Artist of the Month - Carolina Gonzalez
You’re 19 now (is this correct?)- how long have you been writing? Is it something you’d like to do career-wise?
Yes, I am currently 19 but my mind is older (sorry for the Hamilton reference it was there and I took it oops).
Anyways, I’m gonna go ahead and say I started writing at the age of twelve. This is because I remember when I was in 6th grade I wrote a poem – a real, juicy poem – that I was so proud of I fell out of my chair. From then on, I took an interest in writing beyond the academic papers I had due on Monday. But I have to say, the most defining moment of my writing career was my high school sophomore year English class. Mrs. Diaz’s class introduced me to the memoir and I’ve been fascinated by the genre ever since. So I could also say that’s when I really started writing, or well at least the way I write today.
I wouldn’t mind pursuing writing, career-wise, but I want to do so many things so who knows. I honestly think writing will always follow me, whether it’s being a journalist at a big national news outlet or as an immigration lawyer. It’s too attached to my skin at this point.
Why do you write?
Writing has always been the go-to outlet for my emotions and thoughts. It helps me compartmentalize situations and experiences I’ve had in my life just so it’s all much easier to process.
Although, I think the reason why I write has changed dramatically. I write to give a voice, a descriptive definition to the experiences I’ve been through and still go through. I’ve lately been grappling with the theme of identity and culture, because I’ve recently been having my own identity crisis. And to write those feelings and thoughts into the world, it makes them concrete for me. Like “Yes, these are real and valid moments. And yes, people want to hear your story about them.”
Is anything about your process of writing particularly frustrating for you? What is it, and how do you overcome it?
The most frustrating process during my writing is when I get too emotional. Writing about my abuela isn’t easy in the slightest; every time I type out her name tears well up. And then I’ll put-off writing that specific memory because I cannot face the strong waves of emotions. I sometimes want to detach myself from the body that lives in my stories and the body that I inhibit, just so I can get through those moments. But if I were to do that, I lose the original – and strong – sentiment. So, I push through.
You grew up in the suburbs of Miami- and your piece “Azucar” really highlights the way history connects to home, which connects to family, which connects to identity. How did this piece arise? Was it difficult at all to write?
The idea of this piece really began to take a shape when I started my first year at college. I had grown up in this bubble in the suburbs of Miami, almost everybody that I knew was Cuban. And no one talked about this because it was the norm. We all had abuelos who made that terrifying migration from Cuba to Miami, we all ate lechon at our Noche Buena parties, and we all loved pastelitos. So I didn’t really have any need to understand my identity until I was living in New York City, a city known for its emphasis on culture and identities. Then, I started to care.
When I began to tear apart my roots, it became difficult. I would have late night phone calls with my mother about my abuela, which would have me feeling numb afterwards. There was so much pain and sacrifice in my abuela’s story, I sometimes couldn’t wrap my head around it.
But this also opened me up to the way I was raised, the foundations my life had been built upon. I started to look back at my life with a critical eye. I analyzed my name and the community that surrounded me as if it were on a petri dish. I started to see where the traditional feminine model fit in my life, and I how I was trying to defy it without knowing. It was then too when Azucar began to form.
“Azucar” is also so personal. What is it like to share your writing with your family, if you do?
When I found out Azucar was going to be published in a LitMag, I went into a shock. I was excited, but it was also when I had to finally face the fact that my family, specifically my mom, were going to read the piece one way or another. I held it off until the last moment, and when they finally read it, I got some reactions I didn’t expect.
My mom was overall proud that I was being published and had an interest to understand my roots. I remember she said, “You made your abuela so proud. You keep her legacy living on. It’s beautiful.” I was happy that I didn’t get the cold shoulder but inserted a warm embrace. The rest of my family read it when it was published on Textploit. They were all very proud of me, and almost unfazed by the personal aspect of the piece. I kind of just floated on from there.
Your writing takes on a very vibrant tone, especially when describing places- the “egg-shell colored residence,” the ballerina’s in Degas’ paintings, the bottles of Sunny D. You go to college in New York City, another very vivid place for writers. What kind of importance do you put on place and setting when you write?
I think time and place are the glue for the entire story. If I hadn’t grown up in Miami, if I hadn’t gone to college in New York, a lot of my story would not have that essential backdrop to it. There would be no platform to jump off. Place and setting very much influence ideas, thoughts, and actions, something that I see come to life in Azucar.
You also write for a newspaper in college. Can you describe how your processes differ between how you write creative nonfiction and journalistic articles?
Yeah! I write for The Columbia Daily Spectator’s blog, Spectrum. At Spectrum, it’s more of a witty, light tone which is a nice break from the heavy material I would write in my creative nonfiction pieces. I usually try to separate the two worlds from each other by revising all my writing just to make sure I’m not to light or to dark with whatever it may be.
Can you talk a little bit about your editing process? When you get feedback on a piece, what is the first thing you do, and how drastically do you like to change things?
I take into consideration all the feedback I get, but I will weed out the ones that I think don’t have any ground. I get a little harsh when it comes to people critiquing my work to be honest, because its as if they’re critiquing the way I have experienced moments in my life. I try my best to separate their intentions with my emotions, and then I’ll start to see where I need to clip and paste. I don’t really drastically change things in my pieces. I might move stuff here and there, maybe fix some wording, really anything that will help with the original sentiment to come across.
What’s one piece of writing advice you’ve received that you think has changed the way you write?
My first creative writing professor told my class that everything has been already done, so don’t be afraid to do it again. I was always looking to be original in one way or another, so this came as a huge relief. I didn’t have to be super original, I just had to give it my own flare, my own trademark. The same professor told me to read and see what gives me permission. I didn’t understand this at first, but as I read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, I finally felt that I received that “permission” to write in vignettes. So I did just that, and I’m a changed woman to say the least.
If you could go on a date with any writer, who would it be? What would you guys do on that date?
Oh god, this is tough. I think I’m gonna choose Junot Diaz, just because he was the writer who inspired me to explore my identity and the way I was raised. We would probably go to a Nuyorican Cafe poetry slam open mic first, just because I think that’s the breeding grounds for creativity. And then afterwards we would head out to some low-key diner and order pancakes and talk about writing and being latino.