I have been announcing for several months that in July Tumblewords Project will celebrate its 13th anniversary. I have recently discovered that I am wrong--it will be our 14th anniversary. I figured this out when I noticed that Border Book Festival's upcoming event, "Return," is being billed as their 14th annual festival. Tumblewords Project here on the border was conceived from a workshop I presented in the very first BBF about the politics of writing. After the workshop, comprising a panel discussion and improvisational performance, Judyth Hill from New Mexico Arts Division had lunch with Jesus Guzman and me at La Hacienda on Mesquite Street in Las Cruces. Judyth told me that she was adminstering some monies provided by the Lila B. Wallace Foundation to fund grassroots literary projects in the western USA, under th ename of the Tumblewords Project. She asked me what I would want to do with a little money if it came my way. I told her that I would like to present creative writing workshops modelled after the workshops Judyth and I had been part of in Santa Fe, workshops led by Joan Logghe, Miriam Sagan, Natalie Goldberg, and Judyth herself.
A few months later, after a couple of telephone calls and a couple of organizational meetings in Vado and San Miguel, Judyth sent me a check for a few hundred bucks and Mesilla Valley Tumblewords Project began to present weekly writing workshops at Concilio Campesino, a farmworker senior citizens center, in San Miguel, New Mexico. The idea was to foster an appreciation for literature, particularly regional literature, and to create a community for writers who might or might not be part of what we called "the academic elite." We called it the Mesilla Valley Tumblewords Project to distinguish it from other entities that received funds from that particular pot of money. Another difference is that the other Tumblewords Projects were by and large one-event projects, using the money to fund a performance or a workshop, usually featuring only one or two artists.
From the beginning we were a tri-state project. That first series of workshops included Denise Chavez, as always the gracious god mother of the literary arts in the border region, among other talented writers. The workshops were presented at Concilio Campesino, which was provided to me free of charge because of work I did for farmworkers and for senior citizens. The first performance event featured poet Levi Romero from northern New Mexico, Eric Slavin and his colleagues from the Santa Fe Quartet from Argentina playing music by Astor Piazolla, and an art show of local visual artits. We presented it at the Branigan Culturale Center in downtown Las Cruces.
The words Mesilla Valley were dropped once Jesus and I moved to El Paso and I began to present workshops in El Segundo Barrio. Sometime before I stopped presenting workshops in Souther New Mexico, I contacted New Mexico Arts Division and was told that I could continue to use the name Tumblewords Project because it did not belong to anyone else, and that it would be a wonderful thing for the name to continue. As far as I know, our TWP is the only one anywhere that continued to present workshops and performance events season after season and year after year.
Right this minute I can't remember all the names of all the writers and artists who were there when we began the workshop series, or even the name of the woman who helped me present that first workshop at the BBF. After almost 14 years of workshops, sometimes as many as 96 workshops a year, my mmory falters. In the future I hope to dig out my dusty archives and make a list of all the presenters and performers over the years, and I hope to jot down a few more memories from time to time, too. But for now I want to set the record straight: Tumblewords Project began in July 1995, a few months after the very first BBF. So that means that this summer, we will celebrate our 14th year.
Siempre la poesia!