Monday, March 30, 2015

PINTURA:PALABRA, Salt Lake City: The Photo Gallery, March 27-29, 2015

Without further delay, installment 4 
of  the PINTURA:PALABRA Workshops

L to R: Cristina Correa, Alejandro Ramirez
Natalia Treviño, Michael Mejia, Fred Arroyo, Julia Aragón y Fatula
Laura Bylenok, Jessica Alexander, Stephen D. Gibson, Carolina Ebeid
missing: Ruben Quesada
Jane's Home hosted our Friday evening reception
Cristina Correa, Carolina Ebeid, Michael Mejia
Natalia Treviño, Jessica Alexander, Alex Hudson
Michael Mejia, Ruben Quesada

Alexa Hudson, Mindy Wilson
Steve Gibson, Juliana Aragón y Fatula
Juliana Aragón y Fatula, Fred Arroyo
Utah Museum of Fine Arts
University of Utah, Salt Lake City

View from our second floor conference room

PINTURA:PALABRA workshoppers get exhibit catalogues

The workshop is underway

Small groups:

small group work, day 1

small group work, day 1
small group work, day 2

Post-workshop, Pre-reading:

Jessica, Alex, Laura, Cristina, Carolina
Juliana, Natalia, Michael
outside the museum
Natalia and Fred before the reading

"Mestizo" by Francisco X. Alarcón
printed on the large window of Mestizo Coffeehouse

Pre-reading mingle

El Público
The readers:
Fred Arroyo
Jessica Alexander
Laura Bylenok
Juliana Aragón y Fatula
Cristina Correa
Carolina Ebeid
Stephen D. Gibson
Michael Mejia
Alejandro Ramirez
Natalia Trevino
Fred and Juliana 
outside Red Iguana Restaurant

breaking bread to conclude our fourth

The PINTURA : PALABRA workshops
are made possible thanks, in part,
to the generosity of the Weissberg Foundation.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Nefelibata Series Presents Jessica Helen Lopez, Writer of cunt.bomb.

Nefelibata: Interviews with Latina Writers

             curated and conducted by ire’ne lara silva


(n.) lit. "cloud walker"; one who lives in the clouds of their own imagination, or one who does not obey the conventions of society, literature, or art.

Installment #2: Jessica Helen Lopez


1. In the first and titular poem, you write:

“the cunt is not a rude house guest
soiling the kitchen towels, sneaking
bacon scraps to your arthritic dog

the cunt is not a rapist
nor a necromancer

because Webster says it so
cunt is the most disparaging word
in the English language

it will make men
both want to fuck you
and bash your face in

because of this they are fire engine
and embarrassed

because of this
you should wear it
like a good perfume on
the soft side of the wrists”

I’m interested in this conflicting, push-and-pull vision of the cunt you express in this poem and all the ways you seek to reclaim how the cunt has been disparaged. Though the collection is titled Cunt.Bomb., the first poem states, “the cunt is absolutely/not a bomb/it will not hand-grenade explode/ your skull open like a cantaloupe.” What compelled you to reclaim the word, cunt, and how did the Cunt.Bomb. concept help to inspire and organize the rest of this collection?

I think the push and pull of the poem and the word Cunt itself is rooted in how it is viewed in today’s society (and the past too, of course) – with confusion, fear, awe, therefore belittlement and degradation.  The degradation and abuse is directed at the woman and (our biological beings/our spiritual vagina/our ability to mother) and the word cunt becomes an easy bull’s-eye.  The cunt is a bomb.  It incites immediate fear, panic, censorship, and hatred.  The hatred is directed at the female body and the multiplicities of our sexuality because it cannot be controlled. And if it cannot be controlled then it must be bridled, destroyed, and shamed into submission.  It is also a detonator for radical paradigm shift.  I love the word cunt.  It is explosive, but still, yet only a one syllable word, and truly not a bomb at all.  I am both immensely angered and amused when individuals lose their shit over the usage of the word cunt.  For that matter, over the usage of FEMINISM, VAGINA, LESBIAN, WIFE, MOTHER, DAUGHTER, SISTER, and WOMAN.  I understand that a dialogue should and must occur, especially when the conversation can happen in a safe space.  Especially when that conversation includes mostly, if not all women.  Sometimes there is a generational gap regarding the use of the word cunt, maybe even culturally.  Or perhaps a woman has heard the word cunt only in the context of being deeply insulting.  But isn’t it sad that cunt, synonymous for vagina, is considered the worst anyone can ever be called in the history of insults?   Also, I don’t necessarily want my male allies to start sprinkling their everyday conversations with the word cunt.  Not yet.  Not until all things perceived as women are elevated to a safety that reflects true awareness, equity, respect, and non-violence.  However, I certainly don’t want allies to cringe either at the wonderful jewel of the word that is cunt.  After all, how can men and women alike be appalled at a poem that is working to promote feminism and yet not rise from their seats when they hear derogatory lyrics on popular culture radio airwaves? It is about a reclamation of language and identity.  It’s about reading between the lines.  It’s about radicalism that should be a display of everyday common sense, compassion, and humanity.  It’s about taking back the cunt.

2. One of my favorite poems is “Thought Woman.” It’s a gorgeous creation song:

“…She named me Xilonen.

Thought Woman sang me into this world—
to let me cry, to bleed,
give babies to this land,
invoke dream stories,
to inscribe the world with
my something.

My something is bone song.
is holler woman.”

The inclusion of Thought Woman, Xilonen, Tonantzin, and the filth eaters in this poem and other made me wonder what drew you in particular to invoke these feminine deities or these aspects of the feminine divine?

I wanted especially, “Thought Woman” to be included in this small collection.  Without Thought Woman there would be no Cunt. Bomb.  Thought Woman is Cunt. Bomb.  Without realizing it, when I wrote Thought Woman, it became the impetus for this collection.  I wrote this poem during a series of workshops that I hosted two years ago titled, “La Palabra: The Word is a Woman.”  The workshop went on to become a collective of women and gender-identified women writers.  We support one another in not only our writing endeavors, but also how we navigate this world as women.  The feminine divine is creation, destruction, creation, and so forth.  I am forever a seeker and this poem soothes me when I feel displaced.  Sometimes, my identities clash (teacher, mother, daughter, writer, rebel, cochina, pocha, feminist, chicana) and I feel a dissonance that leaves me reeling with anxiety.  This poem is a prayer.  It helped to settle my fears when I wrote it.  Still now, when I re-read it, the poem calms me further.  I included the different aspects/traits of the feminine divine because I sought to portray the multiplicitous nature of woman.  She is child bearer, yes (of babies, ideas, poems, etc.) but she also knowns when it’s time to kick some ass.  She can imbibe the filth, therefore cleanse the spiritual palette.  She is keen in sensing acrimony and working to restore the balance.  She also understands that harmony comes and goes.  When I say I am a seeker, what I mean to say is that I seek to invoke Thought Woman, Tonantzin, Xilonen, and the filth eaters through my writing.  However she may manifest is up to her.

3. In “A Poem for My Breasts,” “Kissy Kissy,” and “Wednesday’s Wife,” there’s clearly a struggle between the narrators’ ideas about freedom and feminism and a conflict w/ relationships, specifically heterosexual relationships. What were you working out in these poems? Additionally, I think these lines pulled at me because I’ve always been obsessed with wondering what freedom looks and feels like—what are its real, physical dimensions? Why is it so difficult to see freedom in these ways and so difficult to live our concepts of freedom?

I don’t remember how old I was when I realized that being a girl somehow equated to being “less than” (which is to say I feel like I must have always felt that way growing up). Sexism and misogyny was ingrained within my family dynamic and societal culture, both local and global.  I was always and will be forever aware of it.  That being said, I felt rebellious from a very early age.  It couldn’t have always been like this, could it?  In fact, I didn’t think I was less than, (not innately) but I was troubled that others did.  I witnessed women succumb to traditional subservient roles within my immediate and extended family.  I saw it on television, in advertisements, in my very own classroom, in church, in the workforce, in politics, within romantic relationships, and the whole damn world, really.  I became a hyper-sensitive.  Writing helped me sift through my troubled feelings.  It allowed me a freedom that I could not express in daily life.

4. I found Cunt.Bomb. to be ferociously honest—it exalts womanhood and freedom but at the same time is willing to expose both compromise and fear—especially as related to the roles of ‘mother,’ ‘daughter,’ ‘wife.’ How does the woman as poet make her peace with these roles?

I think by making peace with both the complimentary and contradictive nature of mother/daughter/wife roles is to recognize one’s own survival skills.  When you add writer and traveler to the mix it becomes even more complicated.  Becoming a mother doesn’t mean that personal goals should dissolve.  It does not mean that our personal passions wither and must play second fiddle to the role of wife or even the role of mother.  This may sound selfish to some.  But, I view it like this: I don’t want my daughter to abandon her wild woman instinctive nature once (if) she weds or mothers children.  In fact, I hope that as she matures she acknowledges her sexuality and preferences without shame and with the innateness that is attributed to it.  At the same time, it is important that she know too, that there are those who will want to abuse it.  Men, lovers, media representation, society, family, and even the academe. I want her to be as prepared as possible for all scenarios that may come her way that could potentially compromise her freedom.  I do not live in fear and I hope that my daughter does not either.  However, I hope for her the survival skills of the pragmatic, ever-creative woman.
5. My favorite poem, “Diana the Huntress” written from the point of view of the woman vigilante who killed at least two bus drivers suspected of kidnapping/delivering young women to their brutal deaths in Juarez. I want to share these lines:

“The newspapers jabbered like angry bees
and the AP wire was alive with the
electricity of my name

Diana the Huntress
and I fear no moon, Lady of Wild Creatures
La Cazadora worshipped by the womanly
of Juarez

My sisters are frightened mares

Some might say I will perish in hell
with the rest of them
the men—adept at removing women’s faces
removing their breasts like too-soon petals
the milk of their skin, the floating
flotsam peeled beneath the killer’s knife

They like to leave behind bite
marks on the buttocks

They like to leave behind dead babies
cradled within eviscerated wombs

Decomposed flesh resting inside decomposed

And should I burn in the seventh layer
it is of no consequence to me
place me in hell and I will kill them all

As Xicana women, even those of us far from Juarez, it is necessary to speak our concerns and outrage for women in danger there and everywhere—but also because we must refute the spiritual and psychological harm done to us when violence like this can exist and go unpunished in the world. What drew you to writing this poem as Diana the Huntress?

A friend told me of Diana the vigilante one late afternoon as I dwindled away in a dusty college office.  He emailed me the newspaper link.  I was immediately drawn to the article and began a four hour research frenzy.  The incident in which “Diana” had successively shot one bus driver and then the next had only happened a few weeks before.  Both men were known as notorious sexual perpetrators and were said to have assaulted the Mexican women who worked in the borderlands factories in Juarez.  I was inflamed with anger.  This was nothing new, because as to date, thousands of women have gone missing or turned up murdered along the border.  Rather, I was incensed in a way that I had not felt before.  I felt a spiritual tremor deep in the pit of my gut.  I realized that I approved of these acts of murder.  No, I do not call them murders.  Though some might.  I call them desperate acts of necessary self-defense.  I call them cunning because the shootings had to be clandestine.  This act of retaliation, justice, woman-warrior, and self-defense is the stuff that corridos are made of – like Joaquin Murrieta or Pancho Villa.  Diana the Huntress es la soldadera.  I draw comparisons to the groups of Hindu women who are referred to as the Gulabi Gang (Pink Sari women).  These women are activists and work as a team to deflect and prevent violence against women.  They threaten men with their laathis sticks until they stop beating their wives and daughters.  They fight back against rampant rapists, corrupt officials, and men who prey on girls or seek child brides.  It is my hopes to create a series of poems that focus on women warriors both past and present.  I would like to write (perhaps personal pieces) a collection that speaks to the stories of Amazonian spirits, guerrilla female soldiers, soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution, and the Kenyan women of Umoja who live in their own village of only girls, women, and young boys that they raise not to harm females.  It would be wonderful to have the luxury of time and the ability to research thoroughly this collection.  I have started, but as a blue-collar writer, busy mama, day and event teacher, it is slow coming.

6. There’s a gorgeous forward on the website that’s not actually in the chapbook. I wanted to share it with our readers and ask you if you wanted to comment further:

“These precious jewels of epiphany continue to guide me as I uncover for myself women, gender-identified women and allies who advocate for equality, who fight against the oppression and pillage against women and of course who dive whole-heartedly into the vastness and mysterious complexity of unbridled sexuality. Yes, I love the cunt. Yes, I have one. And yes, I will continue to use the word because it is not disparaging but rather has been wrangled into submission for hundreds of years; only to be used against women and girls as a tool for abuse and means of brutal capitulation. For those who recoil at the thought of the title of this humble chapbook, I invite you to sit and listen/read for a bit. The poems included are but a small journey stitched together to create my life as a mother, daughter, sister, poet, and woman of color. Woman. Cunt.”

Thank you dear ire’ne for sharing my forward.  It was not included in the first batch of Cunt. Bomb. chapbooks but is now.  My editor at Swimming With Elephants Publications graciously added it upon my request.

7. After releasing a full-length poetry collection (Always Messing with Them Boys, West End Press, 2011), did you feel there was more freedom/flexibility with writing/publishing a chapbook with Swimming with Elephants Press? How do you feel that your work—both your publications and your work as a slam poet have meshed with the position of Poet Laureate of Albuquerque? And lastly, what are you working on now?

I write this response to you as I sit in a small internet café in Granada, Nicaragua.  I am overlooking a lovely, lush courtyard and in about two hours I will be sharing several poems from Cunt. Bomb. and my third newly released title, “The Language of Bleeding: Poems for the XI Festival Internacional de Poesia.”  My mother, Gloria Lopez, helped to translate my poems into Spanish.  I say “helped” but, as a pocha, what I really mean to say is that she worked very hard to translate ALL of the eight poems in my new small collection.  The collection was created specifically for the festival but it will be carried at some local Albuqueque book stores, online at SWEP and Amazon, and also at the Albuquerque Museum where I will read and book sign upon my return.  I am currently teaching 6th grade at Native American Community Academy.  I run the poetry program there and at night I teach a University of New Mexico Chicana Studies class, “Borderlands Poetics.”  As the volunteer coordinator for the upcoming Women of the World Poetry Slam National festival/tournament, I have been extremely busy.  This leaves very little time to write but I have managed to eek out a few pieces here and there.  I am currently in my “roll them sleeves up,” mode and I am working hard toward these goals that I feel, once complete, will satiate my need to coordinate safe spaces for others to write and share their stories.  By the summer I would like to retreat unto myself for a bit and focus on my personal writing.  Until then, I know I must work hard to prove myself as a more than adequate poet laureate.  I am a woman.  I am used to working hard.  That old adage is true about women having to work twice as (thrice or more if you ask me) than men in order to gain the due credit and recognition within their respective fields.  I juggle much.  But that’s okay.  On days when I feel the world become too slippery to grasp, I channel the power of the multi-armed goddess, Kali.  Or I have a good cry in the privacy of my shower or in my bedroom.  Just like our planet, a good rain storm is very cleansing.

I come from slam poetry.  I am a slam poet.  I am also a poet laureate.  I am the poet laureate of Albuquerque.  I am a mama. I am a teacher. I am a lover.  I am a warrior/llorona/chingona/mentirosa/storyteller/chismosa/poeta Xicana. 

I’m all kinds of other stuff too.  But this is how I feel today.


Jessica Helen Lopez has recently been named the City of Albuquerque Poet Laureate.  She has also been a featured writer for 30 Poets in their 30’s by MUZZLE magazine.  Lopez is a nationally recognized award-winning slam poet, and holds the title of 2012 and 2014 Women of the World City of ABQ Champion. She is a member of the Macondo Foundation. Founded by Sandra Cisneros, it is an association of socially engaged writers united to advance creativity, foster generosity, and honor community. Her first collection of poetry, Always Messing With Them Boys (West End Press, 2011) made the Southwest Book of the Year reading list and was also awarded the Zia Book Award presented by NM Women Press. Her second collection of poetry, Cunt.Bomb. is published by Swimming with Elephants Publication (2014). 
She is the founder of La Palabra – The Word is a Woman collective created for and by women and gender-identified women. Lopez is a Ted Talk speaker alumni and her talk is titled, Spoken Word Poetry that Tells HERstory. You may find some of Lopez’s work at these sites –,, and Her work has been anthologized in A Bigger Boat: The Unlikely Success of the Albuquerque Slam Scene (UNM Press), Earth Ships: A New Mecca Poetry Collection (NM Book Award Finalist she was also a co-editor), Tandem Lit Slam (San Francisco), Adobe Walls, Malpais Review, SLAB Literary Magazine, Courage Anthology: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls (Write Bloody Press) and Learn then Burn: A Modern Poetry Anthology for the Classroom, Second ed. (Write Bloody Press). Lopez is the Volunteer Coordinator and planning member for the Poetry Slam Incorporated (PSi) 2015 Women of the World National Poetry Slam Tournament to be hosted in Albuquerque.  She is a book reviewer for World Literature Today Magazine.


ire’ne lara silva lives in Austin, TX, and is the author of furia (poetry, Mouthfeel Press, 2010) which received an Honorable Mention for the 2011 International Latino Book Award and flesh to bone (short stories, Aunt Lute Books, 2013) which won the 2013 Premio Aztlan, placed 2nd for the 2014 NACCS Tejas Foco Award for Fiction, and was a finalist for Foreward Review’s Book of the Year Award in Multicultural Fiction.  In 2015, Aztlan Libre Press will publish her second full length collection of poetry, blood sugar canto.
ire’ne is the recipient of the 2014 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award, and the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award, as well as a Macondo Workshop member and  CantoMundo Inaugural Fellow. She and Moises S. L. Lara are currently co-coordinators for the Flor De Nopal Literary Festival.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Testimonios by members of the Letras Latinas Writers Initiative 2015

Below are the testimonios from the participants of the third Letras Latinas Writers Initiative gathering--retreats, if you will, that bring together MFA candidates from around the country to meet, bond, talk shop, and forge enduring connections. But first, I'd like to take a moment to remember our previous cohorts:

Year 1, in the spring of 2013, and organized primarily by Lauro Vazquez (MFA, ND, '13), the participants were: Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (University of Michigan), Lauren Espinoza (Arizona State University), Thade Correa (University of Notre Dame) and Lynda Letona (University of Notre Dame). The gathering took place in South Bend, IN.

Year 2, in the spring of 2014, and organized primarily by the aforementioned Lynda Letona and Lauro Vazquez, the participants were: Javier Zamora (New York University), Elizabeth Acevedo (University of Maryland), Nayelly Barrios (McNeese State University), Suzi F. Garcia (University of Notre Dame), Jonathan Diaz (University of Notre Dame). The gathering took place in South Bend, IN and included time with special guests Laurie Ann Guerrero and Francisco X. Alarcón.

Special sessions during these first two gatherings (2013, 2014) were provided by Notre Dame professor and poet Orlando Menes and MFA alum and CantoMundo fellow Diego Báez.

Year 3, this past February (2015), was organized by ASU MFA candidate Lauren Espinoza, and would not have been possible without the generous collaboration and funding of ASU's Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and ASU's graduate Creative Writing Program. Special sessions were provided by Alberto Rios, Cynthia Hogue and Rigoberto González.

Gatherings like these, and what they represent, are a cornerstone of our mission.



Melisa Garcia
           (University of New Mexico)
Attending Letras Latinas Writers Initiave ASU conference “Desert Night, Rising Stars” became a confirmation about the thoughts and emotions that I’ve been tackling throughout my experience as an MFA poet. As a first generation grad student I have given a lot of thought about the voice that I am growing with and into. There are many memories of this conference that continue to speak to me, from Alberto Rios' “Linguistic Bicycle” wisdom, to Cynthia Hogue’s aspects of bearing witness, and Rigoberto Gonzalez's ekphrastic poetry workshop. As a poet that writes about my mother’s adolescent experiences in El Salvador and my father’s in Guatemala, this conference has allowed me to understand that I am a vital aspect of my parents' telling, retelling, and ultimately showing of emotional experiences within these spaces. Before this conference I wanted to find a space where I could understand how my voice can be a channel for these two countries that I have never been to but my parents carry in their minds constantly and talk about. Hogue’s conversation about bearing witness and specifically the secondary witness brought forth a bigger internal and external conversation of my duty as a preserver of my parents’ fragmented memories of these places through the good day-to-day stories and the historical turmoil both countries faced. 

I was able to understand that in accepting the duty of a storyteller per se, I will be able to give breath to these stories and bring forth the human condition of places that are underrepresented. With that in mind, this conference at ASU allowed me to see what other MFA students are doing and how like them we are processing different concepts that are rooted from the unsaid and the eagerness to find agency in our voices. The beauty of opportunities like these is that you gather more and more ideas to write about and fortify others that you have possibly pushed aside because they haven’t been given the power source they deserve.


Jacqueline Balderrama
(Arizona State University)

The Letras Latinas Writers Intitiative gathering was entirely uplifting. Coming from a ethnically diverse family—part Mexican-American, part Caucasian—I’ve always had an interest in writing about my family history and blended identities. Recently I’ve also been drawn to environmental and border issues. At times I’ve felt insecure approaching these subjects. In taking part in this gathering, a small community within a much larger latino voice, it felt like a safe space to deal with those struggles.

Ae Hee, Melisa, Lauren, and Steve were so supportive throughout the weekend. Together we were able to have meaningful discussions about our hopes, endeavors, and involvement. It was a special moment to hear their work during our roundtable talk. Each of us write in very distinct styles and come from varied backgrounds. This added a colorful perspective and broadened my notion of latino poetics. I was particularly able to strengthen my connection with Melisa by hosting her in my apartment. Though we had attended UC Riverside as undergraduates, I did not know her or her work well. The first night we spent a lot of time reading each other’s poems and discussing a shared interest in ekphrasis, our MFA programs, and our writing purpose. This bonding time was very memorable for me, and I look forward to keeping in touch with Melisa and rest of the group.

Before this Letras Latinas gathering, I had not taken a class on Latino poetry or participated in a conference focused on Latino poetics. Cynthia Hogue’s talk on poetics of witness and Rigoberto Gonzalez’s shared panel with Dexter Booth on Latino and African American Poetry affected me and my work the most. It was important for me to see first hand how these impressive writers handled these subjects. Most of us in the group were dealing with forms of secondary witness. Cynthia Hogue provided very clear guidelines on the kind of awareness required by such a poem. I will never forget what Rigoberto Gonzalez said on writing about another’s experience: “I am speaking next to [them]. I understand what I say is going to affect who I am standing next to.”

Since the Letras Latinas Writers Initiative gathering, I feel more confident in my identity as a Latina poet. I am so very grateful to the initiative and to this year’s participants. Thank you for inviting me into this wonderful community and allowing me to see the importance of our voices. It is an experience I will always treasure.


Steve Castro
(American University)

I really enjoyed my time at the 2015 DNRS Writers Conference with my Letras Latinas Writers Initiative cohort.  On the last day of the conference, the five of us, Jacqueline, Lauren, Melissa, Ae Hee and I decided to form a book club, in which we would all read one poetry book once a month and discuss it.  So in that regard, we decided to stay in touch well after the conference ended.  We mentioned that the first book we would like to discuss would be Dexter L. Booth’s Scratching the Ghost.  After our final conference event, we left for the Phoenix Art Museum.  After the museum, we stopped by a grocery store before we went home to order takeout and discuss poetry.  As we were driving away from the grocery store, I realized that I had forgotten my poetry book Scratching the Ghost inside of the grocery store.  I lamented this, and Lauren, who was driving, decided that we should go back to look for my book.  I mentioned that we didn’t have to go through all this trouble.  Once we returned, I got out, while Jacqueline, Melissa, Lauren and Ae Hee, waited in the car.  I came back out and told them that I couldn’t find my book, but that I was grateful that we came back to look for it, and that we could head home.  My suggestion did not satisfy any of them, so Lauren parked the car and the five of us looked throughout the entire grocery store for my book, and Lauren ended up finding it in the beer section.  We then went home and ordered Thai food, and ate to our heart’s content and then we read and commented on each other’s poetry well into the night. 


Ae Hee Lee
(University of Notre Dame)

It was lovely to remember what the sun felt like and how many colors the world really has after months of snow and white and grey in South Bend, IN. This was my first time attending a conference and I did not know what to expect. However, Desert Nights, Rising Stars and the talks about ekphrastic poetry by Rigoberto Gonzalez, the nature of language with Alberto “Tito” Rios, and the poetics of witness with Cynthia Hogue were educating and, above all, inspiring. Especially the last two, as they spoke to me as a “third-culture kid” who sought to reconcile the different cultures I have lived through and continue to live within me.

The trips to the eateries surrounding ASU and the Phoenix Art Museum were great, but it was the “Salon” that really completed this experience for me. The time and poetry shared with the new Letras Latinas Writers Initiative group (Lauren! Jackie! Melissa! Steve!) and the kind people that invited us into their home (Bojan Louis and Sara Sams) were truly memorable. While we ate thai curry, played music, and commented and brought each other up sincerely in our writing, I could not help but think just how amazing it is that we connected with each other despite having been strangers for most of our lives.

I am very thankful to everyone who made this experience possible, be it by organizing or hosting, and I truly believe that gatherings such as these are blessings to any MFA student who is ready to explore beyond his/her own world and writing.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Our America” brings PINTURA:PALABRA to Salt Lake City for its first workshop in PROSE…

Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA)

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies (ILS), is pleased to announce its fourth “PINTURA: PALABRA” workshop: “Creative Dialogues: An Ekphrastic Writing Workshop in Brief Prose”—slated to take place at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) the weekend of March 28-29, in tandem with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s travelling exhibit, “Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art,” which opened on February 6 and runs until May 17. The Mestizo Coffeehouse and Art Gallery will host a public event that Sunday at 5 PM, featuring local and visiting writers who are taking part in the workshop.

“PINTURA: PALABRA” is a multi-year national initiative that seeks to foment and encourage the creation of new writing inspired by Latino art. The inaugural workshop was held in Washington, D.C., where the “Our America” exhibit debuted. DC-based poets made up most of the curated slate of participants. A group of Florida-based poets were convened at FIU’s Frost Museum of Art in Miami, where the “Our America” exhibit had its second stop. The Crocker Museum of Art in Sacramento hosted the third workshop last October, which included the participation of California-based writers. The workshop in Salt Lake City will count on the participation of writers based in Utah, as well as visiting writers, and will be led by noted novelist and short story writer Fred Arroyo.

In addition to sponsoring the on-site workshop at the UMFA, Letras Latinas is partnering with two journals to publish PINTURA : PALABRA portfolios. The Western Humanities Review, a journal of contemporary literature and culture housed in the University of Utah’s English Department, will be joined by Brevity, the online journal of concise literary nonfiction, in showcasing the art-inspired prose by the writers who will be convening in Salt Lake City on a Saturday and Sunday for two 5-hour sessions. Select students and faculty of the University of Utah’s Creative Writing Program are among the workshop participants.

“The writers will have a few months to work on, revise, and polish the work they start in Salt Lake City in order to submit it for publication. Collaboration with the various journals is one of the most gratifying aspects of this project. We have agreements with Poet Lore, The Notre Dame Review, The Los Angeles Review, and the Packinghouse Review ” said Francisco Aragón, faculty member at the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame and director of Letras Latinas. “The Poet Lore issue is at the printer’s right now. I’m also pleased to announce that there is a special portfolio in the works at POETRY Magazine, which will include reproductions of the art from the exhibit,” Aragón added.

The Mestizo Coffeehouse and Art Gallery in Salt Lake City will be hosting a public literary event, featuring art-inspired prose, on Sunday, March 29 at 5 PM, featuring the workshop participants. In addtition to facilitator Fred Arroyo, those reading will be: Jessica Alexander, Laura Bylenok, Cristina Correa, Carolina Ebeid, Juliana Aragón Fatula, Adam Gianneli, Stephen D. Gibson, Michael Mejia, Ruben Quesada, Alejandro Ramirez, and Natalia Treviño.

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the Institute for Latino Studies, strives to enhance the visibility, appreciation and study of Latino literature both on and off the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts inspires critical dialogue and illuminates the role of art in our lives

Mestizo Coffeehouse: Brewing up a Better Community One Cup at a Time.


is made possible thanks, in part, 
to the generosity 
of the Weissberg Foundation


Biographical sketches of the participating writers

Fred Arroyo (workshop facilitator) is the author of Western Avenue and Other Fictions, shortlisted for the 2014 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and the novel The Region of Lost Names (both published by University of Arizona Press). A recipient of an Individual Artist Program Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, Fred’s fiction writing is included in the Library of Congress’ series “Spotlight on U.S. Hispanic Writers.”

Jessica Alexander is a candidate for the PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Utah.  Her fiction appears in such journal as Fence, Denver Quarterly, and DIAGRAM.  She is currently serving as a fiction editor for Quarterly West.

Laura Bylenok is the author of the poetry collection Warp, which won the 2015 T.S. Eliot Prize and is forthcoming from Truman State University Press, and the hybrid prose chapbook a/0 (DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in journals such as Pleiades, North American Review, West Branch, and Guernica, among others. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah, where she is also the new media editor for Quarterly West.


Cristina Correa is a VONA/Voices writer and a Midwestern Voices and Visions awardee. Her fiction and poetry have most recently been published in TriQuarterly, Rebelde: A Proyecto Latina Anthology, As/Us, and Kalyani; broadcast on National Public Radio’s Latino USA; and exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. She holds a BA from Columbia College’s Fiction Writing Department and is an MA candidate in Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Carolina Ebeid was granted a 2015 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry, and has received awards and fellowships from the Stadler Center, CantoMundo, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and the Academy of American Poets. Recent work appears in Sixth Finch, Gulf Coast, and the Colorado Review, and her first book will be published by Noemi Press in 2016 as part of their Akrilica series. She holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers, and has begun a PhD in the University of Denver's creative writing program. She helps edit poetry at Better: Culture & Lit. 


Juliana Aragón Fatula’s, second book, Red Canyon Falling on Churches and her debut poetry book, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City are published by Conundrum Press and her chapbook, The Road I Ride Bleeds, published by Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. She is a fifth generation Southern Colorado Native and a lifetime member of the Sandra Cisneros’ Macondo Foundation. She has been a writer in residence for Colorado Humanities’ Writers in the Schools Program since 2012. Her foremost focus is education and working with at-risk-youth. She teaches cultural diversity in her classrooms and believes in the power of education to change lives.


Adam Giannelli’s poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, New England Review, Yale Review, FIELD, Colorado Review, and elsewhere. He is the translator of a selection of prose poems by Marosa di Giorgio, Diadem (BOA Editions, 2012), which was shortlisted for the 2013 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and the editor of High Lonesome (Oberlin College Press, 2006), a collection of essays on Charles Wright. He currently studies at the University of Utah, where he is a doctoral student in literature and creative writing, and a poetry editor for Quarterly West.


Stephen D. Gibson received his MA in Creative Writing from Purdue University and his Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. His fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice and won an Associated Writing Programs Intro Award for Short Stories. It has appeared in The Southeast ReviewQuarterly WestStoryQuarterly and elsewhere

Michael Mejia is the author of the novel Forgetfulness (Fiction Collective 2), and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including AGNI, Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Forms at War and My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. He received a Literature Fellowship in Prose from the NEA and a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. Michael is also the co-founding editor of Ninebark Press, a literary press dedicated to publishing innovative works by both new and established writers, especially projects that cross boundaries of genre, culture, and aesthetic. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Utah.

Ruben Quesada is editor of the forthcoming volume, Latino Poetics: Essays from University of New Mexico Press, author of Next Extinct Mammal and Exiled from the Throne of Night. He is poetry editor for The Cossack Review, Cobalt Review, and Luna Luna Magazine. A fellow of CantoMundo, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, Squaw Valley Writers, and Lambda Literary Retreat, his writing appears in Guernica, Rattle, American Poetry Review, The Rumpus, and The California Journal of Poetics. He is a professor of English and creative writing for the performing arts at Eastern Illinois University. 

Alejandro Ramirez is a freelance writer from the Greater Boston Area. His essays have appeared in Defunct: A Literary Repository for the AgesSolstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, and Postmortem Magazine.  His journalism has appeared Spare Change NewsDig Boston, and BDCWire. He is currently a Master of Fine Arts student in Pine Manor College's Solstice Creative Writing Program.

Natalia Treviño is the author of Lavando La Dirty Laundry, a book of poems. She is an Associate Professor of English at Northwest Vista College and a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of Texas, and an MFA from the University of Nebraska. Her distinctions include the Alfredo Cisneros de Moral Award and the San Antonio Artist Foundation Literary Prize. Her work has appeared in various journals, including BordersensesBorderlands, Texas Poetry Review and Voices de la Luna. Her fiction has appeared in Mirrors Beneath the Earth, and essays in Shifting Balance Sheets: Women’s Stories of Naturalized Citizens and Complex Allegiances: Constellations of Immigration. She is finishing her first novel, La Cruzada