Friday, March 30, 2007

Black Artemis Interview with Knowledge Bookstore

This is an excerpt of an interview was conducted by Francis McLean of Knowledge Bookstore and was published online on March 1, 2007.

Black Artemis is the pen name of Sofía Quintero, a writer, activist, educator, speaker and comedienne born into a working-class Puerto Rican-Dominican family in the Bronx. Determined to write edgy yet intelligent novels for women who love hip hop even when hip hop fails to love them in return, Black Artemis wrote her debut novel Explicit Content. Explicit Content - the first work of fiction about female MCs in the hip hop industry - was published by the New American Library/Penguin in August 2004. Booklist said of the novel, 'Fans of Sister Souljah's The Coldest Winter Ever (1999) will find this debut novel just as tantalizing.' Her second Black Artemis novel Picture Me Rollin' hit bookstores in June 2005 and brought a fresh twist to the home-from-prison tale, Picture Me Rollin' tells of the story of a young woman whose obsession with Tupac Shakur leads her on quest to find self-love. Amidst the controversy over the popularity of street lit, Black Artemis's novels have been hailed by critics of all stripes - reviewers, educators and readers - for being as intelligent and substantive as they are entertaining and accessible. Her third Black Artemis novel Burn will be published in August 2006. For more information about Black Artemis and her work, visit
Please describe your journey from earning a BA in history-sociology from Columbia University and working for years on a range of policy issues, to becoming a writer of Hip-hop fiction. What was the impetus?
Since I was eight years old, I've written stories, but I think many people of color - especially if their parents are immigrants - do not get the notion that writing is something one can do for a living. The message is usually, 'Get an education, and enter a profession.' And that's what I did, and while I enjoyed my years as a policy analyst and advocate, my passion always remained creative writing. Then I realized that, yes, I can marry my creativity and activism and use storytelling as tool for promoting social justice. That instead of leading this fragmented life, I could find a way to make the work that fed my soul to also pay my rent. I never regret those years doing policy work because those experiences gave me the stories I wanted to tell. My latest novel BURN is very much inspired by the work experiences I've had before I became a full-time novelist.

You are proud to proclaim yourself as a writer of bonafide Hip-hop fiction. Your novels Explicit Content and Picture Me Rollin' clearly show the difference between Hip-hop fiction and urban or street fiction, which is often mislabeled as Hip-hop literature. When you were first seeking a publisher, did the book industry understand this difference?
No, they did not, and largely they still do not although I often I feel like I'm waging a one-woman campaign to reeducate people both in the industry and the community. First, let me clarify the way I see it. There's this large category called urban fiction. Now the industry uses the word 'urban' as a code to mean mostly 'Black' and sometimes also 'Latino,' but we all know that (1) not all Blacks and Latinos live in urban environments, and (2) not all people or phenomena that is urban is Black or Latino. So when I think of 'urban fiction,' I think of anything from what I write to the street lit of authors like Vicki Stringer or Teri Woods to even some titles in the chick lit genre like 'Sex and the City' and 'The Devil Wears Prada.'

Then within urban fiction you have subgenres. The reason why I distinguish between hip hop lit and street lit - although overlaps may exist - is because street lit is frequently about street life, particularly about the underground economy. Hip hop can be - and has been - about much more than that. Not all hip hop is about gangsterism, and if we want to be consistent, not all gangsterism is hip hop. Were Meyer Lansky and John Gotti hip hop heads? No! J Furthermore, there are many people in the hip hop generation and community who do not participate in the underground economy or even aspire to that lifestyle. So as a hip hop activist, it unnerves me when the term 'hip hop' is unilaterally equated with 'gangster.' The occasional overlap is undeniable, but the terms are NOT synonymous. Many socially conscious people - especially young people and their mentors - utilize hip hop as a tool to fight injustice whether it's the expansion of prison industrial complex or the spread of HIV/AIDS. To insinuate that they're not hip hop because they're not gangster is not only dead wrong, it's insulting.

When I dropped my debut 'Explicit Content,' I sent a polite but impassioned email to almost every journalist that wrote an article about the rise of 'hip hop lit' as not a single one discussed hip hop as a culture that predates gangster rap with its roots in the Black Arts Movement of the 60s. Any street lit author will tell you readily and proudly that his or her predecessors are Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim. But as an author of hip hop fiction, my predecessors are Richard Wright and Piri Thomas. With the exception of The Black Issues Book Review which published my letter to the editor, no one responded to me. Yet over time I started to notice a difference. I still saw articles about 'street lit' that referred to it as such, and I'd like to think that my tiny gestures had an impact.

Was it difficult to convince publishers of the demand for fiction based on Hip-hop culture?
I can't say it was difficult for me personally to sell my books because on the one hand, publishers generally saw them as part of the street lit genre, but on the other hand, they are well-crafted and tackle deeper themes. And the truth is, while there are many, wonderful nonfiction books about hip hop culture, there are very few novels based on it to this day. The international popularity of hip hop has yet to permeate the literary world, and we can theorize for hours about why that is! With the exception of E-Fierce and Linden Dalecki who both are developing a series of young adult novels, I'm the only other author that I'm aware of who consistently writes hip hop fiction. I know authors who may have written one novel that explore some aspect of hip hop in the story who are reluctant to call themselves hip hop novelists or even that single work a hip hop novel, and their reasons are varied. Speaking for myself, I purposefully developed the Black Artemis brand with the intention of representing hip hop in the world of fiction, and I have no fears about limiting myself as a writer because I also publish in different genres under my real name, and even if I had been 'ghettoized' by the publishing industry, I still would've been a happy novelist writing about this culture that I love even when it disappoints and never fearing that I might run out of tales to tell.

To read the rest of the interview, visit Knowledge Bookstore Online.

The Resistance Before the Breakthrough

Last night I received a reminder of a critical principle that should remain in the consciousness of all people – from educators to healers – who want to affect social change by not preaching to the converted.

As part of my stint as the 2007 artist-in-residence for Carolina Circuit Writers, I have been visiting colleges and universities discussing my work. For the past few days I have been speaking with classes at North Carolina Central University, a historically Black college in Durham. Last night I was the guest speaker of NCCU's Lcyeum series, and for my presentation, I decided to do a version of a workshop I developed at Chica Luna Productions in which we deconstruct the gender messages in the film Hustle & Flow.

Yeah, I went there.

And when I go there – when I stand up to cast a harsh light on the harmful messages conveyed in a film that people relish – I fully expect that some will resist. For example, several weeks ago, I was an assembly speaker at Durham Academy, and while I did not have the opportunity to conduct the H&F workshop, I shared my take about the film's messages to women regardless of race and class (i.e. the film is Cinderella in blackface.)

A young man about sixteen years of age raised his hand. "Couldn't you say that the film also has a positive message?" he asked. "That in order to achieve a dream, you have to work together with other people?"

I took a moment to consider that and realized he was right. "Yes, you can take that message away from film," I concede. Another hip hop film – 8 Mile – came to mind as another example of a well-crafted film with mixed messages. "A film can have multiple messages. Some may be good, some may be bad, and some of the messages may even contradict each other." Then I added, "What I would ask you to consider is that even though Hustle & Flow may have that positive message about the collectivity it takes to achieve a dream, that message doesn't contradict the negative one that says women don't have dreams other than the ones of the men in their lives. Just whose dream is everyone organizing to achieve?"

While we would probably disagree about whether that positive message is more powerful than the negative one, I appreciated that he was at least realizing that even a commercial film like Hustle & Flow indeed had any message. As much as it can frustrate me how gendered messages in entertainment are frequently overlooked or dismissed or, at best, acknowledged yet trumped by other concerns, the fact that this young man didn't cry, "It's just a movie!" is a step in the right direction.

But even as I expect resistance, there are times when folks demonstrate an investment in oppressive isms that shakes me. It especially strikes me to the core when I see a person stretch to defend the very ism that targets him or her. That happened last night during the lyceum when a young woman in the audience went to such great lengths to mine Hustle & Flow for messages that support the female empowerment.

"Well, at the end of the movie when he (the character DJay played by Oscar nominee Terrence Howard) says that one day he's going to have a daughter, and he's going to tell her that she can be president?" she says. "Couldn't you say that's a positive message to women?"

If DJay had a daughter, he'd be disappointed, I think. But once again, I concede. "You certainly could make that argument. Now do you believe that single line at the very end of the film is enough to counteract all those negative images and statements that preceded it?" It's a throwaway line at the end of the film, I think but keep to myself.

Then the young woman says, "Well, what about the scene where he's asking her (the character Nola played by Taryn Manning), 'What do you want?' Couldn't you say that he's trying to support her by asking her that?" She is talking about the scene when Nola explodes at DJay for pimping her for a microphone he needs to finish recording his demo. He screams repeatedly at her "What do you want?" to which she yells back, "I don't know!"

"Couldn't that be a counterweight to the other scenes?"

Hell no! I scream in my head. There's no way to interpret the scene that way. Not only are the two characters in the midst of an explosive argument, to buy the "interpretation" that DJay is attempting to help Nola figure out what her dream is requires that we ignore the rest of their exchange.

After screaming at Nola who continues to stand up to him, DJay switches tactics. His voice goes soft, and he starts to talk sweetly to her, promising to buy her new shoes. Nola cuts him off cut by saying, "I know when you're messing with my head because I let you. Because sometimes my head needs to be messed with. But right now, just don't, okay?"

(Which itself is highly problematic in how it suggest that she is somehow the primary architect of her exploitation by relenting to it and rationalizing it, but let me not digress.)

I'm confident that even those who champion Hustle & Flow as a redemptive tale would be reluctant to argue that this scene displays DJay's desire to support the dreams of the women he prostitutes. Indeed, they would argue that it's because of this argument with Nola that DJay begins to see her as someone with needs beyond physical survival. If DJay does change into a man who cares solely about his own needs to a man who recognizes that the women around him have needs, too, this is the moment in which that change takes place and not before.

Mama, why are you reaching so hard? is the question resounding in my mind, the one that I fight to suppress. Although I temper my response, I still push back. "I honestly don't understand how you can read that scene that way," I have to say. "I mean, he's screaming at her, 'What do you want? What do you want?' He's angry, and his objective clearly is to shut her down. He's not saying, 'What do you want, baby?' Only when he sees that it's not working does he switch up, and that's just to implement his pimpology. I mean, even she calls it out when she tells him not to mess with her head.'"

I pause for the young woman's response, but she just looks at me.

Later I reflect on the event with my friend and colleagues in CC Writers and ask for their feedback. Despite the richness of the discussion and learning that took place, I find myself worried about that young woman's resistance to my critique of the film. It's one thing to latch onto that throwaway line at the end of the movie because at least it's there to latch onto. Could a crush on Terrence Howard, pride in a Southern film or even love for crunk music be that blinding? Or has she been through something much darker and more profound? Just what would compel this young woman to be so desperate to see something in that scene that is clearly not there?

When I pose this question, Emily reminds me of that critical principle of change whether we are speaking of individuals or society, the personal or the political, the spiritual or the practical.

"People resist the most when they're about to break through," she says. "Even though she challenged you, she didn't leave."

Exhale. How could I forget? Not that long ago I had told a loved one that he had to believe that he was having an impact even if his students did not seem to respond. That for some of them the effect of his transforming approach to teaching would not be evident to them perhaps years after they left his classroom. That he may have an effect on them that he will never have affirmed. He just had to believe he did.

Last night I was reminded of how easy it is to forget these things when one is in that teaching moment, and the aha! one is striving toward does not occur. Not only was I reminded that learning and transformation can still be taking place unbeknownst to me, in retrospective I realize how fortunate I was to receive a tangible sign that it might be. That sign came was in that young women's resistance, a resistance that I could hear, see and feel.

I have to believe that – whether it happens in the near future or a long time from now and despite the likelihood that I will never know about it when it does – it was the resistance before the breakthrough.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

3rd Annual Chica Luna Short Film Festival

Chica Luna Productions Presents
The 2007 Third Annual Short Film Festival &
First Annual Technology Conference on March 30

Technology Conference (5:00p-7:00p) and Festival Screening (8:00p-10:00p) at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, 212.864.5400, Tickets: $11.00 for each event; Now available at

Chica Luna Productions ( proudly presents its Third Annual Short Film Festival featuring the premiere Technology Conference on March 30, 2007 at Symphony Space in New York City.

Now in its third year, the CLSFF highlights short works by and about women of color using popular media to engage social justice themes in and around their communities.

Chica Luna Productions Co-Founder and author/filmmaker Elisha Miranda states, "The Festival has evolved into a wonderful showcase for talented young filmmakers. Moreover, it is timely for us to explore the technological aspects of creating content for new media because these filmmakers will be the leading producers in this space."

Technology Conference attendees will learn and gain insight from industry experts about the impact of technology on today's filmmaker and how to navigate the ever-changing industry landscape. Confirmed speakers include Myrtle Jones, assistant technology professor and moderator, School of Print Media, Rochester University; Robert G. Rose, CEO/Exec Producer, AIM, Tell-A-Vision Group; Renzo Devia, President and Supervising Producer, Maximas Productions; and Liz Ogilvie, Head of Programming, New Video.

This year's CLSFF is made possible by contributions from Unique Mortgage Solutions, Sister Outsider Entertainment, NALIP, Vibe Vixen, American Latino TV, Alterasian, Latination, Urban Envy, NALAC, NYSCA, New York Women Foundation, Valentine Perry Snyder Fund and Third Wave Foundation.

The Third Annual Chica Luna Short Film Festival Line-up:

SLIP OF THE TONGUE Directed by Karen Lum
A young man makes a pass at a beautiful stranger and gets an eye-opening schooling on race and gender.

Directed by Kiri Davis
Color is more than skin deep for young African-American women struggling to define themselves.

Directed by Mabel Valdiviezo
A young immigrant photographer living in San Francisco learns her father's remains have been found in a mass grave in Chile.

Directed by Akiva Penaloza
The soul of a young girl is challenged as she confronts the anguish of poverty and loss.


Directed by Jasmine Colon
Jamie Cantor experiences nightmares about a woman who viciously attacks her and controls Jamie's dreams. Inspired by the stylistic expressions of Avant-Garde, Film Noir and from an actual dream.

Directed by Stephanie Alleyen
Rene Angelo, a transgender woman, experiences discrimination on various job interviews.

Directed by Glenny Cruz
A young woman takes control of herself after learning through a relationship, that her ideals of womanhood are a myth.

Directed by Gloria Zapata
Examines the responsibilities of living with HIV and the consequences of going through the world unprotected.


Directed by Sala Hewitt
Two women in love adjust to a new live-in relationship when street violence and harassment threaten their safety and peace of mind.

Chica Luna Productions is a non-profit organization that seeks to develop and support women of color who use popular media to engage social justice themes and are accountable to their communities. Founded in September 2001 by three working artists who gathered to produce progressive multi-media projects, Chica Luna has since grown to include members in both New York and Los Angeles, and has established a track record of partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations toward promoting socially conscious media by, about and for people of color. In 2004, Chica Luna Productions opened a community-based studio in El Barrio New York that serves to further produce popular media and expand multi-media organizing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Key Word is Correct

I recently sent out a MySpace bulletin entitled Stop the INS Raids in San Rafael, CA. For those of you who missed it called to sign a petition and attend a march to protest INS raids. Within minutes I received this response from a 50 year old guy named Dave:

"I will not sign this petition, it may be politically correct to call them the euphemisim of 'undocumented aliens' rather than admit the fact that they broke the law to get here and are here ILLEGALLY, sucking money out of schools, welfare systems, and state run health systems for the poor, while I might not approve of the tactics, INS is doing their job sending ILLEGALS back where they came from."

While I believe that sometimes you must invest the time and energy to struggle with people, I didn't think this was one of those instances that warranted the investment. Yet such ignorance cannot go completely unchallenged even if I have neither the time nor interest to give it a thorough reply. So I simply responded:

"Unless you are 100 per cent sure that you have never benefitted from the labor of immigrants -- whether they are documented or not -- you should rethink such an extreme position. And it is a FACT that undocumented immigrants pay both income and property tax so they pay for those systems that you claim they drain. Educate yourself. ."

When are folks like Dave gonna realize that people like me are not going to be silenced by being accused of being PC? That is, like, so nineties. I remember being in graduate school and hearing a presentation by legal scholar Mari Matsuda. This was at the height of the PC backlash, and of the many wonderful ideas she offered, one in particular returns to mind and that is this:

Since when are white, straight men truly in serious danger of being silenced by people of color, women and queer folks?

C'mon now. You don't have to think that hard to see how ludicrous this was back in the early 90s, and it's an even more ridiculous proposition now. Damn straight, I was PC then, and I'm PC now.

I'd much rather be politically correct than politically ignorant.

My Upcoming Appearances in Durham-Chapel Hill

Monday, 19 March 7 pm
First Program Offered In Spanish with Simultaneous English Translation
Sofia Quintero will read from her work at program hosted by the Durham Literacy Center.
Location: Lakewood Baptist Church, 2100 Chapel Hill Road, Durham
Contact Reginald Hodges: (919) 489-8383 X 22,
Directions: Click on "Map"

Wednesday, 28 March 7 pm
Sofia Quintero will read and screen her films at NCCU's Lyceum Series.
Location: B. N. Duke Auditorium, 1801 Fayetteville Street, North Carolina Central University
Contact Dr. Janice S. Dargan: (919) 530-7205,
Directions: Click on "Map"

Thursday, 29 March 7:30 pm
Panel Discussion and Adult Core Writers Group Reading/Performance
Location: Durham Academy Lower School Campus, Commons Meeting Area, 3501 Ridge Road
Contact Bela Kussin: (919) 489-6569 X 422,

Sunday, 1 April 3 pm
Teen Core Writers Groups Reading/Performance
Location: Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville Street, Durham
Contact Stevie Lawrence: (919) 683-1709 X 24,

Carolina Circuit Writers, a statewide literary consortium, celebrates literature and writers of color. For more information, contact Kirsten Mullen, Founder/Director CAROLINA CIRCUIT WRITERS, Box 51793, Durham NC 27717-1793; (919) 403-8792

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bx6: A Haiku Written on the Bus

Maybe it's because I'm an artist. Maybe it's because I'm a native New Yorker. Maybe it's a combination of the two, but something about riding mass transit inspires my writing.

For as much as New York City residents complain about our busses and subways, maybe they are one reason that artists outside of the five boroughs are drawn to this city (especially if you're one of the starving variety and otherwise cannot afford to travel across the boroughs to galleries, workshops, classes, auditions and the like.) And not only because there is so much to observe. Sometimes that sense of solitude that emerges as you partake in this ostensibly communal and even democratizing experience of riding public transportation provokes certain thoughts, feelings and even revelations that demand creative expression.

And sometimes it matters where you're coming from and where you're headed to. Your origin and destination -- what actually occurred where you were or what you expect to happen where you're going -- shapes the way you interpret what you observe (both outside and within) along the way.

So for context, when I pulled out a sheet of paper and Energel pen on the Bx6 bus, I was just leaving a wellness appointment in West Harlem and headed back to the Bronx to have lunch with my parents. I was feeling pretty good. Hopeful, in fact, and let's just say it's a welcome feeling given several challenges I'm overcoming these days. Something that I always notice about myself when I grab a seat by the window on the back of a bus took on new meaning as a smiling toddler scrambled acrossed the seat next to me.


My toes graze the floor

of the bus from the back seat

like that girl just grown

Monday, March 12, 2007

Latina Authors Team Up to Control Their Destiny

Latin Heat Online Posted on 03-08-2007

Latina Authors Team Up To Control Their Destiny
Names I Call My Sister To Hit Shelves May 8

Costa Mesa, CA -- Two years ago, fellow authors Mary Castillo, Berta Platas, Sofia Quintero and Lynda Sandoval, came up with the concept of a sexy, smart-alecky and honest anthology about sisters. Within a month, they sold the proposal to HarperCollins Avon A. That concept is now an anthology titled, Names I Call My Sister (ISBN: 978-0060890230, $13.95) to be released May 8, 2007.

In the larger picture, Names I Call My Sister was an opportunity for Castillo, Platas, Quintero and Sandoval to bring stories that appeal to the thoroughly modern Latina reader.
“Unfortunately, all of us can tell you at least one story about an agent or editor who told us to write ‘more Latina’, or, told us out right that Latinos don’t buy books,” Castillo said. “Now that we’re proving that Latinas come in many varieties and that they do indeed buy books, this anthology was our chance to make a difference in publishing.”

Platas, Quintero and Castillo had worked together on the anthology, Friday Night Chicas (St. Martins Griffin, $12.95), which was a concept devised by their editor. The three authors thought that Lynda Sandoval's voice was a good fit, and invited her to join them.

“Well, for me it's not so much how Latinos are portrayed in the media. It's more that there is not enough representation outside of the stereotypes,” Sandoval said. “The truth is, with all ethnicities, we're more alike than different. We love the same, we laugh the same, we cry the same, and we strive for similar goals.”

To read the rest of this article, visit Latin Heat Online.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Place To Live

Because occasionally I need reminding...

A place to live

If there are things that are missing in your life, ask yourself this
question. Have you given those things a place to live?

The person who has many friends is the person who has made a place
for friendship in her life. The person who is amazingly knowledgeable
is the person who has made a place for learning in his life.

In order to receive a delivery at your home, you must tell the
delivery service where to take it. In the same way, for the best
things in life to be yours, you must provide a space within your life
where they can arrive.

Make a place in your life for love, and love will certainly fill it.

Make a place within your life for joy, and joy will soon be there.

Create the time, the space, the energy, the interest, the passion and
the commitment in your life for whatever it is you seek. And the
things you seek will begin to inhabit the places you have made for

Give the best things in life a place to live within yourself. And
you'll soon find those things filling your world.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tipping the Scales

Each morning during my residency, I roll over and flip to a random page of Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices to Help You Stay Calm & Focused All Day Long. Today I land on "19 – Relax Deeply," and immediately decide to skip it. This is my "free" day which means I have more time than usual to prepare for the next day's work and perhaps do one or two things for myself. I already gave myself permission to sleep late (I finally sat up at about 8 AM), and I don't want to risk lulling myself back into bed.
On my second try, I land on "58 – Tip the Scales." This practice is about taking time to weigh the good things one has and done. It requires completing the four following sentences:
"I am really good at __________ (e.g. writing, painting, etc.)."
"I have many things in life that give me pleasure and meaning, like __________ (e.g. family, friends, etc.)."
"I've made it this far because I'm __________ (e.g. strong, patient, etc.)."
"Because of my experience, I am more __________ (e.g. compassionate, understanding, etc.)."
Now this exercise speaks to me. For various reasons, I'm in the midst of a challenging period, and every day I struggle to shift some focus off my problems and limitations and back onto my opportunities and blessings. And although I'm a writer – indeed, because I'm a writer – I push myself to sit up in bed and complete the sentences aloud.
As I reach the last sentence, my creativity kicks in and so my answers begin show rather than tell. Here are just a few that I want to share.
Because of my experience, I smile as I pay the bills.
I give the panhandler a dollar even if I doubt he will buy something to eat.
I wear lipstick and lingerie when there is no man to see them.
I run to my fear, grab its hand, and say, "C'mon, let's jump."
I cry to flex emotional strength.
I submit as evidence of my integrity the gossip circulating about me.
I jaywalk across four lanes to get to the sunny side of the street.
I giggle during Mercury retrograde.
I wrestle fairly with other good yet wounded souls
I dress the stereotype without playing the role.
I opt to love (the verb) rather than wait for it (the noun) to happen.
When you tip the scales, what positive things do you (re)discover about yourself?