Monday, May 02, 2011

Interview with Teresa Dovalpage regarding her new novel, “Habanera: A Portrait of a Cuban Family”

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana in 1966 and now lives in Taos, New Mexico, where she teaches at UNM-Taos. She has a Ph.D. in Latin American literature and is the author of five novels, three in Spanish and two in English, and a collection of short stories in Spanish. Her novels in Spanish are Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain), El difunto Fidel (Ediciones Iduna, 2010, that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009), and Posesas de La Habana (PurePlay Press, 2004). Her English-language novels are A Girl Like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004), and her newest novel, Habanera: A Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010).

As a playwright she has authored La hija de La Llorona, and Hasta que el mortgage nos separe. Both have been staged in Chicago by Aguijon Theater and in small theaters in Miami. Her articles, reviews and short stories have appeared in Rosebud, Latino Today, Afro-Hispanic Review, Baquiana, La Peregrina, Letras Femeninas, El Nuevo Herald and other publications. She currently works as a freelancer for The Taos News and the bilingual paper Mas New Mexico.

Teresa kindly agreed to chat with La Bloga about her new novel:

DANIEL OLIVAS: What inspired you to start writing your new novel, Habanera: A Portrait of a Cuban Family?

TERESA DOVALPAGE: It started as a memoir but then I sent a couple of chapters to my mother, who still lives in Cuba, and she was horrified. “These things never happened!” she yelled at me on the phone. “For starters, I never cheated on your father, liar, cochina!” The truth is that I couldn’t resist the temptation to embellish or, in some cases, uglify reality a bit, so I decided to turn the memoir into a novel. I also changed the timeframe, from the 80’s to the 90’s.

DO: Do you think non-Cuban readers will be surprised by your portrait of Cuba? What about Cuban readers?

TD: One of my reasons to situate the plot in the Cuba of the 90’s was precisely the fact that there aren’t many English-language novels that deal with this time. I hope that the non-Cuban readers will learn something new about the “special period”—euphemism used to refer to the economic crisis that began in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I don’t think that my Cuban readers will be too surprised, if they lived in Cuba or had relatives there. Unlike what I did with my family life, I didn’t embellish (or uglify) the social panorama, but tried to portray it as it was…or at least as I remembered it.

DO: Your novel is a coming-of-age story centering on a young woman, Longina. How would you describe her? Is she based on a real person or persons?

TD: She is shy, quirky and lives quite a sheltered life…Híjole, that describes myself to a T! Since the novel started as a memoir, I included a lot of autobiographical material but I used others as models as well. For example, though I never went to the Vladimir I. Lenin boarding school, I had good friends who attended it and told me about their experiences. Lisaveta is loosely based on my friend Elizabeth Alvarez, the first person who ever told me about perestroika. Many of the characters, including Longina, are composites of real people.

DO: Could you describe your writing process for this novel? Was it more difficult to write than your previous books?

TD: It was difficult trying to write it as a non-fiction book because my life sounded so boring that I just felt compelled to spice it up. It that sense, it was more difficult than my previous books, which were all completely fictional. After it became a novel the process was much easier… I could twist reality and play with it as much as I wanted to.

DO: Who are some of your most important literary influences? What are you currently reading?

TD: I’ve always felt close to the naturalistic writers of the 19th century. My favorite authors from that period are Benito Pérez Galdós and Leopoldo Alas. But lately I’ve been very drawn to science fiction. I have devoured all of Ursula Le Guin’s novels and I loved, absolutely loved, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller. Now I am reading the second part, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.

DO: Do you have any advice for new writers?

TD: Write chicos y chicas! Just write. And don’t be afraid of rejections. After all, Gabriel García Márquez was an unpublished author at a given time, wasn’t he?

DO: Mil gracias for spending time with La Bloga.


RICHARD YAÑEZ WILL SIGN NOVEL AT AIRPORT, COLLEGE ON MAY 5 AND MAY 7, RESPECTIVELY: El Paso author Richard Yañez has scheduled a Cinco de Mayo book signing of his debut novel, Cross Over Water, Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Plaza News (center of the terminal) at El Paso International Airport. Contact: Joann Kirkland at

Richard will also appear at a book reading and reception with Ysella Ayn Fulton, author of Pomegranate, at 7 p.m., on Saturday, May 7, at El Paso Community College Administrative Service Center, Building A, 9050 Viscount. Information:

THE BOOK OF WANT AT METROPOLIS BOOKS: On Saturday, May 7, 4:00 p.m., I will be reading and signing my new novel, The Book of Want, at Metropolis Books, 440 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: 213-612-0174. Please come by and show support for independent bookstores! I note that on Sunday, the El Paso Times published a very nice review (written by Virginia Alanis) of my novel which she calls “an important book of great ambition” and concludes: “Discover this book’s stark power for yourself.”

◙ All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ernesto Sábato died.