In New Orleans, Writing in Color
Few can dispute New Orleans’ literary reputation–Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Kate Chopin, and Truman Capote are amongst the writers who have produced canonical works in the Crescent City.
Yet when New Orleans native, jewel bush began writing short stories, she found little in the way of a literary community. Fresh from attending the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) workshop, co-founded by Junot Diaz in San Francisco, bush, a journalist whose work has appeared in The Times-Picayune and The Washington Post, decided to form her own literary circle and founded MelaNated Writers, a multi-genre collective for writers of color living and working in New Orleans in July 2010.
MelaNated Writers is a contemporary incarnation of previous black artist collectives in New Orleans. During the Depression, New Orleans poet Marcus Christian created the Negro Writers Project, a unit of the Works Project Administration’s Federal Writers Project. Writers Thomas Dent and Kalamu ya Salam founded BLKARTSOUTH as the Southern arm of the Black Arts Movement. The group was succeeded in the late 1970s by the Congo Square Writers’ Union, which attracted visitors such as James Baldwin and Ishmael Reed. More recently, ya Salam co-founded NOMMO Literary Society, a weekly workshop for black writers.
In common with its predecessors, MelaNated aims to nurture writers of color in a New Orleans’ surprisingly vanilla—considering its black majority—literary culture. The group is composed of 19 members, who are New Orleans natives, as well as transplants from the other southern cities, Chicago, California and London.
While the group is predominantly African-American, it boasts of members of who have roots in the Philippines, India, and Malaysia. MelaNated Writers are journalists, professors, MFA students, published fictionistas and poets, and even one Pulitzer winner. Indeed, the membership roll holds clues to the names that will populate the pantheon of Southern writers in the very near future.
After two years of monthly meetings and workshops, MelaNated has decided to come out, and debut its members’ work through the MelaNated Summer 2012. The first installment of the reading series will take place June 1, 2012 at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), and will be hosted by NOLA literary elder, Kalamu ya Salam. Two further readings are planned for the summer.