Writing is a solitary act. I come from a big noisy family, I live among many communities, I love hanging with my friends and feeding them scrumptious meals. But in the end, when I write, I go off on my own, I find a way to quiet my mind and I sit with myself. That is how the writing, the rewriting, and rearranging of story parts happens. All by myself.
And yet, I would be nowhere without my community.
The people in my communities come from all walks of life. I sit among them and I listen. I breathe. I take note. I rest. When we are gathered at a table with food before us, we feed more than our bodies. Community supports me. Community encourages me. Community tells it like it is and sometimes the words are hard to hear. Sometimes all we do is laugh. And of course, there are times when there is crying.
If you read the acknowledgments of any of my books, you’ll see they are as long as a solid chapter. I have so many people to thank for putting up with me, reading me, giving me feedback, reading me again. For allowing me to read them, learn from them, go back and write, inspired by them. Often it is my students who teach me the art of writing a good story in their fresh irreverent ways, through the lens of their world and in their dedication to literature.
To return some of what I received, I participate in some communities, too.
Here I’d like to thank four of them. Check them out, maybe they’ll support your writing too.
Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA/Voices) is a one of a kind multi-genre workshop for writers of color based out of the University of California Berkeley during their summer workshops and here in Miami for three days in January.
I have been core faculty at VONA since 2010 and a Board of Directors member since 2013. I am honored to sit with writers Junot Diaz, Elmaz Abinader, Diem Jones and David Mura. VONA gives me the fire to tackle anything.
University of Miami
The MFA in Creative Writing is a two-year program with an optional third year. Our selective program creates an intimate atmosphere where students work closely with nationally recognized faculty who introduce them to a diverse range of philosophies and practices. We provide the time and space to write plus the dedicated mentorship that encourages students to develop their greatest potential. All MFA candidates receive financial aid, and several James A. Michener Creative Writing Fellowships (full tuition) are available. This community is my home as I write my books from this space, teach students of great potential, and direct an energetic program of writers and poets.
Books & Books
More than just an independent bookstore, Books & Books is a place for readers and writers to hangout, talk literature, dream up stories and write. Founded in 1982 by Mitchell Kaplan, the store’s mission has always been about community, history, books and tradition. As the director of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami I have hosted a number of events at Books & Books, bringing in writers like Justin Torres, Barbara Jane Reyes, Pablo Medina and Michelle Richmond. But as a local writer this is my go-to spot when I want to read a little bit, doodle in my journal or have a nice lunch with friends.
LILA PILIPINA LOLAS CENTER 120 Narra Street,
Brgy. Amihan Quezon City,
Metro Manila, Philippines.
Tel: 4354623/ 09155379579
During WWII the Imperial Japanese Army took 400,000 women and girls from all of Asia and placed them into military sex slave camps. Of those women, historians estimate 1000 were from the Philippines and of those women 173 Filipinas came forward in the late 1990’s to demand justice in the form of a formal apology from the Japanese government. Liga ng mga Lolang Pilipina (LILA Pilipina) is a group of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII. They are the women who taught me how to shout, “Laban! Laban! Laban!” and who taught me the practice of civic engagement through protest, testimony and activism. Their stories have become my life’s work as I take their lessons and practice them through my own activism in Washington DC, in the stories I write and in my blog.