Doña Helen – Artist In Residency
Poetry Reading by Zelene Pineda Suchilt
Thursday, October 8, 7:00 p.m.
A Book Barn
640 Clovis Ave
Clovis, CA 93612
Helen Ruiz (1926 – 2013) was born in her family’s home at 8th and DeWitt in Clovis, CA, on June 1, 1926. She married her next door neighbor, Joe Ruiz, at the age of 21. They had four daughters, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. As a young kid, she worked the fields in and around Fresno County. She picked peaches, grapes, cotton, nectarines, figs, and more. She worked seasonally for decades at the Lamanuzzi & Pantaleo packinghouse just a few blocks from her family’s home before the company moved to Madera. The women at the packinghouse gave her the name Doña Helen. During the packing season, the workers would bring her gifts of garden statues, flowers, and home cooked meals. She was a voracious reader and an impassioned storyteller. She lived to sit and tell stories at her kitchen table. Often, people would come to the house through the back door completely unannounced and she would entertain them for hours with her tales and her food. Doña Helen’s continues in that fine tradition and in her name.
The aim of this space is a sort of cultural exchange between poets from outside of the San Joaquin Valley and those living in the region who continue to work in the tradition of past Fresno poets. In my travels to other states and in conversations with other poets, I found that Fresno poets were well known and oft taught in graduate level literature courses throughout the midwest and on the east coast. However, very few had ever visited central California. I wanted to bring poets to the territory where all this poetry is being made. I wanted to bring them to a settled space with deep roots here in the valley. My grandparents’ home seemed like a perfect fit. Their story is a Valley story. It is intimately tied to the neighborhood around Old Town Clovis. As children, they lived next door to one another, they had their first date in Old Town, my grandfather was an altar boy at OLPH, they raised their kids in Clovis schools, and our family worked in logging, fruit packing, and wine. It’s that narrative I want to share with the residents. It is a uniquely Valley story.
General Info about the residency: Residency time is one month. Residents are housed in a studio unit in the back of Doña Helen’s old town Clovis home. We are accepting submissions via donahelens.org.
Director: Joseph Rios was born and raised in Fresno County. His chapbook Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations is forthcoming from Achiote Press with a foreword by Willie Perdomo. Joseph’s poems have appeared in: Huizache, Cobalt, Bozalta, New Border, Poets Responding to SB1070, and Hector Tobar’s blog for the Los Angeles Times. He is a recipient of the John K. Walsh Residency Fellowship from Notre Dame. He studied Literature at UC Berkeley and Fresno City College.
Current Resident: Sept 15-Oct15
Zelene Pineda Suchilt
Zelene Pineda Suchilt is a multidisciplinary artist, poet and writer based in New York City. She is the creator of the ten-year-old Word Around Town Poetry Tour in Houston, known as LibrotraficanteRebelené, VONA/VOICES Writers Workshop alumni, and a mentor for the New York Foundation of the Arts Immigrant Artist Mentorship Program. In 2009, she was awarded the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Young Visionary Award by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. Her work has been published in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, The Panhandler, Quiet Lunch Magazine and Free Press Houston. While in residency at Doña Helen’s, Zelene will be working on a novel. Her visual art and adventures can be seen on Rebelené.com.