Interview with Melissa de la Cruz, author of Something in Between

Our first video interview with Melissa de la Cruz, author of Something in Between, with guest co-host, Cherisse Nadal!


A little bit about Something in Between:

With her gusty and poignant new novel, Something in Between, #1 New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz tackles a subject close to her heart. The story of a smart and determined immigrant girl trying to penetrate the American Dream, it is a work of fiction that resides in the reality we live today, showing the human side of debates about immigration reform, citizenship, and what it really means to be an American.



Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times, #1 Publisher’s Weekly and #1 Indie Bound bestselling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for readers of all ages. Her books have also topped the USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists, and have been published in over twenty countries. A former fashion and beauty editor, Melissa has written for The New York Times, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, The San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney’s, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen. She has also appeared as an expert on fashion, trends and fame for CNN, E! and FoxNews. Melissa grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from The Convent of the Sacred Heart. At Columbia University, she majored in art history and English. Today she lives in Los Angeles and Palm Springs with her husband and daughter.



Cherisse Yanit Nadal is a recipient of PAWA, Inc.’s Manuel G. Flores Prize in Writing and is a 2013 VONA Fellow. Her work has been published in Oatmeal Magazine and featured in Dirty Laundry Lit, Sunday Jump, and Tuesday Night Cafe. She is a former West Coast Correspondent for DC Asian Pacific American Film, Inc. and has also served two years as Assistant Editor at Kaya Press. Cherisse co-created and co-hosted the two-year literary podcasting project Blue Book Buzz. She can often be found singing behind her steering wheel on any number of L.A. freeways. She one-ups Queen Bey by adding tea and chia to the hot sauce in her bag… swag. You can follow her on twitter @cherisseyanit.


Episode #119 with Ramzi Fawaz, author of The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics.



A bit about the book:

In The New Mutants, Ramzi Fawaz draws upon queer theory to tell the story of these monstrous fantasy figures and how they grapple with radical politics from Civil Rights and The New Left to Women’s and Gay Liberation Movements. Through a series of comic book case studies – including The Justice League of America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and The New Mutants –alongside late 20th century fan writing, cultural criticism, and political documents, Fawaz reveals how the American superhero modeled new forms of social belonging that counterculture youth would embrace in the 1960s and after. The New Mutantsprovides the first full-length study to consider the relationship between comic book fantasy and radical politics in the modern United States.





Ramzi Fawaz is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Episode #118: Angela Peñaredondo, author of ALL THINGS LOSE THOUSANDS OF TIMES

Born in Iloilo City, Philippines, Angela Peñaredondo is a Pilipinx/Pin@y poet and artist (on other days, she identifies as a usual ghost, comet or part-time animal) . He book, All Things Lose Thousands of Times is the winner of the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize.  She/Siya is author of the chapbook,Maroon (Jamii Publications). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AAWW’s The Margins, Four Way Review, Cream City Review, Southern Humanities Review, Dusie and elsewhere.

She/Siya is a VONA/Voices of our Nations Art fello, a recipient of a University of California Institute for Research in the Arts Grant, Gluck Program of the Arts Fellowship, Naropa University’s Zora Neal Hurston Award, Squaw Valley Writers Fellowship and Fishtrap Fellowship. She/Siya has received scholarships from Tin House, Split This Rock, Dzanc Books International Literary Program and others. Angela resides in Southern California, drifiting between deserts, beaches, lowly cities and socially engineered suburbs.

Also, here are Angela’s video poems from the Center for Art and Thought:

“This is no place to live alone”: A Review of The Belle Mar by Katie Bickham

By Heather Buchanan


This is no place to live alone.

This simple statement is the cornerstone of The Belle Mar by Katie Bickham. Set in an old Louisiana plantation house that has stood from 1811 through the present day, this collection links generations of characters across time. Through a brilliant use of atmosphere, tone, language, and visceral imagery, Bickham enables readers to grasp the subtle complexities of a brutal world that masqueraded itself as genteel.

Bickham’s house is dead, yet alive. Through interconnected vignettes, the poet masterfully employs a house full of ghosts to tell a long, sad story. Each poem takes place in a specific location, most often a room in the house. Each room served its traditional purpose, such as the kitchen, tool shed, or attic, but they also served a dual purpose within that slave society. In “Barracks, 1839,” a master gently calls out his slave, Abraham, for a punishment that will ultimately tear all the flesh from Abraham’s back. Upon his arrival at the barracks, the master is:

Grinning. Grinning like he might split in two
with laughing any second. “Abraham, m’boy,
m’boy.” He stalked a few slow circles round the room,
all the breath sucked from Abraham’s lungs…
“You know we got to go outside, son.”

In an earlier poem (“Library, 1830”), the granddaughter of the dying slave master feels driven by a moral cause, sneaking out to find the three slaves she is secretly teaching to read. As she prepares to meet them, she rationalizes:

You had to do bad sometimes, had to play tricks,
Had to sneak to have a good heart,
To guide your good heart home…

Having spent four months of “ghosting” to her room and copying pages at night, the granddaughter “had nearly smuggled out every last line / of Grandfather’s abridged Odyssey.” This carefully selected choice of text demonstrates Bickham’s strong command of literary devices such as allusion. Could the granddaughter be presupposing a future for three slaves by teaching them an epic poem about a perilous journey home, and how trickery could be used to outwit a cyclops?

Each poem in The Belle Mar moves forward chronologically, juxtaposing the worlds of master and slave. In “Attic, 1835,” the tragic legacy of slavery continues through the passing on of a plantation from a father to his son, a chain of human misery that will not be broken:

In his last minutes, his father had held his face
with the strength of a well man. “This will be
your bed tomorrow. That, your window,
those, your fields. They hunger, boy,
and you will feed them or they’ll swallow you.

As he takes in his father’s last words, the son feels the weight of his obligation to perpetuate this oppressive world: the fields, and the “churning / steady noise of the Mississippi…There was no returning, / was never any rising back up / above sea level.”

Through a sustained tone of detached matter-of-factness, masters, slaves, and women on both sides of this bleak dynamic make weighty decisions every day, decisions that have a finality that our contemporary society would find difficult to contemplate. In “Back Fields, 1849,” the slave Abraham makes the risky decision to run:  “After the rains / we gone.” For the slave, choosing to run from the plantation likely means death; for the master, recapturing a runaway means contemplation of death for the slave. Bickham’s women simply know this:

“A woman knows which pains she’ll survive /
considering those she’s known before” (“Far Swamp,” 1825).

The language of The Belle Mar stays true to its context, sparse dialogue and tight descriptions upholding the truth of these characters’ lives. The title of each poem is based on the “purpose” of each room. Figurative language displays the conventions of Louisiana life: dried sticks of cane, iced tea, summer storms, the river and floods, a “graying maid,” all in support of themes of family, nature, and death.

One could argue that the characters of The Belle Mar are figures representing that larger slave narrative that is familiar to us, yet Bickham imbues each resident of this house with little touches of vibrant humanity that makes them something more than figures. Perhaps it’s the way Violet, standing in the kitchen, “feels the coming storm in her knees, / less pain than heaviness—the body’s way / of speaking with the earth” (“Kitchen, 1845”). Maybe it’s the way that teacher of slaves, Penelope, can “sprint the pecan rows”. Or likely it’s Old Israel, who chooses to hang himself rather than face an unknown future as a newly-freed slave, “fought them / when they tried to carry him… / spat and slapped when they tried to say prayers on him” (“Sugar House,” 1864).

The Belle Mar begins and ends with the house. Its dreamlike atmosphere is just this side of a nightmare, a place no one can ever escape. Bickham understands that the past and present will not—nor ever will be—separated. Even after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the house endures. The owner remembers growing up in the house’s “haunted halls” (“The Belle Mar, 2005”) and dreads her husband’s plans to rebuild it:

She believed him. He would sink his last dime
into raising the house from this ruin.
But in her marrow, hope rose
like floodwater, hope
the house was finished…

In the final poem, “Parlor, 2012,” a woman inherits a key to the house from her mother. She is warned in a loving note to “Guard against rattling bayou ghosts, / the pinstruck bones who stalk the riverline.” The daughter knows better:

My mother was mistaken. Ghosts stay
close to home, grinding their teeth
in the walls, making their beds
in the warped floors. I see them
sweeping out of rooms just as I light lamps.
This is no place to live alone.



downtown pics5 cropped

Heather Buchanan

Heather Buchanan is the owner of Aquarius Press, now celebrating its 15th year. Willow Books, its literary division, develops, publishes, and promotes writers typically underrepresented in the field; recent collaborations include the publication of Cave Canem XII. A graduate of Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn respectively, Heather has taught Composition, English, African American Literature, and World Literature at several colleges and universities. In addition to teaching, Heather presents on arts and literature at conferences across the country, most recently for the Ragdale Foundation. She has directed many events and conferences, including LitFest Chicago, Midwest Poets & Writers Conference, and the Idlewild Writers Conference. A Poet-in-Residence emeritus for the Detroit Public Library system, Heather also served on the Board of Governors for UM-Dearborn’s College of Arts & Sciences Affiliate and was the COO of the Wayne County Council for Arts, History & Humanities. A musician, she is currently working on a World War I centennial book and music project honoring the Harlem Hellfighters. She has been a reviewer for BlogCritics and MyShelf and has blogged for publications such as Poets & Writers.

Episode #117: Salt and Bone – An Interview with Muriel Leung and Grace Shuyi Liew

Episode #117!  You can listen here:

12243290_10100457574339590_8162409614001852384_n(1) (1).jpg

Muriel Leung is from Queens, NY. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming inThe Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Proposal, Jellyfish Magazine, inter|rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to The BloodJet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-Editor for Apogee Journal. She will attend USC’s PhD program in Creative and Literature in the fall. Her first book Bone Confetti is forthcoming from Noemi Press in October 2016.

Grace Shuyi Liew is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Prop (Ahsahta) andBook of Interludes (Anomalous). Her work was chosen by Vancouver Poetry House as one of “Ten Best Poems of 2015.” Her poetry has been published inWest Branch, cream city review, Puerto del Sol, and others, and she is a contributing editor for Waxwing. Grace grew up all over Malaysia and currently resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

But There is a Cost: on Victoria Chang’s The Boss


By Leah Silvieus

Victoria Chang’s The Boss (McSweeney’s 2013) is a virtuosic and intimate meditation on power in its many forms. The Boss, winner of the PEN Center Literary Award as well as a California Book Award, is as polished and self-assured as a third book should be. While there are many fine poems worth discussing in this collection, I would like to focus on the poems titled after the paintings of American artist Edward Hopper (1882 – 1962), which make up nearly a quarter of the collection and comprise a significant part of its structural frame.

Hopper’s Office at Night appears in the title of three poems; the New York Office, Office in a Small City and Automat all appear twice. Chang also includes poems titled after Conference at Night and Chair Car. Much of Hopper’s oeuvre reveals figures gazing out windows – or gazing at each other unable to connect emotionally, which is solitude of a different kind. These paintings often place us as viewers into position of voyeurs who are happening upon Hopper’s figures just before or after something important occurs. We feel the tension between these individuals and the outside world that they gaze upon; we are not invited to engage fully, but at the same time, we are tempted to linger. The brilliance of Chang’s poems, however, lies in how they return the painting’s gaze, thus inviting the reader from the position of voyeur to witness:


“[…] from the front the building looks

like a giant spreadsheet there would be

thousands of rectangles


thousands of workers staring out like

little numbers waiting to be shifted up

shifted down summed up averaged

deleted” (“Edward Hopper’s Office in a Small City” p. 37)


The readers become those gazing back at the spreadsheet of office windows, alongside the speaker, as if it were in our power to sum the workers up, average them – delete them. “They are waiting on us – what will we do?” the poem seems to ask.

Chang also invites the reader into the position of witness as she transposes the figures in Hopper’s paintings into scenes of the speaker’s history, as she does in her second “Edward Hopper’s Office at Night.” The end of the poem segues into an intimate and personal discussion of the legacy of power: “I hear my two-year-old fighting / with someone in her crib she is bossing // someone around no no no bad that’s mine you don’t take / mine […]”, and later in the same poem, “[…] I hear her singing happy birthday to / me happy birthday to me she is already celebrating / herself she will be the perfect boss.”

Chang’s deft use of enjambment, slant rhymes and plays on words embody the tension between the figures in the poems, between interior and public life, between the individual and her relationship to structures of power. She walks courageously into the difficult terrain of the tension between power’s effects on others and our own desire for it: “my four-year-old daughter still / listens to me I am the boss and I like it I / see why the boss likes it,” she writes in “The Boss Wears a White Vest.” Later, in “The Boss Rises,” she comments: “we / can be bosses too can hold the cross but / there is a cost.”

Then, Chang reminds us, there are some powers that we are helpless to control altogether, which she captures in “I Once Was a Child”: “my father lost his words to a stroke / a stroke of bad luck stuck his words / used to be so worldly […]” Little, if anything, is lastingly ours:


“[…] my blood has nowhere to go trapped in this

cavity circling and reassuring itself chasing

itself until one day it will rush out and

never look back” (“Some Days One Day”)


The landscape of power that Chang presents in The Boss is, at times, quite grim; however, her playfulness and prosodic virtuosity reminds us that we need not live quietly desperate. While Hopper may have given us windows from which to gaze out, Chang’s poems give us the hammer to break through.



Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her at


Identity Forged by Experience in Lydia Minatoya’s Talking to High Monks in the Snow.


By Micah Tasaka

Talking to High Monks in the Snow, by Lydia Minatoya, is an autobiographical novel about the challenges a Japanese American woman faces to understand the multiplicity of her identities while attempting to connect to her cultural and ancestral roots and seeking to stabilize her career. The book questions what it means to belong to or feel connected with one’s self while trying to balance one’s place in the world. In Lydia’s world, she had no access to what it meant to be Japanese. Aside from her family, Lydia did not meet a Japanese American person until she was twenty years old. As an adult, she travels to various homelands in search of an identity and direction. She speaks of having a divided identity. She says, “I am a woman caught between the standards of East and West.” To deal with this, she decides to travel between the two, constantly searching for where she belongs. Ultimately, Minatoya finds that self-discovery is a journey in which one is molded through the process of going.

First, Minatoya talks about the qualities she was taught since childhood that an Asian American woman should have. She speaks about her upbringing in Albany, New York. Young Minatoya tries to understand the expectations put on her as a Japanese American woman through the only source she has to navigate that world, her mother. However, her mother, Okaa-chan, has a fractured identity of her own because she grew up without knowing her mother. When she was very young and still living in Japan, Okaa-chan’s parents divorced. As a result, Okaa-chan was not allowed to see her mother for the rest of her life. Coming from this type of fractured femininity that trickles for generations, Minatoya gives snips of conversations between her and her mother. In one conversation, Okaa-chan explains, “My father gave me an okoto to teach me to cherish my womanhood…the notes are delicate yet there is resonance. Listen. You will learn about timelessness and strength. Listen. You will understand how, despite sorrow, heart and spirit can fly.” Okaa-chan is trying to teach her daughter about the qualities an Asian American woman should value. She wants her daughter to be able to withstand many hardships while remaining elegant and having depth. Minatoya comments, “An American daughter, I cannot understand the teachings of my mother’s okoto. Instead, I listen to the music of her words.” Because she is American, she cannot grasp the cultural connection her mother speaks of. She has been divided from that part of herself. However, through loving her mother, she establishes a connection to her culture, which she is able to revisit later in life.

In addition to lessons of endurance and elegance, Minatoya is also taught that an Asian American woman must be clever if she is to survive in the world. When Okaa-chan is writing young Lydia’s name in Japanese (Yuri), she explains that there are two ways to draw the characters. One way of writing Yuri means “clever” while the other means “lily flower.” Young Lydia questions why her mother decided to name her clever rather than after a beautiful flower. Her mother says, “Too many flowers already. In America, it is better to prepare a child to be clever – to be open to the world, to accept imagination, to see the unseen. A flower girl gets picked. A flower girl gets trampled. A clever girl gets prize.” Okaa-chan wants her daughter to be resilient while still willing to take chances and allow herself to experience the world around her. She wants her daughter to be an active participant in her own life instead of a girl who is acted upon and walked all over. She is preparing her for the world to come.

Instilled with these qualities, Lydia moves into adulthood where these values are challenged. Minatoya excels in college, receives her doctorate, and moves to Boston to begin her teaching career. Though optimistic with her new position, Minatoya learns that she is only one of four Asian women working in her field at her university. However, Minatoya’s position is soon compromised. Lydia was hired while the university was going through an accreditation process. It was suggested that her department could “benefit from a more ethnically diverse faculty.” Once the school received its accreditation, she is conveniently let go. Lydia felt used but also relieved; she was never sure that teaching was for her. Teaching was a simple opportunity presented to her, not a conscious career choice. Lydia needed to discover herself before she could settle down with a career. So, instead of letting this setback destroy her, she takes action. She is encouraged by her friend, Moe, who said, “Go on and travel. Go on, just for a change of scene. You’ll see. Gonna be you that changes. Indeed, indeed. Gonna be you.” Moe was exactly right. Lydia sets off to travel to Asia to discover her roots.

To further her understanding of herself, Lydia travels to Japan to meet her relatives. She says, “I am not an adventurous person. I am the sort who hesitates at the brink of escalators, reluctant to relinquish terra firma.” She admits her fears and cautious spirit but does not let these hinder her and steps out in search of some connection to guide her. After traveling around Japan for some time, Minatoya finally connects with her family. She meets many of her family members and often feels displaced because, even though she is of their bloodline, she still feels awkwardly American and struggles to understand herself because of her Asian American identity. Then, she meets the patriarch of her family in Japan. At first, she believes he does not like her because she is traveling with a man who is not her husband. Then, after much silence, the patriarch takes out a six hundred year old scroll containing the lineage of Lydia’s family. Her family is the oldest traceable line in the region. Minatoya says, “For the first time, the old man looked at me. He turned and studied my face. For a long and breathless time, his keen eyes seized and held me. ‘This is who you are,’ he said. ‘Remember and be proud.’” This experience shows her that her elder accepts her as part of the family and approves of her, which makes her connection to her culture more tangible and real. This powerful acceptance from her family boosts Minatoya’s confidence and helps establish her roots. Because of this, she is able to start teaching again and accepts a teaching job in Japan.

After some time in Japan, she accepts a teaching position in China as a professor of American language and culture. While there, she works with a classroom of students who spend much time asking her about life in America. She is no longer among her people and is seen as an American. However, her students still wonder about her bi-cultural identity. A student asks her, “‘You are American Japanese. Can such babies honor their parents? Can they grow strong and straight? Or do they grow strong but misshapen, bowing between East and West winds? Or perhaps, do they snap?” Minatoya responds, “My mother told me that in America children could grow to be like the bamboo. Bowing between competing winds, the tree grows strong and flexible. It will not snap…But in some ways the bamboo is a fragile tree. It needs to grow in groves. By itself, the bamboo is a lonely tree for, inside, it is hollow…Perhaps this is what I have found. In Japan. In China. Here with you my dear dear friends.” She finds that it does not matter which place she calls her home because she creates a home in the people she holds space with. For the rest of the book, Minatoya surrounds herself with people who are familiar and comfortable. She travels with her home and finds comfort and connection wherever she is. She leaves China to go to Nepal on vacation with a group of friends.

In Nepal, Minatoya is treated as a traveler. This differs from her experiences in China and Japan where she is treated as a resident. Because of this, the Nepali people often read her as an American with similar features to themselves. Once again, she is made to question what it means to be American. She says, “The Western mind tries to seize ungraspable experience. Like gold miners panning a stream for shattered reflections of the sun, we search for the flow of experience, sorting its shadowy play of patterns into object that can be held and owned and trusted enough to be loved.” Nepal teaches her that in order to form identity, one must flow through the experience instead of forcing the experience to happen. Lydia lets go of her desire to control the world around her. Experiences cannot be owned like objects; a person has to absorb their experiences into their identities. She stops struggling and takes in the lessons she learns instead of trying to seek them out. By this time, Minatoya has matured enough to know that one’s identity is, ultimately, built by experience rather than subscriptions to other people’s ideas of how a person should act or what they should value. Identity and experience are intrinsically tied to one another. There is not only one way of being or a single identity. Minatoya is able to bridge her identities divided between the East and the West because her experiences have taught her that she is complex. She can have multiple identities and be able to navigate many worlds as a result.

As Lydia returns to the United States, her lessons take full form. She begins to study ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging. Though the end result of well-crafted ikebana is gentle and delicate, her Sensei, Keiko-Sensei, shows her that the flowers must be swiftly hacked and maneuvered, without mercy. When Lydia tries to bend her flowers with as much command as Keiko-Sensei, her branches crumble and become disfigured. Keiko-Sensei, seeing her struggle, takes the branch and twists it into a beautiful art piece. Lydia says, “And gradually I learn that what seems like roughness instead is honest intimacy. A real mother does not do her caretaking through a series of artful poses. And eventually my flowers cease to cringe and crumple at my touch.” Through the journey of self-discovery, Minatoya learns that sometimes, in order to become a true work of art, one must be molded, painfully and without delicacy. It is through this process that Minatoya finds herself. After being woven and bent through her travels across the world, she comes home to America to learn that what she was looking for was always inside of her; it just needed to be formed. She ends with, “Like a missionary, I was sent to light a candle deep in the wilderness. But the wilderness lit a candle deep in me.” For Minatoya, the journey is what shaped her, ignited her, and taught her about who she is.

As someone who, throughout the book, seems to challenge herself and go where she must in spite of her fears, Minatoya still describes herself as being afraid of change. She says:

Change unnerves me. Behind every opportunity lurks the possibility of my undoing. Was I now Asian? Was I still America? Would I have to choose between the two? While I had been living in Asia, Asia had begun living in me. She pulsed through my heart. She traveled through my bloodstream. She changed my perceptions, my thoughts, and my dreams. Like a mother who kisses her bruised daughter and shoos her back to play, Asia had transformed the ache of my lapsed career.

And indeed transformed Lydia, too. As a child, she grasped all around her for some foothold in which she might understand herself. She then grows into an adult weathered by experience. Although she still seeks to understand herself in a vast array of complexities, she allows the experience to change her and move her and in that process is able to discover herself and her life purpose. Through Minatoya’s work, readers can learn not to base identity on other people’s ideas and expectations but rather base identity on one’s journey of self-discovery through life experience.



Micah Tasaka is a queer biracial poet from the Inland Empire exploring the intersections of identity, spirituality, gender, and sexuality. Their work seeks to make a playground of religious myths while creating queerer deities. They received their undergraduate degree in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside. They have performed throughout Southern California and have featured in Riverside, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Palm Springs. Their debut chapbook, Whales in the Watertank, was self-published in 2014. They have been featured on The California Journey of Women Writers literary blog, and their work can also be found in the upcoming In The Words Of Women 2016 anthology.