Getting the Call about the Pura Belpré Award

I was out dancing tango on a Sunday night with a small group of friends at the Agave Tequila Bar on Main Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then I got the call.

Bittersweet love tunes filling the room where we danced, I didn’t hear my cell phone ringing. It was only when I sat down to rest between tunes that I noticed three lost calls. I didn’t recognize the number and assumed it was spam, so I continued dancing.
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From Real Life to the Magic of Fiction

Illustration by Rolando Estévez

I’ve spent most of my life writing nonfiction. But I always dreamed of being a fiction writer. Now, at the age of sixty, I am making my debut as a fiction writer. My first novel is a book for middle-grade readers and it is based on a true experience from my childhood.

Why did it take so long?

As a young woman, I read fiction voraciously. I loved it when a story or a novel cast a spell on me and I had to drop everything and read breathlessly to the end. Whether it’s The Velveteen Rabbit, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or the Elena Ferrante novels, the magic of fiction is still hard for me to describe, but the grip it has on my body and soul is undeniable. Read more

Poetry & Friendship

I think many of us dream of writing poetry when we are young. We try our hand at it a couple of times, amass pages in a notebook, and eventually find the courage to print out a few fledgling poems. Our heads bowed, we dare to show those poems to someone we admire, a teacher or a published writer. And when that person says our poems are awful, it’s a shot in the heart. Those who are strong will ignore the wound and keep on writing. Those plagued with self-doubt will stop writing and tell themselves they are unworthy of being called a poet.

When told my poems weren’t good enough, I gave up. Years later, when I took up poetry again, I wrote an autobiographical poem about being an “Obedient Student.” I hope it will serve as a mantra to others not to follow in my path. Read more

Brutus, July, 1998- April, 2015

Gabriel asked for a dog several times when he was a little boy. But we didn’t want to get a dog. “Too much trouble,” we said. “Who needs a dog? Neither of us had a dog when we were growing up and we turned out fine.” Gabriel had to be content with a stuffed animal, a red bulldog that he called Brutus, which he won at a fair in Michigan.

But after Gabriel tore his ACL at the age of eleven in a senseless accident and couldn’t play sports anymore, David and I decided we should get a dog.

Gabriel wanted a bulldog. But I had learned that pugs were very cute while visiting my friend Rosa in Los Angeles. Rosa had two pugs, an old pug and a young pug. I convinced Gabriel that pugs had the most adorable squished faces of any dog in the world. Read more

Wanderer, There is No Road: Remembering Juan Roura-Parella and the Lovely Teresa

I was a student both of Professor Juan Roura-Parella and his wife, the lovely Teresa. Professor Roura taught me about aesthetics and philosophy, Goya’s black paintings, the poetry of Antonio Machado, and what it means to be a political exile. The lovely Teresa taught me classical Spanish guitar, to move gracefully, and how to look elegant in high heels.

I was born in Cuba and grew up speaking Spanish with my family in New York. When I went to Wesleyan University in 1974, I was not yet eighteen. I’d never gone to camp or lived on my own. My mother was in tears. But my father was irate that I was going to college against his will; he believed a girl should wait at home until a man came to marry her. After a tense, scary, and silent three-hour drive from our rental apartment in Queens to the leafy campus in Middletown, Connecticut, I couldn’t wait for Mami and Papi and my younger brother, Mori, to drop me off at the dorm. I was eager to start living an independent life in the grand feminist style I’d been hearing about in the news, maybe not burn my bra, but stand tall, brave, and sure of myself, and never have to depend on a man to take care of me. Read more