Though poet and author Gloria Velásquez was born dirt poor in Loveland and later settled with her family in nearby Johnstown, she left northern Colorado long ago for California, where she earned her doctorate at Stanford and now teaches at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. But Colorado provides the setting for much of her acclaimed work, from the politically charged feminist bilingual poems in I Used to Be a Superwoman and the soon-to-be-released Xicana on the Run to her Roosevelt High School Series of novels for young adults, which received national attention in 1997 when one of them, Tommy Stands Alone, about a gay Chicano teen, was banned by a Longmont middle school.
It's all part of her job, Velásquez says, and she was honored, rather than dismayed, by the ensuing press coverage of the book. And the series -- the seed for which was sewn when Velásquez caught a Joan Rivers interview with author Judy Blume -- is still going strong.
"It occurred to me that none of [Blume's] protagonists are people of color, and I thought, 'Someone needs to create books for young people from diverse backgrounds.' So instead of working on my sabbatical project, I wrote Juanita Fights the School Board. [The first book in the series is set in fictional Roosevelt High, which is based on the author's own Johnstown high school.] The books were created not for fame, but so kids from poor backgrounds can see themselves and know they are not invisible."
Velásquez knows invisibility inside and out. "I've always been politicized," she says. "Growing up poor and a woman of color politicized me. I was politicized by life itself." And in spite of her Stanford training, she's admittedly no intellectual. "It's ironic that I'm a writer," she notes. "When I was growing up, I had no books. I didn't even know about libraries until I moved to Johnstown." Lacking a literary upbringing, she writes -- and sometimes sings, accompanying herself on the guitar -- from the heart, paying homage to her downtrodden mother and her brother, an early casualty of the Vietnam War, or targeting kids with the decks stacked against them.
Velásquez will speak, sing, read from her works and mingle with students from 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 10, at Auraria's Tivoli Turnhalle, 900 Auraria Parkway, as a guest of CU-Denver. For details, call 303-556-2700.
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