100 Creatives 2014: John Pluecker, Writer, Poet and Language Justice Worker
Photo by Allison Cobb
We admit that before talking to John Pluecker, co-founder of language experimentation collaborative Antena, we hadn't heard of language justice. Sure, we heard about gender-neutral language (waitstaff vs waitress), but that's not what writer, poet and translator Pluecker means.
"What [Antena's] really talking about is the right that people have to use the language that they wish," Pluecker tells us. "We look at how to create spaces that are multilingual where people can speak across languages barriers and spaces where people can use the language in which they feel most comfortable."
Antena has been in residence at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston since January. Collaborating with Latin America and U.S. writers that were working visually and artists that were working with language, Antena has helped launch a number of initiatives during its residency including an exhibition of work combining literary and visual arts, readings and performances, DIY projects throughout the U.S. and Latin America, the weekly class "In The Between: At the Intersections of Writing, Art, Politics" as well as workshops in writing, bookmaking, translation and language justice.
"In the past, my work as an artist has been different, separate from my work as a translator. With Antena it's been about creating a space for my work as an artist to overlap with my work as an interpreter and translator." This story continues on the next page.
What He Does: "If somebody asks me what I do, I say I'm a writer, interpreter, translator, poet and artist. That's my list."
Pluecker's work is most often experimental and centers on the intersections of visual art and poetry. He's written three chapbooks: Routes into Texas, Undone and Killing Current. He has translated several books from the Spanish into English, including Tijuana Dreaming: Life and Art at the Global Border and Feminism: Transmissiones and Retransmissions.
"As far as language justice, I wouldn't call myself an activist or organizer. One of the really exciting things about language justice is that it's my way of being able to support social change without being an activist or organizer, without having to do a lot of public work.
"I have the personality to be a writer, an interpreter, a translator. I like melting into the background, being invisible in some ways. I do a lot of public work that borders on activism and organizing, but I'm actually happiest translating and writing -- it goes back to liking to being in visible thing. That's where I'm the most comfortable."
Why He Likes It: "Writing, for me, is an itch that I just have to scratch. It's what I've always thought about and what I'm obsessed with. It's exciting to be able to blend things that you would normally think of as very separate. Like poetry and interpreting at a community meeting, how do those two things go together? They go together because there's an interest in language, an interest in working with words and people, in experiences and stories. I know that connection is a little harder for some people to get, but for me, I think it's all language."
What Inspires Him: "I've seen a scene repeated many, many times in the work that I do. A person who doesn't speak Spanish talking to a person that doesn't speak English, and them somehow sharing about their own stories, discussing their own experiences. Somehow some work of art or poetry sparks a dialogue between two individuals who normally wouldn't be able to talk to each other, who wouldn't be able to understand each other."
If Not This, Then What: "If I could figure out a job where all I would do is learn different languages, that's what I would do. That would be my ideal job. All I want is for someone to pay my bills while I learn languages but unfortunately there is no such job in the world."
If Not Here, Then Where: "It's really important to me to do this work in Houston. We have really large art and literary communities and we have a really incredible multilingual community. Those two things together can be very exciting. There's a lot of work to do here, in both the art world and language justice.
"A lot of people can be to boostery about the diversity in Houston. That diversity can cause barriers and problems and I think it's important to talk about those. If we just promote the city, we don't work on the problems. [For boosters] there are no problems and that's not true. We're an incredibly unequal city with a really difficult history. Things, including a lot of injustices, tend to happen quietly in Houston. Segregation happened here in a very quiet way.
"I think I'm in the right place."
What's Next: "I will not be involved in any large scale public projects for the rest of the year. Seriously, I am determined to spend more time on my own writing projects but I haven't had time for the last year. A few years ago, I was really excited about making connections connections between art and literature, language. I was ready to fight against the idea of a writer sitting at his desk - definitely a man - on his own, in solitude, writing. Now, after a year of very public work, I'm ready to go back to sitting at my desk in the quiet and writing."
More Creatives for 2014 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Ricky Ortiz, painter, tattoo artist Rabēa Ballin, artist David Wald, actor Lisa E. Harris, performing and visual artist Stephanie Todd Wong, executive director of Dance Source Houston Pamela Fagan Hutchins, novelist Heather Gordy, artist Mark Nasso, comic artist Shelbi-Nicole, artist Marian Szczepanski, novelist Jonathan Blake, fashion designer Doni Langlois, interior designer Kat Denson, dancer Blame the Comic, comedian Margaret Menchaca Alvarez, artist Jacquelyne Jay Boe, dancer Rene Fernandez, painter Teresa Chapman, choreographer and dancer
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events