Pedagogy, Refuge, and Writing: Sara Interviews Ana Emilia Felker

We are so excited to be able to host Ana Emilia Felker, student of University of Houston's new Ph.D. program in Spanish with a Concentration in Creative Writing (Concentración en Escritura Creativa en Español-PhD/ECE). She is also the author of the new Aunque la casa se derrumbe, a series of genre-blurring essays about Mexico City. Before we host her for a presentation on May 5, I was able to ask a few questions and get a sense of what to expect from the lovely new book.

Sara: What attracted you to Houston's new ECE program? Can you talk a little bit about your experience with the program so far?

Ana Emilia Felker: Maybe this doesn't sound very cool, but I've always loved school. I was the kind of student that always stayed after class to talk with the teachers. Growing up I still feel the need to have a place to challenge my ideas. Following Moten and Harney in their recent book The Undercommons, the university, especially the public one (like UH should be), is a place to think with others about debt, community and how to organize a refuge to protect ourselves from the violence of the state and the corporations. I am very interested in researching and experiencing alternative pedagogies, for example, the pedagogy of the oppressed proposed by Paulo Freire. During my master's degree, I worked with the theatre of the oppressed and learned a concept called radical pedagogy which has to do with doing militant research towards emancipating processes.

I was looking for a Ph.D. that offered something of that sort, a critical perspective of the institution from the institution. I also was looking to continue my writing career, so the ECE program seemed a perfect combination of critical theory and creative production. We are the first generation and everything is still to be done. I also thought it was important to see first hand what is going on in the US with the current administration and how do resistance movements of migrants, women and African Americans organize in the face of structural racism and misogyny. For me, one form of resistance is to learn the US Latino heritage reading and writing in Spanish and teaching Spanish to Americans in the US.

SB: You have worked both in journalism and in creative writing. What draws you to each?

AEF: Living in Mexico I was drawn to social movements, first the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) (which fights for indigenous communities and natural resources since the 90s) and later on in my life student organizations and movements against the war in Mexico. The reality was far more urgent and important than my own imagination and that´s why I studied journalism, I wanted to be a witness and hopefully be able to find some sense in the turmoil. After working for a while in journalism I felt a little bit constricted by the media: you have to use certain language in a certain length and media tend to believe that readers or the public, in general, are less smart than they actually are. Writing essays allowed me to explore language, be more analytical and also to use imagination to understand reality from other perspectives. Both in journalism and creative writing I am drawn to the similar subjects.

SB: Do you feel that your journalistic training has an affect on the creative genre you write (essays that blur the line between fiction and nonfiction)?

AEF: I think the journalism bug provokes me to go to the streets, do interviews, see things first hand. The advantage of the type of narrative essays I've been doing is that I can use the tools of journalism without being trapped by it. For example, exploring eroticism or elements of fiction is something that a journalist wouldn't do and literature opens that field. Still, I believe ethics are important as important in journalism as in creative writing.

SB: Your book explores Mexico City on an individual level. Do you feel a different level of understanding, or camraderie, with the city now that your book is finished?

AEF: Totally, writing the books was like reading the city under a different light, paying more attention to everyday details and talking to characters we tend to ignore. I also had to explore what I thought toward conflicting aspects of the city and how they relate to our psyche. It was also a safe passage to get into situations I would normally wouldn't.

SB: If you were going to write about the individuals of any other city you've lived in, which city would you write about?

AEF: I would love to write about Houston. I am impressed by the number of people that live on the streets particularly by the Mexican Consulate and also near the historic Mexican site of El Alacrán in Second Ward.

SB: Lastly, I would love to hear about not just what you write, but what you read. What are you reading lately? What books have been meaningful for you?

AEF: As a teenager, my favorite book was Mother by Gorki. In the recent years I´ve been really obsessed with Paul B. Preciado´s Testo Yonqui, which for me is a great example of how to mix theory with an exciting narrative essay. Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti has been indispensable for me to understand the overpopulation and the imaginaries that can be found within that phenomenon. And in the recent weeks, Rita Indiana´s post-apocalyptic narrative has completely blown my mind.

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