Editors Talk: Peggy Robles-Alvarado, La Libreta
As a platform for emerging poets, our mission is to provide practical help for serious writers. The community lifts itself up together or not at all. In that light, we’ve been asking some great editors from around the literary community for their frank thoughts on why poems may get accepted/rejected from their own slush pile of submissions, and what poets can do to better their chances. Today, we’re speaking with Peggy Robles-Alvarado, Editor of La Libreta.
When and how did “La Libreta” begin?
Peggy Robles-Alvarado: Lalibreta.online began as a culminating celebration for a grant based workshop series I developed and led in November of 2020. The series was part of Robleswrites Productions and it was titled Respite, Write and Release™. Women writers of color were invited to build community, share new work and release fears that no longer served them by engaging in a structured program that involved Afro- Caribbean spiritual practices and writing rituals designed to support them as they stole time between work and family to recite poems over earbuds, gather manuscripts written on pieces of paper and proudly call themselves a writer. The first issue, published April of 2021 featured the poetry and artwork of these writers. I decided to continue the online journal under the same premise of publishing intergenerational women of color at various stages of writing as well as audio recordings of performance poems and visual art. We launched issue #2 of Lalibreta.online September of 2021 and we featured brand new voices alongside some well seasoned poets that ranged from teens to seniors, some who published with us for the first time and others who are award winning writers.
Can you talk about the work and writers you publish—any consistent themes, forms, aesthetic qualities, you look for? Feel free to shout out some writers you’ve published here.
Lalibreta.online is published three times each year. We publish the work of intergenerational writers and artists of color that identify as women. At the center of Robleswrites Productions’ mission is to create literary opportunities that foster intergenerational communal healing, literacy, creativity and equity and Lalibreta.online is an extension of this work. We do not consider previously published material but simultaneous submissions are acceptable with immediate notification of publication. We welcome submissions in English, Spanish, Spanglish, Creole, an amalgamation of languages, as well as Indigenous languages. We ask that a translation is provided for our editors to review and upon acceptance, the work will be published in its original format or without translation if the poet chooses to do so. To ensure the submission fee was accessible to all, we implemented a sliding scale fee of $3 – $7 per submission and donations to help sponsor writers who are not able to cover the fee are securely accepted on our website.
We seek to publish work that speaks to unexpected norms, people, places and things tied to our distinctive experiences. We want what sings, screams, laughs, shatters and refuses to break and celebrates who we are as women of color.
We honor brand new voices who have never published before such as the work of Manuela Arciniegas, a social justice warrior and founder of the all-women’s band Legacy Women, Darline Krystal a teen born in la República Dominicana who began writing to survive the effects of the pandemic, and Shihan Candy Warixi Soto a Taino culture historian. We also publish the work of artists who are well established in the field of poetry, performance and art such as Magdalena Gómez, the recipient of the 2021 Poet Laureate Fellowship, Raina J. León, PhD, who authored three collections of poetry and is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, Luivette Resto, a mother, teacher, poet, and Wonder Woman fanatic whose third collection of poetry is forthcoming from FlowerSong Press and Melanie Márquez Adams an Ecuadorian American writer, International Latino Book Award winner and translator of the New York Times bestseller ‘So You Want to Talk About Race’ for Vintage Español.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
New poets submitting work- listen up:
1- Eyes open! -Read submission guidelines carefully- Oftentimes work is rejected not because it wasn’t good but because the writer failed to follow instructions. Luckily at Lalibreta.online we give grace to new writers and have offered them mentorship opportunities and professional development workshops through Robleswrites Productions to polish their skills.
2-Research! – Read about the journal you are submitting to- If you are submitting work to a journal that has no idea what you are talking about when you use the term ¡FUAKATA! or chancletazo all over your writing then it is highly unlikely they will publish you. Seek platforms that celebrate who you are, what you write about, voices that are in conversation with yours and who can identify with the flying chancleta in your poems. These may be blogs, independent journals or smaller presses that will be the first places to publish your work but it won’t be the last. My first two publications were on healing art centered blogs and it helped to launch my writing career. So, ponte las pilas and find where your work can be celebrated.
3- Breathe! Don’t let rejections topple you- Rejections can make you feel like that hot poem you wrote and broke night editing was all for nothing. That’s far from the truth. Rejections happen. Maybe your poem needs more work, maybe it didn’t fit the theme, maybe it should be a prose poem and not a pantoum, maybe you didn’t follow the submission guidelines! – whatever the reason, it didn’t get published- don’t let the rejection take time and energy from continued creation. Keep writing, continue to submit work, find community with other writers so that rejection becomes a brief mini lesson and not a week of talking down to yourself and the creative muses that inspire you. Be tender with yourself. Repeat after me: I am learning…I am a writer…I am learning…
From a craft standpoint, what typically causes you to accept a poem? What causes you to turn the page and move on to the next poem in Submittable?
My editing team and I accept poems that we know may not get published on other platforms for referencing specifics ties to cultural norms, gender issues that impact socio- economical and emotional realities, or that uses an amalgamation of languages. We accept work that others may reject because of culturally specific details and we are ok with not offering a translation or a footnote, unless the author chooses to offer one. We appreciate the use of several languages and see viable cultural production in works of slang, Spanglish, and poems that value the power of performance. We love poems that play with punctuation, form, and silence on the page. We understand that language is ever evolving and we want to celebrate it at various stages and in many forms. Rejections happen for many reasons but the most common reason is that the author has not read our guidelines! We make no apologies about creating a platform solely for women writers of color. Our online journal is necessary in order to disrupt publishing norms. Punto.
What have you learned as an editor and writer from working at “La Libreta” for the past few years?
As an editor of two anthologies, The Abuela Stories Project (2016), Mujeres, The Magic, The Movement and The Muse (2017) and now Lalibreta.online, I have learned to give grace. I remember the first time I was published and the feeling it ignited at my center. I want every writer to feel that kind of joy and possibility so I designed professional development workshops using my teaching background to help writers in creating bios, cover letters, a CV and other items they may need to help develop their craft. I believe it is important to help writers, not just accept or reject their work, but to offer solutions whether that be in the form of online generative writing workshops or by offering them the necessary tools to apply for a grant. In five years, Lalibreta.online will be a fully funded staple in the writing community, continuously publishing new and established voices but also building a literary tribe for women writers of color who know we need one another and that writing doesn’t always have to be a solitary act. We know we come from storytellers, we know our stories must be shared and Lalibreta.online knows creating within community is pivotal.
Peggy Robles-Alvarado is a Dominican and Puerto Rican Jerome Hill Foundation Fellow in Literature, a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and a 2020 Atticus Review Poetry Contest winner. She is also a BRIO award winner with fellowships from CantoMundo, Desert Nights Rising Stars, The Frost Place, Nalac Leadership Institute, Communitas America and VONA. With advanced degrees in education and an MFA in Performance Studies this former teen mother, and initiated priestess in Lukumi and Palo celebrates womanhood and honors cultural rituals. She’s a three-time International Latino Book Award winner who authored Conversations With My Skin (2011), and Homage To The Warrior Women (2012). Through Robleswrites Productions, she created Lalibreta.online (2021), The Abuela Stories Project (2016) and Mujeres, The Magic, The Movement, and The Muse (2017). Her work has been featured on HBO Habla Women, Lincoln Center, Smithsonian Institute- Museum of the American Indian, Pen America World Voices Festival, Pregones Theater, and her poetry appears online in Poets.org, Tribes.org, The Quarry at Split This Rock, The Common, 92Y.org, Centro Voices Letras Literary Journal, and NACLA.org. Peggy’s poetry has also been published in several anthologies including The Breakbeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext (2020), and What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump (2019). For more please visit Robleswrites.com.
Jose Hernandez Diaz
Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, The Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, The Nation, Poetry and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. Currently, he is an Associate Editor at Frontier and Guest Editor at Palette Poetry.