Saturday, July 20, 2013

Interview with Xánath Caraza on her poetry and fiction: _Conjuro_ & _Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings_

_Conjuro_ (Mammoth Publications, 2012)

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Saludos Xánath!  Muchisimas gracias for being with La Bloga today.  Most importantly, felicidades on your recent success with your book of poetry, Conjuro (Mammoth Publications, 2012).

Xánath Caraza: First of all, gracias for the interview.  I’m happy to share a few ideas with La Bloga and everyone else, and thankful to all who have read and given awards to Conjuro.
_Lo que trae la marea/What The Tide Brings_
Cover by Mexican artist, Lorenia Tamborrell
(Mouthfeel Press, available August 2013)
I’m humbled for all the success Conjuro has received and this brings more energy to my life.  It keeps me wanting to write more.  Suddenly at one point, I began to receive notifications that Conjuro was an Award Winning Finalist in the 'Fiction: Multicultural' category of the 2013 International Book Awards.  A few weeks later, Conjuro was awarded second place in the ‘Best Poetry Book in Spanish’ category and it also received honorable mention in the ‘Best First Book in Spanish, Mariposa Award’ category of the 2013 International Latino Book Awards. 
Previously, I had been named number one of the 2013 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) by

Conjuro en España!
Amelia M.L. Montes:  All well deserved. The book is a wonderful mix of your indigenous, African, Mexican, and Midwest U.S. connections. Tell us about the various mix of cultures and language in your poetry. 

Xánath Caraza:  In terms of the multicultural aspects of Conjuro, I’m concerned with linguistic expressions, education, race, women’s rights, origin and history.  The fact that I was able to convince my mother to help me translate “Mujer” into Nahuatl, “Sihualt” is a definite opportunity to celebrate my indigenous roots.  I also tried to include Nahuatl as much as my ability to use the language allowed.  I have always explained that I don’t speak Nahuatl fluently; I wish I did.  However, I grew up listening to it and I do remember sounds, and mostly rhythms of the Nahuatl language. They were green sounds, from the open spaces of my grandmother’s indigenous community.  Consciously, I’ve included them, because I’m proud to belong to one of the oldest original groups of people in the Americas.

Rayo de luna
Vientre fértil que devora y da vida
Hoja que cae con el otoño
Manos que peinan, manos que hornean, manos que limpian

Ray of the moon
Fertile womb that devours and brings life
Leaf that falls in autumn
Hands that comb, hands that bake, hands that clean

Sahuantli tlen messtli
Sihuayo tlamantiketl tlen tlapasulmana uan texmaka tonenlis
Sihuatl tlen uesi ika ne meestli
Majtli tlen tshiljuia, majtli tlen tlaikxitia, majtli tlen tlapopoua

“Macuilxochitzin” is a poem in which I want to celebrate women and pre-Hispanic poets.  Macuilxochitzin is the only female, Aztec poet historically recognized.  We have a poem from her; we know her name and we know that she was a female poet.  You can hear me talk about her more in the following interview done by Words on a Wire.  Here is the link:

Macuilxochitzin, poet with obsidian blood
Let the chants begin!
Let the dance start!
¡yn in cuicatl!
¡yn maconnetotilo!

I have also tried to celebrate my African heritage through my writing. “Yanga” is a poem where I celebro las palabras, la gente, la ascendencia and Louis Reyes Rivera.  Meeting Louis Reyes Rivera in Kansas City was a life changing experience for me.  He was a professor, an excellent performer, a Latino, Puerto Rican, and not just Latino, African Latino.   The combination of everything that makes up who he is was key for me.  In a manner, he summarized in life, right in front of my eyes, what I was looking for.  As I have mentioned before, I have an indigenous background and Spanish, too. As well, I know I have an African background, both from northern Africa and because of the fact that I am from Veracruz and through the Port of Veracruz the people who were enslaved were brought to Mexico.  I likely have African blood for that reason, too.   When I heard Louis Reyes Rivera read his work, I was completely moved. He read from his book, Scattered Scriptures, both in Spanish, English, Spanglish.  The rhythms he produced in front of me were incredible.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  What a fortuitous meeting!  And what benefits for the reader to have “Yanga” available to them in Conjuro.

Xánath Caraza:  Yanga is one of my favorite historical figures, and I’m going to quote myself from a previous interview with Letras Latinas, “In Veracruz, we learn about Yanga early in grammar school, and as mentioned in the poem there is a town named after him.  At the University of Missouri-Kansas City I took a course, where I decided to write my final paper about African influences in Mexico.  I prepared with a great deal of sources, and I was also invited to present about African Mexicans at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City.  There are other African historical figures in Mexican history, but Yanga had already been playing those drums for me for a long time.  I try to imagine him, first surviving from wherever he was caught in inland Africa and taken to the coast, most likely in West Africa.  Then it impacts me to think about the fact of having survived the actual Middle Passage from West Africa to Cuba most likely.  Finally, he must have traveled from Cuba to Veracruz, still in the worst of conditions.  Then can you imagine being sold at the slave market in the port of Veracruz, having lived in terrible conditions?  Finally, in spite of everything, he had the courage and both the physical and mental strength to escape and along the way organize other runaway people who had been enslaved.  In the end, their settlement was attacked at least one time that we know of.  This settlement was finally recognized as the first free zone in the American colonies. Of course the scary side of the story is that if any of the new free African men were caught outside the limits of the village, they could be returned to slavery. However, I think that what he did was amazing, and very important for Mexican and Latin American history.  He should be celebrated much more frequently.  Now, in relation to my word selection, I believe, or at least want to believe that those are the words that Yanga most likely said aloud, too. That was his language and through my voice he is with us. I don’t have anything of his, but his words and his courage that needs to be remembered.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Whenever you read this poem, your voice carries the weight of this history—melodic, pained, powerful.  Describe your process in creating the rhythms in this poem.    

Xánath Caraza:  As for the sound-driven form, that was thanks to Louis Reyes Rivera.  If you listen to him, you’ll see what I’m talking about, and his words, “Never be afraid of the inner sounds you hear.””

Here is a link where you can hear me read “Yanga”,

Yanga, Yanga, Yanga,
Yanga, Yanga, Yanga,
Hoy, tu espíritu invoco
Aquí, en este lugar.

Este, este es mi poema para Yanga,
Mandinga, malanga,  bamba.
Rumba, mambo, samba,
Palabras llegadas de África.

Yanga, Yanga, Yanga
Yanga, Yanga, Yanga
Today, your spirit I invoke
Here, in this place

This, this is my poem for Yanga
Mandinga, malanga, bamba
Rumba, mambo, samba.
Words having arrived from Africa

Amelia M.L. Montes:  And now you have a book of short stories soon to be released:  August 2013, this time with Mouthfeel Press. How did you come about this title and the stories? Did you write them over a number of years or did you have a definite vision for a book of stories? 

Xánath Caraza:  I would like to start by sharing one of the blurbs for Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings (Mouthfeel Press, 2013):

Xánath Caraza's book of fiction, Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings is a poetic song narrative that speaks of love and deep loss.  These photographic narrative portraits contain jubilant, brooding, sensual characters woven within deftly-crafted rich descriptions of land and atmosphere:  the way humid air can be so thick, the sounds of rain on foliage.  And like Octavio Paz's story, "My Life with the Wave," Caraza's narrator in "Scofield Hall 207" becomes pure meta-narrative.  However, instead of a Paz-like wave emerging from sea, Caraza's character "comes up out of the paper," pulling the writer into the page.  These are complex, beautiful stories carefully crafted with a fine-tuned rhythm.  You can hear the music as you read, each phrase a tactile beat.  
--Amelia María de la Luz Montes

Amelia M.L. Montes:  I mean every word of this blurb, Xánath!  It was such an enjoyable read.  So tell us about your process.  How did this book of short stories come about?  And a reminder that it is bilingual as well. 

Xánath Caraza:  I wrote the title story while I was living in Vermont, in the middle of the winter.  In that particular short story, I was trying to celebrate the tropics, the sea, history and language.  However, for the other short stories, I was inspired by politics, social issues, or female perspectives on events. 
The draft I wrote last summer (2012) was during my writer’s residency in Spain.  However, I have a combination of short stories that I wrote almost twenty years ago in Mexico, but when I sat down to read them, I realized that some of those old stories had good ideas.  So, in the summer of 2012, I revised them, selected a few and rewrote them.  These are now completely new stories. Other stories in the collection I wrote, from scratch, in Spain, and other stories were already in progress from Kansas City and I finished them last summer.  Remember that this was the Spanish version of the manuscript.  The next step was to translate it.  I had some stories already translated and published, but just finished the whole translation of Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings in November, 2012, in Kansas City.  For this collection, I had to work with two more translators, Stephen Holland-Wempe and Sandra Kingery, who translated a few short stories. Gracias, Steve y Sandy.

Maria Miranda Maloney, editor of Mouthfeel Press, was instrumental in inspiring me to write.  She wanted to hear a female voice as a short story writer.  I have published a couple of books of poetry, Corazón Pintado: Ekphrastic Poems (TL Press, 2012) and Conjuro (Mammoth Publications, 2012).  I’m a poet, too, and had started publishing short stories years ago.  Maria Miranda wanted an opportunity to publish a collection of short stories by a female author.  So, me puse a trabajar or should I say, me puso a trabajar.

In addition to Maria’s inspiration for me, the political sphere in Latin America and the USA is reflected in my collection of short stories.  I respond to political events, people’s stories and art.  In several stories, I respond to poetry, other writers and books as well. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Does this book do what Conjuro does: represent a mix of your influences: indigenous, African, Mexican, U.S. Midwest?

Xánath Caraza:  Yes, I think it represents a mix of my influences, indigenous, African, Mexican, U. S. Midwest.

For example in “Agua pasa por mi casa, a mi casa se viene a soñar” and other stories, the reader will be confronted with an indigenous world mixed with an urban contemporary world, too.
Tecuixpo tomó entre sus manitas una pitaya roja como el cielo del amanecer, la subió a su boca y un chorrito de jugo se escapó de entre sus labios.  A continuación levantó una rebanada del anaranjado zapote mamey.  La fuerza de sus deditos la aplastó y con gusto de niña se la comió de un sólo bocado.  Bebió un sorbo de la humeante jícara labrada con chocolate caliente, absorbiendo su aroma en cada trago.  Tecuixpo estaba feliz, hoy vería a su padre, el emperador Moctezuma.

Tecuichpo took a pitaya fruit, red like the sky at dawn, into her small hands, raised it to her mouth, and a trickle of juice slipped from her lips.  Next was a slice of orange sapodilla mamey.  Her lively little fingers crushed it and with a child’s pleasure she gobbled it up in a single bite.  She drank hot chocolate from the steaming carved gourd, imbibing its smell with every sip.  Tecuichpo was happy, today she would see her father, the emperor Moctezuma.

The title story is based in the Port of Veracruz and the main characters are of African descent.
Caminaban por la ciudad y para el anochecer remataban en el parque para el baile público del fin de semana.  Los domingos la banda de la ciudad tocaba danzones para todos.  Su madre la cargaba entre sus brazos y Perla tomaba de la mano a su padre y los tres al ritmo de danzón bailaban a la luz de los faroles coloniales que alumbraban, con una tenue luz amarilla, el parque. 

Perla’s parents would walk through the city and at dusk would end up at the park for a weekend dance open to the public.  On Sundays, the city band usually played Danzón songs for all to hear.  Her mother would hold Perla in her arms and Perla would take her father’s hand.  The three of them would dance to the rhythm of Danzón under the colonial street lamps which would illuminate the park with a faint yellow light.

In many of the stories, the reader will find a landscape from the Midwest, for example in “First Friday in Kansas City”. 
Dicen que la vieron entre las calles Baltimore y la 19th.  Esa noche el reflejo de la luna sobre el pavimento blanco de la acera la iluminó.  En el horizonte aun se vislumbraba un haz de luz rosada que se iba difuminando en lo que quedaba del cielo rojo y morado.  Sus pasos resonaban en la calle.  Inés caminaba entre edificios de los años treinta y otros de arquitectura contemporánea.  Esos edificios eran los testigos inmóviles de la historia de la ciudad.  Algunos estaban vacios, a otros los habían convertido en galerías de arte y colores intensos atravesaban sus grandes ventanas.

It is said that she was seen between the streets of Baltimore and 19th.  That night the reflection of the moon on the white pavement of the sidewalk illuminated her.   In the horizon a beam of pink light could still be made out, which was fading in what was left of the red and purple sky.  Her steps echoed on the street.  Inés was walking between buildings from the 30’s and others of contemporary architecture.  These buildings were the stationary witnesses of the city’s history.  Some were empty; others had been converted into art galleries and intense colors went through their large windows. 

However, there are other stories that go beyond my influences.  They are based in Barcelona, China or Mexico to mention a few places.  

Cuando finalmente Nezahualcóyotl acabó de recitar, aspiro profundamente la última de las estrofas de lo que había sido Venus.  Su corazón no dejaba de palpitar y en silencio miró hacia el sol mientras se deleitaba con el rosado atardecer frente al mar.  Comenzó a recitar otro poema con renovada fuerza.  Su voz emitió un nuevo oleaje de pasión.  Entró al mar lentamente y lo último que sintió fue el azul profundo del Mediterráneo chocando contra su pecho.

When Nezahualcoyotl finally finished reciting, he inhaled the last of the stanzas deeply of what had been Venus before.  His heart couldn’t stop beating and silently he looked at the sun while enjoying the pink dusk before the sea.  He started reciting another poem with renewed strength.  His voice put forward a new wave of passion.  He slowly went into the sea and what he last felt was the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea crashing against his chest.

My vision concentrates on female voices, their dreams, their struggles, life in general.

Lo que trae la marea, What the Tide Brings gathers compelling and memorable stories by Xánath Caraza, a writer whose acute sense of narrative and incisive characters linger in the reader’s mind, or at least they did in mine. These stories gathered as if beads on a string reflect the passions, inquietudes, those certain yearnings a writer harbors for her work, and those of the unique and compelling characters who people the various locations where the stories are set.
--Norma Cantú 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Who are the writers that influenced you, that brought you to Lo que trae la marea, What the Tide Brings?

Xánath Caraza:
Bless me, Última by Rudolfo Anaya who has been always present in my writing ever since I was first introduced to him years ago.  
La niña blanca y los pájaros sin pies by Rosario Aguilar from Nicaragua is a collection of short stories that I simply adore.  It shares the stories of women moving and living between worlds. 
Canícula by Norma Cantú from the U.S.. I simply love it. The strength of memory, images, and her childhood impacted me deeply, when I first read it. 
El fantasma y el poeta by Carmen Boullosa from Mexico is a collection of short stories that I think of because of the use of language in Spanish and the use of time in the stories.
La rebelión de los niños by Cristina Peri Rossi from Uruguay was literally carved in my mind the first time I read it.  She describes the political atmosphere in Latin America through her short stories. I have a couple of stories inspired from her work.
And then, among others, Cortazar, Rulfo, Borges, Fuentes, Castellanos, Marguerite Yourcenar, Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  You are recently returned from Spain and other travels as well.  Tell us about your travels. Did you give readings? What do readers ask about most that may be different from readers here in the U.S.?

Xánath Caraza:  I just came back from Spain, but I was also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Switzerland and Italy.  I was originally invited to the X Festival Internacional de Poesía (X FIP) ciudad de Granada from May 6 – 11, 2013.  I received an invitation to the X FIP in December of 2012 and I was absolutely thankful for the recognition of my work and invitation to the festival.
X Festival Internacional de Poesía in Granada, Spain (photo by David Cruz)
This is one of the best poetry festivals in Spain and I was honored to be part of it.  The directors of the Festival are Poets, Fernando Valverde, Daniel Rodríguez Moya and Javier Bozalongo.  Among previous poets invited to the FIP are Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Claribel Alegría, Maram al-Masri, Mario Vargas Llosa and Nathalie Handal just to mention a few. I had the opportunity to read several times during the festival, and very proud to say that I read in Nahuatl, and had a couple of radio interviews on Tres en la carretera, conducted by Isabel Ruiz Lara.  This radio broadcast in Spain happens to be a close equivalent to NPR.  Here are the links:

The following link is an interview mixed with a poetry reading.  My interview started at minute six and continued until minute thirty-seven. Link:

The following link is a live recording of one of the presentations for the X Festival Internacional de Poesía ciudad de Granada; I read one poem at minute 27:20. Link:  

As I previously mentioned, I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia; it was my introduction to the Balkans.  I had the opportunity to have coffee in Sarajevo with Ivo Markovic, a priest and activist working to rebuild peace in this part of the world. 
Xánath Caraza on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea
From this experience, I wrote a few poems, and plan on writing more.  One of my poems had just been published in Belgrado, Serbia by Javier Gutiérrez Lozano, poet and editor of Revista Reflejo.  Here is the link to a brief introduction of my poetry and my poem, “Hacia el este” where I reflect on my experience in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, and the Peace Building Process in that part of the world through the eyes of Aida, a wonderful peace builder; I also had the chance to meet her and spend a couple of days with her. Link:  

I then returned to Granada where I spent most of my time writing and reading about contemporary poets mostly from Granada.  I was working on my fourth and fifth books of poetry, in addition to another short story collection and a translation project.

In a nutshell, that’s what I have been recently working on.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  When did you begin writing?

Xánath Caraza:  I started writing at an early age, but I began publishing in a more formal way when I was eighteen years old.  However, not until recently did I have the chance to publish my chapbook, Corazón Pintado: Ekphrastic Poems (TL Press, 2012), my full-length book of poetry, Conjuro (Mammoth Publications, 2012) and soon to be released, my short story collection, Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings (Mouthfeel Press, 2013). 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  What is your writing process? The energy I receive from your poems and stories is one of deep commitment. Tell us about your writing practice.

Xánath Caraza:  I don’t think I have a ritual about writing, but I write every day.  That may be my ritual.  I don’t burn candles, play any specific music or anything like that, but I’m very focused on what I do.  I always try to give my 100% to what I’m committed to.  I also have priorities in my life and writing is at the top of my list.  I read every day; that’s a habit I need to thank my father for.  He was careful enough to guide my readings when I grew up, as well as my aunt, his older sister, and they both always made sure I was around books.  I did not grow up with luxuries, but what I always remember are books.  
Xánath Caraza's writing desk en España
I think that if I have to come up with ritual, it would be reading every day and writing, even for a few minutes, every day, as well.  I don’t have a favorite place for writing.  My favorite place is where I can plug in my computer, or wherever I can find a sheet of paper or a notebook and a pen.  I also write in-between my daily activities, classes, readings, meals. I have a busy schedule during the semester, but I’m always making notes, I write a stanza here, another one there, or jot down an idea for a short story here and there and uno a uno, gotitas de poesía, fluyen los versos o los cuentos. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Poco a poco—with discipline!  Yes.  I want to go back to your description of many cultures in your writing and I’d like to place a special focus on the Midwest because Latinos and Latino writing is not often placed with “Midwest” in discussions.  What does the Midwest represent for you? How does it influence your writing?

Xánath Caraza:  The Midwest is home to me.  It is incredible how much it permeates in my writing.  I don’t always realize, but it is there.  It’s consistently there: the landscape, the people and events that happen in our tierra del centro.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  How did you come about creating such strong roots in the Midwest (specifically Kansas City, Missouri). Tell me about this connection. What has drawn you to the Midwest that means "home" to you.

Xánath Caraza:  First of all, my partner in life is here, in Kansas City.  That’s an easy answer. That’s what makes home the Midwest to me.  It is true that I have lived in Kansas City for many years.  I adore Kansas City, Missouri.  It’s the perfect place for me.  Kansas City is beautiful and diverse; we have Latino families going back for three or four generations or more.  We have wonderful, historic jazz by African American artists and artists of other ethnicities.  The American Jazz Museum here in Kansas City is a tribute to our diverse jazz past and present.  Likewise, we are very fortunate to have an arts district in our city, where artists of many diverse identities create and exhibit their work. We have a significant cultural presence in our city.  We have an Asian community, Persian, Vietnamese, Chinese and more.  Diversity is important to me.  I wrote about this in a poem for America Now and Here, 2011, celebrating the diversity of Kansas City.

Art Deco forest of concrete with echoes of Charlie Parker’s jazz 
Confluence of plumed serpents of water
Grilled Midwest Caravaggio with a twice baked peeping Tom Benton on the side
Poems for la luna roja in Osage, French, English, Ebonics y español
Prayers to an ancient Mayan jade goddess for Japan’s nuclear crisis and the Libyan war 
La migra perhaps me confunda with no time for collecting poems nor pens
Sounds from the past and present, Nahuatl, Wolof, English y español,
Produce spiral linguistic symbols, tornadoes in the soul

Turquoise branches, good fortune dragons, Djembe drums, the green of quetzal,
Amber baklava and Sor Juana’s poems, renewed life to the murals of the city walls

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Thank you, Xanath.  Those are gorgeous lines delineating the rich and complex cultural aspects of the Midwest. Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Xánath Caraza:  Just to thank you and La Bloga for the opportunity to share my work.  Hope you all enjoy Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings (Mouthfeel Press, 2013), a bilingual collection of short stories that will challenge readers and invite them to hear female points of view from the past, from contemporary times and from the timeframes that happen only in the pages of a book.  I’m sure readers will travel with me along the waves of Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings.

"These stories, linked by deep currents of yearning and loss will flow into your heart.  Deceptively direct, wonderfully understated, and filled with beautiful imagery--there is real talent in Xanath Caraza's "What the Tide Brings." Lucrecia Guerrero, author of Tree of Sighs, winner of the Premio Aztlán Literary Award

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Thank you Xánath.  And for all La Bloga readers:  a reminder to order Xánath’s new book of short fiction, Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings at Mouthfeel Press (Click Here)!  Sending you all warm saludos!

BIO:  Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet and short story writer. She was named number one of the 2013 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) by Originally from Xalapa,Veracruz, Mexico, she has lived in Vermont and Kansas City. She has an M.A. in Romance Languages. She lectures in Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her short story collection, Lo que trae la marea/ What the Tide Brings In (2013) is from Mouthfeel Press. Her full-length book of poetry Conjuro (2012) is from Mammoth Publications and her chapbook Corazón Pintado: Ekphrastic Poems (2012) is from TL Press. Caraza writes the US Latino Poets en español column, a collaboration between Letras Latinas and Periódico de Poesía. She won the 2003 Ediciones Nuevo Espacio international short story contest in Spanish and was a 2008 finalist for the first international John Barry Award. Caraza is an advisory circle member of the Con Tinta literary organization and a former board member of the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City. She has taught in Mexico, Brazil, China, Spain and the US. Caraza is currently working on a collection of ekphrastic poems with the artist Juan Chawuk. Her Day of the Dead Art work has been exhibited at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO.


Anonymous said...

Thank you posting this revealing conversation. Insightful questions and powerful answers. I learn, I learn.
I often reboot myself with a quote from Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen: "Write a little every day, without hope, without despair!"
Reading as Xanath Caraza's states is just as important.
Again, thank you and I wish you good health and blessings.

Unknown said...

Great interview! Gracias, Amelia and Xanath. Las quiero mucho a las dos!

Anonymous said...

I had no idea about all of things you have accomplished in your life. Great interview and good luck with your book. I look forward to hearing more about it in class.

Brendan Sullivan
Spanish 3100