Friday, September 12, 2014

Dan Vera @ ND: photo gallery with commentary

Dan Vera's recent visit to Notre Dame was, I think, what Letras Latinas aspires to. In other words, it hasn't always been the case. One of the adjustments we've made in the last couple of years, as the poster above indicates, is shifting all of our events to the evening....with plenty of lead time, and in consultation, as a rule, with the Creative Writing Program (they hold their events on Wednesdays, too). Dan's reading was scheduled in direct and early consultation with CW.  

Getting the local press to notice doesn't happen overnight. It sounds like a cliché, but it still holds true: building and sustaining relationships is the key. I met Howard Dukes of the South Bend Tribune in the Fall of 2013. We made an appointment, he came to my office, we had a nice chat, and I gave him free books. He did a nice piece on the grande on-campus finale of of Latino/a Poetry Now. And then something highly unusual happened last spring: somehow Howard got wind that Laurie Ann Guerrero was going to be reading on campus (I was swamped and forgot to make my local press contacts because, among other reasons, I was travelling in from DC and I can only do so much), and I found out that he wanted to interview Laurie. Result? This. And so this year, remembering to put Howard on my check list, I contacted him, and he came through.

I also contacted the student reporter from The Observer who wrote a nice piece last year for our Latino/a Poetry Now finale, and she responded by saying she'd been promoted to News Editor, and so she assigned Dan's reading to new student journalist named Hunter. Dan's reading was his very first assignment, and he did a splendid job. 

But lest one thinks these relationships happen overnight, they don't. In the Fall of 2011, when we launched Latino/a Poetry Now at Harvard University, I contacted The Observer then and made the pitch to them to cover our off-campus launch. I'm grateful to say they said Yes, and published this. In short, it's work, and more work, and if you're lucky, and keep at these relationships, they can and do pay off.

Dan Vera, Jonathan Diaz, Suzi Garcia, Francisco Aragon
missing: Ae Hee Lee

Arguably the most important aspect about these writer visits is to try and create spaces and situations where our students can interact and be enriched. On Dan's first night, Tuesday, keeping in mind the spirit of the Letras Latinas Writers Initiative, we set up a dinner with our Latino/a grad students in Creative Writing. And yet (I'm sorry I don't have a photo of this) no less enriching and important was that Dan had the opportunity to hang out and chat other CW grad student poets who were kind enough to come to the reading on Wednesday night, and who we invited to join us for drinks afterwards. They were Chris Holdaway, who hails from New Zealand, and is active in small press publishing with a cool press out of New Zealand called Compound Press. And Nichole Riggs, who hails from Tucson, AZ, and who, like Chris, is a first year student, and will be working with Action Books during her stint at Notre Dame. And speaking of Action of Books, also in attendance in show of support was current Creative Writing Director Joyelle McSweeney.

Tom Anderson

Professor Tom Anderson, current Chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literature, has been one of Letras Latinas' most loyal and consistent supporters, when it comes to our on-campus events. A consumate book buyer and collector, our visiting writers can always count on his support. Tom has also been instrumental in providing co-sponsorship via the  José E. Fernández Hispanic Studies Caribbean Initiative when our writers (like Dan) have connections to el Caribe. 

Dan, signing

Putting on these events is a team sport. And it starts with our Events Coordinator, Laly Maldonado, who got Dan squared away with his lodging, and who made sure we had a room, and a pre-reading reception. Here's Laly after having purchased books not only for the Institute's library for her and other members of her family.

Francisco Aragon, Tom Anderson, Dan Vera, Marisel Moreno

Equally supportive as Tom Anderson has been Associate Professor Marisel Moreno, with whom Letras Latinas has been steadily collaborating since Marisel and I worked together to bring Junot Diaz to Notre Dame in the Fall of 2009. Marisel has been particularly involved, in terms of classroom visits, with writers such as Fred Arroyo and William Archila, writers Marisel has now included in her syllabi, and her scholarly interests.

210-214 McKenna Hall, just before the reading

We set up 80 chairs and this optic seems to suggest that nearly all chairs were filled, if not all, eventually. Those in attendence were overwhelmingly students, including a good number from the across the way, at Holy Cross College--thanks to the collaboration of poet George Klawitter, C.S.C, who taught some of Dan's poems in his Advanced Composition class.

winner and judge
Speaking Wiri Wiri (Red Hen Press, 2013), the published book, wouldn't exist in its current form had Orlando Menes not selected it. Orlando did the honors of introducing Dan.

Dan at the podium

Audience members taking in some Wiri Wiri
Group photo with "Migrant Voices" class

On Dan's last day, he had a great session with Professor Marisel Moreno's "Migrant Voices" class

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