Mia Leonin is the author of two books of poetry: Braid (Anhinga Press) and Unraveling the Bed (Anhinga Press), and a memoir Havana and Other Missing Fathers(University of Arizona Press). She has been awarded an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in New Letters, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and Chelsea. She has received a Money for Women Grant by the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and a 2005 Florida Individual Artist Fellowship. Leonin has been writing about theater, dance, and performance in Miami since 2000. She was the theater critic for the Miami New Times and is the recipient of a Green Eyeshade Award for theater criticism. She frequently writes about dance, performance, and Spanish-language theater for the Miami Herald. In 2007, she was selected to be a fellow in the National Endowment for the Arts/Annenberg Institute on Theater and Musical Theater.
Life philosophy: Listen.
A few years ago, I started asking my students: “When your parents and grandparents were your age, what were they doing?” Some have answered, “Attending university,” but more frequent responses include: “Working,” “Coming to this country,” “Fighting in a war,” “Having children.” So far, no one has ever mentioned writing a poem, or creating anything for that matter. Viewing the creative writing class through this lens almost always renders it as nothing less than a privilege. It’s an honor to read a poem or story and to hold a beautiful passage up to the light. It’s a luxury to write and examine our work, to consider this word over that one. I strive to infuse my classes with this sense of awe and honor – and to extend it into the writing process.
Few things are more strengthening and character building than the act of practicing a discipline. Writing happens to be the discipline I feel most comfortable sharing with others, but as we talk about craft and the writing process throughout the term, my students bring fresh analogies to the discussion via their varied experiences as athletes, musicians, workers, performers, writers etc. Writing a poem or story shouldn’t be a rarefied experience. As with any discipline, it’s inherently worthwhile, for students who intend to follow the path of a professional writer and those who don’t.
The discipline I practice and share is process oriented and reflective. My classes are shaped and driven by the concept of “reflection” as an inward and outward act. Outwardly, via workshop and discussions of student writings, we strive to reflect the work back to its author as clearly as possible. I'm not interested in teaching students to evaluate or “fix” each other’s writing, but rather to clearly communicate impressions and raise thoughtful questions. With this, and other tools, the writer can turn inward and consider what his or her work is projecting to the reader, what was intended, and what might be done in revision to come closer to the mark (or to completely reinvent “the mark”). This inward reflective act is essential to the writing process and as the semester progresses, it becomes a vital component to the course work. I value a writer’s thoughtful and creative reflection as much, if not more, than a vivid image or an effective piece of dialogue. In the long run, what I hope for my students is that they will experience the heartbreak, frustration, revelation and delight of having genuinely engaged in the writing process.
I didn’t come to writing from another discipline although it has led (and accompanies me) in my pursuit of other obsessions – performance, dance, theater, Spanish, Spanglish, Colombia, Cuba, and Peru. Writing has always been about survival for me. It has always felt urgent and necessary. The teachers, mentors, and writers who have marked me most indelibly have carried that sense of urgency and intensity into the classroom – and to the page.