Sometimes Kansas' new poet laureate feels isolated and in transition. Huascar Medina's mother is Panamanian and his father is Puerto Rican, but Medina was born at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Texas, and is an American.
"I'm no longer from Puerto Rico or Panama, but sometimes I don't feel I'm American enough either, you know? My Spanish isn't the best, and sometimes I struggle with my English, so I live in the in between," says Medina, who has lived in Topeka for almost two decades.
Over the next two years, Medina will tour the state using his theme "May Our Voices Ring True" as a starting place to discuss what it means to be a Kansan — particularly a Latino Kansan.
The self-described touring poet is Kansas' seventh poet laureate, having assumed the position on May 1. Medina follows outgoing poet laureate Kevin Rabas. (The Kansas Arts Commission started the poet laureate program in 2005, and the Kansas Humanities Council took responsibility for it in 2013.)
Rabas says he's known Medina for a few years and encouraged him to apply.
"Huascar's a dynamo of positive energy. Not only is he a good poet, he's a good playwright, and a great literary citizen," Rabas says from his office at Emporia State University, where he’s chair of the English Department.
Medina says he's not as well-established as poets laureate of the past, meaning that he doesn’t have the academic background in writing that others do (Rabas has a PhD in English from the University of Kansas). Medina is working on his second poetry collection, "Un Mango Grows In Kansas," whereas Rabas now has 10 books of fiction and poetry.
"I came out of nowhere. I mean, people know who I am personally, but not in larger circles," Medina says.
But Medina is known for his devotion to making Topeka an artist-friendly city. Recognizing that if artists aren't treated well they'll move to cities more amenable to creative lifestyles, he helped create the Artist's Wellness Endowment (AWE), a group dedicated to the wellness of artists in northeastern Kansas. AWE organizes fundraisers for artists and provides financial assistance to artists in need due to significant medical issues.
AWE board president Brenda Blackmam says she considers Medina a major part of the group's inception and future.
"He was a part of the group that originally saw the need and formed the idea that eventually became AWE as we know it today, and he is solely responsible for the name and acronym," Blackman says. "Most recently he’s donated a personal poem and a private reading for our upcoming auction."
Because of this type of philanthropic involvement, Rabas calls Medina a "poet of the people. He connects with a wide swath of Kansans, both as a poet and playwright. So, he’s ideal to broaden the net, when it comes to bringing folks to poetry. He will inspire many."
KCUR has made it a practice to ask new poets laureate to begin their terms by giving other writers three rules to write by. Medina's are:
1. Always be prepared to write.
"Paper, pencil no matter where you're at. Phones now. I write on my phone every day. I do write every day. 'When do you write? When is it appropriate to write?' You know, that’s one of the questions I deal with because, you know, it's weird hours sometimes. And one of my favorite poets, Jimmy Santiago Baca, was asked that question: When should he write? And I’m paraphrasing, but he said, 'When do you pick up a child crying in the night?'"
2. Writer's block is not a real thing.
"Writer's block is merely just a red flag for creative burnout, so you need to go around it. Let's say good reading could be a form of helping your writing. You could watch a film that might inspire you. Just be prepared to edit work from before that you had, if you don't have the energy to write but you still want to be involved in the writing process. Editing, and reading, and investigating what you're writing about is part of that process."
3. Be sincere.
"Be honest with your work and yourself. Let it have emotion. Write it … be raw about it at first; you can go back and clean it up, you know. Let it all out."