We are excited to announce Maria Palacios as our July 2021 Artist of the Month!
Maria is a multi-talented poet, storyteller, performer, and activist based in Houston, Texas. In 2013, she won the Grand Prize of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ Pen 2 Paper Creative Writing Contest, for which she has served as a judge in ensuing years. We have had the pleasure of hosting two featured readings of her books at our Lion and Pirate Open Mic as well. Throughout the years, Maria has consistently impressed us with her ceaseless creativity, her radical approach to the arts with an activist spin, her dedication to the disability community,… and the list goes on.
We could not think of an artist who better embodies the spirit of Disability Pride Month than Maria because she truly is beyond compare. We sent her some questions to learn about her writing process, her inspirations, her current projects, and her advice for up-and-coming artists. In keeping with her art, her answers took on a poetic life all their own, carrying us through a multitude of stories. We hope in addition to reading this article, you’ll also join us for Maria’s feature performance at our Open Mic Saturday, July 3 at 7:00 PM CTD and our Community Conversation Wednesday, July 14 at 7:00 PM CTD!
Can you start by telling us who you are, where you’re from, and a bit of your background?
I am the Goddess on Wheels, of course! (LOL) But physically speaking, I am a South American born hot-blooded Latina whose roots extended into U.S. territory one summer in 1981 when ableist hopes for a cure to my polio body made my mother bring me to Houston, Texas… the rest is history, I guess. My native Spanish grew English wings, and my Muse became a wild mare. (I always say that my muse is the spirit of a wild horse). Here I am some four decades later, a Texan as I now identify myself—Houstonian by heart and by the artery of artistic presence that connects me to my community.
When and how did you start writing?
Words came early for me. Out of boredom from being confined to a bed (unless I was carried by someone), at age four I learned the alphabet one afternoon. First, I memorized it, after my mother left me sitting alone while she went to cook lunch. She thought this would keep me busy for a while, but something clicked in my head (like the little cartoon bubble with the lightbulb LOL) and I realized that putting letters together made words. I glanced at the newspaper casually resting on the night table, and although it was upside down, I was able to read the headline about gold found in the Ecuadorean jungle. I hollered to my mother with the news, and she tried to just play along thinking I was making it up, but I insisted and hollered back until she came to the room and I could show her what the paper said. Not only did words come easy for me, but they also became poetry almost immediately. I like to say that I was born a writer and thanks to my disability and my early physical confinement; I developed a profound love affair with words.
You describe some of your writing as “poetic storytelling.” What drew you to this style? I imagine it would be a liberating form of writing, but I’m curious how you perceive it?
With me, everything always “just happens.” I seldom plan anything and have trouble with anything that makes me feel confined. Poetry, in a way, was beginning to feel like my muse was being saddled. I am a poet, don’t get me wrong. My work is always born into stanzas and find rhythm of their own no matter what I’m writing. My muse is poetic by nature. I am the daughter of poets, so to me it feels like writing is just part of my nature… it is as natural as breathing. I feel there are several things that pushed my writing to morph into poetic storytelling, but the most compelling one is the fact that people are afraid of poetry, and they are also, often, too time limited to finish reading a whole book. My goal, with this writing style is to offer a little bit of both worlds—the natural poetic flow of the story with the sequential flow of narrative prose. Again, this is not something I planned. I literally woke up one morning and my Muse was just galloping on my pages, running through the open field of my creativity. I think that perhaps I have this deeply rooted creative hunger, and writing is what my hunger craves most. I just let my wild horse run free.
What inspires you to write/create?
Everything. I get inspired by everything I experience from one moment to the next. However, what I allow my Muse to actually invest into words comes down to some form of artistic advocacy. I truly feel this immense responsibility for using my love affair with words to generate work that is, in some form or another, transformative for myself and others. When my Muse was young, she wrote love poems, but later even love poems became a form of rebellion and advocacy because they spoke of truths disabled people are denied access to. I am passionate about so many things, and my work projects my love for disabled people as the raw honesty of my personal experiences as a disabled woman. Lately my writings are unashamedly and outspokenly about exposing ableism and helping other crips also discover their personal power, their own voice and artistic connection to the world.
I know you tend to keep yourself quite busy, and writing is just one of your many outlets. Can you tell us a bit about some of your other projects—workshops, activism, Sins Invalid? How do you find time for everything?
OMG! Yes!! I am so incredibly busy, and I truly must be a Goddess for being able to do it all. I have a confession to make… I operate strictly on a mental calendar, and never write my appointments down officially. That’s how much of a wild mare I am even in my personal life. These days, my life is occupied with the joy of raising a grandchild, and with the heartbreak of not having her parents here to be part of her life. (I wrote a whole book about this which I’ve been too busy to publish, but was extremely cathartic). The professional work I do takes me to various speaking platforms and stages. Although I am sort of retiring from performing, I am busy with workshops and speaking gigs all over the nation. Ableism is, sadly, a very hot topic right now, and my piece, Naming Ableism, has become a tool for many DS (disability studies) classes around the country. I am very grateful for the online platform that allows me to do all this from home.
My work with Sins Invalid is a forever relationship. The fact that my work has been part of their show since 2007, pretty much immortalized my Goddess on Wheels persona. Sins fueled my artistic passions beyond anything I ever anticipated. It elevated me from poet and spoken word artist to activist/storyteller of crip wisdom.
Which of your project(s) are you most excited about now? Can you give us a glimpse of it?
Yes yes, yes! Although still in very infantile stages, I have created a project which takes my muse to do a “Weird Al” to songs but with a disability theme. I don’t consider myself a songwriter, but for some wild reason, I am able to do this to songs, and the final product is soooo beautiful! I have about fifty songs so far, including a spoof of the movie Grease which I artistically envision on stage as Criplighting. LOL. Seriously! It would be sooooo badass!!!
Also, I don’t call myself a visual artist, but, two years ago, my anger toward ableism took me to drawing after being inspired, yet again by the humor and talent of John Callahan to whom I also dedicate my book Criptionary. The result of my drawings is an awesome little collection of cartoons which educate and entertain with some of the realities disabled people face. I am in the process of turning these into greeting cards as well as an educational tool for the normies who think they know our lives better than we do.
Where can people find and support your work?
Amazon—I have so many wonderful publications that range from my younger work to the fearlessness of my current voice. I am not good at marketing myself, so I am still a relatively unknown author. I think it is important to support the work of disabled artists because doing so is the foundation of an economy of crip sustainability and disability justice.
They can also read my work on my blog CripStory.
And of course, social media. Just Google me up as Goddess on Wheels or as Maria R. Palacios.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists, especially those with disabilities?
Create. Create. Create. Create as if your life depended on it because in so many ways it does. Your creativity helps the world see your humanity in the midst of social invisibility. Youth’s creative expression deserves to be seen and heard and shared. Never doubt that your experience is valid or that your art is transformative. Art itself can save us from our own fears. Be you with all your beauty and all your pain. Put yourself out there. Give yourself away through your creative spirit because when you do, you grow stronger not only as an artist but also as a person. Give us the gift of who you are through the vein of your Muse.