Sunday, August 13, 2017

Retreat to Mariposa

By Alec Woodard

Photo by Mig Dooley
A writer is a powerful force, but communities are the foundation of society. To strengthen that foundation, writers may retreat into nature and each other, into worlds of words and ideas that come to shape the broader communities to which they belong. Maritza Rivera has published several collections of poetry, been awarded local and international poetry grants, and since 2011, has run the annual Mariposa Poetry Retreat. The weekend opportunity invites 25 writers to step deeper into their work and away from the stresses of daily life. I recently spoke with Rivera about her work as a mother, a soldier, an artist, and a community leader.

Rivera has adopted the name Mariposa - the Spanish word for butterfly - in many of her endeavors: The Mariposa Poetry Retreat, Casa Mariposa Press, the Mariposa Poetry Readings. “I have been fascinated by butterflies since I can remember, and I have a large collection of butterflies in my home,” she said. The poet wanted her writers retreat “to be an extension of my living room. I want people to feel comfortable and at home.” Rivera is open and effusive about her efforts: “My intent - because I was a single mom for a long time and  . . . many events were too expensive to attend - was to build something, to create something I would have liked to have available to me: a place for inspiration and community.” Despite rising costs of living and consumer goods, Rivera said of the Mariposa retreat, “I really try to keep it affordable, the fee is all inclusive - room, board, the whole fun-filled weekend. You get a lot in a short time.”

When asked what set her venture apart from others, she said, “I like to know everyone by name.” Her warm and friendly demeanor draws people in, and they look to her as a leader. This closeness has resulted in success, as “there have been occasions when participants from a previous year became faculty in a subsequent year . . . that’s part of what creates community.” This personable and community-based strategy works. "[Approximately] 50% of people who have been before, 50% new [people]”make up her yearly retreat. Rivera pairs past attendees with new ones in shared rooms that create a tight learning community. Participants come to see this tightness as part of the formula.

The popular retreat and its spirit of community as resulted in sponsorship. These writers are dedicated to the success of their peers, and they donate registration fees anonymously. Rivera calls the attendees and teachers at her retreat the “Mariposa Family.” This family is the reason she organizes reunion readings for former participants in the retreat, so that they can come together and strengthen the bonds of the community they have built.

My conversation with Ms. Rivera ended with a more personal discussion of her time in the military and the influence of military on her life generally. Brought up in what she called a traditional Puerto Rican household, she said “it was marriage versus army and I picked army.” She did not regret her military experience, but she was more affected by the experience of her two children, both of whom went on to serve. The work Rivera said she is most proud of, a book of poetry titled “A Mother’s War,” came out of her experience as a mother to two soldiers.

To Maritza Rivera, poetry is an integral part of life, an outlet for emotion, and a road to community. Register for the October 2017 weekend Mariposa Retreat by visiting
More Washington and Baltimore-area Writer Retreats

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Spotlight on Literary Events August 2017

August 1st 6:30 PM
1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

Washington Post reporter Dan Zak discusses his book Almighty, which covers the history and politics of the United States’  relationship to atomic power. From the race to create the bomb to today’s concerns of nuclear proliferation and the threat of a nuclear terror attack, Almighty covers the highs and lows of the United States and its most dangerous weapon.

 Zak will discuss his book and nuclear issues with Denise Kiernan, journalist and author of The Girls of Atomic City. 

August 2nd 7 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Tracy Crow and Jerri Bell, both female former military officers, discuss their book on the history of women’s contribution to the United States’ armed forces. Their book sees through the eyes of women on the field to give voice to the trials and successes of American women in war. With accounts taken firsthand from memoirs, letters, diaries and oral histories, this is a new telling of an otherwise incomplete history. 

August 6th 2 PM
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

The Writer’s Center welcomes Undiscovered Voices Fellowship winner Margaret Sessa-Hawkins, novelist Keith Fentonmiller, writer Donald Illich and author CL Bledsoe for a night of reading from their works. Featured readings will come from Illich’s recent chapbook, The Art of Dissolving, from Katzen Mutzenmacher’s Cursed Hat and from other works.

August 6th 7 PM
Busboys and Poets
1025 5th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

Award-winning journalist Michael Deibert presents his work on Haiti’s recent history. From two decades of reporting on Haiti, Deibert composes an insightful analysis of Haitian hope and heroism in pursuit of the construction of their own nation. 

August 8th, 6:30 PM
Busboys and Poets
235 Carroll Street NW, Washington, DC 20012

Kyle Dargan, the Director of Creative Writing at American University, Tiphanie Yanique, award winning author and professor at The New School, and Sheri Booker, winner of an NAACP image award, are featured readers at this presentation of work from the Hurston/Wright foundation’s summer workshop.

 August 8th 7 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Gillian Thomas, a senior attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, will read from and discuss her new work on the fight for women’s rights in the workplace. Thomas looks through the lens of ten civil rights cases brought by women in order to receive the rights guaranteed to them by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The book exposes lesser known heroines in the struggle for women’s rights.  

August 10th 6:30 PM
1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

Erik Love, associate professor of sociology at Dickinson College, presents his exploration of civil rights advocacy and its weaknesses. Love finds startling holes in American civil rights protections and the systems that allow survivors of hate crimes, prejudice and social exclusion to fight for their rights. 

August 13th 2 PM
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

The Writer’s Center welcomes Marita Rivera to present a reading by participant poets of the Mariposa Writer’s Retreat, which she leads. 

August 14th 7 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Anne Petersen offers an approachable analysis of the way a few celebrity women act to push the boundaries of what it means to be an “acceptable” woman. From Kim Kardashian to Hilary Clinton, Petersen uses her expertise in celebrity culture to define an increasingly common form of feminine power.

August 20th 2 PM
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

Award winning contributors and editors of The Little Patuxent Review gather to present work from recent issues. Readers will include the widely published Ann Bracken, Clarinda Harris, Jean Kim and Steven Levya. 

August 27th 5 PM
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

Professor of Humanities at Columbia University, Mathew Lilla, talks with Vox Interview writer Sean Illing about his new work on the failure of identity politics as the basis of left-wing political strategy. Lilla argues that progressives must embrace solidarity and encourage policies that will help all Americans. A continuation of the ideas in his New York Times op-ed, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics offers a new way forward for the Democratic Party. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Novel Year: Info Session July 29

By Henry Shuldiner
Novel Year Info Session
Sat, 29 Jul, 2017 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Join us for a free information session on our third annual Novel Year Program. Starting September 12, serious novelists who have completed a draft of their manuscript will have the opportunity to workshop their entire novel over the course of a year. This year's instructor is Susan Coll, who is the author of five novels. Learn all about the structure of the workshop, and get to know Susan! Please RSVP to

One of the most exciting workshops we offer is The Novel Year Program, a year-long intensive that gives novelists the opportunity to finish, polish, and prepare to publish their novels. The small group of 10 meets bi-weekly and is similar in structure and rigor to an M.F.A. program but lacks the expense and time commitment that such programs require. Also, unlike M.F.A. programs, authors will workshop their entire manuscripts with feedback from other members of the group and the workshop leader, Susan Coll.

Susan Coll
Coll is a five-time published novelist who has taught courses at The Writer’s Center for more than 12 years. At the start of her career, she worked as a journalist and submitted short stories to publishers, but only accumulated rejection letters for the latter. Coll eventually sold a short story to the BBC, which encouraged her to tackle her first novel. “It was still a long road from there to getting published,” Coll said. “But I was always a glass half-full kind of person, and the small successes along the way kept me going.”

The Novel Year Program is best suited for writers who have either finished a manuscript or have at least 75 pages of a novel in progress. During the course, students will have the chance to workshop over 300 pages of their book. Participants also have the opportunity to hear from guest speakers, including published authors and an agent. The course is broken down into two segments, fall and spring. The fall segment includes occasional exercises in craft, and the spring is more focused on the “nuts and bolts of publishing” according to Coll.

Spreading the class out over a year gives writers the “chance to revise and take the long view of what they are working on,” Coll said. Due to the length of the class, it’s important for her to maintain a supportive environment in the classroom, which can be difficult at times. “It’s hard to be on the other end of a critique, and I’ve emphasized to my students that they are there to help one another construct the best possible versions of whatever they are working on,” she said.

The critiquing aspect, while difficult at times, is essential to the editing process. It helps writers build trust in the individuals editing the stories and bolster their relationships as critics. One of the most rewarding parts of the class was “the way the group bonded” said Coll. “We had a lot of fun [last year], and people seemed genuinely disappointed when we took a break for the holidays; I think some good friendships and possibly some ongoing writing groups have formed.”

The only change Coll plans to make to this year’s course is to extend  meetings through June and meet every other week rather than every week. “This will give students more breathing room to read manuscripts and to work on their own books,” Coll said. Individual consultations will be offered in July after the classroom portion of the class ends. The schedule of the class will be as follows:

Fall: Every other Tuesday, from September 12 - December 12
Winter/Spring: Every other Tuesday from January 16 – June 26
Summer: Individual check-ins with instructor in July

Interested students are required to submit a cover letter and 25 sample pages of their work. Admission to the course will be on a rolling basis, and the number of participants will be limited to 10, so participants are encouraged to submit early. If you are interested in this class, please send your submission to

Monday, July 17, 2017

New Independent Bookstore in D.C.: Duende District

By Angela Maria Spring

Angela Maria Spring and Tara Campbell at Artomatic
 What does it take to create a bookstore by people of color, where everyone is welcome? As Duende District Bookstore enters the final days of its second pop-up venture (at La Mano CafĂ© in Takoma), it’s a perfect time to reflect upon how we got here.

The vision for Duende District first began to take shape after I visited Puerto Rico for the first time since I was 12 years old. As a child of immigrants, sometimes you have to go back to the place where a large piece of your identity was formed before you were even born. That’s what Puerto Rico and Panama are to me. It shook me loose from a lifetime of living a double identity, the feeling of never being solidly formed.

Duende District Pop-up at La Mano Cafe
When you see your people on the streets of your neighborhood each day, but hardly ever in the bookstore you work at, and you go back to a country where everyone looks like you, acts like you and owns all the businesses, coming home to the exact opposite is quite a shock.

I’ve been a bookseller for nearly two and half decades, and it was past time to find the courage to venture out on my own and create an amazing, gorgeous bookstore that will embrace and serve my community, as well as other communities of color, then extend the invitation to everyone.

When I met Tara Campbell, a fellow writer of color, at a book group of local women writers this past February, I was only just beginning to think about what it would take to open this bookstore of my dreams.

Tara is also the literary coordinator for Artomatic, a non-profit organization that hosts a six-week arts and literary festival each year in a building either slotted for demolition or change. I had left my job as the floor manager at Politics & Prose in late 2016 and my original plan had been to have a pop-up venture by the end of 2017.

But when Tara mentioned that Artomatic was looking for a start-up bookstore to work with, well, when opportunity knocks, you take it. I decided to use the experience to put together the pieces of a mobile bookstore and start my first crowdfunding campaign to test the viability of the business idea.

Part of the Children's Book Selection
From the end of February to today, Duende District has gone from a conceptual bookstore “installation” in Artomatic to a mobile pop-up bookstore operation with a fully funded Kickstarter campaign to back its existence. We are already forming strong partnerships with different communities in the DMV and lining up future pop-up opportunities in the coming months, including The Writer’s Center in October 2017.

I couldn’t have done this without such strong support of the D.C. bookstore and writing communities.

For more information and our hours, visit

Angela Maria Spring is the founder and owner of Duende District Bookstore. She is originally from Albuquerque, N.M. and holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence. She has been a buyer and manager in indie bookstores in New Mexico, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including District Lines, Tar River Poetry, and Revolution House.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Spotlight on Literary Events July 2017

Sunday, July 2 at 8 p.m.
Busboys and Poets 14th & V  
2021 14th St NW Washington, DC, 20009

A Busboys and Poetry event! *SPARKLE* Open Mic Poetry is a queer-friendly and focused reading series that has featured an array of LGBT-dedicated poets.
Hosted by Regie Cabico and Danielle Evennou. *SPARKLE* is held on the 1st Sunday of every month. $5 Cover. On the day of the event, tickets can be purchased online starting at midnight and in the restaurant starting at 10 a.m. at the bookstore store (cash only). No refunds. Ticket purchase limit of 4 per person. Tickets will be sold at the door if available. Guests must have their wristbands (tickets) on upon entering the event.

Monday, July 3 at 1 p.m.
William G. McGowan Theater, Washington, DC
700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408

In a July 5, 1852, speech to a group of abolitionists, Frederick Douglass reminded them that for slaves and former slaves, the Declaration of Independence represented the unfulfilled promise of liberty for all. Phil Darius Wallace will give a dramatic reading of excerpts from the speech, followed by a discussion with Nathan Johnson, Supervisory Park Ranger at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and History Professor Robert S. Levine, author of The Lives of Frederick Douglass.

Wednesday, July 5 at 7 p.m.
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

Starting with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and continuing with Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Fuller has kept readers riveted with stories of her unconventional family and early years in Africa. With her first novel, the accomplished memoirist draws on the history of her adopted home, the American West, to focus on the lives of two Native American men. Cousins, the pair grows up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, but then their paths diverge. While one rebels against the unjust treatment of Native Americans and ends up in prison, the other lives quietly on the Reservation, teaching his sons Lakota ways. Thirty years later, the two men meet again, with explosive results.

Friday, July 7, at 10:30 a.m.
Boeing Learning Center, Washington, DC
700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408

Do you love reading, learning new things, and writing? Do you want to learn more about what it is like to do research and write stories? Join the National Archives and some of your favorite authors and illustrators for a free summer writing festival!

Sunday, July 9 at 2 p.m.
The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh St, Bethesda, Maryland 20815

Dorothy Seyler will read from and discuss The Obelisk and the Englishman: The Pioneering Discoveries of Egyptologist William Bankes, her nonfiction account of the life of William John Bankes, a 19th-century pioneer in the field of Egyptology. Bankes, a gay man, faced persecution during his life, but traveled extensively and made major contributions to the understanding of Egyptian history and early civilization. Seyler will be joined by David Stewart, who reads from The Babe Ruth Deception, his recent mystery novel blending fact and fiction in an era when the national pastime was rocked by scandal.

Tuesday, July 11 at 7 p.m.
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

Goodman’s eighth novel is a deft interweaving of different worlds, realities, and quests. At the heart of the book is Nina, a young high school teacher struggling to connect with her students, especially the talented but distracted Aidan. An avid virtual reality game player, Aidan is easily manipulated by the forces of a new game called Arkadia and crosses several lines. Can Nina, the daughter of Arkadia’s founder, bring him back to the ordinary reality of high school? Meanwhile, she falls in love with an artist and introduces him to her father, who hires him to draw for the game. As she did in The Cookbook Collector and Intuition, Goodman vividly conveys the dynamics of specific workplaces and shows how identity is deeply bound up with the work people do.

Tue, July 11 at 7 p.m.
 DC Arts Center,
2438 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

The author and writer for “The Wire” reads from his new short story collection, Basilio Boullosa Stars in the Fountain of Highlandtown, followed by a Q&A. Presented by Molotov Theatre Group.

Wednesday, July 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Busboys and Poets 14th & V  
2021 14th St NW Washington, DC, 20009

Butler is a law professor at Georgetown University, a legal analyst for CNN and MSNBC, and frequent writer and speaker about issues related to racism and criminal justice. As a former federal prosecutor, he has special insight into these matters, understanding not only how the system works, but also how it can most effectively be challenged. Butler’s bold call-to-action starts with the need to abolish the principle known as The Chokehold, which is the popular assumption that all black men are dangerous, and must therefore be subject to rigorous policing. Butler has radical ideas for changing this and other racial biases, and he also looks at how black communities can use their own strengths to keep their neighborhoods safe rather than bringing in more police. Butler will be in conversation with Kojo Nnamdi.

Tuesday, July 18th 6:30p.m.
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Bookstore
1517 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Americans have a lot to be happy about. Entertainment is always at the tip of our fingers. Companies tempt employees with junk food and video games. We have apps that enable us to order pizza or have our laundry picked up with the tap of a button. In short, our culture is obsessed with the good life. Yet, we’re more dissatisfied than ever. In The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith argues that we’ve been chasing the wrong thing. It’s not happiness that makes life worth living—it’s meaning. Drawing on the latest cognitive science research, as well as insights from literature and philosophy, and her own prodigious reporting, Smith shows that by developing a “meaning mind-set,” we can all achieve a deeper satisfaction.

Thursday, July 20 at 7 p.m.
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

This timely and important collection of essays by writers including Bryan Stevenson, Sherrilyn Ifill, and Jeremy Travis, examines the role of racism in the country’s criminal justice system and reports on the recent killings of black men and boys by police. Edited by Angela J. Davis, a long-time civil rights activist, advocate for prison inmates, professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law, and author of Arbitrary Justice, the book discusses issues such as racial profiling, implicit bias, the disproportionate imprisonment of black men, mass incarceration, and the failure of the Supreme Court and other official bodies to reform the system.

Tuesday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m.
1990 K St NW #03, Washington, DC 20006

Broken Glass Park centers on a teenage girl living under extraordinary circumstances—her family migrates to Germany, where a pattern of violence ends with the murder of her mother at the hands of her stepfather. The novel, which follows 17-year-old Sascha Naimann as she defines her independence and relationship with men in this coming-of-age story, questions major aspects of society such as the role of the media and the replication of violence.

Saturday, July 29, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Kluge Center, 01 floor, TJB - Thomas Jefferson Building
101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540

The Asian American Literary Festival is part of a three-day public festival celebrating Asian American poets and fiction writers at the Library of Congress, George Washington University, and various Smithsonian Institution locations.

Sunday, July 30 at 2 p.m.
The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh St, Bethesda, Maryland 20815

Writer’s Center workshop participant David Goodrich reads from A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist’s Bicycle Journey across the United States. The book took shape in workshops at the Center. A submission was published in The Potomac Review, and eventually his manuscript was accepted for publication.  The travel theme for the afternoon will include a reading by novelist and workshop leader Aaron Hamburger, author of Faith for Beginners, a novel in which an American family visits Israel.