Eduardo Santiago was born in Cuba and grew up in Los Angeles and Miami. He holds a BFA from California Institute of the Arts and was a 2004 PEN Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellow. His novel, Tomorrow They Will Kiss (Back Bay Books), took Best Historical Novel and Best First Book honors at the 2007 International Latino Book Awards and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. He lives in Los Angeles with his dog Lyon and teaches creative writing at UCLA.
Santiago kindly agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga.
DANIEL OLIVAS: What special role, if any, do Latinos play in literature?
EDUARDO SANTIAGO: Currently, we play the role of connectors. Latinos in the U.S. are scattered far and wide – and I can only speak of my own experience, but I read other Latinos to find out what it’s like for them here. I’ve always felt personally disconnected. Unlike other Cuban exiles of my generation, who all bunched up in Miami and grew up with a similar mind set, I was raised in El Monte, California and later moved to Los Angeles. El Monte, or better yet, South El Monte, was almost 100% Mexican-American. So there was no way to connect with them as children. For one thing, most of them were second generation and didn’t even speak Spanish. So, through literature, I started looking for situations that resembled mine and people who maybe thought a little bit like I did. Interestingly, the first writers I ever identified with were Jewish – although I was raised Catholic. I guess at the time, which was the early seventies, they had enough distance from their immigrant experiences to be able to write about it clearly. And Latinos were not publishing as many books as they do now. Today Latinos born or raised in the U.S. and in particular, Cubans of my generation like Rosa Lowinger and Gonzalo Barr are putting out great work. It’s actually a very exciting time to be a Latino writer “of a certain age.” And it’s an amazing experience when we actually meet, which we have done at book fair panels and conventions. It’s like running into long lost cousins you love – we connect.
OLIVAS: Why did you become a writer?
SANTIAGO: I became a writer because I have always loved to read. So for me there was no higher purpose in life than to write books and have them published and have people read them or walk through a book store and see them sitting on the shelf among literary giants. Growing up, and even now, I never feel happier or more complete than in a book store or library, where there is silence all around, but it’s so noisy with words, stories and ideas inside our brains. I find it fascinating that when I look at a person reading they are very still, just breathing and turning pages, but inside they may be galloping on a stallion at breakneck speed or having their hearts torn out.
OLIVAS: What authors have had the most influence on you as a writer? As a person?
SANTIAGO: Tons of writers. The list is endless. But the ones I discovered earlier on were Philip Roth and Isaac Bashevis Singer. So how does a Cuban boy growing up in El Monte get these books? Well, when I was a teenager my grandfather, who lived with us, became what is now known as a dumpster diver. And I guess back in those days dime stores used to tear off the cover of paperback books and throw them in their dumpster. My grandfather, who knew I liked to read, would sometimes bring me these coverless books, but most of them were of no interest to me. Until he gave me Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies, a Love Story. There was something in those novels that I totally connected to – which was good in the long run, but it made me sort of an odd ball growing up. For a long time I totally identified as Jewish, something that became even more intense when I went into therapy with a Jewish analyst whom I love and have seen, on and off, for about 30 years. It’s almost as if she raised me. For example, at my very first public reading of my very first novel, she was there – my mother was not. Sometimes I call myself Eduardo Santiagostein in her honor.
OLIVAS: Thanks for spending some time with La Bloga.
◙ I just got word that two friends of La Bloga have won a 2007 American Book Award: Rigoberto González for Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa (University of Wisconsin Press), and Reyna Grande for her novel, Across a Hundred Mountains (Simon and Schuster). The awards will be given out at Laney College Theatre in Oakland, California, on December 2, 2007, 4 pm to 7 pm. More information to come.
◙ Opening at San Diego State University, Professor of English & Comparative Literature: Creative Writing – Fiction. Open rank tenure-track position. Successful candidate will have distinguished teaching experience & publications in fiction. PhD or MFA preferred. The applicant should have significant experience in teaching fiction as well as other genres of creative writing & literature. The applicant should be a well-published writer, with at least two volumes of fiction or creative nonfiction, who has a deep commitment to teaching, writing, & working with students, & one who sees these activities as complementary rather than competing. Teaching experience should include creative writing workshops, form & theory seminars, & literature classes. Administrative experience is desirable. Demonstrated commitment to working with diverse student population & to making contributions to the program, department, university, & community required. Send applications to include cover letter, c.v., & dossier (letters of recommendation & official or unofficial transcripts) to: William A. Nericcio, Chair, Department of English & Comparative Literature, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-6020. Explain in cover letter how expertise in relevant areas is demonstrated by teaching experience & publications. Review of applications will begin Oct. 15. Applications should be postmarked by Friday, November 2.
◙ Writer Lisa Alvarez has entered the world of blogging with The Mark on the Wall. Pay a visit and say hola.
◙ An interesting opportunity sent by our good friend, Marcela Landres:
CHICAGO REVIEW PRESS SEEKS LATINO WRITERS: Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press, seeks authors to expand its Latino nonfiction list. Chicago Review Press is a dynamic midsize company with a list of national and international interest, and Lawrence Hill Books publishes mostly nonfiction on topics of African American and Latino interest, progressive politics, civil and human rights,and feminism. Unagented, first-time authors are welcome to submit their proposals. Contact Susan Betz at email@example.com for more information.
◙ Daniel Alarcón announces the publication of a collaborative issue of Virginia Quarterly Review and ETIQUETA NEGRA entitled South America in the 21st Century. They’ve been working on this project for the last eighteen months, and he very rightly says that “it’s incredibly exciting to finally see it complete.” About half the issue was written originally in Spanish, by the journalists of ETIQUETA NEGRA, many of whom appear here for the first time in English. For the table of contents and web exclusives, please visit: http://www.vqronline.org/. They’re hosting a few events to promote with the support of the Pulitzer Center in the coming weeks:
October 16: Washington, DC
October 17: University of Virginia
October 18: University of Miami
October 24: University of California, Berkeley
Please check here for more details.
◙ Gregg Barrios wrote this very interesting San Antonio Current article on Allen Ginsberg which begins: “One might be hard pressed to find a more apt person to honor during National Gay History Month than Allen Ginsberg — poet, activist, pacifist, ecologist, spiritual guru, Buddhist, holy bohemian, and gay-liberation trailblazer.” Barrios also let us know about a powerful essay by the novelist Erasmo Guerra which appeared yesterday in the New York Times entitled, A Drop of Blood, a Flood of Memories. Check it out.
◙ Conversation and book signing with Professor Mario T. García sponsored by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center: Prof. García will discuss his book, The Gospel of Cesar Chavez: My Faith in Action (Sheed & Ward), which presents the labor leader’s own words in an exploration of his profound faith and the way it shaped his life. The author is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The signing will be on Wednesday, October 31, 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm at the UCLA Young Research Library Presentation Room. Refreshments provided by Casablanca Restaurant. Directions to UCLA available at: http://www.ucla.edu/map. Campus parking can be purchased for $8 at the Wyton Ave./Hilgard Ave. kiosk. The closest available Lot is #3.
◙ While away on business in the beautiful city of San Pedro, I had a chance to visit with Charlotte Natale who runs Under the Bridge Bookstore and Gallery which specializes in Latino/a books and art. If you’re ever in town, it’s located at 358 West 6th Street, San Pedro, CA 90731, phone: 310-519-8871. What a nice collection of books and art.
◙ Over at PopMatters, Kate Soto reviews Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race (NYU) by Laura E. Gómez. Soto notes, in part:
“Gómez sets out to write ‘an antidote to historical amnesia about the key nineteenth-century events that produced the first Mexican Americans.’ A law professor at the University of New Mexico, Gómez takes a three-pronged approach: she looks at Chicano history via sociology, history, and law, using New Mexico as a case study. At the heart of the book is the idea that Manifest Destiny was not, according to Gómez, a neutral political theory. Rather, it was a potent ideology that endowed white Americans with a sense of entitlement to the land and racial superiority over its inhabitants.”
◙ That’s it for now but I do need to write a post on the West Hollywood Book Fair when I can sit down and write something that makes sense. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro! --Daniel Olivas