Since our grad school days at NYU, no one has inspired or supported me more than Joseph O. Legaspi.
He’s the author of Imago (CavanKerry Press) and two chapbooks: Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts), winner of the David Blair Memorial Prize, and Subways (Thrush Press). These days, he inspires me as a co-founder of Kundiman, a non-profit organization serving Asian American literature. This month, Kundiman will celebrate 10 years as an organization.
Kundiman is the classic form of Filipino love song—or so it seemed to colonialist forces in the Philippines. In fact, in Kundiman, the singer who expresses undying love for his beloved is actually singing for love of country. For an organization dedicated to providing a nurturing space for Asian American writers, the name is an inspiration to create and support artistic expression.
JGO: Congratulations on celebrating 10 years of poetry with Kundiman. How are you commemorating this milestone?
JOL: Thank you. Where has the time gone? It has flown by, yet so much has happened, often leaving myself and Sarah Gambito (Kundiman's co-founder) dizzy with amazement. I'm tremendously proud of Kundiman, how we endured for this long through sheer passion, hard work, volunteerism, partnerships, and determination. To commemorate we are throwing a party: our 10th Anniversary Kundiman Gala on Oct. 15 in New York City. It'll be an elegant, fun evening with open bar, chocolates, and dessert tasting. Moreover, we are honoring Vijay Seshadri, the first Asian American to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Come join us and support Asian American literature. Tickets are available at http://kundiman.org/gala.
JGO: What has been your biggest joy with Kundiman?
JOL: Hands down, the Kundiman fellows. They are the most talented, generous, kind-hearted, intelligent and courageous souls I've ever encountered. They have taught me so much.
JGO: What's the value of an organization such as yours in today's current poetry climate?
JOL: I view Kundiman's initial value in assisting and supporting its primary constituents: Asian American writers. We serve and build this community, which, in turn, branches out to other communities and into the general sphere. By empowering writers, they give voice to our Asian American stories, cataloging our cultural significance, signifying and validating our presence, chronicling our histories. By providing mentorship, workshops and other resources, Kundiman fellows are better at navigating the literary landscape. They are publishing books (35 by the end of 2014, with more slated for publication in the next two years), chapbooks (33 and counting), and in journals; winning awards; doing activist and grassroots work; pursuing graduate degrees; and holding academic posts.
JGO: What's Kundiman's biggest challenge?
JOL: As with most nonprofits, literary and otherwise, Kundiman's biggest challenge is funding, and with that, sustainability. It angers and frustrates me when celebrities pay thousands of dollars for a pair of shoes, while that amount of money can fund a Kundiman summer retreat and nurture twenty-four emerging writers. So, yes, funding and tied in with that is manpower/personnel, and organizational bandwidth and resources. We know our programs work, our mission is strong. But we're often trying to figure out ways to sustain the organization--beyond grants and fundraising events.
JGO: Flip side of the same question. What's in store for the future of Kundiman?
JOL: Kundiman hopes to implement a summer fiction retreat for emerging Asian American writers. Proceeds from the 10th Anniversary Gala would go toward that goal. Of course, we will continue with our usual programming: the poetry retreat, the book prize, national readings, and the KAVAD oral history project. We hope to be around serving and championing Asian American literature in the next decade. And the next.
Wednesday, October 15
The East Wing
306 E. 76th Street (at 2nd Avenue)
New York, NY 10021
I hope you can make it.
You can find Joseph’s fine, fine poetry at Poets.org, jubilat, The Journal, Painted Bride Quarterly, BLOOM, and the anthology Coming Close (Prairie Lights/University of Iowa Press), among other publications.
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths