The latest installation of Converminsations features Olga Garcia, and L.A. writer who works in multiple genres and languages.
JIM RULAND: What are you going to read on Sunday, June 14?
OLGA GARCIA: I'll be reading from my book Falling Angels – a couple of poems and a short excerpt from one of my stories. I would also like to share at least one of my newer unpublished pieces. Even when I do make selections prior to a reading, I like to feel out the audience and event once I'm there. Since I write in English, sometimes in Spanish, and mostly in Spanglish, language is always something to consider at readings. Many times I've made a careful selection and then completely changed it at the last minute because of the vibe and the audience.
JR: Do you think in Spanish and then translate as you write? What is this process like? Do you dream in Spanish as well? Are there times when the words just come to you in English?
OG: My parents are both immigrants from Mexico and because of this we grew up speaking mostly Spanish at home. Although Spanish was my mother tongue, English (heard and learned from TV, school, friends, the streets) was ever-present in my upbringing as well. Growing up, it wasn't uncommon for me to have conversations with my sisters or friends that began in English and ended in Spanish or vice versa. This is still true. And it isn't uncommon for my thoughts and dreams to be bilingual too. This braiding of languages is an integral part of who I am, so therefore it's inevitable that it ends up in my writing.
JR: Your book, Falling Angels, reflects this mish-mash of English and Spanish. Are you consciously making these choices in order to portray the multicultural scenes you're describing as accurately as possible?
OG: When I mix my languages in stories and poems, I'm doing it quite naturally, the way I hear it in my head or sometimes in my dreams. I have written some pieces entirely in Spanish, as in the monologue "Ana Leticia Armendariz: Matando Cucarachas," a piece about an immigrant woman obsessed with killing roaches. Writings that come to me entirely in Spanish are always gifts, as they are rare. I'm much more confident when writing English, since it's the language in which I received almost all of my formal education.
JR: So you don’t translate your work?
OG: I try not to. If something comes to me entirely in English, I want to let that be what it is. The same is true for the Spanglish. For me, it's been important to write in what Gloria Anzaldua called "our living languages," because ultimately languages are mirrors of who we are and where we come from. Having said this, I also don't want to pigeonhole myself. What I love most about language is that it is dynamic; it's in a constant state of flux and evolution. I feel blessed to have two languages to draw from when I write, and I look forward to seeing how my voice and my play with language continue to evolve.
JR: You write both poetry and prose. Do you have a preference?
OG: My true love is and always has been poetry. My prose is more accident than anything else; it's often been birthed from monstrous poems that got too long and out of control. A sure sign that I prefer poetry is that I'm usually thinking in images and rarely about something like plot. I like that poetry can capture moments or emotions (creative snapshots) without having to create an entire narrative. I also love the challenge of condensing an idea/emotion/story into a poem and playing with the line breaks.
JR: Is one more difficult than the other?
OG: I think writing prose and in particular a novel is extremely difficult. I'd much rather grapple with images and try to successfully express something in a haiku. The novel intrigues me, though. Every time I read a good novel I'm in awe and ask, "How did the author do that?" It's definitely inspiring.
JR: Does some material lend itself to one form over the other?
OG: Yes, definitely. Even though I prefer poetry, I have several poems that were just suffocating in their stanzas. No matter how much I edited or experimented, it just didn't work because the genre was all wrong. I play with form a lot when I write. In a way it's maddening because I will take something completely apart, put it back together differently, take it apart again, and then after many versions I often end up returning to the beginning. But it's because of this "playing" that several of my poems have morphed into stories and, on a couple of occasions, even plays. I've also had the opposite happen--a story taken apart and put back together again morphed into a poem.
JR: In one of your stories, "Assault with a Deadly Donut," you visually present a collage on the side of a truck. Was this challenging?
OG: It was actually a lot of fun and cathartic to write. All of the incidents of police brutality mentioned in the collage are taken from true events. What I really wanted to point out in this story is the ridiculousness of some of the justifications for police brutality. In the story, Turo, a donut maker and vendor, gets shot for holding a donut, thus the title "Assault with a Deadly Donut." The story is meant to be funny, but it also attempts to highlight injustice. Turo's story may seem far-fetched, but it is no more ridiculous than the real-life stories of a deaf man getting shot for holding a rake or a black woman getting shot for holding a screwdriver. Regarding the visual collage in the story, some of the incidents mentioned targeted immigrant Latinos, so those postings had to be written in Spanish. Other incidents involved African-Americans, so those were written in English. What was more challenging than the English/Spanish thing was working on creating different voices in both languages, so that each posting ended up sounding like a different person. Brent Beltran of Calaca Press gave me the idea of adding graphics to the collage and that took this portion of the story to another level. I was really happy with the end product because it became a page of testimonies that gave voice to the often voiceless.
JR: What's the most unusual experience you've had at a reading?
OG: I guess being invited to a reading and not reading is somewhat unusual. This past week I was invited to read at the Leimert Park Village Book Fair. I was supposed to read at 1:30 and I was very excited about sharing my work there. Yet when I got there it was obvious the book fair had a life of its own. My slot to read never arrived, but I did very much enjoy the deep fried catfish and the band that was singing, "We Want the Funk! Gotta Have the Funk!"
Come hear Olga read on Sunday, June 14 at the Mountain Bar in Chinatown with Amy Wallen and Allison Carter.