Monday, September 17, 2007

INTERVIEW WITH AARON A. ABEYTA

Aaron A. Abeyta is the author of three books, Colcha (University Press of Colorado), As Orion Falls (Ghost Road Press), and most recently the novel, Rise, Do Not Be Afraid (Ghost Road Press).

Abeyta received his MFA from Colorado State University and currently teaches at Adams State College. Abeyta is the recipient of the 2001 Colorado Book Award and the 2002 American Book Award. Other awards include a fellowship from the Colorado Council on the Arts and a Grand Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Abeyta has work published in An Introduction to Poetry (10th ed.), Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, & Drama (8th ed.), The High Country News, The Dry Creek Review, S.O.M.O.S., Mountain Gazette, Chokecherries, Colorado Central Magazine, and various other journals. He lives in Antonito, Colorado, where he can be close to his roots and family.

Abeyta’s newest book, Rise, Do Not Be Afraid (Ghost Road Press), is a poetically haunting examination of one small town, Santa Rita, as it suffers through the ravages of time and change. Abeyta says that the book “is about the struggle of a community and its people and their attempt to find redemption and meaning while constantly being surrounded by loss. Despite this loss, the characters of the book seek salvation in the only place they know, the interstices of love, faith and nature.”

Abeyta kindly agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga.

DANIEL OLIVAS: Your previous two books were poetry collections. What prompted you to write a novel?

AARON ABEYTA: I didn’t set out to write a novel. In truth, since most of my poetry has a very narrative thread anyway, I initially sat down to write a poem. My process for poetry, at least at the draft stage, is very let it all out, left to right, full margins and then go back and cut and cut. In this instance, however, I liked the feel of what I had written and it became a chapter in the book. As for making it into a novel and not just a chapter, I had heard about writers that sit down and write every day (that’s definitely not me) but I thought, what the heck so I sat down the next day and wrote another chapter. Eventually I wrote Monday – Thursday with a goal of one chapter per day with revisions and rewrites every night. It was some sort of mad push, but it turned out okay because I was happy with the results.

OLIVAS: The novel's structure is not traditional but, rather, it moves freely back and forth in time as it also moves from character to character. Why did you structure your novel in such a way?

ABEYTA: The easy answer here is also, fortunately, the truth. I wanted the novel to reflect my influences and those influences are very deeply rooted in the oral tradition. Specifically, the ability to hear one story from several different people on several different occasions with the details eventually filling themselves in. In short, I wanted the novel to read as though you were getting the story from multiple perspectives, i.e., from voices past and present.

OLIVAS: Is Santa Rita a real place or is it representative of small towns in southern Colorado or elsewhere?

ABEYTA: Santa Rita is very real, a village in northern New Mexico about 1 mile from the Colorado Border. My dad used to take me there when I was a kid. Even as a boy I thought the place was beautiful and somehow mythical. You asked earlier what prompted me to write a novel, it was a return trip to Santa Rita, as an adult now, and finding that the road into Santa Rita had been blocked and padlocked, no trespassing signs everywhere. The fact that the place had been bought up by outsiders and that original inhabitants could no longer go there without a key was, honestly, a big wake-up call for me. In the fate of Santa Rita I began to see parallels with other small towns in New Mexico and southern Colorado. So, to answer your question, Santa Rita is real and representative of small towns.

OLIVAS: There are supernatural and biblical elements in your novel. Do you consider it to be in the tradition of "magical realism" or do you reject such categories?

ABEYTA: I don’t reject such categories, but I do believe that there is no such thing as myth if the storyteller is good. As for the tradition of magical realism, I could think of much worse traditions to be associated with. When someone mentions the novel in the same breath as 100 Years of Solitude, it is a great honor for me and I truly appreciate such connections.

OLIVAS: The Bible's influence on your novel is readily apparent especially in your chapter titles. Why did you decide to use the Bible as your touchstone?

ABEYTA: The Bible, yes, huge influence, but most of the influence came from the Gospel of Luke. I chose Luke for several reasons, but the most evident was that my abuelita used to tell me that Luke’s was a gospel of mercy. I didn’t know what that meant, but as an adult I began to understand. If you look at corresponding passages from the other gospels you’ll see that the translator uses the word “perfect” whereas Luke uses “merciful.” Case in point, Dismas the good thief, who died with Christ. Luke is the only one who mentions him in a positive light. In fact, Luke saw to it that Dismas entered into heaven. With Dismas and Luke playing in the back of my mind I chose chapter titles/gospel passages where mercy was evident (at least to me) and used them as the base from which the chapters emerged. I wanted the characters and Santa Rita to be treated mercifully, despite their failings. I guess you could say that all the characters have a bit of Dismas in them, but are redeemed by some form of mercy, rather than perfection. I hope all that made sense. It made sense to me, but sometimes that doesn’t count for much.

OLIVAS: What was your process in writing this novel? Did you have anyone read early drafts?

ABEYTA: I think I already answered the first part of this question, but as to the second part...my wife, Michele and my mom were about 24 hours behind me, i.e., I would write something on a Monday and they would read it on Tuesday. Their input was invaluable because it allowed me to verify that I was on the right track with people who knew Santa Rita and some of the people that I based characters on. Once I had their stamp of approval I knew I could continue with the next chapter. I know that having your wife and mom as readers would seem to register about a 0.0 on the objectivity scale, but they were very honest and helped me a lot.

Later, once the entire manuscript was done, I asked a few other people to help. Most of them were very positive, but I did get a few comments about the names of the characters being too difficult. Another reader told me the plot structure was not good. With no offense intended toward those readers, I knew I had done what I set out to do when I received those comments. I didn’t want a plot structure that was predictable and I wanted people to see the beauty in the names of the characters. No offense to the Jennifers of the world but I liked names like Nonnatusia.

OLIVAS: Who are your literary influences?

ABEYTA: Loaded question...here’s a very short list in no particular order: Pablo Neruda, Yehuda Amichai, Sandra Cisneros, Sherman Alexie, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Cesar Vallejo, Ernest Hemingway, and Tim O’Brien. There are so many other authors I really look up to that I feel bad not having a list 100 names long, but the ones I did mention all write stuff I identify with on a human and spiritual level and that’s what I wanted for this book.

OLIVAS: What do you teach? Does teaching help you as a writer?

I teach at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado. My two specialty areas are creative writing and Chicano Literature, but I also teach Ethnic & Minority Literature. As for the second part of your question, I think it’s the other way around. I think writing helps me as a teacher, mainly because I put a lot of emphasis on being a reader and the connection between reading and writing. Anyway, as writer I feel like I can get a bead on what other writer’s are trying to do and therefore convey those things to my students more readily.

ABEYTA: What do your friends and family think of your writing?

I don’t have any friends. Just kidding. My family and friends are very supportive and both are a great source of material. On one occasion my mom had given me some material which then turned into a poem for my first book. A while after it was published my aunt came up to me and very seriously asked me “where are you getting your information?” I thought that was funny, but it reinforces my earlier point about the same story from different perspectives.

OLIVAS: Thank you for spending time with La Bloga.

◙ On Friday, September 14th, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officially kicked off theCity’s Latino Heritage Month celebration. Latino Heritage Month will include a creative writing contest and a poster competition. For more information about Latino Heritage Month 2007 and upcoming events, please visit http://latino.lacity.org/. Of particular note (for La Bloga readers) is the fine children’s bibliography compiled for Latino Heritage Month which you can see here. The list includes many of La Bloga’s friends such as Luis Rodriguez, Max Benavidez, Gary Soto, Ofelia Dumas Lachtman, and others. Also, for an events calendar which includes book readings, go here.

◙ ONE BROWN BOOK, ONE NATION READING PROGRAM: In commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month, LatinoStories.com has launched a “One Brown Book, One Nation” reading program to highlight Latino literature across the United States. After extensive review, the inaugural selection is The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea. The Devil’s Highway is the true story of a group of 26 Mexicans who attempted to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border on foot into the desert of southern Arizona and only 12 survived the journey. Published in 2004, The Devil's Highway was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction the following year.

“The ‘One Brown Book’ project arises out of the need to highlight literature by the largest minority group in the U.S.,” said Dr. Jose B. Gonzalez, Professor of English, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and co-founder of LatinoStories.com. “The idea for the project came to me out of a need to make readers of the U.S. aware of the power and beauty of Latino literature.”

The nationwide committee which selected Urrea’s book was composed of Vincent Bosquez, president of the Society of Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio; Marcela Landres, editorial consultant and publisher of Latinidad (NYC); and elena minor, editor of PALABRA A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art (LA). You may contact Dr. Jose B. Gonzalez at 860.444.8612; jgonzalez@latinostories.com.

◙ The new issue of Tu Ciudad is now available on your newsstands. For its September “Passport L.A." issue, readers will find a guide with local shops, restaurants and entertainment for a Latin-themed adventure in Southern California. With recommendations for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, readers can explore all that the Southland has to offer for an international excursion. Pick it up. Better yet, fill out this handy-dandy, secure form and subscribe!

◙ The El Paso Community College Salute to the Arts, Literary Ripples Committee and PaPaGaYo Literary Center will sponsor an evening and a day with Kathleen Alcalá, author of Treasures in Heaven and The Desert Remembers My Name. The public is invited to meet the author at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the college's Administrative Services Center, 9050 Viscount, for a reception and book-signing session. The event is free. Alcalá, an award-winning author now teaching creative writing in the Pacific Northwest, will also read and sign books at a scholarship fund-raising luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 28, also in the Administrative Services Center. The luncheon costs $10. Information: Richard Yáñez, 831-2630, or Jeanne Foskett, 831-2411.

◙ Gus Chavez of Defend the Honor Campaign is asking for a boycott of Ken Burns’ book and DVD on World War II. For more information on the boycott, contact Chavez at guschavez2000@yahoo.com. You can also read this article from Forbes concerning the boycott. Here is the text of Chavez’s September 11th boycott announcement:

Friends,

Earlier today, September 11, I bought the book THE WAR: An Intimate History 1941-1945 by Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward, a 451 page publication with hundreds of photos, illustrations and extensive bibliography
. The coverage given to White Americans, Japanese Americans and African Americans throughout the book is extensive and well done.

After reviewing the book cover to cover I have come to the conclusion that the book, like the film documentary, is totally devoid of the WWII Latino and Latina experience.

Findings:

Introduction - No Latinos or Latinas (Photo of Ken Burns’ father - Robert)

Written text - No Latinos or Latinas

Photos - No Latinos or Latinas

Illustration Credits - No Latinos or Latinas

Acknowledgments - No Latinos or Latinas

Extensive bibliography - No Latinos or Latinas

Index - No Latinos or Latinas

Film Credits - No Latinos or Latinas

There is only one reference to Mexicans when describing the population of Sacramento. It states: "The city had been the gateway to the Gold Rush and the Western anchor of the transcontinental railroad, and it was home to some 106,000 diverse people -- including Mexicans, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino Americans." Other than this one reference to "Mexican," Latinos are excluded in THE WAR. It is incumbent for us, the Latino and Latina community, to send a strong economic message to the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Ken Burns, Geoffrey Ward and PBS that we will not spend our hard earned money on publications or films that excludes us from our nation's historical memory.


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

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Otra Vez, Bloga, te dejas cae!
Un Vato C/S/R

Daniel Olivas said...

I know that Aaron Abeyta has now received two interviews on La Bloga, but that's cool. I'm hoping his new book does well. I had interviewed him for a book review/profile for the El Paso Times but I loved his answers so much, I figured why not run it. We kill no trees in the creation of our La Bloga posts!

Sheryl said...

Aaron is a great guy! I'm glad to see his smiling face here.

Rafael Jesús González said...

Estimados colegas — mucho me gusta su blog y comparto con ustedes el de su servidor: rjgonzalez.blogspot.com

Re: Defend the Honor, I share with you my letter to PBS:

Rafael Jesús González
P. O. Box 5638
Berkeley, Ca. 94705

April 16, 2007

Ms. Paula Kerger,
President & Chief Executive Officer PBS
2100 Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202-3785

Dear Ms. Kerger:

I write you as the nephew of three uncles who served in the U. S. Army, two on the front lines, in World War II; as the brother of a retired Colonel in the U. S. Army Reserve; as a veteran who served in the U. S. Navy and the U. S. Marine Corps at the end of the Korean War, and as a concerned citizen.

I am outraged that the film of Ken Burns, which you plan to air in September of this year, is so completely lacking in its recognition of the Hispanic/Latino men and women who served in the U. S. Armed forces during the Second World War, a great many of them on the front lines and a great many of them laying down their lives.

Some years ago, I visited the U. S. Military Cemetery in Normandy, France and was aghast at the sheer number of identifiable Hispanic surnames among the 10,944 names on the walls and on the crosses that cover the 172 acres of hills leading down to Omaha Beach and the sea. And those Hispanic names represent only those fallen in the invasion of Normandy and other actions in the European theater of war. There are at least as many Hispanics who gave their lives in the Asian theater. And these are only the names of the dead, not the veterans many of who returned home maimed, or ill, or emotionally wounded.

The exclusion of these men and women from the Burns film is reprehensible and smacks of outright racism, itself an illness that has long plagued the history of our nation. I submit to you that for PBS to let this flagrant omission stand uncorrected is unconscionable.

I expect that you will do all in your power to correct this for the sake of truth, justice, and the integrity of the Public Broadcasting System.

Most sincerely,

Rafael Jesús González

Prof. Emeritus of Creative Writing & Literature

Berkeley, California

Daniel Olivas said...

Sheryl: Gracias for your comment...and we're happy you're checking in with La Bloga.

Prof. González: We appreciate that you shared with us your letter to Paula Kerger, President & Chief Executive Officer PBS, regarding the Ken Burns documentary. I checked out your website, as well, and was very moved by your poetry and other writings.

Eufemia Martinez ~FEM~ said...

Aaron Abeyta is an awesom individual, very down to earth kinda guy that comes from a very good familia.. He is a very big part of our community here in Antonito.. I just wanted to say that it is nice to see his smiling face here and read his ever interesting answers to your questions!lol Right on Aaron! =)

Eufemia Martinez ~FEM~
Antonito CO.