JAMS Afterword

Below is the Afterword for Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School:

All proceeds from this book go straight into the scholarship fund to help other students acquire an education at Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls. Each girl within these pages gave permission for their story to be included – excited about the chance to help educate others. By buying this book, you have helped to create a scholarship for a girl just like those whose stories you are holding.

We had a few bumps along the road to putting this together and getting these voices into your hands, but one of the positives that came from this extra time is that Teresa Wasonga and Jean Pierce had the opportunity to speak with some of these original students to hear their thoughts about the school now that they were at university and out in the world. Getting to listen to these interviews felt like such a gift.

One of the stories that stuck out most to me began with Teresa noting that the student they were about to speak with was one of the smartest students to have come through JAMS – and it was a fluke that landed her there. While interviewing another student for entry into the school, the girl mentioned that a friend of hers was struggling to find money to pay fees – without a scholarship, the girl noted, her friend wouldn’t be able to go to school. Where is that friend now? Well, after attending and graduating from JAMS on scholarship, Veronica is studying computer science at Multimedia University where she is one of four girls in a program of over a hundred students. Veronica is also a member of Girls Tech, an organization that she wants to help grow in an effort to empower more girls. She wants to “let them know that computers are not all about boys. It can be all about girls.” This young woman is already making an impact on the world. Without her scholarship, she would never have had the chance even to attend school.

Another student who is such a joy to listen to is Lynnet – who served as (what we in the U.S. call) the valedictorian of the first ever graduating class of JAMS. During her gap year (most students in Kenya have to wait up to a year before they are able to start at university), she returned to JAMS where she helped around the school – she baked bread, took care of the chickens, helped in the garden, wherever she was needed. In return, she was able to earn some money to save for her fees for her first year of university. Now, university degree in hand, she talks about how education has been an equalizer. Lynnet has returned once again to JAMS and now teaches alongside of the people who taught her.

In many ways, JAMS is unlike any school I have ever set foot in. In others, there are stories that are all too familiar. If not before the pandemic, certainly now – people in the U.S. have become more aware of how much some families rely on schools for things other than education. For some students, lunch at school is the only meal they eat that day. As Lynnet noted, food security had been a real issue for students such as herself. “At times, we could take two meals a day. We could even go without a meal. You wake up in the morning, there is nothing to eat. We go to school; at lunch time, when we come back [home], there is nothing to eat. At night, maybe you just get porridge, or there is no porridge.” At JAMS, students get three meals a day every single day. No time is spent worrying about when, or if, they will get their next meal.

Another way that JAMS provides safety for its students is that corporal punishment is not allowed. And yes, you did read that correctly. Corporal punishment, or caning, is still rampant in most government schools in Kenya. To say it was heartbreaking to hear students like Revela talk about the punishment she faced at other schools is an understatement: “You went to school, and you are scared from the minute you get to school. The teacher will always find something to punish you about. Sometimes it was not even your fault.” She continues by saying, “You were taught to pass, not to learn. You were taught to do well on exams. If you don’t, you are punished. It was not like you were taught to know the concept.”

From day one, Teresa was adamant that corporal punishment, truly a barrier to education, would not be allowed at JAMS. “I always believed,” Teresa said, “when you are oppressed, you become the worst oppressor. Many of these teachers have been oppressed in their own lives, and the only people they can oppress are students.” In addition to no caning, students were actually encouraged to ask questions of their teachers. At JAMS, “you’d go to school and want to go to school,” Revela stated. “You were meant to feel like you were in school to learn, and they were there to make you better.”

To truly understand what Teresa and Andrew have created at JAMS, we have to look no further than at what Pheobean had to say about the school: “JAMS to us, and to me, was and is still a place to call home. You go to JAMS, and you don’t even miss home because already you are home.”

There are two moments in particular within these interviews that I feel really do demonstrate what I witnessed during my time at JAMS. One involves the empowerment of these young women. More than learning information in books, they are learning that they can make a difference, and the confidence this realization brings is just so heartwarming. As Pheobean said, “Woman can really change the world. We can be leaders, we can be scientists, lecturers. We can do these things out here. It’s not only for men. We have the ability.” The key according to Pheobean? Education. (I also want to note a joyous moment that occurred when she was asked about her performance at university. Pheobean is studying genetic engineering in a program where there are four boys to every one girl. When Teresa asked her, “Are you doing better than some of the boys?” – Pheobean smiled so brightly and, without hesitation, responded, “Of course, yes. Almost all of them.”) The other moment, the first of many moments that brought tears to my eyes, was when Jean and Teresa asked Revela how her future might be different because she attended JAMS. She simply stated, “My future is already different.”

All proceeds from Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

JAMS Foreword

Below is the foreword from Voice of Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls:

Set into a lush green hillside of Muhoroni, Kenya (near Fort Ternan), is the Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls (JAMS), founded by Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno. The school is named for Teresa’s mother who identified the ten acres on which the compound sits. After breaking ground in 2009, the school opened its doors in 2011 to twelve Form One (i.e., freshman) students. As these students moved up, new classes were added behind them, and in 2014, the year of the school’s first graduation, there were eighty students spanning the four forms. In 2019, the school reached capacity enrollment with 165 students.

To say that Teresa and Andrew have changed the lives of these young women who have attended JAMS is an understatement. Of the first six classes who graduated from JAMS, 100% of them have sat for and passed their Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam, and 70% of them have achieved scores high enough to qualify them to move on to higher education, either vocational college or university. (This is double the national average, which is approximately 35%.1)

In Kenya, primary school (first through eighth grade) is compulsory and in 2003 became tuition-free. Secondary school, though, is not required, and fees kept a number of students from being able to continue. In 2008, a policy was created, but never implemented, to make secondary school tuition-free. While the government provides subsidies for teacher salaries (though only for those they specifically employ) and teaching materials (22,244 Kenyan shillings, which is just under 200 USD), parents are still responsible for boarding equipment and stores, transportation, and a portion of maintenance and improvement fees, activity fees, electricity fees, and administration and personnel salaries. Depending on the category of the school, this cost can amount to 40,535-53,554 Kenyan Shillings (about 350-470 USD; while this may not sound like a lot, remember that the current average yearly salary in Kenya is 140,000 shillings, which is about 1,230 USD)2. This doesn’t even include extra fees schools themselves may also add for things like building new classrooms, new dormitories, or other equipment.

Providing subsidies allowed the country’s enrollment to grow a bit, increasing from 43% to 67%. As a result, enrollment in higher education then nearly doubled between 2012 and 2014. For reference, recent gross enrollment for tertiary education was 11.5% – 13.2% for males and 9.7% for females. It is important to note that funding for public higher education institutions was then cut in 2015, putting a larger burden on students who qualified to attend and creating another financial barrier to education.3

In addition, we need to add to the list of barriers occasions that may keep a student home (which disproportionately affect female students), such as wage-earning jobs, help needed within the family home, and lack of access to clean water and hygiene products during menstruation. Even after all of this, girls who are able to make it into the classroom still face significant barriers from teacher credentials and attitude. (In a study done by Cynthia B. Lloyd et al., they found that “[w]ith each 10 percent increment in the number of teachers who say that studying math is ‘important’ for girls, the chance of girls dropping out decreases by 47 percent.”4) Another anecdote that I learned while visiting the school was about a primary experience where the girls in the class were sent during class to fetch water from the nearby river for their teachers to drink, thereby missing out on instruction. The boys were never sent.

The work being done at Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls is combating all of these barriers that are set up between girls and their education. One way they are doing this is through fundraising for the purpose of scholarships. $800 covers a full year of tuition, room and board, school supplies, uniforms, and books for a student – bringing to life Teresa’s goal of a “school good enough for the richest and open to the poorest” (quote attributed to Horace Mann).

This book you are holding is one such fundraising endeavor. During the summer of 2014, JAMS students participated in a “Memoir Writing for Empowerment” curriculum where they told the stories they wished to tell in their own voices. Students were given the option to publish within this collection, and they were excited knowing that their work would go on to help other girls who wished to study at JAMS.

Why memoir? Well, “[t]he world’s earliest archives or libraries were the memories of women. Patiently transmitted from mouth to ear, body to body, hand to hand. The speech is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched…Every woman partakes in the chain of guardianship and of transmission.”5 In pre-Colonial Africa, this rang true. More so, these stories were “peopled with heroines” where women have “been identified as founders of dynasties and civilizations” and who sometimes “transformed and re-created an existing body of oral traditions in order to incorporate women-centered perspectives.”5 Once colonized, there was a shift from the oral tradition to writing, and those with the skills not just to write, but write in the languages of the colonizers were the ones that got to tell the stories. Unsurprisingly, this system “created a hierarchy privileging men by virtually erasing any meaningful female presence.”6 As Tuzyline Jita Allen notes, “women, originators of the text, [we]re reduced to a footnote.”5 Through her work, Allen found, interestingly, that often times women silenced themselves. She proposes that this might have been due to wanting to avoid criticism or censure, and that just as Virginia Woolf ‘rightfully’ renamed Anon as Woman, in printed work it is likely that the initialed first name of South African writers were in fact women. “In a chaotic mix of race, gender, ethnic, class and language conflicts, the creative women in South Africa seem to have smuggled [their] art into the public arena by hiding behind the mask of the initial.”5

It wasn’t until 1966 that Africa saw its first published novel written by an African woman – Efuru by Flora Nwapa. By this time, Obioma Nnaemeka states that “a uniquely male literary tradition was already in place,” and “one of the consequences of this situation was that, thematically and stylistically, African women writers and particularly those of the first generation showed close affinities with their male counterparts.”6 These African women writers, Nnaemeka continues, were hyperaware of their readers and critics, which were usually male, and worked to “deploy different strategies to (re)present the specificity of their postionality.”6 In other words, these women were well aware of the history that preceded them, the culture they were existing in, the importance of their craft, and the importance of their voice. One such writer, Dr. Margaret Ogola, states, “I always say that I have worked a lot and saved many lives, but it is the power of the pen that has brought me to where I am. Women have a story to be told, and they have an angle from which only women can tell that story.”7

We are thrilled to finally share the words inside this collection with you. We thank you for your donation to the Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls Scholarship Fund. Some notes – first, please know that in order to preserve each writer’s individual voice, minimal editing was done to these stories; also, these are written in British English, which has some spelling differences compared to American English.

These stories give insight into a time before these girls came to JAMS. We’ve added post-JAMS updates for the students we have contact with, though for more substantial updates on what some of these students have accomplished after graduation, be sure to check out the afterward.


  1. “History – Friends of Jane Adeny Memorial School.” Friends of JAMS, 2021, https://jamskenya.org/about-us/history. Accessed 8 May 2021.
  2. “2023-2023 School Fees for National Schools, Extra County Schools, County and All Boarding Schools.” Education News Hub, https://educationnewshub.co.ke/2022-2023-school-fees-for-national-schools-extra-county-schools-county-and-all-boarding-schools/. Accessed 10 Mar 2022.
  3. “Education in Kenya.” World Education News + Reviews, 2 June 2015, https://wenr.wes.org/2015/06/education-kenya. Accessed 8 May 2021.
  4. Lloyd, Cynthia B., Barbara S. Mensch, and Wesley H. Clark. “The Effects of Primary School Quality on School Dropout among Kenyan Girls and Boys.” Comparative Education Review, vol. 44, no. 2, 2000, pp. 113-147.
  5. Allen, Tuzyline Jita. “Doing Archival Research in South Africa for Women Writing Africa.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 3/4, 1997, pp. 245-248.
  6. Nnaemeka, Obioma. “From Orality to Writing: African Women Writers and the (Re)Inscription of Womanhood.” Research in African Literatures, vol. 25, no. 4, 1994, pp. 137-157.
  7. Kuria, Mike. Talking Gender: Conversations with Kenyan Women Writers. Nairobi, Kenya: PJ – Kenya. 2003.

All proceeds from Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

My Time at JAMS

The moment the wheels of the plane lifted off the runway, my nerves finally settled down. I’ve come to realize that in moments like this, I let go of being nervous because the trip is officially out of my hands. I made it to the airport, got through security, got onto the right plane, and my luggage is stored in a bin above me. Nothing left to do but read.

I still couldn’t believe I was finally leaving the country for the first time, though. Or that I was headed to Africa for my first international trip. Most of my life, Italy or Scotland was going to be my first trip. But then a significant life event occurred, and I decided to take opportunities as they came. Just so happens my first opportunity was to travel to Kenya. (Thanks in part to some funding provided by my college’s International Ed Committee.)

I really loved my time at the school (when planning, three weeks seemed sufficient – once there, I immediately knew three weeks was going to be far too short). These young women were the hardest working students I had ever seen – they knew quite starkly that this education could completely change their lives – and they took it that seriously. For some, it would pull them out of a cycle of poverty. In addition, a chance at attending a college or university could propel them even higher. In Kenya, students have a high-stakes exam at the end of the high school years that will dictate if they can continue on to college/university. Because of this, students can be found in the classrooms before classes studying and teaching one another. They also have a required lights out at 10:30 so that they don’t study all night long.

The school is well-built and sits on a hillside with a gorgeous view – overlooking sugar cane fields with green mountains in the distance. Thankfully, the rain held off for most of our trip, and we had beautiful, blue skies. I spent my mornings watching the sun come up, admiring the country – and every time I walked by a window, I couldn’t help but pause. I felt incredibly fortunate to have been a part of this school for even a little while.

Before my trip, I had done research about the Kenyan educational system (as part of the independent study I completed while creating the memoir writing curriculum). Even so, I was not prepared for what I saw. In comparison to schools in the U.S., there are people that I’m sure would see JAMS as a school that was lacking (though I want to be clear – JAMS is not lacking – if anything, they showed me how many barriers to education we create in our own classrooms here with all the unnecessary bells and whistles). What I saw were young women who were eager to learn, teachers who were ready to support them, and everything either could possibly need to do so.

And then we started touring some of the government-funded schools. There was a primary school just down the hill from us, which I’ll discuss more in posts to come – about the lack of basic necessities (like desks for students to sit in so that they don’t have to sit on the concrete floor). Then our guide took us to the kindergarten “room” – a small tin shack set apart from the school building. Medium-sized rocks had been brought in and set in rows with old two-by-four planks of wood laid across them for the students to sit on. At the front of the shack, pieces of cardboard sat against the wall. On one piece, someone has written out the alphabet in capital and lower case letters. Our guide informed us that they had to keep remaking the lessons because people would steal the cardboard for kindling.

Touring these other schools made me appreciate JAMS even more. In comparison, JAMS feels like a paradise. Students get three meals a day, they sleep in the dormitory on the grounds so that they don’t have to worry about being kept home from school to care for chores around the house. They are encouraged to ask questions and to actually learn concepts (as opposed to simply being able to regurgitate information back for the test). There are enough books and desks for every one of them.

It’s not hyperbole to say that my point of view, as a person and especially as an educator, was altered forever.

This picture to the right shows Andrew Otieno and Teresa Wasonga – the founders of JAMS. Right before the photo was taken, Andrew snuggled up next to Teresa, and everyone present went “Awww” – thus Teresa’s laughter. Originally from Kenya, the two brought their sons to the U.S. because they knew the opportunities that awaited them here. But that didn’t mean they forgot where they came from. Teresa had a dream of building this school for girls in an effort to ensure young women still there had a chance to get at an education that could lift them from poverty. The school has done so much more than that.

Whenever someone learns about my trip to JAMS, they always ask if I would ever go back. My answer is always the same: In a heartbeat.

All proceeds from Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

A Story a Day: Month Five

For this month, I wanted to read fairy tales and folklore from other countries (aside from one that is New Orleans based but is about voodoo). I found the stories below through the World Mythology and Folklore website. As with the previous four months, I have no idea what these stories are about – the goal is simply to experience new writing. Feel free to read along!

  1. The Vanishing Wife” from Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort by Richard Edward Dennett
  2. Story of the Tortoise and the Elephant
  3. A story about a chief” from Hausa Folk-Lore” by Maalam Shaihua (Translated by R. Sutherland Rattray) (Full disclosure – I’m severely arachnophobic, so “the origin of the spider” is definitely a step out of my comfort zone!)
  4. The Dance for Water or Rabbit’s Triumph” from South-African Folk-Tales by James A. Honey
  5. Tin City” from Drums and Shadowsby Georgia Writer’s Project
  6. The Children are Sent to Throw the Sleeping Sun Into the Sky” from Specimen of Bushman Folklore by W.H.I. Bleek and L.C. Lloyd
  7. Why Some Men are White and Some are Black” from Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort by Richard Edward Dennett
  8. Tiger Softens his Voice” from Jamaica Anansi Stories by Martha Warren Beckwith
  9. The Last of the Voudoos” from An American Miscellany by Lafcadio Hearn
  10. Buruldai Bogdo, No. I” from A Journey in Southern Siberia by Jeremiah Curtin
  11. The Woman Who Married the Moon and the Ke’le” from Chukchee Mythology by Waldemar Bogoras
  12. Story of Rostevan, King of Arabians” from The Man in the Panther’s Skin by Shot’ha Rust’haveli (Translated by Marjory Scott Wardrop)
  13. The Brother and Sister” from Forty-Four Turkish Fairy Tales by Ignácz Kúnos
  14. How the World was Made” from Philippine Folklore Stories by John Maurice Miller
  15. The Cony Who Got into Bad Company” from Tibetan Folk Tales by A.L. Shelton
  16. The Island of Women” from Aino Folk-Tales by Basil Hall Chamberlain
  17. Te Kanawa’s Adventure with a Troop of Fairies” from Polynesian Mythology & Ancient Traditional History of New Zealanders by Sir George Grey
  18. Legend of Kana and the Rescue of Hina” from Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Beckwith (navigate to page 383)
  19. The Samoan Story of CreationA ‘Tala’” from Journal of the Polynesian Society
  20. The Piper and the Púca” from Fairy and Folk Takes of Irish Peasantry edited and selected by W. B. Yeats
  21. A Cure for Storytelling” (pg 333) from Russian Folk-tales (in translation) by A. N. Afanas’ev
  22. The Flaming Horse” (pg 43) from Czechoslovak Fairy Tales retold by Parker Fillmore
  23. The Good Ferryman and the Water Nymphs” (pg 51) from Polish Fairy Tales translated from AJ Glinski by Maude Ashurst Biggs
  24. The Daughter of the Rose” from Roumanian Fairy Tales and Legends by E. B. Mawer
  25. The Wicked Stepmother” (pg 113) from Serbian Folk-lore selected and translated by Madam Csedomille Mijatovies
  26. Battle of the Owls” from Hawaiian Folk Tales by Thomas G. Thrum
  27. The Thirteenth Son of the King of Erin” from Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland by Jeremiah Curtin
  28. The Fairy Harp” from The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas
  29. The White Witch, or Charmer of Zennor” (Part One) from Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol I by William Bottrell
  30. The White Witch, or Charmer of Zennor” (Part Two) from Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol I by William Bottrell
  31. A Fairy Detected in Changing an Infant” from The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man by A. W. Moore

National Poetry Month – Olivia Gatwood

I honestly don’t even remember where I first encountered Gatwood’s poetry – but I’m thankful for that moment. Like the other poets I’ve shared this month, it is ridiculously easy for me to fall down a YouTube-shaped rabbit hole of Gatwood’s work. I also really love sharing her poems with my own students. I’ve even shaped a specific assignment around her.

You see, Gatwood has a series of Ode poems that she has written about things that society has told her to be ashamed of – everything from the color pink to her RBF to, yes, her period underwear. One of my favorites, though, is the Ode she wrote to the women on Long Island. So I ask my students to do the same – to write an ode in favor of something they are told they shouldn’t celebrate. It’s one of my favorite prompts.

You can find links to her books (New American Best Friend and life of the party) on her website, as well as fall down a rabbit hole of her poetry performances on YouTube. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

National Poetry Month – Denice Frohman

I’m honestly not sure when I first became of aware of Denice Frohman and her poetry. It might have been when her Dear Straight People poem first went viral, but I can’t say for certain. All I know is that Frohman’s poetry pulled me in – and it’s been such a joy watching her work evolve over these many years – from Accents to Everybody’s Famous in LA to A Queer Girl’s Ode to the Piraguero to First Kiss – I adore them all.

Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve got plans to go to AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference that moves cities each year) in Portland. (Super thankful for my friend who lives nearby that let me crash on their couch.) I’d been hoping for some time to see Frohman perform her work live (live is always best, in my opinion), so you can imagine my excitement when she posted on social media leading up to the conference that not only was she going to be part of a panel, she would be performing at an off-site event, as well.

The off-site event came first – Latinx & Loud (March 27, 2019), featuring Eduardo C. Corral, Denice Frohman, José Olivarez, Julian Randall, Raquel Salas Rivera, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Analicia Sotelo, and Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, and located at the Portland Mercado where I feasted on empanadas and maracuya juice. I can tell you that Frohman’s work is even more stunning in person.

I also had the chance to hear José Olivarez (and bought his book Citizen Illegal), who was later slated to be our poet Keynote at UntitledTown…but then COVID…

The second time I was able to see Frohman was later that weekend when she appeared on the panel Poets vs. Poets: Dismantling the Bias Against Performance Poetry (March 29, 2019, which also featured Jasminne Mendez, Paul Tran, Safia Elhillo, and Bill Moran). The group spent the first portion of the panel discussing the false binary of “page versus stage” and about the ways performance spaces can create classrooms and communities. The talk was fascinating for me (as a poet who sits firmly on the page, but who also teaches poetry), but I loved the performances that were coaxed out of the poets even more.

I highly recommend going down the rabbit hole of Denice Frohman’s YouTube. For links to read their work, you can visit their website. You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

A Poem in Your Pocket

repost from my work with UntitledTown

Did you know that in 2002 the Office of the Mayor of New York City, in partnership with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Education, started Poem in Your Pocket Day? Or that in 2008, the Academy of Poets expanded the program across the country? Or that in 2016, the League of Canadian Poets extended the program north?

Wait – what is Poem in Your Pocket Day, you ask? 

It’s a day to celebrate and share poetry. On this day, pick a poem, carry it in your pocket, and share it with others – at school, at work, as you wander through the bookstore…share with anyone anywhere. (Share it on social media #pocketpoem)

I first learned about Poem in Your Pocket Day when a colleague of mine started stuffing our mailboxes with origami-folded poems a few years back. This “poems for pockets” giveaway has become a campus-wide endeavor for us. And we encourage you to do the same. Pass them out at work. Pass them out at school. Pass them out on the street or to patrons in your favorite coffee houses. Create bookmarks with your favorite lines of poetry. Add a short poem to your mail signature. Get the word out there – poetry is for everyone!

Poem in Your Pocket Day this year is April 29. See their website for more information.

National Poetry Month – Danez Smith

The first time I met Danez Smith (they/them), they asked me if I was IT. I promise that this is not something I should ever be confused for. I have mad respect for any IT person – because I know NOTHING about fixing computers. Any fixing I’ve ever managed has been total dumb luck (or via tips from my dear friend, Cody, who is my go-to for all things tech-related – for which I both thank and apologize).

That day, I was just me being me – arriving earlier than most people. I was not IT – I was there for their craft talk on long forms of poetry for UntitledTown, Green Bay’s Book and Author Festival. But in full honesty – they could have been planning to read from the phone book, and I would have gone. I’ve been a fan of Smith’s poetry for some time, and I was happy to study at their feet.

Smith was also the keynote poet for UntitledTown that year, and we were granted a chance to spend an hour in the same space as them reciting poetry – and it was pure magic. I got literal goosebumps.

Smith has four books: Homie, Don’t Call Us Dead, [Insert] Boy, and Black Movie. There are links for all of them on Smith’s website, as well as a collection of recordings of their poetry. They also co-host the bi-weekly VS podcast with poet Franny Choi, which is presented by the Poetry Foundation. You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

First Interview

This morning, my first official interview as an author dropped! I was nervous heading into this, but Kathleen Foxx, the host of Badass Writers Podcast, put me at ease quickly. We had a lovely chat where I talk about writing, my debut novel, and the how the Voices of JAMS collection came to be (which, by the way, you can officially purchase by clicking here).

As for the interview – the episode is available via Apple, Spotify, Ancho, and Google Podcasts. Links are available through Kathleen Foxx’s website.

National Poetry Month – Andrea Gibson

I first heard the name Andrea Gibson about a decade ago when a friend mentioned them (Gibson’s pronouns are they/them/their). My friend said Gibson was their favorite poet and said they were coming to campus and asked if I would come along. I am so very glad I said yes.

Gibson has a way with words and being on stage that I envy – something I know is not in my own body, something that cannot be learned. I fell hard for their poetry that day, purchased their book (Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns), and devoured it. (They’ve had several other books and CDs out since then.)

I’ve lost count at this point of the number of times I’ve seen Gibson perform – stand alone performances, joint performances, conferences, etc. My favorite performance, hands down, was the UntitledTown performance on April 27, 2019, at the Tarlton, formerly The West. Back when I was in college, The West was the first queer space I ever existed in. It was a place to dance and not worry – so to hear Gibson’s poem in this space about the first queer space they ever existed in was something else. Plus, we had the cutest ever sound check with their pupper, Squash. And when Gibson read “A Letter To My Dog, Exploring The Human Condition” directly to Squash, who sat so attentively – this was the sweetest moment of poetry I’ve ever experienced.

During the pandemic, I’ve had a couple opportunities to “sit in” on performances that Gibson has held in their home via Zoom, and I have found these performances just as engaging as in person. (Nothing will ever beat live for poetry or music or art or…, but it’s better than nothing, and my soul still always felt full afterward.)

As with the other poets I’ll be chatting about this month, there is ample opportunity to go down some poetry rabbit holes with Gibson – their own YouTube is a great place to start. You can access links to their collections (You Better Be Lightning, Lord of the Butterflies, Madness Vase, Pansy, and Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns) on their website. You also can follow them on Instagram and Twitter.