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An original show, sharply written and performed, that actually spilled out into our city itself? That's why we call Van a Mastermind.
-- By Alan Scherstuhl
The Latino Writers Collective
The woman standing at the podium at the Kansas City downtown library is famous in certain circles. Demetria Martinez's fiction has won national awards, and, in the 1980s, she stood trial on conspiracy charges against the U.S. government for smuggling Salvadoran refugees into the country. (She escaped a 25-year sentence due to to the First Amendment: She was a religion reporter covering the Sanctuary movement.) At the moment, however, she's talking about makeup for women with "olive skin," describing hues of foundation and eye shadow like the colors in a Navajo sand painting.
Around 60 people have shown up for her reading. Thanks to the Latino Writers Collective, more diverse writers are coming to Kansas City. When it began five years ago, the group hosted a single reading; this year, it's up to five. (Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running, reads at the Plaza library April 29.)
"We went to a lot of readings — at the Writers Place, the Rockhurst poetry series — and there wasn't really any representation of Latinos," says José Faus, one of the collective's founders and its current president. "We wanted to bring someone like Sandra Cisneros, but we kind of laughed because, with someone of her reputation, we didn't think we could pull it off. But she came."
Even more important than bringing those voices to Kansas City: growing them right here.
Every other Wednesday night, members of the collective meet at the Writers Place to work on their own stories, essays and poems, delivering the sometimes painful feedback that helps all writers improve their craft. The collective started with five people; now there are 30, with two books to their credit: 2008's Primera Página: Poetry From the Latino Heartland and last year's Cuentos Del Centro: Stories From the Latino Heartland.
That subtitle — From the Latino Heartland — is key. "It's not necessarily about the Midwest itself but our reactions to finding ourselves in the Midwest," Faus says of Primera Página.
Faus is from Colombia; other members are from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador, Mexico and elsewhere.
Xanath Caraza joined the collective because she was drawn to that diversity of Latino voices. "Sometimes people think there's just one kind of Latino, but there are so many layers, which makes Latino culture so rich and so attractive."
There's a sense of urgency about their work. Last year, the group incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and members drew up a five-year strategic plan. Besides sending their writers to more workshops and conferences around the country, putting on more readings and promoting their own writing, they want to create programs for schools and see their books used in college classes.
"We read in all of the area colleges around here," Faus says. "I'll be going to Salina to do a reading in April. I think we're willing to go just about anywhere to read."
"We're getting excellent response from national writers now," Caraza adds. "They want to come and see what we're doing."
Plenty of us here can already see what they're doing: making Kansas City a world-class place.
-- By C.J. Janovy
Dan Padavic and Tad Carpenter of Vahalla Studios
When John Mayer played the Sprint Center last month, his obligatory shout-out of crowd appreciation should have included a nod to a Crossroads print shop.
Tucked behind a Southwest Boulevard rock bar, Vahalla Studios is part factory, part gallery, part office space. Inside, good music blares, friendly dogs play, and a pair of old friends create modern rock memorabilia. Stacked pastel letters form the word "Wilco." A feminine eye, heavy with mascara, cries an orange tear filled with details about an old Regina Spektor gig at the Uptown Theater. Words and characters combine for My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, the Decemberists — and Mayer, for whom Vahalla recently designed a whole series of tour posters.