Friday, July 08, 2011

Perfecting Tree of Sighs: Spotlight on Lucrecia Guerrero

Lucrecia Guerrero’s debut novel, Tree of Sighs, Bilingual Review Press, took many different routes and forms in the rough draft stage. The author of the short story collection, Chasing Shadows, thought about starting her novel with the third section of the book, In the Presence of Memory. Even in draft form, the narrative was so compelling portions of the work-in-progress won a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Award. She also tried different points of view before settling on a closer first person. A first person narrative works well for a story with a protagonist whose Mexican identity, Altagracia, is erased as a child. Altagracia, later, Grace must piece together her Mexican past before moving forward into adulthood.

The wind plays an important role in Tree of Sighs and Guerrero says her Nogales upbringing brought to life the many stories surrounding the wind. The idea of spirituality in nature is where Tree of Sighs gains its strength.

“Growing up in Nogales, the wind is always there. It’s something that sticks in your mind. As a kid, I liked the sound of the wind through the trees. It seemed as if it were carrying voices.”

The ease in which the author discusses both sides of the border fortifies this bi-cultural tale. Guerrero’s own life parallels the dual US/Mexican cultures. Lucrecia’s mother is from Kentucky and her father is from Puebla. When her parents divorced, the divide between them grew bigger as Guerrero moved away from the Mexican border to live with her mother in Ohio.

However, the stories her Mexican tías told her of looking for the treasure of Pancho Villa, of a stolen girl from Nogales returned to her family, and of women enslaved in prostitution inform the details in her novel. Guerrero prefers a positive spin of strength when portraying abused children who have no power, such as her protagonist, Altagracia, a survivor of abuse.

The author herself has a strong sense of self and feels comfortable writing within both cultures. As a tall blond, blue-eyed woman, her international students don’t think she is “American” while others type cast her looks and would never assume she is Mexican; she was once warned at a greyhound station not to talk to Mexicans. Call her what you will, Guerrero feels grateful to incorporate her rich heritage into her writing. “It’s such a gift to write,” she said. “I always tell people, if you have a gift, you have an obligation.”

This Week in Ohio

Lucrecia Guerrero will teach at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop in Dayton, Ohio, July 9-15 during the afternoon, fiction seminar.

Looking Ahead: Next month, August 12, Denver, The Tattered Cover

Lucrecia Guerrero and La Bloga's Melinda Palacio will read from their debut novels, both Tree of Sighs and Ocotillo Dreams, are published by Bilingual Review Press this year. Both authors will sign books at the Tattered Cover, Colfax location, Friday, August 12 at 7:30 pm, 2526 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO, 80206.

Back in Califas, the San Diego One Book Voting Is until August 5 at Noon

Vote for the San Diego One Book. In the running are La Bloga friend, Luis Urrea, Into the Beautiful North, currently second place, début novel, Sky of Red Poppies, by Zohreh Ghahremani, taking first place, and Molokai by Alan Brennert in third.

Of Lucrecia Guerrero's Tree of Sighs, Luis Alberto Urrea says, "I have been following Lucrecia Guerrero's writing for several years with great pleasure and fascination. Tree of Sighs takes her art to a whole new level. Full, alive, and stately. This novel really delivers."

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