First Dominican Writers Conference Honors Josefina Baez
On Saturday May 4th, 2019 The City College of New York hosted the inaugural Dominican Writers Conference. The brainchild of Dominican-American author Angela Abreu, the conference welcomed over 300 established and budding writers from the Dominican diaspora. Abreu is also the founder of The Dominican Writers Association, “a platform dedicated to supporting and promoting works by writers of Dominican descent.”
The conference paid homage to Josefina Baez and her impactful and inspirational career as a performance artist. Organizers decided to use the title of her popular performance text Dominicanish to headline the conference. Baez founded and directs the Ay Ombe Theater Troupe in New York City. Her performance texts explore themes of race and identity, immigrant and trans-migrant existence, Dominican heritage and blackness, just to name a few. She is internationally recognized, yet her work is easily accessible to audiences.
Scholars Esther Hernández-Medina, (Pomona College), Sharina Maillo-Pozo, (University of Georgia), and independent artist Arisleyda Dilone meditated on Baez’ work through her Performance Autology, her writing, her teachings and training through Ay Ombe Theater. Each of the presentations included a personal reflection as well as an analytical intervention on the meaning of Ay Ombe and Baez’s work and its influence in shaping Dominican intellectual and artistic practices. This was followed by Baez performing her texts and expressing her gratitude to the audience.
The conference also focused on providing resources for Dominican writers. For example, manuscript reviews by established writers and agents, writing workshops, and multiple panels addressing issues facing writers in the diaspora:
- The Dominican Writer as an Individual and as Text
- The Role of Storytelling in Questioning, Exploring & Formulating Identity
- The Importance of Place: A Conversation
- Owning Our Narratives: How Dominicans Are Reshaping the Newsroom
- Nurturing the Role of Literary Journals
- Queer Dominican Writers: Writing from Margin’s Margin
- Escribiendo en Español: Desde Santo Domingo a Nueva York
- Navigating the Comics Industry
- Todo Depende: Genre & The Writer
- Decolonizing Dominican Cinema
- Dominicans in Theater: Where are OUR stories?
- The Process of Publishing a Manuscript: A Q&A with Editors & Agents
The conference gave writers space and opportunity to network. Writers at every stage of development, from New York City to Dominican Republic, met in the hallways between events. Their conversations were energetic and inspired. Evident to many in attendance is the lack of visibility, outside of two or three notable exceptions, that Dominican writers contend with. There are countless vibrant and eclectic Dominican American authors writing today, yet many of the participants admitted to being unfamiliar with them. Thankfully, Abreu and her advisory committee featured novelists, poets, playwrights, children’s book authors, filmmakers, and performance artists; making them accessible to participants throughout the day. Word Up! Community Bookstore was on-site selling the participating artists books. I encourage you to follow the hashtag #dominicanish across social media to meet many of the writers. The hashtag tallied over a thousand posts between Instagram and Twitter.
I had the honor of participating on two panels and as a manuscript reviewer. I am energized and excited by the projects and conversations happening in our community. We are creating art against imperialism, racism, anti-Haitianism, elitism, tokenism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and interphobia, and exclusion. This conference is a major step in exhibiting the talent within our diaspora, and in forging our own literary industry. We understand the disparity of resources in comparison to traditionally white literary spaces, but we don’t need them for validation. A panel moderator and conference participant, writer John Paul Infante exhorted conference goers to support Dominican writers with their buying power.
I caught up with Angela Abreu and asked her what she hoped for the conference and about what’s in store for next year. Chief among the many things we discussed, she stated “I hope that many of us realize that our stories matter, that anything is possible, when you put in the work. This conference is now the footprint for what could be. I hope that everyone walked away with a positive experience, connections, and a heart full of joy.”
Poet, storyteller, and essayist Roberto Carlos Garcia is a self-described “sancocho […] of provisions from the Harlem Renaissance, the Spanish Poets of 1929, the Black Arts Movement, the Nuyorican School, and the Modernists.” Garcia is rigorously interrogative of himself and the world around him, conveying “nakedness of emotion, intent, and experience,” and he writes extensively about the Afro-Latinx and Afro-diasporic experience. His second poetry collection, black / Maybe: An Afro Lyric, is available from Willow Books. Roberto’s first collection, Melancolía, is available from Červená Barva Press.
His poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, The Root, Those People, Rigorous, Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Gawker, Barrelhouse, The Acentos Review, Lunch Ticket, and many others.
He is founder of the cooperative press Get Fresh Books, LLC.
A native New Yorker, Roberto holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.