Like most writers, I submit stories to journals, apply for residencies and fellowships, and query agents. I get far more rejections than acceptances, and sometimes feel as if I’m writing and speaking my words in an unlit corner of a vast empty room. And then one day out of the blue, without having to submit, apply, or query, I am invited to record my work for the Library of Congress PALABRA Archive and it is the most dizzying and gratifying honor in my life as a writer to be part of this collection of so many writers I admire, including Nobel Laureates. A far cry from my vast empty room. My deep gratitude goes to the Washington Center for the Book and the Library of Congress Palabra Archive.
This is what I wrote when Sara Peté of the Washington Center for the Book asked what it felt like to be invited to be part of the Library of Congress PALABRA Archive. What is the PALABRA Archive, you might ask. These paragraphs taken from the Library of Congress web page explain:
The PALABRA Archive is a collection of original audio recordings of 20th and 21st century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works
Historically known as the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape (AHLOT), PALABRA has been curated by the Library of Congress Hispanic Reading Room since 1943. It includes sessions with figures such as Nobel Laureates Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and with other noteworthy figures like Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, and Julio Cortázar.
Today, curators in the Hispanic Reading Room continue to actively capture voices of contemporary literary figures for the collection.
So the PALABRA Archive is kind of a big deal, and while many of the writers in the Archive are not household names, their work has been deemed of significance for inclusion. And that is why it was dizzying to be invited to be part of this collection.
We writers are multitudinous, hordes of us looking for space in print, opportunities for which are limited, many curated by gatekeepers with specific ideas of what is marketable because while writing is an art, publishing is a business. So success in writing is often tied to sales, major awards, and a high profile. Most of us will not make the NYT bestseller list, win a Pulitzer, or appear on the late-night talk show circuit. Some of us are resigned to this reality; some of us still harbor secret hope; some of us have defined for ourselves what success is. Many of us hedge our bets and do all three.
Over many years, I have done the work of writing, rewriting, submitting, being rejected, and sometimes receiving acceptances. I have had three books of fiction published by small presses, with the last two books earning mulitple awards.
I want more for my next books. Bigger publisher, wider promotion, name recognition. I want. I want. I want.
And yet, if none of that comes to pass, I’ll always have the Library of Congress PALABRA Archive—something I did not seek but earned as a result of the work I have already done. Somebody—the good folks at the Washington Center for the Book—knew of my work and offered up my name when the PALABRA Archive was soliciting recommendations.
This is the definition of success for me—when someone recommends my work. Those other things I said I want? I will still want them, but it’s the PALABRA Archive that I can one day point my grandchildren to and say, See, Ilio, the essay I wrote about language is recorded here. See, Malaya, excerpts from my stories about growing up brown are here. IN AMERICA’S LIBRARY, THE (omitted exultant expletive) LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!
Okay, I do have a minor reservation about my recording.
During the pandemic, we – my local PALABRA cohort of Kathleen Alcala, Claudia Castro Luna, Carlos B. Gil, and Kristen Millares Young— had the option of going to a recording studio or being recorded during a call with Catalina Gomez, the PALABRA curator. Because I had grown so used to being sequestered, I opted for the in-home call.
I had not weighed the advantage of the recording studio in the ease of editing out mistakes. Catalina assured me that the stumbles are human and may make the reading more intimate. True or not, the recordings are there and I’m grateful. Here I am, among some of the listed in the new digital releases, in all my humanness:
That humanness includes my identity as a Mexipina. I searched the Archive and I’m the only Mexipina, or at least the only one who identifies as such. In the past, I have been Filipina American or Mexican American, depending on the context or the venue. Mexipina means I get to be both in any space I occupy, including the Library of Congress PALABRA Archive.
Once again, thanks to the Washington Center for the Book, specifically Sara Peté and Linda Johns, and PALABRA Archive curator, Catalina Gomez for including my words. My voice. Me.