District of Literature

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The District of Literature was the first free, full day of readings and panel discussion featuring DC poets, fiction writers, and literary critics. Held on September 30, 2013, events took place on Capitol Hill at the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Church of the Reformation. The full day of events was sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Library of Congress and PEN/Faulkner. District of Literature was made possible by support from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, an agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, and a media sponsorship by Slate.

Order of the day

Opening remarks

9:30am-10am: Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, room LJ-119

The opening remarks of District of Literature featured a reading by DC Poet Laureate Dolores Kendrick.

Sterling Brown, DC's First Poet Laureate

10am-11am: Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, room LJ-119

This reading was curated by the American Poetry Museum. Haile Gerima's documentary After Winter: Sterling Brown revolves around the life of DC's first poet laureate. This reading investigates Brown's legacy with poet A. B. Spellman, a former student of Brown's, Howard University professor Tony Medina, and Shakeema Smalls, a young poet at Howard University who is coming to terms with Brown and his influence through the other poets she has studied.

The American Poetry Museum is a virtual space for exhibitions and education centered on the subject of American poetry. The Museum also collects objects centered around American poetry and presents events and educational poetry writing workshops for learners of all ages. The Museum also hosts an annual exhibition each year comprised of art, photography and video about different subject matter using poetry as a tool for discussion.

Possessed of This City: Bringing the Spirit of DC Poetry to the Nation

11:15am-12:15pm: Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, room LJ-119

This panel was hosted by Split This Rock. DC's poets have long engaged the wider world in their work while creating community here at home, supporting one another's writing and activism. Split This Rock was founded in 2008 in this tradition, calling poets to the center of public life and fostering a national network of socially engaged poets. Split This Rock is dedicated to revitalizing poetry as a living, breathing art form with profound relevance in our daily lives and struggles. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness from our home in the nation's capital, Split This Rock celebrates poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination. Their programs integrate poetry of provocation and witness into movements for social justice, and support the poets of all ages who write and perform this vital work.

Panelists, which included four founders and key leaders-- Sarah Browning, Regie Cabico, Melissa Tuckey, and Dan Vera-- discussed what is uniquely DC about Split This Rock and the impact DC thereby has on the literary life of the nation.

Presentations from DC Writers' Homes and 826DC

12:30pm-1:30pm: Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, room LJ-119

During the District of Literature complimentary lunch break, both DC Writers' Homes and 826DC presented. Student poets from 826DC DC performed their poetry, and DC Writers' Homes discussed their online guide of where writers lived in Washington DC. DC Writers' Homes' mission is to document and" highlight DC writers known and forgotten". 826DC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Their services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

DC Fiction Showcase: A.X. Ahmad, Elliot Holt and Richard McCann

1:45pm-2:45pm: Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, room LJ-119

A.X. Ahmad, Elliot Holt and Richard McCann participated in a reading, sponsored and curated by The Writer's Center.

The Writer's Center cultivates the creation, publication, presentation, and dissemination of literary work. The Center is an independent literary organization with a global reach, rooted in a dynamic community of writers. As one of the premier centers of its kind in the country, The Writer's Center believes the craft of writing is open to people of all backgrounds and ages. Writing is interdisciplinary, and unique among the arts for its ability to touch on all aspects of the human experience. It enriches our lives and opens doors to knowledge and understanding.

DC: Fact/Fiction

3pm-4pm: Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, room LJ-119

Slate and PEN/Faulkner jointly presented DC: Fact/Fiction, a panel discussion on the District's literature--and its place in the national conversation--by cultural thinkers with deep ties to the District.

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation is a nonprofit literary organization devoted to connecting readers and writers. The foundation believes in deepening readers connection to writing through public events, in-school education, and public promotion of exceptional literary achievement.

Slate is a daily magazine on the Web. Founded in 1996, Slate is a general-interest publication offering analysis and commentary about politics, news, business, technology, and culture. Slate's strong editorial voice and witty take on current events have been recognized with numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for General Excellence Online. The site, which is owned by The Washington Post Company, does not charge for access and is supported by advertising revenues.


Marie Arana is a biographer, essayist, novelist, and former editor in chief of Book World at the Washington Post. Currently, she is a guest columnist for the New York Times, Writer at Large for The Post, and Senior Advisor to the US Librarian of Congress.

Louis Bayard is the author of the critically acclaimed The School of Night and The Black Tower, the national bestseller The Pale Blue Eye, and the New York Times Notable Book Mr. Timothy. His other books include Fool's Errand and Endangered Species. He has written for such publications as Salon, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. His novel Roosevelt's Beast was published in March 2014 by Henry Holt.

Danielle Evans is the author of the short-story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, winner of the PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Paterson Prize, and the Hurston-Wright award for fiction. She teaches literature and creative writing at American University in Washington DC.

Jennifer Howard is a journalist and fiction writer who was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bookforum, the Times Literary Supplement, VQR, the Collagist, the anthology "D.C. Noir," and elsewhere.

Dan Kois is a senior editor in Slate's culture department and the editor of the Slate Book Review. He's also a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Yet Do I Marvel: Black Iconic Poets of the 20th Century

5pm-6pm: The Church of the Reformation

A reading curated by the Poetry Society of America and Folger Shakespeare Library featuring Henri Cole, Camille Dungy, Terrance Hayes, and Marilyn Nelson.

Our Literary District: A Reading of Prose and Poetry

7:30pm-9pm: The Church of the Reformation

Elizabeth Alexander, Edward P. Jones, E. Ethelbert Miller, and George Pelecanos read together in a celebration of the District's rich literary culture.

Public reception

9pm-10pm: Folger Shakespeare Library, Exhibition Hall

The final celebration of the day was held in the Folger's Exhibition Hall.

Image gallery