Last week, I reviewed Radiance, a stellar book of poems by Emanuel Xavier.
To continue celebrating Latinx voices during Latinx Heritage Month, I wanted to follow up my review with a Q&A with the writer himself. I’m thrilled to have him on the blog today, as he recommends other poets we should be reading and compares life as a writer in 2016 to the late 90s.
Q&A With Emanuel Xavier
Your debut novel, Christ Like, was released in 1999. That was a long time ago! How is life as a writer and poet different in 2016 than it was then?
It’s much quicker to reach your audience on social media to share book releases, author appearances, reviews, poems, etc. I’ve always published with independent small presses and back then it was that much more of a challenge trying to determine how your book was doing or who it was reaching. It was a very different world and I remember being really excited about getting a handwritten fan letter in my P.O. Box. Now it’s so much easier to reply to an email or social media message. As far as writing, I definitely spent more time with a pen and a journal whereas now I reach for my laptop when I want to write.
When did you personally start considering yourself a writer?
Pier Queen was self-published as a chapbook in 1997 and distributed at poetry readings and events. I was making my rounds in the underground arts scene in New York City and caught the attention of author Jaime Manrique who introduced me to his partner, Bill Sullivan. Bill was launching Painted Leaf Press and offered me my first book deal. I had been writing a semi-autobiographical novel as a personal challenge and ended up with a contract. I was meeting a lot of LGBT literary icons like Eileen Myles, Felice Picano, Sarah Schulman and Christopher Bram. I had come out of nowhere and made a name for myself as a spoken word artist and slam poetry was really popular but limited to the stages of venues like the Nuyorican Poets Café and such. I was young and ambitious but rough around the edges and had absolutely no literary credentials or education. I had a lot of support but there were also a lot of critics and it took a long time to truly consider myself a writer. After Christ Like, I stuck to writing poetry and never wrote another novel because I felt more natural writing poetry. I suppose it was with the original publication of the poetry collection Americano in 2001 that I really felt both welcomed and comfortable as a writer.
Many of the poems in Radiance read as deeply personal and autobiographical. Are they? Do you find it easier to write poetry out of personal experiences rather than entirely fictional ones?
Actually, these poems are personal. The reason I started writing was because I was working at an LGBT bookstore in New York City and there were very few books that spoke about my experiences as a gay Latino. I had read one book I thoroughly enjoyed with a gay Latino love interest but it was written by a gay white man. I wanted to tell my own tale from my perspective because perhaps I wasn’t an academic scholar but I had a genuine voice and maybe somebody out there could relate. There were very few, if any, openly gay Nuyorican poets out on the scene at the time. I knew then that I could potentially fill that void and hopefully encourage others to come out and share their personal experiences. It was important for me to keep our history alive and reflect the world through my eyes because others needed to see that we had more similarities than differences. Our stories could be just as universal as others regardless of our heritage or whom we choose to love. It became my personal mission. Nowadays, there are any number of LGBT Latinx writers but it is still important to share our experiences because we still live in a world where sometimes we’re invisible. I wrote a poem about that. It’s in the new book.
Describe how or what you feel after finishing a piece of writing you are particularly proud of.
Incredibly thrilled. If I actually smoked, I’d probably inhale a cigarette afterwards. I usually call someone really close to me and share a personal live reading of it over the phone or email it to them. It’s like when you’re single and you just got laid and can’t wait to tell your best friend about it.
Is there a creative medium you’d like to express yourself through, but haven’t yet?
Great question. I’ve dabbled in acting for anyone who remembers an independent film named “The Ski Trip” but never really followed through except for a few minor acting credits. It was fun but I kept having issues staying on script and, as a writer, ultimately wanted to rewrite my own lines. If someone expressed genuine interest in making a film version of Christ Like, I’d love to learn about screenwriting by working closely with a professional.
What does your writing space look like? If you don’t have a particular writing space, where does your best writing happen?
I have a lovely wooden desk set up by a window with a fantastic million–dollar–view of the New York City skyline from my Bushwick bedroom. This is one of several reasons I fought to stay in this apartment and I have lived there for fifteen years. I’m a native New Yorker and the city inspires me. I have a bobble-head Jesus that holds my pen on that desk and, more often than not, my cat Alexis so I’m all set.
Where do you buy your books?
I should say my favorite local bookstore but, except for the Bureau of General Services- Queer Division located at The LGBT Community Center, most of them do not carry any of my books. You can look for them in the LGBT or Latino Studies sections at Barnes & Noble or ask for them at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop but you won’t find them there. Unless your book is printed by a major publishing house or you travel within certain literary circles, you’re off the radar. So I have absolutely no shame in saying that I buy all of my books online on Amazon. Understandably, online sellers are able to provide a wider selection of titles. However, I do love mom-and-pop bookstores and find some great treasures there. It is actually great to pick up a book and discover something new.
What writers of LGBTQ poetry should we be reading?
I recently did a reading with Sam Sax and I think he’s fantastic. I love Hieu Minh Nguyen and Danez Smith. Of course, Ocean Vuong is absolutely incredible and I totally hate him for being such a talented wordsmith! Natalie Diaz is a favorite as is Saeed Jones. Nicholas Wong’s Crevasse was my favorite poetry pick from last year. And I adore Roberto F. Santiago.
For readers who are interested in exploring your work, where do you recommend they start?
I would probably suggest picking up a copy of Radiance because it is fresh and new. It’s a worthy introduction and, if they like it, there’s four other titles in my backlist they can add to their collection.
Visit author website: EmanuelXavier.com
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