Friday, December 29, 2006

So, I'm completing the Gift of Freedom grant application from A Room of Her Own Foundation. And I check out their webpage on statistics about women in the arts. Here's what I found:

  • Only 9 out of 52 winners of the National Book Award for Fiction are women.
  • Only 11 out of 48 winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction have been women.
  • Generations of students studied art history with a text that did not include one woman artist—Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Nevelson and Lee Krasner were all excluded.
  • Women writers won 63 percent of the awards but less than 30 percent of the money in awards and grants reported by Poets & Writers. (January/February 2003 issue)
  • In 2002 all but one of the Pulitzer Prize finalists for Fiction and Poetry were male.
  • 94 percent of all the writing awards at the Oscars have gone to men.
  • Of the major artists represented by major New York galleries, only 16 percent are women.
  • Only 25 percent of the advisory members of the National Endowment for the Arts are women.
  • A recent study by the Coalition of Women’s Arts Organizations showed that in all one-person shows for living artists in American museums, only 2 percent of the featured artists were women.
  • A 1992 study showed that only 17 percent of artists in galleries nationally were women, whereas the Bureau of Labor indicated that 48 percent of professional American artists were women.
  • 51 percent of all visual artists are female and women hold 53 percent of art degrees, but 80 percent of art faculty members are male.
  • 68 percent of total art income in the U.S. goes to men and 73 percent of all grants and fellowships in the arts go to men.

I don't have the original sources for these statistics, but I'm appalled!!! APPALLED at the state of things for women in the arts. It's what makes our efforts doubly important and despite the difficulties, so, so necessary. And then we wonder why we're struggling when the powers that be are still dominated by patriarchial structures/values/norms. Hmph.

Oh, and let me not comment on how these statistics would look if we add race and sexual orientation into the mix. As T.B. said, "We're always being quartered." Ouch, but...

On that note, may 2007 bring lots more support for women in all of the arts, for people of color and lgbt folks. May this year allow for abundance, vision, independent thought and free will. And love. Lots and lots of love.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Last night I watched the film, In the Mirror of Maya Deren, directed by Martina Kudlacek. I had known about Maya Deren's work because of the book "Divine Horsemen". I also knew she was a film-maker and a dancer. But I hadn't ever seen much footage of her films. At UCLA back in 2003 I saw the film "Divine Horsemen" filmed in the 1940s in Haiti. I remember feeling simultaneously in awe at the beauty of the dances and movements of voudoun dance and horrified at the fact that these dances and rituals were captured on film.

I felt these contradictions last night as well, as I watched her incredible avant-garde film-making, her conceptual dances and images streaming across the screen. Her film, At Land, was brilliant in how she moved us from the sea into the forest and over into the boardroom. I could see how she was Erzulie, a true mermaid stuck on land. I love, also, how Meshes of the Afternoon takes us into dream time. So carefully choreographed and visually intriguing.

At one point, Maya Deren worked with Katherine Dunham and she was also served the goddess Erzulie, Papa Loko and the Kanzo. She was a powerful woman and brilliant filmmaker, not without her deep, painful contradictions. She was Jewish, born in the Ukraine, raised in Syracuse, NY. Dedicated to the drum, the image and to the tempest.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Another review *yay*

From Books To Watch Out For, the Lesbian Edition
Volume 3, Number 8

Suzanne Corson
for Books To Watch Out For

The Dominican Republic is the setting for Erzulie's Skirt by Ana-Maurine Lara. Miriam and Micaela come from different rural villages and spiritual traditions, eventually meeting each other in Santo Domingo. Their strength, fortitude, and resilience swim throughout this mystical book, peppered with the traditions of Vodoun (Vudú). Think magic realism with an African Diaspora flavor, mixed with a heavy dose of survivor instinct and the desire to not accept the status quo. These women face tradition, prejudice, deceit, and abuse head on while on their path to fulfilling their dream - which brings them round circle, though not exactly back home. I strongly suggest that you read the author's reference notes and glossary in the back as an overview before beginning the novel itself, and mark these sections for easy retrieval during your read. It's a much richer experience having some fore-knowledge before opening the spirit-full pages. Redbone Press, $15, 9780978625108.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I made my first radio appearance today since high school. It was a KOOP radio - community led radio. Tuesdays is the day when everything's in Spanish or bilingual. Ari Chagoya does this show,
Firewalker News, KOOP Radio from 3pm - 3.30pm where she interviews local folks of color. It's important

I read a little excerpt from Erzulie's Skirt. Talked about Areyto and then we mentioned Baile de Amor - the event that ALLGO has every year here in town.

Well, off to do some grant writing.


Sunday, December 17, 2006


a gathering of Caribbean artists featuring

Ana-Maurine Lara, Carole Metellus,

Courtney Morris, Leo Guevara,

Rebeca Castellanos and Las Krudas

Artwork by Wura-Natasha Ogunji

Last night's Noche Caribena/Caribbean Night at the Rhizome was absolutely wonderful. The energy, love and attention was deeply felt.

We had a lovely spread of food made by the artists, and it was beautiful to eat together. And then the readings, performances and music were powerfully tight and I was especially amazed how folks stood in the space. We had many Caribbean folks in the audience, and it was humbling to have that space happen here in Austin. Humbling, and beautiful and amazing. To be multilingual as a given, to have Caribbean expressions of what it means to cross water, what it means to not be able to. What it means to have family, and what it means to be artists in our own right - here in the lush desert that is beautiful. And what I loved especially is that everyone's work was so, so different in its form, in its content and in its presentation. Rebeca (Suenos de Nebula) had work that's inspired by Greek mythology/physics/self. Carol's work was home and love and family. Las Krudas broke it down (Yo Soy La Gorda, La Gorda Soy Yo) with their theatre and performance critique of societal expectations. And Leo, well, he always starts by saying, "Al fin, yo soy poeta." and he just went into his brilliant work about his wanderings across internal/external landscapes. Courtney - girl - you took us there in her work about memory and exile. And then the lovely MC Wura who made us all feel at ease.

And, oh how incredible to have children running around the space. That is special and yet doesn't need to be. I want to thank the children for being there, and the parents for bringing them cause we wouldn't be complete without them.

After folks left, and Wura and Carole and I were cleaning up, a few folks streamed in, hoping to catch the tail end of the event. We could only say that we hope it happens again, and that they can catch us then.

I send thanks to all who came last night and made that space happen. And, I also want to extend a thank you to the folks who kicked off this beautiful month of December by coming to the Resistencia reading/drumming. For some reason, it feels continuous, this "ola/wave". Thank you for supporting my work, and for allowing community to happen in languid moments of warmth, words and music.

May our paths soon cross again.

peace and love

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A lot of people ask me about my writing process. I decided that I would like to share my process in case someone finds it useful/helpful.

Here goes:

I carry a pen with me wherever I go. At least I try to. The couple of times I haven't, I've really regretted it. One time, when I lived in Brooklyn, I was walking my dog. It was about 35 degrees out, and I was one city mile away from my place. And I had a whole bunch of ideas come to me. And not one pen in sight. I spent the next ten minutes repeating things to myself outloud and then thankfully, I found a pen on the ground, a receipt in my pocket and a stoop with a light. I sat down in the cold, my dog pulling on the leash, to write down what I had been thinking. It was a close call.

I also recently discovered the notepad on my cellphone, which has saved me a few times. But nothing works like a piece of paper and pen. Not even touchtone keypads. Some people carry those moleskin notebooks, notecards, flip pads, calendars..... These all help cut down "can't find paper" risk factors. So, I guess that's the first thing - always being prepared to write down an idea. I have found that it's not just the idea itself, but actually the way it forms. Something about that moment, the language of that moment, the sense of time...none of that can be recaptured in memory.

Another piece of my process is time. I'm not disciplined like Maya Angelou. I don't write everyday. Some days, I just want to stare at the wall, paint, make origami balloons, clean the house or read some really good books. I consider all of these things part of my process. I stopped beating myself up a long time ago when I realized that this is so. And I started to embrace the way that I can actually get to the space of writing.

Reading novels is a really important part of my writing.
Reading poetry is a really important part of my writing.
Going to poetry readings is a really important part of my writing.
Reading other friends' work is a really important part of my writing.
Talking politics is a really important part of my writing.
Having incredible conversations about my friends' lives and my life is a really important part of my writing.
Watching movies is a really important part of my writing.
Listening to music is a really important part of my writing.
Painting is a very important part of my creative process. And writing is an important part of my painting and vice versa.

When I've been fortunate enough to be in writing residency (meaning, all I'm doing is waking up, eating, writing, hanging out with people, and doing more of the same), this is how I structure my time:

I wake up. This takes me about two hours. In that time, I eat, I write letters to friends and journal. This reflection time is super important and allows me to enter the creative space.

After I get going, I put my pen to paper. I still write using a pen and paper. The actual physical sensation of a pen in my hand allows me to access emotions and visual images in a very specific way. I will usually write with a pen when I'm in the "creation" stage of a piece, meaning, putting words down for the first time. I will then type the work into my computer and do all of my edits on the computer. At least until it is time to "create" again.

I usually have very different kinds of writing going on at the same time. So, right now, I am making format changes to a novel manuscript. I have also started thinking about and researching for another novel manuscript; I have a poetry manuscript (my goal is to have a 60 poem ms by April) going; a long term experimental project that I'm actively researching and writing; and two critical writing projects. I write letters almost every other day. And I've been painting.

This is, by the way, how I deal with writers block. I move into a different kind of writing, or creative project. Or I read.

Still in residency, I write usually for about 8-10 hours after waking up.

After that, I break completely and go do something that involves other people. Art openings, dinner, movies, getting a beer, talking on the phone, etc.

When I'm not in residency, meaning, I'm working a full time or part time job, I treat my writing as my primary job and my income generating job as my second job. I have set hours for writing. During those set hours, I don't answer my phone, I don't hang out with my dog, I don't talk to anyone. I don't open the door to my workspace. I don't go on the internet. I don't do anything other than write or edit or attend to the business of writing.

For the two years I lived in NYC, I worked at a job 40 hours a week. And I wrote 20-25 hours a week. I worked on my writing Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6pm - midnight, and I worked all day Saturday, usually from 9am - 6pm; sometimes Sunday morning. I started a writing space at work, for other writers, and we workshopped every other week. I went to workshops around the city, and I met up with friends to talk about writing. Sometimes, because I had a desk job, I'll admit that I even worked (on my writing) at work.

And that brings me to the last element that I believe to be critical about my writing process. While I write all by myself, none of my work leaves my hands without being read by a lot of other people. Peers. People who can provide real feedback. While my girlfriend can be my cheerleader (and I thank her for that), my writing peers are the ones who tell me - "That sentence isn't clear." or "I'm not sure what you're trying to do here." or "That's cliche." or "That's gorgeous. I like how you do that." Which, of course, helps me see that I'm effectively communicating an image, a world, emotions, etc. (and when it's stuff like the last quote, it makes me feel good, too - also very important).

So, I don't write every day, but on the days I write, I write for long periods of time. I discovered that my process is best informed by others, but shaped by my obligations and how I work best. And, I know that I can't effectively write about the world around me without engaging it on some level, too. And ultimately, the most important thing I know is that I need to have a pen with me - wherever I go. Cause sometimes, the best ideas are on the street walking your dog looking for a lit stoop.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Starting the week off pretty well. I've had some great conversations recently about artists and sustainability. Meaning, how do we balance life and work, work and life? For the long term...and in such a way that makes it possible to still do our creative work?

Anyway, that is an on-going conversation.

I'm so excited. Wura-Natasha Ogunji and Carole Metellus organized an event at the Rhizome Collective this coming Saturday, December 16 (1st night of Chanukkah) for Caribbean artists. The event is called Areyto - the pan-Taino word for gathering/convite and Wura's going to MC. The artists are:

Carole Metellus

Courtney Morris
Leo Guevara
Rebeca Castellanos
Las Krudas
and me....

And we're going to have Caribbean food (yum!): pasteles en hoja (for those who don't know, this is a plantain based `tamale'), Haitian chicken (poule kreyol), cuban rice & beans (moro/congri), and a lot else. I'm thinking of making my arepitas de yucca (yucca latkes), perhaps.

It's going to be fun and sweet. All the writers/performers are awesome and dynamic and it's amazing to me to have Caribbean energy up here in the lush Austin desert. Carole and I will be having a conversation about Haitian-Dominican relations and the role of the artist in social transformation. I'm excited and honored to be in this conversation with her, and I think it's the beginning of many conversations I hope to have.

Speaking of which, there is going to be a forum in NYC in February on Haitian-Dominican Representations. Here's the call for papers:

The Puerto Rican/Latin American Studies Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice is currently soliciting papers and presentations for its international conference on "Dominican Haitian Representations: Migrations, Citizenship and Human Rights" to take place from February 22-23, 2007 in New York City. Currently, an estimated 500,000 Haitian immigrants and Dominican-Haitians are living in the Dominican Republic without any form of identification, which leave them exposed to summary deportation to Haiti. The Dominican Republic and Haiti share an island in the Caribbean Sea; with a legacy of colonialism, foreign interventions, migrations and long history of political and social struggles. This international conference will bring together scholars in history, cultural studies, sociology, law, human rights, elected officials, cultural workers from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and their diasporas to explore the problems of legal representations of Haitian immigrants and Dominican-Haitians in law, policy, economy and culture. It also examines the role that Dominican and Haitian Diasporas can play to find common ground.

Proposals, which should be no more than 250 words, should be sent to : or no later than December 1st, 2006.

It should be interesting to see what comes out of this conversation. Leading up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, FLACSO, in the D.R. organized a series of conversations on racism in the Dominican Republic.
Since then, they have monitored deportations, published reports on discriminatory policies and generally provided a space for looking at the cultural, political and social implications of racism on Dominican society. Let's see what comes out of a forum in the space of the Diaspora.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Torch is out!!!

How can I say this... Amanda Johnston is a force of nature. This woman is brilliant and beautiful and gives so much to the world. She is an incredible poet, a weaver of emotions and images. She is a dynamo; I love that she collectively helps us remember each other by the simple acts of taking our photographs and posting them on the internet. And now, she has published the online journal - TORCH - a journal dedicated to the writings and artwork of African American women.

I have not "studied" the history of publishing of black women's writing here in the States. But, I think I've only known of a few spaces where this has happened, this being the specific publication of black women's writing in one place. I can only think of Kitchen Table Press - which is no longer in operation, but was the avenue for the publication of radical works by women of color, and black women in particular. I am thirsty and would love to learn of more avenues/spaces where this has happened.

Something that came up in the discussion with Sekou Sundiata last week was the role of the artist in teasing out, collecting and creating memory. Because memory is what helps us stay continuous, and gives us something to stand on. Storytellers are memory keepers; our elders are memory keepers. These endeavours, all the love, energy, time and resources that go into creating these spaces and avenues for the chorus of voices, are so so important.

So, thank you Ms Johnston for giving this to the world. And congratulations.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I would just like to note - I NEVER post this much. Ever. It's just been kind of an incredible week. It really has. Right now, my body is coursing with life, and energy. And so, even though I'm sleepy, my brain, heart, mind and spirit have been ON. Not to say that I'm not usually on, but somehow this has translated into cyber-communication. It has really been quite incredible.

Last night was the reading at Resistencia. SO MUCH LOVE to raulsalinas and rene, who make that space happen, who make it sacred and who make it whole. We grooved up in there. Apparently, I broke with Austin tradition and started almost on time (I did not know this until later), but it couldn't have happened any other way. Tonya Lyles aka SistaDrum was on drums - the sistah is beautiful and she commanded our presence by honoring the space with the djembe and the kalimba. WHAT?! We met for the first time in person last night, but Erzulie spoke to both of us because it was so beautiful. She played, I read and it was beautiful. It was a nice, nice time and a true honor to work with her. And the audience was absolutely amazing; it is so incredible to be witnessed/witnessing so many beautiful, big-hearted people. Among folks, Krissy Mahan, who took my photos, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, who did the cover art, and Sharon Bridgforth, big sis at RedBone Press, were all there with big hearts and lots o love. I am blessed.

And of course, what's a performance in Austin without a party. Following the reading, K.M. and C.D. opened up the carport (Austin style) and we had a great, great party all up until the wee hours.

Tonight, I just got back from a performance at the University of Texas. Helga Davis was singing. Or rather, we were witnessing her prayers as she went through her work "The Gods Have Feet of Clay". Krissy put photos of the evening up on her website. Helga is a composer/singer/being extraordinaire. She just directed Black Nativity at ProArts here in Austin, and was recently in Warsaw working in/on Robert Wilson's piece "The Temptation of St Anthony". This diva is not to be missed, wherever she may be. She's extraordinary, and gave so deeply. This poem is for her, and uses a quote from her song for her brother that says "I am just the beat of black wings"

I am just the beat
of black wings
the pulse of
stolen moments.
Do not confuse
these tears
for sorrow - they
are pure rage
fueled by
deep, unfettered love.

I am just the beat
of black wings
just the shadow
of bodies stacked
in crisscross
on the pavement
in the desert
brown black
patches across
pink red sands.

We will hold you.
We will hold you.
We will hold you.