Writing Now Reading Series Presents Deborah Taffa, Raquel Gutiérrez, and Layli Long Soldier 

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CalArts hosts esteemed writers Deborah Taffa, Raquel Gutiérrez, and Layli Long Soldier this week as special guests of the Writing Now Reading Series, presented by the Creative Writing Program in the School of Critical Studies. The events are part of an ongoing collaboration between CalArts and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Kicking off the series on Thursday, March 21 is Taffa, who reads from her widely acclaimed debut book, Whiskey Tender. Taffa’s memoir follows the journey of a mixed-tribe Native girl, navigating the complexities of identity amidst familial expectations and societal pressures. Born on the California Yuma reservation and raised in Navajo territory in New Mexico, she grapples with her parents’ aspirations for her to transcend the perceived limitations of her birth status through education—and despite the Quechan tribe’s particular traditions and beliefs regarding oral and recorded histories. Described as “rich and wise” by the Los Angeles Times, Whiskey Tender reflects on the promise of assimilation and the betrayals endured by a family across generations.

Taffa, director of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at IAIA, also serves as the editor in chief of River Styx literary magazine. Her work has been featured in esteemed publications such as The Rumpus, Boston Review, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her play Parents Weekend was staged at the Autry Theater’s 8th Annual Short Play Festival in Los Angeles in 2018.

Taffa will be joined by Gutiérrez, an LA-based critic, essayist, poet, performer, and educator, for a discussion after the reading. Gutiérrez’s debut book, Brown Neon, garnered critical acclaim, being named one of the best books of 2022 by The New Yorker and listed among “The Best Art Books of 2022” by Hyperallergic. Notably, Brown Neon was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Prize for Best Lesbian Biography/Memoir in 2023 and received The Publishing Triangle Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction. They currently teach at the Oregon State University-Cascades Low Residency Creative Writing MFA Program and the IAIA Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program.

On Friday, March 22, the series continues with a virtual lecture and conversation featuring poet and writer Long Soldier. Her full-length collection Whereas won the National Books Critics Circle award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Whereas challenges the making and maintenance of an empire by transforming the page to withstand the tension of an occupied body, country and, specifically, an occupied language,” writes Natalie Diaz in her review for The New York Times.

Most recently, Long Soldier was involved with the documentary Lakota Nation versus The United States, directed by Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli. The film follows the Lakota’s fight to protect their sacred land and delves into well-known instances of erasure and oppression, including colonization and the events at Standing Rock, while also shedding light on lesser-known injustices such as the tragic fate of the Dakota 38. Throughout the film, Long Solder recites her poems, including “158x” and “38.”

Listen to Long Soldier read “38” at The On Being Project.

Also on Friday is an opportunity for the community to engage with Taffa and Gutiérrez in a salon setting, reflecting on the week’s events and deepening the discussion on identity, history, and storytelling.

CalArts Wild Beast | Image by California Institute of the Arts
PUBLISHED BY Elizabeth McRae

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24700 is CalArts‘ online space dedicated to sharing news and work of the larger CalArts community from around the world. The news site captures stories of the exploration of new forms and expressions in the arts by our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

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