Feministing Five: Writer Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo on closing the literary byline gap

Back in 2011, a group of writers who were frustrated with underrepresentation of women in literature gathered in writer Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo‘s mother’s kitchen. They founded “Women Who Submit,” a physical and online community that encourages women writers to submit to literary publications. For this week’s Feministing Five, we spoke with Bermejo to learn about how submitting lit has profound implications.

10459009_10152214303511127_1046608401945286575_oAlong with her work with Women Who Submit, Bermejo is a kick-ass writer. She was a 2012 Los Angeles Central Library ALOUD Newer Poet and the 2013 Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange poetry winner. Her work focuses on Latinidad, migration, and borderlands. Be sure to check out more of her work here!

And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo!

Suzanna Bobadilla: Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed by us today! You have written before about the background of “Women Who Submit.” Could you please share with our readers how it came to be? Details on the name?

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: Women Who Submit was created in response to disparities in publishing made clear by the VIDA count. Co-founder Alyss Dixson created the idea of submission parties, gatherings of women submitting to literary journals in real time, after editors started saying the reason women weren’t published as much as men was because they didn’t submit as often. Alyss invited Ashaki M. Jackson to work with her on the project, and Ashaki invited me. This was in the summer of 2011. For the first few years it was a group of friends meeting in each other’s homes five to six times a year, but over the last year, thanks to the help of organizers Tisha Reichle and Ramona Pilar, we’ve become more global with public submission parties, panels, readings, and now, new branches.

The name came from being a submission group. There are plenty of resources and support for generating and workshopping, but there aren’t really any for submitting. We wanted to help women get comfortable with submitting and to get in the practice of it in order to raise the numbers. I’m pretty sure I was the slowest to catch on to the triple entendre, but I think it’s exciting how we are reapporiating “submit.”

SB: Why do you consider women submitting pieces for publications to be a social action? Have you always felt this way?

XJB: I started submitting my work when I was in grad school because it was what I was supposed to do. When Women Who Submit first started, I was mostly excited for the community and the sisterhood. It wasn’t until we started growing, and we started sharing articles between organizing members on submission and on confidence like The Atlantic’s “The Confidence Gap,” that my view began to expand. Then I was invited to write something for Antioch University’s literary magazine, Lunch Ticket. I knew they wanted an essay on a social justice topic. I had wanted to write an essay about Women Who Submit for a while, but then it ended up being about my mother.

Writing the article helped me realize how privileged I’ve been to grow up with a mother who taught me how to be strong and who always told me I could do anything. Actually, my whole family has always been very supportive. A support system makes a big difference. It’s easier to push into those uncomfortable spaces, those historically white and male spaces, when there are safe spaces to retreat to, but too many women don’t have this. Too many women grew up hearing “No.” Too many women have to negotiate violent situations just to live. Submitting pieces for publication is a social action because when a woman submits her work for publication, she is saying, “I won’t be intimidated. I won’t be silenced.”

Lately though, I’ve been thinking about how strong women need support too. People think strong women can’t be hurt because they are the first to speak up, because people are used to seeing them fight, but it takes a toll. Bruises are bruises. Sandra Bland was strong. I don’t know what happened in that jail cell, but I know when you fight as hard as she fought, you’re bound to bleed. She was hurting.

SB: Along with your work at Women Who Submit, you’re also an active writer. What types of projects are you currently working on? What excites you about your work right now?

XBJ: I’m working on a YA novel with a young, Chicana protagonist living in Central Valley, California during The Depression. I got the idea after reading Of Mice and Men with my students year after year. It’s always bothered me that Steinbeck’s novel has no Mexicans even though they made up 80 percent of the population in Central Valley at the time. It’s also always bothered me that the one woman in the book has no name and is violently murdered as a plot device. I’ve always wondered about her story, so I guess what excites me about this book is the opportunity to right those wrongs. Plus, I love spending time with this character. She’s like if Punky Brewster, Brenda Walsh, and Rita Moreno had a baby.

SB: As a writer, I take a guess that you’re familiar with the process of submitting your work for review. What are some things about that process that you wish you knew earlier?

XBJ: I don’t think there is anything I wish I had known earlier. I’ve always learned better through practice, so all the knowledge I have now is reflective of my work. I’m curious to know what new lessons I will have learned in another couple of years after my debut poetry collection is out, and I’m submitting the novel to agents. And then there is the relearning.

I’ve learned tier one isn’t always the best choice for my work. For one, submitting to tier one can be painful, and two, publishing in tier one can be lonely. While I still submit to tier one, I also look for journals and communities I’m excited to be a part of like Lumen and The James Franco Review. This was something I had to relearn when I was submitting my poetry collection to presses and contests. It had been an expensive and torturous few years, and I finally thought, “But you wouldn’t be doing this to yourself over and over again for a journal.” And now my book, Built with Safe Spaces, is coming out with Sundress Publications in December 2016, and I’m so excited to be working with Sundress and Erin Elizabeth Smith.

Of course, I’m still dreaming of the day when a giant press requests my work, and maybe I will get there one day. Juan Felipe Herrera is the son of migrant farm workers, and he’s rubbing elbows with Obama. My poetry patron saint, Michele Serros, started with a box full of books in her living room, and she became the role model for every Chicana growing up in the last 20 years, so who knows?

SB: You’re stranded on a desert island. You can take with you one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you choose?

XBJ: Of course, I pick the late, great Michele Serros, and we share chisme over mangos con chile y limón and micheladas. Ah, yeah! That would be awesome!

Images provided by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

Read more about Suzanna

Join the Conversation