Author Chantel Acevedo Learned the Art of Narration From her Cuban Grandmother
This article is part of Palabras, the Latin Post Latino Author Series
Cuban stories that captured a young girl's childhood just after the turn-of-the-century, the subsequent whims of emigration, and harrowing tales of motherhood fed author Chantel Acevedo. Acevedo's grandmother, who orated those stories, inspired the author to be a storyteller, and she taught her the language of a narrative.
For this reason, Cuban or Cuban-American history sometimes emerges as the subject matter in her works, but often the themes of her writing is revealed to her as the project progresses. She is first drawn to an image or a desire to learn about a particular moment in history, then she conducts research and she writes. This is when the inner heart of the narrative, or the theme, becomes clearer.
"When I think back, the healing power of love, both romantic and familial, tends to be a theme in everything I write. I'm drawn to write about Cuba and Miami, since these places are home to the culture I best know and understand," Acevedo said to Latin Post. "But time is a kind of setting, too, so I tend to write historical fiction that explores an era of Cuban or Cuban-American history I'm interested in understanding at a deeper level. As for inspiration? Museums inspire me. Music inspires me. The silly things my kids say inspire me."
"Love and Ghost Letters," Acevedo's first book, captured some of the stories that her grandmother told her. The stories were reframed into a new narrative, and she shaped the "disparate" stories, forging them in a new way.
The Miami-based novel "A Falling Star" is close to the author's heart. Set in the 1980s against the backdrop of the Mariel Boatlift (one of the author's earliest memories), the novel explores Cuba-U.S. relations through the eyes of an adolescent. Acevedo's own mother volunteered to process new arrivals during the '80s and this prompted her to fear that something was going to happen to her mother. "The Distant Marvels" rose from a moment of curiosity about the Cuban War of Independence from Spain.
"I realized I knew very little about the Cuban War of Independence from Spain, and I began research for fun and found myself with a lot of unanswered questions regarding the roles of civilian women during the war, the effect of the war on children, and on the recently freed slave population on the island. And so, a new book emerged from those questions," Acevedo said.
A full-time teacher and a full-time mother of two daughters, Acevedo's writing time is not quite as structured as she would like. Mustering time to write where there is no time at all is a talent within itself, though she tends to do a bulk of her writing in the summer when her classes are over. In her own words, "it's absolute torture when a project is alive in my head and I can't get to the computer," but when she has time to transcribe those ideas, she often grabs at every idea though roaming her subconscious.
"I'm feeling a bit like a magpie at the moment, pecking at every shiny idea. So, I have lots of interesting project ideas, and lots of pages, but I'm not sure which one is going to stick at the moment," Acevedo said.
Acevedo is excited about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks trend on social media, and recent big award wins by people like Jacqueline Woodson for "Brown Girl Dreaming" and Isabel Flores for "Gabi, A Girl In Pieces" at the children's book level. It signifies diverse authors growing to shape the lifelong reading tastes of kids right now. She communicated that she hopes "more writers of color will be given a shot, that more kids will be exposed to diverse characters and literature, and that it will filter into the future in important ways."
The author of historical and magical "Song of the Red Cloak" holds an MFA from the University of Miami, and she is currently an Associate Professor of English and the Alumni-Writer-in-Residence at Auburn University. At Auburn University, she founded the Creative Writing Studio for Teens, the Auburn Writers Conference, and she edits "The Southern Humanities Review."
Despite all of the hats the mother, professor and author wears, she continues to be tirelessly compelling and prolific. Her work has won her the International Book Award; she's been nominated for the Pushcart Prize; she was a finalist for the Connecticut Book of the Year; and she was named was named a Literature Fellow by the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 2012.
Acevedo loves to communicate with her fans via Twitter, and "Distant Marvels," her latest work, will hit the stands April 2015.