Saturday, November 07, 2015

Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews by Daniel A. Olivas

Daniel A. Olivas’ Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews provides a fascinating, penetrative look at the Latino/a writer’s perspective and the creative process by compiling a collection of Olivas’ own writing and a collection of his interviews with other Latino/a writers. By the end, the reader will have explored a multitude of topics concerning cultural inclusion/exclusion and the Latino/a experience, all the while digging ever deeper into what it means to be a writer and how that work comes to be.

First come Olivas’ own essays.  This collection creates a kaleidoscopic montage of moments and musings on why writing is something that Olivas cannot not do and how his particular perspective, as a writer, lawyer, Latino is both singular and universal; it is his own, but it is also all of ours. His themes are more than just cultural. They are about identity and history and how we find ourselves situated in the world.  In “Still Foreign Correspondent” he explains that his writings “…though reflecting on my cultural experiences, nonetheless focus on universal themes such as love, family dynamics and life’s struggles.  In other words, I use fiction to confront the vagaries of the human condition.”  This universality of experience is engaging and unifying, showing us that individual experience is not a disconnected, relativistic thing but a part of a larger whole, an opportunity to see how we all have something to contribute. All experiences are valid and they matter, and Olivas’ love for writing inspires readers to acknowledge it as something that is worth sharing.  His detailing of his creative process throughout these essays illustrates and inspires. A particularly excellent example comes in the essay “Writers Write. Period” where he emphasizes, “A writer finds time to write regardless of hectic schedules, energetic children, and needy lovers. No excuses.” He will then prove this point in the second half of the book, by interviewing other Latino/a writers.

This second part of the book demonstrates what it means to be a writer and the work that it takes to establish that role.  His interviews of many well-known Latino/a writers continue his project of highlighting the creative process and shared experiences.  One of the most fascinating notes comes from Olivas’ Introduction asks the reader to remember that “the responses are frozen in time. That is to say, the authors would not give precisely the same answers today.”  This reminder gives each writer’s interview an emphatic resonance, offering a snapshot of the writer in a particular moment, emphasizing the importance of change and evolution of their work.

Keeping this in mind when reading the interviews from writers like Sandra Cisneros, Aaron Michael Morales, and Reyna Grande, allows us to see the writer’s voices as not indicative of their entire writing philosophy, but as an experience shared in order to contribute to the larger community.  It bridges the two sections of the book with the theme of a collective and communal experience created from individual stories.  The interviews focus on the where the call to arises and how each writer answers that call in their own way. The effect, by the end of the interview section, is a sense of a writer’s writer, finding a way to give voice and agency to others and ultimately build a community created by and shaped through the shared experience of writing and how that experience is lived and worked in different ways by each of these writers.

Things We Do Not Talk About is more than a title—it’s a challenge.  Olivas’ project digs deep into the things we believe we “just do.” He asks his interviewees to dive into their creative process and how they find themselves situated in the world as writers and as part of the Latino/a community, while his own essays reveal the work of writer digging into the experiences that shape him (and us) and how that connects to a larger, shared experience. The end result inspires readers to accept the challenge.  What things do you not talk about? What would we gain from having that conversation? Olivas promises that it would be a worthwhile endeavor.

Things We Do Talke About is available from the SDSU Press story on Amazon here.