by Anelia Gomez-Cordova
Anelia Gomez-Cordova: How did you get started as a writer and what was/is it about writing that calls to you?
Rosemary Catacalos: I began “writing” by telling myself stories as a child. I was an only child among six adults, both sets of grandparents, and my parents, so I entertained myself by telling stories to “the little girl” about “the little girl.” In three languages. All four grandparents told me stories, so it was natural to entertain myself in this way. It still is, except now my stories are poems that I hope give voice to the larger world as well.
AGC: How did you arrive at poetry? Why this particular genre?
RC: Poetry was a natural evolution when I first learned how to write as a child. I liked its ability to compress and distill language, especially since I was still navigating three languages, Spanish, Greek and English.
AGC: As a student struggling with this, is it or was it challenging to develop a distinct voice in your writing?
RC: I actually never sought a “distinct voice.” What I wanted was to be as true to myself and my experience as possible, and the result was my voice.
AGC: What was it like to be named the 2013 Texas Poet Laureate? Has it had any impact on your writing?
RC: My Laureate year was a validation, not so much of my writing, as of the basic desire and need for poetry in communities everywhere. This need comes from poetry’s ability to address the human story in all its complexities. People need it.
AGC: How do you deal with criticism of your work by peers or critics?
RC: Writers are blessed by hearing from readers, be they peers, critics, students, whoever. Everything we learn from another’s perspective is a gift, even the sometimes hard to take.
AGC: What have you seen change in the San Antonio literary landscape and where do you hope to see it in the future?
RC: Our city’s literary community has grown and become a great tapestry. The diversity of literary voices, aesthetics, cultures, and concerns we now enjoy is healthy and nourishing and can only continue to prosper.
AGC: Do you have any advice for students wanting to break into the the writing/literary scene?
RC: I think of writers and readers representing a variety of literary communities that nurture one another and the city as a whole. Our town is rich with readings, book clubs, workshops, classes. literary performances, inter-genre and inter-media presentations. Seek them out!
AGC: You were a columnist for the San Antonio Light newspaper; what advice can you give to students hoping to become journalists?
RC: Pay attention to everything around you. Read good journalism in a variety of media. Learn to “write tight,” that is using only the most necessary and impactful words.
AGC: Are there any specific writers or titles that you recommend or that impacted you?
RC: Carlos Fuentes, Marguerite Yourcenar, George Seferis, Margaret Atwood. Lorca, Akhmatova, Cavafy. So many it is almost impossible to think of such a list….
The work of 2013 Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacalos has twice been included in The Best American Poetry, and she has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Stanford University’s Stegner program, and the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL)/University of Texas at Austin. Her first full-length collection, Again for the First Time, received the 1985 TIL poetry prize, and an anniversary edition was reissued by Wings Press in 2013. A fine press chapbook, Begin Here, also appeared from Wings in 2013. Catacalos was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender from 1996-2003 and is a former executive director of the San Francisco Poetry Center and San Antonio’s Gemini Ink literary center. She was the first Latina Poet Laureate of Texas and currently teaches through the touring roster of the Texas Commission on the Art