This year marks the 20th anniversary of the CityLit Festival, a free literary festival for readers and writers. Curated and championed by CityLit Project Executive Director Carla DuPree, this year’s festival, in partnership with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, is back in person. This year’s theme, “Lifting As We Climb,” illustrates the nonprofit’s mission of “working to serve while we build.” It features a robust lineup of literary talent from Baltimore and beyond. 

If you’re curious about what’s happening at this year’s festival, Baltimore Beat has a guide for you. 

Featured guests include: 

Hanif Abdurraqib, poet, cultural critic, and winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Little Devil in  America, 

Fatimah Asghar (If They Come For Us) poet, co-creator, and writer for the Emmy-nominated web series ‘Brown Girls’  

Megan Milks, Lambda Literary Finalist for Transgender Fiction Megan Milks (Margaret  and the Mystery of the Missing Body),

Carmen Maria Machada (In the Dream House) – Introduced by CityLit’s new partnership with Hedgebrook, a premier residency for women writers.

Courtesy of CityLit Project.

CityLit Festival Lifting As We Climb | In partnership with the BSO, CSC, and Hedgebrook 

Date: Saturday, March 25 

Location: Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral Street

Time: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. 

What You Can Expect: CityLit’s 20th anniversary kicks off with a series of sessions, including one-on-one critiques, musical productions, a workshop, and a writer’s room. The one-one-one editorial critique sessions are $10 and require registration. The day closes with The Writer’s Room with Megan Milks, Carmen Maria Machado, and Hanif Abdurraqib & Fatimah Asghar. (Registration is required, but free to attend) 

Schedule of Events: 

10:00 am – 12:00 p.m. One-on-One 30-Minute Editorial Critique Sessions: 

Bret McCabe, Rebekah Kirkman, Chelsea Lemon Fetzer, Rosalia Scalia, Kathy Flann, Lisa Snowden. Come prepared to have your work critiqued and workshopped by local writers and editors. (Registration is required and $10) 

11:00 am – 12:15 pm

Of Mourning & Memory: Brown Girl and Muslim, The Poetry of Loss & Awakenings. Fatimah Asghar will be offering a reading and will be joined in conversation with Nasifa Isa. 

11:00 am – 12:30 pm 

Queer Possibility: Writing Catastrophe and Imagining What Comes Next. Featuring Tonee Moll, Rahne Alexander, Unique Robinson, Megan Milks, and Imani Spence

12:30 pm – 1:45 pm

Never Quite Like This. Hedgebrook will be introducing Carmen Maria Machadao in conversation with Nicole Shawan Junior. 

1:00 pm – 2:15 pm 

The ‘State’ of Baltimore: Shedding Light on Critical Issues

Featuring Joshua Davis, Alanah Nichole Davis, Lawrence Brown, and Nneka N’namdi

2:00 pm – 3:15 pm

Little Devils With Unchained Arms

Featuring Hanif Abdurraqib in conversation with Jason Reynolds

2:30 pm – 3:30 pm

Voices of Carmen

Featuring an original CJ Philip production and youth-centered, musical adaptation of the opera Carmen. 

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

A Visual Mapping of Your Story: How To Write What You See

A 90-minute craft intensive featuring Rosalia Scalia, Kosiso Ugeuwe, Shannon Robinson, and Sufiya Abdur-Rahman

3:30 pm – 4:45 pm

I’ve Been In Sorrow’s Kitchen: The Many Ways We Wear Our Grief. 

Featuring a procession of artists in an eclectic exploration of loss featuring Allen Xing, Kathy Flann, Mejdulene Shomali, Chin-Yer, Gayle Danley, Kisha Webster (Greenmount West Community Center), Kondwani Fidel, and Black Assets.

5:30 pm – 6:45 pm

My Broken Language

Featuring Baltimore/DC Bushwick Book Club. centering Quiara Alegría Hudes’ work with a musical interpretation curated by Sea Griffin, featuring Boy Meets Pearl, Lou Black, and Antonio Villaronga

Courtesy of CityLit Project

Featured Event: The Writer’s Room (Registration Required) – Come prepared to write in these three sessions led by this year’s featured speakers.

Megan Milks (1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m) 

Carmen Maria Machado (2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m) 

Hanif Abdurraqib & Fatimah Ashgar (5:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.) 

If you’re feeling a little hesitant about signing up for The Writer’s Room. Megan Milks offered Baltimore Beat readers some advice. Megan Milks is an author based in Brooklyn and one of this year’s featured speakers. Their first novel Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body was named a 2022 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Transgender Fiction. 

What advice would you offer someone who is hesitant or nervous to sign up for TWR?

I tend to be nervous at these things, too — nervous that no one will show up to talk with me! Please talk to me. I am here to share whatever I can with you about writing and publishing.

What is the best way that someone who signs up can come prepared to get the most that they possibly can from the session? 

Come with any questions, issues, and topics you want to talk through with me — whatever you think I might be able to help with given my specific writing and publishing history and knowledge. To that end, I have written mostly queer weird/experimental fiction and nonfiction, and published with mostly indie presses (and a wide range of literary magazines). I have experience editing anthologies — one anthology of essays relating to pop culture, and an academic volume of essays relating to a/sexuality studies. And I have published books, criticism and other critical writing on various venues. 

I’m probably not going to be able to help you land a major book deal — that’s just not my path or experience (or goal, tbh) — but I do know a bit about finding an agent, working with indie presses, publishing fiction versus nonfiction, selling novels versus collections versus anthologies, selling on spec (i.e., selling a book based on a proposal). I love talking about creative practice, craft techniques (I’m particularly obsessed with structure and point of view), reviews and criticism, and weird story ideas, weird forms, and queer and trans writing and publishing more generally. And research! I love talking about research. My writing projects have involved personal interviews, library research, on-the-ground and experiential research, and archival research (including digital archives such as Yahoo listservs and analog archives like the Beinecke and local government court records).

What would be your best advice to emerging writers and poets who are hesitant about sharing their voice and words?

When I find myself quaking with self-doubt, I think back to Michelle Tea’s essay “Explain” and her question, “why not me?” That essay is so great at making the case for contributing your writing into the world. For me, it’s also about the desire to share, which is, at heart, a desire to be known — and that’s terrifying, too. So I think just feel out where the anxiety and fear come from and see if you can’t let the desire to be seen and known and heard and read win out. 

Megan Milks. Courtesy of CityLit Project.

Catching The Light With Joy. 

Date: Tuesday, March 28th 

Location: Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater,  7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 

Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

What You Can Expect: Catching The Light With Joy will feature a reading and conversation with Brendan Basham featuring former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

Unshuttered Poets: Poetry At The Center of History & Remembrance 

Date: Friday March 31st

Location: Busboys and Poets, 3224 Saint Paul Street Baltimore, MD 21218

Time: 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

What You Can Expect: Kick off National Poetry month with celebrated poets at Busboys and Poets. Performances by musical guest artist Jahiti, along with Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize Lifetime Achievement Award winner Patricia Smith (Unshuttered Poems), as well as Ephraim, Neheimah, Zeina, Azzam, Sean Murphy, Katheleen Hellen, Tara Elliot and Master of Ceremonies Jalynn Harris. 

Teri Henderson is the Arts and Culture Editor of Baltimore Beat. She is the author of the 2021 book Black Collagists. Previously, she was a staff writer for BmoreArt, gallery coordinator for Connect +...