For more than fifty years, Poets & Writers has paid writers to give readings or teach writing workshops in partnership with grassroots organizations. While the mini-grants we distribute through our Readings & Workshops program are modest, they can provide just the right mix of support, encouragement, and validation that a new literary series needs to take root.
One such series is En Construcción. We recently spoke with Guillermo Severiche, a New York City–based Argentinean author and founder of the series, which features Latinx and Latin American writers in New York. Rather than showcasing finished pieces of writing, En Construcción invites writers whose primary language is Spanish—and sometimes Portuguese or Quechua—to share works in progress. Thanks to funding from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Poets & Writers has been able to provide consistent support to En Construcción since shortly after the series began.
How did the En Construcción series first get started?
In 2019 I received a grant from the Queens Council on the Arts to finish my first book El Agua Viene de Noche (Griselda Garcia Editora, 2021), which was recently published in Argentina. As a requirement of this grant, my project had to include a public component. Because my own book was unfinished at the time, I decided to organize a reading of works in progress, inviting fellow writers to join me and read their own unfinished work. That’s how I put together the first panel. After using the funds from the Queens Council on the Arts, I wasn’t sure if I could continue with En Construcción. But then I heard about the support Poets & Writers offers for readings and workshops. So, in a way, P&W has been one of the main reasons we’ve kept moving forward and growing.
What was the original vision or goal for En Construcción? Has this vision changed over time?
Back in 2019 I had been thinking for a while that we, New York City–based Latin American writers, needed a reliable and consistent platform to show our work. The goal of providing that platform continues today. Building that platform is not an easy job, but my desire to provide it has intensified over time as I’ve gotten to know more and more talented writers here in the city who I feel deserve to have their work shared. In the future I also see En Construcción as a space for editors to search for new works and talent. And, more important, it will continue to be a space for us writers to connect and get to know each other.
Why have you chosen to continue focusing on works in progress with this series, rather than asking authors to present finished pieces of writing?
I like the idea of having a glimpse of a writer’s process, the part not everybody can see. That work is more fragile, so there is a sense of intimacy there that I find very intriguing. When the piece is unpublished, in a way, it still belongs to the writer. But when it’s published, it belongs to everyone. That’s why hearing unfinished work becomes very intimate. It is also useful for us writers to hear our work in front of an audience, see people’s reactions and listen to their comments, and then go back and make any changes that are necessary.
What has been an especially memorable series event?
Returning to in-person events after the pandemic lockdown was a truly emotional experience for all of us. When COVID hit we continued our project online, which was helpful but not the same. Some of the impact and richness of our readings got lost when we went online. Coming back together in person and seeing a roomful of people for that first reading in October 2021 was an incredible sensation.
What impact has the En Construcción series had on the Latin American writing community within New York?
Seeing people interacting and getting to know each other after an En Construcción event is very satisfying. I think we increasingly experience our readings as a celebration of our work and our lives in general, our community. The sense of community that comes out of these events continues to surprise me. We recently were invited to host a panel on the Feria Internacional del Libro de la Ciudad de Nueva York, the most important Spanish book fair in NYC. We had the chance to showcase writers who participated in En Construcción over the past few years. The community of Latin American writers in New York is getting stronger, and I think En Construcción is part of that process.
To learn more about the Readings & Workshops program, which currently supports literary events in New York State and California, and in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, Seattle, Tucson, and Washington, D.C., visit pw.org/funding.