ROUNDTABLE: POLICING THE OTHER IN THE LITERARY WORLD
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
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CARMEN: Well, I guess, I mean, I don’t know. Do you guys want to talk about the presses and magazines and stuff, including the work that you guys do, that you think contributes and changes the landscape? Maybe that’s a better word. Like, not contributing. Maybe that’s the problem is we’re just contributing and contributing, but not changing much. And that seems like maybe what you’re saying.
HOA: Well, I’ll start just because I experience a lot of failure.
When I look at the reading series I curate I don’t like the numbers in terms of race though there is gender parity. Then I look at the poets who I teach in my private workshop where we write through a single author text–the format requires that it be a large body of work like an ample selected or collected volume–the numbers are pretty bad in that the poets have been white. And as a writer and teacher, when I approach these poets, I understand this as an act of stealing–as when Moten/Harney quote from Henry V in their essay on the University and the Undercommons. “To the university I steal/and there I steal”. Inside my writing lineage, among all these white writers, I’m there like a thief and I think that I teach as a thief and hope to transform things. But I question. At the University it’s different because I teach an entry level class on creative writing. Different format: I use a textbook that is an introduction to poetry written by a white man with a mostly white selection of poems. Then I teach 3 single author texts that are all by women, all of whom are Carribean Canadian/American. (As the Mongrel Coalition might put it: GOLD STAR!).
Meanwhile, I publish with a press that I love in every way but one. The history of their catalogue has been very white.
CARMEN: Do they know that? Do you think?
HOA: I feel that they are; I should ask. I’m noticing incremental change. But it feels very incremental and slow to change.
NATALIE: I have had it with Copper Canyon. And the entire office building is white at Copper Canyon. You know, they just took one of our first Native interns from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s there now with them. They– They really– I think the landscape there now has changed. And they’re taking chances on a lot of first book poets, poets of color and, I don’t know, that’s something that I feel really comfortable being able to talk with them about ’cause in the beginning I didn’t have that kind of relationship with them. And to be able to talk with them kind of in the context of business and poetry, but also just in the context of the place that they’re in and the audiences that they bring, you know, and just geography. And– But that’s been really important for me to have that relationship with them because it wasn’t something I could buy in to and feel good about until I felt like they could– None of them share any of my experiences, but just to be able to have that conversation and to be able to disagree with them and to be able to point thing out and say, “Hey, we went to dinner and while I was saying my own personal blessing the guy at the table kept asking me to say one for the whole table and that’s not the way I do things. And he’s–” [inaudible]. For example, something like that. But they’re very good about opening the door for conversations that aren’t always comfortable for some white authors. But that’s something I’m pretty grateful for: having that experience with them. It’s made a big difference for how I think about being affiliated with them in the future.
BHANU: I am very impressed by the conversations I have been having with Mg Roberts at Kelsey Street Press. This past weekend I attended an architecture and trauma symposium at Pratt; Anoo Siddiqi said something that made me think of liberal arts departments but also publishing co-ops: “MSF [Doctors Without Borders] is a self-critical organization that is interested in looking directly at its ambiguous politics.” How can I do that institutionally, or for other groups? Be part of what it might be to create a self-critical culture that is very cool, very interested in thinking about instances in which its own politics don’t match up? I don’t want to be complicit anymore. I am so inspired by Eunsong Kim, in particular, whom I have met for the first time this Spring. She gave an utterly brilliant and fierce talk at the Mongrel Poetiks panel at &Now, which I’ve stayed close to — as community issues around “body memory and colonization,” as she put it — arose.
METTA: When Herb Scott was alive– he was the founder and editor of New Issues Press–he had what felt like a very real and very private and personal commitment to himself as a human being in the world to publish voices from varying communities, just totally just different communities, you know, be it aesthetic diversity or racial diversity or regional diversity. And at the time, when I met him, I wasn’t thinking about race, ever. It just was not– I mean I thought about it, of course, because my parents grew up in the Jim Crow South and so they kind of made me think about it. But it wasn’t a thing that I wanted to be central to my life, but it was really central to his work, really, really important for him to have a press that reflected the worlds in which writers actually live. He sold the press to the university the year before he passed–he was very ill from cancer–I continue to look at their catalogue and the diversity isn’t as apparent. When Herb was living, our conversations about diversity were easy because we were invested in each other and in the press. And when he was no longer with the press I kind of felt like I wasn’t either. With other publishers I talk to them a lot about race. It seems like that’s kind of the only thing I talk about these days. It’s difficult to know me and not, at some point in our knowing of each other, have a real conversation about race and a real conversation about cultural differences, seeing the power in difference, whatever that difference looks like. I don’t think that it’s necessarily changed the way those presses do business. Maybe it has in ways that I can’t see, that I don’t have access to. Also, there is so much talk about money these days that I just think these presses are thinking about who they think they can sell their merchandise to.
METTA: Whose work is actually gonna sell, in their opinions. If they make 200 copies of a book, who has a following of 200 that those 200 copies will actually get sold to. . . In their opinions.
CARMEN: As a publisher, we publish a lot of different types of people, and many of the titles we publish by people of color are our best selling titles. They sell tons. But I think that that question is probably in the backdrop, right? But it’s a misreading of the market or it’s a misunderstanding of the market as opposed to being a verifiable reality.
METTA: I think that it’s also a question though of resources and access to resources, right? There are just some writers who have been friends for a very long time. They’re part of the same collective, be it formal or informal, who have worked with each other, trained each other in terms of getting an audience, having a readership, having a reader base. Where so many writers of color are often kind of floating out there on their own, especially now if you’re a black poet and you’re not in Cave Canem, it may feel like you’re just kind of floating out there on your own.
METTA: And even if you are in Cave Canem there’s an assumption that Cave Canem is just handing its fellows opportunities and resources.
CARMEN: Yeah, yeah.
METTA: Just practical information– a practical guide on how to negotiate the publishing world. And, of course, that’s not the purpose of the retreats. Most of this is a question of comfort: in this incredibly white publishing world, this incredibly what we think is a white readership world, who is more comfortable marketing themselves? I agree with you that I do think that it’s a misguided reading to think about what book is going to sell, what book is not going to sell, but I also think there’s the publishing reality of holding on to stock, and who has access to buyers. We need a field guide in promoting our own work.
CARMEN: Right. And I guess that does go back to the– I mean, I guess it does bring you back a little bit to the academy in the sense of, um, how many of us had teachers who were people of color.
GIOVANNI: Oh, forget it.
BHANU: Until this moment, I realize that I did not have a single teacher who was a writer of color. Is that true? Oh my god, it’s true. Wait, I took a four day workshop in a natural setting — not part of my graduate degree work — with Li-Young Lee a long time ago, though he did not say anything during our one on one session. He was amazing, but subdued.
CARMEN: But I mean, like–
GIOVANNI: Not any that were getting a salary, I can tell you that. They were all outside of the academy, you know, like visiting writers. Does that– I mean, Hoa, you were there. At New College I was constantly being pulled into conversations about efforts to diversify faculty and I basically said, “Look, I’m here for– to learn what I can learn. You guys were all white when I got here and you’ll probably be all white when I leave so let’s get on with it.”
GIOVANNI: And that turned out to be exactly the case. But in the interim there were people like Will Alexander, Harryette Mullen sat on my thesis committee. There were people like Lucille Clifton who essentially helped me through that and never did I falter because I was not under any illusion that– that things were suddenly gonna change because, you know, I moved to California and started an MFA program. It just– It just didn’t enter my mind and I kind of feel like it’s always been up to me to educate myself and to take advantage of whatever resources it takes to have a well rounded education. And so them not diversifying the faculty was not my loss, but I feel it was essentially there’s, which they don’t recognize. So, I didn’t– I didn’t feel at a– at a– at a loss at all. It just made me feel more compelled to find out what I wasn’t being taught, what I wasn’t being exposed to in the classroom.
CARMEN: But not everyone is as awesome, right?
CARMEN: And I guess, what’s interesting– And I don’t mean this in a pejorative way. I think one of the risks you take– you took, Giovanni, and I think it’s one of the risks we all took is that we operated from a sense of entitlement. Even though we were told in different ways, I mean, you have to be a little entitled to decide to be a writer, right? There has to be some undercurrent there– “I have a right to say something! I have a right to be heard in the world! I have a right to make something beautiful out of my ideas and my thoughts and my feelings, etc.” And so that creates writers. I think what creates readers is “I’m interested in this. I want to know more about this.” And so it might not be, like, entirely, like the sense of — What am I trying to say. Like, at the same time that we are– we’re not only training writers. We’re also training readers. Those readers aren’t necessarily hearing the voices– Not only the voices that existed, but the voices that were– become important. I was lucky. I went to school in California so I actually had, from California, even though there was all white faculty, I had a very diverse– we had a very diverse reading series. We had a lot of people coming through. And one of the very first people that I ever saw read was David Mura who wrote “Turning Japanese”, this really fantastic memoir about– He had one of those U.S./Japan fellowships. He talked about living on the margins and it was the first time– Or the early 90s– That I had heard about people talk about the margin and living on the margin and not being a little bit of this or a little bit of that. And that applied in lots of different ways to my thinking about how we sort of make ourselves heard and seen in the world. And so thinking about the young self that I was– I– I also studied with Elmaz Abinader who– That was my one professor of color. She teaches at Mills College now. And I’m so– That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been taught by her, because the first time I read a novel by an Asian woman was in college. It was Jessica Hagedorn. It was “Dogeaters”. First of all I thought, “This is brilliant,” and second of all I thought, “This is really weird that it’s not– That it’s–” It was so exotic to me at the time I remember thinking, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” How important it is that those– That even if I was a marketing major or a criminal justice major that those books still existed in the walls for me, or that I would have access to them, which is something I think you were talking about, Hoa. But also– And also I would add, something that I’m constantly thinking about. But I think that it also has to– that change has to happen a little bit higher. It’s a little bit above my pay grade to address it.
LEE ANN: Well, I think that in terms of publications– That’s part of why I wanted to make SDR so eclectic not just in terms of cultural representation or gender representation, but aesthetically too, so that it’s like a kaleidoscope where just all these different permutations are bumping up against each other and sparking against each other. Ideally, this means that a reader who’s published in “South Dakota Review” or the subscriber is not really gonna know what to expect and is also going to read something that cuts across their comfort zone or I hope challenges them either aesthetically or maybe surprises them or challenges them culturally in some way. I think– I don’t know. I think that’s the job of editing a magazine. I don’t believe in that sort of “cream will rise to the top” metaphor because it’s– I think that that actually posits a single aesthetic lineage that’s in tandem with dominant culture aesthetics.
HOA: Well, I think it also overlooks the invisible structures of power.
LEE ANN: Exactly.
HOA: I’ve long preferred curation, I think, like Giovanni. And one thing we haven’t really talked about is how one does this. As Carmen said earlier about her own initiative–that it’s also your own budget. I was recently talking about when I started a press that it was just like a kind of scrappy endeavour and it’s always sort of been like that, financed on credit cards and by gift economy. It was inspired by the Baraka/DiPrima collaboration Floating Bear, to make a magazine to send to your heroes and your friends and to publish your friends and publish the people you had admired that were your contemporaries to try to form some sort of nexus conversation. I think that’s something that I’ve long been interested and think that that might be that imaginary that maybe Metta was referring to. As in, how do you extend that rhizome? How do you extend those nodes of connection. It’s tricky. And another thing that we haven’t touched on, and we’re coming up on maybe some time constraints, but we haven’t talked about other sectionality of say class, queerness, ableness, and so on. So, just to throw everything out there.
Maybe not– Maybe not helpfully, but I felt it important to– We haven’t addressed those things. And I want to have that addressed at least, in the non-addressed. How do you work from within and how do you work from the outside? I’d be really interested in hearing people talk about that.
GIOVANNI: I’d be interested too, Hoa. I’m on the job market but managed the last 20 years to teach poetry in the schools to kids, Juvenile Hall– Like, piecing all of these different things together and also,right now, visiting writer at Sonoma State. I’m trying to figure out in between all of these different things what would it be like to be fully in the world of the academy? And what does that mean for my commitment to younger people, or incarcerated youth? You know, I do wonder about that because that to me is also extremely important along with just literacy. I mean, how can you possibly write if you can’t read? So I am very interested in how to stay alive even while trying to quote-unquote “make a living” from this power structure. And it seems that I’m being kept in this in between space for– you know, kind of feeling adrift and afloat though I love all of my work. In the long haul it’s just not going to be sustainable. So, I mean, I’d be extremely interested in hearing what other people have to say about that.
CARMEN: I guess being a poet– And I have two kids. It’s very expensive. Even if– I mean, even if you have a job. And I guess the diff– You know, I have a press. Like you credit card debt for having a press and a magazine. But I think that the economy is even going to make it even less and less possible for people who don’t belong to, and I would say a new kind of middle class, not the middle class of the 80s and 90s and Oughts, but like this middle class that is so small. It reminds me a lot of Latin American country sized middle class. Those are the people who are gonna have the most– What to call it? Room to decide to be artists. And that’s– That’s terrifying to me because that means that like a lot of– I mean, there are all kinds of artists that come from all different classes, but there’s a class imbalance in the art. And that gets tricky. And class stuff generally corresponds, often corresponds in the United States with racial stuff. And so it’s kind of bound up that there’s fewer people who are willing to say “I’m going to be a professor.” Because, you know, I’m not telling anybody it’s a good idea to be a professor. It’s a terrible idea to try to be a professor. I feel so lucky that I have a job I– At the same time, my job keeps turning more and more into Walmart. And so that means that fewer and fewer people of color and people from working classes are deciding to say “I’m going to be an artist despite all– because I can still figure it out,” which makes that cadre of people who are aestheticizing the world much, much smaller and much, much more specifically, which terrifies me. It’s the same people who run Google, right? Like, that’s the– I can either go work at Google or I can get an MFA, right? I guess that’s the intersectionality that makes– that brings that up for me, Hoa.
LEE ANN: And, I mean, that’s the conversation that I’ve seen appearing for the first time, that, you know, has been an uncomfortable conversation around poetry. You know, who has money or who has not or just literature in general in terms of just the basic sort of time, the luxury of time and space to produce work and focus on it let alone, do the– You know, supporting your work by– by travelling. I do a lot of readings out of pocket. I get– I’m very lucky. I get invited to do readings so I’m paid for. But, I mean, it’s– That question has started to become transparent for the first time. And it’s an uncomfortable question, a resonant one, I feel.
METTA: I’m trying to remember who said that being a writer is actually the least expensive art that you can engage with. All you need is paper and a pencil. This proliferation of MFA programs and a newer proliferation of PhD programs is making the conversation feel newer than it has felt to me.The question of how any of us can house ourselves and house our families and have health care and feed ourselves and have a life beyond the life of our paycheck is as incredibly old hat. I disagree that one is entitled just because they decide that they’re going to be an artist. It would mean that you’re entitled because you decide that you’re going to be anything in the world. I’m thinking about this question that Giovanni posed about being tethered. The academy provides this landing ground, this space that we can be stable in and grow in. It’s also the space that kills black women. There are so many black women who die from cancer who have given their lives to the academy. What has the MFA done to change the way that we think about career. Why is going into the academy the kind of almost default position of being a writer? When I was living in New York and I was working as an adjunct faculty member, I would often think: “You know, I’m gonna give this one more year and then I’m going to go work for MTA,” because they pay well, they have really great benefits, you have a schedule that you’re on. Or I’ll work in a bank as a teller. Bhanu made this comment at the Thinking Its Presence Conference about looking in to becoming an X-ray technician, because they just make so much money and you have this set schedule. I’m thinking about these things all the time. There are so many other careers that we could have. There are so many other jobs that we could have, and yet there’s this glossy thing called the academic institution, which isn’t actually glossy once you get inside of it.
BHANU: And I should add that I did train as a massage therapist after completing my master’s degree, and had a thriving practice. Though, as I began to teach — adjuncting — five classes in different places along the Front Range in Colorado — I began to feel overwhelmed at then having to touch other people, if that doesn’t sound strange. I realized I needed that kind of nervous system/soft tissue support myself. Also, today, I’m haunted by Claudia Rankine’s injunction to “stay in the room.” That there is no opting out. I want to pay attention to the fact that it’s been quite painful to be a member of certain poetry or alternative communities this Spring, this year, the last two years — pushing back on issues of curation, appropriation and modernist avant garde techniques as the core of progressive curricula, what the ethics of new hires and decision making are — and so on. Exactly a year ago today, I went to work early, turned from my car towards the front door of the building where my office was, and a man — a homeless man walking through campus, who later would be described as having a psychotic episode — was above me. He had raised an iron pipe above his head and was about to bring it down on mine. I calmly thought: “Oh, I am going to die now.” It seemed fitting that I would die at the entrance to my workplace; my body went limp. Sometimes I wonder about other kinds of work — retraining as an X-ray technician, opening a care home for South Asian elders in San Diego, returning to bodywork with a focus on Ayurvedic spa treatments, etc etc.
HOA: Yeah. No, I hear that. I mean, I actually had one of those jobs. It was inside the university but it was working at the student centre in their events area. I did that for a long time. At one point it was really great. I got to carry a walkie-talkie and wear my keys outside my pants.
That was my favourite part. I was the key person that and I issued the keys to everybody in the building. But anyway, it was actually a really great job. I’ve given this advice before to poets. I said, “Get a job where you have access to office supplies.”
GIOVANNI: I got Post-It notes–
HOA: And you’re relatively unobserved. That’s the other thing.
LEE ANN: Exactly. I worked the graveyard shift as a telephone operator for two years after my MFA and then for five years as a legal secretary. You know, access to office supplies, a printer–
HOA: A computer–
LEE ANN: Relatively unobserved. I mean, I– I felt like I needed health insurance in case of– You know, I just didn’t want to be financially “catastrophized” in case something happened. And, I mean, you know, that was– I just figured I had to make a living and that’s– I counsel my students, you know, to have plans B, C, D and E, and figure out what works best for you understanding your own personality, your schedule, to support yourself while you– while you make your art. So I mean, I think there is– There is this illusion, you know, that the MFA is a professionalizing degree, which it isn’t. I think it’s a degree that can show you how to become a better reader and how to become, you know– to learn to craft your art better. But I don’t see it as a professionalizing degree by any means.
METTA: But it is used as such, at least until so many people started getting them and now they’re using the PhD in Creative Writing.
METTA: But yeah, I mean it’s not– It is not a professionalizing degree. There are some programs that are trying to change their curriculum a little bit so that it will be a little bit more professional. But for those of us who are over 30, really over 25, but over 30 and definitely over 40–
GIOVANNI: Definitely over 40.
LEE ANN: Yeah.
METTA: Yeah, I mean, for those of us who are definitely over 40 who are women, there are not a lot of options that we have. Men in their 60s will get hired as a new professor somewhere over a woman who’s in her mid-forties. It is a very difficult. But there is an allure to being in the academy because you get your summers off. Our Spring Break ended today; but I was in my office every day this week, or every day last week, working, because the job demands are just excessive. So, my Spring Break was spent at work. That was the week that I had to play catch-up to one of my jobs. And because one of my jobs in administrative– Well, two of them– I’m not necessarily supposed to have these times off at all. How do we do all the things?
HOA: All the things. Speaking of, Carmen just had to leave because her daughter’s sick, so–
HOA: She said goodbye to the conversation. Well I feel like we’re approaching these other areas which are completely interesting and relevant and also maybe us straying from the part that brought us together which is about how we’re represented in the public sphere, how we represent ourselves, how other people see us, how we create spaces, how we hope to create spaces– it’s 9:00 Eastern time. I don’t know if we want to try and do some kind of summing up, if that’s possible even, to maybe have some final thoughts on what I just said, or what has been said.
METTA: So I’ll jump in.
METTA: I think that I represent myself in very fractured ways on Facebook, well, until I permanently deactivated it two days ago. On Facebook I represented myself as a cultural activist, as a political activist, as someone who is really incredibly focused on justice, on making change, real direct change in the world. At my place of employment, I represent myself as a very sweet, kind, gentle person, who is extraordinarily invested in social justice and in eradicating all the wrongs that have been done in this world. But my approach at my job is much gentler because I’m a public face for the program that I teach in and I’m a public face for the centre that I direct and I’m a teacher and I have to be thinking about money and donors and fundings, etc. But I think the one thing that’s very consistent is that I am a writer and an advocate and activist for social change for social justice.
HOA: Who would like to speak next?
GIOVANNI: I guess, I was thinking a lot about what Natalie has said about, you know, language is what we work with and yet it seems wholly inadequate when it comes to these things, sort of splitting one’s self up and having multiple identities– I mean, I’ve never been on Facebook, so thankfully I didn’t have to tag myself with any particular thing, but at the same time how do we deal with– these issues are completely relevant. I mean, I’ve left it up to other people usually. It’s like racism isn’t my problem. I didn’t make that problem. But, I certainly am interested and committed to presenting a world view and being a citizen of the world, and being out there as a holistic person, and encouraging other people, especially my students, to do the same, and not be deterred by labels, or say to really enact their imaginations, their acute sense of curiosity, and not let that hold them back. You know, that they are empowered to make their own decisions, um, and not have it be based on what their family taught them, or what their friends have taught them, but to be independent, strong thinkers and writers and artists.
LEE ANN: I guess I see my work as, you know, in the classroom and then, out of the classroom is to kind of navigate, and these are academic terms, but, these very difficult binaries between assimilation and essentialism. But I mean an essentialism meaning rejecting the externally applied labels, those limiting niches that are placed upon one and kind of having more of that fluid space, that utopian space even, where one occupies a lot of different selves in multiplicity. At the same time, resisting this notion, that false notion of assimilation where, oh, you know, we’re post-race or gender and that doesn’t matter anymore because as we can see by the VIDA count, or I’m sure the woman of color count, those– those– those identities do matter. And they are marginalized in ways that affect those who are working from those places and doing that really important work, those very important voices. So I mean, I guess part of what I try to do is facilitate those kind of conversations either through cross-pollinating and curatorship or in my academic role through talking about the difficulty of these identities and what that means, and unpackaging that I guess.
HOA: Yeah, I think of it for myself too. I tell myself: never go away. So to be here, always, making art as this person who I am, who might make you deal with the fact that I’m a woman or of color and both things simultaneously. I think that I’m always trying to operate from that space of not going away, of being embodied, and of encouraging other people to be there too.
And also, when we were talking before about being editors who see the majority of submissions are by white men– what I retain the most as an editor is that white male writers are tireless. They are so damn tireless. And it’s exhausting to have to confront that tirelessness with your own tirelessness which feels much more embattled because it is. And yet to persist– That’s really all I can figure can happen–
HOA: To make things happen. I think we lost Metta.
BHANU: I have found joy writing my blog. I have a reader, June Tang, a young person living in Sydney — and she writes me notes from her room overlooking a foggy parking lot. And I just feel like I am writing for all these people who long to write and who feel like monsters in some way. I get letters, emails, packages, all the time from my readers — from all over the world. Of all backgrounds and ethnicities. There, too, on the blog, I write about this. These things. About aggression and shame and what it means to be in a group and what the classroom could be — a space for monstrous forms to arise. And so on. Curation, too, feels as if it could be that — offering writers a chance to embody their practices in gestures or performances of different kinds. A few years ago, participated in symposium on the theme of Voyeurism, curated by Amina Cain and Teresa Carmody. My mother sewed me a red meat sack and I got into it and did this piece in a window in Los Angeles on a butcher’s table — the audience on the grass outside the Schindler House — and it sort of changed my life forever. To re-wire the scene. And so I want to create spaces for my students and visiting writers at Naropa, for example, to do that too. Work on embodiment and trauma in these other ways. So that we’re attending to the endocrine and nervous system and blood and lymph and psychic load — and what it might mean to discharge this load — at the same time that we are speaking up about such intense subjects under a varied scrutiny. We’ll see. But this is how I want to live with others, and dream writing community differently, if I can.
NATALIE: I guess that leaves me to– I think something that’s been important for me to think about as I kind of learn how to do this– And this will be the first time I’m kind of really committing to being an artist, you know, like I’m transitioning from one job into another, so to speak, so I’ve never not done something else and then written on the side. And so, like, for me the important thing is that– And Giovanni and Metta said something toward this in terms of always being fractured or being all the different– Like, for me what’s important is that I can be all the things that I am so that I don’t show up when I’m not the Native, or I don’t show up and be “the Native writer”. Like, that I can be all the things that I am all of the time. And, I mean, something that I’m wondering perhaps will change as I move into this next phase of my life is– is, you know, I write but I was always other things as well. So it was really easy for me to show up and remind myself that– that I’m just a person and that I have bigger worries and– Yeah, so I don’t know. For me I think for me maybe I have kind of a– like we all do I imagine– just this– this multi– I don’t know, identity. And it’s just important for me to always have that whether it’s on the page or when I go to visit a place. And that requires sometimes redirecting people with things they want to discuss or with things they are expecting from me. But that’s just something that I think I try to hang on to is that I don’t have to be any one thing for anybody, as a writer or as a person.
GIOVANNI: Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Yeah, I definitely agree with that, Natalie.
HOA: All right, well this has been great. Thank you so much for turning out and having this conversation together.
NATALIE: Thank you for putting it together.
GIOVANNI: Yeah, thank you, Hoa.
LEE ANN: Thank you.
BHANU: Thank you so much.
GIOVANNI: Take care.
Natalie 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.
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.
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.
Metta 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 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.