Arts and Activism

What is the role of the artist during times of social upheaval and tumult? Elie Wiesel said “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” This is even more true, when it comes to the role of the artist in society. The problems of our society are extensive, and the voices of artists – playwrights, poets, musicians, performers – are essential to raising public awareness and giving voice to the issues, raising the call of dissent.

Founding Director of Hidden River Arts, Debra Leigh Scott, has been invited to give a presentation at The Davinci Art Alliance at 704 Catherine Street, Philadelphia, PA, on Thursday, May 21, from 7 to 9 p.m. where she will discuss the importance of activism in the arts.

Since its founding way back in 1931, the Da Vinci Art Alliance has been a dynamic organization presenting artists and their work, focus on community-based arts, cultural and educational dialogue for artists, individuals and families.

Da Vinci currently has over 140 members and holds exhibitions of members’ and non-members’ artwork as well as special events, workshops, performances, poetry readings, and lectures, and keeps its members informed on community events, news and opportunities. The mission of the non-profit artists-run organization is to support its members and to further community-based arts, cultural, and educational exchanges. I am proud to be offering my presentation there, since I’ve been fortunate to work with the many artists of Da Vinci, and admire the work that they do in supporting artists, the life of art, and the community.

Please join us at the Alliance. For those who are not in Philadelphia, Debra will be developing the program and offering the presentation in an online format – so stay tuned!


Eludia Award Finalists and Winner

The most recent round of our Eludia Award has been finalized.

McAlinden, Orla, The Accidental Wife and Other Stories WINNER (KILDARE, IRELAND)

Bolkvadze, Tamar, Fireweed (ANCHORAGE ALASKA)
Day, Diana, Metal and Bone (stories) (CALIFORNIA)
Ehtesham-Zadeh, Susan, American Moon (GEORGIA)
Normandin, Ricki, Island Rules (CANADA)
Turner-Yamamoto, Judith, Garden of the Dead (CINCINNATI OHIO)

The winning manuscript will be published on our Sowilo Press imprint. The prize also includes $1000 and ten copies of the completed book.

We’d like to congratulate Orla McAlinden, and to express our deep appreciation and gratitude to all our writers. The wellspring of talent we’ve been blessed to experience is truly astonishing.

Be sure to check back for our interview of Orla, and for further updates.

Eludia Award Semi-Finalists Announced

Greetings to all our Hidden River Artists! We’d like to announce that, after months of manuscript reading, our semi-finalists have been chosen for this most recent round of our Eludia Award. The Eludia Award is offered to a woman writer, age 40 or older, for her first book-length work of fiction – either a novel or a collection of stories. Guidelines and further information about the Eludia Award can be found here.

We were blessed this year with truly wonderful work from women writers living and writing in the U.S., Canada, France, England, Ireland, and Australia. Our sincere thanks go to ALL writers who have shared their work with us. We honor and celebrate you all.

Our semi-finalists are posted below. Our readers will be meeting again over the course of the next two weeks, to read and review once again, in order to announce the finalists. Please stay tuned to this page for updates!


Bohrer, Susan, Thy Neighbor’s Life
Bolkvadze, Tamar, Fireweed
Cochrell, Christie, Nude Against the Light
Cullity, Jocelyn, Mutiny
Day, Diana, Metal and Bone (stories)
Demme, Nancy, Ravenmocker
Downey, MJ, The Naturalist’s Book
Ehtesham-Zadeh, Susan, American Moon
Jennings, Nicola, Everything She Ever Wanted
Lautze, Tempa, Grievous Matters
Leary, Jan English, Eunuchs
McAlinden, Orla, The Accidental Wife and Other Stories
McClure, Meg, Rue – Twelve Stories
Methvin, TJ, Entanglements, A Compilation
Normandin, Ricki, Island Rules
Nye, N., Turtleback
O’Dell, Celeste, The Bridegroom and Other Elkhorn Stories
Peck, Marcia, Water Music
Polk, Victoria, The Blue Masque
Randolph, Anne, The Sweet Not Enough
Simic-Bentley, Silvana, Stored Memories
Smedman, Lorna, Moss
Turner-Yamamoto, Judith, Garden of the Dead

Mark Wagstaff wins the William Van Wert Fiction Award

Winner of William Van Wert Award in Fiction

Winner of William Van Wert Award in Fiction

Hidden River is pleased to announce Mark Wagstaff as the William Van Wert Fiction Award winner for his short story, “Some Secret Space.”

Mark tells us that he was born by the sea, and now lives in London. His stories have been published in journals and anthologies in the US and UK. Recent publications have appeared in Cobalt Review, Tethered by Letters and Prick of the Spindle. In 2012 Mark won the Machigonne Fiction Contest, hosted by The New Guard of Portland, Maine. In 2011 he won two UK first prizes, the Aesthetica Creative Writing prize and The Big Issue in the North short story contest. Mark has published four novels and a story collection. His second collection of short stories will be published by InkTears later in 2014. More information about Mark and his work can be found at his website:

Check back soon for a more complete interview with Mark.

The William Van Wert Prize in Fiction offers $1000 to the winning manuscript. Our next cycle ends soon – the submission deadline is June 30. See our guidelines for full submission requirements.

Meet Lee Edward Colston, II, winner of the 2013 Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award

Winner of 2013 Hidden River Playwrighting Award

Winner of 2013 Hidden River Playwrighting Award

We are proud to announce Lee Edward Colston, II, as winner of the most recent Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award for his play, Solitary.

Lee is a prison guard turned actor, playwright, director, acting teacher and author. After leaving his job at the Department of Corrections, Lee trained classically as an actor, receiving a BFA from the Brind School of Theatre at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Acting at The Juilliard School, as a member of Group 45. In addition to his talents as a playwright, Lee has appeared in over twenty-five productions, including Avenue X (7 Barrymore nominations), Cradle Will Rock (Irene Ryan nomination), Romeo & Juliet, SANKOFA, Once on This Island, and Katori Hall’s Hoodoo Love. He also starred as Harpo in the Broadway National Tour of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and as Othello for the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival.

Lee is also a second-generation Meisner trained actor and is a founding director of The Philadelphia Meisner Technique Intensive where he teaches acting technique. He has taught over 170 actors in the Philly, DC, & New York region.

In 2014 The Juilliard School named Lee as a recipient of the Jonathon Madrigano Entrepreneurial Grant to provide funding to PMTI to help offer more access to theater arts training in the Philly region.

As a playwright, Colston’s play Solitary was a 2009 winner of the Philadelphia Theatre Workshop PlayShop festival, where it received intensive workshop attention: work with a dramaturg, director and actors. His newest play Roost won the 2010 Life Media Award for BEST NEW PLAY in the Philadelphia Urban Theatre Festival. In 2012, Roost was later revived for further development by Ritual Theater Company for a reading starring veteren actor Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and Cheryl Freeman (Disney’s Hercules, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Dead Presidents) at the Ars Nova Theater & PS 122 in New York City.

His book of poetry Phenomenal Brotha: Blood, Sweat, & Ink was released in 2005.

Our Founding Director, Debra Leigh Scott, caught up with Lee on his summer break from Juilliard, here in Philadelphia where he is running his summer sessions of the Meisner Intensive, to talk a little bit about this play, and about his work.

DLS: “Solitary” was your first play? Can you give us a bit of its backstory?

Solitary was born during my time working in the prison system. I had the privilege to come in contact with a lot of different kinds of people. Those experiences helped to shape my artistic sensibilities tremendously. I wanted to tell the stories of the men and women I met. I not only wanted to tell the stories of the incarcerated men at the prison but also the people in my neighborhood of North Philly. I wanted to tell my story.

DLS: Before heading to college, you worked for a time as a prison guard in Philadelphia. How did that experience color your feelings about Jamal and Lucius*, two of your characters in “Solitary”?

LEC: I felt like working in that environment helped me to find where my voice lived and what stories I was interested in. Jamal’s story is not unique. It’s so easy to pass judgment on him. But I often wonder what were the environmental conditions that created him. Men like Jamal don’t just ‘happen’. There are outside forces that forge men like that into who they are.

DLS: The play is largely about the interior and exterior realities of Jamal, but it is also about the times in which we live, the prison pipeline, poverty and desperation. So, can you talk a bit about the atmospheric elements of the play – the prison, the decimated community, poverty, desperation?

LEC: I wrote those elements as I experienced them. I was raised in the neighborhood Jamal describes. I’ve seen what severe poverty, drugs and educational apartheid can do to both a person and a community. It’s heart-breaking. In neighborhoods like the one I grew up in, it’s difficult for anyone to see beyond the hurt and broken glass strewn about.

DLS: Are you familiar with Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow? She talks about the ways in which the mass incarcerations in this country quite successfully replaced the old Jim Crow society and culture. How do you see your play in light of Alexander’s work?

LEC: Yes, I am familiar with the book. I actually finished it recently. I feel like much of what Ms. Alexander states is spot on and Solitary is a poetic manifestation of that. I also feel like Solitary echoes the Allegory of The Cave by Plato. Both personal responsibility and institutional racism and inequity are in a constant tug of war with one another. While men like Jamal do have to take responsibilities for their action and overcome tremendous circumstances, we cannot dismiss the handicap and booby traps placed in front of them. 

DLS: You have a therapist in the play who attempts to interact with Jamal, to collect data, to make an “assessment” – what role would you say does psychiatry and psychology play in “pathologizing” our young men, especially young men of color, of impoverished conditions? 

LEC: Young men of color, especially those growing up in inner cities, face near impossible odds. In the age of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, it almost feels as if we’re living in a real world version of ‘The Hunger Games’. PTSD among inner city youth is real. These kids are growing up under similar conditions that soldiers at war face. But, unfortunately, there is no VA Hospital or any other kinds of services (other than incarceration) to help these young men cope with being constantly taught that their lives have no value in America. These young men are not anomalies or monsters. They are behaving the same way anyone of any race or ethnic background would when you take away access to good education, healthcare & social services, when you offer minimal employment opportunities, when you strip arts, sports, and music programs from schools, when you cram 45 kids into a classroom, pump drugs into the community, and train the police to shoot first and let the system sort everything out. I don’t care what your race or ethnicity is; if you live under those conditions, what can we expect to happen other than the results we see every day on the news?

DLS: What are your hopes for the play? What are your hopes for the young Jamals trying to grow up in the very difficult times of 2014 America? 

LEC: In all honesty, I’m not sure what I hope for with this play. What I know is that it has the power to start a conversation— with not only the Jamals of America but also those who have the power to tear down the structures in place that help to create them.

DLS: What are your own hopes? As a playwright. As an actor. You are about to enter your third year at Juilliard, to finish up an MFA in acting. Can you talk a little about your own personal journey, and about your visions and dreams for the future?

LEC: Every time I think about my personal journey I start to cry. I’m very fortunate. I could have very well been Jamal. Actually, now that I think about it… I am Jamal. I’m who Jamal could be if we remove even just two or three cards from that deck that’s stacked against him.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. What I do know is that whatever it will be, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

The Hidden River Playwrighting Award offers $1000 to the winning manuscript as well as a public reading of the winning play. Please check back for updates regarding the scheduling. Our next round of Hidden River Arts writing awards, including the playwrighting award, will deadline June 30. Please see our guidelines for further details.

Hidden River Playwrighting Award Finalists and Winner Announced

Hidden River Arts is happy to announce the finalists and award winner for our last cycle of the Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award.

Our finalists are:

Cole, William, “Odyssey’s End”
Reynolds, Andy, “Dark Hole”
Spector, Donna, “Manhatten Transits”
Sutton, Chelsea, “The Dead Woman”
Zimecki, Michael, “Negative Velocity”

We would like to offer our sincere congratulations as well as our thanks for sharing their work with us.

The winner of the 2013 Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award is:

Lee Edward Colston, II for his play, “Solitary”.

The Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award provides $1000 to the winning manuscript as well as a public reading of the winning play. Please check back with us about the scheduled date(s) for the reading.

Again, we wish to thank all of our playwrights for their generosity in sharing their work with us. We feel nothing but love and respect and gratitude for all of you, and your incredible talent.

Announced: Semi-finalists and Finalists of the 2013 William Van Wert

Due to the large number of submissions this year, it has taken a little longer to make our decisions. So many strong manuscripts and writers offer a wealth of talent, but also provide a real challenge! Congratulations to the semi-finalists and finalists named below. Please check back shortly, since we are doing one last reading of the finalists, and will be announcing our winner shortly.
Thanks to everyone who shared their work with us; we honor and cherish each and every one of you, and wish you the best of success in your writing.

The William Van Wert Fiction Award offers $1000 to the winning manuscript.

The next round of our William Van Wert competition deadlines June 30, 2014. Information and submission requirements are found here on our guidelines page.


Brennan, Joan, Such is her Power
Brennan, Joan, The Drowning Land
Brown, Laura, Made By Mary
Carey, Crystal, Husbanding Dreams
Cole, Douglas, Villagers
Connelly, Mark, Can’t You See the Walls?
Connelly, Mark, The Price
Coyle, Caryn, Grace
Early, Elizabeth, Backbone
Goodkind, Anna, Counting
Goodkind, Anna, Sevilla
Goodwyne, Owen, Tropical Tonic
Henry, Joy, Stillborn
Kann, Lydia, The Circle of the Whale
Kearns, Margeurite, Stand Up For Freedom & Put Your Body on the Line
Landt, Kris, Sun Jelly Pastures
Lewis, Steven, The Man Who Hated the New Yorker
MacGowan, Mary, Jane
McFadden, McKay, In the Hammam
Matthews, Kelly, The Memorialist
Merritt, Ave, Circa
Paige, Paula, Posslqs
Partington, Deborah, It’s What I Was Given
Partington, Deborah, So Many Sentences
Peterson, Paula W., Frances and Elana
Randolph, Anne, The Sweet Not Enough
Reyes, Ronny, 9.81 Meters Per Second
Rile, Karen, The Snow Queen
Sakariassen, Eric, Summer Place
Samples, Susan, Chekhov’s Toothbrush
Sarkis, Meli, Ah, Tamar, excerpt
Saxby, Katherine, Burntime
Scanlon, Seamus, The Tennessee Waltz
Selber, Lones, The Circuit Rider
Smith, Morgan, The Perfect Horse
Stegner, Lynn, In the Not-Too-Different Future
Stevens, Sally, The Unkindest Cut
Spafford, Roz, To Do With It
Stuart, Marley, Jack’s Guitar
Sulmers, Gail Gross, Family Vacation
Terence, Susan, Bean Alley, excerpt
Tiefer, Hillary, The City of Brotherly Love
Ullo, Karen, The Tree Behind the Carousel
Wagstaff, Mark, Some Secret Space
Waller, James, Premonition
Warah, Holly, My Mecca

Brennan, Joan, Such is her Power
Cole, Douglas, Villagers
Connelly, Mark, The Price
Goodkind, Anna, Counting
McFadden, McKay, In the Hammam
Partington, Deborah, It’s What I Was Given
Rile, Karen, The Snow Queen
Sakariassen, Eric, Summer Place
Scanlon, Seamus, The Tennessee Waltz
Smith, Morgan, The Perfect Horse
Ullo, Karen, The Tree Behind the Carousel
Wagstaff, Mark, Some Secret Space
Waller, James, Premonition
Warah, Holly, My Mecca

Once again, congratulations to all semi-finalists and finalists. Thanks to all of our writers!