Although “Pose” co-creator Steven Canals says he gets the most actual writing done sitting at the dining room table in his Los Feliz home, he still keeps a meticulously maintained home office space, one that he shares with his partner. Their desks face each other and are surrounded by creativity-stirring pieces that include a full wall of books, a big picture window and various pieces of word art. The desks were part of a four-piece set that Canals procured while in grad school at UCLA, but when he moved out of that space, he took two of the four with him. That’s where he wrote the first-ever draft of “Pose.”
Canals’ mother, Evelyn, was always the one taking photos of him when he was a child. But he only has one of the two of them together from when he was a baby. He framed that photo, in which he is about 9 months old, and notes that finding it for the first time when he was about 25 years old gave him a new perspective on his mother. “Evelyn’s a cool chick,” he says. “She’s a kindergarten teacher, so her whole life is about encouraging young people to explore, figure out where your strengths lie, and then create a pathway for yourself so you can make a sustainable career.”
“Pose” began picking up awards early on in its first season, including from the Television Academy Honors, the Peabodys and AFI. The latter has a particularly special meaning as it was a first for the show, and because Canals calls AFI a “gold-standard” when it comes to such things. Since the award is given by committee and has to be unanimous, “it was the only time that we achieved an accolade that actually brought a tear to my eye,” Canals says. “I think about that boy who grew up in the housing projects in the Bronx imagining doing the work I’m doing right now. I didn’t know how I’d ever get there, and then I stepped away from it because it seemed so impossible and far away. And now I’m doing it.” He has the framed certificate resting against, rather than hung on, the wall adjacent to his desk, in part because his wall space is primarily taken up by a white board for breaking new stories, but also because he thinks it’s a “pretty, more graphic” way to display certain items.
THE POWER OF PLAY
A fan of Transformers toys (and the 1980s cartoon) from his childhood, Canals has begun collecting the Takara Tomy masterpiece line of toys. Every time he goes to Comic-Con, he brings another one home. “They look the way the characters look in the actual cartoon, which is partly why I love them,” he says. Highlights in his collection include Ratchet, an ambulance, which was the first Transformer his parents bought him in the mid-’80s (that original has yet to make the cross-country move and still sits in his mother’s house in the Bronx), as well as Optimus Prime, which occupy a designated shelf in his bookcase. “Optimus has a special place in my heart because he’s the leader, and growing up in the Bronx in the midst of the crack epidemic, specifically, which just eviscerated the Bronx, we just didn’t have a lot of heroes. And even though he was a figment of someone’s imagination, he felt very real to me.”
Across from Canals’ desk is a full wall of bookshelves that his partner built and installed, but the books that are on the top of his “must read’ list sit in two neat stacks on top of his desk. Some he might considering snapping up the rights to as a producer, while others are just those that caught his eye as a long-time, avid reader. As a child, Canals and his mother would travel to a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan and “live amongst the books for an afternoon,” he says. “Roald Dahl was my favorite.” This immersive experience in his younger years imparted a preference for physical copies over digital ones on various pieces of technology. Admittedly, though, now Canals prefers to peruse used-book stores to big chains, making sure to stop in every time he finds one. “You never know what treasures are there,” he says. “It’s kind of a ‘choose your own adventure.’ I’m all about the discovery aspect.”
THE BEST BOOK
In front of his desk is a small shelving unit, on which sits an open Bible. Although Canals says he isn’t particularly religious, the book means a lot to him because it is one his aunt gave to his mother during a rough period in her life, after she had just lost a child. When he went off to college, she passed the book on to him. He admits he has yet to ask her why she wanted him to have it at that moment in life, or if the page the book just naturally falls open to, which he leaves on display, is a passage that helped her in a specific way. But, the Bible serves to help him reflect on ideas of strength and resilience. “I don’t know how I would have dealt with all that was coming at her at that point,” he says. “Whenever I feel that I’m too tired, I can look at that and think, ‘No, you’re not really that tired. You don’t really know what struggle is.'”