Monday, December 11, 2017

Interview of Ivelisse Rodriguez

Ivelisse Rodriguez

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Her short story collection, Love War Stories, is forthcoming from The Feminist Press in summer 2018. Her fiction chapbook The Belindas was published in 2017. She has also published fiction in All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, Obsidian, Label Me Latina/o, Kweli, the Boston Review, the Bilingual Review, Aster(ix), and other publications. She is the founder and editor of an interview series, published in Centro Voices, the e-magazine of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, focused on contemporary Puerto Rican writers in order to highlight the current status and the continuity of a Puerto Rican literary tradition from the continental US that spans over a century. She was a senior fiction editor at Kweli and is a Kimbilio fellow and a VONA/Voices alum. She is currently working on the novel ‘The Last Salsa Singer’ about 70s era salsa musicians in Puerto Rico.

1.    When did you start publishing? What impact did seeing your first publications have on you?

My first short story, “Summer of Nene,” was published in 2005 by Junot Diaz in the Boston Review. First, it was awesome that Junot Diaz, whose short story collection Drown I love, saw the potential in the story. That level of support from any writer whose work you admire becomes this tangible thing that you can always reach for and hold onto when you are in the throes of your writerly angst.

A handful of people may read what you wrote, but being able to hold your work in your hands, the externalization of it, it’s like it now exists independently and has a life apart from you. In short, publication makes your work feel real, so real that it now has a material form.

Publication is really the moment you have been waiting for—it is memorable; exciting; and life-altering, even in a small way, like so many other “firsts” that we wait for in life. You are no longer the person you were before this event in the sense that it is like a first kiss, a first love, etc. A small shift has occurred, and you may be the only one who feels it.  

2.    How have you matured as a writer?

Love War Stories, my forthcoming short story collection, was started twenty years ago, and writing that book really taught me to be a better writer and to have a greater respect for craft.

Impatient is the best way to describe my former writing practice. I declared stories complete when they were far from it because I thought the race was in racking up publications. It’s hard to disabuse yourself of this notion because so much of one’s starting and furthering a career depends upon that. You have to wrestle with this until knowing creating the best work that you can is your true objective. I can see the difference now in working on my novel. I am much more invested in the process, and while I would like to be done sometime this decade, I want to write the best novel I can more so than beating some hypothetical timeline.

Learning the trajectory of my writing process has guided me out of some demoralizing writing moments. Now I understand that I write several terrible drafts that are more exposition than story. Or that after those moments where I am convinced this story is just not going to come together, I usually have an essential epiphany shortly thereafter. Being able to call upon my understanding of my writing process allows me to rouse myself and keep going.

3.    What do you think your role is as a promoter of culture? Do you think that there is such a responsibility?

In the debate about whether or not someone should be labeled a Latinx writer, I think the moniker is important (though that should not be one’s only label) because the world needs evidence that Latinx writers exist. I was thirteen when I first read a text by a Puerto Rican—Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas—and I had always been an avid reader. The significance of seeing yourself in the world cannot be underestimated. Reading Thomas for the first time was a pivotal moment—someone was telling my story for once. And so without texts or writers who do not act as cultural ambassadors, then thirteen-year-old bookworms could read 100s of books and never see themselves.

I’m invested in adding new narratives to the oeuvre of Puerto Rican literature. Much of the literature focuses on migration, language issues, displacement and social unease, nostalgia for the lost homeland, but the post-migration generations are my focus. So part of my cultural responsibility is to further the literature.

That also entails being a champion for Puerto Rican literature. I am the founder and editor of an interview series with contemporary Puerto Rican writers, published by Centro Voices, the e-magazine for the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. There are texts from Puerto Ricans in the continental US that span over 100 years, and I am worried that it’s a history that can easily be forgotten. But this history is important as it chronicles the early life of Puerto Ricans in the US, and it is also a foundation for other Latinx literature by the mere fact that it existed. So I interview an author a month, and it has been great to see how these contemporary writers are in conversation with past Puerto Rican writers, while simultaneously forging ahead with new threads and new themes.

The Belindas, 2017

4.    What project are you working on now?

My current project, the novel ‘The Last Salsa Singer’, focuses on the world of salsa—music created in the dance halls of New York City by young Puerto Ricans. To save his greatest friend, Vicente, the salsa singer, splits his upcoming concert—one song to rescue Richie; one song to catapult Vicente. Counseled for years by Vicente and the band about his “in-between” relationship with Lucy, Richie, the saxophone player, is about to bind his life to Lucy’s, who is pregnant by someone else. As a joke, the orquesta members make the Palomita song deriding Richie’s love story with Lucy; as a last resort, they decide to perform it. The Palomita song swallows “La verdad” at the concert—Vicente’s legacy-making song, or so he had hoped. And by the time the Palomita song, which becomes their greatest hit, is done, everything Vicente has every wanted is consumed, leading to his suicide. For the next thirty years, Richie will be tied to Vicente, hoisting Vicente’s legacy, along with his own guilt for having brought Lucy into their lives. ‘The Last Salsa Singer’ is about different forms of love: friendship over romance and the love of one’s art.

5.    What advice do you have for other beginning writers?

After working (inconsistently) for twenty years, I finally finished my manuscript and am getting it published. But I can’t give you the answer that you just have to stick it out and it will happen to you. I think, all things being equal, some people are just luckier. Some people will have those urban legend stories where they publish a story and an agent comes calling, and then they get a book deal. Those stories are possible, but I think that you have to figure out what kind of luck you have to keep from going crazy. For some people, it will feel like you are climbing a mountain on your knees, and other people are just breezing up the mountain.   

As a writer, you are entering a career where all your work may be for naught which is a bewildering truth. Writing or any other artistic endeavor are realms full of chance. And many times you may wonder if you should keep going, and the only way that I could answer this for myself was that I didn’t know what else I would do with my life. What would I do with all those empty hours?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

El Carpintonto

 El Carpintonto
 Antonio SolisGomez

My stepfather, Jesus Parral called himself a carpintonto or a wood butcher and often when the outcome of a project was lacking in perfection, he would say "alcabo no es piano," the understanding being that he practiced rough carpentry and not cabinet making. I however practice cabinet making in a rustic sort of way and have just finished a new workbench.

Rough slab of mesquite for my bench

I often think of my stepfather, who had married my mother when he returned from the war. He had seen a lot of killing, having landed in Normandy, fighting his way through France and Italy and marching through Germany all the way into Berlin.  Once home, he supported the family by becoming a carpenter, inspired by his carpenter uncle Aniceto and learning the trade in a Conservation Corp Camp, (CCC) as a teen during the Depression.

Cutting a straight edge by hand

We learned early on that he had a dual personality, one that was gentle and caring and one that could be cruel and violent, making me wary and fearful lest he be in a bad mood. My brother and I often felt the sting of his leather belt across our backside, sometimes deservedly as we were prone to naughtiness but sometimes without cause.
He was also a taskmaster often wanting a helper/gopher when he worked on his car and later, on weekend side jobs, dragging my brother or me to help him.  He wasn’t a patient man nor a good teacher and he barked orders the entire time, mostly to hand him a tool or to hold a piece of wood that he was sawing or to clean up. The work was dirty, tiring and I resolved then that I would go to college and never work with my hands.

As a teen I learned that he was illiterate and then I understood why he forbade my brother and me to read in the house but not until adulthood did I began to understand other aspects of his personality.  By then I had seen him sparingly as he had thrown my brother and me out of the house after we had finally subdued him when he hit our mother.  I was fifteen and went to live with my grandmother and never lived with him or my mother again.

Using the table saw to square the lumber

My stepfather had been raised by his maternal-grandmother because his mother didn’t want him or his sister around.  Teodora, his mother, was like an evil character from a Dickens novel.  When she finally brought him and his sister home as a teens, it was only to enroll him in the CCC in order to get his family allotment and to sell the daughter to an older man.  When he went into the army, she had him send her some of his military pay for “safe keeping”, money she then squandered.

We began to repair our relationship when I was in college and after I married and graduated, I would call him to give me a hand with projects around the house, and he would call me to read letters that he received from the union, Social Security, the VA, IRS, DMV, etc. as he never learned to read.

The squared mesquite slabs and two pieces from an older workbench

By then he and my mother had divorced, two of their boys now adults, and a daughter and a son still-living at home and in school. One thing in his favor during those turbulent years was that he showed no favoritism; he was mean to everyone. After the divorce he remarried and had a new son and he spent his retirement raising and selling canaries.

Beginning to plane and sand

Slowly I also stopped having the bad dreams of him chasing me at night and I running through the neighborhood, jumping fences, crossing yards, climbing roofs, all in an effort to elude him.

All the parts sanded and ready to stain & assemble

And I developed a passion for working wood and despite those early traumas I was glad I had some early exposure to tools, some of those tools that belonged to my stepfather ending up in my own toolbox.

 The finished workbench measuring 84" in length and 20" wide with a trough in the center below the surface.


Friday, December 08, 2017

New Books

Presenting a quartet of new titles, two out this month, two more set for early Spring.  Kingdom of Women is a timely look at an imagined world where women impose justice on rapists and murderers.  Prisoner of Pinochet reminds us what fascism and right-wing extremism are all about when authoritarian rule seizes power.  Betrayal at the Buffalo Ranch introduces readers to a Cherokee mystery writer writing about mysteries among the Cherokee.  And Photographic is a young adult graphic bio about the immortal Graciela Iturbide.

Remember -- Leaders are readers.

Kingdom of Women
Rosalie Morales Kearns
Jaded Ibis Press - December

[from the publisher]
Women are forming vigilante groups to wreak vengeance on rapists, child abusers, and murderers of women. Averil Parnell, a female Roman Catholic priest, faces a dilemma: per the Golden Rule she should advise forgiveness, but as the lone survivor of an infamous massacre of women seminarians, she understands their anger.

Averil befriends Catherine Beck, a former military officer who, unbeknownst to Averil, has begun an assassination campaign against rapists and murderers of women. At the same time, she embarks on an obsessive affair with John Honig, a wealthy young man with a sordid past as a serial rapist. The three of them quickly form a dysfunctional triangle of attraction and repulsion, love and obsession.

Averil’s life becomes even more complicated when she starts having visions: She sees the souls of dead monks, converses with Jesus, slips into alternate realities.

She had wanted to be a scholar, before the trauma of the massacre. Later, all she wanted was a quiet life as a parish priest. But now she finds that she has become a mystic, and a central figure in the social upheaval that’s gathering momentum all over the world.

Kingdom of Women spans decades and delves into multiple points of view, not only highlighting the personal evolution of a complex, troubled individual but also exploring larger themes like the ethical implications of the use of violence against oppression, and the tension between justice and mercy, revenge and forgiveness.

Rosalie Morales Kearns, a writer of Puerto Rican and Pennsylvania Dutch descent, is the founder of Shade Mountain Press, the author of the magic-realist story collection Virgins and Tricksters, and the editor of the short story anthology The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women. A product of Catholic schooling from kindergarten through college, Kearns has a B.A. in theology from Fordham University and an MFA from the University of Illinois.

Prisoner of Pinochet: My Year in a Chilean Concentration Camp

Translated by Erin Goodman; Foreword and notes by Peter Winn
University of Wisconsin Press - December

[from the publisher]

September 11, 1973: Chilean military forces under General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the elected government of President Salvador Allende, bombing the presidential palace with the president inside. Minister of Mining Sergio Bitar was forcibly detained along with other members of the Allende cabinet and confined on bleak, frigid Dawson Island in the Magellan Straits.

Prisoner of Pinochet is the gripping first-person chronicle of Bitar's year as a political prisoner before being expelled from Chile; a poignant narrative of men held captive together in a labor camp under harsh conditions, only able to guess at their eventual fate; and an insightful memoir of the momentous events of the early 1970s that led to seventeen years of bloody authoritarian rule in Chile. Available in English for the first time, this edition includes maps and photos from the 1970s and contextual notes by historian Peter Winn.

Sergio Bitar

Sergio Bitar returned to Chile after years of exile and served as a senator and cabinet minister. He is the president of the Chilean Council for Strategy and Foresight, and his many books include Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders. Erin Goodman is the associate director of academic programs at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, and coeditor of Reflections on Memory and Democracy. Peter Winn is a professor of Latin American history at Tufts University and coeditor of The Chile Reader.

Betrayal at the Buffalo Ranch
Sara Sue Hoklotubbe
University of Arizona Press - February, 2018

[from the publisher]
When Sadie Walela learns that her new neighbor in Cherokee Country, Angus Clyburn’s Buffalo Ranch, offers rich customers a chance to kill buffalo for fun, she is horrified. No good can surely come from this. It doesn’t, and murder soon follows. Even though Deputy Sheriff Lance Smith, Sadie’s love interest, suspects a link to the Buffalo Ranch, he can find little evidence to make an arrest. And when a rare white buffalo calf is born on the ranch and immediately disappears, Sadie’s instincts tell her something is wrong—and she sets out to prove it.

Her suspicions—and fears of more violence—escalate when a former schoolmate returns to Oklahoma to visit her ailing father and finds employment at the ranch. Will she be the next victim? Drawn deeper and deeper into danger, Sadie uncovers an unparalleled web of greed and corruption. It will take all of her investigating skill to set things straight—assuming she and her wolfdog can stay alive long enough to succeed.

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe, a Cherokee tribal citizen, is the author of the award-winning Sadie Walela Mystery series, which also includes Deception on All Accounts, The American Café, and Sinking Suspicions. She is the winner of a WILLA Literary Award, a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for best mystery/ suspense, and a Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Award for best mystery. She and her husband live in Colorado.

Photographic:  The Life of Graciela Iturbide
Isabel Quintero
Illustrated by Zeke Peña
Getty Publications - March, 2018

[from the publisher]
Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico City in 1942, the oldest of thirteen children. When tragedy strikes Graciela as a young mother, she turns to photography for solace and understanding.

From then on Graciela embarks on a photographic journey that takes her throughout her native Mexico, from the Sonora Desert to Juchitán to Frida Kahlo’s bathroom, to the United States, India, and beyond.

Photographic is a symbolic, poetic, and deeply personal graphic biography of this iconic photographer. Graciela’s journey will excite young readers and budding photographers who will be inspired by her resolve, talent, and curiosity.

Isabel Quintero lives and writes in the Inland Empire of Southern California, where she was born and raised. She received her BA in English and MA in English Composition from California State University, San Bernardino. Her first novel, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, was one of School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014, and won the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award prize for a debut young-adult novel. Her second book, Ugly Cat & Pablo (Scholastic), was published in April 2017, to much acclaim.

Zeke Peña is a cartoonist, an illustrator, and a painter. He was born in southern New Mexico and grew up on the US–Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. He received a degree in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin. His illustrations have appeared on album and book covers, in editorials and comics, and as graphics for community organizing. His work has been exhibited at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), Albuquerque Hispanic Cultural Center, Houston Center of Photography, MACLA (San Jose), Loisaida Center (New York), El Paso Museum of Art, and Museo de Arte Ciudad Juárez, as well as galleries in the US and Mexico.


Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016 and was a finalist for the Shamus Award in the Original Paperback category sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.  He is hard at work on his next Chicano Noir crime novel.