|Photo credit: Richard Priest II|
The road to winning as a poet hasn't always been smooth for Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. However, this month she won the 2013 California Writers Exchange, sponsored by the Poets & Writers, Inc. The prize was judged by Marilyn Chin and includes an all-expense paid trip to NYC to meet with top agents, editors, literary magazine editors, and authors. When I spoke by Skype to Xochitl-Julisa, she was already thinking of her wish list of people to meet, something Poets & Writers asked her to do. She will spend a week in New York and at the top of her wish list is a meeting with Martín Espada.
Six years ago, the poet, 32, decided to get serious about her writing and start taking classes at PCC and in 2007 she enrolled in Antioch's MFA program and started working with Los Angeles Poet Laureate Eloise Klein Healy. "I wanted to do something I was passionate about," said Bermejo who also teaches high school in Arcadia. She is also the curator of the Poetry Series Hitched at Beyond Baroque and a founding editor of The SplinterGeneration.
Antioch's low-residency allowed her to work full-time and teach British Literature at Arroyo Pacific Academy. Bermejo explained why becoming a poet made teaching easier: "One of the reasons I had a hard time teaching in my early twenties was because I didn't think I had anything to teach people.
Bermejo continues to receive words of wisdom and advice from Eloise Klein Healy, who recently called Xochitl to congratulate her on her award. The news came shortly after Xochitl had called Eloise to congratulate her on her Poet Laureate of Los Angeles appointment.
"Eloise called me on the phone yesterday and gave me some advice. She said, 'don't waste your time doubting yourself and stay positive and enjoy the moment.' I was looking at the list of the runners up and they are all really great writers."
Xochitl tells La Bloga this wasn't the first time she had applied to the California Writers Exchange award; she also tried three years, during the last cycle the award was offered to California writers. However, this year she had support from the group, Women Who Submit. She was invited in June of 2011 by Alyss Dixson, who is also a member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Women Who Submit hold submission parties in response to a case study by VIDA that showed women authors were under-represented in the nation's biggest literary journals; extra kudos for Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo for being a woman, a native of Los Angeles, and a Chicana.
The poet also had an inkling she might place in the prestigious award because the poems she submitted were all written during a transformative Summer she spent volunteering for Tucson-based humanitarian aid organization, No More Deaths. "I never had poems that were so solidly connected," she said.
"I was shocked, there was lots of screams, profanity, and expletives when I heard the voicemail. I enter contests and it always feels like a complete shot in the dark and I never expect to win. I rushed to call my mom."
Xochitl's mom is very proud of her daughter and often calls her the Number One Princess. Imelda Bermejo will celebrate her daughter's feat with a repeat trip to Knott's Berry Farm. Xochitl shared a fun memory about how her mother took her to Knotts Berry Farm when she was in the fifth grade and had won her very first writing contest. In another touching moment, Mrs. Bermejo recently surprised her daughter by bringing a poem she had written at Nuvein Foundation's Día de Los Muertos cultural event in El Monte; Xochitl was invited to host the open mic by Christopher Luke Trevilla and Kimberly Cobian.
Congratulations, Xochitl-Julisa Bermjo! Read an excerpt of the award-winning submission here.
Here's to more great surprises during the Sixth Sun. Happy Solstice. Felíz Navidad and all that jazz.
If you are in New Orleans, Don't miss Lucrecia Guerrero and Melinda Palacio at the Maple Street Bookshop, December 29 at 3pm.
Melinda Palacio also reads from her first full-length poetry collection, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street in New Orleans, this event is in part funded by a grant from Poets and Writers, Inc.