Student Artist Spotlight: Keren Díaz de León

Keren Díaz de León

I came across Keren Díaz de León’s work through a Twitter follow. Keren is from the South Side of Chicago and is majoring in Latino studies and gender and women’s studies with a minor in social justice at UIC. I was drawn to Keren’s writing because of the strong feminine energy in her poetry by way of her Xicana identity.

Keren told me about this reoccurring theme in her poetry, “As a first-generation U.S. citizen and first-generation college student, there are privileges I hold that the strongest and inspiring women in my life don’t have. I hope to use this privilege to write, as a way to give reverence to their strength and their resilience.” This is a major theme in her work and her audience can see her working through her own identity through the strong feminine presences in her life.

I asked Keren about her creative process and what keeps her inspired to write. Being a writer myself, I find it hard to stay focused and motivated, especially being a student and working part time.

“Having reflected a bit, I’d say that what drives me to continue to write is fear,” she said. “More recently, my writing has been about encountering the fears in my life, accepting them and working to overcome them. But all encompassing, fear fuels my work. Fear that these stories would otherwise go untold. A fear of being vulnerable that writing forces me to overcome again and again each time I put pen to paper.”

After reading through the poems on her blog, I found myself craving more of Keren’s work. I asked her what we can expect from her in the future.
“I’ll be working for a new Chicago-based arts publication (234 Mag),” she said. “I’ll be an ensemble member in a play focusing on the untold stories of the lives of Mexican Americans growing up on the South Side of Chicago. I’ll be distributing a chapbook-like zine of my own writing (“Xicanita”), as well as a separate series of zines that will be illustrated by my best friend Alondra Rodriguez. I’ll be continuing my work as a teaching artist at the high school I graduated from, focusing on poetry and creative writing.” Supporting student artists, especially women of color, is important. Keren’s locality and identity voyage will be influential to young artists and other creative students on campus. What students are able to create in lieu of standard academic curriculum revolutionizes the understanding of the human condition — Keren as the perfect example. I’ll be buying Keren’s forthcoming zine and supporting all future projects.

A sample of her poetry:

When I chopped off my hair with dull scissors I found in bathroom cabinet


I dream awoke to tens of inches of dyed hair
chopped off in sink &
I had been thinking about hair a lot before this.

The stuff on my arms
and my legs
and my armpits
above my lip
along my jaw
circling my bellybutton.

almost every summer until I was 13
there came a day,
walking down 35th street with Mama,
we’d pass the hair salon &
the braid that traced my spine would start to itch to be freed.
I’d itch for short hair to tickle my ears
for hair to swoop and shake against my jaw as i walked &

I’d stand there
watching giant scissor poster in window
lined by sabila plants like the ones that lined our porch stairs.
Mama would purse her lips because she knew.
She’d shake her head and say,
“yo no se, pues, llamale a tu Papá”
and she’d hand me flip phone &

I would:
Porfavor Papacito lindo de mi vida y de mi corazzzzzon

I’ve been thinking about hair a lot.

how I had to ask my father’s permission.

how his answer was always yes,
but how I still always had to ask
How last night I didn’t.
I dull scissored sculpted my hair to tickle my hoop-earringed-ears.
& this morning Mama could only shake her head & purse her lips.


Bernie WilliamsBernie Williams is a senior majoring in English with a concentration in media, cultural and rhetoric studies. She hopes to practice and master an assortment of mediums, including screenwriting, writing for the New York Times, lifestyle blogging, fiction and radio broadcasting. Bernie has a passion for creating and sharing stories. The heightened diversity of the city atmosphere surrounding UIC is perfect for her. Bernie’s side hobbies are indulging in TV shows (specifically Scandal, Girls and Law and Order: SVU), interior design and Instagram. 

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