Miami doesn't have much of a literary reputation. Despite the town's rich cultural diversity and ideal setting, few big-name local writers have emerged from South Florida. VONA is an organization looking to change that. Founded in 1999 by Junot Diaz, Elmaz Abinader, and Diem Jones, VONA gives a voice to the voiceless by supporting writers of color. It's not just a platform for local talent to reach a wider audience; the program provides feedback and instruction to aspiring writers at crucial points within their development.
“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," cofounder Junot Diaz says. "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.”
To cap off the two-week round of intense workshops, VONA is celebrating with a series of faculty and student readings. Faculty readings include Minal Hajratwala, author of Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents (winner of four nonfiction awards), Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment, and Out! Stories from the New Queer India; Chitra Divakaruni, an award-winning author, poet, activist, and teacher; and Tayari Jones, a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The readings, meant to encourage a sense of engagement from the local community, are free and open to the public.
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In its second year at the University of Miami, VONA has found a home where multiculturalism is valued and whose MFA program in creative writing is among the most diverse in the nation. Together they've helped serve more than 2,200 emerging writers since the organization was founded.
“These courses give power to writers of color to embolden their presence among the voices who are holding our attention,” says Diem Jones, VONA cofounder and executive director.
This year, readings are planned for Thursday, June 23, at 7 p.m. at the Villain Theatre and Thursday, June 30, at Books & Books in Coral Gables. For the budding literati out there, there's also an open mike scheduled for Tuesday, June 28, at the Books & Books + Bikes + Lebo pop-up store. For more information, visit voicesatvona.org. Readings are free and open, RSVP is requested.