Interview with poet/artist Tamara G. Saliva

Tamara Grysel Saliva is a native ‘nuyorican’, born in Brooklyn NY. Raised on the borders of Harlem and Washington Heights, her childhood and teenage years were far from happy. At the age of 14, she decided to escape from home and sought refuge at her sister’s house. In an attempt to find herself, as a young adult, she left New York and began to work and live in different U.S. cities, such as, Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami.

After 7 years, Tamara found her way back home, to Brooklyn with a mind full of memories and life adventures. This was the catalyst that inspired her to take paper to pen, and created in her a voice that was immediately identifiable with people of all creed, race and religious paths. Her writing has received its wings and begun to take flight. Her work has been published in the Hunter College Literary magazine, LETRAS and she has been featured in numerous poetry showcases, including the infamous Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

She has also teamed up with summer youth affiliates to bring spoken word to different groups of inner city kids. She believes that everyone has an inner voice and needs to be heard for liberation, emancipation and creativity.

Not only did I have the pleasure of interviewing Tamara, she’s also shared a few of her creative pieces with us.

Aché pa’ ti, Tamara. Maferefun Yemaya!

 

What are your genre and your intended audience?

My intended audience, I don’t know that I intended on an audience per say. However the goal is to reach the one person that can relate to my story, and find faith their own survival by seeing that I am too a survivor.

What are you currently writing?

These days I am painting more then writing, but this could very well be due to the first display of my art and some avoidance on my part. I am in the process of writing my memoir. Something I started working on in 2011 yet the emotional roller coaster of the memories have caused me to put a pause on it from time to time, but I have decided that this year I will be focusing on my story.

 

Ibu Ana- Tamara Saliva

 

What other projects are you involved in?

I am currently working on creating journals for those of us who feel they have no voice. Those of us who have a similar story of child sexual, physical and mental abuse because victims of these things often feel alone and voiceless so I am creating journals that will always be used as a donation item. I am looking to the community for funds to print these journals. For more information go to: www.gofundme.com/bvpjournals

When do you make time to write?

Making time to write has always been difficult for me, but if lines come to me I always make sure to jot them down.

 

Yemaya- Tamara Saliva

 

What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all?

I would have started much sooner.

Tell us about your marketing strategy.

I am still getting the hang of marketing, I do all I can with social media and my own website.

Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how?

My spirituality is a huge influence in my writing because writing for me, is a cleansing a release of some sort of energy.

 

Chango- Tamara Saliva

 

What would you like to see in your literary community?

I would love to see more support of the community itself. I learned some time ago that if the art or literary scene is not supported, one day there will be no scene to support.

 

Blue Vein Pages

http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Vein-Pages-Tamara-Saliva-ebook/dp/B00CJUBJMW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392686049&sr=8-1&keywords=Tamara+Saliva

Below is Tamara’s flyer for Broken Silence – March 22, 2014 at the Simplicity Wine Bar and Café. She will be sharing her words with many other not to be missed poets.

Broken Silence- Saliva

Interview with Author Karina Guardiola Lopez

Eleven

(Eleven Lopez)
Author, Lyricist, Writer and Poet

Karina Guardiola Lopez (also known as Eleven Lopez) was born in the Bronx, raised in Queens and now resides in Spanish Harlem, New York City. She is an author, poet, lyricist and educator. She has written two poetry books which are available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and Itunes.com. When Karina is not working on her poetry, she works and counsels the homeless, foster care and underprivileged population of Manhattan and the South Bronx. She is currently pursuing her Masters Degree at Baruch College and is also working on a third book. For more information you can go to about.me/K11Lopez.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading along with Eleven and love the way she plays with words to create genuine and needed observations of the world we are blessed to live in! – Theresa

Welcome! 

What are your genre and your intended audience? My genre is Poetry/spoken word and my audience is pretty much anyone who wants to hear what I want to share.

What are you currently writing? Right now, I am currently working on my third book.

When do you make time to write? The moment I see that I am free. Sometimes if something inspires me, I will text it to my phone, type it into the computer or even write on a napkin. I try to keep myself writing at all times.

What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all? I should have taken more publishing courses in college which involved intense editing.

Tell us about your marketing strategy. Honestly, I do not have one. I wish I had someone to market me. I try to do the best I can by posting events, poems and photos on social networks, but I feel everyone should have someone doing that for them.

Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how? Yes, very much.  Although my faith is present in mostly all of my works, there is a handful of works from the perspective of others, whether it was inspired from a debate, intimate conversation or something I overheard. I try to write about the human condition.

Do you have a particular theoretical foundation that keeps you afloat? My faith is my theoretical foundation.

What would you like to see in your literary community? I would like to see more support of other artists instead of making it a competition. Humility is key to achieve that.

*How long have you been writing?* I have been writing since I was about 9 years old. I was very much into short stories and children’s fiction. When I was 11, I created a hard cover for my book report out of a cereal box; it was a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I then started to  write poetry until I was around 16 years old.

 

Interview with Author- Maria Aponte

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Let’s welcome Maria Aponte- Author of Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella

A poet, performance artist, and playwright, born and raised in New York City’s East Harlem (El Barrio), Maria has worked extensively in Latino Theatre and in video productions that deals with racial discrimination, and women’s rights in theatre and film. Maria’s one-woman show, “Lágrimas de Mis Madres” is a biography about the women in her family. She also wrote and performed “I Will Not Be Silenced,” based on the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Mexico’s first feminist poet and playwright. Maria performs her work at various college, universities and artistic venues locally and nationally.

In April 2010, Maria received the Vagina Warrior Award, a special recognition from the Eve Ensler Organization for “someone who has suffered or witnessed violence, grieved it, transformed it, and then does extraordinary work to make sure it doesn’t happen  to anyone else in their community.”

In May 2013, Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella won the International Latino Book Award 2nd place for Best Poetry in English.

Maria currently works in Career Services at Fordham University, and will be completing her Masters in Latin American Latino Studies in May of 2014.

What are your genre and your intended audience?

When I first started writing poetry I never thought of having an intended genre or audience.  I came onto the poetry scene during the late 1970’s and to find a place where I could hear my voice through others was important to me then. The only place I felt that I heard my voice, was at the Nuyorican Poets Café.  Listening to poets, like Pedro Petri, Sandra Maria Esteves, and Jose Angel Figueroa read in Spanglish made me feel at home.  It would not be until much later, that I would start writing about the women in my family that my voice would shape into a genre for women. As I grew as an artist, so did my writing. I found that sharing my life experiences through stories was setting common ground for many Latinas and non-Latinas. Today my intended audience is everyone.  If my stories can help all people across life’s spectrum then I feel like I did my job as a writer.

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What are you currently writing?

As of this writing I’m just collecting my thoughts on life for me today and aging.  I feel that sharing those “older coming of age women” stories is very important. A lot happens in your life from your 20’s to your 50’s and beyond.  As an Afro Latina Puerto Rican woman those stories from those years need to be told. So right now, I’m working on new pieces that are focusing on that, with a couple of short stories.

When do you make time to write?

Now that is a good question. It is not easy for me to find that special time to write because I work a full time job in higher education that sometimes requires early mornings and late night and depending on the time of year, weekends.  I am also completing my Masters in Latin American and Latino Studies, so my free time is spent doing a lot of reading/research and papers. So when it comes to my creative side of writing I usually write notes during the school year and write during the summer on my vacations.

What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all?

Since I did not start out as writer, and my background is theatre I can’t say I would have done anything differently. For me, theatre is my first love in the arts and it was from theatre that I came into writing.  But my major influence was when I decided to go back to school and get my undergraduate degree in English literature.  It would be there that my literary world opened up and discovering so many different authors, reading and developing my critical thinking skills opened my mind to the world of writing on a different level then when I took an interest in the 1970’s.  It was going to school that gave me my writers voice.

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Tell us about your marketing strategy.

I find that although I use Face book, Twitter & LinkedIn, word of mouth and old fashion emails still work.  I also have started blogging and launched my website this past January so that helps.

 Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how?

The most influential person and teacher of all things Spiritual was my Abuela.  Abuela taught me to respect my spiritual gifts because I was born with them and part of my ancestral heritage. For me spirituality is organic and as normal as breathing.   Regarding politics, it was and still is a major influence in my life which transfers to my writing. Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement in El Barrio, the fight for equal rights, education, and social services for Puerto Ricans were the hotbed topics that were dealt with daily.  Some of the pieces in my book, Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella, address those issues through family and life events.

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What would you like to see in your literary community?

In terms of what I would like to see in my literary community is the flexibility of more diversity in what we write about. I feel that since we are living in a more diverse community locally and globally there is much that can be written so that all communities can find commonality in the issues that we all deal with.  I also would like to see more positive writing to break down the stereotypes that are continually perpetuated in main stream media about Latinos. In order for that to happen more Latinos must write and tell their stories from the Latino Voice – not others.

 

Interview with Gil Fagiani- Poet/Author

Gil Fagiani’s poetry collection Rooks (Rain Mountain Press, 2007) is set at Pennsylvania Military College in the 1960s, his poetry chapbook Grandpa’s Wine (Poets Wear Prada in 2008) focuses on his family’s immigrant generation, and has been translated into Italian by Paul D’Agostino. His book of poetry Chianti in Connecticut was inspired by his childhood in Springdale, Connecticut (Bordighera, pending 2010). Finishing Line Press will be publishing in 2012 his new chapbook Serfs of Psychiatry which is set in a state psychiatric hospital.
 
Gil’s poems and translations have been published in more than a dozen anthologies, as well as such newspapers and journals as The New York Times, The Paterson Literary Review, Mudfish, Skidrow Penthouse, Descant, Philadelphia Poets, Identity Theory, Lips, The Ledge, Italian Americana, The Journal of Italian Translation, and Gradiva.
 
He has translated into English, poetry written in Italian, Abruzzese dialect, and Spanish. He co-curates the monthly open reading of the Italian American Writers’ Association at the Cornelia Street Café, NYC, and is the Associate Editor of Feile-Festa: A Literary Arts Journal.
 
A social worker (L.C.S.W.) and addiction specialist (C.A.S.A.C.) by profession, Gil directed a residential program for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in Downtown Brooklyn for twenty-one years.
 
What was the motivating factor that started you writing?

My first sustained period of writing began in the early 1970s. I participated in the protest politics of the time, and writing served as an expression and documentation of my activism. Through advocacy writing—of leaflets, newspaper articles, and position papers—I strove to raise people’s consciousness about such social justice issues as health care, poverty, and racism.

What is your genre and who is your intended audience?

Today, poetry is my main genre, but I also write short stories, book reviews, essays, and memoir pieces.

I try to reach as many people as possible, and take particular satisfaction in attracting people who aren’t usually a part of the “literary scene.”

Of course, like most writers I value feedback about my work from fellow writers. In this regard, I’m fortunate to belong to Brevitas, an online poetry circle dedicated to the short poem (14 lines or less). Twice a month I exchange two poems with about 50 Brevitarians, some of whom make suggestions for revisions.

 What are you currently writing?

I just finished a book review of Robert Cohen’s, Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s, which will be published in The Italian American Review.

I’ve proofread the galleys of Serfs of Psychiatry, my new poetry chapbook that will soon be published by Finishing Line Press. It was inspired by my 14 years with the New York State Office of Mental Health, and in particular, the 12 years I worked in a state psychiatric hospital.

I recently completed a book-length poetry manuscript entitled Logos, which focuses on my experiences in a therapeutic community for drug addicts in the South Bronx, and my involvement in the radical politics of the 70s.

I continue to write six-line poems known as fulcrums, inspired by the Cuban American poet Pablo Medina. As a member of Brevitas, I submit two fulcrums twice a month. To date, I’ve written more than a hundred and am considering translating a selection of them into Italian to create a bilingual book.

Later this year, Poets Wear Prada will publish a bilingual edition—English/ Italian—of my 2008 chapbook Grandpa’s Wine. The translator, Paul D’Agostino, holds a Ph.D. in Italian and is a poet, fiction writer and the Assistant Editor of the Journal of Italian Translation.

How do you make time to write? 

I’m wedded to structure, having been a cadet at Pennsylvania Military College from 1963 to 1967, which served as the inspiration for Rooks (Rain Mountain Press, 2007), my first book-length collection of poetry.

Since I retired in July 2011, my writing time is more flexible. In the past, I would write early in the morning before my workday started, a bit in the afternoon, and perhaps in the evening.

Now I think more in terms of at least one quality writing period each day. Since I don’t have to contend with a work schedule, this period can vary from early morning to evening. The great bonanza of retirement is that at times I can devote a day—even two—almost entirely to literary activities.

What inspires you to write? 

My writing could be spurred by a dreamy bittersweet memory: a scene, a song, or a few words of dialogue. Sometimes a news story serves as my muse. When I’m in this mode, I feel an urgency to express myself through the written word. This usually takes the form of a poem, which is accompanied by a feeling resembling the “high” of a mild intoxicant.

Once I’ve created a rough draft, I’ll continue to work on the poem, put it away, return to it, thus beginning the revision stage, when a poem is honed, deconstructed, and reconstructed. This process can go on for years.

When I believe I have it right, it feels preserved, even immortal; I experience a sense of wholeness and calm.

What would you have done differently in your writing life, if anything at all? 

This is a difficult question because before I retired my time was much more limited, and I had to choose carefully how to best use it. My tendency was to favor writing and to a lesser extent, organizing book manuscripts, over other activities. In retrospect, I think what I did made sense, but I pay a high price for not also learning how to more effectively promote my work, and extending my literary network. I am trying to rectify this by emulating other writers who have developed marketing strategies.

I also translate Italian poetry and some Italian dialect poetry into English. I believe there is an intimate relationship between translating someone else’s poem into another language and writing your own. In many ways all writing is translating, because even when we write in our native tongue we are translating feelings, sounds and images into words, sentences and stanzas. 

I regret not having lived yet in Italy for at least six months, so I could have acquired a better sense of Italian and dialect within their cultural matrix. I also have a love of Spanish, my second language, and again wish I could have spent more time in a Spanish-speaking country to deepen my understanding of the nuances of language and culture.

Tell us about your marketing strategy. 

My marketing strategy is limited, for example, I have an author’s page at Amazon.com, and continue to learn how to employ social media to my advantage. For now my online presence is limited to an Amazon author site [http://www.amazon.com/Gil-Fagiani/e/B001K8UL8C] and a literary profile listed in Poets and Writers’ directory as well as a professional profile on LinkedIn

[http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gil-fagiani/47/ba5/87a].

I think in terms of constituencies: There are my friends and general literary acquaintances. When I’m involved with a book launch or literary activity, I contact them by email, and in some cases phone and snail mail. I will also drop off leaflets promoting my activities at other literary events. My five books of poetry are archived at Poets House.

Secondly, there is the Italian American community. I’m a member of the Board of Directors of the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA) and co-curate the monthly reading series at the Cornelia Street Café. I will mention from the stage what I’m doing, as well as circulate promotional leaflets to the audience. My profile is on the IAWA website, and I have an opportunity to post announcements in the IAWA Newsletter, as well as the online calendar of the John D. Calandra Institute of Italian American Studies, which is affiliated with Queens College.

I am also a member of the Calandra Institute’s Community Council, and at times present my work at their events, such as a conference they sponsored in 2010 on Italian Americans and Mental Health. I have also organized a series of bilingual readings—Italian or Italian dialect into English—with Brooklyn college professor, Luigi Bonaffini, who edits The Journal of Italian Translation.

Finally, there is the progressive political community. I am a founding member of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, and some of my work is posted on their website (http://www.vitomarcantonioforum.com). I have presented papers or read my work at such venues as the annual three-day conference of the Left Forum, and the Puffin Cultural Foundation, with Veterans for Peace. Two of my poems, “Pigs” and “Birding Near the Mexican Border,” can be found on the online journal New Verse News (www.newversenews.com).  

Does Your Spiritual Life Influence Your Writing? If So, How? 

Yes, it does in several ways. First, I feel a need to bear witness to scenes of injustice, such as anti-immigrant prejudice, and the official neglect of the mentally ill. Secondly, I try to give voice to those who rarely express themselves in a public literary forum, such as the institutionalized mentally ill, and career drug addicts and alcoholics. By giving them a voice, I hope to affirm their dignity. 

Finally, there is the issue of redemption, particularly as it relates to my years of substance abuse. By turning destructive experiences into the clay of poetry, I feel I have created something of value that I can pass on. 

I believe with few exceptions, people caught up in inhuman conditions are capable of committing inhuman acts against others. In my writing—and as a writer—I strive to be modest, truthful and explore the complexity of human suffering, including my own.

What Is Your Literary Community Burning Desire? 

Having friends in the literary community in Canada, I have become more sensitive to the benefits of government subsidies of the arts. I would like to see something similar to develop in this country, so that writing and literature wouldn’t be so beholden to expensive MFA writing programs and elite cultural brokers, thus limiting its reach to the general public. 

For more information, visit

http://www.amazon.com/Gil-Fagiani/e/B001K8UL8C

 

Interview with Jason Baumann Montilla/Librarian-Poet

Interview with Jason Baumann Montilla

Jason is Coordinator of World Languages and Collection Assessment at the New York Public Library. He is in charge of the foreign language collection in the Library’s branches and also the statistics about the Library’s Collections. He currently lives in New York City. Jason is of German and Puerto Rican descent and grew up mostly near Woodstock, NY.

Theresa- Welcome today, I’m so excited to have this opportunity to sit with you. First off, please tell me a bit about your doctoral studies.

Jason– Thanks. Sure, I’m working on my PhD in English at the CUNY Graduate Center. I’ve finished all of my course work and now I’m starting on my dissertation which is going to be focused on prison literature in the United States, particularly on black and Latino writers, specifically about intimacy, love and sexuality in their lives.

Theresa-How did you become focused in that area?

Jason-I was really interested in the writer Miguel Piñero. He was a Puerto Rican, playwright and poet from the 1970s in NY. He started out as a writer in prison. When I was looking up secondary things written about him, I noticed that no one was talking about his sexuality even though that’s what he was mostly talking about- romantic relationships-in context of prison life. That is to say, between people of same sex and also about sexuality on the outside. I think a lot of his writings are about sort of the clash between the conceptions of sexuality in Puerto Rico and American ideas about sexuality and how they don’t really match up. This is especially around identity and identifying as gay and that sort of thing. When I was looking through the people who write about him, I found that they really didn’t do that, so I started questioning it. I first started thinking about it when I became a librarian. The branch I worked in held very classic African American Crime Fiction. Authors such as Chester Hines, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines all started out writing in prisons. I started reading these writers when I worked there as a librarian because my patrons in the library really loved these books. It was all the same kind of things- all the writers talking about intimacy. In prison literature you expect it to be very harsh.

Theresa- You speak about crime fiction in the African American population, what about the Latino population? What do you find are the trends?

Jason– What people like to read? I do the collection development for the foreign languages, so I just have an idea about what people are reading in Spanish. Romance is always the biggest thing in Spanish, such as Harlequin romance novels-in Spanish translation- which are some of the hottest things in the library. The Latino population likes romance and also spirituality. They like American bestsellers in translation. They want to read what they see everyone else reading. They also want Latin American fiction bestsellers. Right now I have a big problem, Isabel Allende has that new book, El Cuaderno de Maya, and the demand is out of control. Although the New York Latino community is very diverse, it’s the core Latin American fiction they’re most interested in.

Theresa- So what about urban New York-San Francisco Latino writers? What are they writing and what are you seeing, is there a call for it?

Jason-I think of Ernesto Quinones, and Lyn Di Iorio who’s written this supernatural romance about a woman who gets involved in Palo Mayombe. It seems like a supernatural crime romance. There is a sense of the history of these places. Latino history in various American cities is addressed. It’s haunting in the way that the past in the city ends up being expressed in these supernatural stories. I don’t always have a good an eye on what’s out in English. I don’t really buy books in English. My English collection development colleagues would have a better sense of that. The Latino readership, in Spanish, is a hard market to reach. That’s something I’m struggling hard to work with right now. The Chinese speaking community in New York City is smaller than the Spanish Speaking community but the Library circulation and usage in the Chinese community is much higher.

Theresa-What do you think some of the obstacles are?

Jason– The New York Latino community is much poorer. It’s actually the poorest and least educated community in New York City if you look at the statistics. I feel like in the past we gave them a lot of high literary fiction and felt that romance, like American bestsellers in translation, were sort of a bad thing-like a lot of fluff. I just want to give people what they want to read and turn this around. Part of it’s focusing on core needs: books on health, education, and career. And the other part is just the love of reading. I’m focusing more now on Genre fiction, because if you look at the numbers, that’s what people want to read. It’s not for me to make judgments on literary value. For those who study the history of literature you see that what was thought to be in bad taste 100 years ago are what people seem to be the most interested in and think are the most valuable today. Take Melville, he was a trashy writer (laughs). Herman Melville wrote trashy adventure novels up until Moby Dick and everybody hated Moby Dick and they didn’t think it was good, but weird. The focus on literary fiction seems to be a mistake because nobody is ever interested in the literary fiction of a hundred years ago. They’re always interested in the trashy fiction of 100 years ago.

Theresa- What would you term as your burning desire for the community in terms of your work? What is your fever in what you do?

Jason– There’s a pleasure in getting people things that they didn’t think they could get. To make the NYPL have the hottest materials in all these different languages-particularly as bookstores disappear more and more. That there be a neighborhood location, free to their community that would actually have materials they want in their language. Some languages are easier to get. For instance, it’s hard to get materials in Albanian, so we’re working very hard to make sure the Albanian neighborhoods have a full stock library in Albanian available. And also to get people the core books they need for their lives to support their health, education, personal growth. That’s the excitement at the baseline of my gig. Right now, I’m trying to fill the library with classic merengue and bachata cds (laughs). Like Fefita la Grande and Milly y los Vecinos. I want to bring that to life. Yes, bringing unexpected content that I know people would love if they knew it was there.

Theresa- I think about my father, who for years has made treks into Bushwick or Flushing [Brooklyn] to get those old records. We had them growing up but like you say the Latino community is poor, so they’re not going out there. They don’t have the money to spend on the records, books- make it accessible. It’s not about clicking on-line to Amazon and getting a book or record of your choice. First of all, it may not be there and then, who can afford it?

Jason– Right now libraries are going digital. People think that everyone is online and everyone has an ipad. From circles I run in, I know that everybody doesn’t have an ipad. How do I both manage to make sure that they continue to get all those things they need in print? The people I serve are not so connected and my quest is about how I help those communities to get connected. How can I hep make this transition real? That’s the problem, that’s what’s exciting and the challenge of what I do.

Theresa-I know that you’re a writer, so can you tell me about your writing?

Jason- (laughs) Right now, I’m barely writing at all. Between work and school and family, it’s a real balancing act. Mostly I write poetry. Most of it, I’ve been thinking about this recently, has a lot to do with my grandmother. She would say all these refranes (proverbs) in English, translated very literally into English. I always heard these weird things, like “You can’t be so bald that people see your brains” (laughs). I was always sort of wondered what that means. My poetry is a lot about that. Direct translations make the language very weird. I also use her sense of humor in my poetry in a lot of ways. She was a very funny person, a tragically funny person, because a lot of times horrible things happened. My mother has the same kind of sense of humor, something awful will happen and we’ll just say whatever horrible thing it was and we’ll think it’s incredibly funny. It’s so ironic and sardonic and ridiculous and an example of how weird the world is and the ridiculousness of all the people involved. I’ve always had problems with different boyfriends, one in particular. He’d say “That’s not funny. How can you laugh at these things?” How could you not laugh at these things? I try to make my poetry funny because I think a lot of people don’t think a poem can be funny. They think poetry has to be depressing in a self-referential sort of way. Very direct, autobiographical and it’s your life (lightly beats center of chest) and it’s sincere. So I try to push my poetry in the opposite way to be funny and sardonic, and also in the middle of a conversation. So if I were writing right now (laughs) that’s what I’d be doing but unfortunately I haven’t had time this year to write. It’s been very depressing to me (laughs).

Theresa- Do you have particular philosophy or theoretical foundation that keeps you afloat? You’re so busy!

Jason– (Laughs) You know me! You know that I’ve been deeply inspired and affected by Afro Caribbean spiritualities. I’ve also practiced yoga all my life. I think those two things keep me grounded. I went to school for philosophy originally. I’ve always loved Spinoza and Democritus and Nietzsche. They were all divine materialists- who believed the immanence of God into creation, so that the world itself is God. Everything you do is a creative expression, everything striving to express that Divine Essence all the time. We’re all creatively making things happen as part of God’s image. That’s my philosophical base.

Theresa-I love the image of that- all of us working together and keeping us dynamic. You’ve just answered three questions with that (laugh). You were behind the Stonewall exhibit. Can you tell me about that?

Jason- One of the other jobs I do here is I work on gay and lesbian collections for the library. The library has one of the largest archives of Gay and Lesbian history in the country. There’s another center called the One center on the West Coast that grew out of the Mattachine Society. Our collections grew out of an organization called the Gay Activist Alliance in the 1970s and out of that morphed the independent library called the International Gay Information Center. They collected gigantically and I heard that it filled several apartments at the end. At a certain point they decided to donate that material to the NYPL and the library became the cornerstone for Gay & Lesbian collections at NYPL. As those materials were being processed, a lot of activist organizations were coming to term. They donated while in transition, especially in terms of AIDS activism in the 1990s. So we had all this gay liberation in the 1970s, and then the archives of major organizations from the AIDS crisis from the 80s to the 90s. GMHC gave us their archives when they moved. ACT UP NY gave us their archives and People with AIDS Coalition- all of these big pioneering organizations donated their materials to the library. We took in so much material- more than we could easily process. So we had a bit of a backlog and we had to raise some money to try and process that material. When they started the fundraising initiative they needed someone who could speak to those collections. Having been part of that, part of the radical fairies which is very connected to that 1970s gay liberation, and of ACT UP. I knew what all the material was and I could speak to the content and was part of that fund raising initiative. We’ve raised 2.2 million dollars and were able to do a lot of processing. In 2009, I looked up and thought “Oh my God it’s the 40th anniversary of Stonewall” and given the institution that we were, I knew we had to do something. So I curated an exhibition that showed off what our holdings were in history of gay liberation focusing in that year 1969. In 1999, the library had done a really pioneering exhibition that was called Becoming Visible. That was the first major exhibition done by a public institution on Gay and Lesbian history, but that was like an encyclopedic show. Really from the 19th century to the present about gays and lesbians in the United States. I focused on 1969 and the political changes that happened. I think a lot of people act as though that moment of the Stonewall riots caused gay liberation and I wanted to dispel that notion. I wanted to show how much activism had led up from the 1950s on to that moment. There was the gay political community in NYC already in 1969. When those riots happened they mobilized around that and turned Stonewall into a symbol. If there hadn’t been ten to fifteen years of political activism already in NYC- that would have fallen into nothing. But that happened and everybody mobilized around it and turned it into a symbol of gay activism. The activism before that of Mattachine era and the Daughters of Bilitist-they a lot of sense of respectability. I think they had to make the argument for gay liberation, gay rights, along with being respectable and good citizens. In 1969 there was the whole surge of energy from the student rights and anti war movements. All these people who might have been gay but who were also involved in those movements sort of fused with the earlier generation of activists and stepped up the game in a different kind of way. So it was about that transition from the earlier gay activism to 1970s gay activism. And that’s how that evolved. (Laughs) Also, it’s great to put that in a public library setting where everyone will come for a tour of the library and to change minds and put that on Fifth Avenue, in this bastion of culture, to show that that’s culture and historically important. That’s the goal.

Theresa-The whole goal of activism from apartments, to street corners where people are hanging out giving the message to each other by word of mouth- to what seems suddenly- it’s here on Fifth Avenue in the main branch of the NYPL. It’s pretty astounding. It’s actually very moving.

Jason- I feel very blessed to do what I do. It was a great opportunity to be in this position and to help make that happen. Yeah.

Theresa- Can you tell me more about the Daughters of Bilitist?

Jason-The Daughters of Bilitist was the main lesbian organization in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. It was started in San Francisco. It produced the newsletter called The Ladder. To be in the know you had to subscribe to The Ladder. Barbara Gittings was the head of the New York Chapter of The Daughters of Bilitist in the 1960s. She was a key activist in taking homosexuality off as a diagnosis of mental illness. She was a key person, her and Frank Kameny, were the two that spearheaded that effort. They personally took it on to declassify it at the American Psychiatric Association’s meeting in 1970. They brought in a gay psychiatrist who was dressed in a Richard Nixon mask and had his voice disguised via microphone. This psychiatrist couldn’t professionally risk being known as testifying at that meeting. It was a turning point in the psychiatric community in the United States. The library has Barbara Gittings’ and her partner Kay Lahusen’s archives. We’ve digitized a great deal of the photos. http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1606153

Theresa- One last question, Jason, how do published authors get their books onto a library shelf?

Jason– For those authors who want to get their books in libraries, the key issue is whether their publisher is being picked up by library wholesalers. Many public libraries buy their books from Baker & Taylor and Ingram, so if these distributors aren’t carrying them they will be hard for us to get.

Theresa- Jason, I’d like to thank you for sharing some of your experience as a librarian for the New York Public Library. I say “some” because your knowledge base is immense. I, for one, have been provoked, by your words, to read more and to continue being an active servant in this vast spiritual life working side by side with other like minded people. Thank you.