‘Bittersweet act of resilience’: Artists organize events after Smithsonian cancels literature festival

Since the cancellation of the Asian American Literature Festival at the The Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center, organizers have been hard at work putting together a few smaller events to show their support for the artists originally scheduled to take part in the event.

Artists from as far as Australia had planned to share their work. After much uncertainty, the festival’s organizer enlisted the help of a few fellow poets to create space for the visitors.

The Smithsonian abruptly canceled the festival late last week because it did not meet the institution’s “goals for an in-person event,” according to Chief Spokesperson Linda St. Thomas.

In an open letter shared July 17, more than 70 undersigning festival partners and participants, as well as hundreds of signatories, condemned the institution’s decision, saying that “from the partners’ perspective, everything was on track.”

“The goal is to not necessarily recreate the festival … we’re ready to welcome all the writers who will be here,” said Regie Cabico, one of the organizers and a poet who has been called “the Lady Gaga of spoken word.”

Cabico will be hosting a set of authors at Busboys and Poets in Brookland on Friday, July 28, at 9 p.m.

“We’re just doing emergency calls in order for these very talented writers to have a rich and enriching, soulful time in D.C.,” added Cabico. “It’s sort of a bittersweet act of resilience and to show the Smithsonian that this is the heart of the festival.”

On Saturday, July 29, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Reach River Pavilion, he’ll host 10 artists at an event called “Willing the Rainbow to Fly.”

His fellow artist Dwayne Lawson-Brown will also host a few of the authors at Busboys and Poets on K Street NW on Thursday, July 26 at 8 p.m., during their well-known open-mic night. He is hopeful the evening will help amplify the artists’ voices.

“When there’s a will for artists to be heard, an audience will show up. I want these artists to have their voices amplified and to be heard,” said Lawson-Brown.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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