Monday, June 11, 2007

INTERVIEW WITH MYRIAM GURBA

Myriam Gurba is a high school teacher who lives in Long Beach, California, home of Snoop Dogg and the Queen Mary (as she gamely notes). She graduated from UC Berkeley, and her writing has appeared in anthologies such as The Best American Erotica (St. Martin's Press), Bottom's Up (Soft Skull Press), Secrets and Confidences (Seal Press), and Tough Girls (Black Books). Gurba’s first book is Dahlia Season (Manic D Press), a collection of short stories and a novella.

Gurba kindly agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga:

DANIEL OLIVAS: In your heartbreaking story, "Cruising," a teenage girl dresses in male clothing to cruise the pier and public restrooms in Long Beach along side gay men looking for anonymous sex. When she finally hooks up with a young man and the tryst fails, as it must, she runs away and blames herself: "I had spoiled everything. I ruined it by being myself, by being a girl." This guilt for simply being herself is something that runs through many of your stories. Can you speak a bit to the issue of guilt and how it affects the lives of your protagonists?

MYRIAM GURBA: I hadn't thought about the thematic guilt that runs through my stories, but now that you mention it, I see it very clearly. The narrator of "Cruising" is very mysterious to me and while this character is definitely female-bodied, this person ultimately seems transgendered to me. The guilt experienced by the narrator erupts from physical frustration, being trapped by a body that limits and can't fully express its chameleon self. All my characters have physical circumstances that limit them and they somehow feel responsibility for that although they really have no reason to. I think that this guilt, a guilt experienced by people who feel that their bodies are beyond their control, is part of our unique existential quandry. It's something I've definitely struggled with as a person with Tourette's. I've felt like my body's disobedience is a betrayal that I have to fix and assume responsiblity for. Guilt is such a physical thing.

OLIVAS: The character of Desiree Garcia in the title novella uses a mordant wit to deal with her Tourette 's syndrome and OCD. This humor is what keeps the story from falling into bathos. How do you decide which characters will be armed with such humor, and who will not?

GURBA: I knew that if I was going to explore morbid and violent obsessions, I'd have to do so with a spoonful of sugar. Humor became that in the case of Desiree. OCD lends itself very easily to comic writing, but Desiree's unique symptoms are pretty horrifying to her and I didn't want to minimize that by slathering on the laughs. Other OCD and Tourette's memoirs I've read have been really funny, playing up the silliness of sufferer's compulsions, but I had to pay respect to Desiree's nightmare and exercise caution when it came to timing the funny stuff.

OLIVAS: Sex scenes are notoriously difficult to write. Indeed, at least one award is given annually to the worst literary sex scene. But your story "Primera Comunión" has one of the most powerful and honest sex scenes I've read in a long time. Did you hesitate doing such a scene? Was it difficult to write?

GURBA: When writing that scene, I really was inspired by bravery and strength, very macho bravery and strength. I didn't set out to write such a raw sex scene. I had a character in mind, an intensely butch Chicana gangsta. When I was barely, like, thirteen, some white girls made fun of me for being a lesbian. Even then, it was apparent that I was a homo. This gangsta prima of mine who staying with us for the summer shushed these gabachas by telling this scary yet awesome story of a female cholo bad ass vato who nobody denied respect to and it inspired me and comforted me. I was thinking of this cholo when I wrote "Primera Comunión," honoring that vato loco. That mysterious g has served as my muse more than once.

OLIVAS: Why did you become a writer?

GURBA: I decided that I wanted to write my senior year of high school. I was in love with all things Sylvia Plath and put myself on a strict writing schedule like I read she'd been. I filled so many notebooks with writing, but then when my OCD got really bad, I stopped writing. This break lasted throughout my first years at Berkeley. Then, on a lark, I took a class on porn. There were all these writing exercises we got assigned which got me writing again. I started to write a lot about sex and got an intership at On Our Backs, a lesbian pornographic magazine. Since I was in this sex rich environment, my stories reflected that. After I left San Francisco for Long Beach, a lot of sex left my stories. I didn't quit writing, though. I just started to write more about myself and explore other themes.

OLIVAS: How did you and Manic D Press get together?

GURBA: In a weird way. Kevin Sampsell, the publisher of Portland based micropress Future Tense, asked me to submit some stories to Spork, a literary journal he was editing. He liked what I sent and asked if I had more. I did and sent it to him. Kevin responded that he does a yearly imprint through Manic D Press and that he wanted to publish my work as a collection. I'm pretty darn lucky to have an offer like that fall in my lap.

OLIVAS: What is your writing routine like?

GURBA: Pretty hectic these days. I teach high school so I try to get up around 5 am and write till I have to leave for school. Weekends I give myself a longer time.

OLIVAS: Do you have any mentors?

GURBA: Kevin, my co-publisher and editor though Future Tense, has really helped guide me through the publication process. He has been such an inspirational doll. Bett Williams is a new bud but she's been very supportive and nurturing of me, too.

OLIVAS: What are you reading these days? Any recommendations?

GURBA: Right now, I'm reading Felicia Luna Lemus' novel Like Son. I'm also waaaay into Trinie Dalton, author of wide-eyed. She writes these borderline psychedelic pieces with animals and mythic creatures. I'm re-reading Ali Liebegott's The Beautifully Worthless, this genre busting ballad sung to a lonesome America. I plan on reading some of Cookie Mueller's stuff, too. She was one of the Dreamlanders, one of John Waters' actresses.

OLIVAS: Any advice for beginning writers?

GURBA: Write. Write, write, write. Don't be afraid to write about yourself. Don't think you need the most epic, adventurous life ever to write and that you need to mine your imagination for these crazy yarns. Tell your stories. Tell your everyday stories. There's plenty of fodder there.

OLIVAS: What are you writing right now?

GURBA: Right now I'm working on a graphic novel about how living creatures, human and non-, communicate love. Interconnected shorts featuring people, rabbits, and other animals are currently being sculpted into this piece.

[Note: Myriam Gurba will be reading this Sunday one of L.A.’s hippest reading series. Click here for details.]

◙ I recently asked Francisco Aragón to write a short piece on Letras Latinas’ foray into the blogosphere and he kindly did so. Here it is:

Joining the Blogoshpere: Letras Latinas
by Francisco Aragón

Daniel Olivas suggested I write a short piece introducing Letras Latinas' weblog. And that's part of the point, really: the Internet, for all its limitations, has afforded us the opportunity to forge different types of communities--even ones made up of two individuals (Daniel and myself) who haven't had the pleasure of sitting across a table to break bread, say, or have a drink, but who have, thanks to the Internet, connected in meaningful ways.

Like a number people I know, I've been on the sidelines these past few years, where weblogs are concerned. My former reluctance reminds me of people (artist and non-artist alike) I've met over the years who state, almost like a badge of honor, that they don't own a television, or waste time on the cinema ("It's all crap"). It continues to amuse me, this "stance."

There is a certain risk and vulnerability to writing a weblog. In the end, it's one more tool. Nothing more, nothing less. In the past, I've relied on sending notes to, say, Daniel and Eduardo C. Corral, to let the "blogosphere" know about this or that. As I continue to deepen my involvement with Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, it seemed finally the time to use this additional tool "to get the word out" and better carry out Letras Latinas' mission--especially among those who are interested in Chicano/Latino literature and Chicano/Latino writers. Hence, this brief piece for La Bloga, one of my role models.

I'm calling the weblog, right now, Latino Poetry Review (LPR), as a form of advance publicity for an online journal Letras Latinas is launching in January of 2008. Anyone want to know more about LPR and/or Letras Latinas? Write to me, or have a peek at my posts from May. Or, better yet, suscribe to:

http://latinopoetryreview.blogspot.com/

Gracias,
Francisco Aragón
Director, Letras Latinas
Institute for Latino Studies
University of Notre Dame

[Note: PoetryFoundation recently noted Aragón’s Web project.]

◙ A little note from Daniel Alarcón, author of Lost City Radio (HarperCollins):

Etiqueta Negra, the Peruvian magazine I help edit, is launching its new website. Soonish. And while it's not yet operational, there is some progress to report. Pdf's of our most recent issues are now available online. Check it out: www.etiquetanegra.com.pe.

◙ With the recent bloodletting at the Los Angeles Times (such as the ouster of Al Martinez), many fine writers and editors have been let go. One of them is Mary Ellen Walker, former creator and editor of the Kids’ Reading Room. I had the opportunity of working with Mary Ellen as she edited and published several of my children’s stories. In any event, she is a fine editor, is bilingual (Spanish), and loved her work at the Times. So, if you work for a magazine or book publisher and you’re looking for someone with Mary Ellen’s experience and talents, feel free to email her.

Lectura Books received Second Place for Graciela’s Dream in Best Young Adult Fiction – Bilingual, and Honorable Mention for Teo and the Brick for Best Educational Children's Book – Bilingual, at the Latino Book Awards.

◙ RealPoetik will be reading submissions of poetry (and microprose) for the month of June. The editors say: “We read and love all schools and styles: just make them good.” Since 1996, RealPoetik has delivered a poem (or more) weekly to 1000+ newsletter subscribers, including (in the last year) Bill Knott, Ilya Kaminsky, Sawako Nakayasu, Mathias Svalina, Sharon Dolin, Rebecca Loudon, Miguel Murphy, Amy King, Carmen Firan, Mairead Byrne, Tomas Ekstrom, The Pines, jeroen nieuwland, C. Dale Young, Noah Eli Gordon, Jose Luis Peixoto, and many many others. Find RealPoetik online at http://realpoetik.blogspot.com/. To submit, send 3-5 poems and a brief bio to realpoetikblog@gmail.com.

◙ Though I’ve written for The Jewish Journal before, my first book review appears in this week’s edition. It’s a review of The Diary of Petr Ginz (Atlantic Monthly Press). Take a peek. In a similar vein, Ramón Rentería, book editor for the El Paso Times, reviews a fascinating new book, Lone Stars of David: The Jews of Texas (Brandeis University Press), which notes that many Holocaust survivors settled in El Paso, a city which still boasts a strong Jewish community. “One of the most inspiring stories [recounted in the book is] that of Holocaust survivor Henry Kellen, founder of the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center.”

◙ Also at the El Paso Times, Rigoberto González gives a mixed review of Cristina García’s latest novel, A Handbook to Luck (Knopf). CaliforniaAuthors posts an interesting interview with García.

◙ All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro! --Daniel Olivas

5 comments:

Lisa Alvarado said...

I look forward to your column every Monday, and was not disappointed today. Your interview with Myriam Gurba cuts right to the core of her work, her identity...I love her frankness and the way in which her work explores ideas of body, sexuality and self...

There definitely seem to be a fluidity and freedom that younger queer people have accessed that was not in place when you or I were growing up.

And Francisco, it was a welcome sight to get more info on Letras Latinas/LPR. It is vital, necessary work, not as reaction, but as something pro-active. I also went to the link Daniel listed on Poetry Foundation's coverage. To say the least, I was disturbed that it seemed an aside. My understanding is that Letras Latinas cultivates the work of not only emerging writers, but those with national and international reputations. To say nothing of the fact that we come from a literary tradition that is hundreds of years old, hundreds of years in this country.

Lastly, 'indicator species' is an unfortunate term to use in the context of referring to people of color. While the term was used in a broader reference, one cannot overlook the ways in which history continues to shape meaning.

Our work continues to be cut out for us, it would seem.

Anonymous said...

Myriam Gurba is a great reader and should not be missed on her upcoming book tour. She's even hitting some spots in The South! Talk about culture shock!

Expiration Date said...

Myriam just sent me a review copy of her new book recently and my whole family is hooked. Congratulations, in spades! I used to live in Long Beach and she has sent me whirling back in the Time Machine. It's a wonderful, wonderful, book.

Susie Bright
ONe of Myriam Gurba's Lucky Editors from the Past

Anonymous said...

OMG wow, she is my teacher

Anonymous said...

shes my teacher too- what an ass! its transgendER not transgenderED