Two local writers with insightful worldviews are being recognized for their literary contributions. Adriana Ramirez and Cameron Barnett are the winners of this year’s Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Awards.
They’ll be honored Dec. 9 during a public program at Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the ceremony begins at 7 p.m. featuring a musical performance by Bernice Johnson Reagon and her daughter, Toshi Reagon.
The accolades — named for Carol R. Brown, president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust from 1986 to 2001 — are co-sponsored by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. Recipients receive a beautiful trophy (a stained-glass piece designed by 2018 awardee Alisha B. Wormsley) and a $15,000 cash prize to fund their work. It is one of the few programs in the region providing philanthropic support to artists across all disciplines, from costume and set design to music and theater.
This year, for the first time, the public was invited to nominate recipients. That process resulted in 236 nominations for 100 different artists.
Ramirez, of Highland Park, is known for her slam poetry and nonfiction writing. She was born in Mexico and grew up in a Texas border town. She examines violence, race, politics, gender and culture both here and abroad. Her next project is a book — due out in 2021 — about the history of violence in the Americas. It’s a semi-autobiographical story that follows her grandmother’s life in 1948 in Colombia and ends in present-day Pittsburgh, exploring the ways violence in the South American country impacted the war on drugs in the U.S.
The monetary awards (she also received a $10,000 grant earlier this year from the Investing in Professional Artists program, a joint initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments) will allow Ramirez to travel to Colombia to do research, rent a workspace in Sharpsburg and pay for childcare.
Family history permeates her work.
“I’m inspired by people who take enormous risks. My mom and dad picked up and moved to another country when they were 28 and 33,” she says. “I think a lot about borders and how different countries affect one another. I’m curious about the small things we do that make a big impact on others.”
Barnett started writing when he was a student at Falk Laboratory School, where he now teaches sixth-grade history and seventh-grade English/language arts. His poetry explores the political, personal and cultural nuances of the African-American experience.
Currently, he is working on a critical analysis of American history in terms of race using his own heritage as a focal point. Like Ramirez, he was recently awarded $8,500 by the Investing in Professional Artists program to support his work on a second full-length book of poetry.
He was also one of nine poets whose words were included in the chapbook “Psalms for Mother Emanuel: an Elegy from Pittsburgh to Charleston.” That work was commissioned by The Pittsburgh Foundation and published a year after the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Barnett hopes the awards inspire his students to overcome their insecurities and write from the heart.
“I tell the kids to stop worrying about making sense and make a poem that they like,” he says. “Even if it is nonsensical and the images and the words collide in odd ways.”