Creativity Salon: an Interview with Marina Tristan

What a pleasure to introduce blog visitors to my friend Marina Tristan. One of the joys of this blog is connecting visitors to people I like, respect and find interesting. How long have I known Marina? Have I ever not known her I ask myself. My first book, CHANTS, a poetry collection was published in 1984 by Arte Público Press, and I’ll always be grateful to AP for that act of faith. Marina and her colleague Carmen Peña Abrego are so essential to my relationship and my mental image of AP, that I can’t imagine the Press without them. Ever modest, in the interview below, Marina has focused on her practical skills, and they are many. What matters to me about Marina is her caring, her thoughtfulness, her warmth, her reliability, her laugh. I’ve never met a single person who doesn’t like and respect her. A high standard for the rest of us.

An introduction: My name is Marina Tristán, and I’m a mother, daughter, sister, friend. And the assistant director of Arte Público Press, the oldest publisher of U.S. Hispanic literature.

1. Do you think of yourself as creative?
MT: Not at all! If you ask my friends and colleagues to describe me in a word or two, they would say that I’m practical, matter of fact, pragmatic. I don’t think I was encouraged to be creative when I was a child. Or maybe it’s just my personality, or maybe it’s that life demands I be productive. I certainly enjoy and appreciate all kinds of creativity, from literature to film and music. I have read voraciously all of my life, and I listen to a wide array of music constantly. But when people ask me if I write, I always say “No!” I have come to realize that I DO write, though it’s usually communication that’s geared to being clear and efficient (another word my friends would use to describe me). But when I write copy to describe books that we publish, there’s definitely an element of creativity involved. What words and images should I use to intrigue potential readers without giving the story away?

2. How do you nurture your creativity?
MT: At this point in my life, it’s important to nurture creative thinking in ways that don’t require much of a learning curve. Someday I’ll take knitting and dance lessons. But for now, because I’m a reader, I consciously hang on to words, phrases, headlines. I read the newspaper every day, not only to be informed, but to be inspired. I’m a fan of NPR’s Storycorps and tune into that kind of programming for inspiration. I also make time for movies and live performances to fulfill my appreciation for creative arts.

3. Do you have a space that helps you be more creative?
MT: The kitchen, at least when I’m not cooking for company! But seriously, I’m fortunate to work with a group of smart and creative women who are great to brainstorm with. We enjoy gathering around the table in my office and debating which words or phrases are just the right ones to describe authors, books, events. It’s important, I think, to be able to throw out ideas without fear of embarrassment or humiliation. The work we do in promoting books and authors published by Arte Público is made more powerful by our collaborative spirit.

4. In what ways does creativity shape your work and your life?
MT: I think “creativity” has been an important component in my life as a way to make things work. Whether we’re short of resources at work—human or financial—or I’m juggling too much between responsibilities as a mother, daughter, or friend, thinking “creatively” helps me to do more than I initially think I can. And of course I have been fortunate to be involved with books and authors for 25 years at Arte Público, and working in an environment where producing books is our daily work means that creativity is something I experience daily.

5. Has any book been particularly helpful in trusting or developing your creativity?
MT: Sometimes the simplest concepts are the most creative. I’m excited about a bilingual picture book Arte Público is publishing this spring. The Land of Lost Things/ El país de las cosas perdidas epitomizes imagination and creativity. It’s about a young boy who loses his blue pencil and imagines entering—through his pencil box—a strange and mysterious land.


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