Though both of my parents were teachers, I never imagined that I would become one. After studying biology as an undergraduate, I devoted the decade of the ‘90s to grassroots organizing for social and ecological justice, often in collaboration with community groups in other countries. During those years, I led several training programs for new organizers, but I never thought of that work as “teaching.” In the tradition of Paulo Freire, I was simply helping people discover what they already knew. I finally came to understand that’s what teaching is. In 2000 I shifted from full-time organizing to full-time writing and editing. I began teaching in 2006, while continuing to work as a writer and editor.
Just as social movements are born and come to fruition through small steps taken each day by regular people, so do works of literature and art. (That is to say, I’m an aficionado of the practice school of writing.) Fastening words to the page (or screen) is an essential part of every workshop or seminar I lead, just as it’s an essential part of a writer’s quotidian life. As a writing mentor, I bring a toolbox, both literal and metaphorical. It might include literature translated (or not translated) from a language you’ve never heard of; a connection to a writer or artist on the other side of the continent; or concepts borrowed from anthropology, biology, ecology, linguistics, or sociology. It might also include kitchen utensils; glue stick and scissors; postcards or advertisements; original works of art; bottled scents or raw vegetables; or items from a recycle bin, garden, toy box, or thrift shop. In writing workshop—whether our shared space is physical or virtual—I open the box, offer some tools, and we build things (good, bad, and most of all, instructive) together.
I co-edited Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide (Penguin, 2007) with Mark Kramer. My book No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy (University of Nebraska Press, 2011) won the Grub Street National Book Prize for Nonfiction and the International Latino Book Award for Best History / Political Book. I’ve long been interested in photography and book arts; I’ve recently begun experimenting with audio; and I’m thrilled by the possibilities of digital books and online literature. I have studied these media at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca, Jack Straw Productions, Penland School of Crafts, and elsewhere. My prose began firmly grounded in narrative, but it’s begun bending toward the lyric. Recently, I’ve been writing about indigenous-language literature in Mexico, grief and loss, our national park system, and my neighborhood.
I have lived in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood since 2005, just a few blocks from Goddard’s Master’s in Education program. I moved the Columbia City for the same reasons that Goddard did. Having grown up on military bases in six states on all three coasts (Atlantic, Gulf, Pacific), I spent a childhood immersed in communities that were culturally, economically, and linguistically diverse. The first time I attended a school in which white people like me were a majority, as an undergraduate, it was a shock. That was not the America I knew.
I write (usually daily); I edit books (usually various shades of nonfiction); I translate poetry and short fiction (usually by indigenous Mexican writers); and I teach (usually in non-traditional settings). Always, no matter the practice or the place, each writer’s social engagement is paramount for me.
I look forward to collaborating with Goddard students to bring good, meaningful literature into being, to share it with a wider community, and to help one another discover what we already know.