bill berry, jr.:
Eloísa, it is such a pleasure to be able to chat with you. While I will eventually cover your writings and creative side, to get us started, let me pose this question(s) to you. You went to Iowa State for undergrad and grad work; belong to a writers’ group in Kansas City and now you are doing events and publicity at the University of Houston. How? Take us through your journey from high school to where you are now, and how has this journey defined who you are -as a person in 2016?
Hi Bill! Thanks again so much for your support of my poetry and for having this conversation with me. This is a great question, but I’m afraid the answer will probably be more than you bargained for so I’ll try to keep it as abridged as I can. I’m originally from Houston so it’s kind of interesting to see that I’ve kind of come full circle by coming home in a geographic way as well as to writing. As a young girl, I really enjoyed writing stories and poetry and that was nurtured and encouraged when I enrolled in WAVE, a gifted and talented program for 6th-8th grade and then again in my English classes in high school.
I chose to attend Iowa State University because I wanted to explore and live in a place that was completely different from Houston where I grew up and fortunately, I felt very welcome at ISU and in Ames during my school visit and they offered me a full-tuition scholarship so it felt like the right decision. As an undergrad, I studied psychology and didn’t write creatively as much as before. Then, during the first semester of my senior year, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. It was there that I really came to nurture the independent side of my spirit along with my growing love for documenting the details of life through photography, another form of creative storytelling.
When I returned to ISU in the spring to finish my degree, I realized I wanted to continue shooting as more than a hobby so I applied for and was hired as a photojournalist at the Iowa State Daily, the independent student newspaper. I dove right in and let the motivation to visually tell stories consume me and I loved learning and honing my skills so much that this led me to apply for my master’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism under the guidance of my mentor and renowned photojournalist Dennis Chamberlin. By the fall of 2011, I completed my coursework and presented my creative component final project to my committee, which involved documenting the lives of three immigrant families in Marshalltown, Iowa, through audio-visual slideshows with English subtitles (https://eloisaperezlozano.wordpress.com/). I should mention that during the four years of my master’s project, I was lucky enough to meet and eventually marry my husband, Antonio. He also finished his master’s in business in the spring of 2012, right before we happily tied the knot that summer!
That spring, in the midst of wedding planning and working a part-time job as an interpreter, I looked for organizations who might be interested in showcasing parts or my entire project online and one day, I came across the National Catholic Reporter newspaper based in Kansas City. I reached out to one of their reporters who had written an article about immigration and she forwarded the link to my project to Editor Dennis Coday, who then agreed to publish an article I’d write about one of the families which would include with the link to my whole project. Additionally, he encouraged me to apply for their editorial internship program though he did let me know upfront that the majority of what I would do would be writing vs. shooting. Even so, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to gain more experience in my field so I applied and I was eventually chosen to join the NCR team for the spring of 2013. Though it meant we would have to have a long-distance relationship for six months since Antonio had a full-time job in Ames, he was very supportive of my taking this step to build on my career.
As an editorial intern, I was able to go back to my roots of writing and even though it was journalistic and not technically “creative,” it still felt great to flex those mental muscles and find that groove again. Around the time the new pope was elected, I was working on an article that kind of struck a chord with me. Dennis, our editor, had flown to Rome with another correspondent to report on the new pope so I sat down to talk with our interim editor, Tom Roberts, about it. As I was talking with him, something inside me split open and I ended up sharing a lot of identity issues/questions that as he put it, “were simmering under the surface.” The article didn’t end up being published, but it was like a dam opened and I stayed after work for an hour or so, just typing about all sorts of experiences that somehow came flooding back to me. I’m not sure how I knew, but I felt that I was returning to my first love: poetry.
Shortly after that, I was searching online for groups to get involved with during the duration of my internship and I stumbled across the Latino Writers Collective. What I found in this wonderful group of writers, poets, and playwrights was the unconditional acceptance of being a Latina and a writer. We would meet every two weeks to share our stories and poems with each other and outside of those meetings, we would also attend readings together. I was very grateful when a fellow poet offered me his spot during a Latino Arts festival that summer where I got to read my first poem in front of an audience and I remember thinking I’d love to do this again. Unfortunately, NCR could only offer me an extension of the internship through the end of the year instead of a full-time position and Antonio and I decided that it was better for us to be together, so I headed back to Ames.
After much thought, we decided to try our luck back in my hometown of Houston and he was able to get a transfer through his job so off we went! We really took a leap of faith and less than three months after we moved, I was lucky enough to find my current job as the Events and Publicity Coordinator at Arte Público Press with the University of Houston, the oldest and largest Latino literature publisher in the U.S. I get to know and help our authors promote their books, which in turn, inspires me to keep writing and sharing my own experiences as a Mexican-American woman through my poems. Again, sorry to have taken up so much space, but I firmly believe everything happens for a reason and so each of these events lead into the next.
First of all, a life story takes on its own depth, length, purpose, dimensions, and intricacies. In your “story telling,” you have shared the path of your development as a person, and more so, filled the landscape with your commitment to literature. Plus I do like the love story that was woven into the fabric, you, and Antonio. The poetry that aaduna published is swollen with cultural themes and images, and it appears you relish expressing those cultural references that have the power of universality regardless of ethnic background. From your perspective, as a writer and professional with a Latino publisher, what is the state of publishing for Latinos and other people of color and does your perspective say anything about race in today’s America and the current political campaigns for the American presidency?
The state of publishing for Latinos and other people of color unfortunately does not reflect the demographics of our nation. I’m sure you’ve heard about the #OscarsSoWhite hash tag, prompted by the revelation that not a single person of color was nominated for an Academy Award for the second year in a row. Well, this phenomenon bears a striking similarity to what’s happening in literature today. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “only 3 percent of children’s books are by or about Latinos – even though nearly a quarter of all public school children today are Latino” (NPR, June 2013 – http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/06/25/193174358/as-demographics-shift-kids-books-stay-stubbornly-white). A fellow multicultural publisher, Lee & Low Books, conducted a survey last year to get an idea of the diversity of U.S. publishers and the results showed that the vast majority of people working in the publishing industry are straight, white women.
Here’s the link for more info: http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/
Just like in Hollywood, many in the industry believe that if we are to see more books published by or about people of color, there must be more of those people working in positions that involve deciding what books get published. Unfortunately, there is also a myth that multicultural books won’t sell so publishers are more afraid to take a chance on them. This could lead to children of color thinking that books aren’t for them to read since they never see themselves in them and dropping reading all together while white children continue to read and feel comfortable with characters who are like them. It’s a vicious circle. In order to highlight and include our Latino talent in the publishing industry, we at Arte Público Press strive to publish, promote, and disseminate books by and about U.S. Hispanics, including for children, young adults, and adults. In making Hispanic literature and cultural information available to the public, we are committed to reforming the national culture to more accurately include, value and reflect Hispanic historical and contemporary contributions. Some might say that we are not inclusive as we don’t publish books by authors of other non-Latino cultural backgrounds, but until the literature world at large begins to accept more authors of color into the fold, we will continue to support Latino authors by publishing their manuscripts.
As for the current political climate, I have a somewhat cynical point of view of it with regards to race: Though I believe some people have the right intentions towards people of color, I do believe that many also realize the power of the Latino vote specifically and want to try to pander to that demographic to get votes vs. actually caring about the issues. I think that little by little, people of color will realize their own strength in numbers and continue to or start to speak out more, which will ultimately create change in both the film and literary worlds as well as in politics.
What I have always found interesting is the American notion that diversity is fueled and/or prompted by number-specific cohorts of people of color. In other words, I fail to understand how any person can claim “being educated” if that person lacks an understanding or knowledge of other people, cultures, countries, political/economic systems etc. Without such a global or world view, this lack of knowledge will translate to a society of mis-informed, easily duped, naïve people, and a failure to understand the cultural heritage of other Americans who look and are different is beyond belief (at least for me.) This failure will continue to shift American society towards a level of economic and political apartheid. But that is another conversation even though some (most notably Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in “White Privilege II”) are raising critical issues. And I would dare say that the “problem” is solved when the people who perpetuate (and created) the problem have the courage to address it and work to bring about meaningful solutions and change. But did I say that is another conversation for another time?! Moving on…
How many manuscripts does Arte Público Press bring to fruition each year and does the resulting revenue streams suggest that there is a monetary-base that mainstream publishers may try to exploit? What role or contributions do online publications have on the availability of diverse works by Latinos?
I know you said that it’s for another time, but since you mentioned it… J
I definitely agree with you about the American notion of diversity. Going back to the problem in literature, I’ve read somewhere that it’s almost like publishing houses think that they can’t publish more than one writer of color at a time because the public wouldn’t be able to handle it or something. The lack of diversity in publishing is detrimental to people of color because they do not see themselves in books, but also non-POC people lose out on learning about someone who isn’t just like you, but who may have other things in common with you. Studies have shown that reading helps to build empathy (http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/may/13/reading-teach-children-empathy) in children so I believe including more people of color in books would go a long way to breaking down the “default=white” idea and a more understanding society. Side note: I just saw Macklemore in concert a couple of weekends ago and I really liked “White Privilege I” and how it speaks to these sorts of issues in the rap world (what is seen as traditionally “black” territory).
But to your question: I can tell you that Arte Público Press publishes between 25-30 titles each year, about half in the spring (March, April, May) and the other half in the fall (September, October, November). Unfortunately, I don’t deal with anything on the revenue side so I can’t answer that. As a poet currently submitting works with diverse themes, however, I can speak to the second half of your question: I believe online publications like aaduna play an important role in the availability of Latinos’ work. Because there seems to be a shortage of quality work by people of color in literary journals that might be considered “traditionally white” territory, online publications that ask specifically for works by people of color try to even out the playing field by essentially saying, “We know you’re out there and we know it’s a struggle to find places that appreciate and encourage your different point of view. Please submit to us because we’re looking for your voice!” This helps the literary world to feel a little less lonely and at least for me, helps me to feel that they are looking for the kind of work that I’m doing so hopefully, the chances of being rejected are lower because I’ve got the theme right from the get-go. Now they just have to like what I’m writing about, which of course, is quite subjective. Because there have been many articles written about how MFA workshops can be pretty lonely places for people of color (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/mfa-vs-poc), this has led to the creation of online literary journals and workshops specifically to help people of color feel safe and in community with one another, knowing that their experiences and voices matter.
Prior to aaduna, I played a role in establishing an online journal focused on a specific segment of the People of Color community, and that venture was not as accessible to emerging writers/artists as I expected or needed. With aaduna, I decided to take the approach of involving all segments of a multi-cultural community, as well as others who have been traditionally denied a portal to exposing their creativity to a larger public while also embracing established folks who needed to move in another direction or saw value in our publishing efforts. Of course, there is the issue of space and quality, and the inability to get all submitted work to the readership world. And you are right, selectivity is subjective, and we try to stay nurturing throughout our submission process and encouraging even when we elect not to publish a work. While our preferences are grounded in our Mission statement, I am proud of our measureable diversity, multicultural, and pluralistic scope. But this chat is about you!
So, where are you headed professionally and creatively? In traditional interviews, there is always that question about “Where do you see yourself in…” I suspect that the same is true for people driven by creativity. What do you hope for your future to look like professionally, creatively and on a personal level in the next few years and beyond as far as long range plans?
Professionally at Arte Público, I hope to continue to build on the skill set I’ve acquired and continue to help authors get their works out into the world. Creatively, I hope to continue to write poems that are meaningful and at the same time, accessible to the average person, but with more and more layers added as I start to learn more through workshops and writing festivals. I’ve already got one workshop lined up later this spring and I’m really excited to learn more about how to make my work have the impact I’d like and move people. I hope that I can have at least 5-7 more poems published in journals this year because I’d like to have a manuscript for a full-length collection ready to submit next year (one of my New Year’s resolutions!). Also, I’m thinking about possibly pursuing an MFA in the next couple of years because I think the intense study would help, but that’s still definitely up in the air. Ultimately, whether it’s photography or writing or something else artistic, I think I’ll be happy as long as I’m telling a story, whether it’s for myself or to share with others. Personally, I’d like to have our first child and possibly our second within the next five years or so. I think we’re finally settling down to a point where we’d like to take that step and jump into the next stage of our life as a family.
Wow…the personal, professional, and creative plans are solid, well laid-out, and exciting. And what I know of you, I am willing to bet that you will be on track to achieving your goals according to plan. I am happy for you and Antonio in regards to starting a family and know that you two will instill gracious humane and caring qualities in your children.
You probably know that we are nearing the end of our chat. And I do not take for granted the opportunity I have to converse with folks whose work found a home with aaduna. I have enjoyed chatting with you and more importantly, valuing you as a person and writer. I understand that any advancement for any cultural/racial group in this country or the elevation in thinking for all Americans, rest upon the singular efforts and successful initiatives of individual people like you. I hope you maintain and further embrace your professional efforts towards achieving equity, understanding, and advancement for other creative folks, and I trust that you will find a diverse home for your work. Just know that you can always call aaduna home.
Thank you Ms. Pérez-Lozano for talking to me. I appreciate your spirit and generosity of goodwill. And please share any closing thoughts or advice for our readership.
Bill, it’s been an absolute pleasure! I’m very happy that aaduna chose my work so that I could be welcomed into a wonderful and vibrant community. It’s more than I ever could have imagined and I’m honored to be a part of it. If I have any advice, it would be to consistently work on your craft. And don’t take rejection too personally, or if you do, have a quick cry and then keep submitting! Those ruts may hurt, but think of them as challenges to grow and become better.
♦ ♦ ♦
When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me. I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.