Author Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés in New York City

Rodríguez's newest book.
Rodríguez’s newest book.
I recommended not one, but two of Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés’s books in my round-up of essential reading about/related to Cuba for The Guardian, so I’m especially excited that I’ll get to meet her in person when she’s here in NYC this month.

The events below are open to the public. I hope you’ll support Cecilia, whose newest book, Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You, was released by Ig Publishing just this year.

Monday, June 15, 7 PM
Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center
172 Allen St, New York, New York 10002
Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You: A Reading and Signing

Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés will be presenting a reading of fiction from her newly released short story collection Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You followed by Q & A and signing. Her work reflects on the lives of Latina/os in the U.S.—especially those who settled in “el norte.” The characters populating her stories cope with challenges such as immigration, assimilation, poverty, race and gender issues; their voices call out to us to listen—oye!

Tuesday, June 16, 7:30 PM
Greenlight Bookstore
686 Fulton St, Brooklyn, New York 11217
An Evening with Ig Publishing: Sailing, Skating, and Cuba

Featuring Cecilia Rodriguez Milanes, author of Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You
Tracy O’Neill, author of The Hopeful
Diana Wagman, author of Life #6
Reception to follow

Fort Greene’s own independent press Ig Publishing publishes “original literary fiction from writers who have been overlooked by the mainstream publishing establishment, and political and cultural nonfiction with a progressive bent.” At this event, Greenlight and Ig celebrate the release of three exciting new literary works with a joint reading and reception.

A farewell to Frida… for now

The exhibit "Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life" opened at The New York Botanical Garden on May 16, 2015. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
The exhibit “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” opened at The New York Botanical Garden on May 16, 2015. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

Though I have one more assignment to file related to Frida Kahlo— a 1,200 word feature for an in-flight magazine about Frida’s Mexico City– with this weekend’s opening of “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life,” an exhibit whose development I’ve been following for nearly a year, I feel like I’m beginning to say a slow good-bye to someone who has been my constant companion for a long while.

There was a piece for about Frida’s and Diego’s America; a longform piece for Contributoria about Frida’s enduring appeal; an article for FOX News Latino about the Frida-Diego show at the Detroit Institute of Arts; and two pieces for Remezcla, one about Frida’s love letters to José Bartolí and another about how Frida’s image gets used in fashion and other product placement.

While working on these assignments, I reread work by and about Kahlo and found several texts I’d somehow missed in my nearly two decade long interest in Kahlo, among them Frida’s Fiestas and Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress. I thought it wasn’t possible to learn more about her.

I was wrong.

Spending so much time with one subject, albeit one who is no longer living, and to have so many assignments about her has been gratifying, a writer’s dream, really. I feel like I’m at the end of this run, though, and will soon be saying a temporary farewell to move on to other projects.

A re-creation of Kahlo's studio from Casa Azul in the exhibit at New York Botanical Garden. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
A re-creation of Kahlo’s studio from Casa Azul in the exhibit at New York Botanical Garden. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

Collection of Frida Kahlo Letters Auctioned for $137,000

Peter Costanzo of Doyle, auctioning Lot #231, a collection of letters from Frida Kahlo to her lover, José Bartolí. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Peter Costanzo of Doyle, auctioning Lot #231, a collection of letters from Frida Kahlo to her lover, José Bartolí. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

The mystery buyer arrived at the auction of 582 lots approximately five minutes before Peter Costanzo, Vice President of Doyle New York Auctioneers and Appraisers and the auctioneer for the first half of Wednesday’s sale, opened bids for Lot #231, “an important unpublished archive of approximately twenty-five autograph letters to José Bartolí, with photographs and various enclosures.” Seven minutes later, and just two minutes into bidding on Lot #231, the woman wielding paddle #283 was declared the winning bidder, with the coveted collection of letters going for $110,000, $10,000 below what the auction house estimated as the high bid range for the lot.

As is the custom at U.S. auctions, the bidder was not identified by name, though Doyle indicated to at least one outlet that the winning bidder, an Asian woman who made her bid from the floor, was a New York City-based artist and art collector. Bidding started at 12:55 PM, nearly three hours after the highly anticipated auction opened. Just over a dozen people were in attendance, with the winning bidder the only member of those assembled who entered a competitive sum. She responded immediately when bidding opened at $60,000 and offered counter bids as other offers came in by phone and Internet.

Costanzo, who indicated during previews of the letters that “everyone” in the art world knew about the auction, declined to reveal which museums and cultural institutions might be bidding for the lot of letters, which Kahlo wrote to her lover, José Bartolí, in the 1940s. In addition to the letters, the lot contained drawings made by Kahlo and photos of her, including some by renowned photographer Nickolas Muray, who had had his own affair with Kahlo. Costanzo said that museums might find it hard to vie for the collection, as the objects wouldn’t fit neatly amidst artworks, and institutions like Mexico City’s Casa Azul, the house where Kahlo was born, where she lived with muralist Diego Rivera, and which is now a museum, might find it difficult to raise the kind of money required to purchase such a valuable collection. Costanzo’s observation seemed to play out in the gallery on Wednesday, as the volley of offers and counter-offers was somewhat lethargic. After offering her final bid of $110,000, Costanzo held off on confirming her as the new owner of the letters until several phone and online bidders were asked directly if they wanted to up the ante.

They did not. After Costanzo issued a final warning and the bid was sealed, the winner was whisked away by Doyle staff, who added a $27,000 buyer premium to the bid, bringing the total to $137,000.

Action Item: Remembering #BringBackOurGirls

Monday’s going to be a busy day for protests and remembrances in NYC.

In addition to the action mentioned below, there’s also a MoMA-organized protest in Times Square for the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, which I’ll be covering.
This came into my inbox as a press release and I’m sharing it in full here [typos preserved]:

Empire State Building will be lit in purple and red to commemorate kidnapping’s 1-year mark.

NEW YORK, NY – On April 13 at 11:00am Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Ambassador of Surinam to the UN Henry MacDonald, Minister of Counter Terrorism of the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations Lawal Mohammed Hamidu, City Councilmember Ben Kallos (District 5), Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (76AD), human rights leaders and activists, a group of High School students, members of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, and the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy organization will gather at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza to commemorate the 1-year anniversary of the kidnapping of more than 270 girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. Although some of the girls managed to escape captivity, roughly 230 of them are still missing. Maloney will also announce that the Empire State building will be lit in purple and red on April 14th in recognition of the need to locate the girls and return them to their families.

Maloney and advocates will call for a vigorous international effort to find the girls, along with a full investigation to determine if some of the girls may have been among those murdered last month by fleeing Boko Haram soldiers.

As a gesture of solidarity with the Chibok Girls, the High School students in attendance will tie 223 ribbons around trees and railings. One ribbon for each of the girls still missing.

#BringBackOurGirls Press Conference

April 13, 2015 @11:00am

Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
47th Street between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue

Support Investigative Reporting about the Online Harassment of Female Journalists

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
One of the most common challenges writers and journalists face is that of funding the research phase of their work. Unless you’re on staff (and even then, there’s no guarantee), it can be tough to cobble together the money that allows you to do the work that’s necessary to investigate and report a story responsibly and thoroughly. All too often, we pay out of pocket in the hope that our investment will pay off– that we’ll be able to sell the story once we’ve committed money and time into writing it.

It’s a gamble I’ve made time and again, but one that has become harder to make now that I have three children and more financial responsibilities. Investing money in a project that may not have a sure outcome isn’t the best business strategy.

That’s why I’ve been very grateful for Contributoria, a platform that supports journalists and writers by funding their project proposals. I’ve been able to research and report two stories thanks to their support, one of which has been republished in The Guardian, a partner of the platform.

The way Contributoria works is akin to crowdfunding, but supporters don’t pledge any of their own money to back a project. Instead, they use their monthly allotment of 50 points to “back” projects they want to see funded by the site. You sign up for a free account at and allot your points as you wish. Contributoria doesn’t send out any spam and neither do I– just a monthly notification when I’ve listed a new project proposal and when I’ve published a project.

My past projects can be found here.

My next project is about online harassment of female journalists in the U.S. and Mexico, and I’m especially excited about it because it’s a collaboration with PBS MediaShift. It requires quite a bit of backing– about 450 more supporters by the end of the month. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my proposal and back it if you feel so inclined. You can sign up for an account on Contributoria’s main page.

And feel free to spread the word! I’m @collazoprojects on twitter.

Thank you.