Arts & Culture
20 Years of Gemini Ink, SA’s Community-driven Literary Arts Program
Published: September 4, 2013
When asked about why she wrote, Chicana author Gloria Anzaldua explained, “… Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing, I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. … I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing.”
Local literary nonprofit Gemini Ink has helped thousands face their fears by providing a place of knowledge and creation. The organization holds writing classes in the spring, summer and fall with local and national writers, produces an annual Autograph series giving a selected writer the star treatment and conducts community workshops. Writers’ Lab is their newest program where on Thursday nights writers can get instant critiques of their work.
The roots of the organization first took hold in 1992 when founder, educator and author Nan Cuba participated in a theatrical reading of James Joyce’s works for a Bloomsday celebration at the Twig Book Shop. She and a friend, Marylyn Croman (then-manager of the Twig), started a volunteer dramatic readers series and held it in Cuba’s husband’s law office for a year. After receiving assistance from the Doté Foundation, a women’s organization, the group known as Gemini Ink began developing their audience and programs. In 2000, Gemini Ink moved their headquarters to South Presa Street and became a nationally recognized nonprofit located right in the burgeoning neighborhood of Southtown. In 2011, the September edition of Poets and Writers included Gemini Ink as one of the “Alternative Outposts of a Creative Writing Education.”
Cuba said in an interview with the Current that arts organizations are “crucial” to community development. To this day the organization hosts three regular community writers programs: University Without Walls, Writers in Communities and the Young Writers Camp. Recently, the Writers In Communities held a workshop with teenagers at the Fuerza Unida and with seniors at the Elvira Cisneros Seniors Center to create coming-of-age stories for an anthology issued by Gemini Ink. Their community efforts do not go unnoticed. Poet Laurie Ann Guerrero, winner of the 2012 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and author of Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying, once participated in a mentorship program with Gemini Ink before applying to an MFA program at Smith College.
Executive director Shelia Black previously held positions with literary and development programs in Minnesota, New Mexico and California before coming to Texas last year. Black is a poet and children’s book writer but prides herself on being an educator. “One thing I felt really strongly about was the power of the Writers in Community program. I think [it’s] a very important tool at all levels to engage people in a culture of reading and writing,” she said
Although the question “Is Gemini Ink advocating for literature or literacy?” has been posed to her time and time again, earlier this year in an article for the Rivard Report, Shelia Black answered: “We are not teaching people to read and write as defined in the most narrow technical sense. We are not even teaching the rules of grammar, what makes a sentence or how to avoid the dreaded comma splice. … Gemini Ink is a literary arts organization.” In an interview with the Current, Black spoke about the state of literacy in this city from a sociological perspective, “Literacy is also related to the ability to feel that the things you have to say are important and respected and valued and then people will find ways to say them.” Finding diversity in the writers that teach classes at Gemini Ink is important to Black because of the stories they tell and how they relate to students of various backgrounds.