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PALABRAS: Author Jennine Capó Crucet Writes for Self-Gratification, Not Validation

First Posted: Oct 29, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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Jennine Capó Crucet

Photo : Jennine Capó Crucet

This article is part of "Palabras," the Latin Post Latino Author Series.  

Jennine Capó Crucet, author of the celebrated short story collection "How to Leave Hialeah" and the exceptional novel "Make Your Home Among Strangers," is humble, modest, methodical and hilarious -- and puts all of that into her work.

Crucet was raised in Hialeah, Miami, a predominately Latino working-class neighborhood, which gave her the stories, scenes and cadence that would one day find itself in her writing. Her family, like South Florida, influenced her craft, even when they were slightly resistant to the development of it.

"I grew up in a very loving family that wasn't too happy about the fact that I displayed early signs of being a writer," Crucet told Latin Post. "From a very young age, I would get the impulse to write weird little stories and then I wanted to read them to my parents and my sister. They said, 'Oh no, this is a bad thing ... she wants to do something where she won't be able to make a living.' For them, there were only two jobs in the world: doctor and lawyer."

The author explained that her parents were like most immigrant parents, raised on hard labor. Her father worked as an electrician and her mother worked in a doctor's office, and they came to America so that Crucet and her sister could find careers that would give them stability and money. Her family thought writing could be a respectable hobby for her, which she agreed with until she entered college and found that she wanted to write ceaselessly.

At Cornell University, Crucet struggled socially, confronted by stifling expectations of what it meant to be a Cuban woman from Miami, and a child born to immigrants. But, it was there that she developed her voice as a writer, joined a sketch comedy troupe called the Skits-O-Phrenics and came to understand how she could contribute to the greater literature landscape. The instruction she received within and outside of the classroom readied her to teach, to share the insight that was given to her.

"I'm a professor now because I'm a failed sketch comedian," said the Iowa Short Fiction Prize winner with a laugh. "I just like being in front of people and talking about the things I love. I love encouraging people to write and helping them shape whatever it is they want done, and I love helping them to develop their voices. I had really exceptional professors myself, and I just wanted to give that back."

For Crucet, voice is the most important thing. Understanding voice is a matter of making her character speak to her, so she can hear their voice inside of her head. The voice of that character must take hold of her imagination, enabling its own honest appearance on the page.

The short story collection "How to Leave Hialeah" was conceived through homesickness that gave way to creativity. After leaving home and moving to a dumpy Florida city for work, she felt lonely. However, when she wrote stories, it connected her to her hometown and her family, and she was suddenly able to go home whenever she wanted. She struck up stories that spoke of plátanos and tradition, and the pulse of Miami.

"Make Your Home Among Strangers," her debut novel, captures the first generation college experience, and mimics her own life. The book was born from memories of feeling adrift, determining belongingness, and the tenth anniversary of the heated Elián González controversy. The book was written because it needed to be written, and the author understood it to be a necessarily story that belonged to anyone who needed those stories as a Cuban-American or the child of an immigrant.

"I wrote those stories, and I never expected anyone to ever read them," said Crucet. "I'm glad it became a book, but I was really bad at sending my work out to publications. I really was writing these stories for myself. But, for me, if you're writing amazing stories, they will find their way into the world. I know there are writers who need publication to validate who they are, but I don't believe that.

"A writer is someone who writes every day, who moves through the world looking everywhere and noticing the story in everything. That's what a writer is. The act of publishing, that's career stuff... that's not life stuff, that's not passion stuff."

The author trusted that her stories would find its way in the world. She created the most truthful writing should could muster, utilizing her skill set, and she was rewarded with the publication of "Make Your Home Among Strangers." Holding the first copy of the book in her hands was among her proudest moments as a writer.

"I'm was proud because I anticipated having all of these things in my life that I don't have because I I've been dedicated to this art, this work. I found that was absolutely worth it. And I'm going [to be published] again, and again, and again. I got the book, and I couldn't stop looking at it. I thought, 'I want to do everything to make this moment happen as many times as I can before I die.' I thought it wasn't going to feel like enough, but I was wrong. I was proud of myself for letting myself be happy."

Crucet is working on a number of short stories, and brewing a novel, an ambitious project that's very different from anything she's done before. According to the author, her upcoming work is the next evolutionary step in her writing, capturing her concerns as an artist.

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