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Nancy Gonzalez St. Clair, Poet Laureate

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Trailblazing, Thriving, Bountiful.
Words have power, and for second grade teacher Nancy Gonzalez St. Clair, the stylings and articulation of words have been her life-long passion. As the first officially appointed poet laureate of Lodi, Nancy endorses her love of poetry and the art of writing to the Lodi community. Working with other organizations and staying connected with the public, she promotes programs in the San Joaquin region that foster creativity and literacy while encouraging emerging poets to cultivate their passion.

Advocate for Poetry, Spoken Word, Literary Arts
While Nancy’s position as the inaugural poet laureate is new to both her and the City of Lodi, her love of writing was cultivated early in her childhood. She was introduced to poetry by her sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Sue Whitfield, who recognized Nancy’s gift even before Nancy herself became aware. “She had me memorize a poem each week and had us read poetry and share poetry in front of the class,” Nancy recalls. “I was extremely shy and very scared of the world. She called me up to share my poem.” Nancy remembers that while her nerves were scattered, her teacher began to comment on how she inflected feelings and emotions into the poem. What followed were the words that only years later Nancy would recognize was her calling. “You are a poet.”

This calling, however, wouldn’t take flight until college. Naturally gravitating toward the arts and humanities, Nancy pursued a bachelor’s in English and minor in history from California State University of Sacramento, where she joined a writer’s group and met Francisco X. Alarcon. Alarcon had published books of poetry and was fascinated by some of Nancy’s writings, especially her poetry. He encouraged her to read her work aloud and finally persuaded her to read on an open mic. Admittedly like the shy sixth-grade girl from long ago, her nerves resurfaced but she persevered. “I was so scared I was shaking while I read my poem,” she said. Yet the positive recognition she received from her poetry affirmed Alarcon’s sentiments, and he would continue to encourage her to write more, assisting her to submit to literary magazines and anthologies. This continued perseverance paid off when her first poem was published.

Refining, Culture, Technique, Heart
Her first publication became the steppingstone to fine tune her craft and she began to play around with different artistic styles. Attending Las Dos Brujas workshop in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, she met U.S. poet laureate emeritus and soon-to-be friend Juan Felipe Herrera. “He taught me to tap deep into my soul,” she said. With Herrera’s encouragement, Nancy learned to experiment with line breaks, rhyming and free verse poetry.

In 2014, she continued to explore different artistic forms and attended another workshop, this time in Los Angeles, where she met Ana Castillo, an author of Chicano literature. Nancy became inspired by Castillo’s rich history and Latino culture conveyed in her writings. “I felt like I was at home,” she admitted, relating parallel themes in Castillo’s writings. “I began to admire her more and more.” Ana became not only an inspiration but a friend and mentor. “She continued to encourage me and I became involved in the Sacramento Poetry Center.” With few poetry groups in the San Joaquin region, Gonzalez began to make the trek to Sacramento each week. For the next three years, she hosted a Sunday Avid poetry read at Tower Café.

In addition to the many mentors over the years, Nancy has discovered inspiration through ekphrastic poetry, which is the vivid verbal description of art or other visuals. In 2014, Nancy was involved in organizing PINTURA : PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis with Francisco Aragón, who directs Letras Latina. PINTURA : PALABRA was an initiative overseen by Letras Latinas, the literary program of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies. The two-day, ten-hour workshop was held in tandem with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s traveling exhibit, Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art. During the PINTURA : PALABRA workshop, Nancy noticed an exhibit by Christina Fernandez with seven pictures, which inspired a poem titled Expedition of the Heart that depicts an immigrant woman’s life. “It’s about a Mexican woman and the jobs she did with all her heart,” Nancy said. She has a deep appreciation for all immigrants; her mother came from Mexico when she was 16 years old and worked as a migrant farmworker in the Central Valley.

Today, much of Nancy’s work can be found in an array of publications including Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, La Tolteca, Mujeres De Maiz Zine, Hinchas de Poesía, Fifth Wednesday Journal and several other literary journals. Her work is also featured in the Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice; Sacramento Voices: Foam at the Mouth Anthology; Lowriting: Shots, Rides, Stories from the Chicano Soul and Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century. Many of the themes she explores in her poetry center around culture, family, love and life. In the future, she wants to publish a collection of poetry.

Sharing Talents with a Mosaic of Voices
While Nancy has served on the Sacramento Poetry Center Board for several years, she is now being called to promote groups in the San Joaquin community. As the inaugural poet laureate of Lodi, she hosts a monthly poetry series called Mosaic of Voices at the Lodi Library. The reading series is the second Saturday of each month and promotes an appreciation and understanding of contemporary poetry in a wide array of forms and styles. The goal is to bring poets, scholars, students and the public together to provide Northern California poets an opportunity to share their work. Nancy hosts workshops at the University of Pacific, where she is working on her doctorate and dissertation on educational leadership. She encourages poetry in her own classroom among her second-grade students at Live Oak Elementary School.

Nancy hopes to share not just her love of poetry but also to serve as a leader in the community. Taking an active role in politics, she serves on boards for a variety of different organizations including the American Association of University Women and San Joaquin Family Justice Center Foundation; she has become involved in several nonprofit organizations. “I want to make a positive impact in our world. The best way to make a difference is to lift others up,” she affirmed.

As Nancy Gonzalez-St. Clair continues to be an ambassador of words and shares her talents with the world, she encourages others to find their voice as did the many mentors who believed in her and encouraged her on her journey. “Read all types of poetry from around the world, as much poetry as you can. Reading different works helps you develop your own style,” she concluded.