Finding Faith: Interview with River Coello

In a time of fear and isolation caused by COVID-19 and other catastrophes, River Coello sought solace in writing and in doing so they created and published their novel Faith/Fe. A year of trial and tribulation brought to light a book of healing and hope. The story of the author behind the poetry collection, which will touch the lives of millions, is compelling and beautiful. 

Coello began writing at a very young age saying, “I was probably 12 when I wrote my first poem. I have been writing since, processing a lot about my personal journey, investigating the potential of liminality.” This was just the dawn of their future in poetry which led to so much more. 

Poetry is often so personal and such a deep work of the heart that the decision to publish it is quite a weighty one. Coello stated that when it came to publishing their first work they were inspired by a friend of theirs. “I first became interested in the idea of getting published in early 2019, after a dear friend of mine, Théo Munch, published his own chapbook, CORPORAL, with Homie House Press (HHP). It was through him that I connected with this independent press. Soon after, Adriana Monsalve, Caterina Ragg, both from HHP, and I started collaborating on my first collection, self/ser, which came out in the fall of 2019.”

This particular book has been in the works for a long time yet inspiration struck in the fateful year of 2020. “After the success of the first book, the idea of a second book was always a possibility. With my travels through Europe in early 2020 and later the pandemic, which coincided with a pivotal transitional period in my personal life, I had a lot more time to devote to my writing. That writing was grappling with some deeply vulnerable themes: ruptures, deaths, and subversions. It was also engendering new hopes: peace, love, and joy. That is how faith/fe was born and then published just last month.”

The events that helped spur their love of writing LGBTQ+ poetry were numerous and when asked about what sparked this passion for it Coello replied, “I grew up in a multiracial, interfaith family in Ecuador, which has had monumental implications for my art. As far as race goes, I’m very interested in immortalizing my family’s rich legacy through my writing: Our stories are beautifully complex and they deserve to be celebrated, especially after the erasure of colonialism. As far as faith goes, my young faith opened me up to important questions of human purpose, but it also made me vulnerable to shame of various aspects of my expression and my love. So, a lot of my work has been all about shedding that shame and finding pride in what makes me “different.””

This is truly the tale of someone who has sought a whole new way of life, a person who sought serenity for their soul. Each piece has beautiful and riveting meaning behind it but when it came down to choosing a piece that held the most meaning to them, Coello stated, “I have an older piece from my first collection, self/ser (2019), that I always return to: “meeting mother in the water.” I wrote this poem by Lake Michigan while living in Chicago and it symbolizes my full surrender to Pachamama (Mother Earth) by embracing the power of my own womanhood.”

The musings of the soul are deeply attuned to the individual who wrote them and as such even the authors will always have a favorite piece in their works, when asked what their favorite piece was Coello replied, “I have a lot of pieces from faith/fe that I love deeply, but my piece “in the end” has a very special place in my heart. It closes the second chapter of this book, which is grounded in healing through spirituality. I wrote the first half of this poem after an illumination ritual with a Peruvian/Inca shaman in Salt Lake City: This ritual was instrumental in my own process of self-acceptance and self-love, and a marked personal return to the safety of South American Indigenous spirituality. The second half is adapted from an even older piece I had written while reflecting on Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy (2017), which brings forth important musings on the value of human alignment with the ways of nature and the universe.” 

Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community and having been so adamantly and passionately supportive of the community, one may be curious on what her views are and how to best support those of the LGBTQ+ community. In answer to this question, Coello said, “There are countless ways to support queer and trans communities. Politically, it means making sure our rights are protected at every single level. On a more personal level, supporting us often looks like loving us openly and unconditionally.”

On a similar note, particularly in Utah, faith can be a very touchy subject, particularly when relating it to LGBTQ+. When asked about how to help queer youth raised Christian and struggling with acceptance, Coello came up with a powerful answer: “To remember that God is Love. I always go back to that. Love builds you up, protects you.”

Coello has had so much success that many are waiting anxiously to see what else they will do, in reply to such an inquiry, they said, “I am actually planning on retreating a little to devote more time to my performance craft, so I anticipate devising a lot of new theater through my MFA training. I have a dream of writing my first solo show in the next few years, so that seems to be the next big thing.”

To learn more about River Coello and their work, visit their website https://www.rivercoello.com/ . River Coello’s latest book Faith/fe can be purchased at: https://www.rivercoello.com/shop/faith-fe.

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