Tag Archives: Alice Walker

A Virtual Interview with Viktoria Valenzuela

Viktoria Valenzuela was the featured reader Thursday, October 10, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Viktoria Valenzuela is a creative nonfiction poet human rights activist whose work appears in such publications as Poetry Bay, Mutha Magazine, AMP (Hofstra University), The MALCS Journal, and A Prince Tribute Anthology: I Only Wanted One Time to See You Laughing. Valenzuela is an educator, a Macondista and the organizer of 100 Thousand Poets for Change: San Antonio, Texas. Her writing keeps keen focus on Chicana mothering as decolonization and political action. Valenzuela and poet Vincent Cooper have six children and live on the Westside of San Antonio.

The Interview

CH: What first interested you in writing? What is your first memory of writing?
VV: My first interest in writing was a natural desire for me. I was a very inquisitive child. I remember sitting on the carpet in kindergarten learning how to spell the word “zip”…. There was a cartoon drawing of a St. Bernard dog who was zipping up his jacket and my old teacher was really putting emphasis on the Z sound to pronounce the word as she read it, “Zzzzip!” I was taken by how easy it was to create sound with these funky lines and squiggles. It was a monumental moment where art met sound in these things called letters… I wrote Zs and Ss everywhere. Later, when I learned to write down words then sentences, I wrote poetry (or songs) about beautiful things like flowers, rocks, or love poems for my dad…
I was always a writer. Dad saved some of those poems in an old suitcase for 30+ years. I didn’t realize I was always a writer and poet until recently when my old high school buddies reminded me that they have journals and yearbook entries with poems I wrote for them. I don’t remember writing these at all but apparently I’ve been a poetry-tagger.
CH: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer? As a poet?
VV: I didn’t think of myself as a writer until I was in my late 20s. I’d always considered myself an artist. I double-majored in Studio Art and English for a creative writing degree at community college when I went back to college as a single mom. While there, I took to hosting a bimonthly open mic event in 2003. Poetry just took over. I stopped pursuing art to be a creative writing major when I made it to university.
I began to think of myself as a “real writer” when I was featured at The Sterling Nature Center by my good friend, the poet Charles Itzin, who also asked me to speak at his college class as a poet. Before then, poetry had been just a fun hobby but these moments .
CH: I know that you write creative non-fiction as well as poetry. How would you describe yourself as a writer? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?
VV: I don’t believe I have a primary identity as a poet or CNF writer but I think most folks know me as a poet. I have two books of memoir that I’ve been writing. One deals with my hazy teen years and claiming Chicana identity, while the other is more recent and is a hybrid work that centers on my experiences as a mother of nearly nine children. These are both personal narratives and include the political awareness of their times. I maintain that all my work is politically charged.
CH: How has your life as a mother and human rights activist shaped your writing?
VV: There is no divide. I chose to become a mother at 21 years old. I knew having children would affect my work as an activist and scholar but I also knew that if I didn’t have children when I did, I might have no children at all. Writing and activism requires that you give your whole self to it. I have not maintained balance but I have tried my very best even if I fall short I do not quit. I write because, in a hundred years, I refuse to go unread. I exist, I care about other humans, and I have some stories to weave into the fabric of America.
CH: What is your writing life like?
VV: If everyone in my house goes to sleep at 9pm then I have 3 hours to write by myself. If not, I wait until they go to school. I have to be a mom and wife before I am a writer at my desk or agree to do a reading or event. My daylight hours are for the children and at night I might have a reading. I write between tasks or I carve out space where I can. There are times when I wish for more hours in the day but then I remind myself that Andre Dubus III wrote House of Sand and Fog in his truck parked at the job site. He gave himself only 20 minutes a day on his way to work to write as much as he could. The books want to be written.
CH: Tell us a little about the Macondo Writers Workshop. How did you become involved with this program? How has it influenced your writing?
VV: I was always interested in writing for mainstream culture. I remember reading House on Mango Street in my high school English class and then an article about Sandra Cisneros that talked about her moments leading up to creating Macondo Writers Workshop. I had already resolved that I must become a writer “for those who cannot out” but further, I knew I wanted to become a Macondista someday.
I would have applied to be a Macondista in 2015 but I was pregnant and the labor date was within two days of the start date of the workshop. I applied the next year and was accepted. It was a very validating moment for me as a writer. I now serve on the ad-hoc board and am so proud of the work I am doing there. I helped plan last summer’s workshop and this year will do the same.
My writing has grown in craft due to the amazing master writers that lead the workshops I have participated in. Also, being able to workshop with other Macondistas about our work has been key to publishing well.
CH: Tell us a little about 100 Thousand Poets for Change: San Antonio, Texas. What motivated you to become an organizer with this group? What gifts and challenges did you find from your involvement?
VV: The BP Oil Spill of 2011 was the sole reason I became an activist poet organizer. I had been following certain poets on Facebook when it was new to me and I was struck by another poet, Michael Rothenberg, making comments about how atrocious it was to allow the oil spill to continue the way it was. I found a kindred spirit in him and when he said that we should write poems about this I was ready. When he said we should march in the streets and demand they repair the oil spill I was all for it. The more we chatted on these comment threads, we came to debate if having one large poetry event will make a difference. He was able to secure Stanford University to host an archive database of 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Cities from all over the planet contribute photos and poetry to the site and it is considered as one poetry reading even if 800+ cities around the globe participate. I submitted one poem in 2011, in the next few years since I have created poetry reading events and zines of the works read there.
The gifts of these readings is in the amazing networking that can happen. My readings have helped others in many ways, such as when I hosted deportable Vietnam veterans and gained some national attention for them.
CH: What do you do to nurture yourself as a writer?
VV: Time for nurturing myself as a writer is not easy to come by but I am blessed that my family understands the need for alone time. I stay up later than everyone else. When we have time and money, I sign up for writing workshops nearby. This summer I was thrilled to take workshop with the amazing poet, Sherwin Bitsui at Poetry at Round Top and I recently went back to university for my masters in English. When I am actually writing, I tend to sip coffee or ginger root tea while listening to John Coltraine on Pandora radio.
CH: What poetry do you find yourself turning to for inspiration? Who are some of your favorite writers?
VV: My favorite writers are Dorothy Parker for her clever skill and wit. Li-Young Lee is a master writer and I aspire to his level. I also like Gloria Anzaldua, Alice Walker, Jane Hirshfield, Deborah Landau, Sherwin Bitsui, Claudia Rankine and Ada Limón… and more… there are thousands of poets I love.
CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?
VV: I am just started reading Citizen by Claudia Rankine and You Ask Me To Talk About the Interior by Carolina Ebeid.

A Virtual Interview with Valentine Pierce

Valentine Pierce will be the featured reader Thursday, August 11, 2016 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman.


“This is not the quiet tap of civilized literature; this is the loud, raw truth of life.” Valentine Pierce, author of Geometry of the Heart, comes to BookWoman from New Orleans to perform her poetry. Pierce is a spoken word artist, graphic designer and artisan. She has performed in a variety of events from poetry to plays to one-woman shows. She has produced shows with musicians, poets, dancers, drummers and lyricists. Hailing from has performed and been published throughout the U.S.

Pierce’s poetry has been developed into visual art display (“The Geometry of Life”) and choreographed by the Newcomb College for Women dance department for the inauguration of Tulane University’s president (“Rivers of My Soul”). Guaranteed to  be a memorable evening.

The Interview

CH: What first drew you to writing? When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer?

VP: I think I was drawn to writing because I was drawn to books. My mother had some interesting books like Amazing Facts, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and even a huge two-volume unabridged dictionary that I combed through. In fact, at one point dictionaries and thesauruses were my favorite books.

I actually thought of myself as a writer in high school. Wanted to be like Maya Angelou, presenting my poetry to the world.

CH: Your background includes journalism, spoken word, and performance. How do you identify as a writer? How was that identity forged?

VP: Writing has been the one constant in my life. My mother even bought me a typewriter for my 12th Christmas. She used to love to tell people my poem was published in the school bulletin when I was in second grade. She even carved one of my poems into a leather purse. I think it was my love of books, love of words that kept me writing. I had other dreams, such as being a fashion designer but writing was and is a spontaneous act for me.

CH: I know you’ve long been associated with New Orleans, but that you spent a few years in California. How did your experience in California shape your writing?

Actually, I was born and raised in New Orleans and always come back to it. Don’t ask me why. This is a troubled city but it is also a wonderful city. As for California, my formative years as a journalist were in the Marine Corps. I lived for feature stories, stories about people. It fed my spirit. I have been back and forth between California and New Orleans several times in my life. When New Orleans got too much  for me, I’d leave. I went to California because I had friends there.

CH: I understand you returned to New Orleans from California in 2004—just a year before Katrina. How was your writing life changed by the storm? What kind of influence has it had in your work?

VP: Oh goodness, Katrina was such a disaster not only to the physical place of New Orleans but to the emotional place. I freelanced as a journalist from 2004-2005. I was hired as a graphic designer for a small newspaper January 2005. (Graphic design was also something I have always done even though as a child I didn’t have a name for it. It is my second great vocation.) Katrina gave us the boot in August and at the time, I was actually pleased to see long lines at gas stations. I felt people were taking it seriously. I knew that as long as the people survived, the city, our culture would survive. I had just started working on a novel (all writers have that secret desire, right?). I never finished that novel but I hand-wrote 12 notebooks about Katrina. Today I still feel and see the damage it did. Even now my writing is angry. Every thought leads to anger because of what happened here. Soldiers locked and loaded on homeless, starving, dying Americans. I wrote a play (it won a community college contest — amazingly), prose, poetry, an entire book.

CH: How did your residency at A Studio in the Woods come about? What was the effect of the residency on your work?

VP: It was my friends who got me to apply for A Studio in the Woods. I was in Phoenix but I was still connected to home via email. In my mind, I didn’t see that I qualified. New Orleans is filled with fantastic writers in every crack of the sidewalks. Plus, I was in Phoenix, living with friends. Finally, after several prompts I applied. How the staff caught up with me is still a wonder because I changed phones, changed phone numbers. My internet reception was a challenge. They contacted me on their last attempt before moving to the next person.

As for the effect on my work, ASITW did more than affect my work. It affected my spirit. I was so crushed by Katrina. Two weeks before it hit, I had been to a meeting of Alternate Roots, an artist collective. I had performed, connected with a director for my plays, was tethered to a fast-moving chain of people pulling me into my own future. Then, Katrina hit. I spent the next 18 months deeply depressed. Some salvation came when Mona Lisa Saloy published her book of poems, Red Beans and Ricely Yours, which I read in one sitting. Beyond that, I felt hopeless. Then came the residency. Being a city dweller I didn’t know how I would do in the woods but I loved it. I did nothing all day but write. It was the only time in my life when all I had to do was what I loved most. I was home; I was safe; I was well-fed and well taken care of. I was rejuvenated. It was called the Restoration Residency and I have to say, I was restored. I began to be alive again.

CH: As a performance poet who’s also taught writing and has a book in print, you inhabit both the world of the “stage poet” and the “page poet.” How do you navigate those different worlds? What difficulties and opportunities have presented themselves as a member of both communities?

VP: Truthfully, I never even knew there was a difference until my book was in the process of being published. Poems went from the page to the stage with ease for me, although, in 1991 I attended a writer’s conference and the editor that reviewed my poetry didn’t get it at all. We were required also to read our work and that when she and everyone else got it. I still didn’t know the difference. I thought all poetry translated from page to stage. I guess because I don’t write for either one, I don’t see the difference. However, when other people read my work, it sounds different to me. People even get different meanings from it, surprisingly.

I just write. And if I decide it’s ready for the public or think people need to hear it, I present it. I find poetry a writing a great tool for saying “we all feel the same thing; we are all humans and have failings and wonders surrounding us.”

CH: It’s quite an honor to have your work chosen to honor the inauguration of a university president. How was your poem, “Rivers of My Soul,” chosen for the inauguration of the president Tulane University? Were you involved with the Newcomb College for Women dance department in the choreographing of the poem? What was that process like?

VP: I actually had no say in it. The director of the department somehow came across my work and included it. At the time, I was making that last cross-country trip to California after a failed marriage that led to a failed business. Naturally, with everything failing, my phone was out. I had a pager. Email was still new. One of the other artists finally caught up with me and told me about it. They wanted to make sure I was okay with it. I was. I didn’t get to see the inauguration because I was in Cali by then but came home for an exhibit at Delgado and got to see the rehearsal.

CH: How did you select the poems that are part of Geometry of the Heart? How did you find a publisher for the work?

VP: The publisher asked me. John Travis of Portals Press inherited the business from his father and regularly publishes local writers. The first weekend I was home to stay after Katrina I went to the Maple Leaf poetry series (which is the first place I ever did open mic). John is a regular there. He said, “It’s time; you’ve paid your dues.” As for selecting poems, I submitted them to him and he kept asking for more. He did reject a few but for the most part, the poems in the book are the poems I wanted in the book.

CH: Looking back on a writing career that continues to bloom, what advice would you offer your younger self? 

VP: I would tell me to find more writers but to not be wooed by the collective voice of what is and isn’t good. I would be part of diverse writing groups. I would also tell me to keep submitting despite rejections and doubts.

CH: Who are some of your favorite poets? What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

You really don’t want the list of my favorite poets because I read everything imaginable: Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Khalil Gibran, Pablo Neruda, Alice Walker, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Lucille Clifton, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Claude McKay, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Robert Hayden, local poets from cities I lived in or near like Lee Grue, Asia Rainey, Niyi Osundare, Marcus Page, Geronimo, Chancellor Skidmore, Jerry Ward, Gina Ferrara, Quess, Shacondria Sibley, Jessica Mashael Bordelon, Eliza Shefler, John Sinclair.… . And anthologies. I love anthologies. My collection is vast and diverse. I’ve had to temper my love for poetry because of my budget. I even barter for books.

These days, most of my poetry comes from emails, Facebook, the internet and open mic. I am really into local artists and often they email me either their work or the works of poets they’ve come across online.

Well, I know this may be more than you wanted but more is better, right, because you can take what you need/want and discard the rest. Hopefully, it gives you a sense of who I am without being overwhelming.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to present my work at Bookwoman.

A Virtual Interview with Sarah Frances Moran

Sarah Frances Moran will share the feature stage with Jenuine Poetess for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, February 11, 2016  from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.


Sarah Frances Moran is a writer, editor, animal lover, videogamer, queer Latina. She thinks Chihuahuas should rule the world and prefers their company to people 90% of the time. She was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Writing for her came out of a desire to help others and has evolved into full blown insistence on changing the world. Her aim is to poetically fight for love and harness the type of tender violence needed to push love forward. She strongly believes that words have immeasurable power.

She is the founder/editor of Yellow Chair Review whose inaugural issue is out in June 2015. Her work has most recently been published or is upcoming in FreezeRay Poetry, Thank You For Swallowing, Drunk Monkeys, Rust+Moth, Maudlin House, Blackheart Magazine, Red Fez and The Bitchin’ Kitsch. Her chapbook I Am A Terrorist is forthcoming with Dark Heart Press.

Her work is equal parts frustration, hope, anger, advocacy and love. At the heart of it, she’s a stick-a-love-poem-in-your-back-pocket kind of poet. She’s a huge advocate for animal welfare and works daily to combat pet overpopulation. Spay and neuter your pets, people. She resides in Waco, Texas with her partner and their small menagerie of small 4-legged critters.

The Interview

CH: When did you first begin to identify as writer? as a poet?

SFM: I began writing in middle school but not seriously.  I mostly just kept a journal (as most middle school girls do.)  It wasn’t until my sophomore year in High School that it occurred to me that it was something more than journaling.  I began seriously writing poems towards my last two years of High School and I’m pretty sure that’s when I self-declared myself “poet.”  I realized it was serious when I started caring more about jotting poems down than taking notes in Chemistry class.

CH: What first drew you writing? How does writing influence your life?

SFM: Song lyrics were the first draw to writing for me.  I was always far more interested in what a singer was “saying” rather than singing or melody.  I was also always an avid reader.  My mother was big on making sure we did a decent amount of reading and it was never a chore to me.  I would run through novels like crazy.

Every major idea and occurrence for me has come through reading and writing.  I read Alice Walker’s Everything We Love Can Be Saved in High School and it was a huge influence on my ideology.  It changed the way I viewed the world, religion and everything really.  A lot of the ways I still view humanity stem from that one book.

Being someone who isn’t great at articulating my feelings verbally, writing has always been a way for me to get things out.  If it weren’t for writing I don’t know what sort of mental state I’d be in.  It’s a release.  I take Zoloft now to curb my anxiety but writing was really my first anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication.  It has saved me certainly.

CH; I know you have a chapbook, I Am A Terrorist, forthcoming. Tell us about it.

SFM: I Am A Terrorist is a culmination of poems written about my sexuality and about how beautiful love is.  The title comes from the title poem I Am A Terrorist which is a satire piece written in response to Pat Robertson’s declaration that homosexuals are promoting their terrorist agenda.  If love is terrorism then I gladly wear that label.  I have a tendency to use humor for serious issues and this poem showcases that.

CH: How long did you send out I Am A Terrorist before finding a publisher for it? What advice would you give other poets who are working on getting a chapbook published?

SFM: I began sending it out in May of 2015.  It got a lot of rejections (20+) before I found a home for it.  The title seemed to be a huge turn-off to a lot of publishers.  I refused to change it.  I was originally entering it into contests.  As I do this more and more I’m finding that the contest format is so highly competitive and difficult to break into.  I continued however submitting it to contests but also began researching presses that were just accepting unsolicited submissions.  I even sent to some that said they were full on manuscripts for the time being.  I figured if it wasn’t a no and just a “we don’t have time right now” then I was ok with that.  I ended up sending it to Kevin Ridgeway over at Dark Heart Press in September 2015 and he almost instantly responded with an acceptance.  Persistence is key.  It’s scheduled to come out later this year.

CH: You’ve had a good deal of success getting poems published in various journals. How do you decide where to send work? What is your submission process?

SFM: I keep this very detailed spreadsheet.  It has five tabs on it: Work Out For Consideration, Work Accepted, Work Rejected and Places To Submit.  I make sure I keep 20 submissions out at a time, minimum.  In 2015 I was just ending work out whenever I had the time.  In 2016 I’ve begun to do what I call Submission Sunday.  I aim to get 3-5 submissions sent every Sunday and I do a post on Facebook to get others involved.  It’s fun.

In my Places To Submit tab I keep a running list of journals I come across that interest me.  I find journals that inspire me, that publish work that I admire, that have themes I enjoy and that seem to have organization.   I tend to not send to places that don’t accept simultaneous submissions simply because I always have a lot of my work out at once.  I have to really really want to be in a publication to hold work for them like that.

The biggest thing is I’m persistent.  I send again to places that reject me.  That’s why I keep a rejection tab because I am most definitely going to send to those places again.  Unless they’ve said to me “do not ever send us work again” they’ll see more of my work.  I think that’s the biggest mistake writers make.  They get discouraged and they never try again.  That’s where folks go wrong.

CH: Tell us about Yellow Chair Review. What inspired you to found it?

SFM: That’s a good question.  Initial inspiration was boredom.  I ran a little literary journal when I was in High School that I would send out via email. It was at the dawn of the internet (giving away my age a bit) before blogs and the boom of the online literary world. It was a small email compiled of writing by friends and acquaintances I’d met online. I was also the editor of the school literary magazine. I’ve always had the desire to do that again and after sending out my own work to a myriad of places I began seeing patterns of things I wanted to do better. I’m certainly under no illusions that I’ve done anything revolutionary with Yellow Chair Review. I simply wanted to create a space for writers and artists that is diverse and approachable. There’s elitism everywhere, and there’s a ton of elitism in the literary world. I don’t want YCR to ever be that.

So I sat down and wrote the pros and cons of doing this (I’m a serious list maker) and determined the pros outweighed the cons. I wanted to make sure this was something I did properly and did in a way that made folks proud to have their work be a part of it.

CH: How has your work as editor and publisher of Yellow Chair Review influenced your writing?

SFM: I think reading is a huge influence on writing, period.  So I’m certainly now subjected to a ton more reading.  I read more poetry now than I ever have.  So it’s influencing in that way that reading is.  I’m also a huge believer in community.   My community since starting YCR has grown exponentially.  There’s motivation there and accountability.  All of these things have made me a stronger writer and community member.

CH: I know that as an editor, you receive and read both chapbook collections and poems. What is your advice to poets who are looking for more publication success?

SFM: I’m going to go back to persistence and not getting discouraged.  It is rare that I see a name pop up in the submit box again once it’s been rejected.   That’s the mistake.  I don’t believe that a rejection means forever.  I think it means that work at that particular moment wasn’t a good fit.  Maybe it was the editor reading, maybe it was a bad day, maybe if you’d sent it a week earlier it would have worked out.  I know that sounds terrible like, if it’s good it should find a spot, but it isn’t always so simple.  So keep sending it out there.  If you believe in it, someone else will.

Ok, my motivational speak ends there!

CH: Where do you see your writing taking you in the next five years?

SFM: I don’t know.  Everywhere?  I simply want to continue getting my work out there, see more of my own books published, publish more books for others.  Just get words out into the world.  I have two chapbooks coming out in 2016.  I can’t even imagine what 2017 will bring.  Two years ago I wasn’t even sending work out to be considered.

CH: Please name three influences on your poetry. What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

SFM: Stevie Nicks, Vivian Moran and Iva Montgomery.  Stevie because she’s the reason I fell in love with words.  Vivian and Iva because they’ve been constants in my corner pushing me to have faith in my ability and talent.

Last poetry book that I read that wasn’t a chapbook submission was Logen Cure’s Letters To Petrarch.  Hauntingly beautiful!  Truly one of the most beautiful books of poetry I’ve read in a very long time.  Sometimes those hidden gems are there in the small presses.  Support small press!