Vera Gomez has lived in the Upstate since 1993, and she’s spent much of that time writing poetry, performing that
poetry onstage as part of Greenville’s first poetry slam group, and teaching classes and workshops. Along the way, she’s accomplished a great deal; she’s competed in national poetry slam competitions, seen her work published on its own (as in her 2008 collection Barrio Voices) and in anthologies including the Anthology of Carolina Poets and State of the Heart: Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, Volume II, and taught as part of the Metropolitan Arts Council’s Greenville SmartARTS Program.
Teaching and workshop facilitation was something that Gomez came to later in her writing career, and she says that it felt like a natural evolution.
“I think for myself it was a natural progression,” she says. “Part of it is about growing as an artist. It’s about wanting to grow, wanting to advance your skill set, and wanting to try new things.”
But much of her urge to teach comes from her belief in the power of writing itself, and how it can bring people closer together.
“I believe in the power of words,” she says. “Words are about more than the page, or about being up onstage emoting. They’re about talking to people and hearing their stories.”
Gomez will bring that commitment to her craft to The Huguenot Mill at the Peace Center this month for two writing workshops as part of the Peace Voices program. Peace Voices is a 10-month, multi-event series designed to expose the Upstate to poetry through live performances and readings, classes with visiting artists, workshops, a poetry slam, and book discussions.
Gomez has asked the students taking part in the program to bring a memento or other significant item with them, hopefully to inspire them.
“I’ve planned the lessons around that,” she says. “One should always go into a situation prepared, and that is a prompt to get them going. I want to meet people and ask them what got them there and what their level of experience with writing is, and then get a gauge of their comfort with being challenged.”
Gomez will conduct two 90-minute workshops on December 5th and 19th , and she hopes that each student will leave with four pieces that they can hone and revise later.
And even though these sessions are not about performance, Gomez will work in some tips about how the writers can best present their work.
“The workshops center on how to create work,” she says, “and how to find the ideas within yourself to be able to tell your story. But I do like to end every session by having people share if they want. I think it’s important for people to hear their own voices, and for others to hear something that’s written in the voice of the writer. I will tell people, ‘Speak loudly! Be proud of your words and feel comfortable.’”
Gomez sees these workshops, and her involvement in the Peace Voices program in general, as a way to bring talent to the fore that might be overlooked by the Upstate arts scene.
“I still see an absence of artists of color,” she says. “I know they exist, and I know there are a growing number of African-American and Latino voices, but they don’t tend to be as seen as some other type of artists are. I think that my role has been to help pave the path and encourage people to find their sense of belonging; to be able to tell their stories, and to give them the techniques that will allow them to capture that with writing.”
What: Writing Workshop with Vera Gomez
Where: Huguenot Mill Conference Room, 101 W. Broad St., Greenville
When: Weds., Dec. 5 and Weds., Dec. 19 6:30 p.m.
Info: 864-467-3000, https://www.peacecenter.org/