mgb has been a poet since she first learned how to write her name, an educator since 2006, & a wannabe dramaturg since spring 2016. Born on one of the seven thousand islands of the Philippine Arkipelago, she was raised in the dusty town of Porterville, CA & now lives in San Francisco, less than a mile away from the beach. Her publications include TAYO Literary Magazine, The Operating System, & her short plays can be seen on stage at Bindlestiff Studio. She is an alumna of the Voices of Our Nation (VONA) Conference, Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, Pele’s Fire, & VORTEXT Hedgebrook. She holds degrees in Asian American Studies and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University & Mills College. She divides her time writing in the margins of various spaces, searching for used copies of her favorite books, teaching Language Arts to Bay Area college students, & going on walking excursions with her Stegosaurus & Unicorn companions: Dean O & Queenie. She was a mermaid in a past life, a werewolf in this one, & hopes to be a faerie in the next one. Follow her on twitter (only if you want) @aswangmgb.
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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?
TAYO is a space I get to be myself without having to justify my Queer-ness, my Pinay-ness, my Immigrant-ness, my Weird-ness.
TAYO & the people behind TAYO allow for my identities & don't try to make me choose or pit them against each other.
TAYO understands that people don't just contain one, but multitudes of stories. & those stories are silenced, overlooked, questioned, seen as niche, or worse: never told.
TAYO allows for those narratives to be seen, read, understood, identified with.
What's your favorite book of all time--a book that you keep going back to?
It's cruel to ask me this question. I am a lover of books. My Personal Library is on it's way on rivaling the Beast's. I'm just going to lists my beloveds, by category. These are books that after each time I read them, I have to put the book down, cry a little (or a lot), & lie in bed to contemplate the existence of the universe.
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume – This is the first "real" book I really remember reading all the way through. It was also the first thing I remember actively stealing. It was one of my sixth grade teacher's books. It's one of my prized possessions, and completely worn- it's lost its cover but "Mr. Kellogg" is still written on the sides in fading permanent ink. This is the book that if I come across a used copy anywhere, I immediately buy it. This is the book that made me want to be a writer.
Hold Still by Nina LaCour – This book is so beautiful & haunting, I had to read it for one of my grad school classes. This was the only book I read in that class cover to cover. When she came to class to speak, I had her sign my library book and ripped out that page before I returned it to the library. (I made sure it wasn't an "important" page.) We Are Okay is also a beautiful & haunting book by Nina. They are two sides of the same coin for me.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – I like Neil, I love his Sandman graphic novel collection. I'm okay with his adult fantasy, but I cried over this book. I've been contemplating a quote to be tattooed on my body, that's how much I love this book.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I stumbled upon this book because LMM was narrating it, I fell in love with this book because it is so fucking brilliant. This is the kind of writer I want to be.
anything & everything by Daniel Jose Older because mothafucking spirits. His YA Shadowshaper series is phenomenal, & his adult Bone Street Rumbaseries made me wander the dark streets at night searching for answers deep within myself.
anything & everything by Holly Black because mothafucking faeires. Her Tithe series is what made me buy every book she has and will have in existence.
Day Tripper by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá – This book made me take a long winding walk along water when I was done. It also changed the way I write poems.
Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim – I love this book to no end. It is also set in the Bay Area and part of it is set in Pacifica, where I lived for a very wonderful and turbulent summer.
The Crow By James O'Barr – First graphic novel I ever read when I was in grade school. Gory as fuck. Made my parents take me to the R rated movie. Also gory as fuck. I dressed up as Brandon Lee's Eric Draven for many a Halloweens. I tried to go goth (but my mom wouldn't let me,) I have crows tattooed on my body, I want a pet crow. I study their migratory patterns. I met James once and told him, he's the reason I began reading comics, and he replied- "Don't blame that shit on me."
Lola by J.Torres. Filipino ghost story. 'Nuff said.
The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers by Bhanu Kapil – so as a baby poet, I never really read poetry. I had what central valley white born again public school teachers were required to teach. I never knew there were books of poetry- I thought poetry came in giant ass Norton anthologies. This was the first poetry book I read at SF State. I became obsessed with Bhanu after that. I even wrote a whole article about said obsession. You can read that here (Shameless plug): http://www.theoperatingsystem.org/6th-annual-napomo-303030-day-4-mgb-on-bhanu-kapil/
Within the Margin by Truong Tran –thisbookiswritteninonelongassrunonsentenceitsamazinghewasmypoetryteacherthroughoutundergradandgradschoolandwasmythesisadvisor. It's Amazing. He's amazing. He also has beautiful visual art that includes cutting out paper butterflies from gay porn mags.
Transformations by Anne Sexton fairytales told as blunt as fuck.
Montress by Lysley Tenorio. I teach this collection of short stories. Totally turns what you think about Filipino Culture on it's head.
It is my very favorite book to teach.
When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holtz. Beautiful stories within this story, it reminds me that we are all storied people.
The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn – First book I read by a Filipin@. I was 23. It was all about Drugs, Sex and Rock & Roll–things that were so foreign in the Filipino culture that I knew.
Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler – I read Kindred and was so amazed, others told me to read her SciFi. Then I read Dawn and was like DAMN. This is it. I teach the trilogy and fuck up incoming freshman's minds.
Bloodletting by Boni B. Alvarez. My sister asked me "Wanna watch a play about Aswangs?" & of Fucking course I did.
Spring Awakening by Duncan Shiek. For more than half of my life I had completely no idea how to handle my feelings towards about boys or girls or sex, & mental health wasn't in anyone's vocabulary, because no one was talking, or at least telling me anything. This musical brings up all those fears about growing up and makes them beautiful.
Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda. I've been with this since the beginning & tried to tell everyone around me about it. Most people just smiled & nodded. Then they saw it & understand me a little better. I am a huge LMM fan since In the Heights (21 Chump Street is totally worth checking out too) & my love for his musicals stems from seeing people who look like me (It's not just Lea Salonga anymore!) on stage in major roles. I'm also a sucker for love stories & the love stories in this musical are gut wrenching.
What brought you to writing? Tell us your writerly beginnings.
In fifth grade, we were forced to keep a daily journal. A black Mead composition book was passed out every midmorning & we were given time to free write. I found this exercise to be excruciating. I hated writing, & writing for thirty minutes straight seemed like an impossible, not to mention boring task. I barely wrote a proper paragraph.
After getting several written comments saying that I was "not meeting the writing length," I whined to my sisters that my teacher did not like me. They told me to make stuff up. They told me to write a story. So I did. I created a story about a mother who thought she was pregnant, but instead she was going through early menopause.
My teacher was confused that I would write such detailed story when I hated doing anything with writing, but I was enraptured. I went from the girl who never wrote more than three sentences to the girl that had to have the composition book pried out of her hands at the end of free write time. I began to write beyond my free write journal. I began to write beyond the free write time. I began to write. I wrote stories until I discovered poetry in junior high.
In high school, my English teachers began to notice my poetry and gave me extra credit to read it out loud. In community college, I made my poetry teacher shiver. She told me to submit to the local contest. I placed second. I read my poetry at college open mics and was written about in the newspaper twice. But none of that mattered, because the person I loved most in the world, called me just another writer in Porterville, (a rural town in the middle of California.) In one single sentence, I became afraid of writing. So, I stopped. I stopped thinking that I could be a writer. Eventually I just wanted to get away.
I arrived in San Francisco in the later part of January 2006, the year it rained for the whole month of February. I felt like a newly arrived immigrant, ready to leave my old life behind, but unfamiliar with my surroundings, the culture, the language, and most importantly, the weather. I had one pair of shoes, no winter clothes, & five credit cards.
My return to writing was a slow & painful, I love literature & writing essays, but I held onto the idea that I was "just another writer." It took a lot of teachers to give me permission to write creatively again. It took a lot of friends holding my hands to perform at Open Mics. It took a lot of self forgiveness. Writing still does.
Last but not least: anything you'd like to add. Or something about yourself our readers might not guess.
My name changes at any given moment.
My name changes with what I am writing.
Somedays, I'm mgb. Other times, I'm San Pablo. Most times, I'm just grace.
My name contains history & foreign lands.
My name contains future & parallel worlds.
My name, like me, contains multitudes.