Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with Dagoberto Gilb, author of the just released short-story collection, “Before the End, After the Beginning”

By guest interviewer Steve Bennett

STEVE BENNETT: You are looking very fit and formidable in the photo that was shot of you recently. Muy fuerte, muy guapo. How, actually, are you doing these days, after the 2009 stroke?

DAGOBERTO GILB: You should’ve seen me before! Though maybe I’m like an avocado and get tastier with ripening—add limón, a chopped up serrano. Or it could be they did a super job doctoring that photo—French dudes (the photographer) work even cheaper than Mexicans, vato. Reality is that it hasn’t been fun, and there’s been damage, but I know too many who have had worse, for much longer. My life had been graced with good health and strength, so now’s harder, but I’m here and still at it.

SB: Was there ever a point where you got so low that you thought you would not write again, and that you would no longer be seen as a “writer” and all that that means?

DG: There is so much dreaming that goes with this business, and with it a fantasy of what success is, especially when you’re young and starting out—so many imagined highs…of the lows of the writing life I’ve had plenty, and I’ve been relatively successful. I did worry that, surviving this "incident," I wouldn’t be capable (I lost the use of my writing hand), and then what? Writing has been my voice, my way of conversation with the celestials and earth spirits and God and Nature too, and this book has been my way to inform them, one and all, that I will still do the job.

SB: Didn’t you once call your approach “first-person stupid”? What did you mean by that?

DG: Being self-effacing there, but: When I think of the omniscient, third-person voice, it sounds British or maybe New York Brahmin (Stewy on "Family Guy"), full of Oxford or Harvard pedigree. Or like someone as brilliant as Annie Proulx, who I’d wager has read more books than anyone you’ll ever know, and who, when she says something, or her characters do, they’re smart even if they’re stupid. Me, mine, we are less perfect, less ideal—we fight, we love, we live with passion and guts and will. We didn’t go to the best schools of England or the Ivy League. When we’re right in the large, we still don’t have every answer, satisfy those who think winning the jeopardy quiz is what it is. I am afraid of a third-person point of view which asserts that the writer knows a character from a more wise outside, from high. Also, if one of my characters says something real dumb in a published way, it’s not my fault.

SB: Your background is blue-collar, working class, and that is what is reflected in your work. Should a writer “write what he knows”?

DG: I don’t think a literary writer has any choice, that people who ask this believe writing is a commercial enterprise, not an artistic one. Would I rather write from the rich point of view? Give me the money, and I’ll let you know in a few years. Does Garcia Marquez write a book set in Texas? Even Annie Proulx, who does not clearly draw from autobiographical material, goes to the places she writes about, does deep research. The dynamic of life as it comes at me is what I write about as an artist. I happen to think the world all around me, all my life, is worthy of being written about—and as this horrible economy sprinkles its fairy dust, maybe there will be more stories written for and by those who do not have ideal middle- and upper-middle-class lives.

SB: Race, and the prejudice, bigotry and violence that often accompanies any discussion or dissection of it, is a theme that you return to again and again. Why?

DG: Maybe that’s a sad comment not about a world I write about but the world I live in. It is impossible not to notice the differentials in economic status between, say, those “ordinary” suburbs always on TV shows and the lives of those in El Paso and San Antonio or the Valley. It is as pronounced and conspicuous as stats in education, professions, and income levels. I would point out, too, that this is mirrored in the literary industry as well, where we are virtually dismissed from any graphs, far disproportionately to our numbers.

SB: Is there any hope that we will get beyond racial tensions in the future, or will they just get worse?

DB: Mexican culture is an integral part of this nation’s history, and it should not be that people don’t know this, and it should not stay the same. Then, it cannot stay the same, not when demographics are considered. The fact that the schools in most of Texas (and most of the Southwest and much of the West and trending toward much of the country) are often overwhelmingly Mexican American, and yet there is never a scintilla of classroom discussion of the American city or history or culture of these children—or their parents who have lived here for so many generations—are raised in while in school. This has to stop. Our community deserves better. And it will serve the country better. There are those who are working to change that now (e.g., We need to do this well or there will be more Arizonas and Alabamas, so unimaginable if things became worse.

SB: What does the America of 2050 look like in your vision?

DG: Wow, I’d have to say I was approaching an older stage of life, closer to like…uhhh, over fifty by then. Not being too precocious, raising my family and working at jobsites more than writing about them, I got going a little later at this writer biz. Probably it will be said that with the publication of Before the End, After the Beginning, a book that was small only like a heart pill, or a smartphone, Gilb’s career bloomed in readers’ homes, and his work that followed….

[This interview first appeared in the San Antonio News-Express and is reprinted here with permission. Photo credit: Jean-Luc Bertini.]


Come and see him and other wonderful writers and artists at the CUENTOS DEL PUEBLO SERIES

Short fiction, story telling, poetry + music

Produced by Conrad Romo

This month featuring:

Dagoberto Gilb (Before the End, After the Beginning)

Susana Chávez-Silverman (Killer Crónicas: Bilingual Memories)

Sam Quinones (Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration)

poet Karla Diaz and musical guest Charles De Castro

Saturday, November 19, 2011
3:00 to 4:30 p.m.
LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes
501 North Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
(across the street from Olvera Street and the Pico House)


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