We had the good fortune of connecting with Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Xochitl-Julisa, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Probably the first big risk I took in my career was saying no to a press that wanted to publish my poetry collection. Days after receiving the acceptance letter, the editor published an op-ed that was homophobic, racist, and cruel toward the concerns of marginalized writers. Her worldview and mine did not match, and I made the decision to pull the book, even though they were the biggest independent press in Los Angeles. This was in the summer of 2014. It was a scary decision. I didn’t know what would happen with my book, but in the end it came out with Sundress Publications in 2016. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

To submit your work and to stay true to your voice and your vision takes a lot of risk taking. It takes the ability to say no to people. Sometimes a publication or an opportunity is so big, you want to please the editor, or agent, or whomever, but if what they want you to do doesn’t fit your own vision, you have to think, which is the bigger risk? Not having your work out in that space or having your work out in a way you can’t stand by?

Sometimes, the answer isn’t a straight no. Sometimes it’s asking the other party into a dialogue. But that can also feel risky and vulnerable. I’ve only been able to have this kind of conversation with guidance from other writers. Actually, all my big decisions are made with counsel. Having people I trust, who understand my values, has been integral in my career.

Risk taking can also look like reaching out to people that may seem out of your league. Big publications, big agents, big editors, big awards, all take an amount of belief in yourself. They all risk a big no, but I’ve always felt that I’ll never get a yes if I don’t try.

I’ve sent some direct emails to people I probably had no business contacting. Most of the times those have resulted in crickets, but every once in a while they pay off.

As a writer and organizer, I’ve learned I have to be willing to ask, and I have to be just as willing to say no. And as I move through these communications, I try my best to be personal, compassionate, and empathetic, but, you know, I don’t always succeed.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I consider myself a social justice witness and experiential poet. My writing has always been driven by a need to envision a more just future, and because I find writing poetry to be closely related to prayer and incantation, poetry feels like the best vehicle for this type of work. I grew up Catholic, and though I am no longer Catholic (I cannot support a violent, patriarchal hierarchy), growing up in the church taught me a lot about the power of symbol, ritual, and repetition. These are tools that often come out in my work, as well as, a call for more love and comfort. The world we live in is filled with violence and chaos, and so I try to create little moments of meditation and sanctuary with words.

My dream career is to be a Sandra Cisneros-type of writer. I want to have several publications, invitations to teach at all the best workshops, and to tour the nation, even world, doing performance and speaking gigs at schools and arts centers for audiences old and young. As well as win awards that let me retreat in Italy to write the next book.

10 years into my career, I’m happy to say that I’ve had the honor to teach at my MFA program, Antioch University, and I’ve been invited to present for such workshops as Las Dos Brujas, Macondo, and Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. But one of my favorite things is visiting junior high and high school classrooms. And when my book, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge came out in 2016, I created my own west coast speaking tour that paid for itself and even left some cash in my pocket for when I got home.

All of this takes a lot of self-motivated work. There’s emailing, scheduling, creating fliers, self-promoting on social media, writing and pitching articles, applying for grants and awards, checking back on payments, asking for testimonials, etc. It takes being willing to put yourself out there and to ask for what you want, and even while you do all that, still making time for creative work because, in the end, it’s the creative work that makes this all possible.

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?
Bar hopping in the Arts District on a Sunday afternoon. Taking a morning walk through Elysian Park and then heading to a cafe in Echo Park for brunch.
Taking a day trip to the Pennisula to watch for whales and see tide pools at Abalone Cove before going to the Korean Friendship Bell to fly kites, and then maybe try to get into the Sunken City, before heading to Belmont Shores in Long Beach for food and drinks.
Laying out by the Seal Beach pier for a few hours before going over the Crab Pot at the Long Beach Marina for happy hour and watching the sunset over the boats.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I shout out Women Who Submit

Website: xochitljulisa.wordpress.com

Instagram: xochitljulisa

Twitter: xochitljulisa

Facebook: xochitljulisa

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC51MG-9_56-BkIytP3OKiA

Other: As the director of Women Who Submit, I encourage people looking for support on literary submission to check out our website at womenwhosubmitlit.org. We are also on FB, Twitter, and IG at @womenwhosubmit

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.