MEMBER PROFILES: Joe Milazzo & John Curl



MEMBER PROFILE: Joe Milazzo
President, PEN Texas

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
In 2012.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
Because PEN’s global reputation for supporting authors, pursuing social justice, and expanding access to great literature is second to none.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA’s Emerging Voices Fellowship offers a much-needed alternative to the standard (and increasingly cost-prohibitive) creative writing curriculum offered by colleges and universities.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
Watching established authors in PEN Center USA’s Emerging Voices Fellowship literally cheer on their mentees at a reading in Hollywood.

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 imagine beyond one’s self, one’s immediate circumstances, one’s capacities, proclivities, and biases. The freedom to disagree. The freedom to be hurt, and the freedom to heal. The freedom to participate in the simultaneously centuries-long and contemporary conversation that is literature.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
That PEN Center USA’s membership, consisting as it does mostly of writers, constitutes a literary community. And that this community is concerned with building productive and sustainable relationships with other communities, and not just within the arts.

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?
Information is not knowledge, much less wisdom. And information is increasingly a commodity subject to the control of special interests (ideological, corporate, etc.). We will always need journalists, writers, and those intimately concerned with language and how language shapes our experience of the world to offer us interpretations of this information—to help us see how we might live with certain facts, especially those of our creation.

What are you reading now?
I just finished reading Ed Pavlić’s Let's Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno, a powerful collection from Fence Books that negotiates its own path between memoir, lyric poetry, and a kind of literary activism. I am now reading two other books: Family Album by Jason Snyder, a very unusual and yet emotionally devastating novel just out from my publisher (Jaded Ibis); and a history of the San Francisco Tape Music Center edited by David W. Bernstein and published by the University of California Press.

Tell us a story in one sentence.
His father liked to tell him, “What kind of story ends with its protagonist knowing less than when he began?”—but all he ever heard was the weak philosophy in “what’s your excuse?”

Joe Milazzo is the current President of PEN Texas. He is a writer, editor, educator, and designer. He is the author of the novel Crepuscule W/ Nellie (Jaded Ibis Press) and The Habiliments (Apostrophe Books; forthcoming 2016), a volume of poetry. His writings have appeared in Black Clock, Black Warrior Review, The Collagist, Drunken Boat, BOMB, Tammy, and elsewhere. He co-edits the online interdisciplinary arts journal [out of nothing], is a Contributing Editor at Entropy, and is the proprietor of Imipolex Press. Joe lives and works in Dallas, TX, and his virtual location is www.slowstudies.net/jmilazzo.




MEMBER PROFILE: John Curl
Board Chair, PEN Oakland

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
In 1990.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I joined PEN Center USA to be part of PEN Oakland, which was just forming at that time.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA has given PEN Oakland—and numerous other writers and groups of writers—access to the channels, support, and conditions for getting their work out beyond the confines of the corporate mainstream.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
An indelible image from many PEN Oakland events is our longtime president, Floyd Salas, shadowboxing in his unique blend of martial and language arts, offset by his gentle disposition and featherweight stature, embodying PEN Oakland as a writers’ organization promoting engaged multicultural and marginalized voices.

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 has different meanings in different cultural contexts. In the USA, marginalization is the primary method that the dominant regime uses to censor and stifle threatening voices. Excellent writers are under enormous pressures to self-censor to get their work out. Therefore, Freedom to Write in the USA generally means assisting talented writers to maintain the integrity of their work and to help them break beyond their exclusion from the mainstream media and reach their audience.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA has a long history of reaching out far beyond the confines of the literary world, and bringing important writers and ideas into the larger community, making literature— and the dangerous ideas it brings—more relevant in a world desperately in need of these gifts.

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?
This is an era desperately in need of visionaries. The deepest problems threatening our world, and their possible solutions, have been made largely invisible to many people due in part to the muddying of language by powerful media forces who fear change. One of the most important roles for writers and journalists is to reclaim language in order to express important ideas that have been excluded from the mainstream dialogue.

What are you reading now?
The Green House, by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Tell us a story in one sentence.
Helen left the clinic dazed, devastated by the prognosis, but stopped short when a group of young people with signs and banners marched past chanting, “Justice Now,” and, almost on a whim, she stepped off the curb into their midst.

John Curl is chair of PEN Oakland, and has been a member for 25 years. He is the author of thirteen volumes of poetry, including Yoga Sutras of Fidel Castro and Revolutionary Alchemy; and three volumes of history, including For All The People. Among his numerous other works are The Co-op Conspiracy (novel), Memories of Drop City (memoir), and Ancient American Poets (translations of classical Native American poetry). He represented the USA at the 2010 World Poetry Festival in Caracas, Venezuela. He resides in Berkeley, California, and recently completed a new novel, Maroon.

Find out more about For All the People (PM Press) here.


Check out our past Member Profiles here.