‘30 Poems in November’ raising funds for classes, support for new immigrants

  • Fungai Tichawangana, a Zimbabwean poet from Amherst, is one of 99 writers particpating in the fundraising poetry writing event this month.  Photo courtesy of the Center for New Americans

  • Writer Janet Aalfs performed a poem with movement during a past reading showcasing the poetry of those involved in the fundraiser.  Photo courtesy of The Center for New Americans/ By Mary Ellen Kelly—

Staff Writer 
Published: 11/27/2020 5:55:40 PM

For more than a decade, the Center for New Americans has been inspiring everyone from professional authors to high school students to find their creative muses in poetry while raising funds for the center’s free classes and support services for new immigrants.

To support those classes, the center hosts an annual event called “30 Poems in November,” launched in 2008 through the efforts of Northampton Poet Laureate Lesléa Newman. The event features 99 writers who write a poem a day throughout the month. Past events have featured well-known published authors such as children and young adult author Joan Axelrod-Contrada as well as fantasy, science-fiction and children’s author Jane Yolen.

Laurie Millman, executive director of the Center for New Americans, which offers free classes in English for non-native speakers in Amherst, Northampton and Greenfield, said the fundraiser raised $58,000 a year ago. This year’s goal is $60,000.

“We’ve already raised over $40,000,” Millman said last Tuesday, with a week left. “We might be on target, which is remarkable.”

She added that funds raised from “30 Poems in November” directly supports the center’s free class offerings for about 120 students.

“Of course, in this current moment, everything we offer is being offered online,” she said.

Right now, the center offers a virtual face-to-face Zoom meeting every day from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. with three levels ranging from beginner to upper intermediate. There’s also distance learning classes that students participate in on their own time with a meeting once a week, she added. The center also offers career preparation support.

“It’s a lot of hours. It’s a lot of support. It’s a lot of technology. We lend students tablets. We buy hotspots for students who can’t connect,” Millman said. “We do get funding from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but it doesn’t cover everything. This program really supports us and all the students in our classes.”

Millman said on Dec. 8 there will be an online reading showcasing the poetic works created during the past month. The event is in collaboration with The Northampton Center for the Arts.

Danielle Thomas, a lecturer and Spanish minor advisor with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, helped form a Spanish studies group at UMass this year called “Salud y Bienestar en Pioneer Valley (Health and Wellness in PV), which offers virtual local spaces for Spanish speakers to join together and to ensure the health and wellness of their Spanish speaking community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we saw the initiative by the Center for New Americans, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to tie our regular meetings into something that is consistent with our goal as a group, which is to promote accessible opportunities in areas of language and communication,” Thomas said. “So for the last month, we have been meeting to create poems in Spanish, and also have had other community members provide poems in English to support this initiative. We created a website for our artists to showcase their work, and at the end of the month we hope to have 30 Poems in Spanish, Spanglish and English to spread widely in the community to raise even more funds for the Center for New Americans.”

Thomas said she views the center’s work as essential for newly arrived immigrants and refugees in western Massachusetts. “Newly arrived immigrants and refugees can really find themselves isolated if they do not have community support for language, socialization and communication needs,” she added.

Fungai Tichawangana, a Zimbabwean poet, journalist and web developer from Amherst, said this is his second year taking part in 30 Poems in November. Last year, he raised $575 for the Center for New Americans.

“It’s a great way to focus on writing poetry while raising awareness about a great cause,” he explained. “It struck me that my poems had made more money that month than they had in the previous 10 years combined. So I decided to do it again this year.”

This year, Tichawangana hopes to raise $5,000 for the center, he added.

“I am experimenting with various ways of presenting them — video, audio — to keep it interesting for visitors. My target is to raise $5,000 for the center. There is still a long way to go, but I’m pushing.”

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