I wasn’t always a reader. I remember looking for picture books about kids with the same skin color as me but there were very few. At some point I think I internalized the idea that books weren’t for kids like me. This idea was reinforced in school when we only read books by white male writers, and when my teachers expressed doubts about my writing being my own. They believed it was “too good” for someone like me. I was detrimentally shy, but I refused to be underestimated so I continued to work hard. Looking back now I realize that those experiences had less to do with me and more to do with how the world perceives people who look like me.
My parents never stopped encouraging me to read and write. They played audiobooks in the car, gave me books they loved, and let me read whatever I wanted. Eventually, I learned to love exploring the lives of people different from me. Each new book taught me empathy. I fell in love with the limitlessness of language and how it costs nothing to tell a story. My mom used to tell me that if I couldn’t find a book I wanted to read, then I should write it.
It wasn’t until I was in grad school at Rutgers University-Newark that I discovered a community of writers. Everything was new to me. I grew up in the middle of nowhere Texas and had limited knowledge of all things literary. The closest library near my home only housed poetry books by white poets and dead poets. It didn’t occur to me that the world of poetry continued moving and growing like the world of fiction did. That’s naive to admit, but I’ve been lucky; the kindness and generosity of my peers and teachers saved me. Their book suggestions, conversations on writing, and invitations to readings exposed me to a world I couldn’t imagine back home.
After graduation, I moved back to Texas and felt displaced. I continued reading and writing, but didn’t feel like I had a community anymore. By living in a house surrounded by fields instead of my fellow writers, I’ve learned that writing shouldn’t be done alone. I believe that it’s essential to build community, support other writers, and champion their work.
Last summer, I found a community that allowed me to do all those things at VONA/ Voices. All 9 poets who were in my workshop are brilliant and the best people I know. Every day I feel grateful for their support and friendship.
All of this has led me here to Sundress Publications. I’m always looking for ways to participate and learn more about all the work put into presses and journals. The hard work of writers, editors, and readers at presses and literary magazines is what sustains the writing community. I’m excited to go behind the scenes as an editorial intern with Sundress Publications.
Laura Villareal is from a small town in Texas with more cows than people. She earned an MFA from Rutgers University-Newark. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee, Black Warrior Review, Breakwater Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Freezeray, Reservoir, The Boiler, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and scholarships from The Highlights Foundation, Key West Literary Seminar, and VONA/ Voices. She’s also a reader at Winter Tangerine.