MEMBER PROFILE: Jervey Tervalon, Hector Tobar, Shonda Buchanan, Gary Phillips, Jennifer Joseph, Amber Tamblyn, and Robert Nelson Jacobs



MEMBER PROFILE: Jervey Tervalon

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I’ve been a member of PEN Center USA, and on the board off and on, for twenty years.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
The Freedom To Write mission and the Emerging Voices Fellowship.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It means freedom of expression and the consequences of that act of expression. That we defend writers who use words to speak to power.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
I would say Poets and Writers.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
Dracula by Bram Stoker.

What is your favorite quote?
“My Mother is a fish,” from As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Mark Twain and Langston Hughes.

What are you working on now?
Developing Literature for Life/Locavore Lit LA, a literary magazine/reader and educational resource, and working on a memoir.

Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and received his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine where he worked with Thomas Keneally. He is the author of six books including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club's New Voices Award and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Dead Above Ground. His new novel, Monster's Chef was published June 2014. Currently, he is the Executive Director of Literature for Life, a literary magazine and educational advocacy organization, and Literary Director of The Pasadena LitFest. An award-winning poet, screenwriter, dramatist, and Disney Screenwriting Fellow, Tervalon teaches at the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He splits time between Los Angeles and Shanghai with his wife, Jinghuan Liu Tervalon, and their kids.

Come see Jervey Tervalon on our AWP panel, Literature of the Los Angeles Riots.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Hector Tobar

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
In 1999, after my first novel was published!

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
It’s a community of writers that defends writing culture.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It means that we should all work to defend our brother and sister writers who battle intolerance, dictatorship, censorship, and threats of violence.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
I don’t access literature through digital media. Not yet.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
2666 by Roberto Bolaño.

What is your favorite quote?
“The American mystery deepens.” That’s from Don DeLillo, White Noise.

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
James Joyce.

What are you working on now?
A novel.

Born in L.A., listening to stories of Guatemala from immigrant parents. Often poor but sometimes great public school education. Went to college at UC Santa Cruz. Edited a community newspaper in San Francisco, got a job at the LA Times. Quit the LA Times to get an MFA. Got married, had three kids, published two novels and two books of literary nonfiction. First read Shakespeare and Cervantes in my forties. Was once a foreign correspondent, and a newspaper columnist. Professor, too, at the University of Oregon.

Come see Hector Tobar on our AWP panel, Literature of the Los Angeles Riots.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Shonda Buchanan

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I became a member of PEN Center USA when I first became an Emerging Voices Fellow in 1999. That was the beginning of my connection to a community of professional Los Angeles writers. Previously, my community was my sister friends and Leimert Park writers who, for the most part, weren't yet published but they were fierce, clear, and visceral. I learned so much from Leimert Park writers who, in turn, made me feel confident enough to apply for the Emerging Voices Fellowship. Being a member of PEN Center USA has meant a lot to me as a writer in all phases of my career.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
My Emerging Voices Fellowship afforded me the opportunity to work with, meet, and ask writing and career questions of real writers without feeling like I was intruding upon them at the movies or at lunch. Writers are my rock stars, so to meet Mona Simpson and Bebe Moore Campbell, to name a few, was thrilling.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It means being able to tell your story in the truest and most authentic way without being punished or jailed for that honesty. It means being a revolutionary storyteller and not being silenced. It means protecting the sacred storytelling space.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
VIDA. These women are bold and unapologetic. Social media for this group of women has become an invaluable platform to report on the disparity of published women writers, and minority writers, in comparison to published white male writers. VIDA shares and celebrates women editors and agents, and most important, they tell women writers like myself that have been working on one novel (for years!) that you still have a story to tell. Perseverance is not underrated.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

What is your favorite quote?
I have two. When I interviewed Octavia Butler years ago in her home in Altadena, she told me, "People of color need to write themselves into the future. If we don't, who's going to do it?"

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”— E.E. Cummings

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Li-Young Lee.

What are you working on now?
I am working on two books of poetry, one about Nina Simone and one about the Goddess image, entitled Equipoise: Poems from Goddess Country (San Francisco Bay Press, August 2016). I'm working on a historical novel, a memoir, and a book about the migration of Mixed Blood African Americans and American Indians.

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Shonda Buchanan currently resides in Hampton, Virginia and is the Chair of the Department of English & Foreign Languages at Hampton University. She is an award-winning poet whose poetry and essays have been featured in numerous anthologies. Shonda is an Eloise Klein-Healy Scholarship recipient, a Sundance Institute fellow, and a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellow. She received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and several grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. She has freelanced for the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, The Writer’s Chronicle, and Indian Country Today. She is currently working on a memoir, Touched: Growing Up Black and Indian in Michigan: A Daughter Uncovers a Family's History; a collection of poetry, Evidence of Cotton, Evidence of Smoke; and Children of the Mixed Blood Trail: The Formation and Migration of Mixed Race Communities, Free People of Color and Black Indian Families, Settlements and Villages from the Southeast to the Midwest. For more information, visit shondabuchanan.com.

Read Shonda's poems here.

Come see Shonda Buchanan on our AWP panel, Literature of the Los Angeles Riots.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Gary Phillips

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
Off and on, I’ve been a member for more than a decade. Having been both a community and labor organizer, and having parents who were union members, I come from a tradition of those of like minds banding together to affect change. My membership in PEN Center USA is an extension of that belief.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
That PEN Center USA works to protect our freedom of expression in this country and reaches out to various underserved communities via its programs to encourage and foster the love of reading and writing.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
To me Freedom To Write means we are charged with raising up a generation of critical thinkers, that, no matter what, you don’t take things at face value, and that through your writing you can reflect on matters of culture and import.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
I’m something of a Luddite, so I don’t tweet, do Pinterest or the like. I am on Facebook and see writers using that, probably overusing it. I do like the personal newsletters some writers send out and some of their sites where they talk about publishing and/or topical issues. For instance, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an engaging blog in that vein.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, the template for the private eye novel.

What is your favorite quote?
From the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck, based on a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson:

Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Ida B. Wells.

What are you working on now?
A graphic novel about a young black man drafted into the Vietnam War, the racial tensions he experiences among his fellow soldiers, as well as odd goings-on he encounters.

South Central L.A. native Gary Phillips draws on his experiences from anti-police abuse community organizing, activism in the anti-apartheid movement, working as a union rep and state director of a political action committee, to delivering dog cages, in writing his tales of chicanery and malfeasance. His graphic novel The Rinse, about a money launderer, was previously optioned for television, and his private eye character Nate Hollis, who began in comics and crossed over to prose, has recently been optioned as well. He has essays upcoming in the books Anatomy of Innocence, about exonerated prisoners, and in Radical and Backlash Pulp and Popular Fiction. Phillips also teaches in Antioch’s MFA creative writing program.

Come see Gary Phillips on our AWP panel, Literature of the Los Angeles Riots.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Jennifer Joseph, Manic D Press

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA has always represented the best that the literary world has to offer its writing citizens, creating community with inclusiveness in so many ways.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA brings attention to key aspects of freedom of expression and cultivation of diversity within the writing community.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
Freedom To Write supports truth-tellers, who write bravely regardless of consequence. Writers are communicators on the front lines of political and social struggles; it is essential that their work and lives be supported.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
There are too many to name, but Public Books, Electric Literature, and the Poetry Foundation's website and Harriet blog are all very worthwhile.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
Homer's Odyssey.

What is your favorite quote?
"Energy is eternal delight." — William Blake

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Myriam Gurba, because smart and funny never go out of style.

What are you working on now?
I'm editing a literary collection, Justin Chin: Selected Works, by an important writer who passed away too soon this past winter.

Jennifer Joseph has been publisher and editor of the award-winning, internationally-distributed Manic D Press since its founding in 1984. Manic D’s approach to publishing takes non-traditional ideas marginalized by mainstream society and moves them closer to the center by presenting these ideas artfully in literature so that readers have access and exposure to new ways of looking at possibilities. This approach encourages social evolution by bringing more light than heat to the inevitability of creating new systems to replace current ones that support an unjust society. Joseph’s critical writing has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times. Her creative writing has appeared in numerous literary anthologies and journals, including Lobster Tendencies. She lives in San Francisco.

Read an early poem of Jennifer's, from the first Manic D Press publication (1984), here.

Come see Jennifer Joseph on our AWP panel, Literature of the Los Angeles Riots.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Amber Tamblyn

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I believe that PEN Center USA is an essential part of keeping art alive in America, and what they do for literature, and those that write literature, and those that are fans of literature, is so important.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It means there is no place for censorship, for silencing a thought or stopping a teachable moment through words. It’s one of the most sacred forms of expression and bonds that we have in this world—the bond, and the language, between author and reader.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
Poet and activist Rachel McKibbens comes to mind. She is devoted to the notion and the task of writing about survival, and getting others to write about their own survival, too. To overcome abuse, grief, or violence through powerful writing.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
Right now, “Train Dreams” by Dennis Johnson. But tomorrow it could be every work of Anne Sexton, and the day after that, Uncle Vanya by Chekov.

What is your favorite quote?
“Go to your broken heart. If you think you don’t have one, get one. To get one, be sincere.” –Jack Hirschman

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Katharine Hepburn, Zadie Smith, and Sarah Silverman.

What are you working on now?
A fourth collection of poems, a novel, and overall, unending self love and acceptance.

Amber Tamblyn is an author, actress, and director from Los Angeles. She has been nominated for an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Independent Spirit Award for her work in television and film. She has three collections of poetry and prose, most recently Dark Sparkler (Harper Perennial), which explores the lives and deaths of child star actresses, with accompanying artwork by such luminaries as Marilyn Manson and David Lynch, amongst others. She reviews books of poetry written by women for Bust magazine and is a contributing writer for The Poetry Foundation and visiting Woodrow Wilson Fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.

Photo Credit: Katie Jacobs

Come see Amber Tamblyn on our AWP panel, Adaptation: Bringing the Novel to the Big Screen.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Robert Nelson Jacobs

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I became a member of PEN Center USA about a decade ago, because I value its advocacy work on behalf of writers whose freedom is threatened and its support and encouragement of new voices.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
While I’m moved and heartened by all of PEN Center USA’s programs, what speaks to me most urgently is Freedom to Write.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It’s all too easy to take for granted the fundamental right to freedom of thought and expression. But we need to stay vigilant in safeguarding intellectual freedom, and we must fight to restore that freedom wherever it’s been stripped away.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
The Los Angeles Review of Books.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

What is your favorite quote?
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”— Heraclitus

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Oliver Sacks.

What are you working on now?
I’m about to begin work on a spec screenplay that has been tugging at my mind for years. And, with some trepidation, I’m writing short fiction for the first time since my grad student days.

Robert Nelson Jacobs grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He graduated from Yale University, where he received the Curtis Literary Prize for his short fiction, and he later earned a master’s degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Jacobs’ script for the film
Chocolat was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. His other produced screenplays include Out to Sea, Dinosaur, The Shipping News, Flushed Away, The Water Horse, and Extraordinary Measures.

Come see Robert Nelson Jacobs on our AWP panel, Adaptation: Bringing the Novel to the Big Screen.

 


Check out our past Member Profiles here.