950 Hoe Ave
The child does not love this place
It is skin it is light it is
her bubble bath
her curtains lifting
her yellow records on
her record player
let us give three cheers for Gaston and Josephine
i’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus
her stack of golden books
her room next to her parents
the long list for God to bless each night
her forbidden short cut through the alley to school
her treasured malteds at the fountain with Daddy
with an egg for health
and special sundaes on the boulevard with Mommy
she loves them but not this place
this five flights up
these French doors
this first to conquer living space
Castro sofa pull-out bed
where nights of blue glow heaven she waits
with Mommy, watching old myths,
Flynn, Fontaine, Niven, De Haviland, for Daddy
She does not love the fire escape
where she can glimpse other peoples’ lives
where summer brings baratata musics
(where her parents heard John Cage’s 777 misplayed
and Makeba’s clicks and trills shaped that age)
nor does she love her friends
black, blonde, brown, beige
where she met yogurt, hammen-
taschen, tortillas, grits
it took forever to learn to fight, fit, roller skate
concrete claimed her knees
she has blooded this place.
for her there was no before,
she has not come to after
she does not hold these memories –
the adult she becomes summons the ghosts,
holds the after,
loves that nonexistent place.
A third generation New Yorker, firstborn, Akua Lezli Hope has won two Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Ragdale U.S.-Africa Fellowship, and a Creative Writing Fellowship from The National Endowment for The Arts. She’s won scholarships for the Hurston Wright writers’ program and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She is a Cave Canem fellow. She received an Artists Crossroads Grant from The Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes for her project “Words in Motion,” which placed poetry on the buses of New York’s Chemung and Steuben counties. She was the guest poet at the Steele Memorial Library’s 2003 Festival. UNPACKING, her collaboration with dancer choreographer, Lois Welk, was presented in 2003 at 171 Cedar Arts Center. She was a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute where she read her poetry, lectured on jazz poetry, and conducted a workshop entitled “Writing Poetry as Mythmaking.”
Her poem “Metis Emits” won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s short poem award for 2015. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest book award for poetry. Her poems, Montserrat and AwaIting Your Return (for Jamal Kashoggi) were nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. Her manuscript, Them Gone, a finalist in the 2015 Word Works Washington Prize competition, was selected for Red Paint Hill Publishing’s Bryant Lysembee Editor’s Prize and published in December, 2018 by The Word Works.
She is published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies including: 50 over 50, Minerva Rising, Strange Horizons, Eye to the Telescope, Breath and Shadow, The Crafty Poet II, The Cossack Review, Silver Blade, Tiny Text, The 100 Best African American Poems (2010); Killens Review, Breath and Shadow, Stone Canoe, Three Coyotes, The Year’s Best Writing, Writer’s Digest Guides, 2003; DARK MATTER, (the first!) anthology of African American Science Fiction, Time Warner Books, 2000; THE BLUELIGHT CORNER, black women writing on passion, sex, and romantic love, Three Rivers Press, 1999; Will Work For Peace: New Political Poems, 1999; MASKS, Earth’s Daughters 52, 1998; CHAIN, 1995; SISTERFIRE, an anthology of Black Womanist Fiction and Poetry, ed. by Charlotte Watson-Sherman, HarperPerennial, 1994; WHAT IS FOUND THERE, NOTEBOOKS ON POETRY AND POLITICS by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton, 1993; WRITING FROM THE NEW COAST: TECHNIQUE, Buffalo University, 1993; EROTIQUE NOIRE, (the first!) AN ANTHOLOGY OF BLACK EROTICA, Doubleday/Anchor, 1992; POETS MARKET, 1992, ed. by Judson Jerome, Writers Digest Books; CONFIRMATION, an anthology of Afrikan American Women Writers, 1983; EXTENDED OUTLOOKS, the Iowa Review Collection of Contemporary Women Writers, 1983; and Eyeball, 1995; Obsidian II, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1991; Blue Cage, 1993 (England); Hambone, 1992; African American Review, 1992; Catalyst 1992; and Contact II, 1989; among many others.
She holds a B.A. in psychology from Williams College, a M.B.A. in marketing from Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and a M.S.J. in broadcast journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a founding section leader in the Poetry Forum on Compuserve. She served as a founding section leader of African American Resource Forum and in the Books and Writers section of the African American Culture Forum (American Visions) on Compuserve. She also served as a trainer, area coordinator, and group founder and leader for Amnesty International, U.S.A., in the southern tier of New York. She co-authored a biweekly column on social, political, and cultural issues for the Star Gazette in 1995.
She was a finalist in the 1991 Open Voice competition, in the 1990 Barnard New Women Poets Series with her manuscript Fuel for Beginners, and in the MacDonald’s Black literary competition for 1989. Her manuscript, The Prize is the Journey, was a finalist in the 1983 Walt Whitman contest. She is a founding member of the Black Writers Union and the New Renaissance Writers Guild whose alumni include Arthur Flowers, Walter Dean Myers and Terri McMillan.
She led the Voices of Fire Reading Choir from 1987 to 1999, performing her work and that of other African American poets. Akua has given hundreds of readings to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums, libraries and bars. Akua bears an exile’s desire for work close to home, and a writer’s yearning for a galvanizing mythos.
She also creates sculpture, objects, and jewelry in glass, metal and handmade paper; designs crochet patterns, plays with her cat and the soprano saxophone, sings, and makes good manifest.
Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @nilsawrites.