U.S. poet laureate calls late instructor ‘soulful, brilliant poet’

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  • Mia Martinez

U.S. poet laureate calls late instructor ‘soulful, brilliant poet’

(UPDATE Nov. 28, 2016 – 4:30 p.m.: Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro has directed that the university flags be posted at half-staff  in memory of English Dept. teaching associate Mia Barraza Martinez Tuesday (Nov. 29), the day of her funeral services and interment: bit.ly/FSN-MiaBarrazaMartinezFlag

(UPDATE Nov. 23, 2016 – 2:30 p.m.: services have been set for Nov. 28 and 29 – inserted below and at http://bit.ly/FSN-MiaBarrazaMartinezServices. Also, US Poet Laureate has provided an email address for submissions to the “Mireyda’s Remembrance Poetry Wreathe” he has established as a tribute to Ms. Barraza Martinez: juanh@csufresno.edu.  A fundraiser for funeral expenses is available at http://bit.ly/2giwIg6).

Fresno State graduate student Mireyda “Mia” Barraza Martinez of Porterville, who was a teaching associate in the English Department and a graduate assistant for U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s new Laureate Lab on campus, is being remembered as a gifted poet who forged a sense of dynamic imagination and opened up opportunities for others like her to follow.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office notified the University today (Nov. 22) that Ms. Barraza Martinez was identified as the victim of a fatal two-car crash that occurred Sunday night (Nov. 20) on Highway 99 south of Ventura Avenue near Highway 41 in southwest Fresno. The California Highway Patrol reported that heavy rain was a factor when the accident was reported at 6:45 p.m.

Ms. Barraza Martinez, who was 29 years old, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Fresno State in May 2014 and was in her third year of the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program. She was on track to graduate in the spring, according to the Division of Research and Graduate Studies.

She was hired as a teaching associate in August 2014. This semester she was teaching poetry writing and was scheduled for the same class next semester. Teaching associates in the English

Mia Martinez at Laureate lab

Mia Barraza Martinez with US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera (left) and fellow grad assistant Jacob Hernandez at the Laureate Lab on campus.

Department are apprentice instructors and considered the instructor of record. She was scheduled to give her thesis defense reading in April, said Jefferson Beavers, communications specialist for the MFA Program.

Dr. Lisa Weston, chair of the English Department, said “Mia was a shining star in our Master of Fine Arts program.

“She was a smart, strong and good-hearted person and a gifted poet, and she was incredibly giving of her time, energy and creativity,” Weston said. “Her colleagues, friends and students in the English Department will deeply miss her.”

Ms. Barraza Martinez was one of two poet laureate graduate artists in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordlist Studio located in the Henry Madden Library, working closely with Herrera, who called her “a soulful, intelligent, brilliant poet.”  He said Ms. Martinez was “a pioneer for the first-of-its-kind creative arts lab” that is preparing this semester for a grand opening in the spring.

“This is a very tragic, painful loss, and I send my condolences to her family, friends and colleagues,” said Herrera, who was at a poetry reading in Texas today. “A Xicana and daughter of farmworkers, Mia was inspiring, creative and full of ideas. She embodied the spirit of the Laureate Lab and the many projects she was working to launch.”

Herrera has established “Mireyda’s Remembrance Poetry Wreathe” as a tribute to Ms. Barraza Martinez saying in a Facebook message this afternoon, “I would like to call on you all to send poems, any size and style, your heart-words, in memory of Mia Barraza Martinez. One step of compassion is 1,000 miles of peace and healing.”

Submissions may be sent to him at juanh@csufresno.edu.

Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, said “Mia’s gift of poetry pierced through the ordinary.

“Her sense of self and family was evident in the myriad ways she became involved with the English Department and the MFA Program – she strived to make a difference, to leave a positive mark, and to forge a sense of dynamic imagination,” the dean said. “We all mourn at the loss of such a bright and kind poet, and are thankful to have experienced the warmth of her creative life.”

Ms. Barraza Martinez served as president of the Chicanx Writers and Artists Association and was on the organizing committee of the Undergraduate Conference on Multiethnic Literatures of the Americas.

In August, she was a presenter for the University’s Latinas in Academia Lecture Series: “Forging Paths to Graduate School and Beyond” with Dr. Larissa Mercado-Lopez, professor of women’s studies. Her topic was “Brown Girl Noise: Establishing Voice in the Workshop.”

Mercado-Lopez said Ms. Barraza Martinez was “one of those students whose future we all eagerly anticipated” and “students were moved by her stories of adversity and resilience” during the August presentation.

“She described her poetry and politics as ‘brown girl noise,’ a metaphor for the ways in which Chicana expressions are often unheard or interpreted as a form of agitation or disruption,” Mercado-Lopez said. “Mia was an inspiring poet, educator, collaborator and colleague who paved her own path to higher education in ways that opened up opportunities for others like her to follow.”

Services will be held Nov. 28 and 29 in Porterville: a Rosary service and viewing will be 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28, at Myers Funeral Service (248 North E St.). A Funeral Mass is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, at St. Anne’s Parish Church (378 North F St.) followed by interment at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery (1013 E. Olive Ave.) all in Porterville.

Ms. Barraza Martinez is survived by her parents, Miguel Barraza and Maria de Lourdes Martinez, of Porterville; and sisters, Marlen Barraza Martinez of Porterville and Neli Barraza Martinez of Fresno.

A fund drive by friends of the family to assist the family with expenses is available at http://bit.ly/2giwIg6.