Elena Díaz Bjorkquist is a short-story novelist and research affiliate for the UA's Southwest Institute for Research on Women. A member of Sowing the Seeds, Bjorkquist helps to organize events that connect women in Tucson to humanities projects within the community. The group, which is made up of women writers, will host "Celebrating Women's Voices Past & Present," a benefit event for Sowing the Seeds and YWCA on Friday, Feb. 15. The event will run from 7 to 9 p.m. at the YWCA, 525 W. Bonita Ave. Admission to the event is free, though donations are accepted.
Where are you from?
I'm from Morenci, Arizona. It's a little bit north of Tucson here, about two hours away. It's almost on the border with New Mexico. I was born there and then moved and lived in California most of my life and then came back 13 years ago to Tucson.
What brought you back?
My parents still lived in Arizona at the time and so I wanted to be closer to them, and then I have a son who also lives here in Phoenix. I was able to see my grandchildren more often and it brought us closer to our daughter who lives in San Antonio so that we didn't have to make the trek from way up north in California all the way to Texas.
What exactly is Sowing the Seeds?
Sowing the Seeds was formed in 2000 and it was funded by the Stocker Foundation and Arizona Humanities Council to form a group of women to promote the humanities in our communities. And then it became a writers' group, or writers' collective, and we've been active in the community.
What's the idea behind the event that you're hosting on Feb. 15?
Well, it originated in 2012; it was the centennial for Arizona. We had a number of women that wrote monologues of unsung women of Arizona, and I was able to get funding from the Tucson Pima Arts Council to put all of those monologues together into a mini-play and then I'm also having mariachis from Los Changuitos Feos, a children's group. They're also going to be performing, and we have a reading of Comadres — that's what we call ourselves — all the women that belong to our writing group. And we'll have an open mic, so anybody that wants to read poems or essays or memoirs excerpts are welcome to come up to the microphone.
So it aims to celebrate a number of women in Arizona history who have gone unnoticed?
Right. The "unsung women" are past and present, so the monologues are past and include three women: We have Carmen Soto, who did the Teatro Carmen, which was a very growing concern way back when and was very elaborate. Linda Leatherman is bringing her back to life to talk about what it was like for her to do this. Then, we have Rosalie Robles Crowe, who researched her grandmother's life (Isabel Delgado Mayagoita Orosco) in Jerome (Arizona), a mining town, and what it was like for an ordinary woman just to raise her children during the Spanish flu, World War I and the different things. And then I'm performing Ida Redbird, who was a famous Maricopa Indian potter. She formed a co-op of potters to raise the fees that they were getting and also to get into museums and galleries. Maricopa pottery became famous because of Ida Redbird.
You're a research affiliate for the UA's Southwest Institute for Research on Women. How did you get involved with that?
Well, I started with a history project that I worked on with SIROW to get funding from the Arizona Humanities Council, and that was to do an oral history on the elders in Morenci. And then the next project I worked on was through SIROW again and the Arizona Humanities Council funded it, and I did one on Tubac.
How has your work in SIROW helped with coming up with and organizing events like this one? Has the research helped you come up with various ideas of community involvement?
Well, actually, the work in SIROW helps in getting people out to our events because we also have a Sowing the Seeds writing workshop once a year and invite women to come. We're trying to encourage women that haven't had the opportunity to attend workshops or conferences to come and have a day where they can learn writing techniques, even if it's journaling or just for their own purposes.