MLC2015 Participants

Melissa V. Murray
IMG_27201-855x480Melissa V. Murray, Founder and CEO, The Cynical Owl
A Harlem native, Melissa V. Murray seemed destined for a career in filmmaking. Her mom, a cinematographer, introduced Murray to Hollywood classics at a young age; in junior high Murray joined the Ghetto Film School, a program in the South Bronx. There, she found her calling as a Director and Screenwriter. After honing her onset and business skills at Lee Daniels Entertainment and Cinetic Media, she launched her own production company, The Cynical Owl LLC, to produce original creative content that encompasses the Black American experience. She’s written and directed several original short films and is now working on her first feature. Melissa currently works as a Video Producer at Gawker Media.

Christian Smooth
SMOOZUS-388x242Christian Smooth is a native of Annapolis, MD he has had a lifelong obsession with storytelling. Christian is a December 2013 Morgan State University graduate, with a BFA in Screen Writing and Animation. Christian’s most notable film endeavor is his Web Series “The Student Body”. Has garnered acclaim and has been featured in film festivals. Besides storytelling and Filmmaking Christian is an accomplished runner, and the author of Mr. Illustrious.

Clairesa Clay
Clairesa Clay is a writer, award-winning filmmaker, and a film curator for over 15 years focusing on people of color filmmakers.

Amanda Johnston
Amanda Johnston earned her MFA from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, a Cave Canem graduate fellow, the founder of Torch Literary Arts, and co-founder of Black Poets Speak Out, a campaign that unites poets and allies to speak out against police violence.
Website:, Facebook:, Twitter: @amejohnston

Katy Richey
Katy Richey is the recipient of a 2014 Maryland State Arts Council individual artist award for poetry. She is a Cave Canem and Callaloo fellow and a Breadloaf Writers’ Conference contributor and is the current host of the Sunday Kind of Love reading series open mic at Busboys and Poets in Washington D.C., sponsored by Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

J.P. Howard
JP Howard aka Juliet P. Howard is a NY-based poet and Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the author of SAY/MIRROR, a debut poetry collection published by The Operating System (2015) and a chaplet “bury your love poems here” (Belladonna Collaborative*, 2015). JP curates and nurtures Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and Blog (WWBPS), a forum offering women writers at all levels a venue to come together in a positive and supportive space. JP is an Alum of the VONA/Voices Workshop. She is a Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow, as well as a Cave Canem Fellow in Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Facebook:, Twitter: @JPHoward_poet

Ellen Hagan
haganEllen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry Hemisphere was published by Northwestern University Press, Spring 2015. Ellen’s poems and essays can be found in the pages of Creative Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, She Walks in Beauty (edited by Caroline Kennedy), Huizache, Small Batch, and Southern Sin. Her first collection of poetry, Crownedwas published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. Ellen’s performance work has been showcased at The New York International Fringe and Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. National arts residencies include The Hopscotch House and Louisiana Arts Works. Ellen recently joined the po¬etry faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan in their low-residency MFA program. She teaches Memoir, Poetry & Nature, and co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. She is Poetry Chair of the DreamYard Project and a regular guest artist at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts and Cold Spring Harbor Schools. A proud Kentucky writer, Ellen is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women, and is co-founder of the girlstory collective. She lives with her husband and daughters in New York City.

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