Kweli International Literary Festival Presenters

Saturday, jULY 21, 2018



Kenzie Allen is a descendant of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, and an Advanced Opportunity Program Fellow in the English & Creative Writing PhD at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee. She is the recipient of Hopwood Awards in Poetry and Non-Fiction, and an MFA in Poetry, from the Helen Zell Writers' Program. Kenzie is at work on a chapbook of Texas poems and photography, and a multimodal memoir on blood quantum and Native American identity. Her work can be found in Black Warrior Review, Narrative, Kweli, and other venues, and she is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Anthropoid collective.
 @cerena (Twitter)



Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American writer and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Guernica and elsewhere. Her poetry collections have won the Arab American Book Award and the Crab Orchard Series. Her debut novel, SALT HOUSES, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017. It was longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize and a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize.

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Kali Fajardo-Anstine is from Denver, Colorado. Her debut short story collection, Sabrina & Corina, and a follow-up novel are forthcoming from One World/ Random House. Her fiction has appeared in The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhere. Kali has received fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and Hub City Press. She holds an MFA from the University of Wyoming and writes about Chicanas and indigenous women in the American West.
Kalimaja (instagram), kalimafaja (twitter) 

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Cinelle Barnes is an essayist, memoirist, and educator with a BA in journalism from Hunter College and an MFA from Converse College. Books have been the one constant in her life—through her tumultuous childhood in the Philippines, her years living as an undocumented immigrant in the New York, and her time as a new bride living in the American South. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Hub, Catapult, Buzzfeed, South 85, TAYO, West Of, Piccolo Spoleto Fiction, and Hub City Press’s Multicultural Spartanburg. MONSOON MANSION is her first book.
Instagram: @cinellebarnesbooks



Caroline Bleeke is an editor at Flatiron Books (Macmillan) acquiring literary and upmarket commercial fiction, with an emphasis on underrepresented voices, innovative structure and style, and heart. Her authors at Flatiron include Anuk Arudpragasam (winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize), Neel Patel (an Indie Next Pick), Angie Cruz (finalist for the IMPAC Dublin Award), Paula Lichtarowicz (a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick), and Yangsze Choo (a New York Times bestseller). Bleeke was previously at Alfred A. Knopf and holds degrees from Harvard and Cambridge.

@cableeke (Twitter and Instagram)



Johanna Castillo is Ecuadorian born. The former VP & Executive Editor at Simon & Schuster with 18+ years of experience is now building her client's list as an agent.


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Judith Curr is President and Publisher of HarperOne, Amistad, and Rayo/HarperCollins Español at HarperCollins Publishers, focused on expanding the HarperOne editorial scope. Curr is building a fiction imprint sourced locally, globally, and internationally, while expanding the non-fiction properties, centering global appeals for the English and foreign language publishing programs. She is also growing the Amistad and Rayo imprints to build a wider list of diverse writers and stories within this editorial purview. Prior to joining HarperCollins, Curr founded Atria Books in 2002, and was named President and Publisher of Atria Publishing Group in 2012, with responsibility for all its editorial, publishing, and marketing activities. A native of Australia, Curr has been an executive in American publishing since 1996.
Social media: @JudithCurr

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Bridgett M. Davis’ forthcoming memoir, The World According To Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life In The Detroit Numbers (Little, Brown / January 2019) is her first nonfiction book. She is the author of two novels, Into the Go-Slow and Shifting Through Neutral. As a professor of Journalism and the Writing Professions at CUNY’s Baruch College, she teaches creative, film and narrative writing. A graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, she is also director of the award-winning feature film Naked Acts. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.
@bridgettmdavis (Twitter)   bridgett_d (Instagram) 



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 and the Feminist Wire. She was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.

@ndennis_benn (Twitter)  ndennisbenn (Instagram)



Ru Freeman is an award-winning Sri Lankan born writer and activist whose writing has appeared internationally, including in the UK Guardian, The Boston Globe, and the New York Times. She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl (2009), and On Sal Mal Lane (2013), a NYT Editor’s Choice Book, both appearing in multiple translations. She is editor of the anthology, Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine (2015), and co-editor of Indivisible: Global Leaders on Shared Security (2018). She writes for the Huffington Post on books and politics, and teaches creative writing at Columbia University.


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Lynn Grady is Publisher of Dey Street Books and Deputy Publisher of William Morrow at HarperCollins. Dey Street Books publishes a wide range of nonfiction books, including We're Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union, Rabbit by Patricia Williams, Together We Rise by the Women's March Group and Every Little Step by Bobby Brown, just to name a few.



Prior to joining Ayesha Pande Literary in 2015, Serene Hakim worked at Laura Gross Literary Agency in Boston. Born to Lebanese immigrants in the Midwest, she grew up straddling cultures and languages and still feels like a third culture kid. Serene loves to read a variety of genres but is particularly drawn to fiction with a strong voice, both YA and adult fiction and non-fiction with international themes, and LGBTQ and feminist issues. She is especially interested in stories dealing with the Middle East and the variety of immigrant experiences out there. When she's not reading, she can usually be found trying a new recipe while simultaneously balancing a toddler on her hip.
Twitter: @serenemaria

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Mitchell S. Jackson's debut novel won a Whiting Award and the Ernest J. Gaines Prize for debut fiction. His collection of essays Survival Math: Notes on an all-American Family will be published in March of 2019. He's an Associate Professor of writing in New York University's Liberal Studies Program.



Morgan Jerkins is the author of the New York Times-bestselling book, This Will Be My Undoing. She is based in Harlem.

Twitter: @MorganJerkins



Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is the Syrian American author of the debut novel The Map of Salt and Stars (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1 May 2018) and the author of short stories and essays that have appeared in Salon, The Paris Review Daily, The Kenyon Review, The Saturday Evening Post, and elsewhere, as well as a 2017-2020 Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artists Residency Program fellow in fiction.


adib khorram, author of darius the great is not okay

Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he's not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don't usually talk about themselves in the third person.
@adibkhorram on Twitter and Instagram

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crystal hana kim, author of if you leave me

Crystal Hana Kim’s debut novel, If You Leave Me, is forthcoming from William Morrow in August. She was a 2017 PEN America Dau Short Story Prize winner and has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hedgebrook, Jentel, among others. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from The Washington Post, Elle Magazine, Nylon, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She is a contributing editor at Apogee Journal and is the Director of Writing Instruction at Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Instagram: crystalhanak ; Twitter: crystalhanak

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Akil Kumarasamy is a writer from New Jersey. Her fiction has appeared in Harper's Magazine, American Short Fiction, Boston Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, and has been a fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the University of East Anglia. She will be a visiting professor at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Half Gods is her first book.

Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan

rickey laurentiis, author of boy with thorn 

Rickey Laurentiis is the author of Boy with Thorn, his debut book, which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Levis Reading Prize, and was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His other honors include fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the Lannan Literary Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Poetry Foundation. He was named a finalist for the Saint Paul de Vence James Baldwin Writers’ Residency. Currently he lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he is the inaugural Fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh.

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victor lavalle, author of the changeling 

Victor LaValle is the author of seven works of fiction and one comic book. His most recent novel, The Changeling, was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2017 by Time Magazine, USA Today, and the New York Public Library. His comic, Victor LaValle's Destroyer, is a contemporary continuation of the Frankenstein novel with a Black Lives Matter twist. He teaches writing at Columbia University and lives in New York with his wife and kids.



vivian lee, editor at little a, amazon publishing 

Vivian Lee is an editor at Little A, Amazon Publishing's literary fiction and narrative nonfiction imprint. Her list includes Matthew Salesses' The Hundred-Year Flood (A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2015), Viet Dinh's After Disasters (PEN/Faulkner Finalist), and Harold Schechter's Hell's Princess (A Washington Post Bestseller). She graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a BA in Literary Journalism and from the New School University in New York with a MFA in Creative Writing (Non-Fiction).
vivianwmlee (Twitter)


christina morgan, literary agent, serendipity literary   

Christina Morgan has over a decade of professional book publishing experience, including editorial positions at Amistad/HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and as an agent for Curtis Brown Ltd. At Amistad she was a part of a team that published numerous New York Times bestsellers including Confessions of a Video Vixen, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. At HMH she worked with some of the world’s most esteemed authors including, Umberto Eco, Amos Oz, Gunter Grass and Alice Walker. Prior to working in book publishing she worked as a journalist, writing for numerous magazines and newspapers. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Columbia Publishing Course.

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cecca austin ochoa, author of disappeared, a work in progress 

Cecca Austin Ochoa is a fiction writer and essayist. She has served as Managing Editor for Apogee Journal, co-founded and served as Editor and Contributing Writer for Art xx and Aorta magazines. Her writing has appeared in MAKE: A Literary Magazine, Nat. Brut, Kweli Journal and elsewhere; and is anthologized in Pariahs (SFA Press) and IMANIMAN (Aunt Lute Press). Her short story "Still Life" published in Kweli Journal received a pushcart honorable mention. She is a recipient of the Astraea Foundation’s Lesbian Writer’s Award for Fiction. Cecca Austin Ochoa is at work on a novel, Disappeared, that follows two women: Nina, adopted during the Civil War in El Salvador and raised in the United States; and Vicenta, a war refugee turned resistance fighter, who is searching for people who went missing during the war. Cecca hails from Oakland, and lives in Brooklyn.

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monica odom, literary agent at liza dawson associates

Monica Odom is an agent at Liza Dawson Associates, where she represents a variety of nonfiction, literary and upmarket fiction, and illustrators. Monica earned her Masters in Publishing: Digital & Print Media from New York University in 2014, and has a B.A. in English from Montclair State University. She was also schooled in bookselling and event coordinating at her local indie, Watchung Booksellers. She loves to see a personal project turn into something original and surprising, and is committed to the expansion of diversity and inclusivity in the publishing industry.


frances de pontes peebles, author of the air you breathe 

Frances de Pontes Peebles is the author of the novel The Seamstress, translated into nine languages and winner of the Elle Grand Prix for fiction, the Friends of American Writers Award, and the Michener–Copernicus Fellowship. Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has received a Fulbright Grant, Brazil’s Sacatar Foundation Fellowship, and was a Teaching Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her novel, The Seamstress, was adapted for film and mini-series in Brazil as Entre Irmãs. Her second novel, The Air You Breathe, is forthcoming in August 2018 from Riverhead Books.


Princess perry, author of bound, a work in progress 

Princess Perry earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Old Dominion University where she currently holds the position of Master Lecturer, teaching general education and creative writing courses. Her short fiction has appeared most recently in All About Skin: An Anthology of Short Fiction by Women Writers of Color and The Best of Kweli. She is working toward the completion of her first full-length manuscript, tentatively titled Bound. Princess is also a returned Peace Corps Panama Volunteer.

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ivelisse rodriguez, AUTHOR OF love war stories

Ivelisse Rodriguez’s debut short story collection is Love War Stories (The Feminist Press, 2018). She has published fiction in the Boston Review, All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, Obsidian, Kweli, the Bilingual Review, Aster(ix), and other publications. She is the founder and editor of an interview series focused on contemporary Puerto Rican writers in order to highlight the current status and the continuity of a Puerto Rican literary tradition from the continental US. She earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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andrea l. rogers, author of Man Made Monsters (a work in progress)

Andrea L. Rogers is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She graduated from the Low Rez program at the Institute for American Indian Arts in May. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is a teacher. At IAIA she was mentored by Métis author Toni Jensen and Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange. While there, she completed her short story collection Man Made Monsters; a meditation on love, loneliness, family and the monsters in society that walk with us. Native people are centered in this collection, along with a cast of vampires, werewolves, zombies, aliens, ghosts, two reasonably handsome Princes, and a Goatboy.



nelly rosario, author of song of the water saints 

Nelly Rosario is author of Song of the Water Saints: A Novel (Pantheon), winner of a PEN/Open Book Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. Her fiction and non-fiction works appear in various journals and anthologies; honors include the Sherwood Anderson Award in Fiction and a 2016 Creative Capital Artist Award in Literature for desveladas, a collaborative fotonovela project of conversations about the Americas. Currently, she teaches at Williams College and is researcher and writer for the MIT Black History Project. Rosario at work on a speculative novel about community medicine.


etaf rum, author of a woman is no man

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English Composition and currently teaches college Literature in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Her debut novel, A Woman Is No Man tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn as they struggle to reconcile their individual desires with the demands of their traditional Arab culture.”

Etaf also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans and is also a Book of the Month Club Ambassador. 

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victoria sanders, founder of victoria sanders & associates 

When I founded Victoria Sanders & Associates in 1992, it was the first step toward the culmination of a dream and a calling. Following my law school graduation, driven by a lifelong love affair with reading and books, I immersed myself in the world of publishing. I worked in the legal/contracts departments of Simon & Schuster, and at two literary agencies. It's been an incredibly exciting journey, and one that keeps getting better. While representing a multi-cultural roster of internationally bestselling and award-winning authors, I endeavor to seek out and champion new and diverse voices and viewpoints. As a literary agent for these 25 years, I've taken great pride in having represented many of my clients for their entire careers. I am honored to work with the extraordinary group of visionary writers and thinkers who grace this agency, the publishing marketplace, and their devoted readers with their talent and artistry.


jodi savage, author of searching for salvation at antioch, a work in progress  

Jodi M. Savage is a writer and attorney in New York City. Her essays have appeared in Catapult, Kweli Journal, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and Wear Your Voice Magazine. Jodi is also a contributing editor for Kweli Journal.

Jodi graduated from Barnard College and Seton Hall University School of Law.


tracy sherrod, editorial director, amistad books

Tracy Sherrod is the editorial director of Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. She has published National Book Award finalist Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, NAACP Image Award–winning Spectacle by Pamela Newkirk, Hurston/Wright Finalist The Mother by Yvvette Edwards, and Emmy Award winner Steve Harvey, among others.



krystal  A. Sital, author of secrets we kept 

Born and raised in the republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Krystal A. Sital is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir SECRETS WE KEPT: Three Women of Trinidad. A PEN award finalist and Hertog Fellow, Krystal’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times—Well, Salon, Catapult, Today’s Parent, LitHub, Asian American Writers Workshop—The Margins, The Caribbean Writer, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing; gender, sexuality, and culture; as well as peoples and cultures of the Caribbean at New Jersey City University. Krystal lives with her partner and their three children in New Jersey.

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jessica spivey, junior agent, victoria sanders & associates  

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a book by my side. I graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a Major in Theatre and a Minor in English, and joined VSA in 2016. I am absolutely thrilled to be surrounded by words every day. I enjoy all fiction, but am particularly drawn to literary fiction, magical realism, thrillers/mysteries, and anything high-concept. I do have a soft spot for short story collections, and am open to memoirs and nonfiction.  

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nafissa thompson-spires, author of heads of the colored people

Nafissa Thompson-Spires earned a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University and an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). She is the author of the Heads of the Colored People (Atria/ 37 Ink; Chatto and Windus) and has a novel under contract with the same publishers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeny’s, Paris Review Daily, Dissent, Buzzfeed Books, The White Review, StoryQuarterly, and other publications. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at UIUC and an alumna of Callaloo, Tin House, and a Stanley Elkin Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
Twitter: @TisforThompson

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chika unigwe, author of on black sisters street

Chika Unigwe was born and raised in Enugu, Nigeria. She is a writer of fiction and non fiction with several fellowships and prizes for her work. Her work has appeared in, among others, Kweli, the New York Times, the UK Guardian, Aeon, Guernica, Kenyon Review, AGNI and Transition. She has been translated into several languages including Hebrew, German, Polish, Hungarian and Spanish. She was the 2016-2017 Bonderman Assistant Professor of Literature at Brown University, a 2017 Creative Writing Fellow at Dartmouth College and in the fall of 2018, will join Emory’s Creative Writing Department as adjunct faculty for the semester.



Crystal Wilkinson is an award-winning feminist poet, novelist, memoirist, and professor from Kentucky.  She’s a born and raised country girl and literary force of nature. Her structural innovations start from the ground up with sentences that read like poetry and characters that live and breathe on the page. A founding member of the Affrilachian Poets Collective, she is the current Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College.  

Wilkinson’s first book, Blackberries, Blackberries won the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature; her second book, Water Street, was a finalist for both the Orange Prize and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award; her third book, The Birds of Opulence, won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, The Judy Young Gaines Prize for Fiction, and the Weatherford Award. Her work—fiction, poetry, memoir—has been widely anthologized and published in countless journalsShe and her partner, Ron Davis, founded Mythium: A Journal of Contemporary Literature (for writers of color—and an inspiration for Kweli) and now co-own and run the beloved independent bookstore, Wild Fig Books and Coffee in Lexington, Kentucky.

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jamia wilson, executive director and publisher, feminist press

Jamia Wilson Jamia Wilson is the director of the Feminist Press. Wilson has contributed to The New York Times, Glamour, Elle, The Today Show, CNN, BBC, and more. She is the author of Young, Gifted, and Black and wrote the oral history in Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World. She co-authored Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Advocacy, and Activism for All which will be released on September 18, 2018.


ibi zoboi, author of pride

Ibi Zoboi holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut YA novel American Street, is a National Book Award Finalist and New York Times Notable Book of 2017. Her second YA novel, Pride, is due out in September, 2018. She’s the editor of the forthcoming YA anthology, Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America, due out in January, 2019 from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Her debut middle grade novel, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich will be out in Summer 2019 from Dutton/Penguin.


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