NWA Board Member Veronda Pitchford unmasks to enjoy the 2010 NWA annual benefit with NWA writer Phyllis Roker. Photo by John Konstantaras

Today we spend some time with NWA Board member Veronda Pitchford, and hear her thoughts on the importance of the NWA and JOT, Chicagoans she admires, and of course, her love of libraries.

What is your name?

Veronda J. Pitchford. The J. stands for Jean.

If you had to give yourself a title, what would it be?

I wish it could have been Mrs. Gordon Parks, as wife of my favorite renaissance man who not only did the movie Shaft but was a brilliant photographer, writer, and gentleman. But alas, I missed my chance and that title will have to wait for another lifetime.

How long have you lived in Chicago? Where in the city do you live?

I’ve lived in Chicago 17 years. Yikes, time flies! I live in Edgewater.

Tell us something about your neighborhood. Why do you live there?

There are so many great memories, places and people. I’m always discovering and revisiting my favorites!

Here are a few cool places within walking distance from my house:

  • McCutcheon Elementary School—My fellow board member Donyelle Gray’s elementary school is right down the street from me. And she’s still in touch with her elementary school principal!
  • And Ollies Lounge on Berwyn—one of the friendliest bars on the city, owned by Ollie, one of the most wonderful women on the planet.

Tell us something about Chicago. Why do you live here?

Before even considering moving here I learned about Chicago’s rich African-American history and literary legacy at North Carolina Central University, a Historically Black University I attended for my Masters program. As a librarian it is an honor to walk the same streets and live among the legacies of all of these greats:

  • Vivian G. Harsh was Chicago Public Library’s first black librarian. The world renowned Harsh Research collection at Chicago Public Library’s Carter G. Woodson Regional Library is named for her.
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American (male or female) to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry
  • And of course the NWA writers who share their stories and experiences in the Journal of Ordinary Thought.

How are you affiliated with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA)? How long have you been involved with NWA?

I am a very proud board member and chair of the Development Committee. This is my sixth year on the board; however, I have known NWA’s work since I arrived in Chicago thanks to NWA founder Deborah Epstein. One of my friends, Mary Frances O’Connor, babysat for Deborah’s children years ago, and gave me a gift subscription. She is still an NWA supporter, and she got me hooked on the Journal of Ordinary Thought soon after I landed in Chicago.

Why are you involved with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance?

There’s an African proverb that says “When a griot [storyteller] dies, a library has burned to the ground.” The Neighborhood Writing Alliance and the Journal of Ordinary Thought are dedicated to amplifying the experiences and voices of Chicagoans in every neighborhood.

As a librarian, I want to ensure that readers, writers, researchers, and communities have access to diverse perspectives and that they are documented and available for everyone to learn from and experience.

What does NWA’s motto, “Every Person Is a Philosopher,” mean to you?

It means that every voice has value and a place in the discourse of civic engagement.

Just think; if Sojourner Truth had given her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a church instead of the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, would the likes of Fanny Hamer, Barbara Jordon, bell hooks, or the next Shirley Chisholm have heard it and been inspired to contribute their talents to society?

What is your arts background?

The arts inspire me every day. They give me the opportunity to look at life and experiences more creatively. Art keeps me thinking and reminding me that there is no one answer and to continue to look at things from different sides.

Why do you think the Journal of Ordinary Thought is important?

TOP TEN things JOT does

  1. JOT builds community.
  2. JOT is all about social justice and the arts.
  3. JOT challenges perceptions
  4. JOT sparks new ideas
  5. JOT demonstrates the power of the written word.
  6. JOT creates dialogue.
  7. JOT promotes change.
  8. JOT teaches me more about Chicago
  9. JOT needs you, me and everyone we know.
  10. JOT knows Everyone is a Philosopher

JOT can’t do it without your support.

Support JOT if you believe every adult in Chicago deserves to participate in the arts.

Support JOT if believe in the power of the written word to promote change.

Support JOT if you are Write On!

Who is your favorite author?

I can’t pick a favorite! My favorite authors make the written word come alive. Through their use of language they make me a part of the action. They share their lives, emotions and their hearts and for that I’m grateful. From the NWA writers in JOT to Rainer Maria Rilke to Sherman Alexie, Suzan Lori Parks and Francesca Lia Block, I love them all!

What is your favorite Chicago literary venue and why?

The Chicago Public Library system is my favorite literary venue! Both JOT and libraries invite you to learn and discover together.

We asked Veronda to write her own question and answer it, She asked, Why do you think everyone on planet Earth should support the Neighborhood Writing Alliance?

 Without NWA and JOT I would never have known about JOT Writer Delores Tolliver’s heart wrenching experience verifying that her daughter’s teacher, Mrs. Till, was telling the class about her son Emmett’s unjust death.

There are stories that need to be heard. The people who not only live it then share it with me through the pages and blog of JOT.

NWA Board Member Veronda Pitchford, as you might be more used to seeing her.

In keeping with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance’s motto, “Every Person Is a Philosopher,” Meet the Philosophers is a column featuring profiles of members of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance community. Here, we survey their role in our organization and pick their brains about writing, social justice, art, and Chicago.

  • Joanie Friedman

    I like it! Thanks for posting this Veronda!


  • Christelle

    JOT builds self confidence in people whose voices have been ignored or silenced–seen as unimportant in the world, in the community and even in oneself.