Counselor earns international poets’ recognition

Poem by Valdez-Jimenez wins trip to free conference

By Roxana Amparo, News Editor

Through exploring borders with her poetry, a Contra Costa College counselor won first place for 2015’s San Miguels Writers’ Conference (SMW).

Norma Valdez-Jimenez will be attending a five-day prepaid conference with fellow poets, writers and published, inspiring figures.

Valdez-Jimenez’s compelling poem “UNACCOMPANIED” swayed the judges and won her first place after a blind reading.

San Miguels  Writers’ Conference  & Literary Festival is a co-cultural, bilingual literary gathering in the Americas. It attracts established, emerging writers and publishing professionals from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The nominees are scheduled to attend the writer’s conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, from today through Sunday.

The SMW conference judge Nathan Feuerberg said the submitted piece is published to the SMW Conference website and if the winner chooses, they can be part of their printed anthology.

“It is our hope that attending the conference will allow them to network, learn more about the craft of writing, and share some writing advice with their peers,” Feuerberg said.

During their time at the conference, the contestants can attend seven 90-minute workshops  from advance fiction writing to publishing and marketing. They are also offered in Spanish.

Based on a 2005 UNESCO, an agency that encourages universal respect for human rights, report there is a low number of literacy in Mexico, so the event is both in English and in Spanish to encourage reading.

“As a poet and writer she is very much self-taught, even though she has taken some classes,” Foothill College English professor and longtime friend Susana Huerta said. Huerta said she likes to call Valdez- Jimenez, “La Poeta Chingona,” which translates to “a badass poet.”

Her poetry explores borders of different traditions and cultures through her experiences as a Mexican woman living in the United States.

“You can feel a divide or where those changes come together,” Valdez-Jimenez said. “Once I start, I have an intimacy with the poem — a relationship.”

Valdez-Jimenez is an alumna from VONA/voices, the only multi-genre workshops for writers of color in the nation, and she participated in a writing program at UC Berkeley Extension. She has had several of her pieces published through Calx Journal The Acentos Review among others.

Winning honorable mention in 2013’s SMW Conference brought her joy, but this year, she feels honored to have been selected for first place she said.

“I feel like a newbie,” she said. Among the other experienced poets and writers, she is humbled by the opportunity.

The San Miguel Conference is run by a nonprofit organization, The San Miguel Literary Sala, an organization that is paired with various programs and external organizations.

Among this year’s judges are poetry judge Mittie Babette Roger, creative nonfiction judge Mary Katherine Wainright and fiction judge Feuerberg.

With creative backgrounds, the judges have a trained eye for what is required to meet winning expectations. This year’s keynote speakers will be Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Scott Turow, Angeles Mastretta, Tracy Chavalier and other well-known figures, Feuerberg said. 

As a poet, Valdez-Jimenez prefers to use her birth name, “Norma Liliana Valdez.”

“It liberates me from expectations from having to write with this identity,” she said. “It feels good to go back to my birth name.”

Valdez-Jimenez said her connection to poetry takes her to another place very quickly.

Feuerberg said the winners have the chance to sell their books at the conference bookstore, participate in open mic or in “An Evening of Storytelling.” 

Valdez-Jimenez advises young, aspiring writers and poets to read a lot and to write without censoring themselves.

And to just “let it be.”