Award-winning playwright, Jose Casas, wrote FLINT in order to raise awareness about issues residents of Flint, MI still face today. Other plays and movies have been produced about the water crisis, but the timeline of this play extends to present day and the personal stories within it are unique.

One element of FLINT I admire is that the transcript was written from real-life interviews of Flint residents. The narrative included communities within Flint who have been marginalized and rendered invisible; such as undocumented immigrants and people in the deaf/Deaf community. Undocumented immigrants feared/fear going to relief events to obtain donations like bottled water, because the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would target and deport them (even though ICE claims not to target individuals during humanitarian relief events). On the other hand, people in the deaf/Deaf community were not notified about the water crisis until 2016, two years after the fact.

Numerous stories and perspectives were featured within the play: the Mother, Father, Fighter, Pediatrician, Sociologist, Gardener, Professor, Demolitionist, etc. The play began with the Father’s story and ended with the Mother’s. The intentionally-elliptical narrative conveyed that there are no clear solutions to the water crisis—within the play itself and in real life.

The Flint water crisis started in 2014 when the city’s drinking water source was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. Residents knew for decades that the Flint River is toxic due to pollution from General Motors. They knew not to swim in it, let alone drink it. But the switch for their source of drinking water still went through in order to lower costs for the city. After the switch, lead from the pipes leached into the water, which exposed thousands of people to high lead levels. In some places, the water that came out of the faucet was brown and undrinkable. Paradoxically, people still had/have to pay their water bills for water they can not drink.  

Frustratingly, America has known the detrimental effects of lead for decades now. Lead is an insidious neurological toxin that can cause cognitive damage. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that lead is stored in the teeth and bones. During pregnancy, lead in the bone is released into the blood and can harm the fetus. Over time, lead can decrease a person’s IQ. No amount of lead exposure is considered safe. That is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent thousands—and even millions—of dollars in the past few decades to renovate houses with lead paint for families with low incomes.

Ironically, while houses are renovated for lead content, millions of people in the U.S. still drink water with lead in it. A shocking fact I learned from the play is that there are two-thousand cities in America with more lead in their water than Flint. I am dumbfounded by this fact. This is a nation-wide issue.

But the problem isn’t just with the water. One must think about how things got this bad in Flint even before the water source was switched and lead leached into the drinking water: Why was the Flint River polluted to begin with? Why was it not filtered properly before redirected to people’s faucets? Why was the water source switched to the Flint river when people knew it was polluted? Why is the Flint economy so poor?

The water crisis is not an isolated problem. A culmination of factors led to this. Minorities and people who are in poverty traditionally suffer the most from systematic injustice. Our government has failed communities it has pledged to serve and protect. People have fought for their rights for generations, and they are tired.

But despite all the tragedies that Flint has experienced, the play reminds us that Flint is more than the challenges it has overcome and the ones it still faces today. Happy memories are made there. People live there. Some grew up there. The community hosts film festivals and concerts, visual arts events and cultural shows. And there are other wonderful stories about its residents still waiting to be shared.


REVIEW: Aldo Leopoldo Pando Girard Poetry Reading

I really enjoyed Aldo Leopoldo Pando Girard’s poetry reading at Literati. He was charismatic and well-spoken, and the audience was very supportive. The reading itself was very interactive: people responded through snaps, claps, and cheers.


Girard read from his book Self Portraits, Mixed Media, published by Red Beard Press. His poetry was vulnerable, political, and skillfully crafted. The poems were often conversational and contained clever linguistic surprises. Some of the themes in his poetry included seasons, college, sadness, identity, race, bilingualism (specifically Spanish and English), queerness, the cosmos, and politics. Girard seemed very comfortable in front of a crowd. His background in slam poetry was evident when he came alive with gestures and facial expressions, and how he manipulated sounds and rhythms in some of his poems. It was a delight to see the performance side of his work.


Some of my favorite lines I heard him read:

“My whole body is woven with stories”

“Fall up into the stars”

“My ribs are an earthquake”


His reading was followed by a Q & A and book signing. During the Q & A, he talked about his role as the 2018-2019 Ann Arbor Youth Poet Laureate, a position I was not familiar with. As a Youth Poet Laureate, he is conducting a social justice project, mentoring teens at the Neutral Zone, leading workshops on poetry performance and editing, and educating people about the diversity and power of poetry. He is also putting together a chapbook featuring works by youths of color in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. The chapbook will be released at the end of May.

During the Q & A, Girard also talked about his creative process as well as the differences between spoken word and page poetry. He usually determines whether a piece is meant to be spoken or not during his editing process. For his spoken pieces, he utilizes double meanings and wordplay, and he edits them so they can be easily understood when read aloud. Whereas for page poetry, he allows the poems to have more complicated meanings, which may only be deciphered through closer readings.

For poets who are just starting out, he recommends reading a lot because the field of poetry is diverse. Referencing other people’s work can expose you to unique ideas on what is defined as “poetry” and what “poetry” can do. He also says that “editing is most of writing” and that it is crucial to find a community through which you can receive feedback about your work.

You can purchase his book of poetry, Self Portraits, Mixed Media, as well as I Name This Body Mine (which features some of his work) both at Literati for $12. Also, be sure to read the reviews on the backs of the books, several famous writers have great things to say about Girard’s work. 

Upcoming Events featuring Aldo Leopoldo Pando Girard:

  • Ann Arbor Youth Laureate Commencement Performance:
    • Downtown Library
    • 5/23/19, 7-8:30 pm
  • Poetry Workshops: Mondays 4:30-6pm @ the Neutral Zone

REVIEW: Polly Rosenwaike Fiction Reading

I was really excited to see a full house at Polly Rosenwaike’s reading at Literati. She read the first story from her book Look How Happy I’m Making You, titled “Grow Your Eyelashes.” There was a Q & A afterwards hosted by her colleague, followed by a book signing. There were a few speaking points that really stuck with me.

One was Rosenwaike’s description of her writing process and timeline. She said that this book took her twelve years to write—which equates to about twenty pages per year. She is not a fan of outlines; instead, she often starts with an idea or a feeling, or she moves the story forward based on her characters’ motivations. This makes me think of the process for crafting a poem. The birth of most poems, from personal experience, begin with an idea. But because of the nature of poetry—how it is a culmination of linguistic surprises and skill—the poem unfolds itself as it is written. Poets often do not know what the finished product will look like. Once it is on paper, the poem seems to grow separate from the poet. This felt very much true about Rosenwaike’s work. Many of her short stories have been published in various magazines before she released her book. They have grown over time, and she has edited each narrative based on where each one wanted to go and what they wanted to do.

Another talking point that resonated with me was her process of choosing a title. She went through several ideas, some of which were rejected by her editor (such as “Baby Person”). Initially, she read through poems for inspiration. Eventually, she skimmed through her own stories and found the line that she thought was both intriguing and informative on the overarching themes and purpose within the short stories. “Look How Happy I’m Making You” was said by one of her characters who appeared in “Grow Your Eyelashes.”

“Grow Your Eyelashes,” and other stories in the book, interlaces the joys, griefs, and ironies of early motherhood. From wanting a baby, to needing a baby, people often romanticize parenthood. Even from the beginning, they search for answers. Do babies really make people happier? How do you care for this new living being? There are books and articles and poems and essays on how to raise a child. Motherhood propels people toward the search of information and the need for a community. As Rosenwaike said, infants are very much like birds. They flap and chirp and make a mess. They don’t yet communicate (at least well), and it can often feel like a one-sided relationship when you are a mother. It is not until later that the child begins to become “more human.” Motherhood and the domestic role of a woman comes with unforgiving scrutiny. How can one survive it without a supportive community?

Rosenwaike’s book is in conversation with Rachel Cussk’s A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother, and Helen Simpson’s Getting a Life.

You can purchase her book at places like Literati, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

More info on Polly Rosenwaike can be found here.  

PREVIEW: Aldo Girard Poetry Reading

Aldo Leopoldo Pando Girard is Ann Arbor’s Youth Poet Laureate. He was the feature poet for Poetry Night in Ann Arbor, and a member of the 2018 Ann Arbor slam team. He is currently studying vocal performance and civil engineering at U of M, and he spends a lot of his time at the Neutral Zone performing and engaging other artists.

He is releasing a poetry book that vulnerably explores the intersection of his identities as an Afro-Cuban born and raised in Ann Arbor. At the event, he will read from his collection, answer questions, and sign his books.

I think it will be really inspiring to meet a fellow undergrad who is fulfilling my personal dream of publishing a book. Come out and support him!

Location: Literati

Date: April 8th, 6pm

Admission: Free

PREVIEW: Polly Rosenwaike Fiction Reading

Polly Rosenwaike (a writer, reviewer, editor, and teacher) is reading her fiction pieces at Literati tomorrow evening. Her pieces are inspired by poems—which is an interesting jumping off point.

She has published a lot of stories in magazines such as the New England Review, Colorado Review, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013, etc. Her essays and stories have also appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and The Millions. Fun fact: she is the partner of Cody Walker, the director of the English Department at U of M. You can find more information about Rosenwaike here:

Location: Literati

Date: April 3rd, 7pm

Admission: Free



REVIEW: Dance Mix 2019, Tropical Paradise

This was my first time attending Dance Mix, and I was wowed. In many ways, the event felt like Acarush, the a cappella concert in September where 16 different student groups perform. At Dance Mix, fourteen groups performed: 2XS Michigan, Ambiance, Cadence, Element One, Encore, funKtion, Impact, K-Gayo-3, Michigan Ballroom, Michigan Manzil, Photonix, Revolution, Rhythm, and Salto. Each group approached their performance differently. Some used elements of humor, storytelling, Shrek’s movie soundtrack, or even lip-syncing.

It was a great event that showcased the variety of dance styles across campus. There was contemporary ballet, modern, hip hop (including breakdancing, funk, jazz, krump, and house), ballroom, tap, urban, k-pop, contemporary, jazz, bollywood, glowsticking, Chinese yo-yoing, etc. I never fully realized just how many different genres of dance there are.

I appreciated Dance Mix’s inclusivity of groups that might not otherwise be considered “dance” teams—such as Photonix and Revolution. Not everyone would consider glowsticking or Chinese yo-yoing as forms of dance, but I believe that they are. “Dance” means to move your body rhythmically and usually to music. Both performances by Photonix and Revolution exhibited musicality, and the performers achieved a high degree of skill in order to execute the complicated choreography. I have personally tried to twirl glowsticks but kept hitting myself instead of synchronizing my left and right hands. Now I appreciate the difficulty level of Photonix’s routines so much more.

A fun observation that I made was that there was a lot of collaboration across different groups. I often saw dancers appear in multiple performances. There was even one performance where two groups came together, coordinated costumes, and danced together.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the show was the energy in the room. Often, audience members would scream and cheer on their friends who were performing, or whistle when they were impressed by what was happening on stage. I noticed that the energy generally peaked when the performers exhibited striking skill and/or musicality. When a dancer’s sharp movements match the beats in a song, it’s pure magic. One of the performances with the most striking musicality was Cadence’s “Rain Dance.” Dancers’ crisp motion synchronized with the sound of rain drops. It was enchanting to watch.

Other aspects I valued in the performances was how they challenged and reshaped ideas on “masculine” or “feminine” movement and clothes. Dance Mix celebrated self-expression that traversed across both sets of gender norms. It was an encouraging space where performers could show off who they were and convey their emotions and passion to an audience. I loved seeing how each dance group embodied culture, community, and self-expression.

I’ll be back next year.


(Promotional video that gives you a snippet of the performance)