Alma Luz Villanueva (fiction) is the author of three novels. The Ultraviolet Sky won The American Book Award in 1989, and was chosen for New American Writing, 1990. It is also listed in Five Hundred Great Books By Women, edited by Holly Smith, which includes 500 novels from the 13th century to the present. Naked Ladies won a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award in 1994. Both novels are used as textbooks in this country and abroad. She has also published a short story collection, Weeping Woman, La Llorona And Other Stories (which is being translated into Japanese and Spanish). Her newest novel, Luna’s California Poppies, was published in 2002.
Villanueva is also the author of seven books of poetry, including the recently published Soft Chaos, and Planet, which won The Latin American Writers Institute Poetry Award (New York City, 1994), and poetry from Desire was chosen for The Best American Poetry, 1996. A film titled, Who Called Me to This Dance? by filmmaker and dancer Tonia Shimmin, features her poetry as script. Her poetry has been translated into Spanish, Dutch, French, Italian, German, Japanese, and her poetry appears in Prayers for a Thousand Years: Inspiration from Leaders and Visionaries Around the World. Her new book of poetry, VIDA, was published in 2002. Her essays and book reviews have also appeared in Letters To My Mother (Pocket Books), Hot Flashes (Faber and Faber), Contemporary Authors, Autobiography Series, Volume 24 (Gale Research Publications), Visions Across The Americas (College textbook, Harcourt Brace), Letters to J.D. Salinger (University of Wisconsin Press), and Ms. magazine.
Villanueva’s poetry and short stories have also been included in upcoming grammar, junior high and high school textbooks geared for the new century (she’s especially proud of that). A bronze plaque with her poetry has been installed on the Waterfront in San Francisco (where she fished as a girl), as part of the San Francisco Art Commission’s Poetry Project. Her work, both fiction and poetry, is included in numerous anthologies- most recently, an excerpt of Naked Ladies appeared in Caliente! The Best Erotic Writing in Latin American Fiction, as well as the anthologies: It’s A Woman’s World- A Century of Women’s Voices In Poetry, and Under The Fifth Sun (a story from Weeping Woman, La Llorona and Other Stories).
AlmaLuz Villanueva – fiction
Briefly, my role as a mentor has been to work with students as a guide, editor, fellow writer. I read the monthly packages carefully with an eye to structure, clarity, ‘is it making sense’- an ear for language, narrative voice, the story unfolding. And then most importantly, I look for each writer’s vision as it appears on the page…”Style is a matter of vision.” Proust…The writer’s vision as unique voice, like a thumbprint, an iris- no other like it in the world (the one we all must find). And so, I look for this especially. As well as to the characters- are they fully alive (there are ways to bring them to life, to dream them to life). “The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night…this and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process.” From ‘ON BECOMNG A NOVELIST’, John Gardner…I also believe in ‘shitty first drafts’ (read ‘BIRD BY BIRD’ by Anne Lamott)- all writers must begin with them, in fact they’re filled with richness (we must later edit, revise, of course), but first we have to get down the first draft, and I encourage it in my exchange with students- to not be perfect. But to dream, to keep on writing.
Once your first draft, which really often means two or three revisions, so it’s not too ‘shitty’- the creative re-vision process can begin. I like to see your work at about this stage, when you’re engaged creatively with your writing. While I do a line by line reading of your fiction, I’m also listening to your character’s dialogue, seeing if they’re fully imagined on the page- and the narrative voice….is a story being told….is a unique vision being shown….am I fully engaged as a reader/writer. This is the kind of thing I’ll give you feed back on with every package; and I also like to have an email dialogue going on with you during the semester so you’re not ever really lost. I like to give writing exercises and reading assignments where I see it might help you from a craft book, then discuss it via email if you choose to. Toward the end of the semester, I offer a ‘one on one chat’ via First Class- you can actually print out our chat if you choose to and it’s absolutely private as it disappears after we leave the chat space. We make an appt and meet online; usually they last for about an hour or so. I’ve been told it’s a very helpful process; you can list questions/comments prior to the chat/meeting.
All that said, I expect a monthly package of 5 pages minimum (there are some months that’s all you might have), to a 20 page max- I now receive monthly packages via First Class email and I’ve found it’s working even better than hard copy via the post office. I respond directly on the email text package, and you can send your book annotations in the same email- it also saves Express Mail for deadlines as you just ‘click.’ Those students who are working on their Critical Papers can also take advantage of the 5 page minimum (and if you are, we’ll discuss your fiction package individually). There’s a two book minimum (many read more) with book annotations- also, a conference space, ‘DREAMING 2001, 2002, 2003….’ where the books, literary themes, writing themes, are discussed in same time conference- everyone chooses the best day/time to get together every other week. I’ve been doing this for six years now and these same time book conferences are known to go on for a couple of hours; people tend to get pretty involved. Also, someone leads each conference, going by names alphabetically, and the leader posts questions in advance. There’s also a conference space, ‘THE WORKS,’ where you can post work for feedback.
I’ll read manuscripts in their entirety IF it’s important, which must be discussed in advance- I of course read Senior Manuscripts and Critical Papers.
And finally, I expect all packages to reach me by the DEADLINES, usually the 21st of the month; and now that I’m receiving monthly packages via First Class email it’s a lot easier for you in regards to time, money for postage. I reserve a week only for your work during that time and so the deadlines are crucial to my schedule as I also travel for writer’s visits during the year, and I schedule them around my Antioch deadlines, my own work in progress. IF you have an emergency, just let me know in advance, and we’ll work something out.
I also hand out a Project Period Contract Outline, what I expect for the semester, to everyone I work with, which gives you something to take home and refer to throughout the semester. I’ve been teaching for about six years in the MFA Program, and I think it’s worked very well thus far. I genuinely enjoy my work with student writers- reading the evolving work, the exchange, has been an inspiration to me on many levels (my own evolving work).
Alma Luz Villanueva, MFA