Writers’ Group Spotlight on the Hibiscus Collective

Rakina Muhammed, Blanca Cruz, Fabu, Nydia Rojas, Jolieth McIntosh and Araceli Esparza

The Hibiscus Collective is a group of Madison women writers named for a genus of plants noted for their glorious, variously-colored flowers in warm temperate regions throughout the world. Members (in alphabetical order) Fabu Carter Brisco, Blanca Cruz, Araceli Esparza, Jolieth McIntosh, Rakina Muhammad and Nydia Rojas are dedicated to ensuring that multicultural voices are heard in oral and written traditions. The name was intentionally chosen to symbolize ethnic women writers as these beautiful flowers, also known as rose mallow or flor de Jamaica, that are found in all the continents of the world. We include all types of literary expression with two members from Puerto Rico, one member from Mexico, one member from Jamaica, one member from the urban United States and another from the rural United States. Hibiscuses grow plenteous in the places we grew up in as children. As a collective we are united through our love of literary arts and our decision to represent our unique cultures. We take the collective concept literally and utilize reading fees for projects that we support.

In 2006, we began talking to each other about the need to be a part of a writing group that allowed us the freedom to be ourselves as women and artists, as well as to hone the craft of writing. We began meeting on a monthly basis and meshed our ideas together to become a cohesive group determined that multicultural voices will be heard. After three years, we are still in the formative stages of implementing our vision, strengthening our infrastructure and building an artistic support base. Future plans include inviting women from other ethnicities to join. The Hibiscus Collective doesn’t meet June, July and August. We plan an Open House in summer 2010 to invite interested writers to lean more about who we are. The Hibiscus Collective understands that we are a part of the world community and we are committed to sharing our gifts and talents through readings, performances, publishing and teaching.

One of our favorite memories is our first reading together at the South Madison Health & Family Center-Harambee. Since our decisions as the Hibiscus Collective are collectively thought out and discussed, Harambee was chosen in recognition of Burr Oaks being the most ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood in Madison, along with our understanding of how this particular community appreciates the arts, although programming is seldom featured on the south side of Madison. It also seemed very appropriate to hold our first public reading in a facility that offers healing services. We made this public reading an extension of how rotating meetings in members’ homes are conducted. We brought delicious food to share at Harambee just like when members host the meeting at their homes. Araceli often shares Mexican cuisine, while Blanca includes Puerto Rican. A wonderful memory is eating Nydia’s summer food in her garden. Rakina always emphasizes unusual organic, healthy foods. Fabu cooks southern or African, and Jolieth cooks stunning foods from Jamaica with various textures and spices. She always includes fruit, especially avocado. When the meetings focus totally on writing, we agree to potluck so that the meal and cooking load is shared. Intuitively, we always have included food as a further extension of our cultures. We provided good food to our first Hibiscus Collective reading to Madison as an extension of the wholeness of who we are. Our newest member Blanca served as the Mistress of Ceremony and her young daughter read a poem too. Araceli read a poem about a braided life against the backdrop of a braided quilt installation on the wall of Harambee. And we each shared our poetry in our distinct lyrical voices. We had a large audience full of community supporters, friends, family, and church members along with wonderful coverage in the media with two articles in The Capital City Hues and The Madison Times.

Another agreed upon special memory is of Edenfred, located in Middleton. Edenfred is a magical mansion that supports Wisconsin artists as a retreat location. It seemed to symbolize the women of Hibiscus Collective as similarly hidden, nestled away in woods until one discovers a place of startling beauty. Edenfred is spacious and pleasing to the senses, and its profound quiet gave us time to reflect and feel even more like family. Edenfred afforded us the opportunity to privately search deeper while enjoying each other’s support more. We gained a perspective about the opulence of an interior artistic life that is possible for us as artists, no matter the inherent hindrances in America for women and for writers of color. Our only regret was that one member, Rakina, was missing so we plan to return again to write out the realities and the dreams of our lives.

This article, written together, best exemplifies how we operate together through working towards an abiding respect for each other personally and for each other’s artistic contributions. We strive to build consensus in our meetings as the Hibiscus Collective. We have enough similarities in our backgrounds to build on mutual social systems of how best to work together communally. We rotate leadership roles. As individuals, we span a spectrum that includes vision, organization, creativity, business savvy, determination and revision. We write and write and write. We share our writings and listen closely to on-point critiques that are received through relationships built on trust. Our next reading will be Saturday, March 20, 2010 in Women’s History month, on the first day of spring at the South Madison Health & Family Center-Harambee, 2300 South Park. Our future goals include attending conferences as a group to offer both artistic and cultural support to each other. We want to attend a Voices of the Nations Arts (VONA) conference in San Francisco in 2010, Room of One’s Own Writing Retreat in New Mexico in 2011 and an Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Chicago in 2012. The email for our group is hibiscuscollective (at) googlegroups (dot) com. We are in the process of constructing a website, but members are listed on the website of member (and Madison Poet Laureate) Fabu at www.artistfabu.com. In the Hibiscus Collective, women nurture each other as artists and in the flowering of our work, poetry and prose. We inspire and encourage each other to become better writers. We give each other hope that our voices will be heard, and we share our gifts and talents with everyone in Wisconsin.

Read work by members of the Hibiscus Collective...


What do I want?

by Araceli Esparza, Madison, WI

What do I want?

I want a border town here in Wisconsin.

I want to get back the two hours lost in this meeting and to be with my son before someone tells me to show them proof that we’re Americans.

I want las chavas (the girls) to keep on running around without explanation.

Most of all I want the woman who is without her child to know we are behind her and feel her pain but we cannot begin ....Read more & listen to the poem.


Living Herstory

by Fabu, Madison, WI

From childhood church recitals
funerals and musical occasions
to The Clouds of Joy and solos at clubs,
to international Jazz festivals
and Catholic Cathedrals
Mary Lou Williams ...Read more & listen to the poem


Christmas Sunday in Church with My Father

by Jolieth McIntosh, Madison, WI

Twenty years from that sunny land of my birth.
Twenty years from that sacred building with its mahogany pulpit,
choir seats and long benches.
Memories of vibrant Sunday School classes and Youth Fellowship
hikes on Red Hills
danced ...Read more & listen to the poem



(An excerpt from a novel in progress)

by Rakina Muhammed, Madison, WI

That smell.  It reminded Sam of Tomorrow. They say that when she arrived in Bamako, on the arm of Mousa Maiga, she was young and beautiful.  Tomorrow.  Maybe it was the first English word Sam learned.  She was from Tanzania.  Monsieur Maiga met her when he was doing research there, and was so captivated by her beauty that he took her as a second wife.  But she never bore him any children, and when he died in his forties, the first Madame Maiga finally released the rage that had stewed inside her since the day her husband brought that low class hussy ...Read more & listen to the excerpt.


Two Poems

by Nydia Rojas, Middleton, WI


A Sunday Walk At Indian Lake Park

As I begin my walk this Sunday afternoon, I anticipate encountering the small white frames, between 8 to 10 inches long, 6 to 8 inches wide and perhaps an inch deep. They are set on 5 feet high posts an about 10 yards or so apart along the trails. Inside each one there’s a poem. They are the main reason why

...Read more & listen to the poem


Fluttering among the pink, yellow
and white snapdragon blossoms 
the wings of the white butterflies
could be confused for just one more
blossom on the tall spikes......Read more & listen to the poem