Leslie Contreras Schwartz
Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a multi-genre writer from Houston. She also dabbles in poet objects and collaborative multimedia work. Her work examines the individual versus public bodies and documents lived experiences and narratives of those usually silenced, such as people with mental illness, sex workers, women who are trafficked, or children in custody.
Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, The Collagist, [PANK], Verse Daily, The Texas Review, Catapult, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among others. Her new collection of poems, Nightbloom & Cenote (St. Julian Press, May 2018), was a semi-finalist for the 2017 Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, judged by Ilya Kaminsky. In 2018, she was a featured poet for the Houston Poetry Fest. She is the author of Fuego, and was a finalist for the 2018 Houston Poet Laureate. Her fiction will be included in Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda (Akashic Press, May 2019). She is currently a poetry editor at Four Way Review, and works as a lecturer at the University of Houston. She is a graduate of The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and earned a bachelor's at Rice University.
Artist Statement I am a multi-genre writer from Houston. My work examines the individual versus public bodies and documents lived experiences and narratives of those usually silenced, such as people with mental illness, sex workers, women who are trafficked, or children in custody. Over the years, I have sustained a writing practice by writing about what is most urgent to me. I write about women, girls and their ability to thrive in the world, but I do not turn away from examining head-on issues such as sex trafficking, abuse, and sexual assault. I am also committed to writing about the body, particularly the female body, and how it reacts to trauma, especially generational trauma. I’m interested in documenting narratives that are not usually heard or considered with great care; my latest manuscript focuses on women living with mental illness, and trafficked girls and women, especially people of color. I consider social justice an integral part of my writing and life as an artist. I grew up in the Aldine area of Houston, where my family has lived for four generations. My mother was adopted into unfortunate circumstances and defied her mother by marrying (she was trained to become a nun). My mother spent her childhood only speaking Spanish and did not receive a formal ESL education. My father, a gifted mathematician, did not have the same educational opportunities I did but encouraged me to get the best grades I could so I could have more choices. I had to work much harder than my peers, and although I spent all of my public school education in the gifted and talented program in my district, when I arrived at university, I was still behind many other students. I was studious and serious, with a laser-eyed focus that has taught me to be steadfast in my work. After receiving a full scholarship to the University of St. Thomas, I transferred to Rice University where I graduated in 2002. After working as a journalist and corporate writer, I attended the MFA program at Warren Wilson College and graduated in 2011. I had very little guidance or mentorship during my high school and university years; certainly, books were my main guide, and I spent many hours readings everything I could find. Nuestra Palabra, the literary organization, and my older brother, one of its founders, helped guide me as a writer, but most of my adult life has been spent reading, studying, and working to pay for school. In the past ten years, I have also focused on community service, especially being a good literary citizen by attending other writers’ readings, writing reviews, and volunteering my time for events. I have served on a local LULAC council with my family and most recently have focused on organizing a reading series that brings diverse writers together. Currently, I also work informally with two emerging writers as a mentor and guide. I think it’s important to share what I have learned, and to be a resource to other young people.