Local organizers from College of the Sequoias in Visalia will be hosting the first ever Watchale Workshop, a free writing workshop blending student and professional writers. The one-day event is free to attend on April 6th and will include a series of workshops, lectures, and readings. Organizers intend to create an “alternative narrative” of the literary community in the Central Valley by shifting the spotlight onto women of color.
Nine writers and educators will be hosting lectures and workshops. The workshop seems traditionally academic. But the three featured writers are anything but traditional.
Monique Quintana, the first feature, was born and raised in Fresno and became a college drop out after getting pregnant while attending community college. Seven years later, she returned to school and discovered a passion for reading and writing, eventually switching to English as a major. Quintana, however, feared her love for literature would be viewed as impractical and kept her involvement in the arts a secret.
But Quintana’s inclination for creative writing only grew with time. She began to take creative writing classes, attending workshops, and with the encouragement of professors she began to take more risks. She got her master’s in Creative Writing. She wrote short stories, poems, blogs and articles. Magazines took notice. So much so that she eventually became a contributor at Clash Media and Senior Contributing Editor at Luna Luna Magazine.
Today, Quintana blogs about Latinx Literature at her site Bloodmoonblog.com, and has an upcoming book called Cenote City. The novel is a contemporary retelling of the Latin American legend of La Llorona. It’s been described as a gothic novel, magical realism, and a vessel for elements of horror. As for the story, it’s centered around Marcrina Lopez, a midwife for the dead in a fictional dystopian version of the Central Valley. The book is set to release next month and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
The second feature, Brenda Venezia, is also a lifelong Fresno resident. Venezia’s relationship literature
began at an early. At the age of seven, she was creating small publications like a neighborhood newspaper she would take door-to-door. She went on to Edison High School and then Fresno State, where she majored in English and eventually became a teacher. Her love for books led her to become involved in Central Valley Women Writers of Color Collective. And her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Collagist, Puerto Del Sol, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere.
Aside from being a writer, Venezia also became the director of Fresno Women Read, a community based reading series that highlights women and non-binary writers through classes and reading events. Some of their most recent readers were Sandy Little, a life coach who writes about her experiences with academia and her time in prison; and HAUNTIE, recipient of the 2016 Robert Dana Anhinga Prize for Poetry for their debut collection, To Whitey and the Cracker Jack.
Venezia is also a member of the San Joaquin Literary Association and will be involved in the 2019 Word Fest on February 23rd, which will feature performances by authors Li-young Lee, Steven Sanchez, and Yazmin Monet Watkins.
When asked why there’s such a push to create events like Fresno Women Read and the Watchale Workshop, Venezia claimed that it comes from a lack of recognition in other more traditional writing spaces.
“A lot of us in the Valley have seen these spaces and maybe a lot of us don’t feel recognized in these spaces. Now, I think, people are starting to say, ‘You know what? How about we just recognize ourselves.’”
Watchale Workshop Executive director Jamie Moore agrees.
“I think part of why it’s important for me to host Watchale is to create a platform that is intentional on featuring LGBT+ writers and people of color. The Central Valley has an amazing literary legacy often only attributed to white male wrtiers…Watchale is not excluding men, but rather putting women in charge of the literary conversation.”
The last feature, Wendy C. Ortiz, is a psychotherapist who’s taken charge of that conversation through her own writing. Ortiz began her writing career journaling at six years old and has converted some of her writing from her twenty’s into successful memoirs like Excavation, Bruja, and Hollywood Notebook. Featured in the Los Angeles Times, Story Quarterly, and the New York Times, her work explores the troubling nature of an often predatory world, to her adventures with travel, unemployment, and romantic relationships.
Although Ortiz would not consider herself a “career academic”, she has read and spoken at universities like UC San Diego, UCR Palm Desert Low Residency MFA, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, UC Santa Barbara and Eastern Illinois University. Her books are taught at various creative writing programs and Ivy League educational institutions have even archived some of her early work.
Part of the admiration for her writing comes from its novel and unapologetic nature. Her second book is a fusion of prose and poetry, while her third book is considered a “dreamoir,” capturing the unconscious to illustrate the inner-workings of her mind and the world around her.
Ortiz is currently working on a new book, but suggests reading Excavation if someone wants to become familiar with her writing style.
The three featured writers are only a small glimpse into the powerhouse of women and writers of color showcasing and sharing their creative process at the Watchale Workshop.
Moore believes it’s past due for the south Valley to be a meeting place for literary events in the same way Fresno and Merced have done.
“Watchale is a space for student writers to feel a part of something; envision what a career focused on writing or literary arts looks like. This is especially necessary because we don’t tend to value that in this area as much as our urban counterparts.”
Registration is free and open to the public at https://www.watchaleworkshop.com.
For any questions about the workshop, donations, or volunteering email [email protected].