MEMBER PROFILE: Natashia Deón



MEMBER PROFILE: Natashia Deón

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I became a member in 2010 shortly after being awarded the Emerging Voices Fellowship.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA’s strong support of writers and the writing community, and their exemplary professionalism in doing so.

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 of speech (and to write) is the basis of all other freedoms. “Language is an argument,” I recently heard someone say. It’s a negotiation. And what’s settled is our agreement to accept the world as we’ve defined it with words. It’s our common understanding. Our written words, then, bring us to the negotiating table—the world stage—to exchange ideas, to sharpen our knowledge, expand our understanding, define and redefine, and to ultimately be better as people.

And yes, there is art for art’s sake. But here, I’m talking about freedom; the kind of art, writing, that speaks to and challenges people; that serves.

In America, if we want to move our artful ideas outside of our living rooms and onto the world stage, this freedom comes with a caveat. That’s not to say that this can’t be done on social media or blogs and the like, but those tools are not the ultimate legitimizer. Though it allows us to go places, reach people, without permissions from gatekeepers. Largely, however, it’s our friends we’re talking to, or those who follow us, or have friended us and mostly agree with us. We can help make each other sharper. And that’s good, too.

But, generally, for a writer to be on the national or international stage—at the table—we have to be invited to the table by someone who’s already there. Another writer, a publisher, some established media, etc. Or, we break down the door to get to where the table is. But, usually, the break down method is only temporary. It’s a predictable part of the equation now. (Example: A camera crew will be at a site waiting for the protestors to arrive. But, this doesn’t mean we don’t protest anyway.)

The doorway to the “table” has been limited for writers of color, and others. Like telling someone, I have a billion dollars for you but it’s buried in some Californian desert. Theoretically, it’s ours, like freedom. But without a map, a guide, gas money, and some equipment, it might as well be lost forever. The best of us will go anyway, and start digging. Build a town even. But fall short, aging into our hope without real hope. Which is why, when we talk about freedom of speech and to write in America, we have to also talk about access, support, and mentorship. Without those things, freedom is illusory.

What is your favorite quote?
“You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” –Albert Einstein

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Phillis Wheatley. Because I want to know what she thought of the world around her. I mean, really thought. Yes, there is her beautiful poetry that answers questions and asks them. What I’d want to ask her about are the parts that feel prompted. Where she seems to be writing for an audience who would accept it, reflecting the sentiments of society around her—the disdain for Black people and Africa—the “pagan” place. I want to know what she really thought. I imagine life broke her heart. She died at age thirty-one. Her infant son died three hours later. I want to talk to her.

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?
Roxane Gay. Hope Wabuke. John Pavlovitz. Darlene Kriesel. Kaitlyn Greenidge. Rebecca Solnit. Buzzfeed. Huffington Post. The Root. On Facebook, Binders Full of Women and Nonbinary Writers of Color and For Harriet. Because all of them are freely exchanging ideas and are courageously asking tough questions while managing haters by allowing them some voice.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
The Giver by Lois Lowry.

What is the story behind your coming up with Dirty Laundry Lit?
Dirty Laundry Lit is a nonprofit reading series that welcomes about two hundred screaming fans to Hollywood on a Saturday night in the name of literature. I’ve tried to keep it sophisticated—I’m lying—and L.A. Weekly has called it a “raucous, all-inclusive party.” We make literature a rock concert. It’s standing room only, a DJ on stage, our host is a very funny comedian, and the venue—The Virgil—is one of the hottest bars in L.A.

I started Dirty Laundry Lit to celebrate writers. Because no writer should spend years working on her art, her gift, only to have no one show up for the party. I was inspired to create it after returning from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in 2010 and going to a bookstore reading of a writer-friend I’d met there.

I was so excited about her reading because she’s brilliant and I adore her work. She had flown in from NYC. By the end of the night, I would be only one of three people in the audience. I was heartbroken for her but happy to support. That’s when Dirty Laundry Lit was born. I pitched the idea to PEN Center USA that next week, they said yes to supporting it, and the rest is history.

What are you working on now?
Two new novels. I’m waiting to see which one will get my full attention.

Natashia Deón is a Los Angeles attorney, writer, and law professor. Her debut novel, Grace, is due out June 2016 with Counterpoint Press. Deón is the creator of the reading series Dirty Laundry Lit and has been awarded fellowships and residencies at Yale, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, Prague's Creative Writing Program, Dickinson House in Belgium, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and was a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Her writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Rattling Wall, The Rumpus, Asian American Lit Review, B O D Y, The Feminist Wire, and other places.

 


Check out our past Member Profiles here.