FBC ep27 Kali Fajardo-Anstine.mp3
6:18PM Jun 12, 2019
This episode is brought to you in collaboration with Silk Road wellness, natural and hello beauty and wellness products based on traditional healing systems and Islamic medicine. Learn more at Silk Road wellness. com welcome back to the feminist book club podcast, a show for dangerous well read women. Each week we explore literature and media through a feminist lens as one small way to reclaim our time, our books and our stories. Let's get started.
Welcome back, everyone Renee powers here. I know I say this a lot. But I absolutely love the episode we have for you today. Our interview is with colleague Harto, and Stein, the author of the new short story collection Sabrina and Kareena which is honestly one of my favorite books of the year so far. It doesn't hurt that I have a major friend crush and brain crush on Cali. I think she's absolutely brilliant. And I cannot wait to watch her grow career flourish. And our interview she introduces us to the indigenous Latino women she writes about plus we chat about short story as a medium, how it feels to be compared to Toni Morrison Sandra Cisneros and Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, and the importance of diversity and literature. So stay tuned for that conversation and check out the show notes to see how you can win a copy of her book. But first, I'm thrilled to announce that our July Book of the Month is Pachinko by Minjun Lee. The feminist book club subscription box turns a year old next month so we're celebrating and tons of ways. Most notably, if you sign up to receive the July box before June 20, you'll have the opportunity to receive two copies of Pachinko that's One for you and one for a friend pass her second copy along to your reading buddy and she'll also have access to our discussion group and live chat at the end of the month. Last week we announced our partnership with homespun trades so you already know your July box will include one of their naughty gals crunchy us so today I'm excited to share that the second item in your July box will be a face mask from Silk Road wellness. This gorgeous beauty and wellness company is a bold fusion of East meets West handmade with natural ingredients and recipes from different cultures and Islamic traditions. It's the first whole all skincare line in the United States and like all products featured in our boxes. It's a woman owned company. Learn more about Silk Road wellness at Silk Road wellness calm and make sure you head over to feminist book club com to reserve your July box and join us for this month of birthday celebrations.
Hi everyone I am so excited today to speak with Khalifa Harto and Stein Kali is from Denver, Colorado She's the author of the debut short story collection Sabrina and Kareena from one world Random House and with historical novel to follow which I want to talk about that we've got a lot of talk about. I think this is gonna be a long conversation it's fine perfection it has appeared and the American scholar Boston review Bellevue literary review the Idaho review Southwestern American literature and basically elsewhere everywhere else Cali has been awarded fellowships from yet Oh, did I say that correctly? Yes. Oh, that's MacDowell colony and Hedrick and she has an MFA from the University of Wyoming. Cali. Hi, welcome. Hi Renee, thank you so much for having me. So I had the pleasure of meeting you in person at the wordplay festival when you were here in Minneapolis. And it was such a delight to meet you prior to reading the book because it felt like I had just an extra layer of nuance added to it. I'm so glad you stopped by and said hello. We already had this on the schedule to chat. And so you just stopped by and said hello. But this is a collection of short stories that I absolutely fell in love with. I want to dive into that. But first My question is always What does feminism mean to you?
It's like, it's really interesting question because I always knew I was a feminist even before I named it. I have this strong activist mother. I have five sisters. I came from a matriarchal family. So I think feminism for me, was centering my own experience, and furthering my wants and desires and my strength as a woman. And it wasn't until later when I got into high school and into college that I said, Oh my gosh, I'm a feminist. That's the word for this. And I think there was Alison row once was asked if she felt that she was a feminist writer and she said, yeah, if you feel like women's experiences matters, along those lines, you know, and I think, yeah, I feminism to me means that
not only are our experiences matter, but they are not relegated to the margins of reality or literature or art or any cultural production, that they are just part of literature, my stories, I want them to be considered lit and I think that that is what feminism is to me. Okay, so you mentioned Alice Munro, she her name pops up on the back of your book jacket as someone that you are compared to alongside Toni Morrison. How does that feel? And on the front, on the front, there's a quote from Sandra Cisneros stories Blaze, like wild pot fires. I mean, you're not just small potatoes. You are up in the echelons of Alice Munro, Toni Morrison. Sandra Cisneros, how does that
feel? You know, it feels wonderful and surreal and strange. But also, those are the women I've been reading for a long time. This is what I was striving for. And it took another woman writer of color to Julio Alvarez to say, Hey, I think you kind of have similarities to Monroe or Morrison, and it wasn't ever been really stated before. But those were the works that I was reading and studying and devouring. And I actually was at a reading once and I listed elsewhere row is one of my major influences. And someone said, Oh, I wouldn't, I wouldn't say a Nobel Prize winner is one of your influences. That's sort of a lofty goal. And I was like, No, but but for real. Really. And I think because of my subject matter, and the kinds of things that I write about, which we'll talk about a little bit more I'm sure people sometimes will think that quote, unquote, regular girls cannot be high literature. But that's that's simply not true. And Allison wrote her work. What I admire so much about it is that a lot of the stories are centered on quote, unquote, regular girls with the dark edge.
darkness and these stories. Yeah.
Yeah, when Sandra Cisneros blurb the book, I literally like when we get the knees and wept because
she was the first writer that I had ever been introduced to where I could see myself in literature. And that happened really early for me, I was 15 years old. And if I would not have been exposed to a House on Mango Street, I don't think I would be you're talking to you today. So the fact that I'm being supported by these powerhouse women authors, I will never forget it. And it showed me how to proceed as my career goes on in the future. My job is to always widen the door for other women who are coming behind me.
And you don't know you can't become what you don't see too. And so these trailblazers are like you said widening, widening the lens winding to the door, you know, bringing other young authors of color onto the global stage.
Yeah. It felt like it felt like I was like on a symbolic stage. And Julio Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros were saying, you know, come here, you're going to be with us. And at the end of songs, songs, you see Sarah says full blurb she says that she welcomes my characters in me and I was like, we're Welcome to what and I was like, the global stage.
The party of all these incredible literary women
Let's talk about the stories themselves. I'm going to read the description of the book because I think is just the perfect like succinct description. So here we go. Sabrina and Kareena is a haunting debut story collection on friendship mothers and daughters and the deep rooted truths of our homelands centered on Latinas of indigenous ancestry that shines a new light on the American West Colorado and Stein's magnetic story collection breathes light into her indigenous Latina characters, and the land they inhabit set against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado, a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite. These women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives with caution, Grace and quiet force. Hmm. That's beautiful. And that's really every story in this book simmers their incendiary, there's something about them that last, they're not just one off stories, right? Tell me a little bit about this community of women.
Yeah, I write about women who come from my own heritage. And that was always an option choice for me, because, for one, it was my reality. And I'm very much a writer who writes based on observation, and collecting data of my life. And for two, I just never really saw us in literature, any extensive length. And Toni Morrison has that quote, if the book you want, it doesn't exist, you have to write it. And I kind of had that sense pretty early on, I was in high school. So my women and me come from this incredibly mixed Latinx background, where we are, originally we were indigenous people off the bubble of northern New Mexico, and then through a process of colonization, my people became mixed. And I am not just mixed one or two things, I'm part Filipina, or Jewish, I have a white dad from Nebraska, I have, I have all kinds of different and now that my mom was going through and doing the genealogy, we come from various problems, not just pick a republic, we thought and so there are a lot of us in southern Colorado, northern New Mexico that come from this identity. And a lot of the times when I was growing up, people would say, oh, we're Spanish. And it was sort of a way to erase all of our indigenous roots, but also everything else that we are. And I really made a choice early on that I was going to embrace fully everything about myself, because I was the only way that I was going to survive and not feel shame anymore. And the women in my stories, some of them are going through this process of fully accepting themselves knowing themselves, but they all come from my community and my heritage and my culture. And they have been occupying space in the southwest since the beginning of recorded time, their their relationship to their land, and their homeland, is I think, is central to these stories. And if you if you read Sabrina credo, you'll see that Denver, southern Colorado, northern Mexico, really almost becomes another character. And land in my perspective is a feminine space. So you'll be you'll be reading about the West but as a feminine landscape, rather than what I saw a lot, which was a masculine space that white men were coming to conquer. So yeah, that's a little bit about my women, and it needs to the stories, you know, there, there's so many different characters, they do different things, but they're all in different stages to my earliest my youngest narrator is, I think 11 years old and my oldest narrator is at four years old. Mm hmm.
Okay, I there are so many tendrils I want to pull it here. First off, I love what you just said, listeners of the podcast know that I have said similar things that land and setting and place can be such a driving character that we don't often see as much in in literature, I don't think maybe I'm just not as well read as I should be. But I feel a lot more like TV movies than I do in literature, because it's easier to depict in like visual arts than it is in literature. So I love that the fact that many of your characters are like you said, coming from all different stages of life. Do you see yourself in these characters? Or what do you see people around you in these characters? What inspired
Yeah, I am not a writer who just invent things out of thin air. I really wish I was because I'd be such a cool skill to have. But I am definitely a writer who writes based on my lived experiences. So a ton of these characters are composites of different people that I've known different life experiences that I've had. I'm just looking at the stories right now the list. So sugar babies, for example, in sugar babies, Sierra Cordova is in eighth grade and she has to raise a bag of sugar as if it were real baby with her school partner, Robbie Martinez. I really had to raise the sugar baby. Oh, did I
look at us now.
I really need to raise the sugar baby and I remember having even an awareness and middle school but this was ridiculous. And I think Sierra sometimes when I read from sugar babies, I really take on serious characteristics and cadence and I start moving into her character and I think that's because she really does represent aspects of myself when I was at age when I was a preteen Sabrina and Kareena comes from a number of different places that story along with sisters and she's been Park I would say are my most difficult stories in terms of how they depict violence against women. I came from a lot of violence in my own life. I had gotten to a point where I was just so angry that I wasn't seeing it talked about or hurt I didn't hear it. You know, nobody was talking about this and I knew that I had to write these stories so Sabrina and Kareena and a lot of ways it represents aspects of myself Kareena at the start of the story is strangled to death by a man. And Sabrina as a makeup artist has been asked by the family of should do the makeup for the funeral. I'm very interested in makeup, I've always been interested in cosmetics of beauty and outward beauty, especially our beauty is incredibly important to my culture. And I sort of approach that with skepticism and embrace at the same time. And I think that is Sabrina Kareena that really comes out. What's the use of all this femininity in this beauty if the end result is harm, and sisters, that character God, that's the only story that set in the past set in the 1950s. God is based on one of my ancestors that actually lived through this sort of this act of violence that takes place at the end of sisters and sisters was sort of an inherited story that I was told from the time I was a little girl. And I believe that I was told that story of what happened to my ancestor as a warning. And it sort of was a form of inherited trauma that I internalized over and over. And when I was in graduate school, that character God, she just started talking to me. And so I knew I had to tell her story she wanted to be heard. And you know, I can go all throughout every single one of these stories and tell you where all of these people came from because there are scenes in my own life. And in my past lives in my ancestors lives all throughout these stories. And I hope that when readers are experiencing Sabrina and Kareena they're able to be they're able to pick up on that and they can feel the sense that there is urgency and office authenticity and truth new stories.
There are generations of voices that come out in this absolutely feel that the person that God is crafted after Do you think that she's found peace through this story? Has this helped process for you? And do you think he'll some of those generational trauma,
you know, this is really interesting, I talked to my ancestors, I pray to them, I thank them. I asked them for things. Sometimes if I'm having a difficult choice to make, I will ask my ancestors for guidance before I go to sleep. And God is a character, a character and an ancestor I feel very close to and I'm not sure if she's gotten peace through this. But I think that there is something about her that sort of electric that, you know, her story will not go away. And I'm kind of curious to know why. And I think I'll actually work with her more. I remember after I had written sisters years later, I was looking through old family videos. And these were like from the 1950s. And they hadn't of sound and they're just black and white flickers. And I was watching like, oh, there's my grandpa's a little little boy. And there's my great grandma yelling at him. Their love their only Auntie's. And then out of the shadows of a tree line, this beautiful woman comes and she has a cane and she's hitting it across the sidewalk. And I realized that was God, I realized that the you know, there she is. She's gorgeous. And she's blind. And she's walking through the sunlight and Denver and the 1950s like this. And I just I felt like this instant knowing. And she looked exactly exactly how she looks to me in my mind when I wrote sisters. So why did
you name the book after that second story? What was it about that story that lends itself to the title of the whole book?
Yeah, it wasn't until I had maybe like half a draft Sabrina and Kareena that I realized I I'm very interested in this, this idea of twinning. As an author and an artist. I'm interested in the idea of the dark double of point CounterPoint. And that theme runs throughout the entire collection. So in sugar babies, you have Sierra and Robbie, they're partnered off, and Sabrina, Sabrina and Kareena and gala PAYGO. It's Perla and her granddaughter. So over and over again, you have these characters who are rubbing up against a character who really displays either their goodness or their darkness, or something in between that. And I think because of the way that relationships are at the forefront, the relationships between women are at the forefront and this book that Sabrina and Kareena felt like the story that that really showcase the essence of the entire book. And also we just like couldn't come up with another title like we were trying, you know what the first the first book or the first collection you always are picking like what's the strongest story and let's let's make that the title. And you know, I don't I didn't have like a like this is the hit story. So this is the one that we're going to pick and as like a funny aside, it's actually cut not that funny my my thesis when I turned in Sabrina and Kareena at the University of Wyoming for my MFA program, it was called sugar babies and other stories. But when I went into the big wide world, and people found out that I was working on a book called sugar babies, they thought it was a different kind of sugar baby story. And I was like I that is not at all what I'm talking about. And I did not want to have that kind of confusion. And it's also just such a weird concept that I you know, I want to stay as far away from that as possible. But I think it's kind of funny, because then they start reading sugar babies. And I'm like, Oh, this is like about an eighth grade girl with a bag of sugar.
Yeah. And have you grown up in like the late 90s, early 2000s, you would have had a bag of sugar too.
So what do you think it is about short story that as a medium that provides a platform to tell these kinds of just gives a voice to these women and these kinds of issues?
Yeah, you know, I always wanted to be a writer, most of the cut, like most of the literature I read when I was a young girl, it was novels, it chapter books. You know, that's where I started with. And I actually started writing novels before I started writing short stories. But my skill level was nowhere near where it needed to be in order to write a full length novel. I didn't have the ability to imagine scene or the past or any of those things. And so when I got into my MFA program, I was studying with writers like joy Williams, Greg Watson, Allison Heggie. And these were incredible short story writers, they were telling me, Hey, we think that you actually also might be a short story writer, you don't need to just work on your novel, some from what you've shown us in class, you have the strength in this area. And I started getting pretty interested in the story form. And I started reading more short stories. And that's when I realized that in some ways, it mirrored the oral tradition that I come from. I come from storytellers. And there's no way you can tell an entire novel in an oral story that's going to keep people's attention for eight months, or whatever it takes to tell them that story. But in my family, you can hold people's attention for you know, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, and you can tell them a story. We're joke tellers. We have a lot of gossip amongst us. There's a lot of folklore and my family, I found that those sort of micro expressions of narrative really fit in well with the short story form. And if you read Sabrina and Kareena, you'll notice that I do layer folklore and gossip in quite a bit. And I think that gossip itself kind of function functions as a story within a story. So I'm interested in almost sort of meta storytelling with in suburbia. Kareena,
can I tell you what I think?
Yes, and to that. Short Story especially, is a beautiful vehicle for telling stories of really diverse communities. And how it's a kaleidoscope that comes into picture as a whole, right as a whole unit, you're talking about these indigenous Latina women in the, in the southwest, right? And that is so varied, that you can't tell just one story to get that perspective, you do have multiple snippets. I think that, you know, Julia Phillips, the author of disappearing, a similar thing with her book where she's telling that and it's a novel, but it's told in kind of short story style, based around one event, with different characters in each chapter. I think that and again, setting is a driving factor for that too. I recently read useful phrases for immigrants by may lead shy. And that's another thing where most of them are Chinese immigrants to the US, or maybe even Canada and some are set in China, I believe, too. But again, showing like the diversity of that community and the kinds of structures and issues and people and stories that come alive within it, so I realizing that short story might be my favorite genre.
Yeah, well, and Franco, Franco Connor has this famous essay, the lonely voice, and he talks about submerged population groups and how the short story form fits better to tell the stories of submerged population groups. And I definitely agree with that a lot of Sabrina and create I've modeled after ever P. Jones is lost in the city. And I don't know if you're familiar with that. No, I don't know that but lost in the city takes a look at African Americans and Washington DC. And I thought well, gee, you know, I could do that with Sabrina and Kareena but I can do it set in Denver. So yeah, I definitely agree. And I do think that the that the form lends itself to being able to show what it's like to be be marginalized people in these larger communities. Mm hmm.
So coming next, you said you're not necessarily a novelist, but you've got a novel coming up. Tell us about that as much as you can.
Yeah, I'm a novelist. Now. I guess I figured that out about myself. So I come from the generation that you are not going to get a short story collection published unless you wrote a novel. And I am, I had to write an entire novel in order to get this to book deal with one world. And I'm so excited that I did force myself to do that, because now I love writing novels. So my novel that will be coming out at some point. It's called Women of light right now. And women of light follows the migration of the Lopez family from southern Colorado to Denver in the 1920s. And my protagonist is named Louis Lopez and she is clairvoyant. She's a tealeaf reader. She's 17 years old, started the story. And she lives with her brother Diego, who's a snake charmer, and he works at the factory. And their Auntie Maria Josie, who's a butch lesbian is the matriarch of the family and takes care of them. But because of racial violence, Diego has to flee and loose has to find a way to take care of the family. And part of that might have to deal with her finding a husband, the the novel really looks at social mores of the time period, mixed race, identity, female sexuality, teenage female sexuality during the 1920s and 30s. And also wild west performers, because there are two generations I'm working with. I'm working with loose and her brother Diego group performers, but also the grandparent generation, and they were in a form of Buffalo Bills, wild west show, but by a different name. So it's a much grander story of him as reading Kareena in some ways, it's even epic. And I like to think of it as a Western, I think of it as a fully reinvented Western. Because I want to see my people characters like me in the western space. And for the life of me, I could not understand why we weren't there already.
Absolutely. I cannot wait for that. You'll have to come back on when that's out. So we can talk about that too. Because it sounds right up my alley. I was just thinking, I loved the Night Circus by Aaron Morgenstern. And that she's got another book coming out. I'm sure it'll be fantastic. But there was something about that kind of mystic arts kind of circus II, you know, festival feel that I really loved. And I think that you might have just scratched the itch that I didn't know I had. I mean,
geek love by Catherine done is like one of my biggest influences. And I come from a performing family. Yeah. Like we have a long line of you know, people were staying charming and running away and during the circus, and I remember my little sister was like, super flexible. And my great Auntie once was like, that girl, she joined the circus, she could make a lot of money. And I'm like, that is not even like career choice right now. But it actually is it's done.
It's just a way of keeping it alive.
All right. Well, before we go, I always ask what is one book that you would recommend to our listeners? That's not your own?
Yes, I would recommend love war stories by Elise Rodriguez. It came out last year by feminist press, and it was recently a finalist for the pen Faulkner award. Love for stories focuses on Puerto Rican women in Massachusetts at different areas across the United States. But he believes his voice is super distinct. Who work can be dark, it can be biting. And sometimes I I described it as a sort of Caribbean Gothic. But yeah, it's an amazing book. It's amazing short story collection. And I was so excited to see when it was a finalist for the pen Faulkner, because it deserves all the attention.
Yeah, I have seen that popping up here in there. And we're going to try to get her on the show today. I think that would be a really beautiful book to talk about. Yeah, and just so everybody knows we are giving away a copy of Sabrina and Kareena so check the show notes for that because you're going to want to read it as soon as pop like drop everything and read it. And if you don't win, drop everything and go to your independent bookstore and buy it. But before we wrap up, where can we find you if we want to connect further with you online?
Sure. I love connecting with my readers online. I'm really active on Instagram. My name is Callie Maha with the J like Bardot. So it's k l I am a j A and I'm also on Twitter, but I'm mostly just like retreating things on Twitter. I love Instagram and I just love seeing Sabrina and Kareena live its life on there. So yeah, find me on there. And I still have events across the country right now. and support us to read and create us. You could check my website or my different upcoming events. Amazing. And if you're out in one of those steps, please go see colleague give her a hug for me. She's wonderful in person. And do you read from the book as well as during these? Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And people are like, Yeah, you do voices and you like, move all around. And I'm like, yeah, I'm a weird performer creep. Yeah. Favorite guides.
I read from the book and I actually not control my dramatic self.
Well, definitely go out and see her and pick up this book as soon as possible. Thank you so much for coming on. This has been just a joy.
Thank you Renee. It's been so wonderful. I'm so glad we got to connect.
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