Felicia Rose Chavez and Rita Banerjee discuss The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop in Kweli Journal

Recently Rita Banerjee sat down to Felicia Rose Chavez to discuss her pedagogy-changing book The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom for Kweli Journal. Launched in December 2009, Kweli is an online literary journal that celebrates community and cultural kinships. In this shared space, you will hear the lived experience of people of color. Our many stories. Our shared histories. Our creative play with language. Here our memories are wrapped inside the music of the Muscogee, the blues songs of the South, the clipped patois of the Caribbean. We currently publish four (4) online issues each year. In the interview and podcast (produced by Tavia Gilbert), Rita Banerjee and Felicia Rose Chavez discuss new approaches to the creative writing classroom. Here is an excerpt from their interview:

Rita Banerjee:

To me, it sounds like this anti-racist workshop model is neither a call-out culture or a call-in culture, but much more curious, inquisitive, and dialogue-based. It’s questioning, but not in an interrogating style.

Felicia Rose Chavez:

It’s about “what are you trying to do, and how can we best get you there?”

Rita Banerjee:

I would love for you to talk about the way that you utilize the Liz Lerman method. Because the one that I’ve been taught the moderator has a really big role in helping navigate the conversation. But in your model, it’s the artist is the one who’s really propelling the conversation forward.

Felicia Rose Chavez:

Yeah. I go to the extreme where students are seated in a circle to workshop when it comes to formal workshop and I’m actually seated outside of the circle. So I will be in the corner of the classroom. I’m not even participating as a restraint to myself because my impulse would be to turn towards dominance and control of the classroom. I’m not immune to these impulses as an educator. It takes great work for me to step back and say, “that’s not warranted right now. Nobody cares what you think right now, let them learn from one another.” So I do advocate that the student is the one who leads the workshop. They have a timing device and they walk their fellow students through the five steps of the Liz Lerman model in which I add a kind of unspoken sixth step in which they write an artist statement to the group.

So they write a letter, and they write about their fears about the piece they write about their successes of the piece. They write things like “God guys, I am dying right now. And I don’t know what to do when I feel so vulnerable. And so here’s what I need in this moment.” They also have an opportunity to articulate a future draft, saying things like “Here’s where I want to be. Here’s what I need to get there.” They enumerate three craft-based questions. Again, we all understand what those craft terms are. So we’re all speaking to the piece and we can engage with those craft concepts on equal footing that serves as their foundation. And so they have about 30 minutes and they read the piece aloud. Everyone reads the artist statement silently. They read the piece aloud and they’re able to walk through the Liz Lerman steps beginning with “I welcome your statements of meaning” and everyone offers what was challenging and beautiful and exciting to them.

Read the full interview on Kweli Journal here.

Felicia Rose Chavez is an award-winning educator with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Iowa. She is author of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom and co-editor of The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT with Willie Perdomo and Jose Olivarez. Felicia’s teaching career began in Chicago, where she served as Program Director to Young Chicago Authors and founded GirlSpeak, a feminist webzine for high school students. She went on to teach writing at the University of New Mexico, where she was distinguished as the Most Innovative Instructor of the Year, th University of Iowa, where she was distinguished as the Outstanding Instructor of the Year, and Colorado College, where she received the Theodore Roosevelt Collins Outstanding Faculty Award. Her creative scholarship earned her a Ronald E. McNair Fellowship, a University of Iowa Graduate Dean’s Fellowship, a Riley Scholar Fellowship, and a Hadley Creatives Fellowship. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, she currently serves as the Bronfman Creativity and Innovation Scholar-in-Residence at Colorado College. For more information about The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, and to access (and add to!) a multi-genre compilation of contemporary writers of color, visit www.antiracistworkshop.com.

Rita Banerjee is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing program at the George Polk School of Communications at Long Island University Brooklyn. She is author of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Echo in Four Beats, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps, and Cracklers at Night. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA from the University of Washington, and her work appears in Hunger Mountain, PANK, Isele, Nat. Brut., Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, and elsewhere. She is the co-writer and co-director of Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France. She received a 2021-2022 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool, and one of the opening chapters of this memoir, “Birth of Cool” was a Notable Essay in the 2020 Best American Essays. You can follow her work at ritabanerjee.com or on Twitter @Rita_Banerjee.

Writer, performer, producer Tavia Gilbert is the acclaimed narrator of more than 700 full-cast and multi-voice audiobooks. She is a Grammy nominee, Booklist Audiobook Narrator of the Year, the recipient of dozens of Earphones Awards, and a 12-time Audie nominee and Winner of the Best Female Narrator Audie. She produces several podcasts, including eight-time award-winner Stories of Impact, and teaches at Long Island University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Rita Banerjee and Shanta Lee Gander Discuss Creativity & Writing in New Podcast

Visual artist and poet Shanta Lee Gander and multi-genre author Rita Banerjee sit down to talk about creativity, writing across genres, knitting, music & jamming, and what sparks joy during the pandemic in Shanta Lee Gander’s new podcast from her new series “YET…Conversations About Bringing Art Into the World.”

This premiere podcast from the latest issue of “YET…Conversations About Bringing Art Into the World,” a monthly newsletter that offers a behind-the-scenes of creating as we talk with creatives around the world. The January issue features Rita Banerjee who is a writer across many different genres including her work on an upcoming documentary, Burning Down the Louvre. In our first audio interview, Shanta Lee talks with Rita about the things that take hold of us and call us to create, some details about what it has been like to branch out into documentary filmmaking, how to continue to keep the fire going when one creates across so many different areas, and more. To learn more about the newsletter or sign up, visit: Shantaleegander.com.

About the authors:

Shanta Lee Gander is a visual artist, poet, and prose writer based in Vermont. She is co-author with her husband MacLean C. Gander of Ghosts of Cuba: An Interracial Couple’s Exploration of Cuba in the Age of Trump—Told in Images & Words (forthcoming). She has an MBA from the University of Hartford and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality from Trinity College, and is completing her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her exhibition Dark Goddess combines  cultural anthropology, photography, and an individual’s personal vision as it relates to unearthing deeper aspects of the goddess. The Dark Goddess exhibition was featured at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT as a solo show from August 7 – September 26, 2021  and will be at the Fleming Museum of Art, February – May 2022.

Rita Banerjee is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing program at LIU Brooklyn. She is the author of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Echo in Four Beats, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps, and Cracklers at Night. Her work appears in Hunger Mountain, Isele, Nat. Brut., Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, and elsewhere. She is a co-writer of Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France. She received a 2021-2022 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool, and one of the opening chapters of this new memoir, “Birth of Cool” was a Notable Essay in the 2020 Best American Essays. You can follow her work at ritabanerjee.com or on Twitter @Rita_Banerjee!

Rita Banerjee and Robin Hemley Interview Neuroscientist David J. Linden on “How Do I Become You?” Polk Professional Series Podcast – Sept. 23, 2021 * 7 pm EDT

Join Director of the Polk School, Robin Hemley, and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing, Rita Banerjee, as they engage in a lively discussion in the first of the 2021 season’s Polk Professional Series, “How Do I Become You?”  The series highlights the career path and accomplishments of of successful writers, journalists, scientists, adventurers, activists, filmmakers and more, all of whom have made a difference by learning to be powerful communicators and to tell stories that count.

Their will be with best-selling author and neuroscientist, David Linden.

When: Sep 23, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join us on Zoom!

David J. Linden, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute. His laboratory has worked for many years on the cellular basis of memory storage, recovery of function after brain injury and a few other topics. He has a longstanding interest in scientific communication and served for many years as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. He is the author of four bestselling books on the biology of behavior for a general audience, The Accidental Mind (2007), The Compass of Pleasure (2011), Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind (2015), and Unique: The Science of Human Individuality which, to date, have been translated into 21 languages. He also edited a collection of short essays on brain function written for a general audience: Think Tank: Forty Neuroscientists Explore the Biological Roots of Human Experience (2018). His has appeared on the TED Radio Hour, Fresh Air with Terry Gross and many other media outlets

Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: A Conversation with David Shields & Rita Banerjee feat. on The Nervous Breakdown

The Nervous Breakdown recently published a conversation between David Shields and Rita Banerjee on Shields’s book Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump.  During their discussion, David and Rita unpack Trump’s complicated family and personal psychology, what makes the president tick, Trump’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, & how to disrupt Trump this fall!  Take a listen to their live recorded interview on The Nervous Breakcast.  A selection of the written interview follows below:

Rita:    You quote several of Trump’s tweets, interviews, off-air conversations, and “witticisms” throughout the book. What was it like to allow Donald Trump’s ethos, his words, his violence, his misogyny, his racism, and his nonsense to inhabit your body and your psyche, as you’re writing this book? Do his words become part of how one could maybe reason or rationalize him?

David:    I certainly worry about that… It’s a book I wrote a couple of years ago, and now it’s a year and a half later. I’d write the book differently now, though I’m proud of it, and I think it holds up well. Any other approach seemed, to me, dead on arrival. To me, standing on a high moral promontory and wagging a finger at the  armies down below is not an approach that interests me. You’re just preaching to the proverbial choir. That doesn’t interest me;it has no animating energy for me as a writer and thinker. A politically left friend of mine was telling me about how he watched the news. He happens to be in a wheelchair, and he couldn’t get to the remote on his TV. When Hillary was talking, he knew what Hillary was going to say and so he didn’t bother to wheel over to the remote because her words were so predictable and so vetted that he didn’t really care what she was saying. Instead, he found himself wheeling over to hear what Trump had said. That is what I wanted to unpack. If I find myself weirdly riveted by Trump, then I can try to understand those 50,000,000 voters who actually voted for Trump. Regarding your question, maybe the book will get us into uncomfortable territory. Trump does have quite serious performative skills. He’s basically an old-fashioned Catskills insult comedian, and for a variety of reasons, it works or has worked so far. There’s this quote I love by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The way to write is to throw your body at the target when all your arrows are spent.” I tried to do that, to throw my body at the target, which is Trump. I was boring everybody with my “Oh my God, can you believe what’s happening?” But in this book I say, what’s scarily riveting about him? In this journal, I’m going to be real. For decades, Republican strategists have learned to go to the very essence of someone’s strength. You go after the unassailable, and the whole edifice falls down. Trump went after McCain, who was this canonized figure, and just said “I like heroes who aren’t captured.” That’s verbally brilliant. On every level, that’s politics, that’s warfare. There’s this line that I quote, too, from Seneca: “Life is warfare.” Trump gets that. Like I say in the book, quoting a friend, the Democrats are playing badminton and Trump is playing ice hockey. It ain’t working. So how about if in this book, I try and play some ice hockey?

Rita:    Follow-up question–throughout the book we get a portrait of Trump’s interior psychology. What is his relationship to emotion, and do you see echoes of Trump’s relationship to his emotion within yourself, or within American culture at large?

David:    I think that’s one of the huge hidden topics of the book. I do talk a lot about that: we’re numb,  we’re broken, in a postmodern, hyper-mediated, and hyper-digitalized culture. In contemporary, culture, we’re walking dead people. It’s my own thesis, and again I can only speak from my experience. Maybe this is my condition, which I’m unfairly projecting onto the populace. But all these 19th century feelings that Hilary Clinton pretends that we still have, people just know that’s completely dead. In some ways, Trump is a very contemporary person, probably because he has Attention Deficit Disorder and might be on the  spectrum.. I think he is in touch with his reptilian self, and he knows how to access it. Yes, he is a racist and has been from a very early age (stemming from his father’s real estate dealings), but what Trump does quite consciously is extend his personality to reach a larger base. Not long ago, he was a pro-business, pro-choice, pro-gay, centrist Republican. He’s taken his incipient racism and performs it extensively to see how far it can go. If it’s slightly too far, he just dials it back slightly. It has to do with art, with understanding that politics is performance art. It’s theater, it’s symbolic theater. When the Democrats are droning on about something, it’s not working. Part of my argument about art is that it does go forward. Art, like science, progresses; you can’t rewind the clock. Additionally, this kind of demagoguery seems to play better on the right. If someone like Elizabeth Warren started acting very demagogice, we would say, “Stop that.” “The left tends to valorize discourse and intellection, and demagoguery tends to be a strategy of the right. The left is now confused because how you can have riveting political theater when the whole rhetoric of the left is that they’re smarter than you, or they’re more thoughtful, more empathetic? I do think a real key to Trump’s success is that I think he’s a really quite serious nihilist. Through a lot of the lines in the book, he sounds like he’s straight out of “Notes from Underground,” Dostoevsky’s novella about the underground man. Trump has no belief in any transcendental signifier. He has no belief in love and religion, in art, in history, in the continuation of culture. He’s obsessed with the fact of death, he’s terrified of death, as most people are, but most people find some kind of solace or consolation. Trump is a seriously nowhere man. I would argue we all, as 21st century people, struggle with a kind of numbness. In Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner talks about being in a museum in Madrid and how the only thing that moves him about being in a museum is that he’s moved by his own incapacity to feel anything. I think that’s a real insight into contemporary culture. You may not agree; t might be the super male or white or privileged point of view, but that’s Trump’s point of view as well. I think his numbness is absolutely crucial. People will do anything to feel a little bit of rage about their numbness. Hillary is an easy battering ram or a punching bag because she’s such an obvious perfect foil for Trump. She’s earnest in the way that he’s cynical. You think of the great anti-heroes of literature, whether it’s Petronius’ Satyricon all the way up to Camus’s The Fall, and that character is our worst self realized. We see a reflection of our own numbness in Trump, and I think that connects to Trump’s rage. He’s expressing the rage that people feel, that life is absolutely meaningless in a post-God, post-literate culture. That is absolute political theater. That’s how I mean the Democrats are playing badminton: “Here’s our policy suggestion which might improve things ever so slightly.” Trump is not playing that game, he’s playing existential theater. And it has sort of worked so far. That’s really the core of the book, that we’re broken, we’re dead, we’re numb, we’re the walking dead. Watch me at least express an insane rage, which feels better than feeling numb.

You can read the whole conversation on The Nervous Breakdown here.

Feb 10, Vermont Public Radio: “Representation & Writing: Who Gets To Tell Whose Story?” feat. Rita Banerjee, 12 – 1 pm EST, 94. 1 FM, Montpelier VT

On Monday, February 10, from 12 noon – 1 pm, Radio Host of Vermont Edition Jane Lindhom will be interviewing Rita Banerjee on “Representation & Writing: Who Gets To Tell Whose Story?” on Vermont Public Radio. More details about the show follow below:

“Representation & Writing: Who Gets To Tell Whose Story?”
Vermont Edition Hosts: Jane Lindhom & Matthew Smith
Feb 10, 2020 * 12 – 1 pm EST (rebroadcast at 7 pm)
94.1 FM, Montpelier, 107.9 FM Colchester, VT
Live-stream online on VPR’s Website

Live call-in discussion: The new novel American Dirt revolves around a mother and son fleeing cartel violence in Mexico and attempting to cross into the U.S. But some critics argue the author doesn’t have the right to tell this story. The book’s publication has stirred controversy, launched the #DignidadLiteraria hashtag and led to discussion on diversity in the publishing world.

We’re talking with Vermont authors about representation, cultural appropriation and diversity in storytelling.

Our guests will include:

For more information & for the livestream online broadcast, visit Vermont Public Radio’s website here.

Echo Speaks: Rita Banerjee’s Echo in Four Beats Interview feat. in Manchester’s The Hippo

Rita Banerjee will be a Visiting Artist at the New Hampshire Institute of Art this Spring, and will be reading from her debut poetry collection Echo in Four Beats at the French Hall Rotunda at NHIA from 5:30-7:30 pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

Rita Banerjee’s poetry debut Echo in Four Beats was featured on New Hampshire Weekly’s The Hippo today.  In the article, entitled “Echo Speaks,” journalist Angie Sykeny interviews Rita Banerjee about her new collection of poems, and discusses gender roles, feminism, and speech acts with the author.  Here’s a short excerpt from the interview below:

The New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester welcomes a special guest writer, Rita Banerjee, on Tuesday, March 27, for a reading, signing and discussion of her debut collection of poetry, Echo in Four Beats, released earlier this month.

What is the idea behind Echo in Four Beats? 
It dreams of a common language. What happens when people from different backgrounds and places of power, with different ideas of masculinity and femininity, come together … and figure out how to connect, despite language barriers, and despite defined roles? How do they find ways to support that female agency and the female gaze? 

What would you like readers to take away from Echo in Four Beats?
I would like readers to kind of interrogate their own power and find where and how they can express their own voice. It doesn’t have to be in proper English to express ourselves and our complicated identities in an honored form. I hope people will read [the poems] and be able to relate, but I hope it also invites response, and that they will try to express themselves in that form. 

And you can read “Echo Speaks” on The Hippo here.