14th National Black Writers Conference Participant Bios

14th National Black Writers Conference

Participant Bios


Meena Alexander is the author of eight books of poetry, two novels, two volumes of essays, and the memoir Fault Lines. Her volumes of poetry include Illiterate Heart (2002), winner of the PEN Open Book Award; Raw Silk (2004) and Birthplace with Buried Stones 2013). She has received awards from the Guggenheim, Fulbright and Rockefeller Foundations, the Arts Council of England and the Imbongi Yesizwe International Poetry Award from South. Her poetry has been translated and set to music, most recently by the Swedish composer Jan Sandstrom. She is Distinguished Professor of English at the Graduate Center/Hunter College, CUNY.

Regina Brooks is the founder and president of Serendipity Literary Agency LLC in New York, New York. Her agency is the largest African American-owned agency in the country and has represented and established a diverse base of award-winning clients in adult and young adult fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature. In 2015, Publishers Weekly nominated Brooks as a PW Star Watch Finalist. Writer’s Digest magazine named Serendipity Literary Agency as one of the top 25 literary agencies. She is the author of Essence Magazine’s quick pick children’s book, Never Finished Never Done  (Scholastic), Writing Great Books for Young Adults (2e, Sourcebooks), and You Should Really Write A Book: How To Write, Sell And Market Your Memoir (St. Martin’s Press).

Carolyn A. Butts is the publisher/founder of African Voices, a leading arts magazine devoted to publishing fine art and literature by artists of color. The magazine celebrates 25 years in April 2018. Butts is also the founder of the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series (www.reelsisters.org), the first annual Brooklyn-based festival that showcases films produced, directed and written by women of color.  Reel Sisters is the first Academy Qualifying Film Festival for Shorts devoted to women of color. Butts was featured in 50Bold.com (https://50bold.com/carolyn-butts-builds-bridges-fulfills-dreams/) for her accomplishments. Reel Sisters is on Film Daily’s top best 10 women centered festivals list (https://filmdaily.co/news/female-focused-film-festivals/). The festival will be held on October 20-21, 2018, at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn.

For information on African Voices visit www.africanvoices.com.

After receiving degrees in both English literature and sociology from Baruch College, Jocquelle S. Caiby opted to nurture her love of great stories by pursuing a career in publishing. She started her journey as an intern at Serendipity Literary Agency, and, after deciding she never wanted to leave, transitioned into her current roles as junior agent and literary assistant. At Serendipity, she’s assisted in the realization of incredible projects in a variety of categories, including the legendary Dick Gregory’s final book, Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies, and creator of Disney channel favorites Jump In! and The Proud Family, Doreen Spicer Dannelly’s debut middle grade novel, Love Double Dutch. Caiby’s own publishing passions lie in young adult, and she is currently in the midst of building her client list with the goal of championing creativity and diversity, and building fresh new voices into commercial and literary powerhouses.

Rakia Clark is a senior editor at Boston-based Beacon Press, though she works from New York City. She acquires nonfiction that examines social justice issues through a pop culture lens. That’s mainly media, technology, sports, criminal justice, race, class, narrative nonfiction, and biography/memoir. Her previous editorial posts include HarperCollins, Viking Penguin, and Kensington Publishing Corp.



Brittney Cooper is assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University. She is a Black feminist theorist who specializes in the study of Black women’s intellectual history, hip-hop generation feminism, and race and gender representation in popular culture.

Desiree Cooper is a former attorney and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist. Her award-winning, debut collection of flash fiction, Know the Mother, delves into the intersection of gender and race. Cooper’s fiction and poetry have appeared in CallalooDetroit Noir, and Best African American Fiction 2010, among other publications. A 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow, Cooper was a founding board member of Cave Canem, and is currently a Kimbilio Fellow, a national residency for Black fiction writers.




Nicole Dennis-Benn is the author of Here Comes the Sun, a New York Times Notable Book of the year, which was named to NPR, BuzzFeed, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com’s Best Books of 2016 and Kirkus Reviews’, O Magazine, BBC, Entertainment Weekly, Book Riot, and others as Best Debut Fiction of 2016. Capturing the complexity of gender, class, race, and sexuality in Jamaica, its writing is “as lush as the island itself,” says the Boston Globe. The book is about “women pushed to the edge, Jamaica in all its beauty and fury,” says Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James. Jennifer Senior, book reviewer for the New York Times, describes the novel as a “lithe, artfully-plotted debut.”

Dennis-Benn is a Lambda Literary Award winner and a finalist for the 2016 John Leonard Prize National Book Critics Circle Award, the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, Dublin Literary Award, and the 2017 Young Lions Fiction Award. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesElleElectric LiteratureEbony, and the Feminist Wire. Dennis-Benn is a graduate of St. Andrew High School for Girls and Cornell University; and holds a Master of Public Health from University of Michigan, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She has been awarded fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Lambda, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Dennis-Benn is a Kowald Visiting Faculty in City College MFA Program and Faculty in the Creative Writing Program at NYU. She was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.

Linda A. Duggins is senior director of Publicity at Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. As co-founder of the Harlem Book Fair, she has helped to create a nationally recognized venue that promotes literacy and literary expressions with writers of the Diaspora.  Duggins is the creator and producer of the Annual International Women’s History Month Literary Festival at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland. She is on the Board of Directors of the National Book Club Conference, based in Atlanta, Georgia, whose mission is to advance literacy and knowledge through reading and dialogue; Board of Directors of Kweli, an online literary journal supporting diverse voices; as well as the Board of Directors of the Queensbridge Scholarship Fund, serving college bound students in the Queensbridge and Ravenswood housing developments in the New York City area. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Misty Copeland, and Joy Thomas Moore are among the many great authors represented by Duggins at Hachette.

Cornelius Eady is the author of Hardheaded Weather (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008); Brutal Imagination (2001), which was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award in Poetry; the autobiography of a jukebox (1997); You Don’t Miss Your Water (1995); The Gathering of My Name (1991), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; BOOM BOOM BOOM (1988); Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (1985), which was chosen by Louise Glück, Charles Simic, and Philip Booth for the 1985 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets; and Kartunes (1980).

In 1996, Eady and the poet Toi Derricote founded Cave Canem, a nonprofit organization serving Black poets of various backgrounds and acting as a safe space for intellectual engagement and critical debate. Along with Derricote, he also edited Gathering Ground (University of Michigan Press, 2006). In 2016, she and Eady accepted the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community on behalf of Cave Canem.

Wallace Ford is principal and founder of Fordworks Associates Inc., a management consulting and advisory firm based in New York.  He is also the author of two published novels (The Pride and What You Sow) and the creator and author of the Point of View contemporary commentary blog – www.wallaceford.wordpress.com  – the columns from which will soon be published as a book. Mr. Ford is also the host of “The Inclusion Show with Wallace Ford,” an online video program–www.theinclusionshow.com . He is also a frequent guest host and commentator on political events and business issues on Arise TV – www.arise.tv  and a contributor to Black Noire Renaissance literary magazine.

Marita Golden is an acclaimed, award-winning author of more than a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction. As a teacher of writing, she has served as a member of the faculties of George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the Fairfield University, and Johns Hopkins University. She cofounded and serves as president emeritus of Hurston/Wright Foundation. She is the recipient of many awards, including the Writers for Writers Award presented by Barnes & Noble and Poets & Writers, and the Fiction Award for her novel After awarded by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. The author lives in Washington, D.C.



Margo Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, is the author of Negroland, which won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, The International Bridge Prize and The Heartland Prize. It was also short-listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize. She has been a staff writer for The New York Times, and her reviews and essays have been widely published and anthologized.  She lives in New York and teaches in the writing program at Columbia University.





Rosamond S. King is a creative and critical writer and performer whose work is deeply informed by her cultures and communities, by history, and by a sense of play.  Her publications include the collection Rock | Salt | Stone and poems in more than three dozen journals, anthologies, and blogs, including The Feminist Wire, Drunken Boat, The Caribbean Writer, and the award-winning Kindergarde: Experimental Writing for Children. King is associate professor at Brooklyn College.

Bakari Kitwana is a journalist, activist and political analyst whose commentary on politics and youth culture have been seen on the CNN, FOX News, C-SPAN, PBS, and heard on NPR. He’s currently Senior Media Fellow at the Harvard Law-based think tank The Jamestown Project, and the CEO of Rap Sessions: Community Dialogues on Hip-Hop, which conducts town hall meetings around the country on difficult dialogues facing the hip-hop generation. He is the author of Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era: Interviews and Essays is forthcoming from Third World Press.

Jacqueline Jones LaMon is the author of two award-winning collections of poetry: Gravity, U.S.A., and Last Seen; and a novel, In the Arms of One Who Loves Me.  A professor at Adelphi University, she served as the immediate past president of Cave Canem Foundation Inc.






Bernice L. McFadden is the author of The Book of Harlan, winner of the 2017 American Book Award and the 2017 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. She is the author of  eight other critically acclaimed novels including SugarLoving DonovanGathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a four-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. Praise Song for the Butterflies is her latest novel.



Monique Patterson is an editorial director and executive editor at St. Martin’s Press. She has published countless New York Times best-selling and award-winning authors. Some of her authors include cofounder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and award-winning author asha bandele (When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir), National Book Award Winner Jeff Chang (Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation and Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America), No. 1 New York Times best sellers PC and Kristin Cast (Moon Chosen & The Dysasters), New York Times best-selling husband and wife writing duo Ashley and JaQuavis (The Cartel series), and award-winning author Sarah Bird (Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen).



Gregory Pardlo’s ​collection​ Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His other honors​ include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. He is poetry editor of Virginia Quarterly ReviewAir Traffic, a memoir in essays, is forthcoming from Knopf.


Andrea J. Ritchie, author of the critically acclaimed book Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color (Beacon, 2017,) is a Black lesbian immigrant, police-misconduct attorney, and a 2014 Senior Soros Justice Fellow, with more than two decades of experience advocating against police violence and the criminalization of women and LGBTQ people of color. She is currently Researcher-in-Residence on Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Criminalization at the Barnard Center for Research on Women and the coauthor of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women (AAPF, 2015) and Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Beacon, 2011). She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago, Illinois. More at www.andreajritchie.com/bio.


Evie Shockley is the author of three books of poetry, most recently semiautomatic (Wesleyan, 2017) and the new black (Wesleyan, 2011; winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry).  She has also published a critical study, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (Iowa, 2011).  Currently serving as creative writing editor for Feminist Studies, Shockley is associate professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.


Mychal Denzel Smith is the New York Times best-selling author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching (Nation Books, 2016) and a 2017 NAACP Image Award nominee. His work has appeared online and in print for publications such as the Washington Post, New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Complex, GQ, Guernica, Literary Hub, Pitchfork, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, and many others. He has appeared as commentator or MSNBC, CNN, Democracy NOW!, NPR, and numerous other national/local radio and television outlets. In 2014 and 2016, TheRoot.com named him one of the “100 Most Influential African-Americans” in their annual The Root 100 list. He is a fellow at The Nation Institute.

Josef Sorett is an associate professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Columbia University. Sorett’s first book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2016), illumines how religion has figured in debates about black art and culture across the 20th century. His second book, The Holy Holy Black: The Ironies of an American Secular, will be out later this year.





Carol Taylor, a former Random House book editor, is a 25-year publishing veteran. She has worked as an editor, co-author, book doctor, and ghostwriter with literary and commercial writers, noted academics, public figures, and celebrities. She is editorial advisor at McKinnon McIntyre Literary Agency, and co-founded Edit1st.com with Troy Johnson of AALBC.com. Carol teaches in the Publishing Program at City College. At New York University, she teaches creative writing. She has also written ten books.  For more about Taylor, go to https://edit1st.com/about-edit-1st/editors/.

Jamia Wilson is the newly appointed executive director and publisher at The Feminist Press, which was founded in 1970 by Florence Howe as a crucial publishing component of second wave feminism, reprinting feminist classics by writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and providing much-needed texts for the developing field of women’s studies. Wilson joins the Press after serving as executive director of Women, Action, & the Media, a direct-action network dedicated to creating gender justice in media at all levels. Previously, Wilson has served as TED Prize Storyteller and VP of Programs at Women’s Media Center. A thought leader and writer, Wilson has contributed to New York Magazine, The New York Times, The Today Show, and The Guardian, and is a columnist for Rookie. In 2016, Wilson was honored as a Black Feminist Human Rights Defender by Black Women’s Blueprint and was recognized by Refinery 29 as one of “17 Faces of the Future of Feminism” in 2013.


8th Annual Poetry Café Participants


Featured Poet

Charan P. Morris is a New York-based poet/educator. A LAMBDA Literary Foundation Fellow, recipient of the Archie D. & Bertha H. Walker Scholarship for a Fine Arts Work Center 2013 workshop and participant in the 2014 Callaloo Workshop Retreat, her work has been published in Sinister Wisdom, Kweli Journal, The Mom Egg, Stand Our Ground anthology, Liberator Magazine and African Voices. In addition to being a fourteen-year NYC public school educator, Morris has facilitated poetry workshops with diverse groups of writers including formerly incarcerated youth and graduate students at Columbia University. She has performed as a feature poet for various audiences along the East Coast and the Midwest. She has shared a stage with artists such as Gill Scott-Heron, Climbing Poetree, The Last Poets, Staceyann Chin, Lemon Anderson, Toni Blackman, Ishle Park, and others. Her work fuels public dialogue around the destructive nature of colorism, homophobia and the effects of war.  Of course, sometimes she writes about being human.


Spotlight Poet

William Lohier is a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, and holds the title of 2018 Youth Poet Laureate of New York City. He is a sophomore at Stuyvesant High School, where he holds leadership positions with the Black Students League and the Speech and Debate Team, and serves as the Arts and Entertainment editor for the Stuyvesant Spector.



Emerging Poets

Phillip J. Ammonds, a Brooklyn native, is a founding member of the writing collective Writeous, with whom he has co-produced four chapbooks. Phillip curates “Rainbows Across the Diaspora,” the queer text reading series at Dixon Place in New York City. He also performs as Trinity Rayn, Drag Poet. His work has appeared in the anthology Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call (Vintage Entity Press, 2013), HIV: Here and Now Project, Yellow Mama, The Operating System, and Political Twist podcast(episode two).  Phillip has featured at The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art; The Anne Frank Center of New York, Glitter and Pomegranate, Soul Sister Revue reading series, and has appeared as a guest editor for the Operating System’s National Poetry Month 30/30. Instagram: trinity_rayn1;

Twitter: @TrinityRayn; and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/phillip.ammonds


Shavonne Bell is a writer from the Bronx with a love for poetry and storytelling. Her work is fueled by the healing from her own pain and trauma, and the journey of self-love she discovered along the way. She hopes her words help others dig deeper into themselves.

Twitter & Instagram: @shavonnebee





Angela Brown is a native New Yorker, raised in a Harlem home that was full of music. Her sense of rhythm and rhyme is rooted in jazz, rap, and R&B. Angela enjoys sharing her love of language with students and open mic audiences.

Twitter & Instagram: @angiegerib







DeBorah (Momma D) Gray is a native of Harlem, U.S.A.; she is married, a mother of two, a foster mom, and a grandmother. Her love for dance earned her recognition with Mama-Lu Park’s Dancers, George Sullivan Dance Troop, and The Dance Africa Celebration, as the artistic director for the Candle Bearers of Light & Love.  She was diagnosed with lupus several years ago, and withdrew from everything that gave birth to her dreams. Writing became therapy giving birth to verses and poetry now dances for her.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/deborah.gray.12935

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