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Interview with Serina Gousby of GrubStreet’s Boston Writers of Color Group

By Stephen Grigelevich

April 19, 2021

In this interview, you will find reflections on local history, authorship, and unique opportunities for writers of color by Senior Program Coordinator of Grubstreet’s Boston Writer of Color (BWoC) Group Serina Gousby. During our conversation, Gousby makes reference to an array of talented writers, journalists, and poets from the Boston area. So make sure you check them out!

Serina, can you say a little bit about the history of the Boston Writers of Color Group? How and when did it get started?

Of course! Back in 2016, GrubStreet began hosting focus groups with students and community members, and writers of color in our community expressed the importance of having a space specifically for writers of color to share our work, get feedback, support one another, and share opportunities. Those conversations eventually led to the creation of the group that same year. It was originally led by author and GrubStreet staffer and instructor Jonathan Escoffery, who we consider to be the group's founder. Since then, the group has been growing consistently, with now about 2,000 members total on our Facebook, Meetup, and email list platforms. In addition to events, we share opportunities on a daily basis on our Facebook group, and share monthly updates in our newsletter.

Does the BWoC Group have any regular events or meetings for its members? Are there any events planned for this year that readers can look forward to?

Yes, we always host one event a month, always free. Before the pandemic, we hosted monthly writing retreats at Grub, where members come in, to sit in one of the classrooms and write, have breakfast and lunch on us, schedule a 30-minute consultation, and receive funds to submit their work. The most people we’ve had was 70 people in our small space, so it was a big hit for our members. Due to the pandemic, we immediately paused on our in-person retreats back in March 2020, and began hosting virtual monthly events that speak on topics that our group members want. We’ve had panel discussions on pitching, visits from Literary agents and Literary magazine editors, author talks, MFA info sessions, discussions, and much more. One event that we’ve added this year is writing sessions hosted by GrubStreet instructors, where members can write together, share their writing, and engage more. Some of the community building aspect was lost when we paused the in-person retreats due to the pandemic, so I’m looking forward to programming more events where members can write together.

"All of these add up to significant investments to make sure we are walking the talk on equity in the arts”

I read on GrubStreet's website that last year's gala and literary showcase Lit Up did some important work regarding funding initiatives for the BWoC Group and supporting writers of Color. How are you feeling about the status of that work as of now?

I’m feeling good so far about the work GrubStreet’s done since Lit Up. Though we have worked for many years to push equity forward, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the pandemic disproportionately affecting health and safety of Black and AAPI communities, our organization felt a greater urgency to tackle racial injustice and inequity in everything that we do. GrubStreet recently announced a teaching fellowship for Black writers, and one of the components is for the fellows to host an event with BWoC, so we’re excited about that. We also added more scholarship opportunities. We have a consulting scholarship, where members are matched with a GrubStreet consultant of color, and receive feedback on their manuscripts or long-form work. We also have a literary support scholarship where members receive stipends to pay for submission fees, writing materials, and other essential needs for their writing journeys. My role has recently expanded from part-time to full-time, so I can devote more time with the group, deepen our programming, provide more opportunities, and hopefully when it’s safe, to resume our writing retreats and author visits in our new home at the Seaport. All of these add up to significant investments to make sure we are walking the talk on equity in the arts. Of course, while we’re proud of the work we’ve done so far, we know that there is more work to be done. We’re committed to deepening our own understanding along the way and to do the work that needs to be done to achieve equity in the arts and beyond.

A few BWoC Members and community members at a Toni Morrison Tribute Reading, partnered by BWoC, Brown Girl Book Lover Blog, and Egleston Square Main Street

(Order from left to right: Brown Girl Book Lover Founder Leslie-Ann Murray, Senior Program Coordinator of BWoC Serina Gousby, Shirley Jones-Luke and her son, Margo Gabriel, Tori Weston, Curdina Hill, Muse Conference Director Sonya Larson, Executive Director of Egleston Square Main Street Denise Delgado, and members of the Traces/Remain Collaborative)

Are there authors or new works out there that you're excited about or particularly drawn to?

There are so many, especially from this group. Every month we acknowledge members who have published work or have literary news, so I’m still trying to catch up on it all. Right now, I’m re-reading Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola’s I Shimmer Sometimes, Too for National Poetry Month. Jennifer De Leon’s recently published her essay collection, White Space, and I’m excited to read that as well. Also writers Cynthia Yee, Amanda Shea, Margo Gabriel, Arielle Gray, Mee-ok, and Jacquinn Sinclair are just a few whose essays, poetry, and stories have made an impact in the online space and within Boston, so I’m really excited to continue reading more work from our own community.

“There’s so much talent and excellence that BIPOC writers and artists give to this city, and there’s still a lot of work to do for us to feel safe, welcomed, and liberated in our art.”

How has Boston shaped your experience as a writer? Are there ways that the region inspires or challenges you in your craft?

It shaped me in many ways, both good and bad. Although I grew up in Cambridge, and started writing at a young age, my journey as a poet and essayist really blossomed as an undergrad at Suffolk University in 2012. This was a period of finding my identity as a writer and Black woman, and embracing the power and beauty of that. While studying English and Black Studies, I learned more about Phillis Wheatley Peters, literary writers in The Black Arts Movement, Malcolm X, and that experience really shaped my perspective on what was important to write about. Especially with Phillis, the end of her story breaks my heart every day, and in many ways, Boston failed her. There’s so much talent and excellence that BIPOC writers and artists give to this city, and there’s still a lot of work to do for us to feel safe, welcomed, and liberated in our art. My writing will always reflect the times we’re at, and honor the writers that fought so hard for people like me to even see a future as a writer.

“I Shimmer Sometimes, Too” by Boston’s poet laureate, Porsha Olayiwola

Thanks so much for the interview, Serina. Any final words for readers regarding the BWoC Group, the art of writing, or anything else?

Thank you so much for speaking with me! If you identify as a writer of color, and write anything, whether it’s poems, stories, plays, songs, we welcome you to join our group! Also, if you are a non-person of color or platform that wants to provide resources, events, and paid opportunities for members, we welcome you to join, and learn more about GrubStreet.


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