Monday, April 19, 2010


Susana Chávez-Silverman is a professor of romance languages and literatures at Pomona College in California. She is author of a memoir, Killer Crónicas, and co-editor of Tropicalizations: Transcultural Representations of Latinidad and Reading and Writing the Ambiente: Queer Sexualities in Latino, Latin American, and Spanish Culture. Her latest book is Scenes from la Cuenca de Los Angeles y otros Natural Disasters, her second memoir from the University of Wisconsin Press. She kindly agreed to chat with La Bloga about this new book and other literary matters.

DANIEL OLIVAS: If you were to describe your new book in a few sentences, what would you say?

SUSANA CHÁVEZ-SILVERMAN: There are many ways I could describe my book but, hoy por hoy, I’m going to go with a term used by Argentine writer and scholar Walter Mignolo: bi-language love. This book, possibly even more than my last one, is strongly about emotional connection: using a language that is in (at least) two places at once. I use Spanish and English together—as well as their in-between!—to connect with memories, with a sense of wonder and yearning, and with a bunch of important people in my life. Also, to connect with other spaces, in a geographical and temporal sense. Of course, I wanted use this language, these musings and adventures (some of them everyday, some of them more unusual) to connect with the reader, too.

DO: This is your second memoir, the first being Killer Crónicas. Is it difficult bearing your soul? Would it be easier on some level to fictionalize your life?

SCS: At first, I was hesitant to have my work characterized as memoir, because the genre is extremely popular, but also recently went through a big ol’ backlash, around truth-telling. Plus, I myself found the category too-closely associated with a kind of excessive soul-baring. Also, formally, my work somewhat resembles the diary, or correspondence, or even prose poetry, according to some readers. In other words, it doesn’t “look” like the standard-issue memoir. People often tell me I could “create such fantastic characters,” and ask me when I’m going to write a novel. But I’m not sure my voice would feel as authentic (to me) or sound as authentic (to readers) in fiction—never mind the whole bilingual issue! I’m currently beginning to work on a book about my time in South Africa, where I lived during the 80’s, during apartheid.

Initially I envisioned it as a novel, but in the end, although I believe it will be significantly different from my first two books (longer chapters, probably, moving back and forth between the period in South Africa and the present, for example), I’m fairly certain it won’t be fiction. That said, I think the notion that everything in a memoir is “the truth” is naïve, impossible. The act of writing—even when grounded in acts of remembering—always implies an art of composition ... and compromise: any writer chooses what to put in, and where, and as important, what to leave out. This book is more “soul baring” than Killer Crónicas, in a way; it deals with visceral memories and feelings I didn’t even have access to—or interest in—when I was working on Killer Crónicas, first in Buenos Aires and later, back home in Califas. But in the end, I would say I still play my cards fairly close to the chaleco, certainly more than the stereotypical “tell-all” memoir writer.

DO: Have any other memoirs influenced you as a writer?

SCS: It’s funny, I haven’t really focused on reading memoirs, although I am beginning to more lately, since I am often considered a memoirist. I’m a great lover and voracious reader of fiction and of poetry, mainly. And I’m not too sure about “influence.” But I‘ve enjoyed reading (and teaching) Cherrie Moraga’s Loving in the War Years, and Gloria Anzaldúa, of course. Rigoberto González’s Butterfly Boy. Also, just off the top of my head, I loved Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, Emily Raboteau’s (autobiographical novel) The Professor’s Daughter, and very recently, novelist Jane Alison’s gorgeous, mesmerizing memoir, The Sisters Antipodes.

DO: Do you have a favorite section in your new book? If so, why is it your favorite?

SCS: Hmmmm, ¡no me gusta play favorites! I honestly don’t have a “favorite” section, pero I guess I could say that the one that’s probably closest to my heart is the “There Was Blood Diptych,” which contains the chapters “Unos Cuantos Piquetitos Crónica” and “Momentos Hemorrágicos Crónica.” As for the reason? Bueno, let’s just say it was the most difficult part of the book for me to write, and... I’ll leave it to your readers to just “lance themselves.” Andale, dive in!

DO: Mil gracias for spending time with La Bloga.

Susana Chávez-Silverman will read from her new book, Scenes from la Cuenca de Los Angeles y otros Natural Disasters, at the Queer Resource Center on the Pomona College campus, Thursday April 29, 2010, at 8 p.m. The reading will be followed by a book sale and signing and reception. For more information, visit Claremont’s website.

◙ MIL GRACIAS: Many thanks to those who came to my reading and signing of Anywhere But L.A. at Metropolis Books, 440 S. Main St., Los Angeles 90013 (in the heart of downtown). I had a wonderful time and I hope you did, too. If you couldn’t make it and want to purchase an autographed copy of my book, Julie Swayze (the owner of Metropolis Books) has several copies waiting for you. Drop on by and support your local independent bookstore!

◙ DO YOU META-FICTION? Proposals for AWP panels must be submitted by May 15. I’d like to propose a panel called “Meta-Fiction Latino: Beyond Magical Realism.” Here's a nice, concise definition of meta-fiction from Wikipedia:

Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. It is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually irony and self-reflection. It can be compared to presentational theatre, which does not let the audience forget it is viewing a play; metafiction does not let the reader forget he or she is reading a fictional work.

The full Wiki article is here (yes, I like using a hyphen, Wiki does not). If you’ve published meta-fiction and have at least one book to your name, or a substantial number of stories published in literary journals, drop me an email with: your full name, a third-person bio note (no more than 400 characters including spaces), and a small sample of some of your meta-fiction (around 500 words would do it). Please send it to me in one MS Word document attachment or in the body of an email. Get this information to me no later than April 30. My e-mail is AWP is in D.C. next year. I do not have funding for travel or lodging so if you think you’re attending AWP anyway and/or can obtain institutional or publisher funding, that's great.

◙ NEWS: At AWP in Denver, I had the opportunity to meet many talented writers including poet Kristen Naca, author of Bird Eating Bird (HarperCollins), winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series MTVU Prize Selected by Yusef Komunyakaa. Kristen asked me to spread the word that Renato Rosaldo's book of poems, In the Latest Crime Drama Diego Luna’s Insider Tips Verge on the Clockwise Modern, was selected for the Many Mountains Moving book prize by Martín Espada. She tells me that Professor Rosaldo has been working so hard on revising and sending out this manuscript.

◙ THAT’S ALL FOR THIS MONDAY. In the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

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