Creative New Jersey Kickstarts Community Collaboration and Trust

Posted on by Susan Haig, CivicStory


“How can we provide our youth with safe places for creative expression?”

“How can we encourage young professionals to live, work, and raise families here?”

These and dozens of other questions have been explored and debated in a remarkable series of “creative convenings” around the state of New Jersey over the past seven years. From Skylands in the Ramapo Mountains region in the Northwest to Atlantic City on the Jersey Shore in the Southeast, in 14 different communities, groups of 100 to 200 citizens from diverse fields and walks of life have met together for the first time and in a new way. They emerge a day later with a powerful new sense of purpose and agency, ready to work together to change their communities, and realizing — in many cases — that they will be the change. What’s been going on?

Inclusive Calls to Collaboration

Creative New Jersey, a statewide civic initiative fostering “creativity, collaboration and inclusion” was launched in 2011 by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a New Jersey-based philanthropy focused on arts, education, environment, and informed communities. Each of the two-day Creative New Jersey “Calls to Collaboration” are planned over several months in two phases:

  1. A cross-sector Host Team of 12 to 20 local residents is developed through a process of introductions, referrals and discussions that identify civic-minded leaders of diverse communities as well as quieter, behind-the-scenes activists or connectors. The host group receives coaching in team-building, common goal-setting, and inclusion.
  2. The Host Team then issues personal invitations to a cross-section of community residents representing diverse sectors, generations, and ethnicities, to attend a two-day “Call to Collaboration” that explores questions such as: How can we collaborate to build community esteem, foster an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, and attract more residents and investments in order to create a thriving Atlantic City? The “whole nine yards” format of the framing question is intentional, to pique the curiosity of a broad range of participants.

Respectful Exchange

Creative New Jersey adapts many of the Open Space Technology concepts developed decades ago by Harrison Owen and used internationally by businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. The format bypasses pre-set agendas, panels of experts, and trainers, and even cuts introductions to avoid creating unintended hierarchies based on titles or affiliations.

Day One begins with all the participants choosing seats in several large, concentric circles. Following a brief, warm welcome, they’re invited to get to work — using markers to scrawl questions they care about onto large pieces of paper, which are then posted and assigned a time and location as a break-out session. Residents who never knew they were leaders find themselves moderating a discussion. The “Law of Two Feet” (also defined by Owen) means anyone, anytime, is free to roam from one corner and conversation to another, so moderators work to keep their discussion brisk, engaging, and respectful.

By mid-afternoon, the 100-plus participants have taken part in at least four “pop-up” discussions, and often many more, if they’ve behaved as “pollinators” who choose to drop in and out of concurrent dialogues. Conversations are often a mixing pot of ideas, resources, and proposed solutions from participants. In this collaborative work model, Day One serves as the “opening” phase, to be followed by “narrowing” and “closing” in on practicalities on Day Two.

Creative Atlantic City Bets on Diversity

I served on the volunteer steering committee during Creative New Jersey’s start-up years, but still wasn’t prepared for the palpable sense of energy and exuberance I encountered upon arriving at three different “Calls to Collaboration” in Monmouth County, Atlantic City, and Camden. Each time, people were engaged and enthused, and scores of New Jersey residents were clearly perceiving their communities in a whole new light. “I’ve lived here 25 years, and had no idea so many others cared about the goals I’m passionate about,” was a common response.

When Day 2 begins the next morning – with everyone again seated in large circles – people greet one another with ease and familiarity. Elizabeth Murphy, Creative New Jersey director and “Call to Collaboration” facilitator, invites participants to move from yesterday’s open-ended questions and trading of ideas to feasible next steps. Though missing another day of work can be challenging for some, the second day has proved to be critical for “focusing on planning and action, and deepening relationships and trust,” says Kacy O’Brien, Creative NJ’s director of programming.

Success Factors

When I asked Kacy what makes Creative New Jersey’s methods so well suited to large, diverse communities, she describes the Call to Collaboration as a “modified Open Space framework that includes engagement, team-building, knowledge-sharing, and network-building to support community connection and collaboration.”

“People become energized and excited when they first can connect with others who feel passionately about common issues, second realize that they’re not alone – they’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with others who are also deeply committed to their community, even if they don’t agree, and third can lead from where they are, given the time and space for generating solutions to complex community issues,” Kacy said.

The genius of Creative New Jersey, to me, is the speed with which people are propelled out of status quo thinking and freed from prevailing narratives of civic inadequacy or democratic decline. Conversations abound, in twos, threes, fives or more, and ideas are exchanged in a congenial atmosphere that accommodates young and old, extroverts and introverts. One senses new possibilities being hatched in every corner of the room.

Ready for Deliberation

Certainly the more sustained work of deliberation – considering options and carefully weighing trade-offs – may require a more reflective environment than the “free-flow” of Creative New Jersey gatherings. But the required components of deliberative work:

  • Listen with care
  • Focus on the issue at hand
  • Stay in learning mode
  • Participate fully
  • Disagree positively

are present at Creative New Jersey Calls for Collaboration as well. Participants adopt a lexicon of respect and empowerment that will serve them in future deliberative environments. As Elizabeth noted during the wrap-up of Creative Atlantic City, “what you all created here today was a democratic, egalitarian, respectful way of hearing each other out, and coming together to work together.”

Creative Monmouth

Mature Leadership

It should be noted that both Elizabeth and Kacy play key facilitating roles at Creative New Jersey gatherings, deftly guiding participants through both days with a subtly tight time frame for interaction. Both are experienced theater producers and are comfortable working with people of a variety of experiences, talents and backgrounds.

Their deep understanding of citizens as fully creative beings defines – for me – the essence of Creative New Jersey. The program’s spirited affirmation of each participant as uniquely valuable to the whole community generates – again and again – a powerful sense of hope, possibility, and agency for 21st century New Jersey communities.


This story was originally published as a guest blog of the Jefferson Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen engagement organization working on crafting democratic solutions to today’s toughest challenges ( as the fourth in a blog series exploring democracy around the world, submitted by a diverse group of people interested in using deliberation, participation, and civic tech to solve challenges we face today. It  does not necessarily represent the views of the Jefferson Center or Jefferson Center staff. Creative New Jersey thanks Susan Haig, Founder and Creative Producer of CivicStory, for sharing her perspective on our work and for telling the stories of New Jersey’s communities.

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Sustainable Jersey: Planting Trees to Restore NJ’s Floodplains

Posted on by Sustainable Jersey


Sustainable Jersey partners with The Nature Conservancy for the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Program

 With flooding having a devastating effect in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, the importance of resilient floodplains has drawn renewed attention. Tree planting near our rivers’ banks can play a significant role in preventing flooding and is a low-cost way to make real impacts on water quality and habitats for fish and wildlife. In New Jersey, dense development has led to many of our trees being removed from the floodplains. Trees help filter water, absorb flooding and cool the river for fish. For the past five years, The Nature Conservancy has worked with local, state and federal partners in northwestern New Jersey to reforest the floodplains of a key tributary to the Delaware River, the Paulins Kill.


This year, Sustainable Jersey partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help catalyze floodplain restoration efforts across the state. Over $48,000 was awarded to seven New Jersey municipalities and one school district for floodplain reforestation projects. This important work, completed by volunteers in our Sustainable Jersey communities, contributes to our mission to create a more sustainable New Jersey. The partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Jersey is called the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. Michelle DiBlasio, the watershed restoration coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said, “Through the Nature Conservancy’s Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grants Program, we hope to inspire others to improve New Jersey’s freshwater resources by restoring floodplains, the critical land adjacent to our rivers. Our goal of planting 50,000 trees throughout state floodplains by 2020 will only be made possible through many partnerships, including a key collaboration like this one with Sustainable Jersey.” Here is a snapshot of some of the Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant-funded projects. 

Schalick High School Students Plant Trees to Protect the River (Salem County)

Students from Arthur P. Schalick High School (APSHS) in Pittsgrove Township School District worked collaboratively with the American Littoral Society and South Jersey Land and Water Trust on an important reforestation project. The volunteers planted nearly 800 trees and expanded the forested buffer of the unnamed tributary of Muddy Run by 1.9 acres. APSHS was awarded a $12,195 grant from the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. The grant was used to cover the cost of tree saplings and other protection measures.

 1,000 Plantings along Passaic River in Chatham Borough Provide Shade for Future Generations (Morris County)

sjtrees2In Chatham Borough, the municipality loses trees faster than they can replant them with their available funding. Thanks to a $14,949 grant, Chatham Borough was able to purchase trees. Approximately 125 volunteers came together to plant over 700 two-foot shrubs and saplings on a trail along the Passaic River. The Department of Public Works planted an additional 300 trees to meet the goal of 1,000 plantings. The project will help to stabilize the stream banks and improve the water quality by absorbing storm runoff and filtering out pollutants. The shade provided by the new trees will help to cool the river for fish and will also provide shade for generations to come.

Colleen Truppo, the chair of the Chatham Borough Shade Tree Commission, said “One of the reasons we have beautiful mature trees in our town is due to Borough residents of prior generations who clearly recognized the value and importance of trees. Each and every one of our volunteers who came and planted as part of this project embraced the Borough’s long history of stewardship and these efforts at Shepard Kollock will help to continue that legacy for the benefit of future generations to enjoy.”

500 Plantings along the East Branch of the Rahway River in South Orange Village (Essex County)

Erosion and invasive plants are degrading the floodplains along the East Branch of the Rahway River in South Orange. The South Orange Environmental Commission is always looking for ways to manage and care for this dynamic landscape. On the south end of town, the Village’s Department of Public Works facility sits beside the river near a soccer field, Chyzowych Field, just to the south. While it is a public area, it experiences frequent flooding, is overrun by invasive species and doesn’t invite much public appreciation. “We knew with a little love and some native trees we could improve the air quality, water quality, diversity of habitat for native species and the overall aesthetics of the place,” said Bill Haskins, the South Orange Environmental Commission Chairman. Thanks to a Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant, the Village of South Orange received $6,516 to cover the costs for over 500 trees and shrubs that were planted in the floodplain area.


The project was led by Bill Haskins and landscape designer Neil Chambers who is a former commissioner of the South Orange Environmental Commission. They managed a dedicated group of nearly thirty volunteers that worked 200 hours over eight consecutive weekends to get the work done. The project was made more difficult because about one-third of the site was covered with storm damaged trees and invasive species like Japanese Knotweed. The volunteer crew spent the majority of the time cutting and clearing knotweed, mugwort, wisteria and other invasives. They said that the actual tree planting was relatively easy by comparison, although volunteer crews had to be aware of the soccer field boundaries and making sure to maintain access lanes to power lines and light poles.

South Orange Village Trustee Walter Clarke, who participated in the planting, said “The Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant enabled us to purchase trees and shrubs and get one of our many projects along the Rahway River moving forward. We hope to see this area rejuvenated by the natural beauty of trees and a multi-story canopy of native species that will also attract more native wildlife. Our goal is to transform this place into a multifunctional but environmentally friendly place where pedestrians, commuters, cyclists and soccer players can pause in the shade of river birch surrounded by calls of red-winged black birds. Roots for Rivers has helped us on that path.”

Volunteers Plant Trees along Passaic River in the Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary (Somerset)

The Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, bisected by the Passaic River, has lost tree canopy along the riverbanks and flood plains due to deer browsing and storms. The Bernardsville Green Team, recognizing the need for trees, applied for and received a $2,513 Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant. With this grant, volunteers planted three-hundred Atlantic White Cedar trees in the flood plain and banks of the Passaic River and Indian Grave Brook, which is a tributary to the Passaic. The river has protected status due to the presence of wild trout and wood turtles. The planting was done primarily in the tree gap areas created by storm events.

The Bernardsville Green Team managed volunteers including Boy Scouts, college interns and New Jersey Audubon staff. They even recruited corporate volunteers from Johnson & Johnson and Verizon. Over twenty Johnson & Johnson employees performed their Earthshare Corporate Green Day Challenge by participating in the planting. This group pruned, trimmed and removed the invasive bamboo. The bamboo stalks were re-purposed to serve as stakes for the 85 trees they planted.

Over 300 Plantings along Rancocas Creek in Monroe Park Located in Mount Holly Township (Burlington County)

sjtrees5Mount Holly has four parks that are adjacent to the Rancocas Creek that flows through the center of town. For this Roots for Rivers Reforestation project, Mount Holly Township received a $3,418 grant to plant 192 shrubs and 125 trees in Monroe Park along either side of the creekside walking path and in open spaces outside of the existing baseball fields. The plantings will enhance the creekside and relieve stormwater runoff that comes from the baseball parking lots.

Nearly 50 volunteers including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school, middle school and college students helped in planting the trees and shrubs and installing the tree protectors. Randi Rothmel, chair of the Mount Holly Environmental Committee, said “This project is one step in providing more resiliency for Mount Holly which has experienced major flooding issues during heavy rainstorms and tropical storms. It is hoped that we can once again participate in a grant program to continue the floodplain restoration in the other parks especially Iron Works and Mill Dam Park to increase the riparian buffer to protect the Rancocas Creek from the impact of storm water runoff and non-point pollution.”

We are pleased to announce that The Nature Conservancy will partner with Sustainable Jersey again to offer a Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. The program will support municipal and school district efforts to undertake floodplain reforestation initiatives on public or private land. Program participants will receive technical assistance to design planting projects and funding to cover materials (trees and protection) associated with plantings.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

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Ask a Poet: Gregory Orr

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Welcome 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 chatting with Gregory Orr!

XorrHey! What’s new with you?
After teaching at the University of Virginia for forty-four years and designing and setting up its MFA Program in Writing, I’m preparing to retire at the end of the spring 2019 semester. I just brought out a book with Norton—A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry—that I’m very happy about—in a way it let me sum up and close out all my long time as a teacher—what I learned as I did my best to persuade my students of what they already knew in their hearts—that lyric poetry is a great cultural and personal tool for discovering and expressing the dignity and miseries of being a person. Poetry saved me as a young person (first, the trying to write it; later, the learning to read it) and I hope my Primer (with its craft topics and writing exercises) can bring some of my excitement and insight to readers now that I am on the verge of retiring from face-to-face teaching. Also, I’ll bring out a new collection of poems in the spring of 2019. It’s called The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write. At the Festival, I’ll be performing a “concert” of poems and singing with the Parkington Sisters—it will be a mix of singing and reciting based on a long sequence of “beloved” poems that I’ve been writing, off and on, for the past fifteen years. I’m extremely excited about that. As someone who can’t sing the simplest tune, I’m in awe of the human voice when it’s skilled enough to explore all the nuances of melody and phrasing, so this event is really exciting to me. The poems in that sequence are incantatory and more “musical” than many I write, so I’m very very curious to see if they can be “lifted” right up into actual song.

(Editor’s note: You can see the world premiere poetry-and-song cycle The Beloved that Gregory mentions above on Saturday of the Festival. For more information, see the full program.)

When did you first discover poetry?  What poets made you want to write?
I first discovered poetry through my high school librarian in the small upstate New York village where I was raised. Her guidance and encouragement opened up the whole world of writing to me and when I stumbled on the expressive form of lyric poetry,  I knew I’d found what I needed to live fully and deeply and to survive certain miserable and traumatic events that marred my childhood. I’ve written about that in my memoir, The Blessing.

After sixty years of writing poems, I’ve come to this conclusion: many of us who are going to live and love poetry begin either excited/impatient to write it (to write expressing our feelings or experience) or we start by reading some poem(s) and get inspired to write ourselves (in imitation of what excites us that we read). Most of us (especially me) start with the urge to write a poem or poems because we feel something bursting or gnawing inside us and sense that poetry is one way to get it OUTSIDE us by turning it into words and putting those words down on a page. Such a relief/release—exhilarating and scary at the same time if you are dealing with difficult emotional or experiential material—is so powerful. I needed that as a young person. Truth to tell, it was a while before I could calm down enough to read other poets and discover that reading was another main way to learn the art and deepen the experience. What poets did I read first? Keats. His poems and then his letters (great letters for a poet to read). I still read my favorite poems of his every other year.  

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? 
See answer above. I was sixteen when my high school librarian showed me poetry by way of writing. I was part of a small group of “honors” English students in a small upstate NY village public school (graduating class: 36 students). This teacher/librarian, Dorothy Irving had us read and write constantly and one day the writing assignment was to write a poem and that was it for me. I immediately knew/felt that language in poetry was “magical”—that it created reality instead of describing it (as language in prose tends to do). I needed that “magic” because the “real” world inside me was kind of nightmarish and intense and I couldn’t write about it in ordinary language—I needed the intensified language of poetry (and song) to express what I felt and knew.  Honestly, most of the poetry I read in high school English classes didn’t help me—I hated the way the poem became an excuse for questions that had “right” and “wrong” answers. I felt closer to the heart of what mattered to me when I heard the Beatle’s sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the only jukebox in town (Lawlor’s drug store, 1963). I think the process of introducing young people to the essential art and joy of poetry has gotten a thousand times better than when I was young (proof of that: the Dodge Poetry Festival).  

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Yes. But the good news is: if I have written something, then I have already had the experience of sharing it with the page. The page “listened” to me and didn’t judge me. Maybe later, I’ll have the courage and/or opportunity to share what I’ve written with another person, but meanwhile, the page has heard me and so I’m already less alone. I knew early on that I would need to write about the traumatic deaths of my younger brother and my mother and that made me ashamed and scared, even though I knew I’d need to do so to survive. Poetry is there for people like I was: a place to bring your joy, sorrow, trauma, confusion. So it seems to me.  

Gregory Orr is the author of eleven collections of poetry. His more recent volumes include The River Inside the RiverHow Beautiful The Beloved, and Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved. His most recent book, A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, serves as an innovative and accessible guide in bringing the young poet toward a deeper understanding of how poetry can function in their life, while also introducing the art in an exciting new way. His memoir, The Blessing, was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fifty best non-fiction books of 2002. Orr has received many awards and fellowships, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Rockefeller Fellowship at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Violence.  


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The Dodge Poetry Festival Has Zero Waste Goals

Posted on by Dodge

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Green Team Dodge Poetry Fest Photo by Jenny Vickers (2)

A green army of volunteers will be on hand at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival when thousands of people flock to downtown Newark this October to hear more than 70 renowned poets read, perform and discuss poetry.

Since 2010, Dodge has sought to live our values of sustainability, model leadership in how we run events, and be good neighbors through the Festival’s zero-waste initiative. This year we are, again, partnering with Clean Water Fund to use their ReThink Disposable program to reduce the amount of waste the Poetry Festival produces.

The program’s mission is simple but by no means easy — reduce the usage of single-use food packaging, plastic coffee lids, straws, plastic bottles, hot cup sleeves, napkins, plastic utensils, and other items that add up to a big problem not just for Newark but the entire state of New Jersey.

At the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival, nearly 500 pounds of food waste was collected, more than 500 pounds of bottles and cans and mountains of paper and cardboard were recycled. In comparison, a waste audit by Clean Water Action showed 780-pounds of trash was collected during the four-day event.

We will feature water fill-up stations throughout the Festival this year, so bring your reusable water bottle, or purchase one at the Festival bookstore.

More than 75 Green Team volunteers wearing green Festival T-shirts will be posted at resource recovery stations throughout NJPAC — each with four bins for all types of recyclable and compostable items — to help assist festival-goers and ensure there is no contamination between bins.

What can you do to help?

At this year’s festival we encourage Festival attendees to:

  • Take only what you need when it comes to single-use disposables – bags, packaging, utensils, straws, napkins
  • Use a refillable cup or water bottle
  • Bring your trash, recyclables, compostables and returnable food baskets to the Rethink Disposable stations located in the plaza and lobby of NJPAC. The Green Team will be there to help you sort it into to the correct collection bin. Behind the scenes, the volunteers will inspect, weigh and prepare all collected materials for pick-up and reuse, and answer any questions the public has about the effort

To further reduce the environmental impact this festival has, we are encouraging festival goers to take public transportation and carpool with one another. Also, we’re printing less paper programs and using a phone based app. And, you won’t find a plastic bag at the book store.

Why is this important?

When the Poetry Festival made the move from Waterloo Village to Newark in 2010, Dodge saw an opportunity to live our values of sustainability, experiment with how we run events differently so others might learn from our experience, and build on the movement to rethink disposables through Festival’s zero-waste initiative.

We knew that the Poetry Festival had the possibility of having a big impact on the City of Newark, both positive and negative. You may not know that much of New Jersey’s trash ends up in Newark – at a waste transfer station and an incinerator that burns the trash, making our air and water less healthy. We we think it’s important we all know this and recognize that every little thing we do makes a big difference in changing this and making Newark a healthier place for all of us to live, work, and visit.

This is a good time to be talking about sustainability in Newark since the city’s Office of Sustainability Action Plan set a goal of recycling 50% of its waste by 2020, and to encourage residents, institutions and businesses to take ownership of their city as a trash-free place.

“We’re trying to create a healthy, vibrant Newark in a way that engages people that live in the City rather than having to bring in solutions from the outside,” Amy Goldmsith, Clean Water Action State Director said. “There is plenty of talent, resources and ingenuity here and we’d like to see that shape Newark.”

You can learn more about Clean Water Fund’s Rethink Disposable program and how to adopt some of these actions for your next event at

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Ask a Poet: Ellen Bass

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 chatting with Academy of American Poets Chancellor Ellen Bass!


What are you currently reading?
I’m reading many books at once, which is typical for me. One is Secrets of the Snout: The Dog’s Incredible Nose by Frank Rosell and Marc Bekoff. It explains how dogs noses work and how they are capable of finding someone by smell even if that person has just touched a fingertip to a stick for one second. I hope I can write a poem someday that utilizes some of this amazing information. I’m also reading Nicole Sealey’s Ordinary Beast, Robert Wrigley’s Beautiful Country, W. G. Sebold’s The Rings of Saturn and Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mashimo.

If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it?
I always just say I write poetry that someone might want to read. Usually they laugh.

What books of poetry/poets do you recommend to a new reader of poems?
For new readers of poetry I tend to recommend poems that reach people on a first reading and continue to yield more depth and complexity as you read them again and again. Some poets I’d suggest are Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Lucille Clifton, Dorianne Laux, Phillip Levine, Toi Derricotte, Jericho Brown. There are so many more I’d include! When I began teaching at Salinas Valley State Prison I felt it was crucial that the first poem I brought in was one that the men would immediately be interested in. I spent hours and hours selecting and then rejecting poems and I finally chose “Sole Custody” by Joseph Millar. It was a perfect choice. I read the poem and before I could even begin talking about it, the men started saying what they appreciated about the poem. Without me saying a word, they jumped right in and did their own close reading, not only connecting with the the speaker of the poem, but admiring the details, the adjectives and verbs, the final metaphor. Two men even began arguing about whether one line of dialogue in the poem was said by the father or the son. It was a question of syntax and I just sat there thinking, wow, they’re arguing about syntax! Right here is the power of poetry!

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
I always loved reading poetry. When I was an adolescent I’d type lines of poems on index cards. Even before I could understand what the poems were saying, I loved the sound of them and I had some kind of intuition that there was something there that I wanted—needed—to live with. We moved to another town when I was eleven and it took me awhile to make friends and when I did, my first friend stole my purse and my second group of friends were mean to me. It was a clique thing that these girls did. I wrote a poem trying to grapple with that, asking god to forgive them. My early poems showed no promise at all, but they helped me get through some hard times. Poetry still helps me get through hard times. When I write a poem, something inside me shifts. I see my experience, personal as it is, as part of the human experience. And I’m more able to accept myself and my life.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Yes, yes, yes! There is often a voice in my head that says don’t write that. But I tell the voice that it’s mistaken, that the only way to write is to write what wants to be written and we’ll think about whether it’s shared and how it’s shared later. Pretty much the voice listens to me. As for the sharing part, I’m almost always afraid to share what I’ve written. I very much want the poem to communicate to someone else. I want the poem to, in its small way, matter. But I’m old buddies with fear. I have many fears and I don’t expect to overcome them. I know that you can do whatever you want and need to do even while you’re afraid. I went scuba diving once with a friend who is not usually afraid of much. We were both afraid of diving, but I was able to manage my fear and dive and she just couldn’t do it and had to stay on the surface. Afterward I realized that I just had so much more experience with fear than she did. Once you get used to it, fear doesn’t have to stop you. There’ve been many times that I was in front of an audience reading my poems and I couldn’t take a drink of water because my hand would have shook too much, but the fear didn’t affect my reading.

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.
I’ve always tried, to the extent that I’m able, to do what I want to do. It’s sometimes gotten me into trouble, but it’s also allowed me to write poetry and to live the way I want to live. Especially when I talk to young people, I encourage them to follow their deepest desires. You have to pay the rent and put food on the table, so sometimes you must do things you’d rather not do. But to the extent that you’re able, do what you want. I think desire is as good a compass as any.

Ellen Bass was born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey. She is the author of eight poetry collections, the most recent of which is Like a Beggar. Her other books include The Human LineMules of Love, and I’m Not Your Laughing Daughter. Bass is the recipient of fellowships from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017. She currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University and lives in Santa Cruz, California.

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Top Spots to Visit When You’re In Newark for the Dodge Poetry Festival

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Lauren CraigMeet Lauren Craig, Newark’s Glambassador, at the Newark Arts Festival, starting tomorrow, October 4th through Sunday, 7th. For more information, including details about the Newark Arts & Dodge Poetry partnership event called “Poems in the Key of Life,” visit



Hi poetry people! Lauren Craig here, Newark’s Glambassador and author of 100 Things to Do in Newark Before You Die. Congratulations! You’re already in the loop about one of my top 100 bucket-list happenings in our great city, the Dodge Poetry Festival. But are you wondering what other hot spots to hit up while you’re in town? No worries, your faithful Glambassador has you covered. Without further ado, here are my top ten spots to visit during Dodge Poetry Festival.

Black Swan Espresso, 93 Halsey St. – Located in the heart of Halsey Street Village, you’ll love the warm, neighborhood vibe of Black Swan Espresso. A small specialty shop with a full range of espresso drinks that pack a smooth and full-bodied punch, this shop caters to early risers and those who can appreciate espresso art. Pro tip: be sure to grab a hibiscus doughnut!

Smitty and Mo’s Chicken Kitchen, Gateway III, 100 Mulberry St. – This hot and fresh lunch spot is earning rave reviews for its super delicious soul food items with a healthy twist. Don’t bypass the boneless barbeque chicken, sauteed kale and mac and cheese, and do top it off with a delicious cupcake by Tonnie’s Minis. You will be so happy you did!

GRAMMY Museum Experience Prudential Center, 165 Mulberry St. – The first GRAMMY Museum Experience on the East Coast is open right here in Newark. Full of technological innovation and interactivity, the eighty-two-hundred-square-foot museum features awesome exhibits and footage from the past fifty years of GRAMMY history.

Marcus B&P, 56 Halsey St. – Located in the newly redeveloped Hahne & Co. Building downtown, this intimate and high end space is the latest venture from acclaimed chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson. Offering top-notch dining and inventive drinks six nights a week, visit for a lively crowd and service par excellence.

The Newark Museum, 49 Washington St. – The Newark Museum is not just the largest museum in New Jersey but it features the oldest Planetarium in the state. You’ll never forget that time you soared to the edge of the Universe in Newark. For a look into the independent art scene in Brick City, pop by Project for Empty Space, 2 Gateway Center and Gallery Aferro, 73 Market St.

Casa d’Paco, 73 Warwick St. – Situated on a residential block in the Ironbound, Casa D’Paco has a rustic, family feel and an excellent reputation for the cuisine of Galicia (a community in northwestern Spain). In fact, it is well known in foodie circles for having been listed among Spoon University’s Top 50 Best Restaurants in America.

Jimenez Tobacco, 31 Liberty St. – Are cigars more your speed? Plan a night out at this savoir-faire speakeasy, one of the coolest places in the city. Boasting a dimly lit lounge, upscale cocktails and hand-rolled cigars, the ambiance at Jimenez never disappoints.

Nasto’s, 236 Jefferson St. – Since 1939, Newarkers have headed to Nasto’s for homemade Italian ice cream in an array of delicious flavors. Famously name-dropped in an episode of The Soprano’s, feel free to pretend you’re traveling through Italy as you order up a decadent Tortoni, Spumoni, Tiramisu, Tartufo or Reginetta.

Express Newark, 54 Halsey St. – A downtown Newark arts incubator, Express Newark is a gorgeous fifty-thousand-square-foot facility, that houses Rutgers-Newark arts classes and seminars but also provides state-of-the-art public learning spaces where artists, residents, and partners can create.

Source of Knowledge, 867 Broad St., An infinite amount of knowledge is housed within the walls of Source of Knowledge, a well-known African-American bookstore and gift shop. You’ll feel right at home (and may lose a few hours) browsing its large variety of notable historical and cultural books by African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean thought leaders.

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Poetry Friday: Ask Krista Tippett

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Today we’re taking a break from our regularly scheduled “Ask a Poet” blogs, and taking the opportunity to get to know Krista Tippett, host of the public radio show and podcast On Being. The show grapples with what it means to be human, getting deep into issues of spirituality, culture, the arts, and more. At the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, Krista will be interviewing Jericho Brown, Gregory Orr and Sharon Olds, all separately, in live taped episodes entitled “What Is Found There: Poetry & On Being.” We are so honored and excited to welcome her to the Festival.

Without further ado, let’s get to know Krista Tippett.

tippettWhat are you currently reading?
I often find nonfiction writing too dry, but have recently discovered a beautiful genre of British nature writing. I am enraptured by a book by Michael McCarthy called The Moth Snowstorm. I am also slowly rereading and savoring a gorgeous book by Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding A Home In The World. He is an Irish poet and theologian and a social healer. This book is wondrous in how it brings the impulses behind all of those realms together as they come together in his person.

When did you first discover poetry?
I don’t remember poetry being read or discussed in my small town in Oklahoma, but in the third or fourth grade I began to fill notebooks with simple rhyming poems. I wish someone had introduced me to poets and poetry in a more formal way. I wish I had been invited or required to memorize poems. None of this happened for me in life or in school, and at some point I put my notebooks and my poetic bent, as it were, away. When I lived in divided Berlin in the 1980s, I experienced poets as cultural catalysts, heroes. When a few decades later I discovered that poetry had to be at the heart of On Being, it was like being reintroduced to something I needed like light and air. I experience many people taking in the poets and poetry we offer up in our show in that spirit – with an urgency, and a primal gratitude.

What is the role of poetry in today’s world?
Poetry holds its questions fervently and its answers gingerly. It is bigger than fact, deeper than opinion, and resistant to argument. Need I say more about the role of poetry in today’s world?

Krista Tippett is a Peabody-award winning broadcaster, National Humanities Medalist, and New York Times bestselling author. She founded and leads The On Being Project, hosts the globally esteemed On Being public radio show and podcast, and curates the Civil Conversations Project, an emergent approach to conversation and relationship across the differences of our age. Krista grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, attended Brown University, became a journalist and diplomat in Cold War Berlin, and later received a Master of Divinity from Yale University. Her books include Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, and Einstein’s God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit.

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Ask a Poet: Nicole Homer

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 chatting with Nicole Homer!

HomerHey Nicole! What’s new with you?
I spent the summer living and working at Robert Frost’s Franconia, NH home as the Dartmouth Poet in Residence at The Frost Place. It was an honor and a privilege and my favorite spot in the house was the porch where I could sit and write or edit or sip coffee and see the White Mountains. Also, because I’m me, I found an ice cream shop with delicious homemade ice cream.

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?
When I was in high school, I started going to an open mic at the local Barnes and Nobles. I was surrounded by older poets who were kind and generous and indulgent with me. My father died when I was in middle school, so he occupied a large part of my work. Alongside that, I was trying to figure out the world and my place in it so I examined politics and relationships.

What is the role of poetry in today’s world?
To simultaneously bear witness and offer a way through.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
“How do you eat?”

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Yes! More and more this is a feeling that lets me know I’m being honest or that, at least, I’m headed in a productive direction.

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.
There are two things I think people should do everyday: exercise and create. To the extent that one’s body is able, I think exercise—movement, really—helps. It impacts the chemicals in the body and therefore emotion. It can change your perspective. Literally. If you walk or jog down the street, you are somewhere different seeing something different. Creation can be a poem, but it doesn’t have to be. A paper airplane. A cake. A scarf. I find that if I put too much on myself to write every day, I can become overwhelmed. Writing isn’t the end all be all, but making something is valuable. Even something as transient as a sandcastle. It’s a practice and a craft and trains you to get into a creative space with increasing ease.

Nicole Homer is a full-time faculty member at Mercer County Community College in NJ, with an MFA from Rutgers-Newark. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in MuzzleThe OffingWinter TangerineRattleThe Collagist and elsewhere. A The Watering Hole graduate fellow and Callaloo fellow, Nicole serves as an Editor and regular contributor at BlackNerdProblems, writing critique of media and pop culture, and as faculty at the Pink Door Writing Retreat for Women and Gender Non-conforming Writers of Color. Her first full-length collection of poems, Pecking Order, published by Write Bloody Press, was a Paterson Poetry Prize finalist. She was chosen to be the 2018 Poet-in-Residence at The Frost Place. She can be found online at or @realnicolehomer on Twitter and other things. 

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Ask a Poet: William Evans

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

Letterhead BannerWelcome 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 William Evans!

EvansWhat are you currently reading?
Because I’ve been very interested in the intersection of home and place, I’ve been reading Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things (very excited for her new book coming as well). I’m also reading Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnet for My Past And Future Assassin and I always find my self revisiting Robert Hayden’s American Journal. I’m also slow walking my way through N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. My non-fiction read right now is Mehrsa’s Baradaran’s book Color of Money.

If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it?
The phrase I fell in love with, coined by or at least repeated with great revelry by Vievee Francis, is radical normativity. My poetry doesn’t seek to cross any great chasm that isn’t easy to travel to now. I write about my life, my life experience, the future I fear and the future I want, as they unfold around and within me. I write about consequence and cost of what it means, for my longing, what it costs for me to live a life fulfilled, and as being black and visible, how that’s not the default comfort in the environment I live in.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
I always read and wrote poems when I was young, but I didn’t take a critical eye towards the work until I was in my late 20s. I came from the performance world, so many of the poets that made me want to write could also perform to great effect. Those poets included Patricia Smith & Dasha Kelly primarily. That started me on the journey of valuing craft, and I had the opportunity to attend classes taught by Henri Cole. That was when I realized this was not only something I wanted to do, but something worth my fear of failure to accomplish.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
“Oh, but I thought you said you were an athlete?” Or, “But you seem like, cool.” Or, “If you’re a poet, why do you work here?” The latter being the insinuation that poet meant famous poet or at least lucrative enough a vocation that working a day job seemed absurd. That probably made me laugh the hardest.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
All the time. A great majority of my poems. Because I draw upon very real circumstances, events, people, often eulogizing them in some way, there is a cost to doing so. Am I ever betraying a moment or trust? And not in a way of betraying privacy, but in a manner of, does a thing lose a significance if physically recorded and disseminated to those who can only be spectators? I think about this a great deal, but when I thought about it to the point of paralysis, I realized I wasn’t writing the poems that were demanded of me.

William Evans is an author, speaker, performer and instructor from Columbus, OH. As the founder of the Writing Wrongs Poetry Slam, William created one of the most reputable open mic and slam venues in the country. William is also the co-founder and editor-in chief of, a website focused on pop culture and diversity. As an artist, William is one the most successful performance poets to come from Columbus and the state of Ohio as a whole. He appeared on three finals stages at the National level, most recently finishing fifth overall at the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam. He has performed on eight Columbus National Teams while being an artist in residence for both the Columbus Wexner Center and Columbus City Schools in beginning in 2012. William is as a Callaloo Fellow, the poetry recipient of 2016 Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant and the 2018 Spirit of Columbus Foundation Grant. William’s newest poetry manuscript, Still Can’t Do My Daughter’s Hair, was released on Button Poetry in Fall 2017. 

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Ask a Poet: David Young

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 getting to know David Young!


Hey! What’s new with you?
At my advanced age (81), nothing much is new. On the other hand, everything!

What are you currently reading?
Rereading two favorites, Lewis Hyde’s The Gift and David Abrams’ The Spell of the Sensuous. Also two novels: Chelsey Johnson’s Stray City and Paul Russell’s The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov.

If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it?
I would say a bad term for me might be “nature poet.” Better might be “bioregionalist.” I might go on to describe how early human communities usually had a shaman living on the edge of the village and mediating between the human community and the nonhuman surround: plants, animals, spirits, etc. I still see that as the poet’s best role and function.

What books of poetry/poets do you recommend to a new reader of poems?
I might recommend Robert Frost and Gary Snyder, based on my airplane response.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
I think T.S. Eliot was the first poet I locked onto. “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.” Now I detest it, mostly. Then along came e.e. cummings and Dylan Thomas. It took me longer to discover my real heroes, Stevens and Williams and of course Yeats. And Rilke.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
Reading in Italy with my daughter Margaret, who is also a poet.

Over nearly fifty years, David Young has published ten collections of his poetry, culminating in Field of Light and Shadow: Selected and New Poems. During that time he also edited FIELD, a twice-yearly journal of contemporary poetry and poetics. The journal in turn led to the founding of Oberlin College Press, which publishes poetry in translation and new work by contemporary American poets. Thirty other books bear Young’s name, all poetry-related: literary criticism (Shakespeare, Yeats, modernist poetry), anthologies (e.g. Models of the Universe, an anthology of the prose poem) and volumes of poetry in translation. This last category is diverse: Rilke, Tang Dynasty poets, Basho, Petrarch, Montale, Neruda, Miroslav Holub, Paul Celan. He has often been called the best translator of his generation. Young taught at Oberlin College from 1961 until his retirement in 2003. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the U.S. Award of the International Poetry Forum, the Ohioana Award, designation as a treasure of the state of Ohio,and a Distinguished Achievement Award from his alma mater, Carleton College. 

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Dodge Poetry Festival Updates

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Click here for the full Press Release

Highlights of the Upcoming Four-Day Festival
at NJPAC and Newark’s Downtown Arts District

150+ events during Oct. 18-21 Festival include Poetry Samplers with multiple poets in
back-to-back readings, Main Stage Readings and Krista Tippett recording poet
interviews for her Peabody Award-winning public radio show “On Being

Tickets are now on sale

The Festival’s more than 150 poetry events over four days include these highlights:


Thursday, October 18:

  • Afternoon Poetry Sampler with back-to-back short readings by Jan Beatty, Jericho Brown, Tina Chang, Sandra Cisneros, Henri Cole, Kwame Dawes, Juan Felipe Herrera, David Hinton, Eileen Myles, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Sharon Olds, Gregory Orr, Gregory Pardlo, Mary Ruefle, Sapphire, Rachel Wiley, David Young and more.
  • Evening Academy of American Poets Chancellors’ Reading, part of the organization’s annual Poets Forum, with Elizabeth Alexander (President Obama’s first inaugural poet), Ellen Bass, Marilyn Chin, Kwame Dawes, Forrest Gander, Linda Gregerson, Brenda Hillman, Marie Howe, Khaled Mattawa, Marilyn Nelson, Alicia Ostriker, Alberto Ríos and David St. John.

Friday, October 19:

  • Krista Tippett records an afternoon interview with poet Jericho Brown for later broadcast on “On Being,” her popular, Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast.
  • Evening Main Stage Readings by Jan Beatty, Henri Cole, Kwame Dawes, Gregory Pardlo and Sapphire.

Saturday, October 20:

  • “The Beloved: A Poem and Song Cycle” in the afternoon featuring Gregory Orr and musicians/vocalists Parkington Sisters. The world premiere of a collaborative piece conceived and composed for the 2018 Festival.
  • Krista Tippett interviews Gregory Orr for “On Being” as well as afternoon Main Stage Readings by Sandra Cisneros, Mary Ruefle and David Young.
  • “In Praise: A Hundred Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Earth,” a music and poetry performance invitation to share gratitude across race, gender, belief system, age, and sexual preference, with Jan Beatty, Jericho Brown, Sandra Cisneros, Henri Cole, Kwame Dawes, Ross Gay, Rigoberto González, Juan Felipe Herrera, David Hinton, Joy Ladin, Joseph O. Legaspi, Eileen Myles, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Sharon Olds, Rachel Wiley and the Newark Boys Chorus.

Sunday, October 21:

  • An afternoon Special Event: In Conversation with Ntozake Shange.
  • Krista Tippett interviewing Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds for “On Being.”
  • Main Stage Readings by Juan Felipe Herrera, Eileen Myles, Sharon Olds and Ntozake Shange.

The 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival marks the second time the renowned Academy of American Poets will integrate its annual Poets Forum into the Festival, bringing together their Board of Chancellors for readings and conversations.  Participating Chancellors include Elizabeth Alexander, President Obama’s first inaugural poet; McArthur Fellowship “genius grant” recipient Khaled Mattawa; as well as acclaimed poets Ellen Bass, Marilyn Chin, Kwame Dawes, Forrest Gander, Linda Gregerson, Brenda Hillman, Marie Howe, Marilyn Nelson, Alicia Ostriker, Alberto Ríos and David St. John.

The 2018 recipients of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, a program for U.S. citizens or residents ages 21-31, will also perform their first readings as Fellows. The Fellowships, established in 1989 to encourage the further study and writing of poetry, are sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine.

Once again, as a key component of the Dodge Foundation’s commitment to healthy communities, the Festival will partner with Clean Water Action to make the event a zero-waste event and NJ TRANSIT to make public transportation more affordable for Festival-goers.

Tickets and NJ TRANSIT Train Vouchers

Poetry Passes offering Single Day, Weekend or Four Day full Festival admission are available now.  Prices for a Weekend Poetry Pass (Saturday and Sunday admission) are $70, with discounted admission available at $63 for seniors and teachers with ID, and $35 for students and Newark residents.  Four Day Poetry Passes providing entry to all events at the Festival, Thursday through Sunday, are $110, with discounted admission for seniors and teachers at $99 and students and Newark residents at $55.  Single Day Poetry Passes are $50, with discounted admission for seniors and teachers at $45 and students and Newark residents at $25.  Tickets are available at the NJPAC Box Office, 1 Center Street, Newark NJ, online at or by phone at 1-888-GO-NJPAC.

NJ TRANSIT is offering $10.50 per day ticket vouchers for Festival participants for a round-trip ticket from any NJ TRANSIT rail station to Newark Penn Station or Newark Broad Street Station. The voucher will also be honored on the Newark Light Rail once riders arrive in Newark.  Vouchers can be purchased with Festival tickets online, over the phone, or at the NJPAC Box Office.



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New Jersey celebrates Arts in Education Week

Posted on by Arts Ed NJ




It’s back to school time and that means next week is National Arts in Education week. It is such a critical time to show your support for arts education in New Jersey. Arts Education creates not just artists but well rounded humans that thrive in creative workplace environments.

Now If you aren’t familiar with this national celebration here is a little background provided by our friends at Americans for the Arts.

“Passed by Congress in 2010, House Resolution 275 designates the week beginning with the second Sunday in September as National Arts in Education Week. During this week, the field of arts education joins together in communities across the country to tell the story of the impact of the transformative power of the arts in education. “

During the 2016-17 school year, more than one million students participated in an arts class representing 80 percent of all students across the state. New Jersey’s arts education is thriving, now “let’s do more.”

This year Arts Ed NJ has taken the lead in New Jersey by collecting arts education celebrations across the state. From big to small we encouraged teachers, students, organizations and communities to submit their events for our Arts Ed September Event Calendar. With this spotlight on arts education events we are encouraging engagement in and access to the arts. Simultaneously, highlighting Arts Ed Now resources and tools, which give you power to make the change in your district.

Hosts of the events will have the option to receive:

• Custom geofilter
• Facebook profile frame
• Downloadable graphics
• Access to tools and resources for the classroom
• Promotion of their event on social media and on our website
• Opportunity to bring Arts Ed Now to your events all year long.

In addition, we are co-hosting an event on September 12th called “NJ Celebrates Arts in Education Week.” All are welcome to attend this event featuring NJ State Teen Arts traveling exhibition and special performances by State Teen Artists. The reception is sponsored by NJPSA & ARTS ED NJ in collaboration with the Arts & Education Center. RSVP Today !

Not only will we be promoting events during National Arts in Education week but the celebration will continue for the remainder of the month through the Arts Ed September promotion. Celebrating arts education shouldn’t just happen on dedicated weeks or months but all year long and can show you how.

Want to join in on the fun? Go to and download a Today or Yesterday sign today! Share your photo and tell your story of the impact of arts education in your life on social media and help create national visibility for arts education.

Don’t forget to use #ArtsEdNow and #BecauseofArtsEd! Let’s get NJ trending!

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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 getting to know Safia Elhillo!

XElhilloHey Safia! What’s new with you?
I’m enjoying the last few weeks of my “summer break” before returning to touring and teaching in the fall! Personally, I am mourning my cactus that died while I was traveling, and looking for a good curly haircut (just a trim!) in DC. Professionally, I am currently a finalist for the 2018 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship [editor’s note: she’s since been awarded this Fellowship!], and have just received a 2018 Arab American Book Award for my collection, The January Children!

What are you currently reading?
I just finished Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi and LOVED IT. I’m about to start Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin and Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come For Us.

If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it?
Strange, bilingual, and only I think the jokes in it are funny.

What books of poetry/poets do you recommend to a new reader of poems?
Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah by Patricia Smith, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson.

Safia Elhillo, Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, is the author of The January Children. She received the the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and is co-winner of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. Safia is a Cave Canem fellow and holds an MFA in poetry from The New School. She is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me.

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Announcing Cynthia Evans as Dodge’s interim president and CEO 

Posted on by Preston Pinkett III

Cynthia Evans

On behalf of the entire board of trustees, I am pleased today to announce Cynthia Evans as the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s interim president and CEO.

With more than 20 years experience at Dodge, Cynthia, the Foundation’s chief financial officer, has the knowledge and expertise to guide the organization during this transition. She brings a deep understanding of the Foundation’s legacy and a passion for its work. We are excited that she is willing to take on this dual role as we search for a new leader.

Cynthia’s immediate priorities as interim president and CEO are to keep grantmaking and day-to-day operations moving forward, continue to build trust and improve communications with our partners, and start putting into action our new strategic plan, which focuses on an equitable New Jersey.

The Foundation’s Board and staff wish to thank Chris Daggett for his eight years of leadership and his guidance through our strategic planning process. During his tenure, Dodge continued to build on its strong reputation of support for nonprofit organizations in Arts, Education, Environment, Informed Communities and Poetry. We greatly appreciate his service to the Foundation and to the state.

PrestonPreston Pinkett III of Gladstone is chair of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Board of Trustees and chairman and CEO of City National Bank in Newark.


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A message of gratitude from Chris Daggett

Posted on by Chris Daggett

 I am writing my final post as Dodge President & CEO to say thank you to all the organizations and people that Dodge has supported over the past eight years. I have greatly enjoyed working together, seeing your progress, and building new — and strengthening existing — relationships.  

Chris Daggett, Dodge president and CEO

Chris Daggett, Dodge president and CEO

Most importantly, I want to tell you how much I respect and admire the work you do, day in and day out. Few people have an appreciation for how hard you toil, too often for less money and recognition than you deserve. You humble and inspire me every day with your commitment to this great state. 

I celebrate the many successes we have had working together. It’s been a good run and an incredible experience, due largely to your many efforts great and small.  

We at Dodge are in the enviable position of having money to award in grants, and you are in the unenviable position of having to convince us to provide you with funding. It is an asymmetrical relationship, yet we strive always to be mindful of that disparity and to be discerning, fair, and transparent in our grantmaking decisions, recognizing that in the end, our resources pale in comparison to the need. Know, too, that as much as you value our financial input, we value your knowledge and dedication. We view you as partners in a collective effort to have meaningful impact. 

Toward that end, as you know, we recently completed a new strategic plan that centers on equity. The new vision, mission, and goals, which you can find here, point Dodge in a direction very different from that of our past 40 years.  

But, as yet, our strategic plan simply is words on paper. The words need to be turned into concrete actions that improve the lives of all New Jerseyans. We are being intentional about identifying inequities codified into systems by law, regulation, and common practice. Our aim is that those most disproportionately impacted have agency and opportunity to redesign and influence those systems, not through raising one group by pushing down another, but through helping all communities understand and value their interdependence. It is an enormous challenge that will take the courage and patience of every one of us. 

With the polarizing tone and substance of the current political, social, and economic discourse in the country, the achievement of an equitable New Jersey is more important than ever. The Dodge board and staff will be working hard to implement the strategic plan at the same time they are trying to help you with your own organizations’ efforts to respond to the challenges of the times. 

I hope you will embrace this new vision and provide your insights and feedback to the Foundation staff as they implement the plan. It will be vital to our collective ability to improve the state and to build community in the best sense of the word – in every block, neighborhood, and town – grounded in supportive relationships where everyone feels welcome, respected for their talents, and empowered to contribute. 

Thanks again. It has been an honor to work with all of you. 

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