SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER
Chautauqua Writers’ Center Week Four prose writer-in-residence, Oliver de la Paz, has actually primarily published poetry books. However, what sets his work apart — and makes it more prose-like — is that the books are hybrids and include a mix of poetry and prose.
de la Paz currently teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the low residency master of fine arts program at Pacific Lutheran University. He is the author of five collections of poetry: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, Post Subject: A Fable and The Boy in the Labyrinth. He co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Asian American Poetry.
For his Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. EDT Friday, July 23 on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch, de la Paz is going to focus the conversation on genre and hybridity — specifically, how those have come to play a role in works that focus on and explore social justice and archival perspectives.
As the neurotypical father of three neurodiverse children, de la Paz has a personal interest in hybridity, as well. He views the different mediums as a way to access and be in conversation with his children and aspects of their neurodiversity in a way he might have not been able to otherwise.
One of the ways he does this is by writing questionnaires and including them side by side with poetry and short essays in his books. de la Paz said that, as a parent of neurodiverse children, he encounters a lot of questionnaires, so he wanted to respond to them as a writer.
“Oftentimes in these questionnaires, when asked about kids with special needs, the answers are usually yes or no,” de la Paz said. “But when it comes to answering these questions about your child, it’s much more nuanced. There are ways in which the questionnaire is unforgiving that I wanted to address as a writer.”
In addition to questionnaires, de la Paz likes to use prose poems. His first book was a book of prose poems as well as a novella in verse. He views them as another hybrid, fusing the musical nature of poetry with the sentence structure of prose.
What he wants writers to take away from his Brown Bag is “permission.” He thinks that writers frequently get boxed into thinking about a singular genre when considering a piece of work, and that the way to access the topic might be “singular in focus.”
“I’m talking about work that takes on this notion of singular modes, and talking about multimodal possibilities that maybe the work is more effective adjacent to an image — or maybe the work is more effective fusing together poetic and essay and short storytelling impulses,” de la Paz said. “As writers, we come away equipped with more possibility or ways to sort of challenge what it is that we had been doing all along as a way to create, or as a way to stir some generative response.”