Name: Carlos Price–Sanchez
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Activities: Penn Cultural Heritage Center, previously worked at Kelly Writers House, former Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities fellow
34th Street Magazine: Why did you decide to come to Penn?
Carlos Price–Sanchez: I only applied to one school, actually. I was super burnt out. I honestly wasn't even sure I wanted to go to college. My mom—she's super Cuban—so she's like, 'I want you to stay close.' She denies it now, but definitely wanted me to stay close. My dad worked at Penn, which is a huge benefit in terms of how much it would cost to come here. I applied to one school, took a year off between high school and college, and came here.
Street: What did you do during your gap year?
CPS: I worked a few odd jobs. I was a dishwasher, I sprayed all–natural pesticide—which doesn't make any fucking sense, right? It seems like an oxymoron, but it paid decently well. And then, the second half of the year I used that money to hike through England and Scotland. I was hiking for like 6 months through about half of England, all of Scotland, from border to border, the Isle of Skye, and then I spent some time in Paris.
Street: Why did you decide to become an English major?
CPS: It was what I was good at in high school—that was what came readily to me, that was sort of what I knew. I mean, I love to write. I came into college and I thought, all right, I'm going to go get my MFA right after this. That was sort of the plan. I’ve sort of bounced around since then. I played around with doing environmental science, but I have always enjoyed writing. And the English department here is really fantastic, I feel like it's overlooked and definitely should get props. So I'm an English major, but I knew I wanted to go to grad school, I just wasn't sure in what. Now, I'm doing my master's degree right now in International Educational Development. It ended up being the right place.
Street: How has this work changed your outlook on life?
CPS: My mom's side of the family, they emigrated from Cuba. So they were refugees from Cuba. My mom came when she was pretty young. I still have family there, I still have friends there, so I've always sort of identified with this refugee identity, and, at least culturally, it's something that is close to my heart. I think an often–overlooked method of addressing things like cultural trauma or things like PTSD, or a way of dealing with conflict, is education. I've always liked writing and now I'm moving into education and trying to figure out how they fit together.
Street: When did you get involved with the Kelly Writers House?
CPS: I got involved basically immediately. Al Filreis [the faculty director of KWH] is my advisor. He does an online course on modern poetry through Coursera and now through different platforms. I joined his team as a TA, I think that was first semester freshman year. That was an online course for people either in college, homeschooled, anywhere from 13 to 80 years old, who wanted to learn about modern and contemporary poetry. They've been really good to me at the Writer's House—they've supported my writing a lot.
Street: How did you get involved with the Penn Cultural Heritage Center?
CPS: I was taking masters courses to sort of test out what I wanted to sub matriculate into. I took this course on cultural destruction with Dr. Brian Daniels. I really loved the course and I reached out to him about wanting to get involved in any way that I could. So, he does a lot of research in Syria and Iraq on cultural destruction and so I kind of fell into it—I just sort of leaned into what felt right at the time. My big problem is that I like a lot of different things, but I focused on one thing that felt like it was finally important. I work at the Penn Cultural Heritage center, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, doing research on cultural destruction. If somebody purposely or accidentally bombs a church, or a school, or something like that, we study that, record it, and put it into a big database.
Street: What was it like publishing your own poetry?
CPS: I remember coming in freshman year, I thought, alright, before I graduate, I want my own book published. Super ambitious, sort of naive. I worked with Laynie Browne, she's a professor here. She's been my mentor since freshman year. With her, I put together a collection of poems eventually titled Paper Waters and submitted it to a bunch of chapbook contests. I won the Quarterly West Chapbook Contest and they're going to publish it pretty soon. I'm going to be doing a reading of it in March at AWP [Association of Writers & Writing Programs] which is the biggest creative writing conference in the States.
Street: What is Paper Waters about?
CPS: It’s a lot about cultural inheritance and making sense of my own background—coming from refugees and immigrants, and my dad’s family was here since the second boat to the States. And then in the background of all of that is climate change, and how we make sense of our cultural backgrounds or identities in a time where the world itself is changing. All of that is sort of mashed together in this book.
Street: What was the process like?
CPS: It happened kind of slowly, and then all of a sudden, all at once. I didn't set out thinking this is what I was going to write about, I just sort of had these poems that were in production. As we were going along, Laynie and I, we could see these themes coming together, and ended up having a pretty coherent chapbook of about 30 pages. And at that point you just got to send it out. I've had a lot of rejections—lots and lots and lots and lots. And so the advice I always give to writers is just don't be afraid of it, don't take it personally. Sometimes it really is just that it isn't right at the time. I applied to Quarterly West, just to get published in the regular magazine, like a month before, and they rejected me, and then I won their chapbook contest. A lot of it is just taking that step.
Street: Do you have anything else to add?
CPS: My girlfriend wanted me to give her a shout out. Her name is Katherine Wu. She's great—lovely.
Street: If you have to write an autobiography what would the title be?
CPS: Oh, fuck. Um, that can be the title.
Street: If you were going to be a building on campus which one would you be?
CPS: Oh VP. I love VP. I think I can only work in places that are super depressing. And so I love VP, I spend so much time there
Street: What is one place on your travel bucket list?
CPS: New Zealand. I'd love to hike in New Zealand.
Street: What is your favorite book?
CPS: Right now I read and re–read Eduardo C. Corral’s Slow Lightening. It is a book of poems that has heavily inspired my style.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn...
CPS: Those who get drunk on Thursdays, and those who don't.
Street: Your house is burning and you can only save one thing. What do you save?
CPS: Oh my cat. For sure. My lovely cat Maika.
This interview has been edited and condensed.