Don’t Be Afraid to Be Rejected: Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo on the California Writers Exchange

Recently, Poets & Writers awarded one poet and one fiction writer with a trip to New York to meet with editors, agents, and other literary professionals as part of the California Writers Exchange contest. The winning poet, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo of Los Angeles, blogs about her experience from NYC. (Stay tuned for another post from winning fiction writer Laura Joyce Davis as well!)

Contest winners and Deborah Treisman.The invaluable gift this trip has given me is confidence to know that I am moving in the right direction, and that as long as I keep working on my writing, I will reach my goals. Being able to walk into the offices of The New Yorker has been a crazy experience, but it has also shown me that everyone is in this “business” because they love books, and everyone works extremely hard to put out their best work because of that love. Often this work will be thankless, but as New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman told me, “Don’t be afraid to be rejected.”

Opportunities like this trip will be far and few between, but hopefully, I can remember the glow of this moment when I am back at my desk agonizing over a poem that refuses to go my way. In that moment I can remember how Alice Quinn, the Poetry Society of America’s executive director, recited poetry to me, sounds dancing on her tongue, with a giant smile, and know that there are people out there hungry and excited for poetry. The next time I cry over my computer, I can think of New Directions editor Jeffrey Yang, who told me when he wrote the last poem of his collection Aquarium, he wept as he wrote the lines, and know that I am not alone. Or when I’m struggling to have my book published, I can remember that there are Johnny Temples in the world who started Akashic Books because he liked cool books, and is always looking for something exciting.

The New Yorker is looking, Akashic is looking, A Public Space is looking, Poetry Society of America is looking. All I have to do is be fearless in putting my work out there because eventually it will link up with someone who is looking for just what I am sending. When I look at it that way, it doesn’t feel so ominous. There is a publisher, there is a magazine that is looking for me, I just have to find them. And that goes for all of us.

You may remember that in my previous blog post, I asked each guest two questions. Here are some more fun answers:

Q: As a reader, what is the first book you remember getting swept up in?

Jeffery Yang (editor, New Directions): A Tree Within by Octavio Paz.

Brigid Hughes (founding editor, A Public Space): Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath; The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

Brett Fletcher Lauer (poetry editor, A Public Space): Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

Alice Quinn (executive director, Poetry Society of America): The Children’s Hour #9 edited by Marjorie Barrows. It was devoted to poetry. I remember reading “The Barefoot Boy” and Robert Browning.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda (independent bookseller, La Casa Azul Bookstore): It has to be Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. That was THE book.

Deborah Treisman (fiction editor, The New Yorker): When I was young, Oxford Book of Poetry for Children. I called it “the purple book.” In high school, it was Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Johnny Temple (independent publisher, Akashic Books): Honestly, it was probably something like a Nancy Drew book. My mom would know.

Q: Besides reading and writing, what is an activity that is important to your writing/creative work?

Jeffery Yang: My mental health [is important]. I run a lot.

Brigid Hughes: Walking.

Brett Fletcher Lauer: Watching the Kardashians.

Alice Quinn: I try to memorize a poem almost everyday while I walk the dog in the morning.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda: Performing arts, going to museums, going to the theatre. It feeds my soul.

Deborah Treisman: Staying up on current events. Knowing what’s going on.

Johnny Temple: Can I say my music? The Caribbean. Traveling to book festivals in the Caribbean. The Calabash in Jamaica (and other festivals) is my favorite thing in the world of books that isn’t writing.

Photo: From left: Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Deborah Treisman, Laura Joyce Davis. Credit: Jamie FitzGerald.
The California Writers Exchange contest is made possible by a generous grant from the James Irvine Foundation. For more information on the contest, visit here.