Sheryl Luna in Conversation with Cynthia Cruz, Christine Granados and Carmen Giménez Smith

(left to right): Sheryl Luna, Cynthia Cruz, Christine Granados and Carmen Giménez Smith and
(left to right): Sheryl Luna, Cynthia Cruz, Christine Granados and Carmen Giménez Smith

The Conversant republishes excerpts from HER KIND, a digital literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. An earlier version of this present conversation can be found here.

Sheryl Luna asked three questions to three Latina writers—Cynthia Cruz, Christine Granados and Carmen Giménez Smith—on the state of literature and the literary publishing scene for women who happen to be Latina. Their diverse answers are a testament to the fact that Latina writers cannot be pigeonholed into one monolithic, simplistic category. Latinas are writing and interacting with each other all over the country, and it is exciting. Varying aesthetic approaches are also evident. Overall, Latina presence in larger literary circles has, in Luna’s opinion, often been minimal due to a tendency of the mainstream to look to men as representative of minority voices.

Another issue that catalyzed Luna to ask these three specific questions is that Latina writing has frequently been tokenized, with one or two writers in the contemporary American spotlight. The questions, albeit brief, were meant to be open questions that allowed writers to explore what it means to be writing as a Latina in contemporary American literature.

Sheryl Luna: How do you feel about the state of the contemporary literature scene regarding publishing opportunities for Latina poets and writers, particularly in major traditional venues such as Poetry, New Yorker, Harper’s and The Paris Review? What if anything should be done about this issue by individual Latinas writing and/or publishing? How might our voices be heard by the larger literary communities writing today?

Cynthia Cruz: I do think Latina poets can have their work published in some of the larger, traditional venues but it’s certainly hard. Deborah Paradez, Emmy Perez, Desiree Alvarez and Carmen Gimenez Smith have all had poems published in Poetry. Carmen has also had her work published in the Boston Review and Carolina Ebeid has had her work published in the Kenyon Review. Ada Limon had been published in The New Yorker. The fact of the matter is that it’s difficult for anyone to have their work published in these venues. The only thing I know to do is to continue writing and continue sending out.

Introducing HER KIND: Rosebud Ben-Oni and Arisa White

Rosebud Ben-Oni and Arisa White

Starting with our May 2013 issue, The Conversant will be publishing excerpts from HER KIND, a digital literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. In order to introduce that series, we have asked HER KIND’s editors, Rosebud Ben-Oni and Arisa White, to answer the following question:

Could you describe your goals for HER KIND (the publishing context out of which it comes, its relation to VIDA, the types of discussions you seek to promote, people you hope to publish, etc.)?

Arisa White: I wanted HK to be a container—a space where we were creating a literary community of sorts. So VIDA is known for The Count, for the hard numbers that show the gender disparities in the literary world, and I wanted HK to be a counterpoint to that. For myself I need to see solutions to the things I find unjust—alternative visions for thriving that are not rooted in an oppressive paradigm. Because what that tells me is that we are creatively and resourcefully using our imaginations to bring about change.

Here is space for women writers to express themselves and their relationship to the written word, the written world, to articulate the textual bodies that we are.

While developing HK with Rosebud and Cate, my goal was to create a literary environment for play, spontaneity, and intellectual curiosity, where speaking freely is welcomed. Rosebud and I come up with crazy-interesting, and sometimes off-the-cuff themes, to let people know we want to be surprised and shaped by the content that comes our way. And for me it was a matter of how to do that without making anyone feel like they had to have a degree, a book, an award, a particular hue, or know someone in order to be published.

Rosebud Ben-Oni: Working with Arisa is half dance-party and half reflecting out on a sea of all seasons—HK has put a weight on my shoulders that I like. I want the kind of discussions that I at one time or another could not initiate or even join. On my mother’s side, which is Mexican, there is mostly oral history; listening to my mother and her 6 other siblings tell me of the things that happened to them, I’ve found if I put it all together that, rather than straight history, I know more about each individually. Contradictions burst with their own truths. My father’s side, which is Jewish, might come from a written-word history, yet due to his personal history, a lot has been lost. When I was a child, I could not initiate a conversation with him, or my mother, whom he’s entrusted with the better part of his life, his childhood. I knew there was a war (the Shoah), that my paternal grandfather had been married before, that he was much older than my grandmother and died while my father was a child. That my father grew up in hospitals watching him die. That he was poor. He told these things to my mother, and only her; I had to respect that she is his keeper. But I felt very incomplete, like I would never know my father, that he’d remain a mystery. For a long time I walked around with that burden on my shoulders. In college I discovered other young women who could not initiate or join certain conversations, for similar or different reasons.