For Daniel Chacón, who is currently the department chair for Creative Writing at the University of Texas, El Paso, Fresno will always be his home.
The author of five books of fiction and editor of the posthumous works of José Antonio Burciaga and Andrés Montoya, talked with Vida about his most recent trip to the Valley, what inspire him and some of his projects.
1. You were recently in Fresno for a two-day symposium at Arte Americas. How important is to have places like Arte America in California’s Central Valley as an outlet for Latino writers, poets, artist, to showcase their work? Do you feel we need more places like that in rural areas?
“I was living in Fresno years ago when Arte Americas first opened its doors, and ever since then it has been an important cultural seat for Latino art, literature, and thought.
“I don’t think one can over estimate its importance to the community, not only in giving us a voice and a forum, but also as a cultural bridge between our individual and cultural perspectives and those of the greater Fresno community.
“If it wasn’t for Arte America is, a lot of us just wouldn’t have a voice, and that leads to frustration, and that leads to so many social problems, of which Fresno has enough!
“Fresno should be grateful that Arte exists.
“It would certainly be beneficial for the rural areas around Fresno, Parlier, Firebaugh --places with a large concentration of our people, who work, who dream --to have such a center in their town.
“It is a social imperative to encourage artistic vision.”
2. How often do you get to come ‘home’ and how was your most recent visit to Fresno?
“I come back to Fresno, which will always be my home, at least twice a year, sometimes more, and occasionally less.
“I am in active writer, and I travel all over the world, but I’m also a professor at the University of Texas and the chair of the Creative Writing Department, so my professional duties impede me from coming as often as I’d like.
“But every time I drive or fly into Fresno, I think, I’m Home!
“I think, dim sum at Imperial Gardens! I think, menudo at Cuca’s. I think ¡Viva Pinedale!, where I spent the first few years of my life, and where my grandparents lived and died. I think home.
“I now have two homes, El Paso, Texas and Fresno, California. Both of them are special. Both of them produce a disproportionate amount of writers and artists. There’s something in the soil in both places.
“There’s something magical about both places. But there’s also a lot of sadness and poverty in both places.
“I am proud to be from Fresno.”
3. When did you know you wanted to be an author/writer?
“I wanted to be a writer ever since I could remember. There were some years in my youth when I wanted to be an actor, but I found myself writing plays so I could act in them. I discovered that it was the writing of the plays that I fell in love with. I suppose I’m a natural “ham.” I get a lot of energy in front of a crowd of people. I’m very comfortable in front of a lot of people, but my greatest moments are when I’m sitting alone with a pen or a computer and writing.
“Even as a child, I loved being alone.
“Solitude is when imagination happens.
“It’s when you are able to enter into the multi-verse, into a world with no limits.”
4. As an author, what would you say to young Latinos who are contemplating this profession but don’t know where to start?
“Read. If you want to be a writer, you better be a ravenous reader. There is no getting around that. If you cannot get absorbed in a book, you will never write a book that others can get absorbed in. But even more basic advice I give to young writers is to write.
“Writers write. Writers don’t hope someday to write, or think that someday they might have time to write, or wish that they were writers. Writers write.
“If you want to be a writer, write.”
5. What more needs to be done to showcase Latino poets, writers, authors not only in California and the Central Valley but in other parts of the country?
“I think you’re already doing it here at Arte Americas. I also think we have two higher education venues in our city that encourage Latino writers, Fresno State’s MFA, which has been supportive of Chicano/a writers from the days of Gary Soto and Omar Salinas until now. They are doing so much for Latinx writers, with their Andrés Montoya symposium and their Montoya poetry prize and all the great young writers that come in and out of their doors, Monique Quintana, Sara Borjas, Nancy Hernández.
“There’s also Fresno City College, which provides amazing support for Latinx writers. They have so many incredible literary activists, such as my brother Kenneth R. Chacón, Lee Herrick, Marisol Baca, Sallie Perez Saíz, Juan Luis Gúzman, David Campos, Teresa Tarazi, Michael Medrano, just to name a few.
“Fresno is a great place to be for young Latinx writers.
“You will not lack those who will encourage you.”
6. How can we support or encourage a new generation of Latinos writers, poets, artists?
“By asserting our cultural voice. By getting out there and doing readings, publishing literary journals, visiting high schools, encouraging young Latinx writers through contests and forums and workshops within which they can share their voices.
“7. Do you have a favorite Latino writer/poet?
“Juan Felipe Herrera will always be one of my favorites. He’s brilliant and beautiful.
“But throw out the term “Latino” and you’re casting a wide net that reaches across the Americas.
“I would have to say that the Argentinian writers have perhaps influenced me the most, specifically Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.
“When I was a Creative Writing student at Fresno State, long before I even had ever heard of those writers, I was taking Fiction Writing with Steve Yarborough, who told me I was an experimentalist.
“I had no idea I was experimenting.
“I love what Sandra Cisneros said in an interview concerning her novel Caramelo which a lot of critics were calling experimental and post-modern. I’m paraphrasing, but she basically said, “I’m not being experimental. That’s just the way Mexicans think.”
“When I was a young writer, I didn’t seek to be experimental.
“I was just writing like a Latin-American, because ultimately, that’s what Chicanos are, Latin-Americans.
“I was just writing stories the way I liked to read them, which ended up being rooted, without me knowing it, in Latin-American tradition, so when I started to read those two Argentinian writers, I found my literary antepasados.”
8. Where do you get your inspiration?
“By living. Every single moment is a slice of eternity, and if you linger long enough, if you don’t get impatient for the moment to be over, the universe reveals itself to you No, the multi-verse reveals itself to you, and there is an infinite passageway into beauty.”
9. What would you say is one of the most rewarding things about what you do for a living?
“I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything in the world. I get to travel for free, all over the world, I get to share my stories with thousands of people. I have my mornings free, from the time I wake up until at least noon, and during that time I can read, I can write, I can take a walk, or I could just sit near a window and watch my cats play in the yard.
“The most rewarding thing is just the moments themselves, and I try to enjoy every one of them.
“10. What are you currently working on, future book, novel, etc?
“I just finished a new collection of stories called Kafka in a Skirt. I am doing line editing right now and should be ready to send it to a publisher in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m also working on a novel about a young man with a rare neurological disorder that every day blacks out a great portion of his memory about who he is, so each new day he has to learn what to him are new things about himself and about the world.
“We should all be so lucky!”
Editor's note: The article was updated to reflect Sallie Perez Saíz and Monique Quintana correct spelling of their names.