Applied Words

Applied Words is a multidisciplinary platform for conversations about contemporary social issues. The series includes readings, exhibitions, theatre, dance, and musical performances alongside panel discussions that bring together artists and experts from different disciplines, fields of study, and experiential backgrounds to explore and reflect on a topic of current import. Each Applied Words event combines literary work with one or more other discipline or area of expertise to discover the shared language that emerges when multiple types of knowledge intersect, and to apply that language to charting new and unpredictable paths through historically entrenched conversations.


Performing Identities On (& Off) the Page:

Queer Femme Artists of Color

7:30pm, Thursday May 30th

Hairpin Arts Center
2810 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd floor
(Elevator available)

Drinks available for a suggested donation


Building on a conversation begun with last Fall’s Applied Words: Performing Queerness On (& Off) the Page, this reading and performance panel brings together three Chicago-based queer femme artists of color working across writing and performance, who use language, body, and voice to reconsider and confront the limitations and possibilities of identity in diverse ways. Through three unique reading-performances and a moderated discussion, this evening will explore the performative possibilities of writing to both materialize and transform the experiences and identities queer femme POC across a broad spectrum.




Unoma Azuah teaches writing at the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago. Her research and activism focus on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights in Nigeria. Recently, she concluded a book project on the lives of gay Nigerians entitled, Blessed Body: Secret Lives of LGBT Nigerians. Her writing awards include the Hellman/Hammett Award; the Urban Spectrum Award for her debut novel, Sky-high Flames; and the Snyder-Aidoo Book Award for her novel, Edible Bones.


Ada Cheng is a professor-turned-storyteller, performing artist, and producer of several storytelling shows. She was a tenured professor at DePaul University for 15 years and taught on gender, race, sexuality, masculinity, and immigration. She debuted her first solo show, Not Quite: Asian American by Law, Asian Woman by Desire, in January 2017 and has since performed it at Kansas City’s National Storytelling Conference, Capital Fringe Festival in D.C., Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis, Boulder Fringe Festival, and Kum & Go Theater in Des Moines. She has performed her second solo show, Breaking Rules, Broken Hearts: Loving across Borders at The Exit Theatre in San Francisco, Theatre Row with the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, and Theatre 68 with Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival in LA. Ada is the producer and the host of four storytelling shows, including Pour One Out: A Monthly Storytelling Series, Am I Man Enough?: A Storytelling/Podcasting Show, Talk Stories: An Asian American/Asian Diaspora Storytelling Show, and Speaking Truths Series. Her motto: Make your life the best story you tell.

AJ McClenon was born and raised in “D.C. proper,” and is currently based in Chicago using performance practices, sound, video, movement, theatre and writing to share experiences living in a Black body. AJ holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in creative writing from the University of Maryland, College Park and has also studied at The New School. A.J. is interested in leveling the hierarchies of truth and hopes that all the memories and histories that are said to have “too many Black people” are told and retold again.






Felicia Holman is a lifelong Chicagoan, artist, Prince fan, and a co-founder of both the Art Leaders of Color Network (ALCN) and Honey Pot Performance (HPP). After two years serving as Communications Director, Felicia was recently promoted to Director of Performance Rentals at Chicago’s venerable Links Hall. She also represents Links Hall on Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events’ Inclusion Committee for the 2019 “Year of Chicago Theatre.” Felicia creates, presents, and supports innovative interdisciplinary performance which engages audiences and inspires community. Her arts practice (“embodied storytelling”) is inherently community/communication-driven and informs her arts administration work. Felicia truly relishes her dynamic artrepreneurial life and sums it up in 3 words: ‘Creator, Connector, Conduit’.


This program is a part of the Guild Literary Complex’s Applied Words series of multidisciplinary events and conversations on contemporary social issues.

 Creative Freedom: Writing In and Out of Prison
Curated by Michael Puican & Michael Fischer

7PM, Wednesday, March 20th
Green Line Performing Arts Center
329 E. Garfield Boulevard, Chicago


A reading and panel featuring formerly incarcerated writers, and writers who teach in prisons, sharing their work and their perspectives on writing in prison, writing outside of prison, and writing about prison from both inside and out.

Presented in partnership with UChicago Arts & Public Life + Chicago Torture Justice Memorials

in connection with the exhibition
Still Here: Torture, Resiliency and the Art of Memorializing




Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit and Arc & Hue. She’s a co-editor of The Beiging of America: Personal Narratives about Being Mixed Race in the 21st Century and editor of Philippa Duke Schuyler’s long out-of-print memoir Adventures in Black and White. Her work has appeared in Poetry magazineEssence, NylonLit Hub, and numerous anthologies. Tara teaches a weekly poetry workshop through Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project at Stateville Prison and is part of the MFA faculty at Chicago State University and Stonecoast at University of Southern Maine.






Eric Blackmon was incarcerated for 16 years, and became a paralegal while locked up at Stateville Correctional Center. With support from his family and friends, he represented himself and kept his case alive, winning a hearing by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a rare and extraordinary ruling. In January 2019, his long legal battle ended when prosecutors dropped the charges against him. Out on bond since May 2018, Blackmon works as a paralegal with the Christian Lawndale Legal Center. A former student of the Prison Neighborhood Arts Project, he is also committed to supporting education in prison.



Michael Fischer was released from prison in 2015 and is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago. He’s a Moth Chicago StorySlam winner, a Luminarts Cultural Foundation Fellow, and a mentor for incarcerated authors through the Pen City Writers program. His work appears in Salon, OrionThe SunGuernicaThe Rumpus, and elsewhere, and his audio essays have been broadcast on CBC Radio’s Love Me podcast and The New York Times’s Modern Love: The Podcast.





Reuben Taylor is currently a resident of St. Leonard’s House after serving 47 years in prison. Reuben, the son of an educator mother and postal worker father, grew up in Chicago’s west side neighborhood of North Lawndale. Reuben graduated high school in 1968 and attended two semesters at a community college before enlisting in the Marine Corps. in 1968. Reuben was sent to Vietnam in April 1970 and honorably discharged in 1971. Reuben was incarcerated in 1972 for armed robbery/murder and was sentenced to 150 years in prison without the possibility of parole.






Mike Puican teaches poetry classes at the Metropolitan Correctional Center federal prison in Chicago, and at St. Leonard’s House, which provides support for formerly incarcerated men returning to the community from prison. Mike has had poetry published in journals such as: Poetry, Michigan Quarterly Review, and New England Review, among others. His new book of poetry, Central Air is  forthcoming at Northwestern Press.  Mike was a member of the 1996 Chicago Slam Team and has been a long-time board member of the Guild Complex.






This reading is a part of the Guild Literary Complex’s Applied Words series of multidisciplinary events and conversations on contemporary social issues.