X-Post: Identity Theory interviews Dagoberto Gilb

Having for years worked as a carpenter, Gilb came late to the writerly life—some features of which he eschews, though he has been, for the last few years, teaching at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University-San Marcos) and a (more or less) frequent contributor to smart magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Best American Essays and The Threepenny Review.

Meeting Raymond Carver in the late ’70s, Gilb turned down an offer to attend the University of Iowa Creative Writing Program, oblivious to, “What [Carver] was telling me, what I came to learn over the next decade, was the way the system works. You go to Iowa, you turn your story into a professor, who’s a famous writer. And that famous professor-writer gets you to an editor. Whereas I was under the misconception that you put things in the mail, and some editor reads it and (something) happens, if it was good. I don’t know where my life would have been if I’d known what [Carver] was talking about. On the one hand, I suffered for not getting published. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have the material I have now.”

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  1. Dagoberto Gilb is an exception to the belief that the work is less important than networking. He is a ferocious supporter of the underdog, the person outside the system with nothing deemed valuable to trade except some words on the page. I adore him! I adore his outspoken honesty, his belief in hard work, his understanding that hard work matters. Maybe this is primarily a working class or lower-midde class to lower-class mentality: the belief that hard work matters more than politicking. He’s got something special within too– real concern for someone other than himself. So many profess this, but he’s really doing more than mere lip service to “community”. Nobody is perfect, but Dago knows what it is to sweat, to work, to be excluded, to be dismissed based on what one wears, how one appears, how the way we use language matters. He is a living, breathing example that one doesn’t have to go to Iowa or Columbia or Berkeley to write. His words move people and in many ways he is excluded for his honesty and his hope for the future. His influence has been instrumental in giving me hope and persisting in the face of the classism that permeates the poetry world. He has shown me that what appears to be isn’t always what is. I don’t know why he is so kind, but despite grumblings, he’s the man that actually reads what’s on the page and makes decisions based on fairness, equity and good will rather than “what can I get out of it”. Bless him.

  2. I am definitely appreciating the road map that Dagoberto is laying out for emerging writers who are trying to get published in streams that travel in and out of traditional convention.

    Good stuff.

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