Juliana Delgado Lopera is an award-winning Colombian writer/educator/oral-historian based in San Francisco. The recipient of the 2014 Jackson Literary award, and a finalist of the Clark-Gross Novel award, she’s the author of ¡Cuéntamelo! an illustrated bilingual collection of oral histories by LGBT Latin@ immigrants awarded the Regen Ginaa Grant from Galería de la Raza and a 2014 National Queer Arts Festival Grant from the Queer Cultural Center. Her work has been published in Four Way Review, The Bold Italic, Weird Sister, Revista Canto, Transfer Magazine, Raspa Magazine, Black Girl Dangerous, and SF Weekly among others. She’s performed in countless events around the Bay Area including Action Fiction!, Red Light Lit, Beast Crawl, Lit Quake and lectured at Wayward Writers, SFSU, 826 Valencia. She’s the executive director of RADAR Productions.
Founded in 2003 by writer Michelle Tea, RADAR Productions nurtures queer artists and audiences by organizing literary arts programs that authentically reflect Queer communities’ experiences. RADAR’s presenting, commissioning, touring and professional development programs give voice to innovative Queer writers and artists and explores the community-building role played by literature and the arts.
Roberto F. Santiago: First off, congratulations on being awesome in a million different ways! Not only are you an accomplished artist in your own right, you are now working to amplify the voices of queer artistry as the Executive Director of RADAR Productions. How did you end up at RADAR Productions?
Juliana Delgado Lopera: I don’t think there’s a linear correlation here. It wasn’t a one, two, three step and boom here’s your new job. Like everything in life it was part luck, part showing up, part literary devotion. I met Michelle Tea in a book club at Rhiannon Argo’s house five years ago after which she booked me to read at RADAR. I read with RADAR many times after that. But even before meeting Michelle I was in love with RADAR from the moment I moved to the [Bay Area], it was the only place where I could both listen to some real queer story-telling plus do some dyke cruising. Where else in San Francisco can you do that? I attended as many RADAR events as I could, read whenever Michelle asked me and eventually became really involved in the queer literary scene here. And then one day back in March, Michelle and I met for coffee and here I am.
Santiago: Sometimes magic takes the long way… How do you plan on furthering the great work of RADAR and Michelle Tea?
Lopera: Like I’ve said before, Michelle’s beautiful energy will forever be part of RADAR’s core. We’re moving forward by tuning in to our community’s needs, by listening and responding to the changing landscape of San Francisco and the Bay. For example, we need more QTPOC writers represented in literary spaces, period. And we need more literary spaces that are accessible to QTPOC writers. RADAR’s is also widening its internet presence as a way of reaching new writers and as a way of being a hub of queer literary resources.
Right now we’re working on Queering the Castro: a year-long literary/arts program meant to inject the Castro with some queer sass. We’re doing it all: a series of queer intimacy, drag queen storytelling, artists panels at the GLBT museum, bilingual performances, collaborations, etc. Our next event is “Hella Close: Stories of Queer Intimacy” on October 26, 7pm at Magnet.
Santiago: How does your focus on oral history play into your role as Executive Director of RADAR Productions?
Lopera: I became interested in oral history because I’m marveled at how some people naturally tell stories, and because I grew up in a matriarchy that never shut up around me. That taught me that history was happening right in my living room while my aunts smoked, bitched and gossiped– even though nobody from the outside witnessed. This was my history too. And in a way I search for that orality in writers.
Santiago: Briefly, how would you define Queerness and Queer Art?
Lopera: Oh my God, in one sentence?
I think queerness moves beyond “LGBT” and into a fluid space of resistance.
Santiago: In an interview you mentioned that you started writing as you “waited for the school bus in Bogotá,” as of today, how far from that bus stop has your writing journeyed?
Lopera: So far! I can’t think of a metaphor that’s not an overdone cliché. But, basically, I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore to try and seem cool/depressed while writing and I don’t lie to myself about one day being “discovered” or pulling an Emily Dickinson after death. And although I still love Sylvia Plath I’ve managed to not carry “Ariel” everywhere I go (total relief). But by far my biggest accomplishment is being able to sit down and write for at least an hour a day.
Santiago: That is quite an accomplishment in today’s world! In that same interview, you mentioned the importance of Plath in your coming of age as a writer/reader, what other writers do you go to for inspiration?
Lopera: Pedro Lemebel, Rita Indiana, Eileen Myles, Junot Díaz, ZZ Packer. My mother’s text messages and this wonderful Colombian graphic artist called Power Paola.
Santiago: How does fear play into your work?
Lopera: It forces me sit down and write! Because what if I die before finishing this novel?
Santiago: In my research you seem to practice what you preach citing everything from Novelas to tea to Plath to your mother’s text messages to people’s unabashed Christian Rock obsessions, and Sofia Vergara’s accent… what is the strangest bit of non-traditional text that has inspired you most recently?
Lopera: These YouTube videos on how to speak like a “cordobesa” which is someone from the coast of Colombia. Martina La Peligrosa teaches you how to use specific Cordobes colloquialisms. It’s like a coastal slang dictionary with “how to use this in a sentence” examples plus she’s super cute. My mother’s side of the family is from Cartagena and some of my novel takes place in Cartagena during the 1950s, so it helps me with some of the vocabulary – Check it out here!
Santiago: At one time you mentioned, “There is no such thing as Writer’s Block (you can always write something).” I definitely agree, although… I do think there are several pieces I have yet to complete (or start for that matter) because I am not quite ready to tackle them. What is one thing you have yet to conquer in your own work that we can look forward to seeing in the years to come?
Lopera: Form. I struggle with form. My pieces are never, ever neat and many times I have to draw out the structure and even then I’m lost. Light a candle for me and Form.
Santiago: What is your dream venue/event that you would like to craft in the near future (please feel free to cast me in a role, because I am ready!)?
Lopera: A week-long queer literary marathon focused on queer writers of color in San Francisco happening in every corner of the mission that used to have sabor. We’d have drag shows, self-deprecating monologues, unapologetic poetry, lit contests, zine vendors and spoken word while munching on the best fish tacos you’ve ever had. It’s happening at Galería de la Raza, Mission Cultural Center, Alley Cat Books, Modern Times. We pay tribute to The Lex and Esta Noche. And look, there’s also a women’s bathhouse for some reason. All you see are cute queers on the street holding books. It’s coming!
Santiago: Finish this sentence: Anyone can write, but a great writer…
Lopera: …gets off Facebook and carves a writing practice into her routine however she can.