Monday, July 6, 2009

Letras Latinas Young Writers Initiative: Rex Ovalle

Rex Ovalle was one of the first Cristo Rey students to benefit from the Letras Latinas Young Writers Initiative---a partnership with the Young Writers Workshop, a wonderful program founded and directed by Alison Joseph. LETRAS LATINAS BLOG recently caught up with Rex and conducted the following e-interview with him:

I understand you’ve just returned from another session at the Young Writers Workshop, founded by Alison Joseph, and conducted by the MFA students at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Could you share with readers of LETRAS LATINAS BLOG your history with this particular workshop, and what role it has played in your development as a writer. When did you first attend?

The Workshop was my first exposure to the writing world. In high school you only read the classics and what is considered the canon, so when I was shown the contemporary world of creative writing I became excited. The concept of the MFA was what fascinated me. So whenever I could I would try to have extensive conversations with the MFA students. Those conversations helped me really figure out who I was as a writer. The first workshop, in 2007, I have to admit though was more about being surrounded by other literary teens.

Could you talk a bit about the challenges you faced as a writer before you began attending the Young Writers Workshop. In other words, what kind of encouragement, if any, did you get in elementary school and high school? Did you have any teachers who encouraged your writing and if so, could you say something about them.

My family was arguably the biggest hurdle I had to face. They were not at all very supportive at first. My parents would encourage me to go to these programs, but my writing was just a hobby to them. After I came back from Iowa, however, my agenda had switched dramatically. All I ever wanted to do was write after that. Writing was simply invested in my soul. So I returned to SIU two years after with the intent of learning as much as I could possibly take in from the MFA students and Alison. I would have to admit that my mentor from Iowa, and my junior year English and poetry teacher, were the most encouraging and influential. I most certainly learned the most from them. Michelle Taransky whose book is about to be released, may have been the single most important person as far as my writing goes. She is the person who introduced me to form and the careful calculations behind the craft of poetry.

How has your life as a writer been since entering college? I understand you are a student at Middlebury College: how has that been? Have you managed to connect with other students and/or campus groups who are also interested in creative writing.

Middlebury is a great place to be a writer. It has a strong tradition and community as far as writing goes. Some of my closest friends at Middlebury are writers who take their writing as serious as I do. The creativity just flows between us. I hope to be starting a project on campus soon with my friends, but we’ll see what happens.

Could you share LETRAS LATINAS BLOG which writers you have particularly enjoyed these last few years. Are there particular books that have nourished you as a writer these last few years? Which ones?

My favorite novel will always be The Picture of Dorian Gray. My favorite piece of nonfiction is between Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris and Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. My favorite collection of poetry is without a doubt, The Dream Songs by John Berryman. John Berryman for me is as good as it has gotten as far as poetry goes.

Last question. Can you talk about how your background and the neighborhood (s) you grew up in have influenced your writing Were you born and raise in Chicago?

Being of Mexican decent has really let me or at least has caused me to explore some topics with confidence. At the current moment I am obsessed with Aztec mythology and how it contrasts with Classical Mythology. Being a first generation American at times almost feels like the two cultures are constantly at battle. The land we used to be part of versus the land we are currently part of. I do feel that unintentionally I bring this conflict up in my writing. Part of me embraces the writing of this conflict the other part shuns it in fear of cliché.

In his own words:

Rex Ovalle grew up on the southwest side of Chicago in Little Village, a majority Mexican-American Community. His childhood was spent mostly inside due to his parents’ fear of the gang trends growing and occurring during the earlier 90’s. The time inside was spent reading and attempting to tackle pieces like Moby Dick. The transition from grammar school to high school spurred him to start scribbling in his notebooks. During junior year at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Rex took a semester-long course in modernist poetry. The structure of the class was partially workshop-style. The first workshop and the first truly motivational teacher gave him the confidence to apply and attend Southern Illinois University’s Young Writer’s Workshop and the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio. The summer of the 2007 would be where he would learn one of the writing world’s secrets: “It’s less about talent and more about craft; perfecting that very craft.” Rex is currently attending Middlebury College in Vermont and is working to earn his BA in English and Classical Studies. He considers himself an academic and poet obsessed with the literary community's history and timeline.

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