October 22, 2001

Cuban Author Details Role of Culture in Work

Print More

Saturday morning found world-famous author Christina Garcia in a conference room of Cornell University, munching on a mini-bagel with cream cheese and lox and chatting with teachers and students in the Latino Studies Program (LSP).

The brunch, held in the conference room in 434 Rockefeller Hall (the center for LSP), offered students and faculty alike the opportunity to interact one-on-one with Garcia.

The author was invited by the LSP to do a reading from her novels, Dreaming in Cuban and The Aguero Sisters, both of which are critically acclaimed. Garcia is currently working on her third novel, under the working title of “Monkey Hunt,” which examines “the dialogue between Cuba and Asia.”

Garcia’s family came from Cuba to America in 1960, following Castro’s overthrow of the Cuban government. Her writing began when, at around age seven, Garcia received her first diary.

“I felt there was such power in that,” she said.

She spent her childhood in New York City and remained there while attending Columbia University. She soon began working for Time magazine and, in the 1980s, became nationally recognized for her writing as a political columnist.

Her transition from journalism into fiction began to materialize while she was working as the Miami bureau chief for Time; there, Garcia was submerged in the Cuban community.

The next step for Garcia was a trip to Cuba where she connected with family she had never met. Through these experiences she began to understand her Cuban identity in the context of the woman she had become.

Sitting next to her, however, it’s obvious that despite her accomplishments, Garcia remains down to earth and humble. In an interview with The Sun, she said, “I didn’t really think of myself as that Cuban until I began to write. It was just part of the water table of who I was. On the surface I thought of myself as more of a New Yorker.”

Garcia noted that her fiction — full of exotic images and vivid descriptions — is inspired by poetry.

“I didn’t really begin reading poetry until my late twenties … but it really acted as the chemical ingredient for my writing.”

She often begins personal writing days with up to two hours of poem reading before she turns to her own work.

For aspiring writers, Garcia offers this advice: “Read as broadly as possible in as many traditions as possible. The broader you can read, the richer your imaginative life will be.”

After the brunch, Garica headed downstairs to 132 Rockefeller to begin her public reading, which drew close to 30 people. Garcia began by reading from her second novel, The Aguero Sisters, and finished with some material from “Monkey Hunt.”

Between passages Garcia answered questions from the audience; after the readings, listeners lined up to have their copies of her books signed.

“We have a lot of really wonderful authors that come in, and we get nice contact with the artist, like this opportunity [today],” said audience member Herman Carrillo grad.

Carrillo also noted, “I’m a Cuban-American, so this is a big deal. She’s a big thing not only for Cuban-Americans, but especially for Cuban-American writers. It was great having her here.”

The visit was funded by the Latino Studies Program, which brings prominent people from the global Latino community to campus to meet and share with students and faculty every semester.

Archived article by Signe Pike