Meet the 2021 Writers of Ypsilanti Laureates
Eight writers from the Ypsilanti region who exemplify the values of the YpsiWrites Community Writing Lab have been named to the lab’s Ypsilanti Writers Cohort for 2021.
“YpsiWrites’ core beliefs are that everyone is a writer and that writing matters,” says Ann Blakeslee, co-founder of YpsiWrites. “To demonstrate these beliefs, we honor eight to ten community writers each year. Ypsilanti writers are writers of all ages who live or work in or have important connections to the Ypsilanti region. They can be published or unpublished writers in a variety of creative or professional genres.
The Writers of Ypsilanti program began in 2019 and has graced a handful of community members each year since then, with a new motto for each cohort. The motto for this year is “Write Now”. The authors are AM Dean, Frankie Koni, Brent Miller, Ayesha Nadeem, Kierra Owens, Sarah Rigg, Debbie Taylor and William Teepen.
Published author Rodolpho Alvarado was part of Ypsilanti’s first cohort of writers in 2019. He says he loved the theme that “anyone can write” and get to know the other winners.
“It was nice to meet a lot of other writers who were doing their work in the Ypsilanti region,” says Alvarado. “I never realized there were so many.”
Yen Azzaro, a local artist and writer, was named Ypsilanti writer in 2020 and says she is “pleasantly surprised” to be included in this year’s cohort, with the motto “Writing Matters”. Much of the programming went virtual that year due to the pandemic, and Azzaro says she enjoyed listening to young people talk about writing during a Zoom program hosted by YpsiWrites for Ypsilanti writers from This year.
“It was interesting to hear what students across the county wanted to know about the work I did,” she says. “And also, for the creatives of the group, it helped them understand how important writing is for artists to be able to apply for grants, scholarships and residencies.”
This year’s winners use writing in their daily lives in a variety of ways, from a children’s author to a playwright to a teen who writes grants.
Taylor is the author of two children’s books, “Sweet Music in Harlem” and “Over in Motown”. She lives in Pittsfield Township but calls Ypsilanti AME’s Brown Chapel her church home, and says that she and her husband both love the Ypsilanti Farmers Market and the Michigan Firehouse Museum. Taylor says she would like to use her appointment as Ypsilanti’s writer as a platform to advocate for literacy.
“I want people to read and write, and enjoy reading and writing,” Taylor says. “Writing can be such a great way to share your story and your feelings during these special times we live in. “
She currently maintains a diary and is editing a sequel to “Sweet Music in Harlem”. She is also thinking of adapting many of her short stories for a reading theater format.
Teepen, a resident of Ypsilanti, uses his writing skills to write articles for “Fresh Prints,” the newsletter of Ypsilanti’s self-help mental health center, Fresh Start Clubhouse. He also helped the club house develop its business plan and other documents that will help the organization establish its non-profit status.
Teepen says he uses writing to deal with current events or personal life experiences. He has covered topics such as trauma and consent for “Fresh Prints”.
“I like to take a problem or problem I’m facing and write about it for other people in more generic terms,” he says. “It could be a health problem or a health problem that I am facing, and [I turn it into] something they can relate to.
The 2021 laureate Koni started writing poetry in fifth grade and produced a poetry book for a school competition. Since then they have written and published four poems in “Asylum” magazine, an online publication that bills itself as a “radical mental health magazine”.
“I write semi-autobiographical poetry about mental health and sexuality,” Koni says. “I get a form of catharsis from poetry that I don’t get from much else. It’s a great way to write about your life without being real [structural] constraints. “
Koni says being named Ypsilanti’s writer inspired them to resume a daily practice of poetry and to launch a Facebook page dedicated to their poetry.
Nadeem was appointed by Ypsilanti District Library Librarian Jodi Krahnke for Nadeem’s work with the library’s Adolescent Advisory Board. Krahnke says the teenager “was instrumental in developing a vision for a project to help other teens in the community and in writing a grant to fund the vision.”
“My best writing experience this year was learning how to write grants,” says Nadeem. “I feel powerful knowing that my words will result in real change.”
Dean is a Ypsilanti-based playwright and novelist who has presented numerous plays and musicals in Ypsilanti, and is the literary director of the Neighborhood Theater Group.
“Right now, I’m working on a second draft of a novel that I finished about ten years ago,” Dean says. “Traditionally, plays have been my favorite to write. Being an actor myself, I like to write for other actors. Theater is a whole different process which is really exciting to be a part of. “
Owens, 15, is a poet and an active member of Educate Youth, a non-profit organization based in Ypsilanti. She was named by the founder of this organization, Gail Wolkoff. In the nomination form, Wolkoff called Owens “a great role model for young black women on their journey to the power of words.”
Owens used a Michelle Obama workbook titled “Becoming: A Guided Journal to Discover Your Voice,” and this process produced an article on police brutality. She shared the article with Ypsilanti Police Chief Tony DeGiusti “to share her first-hand experiences of what it’s like to be a 15-year-old living in southern Ypsilanti. “said Wolkoff.
Miller, the latest 2021 recipient, began volunteering with YpsiWrites in March 2020. He has since done one-on-one tutoring with YpsiWrites and created various guides for the organization, such as book club reading guides, a treasure hunt project in collaboration with First on Fridays, and a guide to finding and corresponding with a pen pal.
In his professional life, Miller writes educational material as an instructional designer at the National Center for School Safety, a program of the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. He also writes fiction in his spare time and hopes to spend the month of November revising the first draft of a novel he has written.
He says he likes YpsiWrites’ emphasis on the idea that everyone is a writer.
“If you’re texting or emailing or filling out your taxes, you’re a writer,” he says. “I’m glad YpsiWrites encourages others to accept that they too are writers.”
All winners will participate in a virtual celebration of the Writers of Ypsilanti program on October 23. Details will be announced soon on the YpsiWrites website.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and writer in Ypsilanti Township and Project Manager for On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a News Editor in early 2017 and contributes occasionally to other Issue Media Group publications. You can reach her at [email protected].
All photos are by Doug Coombe.