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Award-winning authors explore writing truth to power at USM’s Stonecoast MFA winter residency


Leading up to Martin Luther King Day, theUniversity of Southern Maine Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program will host Pulitzer Prize finalist and Stonecoast faculty member, Martín Espada, and award-winning writer Cheryl Clarke, who together will lead an interactive discussion, "The Task Before Us: Writing Truth to Power," examining the intersection of creative writing and participatory democracy.

The event will take place Friday, January 18, 7:00 p.m., in the Casco Bay Room at the Harraseeket Inn, Freeport, Maine as part of Stonecoast’s annual "Writing for Social Change" series which seeks to support culturally and socially engaged writers committed to creating positive change in the community.

Cheryl Clarke

Moderated by Stonecoast faculty member Elizabeth Hand, Espada and Clarke will discuss the structures that threaten and challenge our freedom of expression. "Stonecoast can and should address the role of the writer in a democracy, especially a democracy in crisis," said Espada.

The symposium is part of the 2019 Stonecoast MFA Winter Residency Program which also presents a week of public readings and discussions with award-winning faculty and guests, January 11-13 and January 16-18. Evening events are free and open to the public. 

Stonecoast MFA 2019 Winter Residency, Public Events
All scheduled events, unless otherwise noted, will take place in the Casco Bay Ballroom, at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.

Friday, 1/11
Flash Faculty Readings, 7:15 p.m.
Faculty members will share 5-8 minutes of their work: Breena Clarke, Theodora Goss, Aaron Hamburger,  Debra Marquart

Saturday, 1/12
Flash Faculty and Guest Reading, 7:00 p.m.
Faith Adiele, John Florio, Robert Redick

Susan Conley book releaseSunday, 1/13
“In Conversation: Women, Risk and Power in Fiction,” 7:00 p.m.
Susan Conley and Cara Hoffman

On the eve of Susan Conley’s publication of her new novel Elsey Come Home, join her and Cara Hoffman in a lively and timely discussion on how women characters (and women authors) are problematized and objectified in contemporary literature. This talk will examine how women's writing has been defined in literary history and discuss strategies in craft and in career that can transcend the marketing ghettos of 'chick lit' and 'women's literature.'

Monday, 1/14
Faculty Flash Readings, 7:00 p.m.
Tobias Buckell, Tom Coash, Susan Conley, Elizabeth Searle

Wednesday, 1/16
Flash Faculty and Guest Reading, 7:00 p.m.
Ron Currie, Elizabeth Hand, Katherine Larson, Robert Levy, Diane Seuss

Thursday, 1/17
Flash Faculty and Guest Reading, 7:00 p.m.
Tara Betts, Cara Hoffman, Nancy Holder, Suzanne Strempek Shea

Friday, 1/18
“The Task Before Us: Writing Truth to Power,” 7:00 p.m.  
Cheryl Clarke (guest) and Martín Espada (Elizabeth Hand, moderator)


The Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing is a top-four-rated low-residency graduate writing program, with concentrations in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and popular fiction. Through the Writing for Social Change project, the Stonecoast MFA and USM facilitate social change in areas of racial, class, gender, and environmental justice by bringing people together to confront inequality and discrimination and promote acts of unification. The goal of the Writing for Social Change project is to create opportunities for the Stonecoast community to use their passion and skills in writing and reading to create social change, both locally and globally.

Martín Espada once served as a tenants’ rights lawyer in the Greater Boston Latino community, where, inspired by these experiences, he began to write poetry. Today Espada is widely celebrated for his personal, political and prophetic poetry. He is the author of over twenty books, most recently the poetry collection Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016). His book The Republic of Poetry (2007) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A translator, editor, and critic as well as a poet, Espada’s numerous prose publications include the banned-by-Arizona, Zapata’s Disciple (reissued in 2016) and The Lover of a Subversive is Also a Subversive (2010). Espada’s poetry has been recognized with the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, an American Book Award, the PEN/Reyson Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2018 Espada received the prestigious $100,000 Ruth Lilly Prize in Poetry and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement. He teaches in the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine and at UMASS/Amherst and lives in Leverett, Massachusetts.

Cheryl Clarke, poet, critic, and activist, began writing at the age of five and grew up in Washington, D.C., at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. During a distinguished forty-year career as a co-curricular program leader advocating for social justice and LGBTQIA rights at Rutgers University and beyond, she published the ovular essays “Lesbianism: an Act of Resistance” and “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community” in the ground-breaking publications This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983). Clarke’s five collections of poetry include Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women (1983), Living as a Lesbian (1986), Humid Pitch (1989), Experimental Love (1993), and By My Precise Haircut (2016), which won the Hilary Tham Capital Competition. Her critical study After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement was published in 2005, and her new and selected work appears in The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005 (2006). A member of the Women in Print movement from the 1970s through the 1990s, which championed the work of marginalized writers engaged in liberation art and activism, Clarke continues to write, lecture, and promote women writers. Along with her sister, novelist and Stonecoast MFA faculty member Breena Clarke, Clarke helps organize the annual Hobart Festival of Women Writers. Clarke is co-owner, with her partner Barbara J. Balliet, of Blenheim Hill Books in Hobart, New York. She resides in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Hobart, New York.