Karla Comanda (she/they) is a poet, editor, translator, educator, and arts administrator. Her work has appeared in Contemporary Verse 2, filling station, Room Magazine, and Poetry is Dead, among others. In 2019, she hosted the Sinag-Araw Writing Workshop, a poetry workshop series created for Filipino youth in the diaspora. In the workshops, attendees drew inspiration from Filipino culture, history, and identity to create poetry. They learned a little bit about the history of poetry from the Philippines as well. Karla currently works at rice & beans theatre in Vancouver.
For length and clarity, the transcript has been lightly edited.
When did you first realize words had power when you started to write?
I think I became really conscious of it when I was a high school senior in the Philippines. I was an editor for our school newspaper and had a column in which I plainly stated some observations I had of the school.
Once our paper got sent to the printer, I got called to the principal's office with the other editorial staff. We got chewed out. I remember the principal talking about how she was a journalist, and how it wasn't fair that we were writing all these things about the school. I recall being annoyed and dissociating from the conversation. I was just over the whole thing and thinking, "I'm really thirsty. I wish I could walk out and drink from the water fountain just outside of this office."
As rice & beans theatre communications manager, what was the shift to the digital space like for this theatre space? What are some challenges or opportunities reaching a wider audience that you observed?
I joined in December 2020 so the season was already underway, but I'm really impressed by how the digital space became an opportunity to innovate for our company. The arts and culture sector really suffered a lot throughout this pandemic so being able to produce a podcast, an album, a trilogy of visual novels, and a live exhibition (that's COVID-safe!) is huge.
It has been a challenge to think about who our audience is and how we can reach them, but I think this also allowed us to reach new people who wouldn't be able to go to our shows because they live somewhere else, and also make connections with people outside of a theatre space.
One good thing that has come out of this pandemic is the accessibility of events because they were all online, so you can watch or listen to them in your own time. I worry that we'll lose that accessibility once we go back to normal, whatever shape that takes. I enjoyed being able to join events by artists in other time zones that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to, so I really hope that virtual events continue to be produced in the future.
How can we create more opportunities for creatives to be heard within our own communities? What advice would you give authors who feel pressured to write a certain type of story–– especially when they’re a minority–– in order to get published?
I think that we need to focus on creating our own spaces and ensure that artists, especially emerging ones, can tell their stories in an environment that's safe for them. Being an educator has taught me that empowering and mentoring writers is also really important, because it teaches them to understand that they have a story to tell, and that those stories matter.
I've had the privilege of hosting several writing workshops for the community and I feel grateful that I can carve out spaces where people feel safe to share their stories. There's always a point in my workshops where I get a little emotional because some of the writings that these community members share can dig really deep into themselves. It's not easy to share your work to a bunch of strangers, especially when it's online, so I feel really grateful that people are able to do that in my workshops.
It sounds kind of cliché, but trust your gut and don't do anything that doesn't feel authentic to you! I know there's a lot of pressure to write a certain way and tell a certain type of story, so don't be afraid to push back if you feel like you're being swayed in a particular direction that you feel doesn't represent who you are and your intentions as a writer. And don't worry about publishing a lot––it's okay to take it slow and be mindful of where in the world your work goes out into. When something's wrong, you'll feel it.
If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.
Nathalie De Los Santos
Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Contributor
Nathalie De Los Santos is digital designer and videographer based in Vancouver BC. She is the founder of PilipinxPages, a bookstagram of Filipino book recommendations. Her work appears in Marias at Sampaguitas, Ricepaper Magazine, Gastrofork, and The Vancouver Observer. She has read as an author at the LiterAsian Festival, BIPOC Writing Community Reading Party, Freedom (W)rites: 8 Filipino Authors, and Sampaguita Perspectives: A Celebration of Filipino-Canadian Writers. She writes SFF and has completed three novels.