Saturday, June 20, 2020

Icess Fernandez Rojas is crushing it

Icess Fernandez Rojas is crushing it

Icess Fernandez Rojas is an educator, writer, podcaster, and a former journalist. She is a graduate of Goddard College's MFA program.
Her work has been internationally published in Queen Mobs Lit Journal, Poetry 24, Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective's anthology Notes from Humanity. Her Houston-based story, “Happy Hunting”, was recently published in the Houston Noir anthology.

Her podcast, Dear Reader, is based on the popular blog of the same name.
Her nonfiction/memoir work has appeared in Dear Hope,, HuffPost, and The Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, a Dos Brujas Workshop alum, and a Kimbilio Fellow. She's currently working on her first novel and finishing her memoir, Problematic.

Follow her:
Twitter: and at her website:

When it comes to women characters, who controls the narrative?

march 13, 2020 by icess fernandez rojas, posted in on assignment, writing, writing life

Dear Reader,

Greetings from San Antonio! (I started this in San Antonio last week so…it’s still technically true).

I attended the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference last week in San Antonio. It’s a pretty great conference usually. This year, the Coronavirus scared many people from going.

But somehow, despite that, the conference turned out pretty good and I made connections with people, had amazing conversations, and learned many more things, unexpected things.

One of the panels I went was about Badass Women in literature and it got my mind thinking about some things in modern literature and the role of women as characters. Who we are? What are we supposed to be?

The feminist in me says anything she can be anything she wants to be. However, the reader and burgeoning academic in me knows that is not true. When it comes to literature, cannon, classical, and modern, women usually are stereotyped and are devoid of any depth. They are reduced to a label — the mother, the whore, the sidekick, the virgin.

This is seen so much in noir, a genre I love, read, and (when the moment strikes) write in. Women are the femme fatale or the secretary. Either she’s a good girl or a bad girl and even in those two labels there is no room for shades of gray.

Women, as do the other humans, contain multitudes. And among them is “the burden of their secrets.”

Yes, that last sentence was surprising. I heard that in the panel about La Llorona, a folklore tale from Latin America, primarily Mexico but other parts of the Americas have this story. The Wailing Woman of the river (or insert other body of water) comes out at now crying for her children. She had drowned them after her husband left her. Or, in some versions, she drowned her children because she was too poor to feed them and killed them as an act of kindness. Or, in other versions, she was sent back down to Earth to look for her children and can not enter the afterlife until she finds them.

Or maybe it’s just a tale told to children to keep them in line, like the boogie man.

Regardless of the version of this story, any character, whether it’s a primary or secondary character, needs to have dimension. But I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that characters would have secrets; not secrets they keep from other characters but secrets they keep from themselves.

And that is depth, ladies and gentlemen. That is humanity.

Trauma suffers in silence and when those secrets don’t come out in a constructive way, it can seem that someone, the character, maybe acting out of turn. They may not have anything

And, as I tell my students, context is everything.

I think about stories like La Llorona (the actual story and not the movie) and how they have been passed down through the generations. What secrets did the Wailing Woman have to bare? What was her silent trauma? Was the drowning of her children the final act of a trigger from a trauma buried so deep she didn’t even realize it?

This character has been villainized and in that villainy she continues to be a victim herself. But she may not be real, you say? It doesn’t matter. How we interpret this story or folktale or cautionary tale says mountains on how women are treated in story.

The Mother.

The Whore.

The Sidekick.

Evil vs Good.

Damaged vs Naive.

Frankly, if we can’t get it right on the page, how can we get it right in real life. Our literature reflects our values right back to us. These stories that devalue women make it into our classroom, on state tests, and our drilled into students’ heads.

And the cycle continues.

In the impromptu panel I became a part of, I said this one phrase: “Who ever controls the narrative controls the world.”

So, I leave this question to you, dear Reader:

Who is controlling the narrative about women? Who is controlling that part of the world?

Think about it and get back to me.

Waiting for your answer,


Dear Reader,

This is a time for art.

That’s a statement that I believe needs to be repeated.

The is a time for art.

Because this is what art does best. It gets us through human emotion and statements and stuff. Crappy stuff. And it does it by healing what has been wounded.

It helps us become seen when we need to be seen the most.

So yes, in the middle of all this, this is the time for art.

And art, dear Readers, is what I am going to give you.

And I’ve got two I want to share. Not mine though. I’m still working on stuff.

Pandemic, a poem written by Lynn Ungar, has been making the rounds. In this Chicago Tribune opinion, states that the poem made its way through social media. Even well-established poets like Rebecca Solnit gave it a thumbs up.

The poem is haunting and gentle in a way that makes you feel cradled in a cloud. It reminds us of humanity during a time some of us question what that humanity is or what it means. It reminds us that we are together despite being apart and that, in some ways is a solace.

Here is a stanza that haunts:

And when your body has become still,

reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected

in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives

are in one another’s hands.

(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.

Reach out your heart.

Reach out your words.

Reach out all the tendrils

of compassion that move, invisibly,

where we cannot touch.

To touch, without touching. This is intimate. Close. Human.

My other piece of art in the time of global pandemic comes from friend Elisabet Velasquez. My friend is from NYC and is coming from a different angle to this pandemic. Also still human, also still haunting.

She shared her poem on her Instagram.

Mami & Papi go outside during quarantine is a poem where I see my family and I in the most. The idea that for people of a certain age, the world is finally moving at their pace. They have the space that they can move, the time that they can move and they do not feel rushed.

They feel this freedom at the time when they shouldn’t be free when they should be terrified in their own homes. But that freedom is too delicious and who knows when it will be their time again.

Like these line early in the poem:

Have you ever seen Brooklyn when it’s free

I haven’t — I ask him to describe it to me

so that I can remember this moment when papi sounds like he’s made it somewhere

and his body doesn’t owe anyone anything.

Or the line about her mom being able to go to the post office:

quick & painless. Her back might even feel young enough for a walk in the park later.

This poem is a gut check and a wake-up call. This was the rush was and this is what the social distancing is. And this is the living trauma of an epidemic.

Man, how I do love art.

Take a peek at both poems. Tell me what you think and share, share, share art.

This is a time for art.

Art saves,


No comments: