Franky Gonzalez on Leading the Queens Community Writers Group
By Franky Gonzalez
Who is a writer?
What are the criteria and stipulations that you must meet to be considered a writer? What are the benchmarks?
Is it a publication? The production of your script? Is it the moment you present your poems at an open mic? Is it when you get prizes or grants? Is it getting a literary agent? Is it the book deal? The praise from critics?
At what point can you call yourself a writer? What makes a writer?
These are fraught questions that plague so many writers of all experience levels. I have to admit that for myself, I still struggle with those questions despite recognition for my writing in the fields of theatre and television.
And these questions were at the forefront of my mind when I was given the chance to lead the Queens Community Writer’s Group. I hoped that this would lead to some answers.
The answers I received were nothing short of amazing.
The basic premise of the Queens Community Writer’s Group was to create a place for writers (up to ten writers per night) of any experience level, and form (play, poem, novel, etc…) to present their work every Monday in a reading with feedback from the other writers in attendance.
The feedback was structured according to the first three steps of the Liz Lerman method of giving and receiving (https://lizlerman.com/critical-response-process/). Here are the three steps we would follow:
Step 1. Statements of Meaning
Responders state what was meaningful, evocative, interesting, exciting, and/or striking in the work they have just witnessed.
Step 2. Artist as Questioner
The artist asks questions about the work. In answering, responders stay on topic with the question and may express opinions in direct response to the artist’s questions.
Step 3. Neutral Questions
Responders ask neutral questions about the work, and the artist responds. Questions are neutral when they do not have an opinion couched in them.
I hoped we would get a variety of people.
I couldn’t have possibly been prepared for just how varied of a group we’d get every Monday.
Writers from all walks of life, all over the country, yet somehow still connected with Queens and the Queens Theatre in some way came to have their work read, or to experience the works of others. People of all backgrounds and places in life came together for over two hours and would create a space where we could live in each other’s beautiful creativity.
Over the period of those five Mondays we sat and listened to writing-in-development from all genres from some of the most interesting people. We read from Christmas musicals, poetry, plays, TV pilots, short stories, solo shows, novels, extended universes, and even children’s literature. I learned about friendship, about corporate corruption, about learning to accept differences, about race in the 1950s, veggie wars, New Years in Korea, about being an immigrant, about Martin Luther, about trying to make it as a young artist, and conversely about trying to make it as a senior artist. I learned about the perspective of gods reincarnated as dogs, of the people who loved their dogs irrationally, of people who would die with their dogs, of Peru, of nurses in World War II, of a child and her horse saving a beloved father, of homeowners’ associations, of being Latina, of being black, of being human in an often inhuman world.
And through those five Mondays, the existential questions began to solve themselves. Story by story, poem by poem, script by script. Who is a writer?
A writer is a nurse.
A writer is a veterinarian.
A writer is a journalist.
A writer is a schoolteacher.
A writer is an opera singer and secretary.
A writer is a therapist.
A writer is a student.
A writer is someone who works a nine to five.
A writer is someone who lives off writing.
A writer is a parent.
A writer is on the spectrum.
When can you call yourself a writer? When you live your truth and write what speaks to your heart.
What are the criteria? That you write your story.
Who are some of the best writers? Where can you find them? After this past June I know now that some of the best writer’s you’ll ever meet are part of the Queens Community.
But I know you already knew that.
What an absolute privilege to have been part of this cohort.
Thank you for welcoming me Queens Theatre, fellow writers, and the Queens Community at large.