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Check Out Lisbeth Coiman’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisbeth Coiman.

Hi Lisbeth, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am a bilingual writer, educator, cultural worker, and rezandera from Venezuela. Since 1997, I have wandered the immigration path from my homeland to Canada to the US, where I now live. My bilingual poetry collection, Uprising / Alzamiento, will be published by Finishing Line Press in June 2021, and it’s now on presales. My debut book, I Asked the Blue Heron: A Memoir, was independently published in 2017. I write about Venezuela, about the nostalgia of the immigrant who can’t return to their homeland, their mental health and identity. I also enjoy celebrating the joy of love between people of color. I have lived in California since 2014, and currently reside in Los Angeles, where I teach English as a Second Language at Harbor Occupational Center.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Immigration has been the most transforming of all the experiences that shape my life. The immigration process changed me at a cellular level. All the barriers and strategies I had developed to cope with the monsters of my childhood suddenly fell down, and I suffered a mental breakdown.

Since then, I have gone through everything an immigrant faces. During my first years in the US, I was an attachment in my now ex-husband’s TN visa (Treaty of Nafta). I lost all sense of identity. I couldn’t work and spent the best years of my professional life as a full time housewife. Once I obtained a work permit, I faced racism and xenophobia in those first jobs I did before taking my teaching credentials. As a teacher, I have had to prove myself a hundred times over. Credentialing follows every relocation. I have been a first year teacher about ten times, and those in education know what that means- observations.  Already in California, I left my ex-husband in Oct. 2015. From then on, I have crafted my new life from scratch: new job, housing, and credit on my own for the first time in 27 years. Now I am slowly building my community. Although rough, I wouldn’t change the past five years of my life for anything. At 56, I am birthing myself into existence.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I wrote my first short story when I was five and already in second grade. The teacher read my composition and called the teacher next door. They both lowered to my level and asked, several times, how old are you? I kept saying five. In my teens, I wrote with curly letters in pink journals with keys. Eventually, all those journals and loose papers got lost in the many moves of my life. And maybe there was a lesson there, patiently waiting to be uncovered. When I acknowledged my past as loose, lost pages, my feet became lighter. I have moved faster. I have gone further in the development of my craft.

For a while, I treated writing as a hobby because I didn’t understand the kind of commitment I needed to birth a book into existence.

But I am a late bloomer. It wasn’t until 2014 when I moved to California that my job as writer began to take shape. I published I Asked the Blue Heron: A Memoir at 53. Uprising / Alzamiento will be published past my 57 birthday. This late coming of age into writing coincides with the artist’s need to have online presence, something I still struggle with. Additionally, I have a demanding day job to take care of. Teaching is as essential to me as writing. It  defines me. And like a toddler, it takes so much of my energy. Teaching is that kind of job you take home with you even on weekends. But fortunately for me, I am also now free of domestic obligations. As a single woman and an empty nester, I own my time. So if I need to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline, I don’t have to give explanations to anybody, or worry about fixing dinner first.

In the first months of the pandemic, I worked with intensity and passion on Uprising / Alzamiento. When Finishing Line Press accepted it for publication, I was elated. This beautiful bilingual collection is now on presales hereUprising / Alzamiento touches on themes I have explored before but from a different perspective, away from myself, and yet personal and intimate at the same time. Dissent and uprising, but also nostalgia and grief take shape in the imagery, symbols, and metaphors I created to call attention to the faces of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. I hope Uprising / Alzamiento to be a wakeup call to fellow Americans still unaware that democracy is fragile. It only takes one bad electoral decision to lose freedom to a demagogue, who will inevitably find a way to perpetuate himself in power.

Now I am writing a second collection of poetry with the Community Literature Initiative (CLI) at USC, under Hiram Sims’ tutelage.

It took me time to believe that I could call myself a writer. The first feedback writing coach, and poet Peter J. Harris gave me about my book Uprising / Alzamiento was “go to the bio and remove the word emerging writer from there. You are not emerging. You are a writer.” And that validation was so necessary. I own it now. I am a writer. I am not Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, or Sonia Sanchez. But that’s the North and I am on my way.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
Of course.

First, I am grateful to my homeland, Venezuela, which pulses strong inside of me. It defines my identity and inspires my work.

I am the product of my upbringing: a dysfunctional home in an exuberant land, with the best education my country had to offer in the first 32 years of my life. Venezuela’s landscape coexists in my mind alongside the painful memories of my childhood, and the colorful images of the neighborhood where I grew up. It beats in each lesson I learned from inspiring educators: elementary school principal, Cesar Peralta, to my college professors, Marianela Manzanares and Silvia Sola

As a word artist, I don’t write in isolation. As the Ivory Towers of the publishing industry continue to fall down, artists rely more on communities to uplift each other.

Thus, I am also the product of my community. Every phone call, every advice, every word of encouragement from my peers, elevate me into a stronger artist and a better human.

Several organizations hold me in their community: NAMI –the National Alliance on Mental Illness– where I have developed wonderful friendships and a strong support group. Women Who Submit, a collective of women and non-binary identified individuals who encourage each other to submit work to top-tier publications. Ariel Gore and her Literary Kitchen. The Anansi Writers Workshop in Leimert Park where I have met an incredible community of poets who support me in my creative effort. The Community Literature Initiative  (CLI) at USC, where I take poetry classes.

Above all, I thank my children because they ground me. You see, I want my children to be proud of their mamá. I don’t always make them smile, but I hope they never inherit my genes and that they serve happiness and love at their dinner tables. I hope they never forget where we come from.


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Image Credits:

Head shot by Melissa Johnson @melliejphotography Book cover image credit: iStock / chuvipro

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