poet. writer. teacher

2020-2021 Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

artwork by Stephanie Castillo

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“Her language is spare and surprisingly direct given the ghostly subject, a deliberate refusal to invite a subsurface reading. Sapigao provides stark contrast through renderings of her father’s staccato words: “Make sure not to leave behind what I write (what you write). Because what we write is what we need to keep in order for it stay (so it doesn’t fly away, to keep it from flying with the wind, to have it so that it doesn’t become flight or wind,) so it doesn’t go far away from us.” Sapigao’s closing pages reveal the danger of investigating family; she uncovers her father’s secret other family and realizes that she is the last in her family to know. Though solid ground can be difficult to find, Sapigao’s “imperfect translation” is worth the work of the journey.”

-Publisher's Weekly

"...and ma always fights" | to my greatest love | Jan. 1st, 1952-Apr. 3rd, 2020

 

Bio

Janice Lobo Sapigao (she/her) is a daughter of immigrants from the Philippines. She is the author of two books of poetry: microchips for millions (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2016), which is about immigrant women workers in Silicon Valley; and like a solid to a shadow (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2017 by way of Nightboat Books), which is about her father, family lineage, and learning Ilokano. She is also the author of two published chapbooks, "toxic city" (tinder tender press, 2015), and "you don’t know what you don’t know" (Mondo Bummer Chapbooks, 2016), along with other self-published chapbooks. She was named one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Women to Watch in 2017 by KQED Arts. She is the 2020-2021 Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, and a Poet Laureate Fellow with the Academy of American Poets.

 

She is a VONA/Voices Fellow and was awarded a Manuel G. Flores Prize, PAWA Scholarship to the Kundiman Poetry Retreat. She is a Poetry Editor at Angel City Review, and a co-founder of Sunday Jump, an open mic in Los Angeles's Historic Filipinotown. Her work has been published in various anthologies such as Talking Back and Looking Forward: An Educational Revolution in Poetry and Prose (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Empire of Funk: Hip Hop and Representation in Filipina/o America (Cognella Academic Publishing, 2014), and in literary magazines such as Apogee Journal, Entropy, The Offing, and Waxwing Literary Journal. She has read her work at various open mics, reading spaces, colleges, museums, barber shops, coffee shops, and community spaces around the country including venues in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, Washington D.C., Seattle, and her hometown of San Jose, CA. 

 

She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Ethnic Studies with Honors and a minor in Urban Studies & Planning from the University of California, San Diego. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Skyline College in San Bruno, CA teaching in the Kababayan and CIPHER (Hip Hop) Learning Communities. 

 

Janice enjoys reading, exercising (running, yoga, and taking barre classes), watching reality television shows, and spending time with her family and friends. She values building community with other artists, recognizes the importance and beauty of struggle, and believes San Jose has one of the best underrated food scenes in the Bay Area. She is excited to step into the role of 2020-2021 Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, where she will follow the trajectory of the Poets Laureate before her and develop a Youth Poet Laureate program–because our youth have a lot to say to us and the world.

 

Books

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like a solid to a shadow (Timeless, Infinite Light via Nightboat Books, 2017)

like a solid to a shadow is a documentary poetry collection about grieving, fatherlessness, and the limitations of language. Sapigao finds her deceased father’s love ‘letters’ to her mother: cassette tapes recorded in Ilokano, a language of which she has imperfect knowledge. The book moves through Sapigao’s process of translating and transcribing the tapes; playing with, learning, and unlearning the Ilokano and English languages. This book then launches from the tapes to ask “what can we really know?” when it comes to family lineages and personal histories. Through family trees, photos, and mapping, Sapigao articulates, distorts, and heals her knowledge of the man who is is her deceased father.

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microchips for millions (Philippine American Writers and Artists, 2016)

microchips for millions is Janice Lobo Sapigao's first poetry book! It is a documentary and exploratory poetry collection about the exploitation of immigrant women in the Silicon Valley and those who built it all – those like the author’s mother. Through the use of binary code, the Filipino language, Ilokano; personal observation, and scholarship, microchips for millions draws out the social layers of the microchip, which are central to the global economy. The book interrogates Silicon Valley as an ideal place of innovation, technological advancement, and a highly populated concentration of computer-based startups. What is not popularly known is that the Silicon Valley is also home to flagrant and covert injustice where toxic chemicals and “clean” energy risk the lives of workers. Published by Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA), Inc., copies will be available after November 16, 2016.

 

Chapbooks

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you don't know what you don't know (Mondo Bummer Press, 2017)

With spare verse, strong prose, pink, yellow, orange, and blue genogram charts, and a box full of love letter cassette tapes, Sapigao's You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know investigates identity, family, language, and all the ways they're tied up together: "'Janice’ means ‘Jane’ means ‘John’ means I come from my father whose name is not his own."

toxic city (tinder tender press, 2015)

toxic city is part of a documentary and exploratory poetry collection, microchips for millions, about the exploitation of immigrant women in the Silicon Valley and those who built it all – those like the author’s mother. Through the use of binary code, the Filipino language, Ilokano; personal observation, and scholarship, microchips for millions draws out the social layers of the microchip, which are central to the global economy. The chapbook interrogates Silicon Valley as an ideal place of innovation, technological advancement, and a highly populated concentration of computer-based startups. What is not popularly known is that the Silicon Valley is also home to flagrant and covert injustice where toxic chemicals and “clean” energy risk the lives of workers.

 

Artist Statement

     As a poet and writer, I believe in the hard work and purposeful placement of words. My art-making practice draws from the personal, the defiant, and the every day in current events and community-based action and movements. I believe that the labor of language and performing text play a powerful role in determining our outcomes and lived experiences. I am interested in creating literary work that moves people– especially girls and women of color– and allows opportunities to reflect while inspiring them to engage in critical issues in their neighborhoods and communities of struggle. 

     Most of my work in poetry is an act of intuitive research. By this, I mean that an artist’s self-determined process of creating, feeling, and knowing where she will need to seek her information, through emotion, intuition, and empathy; guides her. In my work, I often mix documents, memories, and scholarship to experiment with traditional forms of poetry. By playing with verse poetry and non-traditional forms, I hope to reveal to readers more about my process of writing as one of questioning and endless possibilities. In addition to writing, I have been influenced by and artistically grew up listening to spoken word artists, and as a result, I enjoy performing my work and attending readings. I have read in venues in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, New York City, and Washington, D.C., and I thoroughly enjoy hometown readings and showcases in San José. I hope to further place San José on the map as a place of creativity, everyday and working class people who deserve more visibility, and of artistic (as well as technological) innovation.

     My questions for the world and my identity in flux are at the center of my writing, as I write creative non-fiction essays and fiction based on my experiences as a Filipina American educator, born and raised in a working class family in San José. I recognize the difficulties of reading, writing, and speaking in English, as being a child of immigrants represents the tensions and the push-pull of language.   I have published work in all literary genres, and I aim to increase the visibility of my writing and others’ strong writing I read. I hope that my writing connects with middle school, high school, and college students–especially children of immigrants or students of color who experience intergenerational language barriers and whose families struggle financially–and who are seeking to learn more about their personal, familial, and cultural histories, as my writing also reflects this important journey. I want to show up for young women, girls, women of color, students, working-class people, and in solidarity with queer, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks. I understand reading and writing as a means of discovering self-identity, self-worth, and self-empowerment. Stories of struggle, change, and sacrifice interest me as points and constellations of connections. I also believe that helping students recognize and develop these powerful skills within them will make them better, committed readers and writers. 

    Community work and community organizing has been a large part of my writing process. In college, I was very involved in student activism, as this was one way to find and raise my voice to be heard. Though I was educated away from my community, I took Ethnic Studies and Urban Studies & Planning classes that helped me understand my homesickness for San José and the complicated but necessary work to organize in my community. Because of my work in activism and politics this way, I have a strong sense of who I am, what I believe in, how I write, how I am different, and I am aware of the importance of critical storytelling against being erased, silenced, or portrayed non-existent. Writing for communities of struggle, teaching at the community college level in the San Francisco Bay Area, and reading widely and often makes me an emerging artist seeking to empower her communities, and to leave a positive impact through creativity – which is the highest level of thinking. I hope to be able to collaborate with local non-profit organizations to put on readings, creative workshops for youth, and meeting community members where they are. Because writing is mostly a solitary act, I hope to make it more of a community practice.

      My first book microchips for millions (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2016)  is about women in the Silicon Valley who make microchips, like my mother; and my second book like a solid to a shadow (Timeless,Infinite Light, 2017) is about fatherlessness, bilingualism, and the importance of family lineages. After I received my Master’s of Fine Arts in Critical Studies/Writing from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), I came back to my community to live, teach, and make my community my extended family. I want to ensure that my writing lives longer in books, stretches into the hands of readers hungry to see themselves in text, and creates a strong understanding of differences between people. I believe that this is the work of poetry: to bridge, connect, bring together, and celebrate despite struggles.

     I hope that my writing changes, grows, and challenges audiences and readers. Writing, for me, is political and emotional and necessary.