Thursday, February 25, 2016

Harrison Candelaria Fletcher talks about his new memoir, Presentimiento

 Presentimiento: A Life in Dreams
by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher

Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of Descanso For My Father: Fragments Of A Life, winner of the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction and International Book Award for Best New Nonfiction, and Presentimiento: A Life In Dreams, winner of the 2015 Autumn House Press Nonfiction Prize. He graciously answered a few questions about his new memoir, Presentimiento:
LG: How did you arrive at the title? It reads to me as the opposite of Descanso, as it evokes a certain “restlessness..." If you have a presentimiento, are you compelled to do something about it? 

HCF: Great question! In a lot of ways, Presentimiento really is the opposite of Descanso as it relates to restlessness. With Presentimiento, I was hoping to keep something alive rather than laying it to rest, in this case, my mother’s legacy of story and memory as opposed to my father’s absence.

I chose “presentimiento” as the title based on my mother’s interpretation of the word  – “something you feel in your heart,” or something you feel compelled to act upon. And I did feel compelled to act, or  “rescue,” as she calls it, a part of our past slipping away. 

LG: Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing Presentimiento… Why did you choose to write in vignettes? Is fragmentation meant to echo the language of dreams?  

HCF: With Presentimiento, I was hoping to reflect the language my mother speaks – that we speak – the language of mosaic, collage, fragment, vignette. I was hoping to reflect how she made her home – piece by piece, from artifacts and stories gathered over a lifetime.

Each fragment has its own individual story, but when viewed as a whole, says something larger. I hadn’t thought of your suggestion about fragmentation echoing the language dreams, but I can see that in retrospect – how it might reflect the blurring and blending, as well as how things come into focus and fade away. Very astute!

I should also say that I write pretty intuitively. I try not to follow preconceived notions of how the book should come together. I follow what rises to the surface and assemble it later. Not the most efficient process, but I like being surprised. I try to let the writing show me rather than make a deliberate choice to write in vignettes or whatever. 

That said, I do love white space and how it relates to text. Pat Mora, a beautiful poet-memoirist says it best: “I like to compare the openness of the desert to the openness the blank page. The desert — in its firmness and fierceness, in its whispered chants and tempestuous dance – shapes us as geography always shapes its inhabitants.” As a desert creature myself, I know exactly what she means. I try to share that with readers. 

HCF: Did you do any formal research of people and places or was your writing informed more by oral histories?

I did quite a bit of research actually. I consulted histories, maps, news archives, as well as visiting the physical locations where many of these stories took place. But after immersing myself in data, I set it aside, and filtered these stories through my memory and perception. I wanted to capture the dreamlike my mother tells these stories. 

Presentimiento is not so much a history as a feeling about that history.  I think every family has its own narrative of who it is and how it came to be. And I think we hold onto those narratives for the emotions they contain as well as the names, places, dates and data. I was really trying to capture the emotion of why she holds onto what she does – and why I too am compelled to “rescue” it. 

LG: Compared to more traditional memoirs, there didn’t seem to be much of you in the text… Was this intentional?   

HCF: Yes. It was intentional. As you can tell from Descanso, I don’t approach memoir in a traditional way. Not that I have anything against traditional memoir, I’m just not wired that way. I’m drawn more to the exploration of memory than a personal narrative of the past.

This book was an attempt to view my family, my roots and my home through the eyes of the woman who made them – my mother. But by doing so – by interpreting her life and inhabiting her stories – I’m revealing more about myself to the reader than my mother.

I’m sharing with readers my feelings about my mother – my hopes, dreams, fears, etc. Although it’s indirect, this book really is about me – all my emotions toward her laid bare. At least I hope that comes through. 

LG: How did you organize the text? Was it an organic process? I thought of Cortázar’s Rayuela as I was reading Presentimiento… Is the order given relevant or meaningful to the reader? 

HCF: It’s organic. As I say, I was raised by a woman who speaks the language of mosaic and collage and that’s the vocabulary I tried to use – how pieces form a whole greater than the sum of their parts. There is a linear underpinning as well but I hope the pieces accumulated thematically by the end. 

LG: What are you working on right now? 

HCF: I’m working on a book-length essay project exploring different notions of "mixedness.” As a person of mixed ethnicity, I’ve long been drawn to questions of how an internal hyphen can become an intersection as much as a border – or a bridge as much as a boundary.

It grew from an essay in Descanso – “White” – that explores my ethnic identity through a more complicated prism. I hope to combine research, memory, rumination and possibly images, although I have no idea how it might end up. I’m still hunting and gathering.

I’m also working on a prose-poem novella thing about grace. It’s based in New Mexico – like most of what I do. 

 Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
Photo by Rebecca Allen

Review / Reseña de Presentimiento:


Por Lydia Gil
El nuevo libro de Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, “Presentimiento”, se enfoca en la herencia cultural nuevomexicana de su familia materna.Este segundo libro de memorias continúa su interpretación poética del género, donde el autor se revela más a través del lenguaje, el paisaje y los otros personajes que mediante una narración en primera persona. 

"Presentimiento" está escrito en un inglés formal, a veces erudito, a menudo interrupido por palabras y frases en español. Esa convivencia lingüística refleja el universo tanto poético como personal del autor.

Si bien su primer libro de memorias, "Descanso for my Father", destacaba la ausencia del padre, los relatos de "Presentimiento" recalcan la presencia  persistente de su herencia materna. El título es significativo no solo por integrar su herencia hispana en el lugar más visible, pero también como marca profunda de lo que dicha herencia significa para Fletcher.

"Elegí 'Presentimiento' como título en base a cómo mi madre interpreta la palabra: como algo que sientes en tu corazón que te obliga a actuar", dijo. 

Fue así que Fletcher, al recoger las historias familiares, sintió la obligación de rescatar a través de la escritura ese pasado en vías de desaparición. Los recuerdos familiares se narran en estampas, algunas brevísimas, que evocan las voces fragmentadas del pasado.

"Intenté reflejar el modo de hablar de mi madre, de todos nosotros, que es el lenguaje del mosaico, del collage, del fragmento, de la estampa," dijo.

Ese lenguaje entrecortado de citas recordadas, de historias roídas por el recuerdo, refleja también el lenguaje entrecortado de los sueños. Muchas de las estampas se relatan desde el ensueño o el recuerdo, recalcando la incertidumbre sobre la veracidad de lo que se narra.Esta ambigüedad se refleja en el relato de Benicio que regresa borracho a su rancho siguiendo una acequia cerca de Bernalillo. Detrás de los arbustos escucha una voz de mujer que gime y cuando se acerca encuentra una calavera. 

La presencia fantasmagórica figura también en el recuerdo de su madre, quien de niña oyó a su fenecida tía abuela despertarla de noche. Visto también por su madre, el espectro no desaparece hasta que la abuela le ordena firmemente que se marche.

Fletcher parece recordarnos que la veracidad tanto de la experiencia vivida como de la contada, depende de la disposición del otro para creerla. Es el caso del relato de Abenicio, quien pasa una noche dormido sobre un nido de serpientes de cascabel.Al final del relato, Fletcher imagina a Abenicio riéndose nervioso: "Nadie le creerá. O bien, puede que sí…”

Individualmente, estos relatos podrían considerarse historias menores o incluso triviales. Sin embargo, al compartir las historias familiares de lugares sacros y profanos, Fletcher nos ofrece una ventana a un pasado mucho más abarcador que el propio. 

"Cada fragmento cuenta su historia, pero al leerlos en su conjunto, cuentan algo mayor", expresó.

Fletcher confiesa que pasó mucho tiempo investigando formalmente documentos históricos y visitando los lugares que describe en sus memorias, pero al final, todo se destila a través del recuerdo.

"Después de sumergirme en la investigación, lo hice todo a un lado y filtré estas historias a través de mi memoria y percepción", dijo.

Más que relatos personales y familiares, "Presentimiento" es el eco emocional de esas historias y de cómo ese eco informa las acciones de su presente.

"Intenté capturar el sentimiento del por qué mi madre se aferra a los recuerdos que conserva. Y cómo esos recuerdos me obligan también a mí a rescatarlos".

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