.Celebrating the Muse

Imagine two hours of 18 women poets and writers reading their work in a wide variety of voices and styles, in a community of shared enthusiasm and encouragement. No, it’s not poetry heaven, it’s the Celebration of the Muse!

The In Celebration of the Muse annual reading, a showcase for women’s literary voices, began in 1981 and is the longest-running event of its kind—bringing together an impressive list of poets and writers to read their work.

The venue has changed over the years─ taking place at London Nelson Center, the Santa Cruz Civic, the now-defunct Palookaville, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Cabrillo College, and Center Stage Theater. Yet, despite differing locations, the format has been consistent—this is a festival that brings women poets and artists together, a sacred space where creativity is encouraged and enhanced.

Early writers to the series were both well and lesser-known Santa Cruz writers:  Adrienne Rich, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Wilma Marcus Chandler, Maude Meehan, Carmen Morones, Harryette Mullen, Roz Spafford, Ellen Bass and Claire Braz-Valentine, to name a few.

In Celebration of the Muse emerged as part of the National Festival of Women’s Theater. After the festival’s short run, the Muse (initially conceived as a fundraiser for the festival) continued on spearheaded by women who were interested in fostering women’s voices and elevating them to the same level as the men who were dominating the poetry scene.

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Patrice Vecchione and Gael Roziere coordinated and hosted the inaugural reading and subsequent readings for many years to come. Vecchione hosted solo for one year and then invited Amber Cloverdale Sumrall to organize and co-host. This duo was the heart of the Muse for almost two decades, bringing intelligence and wit to the evening, and part of the enchantment at these Muse events was the warm rapport between them.

After 18 years, Dena Taylor took up the baton to co-host with Sumrall. But in 2015 Taylor and Sumrall decided the Muse had reached its end point and Chandler, who “just didn’t want it to die” stepped in. At the time, Sumrall explained: “When the event first started women’s voices were really under-represented in our community and the idea was to give women a voice they didn’t have. Now women have so many venues to be heard. There are so many reading series…we felt like it was time…”

With the re-emergence of the Muse under the direction of Chandler, fiction writers, playwrights and memoirists were added to the line-up. Entering into a partnership with the locally-based online literary magazine, Phren-Z, proved prescient as the Muse moved online in 2020-2023 as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Over the years proceeds from ticket sales have been donated to women-oriented area non-profits including Women’s Crisis Support, the Santa Cruz Aids Project, and WomanCare. Two In Celebration of the Muse anthologies were published, and Muse readings have honored local luminaries who have passed on including Maude Meehan, Tilly Washburn Shaw and Joan Safachek, poets who inspired so many.

For Vecchione, what is most vivid “is remembering the joy of bringing women writers together, watching the audiences grow and grow, and the intoxicating energy of the gala events. The theater would be filled to standing room and the writers, each unique and vibrant in her own way, would take the stage and put a spell on everyone in attendance.”

This year, the Hive Collective will assume production of the Muse. During her tenure as Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate (2018-2020) Danusha Laméris (along with Farnaz Fatemi─ current Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate, Dion O’ Reilly, and Lisa Allen Ortiz) founded the Collective as a way to bring a diverse range of women’s voices to the Santa Cruz poetry community. Reinforcing an already thriving art scene, and the idea that poetry that is all inclusive, changes hearts and minds. Current Hive members include Fatemi and O’Reilly, along with Julia Chiapella, Julie Murphy, Roxi Power and Geneffa Jahan. Along with its bi-monthly poetry readings, The Hive Poetry Collective hosts weekly radio shows Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on KSQD FM 90.7.

For Muse 2024, eighteen poets will be selected to read their work for an in-person reading on Friday, April 26 at the Cabrillo College Horticulture Building (Room 5005), in a free two-hour program. All women, women identified, and non-binary poets are encouraged to apply. And this year the Muse will incorporate audio and visual elements into the reading.

There is no fee to apply but applicants will be asked to submit three poems as well as a statement about their work as a poet and why they would like to participate. Contact Julia Chiapella at ju***@eb***.com or 831-227-7690 for more information.

You can find more information about the Hive Poetry Collection at hivepoetry.org.

Magdalena Montagne is a local poet and teacher who leads poetry writing workshops through the Santa Cruz County Library system and hosts Poets’ Circle Poetry Reading Series at the Watsonville Library. Her website is poetrycirclewithmagdalena.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. We would like to read a little of the prose of Carolyn Cassady. Wife of Neal Cassady, lover of Jack Kerouac, and competition for the affection of Neal with Allen Ginsberg. Has worked with Hollywood on three major motion pictures. “Heart Beat”based on a part of memoir “Off the Road “,The Last Time I Committed Sucide,based on Neal Cassady’s Letter to Jack Kerouac “The Joan Anderson Letter “and of course the recently released “On the Road “

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