Name: Jasminne Mendez
Hometown: Military Brat
Current Town: Houston, TX
Affiliations: MFA Creative Writing Candidate Pacific Lutheran University, Canto Mundo, Macondo, VONA, University of Houston graduate
Q: How do you self-identify?
Q: Tell me about City Without Altar.
A: City Without Altar is a choreopoem play about the 1937 Haitian Massacre along the northwestern Dominican/Haitian border. The 1937 Massacre was a government sanctioned genocide during the Trujillo Era. Trujillo believed that Haitians were “contaminating” and “ruining” the Dominican Republic and so he ordered his military men to “remedy the situation” by killing Haitians. Haitians and even some Dominicans, were massacred using machetes to make it seem like the killings were “feuds” between local farmers for stealing each other’s cattle. The main character Socorro is a scholar who becomes interested in the events of the massacre because she discovers her grandmother’s childhood journal. Socorro is on a mission to learn more about what really happened and she spends her time interviewing survivors (both Haitian and Dominican) about the massacre. Socorro wants to know why and how anti-Haitianism developed on the island, and how/if she or her family are complicit in any way. It’s a play about borders, and language, hate, and trauma, love and joy, reconciliation and rebuilding.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: A series of things. I have a young adult memoir on contract with Arte Publico Press, my MFA creative thesis (a collection of poems) is due April 30th, and I’m toying with the idea of writing another historical fiction play that interweaves the tragedy of 9/11 with a historical hurricane that occurred on Galveston Island in the 1960s. There are many projects on the horizon that need to get finished, started and edited/revised, but since becoming a mom that’s my highest priority project.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: For sure getting City Without Altar selected as one of the plays for the Sin Muros Latinx Theatre Festival at Stages Repertory Theatre is what has really propelled me in the playwriting direction. I’ve always only seen myself as a poet and essayist. Although I’ve performed in theatre as an actress my whole life, I never really thought or considered myself as having a knack for playwriting. But when I realized that my play could include poetry I decided to give it a go.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Ntozake Shange (Rest in Power) is by far my biggest influence. Though I never met her, her work and her words have always resonated with me. Other influences and heroes include Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Neil Simon (a huge fave from my youth), Federico Garcia Lorca, Christopher Durang, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. These are all folks whose work I know and love but never met. As I’m really green to this whole playwriting world I don’t have any mentors…yet…but I will say that Guadalis del Carmen has been amazing at just being super supportive, kind and generous with her feedback, love and support of my work and this journey.
Q: What advice do you have for Latinx playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Um, so what advice would I give myself?! LOL…I guess the same advice I would give any emerging/budding/new writer…it’s about you and the page. The work is what matters. As long as you’re writing and rewriting that’s all that matters. There will be naysayers, and critics and skeptics but if you don’t tell your stories someone else will do it for you..and they’re going to get it wrong. So get out there and tell your stories in whatever way and shape they take form. Don’t let anyone silence you, your stories and your voice matter so write. Write often even if it’s terrible, even if it doesn’t make sense at first, even if you think there isn’t an audience for your work. Write your truth and everything else will fall into place. Trust.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I’m a mom, wife, poet, essayist, cupcake and wine lover. I’m new to the playwriting world but excited for what’s possible in this genre.
I’m a podcast host to the literary podcast InkWell which is a collaboration between Tintero Projects and Inprint Houston. My husband Lupe and I are founders of Tintero Projects, a literary organization that seeks to nurture and showcase emerging and established Latinx writers in the Houston Gulf Coast region through readings, workshops, and special events.
For a sneak peek of one of the poems featured in City Without Altar check out the poem: Run Irelia Run. Also, check out, “To El Hombre Dominicano…,” a poem in the Kenyon Review related to the writing of poems in City Without Altar.
***For more on Jasminne Mendez, see:
- “Sin Muros: Interview with City Without Altar Playwright Jasminne Mendez” – Trevor Boffone (The Theatre Times)
- “Inking Well: An Interview With Jasminne Mendez” – Daniel Peña
- “National Poetry Month: “Mouth Sores” By Jasminne Mendez” – Catherine Lu (Houston Public Media)
- “Texas Studio: Jasminne Mendez” – Trevor Boffone (Arts+Culture Texas)
- Jasminne Mendez’s Personal Website
- Follow Jasminne Mendez on Twitter