Teaching and Living Literature:

An Interview with Vera Sanchez

July 9, 2024

Vera Sanchez is a driven author with a dedication to the craft and her students. As an educator, she looks at the world through a different lens and has lent her talents to SDWI to be an editor for A Year in Ink, Volume 18. Her passion and mannerisms exude from her speech; stay a little and learn about her.

 

 

Kristina Markovska: How would you compare teaching classes at SDWI, San Diego City College, and Grossmont College? What are the joys and difficulties of each?

 

Vera Sanchez: First, thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to voice my experience as an educator and writer. I am humbled to be chosen as an SDWI writing judge.

 

When teaching for an institution funded by the state, you have to justify objectives and student learning outcomes, which is written in the course syllabi. These are required and implemented as part of the curriculum. I have to keep this in mind while I create my lesson plans. How do I make the unit fun, while not boring my students, while keeping them engaged on the topic, while providing a safe place for all students to learn, while complying with the state’s objectives. It’s definitely a challenge at times, which is why it’s important to collaborate with colleagues and attend workshops or conferences to enhance my teaching pedagogy.

 

I am able to create my own course at SDWI. It doesn’t require approval from the state, district, or dean. It takes years of advocacy to get a course funded by the state when teaching at a college institute, especially if it’s an “out of the box” course. For example, at San Diego State, there’s a graduate course dedicated to Bad Bunny and his impact on media and Latinx culture. There’s also a hip-hop course offered at Mesa College. At SDWI, some of the courses I created are “How to Write an Award-Winning Children’s Book” and “Barrio Stories.” I am in the process of creating a screenwriter’s course for SDWI, a course that is not offered at the colleges I teach. I enjoyed creating the SDWI courses without any rules, strict state regulations, or being evaluated.

 

However, no matter the institution I teach at, I enjoy helping to produce other writers. It’s always an act of service. Grace was given to me, and it’s my responsibility to return it.

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KM: You’re a very decorated writer! Do you have a personal favorite achievement or award?

 

VS: Thank you for that compliment. My most proud achievement are my students. Seeing them graduate college or pursuing their passion gives me joy. Many of my students who I taught in middle school and high school have started families and have kids. Some have traveled the world, others are artists, activists, or have sacrificed by serving this country. Whatever the path they chose in their life, I love witnessing their growth from adolescent to adulthood. They are special to me. I thank them for allowing me to be a part of their lives.

 

KM: How does being a writing judge change the way you look at your own work?

 

VS: When I first write, I do just that. I don’t think about rules, grammar, or structure. I let the writing process take its course, and I trust the process. I’m also out of my head, which is easier said than done. I’m sloppy with my writing, and that’s okay. Anything I create, it’s handwritten first. It’s like vomiting on a page. You just let it all out. Towards the end of the writing process, the revising stage, that’s when I have to switch gears into judge mode, constructively putting the pieces together of my writing. Now, I’m critically looking at all the rules and structure I ignored at the beginning of the writing process. The creative part of the brain is turned off, and the analysis part of my brain has kicked into gear.

 

KM: What’s the difference in your approach to writing children’s books and writing for a more grown-up audience?

 

VS: I feel I can be more creative in a children’s book, more imaginative. I truly enjoy the writing process when I write a children’s book with creating scenes and characters as to real-life situations and people when I write for a grown-up audience. It’s fun. It makes me feel like a kid again. I finished writing my second children’s book titled Our Basketball, and I am working with a talented illustrator to finalize the book. The premise is the love for basketball that a girl shares with her father. Our Basketball is dedicated to Kobe, Gigi, and all the girl-dads.

 

KM: As a poet, what are your thoughts on the confines of form? Would you argue form is meant to be bent?

 

VS: I absolutely believe in form when it comes to poetry. There are so many rules to poetry, and it is important to know meter, rhyme, metaphors, or how to write a sonnet or limerick poem. Poetry has also revolutionized with Slam Poetry and Spoken Word. I think it would be disrespectful to the craft of writing to not know these forms or study them. Then once you know the rules, bend them. You have to earn your stripes when breaking the rules. I took a poetry class at SDSU with Professor Davis, and he showed us the value of learning various forms and how to execute them in our writing. It’s more tools to have as a writer and to optimize growth as a writer.

 

KM: You have been featured in many radio shows, podcasts, and online sites. Do you enjoy doing podcasts and radio shows, or do you prefer more low-key communications and interviews? Has this changed since the beginning of your career?

 

VS: I don’t have a preference. They are all important forms of media and communication. I have enjoyed all of them during my career.

 

KM: What advice do you have for other writers?

 

VS: I don’t think that people often think of writing as a form of social justice. There is a level of responsibility that comes with being a writer. Writers and other artists bring up social injustices that society is afraid to talk about. Writers like Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Roxane Gay, Myriam Gurba, Cherríe Moraga, and Jaqueline Woodson are brave in their writing while pushing the boundaries of social norms. It is women of color who have paved the way of discussing social justice through writing, through a creative outlet. They write about controversial topics of racism, sexual assault, homophobia, the patriarchy, white supremacy, genocide, and gender inequality. Their voices are loud, strong, and beautiful at the same time. Even if it’s fiction, is the writer portraying stereotypes in their characters and misrepresenting a culture, race, gender, or community? It happens in literature more than we wish to acknowledge. So that being said, my advice is to be responsible in your writing.

 

KM: Would this same advice apply to your younger readers?

 

VS: Nah. Have fun with writing and creating. Let them be kids.

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