Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Halleluiah Biblio-Genitalia Moment in Myriam Gurba's "A White Girl Named Shaquanda"

Olga García Echeverría

Don’t ever lend me a book. Aside from being notorious for not returning things, I have a habit of stuffing what I’m reading into my purse and carrying it around wherever I go. Pages get dog-eared. Words circled. Passages marked. Covers trashed.

The two books I’ve been lugging around for that past month are Junot Diaz’ This is How You Lose Her and Myriam Gurba’s A White Girl Named Shaquanda: A Chomo Allegory and Trewish Story.

Diaz is a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and most recently, the Sunday Times EFT Private Bank Short Story Prize awarded him $45,000 for a single short story, “Miss Lora.” There’s no doubt Diaz is an exceptional writer, and I’m thrilled that a Dominican brother is rocking the literary canon, but I have a confession: half way through This is How You Lose Her, Diaz lost me. Something in the text vexed me. As I contemplated what lurked beneath the irk, I fanned the pages of his book repeatedly. Words whizzed by: Curried pussy. Fly tetas. Sucias. Grade A dick. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Suddenly, I felt angry. Is Diaz a misogynist? 

It’s not the sexualized content that perturbs. Writing about pussy, tetas, and dick is an art, and few writers, in my opinion, can do it well. Diaz handles his sexualized content like a pro. Bueno, like a hetero-male-pro. Bone the shit out of her…Bust a nut in her mouth…You, Yunior, have a girlfriend named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. An ass that could drag the moon out of orbit. His writing doesn’t feel forced and it’s got a seamless, bilingual, urban edge, but al fin de cuentas the feminist homo in me isn’t satisfied.

A Greñuda Gurbastein
Enter Myriam Gurba, a Super Queer, Mestiza Molack (part Mexican, Part Polack) escritora and high school teacher whose been described as a “fucked-up Gertrude Stein.” 

Earlier in the year, Myriam handed me two of her homemade, stapled-at-the-center, self-published chapbooks: Menudo & Herb and A White Girl Named Shaquanda

Don’t let the “self-published chapbook” cosa fool you, Myriam isn’t a literary neophyte. She’s the author of Dahlia Season (Manic D Press) and Wish You Were Me (Future Tense Press), two publications that distinguish her as a unique, bold, hilarious, and brilliant palabrista.  For a flashback to previous Bloga interviews with Gurba, hagan click aquí:

Mugs Shot of Gurba as 19th Century Romeo

Whether it’s in her previously published books, her recent homemade libritos, or her outrageous blogs at Myriam Gurba has a lot to say about gender, sexuality, race, rabbits, molestation, and menudo (a few of her topics of interest). Regardless of the subject matter, Gurba always writes with a flare, with abandonment (le vale) y con unos huevonotes (this can be translated as behemoth balls and/or colossal ovaries, both of which I believe Gurba possesses).

How A White Girl Named Shaquanda Fed my Literary Hunger

After Diaz lost me, I delved into Gurba, hungry. Perhaps I am a bit biased toward feminist homo lit, but A White Girl Named Shaquanda: A Chomo Allegory and Trewish Story is a novella that gripped from the onset and never let go. I devoured Gurba’s little gem of a novella in one euphoric evening. My girlfriend and I actually had a “date” that night. We were going to walk to the neighborhood panadería for bolillo so we could make corn beef sandwiches for dinner. I was so engrossed in Myriam’s book, though, that I was lagging. Frustrated, my girlfriend finally left for the panadería without me. When she returned and made our sandwiches, I acted like a self-absorbed jerk, my eyes locked on Shaquanda at the kitchen table while I ate my juicy sandwich. After I finished the book and my plate was licked clean, I walked around the house grinning like a psycho. I felt so satisfied, so deliciously fed. My girlfriend, whom I had ignored most of the night, gave me the cold shoulder for a bit, but I knew all had been forgiven when I caught her in bed later, with her nose buried in A White Girl Named Shaquanda, laughing like a loca and shouting, “Damn! Why doesn’t someone give this woman [meaning Myriam Gurba] a MacAurthor Genius Award?” To which I enthusiastically responded, “I know, right!”

I don’t want to reveal too much about Gurba’s allegory. That’s like watching a movie trailer that spills the beans and leaves no mystery. I will briefly say that it’s about a young girl, racism, sexual molestation, and surviving that ubiquitous institution that attempts to make ground beef of the sprouting soul—public education.

A Brief Annotated List of Wondrous Elements in Gurba’s Librito  

1) Really Fucked-up, Female Characters that Do Not Embody Victim Syndrome

Although Gurba’s story is about molestation and her main character is victimized, the young narrator of the story is never a helpless victim. Her voice is solid, aware, and rebellious at the core.

The front yard entity I had the most in common with was the acorn. It was quiet. It was small. It was two-toned. It held a bitterness that in some cases, like ingestion by horses, poisoned, and I found a way to advertise my bitterness. I rolled my skirts up to the cusp of where it counted so that people who were into that kind of thing could see my vertically scowling cunt. The cunt was covered by underwear but its scowl was so deep you could see it through this cotton mask.

2) Compact scenes that instantly take you “there,” wherever “there” happens to be at the moment.

I walked home with white children from our new neighborhood’s bus stop. They failed to pick up see the scents of Polish sausage and frijoles mingling on my breath, and one of these white girls, Shaquanda (not her real name), got very nosy.
She stared hard at my interracial profile, scrutinizing my nose, cheeks, lips, and eyes, and then in her deeply bitchy California girl accent, she asked something terrifying: “What are you?”
To simplify my existence, I amputated, “Mexican.”
She scowled. This made her look like her Mom, a Pro-life activist and big-boned woman who had the balls to wear cow-print in public.
3) Hilariously real depictions of public school P.E.

Coach screamed, “Grab your ankles!” We held onto these and felt our muscles yawn and wake up and then coach yelled, “Let go, stand with your feet apart, and reach for the ground!”
            This was the most humiliating pose and perverts would look around to see what other people looked like in this pose, probably to have something to masturbate to later on, and I was curious to see who was looking around. I glanced up and saw Joe peeking.
            “Okay, good enough,” said Coach. “Let’s walk it out, ladies.” The ladies part was meant to put down the boys and Coach led us to the dirt track. In a loose herd, we waited. Coach put his whistle in his mouth, blew, and kids who took P.E. seriously took off like kids who take P.E. seriously. The rest of us jogged with the intensity of overcooked spaghetti. We topped this off with faggot hands.

4) Rasquachi Footnotes and Interactive Text:

Diaz took the footnote to another literary dimension in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but Myriam’s handwritten insertions and assertions are another animal. On the cover of A White Girl Named Shaquanda, in handwritten text, Myriam explains the word chomo:

*Chomo is the way cool ppl say child molester as in, “Check out the vice principal’s chomo glasses.”

This type of rasquachi footnote is one of the ways Myriam instantly breaks down the wall between author and reader. I was so inspired by the word chomo that I jotted down my own sentence: The Catholic Church doesn’t want to own up to its chomo tendencies.

But even before I brought out my pen, Myriam’s librito was marked: there were crossed out words and phrases, handwritten corrections, scribbled notes, comic chicken-scratch drawings.  Myriam prefaces her story with a handwritten invitation to the reader, “If you find a typo just fix it with your pen! Jot definitions if you have to.” The day Myriam gave me A White Girl Named Shaquanda, she smiled very sweetly, angelic almost, and said, “Since this is a tale about molestation, I felt it very appropriate to molest the text.” We both chuckled in that excited, wicked way that bilingual feminist homos (who love to molest texts) do.  

I’ve kept Gurba’s novella close to me for nearly a month now for the sole purpose of fanning its pages and re-reading stellar lines: By eighth grade, being called a ho was water off my wetback. 

Despite its lack of even a hard stock cover, A White Girl Named Shaquanda has proven incredibly resilient. Something about it also feels subversive, like the perfect piece of literature you pass on with a mischievous wink or a raised eyebrow. Literature for the feminist homo molested masses.

A Halleluiah Biblio-Genitalia Moment in A White Girl Named Shaquanda

When I got to the middle of the book, where the silvery claws of the staples hold the book together, I saw that Myriam had handwritten another note along the center margins, “This is the cunt of the book. Don’t touch it. Books have cunts.” I let out a crazed carcajada and then I stared at the cunt of the book for a very long time, enthralled, enlightened. I had never considered this very simple but profound truth: Books have cunts! I confess, I touched it several times and then I took out my pen and wrote, Oops, I couldn’t help myself. I touched it.

The cunt of Myriam’s little book triggered a literary breakthrough in me. Suddenly, I knew why Diaz had lost me. Although his book had plenty of pussy in it, it didn’t have an empowered cunt. Cunt was Object versus Subject in his text. He Othered the cunt and this is what had riled my feminist feathers. I dug out Diaz from my book bag, blew dust and crackers crumbs away, and read the rest of his novel with a new understanding. His pen is a penis. True. But, I’ve read The Four Agreements many times; it’s not personal. We all know the golden rule of writing: write what you know. I can dig Diaz’ prose, name the objectification, identify the “irk,” and demystify my literary hunger for more. I prefer the cunt, of course. In the case of Myriam, her pen is a scowling cunt. And although it may not be personal, it’s highly political. I feel emancipated, which brings me back to the very first sentences in Myriam’s novella:

The Michael Jackson supporter fisted her hand through the cage door. Her fingers wrestled a dove that put up his feathered dukes and swatted and scratched but his wings were no match for her mental illness…she lady yanked out the dove, let go… and commanded, “Fly!”

This is how I felt when reading A White Girl Named Shaquanda, as if Myriam had fisted her hand through the text from the get-go, grabbed a hold of my entire being, wrestled and yanked me through her story with such a fervor that yes, it felt at times like the grip of mental illness. Only to pull me through a cage and free me. Now, that’s a DAMN good read if you ask me.

To get your copy of A White Girl Named Shaquanda or Gurba’s collection of short wacky poems, Menudo & Herb, visit:

Not only are the books working-class affordable, you will laugh your ass off and be enlightened in a queer-cunty-kinda way. Wink. Wink.

My Cuchara is My Weapon

Oh yeah, and happy Cinco de Mayo! Here's a final picture of Gurba demonstrating how women with giant cucharas fought against French imperialism at the Battle of Puebla. 




Daniel Olivas said...

Ah, what a wonderful "compare and contrast" essay! I have, of course, Tweeted it to my little band of followers. Myriam is a fearless and talented writer. Thank you for linking my 2007 interview of her which will be included in my upcoming book of essays and interviews of Latin@ writers.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to Sundays at La Bloga and again thank you Olga. Pardon my familiarity but your blogs always bring an open, honest, and welcoming format. As the old lady who is still "home schooled" I think about the style of writers. Writers whose expressions impress us with their insights and directions to new or old authors. Your style expresses joy whether reviewing hard life struggles or just pulling a book out of your
Thanks for my joyful Sunday!

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Olga, you are true to your literary gut - feeling and courageous for reviewing Diaz's latest work as such. I too have been "turned - off" by his raw, hyper- misogynist, tone. No need to be jumping on that bandwagon. Gracias de nuevo and hope to get my hands on Gurba's piece.

Sandra Ramos O'Briant said...

What Ernest and Dan said and my own personal iiihah to the glory of the female triangle! Thank you Olga for taking on the giant penis of the literary world.

Viva Liz Vega! said...

Pinchi Olga! You did it again. I love your writing and now I love Myriam's writing even if I haven't read her. I will. Thanks to you.


Viva Liz Vega! said...

Pinchi Olga! You did it again. I love your writing and now I love Myriam's writing even if I haven't read her. I will. Thanks to you.


Amelia ML Montes said...

Orale Olga! Wonderful post. I'm tweeting it too, como Daniel. Thanks for spreading the word on Myriam Gurba. May it bring many more readers to her!