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Art > words

SETTING HER OWN PLACE

 

 
A former newspaper reporter and arts writer, Rosemary Catacalos also has worked as a literary arts administrator, grant writer, publicist, and development officer for non-profit arts, education, and social service organizations. She has written two books of poetry and published poems in literary journals throughout the U.S. and internationally. Her poems are used in many college textbooks and have twice been selected for the annual Best American Poetry anthology. Photo by Mark Greenberg
Rosemary Catacalos takes the lead as Gemini Ink's new executive director

Rosemary Catacalos is talking about roots, about the importance of place - which is appropriate. As the new executive director of Gemini Ink, she is recovering from her first major event, Gemini's 6th annual literary festival designed, this year, to investigate how place functions in literature. And in taking on this job she has returned to her own place, to San Antonio where she grew up and where, as she says, her dead are buried.

Catacalos, who took over for Gemini Ink's founding Director Nan Cuba, officially came on board on June 2. The 14-day festival, titled "Setting Our Own Place," began barely a month later, making for a chaotic but wonderful welcome home. One week after the final festival event, her excitement still resonates. "Every once in a while there is a moment of transcendence at a reading," she says, touching on just one facet of the jam-packed schedule of festival offerings, "and we had two! Li-Young Lee and Martín Espada. Very, very different writers. Very, very different views, and yet they both took you to that other place."

As a poet, transcendence is her goal. As an administrator, her goals are more mundane, but no less crucial. The leader of an arts organization empowers the imagination by maintaining the strong foundation from which it arises. At this important moment in Gemini Ink's evolution, Catacalos returns to her San Antonio roots with the professional and personal experience necessary to do just that, while leading the way through her own work, toward the possibilities of transcendence.

Since its incorporation in 1997, Gemini Ink, which began as a series of public readings by published writers in 1992, perhaps has grown too quickly. Infrastructure was hard-pressed to keep up, and in 2002, and the Board of Directors voted to focus on addressing the growing pains: There wasn't enough room for events and classes, or to office a large enough staff to handle the increasing workload. As a result, San Antonio's only independent literary center began 2003 with a new, multi-functional home in Southtown that incorporates classrooms, offices, and a performance space seating up to 70 people.

"Gemini Ink has the circumstances available to it to become a truly trans-national literary center."
— Rosemary Catacalos
The organization includes four main component programs: University Without Walls, which offers classes and workshops geared toward readers and writers at all levels; Dramatic Reader's Theater, continuing Gemini's performance roots with eight free yearly productions; the Autograph Series of lectures and readings by prominent writers; and Writers in Communities, for which Catacalos admits having something of a soft spot.

"I think the WIC program has been extraordinarily important to the development of Gemini Ink," she says, "not only because it represents outreach to underserved communities, but also because it keeps that notion at the forefront of Gemini's being. It's essential to keeping all of us - our Board, our staff, our patrons - thinking constantly about those audiences that we need to be reaching out to."

The interest in reaching different audiences - and the faith that it can be done - comes naturally to Catacalos. Of Greek and Mexican descent, she grew up on the East Side at a time when, as she explains, "the last of the original German population were moving out, Mexicans were moving in, and African Americans were moving up from the outer edge of the East Side and we were meeting and it was great." Her memories of integration, which officially happened in 1954 when she was in sixth grade, are that it was "seamless." She doesn't recall any tension or racism among the kids - although in retrospect, she recognizes many parents and teachers reflected some discomfort. Her own parents, who met as art students, were starting a sign-painting business and, as Catacalos explains: "We were very working class and very much stretched economically and all that, and it wasn't until much later that I realized how exciting it was to be growing up in that environment at that time, because a lot of people my age really didn't experience integration, really didn't experience that kind of diversity of culture."

As the elder child of two hard-working parents, Catacalos helped fill in her father's lettering on the signs that were the family's livelihood, and spent a lot of time with her grandparents. Together, the experiences amounted to an immersion in the diversity of language and experience.

Catacalos has been the executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University, and a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University where, most recently, she was an affiliated scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and worked at the Chicano student community center helping students explore their roots through exploration of tradition.
"My paternal grandfather spoke Greek to me. My maternal grandmother spoke Spanish to me with a Yucatan Maya accent. My paternal grandmother spoke Spanish to me with a northern Guanajuato accent, and my maternal grandfather, from near Mexico City, spoke only English to me. So my ear was just as confused as hell," she says. And arising out of that confusion were the gifts, not only of language, but of story. Stories of the immigrant experience that were the stories of her family, but also transcended her family. "As the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family, I got all the stories. My siblings and cousins not only didn't get language but they didn't get stories, they didn't get hardship. It took me a long time to realize that those were gifts, very serious gifts, and that I had a responsibility to them."

Catacalos has returned to her own place, after 15 years, to help cultivate the next generation of stories. "One of the things that's so exciting for me is that Gemini Ink didn't exist when I left, and so here is this new thing on the landscape," she says. "There have certainly been writing workshops and there have been readings, but to say that a place is an independent center for the literary arts and that's what we do in life, that hasn't happened here before and it's very exciting. It's not only exciting for San Antonio, it's exciting for the region. Gemini Ink has the circumstances available to it to become a truly trans-national literary center. The possibilities for doing collaborative work and exchanges with Mexico are incredible. This sort of cultural geographic borderland presence that we have in San Antonio is just different from any other city in Texas and so much a part of what I can see us sharing with the rest of the country. •

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