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Literary communities as keepers of place in a changing Atlanta

Literary communities as keepers of place in a changing Atlanta

The place do Atlanta’s poets, storytellers and freestylers launch their careers or convey residence their successes? As with virtually every little thing else in our city, the answer is altering.

Java Monkey, a longtime spoken-word mainstay in Decatur, burned down this past November. In February, the house owners of Apache Cafe — a regionally and nationally renowned institution in the spoken-word group — announced that they’d be pressured to move because of the rising lease of their broken-down constructing in Midtown. In April, feminist bookstore Charis Books and Extra moved out of Little Five Factors after 45 years in the neighborhood, 25 at its Euclid Avenue location.

Other literary occasions seem to be in flux as nicely, reminiscent of Lit: Books, Booze & Beats, a literary efficiency show that’s gone on hiatus from its most up-to-date location at Monday Night time Storage.

With so many strikes and modifications afoot for such iconic cultural areas in Atlanta, it’s value asking if and the way this literary group and the broader Atlanta spoken-word scene are coevolving with a gentrifying city — and with all the lease hikes and sociocultural battlegrounds that that entails.


(Image courtesy of the Charis Books and More Facebook web page)

“There’s a approach by which the humanities in Atlanta are regularly used for gentrification,” says E.R. Anderson, government director of Charis Circle, the nonprofit programming arm of Charis Books and Extra, which reopened in Decatur in April because the official bookstore of Agnes Scott School.

Charis will continue its long-running poetry collection Clitorati, hosted by famend poets Theresa Davis and Karen G., at the new location.

In explaining Charis’ determination to maneuver from Little Five Factors, Anderson describes numerous stakeholders’ attempts to show the neighborhood into an arts district without absolutely partaking with the prevailing communities and their current points. Amongst them, Anderson says, unlawful drug use and the neighborhood’s vital homeless inhabitants (which Anderson says increased with the development of Memorial Drive and Reynoldstown).

Anderson describes “a real combined bag of store house owners” in Little 5 Points, some of whom treated the neighborhood’s homeless and addict populations as residents, and others who “just needed these individuals gone so their property values would improve.”

Anderson says that, for Charis, as a social-justice, mission-driven arts organization that believes in financial justice, it was an uphill battle to convey these values to the fore in conversations about the way forward for Little 5 Factors.

“We really struggled with no nuance in that dialog. I imply it sucks to wash up needles and condoms all the time . . . and the answer is not to just be like ‘these individuals are disposable; let’s gentrify this neighborhood.’ The reply is to ask the Metropolis of Atlanta for extra assets.”

Anderson says events like art performances have been typically the motivation to “clear up” the neighborhood and push individuals out.

“To have this superficial concept of arts gentrification, which is how it felt to me, I’m like, ‘that’s not why we do art, that’s not why we learn, that’s not what we’re right here for.’”

Finally, even after 45 years in the neighborhood, the battle turned an excessive amount of, and Charis embraced a chance to go away.

“I really fear usually concerning the ways in which artwork is used to make neighborhoods palatable, and to criminalize poor individuals, and to push individuals out. We didn’t need to be a part of that,” Anderson says, though additionally they add that just lately there’s been more holistic efforts to interact the group whereas also turning into an arts district.

“So it’d truly occur now that we’re gone!”


Soul Meals Cypher (Photograph courtesy of Alex Acosta and Soul Meals Cypher)

While the humanities as the vanguard of gentrification is certainly not a new concept, Anderson’s account of the Charis move points to a specific rigidity — and alternative — for the voice of literary performance communities in our changing city. Efficiency arts, like spoken word, freestyling and different forms of reside storytelling, are sometimes defined by their deep political roots, essential perspective and facility with language. As such, their communities typically have a singular perspective concerning the areas they’re occupying, particularly amidst a changing Atlanta.

Atlanta slam poet Theresa Davis is just one shining instance of cultivating group and consciousness by way of poetry. She and poet Karen G not only host the previously talked about Clitorati present at Charis; additionally they created Artwork Amok, an open area for underrepresented voices.

“Not only ladies’s voices,” Davis informed ARTS ATL again in 2016, “however individuals of colour, transpeople. Once we stated we have been open, we have been open to something.”

In a current interview, Davis stated that finally, “Poetry is a dialog that sparks discussion. I all the time search to seek out the spaces and places where our humanity touches, to create work that encourages communication and a lens to see how our realities usually are not as totally different as the world would have us consider.”

Alex Acosta, one of the founders of Soul Meals Cypher — a society of freestyle rappers that build group via hip-hop and schooling — echoes these sentiments. He lately summarized the influence of his craft, saying, “On this country, I simply assume that there’s not enough empathy as a result of we don’t understand one another’s tales. We don’t have shared experiences because of division, race, location and social financial issues. . . . If you’re in a cypher [freestyling circle]crucial considering and listening expertise are at their peak. You’re stopping and also you’re listening. And you then’re additionally listening to other individuals, and in return, they may take heed to you. The place else does that happen nowadays?”

Davis and Acosta are each trailblazing examples of ATL literary performance artists whose communities and talent sets enable them to maintain political consciousness top-of-mind in all the spaces they occupy. A crucial and vocal perspective concerning the politics of placemaking appears to be more of the rule than the exception in the literary arts group.


Such a important perspective was undoubtedly at play when Mike Jordan and Jacinta Howard, cohosts of literary performance show Lit: Books, Booze & Beats, decided to take a hiatus from the West Finish’s Monday Night time Garage.

“One of the explanation why we paused,” says Jordan, “is the controversy over Brian Kemp talking there.” Jordan says that he’s “buddies with the house owners, who are really good guys,” however he says that after that, “I needed to tell them I used to be actually disenchanted and that [the show] wanted to take a break.”

Jordan describes the context for this determination, saying, “When you could have Stacey Abrams, who went to Spelman, the nation’s only all-women black school situated proper across the corner, no one’s telling you that you must make political endorsements simply because of the neighborhood, however you possibly can’t have Brian Kemp first. To me, it was simply an final signal of the insensitivity to the fact that you’re a brand new individual on this neighborhood, and Brian Kemp represents an entire lot that this neighborhood never needed, by no means wanted and guarded itself from for a very long time. So you’ll be able to legally convey Brian Kemp into the West Finish, however you’ll be able to’t get away with it.”

Jordan says that he instantly received questions and comments from his audience, who’re majority black ladies, literary and politically aware.

“Finally, I had a group to reply to. I heard from enough people to know that I couldn’t just ignore this, nor did I need to.” He provides that having black ladies take over a craft brewery for an evening is critical as a result of it’s so uncommon, so “as a enterprise, if you’d like that untapped market share — and I know craft beer does — hosting Brian Kemp was a strategic miscalculation.”


Consciousness about politics within group areas can also be elementary to Acosta’s Soul Food Cypher, which operates all around the town, hosting events on the Annex Bookstore and member conferences out of a salon on the West Aspect.

“I’ve put forth a name that if rappers are going to promote place, ensure there’s fairness in those locations,” says Acosta. He adds that “there are some rappers and MCs who are great examples of that; on an area degree, you might have Killer Mike and T.I. who promote companies and things like ‘Buy the Block,’ but in addition rest in peace to Nipsey Hussle. He was on the forefront of that, and I feel his legacy, apart from his music, is his entrepreneurial expertise, seeing the importance of place, and having possession.”

Nipsey Hussle’s current demise struck many as particularly tragic given his work in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood, where he used his assets and public platform to create job alternatives, begin a STEM middle, help convicted felons with reentry and even restore a historic skating rink. His unimaginable work, what Atlanta gentrification skilled King Williams calls “place-keeping,” has been top-of-mind for other rappers, artists and developers acutely aware of the areas they’re occupying and the chance for the humanities to be not simply the vanguard of gentrification however a pressure that genuinely engages with their communities.

It was in an Atlanta context that Williams lately referred to Hussle as “the leader everyone says they need. The unconventional chief; accessible, educated, non-conforming and not pandering empty anecdotes of ‘development’ to the Black group.” Williams used his thoughts on Hussle’s group constructing and place-keeping to frame his interview with developers Donray Von and Ryan Gravel (of BeltLine fame) concerning the fate of the West End Mall.

Certainly, Southwest Atlanta is the current area the place the forces behind the arts, gentrification, place-keeping are most rapidly coming together.


Apache Cafe paintings (Photograph courtesy of Apache Cafe)

“Lee and White is a cultural battleground — fortunately a peaceful one up to now, but a battleground,” says Jordan, commenting on his show’s previously mentioned hiatus from Monday Night time Garage, which is situated at the Lee and White intersection within the West End.

While the story of a changing Southwest Atlanta is far greater than the purview of this text, when it comes to performance areas, literary communities are hungry for venues which are low cost, accessible and ADA compliant, and large enough however not so large that the room feels empty at an occasion.

These are increasingly onerous to return by.

Representatives from the literary battle present Write Club, the female and nonbinary studying collection Bleux Stockings Society and the monthly storytelling occasion Carapace all expressed gratitude for his or her low-rent or rent-free preparations with their Virginia Highlands’ places (Highland Ballroom and Manuel’s Tavern, respectively), understanding that access to such areas is certainly not a given. Other literary occasions are continuously hustling to seek out these kinds of long-term houses, and, with rising lease prices, many such spaces are on the West Aspect, where Apache Cafe is reopening.

After lease hikes drove them out of Midtown, the house owners of Apache Cafe have started hosting events in an interim location in the Murphy Park Fairgrounds while they work out their artistic imaginative and prescient for the longer term. Spoken-word, rap and soul nights and open mics will continue to be integral to Apache’s plans on the West Aspect. Co-owner Asa Fain says that they really bought a studio complicated within the space 10 years ago and have been hoping somebody would do something cool with the 4.5-acre Fairgrounds area across the road; now that “somebody” is them.

Concerning the new spot, Fain says that while they’re “blessed and privileged to have a large group of parents who proceed to trust in us to do the humanities, music, and programming,” they’re additionally “wanting ahead to being a part of the West Aspect group.”

Fain says that the Midtown location wasn’t what made Apache’s group, particularly given the enterprise house owners, giant developments and turnover cycle of that part of city. On the West Aspect, Fain says they’re already getting a whole lot of new people coming into the area and that they’re seeing plenty of help from their neighbors.

“The neighborhood is such a cool space, and it’s a legacy neighborhood, and I feel what we do and what the Apache stands for — creativity, invention, rebelliousness, small businesses and advancing artists’ careers — is an ideal fit for the neighborhood.”


As poet Amena Brown just lately wrote, “No matter what the venue, the poets will meet. We make our personal levels.”

It’s true, and it speaks to the ingenuity, perseverance and place-keeping of Atlanta’s spoken-word and literary arts communities. Along with Apache’s performances at its new area, Charis Books and Extra will host its first Clitorati in its new location on Might 16.

While Java Monkey continues to be reeling from the arson, and is now waiting on metropolis permits to begin reconstruction in full, it plans to keep spoken-word as a mainstay. “Java Monkey was recognized nationwide for its poetry,” says proprietor David Strickland. “It brought one thing actually totally different, really distinctive, and a daily group.”

Within the meantime, the Java Speaks show is being hosted down the street at The Pinewood/Bar Crema. Additionally, different literary efficiency areas continue to hum along, with storytelling events like The Moth, Write Club, Bleux Stockings Society and Carapace, and common spoken-word nights at Kat’s Cafe, Pink Mild Cafe, Urban Grind and ArtsXchange.

Regardless of current closures, strikes and reopenings, Atlanta’s literary performance arts are thriving. What remains to be seen is how these communities will proceed to use their crucial perspective, group consciousness, means with words and distinctive voice to form their levels and areas, to ensure they’re capable of stay in our ever-changing city.

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