Updating the artist statement as a writer

In preparation for a workshop that I’m giving today at Saint Mary’s College of California (collaboration between the SMC MFA Program and the Hedgebrook residency program), I wanted to spend some time on updating my own artist statement.

My workshop, titled “From Artist Statement to Press Kit:  A Po-Biz Workshop”, is an introduction to some of the lessons that I have learned along the way about gathering all of my contributions to submission materials to journals, residencies, and such in one place.

In my own “press kit”, there is an artist statement, a series of bios of different lengths, a few bio photos, a selection of work (10 pages of published poems and some short selections of fiction), a CV, a submission tracking document (You can also use Duotrope), a few reading proposals, a few old project proposals, some blurbs from my books, a list of references, a list of writers that I admire/those I’m influenced by.  I’m also recommending that folx have a list of journals/presses that they love and a list of residencies where they would like to write.

In looking through all those materials to share in a Google Drive with the workshop participants, I found myself looking at my artist statement.  Who am I as a writer, and what is my work?  The ones that I have written are incredibly old, so here I am, writing a new one.

I’m sharing with the participants this resource from Arts Partner, though it focuses on the visual artist and Getting Our Sh*t Together, a site specifically for artists as well.  

Following Arts Partner’s guidelines, you just need to do five things.  I like lists of 5.

  1. Describe your work.
  1. Identify yourself.
  1. Describe your studio.
  1. Describe your process.
  1. Put it all together.

So here’s me, mixing all that up in my artist statement:

In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed.  In response, three women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, created a hashtag that would become a movement:  Black Lives Matter.  Since then, there have been protests, syllabi, books, videos, acts of resistance and revolution that have fought to engage in an anti-racist swell of though, action, and reflection.  We are living in tumultuous times, which have called upon all to learn about the power of community and the power of the state, social emotional learning, epigenetics and generational trauma, oppression and anti-oppression resistance. My work lives in that halestorm of hurt and possibility.  

For nearly 20 years now, I have dedicated my life and work to telling the hidden and erased stories.   I have written about the personal struggle of becoming within a family highly impacted by patriarchy and racism through a religious lens.  I have also given voice to the increasing massacres of children across the country, through narrative poems in the third person and persona poems in the first person, even taking on the voice of the weapon that kills them.  In my work, I run into the darkness and attempt to pull the boogeyman into the light. In the light, we can transform, build, breathe, and move forward.  

This effort to dare in my work comes from my own resistance to silencing as an Afro-Latina woman in academia.  It is informed by a community-oriented and culturally-enriched worldview.  I have sought support and nurtured others within writing communities like Cave Canem, Macondo, CantoMundo, the Carolina African American Writers Collective, Cleave:  Bay Area Women Writers Reading Series, and The Acentos Review.  My work comes from a place of deep engagement with the world and offering in return for the gifts that I have been given.  A gilded tree, a story of survival in a place of lynching, a child’s hand held by an elder, all of these images are gifts and deserve to be celebrated as those who suffered, those who are unnamed and brushed aside, should be written to be remembered.  

Shaun King, recently at a presentation at Saint Mary’s College of California, noted that most people think that, as time passes, humanity progresses.  This is false.  What progresses is technology.  Each year technology increases in its efficiency and reach, but the humans wielding that technology do not, in each generation, become better and better, more sound in body and mind as individuals and as a society.  Rather, we come to peace and connection in remembering our histories and using that to guide us in our present and future.  We reach the heights of our humanity when we remember and act accordingly.  

My current work is in that place of remembering.  Over the last few years, with the inundation of image after image and story after story of black and brown peoples murdered by the police, I experienced a deep and traumatizing fear.  It haunted every interaction.  I suffered at the intersection of race and gender, on a personal level, countless microaggressions (and under just plain aggressive acts) while I mourned for my people and my country.  As an act of survival, I began to write from a space of disassociation with reality.  I created 12 characters, many of them of African descent and immortal, as a way of reaching into a history of survival and thriving that has persisted over thousands of years despite the greatest of obstacles.  I was interested, too, in what the experience would be for a human woman, daughter of such immortals, to have inherited all of their memories and have access to them.  What would it mean to take generational trauma from a level of manifestation through disease – high blood pressure and other low health outcomes – to psychological and spiritual turmoil?  What would it mean to also rise into the joy that they experienced and to struggle to claim her own joy in this life, amidst times of great destruction, drought, and death?  

Three of the voices were recently published in the chapbook, profeta without refuge (2016, Nomadic Press).  The chapbook recently was named a finalist in the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Firecracker Award.  

I am now looking for spaces to continue this exploration of character, embedded within a narrative and poetic structure, during my sabbatical.  Over the years, I have come to know that my writing process is collaborative.  I need a quiet space to write, a window to look out of and imagine, and people with whom to check-in after writing for a while.  If a residency space does not have other artists in residence, I will find community at the local pizza place or pub or bookstore.  My work requires connection with community always, from conception to the printed page.  I often will attend open mics or do readings with new work, just to work out line breaks or musicality.  Ultimately, I am testing whether the poem rings true to the audience within whom I want to connect, particularly since my work is geared towards persistence, counternarratives or narratives against erasure and marginalization, and a transformative social justice.  

#19of52, #52essays2017, #twt

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