MEMBER PROFILES: Sharon Doubiago

MEMBER PROFILE: Sharon Doubiago
Board Director, PEN Oakland

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I was a finalist in the 2001 PEN Center USA Literary Awards in Poetry for Body and Soul, so I think since then.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I have always longed for a stronger literary community connection to my home, LA. In 2005 I was invited to be on the PEN Oakland board, and after doing the research, I was much impressed.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
The focus on fine and important writing, on what western US writing is. The support of such writing. I find its location, Los Angeles, significant; I am grateful it’s not based in New York! New York and Los Angeles have profoundly different aesthetics, something New York does not grasp or honor.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
My favorite memory is not wonderful but significant and important, and of more common occurrence in the publishing world than healthily acknowledged. The husband of the woman about to publish my memoir declared, after our enthusiastic and knowledgeable exchange on the patio of the Beverly Hills Hotel during the Literary Awards Festival, that actually, finally, it was up to him: maybe they wouldn’t publish my memoir. Later the husband and wife came to seem like the good guy/bad guy police team. In the last week of our eighteen month editorial work in which they’d given me a brilliant copy editor to work with, I was informed that my memoir would have to be cut by two-thirds. There is a big difference between editorial help and immoral blackmail, fascist dictator rule/control. To have cut my memoir by two-thirds would have cut it to just the sensationalism of the sex. I myself want to read the author and not the editor or press. I’m sorry not to have been published in my hometown but I’m grateful for having discovered the press’ lack of ethics in time; I’m grateful not to have had my memoir published by them. I tell this in the conviction that we are mature enough to know the importance of such honesty, that we—all of us—grow.

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 is exactly what I’m talking about above. That press violated the principle “that people should be able to read and write freely.” I do not believe, as this press has actually officially stated, that the editor is more important than the writer. Freedom to Write means that writers must be able to read and write freely, and be respected and exchanged with, however contrary to one other’s values, as long as there is intelligence, creativity, honor, and morality. Freedom to Write means that the editorial aesthetics and power of the press is secondary.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
I wish people better understood the distinction between PEN Center USA and PEN American Center.

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 role writers and journalists play in disseminating information and encouraging action is greater than at any time before. I’m much aware of the inherent dangers but I think we haven’t begun to see how this is working out—in some ways, imaginably, for the good.

What are you reading now?
The Complete Muhammad Ali, by Ishmael Reed (Baraka Books, Montreal, 2015).

Tell us a story in one sentence.
The press is readying, for publication, my memoir on being raped at seven by my father when, in the last days of our eighteen month contract, the press orders me to cut it by 2/3rds or “they” won’t publish it—instantly, it is the summer before and I’m again talking to her husband, sitting on the barstool in Dick’s, as she dances at the juke box, and he grabs me, dry humps me, and I, other than pulling away, don’t utter a word.

Born and raised in Southern California, Sharon Doubiago has an MA in English from California State University, Los Angeles. She is the author of the booklength poem, The Visit (Wild Ocean Press, 2015); My Father’s Love, Volumes One and Two: Portrait of the Poet as a Young Girl (Wild Ocean Press, a finalist in the Northern California Book Awards in Creative Nonfiction, 2010); and Love on the Streets, Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, November 2008, recipient of the Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poet Award). She has written two dozen books of poetry and prose, most notably the epic poem Hard Country (West End Press); the booklength poem South America Mi Hija (University of Pittsburgh), nominated twice for the National Book Award; and the story collections, El Nino (Lost Road Press), and The Book of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (Graywolf Press), which is listed by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission as one of “the 100 most significant books in Oregon from 1800-2000.” She holds three Pushcart Prizes for poetry and fiction, the Oregon Book Award for Poetry for Psyche Drives The Coast and a California Arts Council Award. For three decades she has been writing Son, a mother-son memoir for which she has received two Oregon Institute of Literary Art Fellowships, and Ramon/Ramona, a memoir of her first love, a Kumeyaah native. She lives in San Francisco and Mendocino, California.


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