We all know that there’s no shortage of vacant homes in Detroit. Instead of seeing these sadly empty homes as hopeless, Write A House has renovated two of them as a larger project that intends to strengthen Detroit’s literary scene. The second Write A House home will soon house a writer, one of the 10 finalists announced today.
The Write A House program is the only one of its kind in the U.S. The organization buys a vacant home and renovates it. After the home is habitable, Write A House gives the home to the writer who wins its residency contest.
The winner for the second round of Write A House’s residency will be announced on October 2 at a showcase event featuring author Matt Bell, whose new novel, Scrapper, draws inspiration from Detroit.
For the 2015 residency, the organization received 220 applications in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from across the nation. Eight of the finalists are from around the nation; two are from Detroit.
The finalists are a diverse group of writers, and they were chosen primarily based on the quality of their writing. However, the judges also considered other factors like the applicants’ ability to contribute to the neighborhood and the literary culture of Detroit.
Let’s meet the 10 finalists, with information from Write A House:
Liana Aghajanian is an independent, Armenian-American journalist whose work explores the issues, people and places that remain hidden and on the fringes of society. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, BBC, Al Jazeera America, GOOD and The Atlantic among other publications. Reporting from Kenya, the UK, Germany, the South Caucasus and across the West Coast of the U.S., she covers issues at the intersection of culture, immigration, social justice, displacement and identity. She edits Ianyan Magazine, an independent-online journal on Armenia and its diaspora and authors a column for L.A. Times Community News on under-reported issues. Her work has received support from the Metlife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, the California Health Journalism Fellowship and the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University.
Selected by dream hampton.
New York, NY – Fiction
Glendaliz Camacho is a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee, 2014 Jentel Foundation Artist in Residence, and 2015 Caldera Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Hedgebrook Artist in Residence. Glendaliz is an alum of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Fiction Workshops. Her work appears in All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (University of Wisconsin Press), The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015), The Butter, and Kweli Journal, among others. Glendaliz is currently working on a short story collection, fantasy novel, and essay collection.
“This piece surprised me the most of any of the submissions—it quickly drew rounded portraits of its characters and pulled me into their sure-to-be-tense relationship. More than any of the other pieces, I would have happily kept reading more.” – Sean MacDonald
Portland, OR – Fiction
Katie Chase’s short fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, Five Chapters, Narrative, Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, Mississippi Review, and the Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she was the recipient of a Teaching-Writing Fellowship, a Provost’s Postgraduate Writing Fellowship, and a Michener-Copernicus Award. She has also been a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University. Born and raised outside Detroit, she lives currently in Portland, Oregon. Her first book is forthcoming from A Strange Object in 2016.
“Devil’s Night is an oft-explored theme, and yet this felt fresh, compelling, and true. Wasn’t really sure what to make of the last paragraph, but it held me nonetheless.” – Toby Barlow
Allison Hedge Coke
Arcadia, OK – Poetry
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s authored books include Dog Road Woman, Off-Season City Pipe, Blood Run, Streaming, and Rock Ghost, Willow, Deer (memoir), and anthologies she edited, including: Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas, Effigies and Effigies II. She also performs with the band Rd Klā. Hedge Coke came of age working fields, factories, and waters, and serves as an alternative field mentor. Awards for her work include an American Book Award, a Paterson Prize, a Sioux Falls Mayor’s Award, and residencies with MacDowell, Black Earth Institute, Hawthornden Castle, Weymouth Center, Center for the Great Plains, and Lannan at Marfa. Hedge Coke directs the annual Literary Sandhill Crane Retreat and is currently at work on an environmental documentary film, “Red Dust: resiliency in the dirty thirties.”
“(In her work), there is seriousness and ambition and scope for growth. It is densely packed and is mostly story-telling, anchored in a myth of blue-collar world. This is worth exploring.” – Michael Stone-Richards
Detroit, MI – Poetry
Nandi Comer is the lead writer for Techno Poetics, a collaboration between Detroit music makers and writers. She has received fellowships from Indiana University, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Cave Canem, Callaloo, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in To Light a Fire: 20 Years with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project (Wayne State University Press, 2014), A Detroit Anthology (Belt Publishing, 2014), Another and Another: An Anthology From the Grind Daily Writing Series (Bull City Press, 2012), Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Southern Indiana Review, and Sycamore Review. She lives and works in Detroit.
“This poet plays with poetic form and verbal music in such a way that art amplifies social consciousness, violence, and cultural inheritance. This is the hallmark of literature that aims high, a kind of redemption song … I admire the maturity evident in this poets’ work.” – Major Jackson
Miami, FL – Fiction
Jaquira Díaz is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, the Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, a Bread Loaf waitership, and an NEA Fellowship to the Hambidge Center for the Arts. She’s been awarded fellowships or scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The MacDowell Colony, Summer Literary Seminars, and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop. A finalist for the Richard J. Margolis Award in journalism, her work is noted in Best American Essays 2012 and 2014, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014, anthologized in Pushcart Prize XXXVII: Best of the Small Presses, and appears in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Sun, The Southern Review, Salon, Five Chapters, TriQuarterly, The Rumpus, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications.
“The author has a strong sense of voice and language that drives these three short pieces. Even in the single paragraph that is ‘December’, the language has a natural cadence and sense of urgency that propels the narrative in two lyrical sentences. ‘Seasons of Risks’ captures the adolescent appetite for danger.” – Tamara Warren
Columbia, SC – Fiction
Born and raised in the square-mile suburbs of Detroit, Matthew Fogarty has an MFA from the University of South Carolina, where he was editor of Yemassee. He also edits Cartagena, a literary journal. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Passages North, Fourteen Hills, PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, and Midwestern Gothic. His short story collection, Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely, will be published in Fall 2016 by Stillhouse Press, a publisher based at George Mason University.
“The first two shorts in this packet were the most interesting, in part because they’re so different. The first tells of a man obsessed with telling and retelling the story of Pope John Paul II being elected, but the story varies wildly depending on the day, and ‘depending on what we’d eaten and how much he’d had to drink.’ The second is a more absurd story about two con artists staging fake accidents for cash, while traveling under the names of characters from The Legend of Zelda. There’s a lot of varied imagination here, and I appreciated the range.” – Matt Bell
Detroit, MI – Nonfiction
J.M. Leija is a Detroiter at heart and proud to claim all the accompanying trials, travails, and joys that accompany such a statement. By day she is a teacher/disguised superhero who tries to convince her students that reading is cool. On nights and weekends, she turns into a writer who tortures herself over whether writing about things that have really happened and people who really exist can ever be truly ethical. She then proceeds to write about them anyway. Her work has previously been featured in A Detroit Anthology, Motif’s Seeking It’s Own Level anthology, and Pithead Chapel Magazine, and she has work forthcoming in the 3288 Review.
“This is a person who has something interesting to say, and in saying it, she exercises complete command of the language. The words do exactly what she wants them to at all times. This is no mean feat. There’s an ease and authority here that was unmatched in any of the other submissions I read. … this #1 lady is a writer. There is an instinctive understanding of how words fit and rhythm and le mot juste. This is the thing that can’t be taught.” – Nancy Kaffer
M. Sophia Newman
Homewood, IL – Nonfiction
M. Sophia Newman is a writer whose work has been published in the US, UK, Bangladesh, and Japan. She writes a column on global health, Health Horizons, for Next City. She’s reported on infectious disease in West Africa via a crowd-funded project for Pacific Standard Magazine and on violence in South Africa and America with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. She received a 2014 Shannon Fellowship from Bellarmine University’s International Thomas Merton Society to report on environmentalism, and continued this work with a 2015 retreat at Collegeville Institute for Cultural and Ecumenical Studies. Prior to journalism, she completed a Critical Language Scholarship in Bangla (2011), followed by a year of health research as a Fulbright fellow in Bangladesh (2012-2013). She holds a bachelor of science in cell and molecular biology (Tulane, 2009) and a master’s degree in public health from University of Illinois (2012). Sophia is a Bangla speaker who hopes to attain fluency for journalism and to translate Bangla-language literature. She has also won admission to a short program on global mental health at Harvard, and intends to complete a nonfiction book expanding on the violence prevention she explored via the Pulitzer grant.
Selected by dream hampton.
Fayetteville, AR – Poetry
Katie Nichol is a poet, educator, and activist based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Recent work has appeared in Cream City Review, St. Petersburg Review, and Cannibal. She is the Creative Writing Director for Prison Story Project, and was a 2014 finalist for the Wisconsin Institute Creative Writing Fellowships. Prior to receiving her MFA from the University of Arkansas, Katie worked as an advocate with homeless youth in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
“Like many of the manuscripts, this one deals with strong subject matter—notes from a rough life—but here the matter is balanced with literary grace and a knowledgeable sense of form. The manuscript includes a ghazal and a rather amazing poem that reads forwards and backwards.” – Billy Collins
Before the winner is selected, each finalist will participate in video interviews with Write A House’s co-founders.
You can see the renovation progress on the second Write A House in the organization’s photo gallery.