I am currently pursuing my MFA in Playwriting at Ohio University. There is a lot to love about my graduate program. I have a strong and supportive cohort. I am guided by two playwriting professors who are genuinely invested in my career and artistic success. But the program here is not perfect. My professors are men, established in their careers, with blind spots when it comes to evaluating the writing of a female twenty-something playwright. And when I started to write my most recent play, To Saints and Stars, I realized that there was another blind spot as well. This play is about two lifelong friends, Zoe and Sofia. Zoe is pregnant with her first child and Sofia is preparing to go on the first manned mission to Mars. I soon learned that the subject of science fiction was viewed with some derision amongst the professors I spoke to. I had to look outside of my program to find a home where I could learn about writing fantasy and science fiction. And I had to look even harder if I wanted to be in a room led by women.
As you might have already guessed, I found that artistic space at Sirens in 2018. Being a graduate student, I do not have the disposable income to whisk me off to the conference of my dreams. And try as I might to get funding through my university (and believe me I did try), I was unsuccessful on that end as well.
I knew that the only chance I would have to join the Sirens community would be to be awarded a scholarship. And to my unexpected delight, one evening in May, I received an e-mail that offered me the chance to join the conference for its tenth year.
I soon checked out as many books on the Sirens reading list as I could from the library to prepare myself for the conference. I have always been interested in fantasy and science fiction literature but it had been some months since I picked up a book that wasn’t a published play. I was glad that I read twenty books before arriving in Colorado, because I was introduced to some truly amazing authors and books that will stick with me. However, despite my reading and planning out my ideal conference schedule, what I realized once I got to the conference hotel, nothing could prepare me for this experience.
I knew a couple of attendees from home, but most of the people I met were complete strangers who invited me to lunch when they saw me lost and wandering around town. Once the programming started, I went to ten presentations/panels/workshops/discussions in two days. I couldn’t get enough. The panel “Navigating the White Gaze” forced me to examine my own work. Even though I am a Xicana writer who writes almost exclusively Latina protagonists, I was forced to question whether I was subconsciously writing for a white audience. Since my play deals with the intersection between science and religion, I knew that I had to attend the “Godpunk” panel. As a person of faith, I worry about entering spaces where religion can be an easy punching bag for all that is wrong with the world. But I can’t quite describe the experience of seeing writers and readers deal with spirituality and religion in their work with such honesty and care. The panelists managed to challenge and inspire me. I was forced to rethink my own work. Was I falling into tropes? Creating a world in which the ignorant chose faith, while the enlightened chose science? I went to so many more incredible presentations that opened my eyes to how I write and read, I couldn’t possibly describe them all here. I hope that you will trust me when I say that the programming at Sirens this year left an indelible mark on my work.
My last morning at Sirens, I watched with amusement as people tried to outbid one another on fun and fantastical auction items. I also felt a tinge of sadness that I couldn’t participate in the bidding. Not simply because I wanted a fabulous new coat, or a bag of curated books, although I did want all those things, but because I knew that the auction supports much of Sirens operational costs. In that moment I realized just how much this weekend had meant to me. I wanted to give all the money I had to support an organization who had first supported me.
Don’t worry, I did spend as much as I possibly could at the bookstore. But I also left with the knowledge that I will not be in graduate school forever. With any luck, one day I will have a real job again and disposable income and I will be able to give money back to Sirens, to pay for the conference registration for someone else who can’t make it work otherwise. So if you have no other motivation to donate to Sirens, maybe do it for someone like me. Do it so we can bring more readers and writers, scholars, librarians, educators, and more into the fold, and together we can continue to expand this already wonderful community.
Jordan Ramirez Puckett’s plays include Pajarita, Restore, Inevitable, The American Traitor, The Fourth Year, Aphrodite’s Lounge and Blank Maps. Jordan’s work has been produced and/or developed by Abingdon Theatre Company, San Francisco Playhouse, 2Cents Theatre Group, Goodman Theatre, PlayGround, Playwrights Center of San Francisco, and Northwestern University. She is a BALTAN Core Member and a member of the LA Female Playwrights Initiative. Jordan is the associate artistic director at San Francisco Playhouse and earned a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and Psychology from Northwestern University.