Meet Gabriela Orozco, 2019 DC Youth Poet Laureate

Our first interviewee is Gabriela Orozco, a native of D.C. and a junior at School Without Walls. She takes inspiration and pride from her heritage as a Jewish Latina daughter of immigrants; her mother is from South Africa and her father is from Nicaragua. Her poetry is inspired by reflections on her identity as well as improving herself and the world. She is honored to have been chosen as the D.C. Youth Poet Laureate for 2019 and relishes the opportunity to grow as a writer, an activist, and an ambassador of poetry and writing. As D.C. Youth Poet Laureate, Gabriela reads her poetry and leads youth poetry writing workshops all across the city. She regularly performs at Busboys and Poets and has performed at venues such as the Kennedy Center, the Newseum, and the Library of Congress.

You can follow her on Instagram @gabrielarorozco and Twitter @SoydeDC

What does Dignidad Literaria mean to you?

Dignidad Literaria is about honoring the many voices of Latinx writers, embracing the diversity of our stories and creating a space to share them. Our community is so diverse, and each one of us has a different experience, each one of them unique and deserving of a platform. To me, Dignidad Literaria allows us as writers to share our work to the fullest, to uplift our work and the passion, nuance, and life our work holds. Our stories are so rich in life and the many life experiences we both do and do not share, and Dignidad Literaria means that we can celebrate each writer’s story. I’ve never been in a Latinx-centered writing space before, and I think Dignidad Literaria is something beautiful and necessary that can create a sense of community in a time when we need it most. I find myself wanting now more than ever to be with my people, hear from them and hear what my fellow writers have to say about my work. Dignidad Literaria would give us the space to share ourselves and our stories with one another, to form a community, and I can’t think of anything more important than that.

Can you share with us a couple of sentences that you were going to read during the Dignidad Literaria event that got canceled?

I was planning on reading my short poem ‘Conquistador’, which can be read below:

Conquistador

Oh, you grenade of glory,

You pantomime of patriarchy,

You quick witted conquistador

You know the waters all too well,

You have sailed across the Atlantic eighteen times

and kissed the Caribbean Sea as if you were lover instead of conqueror;

the light dances on the waves, but you, you are not brave enough to look away

Have you had many events canceled? Tell us about them

I had been really looking forward to performing at My Magic is Unwritten, a poetry showcase hosted by my incredible mentee Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez at Busboys and Poets. Tatiana is another wonderful Latinx poet, and she’d curated such a dope lineup. The poets assembled all had such incredible creative feminine energy, and I can’t wait to perform with all of the wonderful femmes when it gets rescheduled. I was supposed to slam as well, as I’d made it to the DCYST (DC Youth Slam Team) Finals and was geared up to compete, but they were postponed. However, this could be a blessing in disguise — I can use this time to practice my poems and perfect my performance so that come competition time I can bring an extra fire to the stage. I had also been scheduled to lead a creative writing workshop for a middle school writing group, but with schools closed that’ll have to happen at a later date.

How is this affecting your work?

DCPS has changed the school schedule so that we’ll have Spring Break in March and online learning for the rest of the month. This break has given me some extra time I’ve desperately needed to polish up my manuscript and work on submitting my poetry to writing contests. Although it’s been incredibly freeing to be able to choose how I want to focus my time and creative energies, I’ve also struggled a little bit with the freedom: It’s harder to write when you don’t have to fight to make time for it, if that makes sense. Still, this week I’m going to be spending a lot of time editing my manuscript, digging through old poems to see if I can add to it, and refining poems that have the potential to be more.

How does your literary community normally look? And how does it look like now?

I’m active in my high school writing club, which I love being a part of, but I also spend a lot of time engaging with the DMV youth poetry community, especially through Split This Rock and WordsBeats&Life youth programming. I go to Split This Rock’s youth open mics and writing workshops often, and they have the most welcoming and positive space for me to share my ideas and express myself. It’s wonderful. I’m really lucky in that I have so many places to go to and communities to be a part of; DC is filled with writing organizations and communities. Their response to the pandemic has been great.

There have been all sorts of online writing sessions popping up (Writopia has a good one), and a lot of my favorite organizations have been posting writing prompts online so that the community can still write together. Local bookshops like East City Bookshop are offering delivery and pick up, or even just encouraging people to call them to talk about their favorite books. The community is really coming together, and it’s as strong as ever.

Do you have any anxiety tips to share with the rest of us?

I’ve taken to riding my bike around my neighborhood each day, and it has helped me immensely in refueling my willpower, positivity and creative energies. As long as you stay six feet away from other people, you’re safe and get to enjoy some extra personal space. It’s especially worthwhile to go to the Mall and other spots often frequented by tourists, as it’s really fun to rejoice in the empty, wide-open space, have the monuments all to yourself and breathe in the spring air.

Where can we read your work?

I don’t have any work published yet, unfortunately, but it will come this summer! I’ll be publishing my chapbook Child of Borrowed Churches late this summer, which I’m really looking forward to. In the meantime, though, a short collection of my poetry will be appearing on the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards’ website in June, as I recently learned that my short collection “A Conquistador’s Currency, Echoes from the Quarry” earned a National Gold Medal and American Voices Award!

What are you currently reading? Any books that you would like to recommend to us?

I just finished reading Ada Limon’s poetry collection Bright Dead Things, which is incredibly well written and such a beautifully vivid and a raw reminder of the life that we need so desperately now as ever. I’ve also recently enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen, as I’m really into magical realism and historical fiction. I also loved Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, so I’ve begun reading it in the original Spanish.

How can you help others?

Other than staying inside as much as humanly possible, I’ve been helping out the parents in my community by babysitting their kids when they need to work. My little brother is a handful, and my twin sister Sarah and I have been helping to (quarantine) homeschool him. I like kids; looking after those who are healthy is a really great way for the healthy to contribute.

What type of music is in your playlist?

Currently, I’ve been listening nonstop to Hayley William’s new album Petals for Armor. I’m a huge Paramore fan, so she’s been a mainstay for me. I’ve also been listening to Danay Suarez a lot. For some reason, I prefer rap in Spanish and she’s one of the MCs that features heavily on my essentials playlist, alongside Calle 13 and Ana Tijoux. I’m also really into alternative music, and I’m a huge fan of Vampire Weekend and Florence and the Machine.

A Mexican bilingual writer, has published her work in Latino Book Review, Los Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review. The 2019 Writer’s Center fellow.

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