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September 28, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Erika L. Sánchez

Kate Hart
headshot of erika sanchez
One of the best things about hosting the Badass Ladies series is that the women profiled are always introducing me to even more amazing people. Thanks to last month's Christa Desir, today we have author and poet Erika L. Sánchez, whose work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and more, and won a multitude of awards and fellowships. Her debut YA novel, I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, is coming fall 2017 from Knopf.


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Erika: Both my poetry collection and my novel come out next year. I have finished most of my revisions, but I may still have to do some editing. I'm also about halfway through a personal essay collection titled Crying in the Bathroom. Goodness, it has been so emotionally exhausting, because I'm basically writing about the worst moments of my life. (Don't worry though, it's also funny!) In addition to working on my books, I do some consulting and freelancing. I just turned in an article about body image for Also, I pray that my novel becomes a movie. There are not enough representations of brown girls in the world.

I've been writing since I was a kid. It's all I've ever wanted to do, so I'm basically living my dreams. It's both wonderful and frightening.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Erika: I don't think that these are creative in themselves, but my Buddhism practice and my running routine spark creativity for me. Since I converted to Buddhism last year, I have so much appreciation and clarity about my life. The philosophy has definitely influenced the way I view the world and consequently, the style and content of my work, particularly the law of cause and effect and the interconnectedness of all beings. Running is a meditative experience for me, so I often come up with all sorts of ideas on my runs. Many of the striking images I encounter while running in the city end up in my poems.

I also love music. I often listen to instrumental music as I write so I don't get distracted by lyrics. Philip Glass, Erik Satie, and Arvo Part are some of my favorites. Recently, I've also been obsessed with Beyoncé's Lemonade. It has brought me so much comfort. And documentaries about social issues, particularly feminism, always influence my work.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Erika: Self-doubt. A friend recently pointed out that I'm intimidated by my own life. I was stunned by how right she was. I'm now doing my best to believe in my own greatness. Women are conditioned to question themselves and downplay their accomplishments. We need to change that.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Erika: In 2014 I was going through a very difficult time in my life. I had this terrible job and was so unhappy. I had submitted my manuscript to one of my dream presses and thought it had a good chance. I was so desperate for something good to happen in my life. After months of waiting, I received a rejection. I was feeling so raw and vulnerable at the time that I sobbed on my couch for hours. I was hurt and disappointed, but I continued to submit my manuscript to my top choices until it was accepted by Graywolf December 2015. I couldn't ask for a better publisher.

Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten?

Erika: "Your poem changed my life." I still can't believe that people feel this way about my work. It means everything to me.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Erika: I've been a feminist since I was 12. It has defined my entire life, really. Nearly all of my writing is about women in some form or other. It's hard to pinpoint exact moments because I'm always angry about some injustice or other.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Erika: We must be kind to each other. Review and promote other the work of other women writers. Don't be afraid to share the wealth.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Erika: Again, it's always a good idea to be kind. Not only is it the right way to live, it always comes back to you. Every cause we make has an effect. Also, believe that your voice matters and that you're capable of amazing things. I have failed too many times to count, but I'm stubborn as hell. Resilience is key because the writing life is full of disappointments.


Erika L. Sánchez is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. She is the author of Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf 2017) and a Young Adult novel forthcoming from Knopf in the fall of 2017. Her nonfiction has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. She has received a CantoMundo Fellowship, a "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Prize, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation.

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