Miami is a new home for the VONA Arts Foundation writing workshop, but both VONA — Voices of Our Nations — and Miami are a homecoming for me, and just in time.
The massacre in Charleston, S.C., was so hard to process that I wrote my first poem in years to soothe my aching stomach. It reminded me of writing a poem as a middle school student in 1980 — as television footage showed Miami burning after the acquittal of the officers who murdered Arthur McDuffie. My parents — my late mother, civil-rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, and civil-rights attorney John Due — told me how lucky I was to have my writing.
Then, as now, I was reminded that writing can literally feel like it is saving my life. Writing has the power to lift us up by creating order and meaning from chaos.
That’s why VONA is so important. VONA is the country’s only multi-genre workshop for writers of color, co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz and fellow artists Elmaz Abinader, Diem Jones and Victor Diaz.
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It’s not that such writers can’t learn and thrive unless they’re with other writers of color — but for many, the experience is so rare that it is instantly soul-quenching and liberating. We no longer have to explain or justify the characters of color who populate our stories.
My first two novels, written while I was a reporter for the Miami Herald, were supernatural suspense novels, The Between and My Soul to Keep.
“Why do the characters have to have a color?” an older white woman once asked me on a plane when I explained that I wrote books about black characters.
What she meant was: Why can’t all the characters be like me?
As we see backlash to diversity playing out in offices, universities and communities around the country — including the horrible massacre in Charleston — writers of color are more in need of each other’s fellowship, strength and stories.
I have taught several VONA workshops. This is the second year I will be teaching a Speculative Fiction workshop, as writers of color explore the realms of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Sometimes the only way to escape the constraints of history is to write stories projecting ourselves far into the future, or an alternate past, or a world of magic.And in doing so — just as we will at VONA — we learn who we really are.
Tananarive Due, Los Angeles
Author Tananarive Due and other VONA faculty members, including Faith Adiele, Chris Abani, M. Evelina Galang, Achy Obejas, Willie Perdomo and Andrew X. Pham will appear at a free reading open to the community at 7 p.m. July 2 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables.