Grant winners share their art at Penn

The Philadelphia Tribunal
December 7, 2011

Debra Powell-Wright has a history with and a passion for spoken word.

The administrative assistant for the Art Sanctuary in South Philadelphia was drawn to the center for its appreciation of art and literature.

As a spoken-word artist, Powell-Wright has had experience expressing herself through her writing on various occasions.

Last Wednesday, the Kelly’s Writers House located at 3805 Locust Walk on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus in West Philadelphia, hosted a live recording for the radio show LIVE at the Writers House, where Leeway Foundation grant recipients had the opportunity to share their work.

The Leeway Foundation, an organization that aims to make art an integral part of social change, awarded Powell-Wright with a grant for her poetry and short stories.

Along with Powell-Wright, grant winners Shari Tobias, Genne Murphy, Ondartza Polita and Reverend Beverly Dale also performed their pieces.

For Genne Murphy’s piece, actors Anjoli Santiago and Leyla Eraslan read her script. Michaela Majoun hosted the event and Lizanne Knot, singer/songwriter, was the musical guest.

Powell-Wright shared her piece titled "Love Letter to Mom."

"Because the essay is honest and is about my mother, it means so much to me," she said. "It's means a lot especially as I revisited the writing of it during my participation in a writing class at Art Sanctuary, facilitated by Bernice McFadden."

Powell-Wright felt it was McFadden's workshop that allowed her to feel braver and less fearful about revealing the difficult parts of her life's story. Her piece captured what she refers to as "peace, in love and struggle."

The second piece she shared was "Woman... Just Be!" a piece that she considers to be her poetic affirmation. She wrote this poem after experiencing the loss of her mother.

"It is a poem that reminds me that no matter what difficulties I go through, God is love," she said.

LIVE at the Writer’s House, is a collaboration between the Kelly’s Writers House and WXPN 88.5. The event was recorded live and broadcasted on WXPN this past Monday. Erin Gautsche is the program coordinator of Kelly’s Writers House and the producer of LIVE.

"I think the work that Leeway artists do is important, and I want the broad listening audience of WXPN to be exposed to that work," Gautsche said.

In the seven years Gautsche has produced the show, she’s had a Leeway show every year and finds that it’s interesting to see the diversity of the grant award winners.

Ross Mann attended the event and enjoyed the variety of poetry and spoken word.

"I thought it was a great diversity of pieces that they featured," Mann said.

Powell-Wright has been doing spoken word since year 2000, when she joined the poetry group, In the Company of Poets. Her work has been published in a number of journals, anthologies and magazines including Essence magazine.

Powell-Wright was previously a Leeway grant winner in 2006 for her coordination of "From Womb to Womanhood," a three-day conference featuring workshops and performances for women and girls of color. Now with her second grant, an "Art and Change" grant for $2,500, Powell-Wright plans to produce a series of poems and short stories with an accompanying CD based on her essay "Four Women–For Women: Black Women all Grown Up."

Once completed, Powell-Wright has plans to facilitate presentations in communities to bring together diverse groups and stimulate dialogue.

"I think that the voices of women and transgendered artists, especially self-taught and nontraditional artists, are often ignored by the larger community," Gautsche said. "Leeway rewards these women's contributions and offers them a grant that allows them to focus more or expand their artistic work."