María Fernanda

Q: Where do you currently reside?

I live in Washington Heights in New York. 

Q: How do you identify? (Ethnicity and preferred pronouns)

I identify as Black Ecuadorian, American, and use she/her pronouns. 

Q: Affiliations: 

I am a founder of Candela Writers Workshops, a monthly writing workshop open to poets who self-identify as persons of African descent and/or as Black with a connection to Latin American and/or U.S. Latinx culture. I also work as an assistant producer at The Shed, an arts center designed to commission, produce, and present all types of performing arts, visual arts, and popular culture. 
 

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Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the poem you submitted?

In January, a package from Puerto Rico arrived to my apartment. During hurricane María, my friend roommate hadn’t heard from her father on la isla. I wanted to celebrate the moment for her. So, the poem is an ode, reconciling what it means to celebrate these things while being respectful of another's space and feelings.

I love how the distance between two people is a space of infinite exploration. The concept of solidarity between one another—how we hold each other’s stories—is one I feel I am constantly enamored with.

Q: How did you get your writing/performing start?

I’ve been writing poetry for some time, but I didn’t perform with a crowd until I was 18. I remember I submitted my writing to the Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival while I was a student there. For the festival, poems are chosen (blind) in an effort to match their work with that of the visiting poets. My work was selected to be read with Nikky Finney. 

I was 18 years old, a freshman, and Nikky Finney had just won the National Book Award. I immediately read her books and didn't think too much about performing per se. After the festival, someone shared a video with me of myself reading and I was so embarrassed—of course, people told me it was fine, but I had thought I looked and sounded like I was reading a textbook passage in a classroom, despite standing. At 18, this made realize more fully the value of performance; that performance isn’t natural, it’s work. Moving to New York, with all the vast number of opportunities and dynamic communities that live here, was another turning point for me.

Q: How would you describe your writing style? 

Narrative, definitely. My writing possesses moments of lyricism. My favorite description of my writing came from a previous teacher of mine who said, “her lines are fractured yet addictively percussive; there is a violence that saturates her lines, images that always that hint at assault.” I felt that she recognized the road ahead of me.

Q: How does your identity shape or influence your work, writing process, or writing life?

As a writer, I need to know what is at stake in my writing and I can’t do that if I don’t start with the context in which I am rooted. As an adoptee, I consider the lineage that I was born into, as well as, the lineage within which I was raised. So, my identity begun with a sense of displacement or disorientation as many of do and is strengthened by engaging my environment and its impact.

As I place the pieces of my past together, I am placing together those of my ancestors. I'm endlessly enamored and curious in how Latin American (inclusive of the Caribbean) histories overlap.

Q: Can you tell us about a time you think your identity (Afro-Latinidad / Afro-Caribbeanness) helped or hindered your writing or writing career?

I often find myself in spaces where people have no frame of reference for Black Ecuadorians. So, I’m often perceived as African American (a term I don’t use often, but here only to describe being of a family line that has survived generations in North America) or Brazilian. Yet, I can’t pinpoint a moment my work faced direct discrimination among the literary spheres. I grew up in Washington D.C.—a, then, predominantly black city. It grounded me. 

If anything, my identity—loving myself, celebrating myself—has only worked to my advantage. Short of likely being tokenized, identifying as Black Ecuadorian has always been a boon.

Q: Tell me about your new book/current project?

I am taking my time putting a book together. In my first apartment, I taped on my bedroom wall a portion of Eduardo Corral’s 2012 Poets & Writers Magazine interview. In it, Corral shares that he was working at Home Depot for nine years before publishing Slow Lighting. He described himself as slow writer whose words on the blank page reminded him of his family members’ footprints walking in sand. For me, there is a delicateness in that paralleling of journeys that I so appreciated (and needed) as a 20-year old, back then. It still resonates with me now at 24. 

Q: What else are you working on or what future projects do you have in mind?

I’m founding a writer’s workshop with Darrel Alejandro Holnes named Candela Writers Workshop. We are literally building this space with those whom it would serve. We do this by hosting several (what he and I call) ‘Meeting of the Minds’ where we ask writers whom we consider impactful in various South American and Caribbean literary communities across New York City. We share with them our Candela proposal, along with additional prompting questions, and have group discussions. Afterward, Darrel Alejandro and I debrief to incorporate the responses in the building of this writing space. 

Q: What have been some of the highlights/defining moments of your writing/performing career?

Working with poet, journalist, and choreographer Holly Bass was crucial in grounding my artistic career, dare I say my lifestyle. It led to every highlight and/or defining moment. I was very fortunate that she also believed in the budding of my work, my voice. I’d met Holly while interning at the Library of Congress. She was looking for an assistant for a poetry program she was running at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) near where I lived in in D.C.

Q: Who are some of your biggest influences and/or mentors?

Works by Reina María Rodríguez, Jamaica Kincaid, Zitkála-Šá, Aracelis Girmay, and the late Aimé Césaire, among many other others, have been influential in teaching me that neither my work nor myself is constricted to a single language or mode of expression. Again, Holly Bass is one of the most important people I’ve been lucky enough to have mentor-type relationship with. Working with my previous boss Nicole Sealey at Cave Canem and, in another space, with Rachel Eliza Griffiths were hugely impactful experiences for me.

Q: What’s the one piece of advice you would give new writers/performers?

All poets may say this, but I think it’s so important to be gracious and to know your literary landscape. I believe that in order for myself to learn and develop as a poet, I must evolve not only in my craft, but also in my engagement with the many communities I live in. I believe that everything we go through and how we participate in this world will appear on page and so why not be active in that?

I’m very thankful to the women that have mentored me—they’ve always led me back to my gratitude. With gratitude comes peace for me and that peace (within) is crucial to my writing. I loved when Layli Long Soldier shared at a recent ceremony that her father always encouraged her to do what gives her peace. 

Q: Who/what are you reading now?

The Sovereignty of Quiet, Kevin Quashie.

Q: What’s your favorite platano dish/recipe?

Maduros with cinnamon (and sometimes honey, maybe)

Q: What else should we know about you?

I celebrate with great love my Ecuadorian Blackness and the intricacies of Blackness in the diaspora. I think it’s important to celebrate oneself self in all areas of life and work."

Fun Fact 1: I definitely enjoy watching Flight of the Concords after particularly busy day. 

Fact 2: I am a former contributor to Untapped Cities, an online publication based in New York and Paris, concerned with unearthing some of NYC's most unique and exciting places to help locals or visitors who dare to go off the beaten path rediscover the city. 

More Work: 

Guayaquil, 1996

Two Birthdays