An interview with Dr. Craig Santos Perez
This week, morethanhumanmatters interviews Dr. Craig Santos Perez, a native Chamoru (Chamorro) from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). Craig is a poet, scholar, editor, publisher, essayist, critic, book reviewer, artist, environmentalist, and political activist. He works as an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa. Craig is the author of two spoken word poetry albums (Undercurrent, 2011, and Crosscurrent 2017), and four books of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (2008), from unincorporated territory [saina] (2010), from unincorporated territory [guma’] (2014), and from unincorporated territory [lukao] (2017). Craig has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2010) and the Kingsley Tufts Award for Poetry (2019), and he has received the Pen Center USA/Poetry Society of America Literary Prize (2011), the American Book Award (2015), the Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship (2016), and the Hawai’i Literary Arts Council Elliot Cades Literary Award (2017), the most prestigious literary prize in Hawaiʻi.
Hello Craig, and thanks for joining me at morethanhumanworlds.com. As an Associate Professor at the University of Hawai’i, you teach creative writing, eco-poetry, and Pacific literature. What pedagogical tools do you deploy in teaching your students how to write the Pacific creatively and critically?
It's wonderful to be in conversation with you, Sophie. Your research, writing, and activism on this website is very inspiring to me. First, I introduce the students to a literary genealogy of texts and authors from the Pacific that will act as models and guiding stars for how to creatively and critically write the Pacific. From our reading, I emphasize the importance of interpretation and discussion so that we can understand the depth and complexity of Pacific writing. Then, of course, we complete prompt based writing assignments, which can be anything from a poem to a book review, and revisions to develop our skills as writers. I also like to emphasize orality and performance in the classroom so that the literature and our own writing can come alive in our voices. Lastly, I usually require some form of public, social media, political, environmental, cultural, and/or community engagement since Pacific writing is always something that should be engaged with the world.
In addition to writing, you also publish spoken world albums that explore Chamorro, Micronesian, and Pacific cultures, histories, politics, ecologies, and migrations. In your opinion, what makes the medium of the spoken word different to text-based narratives?
I have always enjoyed reading aloud my poetry to audiences as well as listening to others perform their work orally. For me, this stems from my own upbringing of being at family gatherings back in Guam and listening to my relatives and elders sit around a table or in a circle "talking story." So much of our customary Pacific literature is itself orature, chant, and song and our contemporary literature is of course a descendent of that oral tradition and even borrows many of the rhetorical and aesthetic techniques. For me, the medium of the spoken word allows poetry to become embodied in my own unique voice, and the rhythms, rhymes, and syntax come alive in sound. While this is most powerfully done in front of a live audience, I have been recording spoken word albums the past few years to connect to distant audiences as well.
Could you tell us more about your activist and artistic engagements with morethanhuman worlds and their relationship to your academic work?
In terms of my poetry and scholarship, I have always written about more-than-human worlds, in particular land and water ecologies of my homeland, as well as the flora and fauna (such as trees and native birds). Since moving to Hawaiʻi in 2010, I have expanded my writing to include the more-than-human worlds of my current home and the larger Pacific. Much of my poetry honors these places as sacred and offers my respect to animals as relative. Moreover, my work draws attention to issues of environmental injustice and species endangerment in the Pacific. My activism involves advocating for the protection of lands, waters, and more-than-human species from militarism, colonialism, and capitalism--thankfully there are ongoing movements in Guam and Hawaiʻi that I have been able to participate in and contribute to as a poet and scholar.
Finally, Craig, what advice would you give to young scholars interested in studying more-than-human worlds?
I would advise young scholars and poets to study and take seriously indigenous methodologies, which teach us how to do research in human and more-than-human worlds with respect, humility, decolonial ethics, and reciprocity. Immerse yourself in indigenous studies and the environmental humanities so that you can learn from the diversity of research that has come before. Think deeply about your own subjectivity and positionality. Be both critical and creative. Give back to the human and more-than-human communities through your art, academic research, and activism.
"Immerse yourself in indigenous studies and the environmental humanities so that you can learn from the diversity of research that has come before. Think deeply about your own subjectivity and positionality. Be both critical and creative. Give back to the human and more-than-human communities through your art, academic research, and activism."