Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews

by Christian Benavides

Daniel Olivas, a grandson to Mexican immigrants, grew up in Los Angeles. Eventually, he went on to receive a degree in English literature at Stanford University and later, a law degree from UCLA. Now, Daniel works as an attorney with the California Department of Justice in the Public Rights Division. He writes in his free time and, in fact, has published seven books and has contributed to many publications.  In his newest venture, Daniel has put together past interviews and personal essays that put forward questions about Chicano identity and explores a writer's writing process and its relationship with the writer's life. A supplement to Latino/a literature, Things We Do Not Talk About, sets out to continue this conversation with other readers and writers whose writing is as interconnected to their lives as Daniel's is. Things We Do Not Talk About will be available May 5th, 2014! The following is a short interview with Daniel Olivas:

Interviewer: Why did you decide to title the book, “Things We Do Not Talk About”? What are some of these things you felt needed to be talked about while going through academia?

Daniel Olivas: The original manuscript that I submitted to SDSU Press not only included essays and interviews but also several short stories including one with that title. Because I liked the title of that short story so much, I decided to make it the title of the book. When I met with Harry Polkinhorn and William Nericcio to discuss my project, they said they liked the manuscript but that the press did not publish fiction. So, I removed the short stories but kept the title because it spoke to an issue—in an ironic manner—that I see with the coverage of Latino/a literature: the mainstream press doesn’t give it enough even as academia has moved towards recognizing such literature in ways that I didn’t see back in college back in the late 1970s. Since several of the interviews have already been relied upon in academic circles (i.e., scholarly books on Latino/a literature, Ph.D. dissertations, etc.), I thought that bringing them together in one volume along with my essays might be useful. I want to note that the stunning cover art is by Perry Vasquez, a San Diego artist and educator who was a classmate of mine at Stanford and who worked with me when I was the art director of the Chaparral, Stanford’s humor magazine. I think his art conveys the broad spectrum of topics covered by my essays and author interviews.

Interviewer How was the process in the making of this book different from previous books you’ve published? What sparked the idea of it?

Daniel Olivas: My previous six books were works of fiction so this was a departure for me—I never thought that I’d publish a non-fiction book. Yes, it’s true that I’ve been writing essays and interviewing authors for many years, but I never thought that I’d have so much material for a whole book. And when I learned that my coverage of Latino/a writers was being relied upon by professors and students alike, the idea for this project began to evolve.

Interviewer:   In the introduction, you mention a reoccurring question in the background of your essays: what does it mean to be a Chicano writer? Is this a question you continue to ask yourself?

Daniel Olivas: In a sense, yes. I am always delighted when Chicano and Chicana students attend my readings and then come up afterwards to discuss fiction. There is this beautiful connection based on some common cultural touchstones. And I am always thrilled when they say that they are inspired to become writers themselves. Yet, in the back of my mind as I’m having these interactions, I wonder if I have any responsibilities as a Chicano writer. In the end, I think that my primary responsibility is to be honest to my art and the representation of all people in my fiction, essays and poetry. I also have a responsibility to be a mentor to those who wish to express themselves through literature and to promote worthwhile books especially those written by Latino/a writers.

Interviewer:   Looking back through all the interviews you included in this book, what is a reoccurring message or experience that seems to connect all these writers that have been successful in publishing Latino/a literature? Is there anything in an interview that stands out the most and has helped your writing journey?

Daniel Olivas: None of the writers I interviewed ever gave up the dream of publishing even when faced with a society and publishing industry that is not always very understanding or hospitable to Latino/a literature. That kind of bravery is so incredibly inspiring to me. I would be hard pressed to choose one interview that stands out because, as readers of this book will learn, each of the 28 writers offers some kind of important insight on writing and culture. I think taken together, we can only be heartened by the eloquence and energy these writers.

For more information on the author, visit his website at: http://www.danielolivas.com/

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