The Vermont Arts Council awards Rita Banerjee a Creation Grant for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool

The Vermont Art Council announces that Rita Banerjee is among the 23 outstanding writers and artists who received a Creation Grant, one of its most sought-after award this year. The grant is funded in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, state, and private donors. Banerjee received a Creation Grant to support the creation of her memoir and manifesto of how female “cool” subverts social, sexual, and economic pressure. Recently, one of the opening chapters of Banerjee’s book “Birth of Cool” was named a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays 2020. Here is more information about her memoir-in-progress:

In Rita Banerjee’s new memoir and manifesto, she demonstrates that for women, and especially young women of color, keeping one’s cool is a psychic shield against social trauma.  Cultivating female cool is what allows women to subvert social, sexual, and economic pressure.  The memoir follows Banerjee as she keeps her cool through 9/11, the 2008 and 2020 stock market crashes, #MeToo, Trumpism, and the pandemic, and in doing so, finds her own agency and self-expression.

Among this year’s Creation Grant winning proposals are works that span visual arts, literary arts, dance, music, film, and multidisciplinary fields, including a music video exploring unjust land ownership for African Americans; a nonfiction book tracing five generations beginning in Iran and ending in Vermont; a tintype photography series capturing Vermont women and aging; and several works exploring social justice themes.

Artistic excellence is the most important criteria in evaluating an application for this highly competitive award. A record 202 applications were received for the FY2022 program, collectively requesting a total of $808,000.

The Council typically has funding to support approximately 12-15% of requests for the annual grant. But thanks to the Vermont Community Foundation’s Arts Endowment Fund, along with generous contributions from Vermont Performance Lab and individual donors, the Council was able to provide eight additional Creation Grants this year.

Recipients were selected by two independent panels comprised of 28 practicing Vermont artists and arts professionals. Applicants could submit audio or video files for their proposals in place of written applications.

“The range of artistic talent in Vermont takes my breath away,” said Vermont Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman. “We are pleased that new partnerships and generous private donations — so vital in this pandemic year — have enabled us to support the creative endeavors of twenty-three outstanding artists.”

For more information about the Creation Grant program, visit https://www.vermontartscouncil.org/grants/artists/creation

Rita Banerjee’s “Birth of Cool” about 9/11 named Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2020

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool,” which appeared in the Silence & Power issue of Hunger Mountain, was recently named a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2020 edited by André Aciman.

“Birth of Cool” is a braided essay about 9/11, love, coolness, and the death of her grandfather, her first icon of “cool.” In “Birth of Cool,” Rita Banerjee examines her growing infatuation with everything styled and aestheticized. She investigates how 9/11 signaled the death of irony, but not of cool, which she imparts from her idols, from Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix to MTV and Jon Stewart. In “Birth of Cool,” Banerjee explains why she chose a life of aesthetics, style, and emotional distance over that of politics, righteousness, and explicit social engagement.  In this essay, she confronts her own agency and observes how her own sense of cool is birthed as a coping mechanism against social trauma.

You can read “Birth of Cool” online on Hunger Mountain here:
https://hungermtn.org/birth-of-cool-rita-banerjee/

You can read the print version of “Birth of Cool” by order Hunger Mountain, Issue 23: Silence & Power here: https://hungermtn.submittable.com/submit/68385/purchase-back-issue

Rita Banerjee joins the South Asian Avant-Garde as an Editor-at-Large

Rita Banerjee joins the South Asian Avant-Garde, an international collective of South Asian artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, and activists, as an Editor-at-Large. The SAAG Collective is currently producing the South Asian Avant-Garde: A Dissident Literary Anthology, a forthcoming anthology that features dissident fiction, essays, journalism, plays, poetry, and hybrid, multimedia work. It reclaims radical traditions that have long been excised from South Asian histories, and forges new communities and reinforces necessary solidarities. The digital platform allows work to travel everywhere South Asians live and practice.

In terms of its mission, SAAG states:

“Transgression, experimentation, and true radicalism are rare and expensive in a world structured around majoritarian consensus, conformity, and party-line loyalism. This is especially true for minority voices, who are routinely devalued. We must value creative labor, no excuses. Your support will go directly to the multitude of writers and artists who will be contributing to this project. In our shared commitment to respect creative labor, we’re happy to be partnering with the Asian American Writer’s Workshop, whilst reaching South Asians everywhere.”

To support the South Asian Avant-Garde, please consider donating to the SAAG Collective, or supporting the organization, its artists, writers, and activists through the artwork, books, and other items they have created on the SAAG Perks page here.

Every donation brings us closer to amplifying South Asian voices that are imagining and building better and freer futures for us all.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” will be featured on Goddard’s “Bon Mot” Radio Program on 91.1 / 91.7 FM Vermont – February 28, 2021, 5-6:30 pm EST

Rita Banerjee will be be featured on Goddard College’s “Bon Mot” radio program from 5-6:30 pm EST on Sunday, February 28, 2021.  The radio program will air on 91.1 and 91.7 FM Vermont. The show is hosted by Rick Argan, and Banerjee will be be reading from her poetry collection Echo in Four Beats and her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction manuscript on race, sex, politics, and cool.  The show can be live-streamed here: http://www.wgdr.org/ or listened to via podcast archive here: http://archive.wgdr.org/

Check our her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction book on Hunger Mountain here: https://hungermtn.org/birth-of-cool-rita-banerjee/

Iterant 2 feat. Rita Banerjee’s Poetry & Flash Essay Launches


The Ruth Stone Foundation just launched its second issue of Iterant,  an interactive multi-media poetry and prose journal.  The October 2020 issue of Iterant, “But We Keep Fighting” features the poetry, prose, audio recordings, and art of Anne Carson,  Matthew Zapruder, Timothy Liu, Sharon Olds, Dara Weir, Charles Mason III, and Rita Banerjee among other poets and artists.

Rita Banerjee’s poems “String Theory” and “Sunlight over Reyjkavík” and her essay “Of Delight” are featured in the new issue of Iterant. Check out her writing here, and check out the audio recordings of her poems and prose here.

Here’s is a short excerpt from the poem “String Theory”:

… but like a child learning to speak
or a visitor in a foreign language, I blended the sounds
of their names together. Each hue was a mirage—

a trick of light, a fascination. Each fired
an unpredictable rhythm of cones and cylinders
in the eye. If color was biological, automatic,
mechanical, what sense could the eye hold?

Read more here.

Many thanks to Walter and Bianca Stone for their incredible editorial support and curation of this new issue of Iterant.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” on 9/11 and a generation coming of age and keeping its cool debuts in Hunger Mountain

18 years and 12 hours ago, Rita Banerjee was in the middle of a generation coming of age and witnessing 9/11. Her essay “Birth of Cool” captures how a generation of young people watched 9/11 and kept their cool.

An excerpt from “Birth of Cool,” which debuts in Hunger Mountain (Issue 23: Silence & Power) follows below:

Lauren played her Gibson on the phone for me. Voodoo Child. Learning Hendrix one blistered finger at a time. Stairway to Heaven. A poster of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant hung on her bedroom wall. Plant made love to the microphone in his too-tight jeans and denim jacket. His threads hadn’t been washed in decades. Neither had he. His hair was a total mess: wastrel, lion, drunken boat. His stance suggested everything hot and sticky and full of sweat. Plant sang as if his life depended on it. As if Page were a living siren: all dark curls and velvet. Soft everywhere. And cool where it mattered. Who was the devil and who the angel here? Their hair, their dishabille, their guitar riffs, their primal screams. What were Plant and Page selling to us, neo-nostalgic teens of the ’90s? Was it sex or something else? A taste of barely contained passion or total apathy? Whatever it was, it became the object of our attraction, our envy. Could a woman ever be so decadent? So illustrious? So free?

Lauren bent over her guitar and strummed, as if she were searching for an answer, as if the metallic edge of her Gibson could vibrate to the right pitch of cool. Her mom had immigrated from Hong Kong and her dad came from nowhere Zen, New Jersey. They spoke Cantonese on the phone together when they wanted to keep their secrets secret. But Lauren, always listening when she shouldn’t have, found out that her mother was pregnant anyway. Her father played in garage bands. He was born with an electric guitar. And so was she. When our history teacher went around the class and asked what kind of music do you listen to? I said, “Garbage,” and Lauren, “Hendrix.”

At her sweet sixteen, we sang “Landslide,” in an improvised, acoustic harmony. Her living room, surrounded by turn-of-the-century Qing chests and miniature lacquered paintings, felt like a recording studio that afternoon. Red cushions, low lights, and dark walnut furniture. A makeshift cabaret for a bunch of girls, barely legal. Gillian with her dark hair and half-smile, belting out the lyrics louder than anyone else. As if she were Stevie Nicks, herself, and knew the truth about pain. Her parents had divorced. Ours just seemed to fight all the time. So Gillian held the honor of being part mystic, part witch in our tribe.

At another sweet sixteen, Maddy sang, “I Will Survive,” and we girls danced primitive, like women, as if our lives depended on it. What heartaches had we experienced? What did we know about life at sixteen? Most of us hadn’t seriously been in love yet. With a man or a woman. We were just beginning to learn what it meant to come of age. To gaze into the future. To gaze back, an old crone, towards all the mistakes and milestones of our life. And what we saw, at sixteen, frightened us. We were experienced. We sang Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin together in Lauren’s living room, as if classic rock could keep the future at bay. As if these staged rebels in their infinite costumes, postures, and expressions of cool could save us. Save us from becoming adults. Save us from becoming women. Save us from a million taboos and stigmas and haunting forms of socialization.

“Darling go make it happen,” Lauren’s voice picked up tempo on the phone, “take the world in a love embrace.” Her guitar kept up the song’s dirty rhythm and twanged just when it mattered. I tried to impress her by playing back Joplin, Brubeck, Bach, Beethoven, Yann Tiersen, different time signatures, and chord progressions on the piano. In the ’90s, we spent so many afternoons like that. On the second line just for us: chatterboxes, klutzes, not yet agents of our lives. Girls. Our songs fused and interrogated one another. They hardly made sense. But that’s how we were. She and me. Latchkey kids. Part-time musicians. Like a true nature’s child. Our jams short-circuited every style in history.

To read the full essay, order a copy of Hunger Mountain or visit their website here.

C&R Press Spontaneous Reading Party feat. Rita Banerjee – Concrete + Water, Brooklyn – June 8, 6:30 pm

Rita Banerjee will be reading from CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing (co-edited with Diana Norma Szokolyai, C&R Press, May 2018) at C&R Press’s Spontaneous Reading Party, which will be held Concrete + Water on Saturday, June 8, 2019.  The reading will take place from 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm.  Stop by to hear some great writers and luminaries!   To order a copy of CREDO, please visit C&R Press’s website here.

About CREDO:

CREDO. I believe. No other statement is so full of intent and subversion and power. A Credo is a call to arms. It is a declaration. A Credo is the act of an individual pushing back against society, against established stigmas, taboos, values, and norms. A Credo provokes. It desires change. A Credo is an artist or community challenging dogma, and putting oneself on the frontline. A Credo is art at risk. A Credo can be a marker of revolution. A Credo, is thus, the most calculating and simple form of a manifesto.

CREDO creates a bridge from the philosophical to the practical, presenting a triad of creative writing manifestos, essays on the craft of writing, and creative writing exercises. CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing is a raw look at what motivates authors today.

Contributing Authors:

Kazim Ali * Forrest Anderson *  Rita Banerjee * Lisa Marie Basile
Jaswinder Bolina * Stephanie Burt * Alexander Carrigan * Sam Cha
Melinda J. Combs * Thade Correa * Jeff Fearnside * Ariel Francisco
John Guzlowski * Rachael Hanel * Janine Harrison * Lindsay Illich
Douglas Charles Jackson * Caitlin Johnson * Christine Johnson-Duell * Jason Kapcala * Richard Kenney * Eva Langston * John Laue * Stuart Lishan * Ellaraine Lockie * Amy MacLennan * Kevin McLellan * E. Ce. Miller * Brenda Moguez * Peter Mountford * Nell Irvin Painter * Robert Pinsky * Kara Provost * Camille Rankine * Jessica Reidy * Amy Rutten * Elisabeth Sharp McKetta * David Shields * Lillian Ann Slugocki * Maya Sonenberg * Kathleen Spivack * Laura Steadham Smith * Molly Sutton Kiefer * Jade Sylvan * Anca L. Szilágyi * Diana Norma Szokolyai * Marilyn L. Taylor * Megan Jeanine Tilley * Suzanne Van Dam * Nicole Walker * Allyson Whipple * Shawn Wong * Caroll Yang * Matthew Zapruder

April 25: Workshop for Film-in-Progress at the Savoy Theatre * 1:15-3:15 pm

Writers Rita Banerjee and David Shields will present a Workshop for their Film-in-Progress at the Savoy Theatre in Downtown Montpelier, VT from 1:15-3:15 pm on Thursday, April 25. Members of the community and writers and artists from the Vermont College of Fine Arts are welcome to attend.  A description of the film follows below:

Shortly before the November 2015 terrorist attacks, David Shields, who is Jewish, and Rita Banerjee, who is Bengali, come to Paris to try to understand the current American racial cataclysm from a French perspective. David and Rita try to discuss skin color, class, gender, privilege, and art—only to discover that they disagree about everything. Back in the States, they discover that the space between any two people is the source of all hate and all love.

Rita Banerjee’s “Echo in Four Beats” selected for the Ruth Stone Foundation Book Club

 

Rita Banerjee’s poetry debut Echo in Four Beats (FLP, 2018) has been selected for the Ruth Stone Foundation Book Club.  The Ruth Stone Foundation will feature Echo in Four Beats on a podcast this Spring along with an interview of Banerjee this Spring.

Established in 2013, The Foundation serves to fulfill Ruth Stone’s wish that her physical and literary estate would be used for the furthering of poetry and the creative arts. It was created not only to nurture contemporary poetry and art in its many forms, but also to cultivate and celebrate the works and legacy of the poet herself.  The Ruth Stone Foundation seeks to provide poets and artists time, space,  and opportunities to create new work and share it with a wider audience.  This is accomplished through The Foundation’s small-press publishing house, the Next Galaxy Poetry Initiative (a writers’ retreat and haven, located in Ruth Stone’s house in Goshen, Vermont) and other programming in New York City. Compelled by Ruth Stone’s life and work, The Foundation seeks to support under-represented artists and stand for a literary community outside the usual institutions.  The Ruth Stone Foundation connects the writers and artists it supports with the community at large, especially to empower women and foster leadership through creativity, writing, and publishing.

Rita Banerjee’s poetry collection, Echo in Four Beats, has also been nominated for the2019 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize at the Academy of American Poets, has been selected by Finishing Line Press as their 2018 Nominee for the National Book Award in Poetry, has been nominated for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and was recently named one of Book Riot’s “Must-Read Poetic Voices of Split This Rock 2018.”

Combining elements, rhythms, and personas from American jazz, blues, and ragtime, poet Rita Banerjee presents a modern-day spin on the love story of Echo and Narcissus in her debut full-length poetry collection, Echo in Four Beats.  But in this story, told in four parts, Echo is more than just a fragment, she is a Sapphic voice that speaks, foretells, forestalls, and repeats.

Rita Banerjee’s Echo in Four Beats (March 9, 2018) is available for order on the Finishing Line Press website as well as at Barnes & Noble and internationally on Amazon.com.

Hunger Mountain feat. Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” now available for order & at AWP 2019!

Hunger Mountain‘s new issue on Silence & Power is now available for preorder, and will be debuting at AWP 2019 in Portland, Oregon.  Celebrate 2019 by resolving to read more lit journals, like Hunger Mountain!  Issue 23 of Hunger Mountain features Rita Banerjee’s new essay “Birth of Cool.” 

This issue’s theme is sure to make you want to lean in and listen closely. Our guest editors—Natalie Scenters-Zapico, James Scott, and Yamile S. Méndez—have chosen amazing pieces for you, including new poetry by Paul Tran, W. Todd Kaneko, & Rosebud Ben-Oni, prose by Michael Martone, Tiphanie Yanique, Rita Banerjee, & much more.

Hunger Mountain editors Erin Stalcup, Miciah Bay Gault, and Cameron Finch will signing copies of the new magazine and meeting with writers at AWP Booths 5021 and 5023 at AWP 2019 in Portland, OR from 1-2 pm on Friday, March 29.  Stop by Booths 5021 and 5023 to pick up your copy of Hunger Mountain this week!  So preorder the magazine or get a copy of Hunger Mountain at AWP 2019!!!

PREORDER NOW AND REDEEM HUNGER MOUNTAIN’S SPECIAL OFFER!