#AWP18 Featured Presenter Q&A with LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs
AWP | February 2018
Event Title: A Reading by Rick Barot, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, and Patricia Spears Jones, Sponsored by Poets House
Description: Join Poets House for a reading by three award-winning poets, representing the rich diversity of contemporary American poetry and range of lyric and sonic landscapes. A conversation about their work and the role of poetry in our culture will follow the reading. Executive Director Lee Briccetti will introduce the event. In 2017-2018, Poets House, a national poetry library and literary center based in New York, celebrates its 30th Anniversary.
Participants: Rick Barot, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Patricia Spears Jones
Location: Ballroom B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Friday, March 9, 4:30 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: Duriel E. Harris's No Dictionary of a Living Tongue, published byNightboat; Jennifer Firestone's Gates and Fields and Ulijana Wolfe's Subsisters, both published with Belladonna Press; and the upcoming publication of Jerika Marchan, SWOLE, published with Futurepoem.
Q: What are a writer’s main responsibilities in this particular cultural moment?
A: To bear witness, give testimony, and expand upon what has already been delivered. If I am writing about an historical event that is in connection to our current climate, how may I approach it differently? If I am writing about my personal lineage as it relates to global migration and displaced cultures, how may I explore this in a manner that touches upon a variety of expressions? Am I willing to fail? Am I still willing to fail?
Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: It has benefited me greatly. Earlier in my career as an artist who works with words, I worked a number of random jobs. I worked as a coffee barista, a cashier at a sandwich shop, and at a book store. I worked briefly in telecommunications. I worked wherever I could find work to support myself and my family. And at present, I still swim between different job positions, but within the arts. I work as an independent curator. I work as a sideman in small-to-large musical ensembles. I'm mentoring one student at Pratt Institute. I work abroad as a solo performer. Receiving a number of grants and fellowships has allowed me to supplement all these hats I wear. It has allowed me to not be fixed to one position. This has been possible because some of the institutions for which I have wonderful relationships with receive public funding, and because there exists public programming that allows a sort of curatorial flexibility, this flexibility welcomes and embraces my own artistic practice and journey.
Q: When AWP was founded in 1967, there were a dozen creative writing programs, now there are approximately 1,800 undergraduate and graduate programs. What do you think has changed for readers and writers since creative writing became ascendant as an academic discipline?
A: This is not an easy question for me as my work first developed within the spoken word community (not slam) in New York during the 90s. I entered an MFA program much later and I am grateful for the professors who nurtured my work and introduced me to writers and theories I was unaware of. But to answer this question—as I strongly feel that being given this platform is in part due to an MFA degree attached to my CV—I feel torn by the overemphasis for a young writer to pursue a degree. There are writers for whom I respect immensely who never pursued a degree, and if they did, did so much later as a consequence of this current economic climate and as means of getting a teaching position; if they were lucky. In addition, others, like myself, desired the rigor of a MFA program to strengthen their work. Personally, after becoming part of the Cave Canem community, I needed this shift from an open mic to a classroom. That said, what must and always be ascendant is living. The rigor of life plays a far expansive role I feel for the writer.
Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP18, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: If I could pick two, Thylias Moss, and Joyce J. Scott, who is known more as a fiber artist, although I'm not certain if AWP has given a platform to writers who work with fiber (weaving, beadwork, knitting, cross-stitch, etc.). I would want to talk to them about life in general, what it means to be an African American woman who also celebrates their mixed ancestries within their work. I would want to talk to them about going in and out of disciplines and tapestries, how and what informs a film, a beaded sculpture, or a poem to be constructed. Love? Back pain? A dream? Good food?
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs is a writer, vocalist, sound artist, and the author of TwERK. Her interdisciplinary work has been featured at the Brooklyn Museum, the Poesiefestival Berlin, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, and the 2015 Venice Biennale. Diggs has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, Creative Capital, and the Whiting Foundation. Co-founder and co-editor of Coon Bidness/SO4 magazine, she lives in Harlem.
(Photo Credit: Willy Somma)