Guest blog post by NWA board member Frank A. Rodriguez

Frank A. Rodriguez took part in NWA’s recent Program Committee meeting, which gathered staff, workshop leaders, writers, and board members together to brainstorm future programming ideas . Frank shares his experience of the evening with us here.

It is a cold and windy night. The swelling waves break whitewater along the lakefront walk-paths, spraying everything on the undulating path. Preternatural darkness cloaks the evening sky as peaceful autumn turns away from winter’s blustery kiss. We are in a safe harbor, a party room a few short blocks from the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park. Here it is warm.

I am reminded of a time in recent history when creative minds charged with a socially conscious drive would gather together and talk.  From those discussions many would leave inspired to write and create art. Every person was a philosopher. The Work Projects Administration (WPA) gave birth to the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) in 1935. Its purpose was to compile histories, ethnographies, and other works by Americans of all backgrounds. Many of the works were socially conscious efforts to increase awareness of the working man and woman, the unemployed, the disenfranchised, and the unheard. Many of the FWP participants went on to become champions of the poor and documentarians of social injustice. Richard Wright, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel, John Steinbeck, and Ralph Ellison bellowed “present.” In the cold epoch surrounding the difficult economic times of the period, these thinkers and writers shared in the warmth and creative duende of a common drive: the molding of a better and more just world. Their legacy lives on.

In this warm place, a safe house for kindred spirits, we arrive, bringing all sorts of delicious delicacies and drinks to share with one another. We are the Neighborhood Writing Alliance Program Committee.  We are charged with brainstorming ideas for the Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT), topics and subtopics, the myopic and microscopic as well as the grand and visionary, the peeling off of layers of common wisdom and convention. Here, in this warm place, amidst a dark and blustery night, we share ideas, bounce them off each other, agree and disagree, drink, think, reflect, eat, smile, and frown. All this creativity flows in the service of promoting and engendering a nuanced understanding of our world through the documentations of our writer-philosophers. Their unique contributions provide a valuable tool for furthering discussions and stimulating action toward a better and more just world for all.

Can one person make a difference? How about five? One hundred? Ten thousand? We multiply our voices exponentially through the publication of JOT. Many will share with our writers’ experiences. Others may recall similar circumstances that they or perhaps relatives or friends may have lived through at some point in their lives. We are, after all, connected as one humanity. Many of our experiences are simultaneously different and the same, taking on different forms in different times. Speak up for one’s neighbor today. Perhaps they will remember you tomorrow. Remain silent and silenced one may become. Continuing in the spirit of our writer-philosopher brethren from the FWP, we persist in their efforts to document the real lives and real experiences of our insightful writers. Silenced, they are not.

As the evening winds down and the timekeeper looks askance, our brainstorming session comes to an end. We clean up and pack and talk and laugh. Before walking out, I take one last look out the window. It looks like the winds have picked up, now whistling at autumn’s slow retreat. A new season is about to begin.





  • Frank Rodriguez

    Thank you Rosellen, Susan and Donna for your kind remarks and thoughtful comments. I share the vision of NWA and JOT growing and maturing into the great vehicles of testimony and reflection that they are steadily being recognized as.

  • Rosellen Brown

    Frank, what a marvelous meditation on the pleasures of that meeting of so many eager and involved spirits.
    I was terribly sorry to have to miss this coming-together and your report, so full of feeling, makes me even sorrier! Next time (though I know it will be quite a while until NWA can gather so many in one place. Thanks, meanwhile, for this .Rosellen

  • Susan Eleuterio

    Thank you for Frank for a beautifully written summary and like Donna- I love the comparison to WPA- meeting every week at the Hall Branch library, I am so aware of the power of community and writing.
    From here are just a few of the amazing African American writers, activists and folklorists who spent time at the Hall Branch.

    In 1933, Ms. Harsh established the Book Review and Lecture Forum (BRLF). On a semimonthly basis, orators would come to the Hall Library to speak about Black history and literature. Speakers included the poet, novelist, and playwright Langston Hughes (1902-1967); the poet, novelist, and librarian Arna Bontemps (1902-1973); the poetess Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000); the novelist, essayist, and literary anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960); and the novelist, short-story writer, and essayist Richard Wright (1908-1960).

  • Donna Pecore

    so… give us a taste, what gourmet thoughts did the committee agree upon? Oh I know, that will be a closeted secret until our group facilitator shares the spring board prompt that we, “the philosophers,” will do our high dive somersaults from; but I am a brat, I want a preview. Here, at “JOT,”our personal points of view, as you so elegantly stated with other words, will make a splash, and the ripples of our thought will spread; hopefully making others feel and think, with the potential for encouraging change. But really now, since I know you can’t give me a hint, how about giving us: what ideas didn’t get picked up that you thought would of been an interesting prompt? I am a curious sort, so come on, give us a taste of some yummy mental stimuli. I also want to thank you for comparing us to the FWP. I have often been awestruck by my fellow writers’ work, but to be compared as a group, even a bit, to an organization where such prestigious authors belonged is thrilling!
    Stay warm and eloquent! with gratitude for all that you and the board does to keep NWA the exciting mind and heart expanding organization it is!