Rejoice, Miami. We’re about to get a hell of a lot more literary starting June 21. For over 15 years, Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA) has offered workshops to writers of color, launched community writing programs and events, hosted faculty readings, and more. Originally based out of San Francisco, it's making its new home at the University of Miami, with the continued goal of providing more opportunities to young writers who might otherwise be overlooked.
“We knew that we had a working model here and when we started to look around at different places we could land, I stepped up and I pitched it to our dean and to our English department chair,” says M. Evelina Galang, who serves on the board of directors for VONA and teaches in and directs the creative writing program at UM. “They saw the ways that the vision and the mission of VONA really matched up with what the university was looking to do in terms of diversity and the arts.”
Founded in 1999 by Elmaz Abinader, Junot Díaz, Victor Díaz, and Diem Jones, over 2,000 writers from around the world have participated in workshops and more than 100 alums have published books. Dominican born Díaz — Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and MacArthur Genius Fellow — has been a longtime board member and instructor. He often writes about the immigrant experience, living in the margins, and navigating white spaces, and although there was no VONA early on in his career, he always sought a safe place for creativity.
“What happens to a writer is that there are multiple tutelages, multiple educations,” Díaz says. “You’re basically pulling everything you can out of everywhere. I certainly had a community [of minority writers] growing up and it’s something that gave me great comfort, great support, and great training.”
Similarly, Galang searched for a community of writers with similar goals but found it difficult to find constructive support early on in her career.
“I had a great experience growing up but I was always either the only woman of color in the classroom and definitely the only Filipina American in my workshops,” says Galang. “There were oftentimes missed opportunities for me as a writer and I didn’t get the same kind of attention that sometimes my white colleagues got.”
For now, two sessions will be held at UM: from June 21 through 27 and June 28 through July 4, with workshops offered in fiction, poetry, memoir, travel writing, political content, LGBTQ narrative, playwriting, and speculative fiction. While the deadline for admittance has passed, there will be two readings by VONA faculty.
“What I think is striking about something like VONA is that in some ways you get this extraordinary spectrum of literary artists under one roof,” says Díaz. “If you want to get a pulse of what’s happening in American literary arts, coming to a VONA reading or event will certainly give you a window into that.”
Even if you’re not a writer, the chance to see some of the most talented authors working today is a pretty rare opportunity — plus, these readings are completely free and open to the public. (Note: you must RSVP.)
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“The move is simultaneously a heartbreak and a great excitement,” Díaz says. “On the one hand we had to bid farewell to a community that more or less made VONA what it is and on the other hand we’re coming to a community that’s stupendous in its vibrancy and in its diversity.”
June 25, 7 p.m.: Díaz, along with VONA faculty/writers Elmaz Abinader, Staceyann Chin, Kim Euell, Ruth Forman, Marjorie Liu and David Mura will read at Coral Gables Congregational Church.
July 2, 7 p.m.: Faith Adiele, Chitra Divarkaruni, Tannarive Due, M. Evelina Galang, Achy Obejas, Willie Perdomo and Andrew X. Pham will read at Books & Books, Coral Gables.