Interview: Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is a trans woman poet living in California. Her work has been published in The Feminist Wire, PEN America, Lambda Literary, Washington Square Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of two collections—i’m alive / it hurts / i love it (boost house 2014) and THERE SHOULD BE FLOWERS (Civil Coping Mechanisms 2016). You can find her on twitter here and her website.

What is the biggest motivator for your writing? When or where does that first idea usually strike you and how do you get it down on paper?


My writing is a negotiation with trauma and the world that produced it, so I am motivated by unearthing, exploring, and, hopefully, eventually coming to peace with said trauma. It feels impossible to come to any sort of peace while this world continues to exist, so I try to imagine new worlds in my writing, spaces that don’t yet exist, spaces that aren’t allowed to exist. These ideas are constantly striking me because of my mind’s tendency to generate racing thoughts, so getting them down on paper is a matter of intuitively deciding which ideas are worth expanding upon—because this world teaches marginalized people not to trust their own feelings, I see my willingness to write from this intuitive space as a form of resistance, a way of imagining the unimaginable.


I remember reading somewhere that there’s nothing you love more than an honest storm. I really like this idea of cultivating emotion and honesty through poetry, and I was wondering how important this is to your work? 


That line, in particular, refers to my desire for the insidious forms of violence I face to reveal themselves and stop hiding within the ideological and systemic frameworks that uphold a patriarchal society. There’s a sort of frenzied perseverance within me that has learned to thrive off facing these things head-on—the more shit I survive, the stronger I feel. But it’s more difficult to name the storm that hides itself, and how do you fight something without being able to see it, describe it, touch it?


I find your work comforting as it displays a sense of alienation that a lot of us in the LGBTIQ+ community experience, but sometimes forget we’re not alone in experiencing. I would like to thank you for that, and also ask what your experience has been with other readers who identify with your work? 


I’m so glad you feel that way! I feel like giving up poetry forever on pretty much a daily basis, so whenever someone tells me that my work has made a difference to them it’s an immeasurable help in the struggle against self-doubt. In that sense, it’s a symbiotic relationship—the fact that others who are facing similar challenges due to their identity can find solace in my work means that the work no longer belongs to me and thus becomes dissociated from my individual subjectivity. It’s very freeing.


Finally, what are some texts that have been especially formative for you, as a writer?


The work of poets like Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson were really important to me early on in terms of getting me interested in poetry and seeing the power it can hold. Later on M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong, José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications, and the work of writers like CA Conrad, Hoa Nguyen, Fred Moten, and others became indescribably important in helping me see the revolutionary potential of the written word.