10 Women Poets You Should Know Especially if you Live in LA or OC

Last night an incredible thing happened.

10 women poets held space together and it was one of the most talent-full, energized, funny, emotional, and well-crafted poetry readings I have ever seen or been a part of. The audience wasn’t just a crowd, they were a thoughtful and engaged group of witnesses. They cheered and moaned, snapped, clapped, and laughed. And the women took power from being seen and being heard. Their voices were loud, clear, soft, shrill, excited, angry; their voices held beautiful songs from other languages and funny anecdotes about their mothers and their lovers. Wow, I wish you could have been there.

As the night’s host, Marcus Omari, said: there will never again be another night quite like it. While the writing shared last night can (and should) be published, repeated, shared, re-posted, and read, the feeling in the room, that special gathering of women holding space–that conjuring, that hell-rising and shout, THAT can’t be re-done. So let’s live in it for a little while.

Photo by Alison Hildebrant
From left to right: Natalie J Graham, Sheila Sadr, Chestina Craig, Elizabeth Szekeresh, Victoria Lynne McCoy, Keayva Mitchell, Danielle Mitchell, Elmast Kozolyan, Angela Apodoca, and Mahsa Hosseini. Photo by Alison Hildebrant

Here are the epic rule breaking, mother-loving, glowing, irritated, cheerful, fuck-you-I’ll-use-my-own-words WOMEN:

Shelia J Sadr is a first generation Iranian-American, an intersectional feminist, and a fourth year pursuing her BA in English Creative writing with a minor in Comparative World Literature at California State University, Long Beach. She has been a member of the CSULB slam team for four years and has MC’ed the CSULB Poet’s Lounge for three years. Sheila is a former InterACT troupe member, a performance troupe that raises awareness on serious social justice issues such as sexual assault, inappropriate pursuit, and racism. Currently, she works as the lead social media marketer for The Definitive Soapbox open mic in Long Beach, helping coordinate and publicize each monthly event. Sheila also works as the copy and content editor of Cal State Long Beach’s Union Weekly newspaper.

Natalie J. Graham is a native of Gainesville, Florida. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Florida and completed her Ph.D. in American Studies at Michigan State University as a University Distinguished Fellow. Her poems have appeared in Callaloo, New England Review, Valley Voices: A Literary Review and Southern Humanities Review; and her articles are forthcoming in The Journal of Popular Culture and Transition. She is a Cave Canem fellow and assistant professor of African American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Her first book, Being with a Failed Body, won the 2016 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and will be publication by The University of Georgia Press in fall 2017.

Victoria Lynne McCoy holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in “The Power of Words: Creative Expression as a Catalyst for Change,” focusing on activism in the arts, from the University of Redlands’ Johnston Center for Integrative Studies. Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Blackbird, The Collagist, Drunken Boat, The Offing, The Paris-American, and PANK, among others. Her poetry has been named a semi-finalist for the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, as well as a finalist for the St. Lawrence First Book Award, the Mudfish Poetry Prize and the Third Coast Poetry Prize. After serving as Publicist & Assistant Editor for Four Way Books, Victoria left NYC to return to her native Southern California. She currently lives in Long Beach.

Chestina Craig an intersectional feminist, poet, and scientist in training, lives in Long Beach, CA with her cat. Currently a student at CSULB studying Marine Biology, she spends her free time in the ocean, taking photos, and petting sharks. Her other talents include eating whole pizzas and falling in love with 7pm tangerine sunlight. She hopes to one day only be required to wear gauzy long dresses and swim in the ocean.

Angela Apodoca

Elmast Kozolyan is a poet trapped in limbo between magic and reality (though seldom chooses the latter). At the age of fifteen won a silver medal for poetry in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and since then has been mentoring youth poets, is an editor of CSULA’s Statement Magazine and published in places such as Cadence Collective, Poetry in Motion, Pacific Review, the East Jasmine Review and Los Angeles Times.

Keayva Mitchell is a twenty-two year old currently living in Long Beach, California. Among the many jobs she holds she is an associate editor for a female executives magazine, as well as a sometimes blogger for The Poetry Lab. Her favorite poets include Terrence Hayes, Cristin O’Keefe-Aptowicz, and Rachel McKibbens. She thinks you’re cool.

Mahsa Hosseini was born in Tehran, Iran and moved to Orange County, Califoria at the age of four. She studied Poetry and Literature at UCLA and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She is an active member of the Los Angeles and Orange County Poetry communities.

and me! (humbled and awed and way too snarky for my own good). I read this piece on Kim Kardashian that also appears in Four Way Review along with a few others I’ve been cooking up. I’m writing non-fiction, y’all. I’m writing memoir-type stories about shit that never gets talked about (mostly because, Patriarchy). It feels good. Maybe I’ll start submitting it for publication and you can be reading it soon. Otherwise, got to catch me at a reading.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the evening:

Photo by Sara Guerrero
Photo by Sara Guerrero

Bonfire Shout camera720_1488093009545

Photo by Elizabeth Szekeresh
Photo by Elizabeth Szekeresh
Photo by Sara Guerrero
Photo by Sara Guerrero

Bonfire Shout

Photo by Madeleine Spencer
Photo by Madeleine Spencer

Instagram_Bonfire Shout

If you wanted to attend last night and couldn’t make it out there are still ways you can participate and support. All of these women are on social media, many of them have websites. They perform regularly, they have books and merch available for purchase. RESPECT THE HUSTLE. Follow them, “Like” them, pay attention and be mindful. These are the voices that will carry us into the future. (Because we all know it’s female). And they are fierce, intersectional, full of grit and gratitude.

If you live in the LA/OC area, especially Long Beach, we’ll being seeing you real soon. Maybe at the next Poetry Lab, or Definitive Soapbox? Don’t be a stranger.

As a last note, I’d like to thank Marcus Omari and Mahsa Hosseini for organizing the Bonfire Shout. Stephen Anderson and the people at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art are rad, it’s a great event space and the important part of the community. The current exhibition is called “Incarceration” and  I highly recommended it.