Check it out, honored to be a part of this lovely project, and the list of these writers is epic. I’m in it, YAY! I met Jenna Leigh Evans at the Lambda Literary Fellowship, we hit it off right away, since she’s fun, funny and used to live in San Francisco. We had long conversations about how much we love SF, how much it has changed since she lived there, and of course writing. Here is the interview below, but GO TO HER BLOG, she interviews other more important writers than me, folks like Eileen Miles, Beth Lisick, and Randall Kenan!
Baruch Porras Hernandez is a writer, performer, and storyteller whose work can be found in anthologies including Assaracus, Divining Divas, Aim For The Head, and Multiverse. He is a Moth Storytelling Contest winner and a LAMBDA Literary Fellow in Poetry. As a performance artist, he has worked with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SOMArts, Counter Pulse, and The Garage; he has also performed at Writers with Drinks, SFWrite Club, LitCrawl, Capturing Fire, BusBoysandPoets, and has featured three times at the historic Berkeley Poetry Slam. He is currently the curator for The San Francisco Queer Open Mic. HE has several upcoming events in San Francisco: The next Queer Open Mic is on March 27, featuring Virgie Tovar (for info visit www.queeropenmic.com). On April 7 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, he’ll be part of Radar Productions’ Reading at Top of the Mark. On April 10 and 11, he will feature in two solo performances with Footloose Dance Theatre Company’s Bitch And Tell Variety Show at The Exit Stage Left Theatre. To visit his blog Reasons to be Awesome and Beautiful, go to baruchporrashernandez.wordpress.com.
Baruch Porras Hernandez! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?
I get paid to perform my writing frequently and get paid well, but I don’t usually get paid to have my poems published; I mostly have just gotten contributor copies as compensation, and for that I’m very grateful. I feel, though, that companies should start paying with a contributor’s copy and a parental-figure copy, so that us poor writers can also send one to our parents, grandparents, or mentor.
Does your craft provide you with a livelihood?
Yes and no. There are months that I get enough gigs that I can pay my rent with my art, and I am very proud of that…but then there’s utilities, and food, and Netflix, so for that I have side jobs here and there. In 2013 I left my full-time job at a nonprofit to pursue living as an artist full-time. Everyone was shocked. Especially since San Francisco, where I live, is now a very unfriendly city for poor artists. I got tiny side jobs to survive, and focused on writing and performing my writing, and right away I got gigs organizing storytelling shows, poetry shows, and variety shows; I wrote a grant and did a fundraiser to produce my own Latino Spoken Word and Poetry Festival. Not having a full-time job has helped me be more fearless, more open to opportunities, and work harder on my art. The harder I work on my art, the better I feel about asking to get paid to do it. So, yes, long story short, there have been times that I’ve been able to pay my rent with my craft, and that, to me, means the world. I just want to get paid more for it, and keep crossing things off my goal list, like publish poetry collection, publish novel, sell them a lot, meet famous people, get my own show, live in Spain again, go to the moon.
If you’re making a living by holding a day job, does it leave you enough time to write?
The thing I’ve had to come to terms with is that there is never enough time to write. But, since leaving my full-time job, I have a lot more time to write, and that has been heavenly. The economic insecurity has not — that has been terrifying. When I first left my job, it was a very passionate, now-or-never, jump-into-the-void decision, but I forgot one thing: that I am a working-class, chubby, queer immigrant. I had to get two jobs right away — at a coffee shop in the mornings, and at a sex club at night, running the door, coat check, cash register. The more art gigs I got, the less of these I had to do, but juggling all of that sometimes was overwhelming. It put stress on everything. I even got that terrible look — you know that awful look some of your shitty friends give you: “Oh, I’m not going to be able to have fancy brunch with you anymore because you can’t afford it.” That look hurts, but fuck them, cause you want to be an artist, and doing what you want tastes better than overpriced brunch. I make brunch at home now — I make damn good chilaquiles. But I will say this: it is very hard to write when you’re worried about how you’re going to pay your rent, no matter how much time you have.
How do you know for sure when something in your work truly needs revision?
When I can’t stand reading it myself. If I can’t get through half a page of my own work, I can’t expect others to.
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?
It is rare that I read a poem of mine and don’t see where I can try to improve it. I like that small gem of self-doubt though — I feel that I make my best writing when I allow a small amulet of self-doubt to rest on my neck. Not more than that, ’cause then I would never get any writing done. But I never, ever write without self-doubt, cause then I’d be one of those losers with the twelve-page poems that thinks everything he writes is glorious and always reads forever at open mics and tortures everyone.
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?
I feel that I have chosen to focus on something that is very dear to me, and that has always been a part of me. I was a painter for most of my youth, but at night I was writing poetry. Then in college I decided to focus on acting. I’d study acting all day, then come home to write. After college I worked as an actor, and always felt that I was missing something. It was my first feature at an open mic that changed everything. I eventually made the painful decision to stop being an actor, and pursue being a writer/performer. But I feel writing challenges me the most as an artist. When it works, it is the best drug in the world, and yeah, that calls to me. I do know that one day I’ll run out of things to say, and who knows? Maybe I’ll get back to acting and get work playing a cool uncle, and eventually a grandpa, or a neighbor. Or maybe I’ll just stop talking to people and paint quietly in my room, with some whiskey and gummy bears.
BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?
I’ll always be haunted by Cody by Keith Hale, which I read when I was way too young. I was 12, and was told by the librarian it was only age-appropriate for 18 and up, so she wouldn’t let me check it out. Luckily for me, this was Berkeley, so the cute gay librarian let me check it out when the other one wasn’t looking. I fell in love with it right away — it was the first book I’d ever read with gay characters in it, and they were in high school! And they had sex! I remember reading the sex scenes over and over again, with a flashlight under my blanket in the middle of the night. I had to read it completely in secret. It was a lovely book, with a very tragic and realistic ending. One of its main themes is how this family who are openly socialists are treated by the Midwestern community they live in, which leads to harassment and violence. I feel very lucky to have read it, since I was very closeted at the time, and because it is so rare – I’ve never met anther gay man who has even heard of it. Now I want to read it again!