Welcome to another Author Spotlight! These spotlights showcase authors’ (predominantly women and people of color) writing talents and published works. As you may or may not know, I do theme weeks of prominent holidays/events throughout the year on my site. For Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month, I feature authors in the Latinx and/or Hispanic community. So, without further ado, let’s meet author Kamilah Mercedes Valentín Díaz!
About the Author:
Kamilah Mercedes Valentín Díaz is a Brown girl con orgullo. She’s a chronic overthinker who reads, writes, and fights her way through life. In 2022, she published her debut poetry collection, Moriviví: To have Died yet Lived, with Alegria Publishing. And in 2023, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and minors in English and Anthropology from Purdue University. As a Boricua living in diaspora she is committed to decolonization, and finds her vehicle to resistance through self-expression. Exploring topics of girlhood, place, space, culture, mental health, and home; she hopes to inspire others to follow their calling. Follow Kamilah’s journey on Instagram @kams_conchispas!
When did you start your love for writing?
My love for writing sprung from my love for reading. Growing up, once I learned to read I never stopped. I learned to read in English before learning to read in Spanish when I moved with my family to the U.S. from Puerto Rico at six years old. Even in the States, my family moved around a lot and I went to many different schools, and even though I always managed to make friends, reading was a constant I could lean on. Slowly, without noticing I began to write. Now I know that I was writing poetry, but at the time I didn’t see it like that. As a kid I had convinced myself that I could only be the reader, never the writer, but I sure proved myself wrong.
Of all of the book genres, what drew you to write about yours?
It’s funny, other poets might judge me for this, but I did not grow up reading poetry. I was all about the fantasy books. Escapism at its finest. So, it was really interesting when I came to the realization that as a writer I naturally leaned towards poetry. When the pandemic began in 2020, I had just finished my first semester of college, and like many students I ended up coming back home. During that time of isolation, uncertainty, and panic I found myself falling into a deep depression. At first, I didn’t notice, and then it hit me all at once and it became this weighted blanket that I could just not get off of me. While trying to process what I was feeling and how to handle it, I began writing. Writing poetry felt like an open faucet, it just poured out of me and I was feeling so much, but nothing at the same time that it just happened. It wasn’t planned, but it became a way to order the thoughts that were a jumbled up mess inside of my head. In doing so, I discovered that what I oftentimes found myself scribbling was poetry. And when on Instagram I saw an announcement about writing workshops that could lead to self-publication of a personal project I leapt at it. The weird thing is I don’t think I would have ever tried if it weren’t for my depression. It was easy to make the decision to try in that moment because I felt like I had nothing to lose and that if I tried and failed it wouldn’t matter. I think for me, poetry is such a vulnerable form of truth telling whether the reader understands what you’re trying to say or not. They could perceive a different message than what was intended, but at the end of the day it’s still true. It becomes their truth. To me poetry poses a question usually without a definitive answer. It’s the holding of a hand.
How does your writing connect with your heritage?
Because it comes from me, anything I write will always have a connection with my heritage. I like that honesty about poetry. In academic writing, we’re supposed to pretend as if we don’t have biases, as if the lives we’ve lived don’t inform our opinions or interests, but in poetry I don’t have to hide. I can write something about how I view love, heartbreak, history, society, wealth, my observation of a bird or the taste of a tangerine, and all of that will be informed by my heritage.
I also engage more directly with my heritage in my writing such as, “Sana Sana”, “Canto”, and “Borinquen Bella”. As a Puerto Rican woman living in diaspora, I have a lot of thoughts about my island, their history of colonization by Spain and the U.S. , and about my culture. I never deny my stance on these topics and choose to explore these complex relationships and spaces I find myself in on a daily basis. I am a nomad, and I can’t allow myself to shy away from navigating my experiences. It is how I resist.
What is one thing about your culture that you wish more people knew about?
I wish people knew that we have an identity and we are multidimensional. We are at the intersection of identities that clash. Born with American citizenship due to the U.S invasion, but apart in many ways especially by law. A Puerto Rican living in Puerto Rico cannot vote for president, it used to be illegal to display the Puerto Rican flag, Puerto Rico cannot declare bankruptcy, the birth control used today was secretly tested on Puerto Ricans as a secret eugenics project unbeknownst to patients.
These differences are also felt culturally. We are a Caribbean nation with an incredibly mutliracial identity coming in all shades. We can be white, black, mixed, asian,etc. We have our own version of chinese food, reguetón sometimes lulls us to sleep, and our arroz con habichuelas got a lot of swing. I wish people knew that aqui vive gente (people live here) with dreams, just like you.
What makes your book(S)/writing special?
I think my book is unique because it doesn’t give you all the answers. In reality it gives you almost no answers. It more so provides a peek into my brain and a glimpse of my ongoing process as I realized I was depressed, trying to get myself out of that headspace, failing, trying again, discovering I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, trying, failing, trying, trying, trying, trying … There’s a lot of up and down because I wanted to be forthright on how my healing was not linear and in actuality it’s a road that never ends. Something I became frustrated with at times.
My book also features poems in Spanish, English, and Spanglish. For the poems in Spanish, I actually chose not to provide translations. When a poem would come to me, it would come in a specific language and translating it would take away from how it was received. I also chose to do it this way because if a non-Spanish speaking person chose to read this book, I wanted them to search for the meaning on their own. People translate whole sections of French and Italian because it’s ‘cool’, I figured if they wanted to they could do the same with Spanish. The practice of keeping the Spanish untranslated isn’t meant to be exclusionary, it’s meant to be declarative, a statement of worth. I thought that self-prompted exploration would also be a good way to engage the reader.
So…what are you working on now?
I am always working on more poetry. It kind of just happens the way that life happens.
But I am also working on a novel! Once I took the dive with poetry, I realized I wanted to give myself the benefit of the doubt with fiction writing. I am in the drafting stages of a currently untitled work. This book, though fiction, will be a reckoning of history, identity, and the harms caused by institutions.
Irene (ee-reh-neh), a recent college graduate, returns to her home in Puerto Rico after four years of studying afuera and longing to reunite with her family. Her mami, Isadora, and older brother, Icaro, are the most important people in the world to her. Instead of coming home to celebrate she is unexpectedly thrown into mourning with the news that her brother has died. An unexpected accident took his life while protesting the privatization of Playa Caracol, but Irene doesn’t believe it was an accident.
And the people responsible for privatizing the beach? They’re putting on a reality dating show hosted at their lavish mansion property. Irene will do whatever it takes to uncover the truth about her brother’s death and fight for the rights of her people to access their land. Infiltrating ‘The One’ is the only way to get close to the people who have answers, whether they’re willing to part with them or not.
Irene isn’t here to find love, she’s here for justice.
Kamilah, your unique perspective on life and the world is appreciated for inspiring others to explore their creativity and embrace the written word! I hope your spotlight will continue to inspire others and shine a light on the literary and Latinx communities. And best of luck with your upcoming novel! You can reach Kamilah at:
Thank you all for reading, and remember:
Live. Love. Laugh.