Denise Delgado on Building a New Writing Community
After the success of our first free multi-week creative writing classes earlier this year, we’re thrilled to announce that we've added more FREE multi week classes! Our Write Down the Street/Autores de la Vuelta program brings free creative writing sessions to branches of the Boston Public Library in Dorchester and Roxbury. With the beginning of a new multi-week class approaching, Grub Instructor and Neighborhood Program Fellow Denise Delgado shares insight on the program and what her experience has been like so far. Crónicas y cuentos: a bilingual creative writing workshop starts Monday, April 24th at the Egleston Square BPL branch, so make sure you sign up soon!
Write Down the Street / Autores a la Vuelta works to build a community of writers that includes people who don’t even think of themselves as writers—yet. There have been many moments I find this work exhilarating, although, more often, community-based work is trabajo de hormiga—a saying in Spanish that literally means “ant work”: sometimes tough, accomplished little by little, steadily, over the course of time.
My absolute favorite experience with Write Down the Street so far, and possibly one of my most rewarding teaching experiences ever, has been the first multi-week class, Crónicas y cuentos: a bilingual writing workshop.
We decided to run a class in both English and Spanish for several reasons. Egleston Square is a predominantly Latino community—there’s a little bit of everything and it’s very Dominican. People who prefer to speak and write in Spanish, or in both languages, should be able to take the classes. I’d taught a series of bilingual creative writing workshops at Egleston Square Branch Library in spring 2016 as part of my public art project, Bodega Signs + Wonders. People from all over the city came. There seemed to be a real hunger for a creative space that embraced both languages. We wanted to continue to meet that need.
Finally, while I’m committed to creating space where monolingual writers can work and get feedback in either language, I have a somewhat fraught relationship with Spanish. Like many Latinos born in the U.S., I grew up speaking Spanglish and only became fully fluent and literate in Spanish as an adult. I’m most comfortable in environments where it’s OK to code-switch. I often write stories using Spanish syntax and phrases in English as a way of writing a Spanish or Spanglish-speaking character or narrator. All of this is fairly common among bilingual writers.
It follows that the premise of bilingual creative writing workshops is that a bilingual environment creates opportunities for writers to use and understand language in richer ways and increase their proficiency in both languages. They also allow us to explore craft issues around dialogue, orality, hybridity, and cultural experiences in ways that are especially relevant to U.S. Latinos and other communities of color. The bilingual creative writing workshop recognizes the legitimacy of Spanglish, which, like French Creole, African American vernacular English, and other syncretic languages and traditions, has historically been devalued.
Our first Crónicas y cuentos class (¡como me gané la lotería con ese grupo!) was made up almost entirely of people in “helping professions,” with several current and retired public school teachers, and included writers of Dominican, Colombian, Costa Rican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, African-American, Jamaican, and Salvadorian heritage. In English, folks were writing memoir pieces about loss and trauma and relationships and memory, and a wry, sprawling novel about a Jamaican-American family. In Spanish, people were writing fabulist Borgesian stories and funny, slightly raunchy fiction about arriving in Boston from la isla for the first time. The group varied wildly in style, sensibility, and assumptions, but we had rich discussions that often touched on topics that rarely—or never!—come up in mainstream U.S. writing workshops: Latin American military dictatorships, machista abuelos, and the tyranny of “show, don’t tell” in cultures that value oral storytelling.
We had students who had never attended a single creative writing class, students who had attended several, and one who had done graduate work in Spanish and Latin American literature. Our only basic language rule, and one often broken, was to workshop pieces in the language in which they were written. Participants voiced strong opinions and we often disagreed—diplomatically. During one of our workshops, one woman declared: “People write in all different types of ways, and some of those ways are wrong!” We laughed a lot: a sense of humor kept these multilingual debates cordial.
I often felt moved by what everyone did to make the space work. One man, five years in the U.S. from Cuba, stayed after class to give a fellow writer careful, halting feedback, admitting he was shy about his English. This classmate spoke no Spanish at all, but reassured me that her years teaching for Boston Public Schools had made her comfortable around the language. She often sat with her eyes closed. At first I worried I’d lost her, but after class, as she put away her notebook, she sighed and said, “I’m so glad to be here.” She once typed a fellow student’s entire Spanish-language story into Google Translate so she could follow along as we workshopped the piece.
For the next round of Crónicas y cuentos, we will play with translation, read a wider variety of works by Latino, Latin American, and Caribbean authors, and grapple with language even more for its power in our storytelling. Beyond that, my only expectations are that the next class will have its own particular character and personality. Whoever comes to write in that book-lined little room at the Egleston Square Branch will help determine the space, sound, and idiom we create together.
Denise Delgado is a writer, artist, and curator. Her fiction and critical work have appeared in Inch, Hinchas de Poesía, Jai-Alai Magazine, Fiction Writers Review, the monograph for Frances Trombly: Paintings; and Tigertail, A South Florida Annual: Florida Flash, among others. Since 2010 she has organized the Free School for Writing, a modular, itinerant classroom for literary craft talks and workshops. She is the recipient of grants from New England Foundation for the Arts, Alternate ROOTS/The Ford Foundation, and Tigertail Productions’ Artist Access Program. She is currently at work on A Wig in the Duplex, a collection of short stories set in Florida.
Want to write your stories with Denise and other Writers? Apply now for the Crónicas y cuentos: a bilingual creative writing workshop!
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