Omoiyari Interview with Professor Sarah Gambito
Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University
Sarah Gambito is the author of the poetry collections Delivered (Persea Books) and Matadora (Alice James Books). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, Denver Quarterly, The New Republic, Field, Quarterly West, Fence and other journals. She holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the Creative Writing Program at Brown University. Her honors include the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets and Writers and grants and fellowships from The New York Foundation for the Arts, Urban Artists Initiative and the MacDowell Colony. She is Assistant Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University. Together with Joseph O. Legaspi, she co-founded Kundiman, a non-profit organization serving Asian American poets.
KL: Congratulations on the success of Kundiman, the annual retreat for Asian American poets! Kundiman also sponsors the Kundiman Poetry Prize with publication of the winning manuscript by Alice James Books.
What are some of the highlights of your transformative journey in creating Kundiman? How would you describe the lasting influence of mentorship and community which Kundiman provides?
Sarah Gambito: What has been so rewarding is to see how the energy of the retreat extends past the physical days of the retreat. Fellows really keep in touch over email, Facebook, Ichat, good food in Queens, salons in Los Angeles and Brooklyn and continue to mentor each other. It has been wonderful to see how they become each other’s best readers and sanctuary.
One of my favorite moments was when Yael Villafranca—one of our youngest fellows—who had never read in public before read at the Retreat reading with Bei Dao. It was so symbolic of what Kundiman has come to mean to me—various generations of Asian American poets buoying each other through words.
KL: Currently, you’re director of the Creative Writing Program at Fordham University. What are your dreams & visions for this program?
Sarah Gambito: The English department at Fordham has long fostered a symbiotic relationship between scholarship and the creative arts. I’d love to help build upon this. One of my projects in Fall 2010 is Turning Tides: A Symposium on Diasporic Literatures to be held at the Fordham Lincoln Center campus. More information on this is here: http://turningtides.squarespace.com/ Kundiman is fortunate, also, in the fact that we have entered into a institutional partnership with Fordham. We held our first retreat at the Fordham Bronx, Rose Hill campus this past Summer 2010. Fellows wrote poems on the beautiful grounds. Stayed up late into the night discussing literature. Visited the Botanical Gardens and Poet’s House in Manhattan.
I’m looking forward, also, to learning about how I can be effective in creating community between the creative writers at Fordham. This year, we are piloting a series of student-centered readings that will entail the participation of all the creative writing classes across both campuses.
KL: What are some of your favorite writing exercises and texts to teach?
Sarah Gambito: Empathy, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. I love Adrienne Kennedy. I love translation exercises. Even better if you don’t know the language you are translating from. Through the years, I’ve been working on a directed writing exercise involving breath and the seven chakras. I’m so much in my head as a writer. It has been fulfilling to think about the physical body and how this can help drive creative impulse.
KL: Your acclaimed second collection, Delivered (Persea Books) was published in 2009. Are you working on any current projects?
Sarah Gambito: Right now I’m interested in new media and poetry. How can the text of a poem expand to fit the liquid contours of the Internet….
KL: With all your administrative responsibilities, how do you set aside time to write poetry?
Sarah Gambito: I’m still learning this discipline. What I try and do is read as much as I can. And write as it comes. And to try not to question too much.