Inlandia: Past, Present, and Future by Cati Porter

People poured out of the elevators and onto the rooftop of the Riverside Art Museum last Friday night for the Totally Amazing Kickoff Event for the Marion Mitchell-Wilson Endowment for Inlandia’s Future. The invitation read, in part, “Marion would want you to attend.” With a 60″ banner of Marion flying at the entrance, she was definitely there, watching over all of us. Marion had many friends, and it was my privilege to be counted among them.

This was an event to remember.

With a drink in their hand, old friends and new listened to live jazz. Emceed by the #1 New York Times bestselling author Teresa Rhyne, and with speakers Heyday founder and publisher Malcolm Margolin, acclaimed photographer Douglas McCulloh, and award-winning local treasure and inaugural Literary Laureate Susan Straight (“There should be a statue!”), there was no shortage of talent present, and the space buzzed.

When the night was over, Marion’s wish had come true: We reached our goal of $100,000.

This is the power of friendship, and of community. I am in awe of all of you.

Some have asked what this endowment is going to do. In short, it will ensure the future of the Inlandia Institute and further the good work that Marion, Inlandia’s founder, set out to do.

Inlandia, since its inception, has provided hundreds of programs, and served many thousands, including creative literacy programs for youth.

SCIPP (Students and Coyotes Instruction in Poetry and Prose) at Bryant School of Art & Innovation in Riverside, a program created by Inlandia’s third Literary Laureate Juan Delgado, helps kids learn to write their own stories, songs, screenplays, and poems, present them in front of an audience, and allows them to see their work in print in a small book.

Other in-school presentations have included authors like Straight and Gayle Brandeis, inspiring the next generation to read and to write.

We’ve also brought puppetry programs to schools through Puppet Palooza, and writing workshops and readings to at-risk youth through a partnership with the Women Wonder Writers program.

Inlandia isn’t just for children, though; Inlandia offers creative literacy programs for adults, too. Our free creative writing workshops program has grown from one held in downtown Riverside to a half-dozen held at local libraries across the region, as well as an annual Family Legacy writing workshop for seniors and a Boot Camp for Writers series of workshops.

Inlandia also publishes books of local interest and national importance. In November of last year, we published No Easy Way: Integrating Riverside Schools – A Victory for Community by Arthur L. Littleworth, which tells the story of the 1965 voluntary integration of Riverside Unified School District, which spurred a series of community conversations that brought people together to talk through tough issues.

Coming in 2016, look for more books by local authors including the local signing sensations The Why Nots, an all-women’s musical group that has been performing together for forty-five years, and one on noted and noteworthy architect Henry Jekyl, who left a legacy of beautiful Riverside homes, and a few mysteries, by Dr. Vince Moses and Cate Whitmore.

In addition to those, we will also be publishing the winners of inaugural Hillary Gravendky Prize, an open poetry book competition with both a national and a regional winner, judged by award-winning CSUSB faculty poet Chad Sweeney. We are thrilled to announce that Kenji Liu (Monterrey Park, CA), was awarded the National prize for his manuscript Map of an Onion, and Angela Ina Penaredondo (Riverside, CA), was awarded the regional prize for her manuscript All Things Lose Thousands of Times.

Inlandia is also proud partners with local libraries and other arts organizations to provide other opportunities for literary engagement including the Riverside Public Library, where Inlandia recently began an outdoor summer reading series during Arts Walk, Literature on the Lawn; Poets in Distress, a performance poetry group, will be presenting on October 1. We also have a brand-new partnership with UCR’s Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts, the Conversations at the Culver series where just this past week we kicked off the series with Pulitzer Prize finalist and UCR professor Laila Lalami.

We also take pride in participating in community activities, from Riverside’s Day of Inclusion and Day of the Dead festivities, to the Native Voices Poetry Festival in Banning at the Dorothy Ramon Center to Western Municipal Water District’s Earth Night in Garden in April. Inlandia will also be a part of the upcoming Long Night of Arts & Innovation on October 8 and the Riverside Festival of the Arts on October 10, with interactive literary activities, including a Long Night of Arts & Innovation-sponsored Poetry Box: Bring a poem you wrote at home or write one on the spot and drop it in the box for a chance to win the Long Night Poetry Contest. One poem will be selected for publication on the Long Night of Arts and Innovation website.

Marion once said that Inlandia was “on the cusp”. I think whatever comes after the cusp: we’re here. Welcome to the future. Inlandia means a lot of things to a lot of different people. But to me, Inlandia means all of us. We are all Inlandia. Thank you.