Article in Miami Herald!

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Ode to friend best in show
A young Hollywood poet took home first place in a national contest for her words about friendship.

BY SHANNON PEASE
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
When Frances Aldana found out that she won the top spot in a national contest for a poem she wrote about her best friend, she did what any other 9-year-old might do.

“I started dancing around with my friend Kaitlin, yelling, `We’re famous! We’re famous!’ ” said Frances, a Hollywood resident and incoming fourth-grader at Hollywood Academy of Arts and Science. “We’ve been friends for a very long time.”

Frances won for an original piece she submitted to the Sourcebooks National Poetry Month Contest.

Kaitlin Landry, also 9, was surprised that she was the subject of the winning piece, and said one of the things she likes most about her best bud is that “she acts like herself.”

Nearly a decade ago, the two girls were at the same child-care center and have been by each other’s side ever since.

So when local poet and Broward College professor Denise Lanier gave Frances and her classmates an assignment to write about their best friend during an in-class poetry workshop, the words came easy, Frances said.

Easy to write, but not to remember, Frances confessed, as she struggled to recall the victorious verse that she wrote last school year.

“I didn’t keep a copy of it,” she said with a shrug.

Frances’ entry, which ultimately was submitted to the contest through Books & Books, won first place in the hip-hop category about best friends. Kids ages 7-10 nationwide competed in the contest, which also included silly, rhyming and nonrhyming categories. Entries were submitted by elementary schools and participants of poetry workshops.

Along with accolades, Frances will receive a personal visit and signed book this fall from award-winning author Nikki Giovanni, who has written more than 30 children and adult books, including Hip Hop Speaks to Children.

Frances’ mother Sarah Aldana said she couldn’t be more proud of her daughter, who also likes to dance, act, sing and paint. At their Hollywood home, Frances’ paintings are framed on the wall and her hand-crafted papier-mché masks are displayed in a glass hutch.

This summer, she tapped into her artistic talent by attending camp at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.

“She comes from a creative type of family. Even though the rest of us never won anything,” she said.

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About deniselanier

I am an educator & advocate, poet & performer, speaker & storyteller who believes in the power of narrative to transform & transport, create & connect. I was the shy, awkward girl who didn’t fit in, was often bullied, happiest with my nose in books, whose best friend was my dog. After being cast in a play in my teens I discovered a way to be comfortable in my own skin, bringing to life the words of a character. Costumed in make-believe I dared to be more of myself than I ever allowed off-stage; I claimed my voice. I spent most of my adult life teaching others to raise their own voices, through acting, creative writing, even slam poetry. When the diagnosis of MS intervened in my 30s I had to let go of acting, which is why most of my storytelling is now expressed through page and less “formal” interactions with stages. I devote much of my time to kids, teaching them to use words & imagination, developing authentic, resilient, remarkable voices. I endeavor to grow in my students the belief, the truth, that we are all artists & the change-makers in our own stories. My best friend still has fur & four legs. My mobility assistance dog is my constant companion, teaching assistant & muse to many. Luke is also chief partner in crime; I’m getting a reputation for stealing things. As inventor of a poetic form called klepto-collaborative, I pickpocket words & phrases from others, reshuffling & reshaping the puzzle-pieces into a colorful, storied mosaic of diverse voices. Taking something from every speaker at a conference in real-time, I craft a collective poem that highlights the messages of the day, repurposing ideas & refashioning stories, weaving them together in a manner that never loses the originality & spirit of the speakers’ themes. So while I may be a word thief, I figure being eco-conscious makes up for it. I’m available to facilitate wordy goodness in your community, school, workplace or play space. I like to think I have way of transforming annual meetings into something interactive, cooperative & memorable. Through my klepto-collaborative poems I aim to delight, to ignite conversation, and maybe even incite innovation. I earned an MFA from Florida International University, where I edited Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. I’m the founder of WordPlay, a poetry-in-the-schools project inspired by Dave Eggers. My poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog (a collaborative poem with the phenomenal Denise Duhamel), Wicked Good Life, and various anthologies. My non-fiction has appeared in the Miami Herald and my fiction has been nominated for Best New American Voices. www.deniselanier.wordpress.com & www.wonkybent.wordpress.com

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