Johanny Vázquez Paz was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She holds a Master of Arts in Hispanic Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Indiana State University. Her book Streetwise Poems/Poemas Callejeros was recently published by Mayapple Press (Michigan, 2007). She co-edited the anthology Between the Heart and the Land / Entre el corazón y la tierra: Latina Poets in the Midwest (MARCH/Abrazo Press, 2001) and was included in the compilation Poetas sin tregua (Spain, 2006) of Puerto Rican poets from the 80's generation.
Some of her poems appeared in the anthology Más allá de las fronteras (Ediciones Nuevo Espacio, New Jersey, 2004), and she was published in the collection Carpetas de Luz after winning the Voces Selectas 2000 poetry contest of Luz Bilingual Publishing. Johanny has been published in the literary magazines VOCES Journal (Univ. of California), El Centro Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Hunter College, N.Y.), Beyond Borders (De Paul Univ.) and Yagrumal (Puerto Rico), among others. She currently teaches Spanish at Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL.
Johanny Vázquez Paz nació y se crió en San Juan, Puerto Rico. Posee una maestría en Estudios Hispánicos de la Universidad de Illinois en Chicago y un bachillerato en Sociología de la Universidad del Estado de Indiana. Su libro Streetwise Poems/Poemas Callejeros fue recientemente publicado por Mayapple Press (Michigan, 2007). Co-editó la antología Between the Heart and the Land / Entre el corazón y la tierra: Latina Poets in the Midwest (MARCH/Abrazo Press, 2001), y fue incluida en el libro Poetas sin tregua-Compilación de poetas puertorriqueñas de la generación del 80 (España, 2006).
Además, algunos de sus poemas aparecen en la antología Más allá de las fronteras (Ediciones Nuevo Espacio, New Jersey, 2004), y fue publicada en la colección Carpetas de Luz después de ganar el certamen Voces Selectas 2000 de Luz Bilingual Publishing. Johanny ha sido publicada en las revistas: VOCES Journal (Univ. of California), El Centro Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Hunter College, N.Y.), Beyond Borders (De Paul Univ.) y Yagrumal (Puerto Rico), entre otras. Actualmente es profesora de español en Harold Washington College en Chicago, IL.
Aside from the obvious descriptors in her bio, Johanny Vázquez Paz is quite simply a force of nature. She's warm like earth, clear and bracing as running water, and bright as the canopy of morning sky. She's also a Chicago literary fixture, and it's been our very good luck indeed that she's been the host of Palabra Pura since its inception. It's Johanny's voice you hear each month at California Clipper welcoming you, teasing you, coaxing you to relax and enjoy. With her inimitable presence, the bar becomes nuestra joint, an opportunity to savor. And the experience is made richer by her sharing her own poetry, setting out the first course in that feast of words that is a Palabra Pura reading.
There is so much to appreciate. She is also a poet of what I like to consider working class sensibilities — direct, honest, but full of deep feeling, true feeling. In the 2007, the release of Streetwise Poems/Poemas Callejeros, Johanny shows us how deeply the streets run in her veins, the public and private ways her heart holds the love of family and their stories. No matter how much her work is anchored in an urban base, she is tethered always to la isla, to Puerto Rico and its sorrow and strength, always writing from a deep place of female dignity. Take a moment and read for yourself.
Daughter of the City
I feel the streets in my veins
roads without stop signs or lights or signals
live within me
circling the bewildering labyrinths of my being,
noises echo loudly at every corner,
each step banging like a hand on a drum,
horns demanding that others move out of the way,
shots crying farewell to their reasons for hate,
screams hiding by the anger of a barking dog.
Daughter of the city
citizen of hell
resident of purgatory.
I am a skyscraper inhabited by urgency,
a map of nameless streets,
only the suicidal wind dares to speed
past the danger signs of my curves.
Hours merge without boundaries into dawn;
my anxieties open for business twenty-four hours a day
without ever finding peace and quiet
inside the insistent beating of my sleepwalking heart.
Letter to My Mother from Chicago
Don’t worry about me, madrecita,
everything seems fine in the northlands
and I perfect myself before your eyes.
No problem disturbs me
more than ten hours a day
my health is excellent
without doctors or healthy diets
and there is no one to interrupt
my eternal solitude.
But, don’t be worried, mami,
it’s not as bad as you think.
There are millions of jobs here
that don’t pay well
there is a lot of money
in other people’s accounts
new buildings go up every week
with people trapped behind each door.
If I sound sad maybe it’s because
I miss my homeland, my family and everything,
because the weather chills my bones more each year,
because of the things-to-buy list
that grows like a well fed child,
because of the problems that visit me daily
without an invitation.
I survive day by day
taking care of things myself,
don’t feel sad, viejita,
life is perfect here.
Reasons of Worth
because I sin in secrecy and silence
keeping before the world
a record of impeccable morality
because I have withstood deserved insults
in the dark corner of rancor and hate
because I could have taken advantage of many men
but I chose solitude over lies and convenience
because I did not prostitute my ideals under the assault
of those whose only ideal is profit
because I was born woman and I bleed
and I am impregnated and I give birth
and I raise and nurture and clean and organize
and I stop bleeding
for these and many other reasons of worth
I deserve fame right now
be it fifteen minutes of praise,
be it an ovation of applause and roses,
be it my image glowing on television,
or my touched-up photo in some important magazine,
be it an honorable mention in some contest
or a trophy with my name engraved,
whatever it may be, but let it be grand…
I deserve fame!
I deserve glory!
For more of Johanny's writing, please enjoy the following:
Book Poemas Callejeros / Streetwise Poems published by Mayapple Press, Michigan, 2007.
Poem published in the anthology The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century, Cracked Slab Books, Chicago, 2007.
Poem: Our Revolution.
Poems: Sentada en la arena mirando el mar, Anónimo Lo que queda, Un infierno mío, Fuerza de voluntad, En comunión, Jardinera.
Poems published in Más allá de las fronteras anthology published in New Jersey, USA, Ediciones Nuevo Espacio, 2004.
Poems: Sentada en la arena mirando el mar, Sin debida sepultura.
Article "Café con demasiaaaaada leche: I am a Black Woman Trapped in a White Woman's Body" and poem published in Que Ondee Sola, Northeastern Illinois University-Chicago, IL, March 2003.
Poem: Anhelo africano.
Song lyrics written included in the compact disc Compromiso by Luis Jahn, Chicago, IL, Del Sur Music Publishing, 2003.
Poem: Cada familia.
Co-edited and published poems in Between the Heart and the Land/Entre el corazón y la tierra; Latina Poets in the Midwest anthology published in Chicago, IL, 2001, MARCH/Abrazo Press.
Poems: Liviana / Light Heart (both versions in all indicated), Por un hilo / By a Thread, A la vida / To Life, Morning After.
Poems published in VOCES: A Journal of Chicana/Latina Studies, Volume Three, Number One and Two, University of California, Davis, Spring 2001.
Poems: Con fe / With Faith (both versions in all indicated), Dedicado a Soledad / Dedicated to Solitude, Veinticuatro Horas / Twenty-four Hours, Liviana / Light Heart, Razones de Peso / Reasons of Worth.
Poems published in Centro Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, in the article "New Rican Voices", Volume XII, Number 1, Hunter College, New York, Fall 2000.
Poems: African Yearning, Carta a mi madre.
Chapbook El filo de la esquina published in the collection Voces Selectas 2000, Carpeta de Poesía Luz Número 4, Luz Bilingual Publishing, Sherman Oaks, CA, 2000.
Poems: Por un hilo, Con fe, Palabras cortas, Juerga de dos, mentira de muchos.
Poems published in ¡Sin linderos ni arrabales, hacia el Siglo XXI!, Segunda Parte. Anthology published in Madrid, Spain, 1999, Calíope Press.
Poems: Liviana, ¡Qué grande estás!
Poems published in El Otro Newspaper, Chicago, IL, December 1999.
Poems: Si alguna vez, Razones de peso.
Poem and short story published in ¡Sin linderos ni arrabales, hacia el Siglo XXI! anthology published in Madrid, Spain, 1999, Calíope Press.
Poem and Short Story: En las mañanas, Con fe.
Poems published in Yagrumal literary magazine, 1999 issue, Peñuelas, Puerto Rico.
Poems: Callejón, Cada familia, ¡Hay que…!, Con fe, Bailando bolero sola, Resolución de fin de año.
Poems published in ¡Y Dios la hizo mujer! anthology published in Madrid, Spain, 1998, Calíope Press.
Poem: Razones de peso.
Poems and article published in La Raza Newspaper, Chicago, IL, July 1999.
Poems: Bailando bolero sola, Callejón.
Interview published in Que Ondee Sola, Northeastern Illinois University-Chicago, IL, March 1999.
Poem published in Que Ondee Sola, Northeastern Illinois University-Chicago, IL, April 1999.
Poem: Our Revolution.
Poems published in Beyond Borders: Más all de las fronteras literary magazine, De Paul University, 1997-98 issue.
Poem: Cada familia.
Poems published in Diminuendo, volume ii, issue 1, Loyola University literary magazine, October 1998. Poem: Alleyway.
Poems published in Karacola literary magazine, 1998, Santiago, Chile.
Poem: Razones de peso
Poems published in Abrapalabra University of Illinois literary magazine, Chicago, IL, 1996
Poems published in Fe de erratas, August and November 1993 issues. Poems: Mujer, Débil.