Interview with Rebeca C. Rivera-Robayo

Sundress Publications is excited to announce that Rebeca C. Rivera-Robayo has joined our Editorial Board as an Assistant Editor. Editorial intern Emmalee Hagarman sat down with Rivera-Robayo to discuss her hopes and plans for the new role.

Emmalee Hagarman: What are you most looking forward to in your new role at Sundress?

Rebecca C. Rivera-Robayo: When I was offered my role at Sundress, the first thought that came to mind was that I would get to read poetry, which I find very exciting. I am always searching for different writers and pieces to show my students and hoard for myself.

EH: Can you speak a little bit about your book, City Doodles, and the type of poetry you write?

RRR: This collection was inspired primarily by my travels in New York City. I religiously used the city’s public transportation and used the time traveling to write, read, listen to music, or observe. I wanted to put together all of the pieces written in the dark tunnels of the city or were inspired by the experiences I had. Quite frankly, this was during a time in my career in which I felt in-tune with poetry. That was an even more excellent motivator to publish a collection that I enjoyed writing and that I had ultimate ownership over.

EH: What was the most interesting part about working for New York Minute Magazine?

RRR: New York Minute Magazine is a volunteer-run online publication that is centered on city living. During my time there, I enjoyed writing their book reviews. I felt like I could introduce readers to different writers and subject-matters, and it gave me an outlet to read more books, which I never get tired of doing.

EH: As an English professor, do you have a favorite writing prompt that you’ve assigned to your students?

RRR: Writing prompts are tricky; some semesters students love them, and other times students find them dreadful. However, the one assignment that I always give towards the end of the semester is a research assignment that requires students to write on one topic they see as socially relevant. This kind of thinking helps students assess what is happening in their geographical locations or even investigate a branch of their major or career. Over the years, I have been privileged to read papers from students who are genuinely passionate about making some kind of change in their communities, which is the best part of being a teacher.

EH: Do you have any current projects that you’re working on?

RRR: This year, my main goal is to finish my dissertation; it’s the cloud over my parade, so to say. Aside from that, for a few years now, I have been writing pieces of a memoir. Writing a collection of recollections and experiences will be a long and incredible experience; I can’t wait.

EH: When did your interest in photography and journalism begin?

RRR: My interest in photography did not start until I met my husband, who is a photographer. Early on in our relationship, he would drag me to exhibits, conventions, events, or anything that had an image on display. A lot of what I know about capturing a moment is taken from his teachings and my observations. As for journalism, I can’t say that I ever considered writing for a newspaper until I wrote my first piece, a little story about a race in the Bronx. When my family moved to Sullivan County, NY, and I started writing for the local paper, my interests peeked because local news is vital to small and rural communities. Sadly, many people do not get involved or care to know what is happening in their towns, villages, or hamlets. Writing stories and attending events and meetings helped me to be more engaged.

EH: As an editor, what will you be looking for in manuscripts submitted to Sundress?

RRR: Emotions and thought processes generally move the gauge that I rule by. I regularly ask, “Why?” It’s a question that forces me to analyze what is in front of me. This question is followed by other questions, more thoughts, and a deeper connection. As a result, I hope that when I read a manuscript and through a lengthy self-induced Q&A session, I can provide an assessment that is both honest and trustworthy.

EH: How do you balance your different roles as a professor, editor, writer, reporter, etc.?

RRR: This morning, a student asked me this very question, and it made me chuckle. I rarely see myself as being able to balance things. I prefer to see it as managing things day-by-day. The pandemic has really uprooted all sense of normalcy, and our home is no different. My husband and I are still adapting and have tried to be flexible and forgiving towards ourselves and each other. Every morning, I make a mental note of all the things that need to be done within that day, fully aware that not everything will be done and accept that fact. However, the one thing that has helped us remember when things are due is a shared calendar.

Rebeca C. Rivera-Robayo is a writer and poet living in upstate New York. She graduated in 2008 with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Hunter College and in 2014 with an M.A. in Literature from Brooklyn College. Her first chapbook, City Doodles, was published in 2011. She was lead editor and contributing writer at New York Minute Magazine and a freelance journalist for The Bronx Times and the Sullivan County Democrat. She is currently a full-time faculty member at SUNY Orange and is completing her doctoral degree at Drew University.

Emmalee Hagarman earned her MFA in poetry at The Ohio State University, where she served as poetry editor of The Journal. Recently her work was selected by Kenyatta Rogers to receive the Academy of American Poets Award/The Arthur Rense Prize, and also selected by Ruth Awad to receive the Helen Earnhart Harley Fellowship in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Waxwing, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Laurel Review, among others.


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