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Some of the greatest works of literature have emerged from times of crisis, and with most of the world in lockdown, we have more time to write than ever before. But where can we find inspiration?

Look no further than PEN to Paper, a video series of original writing exercises from authors of the PEN America World Voices Festival. Writers we love share short prompts to stir the imagination in these home videos. Our online audiences gain intimate insights into their favorite writers and their unique approaches to craft while putting their own pens to paper.

Mark NowakPoet Mark Nowak shares a poetry exercise he developed for reckoning with the pandemic at the Worker Writers School, a tuition-free writing program for low-wage workers in New York City at PEN America. “Coronavirus” is five syllables—exactly the number needed for the first line of a haiku. He guides viewers through the steps of writing haiku before sharing a chillingly prescient example penned by one of our Worker Writers prior to our nation’s uprising in response to George Floyd’s murder. Two Worker Writers, Lorraine Garnett and Christine Lewis, close with their own haikus.

Check out his video now, order his newest book, Social Poetics, on Bookshop and Amazon, and follow the Worker Writers School and their #CoronavirusHaiku Project on Twitter and Instagram.

About Mark Nowak

Mark Nowak’s books include Shut Up Shut Down (a New York Times “Editor’s Choice”), Coal Mountain Elementary (which Howard Zinn called “a stunning educational tool”), and Social Poetics, all from Coffee House Press. He is currently editing a revised and expanded edition of writings from the Attica poetry workshops of Celes Tisdale from 1972–1974. A native of Buffalo, Nowak is the founding director of the Worker Writers School and a professor of English at Manhattanville College.

About Christine Yvette Lewis

Christine Yvette Lewis is a leader, organizer, secretary, and cultural outreach coordinator with Domestic Workers United (DWU), where she encourages culture and art as strongholds in the work for social justice and domestic workers’ rights. As a worker-leader and multidisciplinary performance artist, Lewis has pulled from her Calypsonian roots and skills as a steel-drum player, spoken word artist, and poet to get her message out and build power. She has spoken out on initiatives like the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights at public venues like The Colbert Report. For eight years, she has helped organize a partnership between DWU members and the Public Theater’s Public Works productions of Shakespeare in the Park. She has participated in the Worker Writers School with teacher Mark Nowak since its inception in 2011.

About Lorraine Garnett

Lorraine Garnett was born and raised in Jamaica, West Indies. Her vocations include nanny, pre-school teacher, after school supervisor, and summer camp activities director. She is a recent member of the Worker Writers School, founded and directed by Mark Nowak at PEN America. Her first tanka was published in the Tanka Workers Collective Chapbook. She has read her work at the PEN World Voices Festival, Berl’s Poetry Shop, The Workers United Film Festival and The People’s Forum. Garnett lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her college scholars, Laurence and Paris. Currently, she has shifted her focus to writing coronavirus haikus for children.