WhY Women, WhY Words: A New Downtown

Literary and Performing Arts Series

By Sandi Borger

WhY Women: Women Poets, Women’s Words is bringing an eclectic mix of poetry to The Sol Goldman YM-YWHA of The Educational Alliance. Under the direction of Veronica Golos, the Y’s Poet-in-Residence and Artistic Coordinator for Literary Programs, WhY Women is fast becoming known for the broad diversity of its poets and audiences.

The 14th Street Y (at 1st Avenue) is a division of The Educational Alliance, a 112 year-old settlement house, social service agency and Jewish community center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Its commitment to promoting the vigor of the Jewish community and its neighbors, and its adherence to the Alliance's tradition of providing innovative cultural and arts programming, makes the Y is the perfect venue for WhY Women.

The Emanuel Midtown Y closed in the mid-1990's despite an outcry to save it. The new Sol Goldman Y opened in 1996. Clearly there was a great need to continue the wide range of educational, recreational and cultural programs which had for many years been offered on the site. The new Y’s cultural and performing arts center attracts a multicultural audience not adequately served by traditional uptown venues.

Veronica Golos is a well-known New York City poet and performer. Her play, "Her" was produced at Pulse Theater, and her three-women performance piece, "No Ordinary Women," based on her chapbook of the same title, premiered at TNT Theater in Scranton, PA. Her poems have appeared in Rattapallax, Bridges, Brooklyn Review, Writer’s Voice, The Poetry Calendar and other journals. She is currently working on a collection, The Casting of Stones: Sarah and Hagar. Ms. Golos conducts Creative Writing and the Use of Years for seniors, Post Partum Poetics for new mothers, Breaking the Rules, a teen program through the New York Public Library, and leads an all-women writing workshop.

The WhY Women program initiated by Ms. Golos and Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, former director of Jewish Women's Programs at the Y, has brought together Asian, African-American, Hispanic, Italian, Eastern European and Jewish writers. Since 1999, the program’s featured poets have included National Book Award finalist Alicia Ostriker and Enid Dame, National Poetry Slam winner Staceyann Chin, and poet-performer Cheryl Boyce Taylor.

Each WhY Women reading focuses on a particular theme. The June 1999 program, WhY Women Wraps It Up on Allen Ginsberg's Birthday, offered a first: women poets celebrating Ginsberg's memory, with features, Hettie Jones, Eileen Myles, and Janine Pommy Vega. For Women's History Month last March, Men in Praise of Women featured Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa. Next year’s Women's History Month program, Women Writing a World, will feature Sapphire and Molly Peacock, thereby participating in "Dialogues Among Civilizations Through Poetry," a global festival sponsored by the United Nations, featuring Yusef Komunyakaa and Joyce Carol Oates in New York, and co-coordinated by Rattapallax publisher, Ram Devenini. During the last week in March, at least 130 readings will take place contemporaneously around the world.

Trading on the success of the WhY Women series, the Y's Director of Cultural and Performing Arts, Wendy Sabin-Lasker, entrusted Ms. Golos with the development of an umbrella program, WhY Words, a mix of literary and performing arts, offering classes, lectures and workshops. The new Inviting Artists Series offers curators, publishers, and project coordinators the opportunity to present at the Y. In November, George Dickerson, founding Editor-in-Chief of Rattapallax, appeared with Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Taylor and National Poetry Series winner Karen Swenson. This month, the Y will host Kate Light, winner of the Nicholas Roerich Prize, and Bill Kushner (He Dreams of Waters, Rattapallax Press 2000), the recipient of a New York State Foundation for the Arts grant.

Upcoming projects include readers from Ms. Golos's Creative Writing and The Use of Years class, and from The Women's Writing Project. D.H. Melhem and other individual authors are also scheduled. The season ends in June with Hip to the Beat, readings which reflect the link between HipHop and the Beat poets.

(Poet-in-Residence, Veronica Golos can be reached at (212) 780-0800 ext. 255.)