“Her Voice” at the Norton Museum of Art has given Palm Beach County writers something they’ve been looking for since the start of the pandemic: community.
The Norton was a perfect venue for Ann Mallen, founder of the Palm Beach County Cream Literary Alliance, to host Cream’s first in-person event in nearly two years. There was literature, but also music, art, food and good conversation. Safety was paramount for the 75 people present, with compulsory vaccination cards and masks.
“I know a lot of people are looking for normalcy; they want to come together again, discuss, discuss art and literature, laugh and escape the isolation that can exist at home, ”said author and keynote speaker MJ Fievre. “An event like ‘Her Voice’ offered just that: the opportunity to be part of something. “
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On a Friday night in November, Fievre took readers and writers on a journey in the shoes of an African-American woman, a Caribbean woman, an immigrant. She spoke about the paradoxical nature of Haiti – so much beauty, but also so much violence, inside and outside her home. She spoke about some of the books that saved her from this violence.
“In those books, however, I couldn’t always find people who looked like me, which led to my decision to write the Badass Black Girl series,” Fievre said. “A reading of ‘Badass Black Girl’, the seminal title, led to a discussion of the culture of silence in Haiti and some of the taboo issues in many parts of the world, including mental health. “
In Mallen’s welcome address, after thanking the Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation, the partners of Cream (the PBC Library System and the Norton), as well as the public and members of the Board of Directors of Cream, she thanked Norton for its safety policy and the public for doing what was required.
“I think we all had a lot of time for soul-searching during the pandemic, and people felt a renewed appreciation for the time we spent together,” said Mallen, of West Palm Beach. “We now know how easily they can disappear. At this point, many of us were desperate to see ourselves in person and not have to face digital images of faces on a screen. “
The Nov. 12 reading of Fièvre was the finale of a three-part series on women writers, the first two virtual. Chris Jankow, of the Palm Beach County Library System, helped organize the event.
For Anjanette Delgado’s class, “Writing Protest,” participants shared what they spontaneously wrote in response to Delgado’s prompts. Delgado used a specific set of prompts to “excavate” often buried material.
Kitty Oliver’s course, “Best Practices for Editing Your Work,” guided writers with techniques that used this raw material or other work in progress and turned them into literary art. Oliver used his own music and videos in his class.
This focus on femininity dovetailed well with the current exhibition of Mexican modernism that highlights Frida Kahlo. The Norton also hosted an Open Studio with local artist, Kim Rae Taylor. Taylor took inspiration from MJ’s work and created a craft activity that included a collage of words.
“The best part about reading Norton was the public’s attention, respect and appreciation for what was sometimes emotionally vulnerable work,” Mallen said. “Women have a lot of beautiful poems and poignant stories to tell, and we are all much richer listening to them.”
Many people spoke with Fievre after the reading because his story resonated with them. A veteran who had been treated for PTSD saw himself in many of the situations she described.
“Literature is about making connections – and those connections were certainly made at the event,” Fievre said. “I hope that the participants now feel less alone. My message is always a message of love and perseverance; Hope this inspired a lot of people.
Fievre has been a part of Florida’s writing community for a long time. She moved to Miami in 2002, at the age of 21, and was one of the coordinators of the Miami Book Fair, taught workshops for the O and the Miami Poetry Festival, and hosted events at Books and Books.
She now lives in Winter Garden and met the Cream Mallen board members and Sasha Roxanna Moghimi about five years ago. She shared some of her poems during a reading in 2016 and has supported the alliance ever since.
“MJ spoke about mental health, depression in particular, with such clarity and simplicity,” Mallen said of the Cream event. “Personally, I have had five incredibly difficult years. So his comments moved and comforted me.
The Cream Literary Alliance can be visited at thecreamwpb.org.
Fievre is on Instagram, @badassblackgirlbooks and on BadassBlackGirl.com.