“Nothing holds you to the task like the dream of readers,” said Junot Diaz from the microphone. I sat sprawled on stage in front of a room brimming with over 200 readers and writers. Except I wasn’t on stage to read or inspire; I was there to listen and to dream.
Last week, I attended “Articulations: The VONA/Voices Faculty Reading,” which featured Chris Abani, Elmaz Abinader, Faith Adiele, Staceyann Chin, Junot Diaz, Tananarive Due, M. Evelina Galang, Mat Johnson, Randall Kenan, Marjorie Liu, David Mura, Willie Perdomo, Andrew X. Pham, and Patricia Smith–an all-star line-up with an incredible stage presence.
Although many of the readings brought me to the precipice of hope, desperation, hilarity and a deeply buried recognition of my mixed race roots, it was the crowd that really caught my attention.
It was the “dream of readers.”
Cheering, whooping, laughing, damn. Oh, damn. Readers so engaged in the words that I felt like I was at a rock concert without the mosh-pit because writers are just a little too civilized for that (well, almost). I’ve never been to a reading with so much energy that the auditorium could hardly contain us. Readers spilled into adjoining rooms and watched on video conference, while a few lucky ones (me included) were brought up to the stage to sit at the footsteps of these literary legends. The energy was catching, contagious, alive.
Why was this reading different from many others I’ve attended? My guess would be because it was lead by the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. VONA was founded by Elmaz Abinader, Junot Díaz, Victor Díaz and Diem Jones in 1999. As the website says, “Each envisioned an arts organization that could change the landscape for writers of color by supporting individual writer growth, creating a platform for community engagement and providing a workshop and mentor focus to expand writing opportunities.”
Keyword in this paragraph: “a platform for community engagement.” And damn, this Berkeley & San Francisco community was engaged. People weren’t just listening, they were reacting. Yes, the words were powerful. Yes, the speakers were powerful. Yes, the community was powerful. And yes, this is the dream.
Next time I’m on stage with the likes of Junot Diaz, it’ll be because I’ve earned it with my own words.