SOMOS presents Demetria Martínez and Santee Frazier in the next installment of the Summer Writers Series on Wednesday (Aug. 2). The reading takes place at 7 p.m. at the SOMOS Salon, 108 Civic Plaza Drive.
Martínez has a long and fascinating biography. She is a novelist, a poet, a creativity coach, a journalist and – perhaps overarchingly – an activist. Born and raised in New Mexico, she says, “Our family has been in Albuquerque for hundreds of years.”
Martínez is coming to Taos to read from her widely translated novel, “Mother Tongue.” First published by Ballantine in 1997, the book is enjoying its 20th anniversary, as well as a continuing vibrancy. The novel has won a Western States Book Award for Fiction and is part of many college curricula.
“Mother Tongue” is not memoir; it is fiction, but the underlying research for it comes out of Martínez’s very unique experiences. It is based in part on her 1988 trial for conspiracy against the United States for allegedly smuggling Salvadoran refugees into the country. The charge carried a 25-year prison sentence; a jury acquitted her on First Amendment grounds.
“I’ve read for SOMOS before. It was a really rich experience for me. The audience was very attentive and enthusiastic and interested in stories about activism,” Martínez says.
Martínez is the author of a number of books, such as “The Block Captain’s Daughter,” winner of an American Book Award and an International Latino Book Award, both in 2013. She also penned “Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana,” a collection of autobiographical essays that won a 2006 International Latino Book Award for best biography.
When Tempo asked Martínez why she is choosing to read “Mother Tongue” for the Taos audience, she explains, “What interests me is that it’s become relevant again – with talk of mass deportations and borders.”
She points out that the novel is “a love story between a New Mexican Chicana and a Salvadoran refugee. Rolled into that is a story about the world in chaos and a man fleeing his country.”
Martínez has taught fiction at the Taos Writers’ Conference. But perhaps her deepest connection to Taos is with author John Nichols, who had encouraged her writing career.
“When I was a little girl, my father made me read [Nichols’] ‘Milagro Beanfield War’ to help me understand some of New Mexico’s culture.” Martínez concedes that there is a big leap between reading a book and becoming friends with its author. She says, “We started writing to each other. He’s a great letter writer.”
Jan Smith, executive director of SOMOS, says, “I paired Demetria and Santee together because they both write at the ‘borders.’ They are writing advocates for the voices that have been silenced due to poverty, race and violence.”
Frazier is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. At the Summer Writers Series, he plans to read from his first collection of poems, “Dark Thirty” (University of Arizona Press, 2009).
When asked what the Taos audience can expect of his reading, Frazier says, “The poetry I write is accessible, narrative poetry, so I think they will have a vivid experience in language and the world I come from.”
The Poetry Foundation notes that in “Dark Thirty,” Frazier portrays Native Americans living on the fringes of contemporary America. Offering nonromanticized and realistic portraits, his poems afford a rare look at the truths of survival for Native peoples in today’s society.
Frazier elaborates on this description by saying, “I actually don’t deal with Native issues directly, nor do I consider myself an activist. Rather, I write for a Native audience and make references in my poems via landscapes, descriptions to orient a Native audience. Non-Native audiences can also access the poems, but may not be able to access the references mentioned.”
In his poem, “The Robbery,” Frazier writes: “When the cops searched 2A, they found money stuffed in the couches, in posts and pans, in the pages of storybooks, and as each officer, one by one, emerged from the apartment holding pistols and rifles, my mother told me to go back to sleep.”
Frazier holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts and a master’s degree in fine arts from Syracuse University. He is the recipient of various awards, including the Truman Capote Scholarship and a Syracuse University fellowship. His poems have appeared in American Poet, Narrative Magazine, Ontario Review and various literary journals.
In 2012, Frazier read with poet Sherwin Bitsui for a SOMOS Writers Series event. “I don’t get to Taos often, but part of my childhood was spent in New Mexico. I have been to San Geronimo Day [at Taos Pueblo] and other feast days,” Frazier says. “I look forward to the visit. Taos is one of my favorite places. Sherwin will be joining and we will take a day or two to enjoy Taos and do some writing.”