Two years ago, I was blessed to meet Cherrie Moraga at the Lambda Literary Awards. She’s the co-editor of the phenomenal text This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color. For years, I have told people that the anthology taught me how to breathe as an essayist and creative writer. My ancestors often put me in situations that allow me the opportunity to meet people who can touch and move me.
The night at the Lammy’s I spent a few moments with Cherrie. I don’t like to crowd people who are frequently the subject of a lot of attention. I prefer to give them space, holding important, meaningful albeit brief moments with them and then leaving them alone to contend with the demands of being known, (in)famous or a celebrity. A childhood of meeting or hearing about encounters with famous people from my family taught me this approach.
After the night of the awards, Cherrie and I connected on social media. Two years past. Several months ago, I saw her post she’s facilitating the first playwriting workshop at Lambda Literary Foundations Emerging Voices Writers Retreat. Immediately, I commit to applying. A playwriting workshop is exactly the kind of experience to advance my two-year old plan to return to my craft as a theatre artist after years of embodying the work of a social scientist.
Accepted into the retreat and playwriting workshop located on my alma mater University of Southern California (USC), I had a mix of feelings. Working with people you have admired from afar can be tricky. Many people are able to write about social justice ideals and theories that they struggle to embody or practice in their interpersonal relationships. After years away from the practice of playwriting, would I have the chops to hang with Cherrie and the other fellows in the workshop? My time at USC as an undergraduate student was so intense. I had been a prominent student organizer who was involved in all of the major controversies on the campus. I lived through the LA Rebellion. I left ‘SC (the name used by most people with a connection to the university) a battle-hardened activist matured in the crucible of radical student activism at a university that specifically catered to white, wealth elites, the people who wanted to be like them, and the student-athletes they allowed to matriculate for the purposes of their entertainment.
I would also be returning to ‘SC as a person very publicly identified with bisexuality. At USC, I marginalized, downplayed and repressed my bisexuality. The retreat and the reading of my anthology Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men I organized immediately after the retreat would be opportunities for me to be fully myself on campus in ways I never imagined in the early 90s.
Members of my extended family and network donated over a $1200 to a crowdfunding campaign to support my participation. I so appreciate the financial support of Thomas, Taeesha, John, Steven, Jonathan, Paz, Charles, Deborah, Samantha, Amy, Monica, Loraine, Norma, Brian, Christian, Jaime, M’Kali Hashiki, and an anonymous donor. Their contributions to the fellows fund made it possible for me to attend the retreat.
So much of the experience of the retreat was rooted in surprise. Back in the environs of the university, walking in the shadows created by many of the buildings erected over the last two decades, feeling dwarfed by them and reminded of the ways SC represented imperialism to me when I was a student, I was surprised to discover I had carried PTSD from my time there as a Black male student. I was surprised by how well the playwriting fellows were chosen. Diverse, vulnerable, seeking truth and craft, the fellows co-created a nurturing culture of support and challenge. I was surprised by how much I needed to have the kind of mentorship, eldership in the arts that Cherrie provided. Cherrie intuitively felt that I needed to have my identity as a playwright affirmed by someone who is an experienced professional in the field and she did so with authenticity, grace and humor.
The retreat, for me, was a collection of returns. I returned to USC, a place of struggle, strife, activism and trauma for me as a student twenty years ago. I returned to the art of playwriting after being away from it for over a decade. I could not have asked for a better context to face those returns. The playwriting workshop was such a nurturing space. With Cherrie and the other playwriting fellows, we were able to co-create a generative space of spirit, creativity, critical thought, intentional community and productivity. It was a very healing and transformative experience for me artistically and personally. As a faculty member at Goddard College, I engage in progressive and transformative education with my students routinely. The retreat helped me to reconnect with what it feels like to be a learner in that kind of environment. I will be forever grateful for the experience.