The audience had fantastic questions, and some I hadn't heard before including:
- How do I, as a writer with a political organizing background, manage to balance politics with the creative writing process?
- How have I kept myself grounded on the journey of writing Erzulie's Skirt, in particular because there are so many ancestors/spirits/forces being named?
Here is my response to these questions:
There is never a neutral creative endeavor. I believe that the process of creation demands a certain awareness of intention, and that even if the intention is to document destruction and thereby recreate the context/the modes of destruction, the work is strengthened when the artist is clear on intention. Even when work appears culturally/politically neutral - say - in poetry about flowers - we as artists can be aware that that's what we are doing. And that that is a choice.
As an organizer, my primary tool is writing. And in this, I am biased. I am a person who was and continues to be changed by what I read, as much if not more so than by what I hear, what I see, what I smell and what I taste. The only thing more powerful than what I read is what I live. Books and other peoples' writing, especially poetry, fiction, and critical essays, have shaped the way I see the world. I recognize this is not true for most people, or even for a lot of people. But for the people for which this is true, it is my wish to create exposure to a reality, a world completely different from what we know - or completely familiar. To affirm our existence, to give voice to stories, because I think there is deep power in that. And by power, I mean, something that gives light to one's own strengths and vulnerabilities that then allows for personal and social transformation.
How did I keep myself grounded when working with my characters and their worlds? With deepest honesty, my answer to this question is very private and sacred, so I will only share what forms the framework of how I do my work. I eat right - that's the first thing. And I drink good, good coffee or tea. That's the second. And I have an intentional community of artist friends with whom I talk about the work and specifically the writing. The more I write, the less resistant I am to characters' voices, and what they have to say. I've come to embrace the idea and reality that I can serve as a conduit to characters' stories. So, as part of that, I listen. I put pen to paper and listen.
Last night was the Lambda Finalists reading at the San Francisco Public Library. I was in great company: Justin Chin, Max Wolf Valerio, Leslie Larson, Karin Kallmaker, and Amity P Buxton read or shared their work. Assemblyman Mark Leno presented us all with a commendation, which I thought was sweet. I ran into people I haven't seen in years, and met some new people who just have me all smiles with their kindness and great insights. Ashe on the ilekes sisters and brothers - I got to see a couple shining through after I read.
Last night was also the reading/performance with Youmna Chlala, Sarine Balian, Maiana Minahal at the Red Poppy Art House Cafe. First - I love the space. And I love that it's run by artists for artists and the community. So, next time you're in San Francisco, check them out. They are so generous and really worth supporting. Carlos, who is one of the folks who makes it happen, was telling us about the Saturday arts workshops that turns out 40-50 young people on a regular. Yeah. Maiana and Youmna's writing was phenonmenal and so exciting. They're both doing experimental work - Maiana is delving into hybrid texts and Youmna's work is conceptually experimental, pushing notions of the normal and the extreme into new folds. Sarine's singing was beautiful - she sang Armenian and Palestinian folk songs for us. It was really, really great to be together.
Tomorrow I fly back to Austin for a bit. On Sunday, I'll be in workshop with the amazing women from the Austin Project. And Monday, I head off to the Atlantic Center for the Arts to soak up all I can of Alice Notley's brilliance, time with other artists and the sun (of course!). As a closing to the beautiful time I've had here, I want to say so much love to M RW, H RW, HA, CM and RK for taking such great care of me while I was here. Thank you big sweet hearts.