Quiet Lightning presents the premiere of Better Ancestors, featuring readings and performance by Josiah Luis Alderete, Aja Couchois Duncan, Nia McAllister, Greer Nakadegawa-Lee, Brontez Purnell and Michael Warr.
One of Quiet Lightning’s efforts to diversify and move toward racial equity, Better Ancestors is a new quarterly showcase of writers of color. Developed in partnership with Michael Warr, the series features 5 authors reading or performing whatever they choose. Each author selects one performer for the following show, so the series – and community – is self-generating. All authors are paid and published in an end of the year anthology.
Why Better Ancestors? As one of our initiatives to diversify from a board that has historically been mostly white, this showcase aims to provide a long-term, forward-thinking goal. As a society, we are suffering the consequences of pervasive systemic injustice against people of color, queer and trans people, the poor, disabled, and otherwise disadvantaged. But we are all ancestors of the future. If the planet is to remain inhabitable; if the function of humanity is not to sort and oppress our descendants based on their skin color, accent, or material property, we must be better ancestors. This begins by listening to one another, and by giving each other space to be heard.
Josiah Luis Alderete is a full blooded Pocho, Spanglish speaking poeta who has been an active part of la Area Bahia’s spoken word scene for over twenty years. He was a founding member of outspoken word group “The Molotov Mouths” and is the curator and host of the long running monthly Chicano/Latinx reading series “Speaking Axolotl” which happens the 3rd Thursday of every month in el Zoom mundo. Josiah’s book of poems, Baby Axolotls y Old Pochos is being released this year from Black Freighter Press. Photo by Michelle Kilfeather (cropped).
Aja Couchois Duncan is a social justice coach and capacity builder of Ojibwe, French and Scottish descent who lives on the ancestral and stolen land of the Coastal Miwok people. Her debut collection, Restless Continent (Litmus Press, 2016) was selected by Entropy Magazine as one of the best poetry collections of 2016 and awarded the California Book Award for Poetry in 2017. Her newest book, Vestigial is forthcoming from Litmus Press in the spring of 2021. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a variety of other degrees and credentials to certify her as human. Great Spirit knew it all along. Photo courtesy of the author (cropped).
Living at the intersection of Blackness, womanhood, art, and activism, Nia McAllister is a Bay Area born poet, avid reader, and environmental justice advocate. She is the host and curator of the monthly open mic series at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. Through her work, Nia is dedicated to creating literary platforms for writers of the African Diaspora to be seen, read, and represented. Nia’s poetry has been featured on Poets of Color Podcast and the Nomadic Press Dial-a-Poet series. In her free time, she can be found performing at Open Mics, writing outdoors, and taking care of her plants. Photo courtesy of the author.
Greer Nakadegawa-Lee is 16 years old and a junior at Oakland Technical High School. She has written a poem every day for over two years now, and she is the 2020 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. Her first chapbook, A Heart Full of Hallways, is out now with Nomadic Press. Greer writes poetry that is both a demand for us to all critically examine the world around us and an intimate personal exploration of her own deepest thoughts and experiences.
Brontez Purnell is a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist. He is the author of a graphic novel, a novella, a children’s book, and the novel Since I Laid My Burden Down. Recipient of a 2018 Whiting Award for Fiction, he was named one of the 32 Black Male Writers for Our Time by T: New York Times Style Magazine in 2018. Purnell is also the frontman for the band the Younger Lovers, the co-founder of the experimental dance group the Brontez Purnell Dance Company, the creator of the renowned cult zine Fag School, and the director of several short films, music videos, and, most recently, the documentary Unstoppable Feat: Dances of Ed Mock. Born in Triana, Alabama, he’s lived in Oakland, California, for over 18 years. Photo by Beowulf Sheehan.
Michael Warr’s books include Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmet Till to Trayvon Martin, edited by Michael Warr (W.W. Norton), and from Tia Chucha Press The Armageddon of Funk, We Are All The Black Boy, and Power Lines: A Decade of Poetry From Chicago’s Guild Complex. In 2017 he was named a San Francisco Library Laureate. Other poetry honors include a Creative Work Fund award for his multimedia project Tracing Poetic Memory in Bayview Hunters Point, PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, Black Caucus of the American Library Association Award, Gwendolyn Brooks Significant Illinois Poets Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry. Michael is the former Deputy Director of the Museum of the African Diaspora and has extensive experience in community-based arts. He became a board member of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library in 2018. In 2020, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Berkeley Poetry Festival. Follow his creative work at https://michaelwarr-creativework.tumblr.com/.
Now in its 11th year, Quiet Lightning is a literary movement to create and foster community around the written and spoken word. QL aims to democratize public space by offering performances, curation opportunities, and programming with no barriers to entry, providing a launchpad for new and emerging artists, a reliable platform for professional writers, and an inclusive, accessible gathering place for the public. QL is committed to care-taking and progressing the rich threads of literary culture that exist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recognized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as one of the 100 “people, organizations, and movements who are shaping the future of culture”, Quiet Lightning’s flagship is the literary mixtape, a submission-based series with a blind selection process and different curators for each show. The shows, which are free to attend, are published as books, handed out free to the first 100 people, and all participating artists are paid. QL has now produced 136 shows featuring 1,657 readings by 867 local authors in 91 venues, ranging from dive bars and art galleries to state parks and national landmarks, and has published 115 books and produced two films, all selected by 72 different curators. In 2019, Quiet Lightning pioneered an application process for limited-term board-membership, called Disruptors, to regularly bring new ideas and energy into the organization. QL maintains Litseen.com, a daily calendar of literary events.
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