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Memoirist and fiction writer, Nancy Agabian, who teaches creative writing at NYU Gallatin and also leads her own writing group has generously invited me to join the "Blog Hop." Nancy calls blog hopping "an internet, chain mail, Q&A dance." 

Writer, Nancy Agabian

All of the following writers have answered questions about their present book projects:  Nancy Agabian, Gint Aras, Beth Neff, Ryka Aoki, and I.  At the end of my Q&A, I invite you to "blog hop" to the other writers listed to read their answers!  

Amelia M.L. Montes---

Q: What is the working title of your book?
A: The Diabetes Chronicles (a "very" "working" title because I don't think such a title will sell). I'm hoping that a different title will come to me as I continue revising. 

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A: During the summer of 2010, I was diagnosed with Diabetes. I had already been researching Diabetes in my family and that of other immigrant Mexican families--weaving in fictional scenes (imagining the moment various family members were told they had Diabetes) with non-fiction (medical information and medical history having to do with Diabetes). Later, when I was diagnosed, I experienced an entirely new learning curve.  I have observed the disease from "outside" of diagnosis and now from being directly affected by it. The responses I've received when I read excerpts or post mini-sections on my blog tells me that people are interested and hungry for this information because this disease is affecting so many people.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Creative non-fiction: medical information weaved into a one-act play, memoir, journal entries, poetry, newspaper articles, recipes . . .

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A:The Diabetes Chronicles is about a woman's coming to terms with diabetes, a disease created by multiple histories/multiple nations and various people (lovers, relatives, friends) around her who either have it or are affected by it. 

 Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
A: --represented by an agency

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A: The problem in answering this question is that I don't remember when the first draft ended and the second draft began because it's now in so many advanced stages.  Wow--difficult question to answer.  I will guess and say that the first draft lived for about a year--from 2010-2011. 

 Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A: Lately I've been reading a number of memoirs that are working with broad societal issues as well as personal.  Kristen Iversen's book, Full Body Burden:  Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats is a good example of the genre.  Her book focuses on the Rocky Flats nuclear site near where she grew up in Colorado.  The families who lived in that area (which included Kristen's family) were not told about the dangers of radiation that were present in the water they played in and drank.  As well, there were secrets in her family too. Iversen is looking at a serious national/global issue while also delving into her own individual family.  This is what I'm doing with "The Diabetes Chronicles."

 Q: Who or What inspired you to write this book?
A: Diabetes inspired me to write this book!  I am passionately interested in researching the history of Diabetes, taking classes on Diabetes management, and I'm so glad I formed my own Diabetes Support Book Group with women who are very willing to talk about the disease.  I also have realized that there is a lot of misinformation out there.  I want to help others with this chronic ailment.  People are very interested in finding out how to prevent or manage the disease.

Q: What else about your book might piqué the reader's interest?
A: It's a book about love--learning to love every aspect of yourself, learning to love others despite disease, dysfunctional family histories, and a society that continually places profit over truth which then leads to serious illness in the population. 

I also post excerpts or pieces I may or may not include in the book that work well for a blog post.  Here's a piece I just posted recently:  CLICK HERE

Continue the "Blog Hop" by checking out: 

Nancy Agabian

Gint Aras

Beth Neff

Ryka Aoki


Here's hoping that all of you dear readers had lovely holidays and a felicitous, peaceful, and smooth entry into the beginnings of 2012. During this time of year, I often hear from students who have either graduated recently or long ago and who I now call friends.  Two friends who I mention here are former students from our English Department at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln:  Lenna Pierce is a gifted musician and singer and Emily Danforth is a gifted writer whose first novel comes out in February.  

I had coffee with Lenna Pierce last week. She had just returned from her cross-country one-woman concert tour:  from Lincoln, Nebraska to New York.  It was intriguing listening to her road stories.  She recounted experiences in bars, dives, and very nice concert venues.  Most interesting to me were her descriptions of the music she heard along the way, the musicians she met--alternative, experimental.  Lenna is in a world far and away from popular culture.  The kind of music she creates with her cello, voice and words, transcends anything that is on the radio or I-Pods right now.  I find it literary, creatively multi-layered, so complex in its lightness. Before Lenna went solo, she performed with Rachel West (who accompanied Lenna's cello with an accordian) and they called their duo, "Das Hoboerotica."  They played various venues here in Lincoln, Nebraska until Rachel decided to pursue other interests.  Now Lenna has broadened her concert card to a number of states between here and New York (inclusive of NY). You don't meet many alternative cello playing singers.  Lenna says the cello, "just feels so right.  You know, it's big and warm but it's dark too.  It's not a simple instrument, but it is a beautiful one." Lenna's music reminds me of the Argentine singer, Juana Molina.  Juana sings in what I call "Rioplatense Spanish transcendency." Rioplatense is the regional Spanish she chooses to use in the writing of her songs.  Listen to her here: (CLICK) and also here: (CLICK). She is in a kind of trance, repeating words, verses, shifting chords that shift the listener, move us into another space. Sometimes I imagine Lenna Pierce playing with Juana Molina. What a collaboration that would be!

If you're in Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow (Friday, January 6th) you can hear Lenna Pierce at Meadowlark Coffee House at 8p.m. (1624 South Street).  

Emily Danforth received her PhD in creative writing just last May 2011 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  She is now an Assistant Professor at Rhode Island College in Providence.  
Her soon-to-be-published book, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming of age novel and it is riveting, told in gorgeous descriptive prose. 


When I read Emily's words, I am literally there lying on the Montana fields watching those slow moving clouds above me.  She carries you from there to heartbreaking and bittersweet first love, loss, and maturity. The book is already a "starred review" from Kirkus Reviews:  "Rich with detail and emotion, a sophisticated read for teens and adults alike."  Booklist also starred it:  "[An] ambitious literary novel, a multidimensional coming-of-age."  It will be released February 7th.  You can also pre-order from your local bookstore!  

Lately, book publishers have been marketing their books with youtube mini-films.  It's brilliant.  Emily's publisher, Balzer and Bray have come 
out with a sweet, lovely "trailer" so to speak, to whet your appetite.  Here it is: CLICK HERE.

I always wish for our students to find what makes their hearts leap, to pursue a passion-- not to pursue what someone else thinks they should be doing. I hope for students to dig deep inside themselves and find their true gifts to develop. Lenna and Emily are passionate about their work.  It shows.  It delights.  We are lucky to have them share their gifts with us.  

And on that note, today I read a wonderful article in the New York Times regarding professors who are taking their lectures "to the bar" or to concert hall venues, or main stages of clubs-- giving lectures for free-- trying out their ideas in public.  This is wonderful.  Here's the article about it entitled:  "Continuing Education, at the Bar."  These are people who wish to reach a different audience from the 8a.m. class.  It's a way to spread the love of learning.  

Chicanas Making Art, Making Story

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This blog may also be read at: "La Bloga"

Reporting from two places this week:  San Antonio, Tejas and Lincoln, Nebraska.  This past week-- in San Antonio, Tejas, I was very lucky to spend a late afternoon/early evening in Chicana writer, Dr. Norma Cantu's graduate seminar at The University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA).  What an animated, smart, passionate group of graduate students.  Orale!  We were all quite involved with the discussion on Cherrie Moraga's new book, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness.  

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A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness

While various ideas and perspectives were expressed, my eyes kept focusing on the swift-moving hand gestures to the right of the table (note the picture below).  Those hands are Rita Urquijo-Ruiz's hands:  knitting!

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Dr. Norma Elia Cantú (Chicana author of Canícula and countless edited 
books) leads her graduate seminar at UTSA.  Notice Rita Urquijo-Ruiz's 
quick knitting hands on the right-hand side of the table.  

Chicana academic and performance artist, Rita Urquijo-Ruiz was knitting a gorgeous brown winter scarf during the entire graduate seminar while also contributing brilliantly to the discussion.  She, like me, was a guest that night. I had brought my writing materials.  She brought her knitting loom and yarn.  I kept watching Rita's fingers move up and down the loom while students quoted, argued with, questioned Moraga's words.  Moraga writes:  "The language of the Xicana story--if it were to be real--is fragmented, it is the stutter, the garbled utterance caught in the silence between tongues, tongues literally ripped from mouths.  It resides in the taboo languages of the body:  the vulva pressed unashamedly against a bed of dirt or the body of another woman in the effort to remember what got lost somewhere.  It is a paling Oadami descendent speaking through the body of Xicana performance" (45).  

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Rita knitting (photo by Dino Foxx -- gracias Dino!)

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knitting loom

Moraga's words kept me thinking about Rita "speaking" with her hands.  Later, I learned that Rita was also "performing" her tia Rita's art form in the making of this scarf that she completed by the end of class and then gave to me (lucky me-- see picture below). 

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Rita y yo:  I am on the left wearing Rita's lovely winter scarf she began and completed in Dr. Cantú's class and she is on the right wearing a beautiful gray scarf her mother created.  

Watching Rita reminded me of another Chicana writer, Belinda Acosta--who knits to create story.  And then there is also Chicana performance artist, writer, jewelry maker and painter, Anel Flores, who believes that every art medium she uses is telling story.  These three Chicana writers-artists create art in various mediums to bring together "fragmented" language/memories (prompted by Moraga's words) in order to speak and remember art, story, who we are.

Rita Urquijo-Ruiz who, as I described, loves using the knitting loom to create lovely long, warm scarves, is an Associate Professor at Trinity University in San Antonio.  She is co-editor of Global Mexican Cultural Productions with Rosana Blanco-Cano (see book below) and her single author book, Wild Tongues:  Transnational Mexican Popular Culture, will be coming out next summer.  

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One of Rita's co-edited books, Global Mexican Cultural Productions

Growing up in Hermosillo, Mexico, Rita learned to knit when she was 12 from her tia Rita (her mother's only sister).  When Rita moved to the U.S., she soon forgot about knitting--until years later when she met up with Dino Foxx and Billy Muñoz, founders of "The Yarn Dawgz." These Chicano brothers taught Rita all about knit graffiti and yarn bombing.  "A gay man and two straight men who do knitting," Rita tells me.  She says they are passionate about bringing color and art to urban spaces.  Passionate indeed because a simple "google search" on "The Yarn Dawgz" will lead you to multiple hits on Facebook and also a website/blog that announces their next creative project:  a documentary about the yarn graffiti movement and their own work as "Fiber Artists."  

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The Yarn Dawgz:  Manuel Cros Esquivel, Dino Foxx, and Billy Muñoz

Rita is grateful that Dino Foxx and Billy Muñoz encouraged her to return to knitting.  "For me," Rita says, "There is something about knitting that is very comforting and it helps me concentrate better.  It lowers my heart rate when I'm frustrated with work, with academia.  Even if I just do it for 15 minutes, it then helps me return to my work with much more clarity.  And the fact that it's handmade--people seem to take to that over more materialistic gifts.  It's really neat to have something to relieve my stress and when all is said and done, there is a product to give as gifts.  I also connect with the maternal side of my family while it makes people smile.  It is just a gift from the universe--handmade.  And my aunt gave me this gift."  Rita has been very productive with her academic writing and she attributes her success in good part to the many scarves she's created.  "I'm on my 25th scarf and they've all been given to wonderful friends.  Each scarf is different."  

The "Rita" scarf I'm wearing in the picture (above picture with Rita) is the one she began and finished in Norma Cantú's class!  My scarf has a literary creation story!

Anel Flores is a writer, performance artist, painter, and jewelry maker.  She is the author of Empanada:  a lesbiana story en probaditas and she has also staged and performed scenes from the book.  

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Empanada:  a lesbiana story en probaditas by Anel I. Flores

Anel I. Flores, performing scenes from Empanada

She says, "My painting and jewelry making inform my writing because I bring the story of my grandmother and other women's stories into each art medium."  Anel's story:  Her grandmother lost almost all of her possessions in a fire.  One of the only items that survived was a small box containing her grandmother's lace.   This lace appears on the cover of her Empanada book, on her paintings, and she has created imprints of the lace on the rings, earrings, and necklaces she makes.  

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Anel's grandmother's lace

"I weave everything together."  Indeed-- Anel's work braids together all of these artistic mediums to create a pattern of stories and the struggles, the pain, the understanding and love in familia and relationships.  

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Anel's beautiful "corazon" jewelry

Belinda Acosta, author of the two quinceañera novels, Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over also knits.  She is a Chicana, born and raised (who learned to knit) on the great plains of Nebraska.  Currently, she lives in Austin, Tejas while making regular visits al norte to visit familia in Lincoln, Nebraska.  

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Chicana author, Belinda Acosta

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Belinda Acosta's two novels:  Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz 
and Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over

"It helps to encourage creativity," she says.  Belinda learned to knit, "in Home Ec (home economics) when they used to have such a class in Jr. High."  She remembers learning the various structures:  weft and warp knitting, knit and purl stitches, flat knitting vs. circular knitting.  Like Rita, after leaving the class, she stopped knitting.  It wasn't until a few years ago, after her father became ill that suddenly she had a strange feeling that her body was telling her to head for the yarn store and begin knitting.  "I was surprised that I picked it up fairly quickly.  My body knew how to do that and because of my body's reaction, I kept being surprised at how fast I picked it up-- that my body knew and hadn't forgotten."  

I asked Belinda if knitting or other art mediums also inform her writing as Rita and Anel have noted.  "Knitting is very rhythmic.  It is something similar to praying the rosary or meditating. It is an activity that settles you, calms you because you are creating rhythmic motions over and over.  Often when i'm writing or in the middle of a writing project and I get stuck, I'll either take a nap or get to my knitting.  Knitting allows you to take a break from the problem and because you're involved in this physical activity, it gives you a chance to relax your brain and then you return to the writing with much more clarity."  Here are various pictures of Belinda's knitting methods and here is a scarf she made for me.

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Belinda Acosta "in action"

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I am wearing Belinda's scarf in Nebraska (at the 
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Ethnic Studies Program offices)

Belinda also knits because, as she says, "I can be a stress eater.  I can't eat when I'm knitting.  At the same time, I get to massage a different part of my brain where there may be a knot.  I free it.  Plus-- I like to make things for people."  

Rita, Anel, Belinda-- all making art that tells a story and that is an offering to others.  In Norma Cantú's book, Canícula, there is a section entitled, "Cowgirl."

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Canícula:  Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera by Norma Elia Cantú

Cantú writes:  "My brand-new, black patent shoes, bought with the money Mami made selling dresses she sewed on Bueli's Singer, remain hidden by the long, full skirt of the red gingham dress, also one of Mami's creations" (33).  Then later in the chapter entitled "China Poblana One," there is a picture of a young girl in a China Poblana outfit.  "Mami has braided my shoulder-long hair, adding volume and length with yarn--green, white, and red-- verde blanco y colorado la bandera del soldado.  The dazzlingly white blouse embroidered with bright silk to shape flowers like the ones that grow in our yard--roses, hibiscus, geraniums, and even some that look like the tiny blossoms of the moss roses remind me of summer, although it's a warm February day" (38).  

Reading this description of dress-making and hair braiding (with yarn!) reveals a narrative of immigration, of two cultures (Bueli's Singer, black patent shoes, and embroidered silk), of seeking to place on the page a remembrance of what Mami created in a land where the month of February is warm, where hibiscus, roses, geraniums grow, where individuals are discovering and reconfiguring their identities.

As for the history of knitting:  It is too long of a story so I will be brief.  Historians trace the origins of knitting to the Middle east, specifically Egypt.  The Spaniards learned the art from Muslim knitters.  The Spaniards then brought knitting arts to Mexico.  There are also paintings of knitters throughout history.  The fifteenth-century German gothic painter, Bertram of Minden painted the Madonna knitting (see below).  Even though Chicana artist Yolanda Lopez's "Our Lady of Guadalupe" has la Virgen at the sewing machine, not knitting-- it still reminds me of the creation and shaping (new perspectives!) of art (in this case, la virgen working on her blue estrella-laden mantle).  

Bertram of Minden's painting of the Virgen knitting (1500s)

"Our Lady of Guadalupe" by Yolanda Lopez

It was a pleasure talking and spending time with Norma, Anel, and Rita.  Now here in Nebraska, Belinda has given me this beautiful red scarf that she made.  

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I am wearing Belinda's scarf next to Chicana artist 
Patssi Valdez' acrylic painting entitled, "Saturday" (1997)

How lucky can I be:  two scarves, a gorgeous heart necklace, and their important words on the page.  It's important to place a focus on these writers'/academics' knitting, jewelry making, painting.  They are mostly known for their serious and poignant writing which is indeed a gift to us.  How they illustrate "story" in other mediums also gives us additional information and stimulates our own aesthetic sensibilities.  And stretching oneself creatively is indeed healthy as well.

Thank you all and happy knitting/art making.  Vamos a tejer!  Let's go unknot our brains!

Teaching Latino Film---

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Enough of the weather for now--let's get back indoors to watch films!  This semester I am lucky to be teaching "Latinos in Film."  We'll be looking at films from the 1930 Talkies to contemporary Latino film and Latinas/Latinos in film. There are so many interesting films, it was difficult to decide which to use and which to put aside for future classes.  

Dracula (Spanish) [VHS]

One early film we'll be discussing is the Spanish language version of "Dracula." Hollywood Director, George Melford filmed two versions:  an English language version during the day and a Spanish language version at night (graveyard shift--no pun intended).  Lupita Tovar, Mexican American actress of the 1930s whose starring role in "Santa" made her famous on both sides of the border, played the Mina character in the Spanish version. In this film, her name is Eva and unlike the Mina from the English-language version, Eva is much more expressive and dominant and this is interesting considering the era.  Don't be misled by the picture above.  The character of Eva negotiates power in this film differently from the English version.  


The shots are also slower and deepen the tension. In an interview, Lupita Tovar discusses how at 7p.m., they would begin shooting and leave at 7a.m. the next day.  Bela Lugosi would arrive on the set much after Lupita had gone home.  She never was able to meet him.  Many critics have noted that this Spanish language version is a much better film than the one with Lugosi playing Dracula.  

"Santa," "Dracula," "Salt of the Earth" and on to films like "Real Women Have Curves"--we're just going to have lots of fun including the chance to learn to write a screenplay.  More on this soon--as we escape the cold to enter the world of film!