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Contemporary Writers Series: Carmen Giménez Smith and Wendy C. Ortizas

On Sept. 17 and 24, Mills featured the first two writers in its fall 2019 lineup for the Contemporary Writers Series. This series, which is produced and promoted by Mills graduate students, aims to offer the Mills community and the Bay Area as a whole an opportunity to hear from well-known and up-and-coming authors. These events offer readings and question-and-answer sessions from the writers, as well as a selection of snacks, and are free to those that wish to attend.

(Mills College)

On Sept. 17, Mills hosted Carmen Giménez Smith, author of the poetry collection “Be Recorder.” Her book, which Juan Felipe Herrera calls “indispensable, required for the next revolution,” addresses themes including anti-capitalism, mental illness, motherhood and Latinx identity in a sparing free-verse style. Giménez Smith is a professor of English at Virginia Tech University and the author of a memoir and five previous poetry collections. She opened her reading on Sept. 17 by reading from one of these collections, “Cruel Futures,” which was published as part of the City Lights Spotlight Series.

After reading from “Be Recorder,” Giménez Smith discussed her difficulty with bringing this book into the world, saying that it was “on lifesupport” between writing and publication in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. She also named Mills’ own Professor Elmaz Abinader as a formative influence on her as one of her English professors at San José State University and her first female professor of color. When asked by an audience member for a book that “took her breath away,” Giménez Smith recommended “Emplumada,” a poetry collection by Chicana artist Lorna Dee Cervantes, saying that it made her feel seen and that she hoped her work had a similar effect on her readers.

The following week, Mills hosted Wendy C. Ortiz as she read from her book “Bruja,” which she describes as a “dreamoir”— a collection of her dreams over four years of her life. Ortiz is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles, as well as the author of two previous memoirs, “Hollywood Notebook” and “Excavation.” At her reading on the 24th, Ortiz described “Bruja” as chronicling her “nighttime life” during the time period she covers in “Hollywood Notebook.” Although she had spent years recording her dreams on a blog and had always planned to “do something” with the resulting text, she had no direction for the project until her publisher asked if she had any innovative fiction on hand. 

(Google Images)

“I feel like I’m just learning constantly about people by getting to sit with them,” Ortiz said, discussing her therapy work, which she described as “just hearing stories all day.” She chose to work as a psychotherapist after hearing a friend’s sister mention the way in which studying therapy fed her visual art and vice versa.

Upcoming Contemporary Writers Series readings this semester will take place with Patricia Smith at 7:30 p.m. in Lisser Hall on Friday, Oct. 4; and with Laleh Khadivi at 5:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 15.