‘Living Legacies’ discuss their journey as women writers of color

Renowned writers Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove and Joy Harjo discuss women of color in the American literary world at the Great Hall Beus Center for Law and Society for “Living Legacies: A Conversation with Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove and Joy Harjo” Dec. 2, 2017. (Kalle Benallie/DD)

A trio of renowned writers came together on Saturday to discuss women of color in the American literary world at the Great Hall Beus Center for Law and Society for an event titled “Living Legacies: A Conversation with Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove and Joy Harjo.”

Cisneros is a Latina American novelist who gained critical success for her bestselling novel “The House on Mango Street.” Dove is an award-winning poet and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry book, “Thomas and Beulah.” Harjo is also an award-winning poet and musician and was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

All three were part of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and their time there was the main reason why the event happened.

ASU Assistant Professor and poet Natalie Diaz hosted the event and initiated the idea to bring the women together for a discussion when Dove discussed her experiences at the workshop over dinner with Cisneros and Harjo.

“I realized what a lucky event it would be to gather these three incredible women in conversation,” Diaz said.

She said she brought the discussion to Arizona because it would give people the chance to hear their stories.

“I wanted to offer the ASU and larger Phoenix community the gift of recognizing these women and what they have accomplished, as well as how they have changed the American literary landscape for the better,” Diaz said.

She said the event helped demonstrate that writers from all backgrounds can achieve success.

“There were a lot of students, instructors and community members who were able to look up at the stage and see themselves in some way,” Diaz said.

Local poet Eloisa Amezcua, who was part of the large team that created the event, said she was inspired by the authors’ achievements and their life stories.

“As a woman of color, these women have paved the way for writing like mine to exist,” Amezcua said.

She said the authors’ accomplishments were important to her at a young age and represented a community she identified with.

“’The House on Mango Street’ is probably the first book I ever saw written by a Chicana author,” Amezcua said. “I knew stories like mine were being told or being written.”

She said the community’s overwhelming response to go to the event has proved its willingness to hear different perspectives.

“The community wants and is craving more writing, there’s an audience here for it,” Amezcua said.

Megan Atencia, an ASU graduate, said she came to the event to see women of color talk about their experiences and their thoughts about writing.

“Opportunities like this allow people who are outside have a view in and realize we can have conversation about the difficulties of people of color,” Atencia said.

She said the direction downtown is going in terms of creating a representative environment is positive, but it is only the beginning.

“I see downtown as a really great melting pot and I love our diversity, but we still have far ways to go,” Atencia said.

Poet Mary Jane White, a former classmate of all three authors from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, traveled from Minnesota to hear them speak.

She said the event highlighted diverse women writers and the sexism women writers experienced.

“They were not considered to have enough weight or stature to become poets who receive this kind of recognition that these three women have obviously achieved,” White said.

She said the discussion was long-awaited and the downtown community’s support demonstrated acceptance that was once unheard of.

“This is a reading that should have taken place 20 years ago in Iowa,” White said. “This was a very welcoming place for this kind of reunion to happen.”

Contact the reporter at Kalle.Benallie@asu.edu.