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MahoganyBooks Begins a New Chapter

By Nyah Hardmon

This article was first published August 4, 2021 in Washington Independent Review of Books here.

The DC-based indie opens a second store at National Harbor.

With summer in full swing, Anacostia-based MahoganyBooks is set to expand its colorful impact on DC’s literary scene with the opening of a second location, at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland, this Saturday, Aug. 7th, at noon.

According to owners Ramunda and Derrick Young, the new outpost will capture the same intimate spirit of their charter store, while also tapping into novel ways to connect with their community of readers.

“We want people to feel like they have to go to both stores because there’s something unique at each location,” says Derrick.

Along with having nearly double the space of the original venue, this new location will also feature distinct additions like coffee from Jirani Coffeehouse, a fellow Black-owned business. As the Youngs adjust to this transition, they recognize that a brand-new space comes with a brand-new clientele.

“I’m excited to try a new path,” Ramunda says. “There hasn’t been a Black bookstore in [the National Harbor] area, so it’ll be interesting this next year to see what that looks like and what kind of changes we’ll make along the way to really service our customers.”

Both Derrick and Ramunda have taken a hands-on approach to everything in the new space, from fabric selection to interior design. The owners insist that the end result will be a domain that customers can come to know, love, and, most importantly, feel safe within. Thus, the Youngs will continue to follow pandemic-related safety procedures like hosting virtual events, adhering to capacity limits and sanitation protocols, and expanding the use of their curbside-pickup service, Black Books to Go.

“We still want to make sure people feel comfortable,” Derrick explains. “It’s a community bookstore, so we wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t there for the community.”

While putting community first means putting a momentary pause on in-person initiatives like their monthly book club, the Youngs are confident that they’ll soon get back to the group gatherings they’ve grown fond of hosting.

Until then, MahoganyBooks has begun to revive smaller in-person events like meet-and-greets as a way to ease book lovers back into the swing of things. Still, because personal contact has been a pillar of the shop since its inception in 2007, both Derrick and Ramunda agree that nothing can compare to face-to-face engagement with customers. 

“The energy from our events was amazing and it really fostered community in a great way,” says Ramunda. “I can’t wait until that time and space comes again.”

As the Youngs look to their future, they also look back to the foundation that started it all. Originally an online platform, MahoganyBooks was created to give people across the country access to literature centered around the Black experience. Even before a physical space was a viable option for the business, the Youngs became a consistent neighborhood presence via pop-up events and school engagements. Now, the once-digital platform has not only one brick-and-mortar place to call home, but two.

“Opening up this space really allowed us to create that community that we longed for,” Ramunda says. “It was important for us to have a sacred space where we could just get deep on topics that other people may shy away from.”

Despite the pandemic-related chaos and stress of their new journey, the Youngs remain optimistic and excited for the days to come.

“It’s like giving birth. You have this short amount of time where you’re doing these things that will never happen again, and then for the rest of your life, you’re dealing with the growth,” Derrick says.

“I try to take a step back and enjoy some of these nuanced moments because this is not something people get to do often.”

[Image courtesy of MahoganyBooks].

Area arts organizations every writer (and reader) should know.

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published July 1, 2021 in Washington Independent Review of Books here.

Even throughout the pandemic, we were reminded of the resilience of the arts. Now, with the world beginning to open again, read how a few local nonprofits are contributing to the arts and literary scene in DC.

826DC

Under the storefront of Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Company in Columbia Heights, 826DC provides free writing and publishing opportunities to young people in the District.

According to incoming Senior Manager of Communication and Development Sarah Richman, nonprofits like 826DC are essential in serving DC’s youth.

“Too often, literary spaces only feature adults, and that is such a disservice to young people who have incredible and powerful things to say, but also to us,” Richman says. “We’re missing out on magnificent stories, on important points of view, and on a really valuable slice of the human experience.”

826DC focuses on creating relationships both with the writing community and among writers. Supporting newspaper clubs at schools in DC is one way it encourages aspiring journalists to identify what is important to them within their own communities and nationally. Students not only find mentors in 826DC volunteers; older students get the opportunity to mentor younger ones.

The organization also hosts programs like the “Young Authors’ Book Project,” which gives students the hands-on experience of writing, editing, and publishing their own book. This year’s project is “Sometimes I Have to be Brave,” which includes personal narratives and poems about community written during the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the pandemic shifted 826DC’s operations to fully online, Richman says it gave the organization another unique opportunity to foster space for young people to cope with and process difficult changes in the world.

Day Eight

An artist and writer himself, Robert Bettmann created Day Eight as a way to further connect the world of the arts and creative projects. According to Bettmann, the “left and right hands” of the organization are its poetry publishing and arts journalism work.

Day Eight offers opportunities for local poets through publishing and performance. The organization is currently working on a nature-themed anthology featuring the work of 16 poets and four visual artists.

For the past six years, Day Eight has also hosted the DC Poet Project — one part poetry reading series, one part open-mic contest. Accompanying the competition is the DC Poets for DC Schools Project, where finalists and winners of the contest are invited to perform and teach in local schools.

Day Eight’s work with students doesn’t stop there. They also host an Arts Writing Fellowship, which is designed to support early-career arts writers. The program is often sought out by college students, and Bettmann says that this kind of experience is particularly important for young journalists entering such a competitive field.

“By creating this program where we make the decisions for who is included based on the quality of the writing, we feel like we can actually affect that trajectory a little bit,” he explains, “helping people stand out as having been recognized as one of the best writers in the area and also make actual connections with editors and mentors who could possibly hire them.”

The Inner Loop

When Rachel Coonce and Courtney Sexton moved back to DC in 2014 after college, they struggled to find a literary community that wasn’t affiliated with a school or specific program.

Soon after, they launched the Inner Loop, whose mission is creating connections between local writers and the community. With around 75 attendees at their first event in April 2014, Coonce and Sexton realized that there was an empty space in the District that needed to be filled.

Years later, the Inner Loop is operating with that same mission. The organization has five distinct programs. Their writing series brings both established writers and beginners in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry together each year. “The Inner Loop Radio” is a podcast hosted by the pair. The Inner Loop also hosts a summer writers-in-residency program and fall retreats, and their author’s corner project works as a publicity campaign for newly published writers by partnering with local restaurants to promote their work.

During the pandemic, this project became especially important as the arts and food-and-beverage industry struggled to adapt to a newly virtual world.

“How can we engage and support them and our writers at the same time?” Sexton recalls asking. “The idea there was this ‘side of literature’ with your order, essentially. Encouraging people to patronize the restaurants where our writers were being featured.”

They started an “inspiration series” on the podcast, too, speaking to authors about coping during lockdown, and they launched a writing contest in partnership with District Fray. Surprisingly, Coonce and Sexton say event enrollment did not suffer during the pandemic. The need, evidently, persists.

[Photo of future authors courtesy of 826DC]

Day Eight fellow Clare Mulroy is a rising senior at American University studying journalism and minoring in both sustainability and women’s, gender, sexuality studies. Her freelance work appears in the Hill, Cape Cod Health News, and Tagg Magazine. Clare is also an intern at NBC News’ Washington Bureau. She lives in Washington, DC, but hails from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In her free time, you can find her searching for something new to paint or picking up a good book.

Award-winning playwright Adrienne Kennedy debuts new play in upcoming festival

By Jordan Ealey

This article was first published November 2, 2020 in DC Theatre Scene here.

When I first encountered Adrienne Kennedy, through her Obie award winning 1964 play Funnyhouse of a Negro as a student in graduate school, I was surprised I had never heard of her. After all, I had studied Theatre and English literature as an undergraduate, attended a woman’s college, and completed a great deal of coursework featuring female playwrights. Yet here was this Black woman writing experimental, challenging theatrical work in the 1960s, and I was not familiar with her.

While the Black Arts Movement is known primarily for names such as Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal and Sonia Sanchez, Kennedy is rarely included in this esteemed list. Despite her numerous career achievements in theatre, her creative collaboration with theatre giants such as Edward Albee, and the inclusion of her work in university classrooms, one would be hard-pressed to find her plays receiving full productions in regional theatres. Even though I have read her plays and written on them for courses, I have never even heard Kennedy’s words out loud, let alone experienced a full production.

Knowing that there were many people out there who also had never even heard of Adrienne Kennedy, let alone ever read or seen her work, Nicole A. Watson, former associate artistic director of Round House Theatre and incoming associate artistic director at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, sought to change that. Two years prior, Watson directed a staged reading of Kennedy’s Sleep Deprivation Chamber at Shakespeare Theatre Company for its ReDiscovery Series, a program designed to introduce audiences to lesser-known playwrights. “It got me thinking,” Watson recalls, “Why wasn’t I directing her work? Or anybody?” An audience member during the talkback also asked the same question, further clarifying that this was a dearth that needed to be rectified.

And then, in March, the theatres shut down. In a discussion with another black woman about the state of theatre, Watson remembered saying, “We’re not bound by the things that go into a season selection.” The unprecedented amount of uncertainty accompanying the impact of the pandemic on the global theatre industry is certainly enough to be anxiety-inducing for theatre artists and professionals everywhere. But Watson considers that there is “a freedom in this moment to rethink” and that freedom led her to proposing the idea of a way to celebrate and produce Adrienne Kennedy’s work. Noting that her plays are “real, visual, and poetic,” Watson recognized that it could be interesting to produce Kennedy in the virtual platforms as they lend themselves to the form well.

Thus, “The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence” was born. A partnership between Round House Theatre Company and McCarter Theatre Center, the virtual festival features four of Kennedy’s plays: He Brought Her Heart in a Box, Sleep Deprivation Chamber, Ohio State Murders, and Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side. Directors include Raymond O. Caldwell, Valerie Curtis-Newton, Timothy Douglas, and Watson herself.

Watson was drawn to He Brought Her Heart in a Box because of its timeliness for our current political and social moment. “In a time where we’re really being asked to examine our thinking and the way in which our thinking (or someone else’s historical thinking) has influenced racist institutions and white supremacy, to have [Kennedy] render that theatrically in such a direct way, I was so struck by it,” Watson remarked, also noting how Kennedy’s work is forward-thinking. One of the plays, Etta and Ella, marks the world premiere for the 89-year old playwright. Watson emphasized the decision was made to highlight this new work and its lyrical and incisive language, a trademark of Kennedy’s plays.

Another of the plays, Sleep Deprivation Chamber—which Kennedy co-wrote with her son, Adam Kennedy—has a timely and painful geographic relevance: the play details Adam’s personal experience with police brutality at the hands of the Arlington Police Department. Watson believes that this play had to be included, especially since Round House is located in a part of the DMV theatre community.

Watson sees it as the perfect bridge between her closing chapter at Round House and her new position at McCarter, which is funded by a BOLD grant for female-identifying leaders. But the partnership also has benefits for both theaters, which includes the reach to a wider audience, leading to more people being exposed to Kennedy’s life and work. Noting that it “allows for a different kind of access,” this is an opportunity to really demonstrate the importance of Adrienne Kennedy in the theatrical world. “For me, it feels like a huge gift,” Watson says.

Local author Jason Reynolds earns nationwide ambassador role from Library of Congress

A photo of Jason Reynolds smiling with his medal.

By Julian Oquendo

This article was first published January 27, 2020 in The DC Line here.

When Jason Reynolds was introduced earlier this month onstage at Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, a packed audience of middle and high school students from DC erupted into a standing ovation. Reynolds, in turn, assured them that their voices have the power “to knock the world off its axis.”

DC native Reynolds is the author of 13 books for young people, including his two most recent — Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks and Miles Morales: Spider-Man (A Marvel YA Novel). On Jan. 16, Reynolds began a two-year term as the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

The position — co-sponsored by the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader — “raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people,” according to the Library of Congress website.

Reynolds, who started writing poetry at age 9, has also received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, an NAACP Image Award, and multiple Coretta Scott King Book Award honors. In 2016, he was a National Book Award finalist for the book Ghost

Reynolds graduated from Bishop McNamara High School in Prince George’s County, which honored the writer during the Library of Congress ceremony with a backpack gift delivered by student representatives.

The national ambassador is selected for his or her contributions to young people’s literature, the ability to relate to kids and teens, and dedication to fostering children’s literacy in all forms, according to a press release from the Library of Congress. The selection, made by the Librarian of Congress, is based on recommendations from an independent committee comprising educators, librarians, booksellers and children’s literature experts.

As National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2020-21, Reynolds will visit small towns and cities across America to engage young people in meaningful discussions in groups large and small. He regularly talks about his own journey from reluctant reader to award-winning author, and he plans to redirect the position’s traditional focus by listening to students and empowering them to share their own thoughts and experiences. Reynolds calls his project “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story.”

At the Jan. 16 event, Reynolds shared his experience of moving to and growing up in Oxon Hill, Maryland, after being born in DC. He recounted writing his first poem at age 9, reading his first novel from cover to cover at age 17, and his relationship with his mother, who attended the ceremony.

“The first thing she taught me to say was: ‘I can do anything.’ I had to say it every night before I went to bed. She drilled that into my head early in life,” Reynolds shared.

“This isn’t an award; this is a role, it’s a responsibility,” he said after receiving the medal. “And I’m going to make sure I do my very best to uphold it and make something of it.” 

Reynolds intends to focus on outreach to rural areas and marginalized communities, recognizing their relative lack of access to library resources and opportunity.

In his speech to DC students, Reynolds relayed a tender story of a student who had once asked him to rap for the audience. Instead, he invited the young girl to come onstage. 

“‘If you want me to put on a song and dance for you, come up here and see what’s like,’” Reynolds recalled saying. In the story, he gave the girl the microphone and said, “Here’s your chance.” 

Reynolds described watching the girl as she heard her own voice reverberate around the room. “In that moment, you could see her begin to swell,” he recalled. “Just to hear her voice loudly, and bouncing off her friends and the walls of the room, to hear her voice loudly was changing her in front of everybody. 

“Maybe it’s that young people don’t know yet what it feels like that their voices have power. That their voices can move and change a room, and shift the temperature and climate of a country and can literally knock the world off its axis. And maybe that’s because we as adults are not letting them know.”

His introductory speech as an ambassador was followed by an onstage interview with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. She asked about the idea that young boys typically “hated reading,” to which Reynolds described a world that limits the “idea of what a boy can be.” 

“Young boys oftentimes aren’t allowed to be whole humans. Young girls are never treated like whole humans, but they get to actualize the feeling of being a human,” Reynolds said. “Young boys are treated like whole humans but can never actually live in the world like one. They can’t cry, or be afraid or anxious and insecure.”

When asked about his interest in working in rural areas across America, Reynolds reminded audience members who live in Washington of their proximity to institutions such as the Library of Congress and the largest museum system in the country. “I see young people who can’t come to the Library of Congress. I’ve been in one-stoplight towns where the closest hospital is an hour away.” 

Reynolds is taking over from previous ambassador Jacqueline Woodson, best known for her young adult novel Miracle Boys and the Newbery Honor-winning titles Brown Girl Dreaming, Feathers, Show Way, and After Tupac and D Foster. Introducing Reynolds, she said the role of the ambassador is to connect with young people. 

“[Our] role is to see people, and let you know how much you matter to us. We love you all so much, young people. You are going to save us. I’m sorry you have to save us,” Woodson said to a round of applause and laughter.

Woodson’s work will continue on at the Kennedy Center’s newly opened The REACH campus as a former ambassador of the readership program, which began in 2008. Authors who have held the position in the past have included Walter Dean Myers, Katerine Paterson and Gene Luen Yang. 

Highlights – July 22

Artapedia Highlights
In July, we primarily covered Fringe, but we also shined a spotlight on a special DC arts educator.


centronia-eliabeth-bruce-web
Elizabeth Bruce’s Theatrical Journey
“Just as policymakers are considering a new approach to public education, unconventional educators like Elizabeth Bruce provide a window into a potential future.”

Concrete-Devotion-web-banner
Concrete Devotion Reviewed
“An exploration of mental illness, the staccato rhythm in the music and movement envelop the viewer in the fever pitch of mania.”

Elephant in the Room at the Capital Fringe Festival
Elephant in the Room Reviewed
“Elephant in the Room is precisely the kind of show one expects at the Fringe. It’s quirky, and somewhat impenetrable, and the experimental energy is delightful.”

and from our sister site, Bourgeon:

The Voyageurs
Histories, Heroes, and Small Moments
by. Nathan Loda
“The subjects in these paintings were inspired by my search into my own identity, and connected to that, my exploration of what is authentic and meaningful to me as an artist.”


Upcoming Events


Kaiser-web-promo-crop
July 23
Capacity Building in the Arts
with Michael M. Kaiser
Michael M. Kaiser, director of the DeVos Institute, served as President of the Kennedy Center from 2001 to 2014. This is a unique opportunity to study in a small workshop setting with a world leader in the Arts. To learn more about the workshop and Mr. Kaiser click through to the registration link. Thanks to Michael for donating his time to support this project!


Arts Journalism Spotlight


Anne Midgette
Yuja Wang, NSO play to enthusiastic but small crowd at Wolf Trap
by. Anne Midgette
The Washington Post
“All of this is well and good, and if you were there, you had every reason to enjoy it. But I think it will take more than a visit to a perfectly good performance, or my exhortations about how great the experience is, to persuade you or anyone else to rush out and buy tickets.”


Things We Have to Miss (But, You Don’t!)


Highlights – July 8, 2016


Artapedia Highlights
Check out our diverse June coverage! From an orchestral concert to a controversial panel discussion.


theoctoroon_178-webAn Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company
“What is it to be a modern black playwright? What is it to be a slave owner? What is it to be a free black man in the time of slavery?”

NOI-(6-18-16)-Main-Performance-14-by-Dylan-Singleton
Musicians at the National Orchestral Institute Perform Two Dances and a Titan
“[I]f the audience’s standing ovation is any indication, America’s orchestras may yet succeed in their battle for relevancy — without sacrificing artistic integrity.”

dance-of-the-serpents-by-amber-robles-gordon-at-capital-skyline-web
DC African-American Arists Challenge Stereotypes at Phillips Collection
“Does it matter if a work of art is made by an African-American? Broader still, does the identity of any creator matter to the artwork?”

and from our sister site, Bourgeon:

Rich O'Meara performing CropScoring One Mutual Happiness with Uncle Funsy
by. Rich O’Meara
“Each performance changes somewhat depending on the energy coming from the audience or how David improvises his lines. I’m constantly finding new things to play within the structure I’ve built.”


Upcoming Events


Artist Journalist Panelists
Panel Discussion: Artist Journalists
July 17
The evolving forms of news media have created a new kind of journalist: an expert in the field whose journalistic objectivity is sometimes suspect. What does it mean when artists are also arts journalists?

Kaiser-web-promo-crop
Capacity Building in the Arts: a workshop with Michael M. Kaiser
July 23
How can you, as an artist or arts administrator, ensure that you not only survive, but thrive? This workshop will include a presentation by Mr. Kaiser followed by a question and answer session.


Arts Journalism Spotlight


Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner
“Angels in America: The Complete Oral History”
by. Isaac Butler and Dan Kois
Slate
“Slate talked to more than 50 actors, directors, playwrights, and critics to tell the story of Angels’ turbulent ascension into the pantheon of great American storytelling—and to discuss the legacy of a play that feels, in an era in which gay Americans have the right to marry but still in many ways live under siege, as crucial as ever.”


Things We Have to Miss (But, You Don’t!)