2017 Still I Rise Grant Winners & Finalists

The Coil
The Coil
Published in
5 min readJun 19, 2017

Winners & Finalists announced for Alternating Current’s 2017 Still I Rise microgrant for black and African American women and women-identified writers.

We at Alternating Current are pleased to present the winner of our 2017 microgrant for black women writers, Chavonn Williams Shen!

We had 117 applicants in this inaugural year, and the quality of the writing samples was stunning. From ancestry to natural hair to domestic violence to rap culture, the writing was intense, painful, honest, beautiful, educational, humorous, and impossible to choose between. We had to make some tough decisions, but we were so thrilled with the quality of the work. Chavonn’s personal statement (below) was haunting and eye-opening, and her writing samples churned with poetic phrase and unique voice. We’re so proud to share her work with you, and we look forward to watching her bloom in the literary scene. Chavonn receives a medallion, certificate, $100 microgrant, and publication of pieces with Alternating Current Press. Read her fantastic poem, “Alternate Names for Poetry,” published on The Coil.

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Chavonn Williams Shen is an educator and artist with a love of words. She was a participant in the 2016–2017 Mentor Series in Poetry and Creative Prose through the Loft Literary Center, as well as a 2016 fellow through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. She has participated in writing workshops like the VONA workshop for writers of color and has taught workshops for various grades, elementary through college. Outside of the classroom, she was a program coordinator for the Minneapolis Park and Rec’s city-wide poetry and spoken word program, Spoken Summer. Poetry has shown Chavonn how to use art to explore new worlds, build communities, and advocate for the marginalized. She will pursue her MFA degree in creative writing at Hamline University this fall.

On Being: Grant Statement by Chavonn Williams Shen

I was once asked, ”What’s it like to be Black?”

This was not the first time I have been asked this question, as I’ve learned to socialize through white spaces. But it never ceases to startle.

I replied, “I’m always supposed be something, rather than just be.”

Being a Black female creative in America, I am expected to be well-versed in Black media sources and intersectional feminism essays, and I am, to a certain degree. But this is considered an expectation, a requirement of sort, to fully identify as a Black woman in this world. In such situations, I think of W.E.B. Dubois’ book, The Souls of Black Folk. My identity is constantly measured through eyes other than my own, creating a fragmented self. This can be used to my benefit at times, because once I know what is expected of me, it is easier to exhibit exemplary behavior. Note that I said it can beneficial to do so, not empowering. Though I choose to be used, it is still being used, nonetheless.

As a Black woman, there’s a unique way that the world uses us in comparison to others. Not to imply that those of other identities are not marginalized, but there is a special kind of hatred the world reserves for African American women. Who we are presently is shaped by the lasting legacies of intergenerational violence from slavery. When compared to the struggles of African American men who are also shaped by the history of slavery, frustration of our circumstances is our shared inheritance. But what makes the two groups differ is that Black men can contribute to the violence Black women face. I do not mean to imply that Black women cannot harm Black men, but rather this violence is not systematic, it is not wildly accepted or encouraged. Violence against Black women is expected, which limits our likelihood of living, let alone our ability to exist.

And this is why I’m applying for this grant, to reclaim stolen agency. I am a Black woman in America where things that should be rights, such as safety, are consistently withheld. Things that others may take for granted, such as the right to just be, are a fleeting concept in my mind. That is why I feel the need to tell my story, in hopes that I can find a place to exist, not just on paper, but in life, too.

Congratulations to our runners-up and finalists:

Second Place Winner:

Almah LaVon Rice has been published in various anthologies, including ​The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South​, Black Quantum Futurism: Theory & Practice (Volume 1), Solace: ​Writing, Refuge, & LGBTQ Women of Color, ​and the revised edition of ​does your mama know?: Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories. Almah’s magazine writing has garnered a National Ethnic Media Award (informally dubbed “the ethnic Pulitzer”) as well as recognition on​ Utne Reader’s “Great Writing” blog and on​ Feministing. ​Her creative nonfiction is forthcoming in the anthology, ​Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries​, as well as These Black Midwives’ inaugural publication on Black women and tenderness.

Second Place receives a $25 microgrant, a medallion, a certificate, and publication of pieces forthcoming on The Coil.

Third Place Winner:

Jacquese Armstrong is a Poet/Writer residing in Central New Jersey. Jacquese’s first poetry chapbook, dance of the shadows, will be released June 2017 by GFT Press. She has been published in For Harriet, Black Magnolias Literary Journal, GFT Presents: One in four, and Ourselves/Black, among others.

Third Place receives a $25 microgrant, a medallion, a certificate, and the offer of publication of pieces on The Coil.


K. E. Garland
Robin Pizzo
Tiffany Golden
Rochelle Spencer
Christola Phoenix
Jonita Davis
Lisa Braxton

Applications are now open for the 2018 grant.

To donate directly to the 2018 grant, click here.

This year’s grant was made possible by 1977 Studio, Christina Collins, Susan Ito, Carlea Holl Jensen, Emily Walters, Maggie Owsley, and Amy Allen “given in honor of Caroline Lehman, an excellent teacher and human being.” This year’s design was created by Leah Angstman, with some graphics by Cherie’s Arts ’n Crafts.



The Coil
The Coil

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