Portland, OR. With quarantine keeping people at home, Literary Arts was forced to rethink how to best support the literary community of Oregon. A month ago, the organization released the winners of its annual Oregon Book Awards. Unlike previous years, where writers like Samiya Bashir (pictured above) accepted their awards in person, for the 2020 event, writers stayed home and tuned into a radio broadcast. After being rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic from April to June, Literary Arts partnered with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) to make the event happen. The winners of this year’s Oregon Book Awards were Beth Alvarado, Cathy Camper, Kesha Ajọsẹ Fisher, Deborah Hopkinson, Greg Means, MK Reed, Julian Smith, Ashley Toliver, and David Wolman. Winners would typically tour Oregon later in the year, reading from their works at various schools, bookstores, workshops, and libraries, but plans for this are yet to be determined due to the pandemic. Such tours help promote public knowledge of the authors and their diverse works, creating a significant influence on the success of their career.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn, Literary Arts decided to grant funds to writers and artists in need. The Board of Directors unanimously agreed on turning a portion of the Brian Booth Writers’ Fund into the Literary Arts Booth Emergency Fund for Writers. Literary Arts received applications for the firsts round of grants beginning at the end of April. One-hundred lucky applicants received a grant of $1,000. The second round of grant applications is currently underway.
In giving to the community, Literary Arts put special focus on providing for people of color. Surveys found that 45% of first-round grant winners identified as people of color. Literary Art’s website states: “COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color. Literary Arts is prioritizing funding for writers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who meet the eligibility criteria.”
Associate Director of Communications Jyoti Roy expressed the organization’s intentions to work with the community to create space for people of color, whether through specialized workshops, funds, or other means.
Literary Arts also works to inspire youth and help them develop their own voices. Back in April, Literary Arts adapted their slam poetry competition for teens known as Verselandia! Youth Poetry Slam. Although the competition itself did not occur, Literary Arts created an alternative event geared toward the same audience.
Roy described their thought process as: “How do we serve the students who benefit from this event in a different way?”
Local poets led a virtual slam poetry workshop at the time the event was to occur. Participants were then invited to share their creations with Literary Arts, which are still being collected, to create a video featuring the youth’s talent.
From Literary Arts:
Literary Arts is a community-based nonprofit with a mission to engage readers, support writers, and inspire the next generation with great literature. For the past 35 years, Literary Arts has built community around literature, books, and storytelling, and the essential ideas and issues they raise. Literary Arts is committed to remaining a dynamic and responsive organization that will continue to evolve with our community’s needs and deepen our equity work across all our programs.