Source: luisjrodriguez.com


On Monday, May 18th Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez joined Westwind, UCLA’s literary journal, at the Powell Rotunda for a reading of his work. Joining him on stage was his wife Trini, a poet, and his son Ruben, a fouth-year at UCLA and co-prose editor of Westwind.

Although Rodriguez began his writing career as a poet, he has written in many other genres, including journalism, memoir, fiction, and literary criticism to name a few. He is recognized as a major figure in contemporary Chicano literature. Rodriguez’s best-known work is Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., which received much literary recognition, including the Carl Sandburg Literary Award.

Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Rodriguez as the poet laureate of Los Angeles in October of 2014; Rodriguez will serve a two-year term as official ambassador of L.A.’s vibrant culture, promoting the city’s rich literary community and celebrating the written word.

Since his appointment, Rodriguez has been traversing the city to conduct readings at venues like the Hammer Museum, where he read a poem in Nahuatl (the Aztec language,), the Grand Park Book Fest, the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and The Big Read. He has also read poems in front of the Los Angeles City Council twice, conducted writing workshops with youth for Urban Word, read a poem by Henry Dumas in acknowledgement of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and in Leimert Park commemorated the legacy of the unofficial poet laureate Wanda Coleman, who recently passed away.

Right now, Rodriguez is calling out to Los Angeles poets to submit to an anthology that he is publishing through Tia Chucha Press next year. The deadline is July 2015. Ten poems are requested from each poet, from which Rodriguez will pick one or two for publication. The submission email is TCPress@tiachuha.org

To complement the reading hosted at UCLA, we at Westwind asked Rodriguez to answer some questions about his work as a poet, journalist, social activist, and publisher.

W: Thank you very much for joining Westwind for a reading of your work. It’s even more special because your wife Trini Rodriguez and your son Ruben will be reading their work as well. Have you read your work together as a family before?

 R: This is special. Of course, we’ve done similar things as a family—for example, I did a keynote talk at Ruben’s high school graduation where he also played guitar. My son Ramiro and I have read in Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A. And Trini and I have read together before, in particular a couples’ Valentine’s Day reading at the Malibu Poetry Reading Series. But this is a first for us three—I’m moved by this opportunity to share with my wife and son. Everyone in my immediate family are powerful writers. This may seem odd, but they learn being around me how vital it is to have language, to know one’s story, to express powerfully with pen and heart.

W: Talk about your background. How did your experiences shape your outlook on the world? How did it shape your writing?

R: My best-selling memoir, Always Running, covers a period in my teen life when I was in gangs, on heavy drugs, including heroin, and in and out of jails. A circle was completed when Mayor Garcetti presented me as poet laureate in the Central Library. This was the very library I used as a refuge when I was briefly homeless in downtown LA at 15. I finally left the “Crazy Life” by age twenty, holding my first son in my arms, helped by mentors, teachers, and a cause.

All these experiences—including getting politically active; working in a steel mill, foundry, paper mill, chemical refinery, and in construction; having kids; becoming a journalist and poet; working with gang and other troubled youth in the U.S. and other countries; the healing work I do with Native American spiritual practices—informs all my writing.

W: Can you please talk about your work as a journalist?

R: I became a journalist at age 25, first as a writer/photographer for weekly newspapers in East LA, covering murders, mudslides, and car accidents (although I also had a boxing column). I then worked as a daily crime-and-disaster reporter for the San Bernardino Sun when that city had the second-highest murder rate in the country. As a freelancer, I covered uprisings in Mexico, the Contra War in Nicaragua and Honduras, labor battles, as well as the trials and tribulations of Mexican and other Latino immigrants. One piece I did on the plight of the undocumented for the LA Weekly won a Western State’s Journalism award in the early 1980s.

I’ve also written extensively about gang life and solutions, including from all over the U.S, Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In Chicago, I also worked as editor of a weekly political newspaper—which took me around the country covering many fronts of struggle for social justice, against poverty, immigrant rights.

W: You’ve also done extensive activism around literacy awareness in prisons. Did you conduct writing classes, workshops? What were those experiences like?

R: I began doing prison workshops in Chino Prison in 1980, mentored by the leading Chicano poet doing this work at the time, Manuel “Manazar” Gamboa (who was also an ex-prisoner and ex-heroin addict). I’ve been doing these ever since, speaking and reading in San Quentin, Soledad, Folsom, Lancaster, as well as prisons, homeless shelters, migrant camps, Native American reservations, and juvenile facilities around the country. In addition, I’ve visited prisons in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Argentina, and England. I generally tell my story, read poetry, and talk about going from trauma to transformation. My workshops are healing circles mostly, but include writing as healing and renewal. Almost always, the prisoners and wards are attentive, respectful and full of poetry.

The only time things got rough was at an Arizona youth facility that rioted soon after my talk (although this had nothing to do with me—tensions had been shimmering for a long time among the Chicano and Native youth wards). I was pepper sprayed that time as guards tried to subdue the inmates and bring back order.

But again, my prison experiences have been the best, even in terrible inhumane prisons in places like El Salvador or Mexico.

W: Talk about Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore, and the press you run under the same name. Why did you open this organization? What kind of work do you publish?

R: I began Tia Chucha Press in Chicago in 1989 to publish my first book, “Poems across the Pavement.” A mixed Native American/white artist named Jane Brunette designed the book when we both worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s publishing wing. The book did so well that others came to me to publish their works. Then I also solicited manuscripts of poets I loved—and I’ve been doing this ever since. For more than 25 years now—and Jane has been my only designer.

When Trini, my two youngest boys, and I moved back to LA in 2000 (my oldest son was in prison, and my daughter and her child eventually joined us later). We moved to the northeast San Fernando Valley, the mostly Mexican and Central American section of the Valley where Trini grew up. Unfortunately, the northeast Valley had become culturally barren. A year later, we took out mortgages, credit cards, and royalties from sales of Always Running to create Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore—the only bookstore, art gallery, and decent performance space for 500,000 people. We’ve now been in existence 15 years. For the past 10 years I’ve not had to put my own money in there, although both Trini—who is Interim Executive Director—and myself have never been paid for creating and sustaining this center. It’s our gift to community.

W: Based on your experience, what are some of the challenges in getting published today? Do writers of color face experience additional challenges when it comes to publishing their work? What are some of the challenges publishing as a Latino publisher? What do you look for as a publisher?

R: Writers of color have only recently been recognized, beginning in the 1960s. Yet, despite many wonderful Chicano, Puerto Rican, African American, Native American, and Asian writers, we are still highly marginalized in the publishing world. Tia Chucha Press is now known as one of the leading cross-cultural small presses. But it is hard to compete in a world with corporate publishing houses controlling the market and most distribution and also during the developing shift to digital books. But I still edit and publish books—I believe in the printed book. I believe in the new voices often not wanted by others. This is a business, of course; the bottom line’s important. But we do this for the love of literature, compelling writing, the unheard voices. Yes, many good literature and poetry gets published in the general trade, but for the most part it’s about the blockbusters and popular fare.

Personally, I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful publishers for my books such as Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Seven Stories, Lee & Low, Curbstone, and Open Road Integrated Media. But this is not true for the vast majority of writers of color. It’s a struggle even though people of color have become a quarter of the U.S. population. By 2050 it’s estimated the majority of the population will be from communities of color. As everyone is saying now, we need more diversity in books as well as movies, TV, radio, the Internet, all media. That’s an area I plan to keep remedying as long as I can.

W: What has your experience been in getting published with large publishing houses? What are the advantages about getting a small press to publish your work?

R: The larger publishers have the distribution power. My books with major publishing houses can appear most everywhere. In Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, airports, Staples Stores, and more. Also whatever major media writers can get, it’s usually because of the big publishers and their marketing budgets. You generally need an agent to represent you with these publishers—one that knows the market but also the individual editors.

Although book tours in cities with media appointments are mostly not budgeted for anymore—except for blockbusters—I have made a living reading everywhere: universities, colleges, conference, libraries, schools, even bookstores, as much as I can. My books therefore are constantly being promoted. It’s a natural part of the “hustle” required to be an independent sole proprietor as a writer/lecturer/reader.

As for small presses, you don’t need an agent. You can send to various publishers, especially if you’ve done the homework. There are Literary Marketplace reference books (often in the various genres) you should consult. There are magazines and conferences you should turn to. Once a small publisher shows interest in your work, they also put their heart and soul behind each book. For example, Tia Chucha Press only does two books a year, but we design them beautifully and individually (although there is a Tia Chucha Press “look” that we’ve acquired over the years). We have a distributor among one of the most prestigious university presses, Northwestern University out of Chicago. Small presses don’t sell anywhere near as many books as the big publishers. But each sell is organized for, fought for, and valued.

There are other ways to go—self-publishing, print-on-demand, vanity presses, etc. All can be legitimate. But for me, even with less percentage of each book price for royalties, it’s best to get a long-standing and hardworking publisher behind my books.

W: What advice would you give young writers trying to find their voice and then getting their work out there?

R: The first and most important advice is: “don’t give up.” There is no surefire path to publishing, but you can pretty much make this a plausible fait accompli by getting the writing skills—compelling, powerful, unique (don’t write like anyone else) in the genre or genres you are passionate about. This requires adequate schooling but also ongoing self-study.

Next read many books, all the time, even books you don’t like (figure out why you don’t like them).

Third is write all the time. It’s an artistic practice. Any sportsperson, painter, musician, mechanic… what have you… get better the more they do their craft. Same with writing. Experiment perhaps. Try different forms. Discover new ones.

Writing like any art is an inexhaustible power once you’ve reached deep and draw from your own internal creative reservoir.

W: How important is it for writers to know how the publishing industry works?

R: It’s important to know the ins and outs of any professional field you’re interested in. Writing is a rigorous and demanding career. It’s highly competitive and hard to negotiate. Knowing the markets, the publishing houses, what they publish and don’t (so you don’t waste time sending manuscripts to people who don’t publish what you write), and aspects like agents, contracts, and copyright laws are all necessary. You can go to professional bodies like the Associated Writing and Writing Programs conferences every year (they also have a magazine with jobs listing, writing tips, interviews, and teaching positions in Masters in Fine Arts programs in writing).

I have a lecture agency, a literary agent, and a Hollywood lawyer to help me with all this. They are paid by the work I do, and so far I’ve made a decent living, although it’s a year-by-year proposition (some years are better than others).

The main thing again is your writing. Concentrate on that and then let the world revolve around this. Make time for your art.

Searching for a chance to break out of the campus bubble and find some cultural stimulation? Look no farther than UCLA’s own backyard. The Hammer Museum offers frequent public engagement programs, focusing on the arts and cultural issues, and often supplementing the museum’s current exhibits. Admission and public programs are all 100% free!

ART programs include weekly Lunchtime Art Talks and biweekly guided Exhibition Tours. Tours are led by Hammer student educators and include Art in Conversation tours, using conversation to compare two works of art.

LITERATURE & POETRY programs include Libros Schmibros Book Club meetings and a series of readings from prestigious authors around the country. Recent readings have featured JD McClatchy, Michael Waters, V. Penelope Pelizzon and a celebratory reading of Alice Munro. Coming up in June, the series will host a group of award winning UCLA student poets for a group reading, including Westwind’s very own Tina Lawson.

FILM programs include series of screenings related to current exhibit topics and, a personal favorite, the quarterly Open Projector Night. On Open Projector Night, short film submissions (of all genres) are accepted until the start of the event. Subsequently, each film is screened for two minutes, at which point the audience votes on whether or not to finish watching the film by cheering or booing. The event is emceed by a pair of brother comedians, and always holds the promise of a riotous evening.

Other frequent programs include concerts, performances, lectures, and family activities. Additionally, The Hammer Student Association puts on a series of mixers and parties to encourage student engagement with the arts, and the museum hosts a popular drop-in guided meditation every Thursday afternoon.

The programs are always memorable and definitely worth stopping by. Check out the full calendar of events here.


Source: storycorps.org


I recently discovered an amazing app called StoryCorps, which is designed to assist you in interviewing others.  I’m not talking about your white-collar job interrogations;  rather, I’m talking about personal interviews between you and those closest to you. A personal interview differentiates itself from any other form of biography, such as the written word or even a movie, because of the simplicity of its nature. In a personal interview, you are holding a conversation with a friend–except you can ask questions that you wouldn’t usually ask. These interviews are unique because they are built off of and upon relationships, which is apparent when you listen to them.

StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization that built an easily functional app in order to help you with this whole interviewing process. Their goal is “to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We [the organization] do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.”

While it may be terrifying to sit down and ask your mom what her hardest moments were while raising you, or asking your grandfather what one of his biggest regrets are, you may discover some fascinating stories about them that you have never known. If you don’t know where to start, try going on their website and listen to a few of the interviews that are posted. You’ll be amazed at hearing the raw emotions from every person, from the pure joy of people being accepted after coming out in the 1950s, to the shame and frustration of army veterans not being able to cope after returning from war. Whether you want to get to know your friend a little bit be tter, or whether you just want to listen to a good story, interview a friend and be a part of preserving the stories of our lives.

Since joining the Westwind staff, back in fall, I have paid little mind to the many volumes of this journal that came before my time. Thankfully, someone gave me an idea to go to the English Reading room to peruse through past Westwind content. I grabbed volumes from 1977, 1985-86, 2001, and 2013. The latest issue was the only one that I was familiar with, but I did not expect the treasure trove that awaited me in the older volumes.
1977 held a long-forgotten part of creative writing called “Theatre Arts,” featuring a triple act of three plays spread throughout the collection. In 1986, a member of the Westwind staff interviewed the famous poet Allen Ginsberg, who gives the advice “notice your mind” to young artists (30). An issue from 2001 showcased academic essays that dove into topics like arguing the effects of postmodernism, something we still think about today.
Not just the content, but the covers themselves also catch your eye. Some of my favorites are the ’85-’86 ink smear in our Westwind title, and a clever personal ad spoof on the back of ’01’s journal.
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Each decade or so held something new, something exciting for me to uncover as I flipped through the pages. Yet, when I reach our 2013 issue, next to plays, interviews, and essays, all that I’m left with is “Poetry, Prose, and Art.” Though we still provide quality content to our readers, we should look back at what past staff members have put and see how we can use them right now. And I think we have already taken steps to review past concepts and are going to put them into practice. The next issue will hold musical scores like previous journals have done so, only this time we are going to provide QR codes that lead hearing this music and learning to play along. By taking a look into our past, Westwind can provide a brighter present to our readers.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Los Angeles Festival of Books, an event of pure bliss for all bibliophiles. I rummaged through many slanted shelves and boxes, finding literature from all over the world; most notably, I encountered several Scandinavian authors. Norway, Sweden, Norway again. I would repeatedly pull a random book from a pile, look at the author — Scandinavian. The abundance of Scandinavian books at the festival amused me, as all were tempting me to purchase them (unfortunately, I could not buy them all).

Lately, Northern European writers like Fredrik Backman, Karl Ove Knausgård, and Jostein Gaarder have intrigued me. A Man Called Ove, Backman’s debut novel, balances a somber mood with moments of optimism and comedy. Backman’s prose is clean, simple, and clear. Knausgård’s stream of consciousness draws me into his stories, as though I were reading thoughts of my own life. Gaarder presents the history of philosophy through narratives, avoiding an overly didactic tone.   

While perusing through the exorbitant amount of Norwegian and Swedish writers comprising Scandinavian literature, I noticed a lack of Danish authors (After all, Denmark is part of Scandinavia, too!) For this reason, I dedicate this post to Helle Helle, a popular and critically-acclaimed fiction writer and recipient of the Golden Laurel literary prize . Although Helle is relatively unknown internationally, she is beloved in her country for her quiet, minimalist style. This Should Be Written in the Present Tense, her eighth book, was the first of hers to be translated into English.  This novel reflects the melancholic cadence that Helle Helle has mastered. She explores emptiness — full of passivity and apathy — through a narrator who is devoid of emotion and aspires to be a writer. With staccato sentences, Helle’s style is strange yet interesting. Worth a read? Absolutely!
This Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle
You can check out Helle Helle at her website.

This past weekend, readers and writers alike converged at the annual Los Angeles Festival of Books to partake in a collective literary community. The conversations that I planned on attending seemed disparate in not only their genre, but the issues that they examined. Listening to these various conversations, I noticed a common theme of mindfulness, an acute awareness of the diverse lives that surround us.

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Claudia Rankine’s calculated and illuminating book on race and trauma, Citizen: An American Lyric, had just deservedly won the LA Times Book Prize for Poetry, garnering the attention that is called for in the text, and redirecting discussion back to racial issues in America. She began by setting a scene: a white woman  chooses not to sit next to an African American man on a train. Rankine stated, “The man knows more about the unoccupied seat than you do.” Citizen reveals these micro-aggressions that pervade the quotidian African American life. In light of recent macro-aggressions, such as the ongoing killings of African American men, Rankine updated her book’s latest edition with the following haiku:

because white men can’t

police their imaginations

 black men are dying.

After the conversation with Rankine, I found a patch of grass and listened to a reading by Gary Snyder. Snyder, the purported “poet laureate of deep ecology,” writes poems that reap from what they sow, balancing the inspiration that he takes from the Earth with an equal amount given back. Each poem expresses a delicate care and appreciation for the Earth, sanctifying the grounds before which he speaks. From a 1972 poem entitled “For The Children,” he reads, “stay together / learn the flowers / go light.” These last lines evoke a mindfulness of our excess and exploitation of natural resources, a reminder of our cohabitation with people, as well as flowers, with whom we share this Earth.

westwind 2

Last up was a panel entitled, “Women on Their Own Terms,” featuring non-fiction writers Meghan Daum, Maggie Nelson, and Rebecca Solnit. Daum is a New York Times columnist and essayist who uses her book The Unspeakable, to touch upon taboo subjects, such in the essay “Matricide,” where she writes on her mother’s death. Nelson plays with the concept of normativity in her recent book The Argonauts, which navigates through the experience of having a child with her fluidly gendered partner. Solnit gained an avid following with her essay, Men Explain Things to Me, which coined the phrase, ‘mansplaining.’ In each of their works, personal experience lies in the forefront, but behind there is a community of readers with those same experiences. Rebecca Solnit spoke on the importance of mindfulness in writing; she suggests that if the house is the place where one retreats from the outside world, the self is a house with no exit. The metaphor calls for writers and readers to break through the self and inhabit a larger worldview, full of different lifestyles, peoples, and beliefs.

These writers are serious and mindful of their craft. They carefully use and break form, highlighting their texts with precise meaning. But they are also mindful of the world outside the realm of the paperbound book, the world that is changing and the world of people that are changing. To be mindful in one’s writing is to see the empty spot for what it is, to learn every flower’s name, and to think beyond the limits of the self.

The L.A. Festival of Books is like a holiday to me, except it’s always on the weekend. Only a true bibliophile would ever feel this way about an event that’s already on a free day.

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What do I like about it? I love the energy and presence of the many people who come out to celebrate books and literature.

People were lined up at pop-up bookstores, book-buses, and book-vans.

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Even LA’s legendary Book Soup had a booth open with cute little pictures of famous authors (I snapped one of Hunter S. Thompson!)

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I had an amazing experience with an independent press (Kaya Press) who had typewriters and a prompt for those who wanted to write an original work and bind it into a handmade booklet.


I liked the emotion of a typewriter, how chaotic and potentially unformed the lines could be versus a totally linear expectation one gets out of Microsoft Word. It was a different experience of writing that made me smile: maneuvering a typewriter’s carriage was a bit like manning the helm of a heavy ship’s wheel for the first time, because the words couldn’t go where I expected them to go to at first. As a result, the final product was wispy and chaotic. Just how I like it.

Another reason I love the LA Festival of Books is that you run into old friends and make new friends.

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I met Creative Writing and English Lit PhD graduates, Douglas Manual and Diana Arterian (https://dornsife.usc.edu/cwphd/students), who were very friendly. Guess what? Both poets. Talking to them was a great moment: I realized, geez, this is amazing – and they patiently bore my questions in the hot L.A. sun.

They were promoting the USC’s graduate program and their published books, such as Nestuary. Nestuary deals with interesting feminine concepts that were right up my alleyway – so I decided to grab more information for a future book buy.

Near the end of my visit, I luckily bumped into more poets. One booth called Poetry Flash had these really fun poetry quote ladden bookmarks.

photo 4 (1)In a nice shaded part of the campus, Red Hen Press and Beyond Baroque were booth to booth. It was there that I ran into a few awesome and experienced poets: Kim Dower, whose book, Slice of Moon I picked up after reading the first line in “They Only Want Meatloaf”:

I offered them everything:
coq au vin, skirt steak, lettuce cups
overflowing with pork and mint,

but they wanted none of it.

I recommend picking it up for just that poem alone. Much of Slice of Moon dwells on feminine themes like Nestuary, but offers a critical commentary on the attitudes to and from women, dwelling on domesticity, romance, sexuality… “I Hate It When She Says That” and “While Washing the Dinner Dishes” are some of my top picks in it.

At Beyond Baroque’s booth, Laurel Ann-Bogen (her book of poetry, Washing a Language) was a gracious surprise during my visit.

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Beyond Baroque is in the middle of a big promotion, pushing a new anthology of poetry titled Wide Awake. Looking through the pages is like wading through a wealth of LA Poets, all with something the city has imprinted on them to say and feel.

Next year, take the chance to go and visit the LA Book Fest if you’re curious. Let yourself wander around and be sure to bring a reusable bottle for water and an [empty] book-bag. Some of the water bottle prices were crazy.

You can find out more about Kim Dower at her website kimdowerpoetry.com, Laurel Ann-Bogen at laurelannbogen.com, and Diana Arterian at dianearterian.com.

These days, log into Instagram and you’ll find a jungle of fashion bloggers, foodies and travelers lurking behind hashtags, hoping for a slice of the million-follower pie. It seems that a number of specific things garner attention: Colors, beaches, subtle sex appeal, smoothie bowls, workout plans, outfits, burgers, puppies, Kardashians – the eccentric list trails on, but a sweet new form of minimalism has found its way to fame on Instagram. In a world of photos, poets have established a striking voice.

During a new age with multiple platforms allowing free publishing, authors have new opportunities for gaining followers and earning wider traction. On the surface, Instagram appears the most unlikely of platforms for circulating text. Users scroll through lengthy captions, and emojis illustrate rather than simply label. Despite these stacked odds, a range of poets have found remarkable success. With clean layouts, consistent postings and raw emotion, standout accounts accumulate thousands upon thousands of modern readers.


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From Christopher Poindexter’s Instagram profile (@christopherpoindexter)


Talented users like Rio Jones, Lang Leav and Christopher Poindexter have all steadily gained followers by posting their work. The title of Keats-of-the-Instagram-poet-generation, however, belongs to R.M. Drake, a mysterious user with raw love poetry and reflections that seem hauntingly familiar. His elegantly human poetry and classic type-writer presentation led to a million followers on the platform, which in turn have earned the poet a publishing deal for his books, including Beautiful Chaos and the soon-to-come Black Butterfly. Loyal online followers and newcomers alike are rushing to purchase the book, a printed homage to a virtual phenomenon.

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From R.M. Drake’s Instagram profile (@rmdrk)


Would you publish your poems to Instagram? Have any favorite writers you think we should follow?



Finalists for the Third Annual Bisexual Book Awards were announced on Tuesday. Among them was author Daisy Hernández’s memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, published last year by Beacon Press. The memoir explores her Cuban-Colombian identity and how the women in her family influenced her feelings about love, class, and race.

When Hernández was twelve, a white town official inspected the home that she lived in with her parents in preparation for the construction of an additional room. After looking over the home, the inspector muttered, “This house should be condemned.” Hernández writes that she understood this statement as a personal attack on the value of her life and that of her family’s: “This photograph on the wall, this pot of black beans, this radio we listen to each day, these stories you tell us—he’s saying none of this matters. It should not only be thrown away but bulldozed.”

Hernández’s memoir emerges as forceful repudiation of the idea that her Cuban-Colombian experiences (as ramshackle as they might appear to the outside observer) had no significant worth and could be so easily dismissed and erased. Years later, when she began to write the memoir as a columnist for the feminist magazine Ms., it was to these memories that she turned to in an effort to materialize and make public the experiences she felt had been bulldozed or pushed into the shadows.

With this goal in mind, the author weaves her exploration of her sexual orientation with her Cuban-Colombian identity. In the second section of her book, aptly titled “Queer Narratives,” she describes bisexuality as “learning that I can shift my weight from one leg to the other, that I have a second leg. Kissing women is like discovering a new limb.” The novelty quickly changes, however, when she realizes that her family does not have the same enthusiasm for her discovery. Her Tia Dora in particular stops talking to her because she “admitted to kissing a woman.”

However, Hernández pushes forward boldly to reveal another aspect of her sexual orientation, an attraction to women who are “transgender, female-to-male, but without the surgeries.” By doing so, she challenges readers to consider the different and deeply personal ways in which people explore their sexuality.

A Cup of Water Under My Bed is a finalist for the Bi Writers Association’s Bisexual Book Awards in the Memoir/Biography category. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on May 30 in New York City. The association’s director, Sheela Lambert explains that bisexual writers have few opportunities for recognition, even in LGBT award ceremonies. Lambert says the Bisexual Book Awards was created three years ago “to increase awareness of bisexual books, to inspire authors to write more bi-themed books and to encourage more publishers to publish them. Since we launched our Bisexual Book Awards, we have had the opportunity to reward authors and publishers for their efforts.”

diary writing

I’m writing this blog post while in my astronomy science GE (please don’t tell my professor; she seems as passionate about all of those photon energy equations on the board as I feel about when an English discussion is actually productive). The things is, I don’t feel all that guilty.

Being a student writer at UCLA is really hard: it isn’t an east coast liberal arts college with a student body smaller than my high school’s graduating class and a budget large enough to foster and support undergraduate literary journals and entire creative writing departments. While this science course is supposedly shaping me into “a more well-rounded individual,” large public universities don’t really seem to care that I would rather be researching print layout designs or learning a crash course in InDesign. I’m so busy getting involved and making the campus “smaller for myself” (shout-out to how many times that’s said during orientation) that between work and class and the school newspaper —trying to get involved in things that might in some way align with my post-graduation ideals—I don’t exactly have hours to devote to pleasure reading and my own creative writing. Being a student writer means being a student first and then a writer.  Being a student writer means learning what I even want to do and how to do it, and sacrificing the hours actually spent fine-tuning my craft along the way.

But here’s the thing: writing at UCLA is possible. Having a literary community is possible—and one exists. We don’t have a creative writing department to join, and the workshops are competitive and honestly limiting, so that means we should make the most of unknown, unfunded literary journals or weekly writing group meetings or even Facebook groups. It takes extra work, sure, but maybe that determination does eventually make us more well-rounded. I’m inspired by the students who made “Nothing New,” by faculty who care enough to find a local printer, and most of all by writers who are brave enough to submit their work to be reviewed by a staff of their peers (also known as some of the most talented people I’ve ever met). Here’s to calling ourselves writers and finding the time to butcher a short piece of prose or read the latest New Yorker story in between academic essays and Chaucer.


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