Indigena reading series

Sunday, Feb.16, 3:30 p.m.

VAE Raleigh

If you spend time on literary Twitter (and God help you if you do), you already know about the biggest publishing scandal of the new decade. American Dirt was published late last month to much fanfare from the literary establishment, which positioned it as the novel of record on the undocumented immigrant experience. But readers reasonably complained that it was a stereotype-ridden mess of fake Spanish and implausible characters written by a white American woman.

On the heels of this conversation came another, smaller scandal: Wendy Ortiz published a piece calling out the buzzy bestseller My Dark Vanessa. Ortiz claimed that it bore startling resemblance to her own memoir, Excavation, which she published with a small press after the Big Five turned it down for being “unmarketable.” Why, wondered Ortiz, was the publishing industry up for a book by a white woman, but not a very similar book by a queer woman of color?

These are big questions, and one way to deal with them is to create platforms to elevate and celebrate marginalized voices. That’s what Raleigh poet Ina Cariño did when she started Indigena, an ongoing reading series by and for people of color, queer people, and disabled people.

Cariño kicked off the series in December, and the second reading is on Sunday, February 16 at 3:30 p.m. at VAE Raleigh. It features Taari Coleman, Nina Foster, Aimee (Harrison) Wright Clow, Jessica Q. Stark, and others. We recently spoke with Cariño about the motivations behind the series and its importance in Raleigh and the national climate.

INDY: How did you come up with the idea for this reading series?

INA CARIÑO: I have an MFA in creative writing with a concentration in poetry from N.C. State, and while I found the program so supportive and extremely instrumental in my growth as a writer, I craved a bit more diversity, especially after graduating. I was lucky enough to have become a Kundiman fellow in 2019, and I found a sense of community there that I didn’t realize I was missing.

I spoke to and was encouraged by other writers of color, both in the Raleigh area and at the Kundiman retreat, about creating a platform that centered marginalized creatives of color, especially BIPOC, QTPOC, and people with disabilities. And this past December, the circumstances just came together quite quickly to be able to make the first reading a reality. I wanted to make this a series to give this area an established platform for these voices.

As for the name, “indigena” is the Latin root word of “indigenous,” and which for me brings to mind not only the roots from which POC grew, but also the ways in which BIPOC, QTPOC, and people with disabilities put down roots in the face of being constantly othered and denied existence in society.

What was the first reading like?

There were maybe 20 attendees, which was so lovely to see. That might seem like a small number but is quite a lot for a reading which was essentially put together in just a few days!

There were five readers total (excluding me, though I did kick off the reading with a poem): poet and songwriter Essi, friend and creative Kami, writer and educator Kyree, fiction writer Jendayi Brooks-Flemister, and trans and mixed-heritage Jewish poet Joshua Sassoon Orol. We served hot chocolate—it was a chilly day. And I was proud of the whole thing—the audience was so warm and receptive, and it was so great to get such good feedback after the event.

How do you envision the scope of this program? How often will you have readings and where will they be? 

I want this to be a continued series—one that may not always be in my hands in the future, but that will carve out a much-needed space for creatives of color to express important, topical themes, including social justice issues, through artistic means. I want to include creatives from outside of the Triangle area as well, and to invite people to contact me if they are interested in participating in future lineups.

What does it mean to come from somewhere else, to really come from somewhere else? And in trying to find home, how does one navigate such an othered life? Perhaps, through sharing our art, we can attempt to answer such questions. I encourage folx who identify as part of a marginalized community to be part of and enrich this new collective.

I am hoping to have a reading every two months. Currently, I am able to hold the readings at VAE, a nonprofit art gallery with a focus on emerging community art in the Warehouse District of Raleigh. A big thank you to VAE for their generosity in extending this wonderful space to Indigena.

Why is this series important? I’m curious to know your thoughts about this both on a local level and on a national level.

This series is important—both here and nationwide—because of the history of the other over hundreds of years, through colonial times and beyond. The aftermath of a colonial life is still going on. And people often forget that the civil rights movement was not that long ago. That people of color and other marginalized communities still experience racism, ableism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and more on a daily basis. Raleigh, while quite diverse already, is still growing in many ways, and I want to add to this growth.

Right now there is more attention being paid to writers and creatives of color, which is amazing. But there is still pushback from some white writers who think this is just a “trend” and that “white people still have things to say.” I think they don’t quite understand that just because creatives of color and queer creatives have things to say, it doesn’t mean that anything is being taken away from white writers, especially in the context of POC having such a tiny moment of history—the present—finally focus on their work.

How do you hope to see the Raleigh writing community growing and changing in the coming years?

I want to see Raleigh have more of these platforms for art forms other than writing. I want to see the other cities in the area become a part of this reading series because I believe that if there’s something for people of color to look forward to—a consistent space for readings by creatives of color to happen—then that small structured time, every two months, can become the beginning of other projects, other spaces.

Anything else we should know?

I chose the symbol of a white moth as the logo for several reasons. In folklore across the globe, the white moth is often an ancestor or a deceased loved one come to visit or watch over us. And moths, despite being nocturnal, are drawn to light even in darkness.

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