9 Negra Writers Who Inspire Me
This year, I put aside my pride and set out to be the best writer that I could possibly be. That means sending my drafts out to magazines, writing plays, articles and whatever else I can. It means asking for help, advice and critiques from those who are better than I am. It means writing everyday even when the facet of inspiration drips slowly. It means giving it my all.
I am moved by the women on this list.
Seeing these 9 advocates write, share, explore and be all types of fierce helped me come into my own as a writer. These 9 Negra artists are a sampling of the many women who motivate me to pick up the pen everyday. To each of you, whether I know you personally or not, this is my way of saying “Thank you”.
1. Ariana Brown
I met this talented Afro-Mexicana poet at a talent show during my sophomore year. She took home a well-deserved first place. Ariana’s talent for using words to describe place, space and her existence is (for lack of a better word) freakin’ awesome. It would be a lie to say that I have not cried while listening to one of her poems. She is the embodiment of Black girl/Brown girl power! Ariana is not afraid to speak her truth, say her piece and stand firm in what she believes in. That’s why audiences and writers like me feel her work so much.
2. Janel Martinez
When I discovered Janel Martinez’s amazing website dedicated to Afrolatinas, I was hooked. Martinez has a way with words that grabs the reader’s attention. I kept going back to her blog, Ain’t I Latina? because I loved her heart-filled stories about taking pride in her identity. Not to mention, she uplifts everyday Afrolatinas doing big things by telling their stories through interviews and features. Martinez shows us that as a writer you are given your platform not just to showcase your talents but to empower others too.
3. Jacqueline Lawton
This list would not be accurate without one of the women who inspired me to pursue theatre when I was thinking of giving it up. Lawton’s work and writing champions diversity because she includes characters from a variety of cultures. But it isn’t just her writing that inspires me. It is her dedication to being an advocate for diversity in the American Theatre sphere, a place that has been white-washed, that has kept me coming back to her work. Lawton shows that African American women from Texas can and do have the power to tell incredible stories on stage.
4. Insurgent Prieta
I came across Insurgient Prieta’s blog space a few months ago but it turns out we were a part of the NYC Latina Writers Facebook group months before. What I enjoy about this woman’s work is the cutting-edge honesty. Something I have struggled with in my own writing. I also admire her use of two languages and her lack of apology or disclaimer for doing so. Everytime I read an Insurgent Prieta post, I know I’m going to get something “Real” not sugar-coated and flour-baked.
5. Dr. Omi Jones
This is another woman that I cannot complete this list without including. Dr. Jones has taught me, guided me and given me advice on my work. It is because of her African American Theatre History course that I continue to write. Before that course, the only Black plays that I knew of were A Raisin in the Sun and maybe the Wiz. This women introduced me to the work of Amiri Barraka and in addition to being a scholar and performer, Dr. Jones is a writer whose musings on African American Theatre are cited in just about every Theatre Ph.D’s thesis.
6. Shonda Rhimes
Shonda is epic. Although she missed me on Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Shonda has me all over How to Get Away With Murder. No, she didn’t write it. But she is a screenwriter whose work has provided places and spaces for marginalized folk (especially BLACK WOMEN) to live and thrive. Shonda is my hero.
7. Tyece from Twenties Unscripted
I don’t remember the moment I met Twenties Unscripted but we have been inseperable ever since. Tyece has a knack for saying the things outloud that most keep in their heads in a creative way. She is truly fearless. I will never forget her riveting piece “The Thing About Women Like You” because I was snapping and saying “yasss” after every line. So many 20 something Black women frequent her blog because her writing resonates with them. Tyece rants and roars and scripts blogs posts with a determination that is refreshing.
8. Alicia Annabel Santos
Santos is one of my favorite writers because she believes in the power of dreams. Every post she releases, tweet she tweets or drop of wisdom she releases out in the world is a ray of sunshine for your darkest hour. Writing should not only recount the happenings of the world but it should provide hope and healing. That’s what Santos provides with her blog and by creating spaces for women of color to write with the NYC Latina Writers group.
9. J.A. Smith
PHOTO CREDIT: examiner.com
Last but not least, is my 9th grade teacher whose work has grown in the past six years from one play to many. J.A. Smith’s knack for creating characters that remind us of family and friends is magical. I’ve had the opportunity to read some of her works and each time I am in awe of her ability to create strong and relatable characters that make the audience laugh, cry and want for more. She is not just a writer but a mentor, teacher and trailblazer whose footsteps I hope to follow one day.
Thank you ladies for writing your world as you see it. For raising your voices loud and clear for the world to hear. Escribelanegra (Write it, Black woman). Who inspires you to write? Share below.
SPOTLIGHT OF THE MONTH: Q & A with Afro-Latina Poet Jasminne Mendez
It is Black History Month, a time to commerate outstanding individuals of the African Diaspora! Black Girl, Latin World will be posting content weekly that celebrates Our History.
Our first interview is with the fantastic poet, actress, teacher and published writer Jasminne Mendez. Mendez has performed in venues all around Houston, including the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Rice University and the Alley Theatre. She has graced the stage with amazing writers like Sandra Cisneros and Taylor Mali. Mendez’s memoir Island of Dreams was published and released in November of 2013. Check out our interview with this fantastic Afrolatina artist from Houston, Texas!
What events, people and things inspire you? Why?
I always find this to be such a difficult question. I am inspired by everything really. There is so much beauty in this world, and any of it can be inspiration for writing or for living. But, I’m probably most inspired by children, their innocence and unbiased creativity is a beautiful thing. I am also inspired by strong women who follow their dreams and work to build up other women- (Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Oprah, Esmeralda Santiago). And, not to sound shallow, but I’m inspired by my own life. I have lived through a lot in these short 30 years, and knowing that I have quite literally survived near death experiences, helps keep me going. I am inspired by being an inspiration to others, if that makes sense. I know people are moved by my work and my life story and that keeps me motivated and excited to keep doing it.
How has your Afrolatina background influenced your work?
A lot of my earlier writing- both memoir and poetry- focused on my identity as an AfroLatina in society. What it meant. How I fit in. I used writing to come to terms with my Dominicanness and my Americanness. In my first memoir Island of Dreams, I explore with poetry and short stories what it means to be an Afrolatina living in America, how I want to honor my parent’s culture and heritage while still being able to fit in and feel at home in the U.S. I was also blessed to learn Spanish as a child, so you will often see Spanish words in my poetry and stories, I don’t think I could write and be true to myself without it.
You are also a teacher, how does that play into your work?
Surprisingly, I have never written any poems about teaching. I have written only one short story memoir piece and that was published in the book Littlest Blessings by Whispering Angel Books. Although I don’t write about it, I definitely always write with my students in mind. I write for them, because growing up I never saw “myself” in books or in the authors I read and to me that is a disservice we are doing to our youth. We need more writers of color in our schools, in the curriculum. We need picture books that depict minorities as strong, fun and real people. I write so that hopefully my books can end up in the classroom and students won’t feel so alone.
What advice would you give to women wanting to write?
Write. Just write. Even when you don’t want to. Even when it’s hard. Even when everyone around you asks you why. Write. You don’t just become a writer over night, it takes practice, patience and perseverance. You will write things that are good. You will write things that are never meant to be read by anyone else. Doesn’t matter, just keep writing. And, find your voice and your audience. If you want to write just for yourself, that’s fine, but don’t expect to sell any books that way. Publishing and writing is a business like any other. You and your work is the product and you have to have someone to sell it to. If you have a strong voice and a strong purpose then it will lead you to the right audience.
What has been the most challenging thing about writing and performing?
The most challenging thing about writing for me has always been the revision and editing process. I hate rereading my work because I always feel so self-conscious about it and I always second guess and doubt its worth. I wonder “who will want to read this?” I am constantly having to give myself pep talks to stay motivated and keep writing. With regards to performing, well to be honest that’s the easy part for me. I’ve been on stage since the age of 11, although I do get occasional stage fright, it passes quickly once I say the first few lines of a poem. My poetry and my words come alive on the stage, I feed off the audience’s energy and that fuels and excites me. But, if I had to choose ONE thing that’s hard about it….it’s demanding to get paid what I’m worth. And by demanding I don’t mean being rude about it, I just mean being sure that I get compensated for my time and talent. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that I deserve that, this is not just a hobby, this is work, it takes time not just talent. And, time is money.
Is there an Afrolatin@ community in Houston like New York and Miami?
Yes, there is an Afrolatino community here, but it’s not as prevalent. We don’t really like have “afrolatino” meetings or hangouts or anything. Most Latinos in Houston group themselves by country of origin, Afrolatino Hondurans hangout with other Hondurans regardless of skin color, same goes with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans. Sure, we’ll see each other at salsa clubs or the hair salon, but it’s not like in Miami where you get off the plane and all these “black” people are speaking Spanish at you. And because Houston is so big and so spread out, we don’t come together often and there are pockets of Afrolatinos across the city. Houston is just diverse overall that you can never really tell what ethnicity someone is just by looking at them.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
I think my biggest challenge has been my health. I live with several auto-immune diseases that often leave me debilitated for months at a time. I suffer from chronic fatigue and pain and spent over a year without the full use of my right hand (my writing hand), not being able to feed, clothe, and dress myself was hard…trying to write became near impossible without a lot of work and effort that was just draining. I also got really ill when my book Island of Dreams first came out and so that halted a lot of the publicity, readings and events that I had planned to do in order to promote the book. I feel really behind as a writer in my career because my health problems have forced me to slow down, but I’ve learned to just take it one day and one page at a time.
What has been the most rewarding part of your writing and poetry career?
The MOST rewarding part of my writing career can be summed up by one experience that I had over 8 years ago at a poetry reading. I was asked along with 29 other poets to perform a poem at the Holocaust Museum of Houston. The event was held in attempt to bring the Latino, African American and Jewish community together. To show the city just how much in common we all had. It was a wonderful and awe inspiring event, the thought that poetry, our words could unite us was powerful. Then, at the end of the night, a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15 years old came up to me. She seemed very shy, but her teacher and her friends encouraged her. She smiled at me, shook my hand and said very quietly “Wow, what you did up there, wow, that was awesome. When I grow up, I want to do that. When I grow up, I want to be like you, I want to do with my words what you did.” I hugged her and have never forgotten that moment. It’s the reason I do what I do, so more young black and Latina females can be inspired. I am a role model for young girls and I take that responsibility very seriously, and it’s also the most rewarding part of what I do.
Thank you Jasminne for your beautiful words of inspiration! We look forward to your success on all of your future projects.
More more information on the amazing poet Jasminne Mendez and her work check out her website.
Guest Post for The 20 Something Latina: Music Monday: “Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo
I recently had the opportunity to script a piece on first love, Spanish and Elvis Crespo’s hit “Suavemente” for a wonderful blog called The 20 Something Latina. I love the 20 Something Latina because of the writer Anali Maritnez’s beautiful and honest posts that reflect experiences us 20 year olds are going through. Check out a bit of the post below!
When you are asked the question “what is one song that has changed your life?”, it is difficult to choose just one. I can easily name fifty tunes that have lifted my spirits or narrated important moments in my life. Whether it was the time that Ms. Gomez, my 9th grade Spanish teacher, sat down and translated “Te extrano” by Xtreme or the summer I discovered pride in my heritage through the rhythms of the Los Rakas tune “Africana”, it is music that takes me back to moments, mindsets, people and places.
“Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo was no different; it welcomed me into the world of Latin music with a warm abrazo. Watching the music video of a young passionate singer shake it Ricky Martin style, reminds me of the 90’s when most music videos looked like an episode of Reading Rainbow. I found “Suavemente” after the 90’s had passed. I was a middle school student in a college prep program.
One of my teachers had organized a Latin dance performance for the end of the summer awards ceremony so I asked her if I could dance with him.
For sake of this post, I’ll call him Miguel.
Click here to read the rest of the story.