San Diego: Ernie Peña


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Janice Sapigao is a Pinay writer and educator from San Jose, CA. Her work has been published in Quaint Magazine, the anthology Empire of Funk: Hip Hop and Representation in Filipina/o America, and AngryAsianMan.com, among others. She earned her M.F.A. in Critical Studies/Writing at CalArts. She co-founded an open mic in Los Angeles called the Sunday Jump. She lives in the Bay Area and teaches at Skyline College and San Jose City College.

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Why TAYO? (Or, why do you think TAYO is an important space for diasporic art?) Why do you think publication is important?

I am joining TAYO’s editorial team after much thought and care. Last year at the Association of Writers & Writing Program Conference (AWP) in Seattle, I spoke with my Voices of Our Nation (VONA) writing instructor from 2011, author M. Evelina Galang, whom I had asked about her move, or service, to become writer and editor. Evelina told me that her decision to edit the anthology Screaming Monkeys came from a community need to edit and put together an anthology that responded to ongoing racism against Filipinas/os. She helped me understand that circumstances called her to become an editor, not that she simply chose to become one. This is very much how I feel about my writing – that I was called to write and create because circumstances in my life have always called for it, for me to document unapologetically, against forgetting and losing important memories.

TAYO is important because it was one of the first places to publish my work when I decided to pursue writing poetry seriously. In addition, publication is important because it’s one way for me to put out into the world the kinds of writing I wanted to read when I was younger. Diasporic writing is important in general because I think the writing world is hella devoid of and needs more of the weird, the diverse, the people-centered, the complex, and the broken. I think publication, like the way I view politics and power, should be more representative of our world and its gorgeous differences.

What's your favorite book of all time--a book that you keep going back to?

I’m not sure if I have a favorite per se, but I have constants (the books I always turn to or find myself coming back to): from unincorporated territory [hacha] by Craig Santos Perez, trespasses by Padcha Tuntha-Obas, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The House on Mango Street and Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, and the book that brought me to questioning, writing, and recognizing struggle—Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur. I love and teach these books to my students. I hope they know how much I enjoy reading them over and over again.

What brought you to writing? Tell us your writerly beginnings.

I learned to love writing and reading at an early age. I got my first diary from Sanrio when I was six years old and I have always had one since. I developed a love of reading in early elementary school, which means I loved book orders time and the flower petal thin paper we got to write on. Through those book orders, I subscribed to author Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter’s Club Little Sister series. Each month, I’d receive a packet of four books for as many months as there were books. I eventually burned through all of the books that completed the series. The publisher, Scholastic, offered me a new subscription to The Babysitter’s Club, which were sent to me in the same fashion as the Little Sister series. I remember reading so much that I finished all four books in one day. I read more than there were books because the subscription ended sooner than I wanted. I think my mom also realized that my reading habits were costly for a small family like ours, so she brought me to the library every week in fifth grade. (Thanks, Mom!) My mom recognized my love for books and I am so, so happy she did. I was brought to reading because I lived in those stories. I loved the female characters I spent time with. I write because of my love of reading.

Last but not least: anything you'd like to add. Or something about yourself our readers might not guess. 

I’ve never really shared this much about my book-lovin’ origins. I think I want to add this: when my father passed away months before I got my first diary. I knew that I had so much to say but didn’t want to necessarily share because I didn’t know how. I was so little and I knew how to write. I read and wrote a lot because I was shy. Because I was sad. Because I knew I was missing something but didn’t quite know what. I fear that writings and books will be dishonest this way, too, that our world will be missing stories and will not know what. I say: write against that by knowing, creating, and reading.


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