Interview With an Author: Luivette Resto

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Luivette Resto and her latest poetry book, Living on Islands Not Found on Maps
Author Luivette Resto and her latest poetry book, Living on Islands Not Found on Maps

Luivette Resto attended Cornell University, where she earned her BA in English Literature and a minor in U.S. Latinx history. She later studied under Martín Espada at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetry. Her previous collection; Unfinished Portrait and Ascension earned her a 2008 Paterson Poetry Prize nomination and a 2014 Paterson Poetry Prize Award for Literary Excellence, respectively. She is a CantoMundo and Macondo fellow as well as a Pushcart Prize nominee. Luivette’s third book of poetry, Living on Islands Not Found on Maps, beautifully highlights her as a mother, a survivor, a linguist, a woman, and a lover and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

How did you get started as a poet?

I started writing short one-page chapter books when I was in 7th grade. At the time, I was reading a lot of Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High, so I tried to mimic them. Then my 7th-grade teacher announced an in-class poetry contest, and I submitted a poem titled “Push.” I didn’t write another poem until college, when I took an intro creative writing class at Cornell. From there, my passion for poetry grew, and with the encouragement of friends and teachers like my advisor, Helena Viramontes, I decided to apply to MFA programs. UMASS @ Amherst was and still is one of the top MFA programs. It wasn’t an easy program to graduate from as one of the only poets of color. However, from that program, I learned to cultivate my craft and grow as a writer. During my time at UMass, I met Luis J. Rodriguez via my mentor, Martín Espada. He introduced me to Luis and his work. It was that initial meet-and-greet that gave me the courage to send Luis my first collection of poetry, which he eventually published in 2008, and then later my second collection in 2013.

How do your poems develop? Please guide us through the stages of a poem

For a while, I would hand write my poems on legal pads and then document what day and time, and location I wrote it (even what I was wearing). Nowadays, I type my poems. Occasionally, I write drafts in a writing journal. I use my iPhone notes a lot to jot down ideas for poems or titles. When I am stuck, I reread my favorite poetry collections. They jumpstart my writing process. I give myself time to walk away from the poems and to give me perspective. I also share drafts of poems with friends for feedback. I don’t prescribe to a specific writing routine. As a mom of three, I found it difficult to maintain a specific time.

Who are your favorite living poets?

Martín Espada, Luis J. Rodriguez, Sandra Cisneros, Naomi Ayala, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Nikki Giovanni, Bridgette Bianca, Angelina Saenz, Iris de Anda, traci kato-kiriyama, Mike Sonksen.

Who are your favorite dead poets?

Audre Lorde, Judith Cofer-Ortiz, Julia de Burgos, Jack Agüeros, Dorothy Parker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Wanda Coleman, Reverend Pedro Pietri.

How did you first get published?

My first book of poetry, Unfinished Portrait, was published in 2008 by Tia Chucha Press, which is run by Luis J. Rodriguez. I met Luis years before in graduate school. Martín knew I would be moving to Los Angeles soon, so he introduced me to Luis at a writer's workshop. This gave me the courage to submit my manuscript to Tia Chucha. My absolute first publication was a poem called “The White Girl in Her.” It was published in 2001 in Urban Latino magazine.

Can you give any advice to someone wanting to write and publish poetry?

Don’t compare your writing journey with anyone else’s. (I am still reminding myself of this one.) It is easy to get caught up in the belief that you aren’t writing or publishing enough. That’s not true. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Everyone has different things going in their lives and, therefore different paths. Also, if you aren’t writing, try to read poetry or attend poetry events. One of the positives of the pandemic is that poetry events went on Zoom. Even today, many poetry events are hybrid, which allows for many people to be engaged.

The biography on your website states emphatically that you are a “Wonder Woman fanatic.” Do you have a favorite portrayal of Wonder Woman? A favorite TV episode or film? A favorite graphic novel?

Lynda Carter hands down. She was my first introduction to the Amazonian princess. When I got older and learned that she was Latina, my adoration for her multiplied. Her origin story as well as learning about Dr. Marston’s life solidified my fanaticism.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

I JUST cleared my nightstand and got myself a new bookcase. I had books all over the house, and my two bookcases had no more room. However, before the clean up, I had bell hooksAll About Love and Jason ReynoldsGhost.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

As a kid, I didn’t have one specific book, but I did have my favorite book series: Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club. I also must have read every Encyclopedia Brown book.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

The ones I have written. I was nervous about her response. A lot of my work is drawn from my life and experiences. Therefore, I was anxious what my mom would think about these very intimate poems about my childhood, sex life, etc.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

This is a great question. There isn’t a book I have faked, but there is a book that I have tried to read at least 3 times because so many people refer to it, and I feel silly when I can’t contribute. The book is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

SO many! Probably all of them. Recently, it has been Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High and The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna.

Is there a book that changed your life?

In college I read Martín Espada’s Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands and Judith Ortiz-Cofer’s The Latin Deli. It was the first time I read poetry by Puerto Rican poets. Prior to that course, it was white men or women. With Espada and Ortiz-Cofer, I saw my language and Boricua words on the page. It inspired me on multiple levels.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

All the books that Audre Lorde wrote. Her essays and poetry are gifts.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

Recently, I watched Everything Everywhere All at Once. I have been recommending it to everyone. It is one of the most thought-provoking films I have seen in a long time.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

My perfect day requires the beach and some wine. I don’t really get in the ocean. I just like being near her so I can bask in the natural conversation she has with me. Listen. Write. Read. Sip. Repeat.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?

Which book have you started to read but just couldn’t finish it? My answer: no comment. LOL.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I have two things percolating. One is my Wu-Tang project. Coming from the Bronx, I am a huge hip-hop fan, and there are certain groups whom I love, and Wu-Tang is one of them. Their iconic album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is considered one of the best hip-hop albums of all time and a personal favorite of mine. I am writing response poems for each of the songs on the album, taking certain lines and repurposing them into my own titles. Second, I have been reflecting on the years I spent at my abuelo’s bodega. His bodega was my afterschool program. I would wait there for my mom to get off work. Lately, I have been thinking back on those years and the stories. I would like to organize them into a chapbook.

Book cover for Living on Islands Not Found on Maps
Living on Islands Not Found on Maps
Resto, Luivette

Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month With Luivette RestoJoin us as we celebrate Latinx Heritage Month by welcoming mother, teacher, poet, and Wonder Woman fantatic Luivette Resto as she talks about, and reads from, her new book Living on Islands Not Found on Maps.