When interviewing someone Hispanic in the United States, I am constantly faced with the dilemma of which language to use, English or Spanish. In this case, I chose Spanish because we will talk with Guillermo Severiche about new initiatives to promote Spanish-speaking writers in the United States. And within these initiatives, we have Cimientos, an undertaking of IATI Theater, in which Guillermo works as Literary Manager, or gestor literario (in Spanish).
First of all, thank you very much for granting us this interview.
JS: Tell us about your career and how you came to IATI. And within this project, what is your dream?
GS: First of all, thank you very much for this space and this conversation. It makes me very happy to talk about Cimientos, my family at IATI Theater, and the work we are doing. Well, I came to IATI as a writer. I was one of the writers selected for the Cimientos 2019 edition with my play La Serena, which was a wonderful experience. I got fully involved in the program and was able to have my text read and discussed with other playwrights and other theatre professionals. That was wonderful. And then, for the 2020 edition, Winston Estevez, the Artistic Director of IATI, asked me to coordinate the talks for the new cohort of writers.
After this experience, I stayed as the new Literary Manager, and from there, we continued. I had ideas to work on and strengthen the program, but the pandemic hit just when we had scheduled the staged reading festival of our 2020 edition, which was going to be my first festival as literary manager. So everything changed, expectations changed, and goals changed. And so, we worked to keep everything afloat. But for me, it was also an opportunity. We decided to promote this program and take it internationally. We used video conferencing as a platform to connect with authors and audiences. In this way, we achieved international status for the 2021 edition. We had texts from Costa Rica, Mexico, Germany, Russia, the USA, Spain, the UK, and even Uganda. That was wonderful. And this year, the diversity continued; we have authors from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, the USA, Spain, and Kenya. I believe that my idea with this program is to strengthen it even more, continue learning from each exchange and reading, to make Cimientos a reference and point of projection for many playwrights from various parts of the world while always keeping an eye on our Latinx community in the US and our writers from Latin America.
JS: Let’s talk about the literary market for Hispanics in the United States and New York specifically. The other day I did a translation of a poem by Paul’ Pinny’ Bulman for publication in Spanish and English. I found very few bilingual publications. Most of the very few I found focused on publishing authors who write in both languages. And even though there is a lot of effort on the part of promoters of Hispanic culture, I still feel that we are far behind. However, Hispanics are 60.6 million people in this country. What are we missing? I would like to hear your opinion on this.
GS: I have been in the US for almost eleven years. I have dedicated myself to working as a writer and cultural manager since 2016 when I started the MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish at NYU. Although it is true that we still have a long way to go, I think a lot is being done, and we are finding our space more and more. If we lack something, it is a matter of time before we fill in the gap and create more platforms to connect. I have a lot of hope. There are publishing houses that publish here in the US in Spanish, like Chatos Inhumanos. There are spaces generated like the international book fair in NYC. Since 2019, I have been the director of a series of readings and workshops called En Construcción New Works by Latin American Writers. We focus on showing the work done by writers who live in New York. Recently, a book by Naida Saavedra came out that is fabulous to me, New Latino Boom, which encompasses all the efforts that are being made and the diverse literary production in different regions of the country. Over time I have connected with more people and discovered more networks. I trust in the talent of our community, in what drives us to continue creating and continue meeting.
JS: For example, you published your novel, El agua viene de noche, in Argentina. Tell us why and how you have made that work known in New York and what obstacles and opportunities you have encountered as a Hispanic writer.
GS: El agua viene de noche is my first novel, and I think I found myself with the difficulties of being a first-time author, you could say. The novel is experimental; it plays with the local orality of my place of origin, Mendoza, and proposes an allegorical look at climate change and a child’s growth in a catastrophic environment. Writing it was a beautiful experience, but publishing and disseminating it has been hard work. In Argentina, the network of independent publishers is robust and circulates very well. But outside the country, it is more complicated. Thanks to WordUp Bookstore in Washington Heights, I was able to get my novel in a place here in New York. You can buy it there, and they also gave me the space to present it in April of this year. While the job of a writer just starting is tough, I keep in mind what my editor told me: make it a party. So in that spirit, I push the book. NYC also gives writers opportunities. The reading community is diverse and filled with many forms of Spanish; they welcomed the text very well. That has filled me with joy.
JS: Let’s talk about the influences we Hispanic writers have in New York. I think the work of Puerto Ricans has been invaluable. They have created a two-way street that communicates the two languages. Obviously, not just them, but I do think they started it. But let’s talk about the other groups, if there are any in New York, and the role that Nuyorican literature continues to play here.
GS: Definitely. Although New York is a city of all forms of Latin American Spanish, Puerto Rican is one of the predominant ones. I love it. I could also say the same about Dominican Spanish. I am not well versed in the literature produced within these communities here in the city. Still, their impact is evident, and their presence in making literature written in Spanish. It is something that has an invaluable Caribbean flavor. In my reading project, En Construcción, I have always had Puerto Rican and Dominican authors. Gabriel Carle, Yaissa Jiménez, Ángel Antonio Ruiz Laboy, Alejandra Ramos, Huáscar Robles, are some of the authors who have presented. At IATI and Cimientos, the presence of Puerto Rican playwrights is also very strong. We have worked with Gama Valle, Janilka Romero and Andrés López Alicea, for example.
JS: And in all of this, we have issues of the language itself, Spanglish, and the literature of those who are not native English speakers but who write in English. I would like to know your thoughts about it and how you see the mission of these writers in the United States and New York.
GS: I came to know this universe of Spanglish in literature when I arrived in the United States. It was a very interesting experience for me because I read it first. Gloria Anzaldúa, whom I admire, delves into this, making Spanglish a way of theorizing and thinking about her identity. Also, many of the book authors from This Bridge Called My Back do this work. I could see in the first place the conceptual power of Spanglish as something that says more than a phenomenon of cultural encounters (and disagreements). But living here, I was able to see it and hear it in friends, in my students, in young members of my family who live here and who grew up in that in-between zone, in an area of constant borrowing, of playing with language. I think it’s that, above all, something playful, and I think it’s phenomenal. I haven’t felt the drive to work in English or Spanglish. However, I feel there is a very strong path that has been marked for decades because it is a highly alive part of many people.
JS: Let’s talk about ‘Cimientos’ again. How do you read these artists? What does this year’s project offer?
GS: This year, we are organizing a festival of staged readings in our theater from June 8 to 12 at IATI Theater. Several authors will come in person. As I was telling you, we have an international group, and it will be a luxury to have their presence. We’ll also be streaming the readings online, so don’t forget to check out our page to reserve your tickets. It’s free, so join us. You could say that we have more traditional or narrative plays, like Juana y la muerte (Adriana Hernández Rascón, Mexico) or Stars with Exit Wounds (Walter Sitati, Kenya). And some more experimental ones, like Ñachi (Nicolás Bascuñán, Chile) or The Space Between (Tommer Peterson, USA).
We have worked to maintain diversity in every sense. And I think I approach this program that way. I am a comparatist; my Ph.D. is in comparative literature. In a certain way, I have the training to establish bridges and connections and mark shared conceptual and aesthetic aspects between texts from distant places. As hosts of the meetings, together with Winston, we work to create that space for exchange. I think that each group is different, and we are amazed to see how this community work is evolving. We intend to build community among them, even though they sometimes do not speak the same language. I don’t impose a way of reading the plays that determines specific aesthetics or personal preference. Instead, my goal is to create community ties so that artists can exchange ideas openly. And of course, this for me is a school. I am witnessing and learning all the time. And that is a gift I happen to enjoy every year.
Thank you, and I’ll see you in Cimientos.
For information about Cimientos, please click here.
Guillermo Severiche (Argentina) He holds a Bachelor’s in Modern Literatures from Universidad Nacional de Cuyo (Mendoza, Argentina) as well as an M.A. in Hispanic Studies and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, LA). In 2016, he moved to New York to complete an M.F.A. in Creative Writing in Spanish at NYU. As a writer, he has published short stories and essays in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Spain, and Chile. His first novel, El agua viene de noche, has been published by GG Editora in Argentina in 2021. He is the founder of En Construcción, a series of readings and workshops that showcases recent work by NYC-based Latin American writers. He works as a full-time instructor at Fordham University (Lincoln Center campus) and as literary manager at IATI Theater.