Posted by on August 1, 2013

In 2012, I submitted an application for the PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship.

Sofia at VONA

I couldn’t shake, back then, the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing. And tonight, a year later, I still can’t rid myself of the sensation that I’m fooling myself, and trying to fool the anonymous group of people who will read my “bad” poetry. Bad is what the voice in my head keeps telling me my poetry is. My poetry, that isn’t really poetry, but is some mucky, messy, queer, unfettered kind of prose that comes out of me, that I don’t quite control.

to fool; verb: to speak in jest; to meddle, tamper, or experiment; to contend or fight without serious intent or with less than full strength

It’s true that I’ve internalized this notion that I am no good. I battle this on daily basis. I am no good at writing, or the work I do; I’m no good at partnership, or cooking, or sisterhood. I am no good at friendship or community. So many “not good enoughs” zip through this brain of mine. Truthfully, I’m quite good at all of the above. And, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, for an artist, the “are you good enough” question isn’t the fitting question to be asking. The question is, does what you are doing bring you joy; is what you’re doing made of magic? And if the answer is yes, then it’s worth the doing.

Alas, I still get stuck with the good enough question.

So, instead of writing to this imaginary audience of critics, let me write to you all: an audience of my peers, that I imagine to be benevolent and loving.

Help me out with this first question, and maybe a few more to come:

1. Why are you applying to the Emerging Voices Fellowship?

In 2014, I’ll be thirty years old. And, I’ve wanted to be a “real writer” since I was sixteen.

(Already I’m self-editing as I write this).

I’m applying to the EV Fellowship because I want to write professionally. I am interested in a vigorous program I can take part in while I work full time. More than anything, I want to dive deep into craft; I want to create something new, out of me, out of my hands, from my magic. I want to do this in community, with mentors and peers; I don’t want to be alone in this endeavor, because I believe we are stronger in communion with one another.

2. What are your goals as a writer?

Sigh. I have no idea.

3. How will the EV Fellowship help you achieve those goals?

4. Provide a detailed explanation of your (long-term) project and include a tentative title.

I plan on publishing my first poetry chapbook in the course of the fellowship. My poems and prose will focus on the unfolding identity. This will take on a feeling of ceremony and magic; it will not stay contained. It will be queer. It will be connected to the ancestors. It will be a prayer, an offering, and a conversation. It will be a bildungsroman of sorts, with elements of girlhood, and womanhood, racial identity formation, sexual identity formation, spiritual/ceremonial discovery, and a gathering place for the survivors of the colonial project we call America. The tentative title is: Braids or Yellow Blossoms like Braids or Flames out my Mouth or This Body, Our Lullaby

5. Briefly describe your formal writing instruction

In 2012, I attended the Voices of Our Nations Retreat for writers of color at UC Berkeley. Minal Hajratwala was my instructor in memoir. That was my first formal workshop space.

Since then, I’ve been a part of informal writing spaces, like Weaving Words, Weaving Worlds with Alejandra Sanchez and Olga Garcia.

Before 2012, I was involved in informal writing spaces like Rainbow Theater at UC Santa Cruz.

6. I’ve received no awards, or grants, or fellowships.

7. List and explain how three books and/or writers have inspired your writing

Most recently, Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson, has inspired and given me permission to write my little girl stories, growing up in the San Gabriel Valley. I like the way Dana Johnson writes about Los Angeles, and race, and about what’s lost in the process of assimilation. I like her themes, and I like her craft. I like that each chapter flips back and forth from a time of girlhood, to a time of adulthood.

Cherrie Moraga’s Loving in the War Years, similarly, gave me permission to write about identity, race, gender, sexuality, colonization, love, mothers, anger, and loss with a sweetness and a frankness that I can never quite emulate in my own writing, but that guides me.

Joy Harjo, and her recent memoir, Crazy Brave, showed me that I can bring ceremony into my work. She is guided by her ancestors, and her book is organized as the four directions. It sounds simple as I write this, but this was inspirational for me.

Women of color writers are everything to me.  Toni Morrison’s Beloved taught me I could write the “unspeakable” and bring it into visibility in a way that is heartbreaking and instructive and beautiful.  These writers have fucking balls, they have a courage I aspire to.

8. Please list any commitments you are involved with that would interfere with the fellowship.

None of my commitments will interfere with the fellowship. This fellowship is the cornerstone of my next year. I can organize my life around this.

9. How do you feel you lack financial or creative access?

This is a hard one. It seems like the most important question. Access.


a : permission, liberty, or ability to enter, approach, or pass to and from a place or to approach or communicate with a person or thing

b : freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something
If access means the permission, liberty, or ability to enter into my full creative expression in the world, then yes, I have lacked access. Permission is the key word. I haven’t given myself full permission to enroll in a writer’s program that would allow me to invest 100% of my energy into my craft. I am full of potential, but I have lacked access to the liberty and the permission (and the money) to afford such an opportunity.
This is it. This is my opportunity. I am giving myself permission. This is my freedom dream. I am here for this. This Opening.

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