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Queer Poetry Salon provides space for community-building, celebration

Queer Poetry Salon debuts first of quarterly reading series Sept. 19.
September 17, 2020

Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Equality Arizona partner to host quarterly series featuring queer writers

In Sarah Viren’s essay “How to Explain Lesbian Baby-making to Your West Texas Stylist,” she writes about finding herself, yet again, in the position of having to explain to someone outside the queer community that a family can be something other than nuclear.

When she read the essay last December to a group of other writers and literature lovers who had gathered in the backyard of a home in Tempe’s Maple-Ash neighborhood for the Queer Poetry Salon hosted by Equality Arizona, she felt a welcome sense of understanding and support.

“Often, as a writer, I feel that outside pressure to explain things that I wouldn’t normally have to explain within a queer circle,” said Viren, an assistant professor of language and cultures at ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts whose memoir, “Autobiography of Shadows,” is forthcoming from Scribner Books.

The Queer Poetry Salon is the brainchild of tanner menard, civic programming organizer for Equality Arizona, a nonprofit whose goal is to build the political and cultural power of Arizona’s LGBTQ community. The organization recently partnered with ASU’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing to host quarterly readings that promise to bring “a diverse, world-class cast of queer poets” to the Valley.

This Saturday, Sept. 19, the salon will feature the writers CAConrad, Raquel Salas Rivera and Cyrée Jarelle Johnson.

“They are each revolutionary in their own right, and they are all trans or nonbinary,” said menard, who prefers they/them pronouns and doesn't capitalize their name. “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say Queer Poetry Salon is one of most diverse reading venues in the U.S. We’ve had Indigenous writers, Latinx and Asian writers. I’ve made it a goal to include as many different types of people as possible.”

About a year ago, menard was living in Tempe when they befriended a group of MFA writing students at ASU and were struck with the idea for the salon.

“Even though the queer population is really huge in Phoenix – it’s bigger than Chicago and Washington, D.C. – people don’t interact the way they do in some cities. There’s not a lot of centers of queer life,” menard said. “So I created the thing that I wanted for myself, which was to have a queer community around poetry.”

Soon after the salon’s first few gatherings, often taking place on the lawns of amenable residents of the aforementioned Maple-Ash neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from ASU’s Tempe campus, it garnered the attention of the folks at the Piper Center.

“This partnership has been a great way to amplify queer and trans literary voices and support community-building for LGTBQ Arizonans,” said M. McDonough, outreach programs coordinator for the Piper Center.

“Being able to enfold community support with powerful creative writing is an important way the Piper Center serves the public,” McDonough added.

Writers in general can feel like outsiders, Viren says. For writers who also identify as queer, that feeling is amplified.

“Part of figuring out how to become a writer is finding confidence,” she said. “And part of that is finding a community that supports you, particularly if you’re queer and a writer. You already feel outside of what’s considered normal, so when spaces exist that support and celebrate queer identity, it can be really powerful.”

They can also be spaces where people whose identity falls outside of what the mainstream considers normal can be free of the expectation of performance.

“What needs to happen, and what’s starting to happen,” Viren said, “is that people with (a queer) perspective don’t have to tell one set narrative. … They don’t have to write about the coming out experience. They can also just write about being a lesbian and loving apple pie.”

menard says they weren’t necessarily trying to create something for the purpose of stoking social change, but that it wouldn’t be an unwelcome byproduct.

“You can call it activism and you can look at it that way, but at same time, it’s kind of like creating something that should have been there anyway,” they said. “And I think that people finally being in a position where they feel safe enough to do something like this in a place like Arizona, that is dangerously conservative and where some people are still violently oppressed, it can be a very powerful tool for queer people, and also people who are not queer to express their allyship.”

While the magic and ambiance of a chilly autumn evening in a backyard lit by string lights is currently on hold due to social distancing measures, menard says there are some advantages to holding the salon on Zoom.

“The beauty of the current situation is that anybody can access it now, and instead of bringing just one, we were able to bring three poets,” they said.

And even though salon attendees can’t physically clink their cups of cider in cheers, the sense of connection is still there.

“It’s not the same as being together in person,” menard said, “but there’s definitely still a special spirit and vibe with the salon. A lot of friendships have been made through it, and I think people have felt safe in it. So there’s definitely still that community-building going on.”

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

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Dreamscape Immersive, ASU launch bold partnership to bring cutting-edge virtual reality to learners worldwide

September 18, 2020

'Dreamscape Learn' to transform educational experience through exploration

Editor’s note:  This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

Dreamscape Immersive, the world’s leading virtual reality company, and Arizona State University, the most innovative university in the United States, have teamed up to transform education through exploration.

The new partnership, Dreamscape Learn, merges the emotional power of the best Hollywood storytelling with the nation’s leader in online and digitally enhanced education to deliver fully immersive VR learning systems to the ASU community and beyond.

Dreamscape Learn will add avatar-driven VR experiences to both campus-based and online courses, starting with introductory biology and eventually expanding throughout the sciences and beyond. The partnership will also include the establishment of immersive, experiential Dreamscape Learn Labs on ASU campuses, where students will work beside leading-edge science, arts and engineering faculty to solve problems, explore and engage with virtual worlds and spaces that are attuned to specific courses and disciplines.


With the launch of this educational partnership, ASU joins a list of Dreamscape investors and partners that includes some of the biggest names in media and entertainment, including WarnerMedia, Viacom, Disney, AMC, IMAX, Steven Spielberg, and Hans Zimmer.  ASU President Michael M. Crow said the partnership will push the boundaries and set the standard for how people learn in the 21st century and help eliminate learning gaps for students.

“We’ve always known there is huge potential to unlock new learning realms for students by merging VR — and all that it empowers educationally and socially — with advanced, adaptive educational experiences,” Crow said. “Through Dreamscape Learn, students of all ages will be able to explore completely different worlds and perform complex learning, discovery and problem-solving tasks that you wouldn’t be able to do in a traditional learning environment or lab in a campus setting.”

Dreamscape CEO Walter Parkes adds, “We believe that 2020 will be seen as an inflection point in the history of education — the moment when society recognized it had both the urgent need and the digital tools to provide first-class educational experiences remotely to a previously unimaginable number of students in previously unimaginable ways. We intend for Dreamscape Learn to be a uniquely important educational asset moving forward.”

The initial Dreamscape Learn experience built for ASU students will be based on Dreamscape’s first original VR adventure, Alien Zoo, which transports users to an orbiting wildlife sanctuary for endangered life-forms from the far corners of the universe. The concept was developed by Dreamscape Immersive co-founder Parkes, along with Academy Award-winning director and producer Steven Spielberg.

For Dreamscape Learn, the Alien Zoo will become an immense VR “laboratory” that allows students to explore, observe and collect digital specimens and solve problems that reflect the key concepts taught in introductory biology. Working independently or in teams, students will confront issues arising in real wildlife refuges on Earth, such as treating infectious diseases, managing genetic diversity and balancing food webs. In doing so, they will complete the requisite coursework for introductory biology in an entirely new, experiential way. 

A student uses the Dreamscape virtual reality Alien Zoo experience from his desk

Dreamscape Immersive has created and exhibited VR experiences with a revolutionary proprietary technology that enables a level of immersion never before achieved in the industry. Unlike all other VR companies, Dreamscape’s leadership comes from the worlds of Hollywood motion pictures, the Disney world of imagination and theme-park attractions, and global live music events.

Parkes and Crow agree that teaching, learning and discovery are at the center of our society’s ability to adapt to new and unexpected challenges. They are designing Dreamscape Learn initiatives with full academic rigor to empower student learning, enhance learning outcomes and accelerate technological innovations that will have broad societal impact.

With more than 230 learning and education technology partners, ASU has long embraced technology as an asset in enhancing learning outcomes, both by expanding access to a university education and by enhancing the learning experience. Dreamscape Learn will offer new opportunities for education through exploration, providing virtual and augmented reality for learning, direct links to human cognition, intelligent tutoring through verbal query, and tools for group learning.

Dreamscape Learn is expected to be available to students in 2021 with rapid expansion into other subjects by 2022.

Top image: The initial Dreamscape Learn experience built for ASU students will be based on Dreamscape’s first original VR adventure, Alien Zoo, an orbiting wildlife sanctuary for endangered life-forms from the far corners of the universe.