Every year, our Creative Writing Conservatory continues to expand through new courses, faculty and innovative programming to engage the interests of every student at ChiArts. In addition to producing new Rapcademy evening showcases this year, the conservatory is thrilled to announce their first-ever writing festival, the Senior Lit Fest on Saturday, May 11. This all-day event consists of immersive presentations of original work throughout the ChiArts building by the 2019 graduating class of Creative Writers. More details to come!
On February 27th, the ChiArts’ Creative Writing and Theatre conservatories spent the afternoon with acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, Steppenwolf ensemble member, and actor, Tracy Letts. With a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award under his belt, Mr. Letts is also having a stand-out year on screen with roles in two 2018 Academy Award Best Picture nominees, Lady Bird and The Post. As Mr. Letts walked into the ChiArts Black Box Theatre, scholar-artists filled every seat, floor space, with little to no standing room available. Theatre Major and 2018 August Wilson Monologue winner, Nia Sarfo, welcomed Mr. Letts and conducted a memorable interview covering topics such as mastering nerves to the value of finding confidence as an artist. When asked for advice he’d give to young actors and writers, Mr. Letts reinforced the importance of creating your own opportunities; “Do it yourself. You shouldn’t ever feel like someone should give you permission to work.”
When you first meet Mr. Letts, his authenticity and curiosity captivates. Throughout the question and answer portion, scholar-artists seemed to appreciate his honest and humorous advice. In response to questions on winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Mr. Letts said “I think it changed people’s perception of me. I feel like people think I’m smarter than I am. But, I hope you all win one! It’s fun to have.” On a more serious note, Letts connected success with tenacity and patience. “Stick to it. Just keep doing it. Outlast them. It took me a long time to value what it means to be an artist in this city. To call yourself an artist is a very valuable thing.” After taking the time to personally interact with scholar-artists after the interview, Mr. Letts met with ChiArts’ improv troupe and joined in games that included conga lines, Shakespeare lines, and lots of laughter. After the improv games and to begin Mr. Lett’s tour of ChiArts, Nia Sarfo performed her winning monologue from the August Wilson Monologue Competition finals.
After the featured interview, Mr. Letts had an opportunity to engage with Theatre and Creative Writing classes. The tour ended with a visit to the Visual Arts Sophomore Show in ChiArts Gallery. With Creative Writer, Damayanti Wallace, and Nia Sarfo leading the tour, along with Executive & Artistic Director, José Ochoa, and ChiArts Board Members Jim and Kay Mabie, ChiArts was grateful for Mr. Letts’ time and support of arts education. When asked by scholar-artists on why he was interested in visiting ChiArts, Mr. Letts responded with “I look around at your faces and I see the future. That’s why I’m here.”
ChiArts would like to sincerely thank the private donor who provided this incredible learning opportunity for our scholar-artists and faculty.
The first ChiArts showcase of the year was presented by the Creative Writing Conservatory! On September 15, scholar-artists from all grade levels performed works published in “ChiArts Writes Volume 3” in the Black Box Theatre. The night began with a celebratory reception provided by the parents of ChiArts and led into a sold-out reading featuring over 30 Creative Writing majors.
This annual publication includes all different types of literary genres and themes, from short stories to personal essays, and works ranging from surreal comedy to mental illness. Huge congratulations to Tina Boyer Brown, Kenyatta Rogers, Chris Lin, and the scholar-artists featured in “ChiArts Writes Volume 3” for producing a stellar and diverse book of work. If you would like to preorder a copy, email Department Assistant, Kenyatta Rogers.
This August, Illinois Humanities announced the first annual 2017 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award Winners. Out of the 260 entries that were received across the state, 19 young poets from kindergarten to 12th grade received awards and 25 students received honorable mentions. With ChiArts’ first class of Creative Writers graduating last May, we’re thrilled that Faith Moreno, Haley Cao, and Ruth Jones won for the sophomore, junior, and senior classes.
From 1970-2000, Gwendolyn Brooks hosted the statewide poetry awards and reviving the program was an initiative within the “Our Miss Brooks 100” collaboration. As a poet, feminist, activist, and the first African American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Miss Brooks is one of the most authentic and significant literary heroes not only in Chicago, but throughout the nation. Huge congratulations to Faith, Haley, and Ruth on receiving a 2017 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award for the following pieces:
10th Grade: “Alcoholism” by Faith Moreno
11th Grade: “Prayer” by Haley Cao
12th Grade: “Untitled” by Ruth Jones.
For a full list of winners and more information on “Our Miss Brooks 100” programming, click here.
On July 13, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events announced the 4th Annual Fifth Star Honors! The event celebrates the contributions of four Chicago artistic giants, Common, Jeanne Gang, Kerry James Marshall, and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Three of our scholar-artists will be honored in the City of Chicago’s Rising Star Honor Roll as well!
The City of Chicago “will recognize 25 outstanding young artists as members of the Rising Star Honor Roll.” ChiArts is proud to announce that Damayanti Wallace (Creative Writing Major) will be honored for Literary Arts, Jayda Perry for Dance, and Freedom Martin for Theatre. These three scholar-artists have shown exceptional leadership and passion within the arts and will be inducted in an awards ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday, August 28. For more information, visit www.fifthstarhonors.org.
On June 19, our Creative Writing Conservatory welcomed Tyehimba Jess for a presentation and reading of poetry from his 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Olio.
The evening opened with current Creative Writers reciting original pieces, leading into an introduction of Tyehimba’s previous work and awards. Throughout the evening, Tyehimba presented his research on minstrel shows of the 19th century and the historical significance of the individual’s featured in his poetry. Audience members were completely fascinated with Tyehimba’s synergy of words and design within the book. Tyehimba’s poetry in Olio can be read in many different directions and at every reading, he improvises the order in which he reads. In response to a student question on the topic of African American minstrel performers, Tyehimba talked about the poetic value of their circumstances and the relevance to racism in our society today. ChiArts is grateful to Tyehimba for sharing his incredible work, creative process, and historical insight!
The Creative Writing Conservatory is thrilled to welcome Tyehimba Jess, a 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winner. On June 19 from 6:00-7:00 PM, a free public reading and talk will be hosted in the ChiArts Black Box Theatre. Jess’s book Olio won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He is the 6th African American to have such an honor and does so during the year long celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks 100th birthday, who was the 1st African American to win the Pulitzer prize for her book Annie Allen in 1950. Please join us for this special event.
Want to learn more about Tyehimba Jess? Click here!
We started off National Poetry Month with a powerful panel of women writers, performers and teaching artists! Fatimah Asghar (Dark Noise Collective, Helen Zell Writers’ Program), Franny Choi (Dark Noise Collective, Project VOICE) and Tarfia Faizullah (Organic Weapon Arts Publishing, University of Michigan Professor) visited our Creative Writing students for a Q & A session, master class and open mic performance.
On March 31, students listened, laughed and discussed their personal writing styles and goals with our guests. Our Creative Writers asked about topics ranging from college programs and artistic solitude to self-criticism. Tarfia explained, “I don’t know if I believe in good or bad writing. When I think of “good” or “bad”, I just ask myself… is it alive?” These three writers challenged our students with unfiltered answers, detailed writing exercises and workshops on “how to trust our instincts as writers.” Thank you, Fatimah, Franny and Tarfia for sharing your beautiful words and work with our students! Check out our favorite insights from these incredible women: