Thursday, December 14, 2017

Remembering Michele Serros: A Writer's Journey

                     
Daniel Cano

                                                                 
                                                       

    In the spring of 2015, I received a telephone call from the Santa Monica College Foundation asking if I would present the SMC distinguished alumna award to writer Michele Serros, who had been a former student of mine.
    “Of course,” I replied, sadly. I knew Michele had been fighting cancer, and she was putting up a courageous battle.
    We’d kept in touch over the years. As her writing career blossomed, I would ask her to visit my creative writing classes. We’d also meet at different literary functions. One time, we laughed as we found ourselves standing on the same stage receiving awards for our work. She always called me Professor Cano.
    “Michele, we’ve known each other fifteen years. Call me Daniel. You aren’t my student anymore,” I’d tell her.
    “But I always see you as my teacher,” she would say or something to that effect.
    She did stop calling me Professor Cano and called me Mr. Cano--the closest she could get to my first name.
    When I heard the SMC Foundation had invited Michele to campus to receive her award, I was looking forward to seeing her, and I hoped that she’d be well enough to read from her stories and poems. Actually, Michele didn’t read. She performed, always holding a book in hand. Michele had become a successful businesswoman, as well as a writer. I don’t doubt that she wanted her audience to see the book’s cover and title. She was her own P.R. machine, a difficult role for many creative people. But Michele was always up for a challenge.
    When I saw her at another function, she said, “Mr. Cano, can you believe it? I’m writing for George Lopez. And I got to meet Cheech Marin.”
    She never lost her sense of wonder. She sounded like a little girl getting to play with her new toys.
    Her first book, Chicana Falsa, and Other Stories of Death, Identify, and Oxnard, published when she was a Santa Monica College student, by Santa Monica College’s Lalo Press, received excellent reviews. But when she realized bookstores wouldn't place her book on their shelves, she loaded her boxes of books in her car and drove wherever she could read and sell her books, fine-tuning her performing skills.
    A few years after she’d transformed her readings into performance art, she told me she had accepted an invitation to join the Lollapalooza music festival to read her work.
     “Michele, you realize that’s an alternative rock tour, like the Chili Peppers and Suicidal Tendency-type bands?”
    “Yeah, I think it will be exciting,” she told me.
    Undaunted, Michele took her boxes of books and set off like she was running away to join the circus.
    She knew it would be difficult. But she also knew that her name--and the title of her book-- would be splashed on flyers and posters across the country. She was right.
    I followed her progress during the tour in newspaper reviews and read that Michele had won over the prickly-- and probably very stoned--alt-rockers. The next time I saw her, I asked her how it went.
    “Professor Cano, you wouldn’t believe it,” she said, using a very girlish, embarrassed tone. “It was awful,” she laughed. “I’d be reading my poems and all the guys would be yelling, ‘Hey, babe, take off your top. Let’s see what you got underneath.’ Oh, my God!”
    I wasn’t surprised at her success. She was softer and much less obscene, but just as accessible, as Charles Bukowski. Like his characters, hers were real: her family, uncles and aunts, college friends, and, of course—Oxnard. She wrote humorously, yet thoughtfully about the difficulties they faced in life. Their pain and laughter were also ours.
    In fact, the scary thing about knowing Michele was that you never knew if you were going to pop up in one of her stories and how she’d portray you, as one of my colleagues learned when he failed to make good on an honorarium he had promised her.

                                                                                   

    I met Michele in the early 90’s. She’d enrolled in a Chicano Literature class I’d been teaching at Santa Monica College. She confessed that she didn’t know there was such a class. She didn’t even know there were Chicano or Chicana writers. In fact, I’m not so sure Michele was too familiar with the word Chicano(a). She talked more about skateboarding and surfing.
    She told me that she wanted to be a writer and had already written a few stories and poems. Shyly she asked if I would read some of her work. Whenever students ask if I'd read their stories or poems,  I usually had to figure a way to tell them nicely that they needed more practice. But with Michele, I read in amazement, completely engaged in her characters and stories. I encouraged her to write more. She did, and she would come to my office regularly, and we’d discuss her work, as well as her education, UCLA her dream school.
    It was a special period in my life. I had published my first novel, Pepe Rios, and was waiting for the publication of my second novel, Shifting Loyalties. My colleague Ernesto Padilla had just been hired by SMC to start a Chicano literary press, which he called Lalo Press, named after his grandfather. Ernesto had been working and publishing other Chicano(a) writers at the time, like Carmen Tafolla, Cordelia Candelaria, Roberto Cantu, Maria Herrera-Sobek, and Rudy Anaya, established poets, writers, and critics. But he always had his eye out for new talent, including student writers.
    I told him about Michele’s work. When Ernie read her stories, he recognized her talent. He wanted to publish her. She needed more stories, and she wrote them. She got some help from another colleague at SMC, fiction writing teacher Jim Krusoe.
    I helped her with some of the general editing, and Ernie guided her with the language, not that there was much guidance necessary. For the most part, Michele had already begun to cement the foundation that would be her first book, Chicana Falsa.
    I was a little hesitant about the title since I could see some Chicano activists and critics taking shots at her title. But Michele knew what she was doing. The Chicana falsa to which she referred was the false persona youngsters adopt when under pressure from those who demand they act or look a certain way. Though Michele struggled with identity, she refused to limit herself to the cultural boundaries others set for themselves.
     She was a Chicana who surfed if she damn well pleased, and she refused to become a barrio stereotype. And even if she was raised in Oxnard’s hardscrabble La Colonia, she was still just a short skip to the beach she loved so much.
    Culturally, some might say, the odds against a young Chicana from La Colonia graduating from UCLA and becoming a respected writer, were like—well, Icarus flying too close to the sun, tempting fate, and losing his (her) wings.
    I remember Michele telling me about a UCLA professor in whom she’d confided regarding her dream of becoming a writer. The teacher had told Michele that she wasn’t a very good writer and would need to practice a lot.
    “Professor Cano,” Michele said. “I have such a hard time writing the way they want me to.”
    I told her, “Michele, that’s because most academic writing is pretentious, bloated, and boring. But it’s what you need to do to get your degree. Don’t let it change your real writing.”
                                                         
                                                                             
   
    I had a publication party for the release of my second book, Shifting Loyalties. I invited Michele to read some of her work. She was so excited. There were about a-hundred people crowded into the small lounge on campus at SMC: college administrators, faculty, family, friends, students, and the community.
    As I expected, Michele had everyone riveted from the first words out of her mouth. Many people there, especially those of my parents’ WWII Chicano generation, had never heard stories by a Chicana writer. Michele had them laughing, sighing, oohing and ahhing as they heard her breathe life into—not just hers--but their stories, as well. For that’s what a true artist does—speaks for those who don’t have the voice to do it themselves.

    The years passed, and the next time I saw Michele she told me she was living in New York, still writing and publishing. By this time, her name was known throughout the literary reading circuit. Across the country and in Europe, professors were assigning her books to their students.
    She told me how much she loved New York.
    “Mr. Cano, guess what?” She asked, a note of naughtiness in her voice. “I met Arthur Miller.”
    “The playwright?”
    “Yeah, that’s him.”
    “The one who married Marilyn Monroe?”
    “I think so.”
    She went on to tell me that she had been at an event and Miller had been there. Someone introduced her to him, and he took a liking to her. He asked her to lunch. Of course, Arthur Miller was old enough to be her great-grandfather. She said, giggling, “Can you believe it? I think he was trying to pick-up on me?”
    “Maybe he just wanted a friend, so why not a pretty, young Latina? Who knows, he might help your career.”
    “Oh yeah, right, just a friend, I’m sure, Mr. Cano,” she said, giggling.

    A few days after receiving the call from the SMC Foundation asking me if I would present Michele’s award to her, I received another call from Michele’s close friend, Renay Garcia, who helped organized the award ceremony. Renay and Michele had remained loyal friends since they both worked at Michael’s arts and crafts store in Santa Monica, years earlier. Renay confided in me that Michele might be too weak to make the trip from Berkeley, where she was living with her husband.
    Michele didn’t cancel engagements, unless the situation was dire. I felt a heaviness inside. I wanted to call her, to see how she was feeling. But I knew how she was feeling. If she couldn’t make the trip, she had to have been terribly ill. I also knew she didn’t need another voice telling her how sorry he felt. So, I waited, truly thinking she’d get better and come receive her award.
    A day or two passed. Michele’s husband called to cancel. Michele asked if I’d accept the award on her behalf.
    It was an intimate affair, attended by the president, the Board of Trustees, the SMC Foundation, a few public figures from Santa Monica, and some friends. Michele’s picture was placed prominently around the room. I listened as other speakers explained the event and the reason for honoring Michele, an SMC alumna who had accomplished what all professors dream for their students. Then I heard my name called.
                                                                     
                 
                                                                               
    Numbly, I walked to the podium. I looked out across the room. I spoke a little bit about my friendship with Michele and about her writing. I found it difficult trying to get strangers to connect with a person they’d never met, so I decided to let Michele speak for herself.
    I opened Chicana Falsa, the olive green, inexpensive Lalo Press edition, not the newer, prettier, more sophisticated Penguin/Putnam printing. In many ways, the first edition was even more like the Michele I knew: a little off color and rough around the edges, whose bold voice drew us in to her world. This little book had confirmed to readers everywhere that Michele Serros, Chicana from La Colonia in Oxnard, was now a published writer and that she had reached her first dream along a journey that would include many more.
    I turned the pages to her poem, “La Leti”, and I began to read Michele’s words, “La Leti/ Her steady hand outlines inside bottom eyelid/ thick darkening to a deep velvet black.”
    But they weren’t just words. They were Michele’s reflections on illusion and reality, innocence and guilt, and a profound love a young girl felt fearing her older sister might slip into a dangerous, violent world.
    For me, it was a sad and a proud moment. Everyone applauded for Michele. I hope their energy reached her in Berkeley.
    I accepted Michele’s award. Probably it was the last award she would receive. The first award, as a student, was the publication of her book. This last award recognized her contribution in showing educators the immense possibilities that lie within all students, and within all children.
     I awoke, not long after, to read, in the L.A. Times, about Michele’s passing. The last hope had slipped away. Renay called me at work that morning to tell me what she knew of Michele’s last days. She had visited Michele regularly.
    Renay said, “She wanted everyone to know that this is just the next part of her journey.” To me, that sounded exactly like Michele, never seeing anything as final but just another step on an uncertain path.
    As they say, the world is a better place for having her in it. Good luck, my friend. If a teacher gets one student like you in one’s career, then all of the work will have been worth it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Books About La Virgen de Guadalupe

The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe


Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher


Every December, Grandma Lupita tells Rose the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As they make paper flowers to put around her statue, Grandma begins: Long ago, on a cold December morning near what is now Mexico City, a man named Juan Diego put on his cloak and started down the road to church. On his way, Juan Diego sees a beautiful Lady at the top of a hill. She tells Juan Diego to go to the Bishop and ask him to build a special church for her. But the Bishop doesn't believe that Juan Diego has seen the Lady; he asks for a sign. Again the Lady sends Juan Diego, and again the Bishop asks for a sign. Until finally, she provides one: her shining image on Juan Diego's cloak for everyone to see.


Our Lady of Guadalupe


Written by Carmen Bernier-Grand
Illustrated by Tonya Engel

One morning, while walking to an early church service, Juan Diego hears a voice calling, "Juanito! Juan Dieguito!" He comes face to face with the Virgin Mary! "I would like a shrine built on this hill", she tells him, and she instructs him to take her wish to the bishop. Juan Diego, a lowly peasant, protests that the bishop will pay no attention to him, but the Virgin says that she will protect him. Juan Diego visits the bishop three times, but only after he brings a sign from the Virgin, a bunch of roses that are miraculously blooming in December, does the bishop relent and agree to the Virgin's request. From then on, the image of the Virgin is imprinted on Juan Diego s rough cactus-fiber tilma, the cloak in which he carried the roses. Today, millions of pilgrims visit the shrine and pray before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Tonya Engel's sweeping oil-and-encaustic illustrations capture 16th-century Mexican country and city landscapes with stunning clarity. An Author s Note about the origins of the legend and miracle is included.


Our Lady of Guadalupe


Written by Francisco Serrano
Illustrated by Felipe Davalos

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most important religious icon in the Americas. This lavish pop-up tells her story and that of Juan Diego, the humble Mexican peasant to whom she appeared on a hill in Tepeyac. The Virgin tells Juan Diego that Tepeyac is the place where she would like her sacred house built, that she will love and help all who seek her there, and that he must relay this to the bishop. At first Juan Diego is not believed, and the bishop asks that he return with proof. Vivid pop-ups convey the anticipation when the Virgin tells him to fill his cloak with flowers and the thrill as Juan Diego presents the flowers to the bishop, revealing a beautiful image of the Virgin on his cloak.


Guadalupe: First Words / Primeras Palabras


Written by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein
Illustrated by Citlali Reyes


Lil' Libros baby board books uses a simple one word/one image per page format to introduce the littlest readers to first concepts such as numbers, colors, and body parts. Lil' Libros also introduces children to Latin American culture, history, and traditions!


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fotos y Canto: Hitched & Holy Grounds Return. Beginnings & Endings For La Palabra.

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Hitched at Holy Grounds Celebrates Macondo Writers and Two Book Releases!
Michael Sedano

Hitched  is a quarterly reading series, created and engagingly hosted by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Notable for Bermejo's pairing of intriguing voices, Hitched might feature seasoned with emerging writers, people working in complementary styles, writers with contrasting approaches. Bermejo always finds a delighting facet in her guests' poetry and prose.

For December, the event paired two writers bringing debut books to light, Vickie Vertiz's collection, Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut (University of Arizona Press) and Joseph Rios's collection, Shadowboxing (Omnidawn)! In addition, all the writers were Macondistas, including liz gonzalez, Alex Espinoza, Tisha Reichle, Sarah Rafael García. With Saturday's reading, Hitched reaches its seventh year. In Los Angeles, that's an institution. That Macondo writers workshop has been an institution since Day One.

For years--since December 2010--Hitched was a feature on the remote westside, at Beyond Baroque in Venice. When Bermjeo relocated the series to the eastside, Hitched got forcibly interrupted after a car crashed through the El Sereno front door of host, Holy Grounds Coffee & Tea.

The December 9 Hitched marked the return of Holy Grounds and Hitched. The owners of the venue donate their comfortable paved garden. The sound system provides clean audio adding no discernible artifacts. Readers Saturday showed how to use the two-step stage and microphone to advantage.

That microphone, however, complicates a photographer's quest for a perfect portrait of an artist reading aloud. A listener's brain can render the mic invisible, or at least irrelevant to enjoying the work. The camera is a dumb instrument that sees whatever comes between the lens and the speaker's face.

Technology adds dimensions to a reader's considerations that can enhance a presentation, or let it be a "more of the same" experience for audiences. There's no such thing as a "bad job" but there are infinite ways to be good, better, the best you've done. Knowing your tools makes writers better readers.


Cardiod microphones are a reader’s best worst friend. They solve a lot of issues. A coffee house patio, for example, demands projection, vocal power to draw in those people on their laptops, be meaningful to the ones who came to hear you, help them hear over those laughs coming from somewhere.

When there's amplification, a lot of noise and clarity issues get solved. Hitched at the resurrected Holy Grounds Coffee & Tea demonstrates the worst and best of  a microphone’s nature for writers reading to a live audience.

Two theories come into play when a reader sees a microphone on the bare stage. There's the mic theory and the speaker theory.

Mic theory is pura technology. Imagine a soap bubble coming out of the end of a pipe. The walls of the bubble begin at the pipe and swell spherically away from the pipe, to the sides and larger to the front.

The pipe is the microphone. The bubble is the microphone’s sensitivity to hear words clearly. The microphone hears above and below itself, to the side as well. Think of the bubble. A speaker need not direct one’s mouth to the mic for the mic to hear the words. If someone shouts “speak up,” angle the mic on the stand, or turn up the amplifier volume.

Speaker theory is pura complicada. Boiled down, directness counts. This means eye contact, gesture, presentation of self, handling text, memory, anxiety, voice and diction, expressiveness, variety, just to begin. Complicated, yes, but sabes que? You learned these when you acquired language and speech. Practice.

For microphone purposes, speakers will want to do as Joseph Rios, and be tall and project with a good voice. If not, lower the mic to chin level, stand a step off center from the stand. The bubble will reach out for your voice, even as you swivel your head making eye contact with people.

Or, one can do as Vicky Vertiz, who holds the mic in one hand, her book in the other.

Alex and Sarah took advantage of the two-step podium. They took the high ground. The end of the mic--the pipe with the bubble--is at chin level, well within the sensitivity bubble. The mic at mouth level will be too high to allow both a satisfying view of the reader's expressive face and good audio capture.

All bets are off if the reader buries her his face in the text.

Speaker bios provided by Hitched.

liz gonzalez 



liz gonzález's poetry, fiction, and memoirs have been published widely. Her work will appear in or recently appeared in City of Los Angeles 2017 Latino Heritage Month Calendar and Cultural Guide, Inlandia: San Bernardino, Litbreak Magazine, Askew Poetry Journal, and Cultural Weekly, and in the anthologies Voices from Leimert Park Anthology Redux, The Coiled Serpent, and Wide Awake. Her recent awards include a 2017 Residency at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and a 2017 Arts Council for Long Beach Professional Development Microgrant. She grew up in the San Bernardino Valley and lives in North Long Beach with her fur-buddies Chacho, a Chihuahua mix and Espresso, a tortie cat, and her partner Jorge Martin, a sound artist. She directs Uptown Word & Arts and is a member of Macondo Writers Workshop. She is a writing consultant and coach, a facilitator of free community creative writing workshops, and a creative writing instructor through the UCLA


Tisha Reichl


Tisha Reichle is a Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen. Originally from a trailer on a dirt road, she moved to Los Angeles to study Sociology, Communications, and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. While engaging high school students with socially conscious literature, she completed her single-subject English credential at Cal State Dominguez Hills and earned an MFA at Antioch University. Her stories have appeared most recently in The Acentos Review, The Lunch Ticket, and Ghost Town. She is an AROHO Retreat alum, a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop, Las Dos Brujas, and an organizing member of Women Who Submit. She is currently a Wallis Annenberg Fellow at USC where she will eventually earn a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature.


Joseph Rios




Alex Espinoza


Alex Espinoza was born in Tijuana, Mexico to parents from the state of Michoacán and raised in suburban Los Angeles. In high school and afterwards, he worked a series of retail jobs, selling everything from eggs and milk to used appliances, custom furniture, rock T-shirts, and body jewelry. After graduating from the University of California-Riverside, he went on to earn an MFA from UC-Irvine’s Program in Writing. His first novel, Still Water Saints, was published by Random House in 2007 and was named a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. The book was released simultaneously in Spanish, under the title Los santos de Agua Mansa, California, translated by Lilliana Valenzuela.




Sarah Rafael García is a writer, community educator and traveler. Since publishing Las Niñas (Floricanto Press 2008), she founded Barrio Writers and LibroMobile. Her writing appears in LATINO Magazine, Contrapuntos III, The Acentos Review, among others. She is a Macondo Fellow and editor for the Barrio Writers and pariahs anthologies. In 2016, she was awarded for SanTana’s Fairy Tales (Raspa Magazine 2017), which was supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through a grant supporting the Artist-in-Residence initiative at Grand Central Art Center. Most recently, García is supported by Community Engagement for LibroMobile, a literary project aimed to cultivate diversity through literature. Her works and lifestyle promote community empowerment, cultural awareness and collaboration.



Vickie Vertiz


Vickie Vértiz was born and raised in Southeast Los Angeles. A Lucille Clifton Scholar at the Community of Writers, she was also the 2016 Poetry Center Fellow at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Her writing can be found in Huizache, Nepantla, and in The Coiled Serpent from Tia Chucha Press. Her second collection of poetry, Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut, is available now from the University of Arizona Press, Camino del Sol series.

Hitched Celebrates Macondo Writers and Two Book Releases



UC Irvine Shuttering Magulandia

There seemed to be lots of time to get down to deepest Orange County, to Irvine to catch Magulandia and now that's less true. There's no time at all, in fact, to take in the show whole. After December 12, only the central University Art Gallery portion welcomes visitors until December 16. Click here for details on the final days of Magulandia at UCI.

If you were waiting for the exhibit to come down to buy that Magu sculpture, now's the time to make your offer. Have you picked out a place for it in the front room?



Beginnings & Endings at Avenue 50 and La Palabra

Karineh Mahdessian restrained the tears that refused restraint so the tears flowed as she disclosed news to a supportive crowd that today wraps her service hosting the immensely important and popular reading series, La Palabra at Avenue 50 Studio in Northeast Los Angeles. The December 10 meeting wraps the series for 2017.


Avenue 50 Studio has yet to announce January's host. Mahdessian will be in the audience. Joining her will be Don Newton and Laura Luisa Longoria, Luivette Resto, Jessica Ceballos y Campbell, the stellar lineup of hosts emeriti.

For this final celebration, Karineh invited her parents, shown in the heart of the group portrait. Numerous others who've featured or open mic'd through the years joined the readers in the circle of readers.



Circles have no beginning and no ending, a circle circles continuously. That's the logic of a La Palabra reading, The Circle. Today's circle doubled down, taking a round-robin format. Readers take the floor inspired by a previous reader or a moment's duende. 

Mahdessian launches the day with a tribute reading, Maya Angelou's "And Still I Rise."




Thank you, Karineh for making La Palabra take wing. All that energy. Invite the features. Curate the event. MC the Open Mic. Set up chairs. Bring refreshments. Clean up afterwards. Recruit Albie Preciado to be the official baker of fabulously imaginative treats. Make time to make time to make it happen. Cry when it works so well. Cry when things happen having nothing to do with La Palabra but are life, love, happiness. Like poetry. Like everything.










Mission Accomplished! Fun, Poetry, Gente, Love, Value. Karineh Mahdessian, órale.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Interview of Ivelisse Rodriguez




Ivelisse Rodriguez

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Her short story collection, Love War Stories, is forthcoming from The Feminist Press in summer 2018. Her fiction chapbook The Belindas was published in 2017. She has also published fiction in All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, Obsidian, Label Me Latina/o, Kweli, the Boston Review, the Bilingual Review, Aster(ix), and other publications. She is the founder and editor of an interview series, published in Centro Voices, the e-magazine of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, focused on contemporary Puerto Rican writers in order to highlight the current status and the continuity of a Puerto Rican literary tradition from the continental US that spans over a century. She was a senior fiction editor at Kweli and is a Kimbilio fellow and a VONA/Voices alum. She is currently working on the novel ‘The Last Salsa Singer’ about 70s era salsa musicians in Puerto Rico.


1.    When did you start publishing? What impact did seeing your first publications have on you?

My first short story, “Summer of Nene,” was published in 2005 by Junot Diaz in the Boston Review. First, it was awesome that Junot Diaz, whose short story collection Drown I love, saw the potential in the story. That level of support from any writer whose work you admire becomes this tangible thing that you can always reach for and hold onto when you are in the throes of your writerly angst.

A handful of people may read what you wrote, but being able to hold your work in your hands, the externalization of it, it’s like it now exists independently and has a life apart from you. In short, publication makes your work feel real, so real that it now has a material form.

Publication is really the moment you have been waiting for—it is memorable; exciting; and life-altering, even in a small way, like so many other “firsts” that we wait for in life. You are no longer the person you were before this event in the sense that it is like a first kiss, a first love, etc. A small shift has occurred, and you may be the only one who feels it.  



2.    How have you matured as a writer?

Love War Stories, my forthcoming short story collection, was started twenty years ago, and writing that book really taught me to be a better writer and to have a greater respect for craft.

Impatient is the best way to describe my former writing practice. I declared stories complete when they were far from it because I thought the race was in racking up publications. It’s hard to disabuse yourself of this notion because so much of one’s starting and furthering a career depends upon that. You have to wrestle with this until knowing creating the best work that you can is your true objective. I can see the difference now in working on my novel. I am much more invested in the process, and while I would like to be done sometime this decade, I want to write the best novel I can more so than beating some hypothetical timeline.

Learning the trajectory of my writing process has guided me out of some demoralizing writing moments. Now I understand that I write several terrible drafts that are more exposition than story. Or that after those moments where I am convinced this story is just not going to come together, I usually have an essential epiphany shortly thereafter. Being able to call upon my understanding of my writing process allows me to rouse myself and keep going.

3.    What do you think your role is as a promoter of culture? Do you think that there is such a responsibility?

In the debate about whether or not someone should be labeled a Latinx writer, I think the moniker is important (though that should not be one’s only label) because the world needs evidence that Latinx writers exist. I was thirteen when I first read a text by a Puerto Rican—Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas—and I had always been an avid reader. The significance of seeing yourself in the world cannot be underestimated. Reading Thomas for the first time was a pivotal moment—someone was telling my story for once. And so without texts or writers who do not act as cultural ambassadors, then thirteen-year-old bookworms could read 100s of books and never see themselves.

I’m invested in adding new narratives to the oeuvre of Puerto Rican literature. Much of the literature focuses on migration, language issues, displacement and social unease, nostalgia for the lost homeland, but the post-migration generations are my focus. So part of my cultural responsibility is to further the literature.

That also entails being a champion for Puerto Rican literature. I am the founder and editor of an interview series with contemporary Puerto Rican writers, published by Centro Voices, the e-magazine for the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. There are texts from Puerto Ricans in the continental US that span over 100 years, and I am worried that it’s a history that can easily be forgotten. But this history is important as it chronicles the early life of Puerto Ricans in the US, and it is also a foundation for other Latinx literature by the mere fact that it existed. So I interview an author a month, and it has been great to see how these contemporary writers are in conversation with past Puerto Rican writers, while simultaneously forging ahead with new threads and new themes.

The Belindas, 2017

4.    What project are you working on now?

My current project, the novel ‘The Last Salsa Singer’, focuses on the world of salsa—music created in the dance halls of New York City by young Puerto Ricans. To save his greatest friend, Vicente, the salsa singer, splits his upcoming concert—one song to rescue Richie; one song to catapult Vicente. Counseled for years by Vicente and the band about his “in-between” relationship with Lucy, Richie, the saxophone player, is about to bind his life to Lucy’s, who is pregnant by someone else. As a joke, the orquesta members make the Palomita song deriding Richie’s love story with Lucy; as a last resort, they decide to perform it. The Palomita song swallows “La verdad” at the concert—Vicente’s legacy-making song, or so he had hoped. And by the time the Palomita song, which becomes their greatest hit, is done, everything Vicente has every wanted is consumed, leading to his suicide. For the next thirty years, Richie will be tied to Vicente, hoisting Vicente’s legacy, along with his own guilt for having brought Lucy into their lives. ‘The Last Salsa Singer’ is about different forms of love: friendship over romance and the love of one’s art.

5.    What advice do you have for other beginning writers?

After working (inconsistently) for twenty years, I finally finished my manuscript and am getting it published. But I can’t give you the answer that you just have to stick it out and it will happen to you. I think, all things being equal, some people are just luckier. Some people will have those urban legend stories where they publish a story and an agent comes calling, and then they get a book deal. Those stories are possible, but I think that you have to figure out what kind of luck you have to keep from going crazy. For some people, it will feel like you are climbing a mountain on your knees, and other people are just breezing up the mountain.   

As a writer, you are entering a career where all your work may be for naught which is a bewildering truth. Writing or any other artistic endeavor are realms full of chance. And many times you may wonder if you should keep going, and the only way that I could answer this for myself was that I didn’t know what else I would do with my life. What would I do with all those empty hours?