Around Town: Literary series will focus on trees, nature in Jewish poetry

NATURAL WORDS: On Sunday, Jan. 15, poets, starting left, Rachel Hadas, Maya Pindyck and Rebecca Aronson will read poems about trees or nature as part of Yetzirah's first literary reading of the new year. Photos courtesy of the poets

Jewish poetry has been at the heart of Western culture for thousands of years, says Asheville poet Richard Chess. “Think of the psalms and the work of the prophets.”

But the UNC Asheville English professor emeritus believes society has not done a good job supporting the work of Jewish poets for a variety of reasons, including antisemitism.

With that in mind, fellow Asheville poet Jessica Jacobs launched the nonprofit Yetzirah, the first literary organization in the U.S. for Jewish poets, in September. Among other things, the group holds monthly live/virtual poetry-reading events.

Yetzirah will present its first reading of the new year Sunday, Jan. 15, 5-6:30 p.m., at Congregation Beth Israel. Chess will host the event, featuring readings from Rebecca Aronson, published by Asheville’s Orison Books; Rachel Hadas, recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry; and Maya Pindyck, whose 2021 book, Impossible Belonging, won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry.

Because the event will be just a few weeks before Tu Bishvat, otherwise known as the Jewish “New Year of Trees,” the poets are invited to read a poem or two dealing with trees or nature, Chess explains. The holiday begins at sunset Friday, Feb. 5, and runs through nightfall the following day.

Before the participants read via Zoom, they will be asked to respond to the question “What is the relationship between Judaism and Jewish culture and your work?” Following the reading, audience members will be invited to remain for a conversation with the poets and audience.

“If there is one thing above all we hope to achieve, it is to offer audiences — writers and readers — an opportunity to engage with Jewish poetry by Jewish poets and to discover the many ways in which Jewish poetry can deepen our lives, whether we are Jewish or not,” Chess says.

Yetzirah will present its inaugural summer conference Tuesday, June 20-Sunday, June 25, in partnership with UNCA’s Center for Jewish Studies. The gathering will include generative workshops focused on Jewish questions and themes, discussion panels, craft talks, readings with faculty and a selection of established and emerging poets, Chess says.

Congregation Beth Israel is at 229 Murdock Ave. For more information or to register for the Jan. 15 reading, go to For more on the summer conference, go to

Documenting history

The work of the Community Reparations Commission is scheduled to last until at least spring 2024, and officials want to make sure its history-making efforts are documented.

To that end, the city of Asheville and Buncombe County will work with Artéria Collective, formerly known as Asheville Writers in the Schools and Community. The group is in the process of putting together a team of seven area eighth to 11th graders to produce written features, podcasts, videos, photo galleries and more to tell the commission’s story.

“Working with youth will bring a different perspective,” says Rasheeda Hall, community development specialist with Buncombe County. “Most of these young adults, if not all, were born and raised in Asheville and lived with a parent or grandparents who have experienced racial injustices. These youth have practice in documenting and know how to ask the right questions to get the information and stories to get to the truth.”

Founded in 2011, the collective originally focused on writer residencies in public schools but has since expanded to grow its mission of igniting social change.

In 2018, members of the teen program Word on the Street/Voz De Los Jovénes hosted Southside Stories, a community story-gathering project focused on residents of the historic Southside neighborhood. And the collective partners with Blue Ridge Public Radio for the StoryCraft Project, which celebrates narratives and stories from underrepresented youth.

“City and county staff have long recognized our ability to engage youth of color with arts, culture and storytelling,” says Elizabeth Garland, artist residency coordinator for Artéria.

The videos and podcast episodes will be released in phases, with the first two videos set to be released in March, she says.

“This project is vital to build trust, restore community input, capture authenticity, invest and nurture the leadership of younger generations,” Hall says.

If interested in one of the student positions, apply by Thursday, Jan. 12, at more information about Artéria, go to For more information about the Community Reparations Commission, visit

Off to Neverland

Asheville Junior Theater will present Peter Pan Jr. Saturday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m. at Diana Wortham Theatre.

Based on J.M. Barrie‘s classic tale, the play tells the story or Peter, Tinkerbell and the Darling children and features such songs as “I’m Flying,” “I’ve Gotta Crow,” “I Won’t Grow Up” and “Never Never Land.”

Asheville Junior Theater was founded last year by a group of Asheville parents who wanted to expand opportunities for children to participate in live theater.

The Diana Wortham Theatre is at 18 Biltmore Ave. Tickets are $20. Learn more at

School songs

Asheville Middle School will host Coverfest II, a silent auction and concert Saturday, Jan. 15, 5-10 p.m., at The Grey Eagle. Proceeds from the event will help raise funds for the school’s eighth grade field trip to Washington, D.C., in March.

Local businesses and individuals have donated items that will be available during a silent auction, while several local bands will perform mini-sets of cover songs throughout the day. Featured artists will include Jeff Santiago & Los Gatos, Thieves Like Us, Double Love & the Trouble, Franklin Keel & Friends and more.

The Grey Eagle is at 185 Clingman Ave. Tickets are $12. For more information, go to

Dark nights

NIGHT / VISIONARY, a five-artist exhibition, will run Friday, Jan. 13-Sunday, Feb. 26, at Tyger Tyger Gallery. An opening reception will be Friday, Jan. 13, 5-8 p.m.

“NIGHT / VISIONARY takes its cue from two central concepts: the nocturne — that is, art made about, or during, the night — and the notion of the visionary in art, wherein the imagery is suffused with added philosophical and mystical intonations,” the gallery says in a press release.

The show will feature the works of Los Angeles-based mixed media painter Josephine Close, Chilean artist Renato Órdenes San Martín, Toronto-based painter Kyung Soon Park, Chicago-based artist Christina Haglid and Richmond, Va.-based painter Eli McMullen.

Tyger Tyger Gallery, 191 Lyman St., #144, is open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, go to

Set a reminder

Asheville author and publisher Luke Hankins recently launched LitNotice, a submission opportunity reminder service for writers.

Those who subscribe to LitNotice will be sent a digest of links for submission opportunities the week they open and the week they close. Alerts are also highly customizable by categories, including genre, pay, type of opportunity, publication format and author demographics.

“I’ve heard so many writers say that they don’t have the time or simply aren’t organized enough to create and stick to a consistent submission calendar,” Hankins says in a press release.

A subscription to LitNotice is $5 per month. For more information, visit

New hours, new food

For the first quarter of the new year, Citizen Vinyl’s multipurpose gathering space will be open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. The spot was previously closed Mondays and Tuesdays and open later other days.

Session, the venue’s café and cocktail bar, is introducing a new menu featuring dishes such as a chicken salad melt, French dip sliders, Bavarian-style roasted pork, a baby kale salad with roasted root vegetables and a half grilled cheese sandwich with a cup of soup as a daily lunch special.

“By opening at 9 a.m., Session will be available to downtown workers and visitors for breakfast and coffee,” Citizen Vinyl says in a press release. Breakfast will be served all day, with pancake specials on Mondays, and food pop-ups will take place on Tuesdays.

Tours of Citizen Vinyl, which include the history of the 1939 Citizen Times building as well as the Citizen Vinyl pressing facility, are scheduled for Wednesdays-Saturdays at noon and 1 p.m; and Sundays at 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Private tours are available by reservation on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Citizen Vinyl is at 14 O. Henry Ave. For more information, visit


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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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