Kweli International Literary Festival was presented and hosted by Times Reads. The festival spanned a full week from July 16 - 21, 2018 and included a Photography Now exhibition with Pulitzer Prize winner Ozier Muhammad and his workshop students, readings from debut and award winning authors, master classes and workshops, film screenings and panel discussions, live music and more. The main event took place at the New York Times Conference Center on Saturday, July 21, 2018; 10AM-5PM.



Nicole Dennis-Benn

Nicole Dennis-Benn is a Lambda Literary Award winner and a finalist for the 2016 John Leonard Prize National Book Critics Circle Award, the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the 2017 Young Lions Fiction Award for her debut novel, Here Comes the Sun— a New York Times Notable Book of the year, an NPR, Amazon, Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2016. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Elle, Electric Literature, Ebony, Kweli Journal and the Feminist Wire. She was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Registration required


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Registration required


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Opening Reception
Raw Space Gallery, Harlem
6pm - 9pm

Join us for the Photography Now opening reception, with a poetry performance by Hala Alyan.

Dina Abdulhadi
Kenzie Allen
Jes Aznar
Kamal Badhey
Meagan Floyd
Nadia Misir
Ozier Muhammad
Pilar Muhammad
Nelly Rosario
Neela Vaswani

This event is free and open to the public. 

Photography Now with Ozier Muhammad is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Learning, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Lower Manhattan Cultural Council empowers artists by providing them with networks, resources, and support, to create vibrant, sustainable communities in Lower Manhattan and beyond.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Registration required

11am - 2:00pm

Es-KWELI-ta: Narrative Elements of Fiction with Nelly Rosario

This workshop is composed of exercises focused on narrative elements that make fiction come alive, including: characterization, plotting, structure, dialogue mechanics, setting, tone, language, texture, theme, vision. Come ready to rewrite the world.

2:00pm - 5:00pm
Writing Place: Homelands and Beyond with Kali Fajardo-Anstine

This fiction workshop is designed for any writer concerned with notions of homeland, both real and the imagined.  This course will focus on helping writers utilize setting in ways that push, expand, and further the idea of place. The goal of this class is to provide students with the tools needed to create a fully realized and immersive fictional world that thrums with the breath of life. Class will have three components: readings, story generating exercises, and first-blush in-class feedback. In this workshop, we will also focus on ways to conduct research and how to incorporate folktales, music, photography, and other art forms into our place-based writing.


6:00pm - 8:00pm
Poets House
Reading Room, Second Floor

Hala Alyan
Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Adib Khorram
Crystal Hana Kim
Akil Kumarasamy
Frances de Pontes Peebles
Ivelisse Rodriguez
Nelly Rosario
Nafissa Thompson-Spires

This reading is free and open to the public. 


Saturday, July 21, 2018

10:00am - 10:10am

10:15am - 10:45am
Keynote by Nicole Dennis-Benn: Speaking the Unspeakable

11:00am - 11:45pm
A. Community Track I
A Reading and Conversation on Borders. Ru Freeman and Rickey Laurentiis read selections of their work that addresses borders: physical, mental, emotional, and geographic. How do borders impact individuals, communities, nations? Specifically, we'll discuss Palestine and it's current and historical borders, and how they effect the heart and soul of its people. 

B. Craft Track
Writing the Whole Child with Ibi Zoboi
When centering children of color in our stories, often times we write about pain, trauma, and oppression. Even if this is not the overarching theme, given our collective history as people of color in this world, marginalization is usually the underlying rhythm in our stories. Whether it's romance, fantasy, or a quirky graphic novel, when we write about children of color, how do we make them whole on the page? How do we avoid the single story or stereotypes when pain, trauma, and oppression are either on the surface or in the background? What are the ways in which we can navigate the pervasive white gaze to create nuanced characters within complex communities? We will discuss Middle Grade and Young Adult novels whose authors have successfully written whole children.

C. Community Track II
First Blush: An Agent, Editor and Two Authors on the Business of New Relationships. A new relationship can make you feel like dancing. But before you step out in your dancing shoes, there are some things to consider. During a recent conversation with Nicole Dennis-Benn and her author, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Dawn Davis from 37 Ink stated the following: “Whether you are a debut or an experienced author, I think the question as an editor is how flexible is the writer. I want them to be somewhat flexible, but I don’t want them to say, ‘whatever you think is good.’ I want them to have a sense of their own story and their own storytelling voice. But I want them to be flexible enough to listen if I say ‘something here is slightly off.' I found a partnership with Nafissa in that.” So how do agents, editors and authors find the right dance partner? And what should they do before they move to the dance floor? Featuring: Cinelle Barnes, author of Monsoon Mansion; Vivian Lee, editor at Little A; Morgan Jerkins, author of This Will Be My Undoing; and Monica Odom, literary agent at Liza Dawson Associates

12:00pm - 1:00pm

1:00pm - 1:45pm
A. Community Track I
Four Women: Debut Short Story Collections. Thompson-Spires uses satire to look closely at black identity and the contemporary middle class in Heads of the Colored People, while Fajardo-Anstine centers Indigenous and Chicana communities and revisits the myth of the American West in Sabrina & Corina. Kumarasamy’s collection, Half Gods, moves across time and geography to explore the ways trauma is passed down through generations, while Rodriguez provides insightful look into the wounds of growing up and the “love wars” that break out between generations of Puerto Rican women.  Featuring: Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina; Akil Kumarasamy, author of Half Gods, Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love, War Stories; and Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of Heads of the Colored People  Moderator:  Princess Perry

B. Craft Track
The Tools of Voice with Mitchell S. Jackson
One of the most effective ways in prose to, as Susan Sontag says, “preserve the works of the mind against oblivion,” is to craft a distinctive voice. Voice is made up of qualities that include diction and structural choices, syntactical usage, and a mindfulness of the acoustics of language. This craft lecture will present philosophies on voice and some of the rhetorical tools used to compose a remarkable one. It will include examples of those tools from published excerpts, as well as guide participants through a critique of those examples. The lecture will conclude with an exercise designed to challenge participants to employ some of the strategies covered.

C. Community Track II
Women Writing Trauma. Panelists will talk about the process of excavating and writing about hard truths such as mental illness, domestic violence and intergenerational trauma. Featuring: Cinelle Barnes, author of Monsoon Mansion; Krystal A. Sital, author of Secrets We Kept; and Crystal Wilkinson, author of The Birds of Opulence  Moderator: Jodi Savage

2:00pm - 2:45pm
A. Community Track I
From Page to Screen. Emily Avila is the Australian director of "In a Cane Field," the award-winning short film adapted from The Serrambi Case, a short story by Frances de Pontes Peebles. Click here for the PDF. Read the story in advance, if you choose. Then watch the film and see the difference between the written and visual mediums and the choices the director made. Featuring: Emily Avila, director of In a Cane Field; and Frances de Pontes Peebles, author of The Air You Breathe

B. Craft Track
Everyone Needs a Friend Called Brian: Narrative Arc with Chika Unigwe
The most important aspect of writing, but probably the most unobtrusive, is the narrative arc. It is the glue that holds everything else together and the competence with which it is handled makes all the difference between a great book and a just okay one. It doesn’t matter what the  story has: great characters, brilliant plot, well evoked setting. If the narrative arc is weak, you’d be casting your jewels to swine which will trample all over your story.  I will be discussing how to plot a compelling narrative arc and we will  look at examples of recent novels with great structure. The lecture will end with exercises designed to get participants to think more consciously of the narrative arc while writing.  

C. Community Track II
A Love Letter to Our Mothers. Bridgett Davis draws a loving portrait of a mother who used Detroit’s illegal lottery to support her family, and Crystal Wilkinson paints a loving portrait of a mother forced to endure ice baths and shock treatments in a Kentucky hospital. Both authors will read selections from their works-in-progress and then discuss the depth of research involved in crafting a work of art. The authors will share select images from their family photo album with the audience. Featuring: Bridgett Davis, author of The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers, and Crystal Wilkinson, author of The Birds of Opulence and No One Will Love You More, a memoir-in-progress Moderator: Laura Pegram.

3:00pm - 3:45pm
A. Community Track I
Aftershocks: In Diaspora
During her recent book launch, Syrian American author Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar told the audience that she would always feel the aftershocks or reverberations of her father’s leaving Syria. The authors on this panel will discuss writing in diaspora, migration, immigration, and "the things that can never be lost." Featuring: Jennifer Joukhadar, author of The Map of Salt and Stars; Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me; Adib Khorram, author of Darius The Great Is Not Okay; and Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street Moderator: Serene Hakim

B. Craft Track
What Is Going On? Present Action in Fiction with Victor LaValle
Writers are, generally, cerebral and somewhat introverted people. We spend so much of our lives inside our own heads it can be easy to forget we have bodies that move through the world, take up space, do things. But where do those bodies go when we write fiction? Our characters certainly talk about a lot of things and think about even more things, but beyond that what they hell do they ever actually do in our stories and novels? This craft class is about paying attention to the "present action" in a story. How to make greater use of "present action" when telling a story. This isn't about turning your work into an action movie. This is simply about making you more aware of what you aren't setting down on the page.

C. Community Track II
Works in Progress. Writers on Process. Four panelists will discuss the idea, moment, image or text, that started them on the track to realizing their project. What are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in this particular work? How do you navigate around them? How does this work in progress compare to your previous work? Featuring: Kenzie Allen, author of intermodal blood quantum memoir; Andrea Rogers, author of short story collection; Nelly Rosario, author of Song of the Water Saints and speculative fiction novel on community medicine; and Etaf Rum, author of A Woman Is No Man. Moderator: Cecca Ochoa.

4:00pm - 4:45pm
Publishing Roundtable: Next Steps.
Publishers will discuss their upcoming books, from Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas, slated for release in September, to Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker, slated for release in October. They will also speak about their efforts to build a wider list of diverse writers and stories. Featuring: Judith Curr (President and Publisher, HarperCollins Publishers); Lynn Grady (Publisher, Dey Street Books) and Jamia Wilson (Executive Director and Publisher, The Feminist Press at CUNY).

Exit left

Click here for details on the festival presenters. 

Click here for the scholarship application. 









Times Reads
Barry Goldblatt Literary LLC
Victoria Sanders & Associates



Click here for more highlights from Kweli festivals over the years at Dumbo Sky and Poets Den Theatre.