Catherine Evleshin on Dance, Theater and Social Justice

Catherine Evleshin is a writer, dancer, dance ethnologist and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing appears in Agave Magazine, Fiction Vortex, Gemini Literary Magazine, Journal of Environmental Crisis, Words Apart Magazine, Mused – BellaOnline Literary Review, Animal Literary Magazine, Caribbean and African Diaspora Dance: Igniting Citizenship by Yvonne Daniel, and forthcoming in Riding Light Review.

In this interview with editor Dariel Suarez, she talks about the influence of labor and social justice issues on her work, about Latino voices in the Northwest and about dance, music and celebration.

Dariel Suarez: What inspired you to write "Dream Act 2014"?

Catherine Evleshin: Labor and social justice issues in our country and the world. My youth – packing peaches in the California heat, listening to braceros in the fields. Time travel presents physiological challenges, but cyberspace information sharing - maybe not so far-fetched. What if, in the future, we can message back to the present? What if the human population is reduced by a pandemic to two billion worldwide, scattered into small independent units? Perhaps a variety of responses – some advancing technology, others simplifying. What is the future of social justice?

DS: You mentioned you have worked with Milagro in Portland. What is the organization all about and how does it relate to Chicano/Latino issues?

CE: Milagro gives voice to issues affecting the diverse Latino community in an historically Anglo region. From its beginnings as a theater group in the 1980’s, it has morphed into the premier Chicano/Latino arts and culture organization in the Northwest. It offers and supports an authentic and accessible array of narratives from classical productions to debut works by Chicano/Latino playwrights. Also, multidisciplinary performances, art exhibits, and educational activities.

DS: Has your work influenced your fiction writing? What are some of the similarities and differences that you find in the mediums?

CE: I am a dancer and dance ethnologist specializing in Latin America, so I came on board as a choreographer and performer, as a member of the touring company, and lastly, joining Los Porteños, the writer’s collective that produces staged readings. Dance, music, and celebration, often the only expressions available to the powerless, are integral to most Latin American cultures. “Teatro” (theater) has come to mean more than the spoken word. By extension, it seems natural to include these forms in many of my stories (see Question #7). 

"Dream Act 2014" contains no dance, but my characters come from diverse social classes and ethnic identities - clashing, striving, finding common ground. Whatever the medium, I see fewer differences than similarities in the human desire to express ourselves and communicate with others.

DS: How politically/socially engaged should writers be?

CE: As much as they want, I guess. Being a teacher, I feel my responsibility, indeed my privilege, to be a role model and advocate for change. Environmentalism is big with me. The lack of political will to confront immigration policy makes me crazy.

The first step for the writer is to acquire knowledge and experience. Read, observe, get out and live in the world. Don’t believe your teachers on faith.

DS: How has your background influenced your work? Do you draw from personal experience?

CE: My life and work led me to foreign lands, sketchy misadventures, and unforgettable characters, so I have plenty to draw on. As a futurist, I imagine what has not happened...yet.

DS: Are you working on any new pieces at the moment?

CE: A political science fiction novel entitled Rivers Still Run, set in 2061. “Dream Act 2014” is something of a prequel, employing the voices of my three main characters from the future.

DS: Where else can readers find some of your work?

CE: Three eco-fiction pieces: 

  • Canary Journal of Environmental Crisis (Summer, 2014) “Paperless...Jobless” 
  •  Animal Literary Magazine (May, 2013) “A Sterile Place” 
  •  Mused-BellaOnline Literary Review (Spring, 2013) “Chameleon” 

 Three tales of dancers and dancing:

  •  Agave Magazine (winter/spring 2014) “Maceo’s Rumba” 
  • Fiction Vortex (June, 2013) “A Misleading Dance” 
  •  Gemini Literary Magazine (Summer, 2014) “Slow Dance/High Stakes”

(All short stories free online.)