A new anthology of literature and art curated by a local writer and featuring contributions from people of color will debut at the San Francisco Public Library Main Branch in the Koret Auditorium at 1 p.m. on April 8.
Shizue Seigel’s “Endangered Species, Enduring Values: An Anthology of San Francisco Area Writers and Artists of Color,” seeks to connect different communities through narrative and art.
Learning about the bus driver or the person who works at the corner store is of great interest for Seigel, who received a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission to create a book that features San Francisco artists telling personal stories that represent their heritage. Seigel hopes the book will create unity among people of color to stand together and fight for change.
“We are all part of the struggle and what happens to the people who are targeted today is going to happen to all of us if we don’t speak up and support each other,” Seigel said.
An arts commission grant recipient for the second time, Seigel has been troubled by gentrification and current political issues. That and her strong interest in common people inspired her to highlight 70 talented artists from San Francisco. The book includes personal essays, short stories, poems, art and other forms of art expression.
Seigel, who is of Japanese ancestry, explained that growing up, she noticed that Asian Americans were always considered to be the “model minority.” Frustrated with that notion, she created the book to explore people’s backgrounds as a way of bringing communities together, despite their differences. Seigel hopes that the book will inspire readers to meet the ordinary people who get up everyday to work and often go unnoticed.
“We don’t pay attention to the amount of people of color that are a major contribution to the fabric of our lives, you know the busboys, the bus drivers,” Seigel said. “We are trained by the dominant society to take people like this for granted, but to me that’s the life and the vitality of the city.”
In 2015, Seigel created a writing workshop designed for people of color, held in the library once a month. She does not see herself as a teacher. Rather, she tries to empower her students to trust their own thinking, their experience and their voice. All of this in an effort to remind them of the unique narrative they carry.
Seigel began her book project back in July 2017 and created a call for submissions, which ended in December 2017. Seigel made a conscious effort to come up with three questions for the contributors to answer through their submissions, questions that dig deep into their roots, heritage, culture and spirituality.
The featured artists are people who attend her workshops and include established writers. Karina Muñiz-Pagán, one of the book’s contributors, is a writer from the national group Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation.
A community organizer and a proud queer Xicana, Muñiz-Pagán contributes a piece called “San Pancho,” a reflection of how she grew up in San Francisco and how she found her identity through the community and organization. Muñiz-Pagán hopes for people to read her story and to resonate with it.
“Believe in your words, your work. The inner voice nudging you to show up on the page. And connect with other artists, build your community,” said Muñiz-Pagán.
After the submission deadline, Seigel edited the entire book on her own. Her own contributions include the introduction, a piece on her family, a poem about her grandmother and a piece that focuses on her spirituality and interpretation of the world.
“I basically have put together a 270 page book with 90 color pages in the last three months by myself, so its been kind of a superhuman effort,” Seigel said.
Seigel was pleased with the quality of the work that was submitted and is extremely excited for all the artists to get to know each other and network once the book launches.
Another contributor, Jesus Sierra, was introduced to the project by a mutual friend of Seigel. He will have two pieces published, one about his personal examination of culture appropriation, and the other on how playing baseball saved his life. Sierra hopes that Latino youth will read the book.
“I really look forward to meeting these [other artists] because it reminds me that I’m not alone,” Sierra said.
Seigel said that although funding for her workshop at the library will eventually come to an end, she will continue teaching and bringing communities of color together. She hopes that these different communities embrace the hardships they have faced and encourages them to turn their oppression into art.
“I think that feeling oppressed and victimized is part of the process, but I have seen a lot of people stuck there … one of the purposes to have a book from the community, is for people to have positive models,” Seigel said.
Story by: Vitta Oliveri