BWW Interview: PART ONE - POET & WRITER – LORNA PEREZ

BWW Interview: PART ONE - POET & WRITER – LORNA PEREZ

Poet & Writer Lorna Perez is an Associate Professor of English at Buffalo State.

She tends to stay busy with her work, Poetry readings and her Writing.

I thank her for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Well, maybe more than a "few" questions ...

MCL: Where were you born and raised?

LP: I was born in San Leandro, CA, a small suburban town in the East Bay, between Hayward and Oakland. My parents moved about two hours away to the San Joaquin Valley-the Central Valley-when I was pretty young, and I grew up in Stockton, a mid-sized town close to Sacramento. It's Steinbeck country out there-the valley is still largely agricultural, so I grew up surrounded by grape vineyards and almond and cherry orchards. Stockton is also on the largest inland sea port maybe in the world-there's a large delta there-so even though it is about 90 miles inland, the town is surrounded by water. Stockton is a strange and complicated place. It is incredibly diverse in terms of ethnic and racial groupings. I grew up with a lot of Chicano and Filipino and Italian kids, though I think it was one of the first large American cities to not have a single ethnic majority. It is also very poor, or more precisely the difference between people who are very wealthy and people who are very poor is really stark there. Maxine Hong Kingston is also from Stockton and when I read The Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts in high school I remember being shocked by the familiarity of the landscape in that novel.

MCL: What made you move and stay in Buffalo, N.Y.?

LP: I moved to the Midwest when I was 18 to attend Creighton University in Omaha, Ne. I graduated college in the Spring of 2000, and that August I moved to Buffalo to go to grad school at the University at Buffalo. At the time, I really disliked Buffalo but grad school, though incredibly difficult, was also a wonderful experience, and the city started changing a lot in the early 2000s. By the time I finished my PhD in 2008, I had the extraordinary good luck to get an incredible job at Buffalo State College, so I didn't have to move again, which is pretty rare for academics. In a lot of ways, I hit the jackpot-I got to stay in a city that I had grown to love, and I got to have my dream job at Buffalo State, so I feel very lucky that these many years later, I still get to call Buffalo home.


MCL: What is the literary life like for you in Buffalo?

LP: Literary life in Buffalo is amazing. In many ways, I moved here because it was a literary town. Getting to do a PhD in Literature at the University at Buffalo is a pretty big deal, in terms of the literary minds and movements that have came out of that department. But beyond this, I think what is striking about Buffalo is that there is not one literary scene, there are many. As a result, pretty much every night of the week you can go to some kind of reading or literary performance and that is frankly extraordinary. What makes this even more special is that no matter what kind of poetry or writing you aesthetically prefer, there is something for you-if slam and spoken word poetry is your thing, there is a vibrant and intense scene for that. If you prefer more academic poetry and poetics, there is a rich and storied community for that. We have everything from small presses, spaces for book arts and printing, to huge reading series, to work in performance spaces. We also have the incredible fortune to have Just Buffalo here, and beyond the impressive Babel series which brings authors of global reputation to Buffalo, there is also the Studio series, and the Silo Reading series, as well as their impressive work with young people. All in all, Buffalo is an embarrassment of riches in terms of the depth and breadth of the literary community here. Beyond the richness of Literary Buffalo, though, I find myself in a strange place personally. I am no longer of the age or life position to think of myself as a "young" poet (I also don't read off my phone, which is another way I know I am not a young poet), and I am not, strictly speaking, an academic poet. In terms of my professional work, my critical focus is on fiction. And so my own writing falls somewhere in the middle ground of all that. In some sense, I suppose that has generally been true for me-my creative work doesn't neatly fit into specific spaces-which is something that I am entirely ok with.

MCL: You're a natural reader. You look very comfortable in front of an audience. Do you enjoy it as much as you look like you do? What makes a good open reader?

LP: That is very kind of you to say, thank you. Yes, I do enjoy it. Certainly, my job helps with this-when you stand in front of people every day talking about books, reading is a kind of natural extension of that. In a younger version of myself, I was active in competitive speech and debate and theater, which also probably helps. Beyond the normal nerves, I've always been decently comfortable in front of an audience. For me, something flips and I'm in the rhythm of the work and I don't think about it much. I think being a good reader depends on a lot of things. The first is the work itself. Certainly, performance poetry or spoken word demands a different kind of theatrical delivery than my work, which I think of as more quiet in some ways. I also think it is important to let the work stand for itself. I tend to not tell stories about my pieces or contextualize them for the reader/listener, in part because I think the writing needs to do that work, and it is easy to lose the momentum and the rhythm of the reading if you are constantly contextualizing.

MCL: You are an associate professor of English and specialize in
Latinx literature ... Please go into more detail about Latinx.

LP:This is a big question, and I could spend lots of time talking about this. I think in general though, I would say a few things. One is that Latinx literature is absolutely amazing. There is a general misconception that this literature is written in Spanish-it is not, it's written in English, though often with Spanish or Spanglish sprinkled in-or that it is synonymous with Latin American literature, which it also is not. Rather Latinx Literature is an ethnic minority literature, sometimes an immigrant body of literature, sometimes a colonial body of literature and very often a body of literature that stands in direct response to US imperialism. While many Latinx writers-people of Latin American descent living in the US-write about identity, one of things that I find so compelling is the literature's breadth and depth. While Latinx writing has been produced in the United States since the 19th century, it is most often associated with mid to late twentieth century literature; writings from the Nuyorican Poets Café and the writing of Chicano Movement spring immediately to mind. It is not, however, the case that Latinx writers are uniform in either their aesthetic practices, forms, or even themes, though of course there are some commonalities. There are also some really important ways that Latinx literature is in conversation with other US Literatures. Often in Caribbean Latinx writing there are strong similarities and congruities with African American writing-particularly since many Latinx folks have histories that connect to the African diaspora, while Chicanx and Puerto Rican writers often have thematic concerns that are similar to Native American writing, in the sense that there is both an indigenous cultural presence in these cultures and because they are cultures that have been subject to colonization. I think for me one of the most important things about Latinx literature is its variety of form and styles-there is no one way to be Latinx writer-and that it probes the really rich space within and between cultures, languages, and legacies.

Photo courtesy of Amber Rampino

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON LORNA PEREZ:

https://english.buffalostate.edu/faculty/lorna-perez

http://www.blazevox.org/

http://http://labelmelatin.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Lorna-P%C3%A9rez-Substitute-Geographies.pdf

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