June 22, 2015 | by Bhanu Kapil, Carmen Giménez Smith, giovanni singleton, Hoa Nguyen, Lee Ann Roripaugh, Metta Sáma, Natalie Diaz, Sarah Gambito | 3 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This conversation, moderated by Hoa Nguyen, took place on March 29, 2015. Hoa sent out a preliminary list of questions meant to spark the conversation, but ultimately the frankness and depth of the conversation emerged as we realized that we shared many common experiences, concerns, and hopes. –Carmen Giménez Smith



HOA: So we’re coming together on my computer screen in this Google Hang Out. I love seeing glimpses of your spaces. Hello! Here, behind my head you can see a painting by Philip Trussell, a friend and artist with whom I have collaborated. It’s heavily cubist in influence, he named it something like P1030281Christopher Columbus comes to the Americas. I love it even as it’s kinda heavy for a bedroom painting–the abstract figuration and intersecting planes of color; there’s collections of steely blues and blunted browns, armored helmets, and faceless faces. Somehow, in the static creepiness of the figures, one apprehends the violence to place; he captures the energetics of takeover, of “vampire empire” as I am fond of naming it: the disaster of imperialism predicated on murder. This is in contrast to the other frame behind me. In it you can see two black and white photos of my mother, Vietnam circa 1959. One is a publicity photograph of her and four other Vietnamese women; they were a troupe of celebrated all-women motorcyclists in a south Vietnamese circus. The other photo shows her riding and  performing a trick on a dirt road somewhere in Can Tho. I sort of love that we can have her and her women stunt riders as a fortifying image for our gathering here tonight.

I’m Hoa Nguyen, and I’m a poet and a teacher. Previously, I have also edited a journal and a publishing imprint.  I curate a reading series that takes place in my home. I  also run my own school from my home, a private workshop that I’ve been doing for a long time. And I am a sessional, as they call them in Canada, at a university downtown. And it’s interesting in these different endeavors encountering my difference in the aesthetic considered as “experimental”, a community that can be dominated by whiteness. As I encounter my difference within these collections I’m both encouraged and discouraged on how do I invite or call attention to the dominating whiteness. So, that’s me. And I live in Toronto now.

CARMEN: I’m Carmen. And VIDA did a woman of color count, and although we know what the numbers are going to be like, I think a conversation about the different ways that these numbers affect women of color as opposed to numbers would add nuance to a really complicated conversation.

GIOVANNI: I guess I’ll go next. Giovanni. I began editing a literary magazine, an annual, “Nocturns, Review of the Literary Arts”. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also coordinate a reading series, poetry reading series, at UC Berkeley under the direction of Robert Hass. And, I’m interested in participating in this panel because I think it raises questions that I don’t exclusively think about because I work a lot and I feel like often times my energy is taken up with that more so than say reflection or engagement around these particular issues.

SARAH: I’m Sarah Gambito.  I am co-founder of Kundiman, which is a literary non-profit dedicated to the mentorship of Asian-American writers. We run a workshop retreat at Fordham University that for that last 10, 12 years has been poets only, but this year is our first combined fiction and poetry retreat. We also publish the Kundiman Prize in collaboration with Tupelo Press, one of the few book prizes, just for Asian-American writers, and we also do an oral history/creative writing project called Kavad, and we have readings across the United States. I’m also Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University and editor of our literary magazine,  called CURA and it’s interested in the sort of intersection of social justice and literary publishing. I’m excited to be talking to you all. I think it’s difficult to  keep doing the work you want to be doing and then also stand back and reflect on it, so I related to a lot of what Giovanni is saying.

I’m thinking about how important coalition is, and it’s good to be doing the work that we are naturally called to but that we can all do more if we think about ways of building bridges that make sense. So excited to be talking to you all.

LEE ANN: Hi, I’m Lee Ann Roripaugh. I’m Director of Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota where I co-direct a bi-annual conference, but also a reading series. In both of those I have a strong commitment to presenting diverse voices. I’m also Editor in Chief of South Dakota Review. I took over that journal in 2011 and when I did that, I rewrote the mission of the magazine as wanting to bring together aesthetic and cultural diversity. And so that has been a really exciting project for me to work on and also difficult too in the sense that there are preconceived notions about what kind of place South Dakota is.  I teach a graduate workshop in multicultural literature. I have problems with that term, and we start the course out with problematizing that term. But, that’s been a course that I really taught on the basis of intersectionalities, you know, the pull of race, gender, queerness and class, and how those various subjectivities don’t exist in an isolated vacuum packed bubble, but rather push and pull and inform each other so I’m very excited to be having this conversation with you here today and thinking about what that means too within the literary community in a very living, breathing way.

BHANU: Hi, I’m writing this after the fact, to say hi and introduce myself.  I’ve been teaching for 14 years at Naropa University, a white dominant literary community, a bastion of post-Beat/post-Language School avant garde practice — mostly known for its annual Summer Writing Program curated by Anne Waldman.  Very grateful for the opportunity to teach undergraduate and graduate experimental workshops in a totally unmonitored way — and to work through questions of embodiment and trauma with my students.   I have also taught part-time at another small, progressive MFA, Goddard College in Vermont, for ten years.  Parallel to this teaching, I’ve been producing narrative works that deal directly with race, you could say — or what it means to have a body “exposed” to view in the instant: of its particular “distress.” [Habeus Viscus: a vocabulary of radical otherness, re-looped.]  I notice that my creative writing has, increasingly, been influenced by the experience of the institution itself.  Am currently on unpaid leave from Naropa, just to take a time-out, but will re-enter as the Dean of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in July 2015.  [WAIT.  NO!!!!  I won’t.  Since I wrote this contribution to your already transcribed conversation, I declined the position and am now going to be teaching a Decolonization Seminar, with a focus on bodies, institutions and race, in Fall 2015.] Daunted about how to begin a conversation about race or, more precisely, create strategies for “a white dominant literary space” to become more self-reflective about its ambiguous politics.  How do you speak up about practices of appropriation, for example, that are fundamental to avant garde practices of various kinds?  Was very [which is to say, extremely] inspired by Eunsong Kim at a recent conference; her characterization of appropriation as relating to “colonization and body memory.”  In terms of publishing, I have started a small press called Durga Press with Mg Roberts, who is also part of the Kelsey Street Press collective in the Bay Area.  Our idea is to publish writers who feel like monsters in some way.

NATALIE: I do my work in publishing or presenting.  I travel a lot for readings and things, but I mix between Native contemporary politics issues like water and language and poetry. So, I run into a lot of different intersections of those things.

METTA: I’m Metta Sàma and I am the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Salem College in Winston-Salem, and Director of the Center for Women Writers there as well. I’ve been there for almost two years now. In the time that I’ve been there I’ve been trying to change . . . well, not necessarily change, I suppose take the Center back to where it was when Pam Uschuck was there, who organized a lot of festivals like the Black Women Writers Festival, the Hispanic Women Writers Festival, the Native American Women Writers Festivals. . . But for the past few years or so, according to the files in the office, the Center has mostly hosted white women. White women are also our primary  funders, and so it’s a little difficult for me to be there and bring the Center back to a place in which true aesthetic, regional, racial diversity exists. We’ve lost our audience since I’ve been there. We’ve lost our funding since I’ve been there. So I’m trying to find ways to get an audience back, when the writers we have coming in are not primarily Southern white women.

CARMEN: Maybe we can begin talking about different publishing experiences we’ve had: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ll begin I guess with a story that someone told me about sending a book to a press and then an assumption being made that because she was a woman of color that the book would have some kind of family story to it. And so this press, sight unseen said, “I don’t think it’s going to be for us,” because of that assumption.

SARAH: Okay, I have one. I sent some work years and years ago to a journal that happened to have an Asian-American editor. I didn’t even really know that. You know, I just sent the work because I liked the journal, and  he wrote back a note saying “These are good, but if you could send something that is about the Asian-American experience then maybe we can consider your work.”


CARMEN: Right.

SARAH: Write about a mango?!


HOA: Right, mangos.


HOA: Rice bowls, also, with chopsticks in them.


HOA: There was a period of time, early 90s? –where there were so many books by Asian-American authors that literally had the bowl of rice with the chopsticks in them as the cover.

GIOVANNI: The cover! Yes!


HOA: Yeah. Yeah.

LEE ANN: Well I remember when I– My first manuscript– I remember that one of my MFA mentors who was a white male, and he didn’t say it unkindly, but he said this book will be very hard to publish because it’s so political and, you know, it dealt with the Japanese-American internment experience in Wyoming and growing up mixed race in a Western landscape. And those were very autobiographical poems, and they were poems that directly dealt with those issues in a narrative way, so  it was interesting that he felt that they were too political at that time. And since then we’ve seen an insistence then that there’s this essentialized Asian-American performance that is commodifiable. I think of bell hooks and “Eating the Other”. And so, it seems like that is an issue that has been stressed like in the queer communities. Like, I think about the journal, “Bloom”, where you identify as queer and, it’s not like the work has to represent or perform queerness or perform it in a way that is identifiable to the dominant culture as representing a racialized experience. It’s interesting how there’s been that move towards certain performances become commodified and then one is asked to repeatedly do that performance in order to fit that external notion that that’s an identity, performing  it in a way that, is identifiable to the dominant culture as representing a racialized experience.

SARAH: I was looking at the different conversations– at the different questions, and one thing I realized, because I just, intuitively have just been doing the work that I do without thinking about why I do it, I think the question of how do we respond or hope to respond to systems that privilege male voices in our roles as artists and curators of color?”

I was really conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to wait to be recognized. For me and for other writers like me I felt that with Kundiman that I wanted us to recognize ourselves. And so I was 28 when we put that together. I wanted to concentrate my efforts on creating a space that I knew we needed as writers of color. And I just felt that it’s just gonna be so amazing and so beautiful that other people won’t help but have to notice. When I was in high school and  I forget who said this, and it’s attributed to eight different people but it really stuck with me: “That it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” I just thought “What can I do?” I think people are called to different missions. And for me it was “How do I create a space for Asian-Americans?

And when we look at selecting fellows for the retreat we make sure to balance across the races, across ethnicities, across aesthetics, across as many different ways as possible. Our goal is to admit as different of a class as we can because what we found over the years is that the fellows learn as much from each other as they do from the faculty. So, and Lee Ann was faculty for us so you’ve seen it first hand so–

LEE ANN: Yeah. Yeah, I did.

SARAH:  Yeah,so there’s that and then I’ll end by saying I’ve been wanting to move to partner outside of the Asian-American community lately so through Fordham we launched this program called Stay Woke for writers of all different colors and just to share stories on race and difference.

And so it was just about gathering those stories and putting them together without comment, but just allowing them to exist together. We’re new in terms of thinking about this kind of coalition building, but my dream was that we’d have a conference called “Kindred” of writers of color and it was just too hard. I think the thing is is that you have to, like, figure out where you are most called,, and try and do that work and then move out from that if you can. But it’s so hard to lead these multiple lives as women, as writers, as administrators.


VOICE: Thank you.

HOA: Thanks, Sarah. I liked what you had to say about joining coalitions. That’s something that I’d like to expand on. And Metta has just joined us. I’m hoping that her technology is working so that she can contribute. So, thanks for joining us for the time that you could.

SARAH:  I’ll say one last thing actually because Kundiman put together  a cross coalition prayer vigil online for Trayvon Martin as a Google Doc, and writers of all colors wrote for Trayvon. And so basically, at the appointed time the Google Doc exploded with everybody’s voices coming into it and writing for Trayvon as well. So I think that in this age of new media, we can build coalitions, like this call that we’re all on now, and we can explore how we can build together.

BHANU: Many years ago, a friend told me that her friend, the sole judge for the New York University Press fiction prize in 2000, had selected my book as the winner; however, when this judge presented her choice to the press, they responded that it “was not really a novel.”  And rejected her choice.  The judge resigned.  I felt strange that I never knew the name of the judge, and that the prize then folded, but also that my friend told me this without feeling comfortable about naming the judge.  Six years then passed before the book I had submitted to this prize, in a vestigial form, was published as “Incubation: a space for monsters”  by Leon Works.  During this time, a writer I admired asked to read my work then sent it back with a note saying: “Maybe one day you will be a writer.”  She was not impressed.  Neither, in some way, was another writer, also white, also a woman, who had [also] offered, very generously, to read my work but then responded in a way that demoralized me — with very similar language about how I would one day write a novel, but that this was not it.  That the this that I had written was unfinished or not quite there.  In practical terms, I think perhaps they were right, of course, but it has take me a long time to understand that the book, for me, is a series of rough, overlapping arcs.  And that I like that best.  That there’s a reason the language or narrative or image processes never came to fruition; never expressed or became something in time.   That form is a mark or trace of how the body has moved: through the world.  Or occupied space.  Though at the time, receiving that feedback — and we’re talking about a five year period in my thirties — I felt ashamed.

All of these are writers I admired.  Similarly, Coffee House Press rejected a draft of my third work, “humanimal,” in its novel form, saying something, also, about it not really functioning as fiction.  In fact, that was very useful; I returned to the work and re-wrote it as a failed grid — or let it fail, more explicitly, to form as fiction.  I am grateful!  Though at the time, when I got that rejection, at a time when many of the white writers in my immediate community were being published by Coffee House Press, I felt — once again, ashamed.  But also, when I think of that whole period, I wonder why I didn’t seek out a person of color to read my work.  My mentors, in fact, my true mentors — were, in time, my readers.  Who helped me to trust what it was and what the fragments were doing in my work.  Also, meeting Myung Mi Kim and Cathy Park Hong — being on a panel with them — at my first AWP — and having a public conversation about race and fragments and form: really helped.  The coffee we had afterwards: helped.  I should also say that during this time Kelsey Street Press published my first book, and though it seemed to disappear into a vortex or void of some kind — by 2006, it had gathered an alternative readership and this coincided with the return of my courage as a writer.  I began to wake up from the terrible feeling of not really being a writer with a capacity to imagine worlds or forms.  So much later, I understand that deletion is a trait.  The raggedness is a trait.  Of what writing might inherit and transmit.  As the deepest part of what it is or was.

CARMEN:  Wow, Bhanu. That’s intense, but not so surprising, which is why this conversation is so exciting to me. I think you all can imagine what these numbers are going to look like: the women of color numbers that VIDA is looking at. We’ve had– And there are a few different aspects of it that first of all we encountered because trying to do a count like that involves self-disclosure and so it’s been interesting going through that process: asking people to self-identify, but I’II suspect we all know what the numbers are going to look like. And so I wonder, first of all, if you could each talk a little bit about that and then secondly, talk about why you think those numbers exist from all perspectives because I think that there are lots of different ways to look at that issue.

LEE ANN: From my perspective as an editor, I have a feeling that the numbers are going to be dishearteningly low. And I know that in South Dakota Review‘s slush pile it’s slowly been getting better each year, but there’s a disproportionate number of writers that are submitting to the journal. And so, one of the things that counteracted that is that I do solicit submissions avidly from women writers and writers of color, from queer writers, and I’ve really kept the VIDA count in mind and taken it to heart, but I think that in terms of why, I think that it’s harder to place one’s work if one is handling multiple subjectivities. It seems there’s this sense that there’s a default universal poetics or there’s a default universal literary appeal and that if you’re writing from a female perspective or a gender queer perspective or a queer perspective or a racialized perspective, you are writing to a narrower niche as if your identity  doesn’t have that universality. And, so, there’s this sense that it’s more difficult to place your work perhaps.

GIOVANNI: Well, I would agree. And I think that from my perspective I actually have stopped submitting work.

NATALIE: They ask you.

GIOVANNI: And just, absolutely, because you submit work based on work that you’ve read in a journal, right? And if everything you read is left aligned, where does that leave you if your work is not essentially narrative or lyric, where does it go? So, just to save myself a little bit of heartache I put my energy more into creating the work that I want to create and hoping, I guess, in a way that editors will find me and thankfully and gratefully many of them have. And so people come to me knowing, or being more open to what it is they think or what their exposure to my work has been and what they’re interested in in editing and putting together. So I think when I look at those numbers I also think, and as an editor as well, “How many people of color are themselves, you know– are “absencing” themselves or not even participating?” And it’s not that I need to wait for an invitation. It’s that I’ve seen what’s already been there. And I don’t want to waste the postage, and I guess at this point the email energy, and, you know, to come away being disappointed or sending off work to a journal that says it’s innovative and really it’s the changing same. And still I want a story. And especially if you’re African-American I really want a story, but then if you give me the same story that’s not gonna be great either, ’cause I don’t want to hear about slavery. So, you know, it’s been really difficult, you know, when the numbers come out because I know that in some way I’ve contributed to the low numbers by not actually sending my work out. And actually, it is disappointing. It is disheartening. And as an editor I did solicit a lot of work and I was able to get a lot of work because I’ve found kindred spirits. There are other people who had their poems in drawers and did not feel comfortable or interested in sending their work out because they didn’t feel there was a place for it.

HOA: Right.

CARMEN: That’s an interesting perspective I hadn’t thought of before.

BHANU:  After the brutal early on rejection from Coffee House (with the proviso that Chris Fischbach just wrote to me, soliciting new work and acknowledging that earlier rejection, saying that he felt perhaps my use of language was something Coffee House had yet to catch up with, at the time they had passed on my work — a time when many of my white colleagues at Naropa were being published by them, as I said), I just stopped sending out work at all.  Now I only send it if it is solicited and if I feel a connection with the journal in some way.  It is always a mistake when I don’t follow that instinct, which is also the case.

METTA: It makes me think of the article that Hoa sent about the Griffin Prize. You know, one of the comebacks when the guy posted his list was that most of the people who were submitting to this prize were white so of course most of the people who were going to be on the Griffin shortlist were white. I think that that is going to be the response to whatever the numbers are from a lot of editors that people of color are not sending to their journals, and, you know, I think there will be similar kinds of responses that the original count had. You know, how are we going to identify who a woman writer is if we’re reading anonymously? How do we identify who writers of color are if we’re reading anonymously? One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is the Best American series that we used this year in this lit award class. And the Best American Short Stories does not have any selections by writers of color. And–

CARMEN: Not a single one?

METTA: No. And the series editor, Heidi Pitlor, wrote a note addressing the reader in a forward. And I’ve never read the foreword to Best American, but my co-teacher had read the foreword and told the students to read the forward and so I read it. But I thought it was interesting that she used the space of this forward to make a kind of 1980s, you know, white feminist argument that, either she herself really doesn’t know how to read the work of writers of color or that there were not enough journals specifically focused on writers of color sending work to her and that she invites these editors to contact her and send her work. And initially I went in and typed in  this invitation from her, and put it on Facebook as, you know, this way of saying, like, “Hey everybody, this is an invitation. This is your chance to send this work to this person who clearly wants to read it.” (EDITED by Metta to insert Pitlor’s request: “One other thing. I was more aware this year than usual that American short fiction, for so long primarily the domain of the privileged white, is becoming even more so. Voices of nonwhite and nonprivileged authors and characters are too rare. We need to do better. The short story has typically been the gateway form for young authors. Our MFA programs, literary journals, summer workshops, and providers of fellowships need to send representatives into different neighborhoods,  libraries and schools to seek a broader range of voices. If there are more proactively diverse magazines that I should be reading in addition to those listed at the back of this book, please let me know. My contact information can be found at the end of this foreword.”) And after I posted it I immediately thought, “Well, wait a minute. Why is it their responsibility to seek her out? Why isn’t it her responsibility as the main editor, this series editor for Best American Short Stories, to actually seek out every single publication that’s out there? So, I’ve been thinking a lot about that and this idea of whose responsibility it is to send work to journals, whose responsibility it is to read this work, and why we’re not talking more about a shared responsibility. But I mean my guess is that what’s going to come out is going to be finger-pointing.

HOA: Well, I’m a lot like Giovanni. I wait to be invited because then I know that there’s a context for me to arrive in the pages. Otherwise it feels– Well, there’s a whole other thing, you know, in terms of not wanting to stuff my poems in a bottle and throw into the ocean of randomness. I desire to have some sort of shared aesthetic. But it can be tricky too. There was one time when editors solicited me for some work to a political journal (and I just did some scare quotes around the word “political journal”). They asked me for work on the recommendation of another writer that I admire so I said, “Sure, great,” and I sent in some poems and they wrote me back this very officious rejection saying that “We here at (name of journal) like to be more anonymous in our critique of power structures.”


CARMEN: What is that?!

HOA: It means I’m not a white guy.


HOA: Right, because that would be–

CARMEN: That’s crazy!

BHANU: I am appalled!  How rude.

HOA: They wanted the speaker of my poems more “anonymous”, more diffuse, less located in history, less pointed. I took that to mean that they wanted a white voice, one that can comment on or become (colonize) everything and by being that be anonymous, rather than, an embodied person like myself who might have a history and a relationship to history that is maybe contrary to theirs.

CARMEN: I’m feeling confident you can trust the white man for the revolution. Feeling confident–

METTA: That reminds me of something that Orlando White said at the Thinking Its Presence conference, that he has been solicited by a lot of journals for experimental work and that they were looking specifically for Native American experimentation, you know, with no explanation of what this actually meant. And when he would send his work to them they’d say, “Oh, you know, it’s really just not right for us. It’s not really experimental or it’s not experimental enough.” You know, things like this. There are these benefits, right, to not submitting and to being solicited, but then there are also these downfalls to it, right? You’re opening yourself up to the whims of editors who exercise even greater power when they solicit your work; they create a box for you then they can decide whether or not you fit into whatever box they’ve created for you.

GIOVANNI: But I think that that’s one reason why I started nocturnes. It’s like I don’t see women as a point of reference, even in growing up. There’s always going to be a place for our work and that’s why it’s art, right. And I think that’s also why I put my energy into it. It wasn’t that, you know, railing against white people, or white poets, or white– I mean really don’t care about The New Yorker. I really don’t. I don’t need it in order to exist and in order to write. That’s not of interest to me. What’s of interest to me is bringing together work that I myself would be interested in and inspired by and knowing that the world does not look for one particular way, you know. So I feel really excited that there are lots of other people in the world who are waiting for and looking for other avenues, other ways of presenting their work to the world and whether or not a particular editor sees it or solicits it or not or creates a ghetto around it. It’s their shortcoming, and their problem, and their loss essentially. And I really don’t give a lot of thought to it, but I know in my engagements with other people that it has and continues to be quite detrimental to people who are heavily invested in believing that there’s a particular way, that you have to go to Iowa in order to be taken seriously or win awards and so on. So I am still thinking about putting together allegiances and working together, working with Obsidian and  editing special sections and just really trying to get the work out there. And, for my own sanity, I feel really excited and uplifted by that.Women_the_streets_are_ours

HOA: Yeah, I was noticing too– And speaking of having organizations join and forming coalitions that Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York is doing it seems to me from, just looking at the events, more and more collaborations with other organizations that are similarly formulated around identity and marked difference so that there will be presenters from Cave Canem alongside presenters aligned with  the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and it’s really exciting for me to see those kinds of ways of joining. And I’m wondering too, how do we– as feminists, as women, how do we also join with other feminists that maybe aren’t feminists of color. This seems to be a question that’s been on my mind a lot.

GIOVANNI: I don’t sit at that table.


HOA: Right.

GIOVANNI: I guess because it’s bigger than feminism. Being a woman is much larger than that. And I find that a lot of so called feminism are taking up that banner out of a certain kind of fear, you know, which I don’t necessarily subscribe to. I do think it’s important, but also in the same way that I look at race and also aesthetic differences, that to have this, sort of railing against another gender isn’t really productive or interesting to me either. But I think that it’s important to continue doing the work by doing it. And like I said before, I really haven’t had a lot of time to sit around and really think about it as opposed to  just being out the gate and doing it. But again, I do find that I’m really inspired but sometimes perplexed. Like, my work is in I’ll Drown My Book. And to this day it takes a lot for me to remember. Like, I keep looking for the guys in there and realize oh, you know, it’s all women! And, I mean, not to be silly about it but it’s like, oh, okay, it’s not something that I would ordinarily send my work to because it’s just for women. I will solicit it for that, right? But I do also find that it’s super, super important and I have actually enjoyed meeting people who are engaged in this sort of work and because of getting women’s work out there and having these kinds of discussions, I myself have not had too many face offs about it. I guess I’m too busy being African-American, but I don’t know. I’d like to hear what other people have to say.




tumblr_inline_nox2v9RPtb1syn61u_500Natalie Diaz is the author of When My Brother Was an Aztec. She grew up in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and enrolled in the Gila River Indian Community. After playing professional basketball in Europe, she completed her MFA at Old Dominion University. She won a 2012 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Literature Fellowship, a 2012 Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a 2013 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona where she helps revitalize and teach the Mojave language with the last Elder speakers at Fort Mojave.

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Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado.  Her most recent work is Ban en Banlieue (Nightboat Book: 2015) — prose accrued/built/sustained through performance and research practices of different kinds.



Sarah Gambito is the author of the poetry collections Delivered (Persea Books) and Matadora (Alice James Books). She is Assistant Professor of English / Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University and co-founder of Kundiman, a non-profit organization serving Asian American writers.



pear tree

Born in the Mekong Delta and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Hoa Nguyen studied Poetics at New College of California in San Francisco. With the poet Dale Smith, Nguyen founded Skanky Possum, a poetry journal and book imprint in Austin, TX, their home of 14 years. She is the author of nine books and chapbooks including As Long As Trees Last (Wave, 2012) and Red Juice: Poems 1998 – 2008 (Wave, 2014). She currently lives in Toronto where she curates a reading series and teaches poetics privately and at Ryerson University.


Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry, the most recent of which, Dandarians, was released by Milkweed Editions in September 2014.  Her second volume, Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press), was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and her first book, Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin Books), was a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. Roripaugh is currently a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review.


Sama tat profileMetta Sáma is Director of Center for Women Writers and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Salem College, where she teaches creative writing. Her latest chapbook is After After/After “Sleeping to Dream”(Nous-Zot Press).


giovanni singleton’s debut poetry collection Ascension, informed by the music and life of Alice Coltrane, received the 81st California Book Award Gold Medal. She is founding editor of nocturnes (re)view of the literary arts, a journal dedicated to work of the African Diaspora and other contested spaces. Her work has appeared in Inquiring Mind, Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, & Stories for Children, Hick Poetics: An Anthology of Contemporary Rural American Poetry and is forthcoming in Volt, What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America, and Best American Experimental Writing. singleton’s writing has also been exhibited in the Smithsonian Institute’s American Jazz Museum, San Francisco’s first Visual Poetry and Performance Festival, and on the building of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Carmen Gimenez Smith

Carmen Giménez Smith is the author of a memoir, Bring Down the Little Birds, four poetry collections— Milk and Filth, Goodbye, Flicker, The City She Was, and Odalisque in Pieces. Milk and Filth was a finalist for the NBCC Award in Poetry. She is the recipient of a 2011 American Book Award, the 2011 Juniper Prize for Poetry, and a 2011-2012 fellowship in creative nonfiction from the Howard Foundation. A CantoMundo Fellow and formerly a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she now teaches in the creative writing programs at New Mexico State University, while serving as the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Puerto del Sol and the publisher of Noemi Press.



  • Pam Uschuk says:

    In re: Metta Sama’s remarks: I tried hard to make the Center for Women Writers truly diverse in its outlook and actions, and the white audience turned away. I understand Metta Sáma’s frustration. When I was Director of the CWW, we brought in the Black community that had been largely excluded (de facto) by Salem. One white donor and the administration refused to attend a reading by Jaki Shelton Green, who had just won the North Carolina Governor’s Award. Prior to the reading, we received a voice message from the Salem College President’s Office, telling us not to use the term, “African American” about writers in any letters to donors. My African American Executive Assistant, Teri Hairston, first heard the message and played it for me. I was shocked, outraged. I quit Salem that year.

  • Cherryl T. Cooley says:

    So much in this conversation resonates in me and affirms a lot of conversations I’ve been having with myself in my head for the last 4-5 years. I am eagerly awaiting Part 2 and 3 of this roundtable. Thank all of you for sharing this. Thank Metta, giovanni and Bhanu for really cutting close to the bone for me.

  • Sonya Huber says:

    I just wanted to thank you all for organizing this conversation and for sharing it, as well as your work with VIDA. I teach undergrad and grad classes on “publishing,” and these issues are so vital for students and all writers to know and think about to understand that publishing is power and is political.

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