Content Tagged ‘Miami’

House Guest with Chantel Acevedo: Growing up Cuban, or How to Make a Writer

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone and Lookout authors and cover artists, as well as editors from peer presses and magazines, to tell us what they’re working on, to discuss themes in their writing or unique publishing challenges, to answer the burning questions they always hoped a reader would ask.

Chantel Acevedo’s story “Strange and Lovely,” a Notable story in this year’s Best American Short Stories, appears in Ecotone 17.

ElFarito

There are certain personal characteristics that seem essential for writers to cultivate—Persistence, A Sense of the Dramatic, and A Tough Skin. I’ve always thought that a Cuban-American childhood is the perfect crucible in which to practice these traits.

1) Persistence: As any published writer will tell you, talent is only part of what it takes to be a writer. A kind of doggedness has to accompany the task. After all, writing a novel or a collection of poems is a marathon, not a sprint. We Cuban Americans who grew up in the 70s and 80s understood this in a different way. We practiced persistence at an early age, especially since we often lived with abuela and abuelo, mami and papi, and all of them were stricter than Sister Maria Francisca at the Catholic School down the street. To get what we wanted, we Cuban-American kids had to be persistent enough to wear down the adults in our lives. Want to shave past your knees sometime before your fifteenth birthday? Better if you start asking permission on the eve of your thirteenth birthday. It will take them at least two years to cave. And if you’ve ever found yourself waiting for a literary agent to respond, or a literary magazine to publish your poem, you know what that waiting can feel like.

2) A Sense of the Dramatic: Stories are built around conflict. Conflict is what people mean when they say “Raise the stakes” in the stories we write. Cuban-American kids understand drama. We were fed on a sense of the dramatic. I vividly recall riding my bike back and forth down a stretch of sidewalk no longer than fifty feet, up and down, up and down, under the gaze of my abuela who watched me from the porch. If I went farther, she argued, someone would probably SNATCH ME. There was the perpetual fear of snatching, of lightning strikes, of sharks and sand bars with which to contend. The drama even followed us inside our very homes, where the nightly sh-sh-sh of the pressure cooker working its magic on black beans was a warning to every child in the house to stay out of the kitchen. That sucker could explode. Drama was everywhere, and for a burgeoning writer, that perpetual feeling of impending spectacle is a turbo boost to the imagination.

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