Writer and UTRGV English Professor Emmy Pérez has recently received the 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Poetry fellowship.
The endowment offers $25,000 grants to fiction and creative nonfiction writers, as well as poets, that can be extended for more than two years.
Pérez is working on a collection of poems that will be titled “I Am Joaquín’s Mom,” which will cover motherhood and the Chicana experience. The title honors late political activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles, and his poem, “I Am Joaquín.”
“Writing in general for me is kind of, like, what the late Rio Grande Valley writer-scholar Gloria Anzaldúa describes in her book, ‘Borderlands/La Frontera,’ when she says that, ‘Living in a state of psychic unrest, in a borderland, is what makes poets write and artists create. It is like a cactus needle embedded in flesh … an endless cycle of making it worse, making it better, but always making meaning out of the experience, whatever it may be,’” she said.
Wanting to touch on her experience as a Chicana woman, feminism and empowerment will be a major theme within the collection. Pérez believes that “it is important for us to tell our truths, without worry about pleasing anyone other than being true to our hearts and thinking.”
Aside from her collection in development, she has published two other collections, “With the River on Our Face” and “Solstice.”
Her inspiration for the two came from a place of nostalgic memories of her family and childhood growing up in Southern California and El Paso.
“When I witnessed the first border walls built here in the Valley around nine or so years ago, I wanted to honor my family’s and the community’s connection to the land and each other,” Pérez said. “I wanted to honor my own connection. I wanted to write against the false narratives that are presented by politicians and by people who don’t live here.”
Pérez describes writing poetry as trying to find the emotional truths and connect with her readers.
“Even though writing poetry is like writing fiction, meaning that you have leeway in fictionalizing the poems, the goal for me is to try and attain emotional truths, to write and discover something I didn’t know before I began,” she said.
Due to the faculty development leave that the NEA grants, Pérez spends most of her time writing, and plans to extend her grant for two years. However, when not on leave, she teaches a multitude of courses that span from Creative Writing to Advanced Poetry writing for graduate students on the Edinburg campus.
Apart from teaching, she also works as a committee member in the MFA creative writing thesis projects.
She has taught at the university for the last 11 years, making the transition from legacy institution University of Texas at Pan American to UTRGV.
Asked what advice she has for students who are aspiring writers, Pérez replied: “Trust your most comfortable speaking voice for your work. Write in the languages you dream and speak in together. Spend some writing and thinking time outdoors, away from computers. Write with a notebook outside while walking and finding images all around us, [and most important], don’t give up on your dreams.”