Essays and articles

That Bulb And Blossom, You Luminous Writer

Dear Luminous Writer,

Close your eyes and breathe deeply, imagining with each deep inhalation and exhalation the spark of what brought you to the page in the first place, the bright bulb of story or line of a poem, the sunken root entrenched deep in the mud the moment you realized you had something to say that only you could say in your voice, from your experiences, from your point-of-view. The moment you realized you are a child of the Universe and have been gifted this time of learning and growing and stretching through your pain and joy to dig up what truths have blossomed within you and share those with others who need, as you have needed. What are the burning words and images within you? What is the heart- truth you carry? What must you say before you leave? Take a few moments to unbury and shine what pulls you to the page, and hold that tight.

Our society, our psyches, demons both external and internal, may daily, may moment to moment, try stealing your power away from you. The luminous bulbs you carry within you, I know how fragile or small or insignificant they may begin to seem against the countless rejections or fear of submitting in the first place, the social media frenzies blurring past us, the political and economic upheavals, the financial struggles, the daily tasks of staying alive, of surviving through pain or trauma, of tending to the dailiness of life, the mending of the self and loved ones, the trivialities and injustices. The exhaustion.

How often I forget that we writers are creators of worlds. That we have the strength of creation dwelling within us. We can bring back the dead. We can right injustices. We can bring awareness to the stories of the disenfranchised. We can write ourselves and our families into the history books where before there may have been erasure and silence. We can sing our songs.

Lately I’ve been finishing up my latest novel RIVER WOMAN RIVER DEMON (forthcoming from Blackstone Publishing in 2022) about a bruja in New Mexico rising up against the patriarchy, hexing the patriarchy, if you will, casting and conjuring new consciousnesses to return womxn and nonbinary folks and people of color to our ancient places of wisdom and strength and empowerment. As writers, whatever beliefs or spirituality, we can use the practices of conjuring and manifesting in our own writing, rooting ourselves to those struggling alongside us, and when we fight/write together, we remember—though we may be sitting as individuals at our kitchen tables or at our desks or in our beds or wherever else we busy working women and stressed-out mamas and aunties and nanas and friends and lovers and warriors are penning and typing our truths—we are never alone.

Each time I feel the keen sting of rejection or a painful criticism laid against my work, I try to remember this: My hermanxs and amigxs stand beside me, championing me. Each time another womxn is successful where I have failed, I remind myself to praise anyway because I have the ability to tap into that strength, to raise each other up.

Sometimes it’s hard, I won’t lie. Sometimes I feel the sting of jealousy, or linger too long in fear or disappointment. But that’s where I go back to the meditation and conjuring, calling forth the witchy writer within myself, who reminds me, sometimes gently, sometimes with the tough love of an Ancestor who knows what’s best for me, Get back to work.

Hermanxs, amigxs, luminous writer powerhouses—breathe deeply into the spaces within yourselves. You are strong, for you have made it to this place and time. Whatever brought you to the page in the first place is still calling you. Do what you need to do to quiet the voices that bring you fear or jealousy or pain. Light a candle at the altar, say a prayer, close your eyes, take a deep breath, call on your Ancestors, turn on music louder than the ugliness, and get to writing. If you need to get up an hour early to answer the call, then do it. Turn off the television. Send your kids outside or upstairs to play, or call on a friend or familia to help you. Reach out to your support systems. Your writing matters. You are part of a collective that is changing the world, dear ones. I truly believe that. And I hope you do too.

We are putting light into these dark times. We are writing strength where patriarchal, violent, racist forces want us locked away and scared. We are standing up and singing our truths and refusing to be silenced.

I promise you that I am fighting in the trenches with you. And I love you. Wherever you are in your journeys. I too am exhausted. I too get scared. I too sometimes wonder whether I’m making any difference or if I should just give up. I too have almost given up.

But I promise you I won’t, and I hope you’ll promise me the same. We are badasses. We are wondrous children of the Universe. We are creators.

My novel Jubilee, the first novel I began in 2011 when my daughter was a year old, was rejected a hundred times. Two agents tried and failed to sell it to any publishers. During the time I thought I was failing, I was also creating. Several poetry books and another novel. And in 2017 I finished my second novel Trinity Sight, which I sent to an agent I found through Poets & Writers, and she not only sold it, but by the end of the year she sold it alongside Jubilee and an option on my third novel (which is coming out next year, River Woman River Demon, a psychological thriller that centers the folk magick of people of color)! No novels sold for years. Then three all at once! Because I kept creating. Six years I thought I was failing. And sometimes I wondered if I should just give up. And here I am, a three-book deal. Wonders, we cannot control the timing. We cannot control just about any damn thing. But we can manifest our dreams nevertheless by creating. Even in the darkness, even when we feel lost, just keep creating forward, conjuring outward, holding hope. And we can reclaim our power.

Check out Jubilee here and see how I dug deep, planted that bulb, and grew her to fruition.

Manifesting can sometimes look like fallow fields as far as the eye can see. And then one bright morning, blooms everywhere. And if we stand from where we were lying in the dirt, we’ll see that we too are sprouting–we are reaching skyward, our roots planted firmly in the loam.

In just a moment, I want you to close your eyes one last time and breathe in and out with me. No matter how small or insignificant or redundant or futile or hackneyed or sentimental you’ve sometimes or too often believed your work is. No matter how many rejections, false starts, and altogether scrapping of your projects. No matter who has told you that you cannot succeed, no matter how many times you’ve failed. No matter how many times the world (both literary and wider) has broken your heart. You have the power, this moment, to choose creation. To choose to get back to work. To choose to speak your truths. Because no one else can, dear one. Not in your voice. Not with your strength. Not with the story the Universe entrusted you.

So here’s the call, loves. That bulb & blossom you dug up in the beginning of this letter—are you still holding it tight? Raise it up. Breathe in the collective power of your warrior sisters writing alongside you, breathe in your wisdom and strength, and when you’re tired, breathe in some of mine because I know when I’m tired I can breathe in some of yours. And breathe out those negative voices and blocks, breathe out to banish the fear and darkness. Take in our individual and collective light. Take in only that which makes you stronger. And let go of the rest. Then get back to work.

All love, your sister in the trenches,

Jenn xo

P.S., As my girl Emily D. would say, “Art is a House that tries to be Haunted.” Stay haunted y’all loves.

Essays and articles

Spilling Over, a Fat Girl’s Story

Dear Friends,

I wrote a piece in Medium about being called fat yesterday, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read and share with all your circles. Thank you and I hope something here resonates with your heart.

But I was a fat girl. And the rules were different for me.

Back then I was only slightly chubby — more curvy than fat. But I didn’t fit in. And we all knew it…

Read the whole essay on Medium.

All love,


Essays and articles

Trinity Sight wins a Southwest Book Award!

When a group of librarians in the desert recognizes your heartwork–you know you’re on the right track. I am incredibly honored that Trinity Sight is out in the world where she can do some good.


Jubilee reviewed in the Washington Post!

“Like her idol, Sandra Cisneros, Bianca wants to be a voice for her people, the Mexican American working-class residents of Southern California … Givhan manages to tell a story about Mexicali culture that, by focusing on one young woman’s hope, avoids cultural generalizations and tells, instead, a story of family growth and personal triumph.”

–The Washington Post

Read the review here.

I’m thrilled and buoyed to celebrate with you the birthday of a book that’s been my heartwork for the past twenty years. JUBILEE is inspired by my girlhood as a Chicana growing up on the Mexicali border of Southern California, experiencing the cultural stigmas in the Mexican-American community toward teenage sexuality, childbearing, abortions, miscarriages, and violent relationships with machismo boys and men. As a survivor of assault and an abusive relationship, I needed to write a book that grappled with the complexities of trauma and how cultural, religious, and familial norms affect healing.

The idea for JUBILEE was born while I was researching maternal trauma and encountered Reborn dolls used as therapy for women who’d experienced childloss. These dolls are often custom-made, and the artists who create them advertise that they can recreate a replica of a child from a photograph. Women who collect or adopt Reborns sometimes carry them around as if they are “real” babies, strolling them around the park, strapping them in car seats, and so on. Partners often participate, for the sake of their beloveds. As a mother who’s experienced infertility and pregnancy loss, the whole Reborn concept was incredibly compelling to me, and I wondered, what would happen psychologically if a woman really couldn’t tell the difference between a Reborn and her “real” child. In other words, what if this Reborn was real…

Over a decade, during which time I adopted my son, birthed my daughter, earned an MFA in Poetry, drafted and sold another novel, and never, ever, ever gave up on JUBILEE. I was exceedingly proud of the first draft of this novel, the first sustained piece of fiction I ever wrote, because I completed an entire draft in less than a month for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). And although it took nine years nearly to the month to see publication and has  been a long, arduous road, I’ve kept the faith, and I’m so dang proud of my mama writer self. Finally now, twenty years after living it, almost ten years after setting it to paper—Jubilee is ready to go home.

I hope that Bianca’s story and her experiences with Jubilee will inspire you as they have me—and give you the courage to create what’s real and truly beautiful in this world.  Whether in this life or the one we create in our hearts and minds—in our imaginations. I want readers to walk away from the story with a sense of who and what Jubilee is in their own lives and why she is such an important and potent symbol for the power of hope—what keeps us going, what keeps us loving, what keeps us alive.

Fiction published Trinity Sight


TRINITY SIGHT has a trailer!!! Y’all! I’m over the moon for this dream come true ~ though my heart breaks for what we’ve done to our beautiful Mother.


“When the Earth has had enough, she will shake her troubles off. She will shake her troublemakers off…”



Order from Blackstone Publishing
Order from Amazon


Essays and articles

Quinceañera with Baby Fever up at Salon!

An excerpt from my memoir is up at Salon!

I wanted the sparkling dress, a princess crown, the man of honor. And I wanted my boyfriend to want a baby with me…

All you Queens for whom triumph has meant first rising from the burial grounds, I see you. I love you.

Interviews with Mother Writers Trinity Sight

Two interviews with Jenn Givhan

“I’m so grateful that my own inner journey connected with the ancients’—and that I’ve been able to glean a different perspective on dystopian fiction from a Latinx/indigenous perspective, centering us in our lands.”

Trinity Sight coverJenn Givhan author photorosa 1

I have two books out this year, & in these two interviews I discuss the processes of writing poetry & fiction & black holes!

Interview with Inklette Magazine for International Women’s Day:

“Alongside these forebears, I strive to weave together a multilayered song of endurance, survival, and, ultimately, celebration sung by the many women of color working together in the resistance.”

Interview with Arizona University Press:

“This collection is a lovesong for all precocious girls wandering the deserts, creating ruckuses and circuses and finding love where before there was only pain— for all the lost daughters of time, reclaiming ourselves, singing ourselves, triumphant. This is our hero’s journey.”

You can buy ROSA’S EINSTEIN from Amazon or any major bookstore, and preorder TRINITY SIGHT now.

All the writerly love & light,

Jenn  ♥


Essays and articles

The Poetry Collection is a Place for Disparities, Or Let It Bleed

Image result for imperial valley date farm

When I originally compiled my first collection Landscape with Headless Mama, I imagined the book very differently, called it Red Sun Mothers, and divided it into sections based on the experiences of different mother-entities in Mexican/American culture, including the infertile woman (or adoptive mother) and the psychologically-socially unstable mother (La Llorona—Mexican Medea figure). I began the collection before I adopted my son, and it was published when he was nine-years-old, so it was in flux all those years. And as the collection progressed while I raised my children, I realized the divisions were not so clearly delineated. Even after becoming a mother, sometimes the grief of miscarriage seeped through, and even in joy, there was also exhaustion and uncertainty, which sometimes gave way to fear and anxiety-induced mental illness, near breaks with reality, so that La Llorona was never as far from the supposedly stable mother as she might at first seem.

In the meantime, I read contemporary collections that struck deep chords and inspired new ways of seeing the shape of my poems as individuals and together—books like Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, Julia Alvarez’s Homecoming, Patricia Smith’s Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, and Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife. Reading these collections and then looking back to my own material, I found that my poems showed me how many conflicting desires and facets of truth/experience they could hold at once, how they could negotiate these borderland spaces where nothing is as clearly defined as we might wish—motherhood is messy, and the book showed me how to embrace that via the structure—so that Mama’s story bleeds into the speaker’s own, and it’s never entirely clear whether the speaker is the mother or the daughter. That bleeding uncertainty is purposeful and came after many years of trying structure after structure until I found the perfect one that asked each poem to do multiple layers of work.

Think of your poetry collection as a world, as a landscape, as a city, a room. Think as large or small as you need to for your poems to become as important and personal as they need to be for you to see them as a whole. By this I mean they should each carry a shape, a weight, a specific texture and color and smell within the collection, the way a place or character in your birthplace or childhood hometown would; think back to your street. On mine, Rio Vista, there were date palms, purplish jewels fallen to the dirt lot that separated the neighborhood from a dirt hill that led down to the New River, polluted and toxic carrying waste from the border, forty minutes away, bleeding socio-political alongside the glowing, dying fish.

Each poem in a collection occupies space in this world, and thereby offers up its significance, connected in some tangible way to those residing beside it. In mine: the house I grew up in, the neighbors’ houses where I experienced abuses and made lifelong friends, those palm trees dropping those squishy fruits that still remind me of the cockroaches infesting our bathrooms summerlong, the packed-earth hills I slid on my backside to the riverbanks below, where some still believe La Llorona herself haunts, and on those mud-cracked banks, the blood of her children.

See how I’ve gone from most personal home to most socially-connected river, with its border politics, its cultural myths—but they’re interlinked, my home beside that polluted water.

There are any number of ways you could order the space you’ve created—it’s your world, after all. My collections often begin with the most personal and yet I believe the personal is inherently political. In this way, a narrative begins to emerge, and carry with it the undercurrent of deeper troubled waters. I don’t recommend you stick only to chronology. I’ve found that any chronological order that arises in my collections comes after finding deeper and more nuanced connections in the spaces between the poems. For example, in Landscape with Headless Mama, chronology came after discovering that Mama and the speaker’s stories were interwoven. Then I could tell multiple stories at once. A clear chronology felt too facile; I’d tried that at one point and it didn’t feel honest in the way that the imagination can sometimes get at deeper truths than nonfiction. Instead, the chronology in the structure comes from a narrative underpinning. I love story—the power of story. And it was important to me that in telling my own story, I was speaking the truths of my own mother(s)—the women I grew up with in the Imperial Valley and in my own Mexican-American familia, even when the stories were nonlinear and messy.

A poetry collection is a place for disparities and oppositions and paradoxes to coexist and coalesce and stretch us to find new ways of existing within the flux. So even your most contentious, paradoxical poems can work together if you’re finding how they fit in the larger space. If you cannot find the connections even in the breaking places, then perhaps those poems are not meant for this particular world, and you should save them for another. I’ve found that poems I took out of my first collection ended up fitting perfectly in my second and beyond. My third collection, for example, retells some of Mama’s story but from a new angle, for compiling each collection has required of me stretching and seeing and re-seeing in new ways.

A manuscript consultation client asked me whether or not her poems of being an abused daughter fit in a collection so clearly about a mother caring for a child with special needs. She’d received conflicting advice from her mentor and felt torn about whether or not the differences and breaking places could ever fit together. I said, absolutelyin the world you’ve created. Being a mother is not separate from being a woman. And being a motherwoman is not separate from being a daughtergirl. I’ve found this over and over in my own life and poems. I’ve found the most freedom in my work when I’ve allowed everything to bleed, as I have bled. The past tinges the present, but the strangeness and heart truth is that the present tinges the past. That’s been the heartwork of mothering, for me. Mothering poetry and children.

Keep finding ways to coalesce and shed light and shadow on the different angles of your poems and your life, poets. Keep finding places of connection, where that jeweled date falls from palm to dirt—a hinge between the personal and political—write there.




If the Jornada del Muerto had a Trachea*

Won second-place in Blue Mesa Review’s Poetry Contest, judged by Carmen Jiménez Smith.

Child Lambright Elegy 2: Photo Credit Blue Mesa Review
Child Lambright Elegy 2: Photo Credit Blue Mesa Review

Maybe her mama didn’t even notice she too had almost gone away, on the xeriscaping, not breathing nothing

–Jenn Givhan

Read and listen to the full poem here.

Unexpected Visit

Remedios Varo
Remedios Varo

“The house turned hearse.”

Read Jenn Givhan’s poem at Red Paint Hill.

Published poems

Reabsorption Elegy

Sculpture by Kenneth Paul Lesko
Sculpture by Kenneth Paul Lesko


Daughter, I won’t make milk for you anymore.
      The body retreats. It reclaims

Published in Glint Literary Journal.

Published poems

“Miracle of the River Pig” up at *Goblin Fruit*

My poem “Miracle of the River Pig”new river is live today at Goblin Fruit, and you can listen to me read it there as well!

It’s a grotesque and somewhat experimental poem for me recounting my experience in the Southern California desert near the New River. I began drafting the poem in Brenda Hammack‘s fairytale workshop with The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative, while I was also reading Frank Bidart’s “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky.”

I hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading! new river 2

" — Selves like iridescent, 
shining, speckled
shit in the Río Nuevo
frothy foaming stinking desert river
desert in the new world — 
how old were you? fifteen & blessed 
as Santa María,
I’m that lucky pig in the river — 
cut my trotters,
strike my blue-butt,
handle me,
sell me at auction,
devour me."

--Jenn Givhan

Read the full poem here.


Published poems

Mama Hulas with the Eggslice Player One Last Time

My poem published at Tupelo Quarterly.

photo credit raw fashion magazine
photo credit raw fashion magazine

“the skate-floor-turned-dance-


just beginning to understand

I was the reason
for her dizziness and egglonging”

–Jenn Givhan



Jennifer Givhan


In a field where a hot air balloon waits tethered,
children balancing umbrellas and wearing party hats

plant birthday bouquets; where they grow
the swollen bulbs push open the soil

smelling of clay and fingerpaint. Even the sky
celebrates in reverse, hanging like pigtails from a jungle gym.

Not many daffodils or crickets are lucky enough to become fossils,
but here every joule of heat remains inside the balloon.

One might be tempted to drift away now
rather than later.


Essays and articles Fiction published Interviews with Mother Writers

The Next Big Thing: In the Time of Jubilee

Jenn and crabapple blossoms

What is your working title of your book (or story)?


Where did the idea for the book come from?

Reborn Doll
Reborn Doll

The idea came from Reborns. From Wikipedia: “A reborn doll is a manufactured vinyl doll that has been transformed to resemble a human baby with as much realism as possible. The process of creating a reborn doll is referred to as reborning and the doll artists are referred to as reborners. Reborn dolls are also known as living dolls or unliving dolls.

While I was researching issues of infertility and childlessness during my Master’s program at Cal State Fullerton, I watched a documentary from the UK on women who collect these dolls. Oftentimes, they are older women whose children and grandchildren have left home or passed away. These dolls are custom-made, and the artists who create them often advertise that they can recreate a replica of a child from a photograph. The women carry these dolls around as if they are real babies, strolling them around the park in prams, strapping them in car seats, etc. And the husbands often participate, for their wives’ sakes. The whole concept was incredibly interesting to me, and I wondered, what would happen psychologically if a woman really couldn’t tell the difference between this Reborn and her “real” child. In other words, what if this Reborn was real…

The other major inspiration came from the character Dorotea La Cuarraca, from Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, which I read as a part of a class I’d created on Latina Pedro_PáramoMotherhood:

“I never had a son… And it was all the fault of one bad dream. I had two: one of them I call the ‘good dream,’ and the other the ‘bad dream.’

The first one made me dream I had a son to begin with. And as long as I lived, I always believed it was true. I could feel him in my arms, my sweet baby, with his little mouth and eyes and hands. For a long, long time I could feel his eyelids, the beatings of his heart, on my fingertips. Why wouldn’t I think this was true? I carried him with me everywhere, wrapped in my rebozo, and then one day I lost him.

In heaven they told me they’d made a mistake. That they’d given me a mother’s heart but the womb of a whore.

That was the other dream I had.”

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary Fiction

America FerreraWhich actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Here’s the problem—most of the mainstream youngish Latina actresses I know of come from the Disney Channel (i.e., Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez)!

The first person I thought of to play my protagonist Bianca was America Ferrera (loved her in Ugly Betty!!). She is a great actress, and her work with women’s issues inspires me. (See her part in the documentary Half the Sky). And hey, America had her start on a Disney Channel movie, too!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

*IN THE TIME OF JUBILEE* explores the idea of family through the experiences of 20-year-old Mexican-American Bianca Vogelsang, who arrives home one day with a doll in her arms—a doll she believes is Jubilee, the baby she was unable to carry to term.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I was super proud of the first draft of my novel because I wrote the entire thing in less than ONE MONTH for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The story has been in my mind for years. The original idea came for it when I was writing my first poetry manuscript in my Master’s program at CSUF. At the time, I knew I wanted to write a novel eventually but was intimidated. I had about twenty false starts, where I’d write an opening, usually a paragraph or two, but never move on from there. Then, in 2011, I started thinking more and more about the idea. On a road trip back to Cali from New Mexico where I now live, I was talking the idea through with my husband and began to get excited about it. Then, I heard about this thing called NaNoWriMo in November. It’s a challenge to write an entire novel (at least 60k words) in ONE MONTH! I thought, oh man, can I do that??? Oct 31st, I still wasn’t sure if I could, but I’d made a commitment to myself that I would. November 1st came, and I took off. At the end of the month, I had written 75k words—a complete first draft of the novel. Much of it came from the ideas laid out in the poetry manuscript. I always knew I wanted to write a novel, but I never knew for sure that I could do it. And then I did it. There was such a sense of accomplishment in that.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


*BELOVED* (Toni Morison)

Toward the Tower, Remedios Varo
Toward the Tower, Remedios Varo

*SO FAR FROM GOD* (Ana Castillo)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My family, surrealist writers and artists (especially the Mexican women surrealist painters Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, and Remedios Varo), and poetry.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here are comments about my novel from editors for major publishing houses:

“Bianca’s troubling story is so authentically rendered on the page, and I love the lyrical power of Givhan’s prose. She is a real talent and a bright star on the contemporary literary horizon.”

“I think the concept behind this book is so cool (and creepy!).”

“Givhan’s complex treatment of reality, delusion, and imagination presents an entirely fresh perspective that allows readers to view the world through her characters’ eyes in rich, captivating detail.”

* * *

Thank you for reading!