M. Evelina Galang
M. Evelina Galang is the author of two books of fiction -- HER WILD AMERICAN SELF (Coffee House Press, '96), a collection of short stories and the novel, ONE TRIBE (New Issues Press, '06). In addition to writing fiction and nonfiction, she has edited the anthology, SCREAMING MONKEYS: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, '03). Galang is the recipient of numerous awards, among them, the 2004 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Awards Advancing Human Rights, the 2004 AWP Prize in the Novel and the 2007 Global Filipino Award in Literature for ONE TRIBE. Galang has been researching the lives of the women of Liga ng mga Lolang Pilipina (LILA Pilipina), surviving Filipina "Comfort Women" of WWII, since 1998. In 2002, she was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Philippines where she continued her work with survivors. This past year, she authored the blog, "Laban for the Lolas!" in support of House Resolution 121 and was the Filipino American Outreach coordinator for 121 Coalition. She is currently writing LOLAS' HOUSE: WOMEN LIVING WITH WAR, stories of surviving Filipina "Comfort Women." Her second novel, ANGEL DE LA LUNA AND THE 5th GLORIOUS MYSTERY is forthcoming from Coffee House Press in the Fall of 2013. And she is at work on a new novel, BEAUTIFUL SORROW, BEAUTIFUL SKY. Galang teaches in and directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami. During the summer of 2012, she was invited to attend a White House Briefing for Filipino American Leaders.
Web site: www.mevelinagalang.com
Life philosophy: In Tagalog, my last name means respect. Growing up a Galang in America, we were constantly reminded that we should learn our name and let it guide us through our lives
I have been exploring the power of letters – how the combination of letters form words and sounds that create atmosphere, tone and meaning -- how patterns of words when gathered just so reveal truths, create connections and transform us within as well as manifest wide-sweeping changes in the world. In Kashmir Saivism philosophy each letter of the alphabet is a deity and is believed to bestow amazing power especially when coupled with other divine letters. The exploration of the letters, the selection of words and their arrangement as they are mapped onto the page to discover personal, political and global truths is my mission in the classroom. What do we want to say in this story? What form will the story take? In every moment, we have a choice. What risks am I willing to make as a writer? What material is so important that I am willing to risk my life to write it down? In every moment, we have the opportunity to ignite the meaning of words. How do we do this?
I begin with community. The most basic teaching tool of the creative writing program is the workshop. By establishing a community in the workshop, we build trust and create a common language by which we conduct effective critiques. One year I began by asking everyone to leave their shoes at the door in much the same way devotees take their shoes off before entering a temple. I told them, “This is a sacred space.” And then I asked them to define the meaning of sanctity. One student suggested that by allowing us to read her stories, she was giving us permission to see her most vulnerable self. Not only would we be reading stories that revealed herself, but we would be criticizing them too. By honoring that sacred space, the student felt that she could share her riskiest work and trust her peers.
I find books as models of writing as well as models for discussing text develop the community’s sense of story as well as an ability to hold effective critiques. We read as writers, taking apart scenes, chapters and entire books, imitating and shifting the work in guided exercises and experimenting with these techniques. I offer a wide range of writers to read --- traditional writers like Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, and Ernest Hemingway as well as writers from the traditionally marginalized perspective, like writers Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, and Lois Ann Yamanaka. In analyzing these texts for shape and substance we reveal how to write the stories. Not only do I use literature to model writing and the writing life, I use my own practice and my experiences to mentor my students. My process is a discipline and some days are wonderful, but some days I too have my doubts. Letting students in on my process, allowing them to see how I’ve worked through certain obstacles, and revealing my books in their various stages make the work of writing real to them. Once, when I was revising One Tribe, I filled a large rolling suitcase with six drafts and seven or so notebooks. I wheeled that suitcase across campus and unzipped it before my writing students. Pulling out the notebooks and drafts, I stacked them on desks. My students gathered around and began to scour every page. The drafts were 350 pages and markedly different in form and point of view. Figure drawings and storyboards etched across notebook pages, typed text, plastered over hand-drafted notes to create a collage of sorts. “What is this?” they wanted to know. We spent the hour talking about process, obstacles, and vision. We talked about commitment.
For my undergraduate students, I develop a strong discipline of reading, writing and revising founded on craft. In teaching graduate students, I want to be able to read their rough first draft of a novel or collection of stories and see beyond the flaws to the writer’s ultimate vision and from there guide the writer to meet that vision as we both complicate and streamline his or her fiction. Most of my graduate students are writing long projects such as novels and story collections, sometimes screenplays, but for the undergraduate students, it can be enough to have produced a solid scene and to understand why the scene is working. Regardless of their final product, I see my role as that of someone who helps her writing students to contemplate every choice, and to measure each risk in order to summon the myriad of deities to dance through their fiction, wreaking havoc or casting storms or simply engaging our imagination.