About Us
Journal Of Ordinary Thought
Writing Workshops
Press, Projects, and Events
Contact Us
Past Projects



Past Projects
Past Events

Body Wisdom
Fall 2012
Neighbohood Writing Alliance (NWA) writers explored connections between body images and identities

Just as the desire for creative expression comes from a place inside of us, our bodies carry wisdom, history, questions, and reflections on community. This theme was developed to encourage writing and reflection on the intersections of physical identity and movement, primary and intuitive senses, health and healing, and creative expression in weekly writing workshops and community programming. Writers were exposed to new ideas, resources, and perspectives on social and political forces which influence bodies, physical representations, and decisions about movement and identity.

  • Self Care Writing Workshop with Writer Tanuja Jagernauth of the Sage Community Health Collective. This workshop will focus on the connections between writing, self care, and healing. The workshop will be held at the Sage Community Health Collective center, which is united by a belief in accessible, affordable, people-centered health care which honors people's stories and experiences while promoting liberation.
  • Sonia Sanchez Poetry Reading at the Poetry Foundation. Sanchez is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books, including Homecoming, Homegirls and Handgrenades, which won the American Book Award in 1985, Shake Loose My Skin, and most recently, Morning Haiku. One of the founding members of the Black Arts Movement and an influential advocate for civil rights, Sanchez has received many accolades for her literature and activism, among them the Langston Hughes Award, the Robert Frost Medal, and the Peace and Freedom Award. She was recently named Philadelphia’s first Poet Laureate.
  • Portraits of Truth: Opening Reception and Poetry Open Mic. From September 10–30, the HumanThread Center for Peace, Arts & Education will host “Portraits of Truth,” a photography exhibition celebrating the work of the late social documentary photographer Milton Rogovin and photographs of NWA writers Kucha Brownlee and Allen McNair by Chicago photographer Sheila Barabad. (Read more on Sheila’s photographs on the NWA blog.)
  • Listening Session with the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Based in Chicago, the Third Coast International Audio Festival curates sound-rich audio stories from around the world and shares them with as many ears as possible. Third Coast and NWA present a special listening and writing session that will guide you through thinking about your body and your senses in fresh, innovative ways.
  • NWA Presents “Body Wisdom.” Directed by Zahra Baker, NWA will present its writers in celebration of dynamic movement, creative community, and personal stories from neighborhoods throughout Chicago.
  • Themed publication of JOT

When I Am Free: Community Visions of Liberation
Winter/Spring 2012
Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) writers will explore notions of freedom and individual and community liberation.

The meaning and implications of “freedom” are extensively debated, written about, and interpreted by activists, scholars, leaders, artists, and writers. Our individual definitions of “freedom” and its relationship to our homes, our bodies, and our minds can be further complemented by movements that support education and empowerment. NWA’s project will draw from historical and contemporary texts, scholars, and community experts to expand notions of freedom and will take a broad approach to freedom highlighting issues such as disability rights, sexual exploitation and human trafficking, media literacy, racial and cultural profiling, and gender discrimination.

  • News Literacy Workshop with Peter Adams (the News Literacy Project), Natalie Moore (WBEZ), and Rhonda Gillespie (freelance journalist, formerly with the Chicago Defender). Learn more about how to shape and affect local media coverage at this panel event exploring the role of savvy media consumers in today's world; the historic and contemporary roles of community, ethnic, and mainstream news organizations; as well as questions about bias, credibility; and digital citizenship. The presenters will each give a short presentation, then conduct an open discussion with workshop attendees about what news is, what gets covered and why, and how consumers can develop the skepticism and skills necessary to know what to believe in the news and information landscape. Participants will explore the role of citizen journalists in the digital age and will discuss effective strategies for writing letters and emails to the editor.
  • “Walking the Distance of Your Vision” Verse Journalism Seminar Series with Quraysh Ali Lansana. Lansana will introduce Verse Journalism techniques created by poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks. Participants will explore how poetry can function as a vehicle to access a more robust, more human investigation of news and events. Participants will explore topics of identity, world view, and community awareness identifiers, and will discuss examples from a variety of texts including Lansana’s “Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy, & Social Justice in Classroom & Community.”
  • Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking Seminar and Open Forum with the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Voices and Faces Project. This public workshop will introduce issues of sexual exploitation and trafficking in the Chicagoland area, and will include personal testimonies from area survivors. Attendees will participate in a brainstorming discussion which will lead to the later creation of a toolkit for writers to promote awareness and inspire activism in their communities.
  • “The Missing” writing workshop. NWA will participate in The Missing, a public art/ consciousness raising/ community engagement project to focus public attention on the epidemic of mass/hyper incarceration in Chicago. The goals of this project are to reduce the shame of families and others who have a loved one who is incarcerated by finding a public way to embrace them; to encourage Chicagoans to focus their eyes, ears, minds and spirits on the problem of mass incarceration; and to build a base of supporters committed to addressing the problem of mass incarceration in Chicago.
  • Themed publication of “The Open Gate: JOT Writers’ Visions of Freedom and Liberation” 

If These Blocks Could Talk:
Urban Legend, Rumor, and Tall Tales

Summer / Fall 2011
Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) participants explored the theme of “If These Blocks Could Talk”

In weekly writing groups, NWA participants shared their writing and engaged in dialogue about urban legends, rumors, mythologies of Chicago politics, and perceptions and reflections on the dynamics in their communities related to violence, family structure, gentrification, and other issues of personal and community identity. Born of the writers’ interests in stories of origin and passion to provide accurate portrayals of their own communities, the theme provided opportunities to cultivate writers’ storytelling abilities, writing skills, and performance styles. The project was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

  • "Rumors and Legends" Workshops with Gary Alan Fine. Professor Gary Alan Fine, author of Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America, lead NWA writers in discussions and creative writing exercises on the different types of rumors, and how rumors and legends are shared within a community.
  • "Urban Legends" Workshops with Khari B. Poet, columnist, arts educator, and acclaimed performance and recording artist Khari B. lead a 3-part workshop series on “Urban Legends” to help the writers create and develop their own stories and performance styles. The series introduced methods of storytelling that enhanced the content, built skills, and engaged audiences both on the page and in oral performance.
  • Writing workshop with Ronne Hartfield. Poet, essayist, and author of the biographical memoir, Another Way Home: The Tangled Roots of Race in One Chicago Family (University of Chicago Press 2004), Ronnie Hartfield lead NWA writers in a workshop that drew from No Place Like Home, an exhibition curated by Dawoud Bey which included work by Lisa Lindvay, Jon Lowenstein, Jason Reblando, Jessica Rodrigue, David Schalliol and Leilani Wertens. No Place Like Home takes its title from The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s desire to leave Oz and return to a normal and secure sense of home by reciting the magical mantra.
  • "If These Blocks Could Talk" Performance. Spoken word soul artist Discopoet Khari B. brought his unique blend of kinetics, music, and truth to host and direct NWA writers in a staged reading of poetry and prose that explored the theme of urban legends, rumors, and myths, performed at Columbia College Ferguson Auditorium.
  • Themed publication of "I Believed Every Word"

Creative Resistance: Art as Activism
Winter /Spring 2011
Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) participants explored the theme of Creative Resistance: Art as Activism.

What is the role of the arts in social movement building?  Artistic forms often aim to generate dialogue and inspire engagement in social issues, and art has played a major role in a range of activist movements. Through the use of current and historical examples of writing, film, music, and visual art utilized in activism, we encouraged individuals to voice their own experiences and opinions and to examine and reinforce the concept of art as a tool in social justice activism. Creative Resistance is supported in part by the Illinois Humanities Council.

  • Freedom Riders Film Screening and Discussion—2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, a pivotal movement during the civil rights era. In partnership with the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, NWA presented Stanley Nelson’s dynamic new film, Freedom Riders, in conjunction with a writing workshop that explored reflections on the film, the era, and what it means today.
  • Black History 101 Mobile Museum: “Necessary” Exhibit and Seminar—NWA Partnered with the Black History Mobile Museum to present their “Necessary” exhibit, which is comprised of a variety of artifacts surrounding the life and work of Malcolm X, and his impact on artistic movements over the past 50 years. Islamic rights activist and co-proprietor of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, Tasleem el-Hakim, facilitated a workshop with NWA writers reflecting on the exhibit and the Malcolm X.
  • Traveling Down Freedom’s Main Line: The Freedom Rides at 50—Performance. NWA partnered with WBEZ/Chicago, to present a staged performance of writers reading works inspired by the Freedom Riders film screening and writing workshop. NWA shared the stage with Congo Square Theatre, and Young Chicago Authors.
  • The True Cost of Coal Exhibit and DiscussionNWA and the Beehive Collective presented “The True Cost of Coal,” a 14’ x 18’ portable mural. The graphic uses mountain top removal as a lens through which to understand the historical and contemporary story of energy, resource extraction, and its impact on American advancement globally. NWA writers participated in a discussion around issues raised in the exhibit.
  • Panel: “How Art Works: The Impact of Art Forms on Chicago Movements—NWA hosted a panel discussion and Q & A representing a variety of artistic mediums and social movements across the city. Presenters discussed the role of art in affecting specific social justice causes and how attendees can become involved.
  • Themed publication of Testify: Art as Activism

Key Ingredients: Stories on Food & Tradition
Summer/Fall 2010

The Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) participants explored the theme of Key Ingredients: Stories on Food & Tradition.

Food, tradition and culture are linked through such things as long-remembered meals; dishes prepared for ordinary meals as well as special occasions like family reunions or funerals; the handling and preparation of food; and regional specialties, including the best ribs, pizza, chicken, and greens.
Key Ingredients was supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

  • Belonging and Community Chicago State University Associate Professor and Affrilachian Poet Kelly Norman Ellis lead a workshop that explored the idea of identity by drawing on “I am” poems to encourage reflection on themes such as sense of self and ability to make change. She encouraged approaches that considered the context of space, place, neighborhood, food, religion, and language. Workshop participants read poetry as well as create their own.
  • Edible Activism Bart Schultz, University of Chicago Senior Lecturer in Humanities and Director of the Civic Knowledge Project lead a two-part series designed to explore local and sustainable food systems, urban food access, affordability, and community gardens. Writing inspired by the first session was performed during the second session, which was open to the public.
  • Community Gardening — NWA presented the opportunity to participate in a seminar and service project in a Chicago community garden.
  • Food Audio — The Third Coast Audio Festival presented a compilation of audio recordings from their extensive archives on the theme of food. NWA writers had an opportunity to hear stories and expressions from a wide variety of perspectives. A discussion followed.
  • Trick or Treat NWA, as a part of “Mischief Night” at the Hyde Park Arts Center, hosted a writing workshop entitled “Trick or Treat.” Writing created in that workshop was performed that day as a part of the festivities.
  • Writing Our Identities Each and every one of us possess complex identities, which include such elements as race, age, ethnicity, gender, orientation, religion, class, nationality, political orientation, and much more. Dr. Mary Anne Mohanraj encouraged participants of this workshop to write their identities through the lens of poetry and prose. The workshop aimed to capture the power of our stories to build rich and compelling narratives.
  • Call for submissions! — NWA writers collaborated with Affrilachian Poet Parneshia Jones to weave together and perform their own stories at a city-wide reading on the theme of “Key Ingredients.” Submissions were both consistent with the food theme and possessed performance quality. Writers accepted to this production took part in three rehearsals in addition to the culminating performance "On The Tip of My Tongue" in November at Gorilla Tango Theatre.
  • Publication of "I Always Like Plenty of Napkins" with introduction by Lisa Yun Lee.

Previous Years projects

Facebook   Flickr