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NewsApr 18, 2018

Poet examines issues of race, beauty and gender

Sigma Tau Delta’s Literary Arts Festival mixes celebration with serious themes

Poet and spoken-word performer Melissa Lozada-Oliva entertained a friendly audience of about 70 people April 12 in Alumni Hall, as our Sigma Tau Delta English honors society inducted 11 new members.

From the start, this was no stuffy affair, as the poet, with the apparent ease and energy of a stand-up comic, introduced herself by admitting to smudging lipstick on the microphone.

“I feel like Selena,” she quipped, invoking the late, iconic Queen of Tejano music. She soon segued into a poem, equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, about discovering too late during a job interview that static cling had affixed underwear to her clothing.

“You are at a job interview, being shown around the office, and your black thong underwear is on the floor,” the poem begins, progressively becoming more piquant, peppered with vignettes humorous or humiliating (depending on one’s perspective).

Other poems, even when infused with one-liners, speak to serious issues of feminism, racial identity and her own background. The Spanish language, at times, is like an “itchy phantom limb,” or is spoken with an accent that makes her father “sound like Zorro.”

Several poems describe the removal of body hair, a practice that at once reminds women of color that they fall short of popular culture’s beauty ideal, but a practice that also helps put food on the table.

“I bought sandwiches with my mother’s tips,” she said, adding that her mother worked as a bikini waxer.

“Hair removal was how I viewed Latinx identity,” she added, in reference to her book of verse “Peluda,” which she explained means “hairy girl.” Lozada-Oliva also writes, in “Ode to Brown Girls with Bangs,” about being “less Bettie Page, more Betty La Fea,” contrasting the vintage pinup ideal with the protagonist of the telenovela that translates to “Ugly Betty.”

“Beauty is a lot of things, but it’s always painful.”

Members of our Sigma Tau Delta English honors society take a photo with Literary Arts Festival special guest, poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva. From left, Maya Grubner, Cheyenne MacDonald (chapter president), Gwendolyn Squires, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Lizzie Davis, Megan Breslow and Olivia MacDonald.
Members of our Sigma Tau Delta English honors society take a photo with special guest, poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva.

Sigma Tau Delta

In addition to bringing engaging, important novelists, poets and other writers to campus, the Literary Arts Festival is designed to honor our high-achieving English language and literature undergraduates. The associated honors society, Sigma Tau Delta, this year is headed by Cheyenne MacDonald, the organization’s president, who introduced Melissa Lozada-Oliva to the gathering, and was instrumental in bringing her to Lesley.

Other society officers include Katelyn Cafarelli, vice president; Gwendolyn Squires, secretary and treasurer; and Nicole Mello, director of social media and outreach. Sigma Tau Delta is advised by professors Mary Dockray-Miller, Sonia Perez-Villanueva and Aaron Smith.

On April 12, 11 students were inducted into the honors society: Sophia Aney, Havanah Becker, Meghan Breslow, Rachel Ciambriello, Elizabeth Davis, Chloe Fawcett, Maya Grubner, Olivia MacDonald, Matthew Murch, Alyssa Tkach and Molly Wobler.

“The Sigma Tau chapter provides an opportunity to create literary community for the whole campus, since the events are open to everybody,” says Dr. Dockray-Miller, a medievalist who teaches in our Humanities Division. “The group provides a forum for English- and creative-writing-major bonding on and off campus.” (A group of Sigma Tau Delta members traveled to the Boston Public Library together on a recent weekend for the Boston Poetry Festival).