Secrets, Chokeholds, and the Sprouting of Wings: Latina Writer Sparkles

The lovely Melanie Bishop, author of My So-Called Ruined Life, Book One of the Tate McCoy Series, interviewed me for Huffington Post. She did such a incredible job. Check it:

Bishop: I love your blog post titled “Meeting Julia,” about the moment an English teacher introduced you to Julia Alvarez’s novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. The fact of her book — a novel about Latinas written by a Latina — set you on the course you are on today. As an English teacher myself, who was similarly inspired by a few English teachers of my own, I love stories about the impact a teacher can have by simply introducing students to appropriate literature and encouraging them to find their own voices. In a different blog post, about privilege, you mention another English teacher, in college, who responds to your earnest attempt at an essay with the words, “This isn’t writing.” Can you talk a little about this spectrum of influence that teachers can have on us?

Martir: I have been blessed to have both great and not-so-great teachers. It was Mr. Jeffrey Roth, my social studies teacher turned mentor, who introduced me to the ABC Program. I found him a few years ago and thanked him for saving my life. Mr. Brooks Goddard was the teacher who gave me the Julia Alvarez book that put the idea in my head that maybe I too could be a writer. That professor at Columbia (mercifully, my memory has erased his name) was brutal in his assessment of my stories and their value. He made me believe (1) that I couldn’t make anything beautiful out of my life stories; and (2) that to be a serious writer I had to write like them — white, male writers. I stopped writing for a long time and didn’t take another writing class until I attended the VONA/Voices workshops in 2009. There I learned that my stories do have worth and that that I have to tell them in my voice, not the voice I created to appease the white gaze. Much of my learning at VONA, where I’ve studied with some of the best writers of our day, including Elmaz Abinader, Staceyann Chin and Chris Abani, has been unlearning all that was in the way of my becoming the writer I am today.

Read the entire interview here: Secrets, Chokeholds, and the Sprouting of Wings: Latina Writer Sparkles


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