Monday, October 17, 2016

Guest Blog: Christina Laurel

As I ramble down the one-lane road toward Highway 29 in Amherst, Virginia, it is impossible to miss the sign "the real world" - simple lettering on a blue cloud background, perhaps painted by one of the many artists-in-residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. This is my third artist residency in three years, the previous two in Kentucky and Georgia; each a unique experience. How so?

Here at VCCA there are an average of 30 artists-in-residence at a time; private rooms with shared bath are in a 1970s-era dormitory that also houses communal spaces and the dining room where two of three meals are served. Lunch is conveyed to a kitchen in the Normandy-style barn that has numerous studios so that fellows - as the artists-in-residence are referred to - barely need to interrupt the day's work. Each studio is outfitted with a bed for naps or overnight sleeping or creative musing. To say that I am spoiled after 10 days here is an understatement.

What is common to each residency is the tradition of leaving one's autograph on a studio wall or door frame. Here at VCCA, I overhear one fellow effusing about her assignment to the studio where Cheryl Strayed once sat and wrote. In my studio, VA9, it appears that installation artist Bryant Holsenbeck was the latest occupant in July 2016, but I count no less than 58 names dating to 2010 on the door frame. Later, I discover a wall ledge in the back of the studio where I glimpse behind a section of peeling white paper yet more autographs. The accretion of artistic energy is palpable in all 500 square feet, from the skylight to the paint-dappled floor, and as of October 4, 2016, there are now 59 signatures on the door frame of VA9.

Writers and visual artists alike make each studio their own: moving furniture, orienting a desk toward the east or west, taping protective plastic to the walls. For VA9, it is an uncluttering in order to create space for a new Japanese-paper immersive installation, "Refugium: lily pad." But it is premature to assign a title to this work. I have come here to explore the lily pad, to see where it takes me. Long hours in the studio behind closed doors - fellows may only enter upon invitation - without daily distractions and with the support of the VCCA staff, are the perfect ingredients for a productive and insightful experience.

And then there are the evenings. On the night of the first presidential debate, all of the fellows gather around the sole TV set. On Monday night two poets, Lara Payne and Hilde Weisert, give a reading in the studio of visual artist Miriam Morsel Nathan. On Tuesday night a hallway is transformed into a salon with readings by two fiction writers, followed by a performance by a music theorist. Wednesday evening is an unplanned event - a tornado warning forcing the fellows and staff to congregate in the dormitory's basement, followed with another reading by two fiction writers and a poet. I am introduced to new terminology: conflation, and epigenetics. With the ebb and flow of artists-in-residence arriving and departing (some from as far away as Germany and Austria), there is no lack of stimulation.

By week's end, my one-layer lily pads are now two-layered and suspended cloud-like from the overhead fishnet armature. Other suspended lily pads hover above the floor in small clusters. The open studio windows provide just the right amount of subtle air movement; the lily pads rotate in constant slow motion. During the afternoon hours on Monday, October 3, there is a steady flow of fellows and VCCA staff arriving at VA9 (at my invitation) to experience the installation. Down the hall in VA7, painter Janet Burke has also opened wide her studio doors. Among the responses to "Refugium: lily pad" are: "It's like being under water and on top of the water," "It's like walking a labyrinth," and "It's like being in a dream." Perhaps my favorite response is from a German artist (in his language the lily pad is called a "sea rose") who purses his lips and throws an air kiss toward the installation: "The aesthetic is just right."

My artist residency at VCCA is just right. The bucolic Virginia countryside, the artistic camaraderie, and the lily pad have all taken me to a new place. On Tuesday morning, October 4, with a gentle sigh, I prepare to re-enter the "real world" as my car rattles over the cow grate - the sound signaling a return to life as I knew it before entering the grounds of VCCA. And yet anew.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lauren Kay Halloran's Memoir Explores her Mother's and her Military Experiences

An Afghanistan veteran and former military public affairs officer, Lauren Kay Halloran was in residence in August working on a memoir that intertwines her experiences with that of her mother, a nurse in the Army Reserve who served in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, including a deployment to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm.

For most of her childhood, Lauren’s mother’s military commitment was two weeks a year, plus one weekend a month. “It didn’t really impact our family; it was just part of our routine. Then, all of a sudden this 700-person hospital unit that no one ever thought would be activated because it was so expensive to deploy, was activated.” She was gone for four months. Lauren was seven, her older sister turned nine while their mother was away; her younger brother was just two. “I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom thought it was a suicide mission because of the threat of chemical warfare and because the unit made them such a big target. The original deployment was for up to two years and she thought, I’m either going to get killed, or I’m going to be gone for two years and my kids won’t recognize me when I return.”

And then, ten years later, in the wake of 9/11, Lauren accepted an ROTC scholarship to college. Financial motivation was a big part of her decision. Even Lauren herself is somewhat mystified that after such a wrenching chapter in their family’s history, she ended up in the Air Force. “Part of my writing journey has been to try and understand why I joined up after my Mom’s experience. As a family, we actually all made a vow that nobody else would take that route because it had been so traumatic for my family. I’ve come to realize that my Mom was a big factor in that decision; I was following in her footsteps more or less. I always revered her—she’s my hero.”

When Lauren joined ROTC, she had no idea that we would engage in two wars lasting a decade plus. At the time, ROTC was very much stuck in a peaceful training mode. “We played volleyball and marched and learned the ins and outs of being an officer, but nothing that would prepare us for what was in store.”

A public affairs officer in the Air Force, Lauren “Flew a desk. You figure it’s the Air Force, I’m not going to be a pilot, I’ll be safe. My first couple years I was at a special operations base and people were deploying around me all the time. It was like a constant coming and going, people were being deployed three or four times a year in flying squadrons and I was watching this and kind of in awe of the dedication they all had. I thought they were all super badass as I sat in my air-conditioned office and watched them run around the base in the Florida heat carrying logs.”

It got to the point where Lauren wanted to do her part and so eventually she volunteered for deployment with a Provincial Reconstruction Team. “It sounded much more fulfilling than a typical public affairs gig behind a desk sending out press releases.” Charged with mentoring government officials, Afghan tribal leaders and religious leaders, Lauren’s team was assigned to Paktia province in Afghanistan. While she was there, military and security forces mentorship was assuming a more important role as was the building up of the local infrastructure. “So we helped fund the building of schools, medical clinics, vocational training and civics training programs to educate women on their constitutional rights—even if they could read, many people didn’t have access to the documents. It seemed like a very noble mission, and it was. It was rewarding and also incredibly frustrating.”

Lauren was in a more traditional area in Southeast Afghanistan along the Pakistan border. Women wore burkas when outside and in more private spaces, they wore headscarves. There were seven women on Lauren’s team out of 80. They all wore headscarves when off base as a cultural gesture. “It was really interesting how the Afghan men received me. I represented the U.S. military so there was an element of power and financial promise that came with my uniform, and some men were really excited about that. Some, as they approached me, going down the line shaking everyone’s hand, and they noticed I had a bun sticking out at the back of my helmet and was more feminine. So they would pass right by without acknowledging me. Others warily extended their hand, their attitude was: I’ve got to respect you because you’re here helping us. And some people were excited to meet me as an anomaly—a woman of power. We actually ended up on the news a lot, we women, even if it had nothing to do with what was going on. Often, I’d be in the background taking pictures, documenting events and I‘d end up on the news. They were fascinated by us; it was kind of unsettling.”

The danger level is largely dependent on specific areas and specific times. When Lauren was there things were heating up. That particular region in Afghanistan was a hotbed for specific groups tied with the insurgency, so they knew it was going to be precarious when they got there. Historically, the area had been an insurgent stronghold because it shares a border with Pakistan. There were certain places within the province where American troops hadn’t been in a couple of years because they were too inaccessible and too dangerous. In 2009-2010 with the presidential election there was an uptick in violence countrywide as groups tried to disrupt that process. “Around the same time, the initial ground troop surge brought in a big influx of Marines, particularly in Helmed, who were involved in rooting out activity there. As a result people were pushed into Pakistan. Increased drone strikes pushed them back into our region, so a lot of factors conspired to make it a particularly interesting time to be deployed in that area.” Lauren who turned 26 while in Afghanistan, was there for nine months.

“I don’t regret my decision to go,” she says. “I think maybe when I first got back, I might have. That’s part of why I write, to more fully understand the experience and how it affected me. Maybe it’s delusions of grandeur, but I think my story is important. It’s not a typical combat story. For the most part, I was a bureaucrat. As a communications official, I was working with the local communications structure, meager though it was. I went on convoys fairly regularly. That was not my main job, but I still had a lot of issues readjusting when I got home. And I think it’s impossible not to. Even being here [at VCCA] in this gorgeous place isolated for two weeks with other artists, I’m sure there’s going to be an adjustment period. When you’re in an environment where you’re exposed to so much stress and so much danger for an extended period of time, it changes the way your body works, the way your brain works, and it’s impossible to not need a period to come down from that. That’s not really something that’s discussed outside the more traditional PTSD-inducing experiences—which are very important to talk about and I’m glad that’s become more of the public conversation. But the narrative focuses only on  that extreme end of the spectrum.. I felt very isolated when I got home because I wasn’t checking the PTSD boxes, but I still felt off and unsettled and I dealt with a lot of moral complications on the communications side. I was basically the filter between what was happening and what was being broadcast as happening.

“I was very idealistic going over, I’ve always been a positive, look-on-the-bright-side-of-things kind of person. It hit me really hard when I realized how complicated things were. We weren’t going to be changing the world in nine months, which I realize now is a totally unrealistic thing to expect. But I just didn’t anticipate the bureaucratic process, for one, following me out there. And it is just so difficult, even at the very basic boots on the ground level, to institute change without going up the chain of command and having that ripple back down in some kind of altered way. There’s all that and then dealing with the bureaucracy and vast corruption on the Afghan side. People in positions to help the greater community historically haven’t been able to do that. It’s an every man for himself environment out there. Most people are focused on where their next meal’s coming from as opposed to what can this new government do for us going forward. There was a huge disconnect between our good intentions and what was actually feasible or sustainable.”

Lauren had nine months left on her military contract by the time she got back from Afghanistan. It was a very tumultuous time. She was adjusting to being home on top of dealing with the death of her grandfather and the death of a couple of friends—one while deployed to Afghanistan, one soon after her return from an Afghanistan deployment. “I didn’t give myself enough credit for coping when I had all these things going on. I was talking to my parents a little bit, and my Mom was of course understanding. They were in Seattle, I was in Florida, so phone conversations were all we could do at that point.”

When she got out of the Air Force Lauren moved back to Seattle for a while as she figured out her next step and applied to graduate school. It was then that she began to have in depth talks with her mother. “As a seven-year-old when my Mom got home, I wasn’t privy to her adjustment struggles. When she came back as a mother of three and wife to a man who had been amazing as a single dad for four months, she was expected to slip right back into those roles. Because she was in the Army Reserves, there wasn’t the inherent support system of a base, or the people who’d been through the same experience. Basically she came back to the same spot she had left. We’d all been spinning our wheels waiting for her to get back there and as soon as she did we just took off running and she got caught up in it. She came to our school and did Veteran’s Day presentations. She brought back traditional Saudi Arabian clothing and my sister and I modeled it before the school, and I just remember feeling very proud. She talked about the things she’d done, her patients in the hospital and working with the Iraqis who came to the hospital to help, and I was just so awestruck by her and I had no way of seeing what a difficult transition it was for her. And so when I got back that was kind of the model in my mind of how things were supposed to work. That plus seeing all these people on base who’d deployed 15 times and seemed totally fine. In my mind that became ‘they’re strong and I’m not,’ and I just wanted to hole up in a room and eat candy and watch chick flicks and cry. I felt like there was something wrong with me. It took finally acknowledging that this is not healthy and self-referring to the base mental health clinic, talking to a counselor there who then ultimately got me to open up to my parents. Talking with my mother was kind of a process of us both opening ourselves up.

“A critical piece to my healing was opening up to her. During our talks, she shared things she hadn’t told anyone in 20 years. We both cried and started to uncover a lot of commonalities in our experiences. Different eras, different countries, different jobs, different services but a lot of those feelings are going to be the same.”

Writing was always part of Lauren’s life to some degree. “I was that weird kid in high school who liked writing essays. I wrote many, many essays about my Mom and her deployment. I realize now looking backthat of course it affected me in very tangible ways. It was that thing I always found my way back to.” An English major in college, Lauren was drawn to her military public affairs job because it had a journalism aspect. “I loved that part of it. My first exposure to non-fiction writing was talking to other people in the military and telling their stories, translating them to a way that could be received by a wider audience. I really felt a pull to do that.”

Lauren earned her MFA in creative writing from Emerson College in Boston where she now lives. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Cobalt Review, Mason's Road, Spry Literary Journal, 20 Something Magazine, several military-themed anthologies, and the November 2013 issue of Glamour as the winner of their national "Real Life Story" essay contest. To promote understanding of post-9/11 veterans, Lauren gives lectures and readings around the country, including the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) national conference, the Boston Book Festival, and the University of Iowa's Examined Life Conference. Her writing and interviews have been used in the creation of dance and theater productions.

The Military writing community is fairly small though it is getting bigger. I met Maurice Decaul (in residence at VCCA this summer) at AWP and that’s become a kind of a reunion for us. We started three years ago with a dinner for military writers and also nonveterans who write about military matters. The first year there were just seven or eight; last year there were more than 30. We’re geographically separated, but we tend to find each other in whatever city we’re in and rally together.”

While at the VCCA, Lauren finished a complete draft of her memoir manuscript. “I wrote 22,000 words, 72 pages, in two weeks, which is kind of mind-boggling. I think it was just what I needed, having the time and space and a supportive community to gut through it. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Silvia Tennenbaum, 1928 – 2016

We are sad to report that Silvia Tennenbaum passed away at age 88.

The author of novels and short stories, including the best-seller Rachel the Rabbi's Wife, Silvia will also be remembered for her bright blue eyes, her love of the Mets, and her progressive politics.  She was smart and kind and generous.  I was sad to get the news that she passed away this summer.

My daughters remember Silvia as the smiling writer with the blue hair.  Her hair was lovely and white, but she took to adding a swipe of bright blue hair color... sassy and unexpected... just like she was.  

Silvia Tennenbaum in her studio at VCCA (photo by Lois Lord)
Silvia was one of the first Fellows I met at VCCA. She had a long, wonderful history at Mt. San Angelo where she had been in residence fifteen times.  She first came to VCCA in 1984, and she had great stories to tell about the early days at VCCA.  She loved baseball and would organize us to go to watch the minor league team in Lynchburg.  The team was called the L-Sox early on, and she talked of watching Darryl Strawberry play there before he went to the Majors and the Mets.  She continued to attend the ball games when the team became the Lynchburg Hillcats.

She also had a deep connection to Lynchburg where she lived from 1951 to 1958 as the rabbi's wife.  Although she talked of moving to Lynchburg at one point, East Hampton, New York, was home to her. 

In addition to Rachel the Rabbi's Wife, she was the author of the novel Yesterday's Streets, for which she received the Goethe Medal of the Hessian Ministry for Science and Art in 2012.  She was touched by the honor and proud to be fêted in her native Germany which she had fled when she was ten years old. 

In an application to VCCA, she said that her life and work have been a search for her identity. She said, "I am still trying to chart the passage, the long road through sunlit landscapes, the melodies of the languages that compete in my head, the passions unleashed by my exile, my escape into life."   We were happy to have been with her during part of that search.

Silvia was deeply connected to VCCA. "I love the VCCA more than any other place I've been", she said in one of her evaluations.  It was wonderful to see the ease with which she entered life here.  It was a creative home for her. Somehow, I always thought she'd be back for another residency.  I'm sorry that I won't be seeing her twinkling blue eyes again...and the radical blue patch of hair above them.

-Sheila Gulley Pleasants

Friday, August 19, 2016

In Memoriam: Joellyn Toler Duesberry

VCCA has learned the sad news that landscape painter, Joellyn Toler Duesberry died on August 5, 2016 at age 72, died. The cause was of pancreatic cancer.

Joellyn was born and brought up in Richmond, Virginia. A summa cum laude graduate of Smith College, she also held an M.A. in art history from New York University’s the Institute of Fine Arts. She received a Woodrow Wilson scholarship and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. She had two residencies at VCCA in 2009 and 2014.

Joellyn became interested in the landscape as a young child while traveling on a train, where she was fascinated by the scenery passing by her window.
Joellyn worked as a fine art appraiser in New York City, painting on the side. Her NEA grant allowed her to focus more time on panting. As her career blossomed, she acquired a second home in Millbrook, New York, where she reveled in the landscape as painter and inhabitant.
Joellyn’s work was featured in many solo and group exhibitions. It is in the collections of museums in New York, Maine, Virginia, California, the Denver Art Museum and others in Colorado where she moved following her marriage to Ira J. Kowal in 1986.
Besides her husband, Joellyn leaves her sister Pat Washko, stepdaughters Rebekah Kowal (David Bullwinkle) and Jessica Kowal (Blaine Harden) and grandchildren Lucinda & Arno Harden and Noah & Isaac Bullwinkle.
VCCA extends its heartfelt condolences to Joellyn’s family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Alexander Lumans: Pushing into Unknown Territories

While in residence at VCCA, Alexander Lumans was working on a novel inspired by his recent experience at The Arctic Circle Residency. The three-week program takes place in the international territory of Svalbard, a mountainous Arctic archipelago just 10 degrees from the North Pole, on a traditionally rigged barquentine. The program brings together an international group of artists, scientists, architects and educators to experience this remote area of the world, fostering the creation and exhibition of new and pioneering work inspired by the engagement with this fascinating region. 

Alexander’s novel is set on a tall ship with an international crew who’ve been hired by a filmmaker working on climate change documentary. “Things begin to go south pretty quickly when the ship receives a distress signal from another ship in the area that’s lost. The captain decides to go after the lost one; after this stranger things begin to occur—they too become lost and end up having to save themselves.”

Rather than plot out the sequence of events, he’s left a lot of mystery as to where the second half of the book is going because that’s how he writes: letting the direction of the novel be discovered along the way.

There’s a level of adventure to the story, but there’s social commentary and ecological commentary built in to the subject. It’s also interesting to me that it takes place in contemporary times rather than being an historical narrative. There’s tons of whaling or exploration narratives out there and some are fantastic, but I can’t find a contemporary one. So I think that’s an untapped moment to say this still goes on. To relegate it to the past is to not treat it with the full spectrum of awareness. This is still a place that exists. It’s still a relevant area and a relevant mode of transportation.”

“I had an idea of what the tone and the language would be like and then I took a workshop in Denver with novelist Ben Lerner. He made this incredible point regarding the manuscript. He said, you’re entering into a conversation with all of these maritime narratives from the past and to ignore them is doing your book a disservice. It’s more interesting if you actually bring them to the foreground in the narration itself, explicitly alluding to them. You can make your captain an archetypal ship’s captain and actually play against this; it makes for more tension and more surprise and interest. He might have stereotypical tropes about him—maybe he has an anchor tattoo, but also you have him have asthma and need an inhaler. So you have this past and present connecting together. That, to me, opened up the book. It enabled me to talk about whatever, rather than feeling hemmed in by all the things that have come before. It has allowed me to read all those great books and incorporate their ideas into the narrative. This is how a contemporary voice emerges because you’re building off of what came before. What Ben told me has had such a big impact on this project; it’s changed it completely.”

The idea for his novel arose as Alexander researched the residency and did the application process. “The more I planned for the trip, the more I thought about my proposed project and started to formulate it more in terms of the plot, characters and setting, while also letting it be kind of distanced because I knew whatever I thought was going to change as a result of this trip. I let it be very loose going into the residency and I came out with a variety of experiences, atmospheres, feelings that I draw on every day now for this project.”

He knew that The Arctic Circle Residency experience would be key to writing his book. “I wanted to understand the area by interacting with it, as opposed to watching National Geographic videos, which are still amazing, but it’s not the same as being there. In the capacity we did it, it felt as if everyone was able to interact with the landscape in a very specific way. I couldn’t have predicted that either, but watching how everyone’s projects on the residency engaged, not only the landscape, but the culture around the landscape and the culture around the Arctic in general was really impressive and powerful and I came back from it, not completely changed, but a very changed person.”

Accompanied by 28 other artists from around the world, Alexander was on the residency during the last three weeks of June. Despite the 24-hour daylight, it was very cold. On deck, typical wear would be a long sleeved base layer, a sweater, down-filled jacket and then a windproof, rainproof jacket on top.

“Unlike VCCA where you have a lot of open time to really produce work and craft your project, there it was much more about the exposure and the experience. You did have some time to actually create every day, but it wasn’t open like this, where you’re left to your own devices and come together at meals, there you had a very strict schedule.”

On the days that the ship was under sail, the artists were encouraged to help out, raising the rigging and dropping the sails. “A ship like that with 14 sails raised is so unbelievable and helping out with that was very important to me because my novel is about sailing on a similar ship.“

When not being chartered by The Arctic Circle Residency for its twice-yearly residency programs, the ship takes passengers on tours of the area. “The crew told us the difference between the typical tourist and us artists is that when making a landing in front of a glacier, for instance, the tourist would get off the ship, go on land, take pictures of the glacier, turn around, take pictures of the boat, maybe take pictures of the landscape and then say, alright I’m ready to go back on board. Sure, we artists would take pictures, but we would also sit and look at things and be completely content doing just that. It was a small but fundamental difference in terms of the way we experienced it.”

Reflecting on The Arctic Circle Residency, Alexander says, “My personality is very interested in pushing into unknown territories and seeing what’s out there, especially with the Arctic. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of those three weeks and dream about going back.”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

NEA-Supported Military Veteran Writer Maurice Decaul at VCCA

A former Marine, poet, essayist and playwright, Maurice Emerson Decaul was at VCCA on an NEA grant supporting military veteran artists. Maurice, who served in Iraq, divides his time between New York and Providence, RI where he is a graduate student in the Theater and Performance Studies program at Brown University.

In February, Maurice was named as the first artist-in-residence at Theater Communications Group (TCG), an organization founded to foster communication between the theater communities in the professional, community and university realms. Bringing his perspectives as both artist and veteran, Maurice is tasked with overseeing the launch of the Veterans Theater Institute (VTI), a pilot program for veterans and active military that allows them to experience, study and create theater. The initiative is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Building Demand for the Arts program.

VTI will continue and strengthen the relationship TCG has developed with its Blue Star Theaters (BST) program, which works with active military and their families engaging them with theater, and funding the creation and production of new plays.

The seeds for VTI were planted when Maurice attended a playwriting boot-camp playwright Paula Vogel held while she was developing her play, Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq at the Wilma Theater (a Blue Star Theater, in Philadelphia)“She invited a bunch of us vets into a room with her to write. We did four boot-camp sessions over the course of a year and we all wrote plays and provided input, which helped her form the character of Don Juan, a Marine Captain, serving in Ramadi in 2004.

“I had a conversation with Paula and she said that every year she wanted to do a workshop where she’d take a group of vets to some place beautiful and teach them playwriting. So when TCG approached me, I was clear that this was based on Paula’s idea, but I wanted to expand it. Instead of being once a year, let’s actually partner up with universities and create a curriculum that can go on indefinitely, if we have enough funding. So that’s where it came from. It happened at the right time for me. I began as a poet and I was transitioning into playwriting. It felt like a natural step. I was interested in finding different ways of telling stories and signed up for a playwriting class at Columbia. It was my very last class.”

Maurice has a clear strategy to inspire veteran involvement. “If you want to build demand, you have to start at the base level with young people in the theater as makers: writers and actors within our community,” says Maurice. “We’ve seen this happen with actor Adam Driver (Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), a former Marine. AITA, the organization founded by Adam and his wife Joanne Tucker, bring shows to military audiences around the world. I’ve been to a few of those shows. They do one every year in New York City around Veterans Day. They have used the American Airlines Theater, the tickets are free, and the show is packed with military vets and their families. There’s a pretty healthy population. Vets in New York who come to the show every year because Adam’s on stage. He’s one of us, he just happened to go into theater. We’ve got to build VTI organically overtime. This will not only develop theater audiences, but also ensure veterans’ stories get told.”

VTI will eventually be prototyped in four locations: Providence RI, San Diego California, Fayetteville North Carolina and Tempe/Phoenix Arizona. The approach will be holistic. “If you would like to write, we’ll have playwriting available, if you prefer working on the technical side of theater, we’ll make that available." Maurice has found that certain disciplines are more popular in different areas: “Our partners in San Diego are much more interested in teaching playwriting, so we’re going develop a curriculum focused on that there. In North Carolina, our partner is more about developing technicians, so we’ll focus on technical theater there, and at Arizona State, because the population is so large and because of the interests of the partnering institution, we will teach a combination of arts and tech based classes.”

Maurice arrived at VCCA with the intention of finishing a first draft of a play he started just before he came. “It’s not finished, it’s just a draft; there’s no expectation that it can get up on its feet. I just wanted to get the ideas down.” He next turned his attention to a libretto on Portsmouth, Virginia native Sissieretta Jones, a turn-of-the-century opera singer who was the first African-American to perform at Carnegie Hall.

When Sissieretta was a child, her family moved to Providence, Rhode Island where Maurice lives part-time about a block away from where her house once stood. One of the premier opera singers of her day, Sissieretta toured Europe, the Caribbean and the U.S.—even into the south, and played for U.S. presidents. She gave up her career to take care of her mother when she became ill. Sissieretta went from making $2,000 a week at the height of her career to being almost penniless upon her death. Maurice is not sure whether his libretto, which takes the form of double sonnets, will eventually be performed as an opera or not. At VCCA, he set himself the ambitious goal of writing two sonnets a day. Fortunately, he writes fast. When his draft is done, he will put it away for a period of time before he revisits. “I’ll come back to it in a couple of months and see what I actually have.”

Maurice found VCCA both a beautiful and also a very generative environment. In addition to everything else he did, he also wrote poems. “I wasn’t planning on doing that–it just happened. Just walking the grounds and seeing the bunnies. It’s been a good experience.”

Maurice’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Sierra Magazine, Epiphany, Callaloo, Narrative, The Common and others. His poems have been translated into French and Arabic and his theater pieces have been produced at New York City's Harlem Stage, Poetic License Festival in New York City, Washington DC's Atlas INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL in 2013 and 2014, l’Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris, The Paris Banlieues Bleues Festival, The Middelhein Jazz Festival in Antwerp, The Avignon Theatre Festival in France and Détours de Babel, The Grenoble Festival, Grenoble France, Arizona State University Gammage Memorial Auditorium, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center and the Park Avenue Armory in NYC, The Mary L Welch Theatre at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania, The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Brown University. His album, “Holding it Down”, a collaboration with Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd was The LA Times Jazz Album of the year in 2013.Maurice has been the recipient of fellowships from Callaloo and Cave Canem