Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Latino Writers Collective/Ethnic Voices Poetry Series

On January 9th I received an e-mail whose first paragraph read, in part:

“…I live in Kansas City, Missouri, and am vice president of the board of the Latino Writers Collective. We are publishing an anthology of poetry, Primera Página: Poetry from the Latino Heartland. Tomás was guest writer at our first Latino reading series, Primera Página, held last year and is guest poet for the book. There are many anthologies of Latino poets from the coasts and the southwest, but no one is familiar with the old and large Latino communities in Kansas City on both sides of the state line. We founded the Collective to bring those voices to the larger community here, but we hope with this anthology to bring them to an even larger community.”

It was from Linda Rodriguez, author of a forthcoming poetry collection, Heart's Migration, to be published by Tía Chucha Press this coming spring.

Thus began what I hope will be a long and close collaboration. I felt honored to be asked to blurb, Primera Página: Poetry from the Latino Heartland (Scapegoat Press, 2008). But I didn’t think I’d have the pleasure of meeting any of these poets any time soon. As luck would have it, Virginia Brackett, a professor at nearby Park University, who founded and curates the Ethnic Voices Poetry Series, graciously invited me to read. She contacted me back in July and an early December date was set—three days after my slated return from Santa Fe, NM.

Of the 40 or so readings I’ve given since November of 2005, my time with The Latino Writers Collective and the good people at Park University rank among the most indelible and meaningful experiences I’ve had in this racket, maybe the best. I’ve said it here before: one of the things Palabra Pura tries to foster is this sense of hospitality towards our visiting artists. The Latino Writers Collective has set the highest bar I’ve witnessed and had the privilege of experiencing first hand. I think the photographs below will hint at what I mean. They organized a dinner on the evening of my first day, which was held at The Writer’s Place, their home—a space founded by Puerto Rican poet and LWC member Gloria Vando. Earlier in the day, one of their newest members, Erika Noguera, took me on a tour of the westside of Kansas City, MO, which is predominantly Latino and home of the Guadalupe Center, which has been serving this community since 1919. The next day, they organized a luncheon where I got to meet some of the community’s local cultural activists, including Joe and Romana Arce owners and publishers of The Kansas City Hispanic News, Florentino Camacho, the former Kansas state director of LULAC, Consuelo Cruz, director of the Matthie Rhodes Latino Cultural Arts Division, Freda Mendez Smith, president of the KCMO LULAC council, and Sandra Sanchez, president of MANA in Kansas City. One LWC member, Chato Villalobos, actually took me on a tour of the Guadalupe Center beforehand. That evening, I gave my reading at Park and was delighted to share the stage with two LWC poets, Gabriela N. Lemmons and Xanath Caraza. We had a very nice Q and A afterwards, along with a book signing. I was appreciative of how many of Virginia’s colleagues attended and with whom I had a nice time chatting. Afterwards, we all broke bread yet again, at a nearby restaurant. In short, just a wonderful time.

To give you an idea of what an impression the Latino Writers Collective makes on the people they host or have a hand in hosting, consider this: they hosted Helena Maria Viramontes in February of this year. She and her agent were so impressed with how well and warmly they were treated that they reported back—to certain people. The result? Sandra Cisneros will be reading for the Latino Writers Collective in April. A class act. Buena gente.

Here are some pics:
Poet and muralist José Faus, current President of the LWC is on my right.

All of us enjoying the food, drink, and each other's company

A toast to new connections and future collaboration

Group photo number 1 on the steps inside The Writer's Place

A luncheon the next day at a local restaurant on Kansas City's westside

Poet, police officer, and member of the LWC, Chato Villalobos, on my left

Linda Rodriguez did the honors of introducing the readers that evening

Selling and signing a few books

The LWC poets I read with: Gabriela N. Lemmons and Xanath Caraza

Group photo number 2 at Park University, after the reading


To read an excelllent interview with LWC vice president click--HERE.

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