DODGE CITY — In November, Dodge City Community College English and literature professor Maria Melendez Kelson took part in the weeklong Lines and Spaces tour, a cultural exchange with Latin American writers in Bogotá, Colombia.
According to Kelson, the Lines and Spaces tour is a cultural diplomacy program organized by the International Writing Program from the University of Iowa and the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá.
“The overall goal is to use literature to engage in cultural diplomacy between the U.S. and other countries,” Kelson said. “Our tour was structured around professional growth and mentorship of women writers.”
The exchange marked the first time Kelson taught in Spanish.
“It was a big challenge,” Kelson said. “It was exhausting, but I felt my confidence rise a little bit every day over the course of the week. Each day it got a tiny bit easier.”
According to Kelson, state poet laureate of Texas Emmy Pérez — a professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande — recommended her for the Lines and Spaces tour.
“What they were looking for was established U.S. Latina writers, and the U.S. Latina literary world is pretty small,” Kelson said. “It was a great honor to be selected, because they only took two U.S. Latina writers. They took me and Carina del Valle Schorske, a Puerto Rican writer in the New York City area.”
Nine women writers took part in the tour, said Kelson, with women writers from Colombia, Mexico and Argentina along for the trip.
“So there was one mentor from each of the three countries, and there were newer writers from each of the three countries who had been already working together," Kelson said. “So what the other U.S. writer and I did for them was to lead workshops in which we would discuss the beginning writers’ work at length.
"And the mentors would chime in and contribute their ideas, as well.”
Kelson added that the response from the Latina writers was positive.
“The feedback was good,” Kelson said. “They said it was helpful. They felt energized to get back in and make revisions and make improvements.”
Overall, Kelson said, the experience of taking part in the writing tour was a rich experience.
“I’d love to go back and take my family for a vacation," she said.