Leticia Hernández-Linares is a poet, interdisciplinary artist, and educator. Author of Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl, and co-editor of The Wandering Song, she has received four San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist grants, and published and performed widely. She teaches in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University.
Fourteen Hills Assistant Poetry Editor Elizabeth Rosas had the opportunity to interview Leticia regarding her experience as an author, performer and editor. New work of Leticia's will be published in Fourteen Hills issue no. 26, to be released May of 2020.
Fourteen Hills (14H): I was introduced to Other Musics, New Latina Poetry through an MFA poetry class this semester and was especially excited to see your work included in the collection. You are one of fifteen poets selected by editor Cynthia Cruz to represent a range of contemporary Latina poetry—what an honor! How did this opportunity come about?
Leticia Hernández-Linares (LHL): It is an honor! I find myself in amazing company. This anthology traces back about six years, when I was selected as a CantoMundo fellow. At this National Latinx Poetry Residency, I met Cynthia Cruz, the anthology editor. A while later, she sent out a call, and I submitted work from my poetry manuscript for Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl. Anthologies can take a long time. By the time this one was almost done, my book had already come out. Many of us asked to send new versions of our poems. I wanted the poems to reflect my revisions and overall growth. It was great that we were able to collaborate so much during the publishing process. I love the title and the all the other poets’ work.
14H: I have read and heard some of your recent poetry illuminating gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. At the heart of your poetry in Other Musics, we see stories about cultural assimilation, the harsh realities of immigration, and a Latina coming of age in the United States. You balance the political and the personal in all your work. What advice can you give to young and/or emerging writers on these subjects as they tackle them in their own writing?
LHL: Doing something different, taking risks, are charges that have served as guiding principles in my writing, and that is what I want to encourage other writers to do. Don’t follow formulas. Don’t squeeze yourself into boxes demarcated by Eurocentric, institutional, and one-dimensional frameworks. Well, I guess unless you really want to. At this point, we have choices. In general, be honest, don’t try to write in a way that isn’t true to who you are. You don’t have to write about yourself, but you have to write from yourself.
14H: In 2015, Tia Chucha Press published your first book of poetry, Mucha Muchacha. Can you share your experience with the process of getting your collection published? What it is like to work with editors? How did you find your publisher?
LHL: I had my eye on Tía Chucha Press for a long time, and I worked on my book for quiet a while. I had been publishing in journals/anthologies, while performing and working full-time, so I didn’t focus on a book project until I received a grant from the San Francisco Art Commission. With that support, I produced a spoken word CD and a manuscript, and sought out editorial support from Lorna Dee Cervantes, who was in the Bay for a while, and advised me early on.
As I completed the manuscript, I worked with a few editors and each experience was different. It is important to know what kind of feedback or support you are looking for. It is also important to make choices on what feedback you want to accept, and where you want to use your own editorial discretion. At CantoMundo, I met and became quick family with incredibly talented Latinx writers, so ire’ne lara silva, Carmen Gimenez-Smith, Angel García & Deborah Paredez all offered me editorial support. Carmen got me started, and then I would get feedback from one of the other writers, make some decisions, then ask the next writer about the new versions. It might sound like overkill when I look back, but it really wasn’t, because they were helping as friends. ire’ne and Carmen did the heavy lifting, then Angel read through various versions and Deborah gave me a big picture assessment. #DreamTeam I had to handle all editing on my own, because Tía Chucha Press does not have staff to support that, but they design gorgeous books and include an incredible list of writers in their catalog. I sent the manuscript to the Crab Orchard Review First book contest and was selected as a finalist, but the big cigar came from Luis Rodriguez and Tía Chucha Press.
14H: One of the things that pulls me into your work is the way you use music. In “Diamond Girl y La Spazz” I can’t help but sing “Diamond Girl” while reading about what it is like to be Latina in the U.S. in the 1980s. What is it about music that feels so imperative to you as a writer?
LHL: My father is a musician, and played with a variety of different bands during my childhood. He played with a Chicano group for a while, and our family spent many weekends in East L.A. surrounded by Chicanx culture and music. My father taught me to sing and write songs, and listening to an extensive and eclectic vinyl collection was a family pastime. Nueva Canción, the political musical movement that merged folk music with protest and testimonio, was one main way that I learned about “back home” and the situation in El Salvador. I grew up in dance and theater, so the music in my poetry is about my inherent interdisciplinary approach to creative production, to writing. It has to exist both on and off the page, it has to have a rhythm, and it needs to have volume.
14H: The Wandering Song, Central American Writing in the United States, is over 300 pages of beautifully written prose and poetry which you co-edited with Rubén Martinez and Héctor Tobar. How did that collaboration come about? What about the project was exciting for you, what was the most challenging aspect of finding work to include? And how did you go about choosing the pieces that would go into the book?
LHL: I would not be the writer I am today if it were not for the work and generosity of Luis Rodríguez and my co-editors Rubén and Héctor. After Tía Chucha published my work, Luis talked about the need for such an anthology, the one I had been longing for my whole writer life. When he asked if I would be part of this project, I was honored and thrilled, and grateful that Rubén and Héctor lent their expertise, and that they also let me lead. Writing that preface though, that was the highlight and the biggest challenge. Rubén read multiple drafts giving me valuable feedback, and kept saying “dude! put yourself in it more” and then when Luis and Héctor’s approval of the final draft came, it was a big YASSS moment. Overall, we split up the work well (it was a lot!) and the team was very receptive to my suggestions. We were all pretty calibrated on the caliber of work we were looking for; we wanted to produce a beautiful book that showcased a wide range of experiences and styles.
14H: As an editor, what kind of work are you paying attention to? What do you wish you would see? And what do you hope for as far as the evolution of Bay Area publishing?
LHL: I love the innovation that I see happening right now. It seems like even among academic and traditional poets, folks are literally working outside the box more. I also am giddy over the amount of work coming out by poets of color, and the variation in style and refreshing and reaffirming impact of their sharp edged truths such as Sara Borjas’ Heart like a Window, Mouth like a Cliff, and Angel Garcia’s Teeth Never Sleep. Not sure what you mean by Bay Area publishing—those of us who are publishing who are part of this community, or, local presses. I think we have a rich array of presses and an amazing number of poets in the Bay. I hope they will push their work beyond the Bay—it is easy to stay in this bubble. I also hope all poets push themselves to grow and change, and give each other honest meaningful feedback that makes us all better writers.
14H: Finally, I’d love to know who are you reading now, who is inspiring you?
LHL:I am always reading a few different things at once. I recently read with Diana Marie Delgado, author of Tracing the Horse, as part of the Utah Humanities Book Festival, and I am in awe of her courage. She has crafted beautifully painted poems from family trauma into that leave you full of paper cuts, and you somehow don’t mind. I have been having a conversation with various poets about how much I have held back on writing my personal story too much in poems because of my concerns over privacy and my fear of putting it down on paper and having to look at it in lines and on pages. On a different note, I am reading Claudia Lars (in Spanish) and Allison C. Rollins. Who inspires me? So much! The art of Juana Alicia, the band Monsier Periné, listening to my friends reading form their poetry books, like Samuel Miranda, author of We Is, who recently visited from D.C. and read in my Latinx Studies courses and at Alley Cat Books in the Mission.
14H: Thank You, Leticia. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.
If you would like to find out more about Leticia and her projects, please check out her Twitter page: @joinleticia