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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side Writers Celebrate MLK Legacy With Open Mic, Literary Reading

The Dreamscapes and Landscapes reading will uplift the voices of West Side writers and poets whose work speaks to the social issues championed by Martin Luther King Jr.

Front Porch Arts Center hosts creative workshops and events including a tribute to Toni Morrison.
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AUSTIN — A West Side art center is holding a virtual public reading of poetry, short stories and essays Sunday to commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

The program, called Dreamscapes and Landscapes, will begin with an open mic for people to share their own creative writing dedicated to King and the social issues he championed. The event aims to amplify local voices by featuring readings from West Side writers and storytellers.

The reading will be streamed virtually 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday. Tune into the event via Zoom. The event has been organized by Front Porch Arts Center in partnership with the Austin Branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Featured writers at the public reading include Am Bornfree, Jupiter Dandridge, Bonni Mckeown and Keli Stewart, the founder of Front Porch Arts Center.

Stewart will read from “Small Altars,” her first book of poetry, which was published by Bronzeville Books.

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Keli Stewart is the founder of Front Porch Arts Center.

Small Altars is a collection of memories, testimonies, personal narratives and poems on race, class and gender. The book is inspired by the literary tradition of Black poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Kelly Norman Ellis.

The book is named for the treasures Stewart would collect in a box that served as an altar preserving her experiences as a Black girl growing up on the West Side, she said.

“My grandfather used to smoke cigars and give me the cigar boxes. I would put in these boxes all the little things that were special to me: little notes, perfume samples, stones that I found. Any little thing that was sacred to me,” she said.

Bornfree will read from her novel, “Welcoming Mad Era,” which is will be published this year. McKeown will read from “Delta Song,” a novel she is writing about a blues artist living during the Great Migration.

The event is intended to honor King’s memory while uplifting the work of writers who carry on King’s legacy on the West Side, where he lived during his campaign to end redlining and housing discrimination. Sharing vivid descriptions of life on the West Side through stories and poems can “get a more complex narrative out into the world, a narrative that is not just what people see on the news,” Stewart said.

“We have beautiful lives. We have complex lives. We have lives where we celebrate, where we teach, where we do all these things that sometimes the outside public may not necessarily see how complex folks who live in the hood are. We are a beautiful people,” Stewart said.

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