Historical Profiles of Word Works Programs and Publications

The following thumbnail sketches provide details about how Word Works programs and projects were originated and who was involved in developing them. See the Washington Prize, Hilary Tham Capital Collection, Miller Cabin, and Young Poets Competition for additional historic information.


Under the art direction of Paris Pacchione, the Word Works has published books of outstanding literary merit in graphically beautiful editions. Press runs for books are usually 500 to 1000 copies. Anthologies are customarily 1500. Typically books are paperback with perfect binding.

Titles out of print include work by such authors as: Deirdra Baldwin, J.H. Beall, John Bradley, Christopher Bursk, Grace Cavalieri, Shirley Cochrane, Harrison Fisher, Barbara Goldberg, Elaine Magarrell, James McEuen, Barbara Moore, John Pauker, Paul Revenko-Jones, Edward Weismiller, Mac Wellman, and Nancy White.

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In 1989, The Word Works published Hilary Tham’s Bad Names For Women, as the first title in its Capital Collection imprint, which was developed by Karren Alenier. In 2005, it was renamed the Hilary Tham Capital Collection series in memory of Tham, who was a highly-esteemed Washington, DC, area poet, artist, teacher, editor, and mother. Tham served on the Board of Directors for The Word Works and, in 1994, became Editor-in-Chief.

In 2010, The Word Works began enlisting outside judges to select publications under this imprint. Judges include Denise Duhamel (2010), Gray Jacobik (2011), Cornelius Eady (2012), and Jeanne Larsen (2013).

In 2013, The Word Works expanded the Hilary Tham Capital Collection—to honor Tham’s legacy of involvement in the literary community—by inviting nonprofit literary organizations around the country to also nominate to The Word Works manuscripts for consideration from among their own volunteers.

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The International Editions signature has evolved from the Word Works anthology The Stones Remember, a translation of Israeli native poetry. The Word Works has published six books in this series: The Blue Door by Yoko Danno & James Hopkins, Scorched by the Sun by Moshe Dor as translated by Barbara Goldberg, Solomon Ibn Gabirol: A Bibliography of His Poems in Translation by Isaac Goldberg, Black Book of the Endangered Species by Vladimir Levchev, and Crow's Eye View: The Infamy of Lee Sang, Korean Poet tranlated by Myong-Hee Kim with original art by Janice Olson.

Special honors have accrued for several of our international books. The Stones Remember received a Witter Bynner Foundation award. The Association of Jewish Libraries selected Solomon Ibn Gabirol: A Bibliography of His Poems in Translation as winner of their 1999 Bibliography Award. The translations of Vladimir Levchev's poetry in Black Book of the Endangered Species was done in cooperation with Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Taylor. Crow's Eye View: The Infamy of Lee Sang, Korean Poet made its debut at a special reception held by the Korean Embassy in Washington, DC.

Crow's Eye View is the first English translation of Lee Sang, an international modernist who wrote many of his poems and stories originally in Japanese and not in his native Korean language. The original art by Janice Olson came about as the project began to develop with Myong-Hee Kim. Each of the 21 paintings published in the collection was inspired by the translations of Ms. Kim. Lee Sang's writings, controversial in his own time, reach beyond his native land, Asian culture, and his short life span (1910-1937) to speak in deceptively simple terms about the big issues facing any human being. Reactions from the Korean community in the United States for this project have been remarkable not only for the Korean community's great generosity in financially supporting this expensive fine arts book but also because many Koreans are saying they understand the English translation of Myong-Hee Kim better than than they understand the Korean that many of them read in high school in Korea.

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In the early '80s, the Word Works sponsored an oral history project, which recorded the development of the African-American intellectual and professional community in Washington, DC, between the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial and the 1963 "I Had a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. It included Marian Anderson's appearance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1938 when she was barred from the DAR Constitution Hall. The program conceived and led by Betty Parry culminated in a symposium at the Folger Shakespeare Library. That symposium, "In the Shadow of the Capital," presented the principals (e.g. Sterling Brown and May Miller) of that era to a new generation of Washingtonians.

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In 1989, when Christopher Bursk won the first Washington Prize that included book publication, he wanted to give something back to the Washington community. So the Word Works submitted and won a grant to fund a writing workshop in DC's main homeless shelter, the Center for Creative Nonviolence. Chris led the workshop and was assisted by Washington area poets, Patricia Garfinkel, Reuben Jackson, Kweli Smith, and Hilary Tham. Poems written by residents of the shelter and the participating poets were published in a chapbook entitled: Cool Fire.

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This anthology collects the translated work of native Israeli poets such as Chaim Gouri, T. Carmi, and Dahlia Ravikovitch. It speaks to the land and biblical stories of Israel. Publication of The Stones Remember moved the Words Works into the international literary arena. It is the result of colaborative work by the Israeli poets Moshe Dor and Giora Leshem and the American poet Barbara Goldberg. Many prestigious poets participated in the translation process which was funded in part by the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. Translators included such authors as: Chana Bloch, Shirley Kaufman, Linda Pastan, Grace Schulman, and Henry Taylor. The project received a Witter Bynner Foundation Award and was selected by Choice as Outstanding Academic Book in 1993. The book was presented and celebrated at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and its chancery in New York City.

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Between 1973 and 1975, Betty Parry presented nationally acclaimed authors at the Washington's Textile Museum including Sterling Brown, Lucille Clifton, Margaret Gibson, Allen Ginsberg, Galway Kinnell, Muriel Rukeyser, Reed Whittemore, Carolyn Kizer, Henry Taylor. The cover of this anthology is embossed with the head of a unicorn, a printing challenge that Paris Pacchione designed and executed.

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The Gunston Arts Center Poetry Series: "Shaping an Artistic Consciousness" and "Shaping an Artistic Conscience" included readings by celebrated and contraversial authors such as Ai, Carolyn Forche, Stanley Kunitz, Eugene McCarthy, Gregory Orr, Linda Pastan, Myra Sklarew, William Jay Smith, Kathleen Spivack, Ahmos Zu Bolton and many others. The Gunston Arts Center Poetry Series was the first venue in Virginia for an Ascension Reading, a series Ethelbert Miller established to promote emerging African-American poets. Presented at the Ascension Reading were Kathy Anderson, Gladys Lee, and Essex Hemphill. From 1980 to 1981, Betty Parry developed and coordinated this series that featured Washington area poets reading with nationally known authors. Word Works obtained funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Writer's Center.

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The Poet/Editor Series was a series of panel discussions held at the Writer's Center in 1983. The series, developed and coordinated by Betty Parry, included Linda Pastan and Peter Davison (Atlantic Monthly); Josephine Jacobsen and Maurice English (University of Pennsylvania Press); Roland Flint and Joyce Johnson (Dial Press); and John Hollander, Anthony Hecht, and John Irwin (Hopkins Press). Practical advice for how to get published was discussed. The Maryland State Arts Council provided funding for this innovative program.

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From 1984 to 1985, the Word Works sponsored a poetry theater series that combined music, dance, and art with poetry readings. The National Park Service at Glen Echo Park approached Karren Alenier, asking her to bring poetry back to the park. The staff at Glen Echo Park missed the activities of the Writer's Center which had relocated and also knew about the success of the Joaquin Miller Cabin Series. Performance collaborations included original classical music, choreography, and projected art images. Participating authors included Barbara Goldberg (1981 Washington Prize winner), Judith Steinberg (1984 Washington Prize winner), Elisavietta Ritchie, Chasen Gaver, and others. Occasionally, the Poet's Jam performance was concluded by a ride for the audience and players on Glen Echo's historic carousel.

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In 1999 as part of the 25th anniversary celebration of The Word Works, Karren Alenier developed Cafe Muse, a monthly literary series, at Strathmore Hall Arts Center in North Bethesda, Maryland. In the first year such poets as: Kenny Carroll, Barbara Goldberg, Reuben Jackson, Stanley Plumly presented their original work. Hosts have included Karren Alenier, Carl Banner, Moira Burns, Andrea Collins, Bernadette Geyer, Cynthia Hoffman, Brandon Johnson, Hiram Larew, E. Ethelbert Miller, Miles Moore, Terence Mulligan, Yvette Neisser, Judy Neri, Maritza Rivera, and Anne Harding Woodworth. Along with the policy of presenting excellent featured readers and performers, Cafe Muse occasionally presents programs that showcase other literary venues and publications. Most Cafe Muse programs provide an opportunity for open mike readings by members of the audience.

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The Arts Retreat in Tuscany, Italy, began as a writing workshop and travel program in 1996. Developed by Karren Alenier and Patti Absher of Great Travels, a firm specializing in trips to Italy, the retreat is based at Castello di Montegufoni. The castle, built in the Middle Ages, was visited frequently by Boccaccio and Petrarch who sought refuge there during the Black Plague raging in Florence. From 1906 to 1969, the family of poet Edith Sitwell owned the castle. Grace Cavalieri has served as the prime writing workshop leader during most of the retreats. The emphasis for the writing workshop has been on the creation of new work.

The following text is a poem written by members of the 1996 retreat. Each person who contributed to the work was asked to write a line without consulting any of the other participants. The order of the lines was randomly established as the writers lined up to write on a single sheet of paper that was folded each time to prevent contributors from seeing the other lines. For readability, the lines have been divided into stanzas.

Canto from Tuscany

The leaves have yellowed in the vineyard and the purple grapes are ready for harvest. From afar I see the nearness of true love. The crystal chip of memory is here.

On the hill above the ancient olive grove, I picked the deep lavender aster. I am with myself and the god within me in the ancient terracotta layers of Tuscany.

Mother Earth examined her surface in the mirror of the sky, centered her attention on the gentle undulations of Tuscany, and wore a quilt to blanket the world in many shades of green. A radiant smile that is in communion with the past, present and the future.

The long view of Tuscany seeps through the arched doors of the large ochre room, past the fragrant pots of pink geraniums, into the inner courtyard. Harmony of the senses, like the green and gray leaf of the olive tree, listening as she murmurs colors to my body, loving looking at your face, brings peace inside -- resonant with the cultivated variegated hillsides I see and call home.

One difficulty with poetry is to see parts of the world as like something else, rather than as they are. Less metaphor. To hear the bells better, I climbed the narrow ladder.

In alphabetic order, contributors included:

  • Karren Alenier
  • Pat Barnes
  • Grace Cavalier
  • Leslie Cohen
  • Jean Emerson
  • Fran Kaplan
  • Kesa Kivel
  • Lucinda Mau
  • Ruth Neubauer
  • Robert Sargent
  • Pat Wiley

    Other highlights of the retreat included outstanding country meals with wine from the local vineyards, half day trips to such towns as San Gimigliano, Certaldo (home of Boccacio), Luca, Sienna, and Fiesole. A full day was spent in Florence.

    The Arts' Retreat has been held annually in Tuscany since then.Ę For information about next year's trip scheduled for October 5 through 13, 2001, and led by Karren Alenier and Grace Cavalieri, contact Great Travels.  Be sure to include your full name and mailing address in all electronic message requests for information. Great Travels can also be reached at 202 237-5220 (voice) and 202 966-6972 (fax).

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The Work Works has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Witter Bynner Foundation, the Maryland Council on the Arts, the Virginia Commission on the Arts, the Batir Foundation, Hechingers, and others, including numerous private patrons.

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On May 9, 1990, George Washington University and the Friends of the Libraries officially marked The Word Works donation of its artisitic and administrative records to the Special Collectionsof the Gelman Library at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. This donation included books, art work, photographs, cassette recordings, video tapes, newspaper clippings, letters and reports. The archive project was developed by Karren Alenier in conjunction with the Poetry Committee of the Greater Washington, DC area whose by-laws supported the GWU Washington Writing Archive. The Word Works archive was funded under a Larry Neal grant from the D.C. Commmission on the Arts and Humanities. The grant provided funds for archival boxes, a printed brochure for the May 9 ceremony and small stipends for Word Works staff to organize the donated materials.

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In 1998, Sheri Mason, a Cultural Alliance Business Volunteer for the Arts, wrote a marketing plan for The Word Works that recommended development of a membership program and newsletter. Since 1998, Word Works has had an annual membership program with a quarterly newsletter.

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