This summer’s Inroads Mentoring Award recipients celebrated the conclusion of more than two months spent honing their craft with two readings on Friday, August 2 and Saturday, August 3, at the Loft Literary Center and Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar respectively. The small group of local emerging writers had spent more than two months prior honing their craft – in weekly writers’ seminars and one-on-one conferences with this year’s Inroads mentor, an interdisciplinary, multiple award-winning “transmedia” artist and L.A.-to-Twin Cities transplant, Robert Karimi. A son of Guatemalan and Iranian parents, Karimi defies easy categorization: he’s worked as a playwright and humorist, a National Poetry Slam champion and ex-newspaper journalist, visual artist and as artistic director of the art-and-food-and-theater project, ThePeoplesCook.
The Inroads program, based at Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center, “provides opportunities for emerging writers from marginalized communities to work with established writing mentors from their own communities.” This year, the mentorship awards were offered, specifically, to writers who identify as immigrants and refugees. Karimi selected eight emerging writers from the pool of submissions; award recipients each received a $200 stipend, in addition to the months-long mentoring and workshopping they participated in weekly over the summer. Their writings – poetry and prose, short stories and creative nonfiction – have been gathered into a chapbook anthology (“In Roads, Out Roads, all sorts of roads”), and each of the participating writers had a chance to perform their work in the weekend’s program-culminating readings.
They’re a diverse group, as you’d expect given the parameters of this year’s selection process, but not just because they can claim ties to far-flung cultural traditions. There is a rich mixture of age and experience in this year’s group, and also of tone and style. The Inroads writers were met with a full house at the Saturday reading I attended at the Black Dog in Lowertown. Each took the stage in turn: Karimi acted as emcee for writers Rebecca Lux, Nimo Farah, Eva Song Margolis, Luis Lopez, Michele Kiang, Cyril Thomas, Lilian Brion, Rebecca Song and Anthony Hines.
Varied as their literary voices and backgrounds are – with roots in India, China, Somalia, Korea and the Philippines, or the hodgepodge of culturally mixed heritage – as I listen and read, what strikes me isn’t so much the difference but the universality among their pieces. Together, the work offers a kaleidoscope of utterly distinct, yet resonant voices. Their points of view are unique, unfamiliar even, but the solidarity of human experience rings in every piece: young people always feel at once bound and repelled by the values of their parents; parents eternally juggle intergenerational affections and obligations; significant choices never come free; we all want our children to have every opportunity to learn and love and prosper. We all want to know where we come from, why we’re here, to declare ourselves and be heard.
For more information on the Inroads Mentorship Program, visit www.loft.org.