The UCCS creative writing department and the Heller Center hosted poet Erica Lewis during her tour for her 2023 book “Mahogany” for the first week in November.
During her stay at the Heller Center, Lewis taught workshops in several English classes and read in a poetry reading featuring several poets from both UCCS faculty, alumni and the larger Colorado Springs community.
Lewis has authored several books, including “Murmur in the Inventory” and the first two books of the “Box Set” trilogy, “Daryl Hall is My Boyfriend” and “Mary Wants to be a Superwoman.” Her most recent work, “Mahogany,” focuses on Lewis’ experiences as her mother’s caretaker and her grief after her mother’s passing.
The evening at the Heller Center began with a quiet reception before the readings. During principal English instructor Catherine Grandorff’s acknowledgements, she cited the Faculty Revitalization Fellowship Program as a main contributor for making Lewis’ residency possible.
During a workshop session with students, Lewis introduced a prompt for attendants to participate in, which involved a playlist she had curated. The prompt required writers to listen through the entire playlist and write as it played. Senior instructor C.J. Martin kicked off the readings with several of his own poems, one which was born from the prompt.
Instructor Michael Ferguson followed Martin, reading poetry focusing on heritage, Black experience and the relationship between love and violence. Local poet and community organizer Nico Wilkinson then read several pieces representing their perspective as a queer person.
Following Ferguson was UCCS alumnus Irina Amouzou and their varied readings that commented on the dissonance of worldly chaos and everyday tasks.
Lewis began her time on stage by thanking the Heller Center and UCCS for her time on campus. “This is turning into a very, very beautiful experience for me … I cried in the shower the other night, I was so grateful,” she said. “I was thinking about how much my mother would have loved this.”
Lewis then read passages from “Mahogany.” Her narrative highlighted how widely the experience of grief varies, from her bouts of anxiety, depression, stress and general displacement of her own mental health.
In a moment after her reading, Lewis commented on how enriching a residency is for her, and what being on campus can do for her writing.
“I love going into classrooms and teaching … you can’t walk away from what students are confronting you with or asking of you,” Lewis said.
She noted that all the students she interacted with in workshops were engaged and generous, saying, “it’s more rewarding for me to be here than it is for the students.”
Lewis’ final word to students who are interested in writing is “keep going.” It was advice her college advisor gave her, which she considers invaluable now.
Lewis will continue her tour to the University of Denver. You can find her on Instagram @ericalewisfinein, and “Mahogany” can be purchased here.
Senior Instructor Michael Ferguson reading poetry at the Heller Center Poetry Reading. Photo by Kira Thorne.