Michelle Tea is a lot of things in this town; a chronicler of queer culture (as in 2000’s Valencia), role model for that halting transition into adulthood (see 2015’s How To Grow Up), a publisher with her own imprint at City Lights Books – but perhaps most importantly to the social fabric in this town, she has long been a supporter and booster of local authors through her raucous, queer and woman-focused RADAR Productions, the local incarnation of the internationally touring Sister Spit. RADAR is the ever-rotating farm team lineup, of which even your gentle author was once a part (3:00).
So imagine a young buck stepping into Tea’s shoes, well that’s a big deal for the San Francisco authors in RADAR’s orbit. It’s happening. Tea announced on Wednesday that Juliana Delgado Lopera, a SFSU creative writing instructor and author of Cuentamelo! a collection of queer immigrant oral histories, would be taking her place after 12 years as artistic director at Radar. Tea, for her part, will use the time to focus on her role as a new mother and other projects.As Tea put it in the letter announcing her decision on the RADAR website:
RADAR is probably the best thing I’ve ever made in my life, with the exception of my son, and he’s the main reason I’m leaving. How in the world did I think I would be able to have a baby and run a non-profit and be a writer and have a social life / spend time with my wife and not lose my mind? Running a non-profit is hard, even with the support of so many amazing organizations over the years. Realizing I cannot be present for my son and prioritize my writing and do a good job at RADAR, I am leaving the organization in the inspiring hands of Virgie Tovar, who will continue on as Managing Director, and Juliana Delgado Lopera, who will step into the Executive Director role come July 1st.
Tovar and Delgado will be heading the charge into a San Francisco where the future of things like publicly funded queer reading series are much at question. But Delgado, a Jackson Literary Award recipient who moved to San Francisco eight years ago from Bogotá, may just have the credentials to make it work. Hats off to Tea, by the way, by keeping things fresh at her beloved organization, which is holding an edition of its salacious/politically astute Banned Books Club readings next week on Thu/14.
We caught up with Delgado to hear about her plans for the next phase of RADAR a few days after the announcement dropped.
48 HILLS When did you first get involved with RADAR?
JULIANA DELGADO LOPERA I got involved in RADAR through a queer book club like five years ago at Rhiannon Argo’s house. I had been going to RADAR readings for a while now, always enchanted by its amazing readers and performers, by its beautiful queer audience. Like many queers I found community in those readings, I saw myself in the experiences read and performed. Michelle was in that book club too. Of course I had read her work, had seen her read, and was spellbound by the energy of her writing, but when I finally met her face to face I was like, oh my god this woman is so generous and so freaking rad. After the book club I believe Rhiannon told Michelle she should put me in RADAR. She did. And then I started to read constantly for different RADAR events.
48H Can you point to a single moment in which you were like, oh, I need to be a part of this organization?
JULIANA DELGADO LOPERA I’m not sure there’s one specific moment. Before I was invited to read I remember sitting in the audience thinking, I want to be up there too. I want to be part of this. And when I finally did I loved it. There are not many spaces like RADAR left in the city where radical queers come together to share their experiences, their rage, their love. For me every reading at RADAR has been an inspiration. Every moment, both in the audience and on stage, has built my love for this organization.
48H Where are you from? What are you up to professionally, these days, besides RADAR?
JULIANA DELGADO LOPERA I’m from Bogotá, Colombia. The land of the yuca and the panela. Right now I’m finishing my graduate thesis, which is my first novel. I also work with the GLBT Museum.
48H How are you going to move an organization into the future that has been so heavily identified with its founder, Michelle Tea?
JULIANA DELGADO LOPERA Michelle will always be a part of RADAR. Let me repeat that, Michelle will always be a part of RADAR. Always and forever. She’s leaving the leadership of RADAR but she’s — undeniably — a part of its soul. RADAR will move into the future because of the amazing job Tea has done at creating a solid community over the past decade. And because the community trusts Michelle, we know she wouldn’t make a thoughtless decision. She knows that right now this is the best for both her and RADAR. We need to trust this decision. And — transitions are weird and awkward. I know that. I’ve been doing community work long enough to understand the skepticism in change of leadership, especially with someone we all adore. What I’m trying to get at is: RADAR will not cease to be identified with Michelle. The organization will move into the future with a different leadership but always carrying Tea’s beautiful energy.
48H How do you see RADAR’s role in San Francisco in 2015?
JULIANA DELGADO LOPERA As a CRUCIAL ONE. Essential. Vital. Critical. Paramount. Etc. If you’re reading this I probably don’t need to break into a speech about the changes hitting our city, and because you know this you also know that community spaces that are still standing, such as RADAR, need to be heavily supported. Emphasis on heavily. RADAR continues to give voice to writers and artists who reflect the queer community’s diverse experiences, a community that’s been hit hard by this wave of change in San Francisco. A lot of people are moving. Many others have lost faith. For those of us who can still be here, RADAR is our community. RADAR exists because we are still here, because we refuse to accept the erasure of our community.
48H What are you immediate goals for RADAR? How will it survive in a town where so many radical cultural institutions are failing for lack of funds?
JULIANA DELGADO LOPERA To create a fiscally stable organization that engages deeply with the queer community. We are also working on building a better website and social media so we can reach more folks (and more funding!) and so it’s also easier for people to know what’s happening with RADAR. We will survive with your help. Yes you. You who are reading this. We do not exist without the support of the community. So reach out! Do you want to throw us a dinner fundraiser at your co-op? Send us a message! Are you just dying to organize a drag show with us? Send us a message! Did your rich aunt just died and you inherited a bunch of money? Send us a message! Do you have mad computer skills and want to take a look at that website? Send us a message! Do you have amazing ideas for queer literary events? Send us a message! Does your organization in the east bay want to partner with us so we can artistically take down The Man together? Send us message! An email. A tweet! Again, we are here to serve the community. And we’re still here, so show your support! Who knows, maybe we’re gonna have readings at someone’s house. Or in my shared backyard or at a street corner. But let it be clear: RADAR has changed and saved lives and it will continue to do so.
“I WAS BANNED” BANNED BOOK CLUB READING
May 14, 6pm, free
San Francisco Main Library
100 Larkin, SF.