This past year I was fortunate to be a part of the Turning Tides Symposium at Fordham. The fabulous Sarah Gambito, Director of Creative Writing at Fordham, envisioned the event and put together a team of grad students to help her orchestrate the day. On November 6, 2010, distinguished poets and academics from across the city gathered in the McNally Auditorium at Lincoln Center to learn and share about Diasporic literature.
Sarah envisioned an exchange between artists and academics – a conversation that was both scholarly and creative about the way literature reflects and responds to crises and change along the routes of various Diasporas.
From beginning to end, the symposium was awe-inspiring. As a first-semester grad student, I was grateful simply to be in a room with so many writers and thinkers at the forefront of their fields. For a grad student and aspiring writer, the experience was like working backstage at the Oscars; I felt so star-struck and thankful to be among writers whose works are not only formally impressive but also politically urgent and socially relevant.
Fordham’s own Yvette Christiansë offered opening remarks, setting the tone for a day of reflection, questioning, and dialogue. Fordham professor Daniel Contreras moderated the first panel, Haiti: After the Earthquake, which featured the poetry and scholarship of J. Michael Dash, Denize Lauture, Yolaine M. St. Fort. Graduate student, Li Yun Alvarado, moderated the second panel Creative Disobedience in New Nuyorican Writing with Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, Willie Perdomo, Edwin Torres. The final panel was moderated by Luis Francia; Nerissa S. Balce, Bino Realuyo, Melissa Roxas shared their work and insights on The Filipino Artist as Activist.
Each panel focused on distinct political struggles and geographies but they all affirmed the same reality: that art and academia are about the world. Their writing and scholarship does not exist in isolation from the current political moment; their art and research are living efforts to understand, record, and change culture.
Symposium discussion ranged from an exploration of how Nuyorican poetry represents the complexity and multiplicity of Puerto Rican identity, to the striving of writers to rebuild a cultural infrastructure for Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, to the struggle of Filipino writers and scholars against invisibility and silence.
I was especially moved by the work and testimony of Melissa Roxas, a poet and human rights activist who shared pieces about her experience as a survivor of torture. Her works were “poems of evidence” and reminded me of why I began writing and came to graduate school.
Turning Tides was a critical reminder to me – and all in attendance – that stories and scholarship can change things; they possess a power greater than just themselves.
Beyond the nerdy glamour of working so closely with writers and scholars, I was honored to be a part of an inspiring event that forged connections across the divides of art and academia. It was an opportunity to lead and to learn. It was the out-of-the-classroom experience we grad students hunger for – the chance to be a part of something bigger than just our own work or the institutions to which we belong.
The Turning Tides Symposium will return to Fordham in Fall 2011. Be sure to check the Turning Tides website for more information: http://turningtides.squarespace.com/