It’s taken me almost a month to recover from the VONA workshop in Miami from June 28 – July 4, 2015. VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts) is the only multi-genre workshop for writers of color. This year was the first time the workshop was held at the University of Miami. Previously, the VONA workshops had taken place in the Bay Area.
VONA workshops occur over two weeks; I attended the Week 2 poetry workshop with Willie Perdomo, whose most recent poetry collection, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon, was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award (Poetry). Other writers attended workshops for fiction with Evelina Galang, memoir with Andrew X. Pham, travel writing with Faith Adiele, speculative fiction with Tananarive Due, LGBTQ writers with Achy Obejas, and the residency group with Chris Abani.
For me, the VONA experience was a fusion of VCFA and Cave Canem: there were old poems to workshop; new poems written every day; amazing faculty readings; inspiring student readings; and a culminating dance party. Of course, nothing compares to the beautiful U of M campus, complete with the lush orange flowers of the royal poinciana trees, free-roaming duck and ibis families, sudden thunderstorms, and crocodile warning signs.
What makes VONA a unique experience is the opportunity to interact with other writers of color. Although we spent most of the time in our workshop groups through lunch, there was ample time to hang out in the VONA lounge to chat with writers from other genres about their lives back home or watch them work on collages. For me, the highlight of VONA was the group presentation from the speculative fiction writers whose worm holes trips misplaced them in all the other genres until they found their way home.
Nothing about my time at VONA Miami would have been possible without my lovely suitemates—Elizabeth Zertuche (Apex, NC), Yesenia Flores Diaz (Maryland), and Dipti Singh (Bombay)—and my awesome poetry familia—Rebecca Brown (Chicago), Tomás Nieto (San Diego), Peter Noble (New Haven), Bobina Vander Laan (Richmond), Fatimah Ashgar, June Inuzuka (Denver), Michelle Moncayo (New Jersey), Charles Snyder (Long Beach/Bay Area, CA), Bianca Garcia (Miami), and Sarah Serrano (Brooklyn). Livelong connections!
VONA encouraged writers to form affinity groups to stay connected once we returned home. In addition to my roommate, I met other writers from NC as well as from the I-85 corridor (Richmond and Atlanta). Last Wednesday, the VONA NC branch met in Durham at Dulce Café. We commiserated about our slow recovery from the VONA immersion and our attempts to get back into the habit of writing now that we were fully back in our normal
lives. At the end, we promised to meet again in August at my house to write together and keep our VONA-flow going.