Saturday, November 22, 2008


Poets&Writers, several years ago, published a thumbnail sketch about a poetry reading series that took place in a small flat in San Francisco. The description sounded pretty cool: a regular engaged audience---a good crowd because the reduced space didn't require hoards of people to produce a "good crowd." Poets near and far clamored to read in the series because of the reputation it had garnered. Food and drink always flowed freely, the ambiance was relaxed, intimate. For years the series, whose name I don't remember, floated in the back of my mind.

Last year in New York I ran into Victor Hernández Cruz in the poetry section of the Strand. We chatted briefly, and then went for coffee. He asked me how long I was in town. I was leaving the next day. "Lástima," he said: in a couple of nights he would be giving a reading at Quincy Troupe's place in Harlem. The way he described it brought to mind that reading series in San Francisco I'd read about in P&W. There was an invitation-type flyer privately distributed; those who received it knew ahead of time they were being asked to donate $20 or so; in exchange, attendandees would get two of Cruz's books, plenty of food and drink, and a singular evening of poetry and dialogue with a distinguished poet at Quincy Troupe's ample flat in Harlem which, I'm told, is a sort of museum in itself for all the art hanging on its walls. Attendance at these Troupe-hosted "salons" were said to average between 30 and 40. I briefly considered re-booking my train back to DC and stay an extra couple of days to attend. I didn't, in the end, but it got me thinking....

When I knew, quite some time ago, that I'd be spending the month of November in Santa Fe, NM I thought about a "salon"/"open house"/benefit reading for Letras Latinas. Santa Fe somehow seemed like a place to give it a shot. But where? Thanks to fellow Macondista Margo Chavez's generosity, we had a place. Actually, it was Michelle Otero who suggested Margo's home. Michelle lives in Albuquerque and had agreed to be one of the readers. Gabe Gomez, who lives in Santa Fe, agreed to be the other. The bonus was Esteban Rael and Henry Rael, respectively---thanks to, once again, Michelle Otero. Esteban is a videographer, and Henry a photographer. Between the two of them, the evening would be visually documented. A date was set: Saturday, November 8, 2008.

The concept was straightforward. Gabe and Michelle would be representing Letras Latinas in their capacities as: winner of the 2006 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (Gabe); Momotombo Press author (Michelle); and recipient of the first Letras Latinas Residency Fellowship (Michelle). I would MC the event and introduce them, as well as say a bit about these three Letras Latinas initiatives. Gabe would bring a few copies of The Outer Bands (University of Notre Dame Press) to distribute. Michelle would bring Malinche's Daughter (Momotombo Press). I would bring other Momotombo Press titles, as well as Letras Latinas brochures. On the e-flyer that was sent out ahead of time a suggested dontation ($20 - $50) was stipulated so people knew what they were agreeing to, but mostly this inaugural Letras Latinas Salon was to enjoy Margo's home, its views, the the live prose, the live poetry, the food, the wine---in short, each other's company. I didn't want to make fundraising the sole focus, though I did want to get the word out about Letras Latinas to a new audience and underscore that Letras Latinas' various programs could not survive without the generosity of mostly modest private donors, and a few bigger ones. It's the nature of this beast we call the Arts. And it is true that Letras Latinas is in the middle of its annual year-end appeal/campaign.

The evening went from 5 - 8 PM with two brief (15 minutes) readings at 6 PM and 7PM, respectively, where both Michelle and Gabe read. So some guests, who couldn't stay the whole evening, caught the first reading, while others, who arrived later, caught the second one. Most caught them both. Esteban shot a video of both readings, along with a brief interview about Letras Latinas; and both Esteban and Henry took photos, of which the ones below are a selection.

Afterwards, I asked the readers what they thought, and they both loved the experience of reading in such an intimate and attractive setting. The informal feedback afterwards from those in attendance was unequivocal. Letras Latinas will indeed explore making this an annual event, whether it be in Santa Fe, San Francisco, Washington D.C. or elsewhere. But one thing was clear: it couldn't have been possible without Margo Chavez's hospitality and welcoming guests. Gracias, gracias, gracias.

Here are some photos, which are roughly chronological:

Michelle Otero, Gabe Gomez, Margo Chavez, Francisco Aragón
on Margo's balcony deck just outside the living room

The talent
and more talent

The spread

The wine

The views

Guests begin to arrive

and eat

and eat

The program commences;
I introduce Michelle and say a few things
about Momotombo Press
and the Letras Latinas Residency Fellowship

Santa Fe Poet Laureate, Valerie Martínez, seated on the sofa
straight ahead, near the center

Michelle takes the stage

and reads

I introduce Gabe and say a few things
about the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize

Gabe takes the stage

and reads

Taking in some live literature

Joe Hayes, Santa Fe storyteller, chats with Michelle

Ray Ortiz, Santa Fe poet, judge,
and Notre Dame alum,
on the upper right

Jamie Figueroa & Margo Chavez

The second brief reading has concluded and I've invited Margo to step forward to express my thanks for her hospitality---both hers and her companion John's

Thanks again to Michelle and Gabe;
and Esteban and Henry for gifting these visuals.

Stay tuned for the video
and more....

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