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Breathing Fire Team Prepares for Nationals

Under the guidance of the ROC Bottom Slam Team, four Rochester youth will be heading off to the San Francisco Bay Area to compete in Brave New Voices, a national youth slam competition.


Background on Breathing Fire: Teen Poetry Slam:

Since September, teens from all over Rochester have been meeting twice a month at Press Coffee, with the Roc Bottom Slam Team, for writing workshops and slam competitions. Students earned points through these bimonthly slams to qualify to compete in the Grand Slam that was held on April 15 at Bread & Water Theatre.

The top four scoring poets from that evening were selected to represent Rochester at Brave New Voices, the national teen slam competition, in the San Francisco Bay Area in July. This will be the third year in a row that Writers & Books has sent a team of teens to Brave New Voices, where they have the chance to meet and compete with teen poets from all over the country.

This is our second year partnering with Roc Bottom Slam Team, as hosts of the program. These teens will spend the next two and half months writing new material—including group pieces—and rehearsing with Roc Bottom. This is a unique and enriching opportunity that we are thrilled to provide.

“The 20th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival will convene young poets from around the world for 4 days of workshops, slams, showcases, community service, and civic participation events from July 19-22, 2017.”


This year, Writers & Books is pleased to announce the four finalists representing Rochester in this year’s competition: Quentin, Mysfit, Rajae Barnes-Wright, and Jillian Tiberio.


Meet the team:


Quentin goes to Keuka College and has an on-campusus job there working at the front desk of his dorm building.
He participated in the Slam because he was on the Rochester team 2 years ago. He did not participate last year and will be aged out by next year.
“I just want to see my Poet friends and family again while still upholding and showcasing my truth.”




Mysfit is seventeen years old and attends Monroe Community College as a psych major. She started slam in the 9th grade after her cousins convinced her to come see what slam was like. That same cousin is now a proud BNV alumni. She has performed at open mics and slam events ever since and has not been able to lose the love she’s gained for it the first day she ever heard someone perform.


“Some of the poets speak on issues and situations that take courage and bravery to speak about. I wanted to do that. I wanted to have the effect on people that these poets had on me. I wanted to bring people to tears, to bring out emotions they wouldn’t expect just by listening to a poem. That’s why I do slam.”



Rajae Barnes-Wright

Rajae is 18 years old, attends SUNY Fredonia, and graduated from Eastridge Senior High Shool. He currently has 3 jobs including his own photography business. He participated in this slam because he was fortunate enough to go to BNV in 2015 which was held in Atlanta.

“Attending BNV was the best experience I’ve ever had. The people you meet and the atmosphere is just amazing. When I found out that I was able to compete in the finals I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. But also, as a poet, I feel like it is my responsibility to share my words/art with my community. I feel like there is a lack of people sharing their art form in Rochester, so I take every opportunity that I can to share mine.”



Jillian Tiberio

Jillian is 17 years old and a Junior at Webster Thomas High School, where she’s incredibly lucky to have an amazing art community through the literary magazine. Currently, she works at Michaels Crafts, both as a cashier and as a teacher for the kid’s art class. For the majority of her life, art, both visual and literary, has been a driving force. She draws the things she cannot write and write the things she cannot yet see.

“I was introduced to slam poetry last year, and I am so grateful for this to be my second year participating in Brave New Voices. In the past, I was quick to shy away from my voice, continuously allowing my beliefs to slip into the background. When I began writing and sharing slam poetry, I found a community that broke down any walls I had built, and my voice and thoughts and beliefs became the forefronts of my life. ”




Stay tuned to our website for more updates on the team as they prepare for nationals!

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Joe Flaherty remembers the great Russian Poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the great Russian Poet, died on April 1. He made an appearance at Writers & Books in the early 1990’s.
From Writers & Books founder Joe Flaherty:
“I knew about Yevgeny Yevtushenko and had heard about his reputation for being able to fill entire soccer stadiums in his native Russia for his poetry readings. He made occasional tours of the U.S. so when I found out he would be once more coming to America I jumped at the chance to get him here, and, unbelievably, he agreed to come! We booked the Nazareth College Arts Center for his appearance, knowing of his popularity, and filled its 1200 seats to the brim. Wandering through the lobby prior to the reading I heard a lot of Russian spoken, along with the usual English speakers.
Though he was fluent in English he had a translator with him so that he would be able to recite his poems in his native tongue. The highlight of the evening was his reading of his most famous poem, Babi Yar. He first read the poem line by line in Russian, alternating with the translator who would read each line in English. After that was completed, he read the entire poem in Russian, so we knew what it meant but could hear its entirety in his powerful native tongue. It was an unforgettable, electrifying experience. I urge everyone to look up the poem online and hear how powerful a poetry reading can be…”
For your ears: