Writing and writers of every imaginable style are being featured at Art Sanctuary's 27th Annual Celebration of Black Writing, which focuses on attracting young people.
"Word Play: Let's Have Some Serious Fun!", an 11-day event that began Monday, includes everything from readings and panel discussions to film screenings and a festival. Sessions run through June 4 at venues around Philadelphia.
While there are many writing festivals offered across the country, this celebration differs in its broad scope and focus on black writers.
"We want to take this work, lodge it deeply into the community, and bring attention to really high-quality writing and excellent work in all kinds of genre," said Lorene Cary, executive director of Art Sanctuary. "We want to use this work to enrich the literacy of everyone, from the unschooled to the most learned, because, really, this work affects all of us."
The festival's goal of universality can be seen in the array of writing represented with forms as varied as haiku and blogs. And the lighter side of writing - the festival's official theme - will be seen in sessions like those on erotica and comic strips. The lighter side was designed to bring in younger participants, festival organizers said.
Highlights this weekend include an open-mic event at 6:30 p.m. Friday, hosted by poet/writer Bassey Ikpi and featuring performances by comedians and storytellers, at Art Sanctuary, 628 S. 16th St.
Next week's highlights include a screening at 7 p.m. Wednesday of a short film by Ed Shockley and Arise Academy School students at the University of the Arts' Ellen and Ronald Caplan Center for the Performing Arts; and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony will honor author J. California Cooper, named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978.
While the festival emphasizes the universality of the written word, Cary said, the focus on black writers is key.
"There's still a need to focus on black writers. There's still a need to pull together a critical mass of people to talk about areas of [black people's] lives that we as a society are still wrestling with," she said. "Part of what's great about this is it brings the community together without insisting on a unity of vision or uniformity of thought."
But, Cary added, that doesn't mean one must be African American to enjoy this event. "The writing is by blacks, but the work is for everybody."