Poets speak out for change at the Kelly Writers House


The Kelly Writers House is one of 700 to host the event, 100 Thousand Poets for Change




One of the world’s largest poetry events took place on Penn’s campus over the weekend, yet every participant sat comfortably in the wooden chairs at the Kelly Writers House.

This Saturday, the Kelly Writers House was one of 700 organizations to host a 100 Thousand Poets for Change event planned in more than 115 different countries. Over 20 poets from Penn and the Philadelphia community came to speak about topics ranging from justice and peace to intolerance and stereotypes.

The 100 Thousand Poets for Change organization seeks to bring together poets, songwriters, artists and musicians for one day to call for social and political change.

Though the organization was only founded in 2011, it has quickly become a global phenomenon. On Saturday, the official website hosted dozens of live stream videos of the various events from around the world.

Kathryn Watterson, a Creative Writing professor, played an instrumental role in bringing the event to campus.

“The organization put out the call and then they asked me to organize it,” Watterson said. Penn has never before hosted the event. She invited students, friends and poets from Penn and the Philadelphia area to come and present their pieces.

Among her students present at the event was Nicole Teow, an Engineering senior studying bioengineering and creative writing. Teow, who is also an international student from Malaysia, addressed her country’s turbulent struggles in her piece, “Denial.”

“I think, it’s very hard to do, trying to make change, big change, in the world,” Teow said, before presenting her work. “So I like to try to, everyday, make myself happy. Because there’s a lot of people out there who try to make you not happy.”

One by one, the various poets presented their works to an enthusiastic audience. Though several of the poets present were from the Penn community, many others were not. The Writers House welcomed acclaimed poets such as Lamont B. Steptoe, Quincy Scott Jones, Donna Wolf-Palacio and Alicia Ostriker. Three fifth-grade students from a nearby elementary school also shared their work.

Allison Katz, who serves as Program Coordinator at the Kelly Writers House, was pleased with the outcome of the event.

“It’s very much in the spirit of the Writers House, which is to bring both the Penn community and the larger Philadelphia community together to celebrate literature and writing,” she said.

Though she was uncertain of the event’s future at Penn, Katz was appreciative of the audience that assembled at the Writers House. “Change means very many things to very many people, so it was nice to see the diversity.”

Shehnaz Abdeljaber is another Penn student who shared her work on Saturday. She is participating in Penn’s Masters of Liberal Arts program with a focus on creative writing and Arab/South Asian women’s literature. She began writing at a young age about her experiences growing up as a Middle Eastern woman in an increasingly intolerant world.

“There’s this rhetoric, or discourse, that’s being put out there. And it’s stereotypical, it’s filled with hate, it’s racist,” she said. “It’s unfortunate … but our society has become so accustomed to the demonization of Arabs and Muslims. So it’s important for me, wherever I go, wherever I get the chance to speak, to really challenge those stereotypes.”

All in all, the event enabled artists from all over the Philadelphia community to gather and share their concerns in the form of beautiful poetry.

“This event today is a sign that we can bring the world something that’s not for purchase, something that’s not for sale,” Watterson said in her opening speech. “It’s the love that each person has for being alive and for being together.”

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