ELPASO – One snowy day in 2000, a trio of UTEP Creative Writing MFA students set up 50 chairs for a public event to release a local literary journal. Amit Ghosh, Jonathan Gonzales and Joseph Martinez were astonished when 90 local attendees showed up for their “goofy” idea, the first edition of BorderSenses.
“The project (cost) was $339. Each of us put in exactly $113. I still have the paper,” grinned Ghosh, a former teacher who now works in the Information Technology field. Ghosh added that it took him and his fellow classmates two months to produce and publish volume one of the now 15-year-old literary magazine.
Today, BorderSenses is a non-profit organization, and continues to grow, publish, and provide a place for the literary arts community in the U.S.-Mexico border area to share their work.
Executive Director Yasmin Ramirez believes the organization and arts community benefit greatly, due to the fact that the city of El Paso is a melting pot. “This city is an inspiration,” said Ramirez.
Over the years, the literary magazine has developed into four projects, three of them journals.
BorderSenses, the original journal previously published twice a year, is now only published once yearly. The journal is made up of bilingual fiction, nonfiction, and poetry work. The most recent issue was made up of 65 pages.
ForWord is another journal and project that works with different schools to expose youth to new artistic and academic opportunities and help improve writing with the support of writing workshops; Memorias del Silencio is a publication which works with migrant workers who are pursuing their GED. The Barbed Wire Open Mic Series, holds open mics around the city every month, welcoming people of all ages to show off their talents.
Each publication is published once a year and include from 20 to 40 authors, according Ramirez. Although each publication differs in budget, the cost of production and publication ranges from $300 to $1,000 and is paid with grants through City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, El Paso Community College, or funds and donations raised by the organization.
Ghosh said that when he and his friends started out BorderSenses it was published twice a year (spring and fall) for several years. However, in 2003, Ghosh found himself confused and hesitant to continue publishing.
“The two other co-founders had left by then…I was stuck with a magazine; like having a baby with no father, you know?” said Ghosh.
Later that year, he contacted a group of friends enrolled in the MFA program at UTEP and was lucky enough to have them help keep the project going.
Projects like ForWord are about fifty pages long and composed of poetry and prose with an eye-catching design on its cover page. Inside, you can also find BorderSenses’ contact information, contributors, sponsors and partners, and additional information on the organization’s various projects.
When accepting literary work submissions for their publications, BorderSenses uses submission management system Submittable, providing contributors with all submission guidelines.
UTEP Creative Writing student Jasmin Flores has been published twice in ForWord. “They have given me the opportunity of a lifetime as a writer to get my work out there and share my voice,” said Flores.
In the past, the project has also published two-time Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Award Winner Juan Felipe Herrera, and Eduardo Corral, the first Latino recipient of the Yale Younger Poets Prize winner. Both men are University of Iowa MFA graduates and famous poets today.
BorderSenses is not only an asset and literary outlet to the arts community in the city. It also offers internships and a chance for students to network and develop their skills in graphic design, multimedia journalism and public relations. BorderSenses works alongside MCAD and other local literary groups, and often seeks collaboration and partnerships to achieve their goals.
“We have to create the next generation of readers,” said Ghosh, who strongly believes the organization should keep evolving to stay alive and help local aspiring writers. “BorderSenses needs to do something different again. We have to come up with a new plan.”
As for the future of the organization, according to Ramirez, BorderSenses hopes to influence many other members of the community, and continue to grow and promote the arts, as they “further cement each of the projects in the city’s art landscape.”
“BorderSenses is probably the most underrated non-profit in the city, let alone the country,” said creative writing student Flores. “I encourage anyone who likes writing or wants to improve or trying new things to check them out.”