By Jace Evans
He meets and chats with students on campus about literature, even before he’s started working in the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. Mario Escobar, the newest addition to the Writers’ House, has been added to the esteemed ranks of the Writers’ House to help further carry out its message.
Escobar will be taking over the Writers’ House Postcards from my Country program next year, where he will work with students from Northwestern High School and the Writers’ House to put together poetry about their countries of origin. He said the program is a mentoring process to help students develop their voice and writing skills.
“I’m not here to teach, I’m here to point the way,” said Escobar, the recipient of a Flagship Fellowship which allows him to attend graduate school on campus. Only about 10 awards are distributed every year. “Kids all have a voice they just need to discover it. It’s a process only they can do.”
Escobar’s life experience has helped shape his work. He was born in El Salvador and experienced the country’s civil war as a young boy. Escobar points to this tough time in his life as the launching point of his career.
“The political conflict served as a catalyst for me to get into literature,” he said. Even earlier than that, he cites the oral stories of his grandfather as an inspiration.
Escobar immigrated to America and moved to the Los Angeles area when he was 12. He graduated from UCLA with a degree in Spanish literature and Chicano studies and received his master’s in Spanish literature from Arizona State University.
“(Escobar’s) life story is very unique,” said Vivianne Salgado, the assistant director of the Writers’ House. “His worldview is, of course, a product of this very unusual set of circumstances. I see great potential in him to become a very inspiring teacher.”
One thing Escobar said he likes about literature is the politics behind it.
“Literature doesn’t subscribe to ideology,” he said. “It’s a literature of freedom. It’s not right wing or left wing. Literature allows you to think. That’s what’s important.”
Writers’ House director Johnna Schmidt came across some of the work Escobar had done in Los Angeles with at-risk teens and immigrants, knew his background and thought he would be a perfect fit for the program.
“Escobar is able to build an immediate connection with the students and he’s a brilliant extemporaneous performer,” she said. “This makes him very dynamic in the classroom.”
Escobar used the arts to help kids rediscover themselves. “I helped them understand and helped them rediscover the power of the word,” he said. “Kids have so much to teach us. They all have experiences and they are a source of knowledge, both for themselves and us.”
Escobar is the author of numerous works including one about the atrocities of his native country’s civil war, coming out in May.
He hopes to be a publisher in the future. He isn’t sure if he wants to be married to any institutions of power but for now is relishing the opportunity to work for the Writers’ House.
“I’m very, very happy to be a part of the program,” he said. “They have an amazing team who cares for the community.”
Escobar lives in Maryland with his wife Karla Escobar-Gutierrez and their three daughters.