a word from Asheville Wordfest founder and director, Laura Hope-Gill
Asheville Wordfest began with a wish to reawaken the Asheville Poetry Scene. I was part of that madness that filled The Green Door on Friday and Saturday nights back when the city had only one espresso machine. I started the women’s reading, Cafe of Our Own, at Malaprops in 1992, a reading that I believe went on to become the longest running reading series in Asheville. It started out with just one person in the audience, a man too drunk too leave. I read him a poem. That was the beginning. Within months it was a standing-room only event. The Asheville Poetry Slam was another part of our heyday, packing people into The Green Door and even filling the alley. Asheville and Poetry were synonyms. We’re back in that swing again. Wordfest wasn’t the only force; many jumped in to develop spaces for poems. It is gratifying to see poetry alive and well again in town.
Asheville Wordfest turns ten this year, going from the date of its first stirrings. Asheville Wordfest started in 2007. I launched the festival with funding from NCArts and North Carolina Humanities Council, both of which have provided generous and much-needed support through the first decade. Devoted at the outset to promoting community conversation, Wordfest has presented poets from more than 30 cultural contexts, global and regional. Galway Kinnell, LeAnne Howe, Allison Adele Hedge Coke, Li-Young Lee, Quincy Troupe, Valzhyna Mort, Cornelius Eady, Raul Zurita, Ross Gay, Elizabeth Bradfield, Frank X Walker, and David Whyte, along with many others, have spoken their work. You can view some of these here: Asheville Wordfest on Vimeo, and here’s a sampling of what you’ll find.
I was raised on poetry. With a grandmother who quoted the “Salutation to the Dawn” from the Rig Veda just to enrich a moment, with a grandfather who taught English in high schools on the Ontario, Canada, prairie, and with a mother for whom beautiful music and kindness are the core of being, as well as a father who was a beloved physician, creating a poetry festival for community development, healing, and expression answers all my calls. This is Asheville Wordfest’s tenth year. Not its tenth festival, because the first year was spent dreaming and planning and last year was spent observing whether the festival was the right path for me to spend my steps, but it is ten years old as an idea brought into being with the help and wish of many.
Truthfully, I am in awe of what it has become. I launched it with the mission of “multiculturalism at the mic.” I wanted to learn how a poetry festival can embody bell hooks’ call for Representation, something I saw (and see) much too little of in literary events. Active engagement is the key to building a festival where the actual demographic of a city appears on the poster. Without this engagement, it is just another subtly (and not so subtly) racist and exclusionary and cruel event. Multiculturalism isn’t a concept. It is a consciousness which leads a person to see events as complete or not complete based on who is participating. Participation defines invitation. Ten years of devotion and community-building have brought us the Wordfest we see here on the homepage. It is not completely complete, and more poets might join, yet look at the faces for what they tell us about our community. The world is everywhere. There is no denying that. And I am delighted that together we will hear the world at Asheville Wordfest 2017.
About last year . . .
Over a year ago, I decided to let Asheville Wordfest take a break. After producing eight successful festivals, rife with music and poetry and multiculturalism at the microphone, I wanted to let the universe let me know if this was what it wanted. Producing a festival requires a particular dedication that spans far beyond the weekend’s programming, and I felt that if this was truly what I was supposed to be devoting my hours to, somehow the Unknown would let me know.
By the time Wordfest 2016 would have been taking place, my father passed away after a seven year descent into amyloidosis. He died the week before what-would-have-been-Wordfest, and I was so grateful I did not have to put on a show for anybody, much less produce a festival. I acknowledged the “break” I’d taken was more meaningful for my own personal sanity than pertinent to my great calling. Sometimes we just read things wrong.
As the rhetoric and energy of the 2016 political arenas compounded in hatred and divisiveness, as the issue of multiculturalism emerged not as a goal but as a force to be defeated, as notions of internment camps and deportation and white supremacy made headlines not as abominations but as policy, I understood that a poetry festival devoted from day one to multiculturalism would be my way of standing up and my way of creating a space for others to stand up.
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May 2, 2014 – Asheville Wordfest, now in its seventh year, sets its sights beyond mere merriment. “It’s a reflection of what Asheville is, what matters to us, what …
Apr 22, 2009 – Last year Asheville Wordfest took its inaugural flight. A festival devoted solely to poetry landed in town. Asheville, that is. Two of the guiding …
Asheville WordFest features an array of readings, workshops, and children’s activities to celebrate the power of poetry in an increasingly manufactured media …
theurbannews.com/events/2012/asheville–wordfest-rides-its-fifth-year/Apr 12, 2012 – Asheville Wordfest director Laura Hope-Gill has been working throughout the past year to organize the 2012 Wordfest weekend. With a theme …