Wednesday, February 1, 2012

CantoMundo fellow awarded one cool grant!

Last July, when I returned from CantoMundo, I wrote a brief post about poet Manuel Paul Lopez. I wrote:

"I had first come across Paul's work back in 2004 when he submitted a manuscript to the inaugural edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. In our initial e-correspondence, he expressed what an impact Andrés Montoya's work had had on him when he first encountered it, and that he wanted to be a part in that first edition of the Prize--by submitting to it. Although his manuscript was not selected, it wasn't long before he made a terrific debut, winning The Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize leading to the publication of Death of a Mexican and Other Poems (Bear Star Press, 2006)."

Well, I heard from Paul this past December, and he shared with me some great news. Paul has been awarded a San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund Individual Artist Fellowship! A San Diego publication called the Union Tribune published a nice piece about this initiative. When Paul passed along his news, I asked if he'd be willing to answer a few questions about his project. Here is what he had to say:

Letras Latinas Blog: 
One of the things I found encouraging and refreshing about the San Diego Foundation’s “Innovation through the Arts” initiative is that they are giving grants directly to individual artists, but at the same time requiring them to collaborate with an arts organization.  Could you share with our readers how and why you came to choose Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company as your collaborative partner, when it came time to put together your proposal. Tell us about this organization and the people behind it. 

Manuel Paul Lopez:
The Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company is a fantastic arts organization in San Diego.  It was founded in 2004 as a community-focused, socially-conscious, Equity theater.  Since then, the company has produced several plays that have stayed true to its mission, which is one that aims "to broaden the scope of San Diego's cultural environment by offering professional, socially-conscious theater that provides a voice for diverse and underrepresented populations, aesthetics, and issues on stage."  Since its inception, Mo`olelo has won several awards and recognition, most recently the 2011 American Theatre Wing National Theatre Company grant and a 2011 Ivy Bethune Award from Actors Equity Association.  Mo`olelo also developed a greening initiative in January 2007 to coincide with its socially-conscious principles.  This later developed into the Mo`olelo's Green Theater Choices Toolkit, which has since been adopted by many theaters around the country interested in "greening" their theater practices.  Needless to say, these objectives and practices resonate with me not only aesthetically, but politically. 

Previously to listing Mo`olelo as a possible collaborating organization, I had seen three productions, all of them in line with their stated mission.  The plays I saw dealt with issues like race, class, and family.  The 2012 season will also prove to be strong year of theater, I'm sure.

Another facet of Mo`olelo that struck me was the community partnerships.  If you view the Mo`olelo website, you'll find a list of diverse organizations that are also doing great work in the various communities around San Diego, which includes local schools.  If you know me, you'll know that high school-age students are a demographic that I've worked exclusively with over the last 10 years.  Mo`olelo has a great outreach program that provides students with the opportunity to work closely with theater professionals to develop an awareness, and hopefully, a love for the dramatic arts.  Students write, perform, view, and discuss live, professional theater.  Now talk about instilling critical thinking skills that live far beyond the stale system of standardized testing!

Seema Sueko, the Artistic Director at Mo'olelo, is an energetic and positive force.  She is the consummate professional.  When Seema contacted me initially about the possibilities of a collaboration, I was immediately struck by her willingness to consider a candidate who was not necessarily of the theater community.  It was evident that she'd read my artist's statement and proposal carefully, in addition to doing some extra research, and I respected that.  Seema also mentioned that she understood what I was trying to do with this manuscript and that it would fit well with a production Mo`olelo was scheduled to produce during the 2012 season called Kita y Fernanda, by Tanya Saracho.   

Letras Latinas Blog: 

Here is how your winning project is described: “The Yearning Feed, a book-length manuscript of poems and short stories dealing with border issues that will be given a public reading upon its completion.” I’m intrigued that this book project is multi-genre in nature. Could you flesh this out for us a bit. What kind of public reading are we talking about here. Will it include more than one performer? What should habitual theater-goers expect? 

Manuel Paul Lopez: 

I'll begin with the public reading aspect of the project.  As part of the CCF grant, we were expected to present the new work publicly.  Now it's important to know that this looks different for different recipients of the grant.  Of the 15 individuals who were awarded a CCF grant, there were musicians, installation artists, film makers, actors, dancers and writers, a real nice diverse pool of disciplines, for lack of a better word.  For us, the natural way to present my material would be at a public reading.  This will happen in October 2012 at the 10th Ave. Theater in downtown San Diego.  What I find special about this event, though, is that it will be a two-night reading and concert with other artists participating.  Poet, Luivette Resto, has agreed to participate in this event, as well as the electro-cumbia band, Cumbia Machin.  As a fellow CantoMundo fellow, I was floored by Luivette's poetry and stage presence last summer in Austin.  She's also semi-local, in that she currently lives in the Los Angeles area.  As for Cumbia Machin, I love what they do.  I had the opportunity last year to hear them at The Loft at UCSD, where they opened for Bomba Estereo.  The members of Cumbia Machin are also members or former members of the B-Side Players and Agua Dulce, two San Diego institutions.  I asked them, and they kindly agreed.  So in regards to the staged readings in October, it's less about me, and more about the program that Seema and I put together in hopes to provide the theater-going enthusiasts with something a little different.  And as I mentioned earlier, Tanya Saracho's Kita y Fernanda will be running during this time, so for those in the area, there's going to be a lot happening.

The manuscript is multi-genre.  As of now, it's entitled The Yearning Feed.  Poems and short stories intermingle, though I also want to include primary documents, like graphs, photos, etc.  A section that I'm really determined to develop is one that focuses on California's Imperial Valley during the 7.2 earthquake that hit on April 4th, 2010.  It was Easter Sunday, and it rocked the area, though it never received the sustained coverage that other earthquakes received.  This, I'm sure, because the death toll never reached a number that was anywhere significant in the eyes of the media.  But lives were lost, and there were millions of dollars of damage that impacted many people, causing short and long-term consequences that crossed the U.S./Mexico border, especially affecting many in Mexicali, B.C., where it was centered.  If you think about it, this earthquake was on the heels of Chile's monstrous 8+ in February 2010, and Haiti's tragic, tragic quake in January of that same year.  Lots of trauma and anxieties were sustained during those early months of 2010, not to mention the wars, global economies and immigration issues that remained constants throughout that period and that continue to affect many today.  So with story and poem, I want to revisit this period and see what I find. 

Letras Latinas Blog: 
In the San Diego Union article about the artists who have won these grants, one of them says: “This is life-altering—truly it is…” What effect do you see this distinction having on your writing and writing career. 

Manuel Paul Lopez:
I hope this opportunity provides me with the chance to meet a lot of interesting and talented professionals in the local theater community.  At some point in the near future, I would love to try writing for the stage.  I admire immensely what theater can do to an audience, and I want to someday be a part of that experience. And of course, I hope that I'll have a finished manuscript by the end of this year that I'm really proud of.    

Letras Latinas Blog: 

What did you learn by putting yourself through this process of applying for a grant of this nature, and what advice would you give someone who is seeking to win a grant from an external source like a private foundation. 

Manuel Paul Lopez:
The most important lesson I learned, or at least, began to think more deeply about, was how to write a succinct artist's statement that captured the work I'm most interested in creating at this point in my life.  This process included writing a proposal, attending a couple of informational meetings, interviewing, and most excruciatingly, subjecting myself to questions posed by a panel.  Some advice that I would offer: spend some time writing and re-writing the artist's statement.  Beyond using it as a way to project your work and/or ideas to the public, it's a good way to think about where your head is in relation to your own work.  In addition to this, it would be beneficial to prepare an "elevator speech," of sorts.  Be able to articulate a proposed project succinctly and thoughtfully.  It's funny, but not-so-funny for me to be offering this advice, because these are two facets of the process that I had not previously considered much and had both cost me in the past.  Finally, a person interested in pursuing such a grant should also research the foundation to make sure its mission and previously-funded projects coincide or diverge from your own beliefs.


And here a couple of poems:   

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