Ask a Poet: Rachel Wiley

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Welcome to the Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re chatting with Rachel Wiley!


What books of poetry/poets do you recommend to a new reader of poems?
Rachel McKibbens, Sharon Olds, Hieu Nguyen, Sam Sax, Franny Choi, A. Van Jordan, Jericho Brown, Mahogany Brown.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
When I was a kid – maybe 3rd grade – I found a book in the school library called Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield and I fell in love with the rhythm of the poems and the way someone could say so much with so few words. I started writing secret poetry around then and continued that practice into my 20’s.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?
We sadly did not explore a lot of poetry in high school. I stumbled upon Sylvia Plath on my own and was still writing secret poems – once I discovered Sylvia Plath’s work I felt I had permission to write the angstier feelings I was having as a young woman trying to figure out what was ahead of me.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
It always baffles me when someone says “…so do a poem!” It’s not an on/off switch – no one asks a painter to paint on the spot. Also being a poet with videos on YouTube I get recognized in public sometimes and that is never not weird. It’s really cool but it’s also
just weird. I’ve been recognized while out on dates and once while stuffing a burrito into my mouth at a food truck.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
I am always afraid to share what I write. The more scared I am the more I likely need to write and share it.

Do you have a favorite Festival moment from the past?
My first Dodge festival was in 2014 and it was overwhelming in the best possible way. The whole experience will likely remain one of my favorite lifetime memories. If I had to choose 1 major highlight though it would be the Women in Poetry panels I got to be part of first with Rachel McKibbens and Jan Beatty and the second with Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Sharon Olds, and Eavan Boland- those were empowering panels. I was in awe and honored to be part of them but I also felt like I belonged there.

Rachel Wiley is a queer, biracial poet and performer from Columbus, Ohio where she somehow holds down a rather boring day job. She is an ardent and intersectional feminist and a fat positive activist. Rachel is a fellow and faculty member of the Pink Door Writing Retreat held each year in Rochester, New York for women and nonbinary writers of color. She has toured nationally performing at slam venues, colleges, and festivals. Her work has appeared on Upworthy, The Huffington Post, The Militant Baker, Everyday Feminism and PBS News Hour. Her first poetry collection, Fat Girl Finishing School, was published in 2014 by Timber Mouse Publishing. Her second collection, Nothing is Okay, was published in March 2018 by Button Poetry and spent some time as Amazon’s #1 Gay & Lesbian Poetry Collection.

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Ask a Poet: Maria Mazziotti Gillan

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web header (1)Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re talking with Maria Mazziotti Gillan!

XGillanWhat was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?
Because I did not speak English until I went to school, and we spoke only Italian at home, I was gratified in grammar school to hear poetry read aloud by our teachers and I fell in love with it. It was in high school, however, that I was introduced to poets whose work really spoke to me by two amazing teachers, Mr. Weiss and Miss Durban. They made me brave in a way I had never been before, and taught me to shed my shy skin when I read poems aloud in those classrooms at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey. I was so fortunate to have these teachers who introduced me to poets like Amy Lowell, T. S. Eliot, Wordsworth, Yeats and e. e. cummings, poets whose work I still love. My only regret is that I did not write letters to those teachers to thank them for asking me to read poetry out loud in their classrooms, and for teaching me about the music of language.

What is the role of poetry in today’s world?
As an immigrant child coming from a family with very little money, living in a house where English was not spoken, I was extremely shy and inarticulate. Through poetry, I was able to write down everything I was feeling, all the things I couldn’t express directly to other people in spoken English. Poetry gave me a voice and a way of communicating with the world. I have spent my life dedicated to poetry and its power to change our lives. Recently, I wrote a book on writing, called Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories. In that book, I try to give others the courage I learned for myself after much struggling. I think poetry can change the world and make a bridge between people that helps us to understand one another even if we come from various countries, places, and social classes. Poetry gives us the chance to explore what it means to be human.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
I’ve written a lot of things I was afraid to share. In the beginning, when I first started to
write, I was trying to hide behind language and reference to Greek gods, and other things that I thought would erase the fact that I came from a poor, immigrant family. Gradually, I started to move toward putting details of my own life and my own experiences into my poetry, worrying less about proving that I was smart and more about how I was communicating through the poems. For many of my earlier poems, I put a screen between me and the world. I tried to get simpler and more direct in order to build a bridge between me and other people. But often I was afraid to be that vulnerable. Sometimes, I’m afraid of all I reveal in my poems. An example would be the poems I wrote about my husband’s early onset Parkinson’s disease and his 25-year illness. I tried to be honest about the complexities of that situation, and I still find some of those poems difficult to read without crying. They are poems I felt I needed to write, and they illuminate what it was like to live with a debilitating illness for a long period of time. I hope my poetry gives the people who read it the courage to open all the secret compartments in their own lives.

What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Dodge Poetry Festival?
What I love about the festival is the energy it generates. There is electricity in the air from so many people listening to poems, and listening to poets talk about their work and about what poetry means to them. I find it particularly exciting on the student day, because I love to see the students so engaged with poetry. I think of how much poetry has helped me and how it’s saved me, and maybe there’s a student there who is shy and introverted, and has stories they are afraid to tell. The festival allows a person to find the words to express their feelings.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is a recipient of the 2014 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature from the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, and the 2008 American Book Award for her book, All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions). She is the founder/executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She is also director of the Binghamton Center for Writers and the creative writing program, and professor of English at Binghamton University-SUNY.  She has published 23 books, including Paterson Light and Shadow (Serving House Books, 2017); What Blooms in Winter (NYQ Books, 2016); The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets (Cat in the Sun Books, 2014); Ancestors’ Song (Bordighera Press, 2013); The Silence in an Empty House (NYQ Books, 2013); Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories (MiroLand, Guernica Editions, 2013); The Place I Call Home (NYQ Books, 2012); and What We Pass On: Collected Poems 1980-2009 (Guernica Editions, 2010). With her daughter Jennifer, she is co-editor of four anthologies. Visit her website,

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Ask a Poet: Nicole Sealey

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Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re talking with Nicole Sealey!


Hey Nicole! What’s new with you?
Just out this past September, my debut collection of poems, Ordinary Beast, is what’s new with me! Since the book was released, I’ve been invited to read, participate on panels, and visit classrooms. And, my schedule shows no signs of slowing… and I’m cool with that. In the next few months, I’m off to Florence, Italy, upstate New York, Indianapolis, New Haven, and Norfolk!

If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it?
Not in great detail, as I wouldn’t want to scare them off. Of my poems I’d say: I’m exploring my obsessions—love, loss as well as the large and small violences that have shaped me/us— and, in so doing, engaging in a lifelong conversation with myself and by extension you.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
Not at a reading per se, but an interaction with a reading audience nonetheless. An English teacher at a school in upstate New York emailed me earlier this year to let me know that her English class was studying “Clue,” a poem I’d written inspired by the murder mystery game of the same name. The teacher wrote, “We love finding the names of the characters and [would-be] weapons within the text.” A month later, I received video of the class in costume, dramatizing the poem, and having fun while doing so. This was the absolute best!

Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole Sealey is the author of Ordinary Beast, finalist for the 2018 PEN Open Book Award, and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, winner of the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her other honors include a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from The American Poetry Review, a Daniel Varoujan Award and the Poetry International Prize, as well as fellowships from CantoMundo, Cave Canem, MacDowell Colony and the Poetry Project. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming to Best American Poetry 2018, The New Yorker, The New York Times and elsewhere. Nicole holds an MLA in Africana studies from the University of South Florida and an MFA in creative writing from New York University. She is the executive director at Cave Canem Foundation and the 2018-2019 Doris Lippman Visiting Poet at The City College of New York.

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Ask a Poet: Forrest Gander

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Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re getting to know Forrest Gander!


XGander1What is the role of poetry in today’s world?
Poets ask themselves this same question all the time. Some people say cultures have moved away from words, towards image: movies, video, spectacle instead of quiet hours of reading. But in Roman times, two thousand years ago, poets shared work and read out loud in the street and most people ignored them and went to see the spectacle of lions eating gladiators in the coliseum. Ask yourself: what matters to us now from Roman times? It’s the literature and the art, not the wild spectacles or the names of lions. We see those times and hear the voices of those times in poems by great Roman poets. Literature has a way of enduring, of making a deep impression on our souls. I think it’s the same way now. In every country on earth, in every culture, young people are writing poems. The young continue to find poetry. Poems, the keenest deployment of language, seem to fill a need in human beings, some longing for a sharper articulation of our feelings, our imaginations. Poetry doesn’t make anyone much money, but it helps people to recognize themselves, and so it has a place in today’s world. You sometimes have to look for it, but maybe that makes it even more valuable to find.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
Let me answer that from the side of the audience, with someone else’s reading. Michael Ondaatje has a poem—and the poem is way better than my narrative of it—in which he describes some memories of a close friend. The friend has come to a poetry reading to hear a poet whose work he doesn’t know. He’s sitting in the front row when the poet appears on his left and goes up to the podium. After two poems, Ondaatje’s friend realizes that he absolutely can’t bear this guy’s poetry. He starts looking desperately for a way to escape, but he’s in the front row. To his left, he sees a door that he presumes the featured poet must have entered the room through, so after the next poem, he jumps up and walks quickly to the door, opens it up and steps into . . . a broom closet. He stands there for a while in the dark and he starts laughing uncontrollably, so hard that he’s sure everyone in the room has heard him. When he gets control of himself, he opens the door and goes back to sit down in his seat again.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
At a party I was at in Arkansas, a fundraiser for Bill Clinton, I was talking with a man, each of us with a glass of white wine in our hands. I’m usually uncomfortable in those situations anyway, but this guy had cornered me. He was talking nonstop and I was listening for ten minutes or so, when finally he asked me, Well, what do you do? I said, I’m a poet. He looked at me like I’d said I was an alien come to abduct his children. Really, his eyes dilated in disgust. And he just turned and walked away as though he had wasted all that talking on me. Later, I asked someone who he was, what he did. Turns out he was a proctologist. He spent every day looking into people’s butts, and he thought writing poems was crazy.

Forrest Gander is a writer, translator, and editor of several anthologies of writing from Spain and Mexico. His 2011 poetry collection Core Samples from the World was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His other books include two novels, As A Friend and The Trace; the poetry collections Eye Against Eye, Torn Awake, Science & Steepleflower; and the essay collection Faithful Existence: Reading, Memory & Transcendence. Gander’s essays have appeared in The Nation, The Boston Review, and the New York Times Book Review. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim, Howard, United States Artists, and Whiting Foundations. His next collection of poetry, Be With, is forthcoming in May of 2018.

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Ask a Poet: Marilyn Nelson

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re spending some time with Marilyn Nelson!


Hey Marilyn! What’s new with you?
What’s new with me? Every day is new: I can’t stop myself from realizing that many times a day. Every moment is new. A couple of days ago I watched my 12-month old granddaughter see a rhinoceros. Watched her look at the picture in the identification plaque in front of the enclosure, then look at the actual creature pacing there. Back to the picture, back to the actual rhino, over and over again. I feel like that a lot. Yesterday for lunch in a Vietnamese cafe in Chicago, I had a bahn mi sandwich. Today I realized I can probably hire an assistant to help me organize my little library and my notes toward various writing projects. I have several new projects approaching from the distance.

What are you currently reading?
Books by Tracy K. Smith, Jenny Xie, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires, as well as old issues of The New Yorker.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
In Washington, DC during a time when there were lots of news stories about war in Somalia, I was picked up in a taxi driven by a beautiful young man who said, when I asked where he was from, that he was from Somalia.

A long awkward silence followed. I thought about the turmoil that was going on over there, which had probably brought him to the US. Finally, he broke the silence by asking about me. I said I was in DC for a conference. He asked what kind of conference. I said A Poetry conference. “Poetry?” he asked. “What is this “poetry”?” I couldn’t thing of a meaningful response.

Do you have a favorite Festival moment from the past?
Favorite Festival moment from the past: “In Praise: Music and Poetry” reading with Gary Snyder, The Parkington Sisters, and the Newark Boys Chorus, in 2014. The boys are singing here, and Gary and I are sitting in front of them.

Marilyn Nelson was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her most recent poetry collections include My Seneca Village (namelos, 2015), How I Discovered Poetry (Dial Press, 2014), Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (Louisiana State University Press, 2012), and The Cachoeira Tales, and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2005). She has received a Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2001 to 2006, she served as the Poet Laureate of Connecticut. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013. Nelson currently lives in Connecticut and is a Poet-in-Residence at The American Poets Corner of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

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Join us Tuesday for our Grantee Call for a conversation about our new vision

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Two weeks ago, we shared with you our strategic plan and new vision for an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities.

Join us at 2 p.m. Tuesday for a conversation about our new vision and news about our leadership transition. We’ll take your questions about the changes to come and begin to hear your thoughts.

Registration is required to join this event. If you have not registered, please do so now.

Register here.

Our new vision

Equity is one of the most important issues facing society today, and foundations and nonprofts across the country are working to address inequities in the communities they serve. By centering equity in its plan, we seek to learn what’s working elsewhere, and to bring our knowledge of New Jersey and programming perspective to address equity issues in the state.

Read more and download our plan.

We are listening!

If you can’t make it to our Grantee Call, or even if you can, we are excited to hear from you. Send us your questions or comments about our strategic plan or your technical questions about registering for our Grantee Call at

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Dodge transitions: Chris Daggett announces retirement from Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

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Dodge Foundation President and CEO Chris Daggett at the Dodge Poetry Festival at NJPAC in 2016. © T Charles Erickson Photography

Dodge Foundation President and CEO Chris Daggett at the Dodge Poetry Festival at
NJPAC in 2016.


After eight years leading one of New Jersey’s largest and most well-known philanthropic organizations, Chris Daggett is retiring as president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation on September 1.

Chris Daggett, Dodge president and CEO

Chris Daggett, Dodge president and CEO

Under Daggett’s leadership, the Foundation recently completed a strategic plan that envisions an equitable New Jersey. The new vision and mission, and the refreshed goals and strategies, move Dodge boldly in a new direction more reflective of the current and rapidly changing demographics and needs of the state.

“I am very excited about the strategic plan, and believe it will enable Dodge to help citizens and nonprofit organizations become more engaged in their communities and more inclusive in their work. I have been fortunate to be involved in this important shift in priorities and now leave to my successor the challenges and opportunities of implementing the plan,” Daggett said.

During his tenure, Daggett also built on the Foundation’s leadership position in arts, education, environment, poetry, and technical assistance training to nonprofit organizations in the state. In addition, out of concern for the national dramatic downsizing and closing of many newspaper companies, he initiated and led a greatly expanded focus of Dodge on local news and information through a new Informed Communities program.

“The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and, more importantly, the people of New Jersey have benefited from Chris’ dedication to the state, its arts, environment and education,” said Board chair Christopher “Kim” Elliman. “Chris’ signature achievements were in orchestrating the philanthropic commitment to fostering an ecosystem for local news, for the response and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, and for the increased focus on training STEM teachers for New Jersey’s schools. Chris worked tirelessly to make New Jersey a better place to live and work, from the urban north to the rural south of the state, recognizing the broad diversity of New Jersey and crafting a more equitable society. We are grateful for his eight-plus years and for all that he has and will continue to do for this state.”

Established in 1974 through the generosity of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, the Foundation provides financial and technical support to nonprofit organizations throughout New Jersey. It also presents biennially the largest poetry festival in the country, bringing together the world’s most acclaimed poets including numerous U.S. Poets Laureate and winners of virtually every major poetry award. On October 18-21, the Festival will be held in Newark for the fifth consecutive time.

Since Daggett started in 2010, the Foundation has awarded more than $90 million in grants to hundreds of organizations. It also has received recognition for its work in the Informed Communities program through nearly $5 million in funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund. In addition, Daggett raised over $10 million of support from other foundations in New Jersey and New York City for Dodge’s work in helping five New Jersey universities revamp their Master’s degree teacher training programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM, and, when adding the arts, STEAM), through the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

In 2012, Dodge and the Community Foundation of New Jersey raised over $7 million to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy, providing support for mid- and long-term recovery. The New Jersey Recovery Fund helped with important efforts of land-use planning and social and mental health services, among other means of support beyond immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter provided by local, county, state, and federal emergency relief organizations.

“Working for the Dodge Foundation has been a remarkable opportunity for which I am most grateful. I am proud of the staff and trustees for all that we have been able to accomplish together, and look forward to following the work of the Foundation,” Daggett added. “I am committed to identifying other opportunities and challenges that allow me to continue contributing to the well-being of the state. ”

Prior to coming to Dodge, Daggett served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Cabinet Secretary to Governor Thomas H. Kean, Region 2 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. He also was a managing director of William E. Simon & Sons and a principal at JM Sorge Environmental Consultants. He has served on numerous nonprofit boards in education, the environment, and public policy over the past 25 years. Currently, he serves on the boards of the Schumann Fund for New Jersey and the Hudson River Foundation. In 2009, he ran as an independent candidate for governor.

Daggett will stay through the summer months to ensure a smooth transition of leadership, and will be available as needed afterwards to provide help to the Foundation.

Photo at top is © T Charles Erickson Photography

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Ask a Poet: Joseph O. Legaspi

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Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re getting to know Joseph O. Legaspi!


What are you currently reading?
I typically read a few books of different genres at a time, in addition to news, articles and essays from print and online magazines and sources. Currently I’m immersed in Jon Pineda’s Let’s No One Get Hurt (fiction), Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (nonfiction) and We’re On: A June Jordan Reader, a hybrid collection of the late writer’s works. As for poetry, I’m feasting on Jenny Xie’s Eye Level, Evie Shockley’s semiautomatic, Wesley Rothman’s Subwoofer, Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Oceanic.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
Poetry has been such a constant presence in my life. Even as a child I loved nursery rhymes and just the way words look. My body instinctively reacted and moved and danced to songs. Growing up in the Philippines, the world around me hummed and glowed with such light that I attested to some kind of poetic sensibility. I’d written poems since elementary school, albeit I was unclear of the form and the intent then. Not until I discovered Robert Frost in junior high school that I began to write poems deliberately, intentionally. I learned poetic traditions throughout high school and into my early years in college: the Shakespearean sonnets, Keats, Yeats and Wordsworth. But I truly broke open when I began reading and learning from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, then the contemporary poets like Philip Levine, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sharon Olds. Again my world shattered when I discovered Asian American poets: Li- Young Lee, Kimiko Hahn, Marilyn Chin, Jessica Hagedorn, Jose Garcia Villa …

What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Dodge Poetry Festival?
I’d never missed a Dodge Poetry Festival since 1996, from Waterloo Village to Newark, mostly as an audience, a few times as participant. I love it! My friend and I refer to Dodge as the Olympics of poetry. As usual I look forward to being immersed in words and song, to be in conversation, and bask in the joyful camaraderie of the festival.

What is something miscellaneous from your life that you would recommend to other people? It could be a person, a habit, an idea, anything that brings you happiness right now that you would like to recommend.
Spend a day quietly, with yourself, truly. Perhaps not leave your home, or stay in for the rest of the day after a morning stroll. Make sure you stock up on your favorite foods. Sip cups of tea. Read a book you’ve been meaning to. Write a little. Contemplate. Nap. Dream of the one you love. Peel a fruit. Observe the changing light. Hydrate. Have wine with your simple dinner. Dessert. No television, but perhaps music at a low volume. Journal. Think of your mother, your father. Read some more, by lamplight.

Joseph O. Legaspi, a Fulbright and New York Foundation for the Arts fellow, is the author of two poetry collections from CavanKerry Press, Threshold (2017) and Imago (2007; also, University of Santo Tomas Press (Philippines), 2015), winner of the Global Filipino Award in Poetry; and three chapbooks: Postcards (Ghost Bird Press, 2018), Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014), winner of The David Blair Prize, and Subways (Thrush Press, 2013). His works have appeared in POETRY, New England Review, World Literature Today, Best of the Net, Beloit Poetry Journal, Orion, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day. He cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization serving generations of Asian American writers and readers. He lives with his husband in Queens, NY.

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Ask a Poet: Joy Ladin

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Ask a Poet blogs are back! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on the poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we are kicking off this series with Joy Ladin!


Hey Joy! What’s new with you?
I published my eighth and ninth collections of poetry last year, Fireworks in the Graveyard and The Future is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems. I had always hoped to publish a selected poems, so it was thrilling to accomplish something on my poetic “bucket list.” This year, I’m publishing a work of creative non-fiction, The Soul of the Stranger, about reading the Bible from a transgender perspective. I’m hoping the book will help religious people recognize what transgender lives and points of view can contribute to religious traditions.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
I started writing poetry – or rather, rhymes I thought of as poems – as soon as I learned to write in first grade. I’m not sure why – my family didn’t read poetry or have poetry in the house. But for some reason I felt from the start that something mysterious, powerful and important happened when I put words together into lines and stanzas. Making rhymes felt like making magic, as though I was revealing the hidden kinship between words and meanings that seemed, from the outside, to be completely different. I suspect that rhyme felt to me like a way of symbolically overcoming the isolation I felt as someone who was born male and seen as a boy, when I always felt I was a girl. If rhyme could show that totally different words were the same inside, maybe the magic of language could reveal that I was really the same inside as the girls who saw me as a boy. In one way, my childhood wish was right on target: all trans people have is language, the magic of language, to enable others to see who we really are.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?
By the time I got to high school, I had been writing poetry for years. In fact, I went to my first high school poetry workshop when I was in junior high. Everyone who was into poetry idolized our poetry teacher, James Lavilla-Havelin, who not only taught us to write but took us to readings by famous poets and arranged for us to read ourselves. It was thrilling to be brought into a world where poetry mattered so much, and to be introduced to so many great poets. My favorites then were James Wright and Denise Levertov, but those classes inspired me to read and write poetry all the time – literally. My hands and arms were covered with lines I thought of while I was walking, and I always carried small, sweat-soaked notebooks on my body that were crowded with poems, quotes and ideas.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
Some years ago, I was invited to go to Uganda as part of a program that brought American and European academics to African countries. I was there for two extraordinary weeks, during which I was constantly amazed and inspired by the way Ugandans from every walk of life – farmers, theater performers, nuns – shaped their lives in ways they believed would contribute to making Uganda better. One night, I was brought to a very dark, deserted, run-down part of Kampala, the major city, and led down an unlit alley into an open air performance space where a theater group devoted to making plays that would teach people conflict resolution techniques would rehearse and develop new material after their long days of paid employment. It was very dark – there was no overhead lighting – and most of the small group of performers didn’t speak English, but they insisted that I read them my poetry. When I did, I experienced the most intense listening my work has ever been blessed with. Every word I said seemed to flow through the dark and be absorbed into lives and hearts I could feel but couldn’t see.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
I worked for years as a secretary to support my habit of writing. When I told one of my co-workers that I was a poet, she started backing slowly away and said, “You – you aren’t going to put me in one of your poems, are you?” I haven’t – but she became the star of an
anecdote I love to tell.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
I think fear is one of the greatest teachers a poet has. Not that we should share everything we are afraid of sharing, but whenever we are afraid to write something because someone might see it, or just because we are afraid to know what we ourselves think or feel, it’s like a spotlight is shining on a locked door inside us. I have found that, scary and hard and even painful as it can be, I always learn and grow by opening those doors.

Joy Ladin is the author of nine books of poetry, including Lambda Literary Award finalists Impersonation and Transmigration, Forward Fives award winner Coming to Life, and two 2017 collections, Fireworks in the Graveyard (Headmistress Press) and The Future is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press). Her memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life, was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has appeared in many periodicals, including American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Southwest Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review, and has been recognized with a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship. She holds the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College of Yeshiva University. Links to her poems and essays are available at


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An equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities

Posted on by Chris Daggett, President and CEO

It is with a great deal of enthusiasm and hope that today we are releasing a new strategic plan for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, guided by the vision of an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, and sustainable communities.

Chris Daggett, Dodge president and CEO

Chris Daggett, Dodge president and CEO

As is clear from demographic trends, New Jersey will soon become one of the first states where no single racial or ethnic group will be in the majority. As a foundation focused exclusively on New Jersey, we must work continually to understand the shifting priorities and needs of communities, and how our programs and operations reflect and serve the people of our state.

Download our strategic plan

Dodge’s strategic plan is the culmination of a comprehensive effort by our entire board and staff to examine how the Foundation’s expertise, influence, and relationships can address challenges and leverage opportunities facing New Jersey.

During this process, we spent a great deal of time examining our intercultural awareness as individuals and as an organization; exploring issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; reviewing current social, economic, and cultural trends in New Jersey; and talking with grantees, colleagues, and peers. We challenged each other and our assumptions about our grantmaking, our programs, and our organizational direction. The conversations were transformational.

Dodge's Strategic Plan

Dodge’s Strategic Plan

We have identified four goals that center equity at all levels of our organization — program, internal, external, and financial — as well as initial strategies we will pursue over the next three years. Because we know equity is a word with different definitions to different people, we defined what it means to our organization.

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, equity means aligning our resources to address historical, institutional, and structural impediments so that New Jerseyans of all races and communities have what is needed to realize a quality life.

We recognize that the completion of this plan is actually just the beginning. We now enter a period of exploration and intentional change as we implement our new vision, mission, goals, and strategies. It also will be a period of risk-taking and learning from successes and failures we experience along the way as we figure out our role in an equitable New Jersey.

As I shared in my strategic planning update in October and again in March, for the next three to five years, Dodge remains committed to our current program areas, supporting initiatives and nonprofit organizations in arts, education, environment, informed communities, and poetry that are innovative and promote collaboration and community-driven decision-making.

We also are committed to being open and transparent, to broaden our intercultural knowledge and skills, and to keep you informed of our progress on the next stages of this work.

For the remainder of 2018, we will continue grantmaking under our current guidelines and criteria while laying the groundwork to examine our programs, technical assistance, operations, investment strategies, and organizational structure through an equity lens. In 2019, we will be moving to our new vision as we explore and experiment with new collaborations and initiatives. In 2020, we hope to be living our vision as we integrate the results into our work through refreshed grantmaking guidelines. Our intent is to be respectful of the relationships and investments we have made throughout our 44 years, while we listen, learn, and reimagine new ways of working to advance our vision for an equitable New Jersey.

Along the way, we want to hear from you — grantees, stakeholders, and anyone else who would like to share their thoughts. Many of you are on the ground every day, doing work that matters to people across the state. We acknowledge and applaud you, and hope that you will let us know how Dodge can support and enhance those efforts.

What is your response to our new vision and mission, and what might that look like in your own organizations? What changes in our practices might help you advance these elements in your work? What are your concerns and questions about this new direction? What might Dodge and/or your organization do to foster more connections between and within communities? What does an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities mean to you?

Our first formal effort to get your thoughts will be in a grantee webinar on June 12, details for which will be sent out shortly. We will follow up that session with other formal and informal feedback opportunities as we move forward with our work.

As I said at the outset, we are enthusiastic and hopeful. Enthusiastic about the new direction of Dodge and the renewed purpose of our work. Hopeful about the prospects ahead and the opportunity to help increase the impact of the nonprofit community in New Jersey.

In closing, and in keeping with Dodge’s tradition of incorporating poetry into our everyday lives and in anticipation of our Poetry Festival in October, I share with you the poem read at our April board-staff retreat when Dodge trustees approved the strategic plan with a refreshed and renewed commitment to our home state.

You, Reading This, Be Ready

By William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Posted in Arts, Collaboration, Community Building, Creativity, Diversity, Dodge Insights, Education, Environment, Informed Communities, News & Announcements, President's Message | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confronting plastic pollution, creating equitable communities and mapping sustainability issues

Posted on by Sustainable Jersey

2018 New Jersey Sustainability Summit is June 18

Although the sustainability movement in New Jersey is experiencing significant momentum, important work is still on the horizon. There is perhaps no more powerful way to jump start fresh interest and energy into your local efforts than by joining sustainability leaders at the 2018 New Jersey Sustainability Summit. This community represents the forefront of innovation with towns such as Highland Park, Frenchtown, Margate, Maplewood, Princeton and Secaucus revealing their latest and most compelling sustainability strategies and projects.

At the Sustainability Summit, you will learn how to build a shared vision and to leverage new tools to implement ideas that contribute to the collective health of individuals, organizations, economies and the planet. The event attracts over 300 diverse participants from across New Jersey.

SJ Sustainability Summit 2018

Twelve breakout sessions will give you an opportunity to explore different sustainability initiatives. The sessions cover the usual sustainability suspects such as energy and water, but they will also address issues like economic development, social equity, education and art.  Below is a spotlight of three of the sessions planned; you can review the full list by following this link: Breakout Sessions.


SJ Sustainability Summit 2018 plastic.pngPlastics have become a single use item prevalent in many aspects of our daily lives. While convenient, these plastics are problematic not only for the environment, but the recycling industry as well. Communities around New Jersey are increasingly pushing back against the onslaught of plastic including plastic bottles, straws and plastic bags. Long Beach Township has a new ordinance requiring shoppers to bring reusable bags or pay a small fee for paper or recycled plastic bags. Long Beach joins places like Longport, Teaneck and Ventnor as members of a small group of Garden State municipalities that have passed ordinances to either ban plastic bags or place a fee on their use. Various other communities are considering similar policies. The Plastic Pollution session at the Sustainability Summit will focus on innovative initiatives currently underway that curb the use of single plastics from a reduction perspective. The speakers for this session are:

  • Monica Coffey, Chair, Sustainable Margate and Sustainable Downbeach
  • Tina Wishaus, Chair, Sustainable Highland Park
  • Gary Sondermeyer, Vice President, Bayshore Recycling
  • Samantha McGraw, Program Manager, Sustainable Jersey


How can we make sure sustainability is for everyone? Can our efforts to achieve sustainability in our communities also advance social equity at the same time? Learn about how Sustainable Jersey is addressing this challenge by conducting an equity review of the program and by developing an equity tool for municipalities. During this session, you will engage in an interactive exercise applied to your community and hear about initiatives by New Jersey municipalities who are working to eliminate barriers to opportunity and promote the equitable enjoyment of social and environmental health and well-being. The speakers for this session are:

  • Valaria Galarza, Senior Project Manager, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership
  • Marissa Davis, Senior State Program Manager, NJ YMCA State Alliance
  • Tracey Woods, Chair, Maplewood Township Green Team and Sustainable Essex Alliance
  • Melanie Hughes McDermott, PhD., Senior Researcher, Sustainable Jersey


We live within data every day–as we commute, buy goods, visit websites and more. Someone is tracking these actions to gather information they need to make decisions. Within the sustainability world, we do the same thing in order to track our energy use, water consumption and locations of natural resources or creative assets. Data is used to tell a larger story. And it’s the visualization of that data through maps and charts that is essential to effectively communicate those stories. This session will focus specifically on geographic information systems (GIS) as a tool to gather, manage and analyze data for sustainability and planning purposes. You’ll learn how to use basic GIS techniques to identify sustainability issues in your community. The speakers for this session are:

  • Iana Dikidjieva, Consultant to the Hunterdon County Creative Team and the East Trenton Collaborative; Trustee, I Am Trenton Community Foundation (IAT)
  • Mahbubur Meenar, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Planning and Sustainability. Rowan University
  • Zachary Christman Ph.D., Assistant Professor, GIS Program Director, Rowan University
  • Anthony O’Donnell, Economist, Sustainable Jersey

Attend the New Jersey Sustainability Summit
Don’t miss your chance to start or reignite your sustainability efforts at the 2018 New Jersey Sustainability Summit and hear New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy outline the Administration’s goals with regards to energy and the environment as this year’s Sustainability Summit keynote speaker.

More info and to register visit


For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn


Posted in Collaboration, Community Building, Community Engagement, Environment, equity, Informed Communities, Leadership, News & Announcements, Nonprofit, Opportunities, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

3 lessons we learned from Voting Block NJ

Posted on by By Cristina Kim and Annie Chabel, Center for Investigative Reporting
Peter Jarvis, center, makes a point while discussing politics with other Morristown residents. Kevin Coughlin the Editor for hosted a Potluck luncheon at the home of Rebecca Feldman in Morristown, where a small number of local residents joined in a political discussion surrounding the upcoming gubernatorial election in November. Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

Peter Jarvis, center, makes a point while discussing politics with other Morristown residents. Kevin Coughlin the Editor for hosted a Potluck luncheon at the home of Rebecca Feldman in Morristown, where a small number of local residents joined in a political discussion surrounding the upcoming gubernatorial election in November.
Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

Posted in Community Building, Grantee Spotlight, Informed Communities, Local News Lab, Media, Nonprofit | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Toms River Regional School District and Township Green Team collaborate to open School of Environmental Sustainability

Posted on by Sustainable Jersey

Poseidon Academy building renewed after experiencing Superstorm Sandy damage

Superstorm Sandy in 2012 had a huge impact on homeowners and businesses in Toms River– over 10,500 homes sustained some level of damage. Last month, the re-opening of a unique building was celebrated, a building that will contribute to the town’s continuing recovery and serve as a flexible workspace promoting environmental research and activism for students and the community for years to come.

Poseidon Academy is a small concrete building located at the foot of the Toms River. The aging marine science building was damaged after it was immersed in over two feet of water caused by Superstorm Sandy.

SJ 1

Thanks to a creative collaboration between the Toms River Regional School District and the Toms River Township Green Team (Toms River United Sustainable Team), the building was transformed and rededicated as the School of Environmental Sustainability Poseidon Lab at a public ceremony on March 26, 2018. The remodeled space will support the new School of Environmental Sustainability (SES), part of a STEAM Career Academy which debuted in September 2017 at Toms River High School East. The upgrade of the Poseidon Lab will benefit students, local citizens and environmental organizations.

Toms River Regional Schools is the largest suburban school district, and the fourth largest school district, in New Jersey. Dr. Marc Natanagara began his career as a high school science teacher more than 30 years ago and is now assistant superintendent in the Toms River Regional School District. Dr. Natanagara engaged district staff, the Township of Toms River, Friends of Ortley Beach, the Barnegat Bay Consortium and other local organizations to work together on a project to rehab the building.

SJ 2

Dr. Natanagara, who is a member of the township green team, said, “The collaborative process of developing this project has connected the school district with many community partners that are now excited and invested in the success of this effort. The refurbishing of a building has become a visible representation in downtown of our academic and community sustainability goals.”

Through a competitive process, the township received a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey grant funded by the PSEG Foundation. The grant money was used to remodel the building and turn it into a workspace for the community. Dr. Natanagara explained, “In the end, the project turned out so much better than was originally imagined. The staff and students got involved in the planning and the school district facilities staff went above and beyond with their renovations. Overall this experience helped clarify and build excitement about our overall sustainability goals. We were able to identify and share skills and resources within our community, some of which we did not know existed. We created new, and solidified existing, partnerships and bonds with our community.”

The STEAM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

SJ 3

The renovated Poseidon Academy building is now a classroom for the Toms River High School East STEAM Career Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Toms River Regional Schools opened its career academies (schools within schools) at its three high schools in September 2017. Each academy has a unique curriculum that exposes students to innovative teaching methods, diverse tools and materials, authentic experiences and new courses. The STEAM Academy includes Schools of Engineering, Biomedicine and Environmental Sustainability, with content in marine science, medicine, engineering, science research, genetics, advanced manufacturing and more. Students in this academy focus on problem solving and the design process.

The academies are competitive and students have to apply in eighth grade. Academic records and recommendations from teachers are considered. Enrollment for the STEAM Academy increased this year, most likely due to the enthusiasm generated by the new Poseidon Lab building. The STEAM students are the only students in the district who receive a “Humanities Block,” consisting of STEAM Honors English 1 and STEAM World Civilization, and a STEAM “Math/Science Block,” consisting of STEAM Honors Geometry and STEAM Biology. These students are also the only ones to have a Biology lab. The Biology lab allows students to conduct in-depth research and activities while focusing on college level skills, such as lab journaling.

Expanded courses and opportunities are led by teacher and Poseidon director Jon Hoffman. Students from across the district benefit from School of Environmental Sustainability student outreach as well as local experts recruited as mentors, sponsors, interviewers, speakers and guest teachers. Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent David Healy said, “This Sustainable Jersey grant process has been another perfect opportunity to connect the schools and towns we serve, and it addresses goals set by our Board of Education to expand career education, technology applications and sustainability efforts.”

Jersey Shore Makerfest

If you are interested in experiencing the good work of the Toms River Regional Schools and the green team first hand, then mark your calendar and plan to attend the Jersey Shore Makerfest on October 20, 2018. Dr. Natanagara is excited about this event. He said, “Makerfest is an experimental, experiential, educational and free annual community event. It’s a celebration of creativity and imagination that’s part MythBusters, part science lab, part county fair and part art studio. Over 250 makers and 10,000 attendees joined us in our first three years.” This event also includes the Toms River United Sustainability Team Green Fair in addition to the 70-100 maker booths, LearningSpaces for workshops, an EdTalk stage, a Roborena and a Jersey Shore Hackathon.

Sustainable Jersey Grants

Sustainable Jersey grants are intended to help local governments, schools and school districts make progress toward a sustainable future in general, and specifically toward Sustainable Jersey certification. Projects, like the Poseidon Lab, serve as practical models for the rest of the state while making measurable contributions toward the long-term goal of a sustainable New Jersey. Over $2.4 million in grants have been provided to towns for community-based projects to improve quality of life in New Jersey.

Photos courtesy of Michael Kenny, Toms River Regional Schools

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn


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Here’s a free, week-long online poetry retreat just for you

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

watering can

Here in New Jersey, it finally feels like spring. The last bits of snow have melted, we’re shedding our winter coats, and buds are starting to pop up in the grass and on branches. What better day for us to open registration for Spring & Fountain Online?

This week-long online poetry retreat is designed especially for educators to enjoy on their own schedules and from the comfort of their homes, with the added bonus of a web forum for communicating and connecting with other participants from around the country.

During the week of April 22, participants will receive:
• a curated packet of 30 poems by contemporary poets
• seven daily e-mails with mindfulness activities, journal prompts and writing activities
• access to a special Google Group for discussion with other participants
• videos of poets reading their work

We hope that this program will help participants to refresh their creativity and connect to sources of inspiration. Our aim is to give you lots of resources and tools to use not only in the classroom, but also for your own personal enjoyment and creative life.

Registration is open now and will close on April 20th.

Sign up here!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at or (973) 695-1190.

Posted in Poetry, Tidbits | Leave a comment

37 People Struggling to Get by in New Jersey

Posted on by Mike Rispoli, Free Press

"Humans of New Brunswick" by Wande Ogun

When it comes to telling stories of economic hardship, what can journalists learn from social workers? From oral historians? From artists? From community advocates?

It turns out, a lot.

At a recent workshop at Rutgers University convened by coLAB Arts and Free Press, a dozen people gathered to begin a community collaboration to lift up the stories of New Jersey residents struggling to get by in one of the country’s most expensive states.

In New Jersey, 37 percent of residents have trouble affording basic necessities, according to the United Way of Northern New Jersey. Our project, “37 Voices,” will feature interviews with 37 people living in the greater New Brunswick and Newark area who fall into this threshold — working but finding it hard to pay for basic needs.

The project’s roots lie in a 2017 collaboration between Rutgers University’s NJ Spark and Free Press. That effort focused on training student journalists in community-engagement techniques and telling the stories of New Brunswick’s working poor.


Free Press and the New Brunswick-based group coLAB Arts then decided to take the idea a step further by bringing on six freelance journalists and community partners to tell these stories in ways that would challenge misconceptions about people experiencing economic hardship — and inspire policy change.

This new collaboration comes out of nearly two years of community engagement, group meetings, deep listening, issue exploration and project piloting in New Brunswick.

Project partners include the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers UniversityFeeding New Brunswick NetworkNJ SparkOral History and Folklife Research, the PRAB and United Way of Northern New Jersey.

The journalist team is comprised of Mira Abou ElezzDebbie GalantScott GurianHank KaletAndaiye Taylor and Kristine Villanueva.

The first phase of the project will feature journalists doing community outreach and interviewing 37 people to capture their personal experiences. These interviews will be documented using oral-history techniques and turned into podcasts. Then coLAB Arts will transform interview transcripts into a stage play in 2019.

Researchers from Rutgers will look into overlapping themes from the stories, providing insight into how these personal experiences tie into larger structural or policy challenges around pay, housing, health care, child care, transportation and more in New Jersey.


First step: Building trust, sharing knowledge

Community organizations, artists, researchers and journalists joined together at the kick-off workshop in March. This gathering marked the first step to deepening relationships among group members, promoting a culture of listening and knowledge-sharing, addressing challenges around collaboration head on, and building trust among the people and groups involved.

Laura Bruno and Molly Rennie from the United Way of Northern New Jersey kicked off the workshop to dive deep into the ALICE Report, which stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.”

The data in the report show how 37 percent of New Jersey residents are working but can’t afford basic necessities. Bruno and Rennie helped workshop participants grasp the nuances in the report and the experiences of people who are employed but lack financial stability.

Next, Free Press led a discussion on media portrayals of poverty and economic hardship. The conversation focused on how major news outlets hardly ever cover economic struggles; when they do, it tends to be in the form of a “special project” rather than an ongoing exploration of the root causes and policies that promote inequality.

We designed this session to give project collaborators a deeper understanding of the structural forces at play, with an eye toward evaluating how our collaboration could present stories that center people and paint a more holistic and compassionate picture of their experiences.

Workshop participants broke up into small groups to talk about their own experiences with economic hardship, and to think about how empathy could shape this project.

People talked about how pervasive economic inequality is — and how the perception of what it means to be “poor” may not line up with how people actually feel about their experiences.

People also reflected on how media outlets tend to judge people of color who are struggling — and respond to low-income White people with sympathy.

‘They have a story to tell’

Renee Wolf Koubiadis from the Anti-Poverty Network then spoke with participants about the need to build relationships with people who are struggling financially.

One of the keys, she said, is that people who are in crisis may not be willing to speak with reporters. “They have a story to tell,” she said, noting that it’s important to listen, show patience, accept that people may not respond right away, and establish safe spaces for people to share their experiences.

Next up was Molly Graham of Oral History and Folklife Research, who will be working with journalists involved in the project on capturing the stories and turning them into podcasts.

While she ran through techniques and strategies to document what she called “felt” experiences, the journalism team raised good questions — noting that how you build relationships, ask questions and document information in oral histories differs from how you approach traditional newsgathering.

Journalists and community experts discussed ways to address these challenges, talking about the difference between getting a good headline and getting a good story, and letting people tell their stories as opposed to going into an interview with a story in mind.

While there are different strategies for interviewing and getting information from people, good journalism and good oral history both tell stories in an authentic way that depicts people in all their complexity.

To round out the day, Anish Patel from Rutgers’ Bloustein School spoke about the research that will take place at the end of the project.

Each story will be tagged based on measurable data points from the ALICE Report, and tied to policy and legislation at the local, state and federal levels for further inquiry into the personal experiences of interviewees.

What excited the group was being able to take those personal experiences from the interviews and dive into the larger structures around economic inequality.

The interviews won’t just tell stories; they could lead to policy solutions.

A ‘groundbreaking’ collaboration

Everyone at the March workshop was excited about what this collaboration could produce, and thankful for the opportunity to engage in this ambitious project.

But the discussion wasn’t easy. Participants discussed the challenges involved in bringing together people from various fields to collaborate while respecting the role that each person or organization would play.

People also wrestled with questions about what the group was trying to produce. Was it journalism? Oral history? Art? Research? How could it be all of those things?

It’s a tricky challenge, since journalists pride themselves on being fair and independent. The storytelling involved in the project cuts across disciplines — but the way a journalist tells a story is different from how oral historians capture experiences, which varies from what plays well on the stage.

And the types of questions journalists ask to tell impactful stories may differ from what policy researchers might ask to produce academic research.

Anish Patel from Bloustein sensed this tension in the room as he closed his remarks. He reminded everyone that the project could be “groundbreaking”. Has this type of collaboration ever happened before, he wondered, with this many people from so many different backgrounds?

It’s an important point: No kind of collaboration is easy.

It’s not easy inside one’s own workplace. It’s even more difficult across newsrooms. So imagine the challenges that could pop up in a collaboration among journalists and community organizations, artists and researchers.

But that’s one of the central points of the project: that it would be challenging. These are individuals whose fields rarely overlap. But the role of journalism — and its associations with people and groups outside of the newsroom — is changing.

Community-journalism collaborations are still relatively new, but many of them have a power imbalance, with reporters holding all the cards. They ask the questions, they frame the story, they control the budgets and their newsrooms receive funding grants for or revenue from the journalism being produced.

Those on the journalism side make almost all of the decisions. That’s not a true collaboration.

From dating to going steady

Our project is an attempt to address that:

coLAB Arts, not a media outlet, received funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, in partnership with the Knight Foundation, for the project.

Journalists are playing a single role in a much larger, multi-faceted effort.

And community groups are equal partners in the decision-making process.

Along the way, reporters will learn new skills, build strong relationships and share knowledge about the practice of journalism with their collaborators.

It’s the difference between going on a date and going steady.

Community-journalism collaborations are a natural outgrowth of community engagement, which — when done well — connects reporters and residents to listen to and learn from one another.

Collaboration is another step toward building trust and changing how people participate in journalism, a practice that requires mutual buy-in, and investment in time and resources. The ideal end goal: new ways of telling our communities’ stories.

The notion that journalists need to be separate from their communities to do their jobs is outdated, and could be one of the reasons why so many people don’t trust reporters. Our work in News Voices for the past three years has sought to change that, to bring communities and newsrooms closer together, and to find ways for journalism to strengthen communities.

This project is one step toward seeing if that’s possible. Along the way we will document this process and share what we learn so others can embark on similar collaborations. As this experiment moves forward, we hope you’ll have a chance to learn with us.

Posted in Arts, Collaboration, Community Building, Free Press, Informed Communities, Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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