Member Profiles: Kenneth D. Capers, Lilliam Rivera, and Elizabeth L. Silver



MEMBER PROFILE: Kenneth D. Capers

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
In January 2014.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
It was an additional and wonderful perk of becoming a 2015 Emerging Voices Fellow.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
The idea that words have power to heal and conversely to destroy, and PEN Center USA is devoted to the former, in my view. PEN Center USA excites me because it is an organization actively working toward and devoted to ensuring that people have voice and agency through personal expression.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
That's a tough one to answer. One highlight was representing PEN Center USA at Skylight Books and discussing the details of the Emerging Voices commitment with potential candidates. It was a really positive experience and there was something special happening, writers talking to writers, pushing them to not only apply but also to trust that inner voice and to write no matter what.

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 marginalized people, who are often indirectly and directly silenced, are empowered and exposed to the truth they may not know—in the face of the status quo, they have a right to be heard and to express their viewpoint.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
I wish people knew how committed PEN Center USA is to grassroots, on the ground, outreach, working in unheard communities, and that it’s not only an organization where literary work is celebrated and developed.

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?
Well, I'm not a blogger, but I am committed to having a social media presence and addressing ills because it is an expedient way to disseminate information, debunk media propaganda and bias, and alert people to what is really happening around them. I used to see my frequent posts on Facebook as trivial, but now I recognize it as contributing to a discourse. I write brief essays, share important news that may be otherwise missed, and educate and inform through my actions. So, outside of the traditional forms of writing for journalists or creative writing, I think Twitter, Facebook, all these forms of social media are an immediate and direct way to have an impact on pressing situations that concern us globally and nationally. The Black Lives Matter movement went from a Twitter hashtag to a means of raising consciousness, demanding social justice, exposing police brutality and abuse, and providing a platform for disenfranchised people on the defensive from aggressive and illegal police actions. For years, those not subjected to this kind of police state nonsense were hard-pressed to believe that there was an ongoing problem with police murdering Black people with impunity. Today, we're suffering from a kind of fatigue at the endless barrage of proof that Black America's skepticism, fear, or even contempt of the police is not fantasy but based in hard-cold reality reinforced all their lives. Those three women who started Black Lives Matters are writers. So whether one works as a writer toward publication of a novel or in a news outlet, there's this amazing and immediately powerful access to be heard and use those writing skills in digital arenas.

What are you reading now?
Quite a bit actually. I just read Toni Morrison's God Help the Child, which I finished on Thanksgiving. I'm currently reading A Single Man, by Christopher Isherwood—a seminal gay novel published in the 60s, and I just finished the last two books in Stieg Larson's trilogy about Lisbeth Salander, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Tell us a story in one sentence.
On an ordinary day in an ordinary town, a rather ordinary-looking man did something extraordinary and transformative.

Kenneth D. Capers was born in Buffalo, New York but has deep southern family roots in Savannah, Georgia where he earned his bachelor's in English from Savannah State University. He has two MAs in literature from North Carolina A&T State University and University of Southern California. He is a long time academic, teaching undergraduates composition and appreciation for literature, who is currently working on his first novel, Stuck. On any given day he is swimming, playing tennis, and eating very delicious food. Every day, even if it's only one line, he writes.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Lilliam Rivera

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I was gifted a lifelong membership when I was awarded the Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2013.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I wanted to be a part of PEN Center USA because I had heard about the amazing things they do for writers and for the Los Angeles literary community as a whole.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
I feel that the organization cultivates a community that is both creative and open. We are all in love with the written word, and it is always a pleasure to connect with like-minded people. I met amazing authors and writers during my fellowship and also during the time I worked at PEN Center USA as a Program Coordinator last year.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
My favorite PEN Center USA moment was when I attended my first reading event held at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I didn’t really know anyone but I felt welcomed and it was exciting to be a part of this creative community. It was the beginning, in many ways, of my writing journey.

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 means being able to express yourself without fear of repercussion. Although the United States enjoys free speech in comparison to other countries, we still have a lot to strive for. Children’s books are constantly being challenged in schools. There are not enough diverse books being published or enough people of color working in the publishing industry. There are still not enough diverse voices being heard.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
Pen Center USA has a great resource in their Freedom to Write channel where members can sign petitions advocating for the release of certain writers across the world. A simple signature can make a difference in the life of one person.

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?
The most exciting new way that information is being shared is via Twitter, a platform I love to use. I learn about news firsthand before any other media outlet and I’m able to select the voices I feel are important to me. The power of smart phones being used as a tool for social justice is empowering. We are on the cusp of this technological revolution. No longer are we tied down to what mainstream media wants to feed to the public.

What are you reading now?
I’m reading The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. Jemisin is an award-winning author who writes speculative fiction. I’m also about to begin The Memory of Light, Francisco X. Stork’s new young adult novel.

Tell us a story in one sentence.
The girl who sits in the back of the classroom with that serious rage is the one who needs you the most.

Lilliam Rivera is the author of the debut young adult novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez, to be published by Simon & Schuster in Spring 2017. She is a 2016 Pushcart Prize winner, a 2015 Clarion alumni, and a 2013 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Bellevue Literary Review, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. She hosts the monthly radio show Literary Soundtrack on Radio Sombra and lives in Los Angeles. Read “Death Defiant Bomba or What to Wear When Your Boo Gets Cancer” here.

 




MEMBER PROFILE: Elizabeth L. Silver

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
In 2015, though I should have joined years ago.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
To be a part of one of the most important literary organizations in our country. To aid in the perpetuation of free speech, to teach in underserved communities, to contribute in any small way to the remarkable work this organization is accomplishing.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
Programs like PEN In The Community, the work that PEN Center USA contributes to with respect to free speech internationally, and the unity of a literary 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?
To be unencumbered in one’s voice. To be free to find one’s voice through the written word and use that voice to help others. To be open to writing anything that moves you, that inspires you, that may inspire others. To use one’s voice to express freedoms—from the micro and introspective to the macro and expansive, and anything in between.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
Quite simply that it exists. I fear that too many individuals do not know of the work that PEN Center USA does, how it is involved in so many local literary events, and I know that more people are not involved as they may hope to be. It took me far too many years to become involved and I don’t want others to lose the same amount of time.

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?
In many ways, journalists and writers have a higher duty to disseminate news now than before, given the abundance of information available. They are no longer the exclusive couriers. Additionally, they also carry the significant role of middleman, presenter, investigator, and advocate. The beauty of today’s journalistic climate is that it allows so many individuals with voices the opportunity to share opinions and news where it might otherwise have been impossible or precluded. Professional journalists and writers must encourage this while also raising their own standards in the process.

What are you reading now?
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (yes, I’m a bit late with both).

Tell us a story in one sentence.
A tenant, a baby, a dog, and an HOA board member get stuck in an elevator…

Elizabeth L. Silver is the author of the novel, The Execution of Noa P Singleton (Crown/Random House, 2013), which was published in seven languages and optioned for film by ImageMovers Production Company (Robert Zemeckis), and the forthcoming memoir, The Tincture of Time (Penguin Press, 2017). Her work can also be seen in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Los Angeles Review, The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, The Dallas Morning News, Perigee, The Millions, and more. A recipient of residencies from the UCROSS Foundation, Byrdcliffe Artist Colony, and the British Centre for Literary Translation, she is a graduate of the MA Programme in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in England, Temple University Beasley School of Law, and The University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Los Angeles where she teaches writing privately and is at work on a new novel.

 


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