Analicia Sotelo, a Texas poet who just had one of her poems published in the New Yorker magazine, brings a national energy and crisp intellect – not to mention some “sass” – to Fresno’s second annual LitHop festival on Saturday. She is one of 151 writers participating in the one-day event, which will culminate with a keynote reading by acclaimed Fresno-born poet Gary Soto.
The event begins at 2 p.m. at a variety of Tower District venues with a series of four 45-minute readings available at the top of the hour, every hour. The keynote is 7 p.m. at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium.
I caught up with Sotelo, who will be visiting Fresno for the first time, by phone and email for an interview.
Q: You grew up in Laredo and San Antonio. How does geography and your upbringing impact your work?
A: I was raised mostly by women when I was young: my mother, my grandmother, my great-aunt … and later by an amazing dad, too. I didn’t have a lot of friends my own age, so I had a lot of time to observe the arid landscape around me and the lessons of adults, which shows up in these poems as the main character considers how isolated she is, and what she wants to do about that.
Q: When you arrived at Trinity University in San Antonio to study English literature, did you already know you wanted to be a poet? Was there a catalyst in your life in terms of that decision?
A: I actually arrived at Trinity with the expectation that I would be a fiction writer, a poet and a visual artist, somehow all at the same time? Ha! But the catalyst arrived when I spoke with Manuel Muñoz at an event at Trinity. I told him I was torn between poetry and fiction, and he told me to focus on the one I “needed to do.” Poetry was the one I ended up needing more.
Q: Being published in the New Yorker is a really big deal for a poet. What was it like to receive the news?
A: It’s like getting the chills and flying at the same time. It feels impossible – in a fairy godmother kind of way. Of course, I called my parents and my best friends to tell them immediately.
Q: Talk a little about your New Yorker poem, titled “Death Wish.” In this modern take on ancient Greek myth, do you see yourself as Ariadne to a modern-day Theseus? (I love that Theseus listens to Kanye and heeds the cashmere call of the Banana Republic.)
A: This poem is part of a sequence of poems where I take on Ariadne as a character – so I would say artistically “yes” and in real life “no.” What appeals to me about her is that she has two modes: strong and despairing.
She’s distraught when she discovers Theseus has abandoned her on the island of Naxos after she helped him defeat the Minotaur. But prior to that moment, she was so determined, so in love. She was very clever about it, too – helping lead him through the labyrinth without actually going in there herself, giving him the sword and the red ball of thread so he wouldn’t get lost. Both her weakness and her strength is her willingness to help. That’s a conflicting narrative that’s common among women, and has been for how many years? Enough so that “modern-day” is not so “modern-day,” I suppose.
Q: How does “Death Wish” relate to you as a Mexican-American woman grappling with issues of class?
A: In “Death Wish,” I wanted to describe a kind of man who misses his privilege, who feels defeated by life. Ariadne is in no way Mexican-American, and as a princess, she’s not from a lower class, but I liked the idea of the complicated situation these two have gotten themselves into together. If she wants to save him and he doesn’t want to be saved, why is he there? Does she really want to save him or is she just gesturing? How far is she from the labyrinth? How far in has he gone? What do each of them intend to prove about what they know of each other?
Q: Another big recent honor: winning the inaugural Jake Adam York Prize for your full-length book “Virgin,” which will be published by Milkweed Editions next year. You’ve described it as a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story. Give us a quick preview.
A: I feel like other people will always end up describing my work more accurately than me, because I am so close to the writing of it, but to me, “Virgin” is about a young woman who refuses to fail at love, and in doing so, fails in small ways until she realizes love’s not made for the perfectionist. I had also grown tired of young men using the word virgin or naive as an insult. I wanted to write a story that hadn’t been told much – that would give the virgin a chance to speak back, rearing vulnerability into strength.
Q: Your chapbook “Nonstop Godhead” has gotten you recognition as well. What direction did you take in that work?
A: “Nonstop Godhead” has poems that will be included, in other versions, in “Virgin.” But the chapbook focuses more on a young woman’s relentless investigation of her absent father and how that influences her relationships.
Q: LitHop in Fresno is excited to have you. How did you end up coming here?
A: Joseph Rios invited me. He’s an amazing poet and fun to be around. I really admire his work and am thrilled to hang out again!
Q: What do you think will be on your LitHop list?
A: I’m really excited to just hop around LitHop and get a sampler of all the poets I possibly can. I’m also thrilled to hear poems by Suzy Huerta, Yaccaira Salvatierra, and my fellow readers Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Yosimar Reyes and Juan Luis Guzmán.
Q: There will be a lot of people at LitHop who know a lot about poetry. But what would you say to someone who doesn’t know much about poetry? How would you entice them to your reading (4 p.m. Saturday, Mia Cuppa Caffe)?
A: I would say, be sure to relax and buy some coffee/food/drinks. Bring your friends. Just try to enjoy it like you would a small theater show. Don’t try to figure out the “secret meaning,” and instead pay attention to how you feel. Do you feel amused, or amazed in any way? That’s a sign of a good reading.
In terms of my stuff, I would say join me at the reading if you like surrealist art, or border towns, or sassy ladies saying what they want.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: OMG GARY SOTO! I mean, right??!!!
- 2-11:30 p.m. Saturday
- After party: Shredworthy, 810 E. Olive Ave., 9:30-11:30 p.m.
- Details: www.lithopfresno.wordpress.com