Pearl Cleage

     Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta-based writer whose works include three novels, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (Avon Books, 1997), I Wish I Had A Red Dress (Morrow/Avon, 2001), and Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, (Ballantine/One World, August, 2003); a dozen plays, including Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Hospice and Bourbon at the Border; two books of essays, Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth and Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot; and a book of short fiction, The Brass Bed and Other Stories (Third World Press).  She is also a performance artist, collaborating frequently with her husband, Zaron W. Burnett, Jr., under the title Live at Club Zebra.  The two have performed sold out shows at both the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and The National Black Arts Festival in  Atlanta, Georgia.

She is a frequent contributor to anthologies and has been featured recently in Proverbs for the People, Contemporary African American Fiction , edited by Tracy Price-Thompson and TaRessa Stovall and in Mending theWorld, Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers, edited by Rosemarie Robotham.

She is a Contributing Writer to ESSENCE Magazine, and in 1998, her novel, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day was an Oprah Book Club pick and spent nine weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.


Kima Jones

Kima Jones has received fellowships from PEN America West Emerging Voices, Kimbilio Fiction, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony. She was named on the inaugural Bitch 50 list in 2017 as a “shape-shifter who pushed pop culture to be more representative, inspiring, and meaningful for communities who are typically ignored by mainstream media.” The Los Angeles Times called Kima “2018’s literary breakthrough” and “an important new voice on the national stage.” She has been published at GQ, Guernica, Poets and Writers, NPR and McSWeeney’s and in the anthologies Unruly Bodies, a pop-up magazine by Roxane Gay for Medium and the New York Times Best Seller, The Fire this Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward. Her short story “Nine” received notable mention in Best American Science Fiction 2015, and her hybrid poem “Homegoing AD” appears in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017. She serves as an advisory board member for the Rumpus, the Anisfield-Wolf Fellowship, the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Carter Black Mountain Institute and its flagship magazine, The Believer, and the Wordplay Literary Festival. Kima founded Jack Jones Literary Arts in March 2015 and works as lead strategist on all publicity campaigns and is especially proud of her work on the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry winner, Olio, by Tyehimba Jess; the 2017 PEN America Robert W. Bingham Emerging Fiction Prize winner, Insurrections, by Rion Amilcar Scott; the 2017 Midland Authors Award winner in Adult Fiction, Know the Mother, by Desiree Cooper; and May-lee Chai’s Useful Phrases for Immigrants. Kima divides her time between Los Angeles and New York. She writes poetry and prose.


Brandi Larsen

     Brandi Larsen is a writer, speaker, and coach committed to creating a more inclusive publishing landscape. She speaks to audiences about how the book publishing process really works, connects writers to each other, leads The Finishers’ Club writing retreats for women, and writes books and essays. As a publishing executive at Penguin Random House, she helped create New York Times bestsellers. As a journalist, her efforts earned Emmy nominations. As a speaker, she’s motivated audiences at Harvard Business School, Book Expo America, Case Western Reserve University, and the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, among others. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines, literary journals, textbooks, industry guidelines, and online. She serves as the board president of Literary Cleveland. Find her at and on social @brandilarsen.  


Self-publishing Children's Literature

Dominique Briggs

     Dominique Briggs is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned her Bachelor of Science at the University of Michigan and returned to Pittsburgh to complete dual master’s degrees in Business Administration and Health Information Systems at Duquesne University. Having worked with children since she was fourteen years old, it was not until the birth of her daughter, Rhea, that she was inspired to write children’s literature. As someone who has always loved reading, having the opportunity to create a space for imagination to flourish is one of her life’s greatest accomplishments. Dominique performs as an actor and vocalist in and around the city of Pittsburgh and is a true champion of sharing the arts with children young and old.

Chante Thomas

Chante Thomas,is a twenty-five year veteran teacher in Shaker Heights, and has been writing children’s stories over the span of her career. But in 2018, she decided it was time to bring her stories to life and published her first book, Where I’m From. The book tells the geographic story of five diverse children with roots in the United States, Africa and Asia. 

Her second story Go To School Tommy is a short conversation between a mother and her son. The rhythmic nature of their conversation makes this book accessible to younger and more mature readers. Ms. Thomas writes stories that show positive relationships in families, among children and her characters are victorious in solving life problems. 

In addition to teaching 5th and 6th graders, Ms. Thomas is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, and the Cleveland Chapter of the Chums Inc. She is the mom of two sons and caregiver to her amazing mother.

Konnie Peroune

     Konnie Peroune is an indie filmmaker, author, and educator. She holds a BA in Communications from Cleveland State University and an MFA in Film from Columbia University of New York.

Her first in a series of Middle Grade books entitled: “The Escapentures of Esperanza Mae Windborne: I Want a Dog,” was released in June 2019 with the next book in the series,  “The Green Lady” to be released in 2021.

She lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband and four Indigo children and their rescue dog, Annie.

Engaging Black and Brown Boys in Library Space

Nichole L. Shabazz

Nichole L. Shabazz is the founder of Higher Learning Unlimited, an educational consulting company providing Pre-K-16 learning, literacy and library consulting services as well as leadership professional development for educators and youth/young adult public and school librarians. Ms. Shabazz has over 20 years of experience as a K-12 educator and librarian. She is endorsed in the areas of reading and gifted education, is a certified teacher leader and assessor for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

Prior to starting her own company, she served as the Youth Outreach and Programming Coordinator for the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) where her responsibilities included managing system-wide youth emphasis programming across 28 branches, professional development for youth librarians and assistants and serving as the educational liaison between the Library and the larger educational community. During her tenure at CPL, Nichole hosted youth and young adult author events with Sharon Draper, Don Tate, LeVar Burton and Erin Gruwell as well as adult author forums with Jesmyn Ward, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Anthony Browder, Pieper Kerman and Mitchell S. Jackson among many others. 

As a member of the American Library Association (ALA), Nichole serves on the Committee on Diversity (COD) and the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards Marketing Committee. Additionally, she is a member of the International Literacy Association (ILA) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

Nichole holds a Master of Arts in Curriculum & Instruction and an Education Specialist degree in Instructional Leadership with a focus on brain-based learning. Currently, she is completing a doctoral program in instructional design and writing a book for education and library professionals titled, Engaging Boys of Color at the Library:  Proven Strategies for Reading Achievement (ABC-CLIO, Libraries Unlimited). She recently returned to Atlanta, Georgia where she attended undergraduate school at Clark Atlanta University, and is a Media and Educational Technology Specialist in the Fulton County School System.

Kristyna Jones

Kristyna Jones is the CEO and co-founder of Cipher360 (360). Cipher 360 was birthed out of Kris’ work co-founding Brothers Empowered to Teach(BE2T), an undergraduate pre-teaching fellowship targeting black men. The basis for 360 is the Teacher Development Lab, a concept she generated to help fellows to learn the art and science of childhood development and classroom management. 

Kris grew up in a family full of urban educators and was fortunate to be raised in a home where education was seen as an adventure, a source of self-discovery, and means to success.One of the greatest influences on her passion for working in education was her grandfather. A life-long learner, 30-year educator, and counsel and sage to generations of young people, he inspired them to see the possibilities beyond their own environment or circumstances. Kris calls herself a ‘reformed’ community development finance expert and has more than 15 years experience in housing and community development in a number of different areas—as a developer, project manager, investment officer and technical assistance provider. She developed her expertise through work in several different markets across the country. She is a graduate of New York University and The New School’s Milano School for Public Engagement. She continues to be engaged in community development and was recently appointed to the Board of Commissioners for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. She was also recently awarded a fellowship with the WK Kellogg Community Leadership Network as a part of the second cohort.

Leveraging Technology for Literary Success

Kelly Harris-DeBerry

Kelly Harris-DeBerry received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. She has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center and Cave Canem. Her new book, Freedom Knows My Name (Xavier Review Press) ws released August 2020. Along with the poems, the book is being heralded for its use of technology that allows readers to scan the book and be transported to audio poems. Her book is being celebrated as a model for future books that leverage technology. Some of her recent publishing credits include: 400yrs: The story of Black people in poems written from love 1619–2019,  Words Beats & Life The Global Journal of Hip Hop, Angles in the Wilderness: Young and Black in New Orleans and Beyond. Currently she works for Poets & Writers in New York from New Orleans.
Kelly also owns a small communications boutique company that offers consulting and communication services to nonprofits and artists. 

Alan King

Alan King is a husband, father, videographer, and communications professional living in Bowie, Maryland. He uses film to amplify his books and to support other writers. He’s the author of Drift (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2012) and Point Blank: Poems (Silver Birch Press, 2016). Of the latter, US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said, these “poems are not pop and flash, rather more like a slow dance with someone you’re going to love forever.” King is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and a graduate of the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA. 

More information about both writers will be available during the session. 

Encouraging Intergenerational Literacy & Writing

Dr. Brenda R. Smith is an Associate Professor Emeritus, English.  During her tenure at Kent State University at Stark, she taught American, African American, women’s, and modernist literatures, and freshman composition. Dr. Smith earned both her B.A. in English and her Ph.D. in American and African American literatures from Case Western Reserve University. She earned her M.A. in American literature from Cleveland State University. Her dissertation, The Construction of Bi-Cultural Subjectivity in African American Migrant Autobiography, which earned her Case Western Reserve University’s distinguished Neil McIntyre Memorial Essay Award and Kent State University’s Regional Campus Professional Development Award, explored the relationship between African Americans’ involuntary immigration to and voluntary migration within the United States and the formation of American subjectivity. Her current research includes the trans-ethnic study of autobiography and the construction of American subjectivity, and the evolution of the Bildungsroman literary form in African American women’s writing. 

Dr. Smith, a native Clevelander, currently resides in Twinsburg, Ohio. She is married to Attorney Robert Smith, III; and the couple has two

Brenda Smith, Ph.D. & Michelle Smith Quarles

Michelle R. Smith is a poet, blogger, educator, and cultural facilitator working out of Twinsburg, OH. She is currently a teaching artist for Lake Erie Ink and adjunct composition instructor at Cuyahoga Community College Western Campus. Michelle has been published in
poemmemoirstory; Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism; My Soul to His Spirit: Soulful Expressions from Black Daughters to Their Fathers Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal; Kulchur Magazine; Howl, 2016! Poems, Rants, and Essays on the Election; The Normal School; and Gasconade Review. Her first full collection of poetry, Ariel in Black, was published in 2015 as part of the Guide to Kulchur Press Vanguard Series. Her self- published second collection, The Vagina Analogues, was released in
September of 2020. Michelle has recently been a featured poet and storyteller at The Cleveland Museum of Art, Lakewood Public Library, The Persisters (all female variety show), Mental Illness & Friends, NeoSoul
Poetry at Larchmere Arts, Story Club Cleveland, and Cleveland Inkubator.
She has also been a contributing editor, guest speaker, and Baldwin House residency facilitator for Twelve Literary Arts. In 2018, Michelle created THE BLAX MUSEUM, an artistic showcase open to all forms and dedicated to honoring notable black figures in American history and culture. The home
of the BLAX MUSEUM is the East Cleveland Public Library, where the showcase was held in February 2019 and February 2020. Michelle also created an original poetry workshop called Practical Principles for Writing Poems that she inaugurated at the PNC Fairfax Connection in Cleveland in
July of 2018. Her future creative plans include completing a third collection
of persona poetry tentatively titled The Real Jazz Wives of Twentieth
Century America.

Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers

Michele Rudolph

Michele is a retired social worker and acknowledges that a story can bond a group together. The story becomes the shared experience that unites the audience. As a professional storyteller and teaching artist she uses stories to teach and celebrate her rich and beautiful culture. Michele is the President of the Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers, Inc., (CABS) and a member of the National of Association of Black Storytellers (NABS). Ms. Rudolph has performed at schools, libraries, community and cultural events for audiences of all ages throughout Northeast Ohio. She was one of the featured artists in “A Tribute to Maya Angelou” at the historically renowned theater, Karamu House and St. Ignatius High School Breen Performing Arts Center. Michele wrote, directed and performed an original short “3 Winds Blowing Towards Freedom” at Cleveland Public Theatre’s Station Hope, a celebration of hope, freedom and community at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Cleveland’s Underground Railroad Station.

Judy Bateman/Miiz JED

Judy Bateman/Storyteller Miiz JED is a professional storyteller, retired teacher, church usher, mother, wife and dog lover. She belongs to several storytelling organizations and is also a toastmaster. Judy is a two time award winner in national storytelling competitions and has also sponsored several youth storytelling groups. One group performed at Cain park in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Donna Willingham

Donna Willingham is a retired Branch Manager from the Cleveland Public Library system. She is also an “always learning” Storyteller. Stories shared strongly emphasize African and African-American culture, and are tailored to be shared with either youth or adult audiences. Ms. Willingham uses storytelling as a means for highlighting and illustrating morals, offering encouragement, and stimulating imaginative thinking. According to Ms. Willingham, “If a message can be passed from a story that eases an emotional hurt, helps to illustrate the importance of a moral, or just brings out a good “laugh”, then I’d like for that to happen”. At the 1997 National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference, Ms. Willingham told the “tallest tale” and won the “Liars’ Contest” (since renamed “The Jackie Torrence Tall Tale Contest”). Ms. Willingham’s name is engraved on the Aesop Cup, which is an honor bestowed only to first place winners of this contest. Over the past 23 years, stories have been shared in venues such as schools, libraries, churches, museums, and celebrations. Though formally trained in storytelling through mentoring and workshops, Ms. Willingham credits child audiences for developing her storytelling style, which is a mesmerizing blend of vocal intonation, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body movement. Ms. Willingham is a native of Denver, Colorado, but spent the majority of her childhood in El Dorado, Arkansas and Cleveland, Ohio. Her experiences in these settings allowed her the opportunity to develop an appreciation for diverse nationalities and cultures. Ms. Willingham is a member of the Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (CABS), and a “Life Member” of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS). Educational accomplishments include: Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech and Hearing, and Master of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education, both from Cleveland State University; Associate of Applied Science Degree in American Sign Language Interpreting and Transliteration Technology from The University of Akron; and Master of Library and Information Science Degree from Kent State University.

Hosted By

Dawn Arrington

Dawn Arrington is a writer, community activist and literacy advocate. In 2018, after witnessing adult illiteracy first hand, she decided to take action and created Comics at the Corner. Comics at the Corner seeks to put literacy in the form of comic books with African American main characters in the hands of residents of the Buckeye-Shaker, Woodland Hills, and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods. 

Dawn’s passion for the written word is a life long love affair that has spanned projects such as self-publishing a romance novel in 2006 and returning to school for a Masters in English and Creative Writing.  Dawn has been a guest blogger for the innovative Sidewalks of Buckeye project and wrote the forward for the Inner City Hues art installation “Marigolds of Buckeye” by photographer and Shooting w/o Bullets founder Amanda King. Her latest project, The Buckeye Green Infrastructure Project, marries her love for poetry and her community in a series of one stanza poem along Buckeye Road celebrating and explaining the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s rain garden and underground storm water detention system along Buckeye road on Cleveland’s east side. 

Dawn is a wife and the mother of two spirited children. With whatever spare time she has she tries to make the most of it with family, friends, and whenever possible a really good book.

Karla Payne

Karla C. Payne is an accomplished poet, as well as a veteran stage actor/singer/dancer. Under her penname “Spirit-Lead (lehd)”, Karla released her award-winning spoken word poetry CD, Words Unspoken in 2012, a poetry chapbook entitled From My Indigo Pen in 2015, and her sophomore spoken word project, Relatively Speaking, in 2017. She is currently working on her one-act play, Collateral Damage as well as a collection of poetry for an upcoming book. Karla is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and the mother of two beautiful sons.

Click image to listen on Amazon Music

Vince Robinson

Vince Robinson is a multi-genre artist, having given time to evolving in music, the visual imagery of photography and the magic of words in poem and song.

His introduction to poetry began in high school in Massillon, Ohio where he was introduced to Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson and others. As a student at Kent State University, he met Mwatabu Okantah.  Okantah’s class, the Black Writer’s Workshop, was the genesis of his immersion in poetry.   It led to an appearance in the KSU Student Center Ballroom with legendary comedian and activist Dick Gregory. 

After years of writing, he ventured into the Cleveland poetry scene.  He launched his first poetry series, “Soul Poetry at Another Level,” in 1997, before moving the event to Robin’s Nest, a jazz club in the heart of Cleveland.   It was also in 1997 that he formed his group, Vince Robinson & The Jazz Poets.  The group was an innovator in combining music and the spoken word in the Cleveland area, hosting events known as The Nia Coffeehouse at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  

It was followed by iterations at the Coventry Village Library, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and Larchmere Arts.  

As a member of the Cleveland Poetry Slam teams (2003, 2004) he competed in national bouts.   His first book of poetry, Got Words?, was published in 2015.  His poetry has appeared in the Kent Quarterly and other publications, including the Cleveland Poetry Scenes: A Panorama & Anthology (2008) Bottom Dog Press.

Vince is currently the producer/host of Open Door with Vince Robinson on Spectrum Cable in Summit County.  He also hosts radio programs on WERE-1490 AM and 95.9 WOVU-FM.  He is the owner of Larchmere Arts, a performance venue, gallery and photography studio.


Baba Jubal Harris, BSEd.

Baba Jubal Harris, BSEd. is the founder of the Ohio Heart Beat Drum Circle. He is a master teaching artist with the Ohio Arts Council’s Arts Learning program. Harris is a member of OAAE’s Artists in Schools roster. He has served on the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) Collaborative for Arts Education, Ohio State Wide Plan For Arts Education 2018, Ohio Arts Council (OAC) review panelist and speaker at Ohio Arts Council, ”Arts Impact” state conference 2018. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a Cincinnati Warner Amex Community Access Cable first place producer award for his TV program “The Living Artist” featuring Benin wood sculptor Felix Eboghe,  2006 nomination for an Ohio Governor’s Award for Arts Education receiving personal recognition from Arts Education Award recipient Dr. Jacquelyn Quay. 2009 Creative Workforce Fellowship from Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture, Cleveland Ohio. Ohio Arts Council, 2012, 2013,2019, Traditional Artist Apprentice Fellowship, Ohio Arts Council, Ohio Heritage Award 2015. On January 8, 2020 at Ouidah Benin West Africa, Baba Jubal Harris received the Chieftaincy title Saranon Aho (Bridge Maker). This Chieftaincy title was bestowed under the auspice of the North American African Cultural Restoration Monarchy, AdeOlomo, Vidaho Osunsi Monarch. 

Mariama Whyte

     Whether in the recording studio, featured on national stages or crafting a poignant song, Mariama Whyte has the secret recipe that is certain to satisfy even the most discerning palette. A 2019 Verge Fellowship Recipient by Cleveland Arts Prize, Mariama recently starred in the highly acclaimed Dance Nation at Dobama Theatre and Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone at national theatrical treasure, Karamu House. She has played leading roles in the Broadway national tours of Disney’s The Lion King and The Color Purple. Mariama has performed on the Oprah Winfrey Show and has also shared the stage with world-renowned producer and composer David Foster.  As an independent recording artist, she has released several music projects and is completing her new full length album, Hey You It’s Me. Mariama loves working with youth and has served as a teaching artist for a number of performing arts programs throughout Cleveland.

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Flyin’ West, A Virtual Play written by Pearl Cleage and produced, directed, and enacted by the Demaskus Theater Collective of Pittburgh

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