6 opportunities for writers of color this month

Dear Reader,

I got a fantastic shout out on Facebook a couple of weeks back from George “Urban Jibaro” Torres. I’ve known him for awhile now through Twitter. He was one of the first Latino social media folks I met many moons ago.

He urged writers of colors to follow me because I was listing out opportunities for them. I was so honored and humbled by that. He hit on something that I didn’t know was doing.

In recent months, I’ve noticed an urge to create or to announce opportunities for writers of color. Whether it’s retweeting things I find or putting together a list like this, I find it a great privilege to curate this information to give writers an opportunity to practice their craft.

So, I’ve put together a special edition of writing opportunities geared specifically for writers of color. Let’s get your writing to the next level, folks. Vamonos!

World Wide Network of Artist Residences

I came across this website a couple of weeks ago and I instantly bookmarked it. Wow! A list of residencies to apply to around the world! Does that mean there could be a residency that allows me to go to Paris and work on my book? Yes. That’s exactly what that means.

Although you may not be at that point in your writing where you are ready for a residency (I would argue you are) it’s good to go through the process. Things like CVs and artist statements and project statements take time. So it’s nice to have an opportunity to write something you wouldn’t usually write and have it ready for other opportunities.

So enjoy Germany or Austrailia or wherever you’re going next.

VONA/Voices

I. Can. Not. Say. Enough. Good. Things. About. VONA. When I got ii, it was kinda a blur. An unbelievable excellent blur of awesomeness with Sunday morning pancakes and warm syrup. Around for more than 15 years, this weeklong workshop at the University of Miami, gives writers of color critique and feedback on their writing in a constructive and awesome space.

There’s space here for everyone, literary, genre (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery), poetry, travel writing (YES!), essay, political writing and more. New this year is a young adult writing workshop with Daniel Jose Older, writer of Shadowshapper.  Hurry if you’re doing this one. Applications are due March 15.

Kimbilio Fellowship

This one I am really excited about.  I was accepted to last year’s class but couldn’t attend. They extended an invite for this year and I thankfully accepted.  #Kimbilio16, y’all!

Kimbilio means safe haven in Swahilli.  Here’s a bit of their mission statement.

We are a community of writers and scholars committed to developing, empowering and sustaining fiction writers from the African diaspora and their stories.

Projects include readings, presentations at professional conferences, social media networking, and an annual summer retreat for fiction writers who are members of the Kimbilio community.

What I found really interesting about this residency/fellowship/awesome opp is that its alumni gather to read in different areas of the country in addition to creating a community. And we all know how I feel about writers having a community.

I’ve already just finished reading one of the faculty member’s short story collections and I was blown away. So, this seems like an exciting place to be. (They’re near Taos, NM for a week in the summer.) Applications are due April 15.

National Parks Foundation

National parks. Writing. Dedicated Space. What else can I say about this opportunity?

Listen, so each national park from New Mexico to Hawaii to the Eastern seaboard has its own deadline and stipulations. Some have stipends while others don’t. All are residencies with your own place to sleep and be, but stuff like wifi…I dunno.  Each park is different and offers different experiences. You’ll have to click each park at the link above and see the specific requirements.

Glendaliz’s List

My friend Glendaliz (also a VONA alum. Hint, hint) has been gathering a list of these opportunities longer than I have. She has a list going on her own site with opportunities that seem really fun and interesting.

She also does webinars on how to apply to residencies and covers things like how to write an artist statement. Check her out on her site. She’s a wealth of info and is always applying to these opportunities as well.

Journals featuring writers of color

Meanwhile, there are journals who are looking for work from people of color. Thanks to WritersRelief.com for putting this list together!  Some good stuff here.

Alright then! Seems like we all have some work to do. Residencies. Workshops. Submissions. Writing. Get to it, folks!

Write On,

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Valentines Day Treat: The Last Single Girl

Dear Reader,

As I was working on the blog today, I came across this story that I wrote for my then site, Writing to Insanity, in 2009.

This was me pre-MFA, pre-writing workshop, pre-everything when I was trying things out with my writing.

Man, I enjoyed this story that I decided to spruce it up a bit and re-issue it for Valentine’s Day. It’s a short story in six parts.

So, for you, my readers I re-present The Last Single Girl: A Love Story from the Gods.

Enjoy,

~Icess

Everything in its Place | Icess Fernandez Rojas

I’m so excited that this story found a home! “Everything in its Place” is different for me — voice and structure. I’ll write about the revision process for this piece soon since how it come to be is its own story. For now, however, read, enjoy, comment, share.

THE FEM

She is speaking. Her mouth moves but the words are soft like her brown skin and now I want to touch it again, strum my fingertips against it, make more memories from it. There isn’t enough time, there is never enough time when we are in this space. Time is cruel and so is this, what we are doing. The giving and the taking. There is pain and agony coming for me and for her, but her mouth is the color of strawberries.

Today there is breakfast. Yesterday there were good-byes, the could have and should haves of rewritten lives.

“There’s just no getting over you,” I say.

“There shouldn’t be,” replies.  

*

She returns to the room in her blue dress with little yellow flowers. I saw the fabric in the store earlier that summer and the pattern reminded me of her— beautiful and unexpected. I knew her…

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Afro-Latinos, Black History Month and Twitter

Dear Reader,

I LOVE me some Black History Month!

This is shocking because I never use to feel like this. Here, in a column I wrote for The Guardian, I talk about how folks will honor African American History but Afro-Latinos, our history and our heroes and heroines are left out. They’re also left out of Hispanic Heritage Month too but we’ll deal with that in September.

Listen, my black speaks Spanish. And I love learning about African American History. Love it. But I want to know about my history. Who are the people who fought in wars and made discoveries? Whose names are all but forgotten? What are the issues they have confronted and overcome?

What I love about social media and Twitter is that Afro-Latinos have been able to organize themselves a bit. Janel Martinez over at Ain’t I Latina? profiled Juliana Pache, creator of the hashtag #BlackLatinxHistory

And it’s amazing! People are posting photos of our beautiful leaders, singers, creators. Past AND Present. How amazing is that!

We’re doing what I wanted to do when I wrote that piece in The Guardian, we regaining part of our narrative, part of the Black History narrative.

So to add to the work my fellow Afro-Latina sisters are doing, I’ve been putting together a Twitter list of Afro-Latinos– organizations, publications, people. As I find folks, I add them to the Twitter list and so that column on my Tweetdeck continues to grow.

Click here to check it out and/or to follow it.

It is empowering to see writers, creators, politicians, leaders, entrepreneurs tweet on this list.  I hope you enjoy it.

Meanwhile, I saw this on Twitter and I wanted to share. Happy Black History Month!

P.S. If you’re an Afro-Latino writer and you’re reading this, I’m working on something big you may be interested in. 

And if you want to hear some Afro-Latina literature from some up-and-coming writers, you’re in luck!

Growing into my blackness: Reflection on Langston Hughes

Dear Reader,

I have a confession to make.  I’ve never read Langston Hughes.

Nope. Not in a class. Not out of class. Know of him. Know of his work. But never really engaged with it.

Yes, I know. I am a special kind of person. Got it.

However, I am growing into my blackness. That means I didn’t learn what it meant to be black until after I became an adult. My dad was Cuban and my mom Guatemalan. My friends were white and Latino. Black folks just didn’t know what to do with me growing up in East Harris County. To them, I was some weird freak, this little dark girl who spoke a different language and acted funny. She didn’t know who Teddy Pendergrass was (not until I moved to Detroit for a summer on an internship). Frankly Beverly and Maze (during my time in Shreveport when I went to a concert) or any other artist that encapsulated the black American experience.

So yes, I am coming to Langston Hughes late. I’m growing into my blackness. I’m joining the party already in progress, but I’m joining the party.

Today, followers of the VONA Facebook page were challenged with some “homework“, reading the poem I Look at the World by Hughes.

Here’s a copy of the poem if you haven’t already read it. 

My original thought was oh what a nice poem. Sorry but I’m a prose person so it takes me a while and a couple of readings to get into a poem and unpack it.

I know now that it’s a call-to-arms, to awaken the creative thinking to get out of where you are.

It’s short but packs a punch. I see that in the first stanza. What gets me, to the heart of me, is this line:

This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.
Here is where I nod. I said yes to this. I know what this cage is. I’ve lived in it even without knowing. There are consequences when you leave your space, there always is. But to be awoken, to open your eyes to reality, IS to want to break from the change. I continued reading.
Here is where I nod again:
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
Oh, this gave me anxiety. Of course, they have to go. Of course, they can not be allowed to stand. But how? This reminded me of something someone said to me once. One day you’ll get to the point when the cost of opening up is less than the cost of closing yourself off.
Is it better to say in your cage knowing its wrong but playing it safe or to tear down the wall knowing that it’ll be difficult and could hurt. I guess that will depend on how you badly you want change.
Another thing that gave me anxiety is all the internalizing in this poem. The eyes doing all the watching are in “black face” and “dark face”. It’s not from or of. That word choice is telling, putting the reader in the poem, making them part of the changed world. This continues to the final stanza, when the narrator is looking at their own body. It’s that internal, self-awareness that leads the call to arms.
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind-
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind
Then let us hurry comrades,
The road to find
This call-to-arms is empowering. After self-realization and awareness comes action, and that action comes from creating. This is a solution to being caged, to waking up and realizing that one is in a “narrow space”. Escaping comes from creating, whether it’s art or opportunities.
A lot of punch in three short stanzas. A lot of meaning in few words. A lot of thought in how this fits into the bigger picture of the world.
Like my fellow people of color, I have felt imprisoned, caged, corraled, into situations that were not my choice. That is what was “assigned” to me. A label: angry black woman.  A characteristic: lazy, whiny, ugly.
The moment we don’t believe those labels, or even chose our own (writer, activist, entrepreneur) we wake up to the realization of who we are. That is when we need to escape those other labels. And we do that by creating work that reflects our lives and time, actively developing and strengthing our voices, creating opportunities for growth and abundance.
Ironically, that’s how I’m growing into my blackness. I own my label. I embrace it. Afro-Latina. Writer. Daughter. Sister. Chingona.
Eso mero. (My blackness speaks Spanish)
Thank you for the lesson, Mr. Hughes. It definitely wasn’t lost on me. Happy Belated Birthday.
Schooled by poetry,
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The Writing Life: How I lived it up in January

 

Dear Reader,

It’s February and 2016 is rocking and rolling. I’ve stopped writing 2015 on correspondence and have come to the realization, albeit slowly, that my 20-year high school reunion is coming up.  (Yikes!)

It’s also a time to reflect on what I’ve done in the past month toward my goals. Last month, I loosely outlined what I wanted to do this year with my writing and my writing life. There were a couple of areas I wanted to concentrate on – writing more short stories, submitting more to lit journals and opportunities, write more on the blog, working in non-fiction, get Jennie Manning back on track toward publication.

I’ve done lots of that and more. When I actually listed what I’ve accomplished, I was shocked. I honestly thought I was being lazy and didn’t feel like I did a lot of writing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the new writing happened on this site, however, there was lots of revising and revisioning things. More importantly, I was filling the well, reading and letting ideas percolate.

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Just picked this up on Friday. Can’t wait to get into it.

So here’s what I did in January.

  1. Accepted offer to a writer’s workshop (yay! More on that in May)
  2. Applied to a residency (wish me luck)
  3. Submitted two short stories for publication, 1 accepted, 1 rejected
  4. Submitted a workshop panel to an international conference
  5. Revised an old story to submit
  6. Wrote several blog posts (yup, that counts)
  7. Read 1 book (short story collection), 1 new short story
  8. Made BIG advances to a non-fiction essay (to be submitted next month)
  9. Reworked an early chapter of Jennie Manning

That’s insane considering that school started this month and I had to prepare syllabuses for five classes AND assign readings.

One thing that did help me was keeping a spreadsheet of deadlines and links to opportunities and journals accepting work.  Here’s a version that you can download.

On my spreadsheet there are columns for deadlines, the title of the opportunities, and the link to the websites where they were. There was also a column for notes to myself, which is where I wrote what each thing needed as far as cover letters or CVs.  All that stuff takes a while to put together. My favorite column on the spreadsheet is the name of the piece I’ll be submitting.

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So nice and quiet. Loving my own space, even if it’s only for a little while.

Another thing that was helpful to me was to have some writing time built into (some of) my days. I love the fact that one of my colleges gives lets me use a cubicle in between classes. It’s quiet and I can type away without being annoying.  The campus library is also awesome because, well, it’s a library.

Writing with friends Trevor and Jasminne was also so helpful. We meet up and for those hours, we are writing. We talk if we need an opinion on something but for the most part, we’re nose to the grindstone.  Awesome.

So good first month with lots of great stuff getting done. I’m excited for February. It’ll be interesting to see how much I can accomplish now that classes are in full swing and with the month’s deadlines looming. Wish me luck!

 

Focused,

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Who runs publishing? Not the people who read the books.

Dear Reader,

Oh man! My head is throbbing.

This week, Lee and Low Books, a publisher of children’s books, release the results of a survey they commissioned. Here’s a fascinating tidbit. White, heterosexual women are the gatekeepers to publishing.

They call it the Diversity Baseline Survey and they conducted it April – December 2015. The goal was to finally get a count, a snapshot on who the decisions makes were when it came to who was published by publishers or lit journals.

Frankly, I and other writers of colors always knew that the decision makers in publishing were white. But the theory was always that the majority of the decision makers were white middle-aged male. This survey only proved one part of that. It proved race but it disapproved gender.

Overall 78 percent of the industry identifies as women. More specifically 84 percent in the editorial department are women. Book reviewers, the folks who tell other folks what’s good to read, is made up of 87 percent women.

Here’s the results of the study laid out in colorful pie graphs.

While I was reeling from that information, another report was reported on. The most likely group to read books? College-educated African Americans 

I’m sorry, what?

Slate reported on the PEW Research Center’s findings back in 2014, (The article linked above says African American women read the most but after looking at PEW’s finding myself, the headline is misleading.)

The report was to find out about reading habits, specifically delivery — tablet, phone, or physical book.

e-readers7
From A Snapshot of Reading in America in 2013, The Pew Research Center.

Of the adults who read at least ONE book, African Americans read the most, 81 percent. And they read print books! (About 75 percent).

We can debate whether they are buying them or borrowing them in another blog post, however, this begs the following question:

If it’s white women who are making the decision on who is published but it’s African Americans who are doing the reading, why are there not more writers of color being published? 

This makes me believe that a suspicion I had earlier about the a segment of the mystery reading audience has some validation. The reading audience isn’t what we think it is much like the gatekeepers aren’t who we think they are.

I stand with my fellow writers that more voices of color are recognized and published by mainstream publishers. I’m tired of the same voice earning awards and accolades. I’m tired of hearing that there are not writers of color that write at a high enough level to be published. I’m tired that stories of people of color are only seen by publishing not as valid artistry but an exotic flavor of the season tale showing the establishment a glimpse of the other people.

I am one of the readers in that 81 percent the Pew Center has reported and I don’t want to read another book where I don’t see me or people who look, sound, act, think, like me and my friends and the people I know. There is no excuse for these stories to not be more abundant and readily available, no matter who is making the decision.

I guess I expected better.

 

Reaching for the aspirin,

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4 dramatic ways to end your novel

Dear Reader,

There’s something about soap opera, telenovelas specifically, that makes me happy. I grew up watching them and it was something that my mom, dad, and I could talk about, a frame of reference for future conversations.

When I returned home, I started watching them again but I didn’t want to watch the rehashed versions of a Spanish Cinderella. I just wasn’t about that life. That’s why I watched Bajo el Mismo Cielo, with the immigrant story lines, children of immigrants straddling culture lines, and gang life, I thought this was the most realistic novela I’ve seen in a long time.

Bajo el mismo cielo

And it was. It finished Monday night (novelas end after a couple of months) and thought that the ending of this story has several lessons for how to end novels, short stories, or whatever narrative you’re working on.

There’s always a character who needs to be redeemed

Redemption is such a strong theme and arc that when I see it in novels and tv shows it feels cliche to me. Usually, one character willingly gives their life for another one. They’ve done awful things — murder and mayhem — there’s no other out. So, they’ll push the button to the bomb and give everyone a chance to live happily ever after.

Sound familiar? There’s more than one way to end that story.

Listen, redemption characters have to die but that depends on your definition of dying. Dying is the ending of something. It can be life, love, or a way of life. That will depend directly on how big the murder and mayhem was that the character caused. If it’s big, it’s a physical death but they don’t have to go willingly. They can be forced to die but the death has to mean something.

Yes, the bad guy gets it in the end but the who and why are important

Ok, the bad guy gets it. They are punished. They don’t get a second chance. There’s no redemption. Usually, punishment means death. (It’s a soap opera, lots of people die.)

The bad guy’s death means something ends. It could be the chaos they created, the rabid bloodlust, etc. Endings mean beginnings and so if the bad guy gets it at the end, that means that their punishment reflects a new beginning, a new normal for the remaining characters.

No, that doesn’t mean they live happily ever after.

picjumbo.com_HNCK9069.jpgWho and how they go out also is important. The bad buy is a symbol. Remember the rule of protagonist vs antagonist? Well, for the characters the bad guy (antagonist) has kept the characters from getting what they want this whole time. The person who gets to punish this character should be to whom he’s done the most harm. By punishing them, they are symbolically taking a monkey off their back and winning against their vices.

Pay off is a big thing. You have to satisfy the viewer/reader

There’s a reason why there’s a big wedding at the end of novelas, it’s way satisfying the viewer.

Here’s the thing though, endings don’t have to have a big wedding or party celebrating a new life. Endings can be bittersweet, just like life.

That’s a lesson Bajo el Mismo Sol taught me. Yeah, it ended with a wedding but it wasn’t a Cinderella ending. Far from it. It was bittersweet, tainted by death and the end of mayhem.

Here’s the thing, endings should be the end of a snippet of time or life that the reader/viewer has read or seen. So there has to be a pay off for the end of THAT particular adventure not necessarily for the character’s life. Happily ever after is boring.

Theme is important. Theme ties up the ending

What you promise at the beginning you have to deliver at the end. So if the novel is about conquering planets, don’t turn it into a romance in 1800s England.

Seriously, don’t. What is that?

I know that’s an extreme example but it illustrates the point. If the theme of your work is love conquers all, love better be there at the end winning. That’s how the pay off works. You set something up at the beginning and then the end delivers it. That’s usually done through the theme.

Need some theme ideas. Here’s 101 of them. 

Happy Writing,

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What happens when you stop asking for permission

Dear Reader,

Something dropped in my inbox this week, an unexpected summons that there was a new blog post of a blog I had subscribed to.

This blog was actually part of a former life of mine. I had once blogged at this site as part of my duties.  I had forgotten I was still subscribed when the alert came in. I looked to see who wrote it, rolled my eyes, and proceeded to unfollow the blog.

I know what you’re thinking, Reader. Icess, you are throwing shade. No. I’m using this story to illustrate my point. The eye roll wasn’t one of disgust but of triumph. I don’t have to ask permission anymore.

I make no secret of the fact that 2015 came with a difficult decision for me — to live or not to live. I chose life but not the one I was living and thankfully not in the presence of the people who, with the most delight I have ever seen from a human being, conspired to put me in the lowest place one can be.

I. Don’t. Have. To. Ask. For. Their. Permission. I don’t have to ask if things are okay or vie for people’s good opinions. I don’t have to try to appease or walk on egg shells anymore. I give as much cares as the amount of water I can cradle in my hands.

And it feels fantastic! 

When I stopped asking for permission a couple of things happened.

I felt free

Here I am. Learning to smile again with the help of the ocean.

In the weeks after that situation, I worked on my mental health. Suddenly, one day, I felt like flying but not in the wanting to jump off a building way. I felt like all things were possible. Hope had returned to me! That’s when I realized a couple of things about being human.

  • People can break.
  • Hope is strong but fragile
  • One can not live without hope.

Learning about these three new truths was like breathing new air. With each passing day my hope grew stronger and I slowly began to smile again. I cracked jokes. Pain, the pain that nearly lead me toward oblivion, lessened.

That lead me to …

Say yes to more things

When you are asking permission, the word yes is foreign. Yes is scary. Yes leads to rocking the boat that you are so scared will overturn with the change of the wind.

But then you start saying yes to people and experiences. The world looks different and you remember who you were before all this started.

All of a sudden, good things start to happen. You become less afraid.  You look forward to things you use to look forward to.  Life comes back and it’s beautiful.

I LOVE teaching and I met some incredible students

The work blossoms

Your work becomes that. YOUR. WORK. And you run the direction of it. You start living the writing life you always wanted and knew that was possible.

And the universe conspires to help you out.

And things start to happen.

And the universe tells you to trust.

And so you do and unexpected things happen filled with love and support.

 

The future is brighter because it exists

There’s so much to look forward to. I even made plans.

But you know and appreciate that those plans come with some hard lessons learned.

I love my life. I couldn’t say that seven months ago. It’s been a hard-earned journey and that email was just a reminder of the woman and writer I am now.

Grateful and happy,

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You can go home again

Dear Reader,

This week was the first week of classes and I started teaching on a new campus, my old college.

It has been a beyond surreal experience. The first day was filled with so many memories. The classroom I teach in is the same classroom I learned in.

I ran into my first creative writing teacher and spent some time talking with her. She said she was proud of me and was excited that I was there now. If you would have told me that I was going to be her colleague one day, I would have called you a liar.

Then I stepped into this room and I nearly broke down in tears.

 

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Behold, the choir room. 

 

My dreams started in a choir room.

This room is new and was constructed after I left. However, when I walked in I felt so at home. I could hear music and I wanted to sit in one of the chair and get ready to perform at a concert.

It was in a room like this I dreamed so many things for my life — who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. I was going to leave the neighborhood and find my way in the world. Make something of myself.

And I did. And I’m back home. Houston. The old house. The old neighborhood. The old college. This choir room. These memories. They were strong. They washed over me and hugged me.

When I visited my former choir teacher, he remembered me. He remembered me. I was remembered almost 20 years later.

I can’t, still, days after these moments, find the right words to describe the feeling of that day. Peace? Happiness? Joy? At ease? Yes to all these plus more. So much more.

Healing? Is this healing? Maybe.

Here’s a video I did of my thoughts that day.

 

In beautiful tears,

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