Thursday, May 7, 2020
  Awards and Recognitions, Faculty Focus

By News and Internal Communications

By Cinthia Monsivais

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Emmy Pérez, the 2020 Texas Poet Laureate, said everyone needs a diversion from the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, so why not put pen to paper and chronicle your journey?

“I encourage everyone, whether or not you consider yourself a poet or writer, to keep a journal,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be every day, but this can be a meaningful way to engage with ourselves, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes of writing a week or when you feel an abundance or lack of emotion.”

A professor of creative writing and associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, Perez said writing helps us discover more about what we really think and feel.

“You can write down passing thoughts or anxieties to eventually arrive at deeper truths,” she said.

Pérez, who began her one-year post on March 25, has a few tips for artists and non-artists alike who are practicing social distancing and living life online.

  • Watch spoken word poetry videos online to unwind and be inspired.
  • Talk to your elders about their lives and family history.
  • Take breaks from the home office and step outside for a few moments.
  • Listen to some great music.
  • Watch films.
  • Read.
  • And, become more in tune with yourself and your surroundings.

The Texas State Legislature, along with the Texas Commission on the Arts, appointed Perez on March 25, 2019, and before the pandemic sent everyone into quarantine, she was busy with presentations, conferences, public speaking engagements and interview requests throughout the state. 

She also joined the Texas Touring Roster with the Texas Commission on the Arts, a program that aims to ensure all Texans have an opportunity to enjoy performances by Texas-based companies and artists. As an artist on this program, she normally would be touring throughout the state, performing her poetry. And again, the pandemic placed all of that on hold.

“Traditionally, many Poets Laureate embark on a poetry project beyond their own writing, when and if they can, to help raise awareness of poetry within their appointed region,” Pérez said. “I recently applied for funding that would enable me the time and means to work on a project close to my heart. But if I don’t receive it, the presentations eventually will keep me busy and I will continue the kinds of community-based work with poetry I’ve always engaged in.”

As she begins her term as Poet Laureate, Pérez also hopes to create a digital archive for Texas borderland poetry. She is currently finishing her third collection, composed of new and selected poems, which will be published by TCU Press.

“I’m working on poems of witness about social justice issues in the borderlands, particularly in response to federal policies that negatively affect our communities,” she said.

While some of her plans may be delayed due to quarantine and social distancing during the pandemic, she hopes to be able to do some of her events online, while some have been postponed.

She continues to show her support for artists throughout the state by sharing words of encouragement and insight into how she gathers inspiration for her writing.

“Even if I can’t always go on a walk, when I open the window and feel the morning air and hear the doves coo and the grackles with their spunky calls, my senses open up beyond the air-conditioned spaces we become used to,” Pérez said.

LIFE INSPIRES ART

Pérez said she was very young when she discovered her passion for writing. She found joy in writing at school and drew inspiration from her mother’s storytelling. But she never imagined she would grow up to be a writer -- especially a poet.

Her love for poetry was sparked as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, while taking a poetry class as part of her undergraduate coursework. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English at USC, then got a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia University.

She moved to El Paso after graduate school to seek inspiration from her mother’s old neighborhood in the Ysleta area, a community her mother had told her countless stories about.

While there, Pérez thought she would be writing a novel. To her own surprise, she composed her first poetry collection, “Solstice.”

“Solstice” was influenced by the many places Pérez had lived, including Santa Ana, California, where she grew up, and El Paso, where her mother grew up.

Her second collection of poems, “River on Our Face,” follows her journey to the Rio Grande Valley, where she has lived since 2006. The poems in that collection celebrate borderland communities and ecosystems, and bear witness to the building of border walls in the Valley from 2008 and on. She describes that work as “more expansive in terms of sound, form and subject matter.”

“About 20 years ago, I moved to El Paso because I knew it would help me write about my family history in the region,” she said. “Fortunately, I received a job teaching creative writing in the Rio Grande Valley, and six years later, that enabled me to learn more about the Texas borderlands.”

ABOUT TEXAS POETS LAUREATE

Appointed for their years of experience and dedication to Texas-based arts, Poet Laureates are selected to represent the diverse artistic community in Texas, and to inspire others through their art. Currently, the state Poet Laureate is selected for a one-year appointment by the Texas Poet Laureate, State Musician and State Artist Committee.



ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.