Award-winning Omaha Lit Fest author Angel Garcia explores toxic masculinity in his book of poems

by Leo Adam Biga

 

Noted poet Angel Garcia, whose 2018 book Teeth Never Sleep has won an

American Book Award and the CantoMundo Poetry Prize, will be among the

featured authors at the September 14 Omaha Lit Fest.

 

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing

is a graduate teaching assistant in UNL’s Department of English. He’s

a former community organizer in his native Southern California.

 

His book of poems considers the toxic masculinity boys and men are

conditioned to emulate. The work is informed by his own machismo run

amuck.

 

“Women have been having this conversation for a long time about gender

expectations and roles and how they can be very limiting because

they’re so rigid. Often times (domestic) violence is associated with

those roles and expectations,” Garcia said.

 

“Those conversations need to be happening amongst men. Poetry is one

way to engage that conversation. We talk about sexism and patriarchy

in my classroom as a way to frame the conversation.”

 

He said such discussions are vital for Latino and African-American men

“because they are raciaiized by racist notions of what it means to be

a man of color.” Garcia, who considers himself Chicano, is the son of

Mexican immigrant parents.

 

He sees his younger self in boys “who find themselves out of control,

not knowing how to communicate or overcome silence, and dealing with

the expectations to be hyper masculine, sexual. tough, strong.”

 

Garcia came to writing in Long Beach. While attaining undergraduate

and graduate degrees, he honed his craft, but ignored his own mental

health. He became “a teeth grinder” who repressed feelings.

 

“Even though I grew up in a loving family environment, things began to

shift in the dynamic of our family between my brothers moving out and

my parents splitting up. I didn’t know how to articulate the anger and

overwhelming sadness I felt, and that built over the years.

 

“I found the only time I could really say what I wanted to say was

when I was  drinking, so that became a negative coping mechanism. Even

though I was taught to respect women, anger just consumed me to where

I cared very little about myself. As a result, I cared very little

about other people and how I caused them pain.”

 

The “guilt and shame” that came with knowing he was “self-destructive”

only fueled “more drinking and wild behavior.” School offered some

stability. But it took serious introspection to make real progress. “I

needed to really pause and look at myself and be reflective. That

meant isolating myself to figure out what was going on with me and why

I had become such a toxic person. I went to therapy and anger

management. I tried to be a better man in so many ways. The process is

ongoing.”

 

He was in his master’s program when he decided to write about his journey.

 

“I kept saying, I need to go deeper, I need to interrogate myself, I

need to implicate myself, I need to be more vulnerable.” Writing about

it, he said.,”was a way to stop silence and my complicity in that

silence.” “That really shaped the project. Early on I knew maybe what

story I wanted to tell – a collection with a larger narrative – but I

was never sure how I wanted to tell it.”

 

It was only until he got to UNL in 2015 that Teeth Never Sleep emerged.

 

“In shaping the manuscript, I was frightened by what the poems were

saying and how they would be received.”

 

He’s focused more on writing since stepping back from a Pomona,

California-based community organizing group, Gente Organizada, he and

Jesus Sanchez formed upon concluding they could do the work “better

from-the-ground-up” than existing groups. Their goal is empowering

communities of color.

 

“Good community organizing is good teaching because you’re not telling

people what to do, you’re giving them the resources to make decisions

on their own. Our model is to educate people about their history,

about how things work – the school board, the city council. Then

they’re empowered, they begin to voice their own concerns and they

engage with people in power without fear or intimidation. It’s the

difference between teaching in the classroom and teaching on the

street  We started organizing around what was lacking in schools and

now the organization is moving into other realms as the community

articulates what they want.”

 

Garcia “missed being in the classroom, interacting with students,

creating lesson plans,” so he came to UNL for his doctorate work.

Eventually, he said, “I hope to find something where I’m most

effective, but where that’s going to be I’m not sure yet.”

 

This will be Garcia’s first Omaha Lit Fest. He’s eager to connect with

other writers and readers.

 

“I don’t take that lightly or for granted. Anytime I have an

opportunity I like to do Q&As and talk about process. I like sharing

with young writers how I do this professionally. I’m looking forward

to it.”

 

In his own writing, he said, “I’m trying to dabble in nonfiction. Some

of the things I want to say can’t necessarily be said in the concise

form of the poem and so I’ve been working on some essays and doing

reviews. No fiction for me. It’s just beyond me how people develop

characters and dialogue and plots.

 

“I’m working on some new poems, the bulk of which trace genealogy and

geography in terms of immigration and migration of my family. My

family has always been travelers. I’ve been going through family

archives – photos, letters, postcards – trying to articulate a larger

experience of immigration and migration.”

 

His Latino identity is intrinsic to his writing.

 

“Everything is informed by not only our race and ethnicity but our

gender, our class, where we live, what kind of upbringing we had, All

these factors combine to make me who I am.”

 

Garcia will serve on panels at Omaha Lit Fest, which runs from 10 a.m.

to 5 p.m. at The Venue at Highlander,  2120 North 30th Street.

 

Visit https://www.facebook.com/Omaha-Lit-Fest.

 

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

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