American Writers Museum hosts Horizons showcase

Director of Organizing Wayne Richard

Horizons welcomed an enthusiastic audience to its 2018 writers showcase. Held at the American Writers Museum, our May 22 event featured original poetry read by homeless shelter-resident authors, most of them mothers and their older children.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is grateful to our city’s newest museum for generous sponsorship of this year’s showcase. Opened last May, the American Writers Museum, 180 North Michigan, was voted Illinois’ best attraction in a USA Today Readers Choice poll and named one of the world’s 10 best new museums by Fodor’s.

“American writing happens in homeless shelters as surely as it does in any writing classroom,” said AWM President Carey Cranston. “AWM is proud to help celebrate the work of the writers in the Horizons program.”

Horizons is a creative writing outreach program offered at family shelters, led by Director of Organizing Wayne Richard. Twice-a-month sessions

Chrishauna Thompson and Shaccori Jackson

involve more than 100 people a year. Most of the 2018 showcase writers live at three family shelters on Chicago’s South Side: Primo Center for Women and Children, A Safe Haven, and Margaret’s Village.

The hour-long evening program featured 12 writers. They included CPS high school seniors Shacoori Jackson and Chrishauna Thompson, who emceed the evening with another teen, Avion Smith.

An audience of almost 100 people, including shelter residents and their families, was asked to cheer for their favorite work at the close of the evening. Showing enthusiasm for all the writers, the audience selected D Naize for her moving poem, “Faded Hope.”

Commenting on the loud cheers, Ms. Naize joked, “Some of them are my kids!”

Ms. D Naize

The youngest participant, 10-year-old Terrell (Terry) Cooks, was runner-up.

Terry said later that his poem, “Future and Past” — carefully penned in a stenographer’s notebook — is his first.

Other writers participating in the 2018 showcase were Martha Allen, Tiara Hampton, Ebony Haralson, Jamella Jackson, Catherine Jones, Lashaun Powell, and “Doctor Smith.”

Terry Cooks

A selection of poems is published online in the Horizons Reading Room and in a booklet distributed at the spring showcase.

“Everyone has a song to sing,” said Wayne Richard, pointing to poems and short essays that range from emotional to wistful, hopeful to angry. At the showcase, it becomes clear how important it is for writers to have an audience listen and appreciate what s/he has to say.

Wayne launched Horizons in 2007. A CCH organizer since 2000, Wayne first became involved with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless when he participated in an earlier version of the writing program while living at a West Side shelter.

Adler University collaborates with Horizons. Graduate student Ruby Aranki was this year’s program intern, assisting Wayne with outreach. Adler’s art department, led by Dr. Jennifer LaCivita, contributed students’ “emphatic art responses” to a selection of poems. These were displayed at the showcase, with the art given afterward to the writers whose poems inspired the drawings.

Horizons has been supported by project-based grants from the Seabury Foundation. CCH thanks Allison Sansone, program director of the American Writers Museum, for her leadership in organizing the 2018 showcase.

– Photos by Allison Williams Photography

– Anne Bowhay, Media