Utah Arts Festival 2021: BIPOC literary program heightens visibility of thriving sustained voices to strengthen resolve for achieving equity in community

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For a significant stretch of time, Utah’s literary arts community has been animated by an impressive diverse range of poets, authors and performers but this year’s new BIPOC literary arts program at the Utah Arts Festival emphasizes a presence that informs audiences and readers just how extensively many writers have enlightened and reshaped the region’s literary landscape and the value of seeing its history in a fresh perspective.

Performers will appear at three festival venues: The Round adjacent to the City Library, Salt Cafe at The Leonardo museum and the Literary Arts stage. Sarah May, the festival’s new coordinator for community and inclusion, is an artist, storyteller, and community organizer who has collaborated with the YWCA Utah in facilitating a group, established in 2019, called Woke Words (Aug. 28, 4:45 p.m., The Round), which highlights the work of Utah women, femme and nonbinary writers of color. In addition, Color Collective (Aug. 29, noon, The Round) also will perform, featuring the work of eight writers. Sample works from performers from both groups are presented below. The Woke Words group also marks the launch of a new anthology publication titled Starship & Clay.

“This is a significant moment for writers to be able to present their original work at a festival in front of an audience on such a large visible scale,” May says, adding that highlighting the BIPOC voices in literary arts celebrates the longevity of “beautiful poets, authors, activists and authors who have lived and worked in a place that has not been the most equitable.” It is a notable move toward institutionalizing the essential strong sense of achieving genuine equity in the state’s foremost multidisciplinary arts and culture event of the year.

Other performers include seven poets who submitted work last year in the annual Sor Juana poetry contest sponsored by Artes de México en Utah (Aug. 28, noon, The Round). The contest invites Utah residents to submit work in two categories, either as native Spanish speakers or as writers with Spanish as a second language. This year’s contest closed in June with winners to be announced this fall at Utah Humanities’ Book Festival. Part of Caribbean Nightingale, a Black-woman owned enterprise, the Relaxation through Verse Poetry Salon, which normally operates in a living room style atmosphere focusing on the rejuvenating aspects of literature, will perform at the festival (Aug. 28, 6 p.m., The Round, and Aug. 29, 8:10 p.m., Literary Arts Stage).

Wynter Storm.

The slate includes BIPOC artists with a broad range of backgrounds. Marilyn Melissa Salguero, a Guatemalan poet and Westminster College graduate (Aug. 27, 2 p.m., Literary Stage; Aug. 28, 3 p.m., Salt Cafe), will read from her work. A prodigious writer, she recently co-wrote the play The Well Spoken, an excellent satire about a community theater company who believe they are fully sensitized to the expectations of diversity, inclusion, equity and access as they prepare to mount a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The play was premiered at the recent Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival. She also has a self-published chapbook Cannibal slated for release in 2022. A self-described “jazzy hippy” who has toured with the SLC Slam poetry team, Wynter Storm will read from her work (Aug. 27, 4 p.m., The Round, Aug. 28, 6 p.m., The Round; Aug. 28, 7:50 p.m., Literary Arts Stage; Aug. 29, 6:10 p.m., The Round).

Jayrod P. Garrett, a performance poet, fiction writer, and educator who begins a new assignment next month at the Bountiful Davis Art center will perform (Aug. 27, 6:10 p.m., Literary Arts Stage; Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m., Salt Cafe; Aug. 29, 2:40 p.m., The Round). Award-winning and prolific poet Samyak Shertok, who has Himalayan roots, will read (Aug. 27, 8:10 p.m., Literary Arts Stage; Aug. 29, 3:20 p.m., The Round), as will Gloria Arredondo, a Mexican writer now living in Utah who also holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (Aug. 28, noon, Literary Arts Stage). Performances for all writers at the Literary Arts venue can be found at the UAF website.

Jayrod P. Garrett

May says the schedule also gives artists as well as patrons opportunities to sit with each other and comprehend just how expansive the Utah literary arts scene has become. The forms of writing available go well beyond traditional genres and formats, including freestyle poetry, personal speeches and monologues, essays, and, in some instances, musical performances. Also, a banner highlighting the specific contributions of artists who worked on the large pavement mural honoring the work and legacy of the Black Lives Matter movement will be hung near the mural’s location in front of the City-County Building on Washington Square. May sees this as a prime conversation piece for all festival goers to see and hopefully spark more discussion. 

WOKE WORDS SAMPLES

Love Letter

Love DeJesus

I am a love letter to my ancestors.

I am the poem,

        the drum beating,

         the lungs breathing.

I am Atabey in the morning,

la bomba in the evening.

Salsa in each two-step,

café in each breath.

I am the wild harvest the jíbaro dreamt of.

I am freedom,

I am singing,

I am shackles broken,

platanos flattened, 

   sizzling, steaming. 

I am ocean, hurricane, rebellion.
I am revival, beginning, unending.

I am my ancestors. 

I am Borinquen. 

A Medieval Contrapuntal 

Madeika Vercella 

With statements by Petrarch, Boethius, and Dante 

It is utterly insane for men to neglect 

The tangles of yin and yang 

the most important part of themselves 

induce sleep 

and pamper the body which they live in. 

on the matters of heaven. 

You were captivated by the allure of 

Hell: a volcanic terrain occupied by 

a creature and loved the Creator in 

harmonious cries which terrorize you daily. 

inappropriate fashion.1 

Did you know that we are wicked 

The desires of the flesh are full of cares, 

and sin is a vessel for happiness? 

their fulfilment is full of remorse.2 

The Renaissance men knew it to be true — 

O ornament of wisdom and of art, 

even Picasso’s sins permeated his paintbrush. 

what souls are these who merit 

Still, Dante asked: 

lights their way even in Hell.3 

Do all pagans meditate in pain?

1 PETRARCH, FRANCESCO. SECRETUM. ALMA  CLASSICS, 2015. 

2 BOETHIUS, ANICIUS MANLIUS SEVERINUS.  CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY. OUTLOOK  VERLAG, 2019. 

3 Puchner, Martin, et al. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018

COLOR COLLECTIVE SAMPLE

Matter

Sophia Weaver 

You say things are bad,

Because you can’t go outside,

I don’t go outside, because i’m too terrified,

Of getting shot.

You say it’s unfair,

Because life is going down,

You’re not going down. I’m the only one who will go down,

If I get shot.

You don’t flinch when you see the flashing lights,

When a cop is in your perfect sights,

Because you don’t have the same fear,

Of getting shot.

You don’t have to make sure your windows are locked.

You don’t have to worry bout the blues in your face

In the early hours of the clock.

Because white people don’t get shot.

They don’t get shot.

Yes. We both have skin and bones,

That will bleed from a bullet hole.

Everybody bleeds from a bullet hole.

But it seems, that our skins and our tones,

Determine who will have to take the bullet home.

You don’t have to take the bullet home.

Why do we have to matter after the crimes were committed?

Why did blood have to splatter to reveal there was more than admitted?

Why do I feel like I’m the crow among a flock of snow white swans?

Because that’s just where my mind has gone.

They didn’t deserve it!

Who deserves that kind of pain?

Have you learned it?

Or is my job to explain?

That I’m afraid.

But you wouldn’t understand, would you?  

And even if I had a gun to my face, could you?

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll live to see another day,

And I always will, even if racism goes away.

They call this country the land of the free.

But freedom doesn’t mean the same thing to people like me.

Why now? Why not when I was young,

And didn’t understand

Why white police officers are shooting

My brothers and sisters and friends?

Don’t ask me why I drive slow,

Why during conflict I hold my breath.

I don’t want my mom to find out I was killed by a cop,

Knowing he will never be convicted for my death.

And yes. We both have eyes and ears,

That will bleed from a bullet hole.

Everybody bleeds from a bullet hole.

But it seems that even my cries and tears.

Won’t save me from a bullet, no.

Why do we have to matter after the crimes were committed?

Why did blood have to splatter to reveal there was more than admitted?

Why do I feel like I’m the crow among a flock of snow white swans?

Because that’s just where my mind has gone.

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