Originally published on Perigee, August 4th
Christopher Soto is the founder and curator of Nepantla, a new online journal featuring the writing of Queer Poets of Color. Nepantla offers not only a new creative space for poetry to thrive, but a new way to look at what a literary community can be. The Journal will go live next month, and Apogee Journal and Columbia’s Our Word are thrilled to be collaborating on the launch reading September 4th.
Cecca Ochoa (CO): How did Nepantla come about?
Christopher Soto (CS): I was talking trash with Jameson Fitzpatrick about white supremacy and the New York queer literary scene. He gave me the idea to start a QPOC journal and then introduced me to William Johnson at Lambda, who helped me get the project started.
The first thing Nepantla hosted was a dinner at NYU. We invited all the Queer Poets of Color that we knew in NYC and sat to discuss our community’s needs. Shout out to everyone who attended our first dinner: Rigoberto Gonzalez, Eduardo C. Corral, r. erica doyle, Pamela Sneed, Timothy Liu, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Juliet P. Howard, Charif Shanahan, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Rickey Laurentiis, Alok Vaid-Menon, Janani Bala, Jerome Murphy, Tommy Pico, Eden (& anyone I might have forgotten), THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for your constant love & support.
CO: What were the issues at the forefront of your discussion on community needs?
CS: The first issue that we discussed, pertaining to the journal, was gender. We didn’t want to create a QPOC space that was dominated by cis-dudes… After that we discussed a range of issues: What kind of poems would we publish? Who would we solicit from? How could we create a journal which reflected the lives of QPOC in contemporary America, while still upholding literary standards, and not reproducing the same sort of the elitism / exclusionary behavior that we see so often.
Because of these discussions, Nepantla implemented (unofficial) affirmative action protocol, amongst other initiatives. For example, sometimes we will ask a poet to submit more than five poems to the journal & sometimes we will workshop poems with the poets. We want to make sure that this space is accessible to ALL QPOC (and not just homies with MFA degrees).
CO: Could you address the importance of intentional communities?
CS: Intentional community spaces are vital. They preserve histories, affirm identities, and provide new avenues for folks to create and export their work. This could turn into a long conversation about assimilation, resistance, and dismantling oppressive power structures. But I’d rather not.
… Well, maybe just a little.
For many of us QPOC, oppression has been normalized into our everyday lives. We are pressured by assimilationism to renegotiate our identities into something digestible by the hegemonic masses. We leave our homes, with beard stubble and high heels, knowing that the threat of violence is right outside our doorstep. We interact with others, through a sort of double consciousness, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (W.E.B. Du Bois). Intentional community spaces are an attempt to create “home”, to create “safety” where it does not otherwise exist.
CO: What sort of reactions have you received from the literary community? Queer community?
CS: Mixed… When news about the journal first launched on Lambda, some white people wrote in and asked why Lambda would support such a project. I was scared that the journal was gunna get dropped right then. But, ummmm, Lambda is an intentional community space too. And our missions are kinda identical.
Overall, though, we have been given A LOT of love from sooo many people / organizations. Shout out to: VIDA, Kundiman, Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Poetry Foundation, Radar Productions, and (of course) Apogee.
CO: Starting this week, and throughout the month of August, Nepantla is holding a series of readings in collaboration with the above organizations at NYU and the Audre Lorde Project. Can you tell me more about the intentions behind the programming?
CS: Most of the readings that we have this year are celebrating various peoples within the QPOC community. For example, we have readings celebrating Trans & Gender-Non Conforming Poets of Color, Queer Womyn of Color, Queer Latin@, Queer Black, and Queer Asian-American Poets. We tried to create a space for Queer Indigenous / Two Spirit Poets as well, but we were not able to do so this year.
I think that separating these readings into such categories is necessary, in order to honor the vastness of the QPOC community. But, I also think that it failed in many ways too… How can we also center the voices of incarcerated QPOC, working-class QPOC, and rural QPOC who may not have access to our online journal or our live readings?
CO: Well, part of the beauty of an online journal is that is accessible, or at least more accessible. You talked about the ways that the Poetry community at large thrives on inaccessibility in your essay Poetry as Class Privilege. Nepantla’s mission to subvert the control that the “literary gatekeepers” hold over writer’s, in this case QPOC writer’s, is clear. What other ways do you see Nepantla functioning outside of the economic and cultural model, now and in the future?
CS: Yes, I agree that an online journal is more accessible. But I still don’t think that it is enough. My mind turns keeps turning to incarcerated QPOC, homeless QPOC youth, etc., and thinking, “how can I put this journal in their hands?”
This year, we did A LOT of work to make sure that an array of voices were centered, poets were paid for their publications, and readers were (at least) provided stipends for their travel costs. And next year, I want to do even more.
I think we need to expand our budget and continue redistributing that wealth. I also think that we need to set up regional directors, committees for Trans/ Gender Non-Conforming Poets of Color, and Queer Indigenous / Two-Spirit Poets. I’d also like to see more groundwork done, in solidarity with organizations such as Black and Pink, and the Ali Forney Center. So that way more of our gente in the struggle can see and partake in this project.
CO: I heard a rumor that Apogee Poetry Editor, Joey De Jesus, will be featured in Nepantla. What else should we get excited about in Issue 1?
CS: Everything. We are publishing some poets who have pretty extensive credits, and other poets who have never been published before. This whole first journal is a big experiment. It’s wild. It feels like trying to catch an elephant with a butterfly net. There are so many voices that we want to capture and so little space.