Imagine, all in the same room, the following distinct and memorable voices: Ruth Forman, Elmaz Abinader, Faith Adiele, M. Evelina Galang, Staceyann Chin, ZZ Packer, David Mura, Diem Jones, Junot Diaz, and Willie Perdomo. Imagine the energy generated by such talented and passionate writers, and you’ll have a good idea of what took place last night in Berkeley. This formidable lineup of award-winning, nationally recognized poets, memorists, fiction writers, and performers commanded the stage at Berkeley City College for the Voices of Our Nation (VONA) faculty reading, which occurs during VONA’s annual summer writing workshop for writers of color.
Moving across the Bay this year, from the private enclave of University of San Francisco to the downtown campus of Berkeley City College, seemed like a “leveling” for the program as a whole, a term emcee Marc Bamuthi Joseph used to describe the evening’s event, which was free, open to the public, and wildly inspiring for the listeners and speakers alike. VONA attendees and alumni made up a good portion of the audience. I myself was invited by a writer friend and a six-year VONA alum.
The college’s auditorium was filled with the raucous, celebratory energy of writers. For me, the following bits of literary magic resonated most deeply: the inimitable precision of the poetry of Ruth Forman. The miraculous eye for detail of Elmaz Abinader. The powerhouse performance of Staceyann Chin. The wry truth-telling of ZZ Packer. The honest eloquence of Willie Perdomo. And the chance to hear Junot Diaz read “shitty first draft” work.
If you’re a writer or a reader, an admirer of truth-telling and a fan of passionate discourse, and you’re not familiar with VONA, check out their site at www.voicesatvona.org, and mark your calendar for next summer’s faculty reading.