Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Chicano Writer Rigoberto Gonzalez at Santa Clara

Craft of Writing and the Dead

The Santa Clara Review hosted a reading by Chicano poet, memoirist, and fiction-writer Rigoberto Gonzalez. Juan Velasco introduced Gonzalez as an exciting Latino writer of the 21st century whose beautiful poetry and prose include books of poetry, children's bilingual books, and non-fiction. He's been a fellow for the Guggenheim and NEA, and is a professor of English at Rutgers University.

Gonzalez read from multiple poems, including "Soldier of Michtlan" (a banned poem), a poem about the plane crash with 28 deportees from Mexico, and a poem that translated from "(The Dead Teach the Living)." In the deportee poem, the verse "no papers necessary/to cross the cemetery" stayed with me. In "(The Dead Teach Us)," the verse "places so plump with pleasure" juxtaposed with the brutal image of a person in a trunk.

 (Me and Gonzalez)
 Following the reading, many asked questions about writing, inspiration and the craft of writing. Gonzalez gave the advice:

  • So much compromise as writer, certain things like writing time cannot be given up. He writes after midnight. His mentor Gary Soto wrote from 6am-10.
  • When you have multiple ideas, you should prioritize where the passion is, treating each story like a child that you make sure is ready to go out the door (instead of letting them all run free).
  • Life advice: don't confuse your career with a life. A life gives back to others.
  • You can't buy into praise because it and awards will stop; you must be the one to believe in your own writing.

Based on the work of Natalie Martinez who contributed to AcademiadeCruz, I asked Gonzalez about returning to his father as a muse. Applying Martinez's argument about being okay with unsettled trauma, and not feeling compelled to 'get over it' or 'heal,' I asked if he felt okay with the open wound?

Gonzalez agreed, but also said that the memories transform with age. With memoir, you mine through rubble, figuring out what happened. Writing about one's life requires psychic distance: 1)temporal/time through distance, 2)spatial--in another place, or 3)activity distance--so much happening since the events.

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