Member Profiles: Carlos Castellanos & Dustin Lehren



MEMBER PROFILE: Carlos Castellanos

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I first became a member in 2013.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I wanted to teach a PEN In The Community (PITC) residency at the Veterans Upward Bound program in Los Angeles.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
Belonging to a literary community that encourages others (particularly the voices that have been silenced) to discover their own creative powers.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
“Strawberry” was the nickname of one of my students in the PITC residency I taught at the Veterans Upward Bound program. She was the wife of a Vietnam veteran and had struggled with lupus for most of her life. Her doctors had told her that the disease had severely impacted her cognitive abilities in reading and writing. She enrolled in the class on a whim, and before long, she was able to form sentences, then paragraphs, and even short narratives, contrary to her doctors’ diagnoses. The final reading event at which Strawberry presented her work will always be one of my proudest moments as an educator.

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 owning your truth and not being afraid to express it.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
I wish more people knew about the impact PITC is having on the schools and community centers it serves. The work is honest, impactful, and more significant than we know.

In light of the changing ways in which news is being shared, what role, if any, do you think writers and journalists play in disseminating information or encouraging action?
Words are powerful, and they belong to everyone. The more people write, the clearer the reflection of who we are comes into focus.

What are you reading now?
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende.

Tell us a story in one sentence.
I discovered a penny on the side of the road and never picked it up, but left it for a suffering soul to savor all the luck.

A native of Los Angeles, Carlos Castellanos holds a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature and Chicana and Chicano Studies from UCLA, and a Master of Professional Writing (MPW) degree from USC. He has taught writing composition and creative writing at all levels for USC’s Writing Program, Los Angeles Trade Tech College, Homeboy Industries, Antioch University’s Bridge Program, the Veteran’s Upward Bound program, and the Police Orientation and Preparation Program (POPP). He has served as non-fiction editor for The Southern California Review and has been published most recently in Avant Garde Magazine.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Dustin Lehren

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
In January 2016.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I became a member to learn more about—and become more active in—politics involving the literary arts.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA is hugely relevant at this very moment in making literary arts matter.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
As I’ve just joined, I haven’t been to too many events, yet. But I am really excited to start teaching a playwriting course with PEN In The Community at Dominguez High School in Compton. I had a chance to sit down with the school’s drama teacher, Catherine Borek, and we are both so excited to see what her advanced drama students create. I anticipate many great memories working with such energetic and talented youth, but I especially look forward to the moment when they reveal their dramatic masterpieces to the world.

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?
First, I applaud the work of PEN centers internationally in raising global awareness, effecting change, and giving writers a chance to stand up for those who are oppressed. I was fortunate enough to have taught playwriting in prisons locally, and it gave me a new perspective on how creativity, in general, is often suppressed in those of lower socio-economic status. The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, has a fancy word for this suppression, “polyvalent,” meaning we are surrounded by a highly-organized, interconnected society that, at best, discourages creativity in the name of efficiency, but, at worst, makes it criminal. At my own child’s middle school, the principal sends out a list a mile long warning of local police prosecution for bringing things like permanent markers (tagging), and rubber bands and paper clips (assault). The crazy thing is that there’s a specific violation code for each “unlawful” activity. But when kids are forced to take tests on computers all day, and are only taught to not disrupt, what do you expect? So one hope is that by being made aware of the explicit suppressions of creativity in places around the world, we can develop new perspectives and ideas for overcoming the more implicit suppression of creativity here at home. One of those ideas is PEN In The Community, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
The amount of new writing PEN Center USA helps to bring into the world.

In light of the changing ways in which news is being shared, what role, if any, do you think writers and journalists play in disseminating information or encouraging action?
We’re at a point of information overload and risk increasing desensitization, so the need for quality writing to put us back in touch has never been higher. But there’s now a responsibility for writers to constantly find new ways to break through this malaise, and that has caused us to have to wear multiple hats. The great thing about PEN Center USA is that we have a shared belief of what great writing can accomplish, and we can work together to find new ways for writers, from all different types of backgrounds, to reach an audience.

What are you reading now?
Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

Tell us a story in one sentence.
My selfie calls to ask the meaning of life, my selfie calls back to see if there is more to it than being stuck on the phone, my selfie calls back, my selfie calls back, my selfie calls back…

Dustin Lehren teaches writing and humanities at East Los Angeles College, where he is also the Faculty Editor of the literary arts magazine, Milestone. In addition, he writes plays as an active member of the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors unit, and has worked with The Unusual Suspects Theater Company to produce plays in prisons and probation camps.

 


Check out our past Member Profiles here.