Let's Send Alena To VONA!

Hey, y'all!

I'm here today helping to raise money for Alena Singleton, one of my favorite poets on the planet. Why do I want to raise money for her you ask?

Alena was recently selected to participate in a very competitive, very prestigious writing workshop organized by a group called Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA - https://vonacommunity.org/). The workshop will run from June 24, 2018 - June 30, 2018 in Berkeley, CA. As per their website:

“The Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) was founded by Elmaz Abinader, Junot Díaz, Victor Díaz and Diem Jones in 1999. Each envisioned an arts organization that could change the landscape of the literary world by supporting writers-of-color through workshops, mentorship, community building, and information sharing. Over 2,400 writers from around the globe have participated in VONA. Many have gone onto publish award-winning books, enter writing programs, teach and publish. For nineteen years, VONA has nurtured writers-of-color and have influenced change in our perception of whose voices can be heard.”

Why she needs your help:

Being given an opportunity to participate in a VONA. writing workshop is a feat in and of itself. But, to me, it becomes all that much more impressive considering that Alena is disabled and living in constant chronic pain because of an autoimmune disease. The fact that she can create such beautiful work in spite of what is going on in her body feels almost miraculous (and I’m not just saying that because of how much I dig her - but I do dig her A LOT!). Unfortunately, the fact that she’s dealing with so much pain and several frequently recurring health concerns means that she’s been unable to work for quite some time now; for her, money is tight and without help from friends, fans, and loved ones, she couldn’t possibly afford to take advantage of this amazing opportunity that’s just waiting for her.

What we need:

To make sure that Alena has everything she needs to support her attendance, we’ve set a goal of $2500. The breakdown is as follows:

Tuition: $900 (Due on June 1st)
Airfare: $500 (By May 1st. Roundtrip from JFK to SFO or Oakland)
Ground Transportation: $200 (Includes roundtrip to and from both airports, as well as, accessible transportation between housing and the workshop site.)
Food: $400 (Alena has Celiac Disease and, so she must take care to eat gluten free for all meals. This includes daily meals at the workshop as well as food on travel days.)
Incidentals: $500 (As a disabled and chronically ill person, unforeseen expenses can pop up at any time. This would cover unaccounted for medical necessities, or any additional supplies as necessary.)

Should we exceed our fundraising goal, any additional funds would be funnelled into purchasing adaptive technologies to help her use the computer when she is confined to bed, or otherwise severely restricted with what her body can do.

Ideally, I’d love for us to hit the $500 mark by May 1st, so that I can secure the most affordable round trip ticket possible for Alena.  If possible we would like to have the remainder of the money raised by June 1st. But at a minimum, we need to have raised a total of $1600 by June 1st so that her tuition can be paid-in-full by the deadline.

Those of you that know Alena probably know that she’s every bit as kind and gracious and appreciative as she is talented. So, I know that us being able to come together and send her to the VONA poetry workshop she send her over the moon with gratitude. I would be over the moon with gratitude too if this is something we can do for her, especially because from so up close and personally, I know just how badly she deserves to take advantage of this opportunity. I’ve watched her grow as an artist and a poet. I’ve watched her create beautiful, lyrical, passionate, and deeply moving pieces of the written word through numerous bouts of debilitating pain and her journey has simply been inspirational. And the fact that she wants to uplift and speak to the struggles of others through her work makes us sending her to this workshop all the more imperative. She doesn’t just string words together for the sake of making something pretty. Her writing is personal. Her writing is political. She speaks to heal and celebrate community. She writes to honor lovers and to soothe broken hearts. I’ve always thought that her writing boils down to wanting this world to be just a little more beautiful. I sometimes joke with her and say that it would be selfish of her to keep her words to herself; this opportunity is the starting point for Alena getting her words out to the world.

For those of you who just want the TL:DR -

Alena is a queer, Black, disabled, Brooklyn-based poet who creates beautiful, necessary, emotional, political, healing work. Based on the strength of her work, she was recently invited to participate in a rigorous, prestigious writing workshop hosted by VONA (https://vonacommunity.org/) in Berkeley, CA in June 2018. However, Alena deals with chronic severe pain, is disabled by reason of autoimmune disease, and has been unable to work since 2011. As such, without  community support, she couldn't afford to take advantage of this amazing writing opportunity that awaits her. And seeing her miss out on this opportunity would be a real travesty. She writes from the point of view  that celebrates all of her intersecting marginalized identities and works to foreground issues of chronic illness, chronic pain, and disability within her work. More and more contemporary voices are noting the dearth of work by disabled writers about disability and chronic illness, among other topics. This dearth is particularly acute for writers who are disabled members from other marginalized communities. So, let's make sure that her being disabled and unable to work is not the very thing that makes it so that she can't afford this opportunity to help her develop and disseminate important work in these vital areas.


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Organizer and beneficiary

Brandi Robinson 
Brooklyn, NY
Alena Singleton 
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