By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Photo: Marilyn Dumont, BCP, Lee Maracle
I was recently interviewed by two different publications about my 1 Year Anniversary of being online: Newz4U and Open Book Toronto. The usual questions were asked: Why did you start blackcoffeepoet.com? What was your favorite interview? What are you planning for year two?
But there was a question I did not see coming:
Do you make any money from blackcoffeepoet.com?
Coming from an immigrant family and community (we’re all immigrants if we’re not Aboriginal) the theme of work is ever present. It’s largely why people come here from other places: to work and make money. There of course are many people here seeking safety, and most of them also end up getting jobs.
I’m used to my Italian neighbour always saying, “You go to work, George?” (George is Jorge in English.)
He sees me with my laptop walking down the street and thinks I’m headed to an office. And I am: my local library or coffee shop.
“Yes,” I say.
We smile and I keep walking.
Work means money to most people. Not to me. I do write for two publications that pay, XTRA! and Anishinabek News, but blackcoffeepoet.com sees no dinero enter this Brown boys pockets; yet.
So why do I write? And does money mean everything?
I write because I love the written word. Books have always been in my life thanks to my mother who is an avid reader. I look at books, hold books, smell books, and see myself writing books. In the meantime I write articles, poems, essays, and posts here on BCP; I’ll be doing all this even when I have books.
I also write because people who look like me, have colonial names like, and have views like me, don’t really get published enough. Are there Latino and Mestizo, and mixed race (I’m Indigenous/Spanish/Chinese/Arab), of colour journalists, novelists and poets out there? Yes. But how many are still writing, and how many point out society’s bullshit? And how many have concerns about stopping violence against women and calling out colonialism?
I have something different to say. (See my video This Is Why I Write.)
We, people of colour, keep hearing of the greats: Rudoldo Anaya, Chrystos, Nikki Giovanni, Ana Castillo, Luis J. Rodriquez, June Jordan, Sandra Cisneros, Jimmy Santiago Bacca, Cherie Moraga, Lee Maracle, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, etc.
I acknowledge those who came before me and paved the way for me. The above peoples, and more, have done so. But it’s time for us new folk too. We can’t just look to the past. Let’s look at our present and work toward a better future while remembering the peoples and lessons from the past.
Now to the money question: does it mean everything?
Most writers don’t have big contracts like Stephen King and Margaret Atwood. There are less than 100 writers in the U.S who make their living solely off of writing; most of them are white, and poets aren’t on that list. Most writers have to work in a field unrelated to writing (unless they are journalists), or they teach writing.
I do a workshop here and there (I’d like to do more!) and I write my articles. I’m open to donations and advertising, but as much as money is great it’s not everything.
I’ve gotten paid in different ways that have been more rewarding than any cheque.
One: I’ve fulfilled my mandate, and I’ll continue to do so:
“Black Coffee Poet wants to share with the world the many different faces of poetry who are ignored by the literati, who have touched him, and who have helped him grow as a person and poet: Red, Black, Brown, Female, Disabled, Queer, Poor, Jailed, Homeless, Working Class, Self-Taught, Revolutionary, and Controversial.”
Two: I’m being read in 5 continents. I have readers in North America (that includes Mexico), Argentina, England, Spain, India, Ireland, China, Australia. Whoever thought this Brown boy who liked books as a kid would be read by different peoples from many different places?
Three: The many thanks I get from people who appreciate what I do. That includes relatives of peoples that I have featured or done stories on.
Four: A parent who saw my site asked me to mentor their child, an aspiring writer, who is in prison.
Still, sometimes it’s hard to write, publish, film and upload videos three times week and not get paid monetarily. So every night I remind myself via affirmations why I write and why blackcoffeepoet.com is worth the time and energy I put into it:
My writing is my activism
My way of contributing to positive change is by writing poems, essays, and articles.
There are only three rallies I go to every year: December 6th, February 14th , and March 8th. And I attend them with purpose.
December 6th is held to commemorate the 14 white women that were killed in a university classroom in Montreal, Quebec. I attend the event holding the yellow sign you see me holding in my picture: Aboriginal Women, Latina + Mestiza, Women of Colour, Trans Women R Loved. These are the women that are forgotten!
Februay 14th is the day to honour Canada’s Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women.
March 8th is International Women’s Day. I hold my yellow sign on this day too.
So, three days a year doesn’t cover everything I stand for. And I don’t really like standing on corners with signs.
I also don’t like lots of activists in Toronto:
Mejor estar solo que mal acompanado Better to be alone than in bad company.
So I sit, read, write, re-read, re-write, submit, publish, and do it all over again.
My writing is my activism which is connected to my spirituality.
I am creating culture
A fellow writer recently gave me a huge compliment:
“Jorge, you are creating culture.”
Me, create culture?
After reading the definition of culture she was right and I was left dumbfounded!
So, I tel l myself everynight, “I am creating culture.”
I am creating a valuable resource
At the end of August I had a meeting with a local radio show host that I want to work with in future. We talked about my ideas, blackcoffeepoet.com, and my plans for year two of BCP.
She was kind enough to say, “Jorge, you are creating a valuable resource for people.” Poet Maureen Hynes told me the same thing!
Every night I say to myself, “I am creating a valuable resource for people.”
I am growing as a reader and a writer
I read a book every week for Monday’s review. I re-read poems, stories, paragraphs, and titles and then I review the book. With all the reading and writing I’m growing in both fields, slowly.
To be a writer you have to read a lot and re-write.
Simon Ortiz instilled in me: “Read a lot!”
Lee Maracle taught me: “Writing is about re-writing.”
I do both.
I remind myself every night: “I am growing as a reader and a writer.”
I’m working toward something bigger
Who knows how long blackcoffeepoet.com will be around. I have committed to two years, one is under my belt now. The second year will see new things. But who know after that.
Throughout the whole process I’m learning different skills, making lots of contacts, and trying new things, all of which are elevating me in different way.
If you are a writer, remember why you write. Affirm yourself daily.
Most important: write!
If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.