29 August 2005

Transcending labels

Thanks to Max at The Millions for pointing out this great interview with Daniel Alarcón, author of War by Candlelight:
where a white writer might get praised for writing about characters who are not him- or herself--so imaginative, such brave narrative choices--a Latino writer is more likely to be praised for being "real" or "authentic." If this authenticity is lacking (as in my case) then we can get questioned. Whatever. I don't really care. The work is either good or isn't. It either succeeds or it fails, and I think this has more to do with one being (or not being) a good listener, an astute observer of people, and having the imagination and the empathy to put oneself in someone else's shoes--success or failure in this case is more about my talent (or lack thereof) than my parents' combined income vis-à-vis that of an average Latin household in the U.S., or however people want to judge my stats. If folks like it, they like it, if they don't, well shit, I really tried hard, I wrote it out of love, and that's the best I could do.

I'll admit I was a bit wary of being marketed as a Latino writer, primarily because the standard narrative about Latinos in the country is Stand and Deliver, up from the barrio, etc. I wanted to be very clear that that wasn't my story, precisely because I didn't want to be accused of misrepresentation. I mean, I am Latino, just not the kind of Latino most (white) people commonly think of when they hear that word. The commodification of literature and art is a process that I'm only just learning about, and to a certain extent, in this country anyway (I don't know how it works elsewhere), it is often based on signifiers of ethnic identity. I'm certainly not going to be offended if someone calls me Latino, but if that's all I am, then that becomes limiting. I think most writers aspire to transcend whatever label their publisher's marketing department might stamp on them. It's no longer okay, if it ever was, to call Lorrie Moore, for example, "a fine woman writer" or "a brave voice in female fiction." That would be bullshit, and no one would stand for it. She's a dope writer, period. It's no secret that I'd like to shed the label, be known as a good writer, or a great one, and not as "the Peruvian guy."
I especially enjoyed his discussion of Julio Ramón Ribeyro and
José María Arguedas.

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