We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisbeth Coiman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisbeth, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’ve been a risk taker all my life, only I didn’t have the words or time to think about risk in those terms. What I have learned as an adult is that preparing for risk does not mean underestimating the impact of setbacks. Risk taking should translate into sound preparation for the minimum loss possible. I’ve surprised myself with my perseverance and my resourcefulness in the face of adversity.
In 1988, I risked my education to create a healthy, non-abusive home for my son. In 1995, I married into another culture, risking my sense of identity for the occasional joy and the sense of security of a bad marriage. In 1997, I left Venezuela to start the unpredictable journey of immigration. In 2002, I was starting to get used to reliable domesticity in Canada. Then, I moved to a small town in Oklahoma, losing my individuality in exchange for the pleasant tedium of a middle class, stay-home, corporate wife life in the Plains. In the solitude and frustration of those early years in the US, I learned that well informed decisions do not necessarily prevent us from failing. However, failure can be a transformative asset.
My children landed on their feet despite being forced to tug behind their erratic parents. My career lost the structure of a solid resume, but I still have worked in my field of study consistently for 25 years, which is much more than what most immigrant women can do.
In 2015, I drove 8 hours away from my long-term marriage and started a life on my own at 51.
While most people in the current circumstances put their lives on hold, in 2020, I took another major risk and set in motion all my tools to secure my retirement. I bought a house, and then had an ADU built in the garage.
Today, I am happy and proud. More risks wait for me, of that, I am sure. Am I wealthier? NO. Am I more comfortable? NO. But have I enjoyed myself? Hell, yes. Every risk I have taken has contributed to my self-love, my new approach to life. As the Venezuelan proverb goes, “who doesn’t risk, doesn’t lose and doesn’t win.” I am winning.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I see myself as a word artist because I am still exploring genres. As such, I stand (unbalanced) on a lyrical line between fiction and memoir. My writing intersects politics of gender, race, class, immigration, and mental health.
In 2017, at 53, I independently published my first book, I Asked the Blue Heron: A Memoir. In this book I revisit my experiences as an immigrant who suffers from a mental disorder. Apart from the joy of seeing my name on paper for the first time, I also learned, albeit painfully, about the book production process. Editing, proofreading, layout and cover design, copyright, barcodes, pre-sales, release party, self-promotion (website design, social media, and booking readings in literary venues) I took care of every detail. I am so proud of that experience. My second book, published by Finishing Line Press in 2021, is a bilingual poetry collection which draws attention to the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis. Again, I was proactive in every aspect of the book production and learned even more about pre-sales, and self-promotion. For that project, I partnered with Peter J. Harris, who coached me while putting together the collection. Today, I have a third book under contract. I am also building my life around my art and hopefully before the end of this year I would be able to say I am a full-time writer.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
A Saturday would start at 5:00 am in the fashion district with 30-$1 bills for a chance to grab latest designs at ridiculous prices. Then I would take my tourist to Phillips for an Angelino breakfast. From there, we will walk along Olivera street, Union station, and China town. Don’t miss the crosswalk painted by Venezuelan visual artist, Cruz-Diez, located between the Disney Hall and the Broad Museum. We can stop for lunch at The Grand Market then take the Angel Flight across the street. Then walk across Grand Park in the direction of City Hall to find the statue of Biddy Mason, the first African American woman to own serious real estate in DTLA. Continue to the Japanese American museum for a necessary education into one of the dark chapters of American History and have some ramen for dinner in Little Tokyo.
Sunday morning, start the day climbing the Culver City stairs to admire some seriously hot brothers and sisters while huffing and puffing for air. Stop from time to time to enjoy a view of LA from above. Drive to the LACMA. Don’t miss Venezuelan artist, Jesus Soto’s a kinetic sculpture located outside the major galleries. Grab a quick bite at one of the taco trucks outside the main entrance after you take an iconic souvenir picture with the streetlamps exhibit.
Head to South Central to admire the Watts Towers and learn about Los Angeles most misunderstood neighborhoods. From there, drive West to Inglewood. Stop quickly at the cemetery to find the Ray Charles grave in the galleries, and continue to Leimert Park, the hub of African American culture in this beautiful city. In Leimert Park, you can listen to spoken word poetry, dance in a drum circle, haggle for a craft bargain, and simply be delighted in this vibrant community’s energy, food, and music. A visit to Eso Won Bookstore on Degnan is a must. As the air starts to cool, take Manchester Blvd west and head to Marina del Rey to bathe in a spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
Other places to visit: The Japanese village and seafood market and the Korean Bell in San Pedro. The Abalone Coves and the South Coast Botanical Garden in the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Going east, Boyle Heights and East LA to enjoy the street vendors, the music, and sheer feel-good energy of these Latinx communities. Go to Pasadena for great gardens, architecture, and food. Stop at Chamo Cuisine on Colorado Blvd for authentic Venezuelan food.
But if you really want to a great time, go to Long Beach because ain’t no party as hot as the LGBQT parties.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
On my desk, there is a small box with paper strips, my gratitude: names of friends, lovers, experiences, the publishers, and editors, audiences, literary venues, films, books, material goods (my reliable car), and the orgasms of the last eight years. All of them deserve credit for my story.
I am most proud of the way I have built a community from scratch. I promote my peers as much as I promote myself. If a piece of information I receive doesn’t serve me, I immediately forward it to somebody else. About 18 months ago, I forwarded my entire list of small publishers, submission guidelines, and my template of a submission cover letter to a friend who had finished a poetry collection and didn’t know where to start submitting. It gave me so much joy to hear she landed a publication contract. That’s what we need to do. We need to support each other.
I am so happy being a member of several literary communities. Women Who Submit, Community Literature Initiative, Anansi Writers Workshop, Poetry Apocalypse, Los Angeles Poetry Society, The Rapp Saloon, Roar Shack, the Ugly Mug. Everywhere I turn in Los Angeles’ poets and writers have helped me and opened opportunities to me that I could only dream of 20 years ago when I first arrived in the USA. Also, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Greater Los Angeles, and specifically the In Our Own Voice Program give me the chance to walk my talk on mental health. I can’t go to a psychiatric ward to speak about living a healthy life despite having a mental disorder, and then do shenanigans that sabotage my health. I took responsibility for my mental health and well-being, and NAMI held my hand along the way. The Salsa dancing community in LA presents me with the gift of joy every weekend when I go out to learn the flamboyant Los Angeles’ salsa style. Los Angeles hiking trails, what can I say? They remind me of my native Caracas.
Finally, but not the least important, two years ago I fell in love. This new passion has rejuvenated me, opened an entire world for me, made me reclaim my body in ways I had never explored before, challenging the limitations I had set for myself.
I went from being the insecure, jealous, depressive woman, to a vibrant, passionate, creative, queer femme. Despite all the challenges I face, I am happy in LA and grateful for all this city has offered me: opportunities, friendship, and love.
Cover art title: Apuntes para una tragedia by Francisco Itriago.