Oakland, Calif., poet laureate Ayodele Nzinga is one of four multi-disciplinary recipients of a 2024 Rainin Arts Fellowship, an award given to Bay Area creators by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation that comes with $100,000 of unrestricted funding and tailored support. Nzinga, who also goes by the nickname WordSlanger, received the Rainin for her work in theater, though her projects include a poetry anthology, The Bridge (Oso Perezoso Press, forthcoming), and a spoken word recording with cellist Mia Pixley and producer Sonny Smith, Ghetto Grimoire.

The three other Rainin recipients include Adrian Burrell (for film); Antoine Hunter, known as Purple Fire Crow (for dance); and the Filipinx American team known as TNT Traysikel (for arts in the public space).

Nzinga is most excited that the Rainin Arts Fellowship provides her with time—"time to make decisions, to be creative, to find some other way to get things done in the world.” Asked what projects she might prioritize, Nzinga joked, “I’ve been accused of being a serial programmer. I have a full-to-overflowing plate of work that can now perhaps happen in a more expansive way,” thanks to the award. Among her projects are a theater trilogy titled Government Housing, set to premiere this November, and the Oakland Women’s Network Television, aka TOWN TV, a plan to give her community’s artists greater exposure for their creative work.

The Bridge, a bilingual poetry anthology, will be the debut publication of Oso Perezoso Press, a new imprint founded by J.K. Fowler, former publisher of the nonprofit Nomadic Press. When Nomadic Press was forced to close due to a loss of funding in January 2023, Black Lawrence Press provided a home for most of Nomadic’s backlist and forthcoming titles, including Nzinga’s SorrowLand Oracle and The Horse Eaters.

Nzinga and Fowler, who previously compiled The Town: An Anthology of Oakland Poets, are co-editing The Bridge, which includes poets from Northern California selected by Nzinga and poets from Xalapa, Mexico, selected by Fowler. All the poems will appear in both English and Spanish, on facing pages.

Nzinga, who is in her last year as poet laureate of Oakland, said that The Bridge is a way to spotlight poets "in conversation" between California and Mexico. “In times of great chaos," she added, "what might be the grounding factors, the through points,” and the ways to build bridges across cultures?

“Oso Perezoso Press is interested in what is lost in translation,” Fowler said, echoing Nzinga’s bridge metaphor. He’s especially interested in cross-cultural linkages because, since 2022, he has lived in Xalapa, where he established a café and cultural center known as Bundo (on hiatus while a new location is established) and a residency space called Huerto de Osos Perezosos (“vegetable patch of the sloths”) that has hosted writers including mimi tempestt, Keenan Norris, and Javier Peñalosa.

Fowler expressed regret for the closure of Nomadic Press, but optimism around the new venture, which will focus on poetry while remaining open to fiction and nonfiction projects. “Everybody was sad [about Nomadic], including myself, but we ended it correctly—I was able to pay off everybody who was owed, and we didn’t want to take on books and then find ourselves with debts we couldn’t pay,” he said. “I want to move slower with this press [Oso Perezoso] and work on some of the cool things I’ve noticed in Mexico in terms of book art. I think people are longing for those tactile objects they can dive into.”

Oso Perezoso will explore “the untranslatable, the important but ultimately impossible attempts to bridge fronteras, the fact that despite this impossibility it occurs,” Fowler said. “We are interested in the paradox of being able to communicate while at the same time never being able to fully comprehend.” The Bridge, a publication developed with Rainin winner Nzinga, will amplify poets’ efforts to connect across borders and differences.