Monday, May 25, 2015

Discussing Chicano Literature at UC Davis

Many authors—myself included—will admit to the loneliness of the writing process itself.  This might explain why many authors park themselves and their laptops at a Starbucks or similar establishment: alone yet not alone.

The other way writing seems less lonely is when authors get to discuss their books with readers at book festivals and writing conferences.  And then there’s the wonderful occasion when your book is assigned reading for a class and you are invited to the class to meet the students and field their questions.

This latter opportunity happened to me two weeks ago when Professor Maceo Montoya of UC Davis invited me to spend time with his class on the Chicano narrative because he had assigned one of my short-story collections, Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press).  Well, I ended up having one of those magical times that authors cherish.

First of all, Maceo himself is a novelist and artist of renown despite his relative youth.  He also comes from a family of artists, including his father, the artist and activist Malaquías Montoya, and his late brother, the poet Andrés Montoya.  Maceo graduated from Yale University in 2002 and received his Master of Fine Arts in painting from Columbia University in 2006.  He is an assistant professor in the Chicana/o Studies Department at UC Davis where he teaches the Chicana/o Mural Workshop and courses in Chicano Literature.  Maceo is also affiliated with Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer (TANA), a community-based arts organization located in Woodland, California.

I flew into Sacramento International Airport where I encountered this wonderful sculpture that my wife has dubbed, Spidey-Bunny (its real title is "Leap" by Lawrence Argent).

I then had a little time to kill before meeting up with Maceo so I wandered the UC Davis campus.  This was my first visit and I was startled by its beauty (yes, a river runs through it).

While walking the campus, I received a call from Maceo.  Rather than going out to dinner with him and his girlfriend, Alejandra Perez (herself an educator and artist), Maceo’s parents had invited all of us over to dinner.  Well, I was honored.  So, Maceo picked me up and off we went to his parents’ house, a handsome wooden structure built in the late 1800s.

Prof. Maceo Montoya in front of his parents' home.

Once inside, I met his parents, Malaquías Montoya and Lezlie Salkowitz-Montoya.  Each room of the house was filled with art and furniture created by Malaquías; Lezlie does ceramics so I got to see some of her work, as well.  Lezlie cooked a delectable vegetarian Mexican meal of enchiladas and salad (they have been vegetarians for over three decades).  It turned out we had much in common: Lezlie is Jewish and I married a Jewish woman.  So, my son has enjoyed a rich Chicano/Jewish life similar, in some ways, to Maceo's.

Malaquias, Lezlie, me and Maceo

La Familia.

Artwork in hallway.

Artwork in hallway.

Malaquias, Alejandra, Maceo and Lezlie.
After great conversation to match the great food, I had a tour of the backyard and Malaquías’s studio and workshop.

Maceo and Alejandra in the beautiful backyard.

The Montoya studio.

The next morning, Maceo picked me up and we headed to campus.  He told me that his parents were going to be attending which, once again, made me feel quite honored.  The students had read my collection and were ready to ask me all kinds of questions.  Maceo told me that his students would be writing their own short stories inspired by my collection.  I had almost two hours to fill and he said that I shouldn’t worry if I didn’t use all the time.  Ah!  A challenge!  But before that, I met some nice Chicana/o Studies staff members.

Luis and Alyssa.

After Maceo introduced me and after I spoke briefly about my upbringing and how I started writing, we opened it up for questions.  The students were more than prepared.  In fact, I think this might have been the best prepared “audience” I’ve ever encountered.  Their questions were thoughtful—at times pointed but respectful—and made me think.  The time passed so fast that we forgot to take a group picture after the book signing…we remembered when the last two students were in line so I took one with them.  I want to thank the students for their warmth and generosity.  I wish them well and I hope that they feel free to drop me an email especially if they start on a writing career.

Maceo prepares the class for me.

Friendly students get ready for my presentation (note Maceo's parents to the left).

Two delightful students pose with me after class.

To say that I had a great time wouldn’t do it justice.  I just hope that all writers get to have a similar experience that I had.


Amelia ML Montes said...

Thanks for sharing this fabulous visit to UC Davis, Daniel! Beautiful campus, great students, and warm welcome! Your book ROCKS! Gracias, Daniel!

Nancy Reil Riojas said...


Thelma T. Reyna said...

Daniel, UC Davis is indeed a beautiful campus, and the Chicano Studies students there are engaged and well-prepared indeed. Thanks for all the lovely photos, especially of the campus and the Montoya family. What a talented group of creative professionals they are! Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience. Continued successes to you!

Jacqueline Frederick said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with photos. It was nice to have a glimpse into this accomplished family's life and their
art filled home.