine, VIDA Web, Midnight Breakfast, No, Dear Magazine, Hoax Publication and The Appendix, among others. She is the Interviews Editor of The Common and Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large of Apogee Journal. Melody is an activist for LGBTQ, women’s, and migrant rights. She has provided front line abortion clinic defense in the Bronx, taught an introductory “Artivism” class at Columbia University, and is currently a creative writing workshop leader for the New York Writers’ Coalition.

Maria pic2Montana Ray is a feminist writer, translator, scholar, and mom. She is the author of 4 artist books and chapbooks; her first full-length book of concrete poetry, (guns & butter), will be available from Argos Books this spring.



DJ Lady DMWith roots stemming from the legendary musical island of Jamaica in the Caribbean, Mackenzie Largie a.k.a. Lady DM describes herself as a ‘musical expat’, an apt description for her fearless take on crossing genres of dance-able music.  Lady DM’s story begins in 1995, in NYC as a host on FIT’s radio station, by day; and avid regular at parties like Theo Parrish’s SugarBabies by night. Two years later, she begins her ascent of the city’s DJ circuit proper, a regular at venues like the Limelight, Orchard Bar, and The Cooler. While based in Europe from 99’-10’, Lady DM regularly hosted radio shows in Zurich, and Berlin, while jetting around entertaining crowds at legendary parties like Amsterdam’s Mazzo Club, Zurich’s Lethargy festival, Milan’s Cox 18, Munich’s Muffathalle, and Berlin’s WMF. In Berlin, Lady DM also curated events, with Berlin’s then up-and-coming artists, including Peaches, Dixon, Jamie Lidell, & Gonzales.  She now calls Harlem home.

Introducing Our New Co-Curator Melody Nixon!

We wish to let our FPP community know that co-founder Wendy S. Walters has stepped down from her curating role.  We couldn’t be more grateful to Wendy for her vision and hard work. And we’re riveted by her new writing in the world: Wendy has a recently published book of poems Troy, Michigan and her collection of essays Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal will be out soon.  We encourage you to seek them out.
imgres-2And now, drumroll please…we are thrilled to announce that writer
Melody Nixon will join us as co-curator.  She has been a longtime friend of the series, and now brings her incredible talents to FPP in an official capacity!  Melody is a New Zealand-born writer living in Harlem.  She writes lyric essays, cultural reportage, poetry and short fiction, and teaches creative writing for the New York Writers’ Coalition. She is a founding editor of Apogee Journal, a literary journal dedicated to work by writers of color and work that explores issues of identity, race, and writing from the margins.  She is also the Interviews Editor for The Common.  We are very excited to work with her!